It’s Ada Lovelace’s 200th birthday! I’ve spent the last couple of days at the truly extraordinary concatenation of gigantic intellects, Byron scholars and mathematics professors, computer scientists and composers, that was the Oxford Ada Lovelace Symposium. A fuller report to come when I’ve recovered from all the emotions and the Balliol dinner but you can watch my own talk at the 1 hour mark here:
All the talks from the symposium can be viewed online– my own favourite was the wonderful Richard Holmes’ beautiful tribute, starting at the 40 minute mark:
I can announce on this day as well that The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage has been honoured with the British Society of Mathematics Neumann Prize for general-audience book on mathematics history! It’s difficult to express how much this recognition and generosity mean to me. Also I can now win any argument with my husband on any subject by simply pointing out that I am the British Society for the History of Mathematics Neumann Prize winner.
I’m THRILLED to announce that The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Graphic Novel category. I’m in amongst some of the most distinguished, fabulous, and huge names in comics so this is a truly extraordinary moment for me and this little strange semi-existent comic. Lovelace & Babbage has the smallest, or should I say the most EXCLUSIVE, readership (going by the number of ratings) of any of the books, which makes the nomination all the more en-chuffing. Goodreads Choice is a public vote so please head over and vote for The Thrilling Adventures, maybe we can make it into the finals!
If you’re in the same timeframe as me you are starting to be inundated by snowflake-encrusted mailers and thick catalogues of incredibly specialised baking implements. So it’s a good time to imagine what a perfect holiday gift The Thrilling Adventures would be for the particularly noble, intellectual, and discerning people on your gift list… Further, think of the dazzled joy in the eyes of your loved ones when they unveil an incredibly thoughtful Lovelace-and-Babbage gift- three new designs available as shirts, mugs, and whatnots at the 2dgoggles Zazzle Shop–
Lovelace and Babbage Leap T-shirts by sydney_padua
1. Boole is someone I’ve shamefully neglected making fun of in this comic. He was a rather obscure professor of mathematics in Cork, Ireland, son of a housemaid and a cobbler, with a pleasant story of self-made modest success. He was born the same year as Lovelace, and outlived her by a bit over a decade; he did some boring but useful work in differential calculus. He also laid down the foundations for the logic that makes modern computers possible in a medium-sized book, dense with equations, called An Investigation of the Laws of Thought [full text at Project Gutenberg].
Ada Lovelace’s tutor Augustus de Morgan had been working in the 1830s and ’40s towards a mathematical system of logic, to replace the Aristotelean verbal propositions that had been taught to schoolboys for two thousand years. Boole took this idea and ran with it to an extreme of obsessive simplicity. He reduced all possible logical conditions down to two states: true or false, yes or no– expressed as 0 and 1*; and three relationships: AND (multiplication), OR (addition), NOT (negation). A sample from his book serves to show how extremely weird this must have seemed to a Victorian reader:
2. Boole’s answers to Minion’s three questions in the comic demonstrate NOT (No, I will not not come in), OR (Yes, I would like [coffee or tea]), and AND (No, I do not want both). Boole developed his algebra of logic not for machinery but as a theory of how the human mind worked “to collect from the various elements of truth brought to view in the course of these inquiries some probable intimations concerning the nature and constitution of the human mind.” We have scarcely more of an idea of how the human mind is constituted now than in Boole’s day, but the radical simplicity of Boole’s system made it ideal for mechanisation— making Lovelace’s vision of an Analytical Engine run on logic a practical possibility. Lovelace, alas, was two years dead when Laws of Thought was published in 1854. Babbage did own a copy, and he wrote ‘This man is a real thinker’ on the flyleaf.**
Babbage and Boole met once briefly, at the Great Exhibition of 1862; Babbage suggested Boole read Lovelace’s paper. A bystander gives a dazzling glimpse of what must have been one of the most extraordinary conversations of the 19th century: “As Boole had discovered that means of reasoning might be conducted by a mathematical process, and Babbage had invented a machine for the performance of mathematical work, the two great men together seemed to have taken steps towards the construction of that great prodigy a Thinking Machine.” [the amazing letter describing their meeting!]
This notion was first picked up by William Stanley Jevons, an economist who was, like Lovelace, a student of Augustus de Morgan. Jevons became obsessed with making a machine from Boole’s work, to which end he built a “Logic Piano” in the 1860s. This little wooden box slid labelled slats to which the user would assign propositions and relationships by pressing keys. Jevons’ own example of the sort of thing the Logic Piano could work out was:
Iron is a metal
Metal is an element
Which goes to show you that logic isn’t everything. [more on the Logic Piano, with pictures!].
* Boole’s system is actually considerably more complicated– he viewed 0 and 1 as the extremes between which the mind assigns a probability. So “Do I want tea?” might be 0 if you loathe tea and 1 if you’re panting for a cup, but usually something like 0.54 if you’re wondering if it’s worth getting up to boil the kettle. Boolean logic as used by computers uses only pure 0 and 1 however, and most of Boole’s own work treats it this way also.
**I have this beautiful little fact from my favourite book on Babbage, Mr. Babbage’s Secret; The Tale of Cypher and APL, by Danish computer engineer Ole Franksen.
And some bonus Booles:
Hello Folks! Popping my head above the parapet to remind you that it’s Ada Lovelace Day on Tuesday! It’s a big festival of blogging, tweeting, think-piecing, and taking about inspirational women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and you can see all the events here. I personally will be in person at Ada Lovelace Day Live on Tuesday at Conway Hall in London signing books.
I am on TELEVISION!! and online– in the UK only alas– you have 7 days left to gaze upon my visage in the excellent BBC documentary Calculating Ada.
Some upcoming events in London: I’ll be giving talks and signing books at the Science Museum Late on October 28th, should be an epic night (with drinks!). I’m also talking at CodeMesh about the very very alternative programming technology of the Analytical Engine.
As the inciting incident of this malarkey it’s always a big day around this blog, in preparation of which I have animated this fine gif for your use and enjoyment, here you go in a variety of sizes:
And finally, on a personal note– having spent the last year hacking my way through impenetrable jungles battling leopards, snakes, and bears at a vengeance of a pace, I’m trying something new this year: I’m taking up the Academic mantle and am now Senior Lecturer in Animation at Bucks University. As I am meant to spend half my time lecturing and half of it THINKING GREAT THOUGHTS (not generally a priority in Visual Effects) this should allow me time to return to drawing comics AT LONG LAST.
Hi All! As promised: Babbage’s Analytical Engine, how the heck did it work?
If you’re new to this website, you may be only dimly aware of Charles Babbage’s marvellous yet mysterious Analytical Engine, the first design for a real computer from the 1840s. It had programs, memory, cycles, loops, and all sorts of computery things despite being constructed entirely out of brass gears and powered by a steam engine. When I started this comic I was extremely frustrated by the vagueness of nearly every single description of it. Eventually I had to build my own, meta-fashion, in computer-generated form; where I found out that it’s not only a delightfully beautiful machine jam-packed with ingenious devices, it’s also considerably easier to understand than a modern computer. How the heck do those things work?
The Thrilling Adventures has an appendix with many diagrams and explanations of how the Analytical Engine worked and how it relates to modern computers, but I think despite the pleasures of print the broad operation of the Engine is most clearly explained by animation. I hope this video makes it clearer– I should stress that a) this is a super-simplified, cartoon, stripped-down version, and b) this is the best of my understanding, gleaned from the papers of the late Allan Bromely (lent to me by John Graham-Cumming, thanks John and I’m totally returning them I swear!!) who wrote I think the most complete modern descriptions of the Engine. I could be SO TOTALLY WRONG on a lot of stuff. So that said, here we go (I um and er a lot less after the first couple of minutes I promise…):
Historical note: I had a moment of sisterhood with Ada Lovelace when I was writing out how the Engine worked. In her correspondence with Babbage while writing her famous Notes on the Sketch of the Analytical Engine, there’s a little exchange between them that neatly displays their personalities. Babbage writes:
There is still one triffling misapprehension about the Variable cards—A Variable card may order any number of Variables to receive the same number upon theirs at the same instant of time—But a Variable card never can be directed to order more than one Variable to be given off at once because the mill could not receive it and the mechanism would not permit it. All this was impossible for you to know by intuition and the more I read your Notes the more surprised I am at them and regret not having earlier explored so rich a vein of the noblest metal.
To which Lovelace replies with the harassed tone familiar to someone buried under piles Analytical Engine diagrams:
I cannot imagine what you mean about the Variable-Cards; since I never either supposed in my own mind that one Variable-card could give off more than one Variable at a time; nor have (as far as I can make out) expressed such an idea in any passage whatsoever.
This is the sort of thing one glances blandly at when reading historical correspondence, until one finds oneself writing: “The Variable Cards then read off the numbers on the addresses into the Mill”.. and then scrupulously adding “ONE AT A TIME” as the ghost of Charles Babbage hovers anxiously over one’s shoulder…
Anyways if you are super keen on this stuff and want to see specifics of some of the thousands of little levers, here is the video on the anticipating carriage for carrying the ones (that still by the way leaves out some bits). Babbage would be beside himself with delight that the first question asked a talk I gave on the comic at Google was how he planned to carry the ones! This part of the Engine was Babbage’s proudest achievement, he called it ‘teaching the Engine to foresee, and to act on that foresight’.
(I have a few more videos on the Engine on YouTube, though they have less explanation, which you may consider a feature.)
ALSO- by popular demand, you can now buy prints of the Analytical Engine visualisation in glorious Technicolor! (a previous post explained why the colours I chose to paint the Engine are so.. festive). I have some new tshirt designs and a couple of more prints on the way, as soon as I have a half a second which I currently don’t.
Many are asking, will there be more Lovelace and Babbage? The answer is YES! But you’ll have to hold on a YET couple of more months. As some of you may know, I am only a fearless comic-drawer by night; by day I battle giant monsters in the glamorous yet terrifying colosseum of visual effects animation. I’m in mega-crunch with the Giant Monsters, here is the forecast for the next several weeks:
In the meantime you can feast your eyes and ears on my flyaway hair and become thoroughly sick of my insufferable squeaky voice on several interviews (not a complete list.. more to come!), legacy of my Book Tour of Doom which I must tell you all about sometime when I have a sec. Also, I’m relieved to report that after being braced for brickbats and jeering if not total baffled silence, there’s a whole bunch of great reviews out for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage– links to a bunch at the bottom of this page.
AND FINALLY.. if you are around London this coming weekend you can catch me at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival on the comics panel on Sunday.
Greetings long-suffering readers (and new soon-to-be-sufferers)! If you have been feeling deprived of Lovelace & Babbage news for lo these many months, rejoice! as you are in fact soon to find yourself heartily sick of this
comic Graphic Novel. Over the next couple of weeks I find myself in little short of a Media Blitz quite enough to turn a girls head. And it starts with a BANG!
The Analytical Engine in Glorious Technicolor!
If you open up the Observer Tech Monthly this Sunday your eyes will have been dazzled by no less a sight than The Analytical Engine, its very self, a in full colour hand-tinted plate (with some more extracts as well!)! It’s an except from The Book, specially coloured in for the Observer for added beautousness. Additionally I make myself more than usually incoherent in an appended interview.
The colour one I leave to the Observer, but finally, FINALLY, I can share with you the the production of so many months of labour– my exhaustively (and boy do I mean that literally) researched visualisations of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I’ve been vexed for years by the invariably vague descriptions of the Engine, even in quite detailed computer history books– frustrated by the brisk summary “it was a modern computer but cogs”. As a
comics slinger graphic novelist all I wanted, and this seemed a modest ask, is an Official Drawing of a huge-ass computer made of cogs, so I could see what it looked like. Imagine my dismay when I found that (to the best of my knowledge) no such drawing existed! Not by Babbage, not by a scholar or an engineer or otherwise Official Person, nothing! There were a scattering of drawings of bits of the Engine; and lengthy examinations of the math and engineering of the Engine, but the whole thing? Nope. This is sort of understandable as Babbage left literally thousands of piecemeal drawings and kept changing the design, so doing a visualisation is actually really hard. And computer history books want to explain computing stuff and not provide me with eye-candy. BUT STILL.
So I had do my own, and it took ages and ages and hair-tearing over diagrams (elevations, Babbage! They are a Thing!), but I’m pretty proud of it, so here you go:
I think this merits a
Over the next couple of weeks I’m doing a series of posts about the Engine, to show you how I got the above drawing from this:
and what this all means:
But today I want to talk about the really important matter of: what colour was it?
We rarely court controversy here at 2dGoggles Amalgamated Comics but I was a bit nervous in the colour scheme I used for the Observer colour version. For one thing, there’s a reason the comic is in black and white, and that is because its drawn by me, a person not very good at colour. More specifically though, in picturing the workings of the mysterious Engine you may have always pictured it in distinguished tones of steel grey and muted brass, as sported by its modern cousin the Difference Engine reconstruction:
I myself however have had a vision before my eyes of Great Building-Sized Mid-Victorian Engineering. That vision is
loud garish glorious! It’s the culmination of the greatest of Victorian Engineering projects, Bazalgette’s Sewer (comic episode ideas: Great Stink, mephitic vapours, mutant eels, trained cormorants, mole people?). Ladies and Gentlemen, if for some reason you are in ignorance of the existence of the Cathedral of Sewage Pumps, I’m privileged to introduce you to the destination of all London effluvium, Crossness Pumping Station:
Crossness was finished in 1867– pretty close to what would have been a realistic completion date for the Analytical Engine if they’d started it in the mid-30s come to think of it! Like all Victorian stuff, it’s a bit Too Much, or Just Right if you are of that temper. In the ’50s and ’60s they loved their bright chemical colours and I’m pretty sure an actual Analytical Engine would not have been left with plain unpainted infrastructure. Especially if Charles Babbage had anything to say about it! Though it would probably have had to be repainted 37 different times so he could check what the best colour scheme was. He was after all the man who printed 21 volumes of test logarithm tables using every combination of 10 different coloured inks and 140 differently coloured papers to see which read best (page not open, unfortunately, to the black-ink-on-black-paper trial*):
Half of Crossness has been left in its found condition of romantic decay, which looks really wonderful in contrast. If you want a magical day out, take your significant other to a sewage pumping station to heck and gone in the marshes east of London- next Steaming Day April 19th!
Next : An overview of the Engine!
(by they way- in terms of realism, my big concern with the visualisation above is in retrospect I don’t think it could have been a free-standing structure. While gigantic it was a very delicate instrument and would grind to a halt if any one of its tens of thousands of parts was even a hair out of alignment; probably you would have to somehow suspend the whole thing is a substantial cage of heavy ironmongery to keep it from shifting. BUT if I drew all that in, you wouldn’t be able to see the Engine!
oh- additional aside– the punchcards (it took 3 sets to run a program) didn’t hang on brackets as I’ve drawn them [I took that from a Jacquard loom]; rather, they are clearly in a box marked BOX on the diagrams. But likewise then you wouldn’t be able to see them! So some concessions have been made to Art in that drawing. ).
Now that’s out of the way, stay tuned for a series on that most mysterious of Mechanisms, the Analytical Engine, which I hope to make a bit less mysterious!
*If you’re wondering which ink and paper combination proved most successful, the winner was…. black ink on white paper.
Come one come all! The UK launch and signing for The Thrilling Adventures, social event of the season, will be at GOSH! Comics, the fabulous chamber of wonders and consumer of wallets conveniently located in the middle of salubrious Soho. It shall be on Thursday April 30! It would be great to meet my loyal and patient readers so do come (also FREE BEER).
You may notice that there’s been some heavy redecoration on the ol’ website— still shifting furniture so let me know if you find any broken crockery or image links lying around. There will be many new offerings coming up, the first of which is the shiny EVENTS PAGE, so if you’re not in London you can check out where I’ll be when I’m not either at work or the pub.
Howdy folks from your highly defatigable Comics-Mine Labourer and Over-Employed Giant-Monster Wrangler! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage launches in EXACTLY ONE MONTH!!??! (how did that happen?) and all kinds of things are going on! The papery thing will finally be holdable for your physical manifestation on the 21st of April, I guess I should arrange a party? (kicks giant monster gnawing on leg under desk) Um, I’ll let you know.. You can preorder by a variety of means over here.
If you live in the UK and are kicking around in two weeks on Friday the 3rd of April (that’s Easter Friday) it’s going to be wall-to-wall ME at the UK National Science Fiction Convention Dysprosium at beautiful Heathrow– I’m on two panels (one on webcomics and one on steampunk) and I’m blathering on solo for an entire hour at 8pm. I’m going to be previewing the book, chatting about drawing comics, AND unveiling to the Admiring Public for the very first time my highly elaborate and extremely sort of accurate diagrams of the Analytical Engine– the first visualisations of the whole machine ever done, believe it or not, so it’s going to be a wild night. Day passes are available here!
THEN it’s on to the Book Tour of DOOM (erm, that’s on a test site right now, I’m fixing it, but that’s where the latest info is, yes I know shut up), encompassing Seattle, San Francisco, Tulsa, Toronto, Boston, and New York, followed, should I survive, by some to-be-announced UK stuff, including the Curious Arts Festival.
I can’t recall why I made this gif of Lovelace and Babbage as penguins a while back but it seems it set some spheniscidaelian vibes into the atmosphere because The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, papery edition, is now being published in the UK by Particular Books Penguin! An imprint which is officially described as: “This list is characterized by the particular, all-consuming passions of its unique authors for a whole range of subjects.” Well, yeah!
This explains the recent phenomenon some of you may have experienced of having your Amazon pre-orders mysteriously cancelled then (possibly) equally mysteriously reinstated. It OUGHT to be sorted out by the power of algorithms deep in the Difference Engines at Amazon but if it’s not the new and correct pre-order page for the UK is here (they might do a different cover, hence, no cover at present). Having a UK publisher is excellent news generally as not only are they lovely people but you’ll be able to pick up the book at your local shop a lot more easily here now.
I’ve also made a nice page for the Book here, please admire my pretty stars from the early reviews from Kirkus (“A prodigious feat of historically based fantasy that engages on a number of levels”) and Publisher’s Weekly (“…a must-have for anyone who enjoys getting lost in a story as brilliant in execution as conception… permeated by delightful illustrations, obsessive foot- and endnotes, and a spirit of genuine inventiveness, it’s an early candidate for the year’s best.”) which I am informed are VERY RARE AND COVETED STARS so yay! I have to say when one has spent years of one life doing a comic which in sober retrospect seems like an extremely weird exercise in idiosyncratic obsession, not having it instantly savaged is to put it mildly a bit of a relief.
In other news, Ye Olde Book Tour for the US is coming together for the beginning of May, currently featuring the computery towns of Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and New York– Pantheon has the details down way more clearly than I do. There’s a few more places to follow I think. UK talks etc I dunno, I will talk to the Penguins. They will say “awk! awk awk!” and I will come back to you if this means I’m doing any talks.
In other OTHER news, Giant Monster (aka Day Job) intensity is unexpectedly freakishly high, which is why I haven’t dived back into comics now the the book is done and also why I have a slightly hysterical aspect to my person at the moment. It should clear soonish. Hectic times hectic times!
That’s right folks! If Ada Lovelace owes you money that’s just too bad because she was born 200 years ago on December 10th, 1815! There are lots and lots of THRILLING celebrations and events in the planning, many of which feature (naturally) ME, so stay tuned for dates and announcements and Lovelacey goodness this year.
*Ada Lovelace famously died with several thousands pounds in gambling debts; all no doubt incurred in attempting to fund the Analytical Engine! Decades later the sum of Ada’s debts had been gleefully inflated by rumour; Nathaniel Hawthorne (of the Scarlet Letter) was told they amounted to 40,000 pounds, about 20 times the actual amount.