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How Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage Invented the World’s First Computer: An Illustrated Adventure in Footnotes and Friendship

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The story of how an improbable pair forever changed our horizons of the possible.

In 1843, Ada Lovelace — the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron — translated a scientific paper by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea titled Sketch of an Analytical Engine, adding seven footnotes to it. Together, they measured 65 pages — two and half times the length of Menabrea’s original text — and included the earliest complete computer program, becoming the first true paper on computer science and rendering Lovelace the world’s first computer programmer. She was twenty-seven.

About a decade earlier, Lovelace had met the brilliant and eccentric British mathematician Charles Babbage who, when he wasn’t busy teaming up with Dickens to wage a war on street music, was working on strange inventions that would one day prompt posterity to call him the father of the computer. (Well, sort of.) The lifelong friendship that ensued between 18-year-old Lovelace and 45-year-old Babbage sparked an invaluable union of software and hardware to which we owe enormous swaths of modern life — including the very act of reading these words on this screen.

The unusual story of this Victorian power-duo is what graphic artists and animator Sydney Padua explores in the immensely delightful and illuminating The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer (public library), itself a masterwork of combinatorial genius and a poetic analog to its subject matter — rigorously researched, it has approximately the same footnote-to-comic ratio as Lovelace’s trailblazing paper. The footnote, after all, is proto-hypertext linking one set of ideas to another, and in these analog hyperlinks, Padua draws on an impressive wealth of historical materials — from the duo’s scientific writings and lectures to Lovelace’s letters to Babbage’s autobiography to various accounts by their contemporaries.

Padua begins at the beginning, with Lovelace’s unusual upbringing as the daughter of Lord Byron, a “radical, adventurer, pan-amorist, and poet,” and Anne Isabella Millbanke, a “deeply moral Evangelical Christian and prominent anti-slavery campaigner.”

Determined to shield young Ada from any expression of her father’s dangerous “poetical” influence, her mother instructed the young girl’s nurse:

Be most careful always to speak the truth to her … take care not to tell her any nonsensical stories that will put fancies into her head.

She wasn’t spared the Victorian era’s brutal control mechanisms of women’s minds and bodies. Padua footnotes:

Ada’s upbringing was strict and lonely. She was given lessons while lying on a “reclining board” to perfect her posture. If she fidgeted, even with her fingers, her hands were tied in black bags and she was shut in a closet. She was five years old.

But the best control strategy for the disorderly tendencies of the poetical mind, it was determined, was thorough immersion in mathematics — which worked, but only to a degree.

Lovelace was eventually introduced to Babbage by the great Scottish mathematician, science writer, and polymath Mary Somerville — for whom, incidentally, the word “scientist” was coined.

And so one of history’s most paradigm-shifting encounters took place.

Implicit to the story is also a reminder that genius is as much the product of an individual’s exceptional nature as it is of the culture in which that individual is nourished. Genius leaps from the improbable into the possible — the courage of the leap is the function of individual temperament, but the horizons of possibility are to a large extent determined by the culture and the era.

Lovelace lived in an age when it was not only uncommon but even discouraged for women to engage in science, let alone authoring scientific paper themselves. In another illuminating footnote, Padua quotes from Babbage’s autobiography, capturing Lovelace’s dance with this duality of possibility and limitation perfectly:

The late Countess of Lovelace informed me that she had translated the memoir of Menabrea. I asked why she had not herself written an original paper on a subject with which she was so intimately acquainted? To this Lady Lovelace replied that the thought had not occurred to her.

And yet groundbreaking thoughts that hadn’t occurred to others did occur to Lovelace.

So immersed was Lovelace in her computational poetics that her contemporaries described her as rather “poetical in her appearance,” which, for those unversed in Victorian euphemism, Padua translates to mean “depressed-looking and extremely badly dressed.” Her mind operated on a level so far beyond the ordinary as to be barely graspable by common imaginations. Padua explains in another footnote:

In an age before the mathematization of logic (Boole’s Foundational laws of Thought was still ten years away) this was a truly extraordinary leap of imagination — it is difficult, maybe, for us in our computerized age to grasp how extraordinary. Babbage had not thought beyond calculating numbers with his machine, but he loved what he called “admirable and philosophic view of the Analytical Engine” — “The more I read your Notes the more surprised I am at them and regret not having earlier explored so rich a vein of the noblest metal.”

Lovelace herself spoke to that fruitful cross-fertilization of the poetic, the philosophical, and the scientific in her famous proclamation in a letter to her mother penned shortly before her footnote masterwork:

You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?

In the remainder of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, layered and wonderful in its totality, Padua goes on to chronicles the power-duo’s tragicomic demo of the Analytical Engine for Queen Victoria, explores how their different temperaments mapped onto the complementary archetypes of the inventor and the entrepreneur — Babbage was the obsessive and perfectionistic tinkerer, Lovelace the one with the fail-forward startup spirit — and delivers a thoroughly unsynthesizable range of enchantment and elucidation. Complement it with Lovelace’s spirited letter on science and religion, then revisit these lovely illustrated biographies of great minds.

Thanks, Michelle

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eternaltyro
2574 days ago
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Placebo Blocker

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They work even better if you take them with our experimental placebo booster, which I keep in the same bottle.
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eternaltyro
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Courtney
2603 days ago
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The mechanism behind the placebo effect is called "the human mind is really fucking powerful sometimes".
Portland, OR
jtr
2603 days ago
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Lol.
alt_text_bot
2606 days ago
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They work even better if you take them with our experimental placebo booster, which I keep in the same bottle.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - You, Robot

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Hovertext: Do you think I could get another sex droid?


New comic!
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eternaltyro
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Stop Drinking Bottled Water

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There are few things on this planet I hate more than bottled water. Just the crinkling sound of someone wrapping their mouth around one of those squeaky garbage accordions fills me with rage. I stopped drinking it a long time ago—and you should stop drinking it, too.

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eternaltyro
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Thoughtcrime

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Last week, our newly re-elected Prime Minister, David Cameron, said something quite remarkable in a speech outlining his new government's legislative plans for the next five years. Remarkable not because it's unexpected that a newly formed Conservative government with a working majority would bang the law and order drum, but because of what it implies:

"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'."

Think about it for a moment. This is the leader of a nominally democratic country saying that merely obeying the law is not sufficient: and simultaneously moving to scrap the Human Rights Act (a legislative train-wreck if ever I saw one) and to bring in laws imposing prior restraint on freedom of political speech (yes, requiring islamists to show the Police everything they say on Facebook before they say it is censorship of political speech, even if you don't like what they're saying).

We've been here before, of course.

Back in 2005, during one of the regular law'n'order circlejerks to which we have grown inured—this innured—this one triggered by the terrorist suicide bombings of 7/7 in London—the Labour Party brought in a spectacularly ill-conceived over-reaction in the shape of the Terrorism Act 2006. Among other things, they attempted to give the police the power to detain and question suspects without charge for up to 90 days (in the House of Commons this caused a rebellion, and it was eventually cut to 28 days—still far too long for arrest and interrogation without criminal charges), but moreover, created (Tony Blair's words): "an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws."

Get that: glorifying terrorism was to become an offense.

We all know of those vile Da'esh beheading videos, which is probably the sort of thing the Home Office had in mind. But the law was drafted so vaguely and broadly that a bunch of unintended consequences emerged. For example, what is "glorification" and what is "terrorism"? Lest we forget, Nelson Mandela Mandella was identified as a terrorist. So was that other Nobel Peace Prize winner, Menachem Begin. The current Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, with whom Tony Blair was doubtless on a first name basis, spent many years in British prisons for murders he allegedly committed while leading a terrorist organization. Is it "glorifying terrorism" to express happiness at the success of the ANC in forcing the overtly racist system of Apartheid South Africa to the negotiating table?

The law was drafted in such a way that works of fiction fell within its scope. So a group of bolshy, lefty, civil-rights-focussed literary academics with an interest in the SF field got together and published a slim anthology, the title of which was intended to provoke the Director of Public Prosecutions into either shitting or getting off the pot.

I'm afraid you can't buy a copy of the Glorifying Terrorism SF anthology (it's out of print, and not going to be reprinted or published as an ebook any time soon, because of the ongoing VATMESS headache). But ... the majestic organs of the state took one look at it and said "na na I can't hear you, not going there, you can't make me, I'd look like a tool". A few years later the "Glorifying Terrorism" charge was quietly written out of the statute books. And I'd like to think we had something to do with it.

Which brings me to the topic of the very short short story below, which now exists in a kind of counterfactual limbo, an alternate history where the financial crash of 2007/08 never happened, Tony Blair kept on getting worse, the "Glorifying Terrorism" offense stayed on the books, and UKIP never happened. Instead, the BNP—the knuckle-dragging neo-fascists who UKIP have largely supplanted— somehow parlayed an unspecified terorism-related crisis into a rise to government, and then the inevitable reductio ad absurdum absurdam ensued:

(See if you can figure out who I cribbed the declaration from?)




MINUTES OF THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, 2016

PREAMBLE TO THE MINUTES OF THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, 2016

Greetings from the National Executive.

Before reading any further, please refer to the Security Note and ensure that your receipt and use of this document is in compliance with Party security policies. If you have any doubts at all, burn this document immediately.




SECURITY NOTE




This is an official Labour Party Document. Possession of all such documents is a specific offense under (2)(2)(f) of the Terrorism Act (2006). Amendments passed by the current government using the powers granted in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) have raised the minimum penalty for possession to 10 years imprisonment. In addition, persons suspected of membership of or sympathy for the Labour Party are liable for arrest and sentencing as subversives under the Defence of the Realm Act (2014).

You must destroy this document immediately, for your own safety, if:

You have any cause to suspect that a neighbour or member of your household may be an informer,

You have come into possession of this document via a suspect source, or if your copy of this document exhibits signs of having been printed on any type of computer printer or photocopier, or if you received this document in a public place that might be overseen by cameras, or if it may have been transmitted via electronic means.

The Party would be grateful if you can reproduce and distribute this document to sympathizers and members. Use only a typewriter, embossing print set, mimeograph, or photographic film to distribute this document. Paper should be purchased anonymously and microwaved for at least 30 seconds prior to use to destroy RFID tags. Do not, under any circumstances, enter or copy the text in a computer, word processor, photocopier, scanner, mobile phone, or digital camera. This is for your personal safety.




MINUTES OF THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, 2016

1. Apologies for absence were made on behalf of the following:

Deputy Leader, Hillary Benn (executed by junta)

Government, Douglas Alexander (executed by junta)

Government, Kate Hoey (detained, Dartmoor concentration camp)

EPLP Leader, Mohammed Sarwar (executed by junta)

Young Labour, Judy Mallaber (detained, Dartmoor concentration camp: show trial announced by junta)

...

2. Motions from the national executive:

1) In the light of the government's use of its powers of extradition under the US/UK Extradition Treaty (2005), and their demonstrated willingness to lie to the rest of the world about their treatment of extradited dissidents, it is no longer safe to maintain a public list of shadow ministers and party officers. With the exception of the offices of Party Spokesperson and designated Party Security Spokesperson, it is moved that:

Open election of members of the National Executive shall be suspended,

Publication of the names and identities of members of the National Executive shall be suspended,

The National Executive will continue to function on a provisional basis making ad-hoc appointments by internal majority vote to replace members as they retire, are forced into exile, or are murdered by the junta;

From now until the end of the State of Emergency and the removal of the current government, at which time an extraordinary Party Conference shall be held to publicly elect a peacetime National Executive.

(Carried unanimously.)

2) In view of the current government's:

  • suspension of the Human Rights Act (1998), Race Relations Act (2000), and other Acts,

  • abrogation of the Treaty of Europe and secession from the European Union,

  • amendment via administrative order of other Acts of Parliament (including the reintroduction of capital punishment),

  • effective criminalization of political opposition by proscribing opposition parties as "organisations that promote terrorism" under the terms of the Terrorism Act (2000),

  • establishment of concentration camps and deportation facilities for ethnic minorities, political dissidents, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens, and others,

  • deployment of riot police and informal militias against peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins, with concomitant loss of life,

  • and their effective termination of the democratic processes by which the United Kingdom has historically been governed,

We find, with reluctance, that no avenue of peaceful dissent remains open to us. We are therefore faced with a choice between accepting defeat, and continuing the struggle for freedom and democracy by other means.

We shall not submit to the dictatorship of the current government, and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom. The government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as weakness; our non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for government violence. Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted by the government as an invitation to use armed force against the people without any fear of reprisals. It is therefore moved that:

A National Resistance Movement is created. The Movement will seek to achieve liberation without bloodshed or violence if possible. We hope—even at this late moment—that the government will come to its senses and permit a free and fair general election to be held in which parties representing all ideologies will be permitted to stand for election. But we will defend our supporters and the oppressed against military rule, racist tyranny, and totalitarianism, and we will not flinch from using any tool in pursuit of this goal.

The Movement will work to achieve the political goals of the Labour Party during the state of emergency, and will cooperate willingly with other organizations upon the basis of shared goals.

The Movement will actively attack the instruments of state terror and coercion, including functionaries of the government who enforce unjust and oppressive laws against the people.

At the cessation of the struggle, a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission shall be established and an amnesty granted to members of the Movement for actions taken in the pursuit of legitimate orders.

In these actions, we are working in the best interests of all the people of this country - of every ethnicity, gender, and class - whose future happiness and well-being cannot be attained without the overthrow of the Fascist government, the abolition of white supremacy and the winning of liberty, democracy and full national rights and equality for all the people of this country.

(Carried 25/0, 3 abstentions)

3) All Party members who are physically and mentally fit to withstand the rigours of the struggle are encouraged to organize themselves in cells of 3-6 individuals, to establish lines of communication (subject to the Party security policies), and to place themselves at the disposal of the National Resistance Movement. Party members who are unable to serve may still provide aid, shelter, and funds for those who fight in our defence.

(Carried unanimously)

3. Motions from the floor

The party recognizes that that our own legislative program of the late 1990s and early 2000s established the framework for repression which is now being used to ruthlessly suppress dissent. We recognize that our neglect of the machinery of public choice in favour of the pursuit of corporatist collaborations permitted the decay of local and parliamentary democracy that allowed the British National Party to seize power with the support of no more than 22% of the electorate. We are therefore compelled to admit our responsibility. We created this situation; we must therefore repair it.

Never again shall the Labour Party place national security ahead of individual freedoms and human rights in its legislative program. It is therefore moved that the following quotation from Benjamin Franklin be inserted between Clause Three and the current Clause Four of the Party Constitution:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

(Carried 16/12)




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eternaltyro
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skorgu
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I'm quite proud to own a copy of "Glorifying Terrorism".

Best Friends Build Their Own Tiny Town To Grow Old Together

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Four couples that have been best friends for 20 years wanted a better way to live closer to each other and closer to the environment, so they pooled their money and decided to make a tiny town just for themselves! Their settlement, called the ‘Llano Exit Strategy,’ features four tiny cabins facing the Llano river outside of Austin, Texas.

The tiny cabins, each of which cost roughly $40,000, were designed by architect Matt Garcia to be as sustainable as possible. They feature slanted roofs with water barrels that can hold up to 5,000 gallons of rainwater, reflective walls to keep out unwanted heat in the summer, and special insulated windows. The interiors are made of plywood, which keeps costs down and gives the homes a warm and spacious feel.

The group of friends spends time there as often as they can, and they all plan to retire on the property.

More info: gardenandgun.com | mattgarcia.com | Facebook | Twitter (h/t: huffpost)

These four couples have been best friends for 20 years, so they decided to make a tiny town just for themselves

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They pooled their money and build a small and sustainable place where they could grow old together

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Each of these homes cost only $40,000

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Every 400-sq-ft cabin at the ‘Llano Exit Strategy’ has a queen-sized bed, a couch, a bathroom and a porch

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The interiors are covered in plywood – “It’s a high-design finish that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” said architect Matt Garcia

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Their roofs collect rainwater into water barrels that can hold up to 5,000 gallons

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“This is a magical place, but it’s arid. We’re doing what we can to reserve as much water as possible for the native trees and grasses,” said resident Fred Zipp

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The corrugated steel exteriors reflect sunlight, helping to keep the inside cool in the summer

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“It’s like a Disney movie out here. We have hare, bobcat, deer, and all kinds of birds. As we spend more and more time here, we find more and more,” said resident Jodi Zipp

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eternaltyro
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kleer001
2604 days ago
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Looks like the future to me
vpatil
2605 days ago
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neat.
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