Lovelace and Babbage

Neil Hopkins

Neil Hopkins tries out the latest version of the interactive comic app created by Sydney Padua.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was a remarkable woman. She was educated in mathematics from an early age in attempt to counteract the ‘poetical tendencies’ that she might have inherited from her absent father, the mad, bad and dangerous Lord Byron. However, it was when she saw a demonstration of a calculating machine built by Charles Babbage that she made a conceptual leap of startling import and realised that such a device could manipulate symbols as well as numbers and thus be programmed as a general purpose computer.

Ada Lovelace
Her vision was not to be realised for more than a century, but it is no exaggeration to say that Ada Lovelace (as she is more commonly known) was the world’s first computer scientist.

Graphic artist Sydney Padua has recounted the story of Lovelace and Babbage, originally as a short web comic in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day and now as an iPad app. Starting with true historical facts, it soon spins off into a baroque steam punk fantasy; an alternate history where the duo managed to build their steam-powered computing engine and went on to… FIGHT CRIME!

The app is free and features the original web comic with the option to buy an additional story for £1.99 as an in-app purchase. The artwork is crisp and effective, and translates well to the iPad screen. The script is amusing and informative, too, and well pitched for the subject. However, the app really springs to life when you turn your iPad into landscape mode.

Ada4Each panel is annotated with notes from the author and links to further sources of information including scans of original documents, historical asides (apparently Babbage hated street music) and a marvellous video of a replica difference engine in action. Of particular interest is a copy of the very first computer program, written by Ada Lovelace for a machine that existed only as blueprints and models. It is like watching a DVD with the director’s commentary switched on and a copy of their research notebooks to hand.

This app is an essential download for anyone with more than a passing interest in mathematics, computing, steam punk or the achievements of great scientists.