Friday 7 October 2011

Ada Lovelace day

Kind of sad that I didn't see Ada Lovelace day coming.   I don't know if it needs better publicity, but I hope it's no reflection on a perceived lack of importance of women in computing.  For sure we're not at a point where there's no need to enhance women's position in the discipline.

So a woman who influenced me in computing?

The more I thought about it the more obvious it became.

Margaret Gent, of course.  My mother.   So apart from obvious motherly things, then here are some things about her which influenced me in computing.

Curta Calculator, from Wikipedia

She gave my dad his Curta calculator, roughly 1950 or so.    He later gave it to me, and I still think it is the most beautiful object I own.  Bearing in mind of course I don't own my wife or children.

A long time ago, she made a 4 bit adder out of components, a large piece of board, switches and solder.    To illustrate how computers work for her students - she was a maths teacher.   I don't know when it was done but the 1960s is a safe bet - I remember it when I was very young.   It seemed almost magical to me.  Brilliant.

TI-57 Calculator, from Wikipedia

She bought me - to be honest I don't know how much the split of decision making was with my father - my first programmable calculator, the wondrous TI-57.    Not quite my first programming as that had been done on an HP 25 borrowed by my dad from work - or lent by Spencer Noble.

She got my name into print for computing for the first time by commissioning me to calculate a table for her book "Maths for Scientists".    So yes, my first ever computing publication in any form was published by Mills & Boon!

Fairey Swordfish, image from Wikipedia
Nothing to do with computing.    But during World War II, as a radar technician at TRE Malvern, she once swapped cockpits in a Swordfish in mid air.   A good idea to look at the picture, as you'll see this is not swapping seats in a jumbo, it's a lot more fun than that.   More notably perhaps, to this day she denies it as being anything of note to have done it.

Maybe not so surprising that the first thing I did when I was promoted to Professor was to make sure my mother could come to the ceremony.