By Humphrey Cheung
March 24, 2008
Redlands (CA) - Computer geeks on opposite ends of the Earth have found
the original sketch of the worlds first programmer. In a story worthy
of a Hollywood movie, a United States Army sergeant in Tajikistan and a
programmer in Texas resurrected the legend of Ada Lovelace by buying up
a 180-year-old watercolor portrait on eBay.
Ada Lovelace, formally known as Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace is
credited with creating the worlds first computer program for the Babbage
steam-powered calculating engine. The United States military named
their Ada programming language after her and her portrait is used in
some Microsoft hologram stickers.
But those stickers and many paintings of Lovelace have been copies of
copies. Also its a bit weird that Microsoft is probably using a twice
removed copy of the sketch as an authenticity sticker. A company
spokesman declined to comment on the find.
It was assumed that the original portrait had been lost forever, until a
Canadian antique dealer put the original framed watercolor sketch on
eBay. The posting would have faded into oblivion if it wasnt for US
Army Master Sergeant Robert McLaughlin.
Currently posted at the United States Embassy in dusty and remote
Tajikistan, McLaughlin frequently searches eBay for Ada Lovelace-related
items. In a weekly ritual, partly to keep sane and mainly to keep in
touch with friends, he sends the results to Valkyrie, a friend in Texas.
Ada is Valkyries heroine, he told us.
The find sparked a flurry of emails, Skype messages and phone calls
between fellow computer geeks, historians and antique dealers who tried
to authenticate the drawing. Experts soon agreed that the portrait was
done in the 1820s when Ada was approximately four-years-old. McLaughlin
bid for the portrait and put in another bid with the last moments of
bidding. Who would have thought that Army anti-sniper training would be
so relevant to eBay bidding these days?
McLaughlin took early leave to pick up the sketch in Southern
California. He and Valkyrie met us met us at a top-secret location
(cough Starbucks cough) in Redlands, CA to show off the frame and
authenticity letter. Cradling the frame like a baby, Valkyrie joked,
She looks pretty good for being so old.
Only a few feet separated Adas portrait from a MacBook Air and two other
laptops and we can only imagine how proud she would have felt about the
progress of computing.
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