Ada Lovelace Day 2010

My first encounter with the historical figure of Ada Lovelace was through the wonderful alternate history, “The Difference Engine“, by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. I will admit that my primary fascination was with the world wrought by practical computing arriving a century earlier than it actually did. It also seeded a fascination with the two figures largely responsible, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

In recent years, Sydney Padua’s fun and excruciatingly researched 2D Goggles re-ignited my interest in Babbage and Lovelace. She portrays both members of the pair in her own madcap alternate history with equally loving attention.

I think it was through one of Sydney’s blog or twitter posts that I found out about Ada Lovelace Day, a call to bloggers to help identify and celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and math. I missed the chance to participate last year but took the pledge to contribute a post this year.

I decided I wanted to write about Barbara Simon with whose work I first became acquainted through my interest in e-voting and more specifically the discussion around that topic amongst the membership of the ACM’s US public policy committee, USACM, to which I belong. In particular, Barbara is a tireless champion of accountable e-voting and was recently appointed to the EAC’s Board of Advisors. I got to see her debate this very issue at a USACM gathering about a year and a half ago and realized the depth of experience and insight she brings to this critical issue.

Barbara is a particular good role model for anyone in the field of computer science, especially those looking to better develop a social and political conscience. She has been recognized repeatedly for her achievements by organizations like the EFF, AAAS, and CPSR. She is a past president of the ACM, a professional society to which I belong and through which I have realized some great opportunities. Specific to the ACM, she founded the USACM and served as a past chair.

She does work specifically on issues of diversity in the field, founding the Reentry Program for Women and Minorities in the Computer Science Department at U.C. Berkeley. As her Wikipedia page further explains, “[s]he is also on the Boards of the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) and the Berkeley Foundation for Opportunities in Information Technology (BFOIT), groups that work at increasing participation in computer science of women and underrepresented minorities.” I cannot help but think of the mentors that Ada Lovelace had in her own life, her mother and Mary Somerville, when thinking of this aspect of Barbara’s work.

Barbara is one of the people with whom I serendipitously became acquainted through the podcast. My membership in USACM came about through the prompting of a listener, Emil. More recently, that same listener further prodded me to take a more active, official role in the organization, a change that was greeted by a personal note from Barbara.

Having had the opportunity to learn more about her background, both in her research and activist pursuits, I look forward to my new role in the policy committee she founded and still actively helps guide. I am grateful for the public example her activism and advisory work provides, not just to me, but anyone else interested in the intersection of computing technology and public policy.

Pledge to Write About Women in Science, Tech for Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace is a fascinating character in the hacker pantheon. Almost definitely the first programmer, conceiving of an algorithm that could be executed on Babbage’s analytical engine, if it had ever been built. More broadly she was a mathematical enthusiast, her studies in that field no doubt informing her algorithmic developments.

Interest in Lovelace seems to have picked up considerably in recent years with a project looking to produce a biopic and an absolutely wonderful alternate history web comic that only re-casts Lovelace slightly as Babbage’s co-adventurer on mad cap, steam punk powered exploits. Sydney Padua’s work is painstakingly researched, the episodes of the comic liberally interspersed with her notes and citations. My impression is that Sydney has very much kept true to the spirit of Ada Lovelace, only really taking liberties with the historical timeline.

Cory shared a link on Boing Boing to this year’s Ada Lovelace day. More specifically he links to a form where you can pledge to write about inspiring women in science and technology who epitomize the spirit and achievements of Lovelace. The organizers received two thousand such pledges last year and have set the ambitious goal of getting 3,072 pledges for this year. Ada Lovelace day is March 24th so plenty of time between taking the pledge and writing your blog post to decided on a woman you admire and assemble your thoughts.

An Ode to Lady Ada, Random Hacks of Kindness, and More

  • Random hacks of kindness
    Yes! I was thrilled to see this O’Reilly Radar piece that exemplifies the very definition of the word “hacktivism”. According to the post by Brady Forrest, the idea was inspired by discussions at CrisisCamp here in DC and is being sponsored by some of the giants in IT.
  • Sonar software to detect user presence
    This makes an astonishing amount of sense and I wonder if it would make the aggressive power savings settings I use on my laptop less annoying. So far the software which uses your laptop mic to sense whether you are present is only available for Windows and Linux.
  • Pandora signed away its rights to protest webcasting royalty rates
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt explains the stipulation to which many web casters agreed to get the lower negotiated royalty rate. He ties in this waiving of the right to protest to Pandora’s maneuvering around the performance rights act, reasoning it may motivated terrestrial broadcasters to protest where the webcaster may no longer do so.
  • Could better disclosure help broadband subscribers?
    At Ars, Matthew Lasar contemplates this question posed in the FCC debate around consumer choice. The question is whether a “Schumer box”, that is information formatted clearly and prominently on credit card bills, could help broadband consumers as well in understanding the consequences of their choice of plan and provider.
  • An ode to Lady Ada
    Jaymee Goh at Tor focuses on Lady Ada as a continuation of that site’s discussion of the recent interest in Steampunk but she calls attention to Ada’s influence and place within the history of computing, the reasons I am fascinated in this historical figure. I love that Jaymee also linked to Sydney Padua’s 2D Googles web comic telling the well researched by alternate history of Ada and her contemporary, Charles Babbage.