Tag Archives: Lord Byron

June 5th

On this day in 1833 the seventeen year old Ada Byron, later to be Ada Lovelace, met Charles Babbage for the first time. It was a meeting that led to a lifelong friendship and to Ada becoming known as the first computer programmer.

A photo of the young Ada

Now, there is some debate about how much input she had into the “programming” for Babbage’s Analytical Engine, but from what I can see this is mostly because she was a lady and Babbage was a big old clever man, so she was probably just writing down stuff that he’d told her to write down and wasn’t that clever at all. My response to this sort of stuff is quite simple: whatever. There is more than enough to suggest that the Countess of Lovelace was plenty clever enough to have created a dinky little algorithm on all her ownsome. I’ll tell you more about her and not too much about Babbage, because, you know how it is, that man gets all the publicity. Time for him to lurk in the shadows for a while.

Ada was born in 1815 and her father was, as you know, the really rather gorgeous and allegedly mad, bad and dangerous to know, Lord Byron. However her mother (Anne Milbanke) and father separated soon after her birth, he died when she was nine and she never knew him. He wrote this about her in Childe Harold:

`Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child!
Ada! sole daughter of my house and of my heart? 
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled’ 
And then we parted,-not as now we part, 
but with a hope.’

Which was quite pretty. Her mother thought that Byron was  total mentalist and to ensure that her daughter didn’t end up all loco in the coco, she decided that she should be well-educated in mathematics and science. I can see her logic, what with maths and science being all, well logical, but if she’d had a proper think about it, she would have realised that a lot of scientists and mathematicians are barking. Thankfully, she didn’t and so Ada received an education which as unusual for a girl of her background in that period. She had fine tutors and it was generally agreed that she was a first-rate student who might go on to be a first-rate mathematician. Despite this, biographers still like to give it “well maybe it was Babbage who told her what to do”. Shut up, already!

When she met Babbage, she was already a fine maths geek and their friendship was in part based on their mutual love of the subject and

Right nice painting of Ada

interest in research and doing big hard sums. Babbage also called her the Enchantress of the Numbers, so it’s probably not out of the realm of possibility that he wanted to get into her pantaloons. But he didn’t. She got married to an earl and he tried to make mechanical computer type things. Her algorithm was written in 1842-43, when he asked her to translate something an Italian had written up for him about his Analytical Engine and  how it worked. He also asked her to add her own notes, which she did, her notes exceeding the text she’d translated. The fact is that Babbage saw his engine as pretty much a giant calculator; Ada saw that it could be more than that, that it could in fact be used to analyse just about anything. He was the mechanical genius, but she was more able to visualise the actual workings of the “software”.  That’s putting it simplistically, but it’s along the lines of how it was, so we really don’t need more complexity.

Her algorithm was to do with calculating Bernoulli numbers. Now, I could tell you all about Bernoulli numbers, but you don’t really need to know much other than they’re a sequence of rational numbers. I could pretend to know more than that, but frankly I started reading about them and my brain started to hurt a lot, so I stopped.  The engine that could have made this algorithm work wasn’t built, but according to computer type people, it would have worked and even though computers are electronic and not mechanical, and even though she wasn’t writing for something that she didn’t know would exist, she had written a proper programme of sorts.

All that really matters is she was very bloody clever, she knew what she was doing at a time when women were supposed to wander around being dim and fainting if someone said “nice tits” and her expansion of the theory/practice of what the analytical engine/computer could do was ground breaking, which is why she has  computer programming language named after her.  Them there Byrons had some pretty fine genes!

 

Today is the birthday of Marky Mark.

Now, I know I should be nice and call him Mark Wahlberg, but that man could live to be 102 and people will still remember that once upon a time he was Marky Mark off of the Funky Bunch and that Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were really quite shit. That said he was better looking than his brother Donnie who was in New Kids on the Block and many a teenager swooned for his six-pack. I found it a bit unnecessary, but each to their own.

Nice arse, awful pants

Marky Mark was also trouble and was in enough trouble in his childhood (racist beatings, attempted murder, etc) to last most shitbags a lifetime. He repented his bad ways and went straight, but there’s still something a little “meh” about him. That said, I hold my hand up to falling a little in love with him in Boogie Nights when he played Dirk Diggler. However, I realised in retrospect that it was the slightly simple Dirk I thought was lovely and not the muscled up dick, Marky Mark.  I first saw the film with a couple of friends. There were only about five other people in the cinema (it was an early daytime showing) and within a few minutes three of those had walked out. We figured they thought they were coming to see a bit of a disco film and were shocked by all the cock and stuff. And of course that’s the other thing.  How disappointing must it be for women to go home with Marky Mark and find out that the cock at the end of Boogie Nights was a prosthetic? Poor old Marky Mark, destined to always be a disappointment.

So, he can act quite well at times, he was in a rubbish band and he’s been a deeply unpleasant criminal in his time. To be honest, I’m only writing about him because (a) I love Boogie Nights, (b) it amuses me to call him Marky Mark, and (c) it’s given me the excuse to say cock more than is strictly polite.

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February 27th

On this day in 1812 Lord Byron made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, on the subject of Luddite attacks on industrialism in Nottinghamshire. He defended the Luddites and asked that there be more understanding of their plight and less condemnation.

We’re all used to the mad, bad and dangerous to know Byron, although to be fair that was a description bestowed upon him by a

I totally would

woman (Lady Caroline Lamb) who most people saw as totally batshit mental, so only so much credence should be given to it. We definitely know him as a poet, an adventurer and a man who put it about quite a bit. But there was more still to Byron.

He could hardly be called a devoted member of the Lords, but from taking his place there in 1809, until he finally left England for good in 1816, he did sit there occasionally and his views were far more liberal than the majority of his peers. His speech in 1812 was in opposition to the Frame-Breaking  Bill, which sought the death penalty for those involved in Luddite activities.  Byron thought this was a little bit previous and explained that he had seen what had been going on in Nottinghamshire, that the men involved were distressed and in great want. In short, Byron, this man who we tend to imagine as a billowy romantic, giving no thought to anything but muff, cock and poetry, understood the plight of the working man, better than most political philosophers or economists were able to either at the time or for decades afterwards.

And what was their plight? Well, by and large we see Luddites as men who were opposed to change and smashed machinery (broke frames) in order to hold back industrialisation and prevent innovation. This isn’t quite what was going on. As the simply wonderful E. P. Thompson explained in his The Making of the British Working Class, it wasn’t change per se, it was real and justifiable worry about their future wages. Most factories were paying far less as the weaving economy became a free market. Those factories or workshops that were maintaining a living wage and set prices remained free from attack. History would prove their fears right; as industrialisation and the mechanisation of the manufacturing industry spread, skills disappeared and it was necessary to work longer hours in often dangerous conditions in order to maintain pre-industrial levels of income.

And speaking up for the workers, one of the few with influence to do so, was the tall, dark, and really rather handsome, Lord Byron. One should never forget his poetry, because some of it was stonkingly good, but beyond that, beyond the debt and the scandal, there was a man whose first speech, after three years in the House of Lords, was on a subject that was of no personal benefit to him, but was instead a plea for the common man. Unfortunately his opposition did not prevent the Bill from being enacted. There were executions and transportations and ultimately the organised resistance was broken. But for one brief moment, the most famous man in Britain tried to make his fame mean something. It is no wonder that when he left the country four years later he felt no need to return. Byron might well have had his end away with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife while your back was turned, but he had a morality that rose above mere lower-storey shenanigans.

Today is the birthday of violet-eyed lovely and oft married actress, Elizabeth Taylor. To be strictly accurate, she’s not such a beauty these days, but as she is a year off being 80 and pretty seriously under the weather, that’s hardly surprising.

Liz, as she is often known, first found fame as a child and adolescent, especially in the Lassie films, in which she often co-starred with Roddy McDowell, who later found fame as an ape.  Unlike many a child star before her and since, she made the difficult transition to adult roles with relative ease. She also got into the marrying habit pretty young, first walking up the aisle with Conrad Hilton Jr when she was just 18. The marriage only lasted a year, mostly because he was an abusive drunk. If she had stayed married to him, she would today be the great-aunt of Paris Hilton, so all thing’s considered it’s a good job she binned Conrad Jr early on. She married seven more times, although two of those marriages were to the same man, Richard Burton. He was the great love of her life, but she was also deeply in love with her third husband, Mike Todd, but he was tragically killed in a plane crash just over a year into their married life. All her other marriages have ended in divorce and she has been single since 1996.

It’s easy to get caught up in Taylor’s predilection for marriage, her love of  well flashy bling and her later battles with weight and to

Liz in her heyday

forget all about her acting career, but she proved her acting chops in quite a few films throughout her career, not least when she was paired with Burton who seemed to bring out the best of her ability. She is most assuredly a diva, probably a bit of a nightmare to live with and could probably have drunk the whole of the British army under the table in her heyday, but she did an enormous amount of good in the fight against AIDS, setting up her own foundation and campaigning for the recognition and acceptance of the disease and the rights of sufferers. So, while it’s easy to see her as a caricature of Hollywood excess, she’s used her fame to do some pretty good stuff in this world. That said, she does believe in all that Kabbalah bullshit and she hung around with Michael Jackson more than was entirely necessary, but what can one say? Nobody’s perfect.

Liz is currently in hospital, suffering from congestive heart failure. We can but hope that the tough old Dame (hey, she’s a DBE, I’m giving her nuff respec’) is able to entertain guests, drink a glass or two of  bubbly goodness and enjoy celebrating her 79th birthday. Happy birthday, Ms Taylor, they really do not make them like you any more!

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