A History Lesson With Booze ®

All About Ada Lovelace: The Enchantress of Numbers

Learn how the daughter of poet Lord Byron became a groundbreaking mathematician… and changed computers forever. Then celebrate her with a tangy twist on a Tom Collins.

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Portrait of Ada Lovelace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This week we inaugurate a beautiful friendship with the digital cabinet of curiosities called Atlas Obscura. They’re always posting fascinating forgotten stories of the past, and this one first appeared there (we adapted it for radio). It’s about a tech trailblazer you might not’ve heard of, who was born this week back in 1815.

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Ada Lovelace was one of the most groundbreaking mathematicians ever. But her life… didn’t exactly go by the numbers.

To begin with, her Dad was the great British poet Lord Byron. Who on the plus side was a literary genius… and on the minus side was famous for being in debt, and sleeping around — at one point, rumor had it, with his own half-sister.

Ada’s Mother Anne, meanwhile, was an intellectual and kind of a prude. So she, not surprisingly, divorced Byron almost as soon as Ada was born. But Anne was determined her daughter would be the opposite of mad, poetic Byron. And she figured the best way to ensure that was to get the kid rigorous training… in logic and math.

Portrait of Ada Lovelace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Ada Lovelace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Good move. Turns out, Ada was a natural math and engineering geek. By age 12, she’d written a book about the mechanics of flight. And by 18, she formed an “intense intellectual partnership” with a math genius twice her age: Charles Babbage. Who’d drawn up one of the first computer designs in history.

Babbage nicknamed Ada “The Enchantress of Numbers.” A title she earned after writing up notes on an invention of his called “The Analytical Engine.” Those notes included an algorithm designed to make it spit out special numbers. Many now consider it the first computer program.

Ada died of cancer at age 36, and for a while was remembered mainly as Lord Byron’s kid. But in the last few decades, folks finally recognized her work. Each October, the tech world celebrates Ada Lovelace Day.  And when coders designed the special computer language used by the Department of Defense… they called it “Ada.”

The Byronary Code

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

This digital twist on a Tom Collins was added up by Ali Reynolds, bar manager at the Hawksmoor Spitalfields, in Ada’s hometown of London, UK. (By the way, Ali won the World Class Great Britain 2015 cocktail competition.)

Ingredients (Ed. Note: we rounded up the measurements featured in Ali’s recipe, after converting from milliliters to ounces, for easy pouring):

  • 1 1/2 ounces Tapatio 110 (the number refers to the liquor’s proof, but also happens to be in binary code)
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1/2 ounce  simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of orange bitters
  • Top with soda

Instructions:
Combine Tapatio, lemon juice, Campari, simple syrup, and orange bitters into a highball glass, then top it off with a bit of club soda. Try your best to crunch some numbers after each round. When you fail, it’s time to pack up your calculator and go home.