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  • feedwordpress 08:01:51 on 2018/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: Ada Lovelace, Analytical Engine, , , , , , history of computing,   

    “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”*… 

     

    future

    Security, transportation, energy, personal “stuff”– the 2018 staff of Popular Mechanics, asked leading engineers and futurists for their visions of future cities, and built a handbook to navigate this new world: “The World of 2045.”

    * William Gibson (in The Economist, December 4, 2003)

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    As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Charles Babbage; he died on this date in 1871. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer. Anxious to eliminate inaccuracies in mathematical tables, he first built a small calculating machine able to compute squares.  He then produced prototypes of portions of a larger Difference Engine. (Georg and Edvard Schuetz later constructed the first working devices to the same design, and found them successful in limited applications.)  In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

    Babbage’s other inventions include the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, the standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope.  A true hacker, he was also passionate about cyphers and lock-picking.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:41 on 2017/12/10 Permalink
    Tags: Ada Lovelace, , Computer programming, , flash, flash photography, , , ,   

    “A flash of revelation and a flash of response”*… 

     

    “A Cellar Dive in the Bend,” c.1895, by Richard Hoe Lawrence and Henry G. Piffard

    All photography requires light, but the light used in flash photography is unique — shocking, intrusive and abrupt. It’s quite unlike the light that comes from the sun, or even from ambient illumination. It explodes, suddenly, into darkness.

    The history of flash goes right back to the challenges faced by early photographers who wanted to use their cameras in places where there was insufficient light — indoors, at night, in caves. The first flash photograph was probably a daguerreotype of a fossil, taken in 1839 by burning limelight…

    In its early days, a sense of quasi-divine revelation was invoked by some flash photographers, especially when documenting deplorable social conditions. Jacob Riis, for example, working in New York in the late 1880s, used transcendental language to help underscore flash’s significance as an instrument of intervention and purgation. But it’s in relation to documentary photography that we encounter most starkly flash’s singular, and contradictory, aspects. It makes visible that which would otherwise remain in darkness; but it is often associated with unwelcome intrusion, a rupturing of private lives and interiors.

    Yet flash brings a form of democracy to the material world. Many details take on unplanned prominence, as we see in the work of those Farm Security Administration photographers who used flash in the 1930s and laid bare the reality of poverty during the Depression. A sudden flare of light reveals each dent on a kitchen utensil and the label on each carefully stored can; each photograph on the mantel; each cherished ornament; each little heap of waste paper or discarded rag; each piece of polished furniture or stained floor or accumulation of dust; each wrinkle. Flash can make plain, bring out of obscurity, the appearance of things that may never before have been seen with such clarity…

    Find illumination at “A short history of flash photography.”

    * J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

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    As we glory in the glare, we might send elegantly-calculated birthday greetings to Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron); she was born on this date in 1815.  The daughter of the poet Lord Byron, she was the author of what can reasonably be considered the first “computer program”– so one of the “parents” of the modern computer.  Her work was in collaboration with her long-time friend and thought partner Charles Babbage (known as “the father of computers”), in particular, in conjunction with Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine.

    Ada, Countess of Lovelace, 1840

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:38 on 2016/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: Ada Lovelace, Analytic Engine, , , , , , , , , thought experiment,   

    “in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious”*… 

     

    Of all the bizarre facets of quantum theory, few seem stranger than those captured by Erwin Schrödinger’s famous fable about the cat that is neither alive nor dead. It describes a cat locked inside a windowless box, along with some radioactive material. If the radioactive material happens to decay, then a device releases a hammer, which smashes a vial of poison, which kills the cat. If no radioactivity is detected, the cat lives. Schrödinger dreamt up this gruesome scenario to mock what he considered a ludicrous feature of quantum theory. According to proponents of the theory, before anyone opened the box to check on the cat, the cat was neither alive nor dead; it existed in a strange, quintessentially quantum state of alive-and-dead.

    Today, in our LOLcats-saturated world, Schrödinger’s strange little tale is often played for laughs, with a tone more zany than somber. It has also become the standard bearer for a host of quandaries in philosophy and physics. In Schrödinger’s own time, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg proclaimed that hybrid states like the one the cat was supposed to be in were a fundamental feature of nature. Others, like Einstein, insisted that nature must choose: alive or dead, but not both.

    Although Schrödinger’s cat flourishes as a meme to this day, discussions tend to overlook one key dimension of the fable: the environment in which Schrödinger conceived it in the first place. It’s no coincidence that, in the face of a looming World War, genocide, and the dismantling of German intellectual life, Schrödinger’s thoughts turned to poison, death, and destruction. Schrödinger’s cat, then, should remind us of more than the beguiling strangeness of quantum mechanics. It also reminds us that scientists are, like the rest of us, humans who feel—and fear…

    More of this sad story at “How Einstein and Schrödinger Conspired to Kill a Cat.”

    * Terry Patchett

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    As we refrain from lifting the box’s lid, we might spare a thought for Charles Babbage; he died on this date in 1871.  A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer.  Anxious to eliminate inaccuracies in mathematical tables. By 1822, he built small calculating machine able to compute squares (1822).  He then produced prototypes of portions of a larger Difference Engine. (Georg and Edvard Schuetz later constructed the first working devices to the same design which were successful in limited applications.)  In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

    Babbage’s other inventions include the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, the standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope.  He was also passionate about cyphers and lock-picking.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:08 on 2015/01/22 Permalink
    Tags: Ada Lovelace, , , , favorite books, , meme, most important books, ,   

    “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all”*… 

     

    Facebook has analyzed its well-known meme, “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.”

    It gathered an anonymized sample of over 130,000 status updates matching “10 books” or “ten books” appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014 (although the meme has been active over at least a year). 63.7% of the posters were in the US, followed by 9.3%in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37.

    Here are the top 20 books, along with a percentage of all lists (having at least one of the top 500 books) that contained them.

    1. 21.08 Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
    2. 14.48 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    3. 13.86 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
    4. 7.48  The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
    5. 7.28  Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
    6. 7.21  The Holy Bible
    7. 5.97  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    8. 5.82  The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
    9. 5.70  The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
    10. 5.63  The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
    11. 5.61  The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
    12. 5.37  1984 – George Orwell
    13. 5.26  Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
    14. 5.23  Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
    15. 5.11  The Stand – Stephen King
    16. 4.95  Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
    17. 4.38  A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
    18. 4.27  The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
    19. 4.05  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
    20. 4.01  The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

    Read more here.  And see how the same list varied in non-English-speaking areas here (spoiler alert: Harry Potter still rules…).

    * Oscar Wilde

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    As we turn the page, we might send leather-bound birthday wishes to poet, iconic bad boy (and, as readers will recall,  father of the redoubtable Ada Lovelace) George Gordon, Lord Byron; he was was born on this date in 1788.  Byron once famously suggested that “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”  Still, history suggests, even then…

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