One year before Tim Paterson developed his “Quick and Dirty Operating System,” the US military created a powerful new programming language called “Ada.” Dozens of books and manuals were written about Ada, and every computer programmer in the world was acutely aware of her. Ada was a stunningly beautiful woman who had walked into their room.
Paterson sold his “Quick and Dirty OS” to Bill Gates who shortened QDOS to “DOS” and used it as the foundation of what was to become the mighty Microsoft empire.
But why did the US government choose the name “Ada?” Unlike DOS, Ada was not an acronym. She was a real woman who died in 1852.
Five short weeks after Ada was born, her mother left her father, believing him “to have his head so much in the clouds that his feet never touch the ground.” Under no circumstances was the daughter of Annabella Milbanke going to grow up and become a worthless romantic like her father! Instead, Annabella insisted that young Ada study mathematics. But much to her terror, Ada’s vivid vision of mathematics was laced with imagination and described in metaphors. After years of confrontation and heated debate with her rigid mother, Ada finally wrote a letter saying,
“If you can't give me poetry, can't you at least give me ‘poetical science?’”
When Ada was 18, she met a man at a dinner party who spoke of his dream for Mathematical Engine.
“What if a calculating engine could not only foresee, but could act on that foresight?” No one but Ada understood the strange man, but she would never be the same. That man was Charles Babbage, and over the next 10 years Ada sent him a series of letters that would provide the inspiration and much of the guidance that allowed him to create the world’s first computer. In her letters, Ada predicted that Babbage’s machine would someday be used not only for scientific inquiry, but also to compose complex music and produce amazing graphic images. And she imagined all this during the years when tribal Indians ruled the heartland of America and Martin Van Buren was the president of all 27 United States. In one of her letters, Ada describes an algorithm for the analytical engine to compute Bernoulli numbers - the first algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer, earning her the undisputed title of “World’s First Computer Programmer.”
As she lay dying of cancer at the tender age of 36, Ada asked to be buried next to her flamboyantly handsome father, the “useless romantic” her mother had never allowed her to meet, a man who had died when Ada was just 8 years old. So if you’re ever in Nottinghamshire, England, look for Ada’s tombstone next to that of her father - George Gordon, Lord Byron, the most famous of all the poets of England’s Romantic Age.
Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child!
Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smil'd,
And then we parted - not as now we part,
But with a hope. - Awaking with a start,
The waters heave around me; and on high
The winds lift up their voices: I depart,
Whither I know not; but the hour's gone by,
Albion's lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.
- Opening lines of the third cantos of Byron’s epic poem, Childe Harold.
~ Roy H. Williams
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