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Deviant Damsels : Part I

Updated on March 8, 2015

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, no matter what you call her; was an amazing woman in history. Today she may have been labeled as bipolar or as having Borderline Personality Disorder. Or, perhaps, she was just a woman of passion and of vision.

Her father was an English poet that fantasized about the romances of the world. He was chaotic, passionate, and spontaneous. Being raised solely by her mother, Ada was directed away from poetry. Her mother, having separated long ago from Ava's father, was still scorned. Ava received extensive tutoring in mathematics, logics, linguistics, and music. Her mother, Annabella, was a very well educated woman with a love for mathematics. Ava's father often referred to her as the “Princess of Parallelograms". She was not a soft mother to have though.

She was a very strict, religious woman. People often found her to be cold and harsh. These polar opposites separated far apart from each other only months after Ava was born. Her father's financial irresponsibility, alcoholism, and affairs led to Ava's mother filing for divorce. Her cold, abusive nature helped to drive him away. Annabella never even let Ada see a portrait of her father until she was 20 years old. She then got to know him through reading his poetry. As she got older she identified more and more with her father. They both resented any kind of restraint.

Young Ada Lovelace

"Worried that he had succumbed to madness, Annabella engaged a physician to visit the family and secretly assess Byron’s state of mind. The physician recommended that she do as Byron wished, and in January 1816 the couple separated. Although their separation began amicably enough, it soon turned acrimonious and Byron left England for Italy to escape a burgeoning sexual scandal. Ada never met her father, and he died when she was eight years old".

With Ava's mother often referring to her is "it" in many occasions, she often received her affection from her grandmother, Judith, The Honourable Lady Milbanke. Sadly, Ava only had her grandmother until she was 8 years old. Once her grandmother passed, she was raised by a series of nannies and tutors hired by her mother.

While her mother's parenting may be controversial, it was undeniable that Ava's natural talents were being nurtured.

"Ada loved machines. She spent hours poring over diagrams of new inventions and eagerly devouring any new periodical journals she could get her hands on. She began to design boats and steam-powered flying machines for her own amusement. This unusual preoccupation was encouraged by Annabella, who ensured that Ada was taught by some of the very finest minds in England. Having enjoyed a first class education herself, Annabella was determined that Ada should have the same, arranging for a series of teachers to give Ada a solid grounding in science and mathematics. Her motivation wasn’t entirely focused on expanding Ada’s mind, however: Annabella was terrified that Ada might have inherited the madness of her father. She saw the close study of mathematics and science as a way to instill some mental discipline and, hopefully, drive out any demons that might otherwise plague Ada."

While it's undeniable that Ava missed out on so much from her mother, there are many letters showing her gratitude. She acknowledged that mathematics and science kept her grounded and focused. She lived in fear that her imagination would take hold and go wild. Her work and studies kept her focused on concepts that were positive for her life; rather than destructive. On the other side though, she also contributed her mental and physical breakdown from the overload of mathematical work.

Ava's tutors were always very impressed with her work. One of her math tutors was quoted in saying that if Ava had been a man she could have “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”.

As a teen, Ada began an affair with one of her tutors. They fell passionately in love and tried to elope. Their plan was uncovered and the scandal was covered up by her mother.

After moving into an elite London society with her mother, Ada met her lifelong friend, Charles Babbage. He was a Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge and invented the Difference Engine (elaborate calculating machine that operated by method of finite differences). At 16 years old, she was thrilled to have a friend on her intellectual level.

At 19-years-old, she married William King; a man 10 yeas her senior. 3 years later he became a nobleman and she became Countess of Lovelace. Her marriage had a bit of irony instilled within it. The roles in her marriage were very similar to her parents, just reversed. She was very free-spirited, spontaneous, beautiful, easy-going, likable, and somewhat of a flirt. Her new husband was strict, stubborn, and easily displeased. Ada even became an atheist, which was very against her upbringing and her new husband's beliefs. She became much more materialistic and was known for having a heavy sexual appetite.

Through their differences, her husband was very supportive of her career, studies. and intellectual ambitions. This was very unusual for their time.

The Difference Engine by Charles Babbage

Babbage began work on his mechanical adding machine (the Difference Engine). Funded by the British government he made great strides. Babbage changed directions and began making progress on a new, more complex analytic machine (the Analytic Engine). The British Government was less than pleased and withdrew their investment. This new machine was much more advanced but not what the British Government had agreed to fund. This was basically a "general purpose" computing machine. This lead way to our modern-day computers.

"In 1842, Babbage gave a lecture about the Analytical Engine at the University of Turin. In the audience was an Italian engineer, Luigi Menabrea whose notes were eventually published in the Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève. Babbage’s friend Charles Wheatstone then commissioned Lovelace to translate the paper, which had been written in French, which she did. Babbage then asked Lovelace to expand on the original, “as she understood the machine so well”. Lovelace set to work, adding individual notes, each labelled with a letter. When she was done, she had tripled the original paper’s length."

Ada called herself "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)," and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for "developing and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity." Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.

Her goal was to help in creating a machine that could solve problems yet to be solved by people. "Note G described how to break down the algebra into simple formulae, and then how to code those formulae as instructions for the Analytical Engine. Although there were earlier sketches for programs that had been prepared by Babbage, Lovelace’s were the most elaborate and complete, and they were the first to be published. It is for this achievement that Lovelace is known as the first computer programmer: She was the first person to write and publish a full set of instructions that a computing device could use to reach an end result that had not been calculated in advance."

She grew to have more knowledge on the topic than Babbage, himself. She was able to see further ahead than he was. She dreamed of what could be. She was no less than century ahead of her time. She wrote, “[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

While her research on The Analytic Machine progressed, she continued on her path of tutelage her mother had set for her. After recovering from Cholera Ada was diagnosed with Uterine Cancer. At 36 years old, she was set to die. Her mother stayed with her by her deathbed until she passed. Her doctor gave them Morphine to help with Ada's pain. She was suffering an agonizing death. Her mother withheld the Morphine and watched her daughter feel a tortured death. She did this as she attempted to convert Ada to Christianity. Once Ada could take no more pain she proclaimed conversion. How much stock can be put in this conversion? Absolutely none. She worked her whole life to please her mother and she literally tortured her to death.

What compelled Ada to get so far in her work? Was it an inner drive or a need for love from her mother? Maybe both. After such a life, why was Ada an overall productive, quality, healthy person? What makes one person go one way and one person go another? I have no idea. What I do know, is that a woman under pressure can explode in one of many ways. Some amazing, some terrible, and some all at once.




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