Childe Byron

Jennifer Summerfield as Ada Lovelace

Jennifer Summerfield as Ada Lovelace, photo Kyle Cassidy

The Allens Lane Theater in Philadelphia, PA, is putting on Romulus Linney’s play, Childe Byron, about Ada Lovelace and her relationship to the father she never knew, Lord Byron.

As her own end draws near, Ada Byron Lovelace is seized with a desire to know more about her profligate father.  Stimulated by the drugs she takes for her illness, Ada summons Lord Byron to life and, in sharp, sarcastic exchanges, probes into the truth behind the myth. The life and art of Byron unfold and in the end the private man, the public figure and the protean poet are reconciled, while Ada, a genius in her own right, finds peace with herself and the father she never knew.

In this video, actress Jennifer Summerfield discusses the challenges of bringing Ada to the stage.

Jennifer, who is also known as Trillian Stars, told the Geekadelphia blog:

I love having the opportunity to play a woman whose life is so well documented; usually an actor’s homework involves coming up with your own character history, limited only by imagination. With Ada, however, I’ve had an amazing journey through the 19th Century, reading her letters and the letters of her father, Lord Byron, as well as Byron’s poetry. She was a fantastically complex person and is extremely difficult to portray with complete justice, because there were so many contradictions in her personality… both a woman of her time and ahead of it, poetic but scientific, cold yet emotional… and she often contradicted herself from one letter to another, making it difficult to pin her down and determine motivations.

A challenge like Ada is enough to draw me as an actor; there’s a need to get inside her head and look around, find the solution to this wonderful, complicated woman, just as Ada tries to discover the solution to her father, Lord Byron, in the play.

If you’re in the Philadelpha area, get your tickets and go along to one of the last two performances.

Childe Byron
Written by Romulus Linney
Directed by Ellen Wilson Dilks
Remaining dates: Oct. 12, 13
Run Time: 1hr 50min with intermission

Sarah Angliss: Automata for the people

If there’s one thing that most events simply don’t have enough of, it’s robots. Robots, and saws. Not so Ada Lovelace Day Live!, which will feature the robot-wrangling saw-flexing talents of Sarah Angliss, composer and tech historian.

Sarah describes her performances as “tapping into her obsessions with scientific oddities, obsolete machines, faded variety acts and the darkest European folk tales to create highly original, unsettling and sometimes strangely comic work.”

With a live show that can only be described as a technical marvel, Sarah’s geeky, science-focused music features theremin, keyboard and musical saw.


Hugo, one of Sarah’s robot friends

Sarah’s mechanical sidekicks include Hugo, a rather spooky roboticised, disembodied 1930s vent doll head, The Ealing Feeder, a robotic bell playing machine, and Clara 2.0, which Sarah describes as ‘the polite robot thereminist’.

Sarah, performing with Spacedog

Sarah, performing with Spacedog

Sarah’s band, Spacedog, is probably the only live band to give equal billing to both humans and robots and has been featured on Radio 4 and in 2011 won the Best Music Event of Brighton Festival and Fringe. She’s had received funding from NESTA Dreamtime and public engagement grants from the Wellcome Trust. In 2007, her digital performance Repeat Repeat, in collaboration with performer Caroline Radcliffe, won a Quake Dance Festival Award.

We can promise you, of all the performances you’ve seen in 2012, nothing will be quite like Sarah Angliss and her robot pals!

Tickets for ALD Live! are £10 for the general public, £5 for students. Book now!

Ada Lovelace and the IET

We are privileged to be holding Ada Lovelace Day Live! at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) this year, because of our partnership with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). As you’ve probably noticed, WES will be presenting the prestigious Karen Burt Memorial Award to a newly chartered woman engineer during ALD Live!.

But our presence at the IET is also appropriate for another reason: held in the IET archives are letters from Ada Lovelace to Michael Faraday, a letter from Lovelace’s close friend Charles Babbage to Faraday, and portraits of both Lovelace and Babbage. When I visited, IET archivist Sarah Hale was kind enough to arrange for me to see the letters and Lovelace’s portrait, although sadly the room where Babbage’s hangs was in use at the time.

Lovelace to FaradayThe IET has a number of letters from Lovelace to Faraday, including this one from 16 October 1844 (note: capitalisation, underlines, punctuation and spelling as per originals):

Dear Mr Faraday,

I have never yet thanked you for the little paper you sent me this spring. I read it with the deepest attention & interest, & it has suggested to me some very curious (& perhaps important) considerations for my own future use an an Analyst; considerations which fell in with some previous trains of ideas I had been long gradually forming, but which you have called into more tangible existence in my mind.

Perhaps no one has read your paper with such full appreciation as myself of it’s practical bearings; or has valued it so justly, both for it’s contents, & as presented to me by it’s Author, for whom I entertain an esteem little short of reverence.

Lovelace to Faraday 2Ada was keen to persuade Faraday to tutor her in maths, although Faraday was 53 by this time and, whilst flattered by her attentions, he was probably also a bit perturbed by this feisty young lady asking for tutelage. Lovelace wrote, on 10 November 1844:

Dear Mr Faraday,

I am exceedingly tickled with your comparison of yourself to a tortoise. It has excited all my fun (& I assure you I have no little of that in me).

I am also struck with the forcible truth of your designation of my character of mind:

elasticity of intellect“.

It is indeed the very truth, most happily put into language.

You have excited in my mind a ridiculous, but not ungraceful, allegorical picture, viz:

that of a quiet demure plodding tortoise, with a beautiful fairy gambolling round it in a thousand radiant & varying hues; the tortoise crying out, “Fairy, fairy, I am not like you. I cannot at pleasure assume a thousand aerial shapes & expand myself over the face of the universe. Fairy, fairy, have mercy on me, & remember I am but a tortoise“.

Babbage to Faraday

(You can read letter in full via scans kindly provided by the IET: part 1, part 2, part 3 & part 4.)

In an earlier letter held by the IET and dated 9 September 1843 Babbage writes to Faraday about Lovelace:

My dear Faraday,

I am not quite sure whether I thanked  you for a kind note imputing to me unmeritedly the merit of a present you received I conjecture from Lady Lovelace.

I now send you what out to have accompanied that Translation.

So you will now have to write another not so that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects (in our own country at least) could have exerted over it. I remember well your first interview with the youthfull fairy which she herself has not forgotten and I am gratefull to you both for making my drawings rooms the Chateau D’Eu of Science.

Despite all the fairies and enchantresses bandied about by Lovelace and Babbage, Faraday never did acquiesce to Lovelace’s wishes that he let her become his pupil.

Portrait of Ada LovelaceThe portrait of Lovelace that hangs in a corridor outside the Lovelace Room is actually a copy by Mary Remington of the 1836 portrait by Margaret Sarah Carpenter, about which Lovelace joked:

“I conclude she is bent on displaying the whole expanse of my capacious jaw bone, upon which I think the word Mathematics should be written.”

Lovelace’s letters will be available to view during Ada Lovelace Day Live! in one of the display cabinets in the IET foyer.

If you’d like to see the letters and portraits, and are feeling generous, then the IET has offered Ada Lovelace Day supporters a tour at 2pm on 16 October as a part of our fundraiser.

Members of the public can also organise their own tour of the building and archives directly with the IET. Tours are free and usually last an hour.

Tel: 0207 3448407
The IET Archives

Suw chats with Mookychick about sexism in science and whether, somewhere, there’s a female Brian Cox

I was delighted to be asked by Mookychick to talk about sexism in science, Ada Lovelace Day and whether there’s a female Brian Cox out there. Here’s a snippet that’s particularly apposite, but do pop over and read the whole thing:

Ada Lovelace Day has set up a fundraiser this year. Well done on running it so long with volunteers. How will those funds help women in technology?

SCA: My key aim is to create a charitable organisation that can provide support to women in tech all year round, not just on one day. One project we’re working on is to create a database of all the different support groups that exist for women across different sectors, to make it easier for women to find the right kind of group for them. When I started in tech, I felt very isolated, a problem made worse by the fact that I was a freelance so didn’t spend long at any one company, and certainly not long enough to build a social support structure around myself. There are many more groups around now than there used to be, but like us, most of them have almost no budget and they don’t always have the reach they need. We’d like to help bridge that gap.

I’d also like to be able to help women with skills development, particularly around things like media training so that we can get more women experts on the TV and in the newspapers. Whenever there’s a big tech story, the pundits are almost always men, and it’d be great to be able to matchmake knowledgeable women with journalists so that we can even out the ratio a bit.

And finally, there’s a huge need for educational materials around women in technology and science. I’ve had a number of teachers come to me and ask if we have lesson plans that they could use for Ada Lovelace Day, but unfortunately we don’t. It would be great for us to be able to provide teachers at all grades with lesson plans that they can adapt for their classes. We need to inspire a new generation of girls and show them that women can be successful in technology, and this would be one way to could do that.

Maths speaker required for Ada Lovelace Day 2013

In an epic feat of planning ahead, the East Midlands branch of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) is searching for a female speaker to talk about the role of women (or a particular woman) in mathematics for an Ada Lovelace Day 2013 event.

They are looking for someone who could speak to a group of mathematicians and students interested in maths. Audience size would be up to 100, although that’s obviously difficult to predict. Traditionally the talks are held on a week-day evening at 7.30pm and typically last about 50 minutes. The venue would be a university in the East Midlands: Loughborough, Nottingham, Leicester, Derby or Nottingham Trent.

The IMA would be able to definitely cover travel expenses, and may be able to cover hotel costs although that would be confirmed nearer the time. The speaker would also be invited out for a meal either before or after the talk.

If interested, please email Carol Robinson directly.