Time to pledge for Ada Lovelace Day 2010!

Thanks to TechnoPhobia, Stephanie Troeth, Stephanie Booth and the other Ada Lovelace Day volunteers, I’m happy to announce that the new Ada Lovelace Day Pledge is up and running! Please go and sign up, and join us on 24th March 2010 in celebrating your tech heroine. We are hoping to get 3072 people to sign the pledge this year, so let your friends know and help us hit our target!

We are still doing a little bit of polishing of the website, getting it all ready for the big day. If you have any suggestions or feedback, please feel free to leave them on our UserVoice forum. And don’t forget to keen an eye on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news!

New Ada Lovelace Day Facebook group

I’ve just started a new Facebook group for Ada Lovelace Day. I won’t be creating a Facebook event this year, because we are in the process of creating a new website that will include the pledge and mapping functionality that we used Pledgebank/Facebook for last year. But I think it’ll be useful for all the people who joined last year’s Facebook event page to keep up to date with what’s going on so feel free to join up and tell your friends!

Byron and Babbage: A Calculating Story

Film maker Rosemarie Reed is putting together a feature-length film on Ada Byron Lovelace, called Byron and Babbage: A Calculating Story, and needs your help (especially if you’re in the United States.)

The film will be based on Ada’s letters and is, as Rosemarie describes it, “a documentary with some dramatic readings”. One of Rosemarie’s previous films, Out from the shadows: the story of Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, was recently shown at the International Science Film Festival in Paris and is in a similar vein.

PBS National will distribute the film, so it will reach 95% of American households with an expected first night viewership of at least 7,000,000 the first night. It will also probably get an international airing, and Rosemarie is also putting together a web site plus a site in Second Life.

Advisors include Betty Toole, who wrote Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers; Joan Baum, who wrote The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron; Drummond Bone, a Byron scholar from Liverpool University; Doron Swade, a Charles Babbage expert; plus an as yet unconfirmed representative from the US Department of Defense for the Ada Software project.

But Rosemarie needs letters of support from people who have been influenced in some way by Ada and who are willing to help publicise the film, be a part of the interactive website, perhaps show the film, or contribute in any other way.

Rosemarie says, “I need letters from people stating how important a film like Ada is and how they through their networks can help to publicize the film. It would be great if the women have organizations they work or belong to. If they are software developers or computer experts, this would be great. It would be best if they were Americans, as the NSF (National Science Foundation) is American.”

If you’re not American, letters would still be useful of course! The deadline is the end of October.

Please write to:

Rosemarie Reed
On the Road Productions International, Inc.
310 Greenwich Street, 21F
New York, NY 10013

Or email Rosemarie directly.

Ada Lovelace Day recognised by Telegraph

It was really nice to see Ada Lovelace Day (in the form of me) recognised in the Telegraph’s list of The 50 Most Influential Britons in Technology yesterday. It’s good that the effort to bring more women in tech to the fore has been appreciated, and I feel quite chuffed to have been included on their list of influencers.

Unfortunately, there are only five women in the Telegraph’s lower 25. I can’t help thinking that’s slightly ironic, not to mention another indicator that we have long way to go before Ada Lovelace Day becomes unnecessary.

I’ve blogged about the list, and my inclusion on it, in a bit more detail over on Strange Attractor. Meantime, I’ve been considering what needs to happen next with Finding Ada. On which, more news soon!

The Women of Bletchley Park

Like me, you’ve probably seen documentaries about the codebreakers who were based at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. The story of Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, is a deservedly well known one, but it’s rare for us to hear about the thousands of women who also worked at Bletchley Park. These women made up the majority of the staff at Bletchley and were essential to the codebreaking operations that were key to our eventual war victory.

On 26th July, over 40 of us trouped up to Bletchley Park to find out more about the women who worked there during WWII. We started off with short introductions by Kelsey Griffin, Bletchley Park’s Director of Museum Operations, Sue Black from BCS Women, and Jean Valentine, our tour guide. She gave us a history of the Park, including a critique of the rather eclectic architecture! To get us into the swing of things, we were given a demo of an Enigma machine:

We then moved on to the wartime cinema, which was crammed with period cinematic equipment. (I pretty much had to prise my other half, Kevin, off the antique projectors!) The film we watched, The Women of Station X, was put together as part of BCS Women’s Women of Bletchley Park project.After lunch, we were treated to a tour by Jean Valentine, who had worked at Bletchley Park during the war. She had operated one of the Bombe machines, which were designed to decode messages generated by the German Enigma machines. Jean gave us an amazing insight, not just into the work that she and her colleagues did at Bletchley, but also what it was like to live there. Her narrative was fascinating and funny, and often poignant too.

Bletchley has built replicas of both the Bombe and the Colossus, which was used to decode encrypted teleprinter messages. The Colossus is, indeed, colossal, and the working replica makes a bit of a racket. Watching it in action, complete with streaming tape and flashing lights, gives you some idea of what it might have been like to have worked with it. Unfortunately there was no one available to give us a demonstration of the working Bombe that is also housed there in the National Museum of Computing.

We ended the day with a fun look at the history of computing in the musuem. I was tickled to see that they had three of the computers that we had when I was a kid: the ZX81, the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad PC1512. (Sadly, the didn’t have the ZX80, which was my very first look at a computer!)

If you’re even vaguely into computers, cryptography or codebreaking, then Bletchley Park is well worth a visit. It relies wholly on ticket sales for its income, although it is trying to raise some money for essential repairs. Sadly, it has been left to rot and there is a lot of work that’s needed to just keep our history safe. Sue Black told me, “they are desperately short of funds and have no sustainability or security, if faced with any sort of crisis they would have to close for good.” It’s a few minutes walk from the Bletchley train station and trains go regularly to and from London so you have no excuse not to hop on one on the weekend and go visit! But more than that, go and visit Save Bletchley Park and get involved in saving some of our country’s most important computing heritage.

Several of our group have blogged about the day, including Laura James, Pernickety (lots of fab photos!) and Sue Black.

Many thanks to Kelsey, Sue, Jean and everyone else from Bletchley Park for helping organise the trip and making it such a memorable day.