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REVIEW: "The Bride of Science", Benjamin Woolley

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  • Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Ha
    BKBRDSCI.RVW 20020608 The Bride of Science , Benjamin Woolley, 1999, 0-07-138860-5, U$16.95/C$26.95 %A Benjamin Woolley %C 300 Water Street, Whitby,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 12, 2002
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      BKBRDSCI.RVW 20020608

      "The Bride of Science", Benjamin Woolley, 1999, 0-07-138860-5,
      %A Benjamin Woolley
      %C 300 Water Street, Whitby, Ontario L1N 9B6
      %D 1999
      %G 0-07-138860-5
      %I McGraw-Hill Ryerson/Osborne
      %O U$16.95/C$26.95 905-430-5000 +1-800-565-5758 fax: 905-430-5020
      %P 416 p.
      %T "The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter"

      Augusta Ada (known as Ada, after a falling out between her mother and
      aunt) King (nee Byron), Countess Lovelace, daughter of the scandalous
      poet, George Gordon Byron, would have been somewhat notable simply for
      all of the foregoing. However, to the modern computer scientist, she
      is more frequently known as the patron of Charles Babbage, father (or
      perhaps grandfather) of modern computing. Actually, there seems to
      have been very little in the way of patronage. Ada was, in fact, more
      of a colleague, and, if she did not see herself as a scientist in her
      own right, did make remarkable and significant contributions. It is
      not for nothing that she holds the title of the world's first
      (published) programmer.

      Chapter one is interesting and detailed, although slow in starting
      with the early "courtship" of Annabella Milbanke and Byron (Ada's
      parents), but portentous and heavy on foreshadowing. There is an
      inconsistency of presentation in chapter two. Annabella is stated to
      be intelligent, virtuous, and a rational forerunner of feminism, but
      is also implied to be a silly, flighty adolescent. This gives the
      text an overall feeling of sarcasm. Ada's childhood and adolescence,
      in chapter three, is remarkably uncompelling given the attempted
      picture of a life under the thumb of a merciless control freak.
      Chapter four looks at London and Charles Babbage's initial
      demonstrations of the Difference Engine and the point that Babbage was
      trying to make in saying that miracles could be part of a mechanistic
      universe. (Robert Peel's reaction to a proposal that the government
      fund research is intriguing in view of modern security jargon. He
      used a quote from the Aeneid: "It is an engine designed against our
      walls or some other mischief hides in it." This was, of course, the
      original description of the Trojan Horse.)

      Chapter five examines developments in many areas of science, art, and
      technology, some, for example Babbage, related to Ada and others, such
      as Coleridge's infamous "person from Porlock," only tenuously so.
      Chapter six initially seems to be looking into Ada's own research but
      ultimately has no point, although it does provide some interesting
      tidbits. Ada's notes and program for the Analytical Engine are
      discussed in chapter seven. The material, unfortunately, glosses over
      much controversy around Babbage's work. One example is that the issue
      of Clement's work is reduced to a matter of price disagreements
      instead of questions of design. There is a similarity to the disputes
      between Howard Aiken and IBM over the design and work on the Mark I
      computer. Perhaps "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" would be a better
      title for chapter eight than "Death of Romance." Ada is researching
      topics related to re-programming her faulty brain after her experience
      of programming the Analytical Engine. Chapter nine is difficult to
      understand: it is cryptic, coy, and seems to be hinting at
      extramarital affairs for Ada in 1850 and 1851. Ada's death scene, in
      chapter ten, is obviously written by someone without any experience of
      either death or persons with brain injuries. The mysterious "playing
      with a handkerchief" is a very characteristic indicator.

      Somehow, this biography feels unconvincing and untrustworthy. Even
      so, the look at the namesake of the Ada programming language helps to
      clarify a contribution too often lightly passed over.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2002 BKBRDSCI.RVW 20020608

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of
      the spoon. - E.M. Forster
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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