The Enchantress of Numbers


“A new, a vast and powerful language is developed for the future use of analysis.”

A.A.L., 1843

The history of modern computing is filled with stories and Hollywood films about geniuses such as Alan Turing and enterprising pairs like the two Steves of Apple, but a century before any of these famous inventors were born, Ada Lovelace was burning the midnight oil to write the first ever computer program.

In a time when women were rarely given opportunities for a scientific education, Ada had the advantage of being born into an upper class family and her mother arranged for first class education for her daughter. Demonstrating a strong aptitude for mathematics early on, Ada subsequently developed an interest in machines, designing a steam powered flying machine at the age of twelve, 15 years before a similar design was patented by two engineers many years her senior. This interest in machines and mathematics was encouraged by her mother, who was also concerned that Ada might develop the madness exhibited by her father, Lord Byron, if she did not have an appropriate outlet or distraction. Byron left his family when Ada was one month old and died when she was eight; despite having an interest in her father’s poetry and life, Ada never saw him after he left.

Ada’s health was often poor, but she continued to explore mathematics and machines and was encouraged by her tutors, even if they worried sometimes that she studied too hard or thought certain mathematical problems might be beyond her;

“The very great tension of mind which they [maths problems] require is beyond the strength of a woman’s physical power of application.” – Augustus De Morgan (one of Ada’s tutors)

Ada proved him wrong.

Ada met Charles Babbage, an early pioneer of computing, in 1833, when she was 17 years old. They were introduced by the Scottish astronomer and mathematician Mary Somerville, Ada’s tutor and friend. Ada was fascinated by Babbage’s machines and worked with him on the “analytical engine”, a design for the first general purpose computer. The two became friends and Ada continued to work with Babbage on the engine. In 1842, she translated notes on one of Babbage’s lectures that were written by the Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea, expanding and correcting the document as she translated. Her additional notes on the lecture were three times longer than Menabrea’s original and in them Ada penned several computer programmes; the notes were published in Scientific Memoirs under her initials AAL in 1843 and are thought to be the first ever computer programs to be published.

Although the analytical engine was never built due to a lack of funding, the designs and work that Lovelace and Babbage pioneered influenced scientists and engineers of the 20th Century including Alan Turing, who used Lovelace’s notes when he was working at Bletchley Park in World War II. The US Department of Defense named the computer language, Ada, after Lovelace in 1980.

Ada Lovelace’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 36 when she died of cancer, but her legacy and place in history as the first programmer is now celebrated on Ada Lovelace day, an international event that celebrates the achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This year, Ada Lovelace Day (#ALD2018) will be on 9th October and a range of events will be held all over the world. At the University of Edinburgh there will be short talks, an edit-a-thon, a data hackathon, an introduction to supercomputing and Women in STEM inspired cake decorating. If you would like to attend then there are further details here.


Further reading

Charman-Anderson, S (2015) A Passion For Science: Tales of Discovery and Invention. FindingAda, 2nd edition. Amazon

Fuegi, J, Francis, J, “Lovelace & Babbage and the creation of the 1843 ‘notes’”, Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE, vol.25, no.4, pp.16-26, Oct.-Dec. 2003. Link

Ingenious Knickers

Forget putting on your thinking caps. Ingenious Women don’t need hats to tackle problems- we have knickers.


The Flexible Knickers

We all have a flexible pair of knickers which come in handy and can be used for different purposes (bikini pants? Shorts? Hot pants? These knickers can become these things!) The Flexible Knickers are exactly as they sound. We may not always be able to change a situation, but we can adapt to it, and this is where we need to put on our Flexible Knickers.

The Team Knickers

These knickers are worn when we need to assemble or work as part of a team. It’s important to accept that sometimes, we can’t always do everything alone, and collaboration is necessary.

The Organiser Knickers

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The bee print on the Organiser Knickers represents the qualities we often associate with bees; organisation, structure, and defined roles. These knickers are put on when we need more focus and to put plans into place, whether it’s through establishing a routine and regular meetings, or using to do lists and spreadsheets.

The Motivation Knickers

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These knickers are full of energy, and can be put on when you need a reminder of your goals and the drive to complete them. The Motivation Knickers can encourage new habits, such as starting the day on a “win” by accomplishing smaller tasks such as making the bed in the morning, or planning rewards when other tasks are completed. The Motivation Knickers can also be used to establish where and why we might be lacking motivation, and help us to get back on track with achieving your goals.

The Resilience Knickers

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Sometimes, we need a reminder that we can do this, and that’s when we should pull on our Resilience Knickers. These knickers can be worn to help maintain a positive outlook when we need to negotiate potentially difficult situations such as receiving rejection or criticism, or when facing more dominant personalities.
As the mantra created by one of the groups this weekend reads, these knickers will grant the wearer “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

The Tech Knickers

This shiny, silver pair of Knickers represents times when we need to manage technology. As many Ingenious Women can attest, technology can be both the solution to, and root of the problems we face. The Tech Knickers, therefore, can be worn to wrangle technology into submission, or when in need of some technological assistance.

The Sensible Knickers

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Also known as the reliable pants, or “pants for life”, the Sensible Knickers are often pulled on when taking on a leadership role and responsibility is required. They are suited for considering risks or finding ways to negotiate problems, however, should be warn with caution. As one group noted, “these knickers can take a lot of hits!” and wearers should not be afraid to occasionally go “off-road” with their ideas. With these knickers, anything can be achievable.

The Selling Knickers


This fancy pair of knickers are for the situations where persuasive skills are required; they are less about the wearer, and more about considering the perspective of the wearer’s audience. The Selling Knickers encourage adapting to feedback, building confidence, and evaluating, as well as honing presentation skills.

The Superman Knickers


As the name of these knickers suggests, the Superman Knickers can imbue the qualities of Clark Kent’s alter-ego in their wearers; confidence, assertiveness, and authority. They can be pulled on in situations where empowerment is required. Whilst these knickers can be worn by Ingenious Women, they can be worn by others in the wild too. This is something worth remembering when facing more dominant or impressive personalities; these figures simply pulled on their Superman Knickers today. It’s also worth noting that even Superman can feel nervous- and this is okay! These knickers remind us that we should recognise our achievements, surround ourselves with a positive support network, and stand our ground- we deserve to be here.


These knickers can be worn at any point by Ingenious Women- sometimes we may even combine pairs according to the many different roles we occupy!
Imagine if the knickers described above were magic. What difference could they make for you? What actions would you take?

Images ~ Cia Jackson and Jo Young