Ada Lovelace Day
For Ada Lovelace Day, let me introduce you to Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), now regarded as the first computer programmer. Of course, computers didn’t exist back then, which is entirely the fault of Charles Babbage, who had a talent for taking money from the British government, creating detailed descriptions and drawings of mechanical wonders, and then not building them. For his work with Ada, he invented the difference engine, basically a big, mechanical, hand-cranked scientific calculator. (Incredibly, when the machine was built in 1991, following his original plans, it worked perfectly.)
Ada, however, envisioned far greater things for the difference engine, describing ways to program the machine to calculate Bernoulli numbers (which have practical applications in physics and in other areas, such as cryptography). She even thought that the machine could be used to compose music, something we take for granted with the computers of today.
In 1977, the US Department of Defense commissioned the creation of a programming language for the purposes of standardization, trying to eliminate the hundreds of different programming languages which were then in use throughout the armed forces. That language was called Ada, and I used it in my Air Force days.
Today is a day to celebrate the contributions of all women to science and technology, so be sure to check out the other heroines being honored today.