Who is Ada Lovelace?

In a recent interview with Erica Heilman, librarian Jessamyn West remarked:

“Certain ways of thinking about things make it more easy for you to adapt to a world that technology has a role in…You have to understand that the operating system is abstracting this in a way that’s supposed to make it easy for you, but you have to be able to understand the metaphor: ‘When I click and drag this thing,’ there’s actually not a physical thing that’s happening…the computer’s showing you a picture to help you understand and help you get organized…”

For most users, this is a given. We do our computing in a lush, hyperlinked world of streaming video, .gifs, and audio, where the metaphors are understood and made invisible by that understanding. Programs make the metaphor work. A far cry from computing’s humble origins, which go as far back as 2400 BCE with the Roman abacus or the Greek Antikythera mechanism of the second century BCE. In fact, we can trace the origin of the word “computer” to a 1613 text, The yong mans gleanings. In the 18th century and beyond, “computer” referred to the people, often women, who compiled tables of mathematical calculations for astronomy and navigation. In the 19th century, before the advent of digital computing, Charles Babbage was working on his Analytical Engine, a theoretical machine that could execute complicated equations—if it were ever built.

Ada Lovelace corrected mistakes in Babbage’s designs and wrote an algorithm that would allow the machine to compute Bernoulli numbers, computing’s first program.

Portrait of Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon

Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 to Anne Milbanke, a mathematician, and Lord Byron, the notorious rock star of 19th century verse. Shortly after her birth, her parents separated and Byron exiled himself to Greece where he died in 1824. Ada was raised by her mother and tutored almost exclusively in math. As a young woman, she befriended Babbage, as well as Mary Somerville (a well-regarded mathematician, scientist, and suffragette), Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday, and Charles Dickens. In 1842, she set to translating Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq., an 1840 lecture delivered by Babbage in Turin, in Italian, as recorded by Luigi Menabrea. She expanded this translation nearly threefold with notes, which include the first computer program. Unfortunately, Ada never got to see her program in action, as Babbage’s machine was never built. Ada died in 1852 of cancer.

Almost a century later, Alan Turing cited Ada Lovelace in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Turing posed the question, “Can machines think?” While outlining the limitations that others have posed to the question of thinking machines, he described what he called Lady Lovelace’s Objection. In her words: “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform.” Turing’s paper posed the Imitation Game, often referred to as the Turing Test, in which a human talks to two interlocutors—one of whom is human, the other machine—and tries to determine which is which.

Ada Lovelace’s translation of Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq. was republished in 1953. In the 1970’s, the U.S. Department of Defense named a computer programming language ADA as tribute to Lovelace, and the British Computer Society annually awards the Lovelace medal for notable contributions to computer science and holds Lovelace lectures given by those awarded.

Jean Jennings (left), Marlyn Wescoff (center), and Ruth Lichterman program ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer, by plugging and unplugging cables and adjusting switches.
Jennings (left), Wescoff (center), and Lichterman program ENIAC. Corbis Images.

There are a number of wonderful women whose contributions to the history of computing, like Ada’s, are not often discussed but deserve celebration. Grace Hopper, a Yale Ph.D. and Navy Admiral, developed a compiler for the UNIVAC computer that translated source code into machine-readable language and helped develop the programming language COBOL, still used in business, finance, and government computing. Hopper also popularized the term “debugging,” coined after she removed a moth stuck in the Mark 2 computer at Harvard University. While Hopper was working at Harvard, Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman—all former human computers, calculating trajectories for firing tables—were programming, debugging, and maintaining the ENIAC computer for the U.S. Army. At the time, photographs of the six working with ENIAC circulated without identifying the women or their roles. Jean Bartik, then Betty Jennings, remarked in a 2010 interview it was not until 1986 that they received recognition for their accomplishments.

Graph paper with notes by Grace Hopper with moth taped to paper, below the moth a note reads "First actual case of being found."
“First actual case of bug being found.”

This year, we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day on October 13th, to remember Ada but also to celebrate the hard work of a number of women whose contributions to computing, science, and technology have gone unsung. Learn more about Ada Lovelace Day at findingada.com.

-Thom Sullivan

For more information, please check out:

Abbate, Janet. Recoding Gender: Women’s Changing Participation In Computing.Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012. Available online.

Gleick, James. The Information : a History, a Theory, a Flood. 1st Vintage Books ed., 2012. New York: Vintage Books, 2011. Available at Wells.

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators : How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition. 2014. Available at Wells.

Misa, Thomas J. Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley , 2010. Available online.

“The Ada Lovelace Episode: Who was the Enchantress of Numbers?” Stuff You Missed in History Class.

Woodfield, Ruth. Women, Work and Computing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Available online.

Save the Planet: Resources for Individual Action

holding the earth in our hands
It’s Springtime! This time of year always makes me start thinking about how beautiful but precarious our environment is (especially when Spring starts as weirdly early as it did this year). And with Earth Day on the 22nd and Arbor Day on the 27th, it’s certainly a time for such reflection. With the resources below, you can learn more about this subject and about what you can do personally to help save our planet.

To find relevant books, try doing a subject search (in IUCAT, go to Advanced Keyword Search and type into the subject field box) for terms like “Sustainable living”, “Environmental protection–citizen participation”, “Environmentalism”, “Environmental responsibility”, “Global warming–prevention”, or “Climate change mitigation”. You’ll find books on the business aspects of sustainability (the Business/SPEA library has a strong sustainability collection in general), larger societal impacts and courses of action, as well as such excellent books of strategy for the individual as:

When browsing for such individual responsibility-type books, try looking for call numbers that start with TD171.7, especially in the Undergraduate Core Collection on the 3rd floor of the Wells Library West Tower, where there is a good cluster.

Find more online resources at the library’s Sustainable Scholars Page, and, as it suggests, check out the IU Office of Sustainability’s website for information on recycling at IU, sustainability events and opportunities, getting your dorm room green-certified, and more. This blog post from IU’s Sustainability Themester can guide you to general reference works on the topic as well.

If you have any questions about how to use any of these resources or want help finding more, you can Ask A Librarian by chat, phone, email, and of course in person!


Resources in Focus: Our Place in the Foodchain

On February 26, Michael Pollan, the famous author and scholar, gave a lecture at the IU Auditorium in Bloomington. His appearance was the capstone of ArtsWeek, and was sponsored by the Indiana Memorial Union Board and the IU Auditorium. Before a packed house, Pollan reflected on his beginnings as a writer, and specifically how his work came to focus on the relationship between humans, plants, and animals.

In these times of an ever-increasing political polarization, it is notable that some environmental issues transcend the generic labels of “left” and “right.” The Herman B Wells Library has a number of resources to help all patrons (be they students, faculty, or staff) begin to explore their relationship to the environment, the food we consume, the animals in our lives, and the animals on our plates.

The following are merely some starting points, if you are curious about exploring this issue further ask a librarian!

E-Books (Available on campus and off-campus with authorized log on.)

The Lives of Animals by J.M. Coetzee

The Welfare of Animals: The Silent Majority by Clive Phillips

Animal Welfare: Competing Conceptions and their Ethical Implications by Richard P. Haynes

In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave by Peter Singer


Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center

Print Resources

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eyeview of the World by Michael Pollan (Call Number: QK46.5.H85 P66 2001)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Call Number: GT2850 .P65 2006)

In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan (Call Number: RA784 .P643 2009)

Making a Killing: the Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres (Call Number: HV4708 .T67 2007)

Do Animals have Rights? by Alison Loftus-Hills (Call Number: HV4708 .H54 2005)

Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions edited by Cass R. Sunstein and Martha C. Nussbaum (Call Number: HV4708 .A56 2004)


Michael Pollan’s Website

Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

Animal Aid

In Defense of Animals

Images Source: The above photographs were taken by the author of the post at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky.

Why are there so many ladybugs in the library?

Asian Lady Beetle(from http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoglund/3967768848/)

If you’re been in Wells Library lately you probably noticed hundreds of small ladybug-looking insects on the light fixtures. Every year between mid-October until late autumn, Asian lady beetles also known as the  Halloween lady beetles or the Japanese lady beetles reappear and congregate around windows, doors, etc. They are harmless but they may emit an unpleasant odor if you smash them.

In the fall each year, the beetles look for cool, dry places to hibernate during the winter.

According to an article in Purdue Extension (http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-214.pdf) Asian Lady beetles are attracted to among other things:

  • longitudinal color contrasts on buildings
  • southwest-facing sides or windows
  • buildings close to trees

All of which makes Wells Library very attractive place for the beetles to congregate!

For more information on Asian Lady Beetles see:

  • http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/asianladybeetle.html
  • http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-214.pdf
  • http://www.ipm.msu.edu/asianladybeetle.htm


Don’t know much about biology?

Sam Cooke once crooned that he didn’t know much about biology. If you find yourself in the same situation, the IU Libraries are here to help.

Getting Started:

  • The Life Sciences Library page has links to encyclopedias and handbooks that can provide helpful definitions toward understanding more complex articles–or maybe give you just enough information for now.
  • Want a general or introductory book on a science-related topic? Try IUCat, using the advanced search (link is in the box on the right) and limiting to Wells Library-Undergraduate Services–Core Collection. Books from here can be kept for two weeks.

Feeling Advanced and Getting Specific:

  • Web of Knowledge is a powerful database that covers many areas of science.
  • PubMed can be particularly helpful for medical queries. To narrow your searches (cancer will return 2 million hits…you may not want to look at all of them, try using MeSH within PubMed to find the exact words you want.


  • The Life Science Library has a series of guides and handouts with specific information on what to find where and how
  • The Ask a Librarian service is an easy way to ask questions–and your question could make a librarian’s day

As a side note, if you’d rather hear the Cooke song than learn about biology, use IUCat to find a recording. Limit to sound recording from the box on the right, then try “Sam Cooke” and “wonderful world” as keywords.



Wash your hands, don’t touch your face… stay healthy!

IU has posted information on the campus web site:  http://www.iub.edu/~prepare/flu.shtml 

And the EBSCO company has created a free flu information resource.  Here’s the annoucement we received from EBSCO today:

This free flu information resource is located at www.ebscohost.com/flu and will provide continually updated, evidence-based clinical information from DynaMed™ and Nursing Reference Center™, EBSCO’s clinical and nursing point-of-care databases, along with patient education information in 17 languages from Patient Education Reference Center™. Please visit this site often and feel free to share, post, and email this link to your colleagues, patrons, family and friends.  To learn about EBSCO’s editorial processes for systematically identifying, evaluating and selecting evidence, visit this page.

The IU Libraries subscribe to many EBSCO databases.  EBSCO databases

posted by EMO