Science for the People: Lovelace & Babbage

sftpThis week we’re learning about a pair of 19th-century geniuses, and the friendship that gave rise to the era of modern computers. We’ll speak to artist and animator Sydney Padua about her graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer. We’ll also talk to Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Don’t forget to support the Science for the People Patreon Campaign to keep the sciencey goodness flowing toward your ear holes.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

The Proto-Trolling of Charles Babbage

No one, not even his closest friends, would deny that Charles Babbage was a first rate pedant. In 1842, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a poem entitled “The Vision of Sin”, which included the following verse:

Fill the cup, and fill the can:
Have a rouse before the morn:
Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

Good stuff that. I feel all inspired to fill life up with joy, because it is fleeting and meaningless. The “carpe-est” of “diems”, if you will*. I am so moved that the editor in me is not even bothered in the slightest** about the unorthodox punctuation choices.

Charles Babbage is a better pedant than I. He wrote a letter to the poet:

In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads, “Every minute dies a man, Every minute one is born”; I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend ot keep the sum total of the world’s population in a state of perpetual equipoise, whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum totatl is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows: “Every moment*** dies a man, And one and a sixteenth is born.”

Babbage trolled Tennyson. Babbage trolled Tennyson hard.

*Please don’t.

**Botheration is stastically indistinguishable from “not bothered in the slightest”, primarily due to large sample variance.

***Apparently, the original version used “minute” which Tennyson later changed to “moment”.

SOURCE: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage by Sydney Padua , which you go and buy now. In fact, I ‘ve already judged you more than a little if you have already bought the book, read it, and been completely familiar with this story, because you read the end notes like a true scholar.