How Ada Lovelace, Daughter of Lord Byron, Wrote the First Computer Program in 1842–a Century Before the First Computer

I’ve never quite understood why the phrase “revisionist history” became purely pejorative. Of course, it has its Orwellian dark side, but all knowledge has to be revised periodically, as we acquire new information and, ideally, discard old prejudices and narrow frames of reference. A failure to do so seems fundamentally regressive, not only in political terms, but also in terms of how we value accurate, interesting, and engaged scholarship. Such research has recently brought us fascinating stories about previously marginalized people who made significant contributions to scientific discovery, such as NASA’s “human computers,” portrayed in the book Hidden Figures, then dramatized in the film of the same name.

Likewise, the many women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II—helping to decipher encryptions like the Nazi Enigma Code (out of nearly 10,000 codebreakers, about 75% were women)—have recently been getting their historical due, thanks to “revisionist” researchers. And, as we noted in a recent post, we might not know much, if anything, about film star Hedy Lamarr’s significant contributions to wireless, GPS, and Bluetooth technology were it not for the work of historians like Richard Rhodes. These few examples, among many, show us a fuller, more accurate, and more interesting view of the history of science and technology, and they inspire women and girls who want to enter the field, yet have grown up with few role models to encourage them.

We can add to the pantheon of great women in science the name Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron. Lovelace has been renowned, as Hank Green tells us in the video at the top of the post, for writing the first computer program, “despite living a century before the invention of the modern computer.” This picture of Lovelace has been a controversial one. “Historians disagree,” writes prodigious mathematician Stephen Wolfram. “To some she is a great hero in the history of computing; to others an overestimated minor figure.”

Wolfram spent some time with “many original documents” to untangle the mystery. “I feel like I’ve finally gotten to know Ada Lovelace,” he writes, “and gotten a grasp on her story. In some ways it’s an ennobling and inspiring story; in some ways it’s frustrating and tragic.” Educated in math and music by her mother, Anne Isabelle Milbanke, Lovelace became acquainted with mathematics professor Charles Babbage, the inventor of a calculating machine called the Difference Engine, “a 2-foot-high hand-cranked contraption with 2000 brass parts.” Babbage encouraged her to pursue her interests in mathematics, and she did so throughout her life.

Widely acknowledged as one of the forefathers of computing, Babbage eventually corresponded with Lovelace on the creation of another machine, the Analytical Engine, which “supported a whole list of possible kinds of operations, that could in effect be done in arbitrarily programmed sequence.” When, in 1842, Italian mathematician Louis Menebrea published a paper in French on the Analytical Engine, “Babbage enlisted Ada as translator,” notes the San Diego Supercomputer Center’s Women in Science project. “During a nine-month period in 1842-43, she worked feverishly on the article and a set of Notes she appended to it. These are the source of her enduring fame.” (You can read her translation and notes here.)

In the course of his research, Wolfram pored over Babbage and Lovelace’s correspondence about the translation, which reads “a lot like emails about a project might today, apart from being in Victorian English.” Although she built on Babbage and Menebrea’s work, “She was clearly in charge” of successfully extrapolating the possibilities of the Analytical Engine, but she felt “she was first and foremost explaining Babbage’s work, so wanted to check things with him.” Her additions to the work were very well-received—Michael Faraday called her “the rising star of Science”—and when her notes were published, Babbage wrote, “you should have written an original paper.”

Unfortunately, as a woman, “she couldn’t get access to the Royal Society’s library in London,” and her ambitions were derailed by a severe health crisis. Lovelace died of cancer at the age of 37, and for some time, her work sank into semi-obscurity. Though some historians have  seen her as simply an expositor of Babbage’s work, Wolfram concludes that it was Ada who had the idea of “what the Analytical Engine should be capable of.” Her notes suggested possibilities Babbage had never dreamed. As the Women in Science project puts it, “She rightly saw [the Analytical Engine] as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for ‘developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.’ Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.”

In a recent episode of the BBC’s In Our Time, above, you can hear host Melvyn Bragg discuss Lovelace’s importance with historians and scholars Patricia Fara, Doron Swade, and John Fuegi. And be sure to read Wolfram’s biographical and historical account of Lovelace here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Browse a Collection of Over 83,500 Vintage Sewing Patterns

My costume design professor at Northwestern University, Virgil Johnson, delighted students with his formula for period clothing. I have forgotten some of the mathematic and semantic particulars—does dressing someone five years behind the times a “frumpy” character make? Or is it merely one?

I do recall some anxious hours, preparing for the school’s main stage production of the incestuous Jacobean revenge tragedy, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. The societal corruption of the play was underscored by having the supporting characters slouch around, snorting mimed cocaine in cutting edge, mid-80s Vogue Patterns … those big unstructured jackets were very a la mode, but they gobbled up a lot of high-budget fabric, and I didn’t want to be the one to make a costly sewing mistake.

What sticks in my mind most clearly is that 20 years was the sweet spot, the appropriate amount of elapsed time to ensure that one would not appear dumpy, dowdy, or oblivious, but rather prudent and discerning. Donning a garment that was 15 years out of fashion might be daringly “retro,” but another five and that same garment could be heralded as “vintage.”

The collaborative Vintage Pattern Wiki puts the magic number at 25, requesting that contributors make sure the patterns they post are from 1992 or earlier, and also out-of-print.

The browsable collection of over 83,500 patterns runs the gamut from Dynasty-inspired pussy bow power suits to Betty Draper-esque frocks featuring models in white gloves to an 1895 boys’ Reefer Suit with fly-free short trousers.

Visitors can narrow their search to focus on a particular garment, designer or decade. If you click these links, you can see patterns from the following decades: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s1970s, and 1980s.

The movie star collection is particularly fun. (Flattering or no, I’ve always wanted a pair of Katharine Hepburn pants…)

And it goes without saying that the dog days of summer are the perfect time to get a jump on your Halloween costume.

Those who are itching to get sewing should check the links below each pattern envelope cover for vendors who have the pattern in stock and photos and posts by community members who have made that same garment.

The prices and handwritten jottings of the original owners will also put you in a vintage mood.

The hunt starts here.

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Arnold Schoenberg Creates a Hand-Drawn, Paper-Cut “Wheel Chart” to Visualize His 12-Tone Technique

“These go up to eleven,” Spinal Tap famously said of the amplifiers that, so they claimed, took them to a higher level in rock music. But the work of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, one of the best-known figures in the history of avant-garde music, went up to twelve — twelve tones, that is. His “twelve-tone technique,” invented in the early 1920s and for the next few decades used mostly by he and his colleagues in the Second Viennese School such as Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and Hanns Eisler, allowed composers to break free of the traditional Western system of keys that limited the notes available for use in a piece, instead granting each note the same weight and making none of them central.

This doesn’t mean that composers using Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique could just use notes at random in complete atonality, but that a new set of considerations would organize them. “He believed that a single tonality could include all twelve notes of the chromatic scale,” writes Bradford Bailey at The Hum, “as long as they were properly organized to be subordinate to tonic (the tonic is the pitch upon which all others are referenced, in other words the root or axis around which a piece is built).” The mathematical rigor underlying it all required some explanation, and often mathematical and musical concepts — mathematics and music being in any case intimately connected — become much clearer when rendered visually.

Hence Schoenberg’s twelve-tone wheel chart pictured at the top of the post, one of what Arnold Schoenberg’s Journey author Allen Shawn describes as “no fewer than twenty-two different kinds of contraptions” — including “charts, cylinders, booklets, slide rules” — “for transposing and deriving twelve-tone rows” needed to compose twelve-tone music. (See the slide ruler above too.) “The distinction between ‘play’ and ‘work’ is already hard to draw in the case of artists,” writes Shawn, “but in Schoenberg’s case it is especially hard to make since he brought discipline, originality, and playfulness to many of his activities.” These also included making special playing cards (two of whose sets you can see here and here) and even his own version of chess.

As Shawn describes it, Koalitionsscach, or “Coalition Chess,” involves “the armies of four countries arrayed on the four sides of the board, for which he designed and constructed the pieces himself.” Instead of an eight-by-eight board, Coalition Chess uses a ten-by-ten, and the pieces on it “represent machine guns, artillery, airplanes, submarines, tanks, and other instruments of war.” The rules, which “require that the four players form alliances at the outset,” add at least a dimension to the age-old standard game of chess — a form that, like traditional Western music, humanity will still be struggling to master decades and even centuries hence. But apparently, for a mind like Schoenberg’s, chess and music as he knew them weren’t nearly challenging enough.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Garry Kasparov Now Teaching an Online Course on Chess

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

Quick FYI: Garry Kasparov is now teaching an online course on chess, apparently his first online course ever. A grandmaster and six-time World Chess Champion, Kasparov held the highest chess rating (until being surpassed by Magnus Carlsen in 2013) and also the record for consecutive tournament victories (15 in a row). In his course, featuring 29 video lessons, Kasparov gives students “detailed lessons,” covering “his favorite openings and advanced tactics,” all of which will help students “develop the instincts and philosophy to become a stronger player.”

The course is being offered by MasterClass, the same venture developing classes with these other luminaries–Herbie Hancock on JazzJane Goodall on the EnvironmentDavid Mamet on Dramatic WritingSteve Martin on ComedyAaron Sorkin on ScreenwritingGordon Ramsay on Cooking, Judy Blume on Writing, and Werner Herzog on Filmmaking.

You can take this class by signing up for a MasterClass’ All Access Pass. The All Access Pass will give you instant access to this course and 85 others for a 12-month period.

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All the Rivers & Streams in the U.S. Shown in Rainbow Colors: A Data Visualization to Behold

This is a sight for sore eyes. Created by Hungarian geographer and map-designer Robert Szucs, using open-source QGIS software, the high resolution map above shows:

all the permanent and temporary streams and rivers of the contiguous 48 states in beautiful rainbow colours, divided into catchment areas. It shows Strahler Stream Order Classification. The higher the stream order, the thicker the line.

When you look at the map, you’ll see, as The Washington Post observes, “Every river in a color drains to the same river, which then drains into the ocean. The giant basin in the middle of the country is the Mississippi River basin. Major rivers like the Ohio and the Missouri drain into the behemoth.” Pretty impressive.

The map was apparently made using data from the European Environment Agency and the Rivers Network System.

You can find the map on Imgur, or purchase “ultra high” resolution copies through Etsy for $8.

Szucs has als0 produced data visualizations of the river systems in China, India, Europe and other parts of the world.

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Watch Johnny Cash’s Poignant Final Interview & His Last Performance: “Death, Where Is Thy Sting?” (2003)

“Ask someone to name a song that always has the power to reduce them to tears,” writes Independent culture editor Christopher Hooton, “and the chances are they’ll swiftly reply ‘Johnny Cash. Hurt,’” the country legend’s heartbreaking cover of Trent Reznor’s masochistic anthem. Asked to name a music video with the same emotional resonance, and you’re just as likely to get the same answer. I find myself tearing up just reading Hooton’s description of it. Shot at The House of Cash, the singer’s decrepit home (and shuttered museum), director Mark Romanek’s wrenching video speaks to us of “the transience of life, the gracelessness of death, the Ozymandian crumbling of an oeuvre and the decline of a genre, an era and an attitude.”

It does all that, but does much more besides: the video, and Cash’s last recordings in general, show us a man in the depths of lovelorn grief, yet unafraid to face mortality and decline and unwilling to deny their ravages. We mourn with Cash and for him, but his final performances are so riveting because, while most of us may fear death, he did not.

“Corinthians 15:55,” his last original song—on his final, posthumous collection, Ain’t No Grave—is named after the verse that asks “Death, where is thy sting?” Throughout the album, Cash sounds, writes Adam Richter, “unimpressed by the threat of death…. Singers are almost never as prepared as Cash was to bid adieu to all that.”

The “Hurt” video netted Cash, Romanek, and his team six MTV Video Music Award nominations. Before it won for Best Cinematography, Cash sat down with Kurt Loder on August 20th, 2003, for what would turn out to be his final interview. Although he confesses to a distaste for the work of making videos, of “Hurt,” he says, “I felt we were doing something worthwhile.” He talks about meeting Rick Rubin and making the American Recordings series of albums, some of the most widely praised records of his career, and the music he had always wanted to make. And he expresses the fierce independence, compassion, and authenticity that made him such a phenomenal writer and admirable human being.

“You can’t let people delegate to you what you should do,” Cash says, pointing at his heart, “when it’s coming from way in here, you know?… I wouldn’t let anybody influence me into thinking I was doing the wrong thing by singing about death, hell, and drugs.” We’re all lucky that he didn’t. Cash’s expressions of grief after the death of June Carter cut deep, but it was his ability not only to play the outlaw but also to empathize with people who are abused, persecuted, and excluded by the law that set him apart from other country and gospel singers, and made him a hero to millions of people who don’t share his roots or his faith.

The month before Cash gave his final interview, he gave his last performance at the Carter Ranch. (Watch it above.) Less than a month after the interview, he was dead. In 2007, the House of Cash, the house Cash had lived in since 1968, burned to the ground. Cash surely would have mourned the loss, but it wouldn’t have kept him down for long, I suspect. Not only did he stare down death with grace, humor, and dignity, but he faced the pains of life with those same qualities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Female Pioneers of the Bauhaus Art Movement: Discover Gertrud Arndt, Marianne Brandt, Anni Albers & Other Forgotten Innovators

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the Bauhaus, the modern art and design movement that emerged from the eponymous German art school in the 1920s and 30s, didn’t involve many women. Perhaps the famous near-industrial austerity of its aesthetic, especially at large scales, has stereotypical associations with maleness, but also, Bauhaus’ most oft-referenced leading lights — Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer — all happened to be men. But if we seek out the women of the Bauhaus, what can we learn?

“When it opened, the Bauhaus school declared itself progressive and modern and advocated equality for the sexes, which was rare at the time,” says Evelyn Adams in her short video on the Women of the Bauhaus above. “Value was placed on skill rather than gender. Classes weren’t segregated, and women were free to select whichever subjects they wanted.”

This had an understandable appeal, and in the school’s first year more women applied than men. But alas, “in reality, despite having radical aspirations, the men in charge of the school represented the societal attitudes of the time. If everyone was welcomed as equals, then why did none of the women reach the same level of recognition as Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky?”

The story of Gertrud Arndt, one of whose self-portraits appears above and one of whose textiles appears below that, sheds some light on the answer. “She must have felt so optimistic,” writes the New York Times‘ Alice Rawsthorn, when she arrived at the Bauhaus school of art and design in 1923 as “a gifted, spirited 20-year-old who had won a scholarship to pay for her studies. Having spent several years working as an apprentice to a firm of architects, she had set her heart on studying architecture.” But because of a “long-running battle between its founding director, the architect Walter Gropius, and one of its most charismatic teachers, Johannes Itten, who wanted to use the school as a vehicle for his quasi-spiritual approach to art and design,” the Bauhaus’ house, as it were, had fallen out of order.

Alas, “Arndt was told that there was no architecture course for her to join and was dispatched to the weaving workshop.” In recent years, the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin has put on shows to honor female Bauhausers like Ardnt, textile designer Benita Koch-Otte, and theater designer, illustrator, and color theorist Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp. “The situation improved after Gropius succeeded in ousting Itten in 1923,” writes Rawsthorn, hiring Moholy-Nagy in Itten’s place. “Having ensured that female students were given greater freedom, Moholy encouraged one of them, Marianne Brandt, to join the metal workshop. She was to become one of Germany’s foremost industrial designers during the 1930s,” and her 1924 tea infuser and strainer appears just above.

Artsy’s Alexxa Gotthardt has the stories of more women of the Bauhaus, including Anni Albers, whose 1947 Knot 2 appears just above. Her other work includes “a cotton and cellophane curtain that simultaneously absorbed sound and reflected light” and tapestries that “would go on to have a considerable impact on the development of geometric abstraction in the visual arts.” Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, writes Gotthardt, dared “to switch from the weaving workshop to the male-dominated wood-sculpture department,” where she invented a “small ship-building game,” pictured below and still in production today, that “manifested Bauhaus’s central tenets: its 22 blocks, forged in primary colors, could be constructed into the shape of a boat, but could also be rearranged to allow for creative experimentation.”

Bauhaus art and design took criticism in its heyday, as it still takes criticism now, for a certain coldness and sterility — or at least the work of the men of the Bauhaus does. But the more we discover about the lesser-known women of the Bauhaus, the more we see how they managed to bring no small degree of humanity to its artistic fruits, even to those of its most rigorous branches. “There is no difference between the beautiful sex and the strong sex,” Gropius once insisted in a somewhat self-defeating pronouncement, but the differences between the male and female Bauhausers — in their personalities as well as in their work — make the movement look all the richer in retrospect.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Animated Score for Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima,” the Horrifying Composition Featured in Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Cuarón’s Children of Men & Other Films

If you were watching episode 8 of Twin Peaks on Sunday night, you might still be recovering from an overdose of uncut, pure David Lynch. We’re not here to summarize the episode but instead to point to the musical accompaniment to one of the most startling sequences in all of the director’s filmography: The slow tracking aerial shot into the heart of the first nuclear test mushroom cloud, right into the middle of hell itself (see below).

Although Angelo Badalamenti is back on board as the show’s composer, Lynch chose to use for this scene the modern classical work by Krzysztof Penderecki, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, one of the most harrowing works of the 20th century.

The eight-and-a-half minute composition—-which you can listen to while following the composer’s abstract score in the video above—-was written by the Polish composer for 52 strings, nothing else. This accounts for the shrill, all treble nature of the piece. The title and dedication came later, only after Penderecki had listened to it being performed.

“I was struck by the emotional charge of the work,” Penderecki said, “I searched for associations and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims.”

The work went on to take third place at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Composers’ Competition in Katowice in 1960 and won the Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs UNESCO prize in 1961, two major awards that began Penderecki’s journey to become one of Poland’s most respected composers, second only to Henryk Górecki.

This isn’t Lynch’s first use of Penderecki, having put an excerpt of 1970’s Kosmogonia in Wild at Heart’s “lipstick freakout” scene, and six pieces in Inland Empire.

And it isn’t the first time Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, has been used in film. It was chosen by Alfonso Cuarón for Children of Men, and by Wes Craven for The People Under the Stairs, which coincidentally starred two actors from Twin Peaks.

Interestingly, Penderecki had scored films in the ‘60s, but they were work for hire jobs: a pleasant folk filled score for Wojciech Has’s The Saragossa Manuscript and choral pastiche in a Renaissance style for Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime, Je t’aime, along with some television work. But he kept that music separate from his serious work as a concert composer, seeing soundtrack work as undignified—-this was long before Philip Glass was scoring films, when careers were more regimented.

Because he refused to score William Friedkin’s The Exorcist for that reason, the director chose instead to use five of Penderecki’s already existing works for some of the film’s scariest moments: the appearance of words on Regan’s body, Father Merrin’s vision of evil near the start of the film, and during the exorcism itself. People remember Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” for its futuristic sound of occult apprehension, but it’s Penderecki’s work that accompanied all the screaming from the audiences.

Six years later in 1979, Stanley Kubrick would use seven Penderecki works for The Shining, underlining the state of madness in that particularly jarring film.

By the mid-1970s, the composer was turning away from the discordant tonal clusters of these early works and towards a more traditional and often beautiful style. But for a certain generation of filmmakers, Penderecki will be synonymous with horror. Last Sunday showed the piece still holds a grim, devastating power.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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