Ada Lovelace Day – Grace Hopper

Here at Web-Empire we have chosen to honour Grace Hopper for the first ever Ada Lovelace Day. For those of you who do not know what this is all about you might want to read last weeks post.

Although Ada Lovelace was the first programmer, her work in the field was crippled by the lack of an actual computer: but Grace Hopper had no such restriction.

She became involved with computers during World War 2, working on the US Navy’s Mark I computer; she excelled, and after the way turned down an offer of a professorship in order to stay with the Navy.

She was a member of the team that designed the UNIVAC in the late 1940s and early 1950s, during which she pioneered compilation: the technique of writing a program for a computer that translates programs written in languages designed for humans into the actual language of the computer, which soon led to the development of COBOL, a language that is still used today.

It’s easy to underestimate how fundamental that idea is – the native language of a computer, machine code (also known as assembly language), is designed for efficient implementation in digital circuitry: where ‘efficient’ means both that the circuits required to understand the language are cheap to build, and that the circuits can process their commands quickly. These requirements lead to machine code being uncomfortable for humans to program directly. The development of compiler technology meant that humans could write programs in languages designed for humans – then the compiler automatically translates those programs into machine code that the computer can actually run. Nowadays, only a tiny fraction of software is written directly in machine code; generally, this is only done when it cannot be avoided for some technical reason.

Although relatively few people in the industry today know of her name unless they’ve actually gone searching for the history of women in computing, Grace Hopper attracted an amazing list of honours – check out her Wikipedia article for the full list!

Ada Lovelace Day

Tuesday March 24th 2009 is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging about women we admire in technology.

Why should such a day interest us? Is it not sexist? Why is it needed?

It interests us here at Web-Empire because a) it’d about blogging, b) Ada was pretty much the first computer programmer though the computer she was designing the programs for was never finished meaning she could not run her programs. c) there is a dangerous misconception that men are some how more capable of doing ‘technical stuff’ than women – amongst this ‘technical stuff’ computer programming and other areas of science and technology are now seen as masculine pursuits. This has not always been the case – far from it.

Restraining ourselves to just looking at recent history, computer programming was originally considered to be “women’s work” as it involved typing which obviously meant secretarial work. During the second world war women outnumbered men at Bletchley Park by 3 to 1.

Young women in schools who are making career decisions are not always given a balanced view of the careers they could have, pushing them into ill fitting “acceptable” career paths. Whether it is parents not knowing what careers the subjects could lead to or other issues, making people aware that women have actually contributed a lot to science and technology is very important.

If this does not happen and the young women are discouraged or their male colleagues have been led to believe they automatically will not be any good – we will lose valuable contributors to our economy, our national security and to the possibility of the human race actually surviving long enough to do anything useful.

This is why we here at Web-Empire thought you should all know about next Tuesday. the idea is that you write a blog post on an inspiring/admirable woman in technology.

For this reason next week’s Web-Empire post shall go live on the Tuesday and not the Monday.

Ada even had a [programming language]( after her, and there are now prestigious industry awards associated with her name.

We hope this has been informative, from all of us here at web-empire.


Twitter is micro-blogging, a cross over between blogging and instant messangers such as ichat and MSN. It is also considered to be a type of social networking. Twitter was founded in 2006 and has been growing in popularity, especially in the last few months (to the extent that we here at web-empire now have ‘What is this Twitter thing?’ as our most asked question).

Each person has their own homepage with twitter were they can post messages up to 140 characters long. These are known as tweets and can be thoughts, what you are currently doing, links to things you find interesting etc…

The tweets appear on your home page, and you can choose to follow other people’s tweets which will appear on your homepage too. Tweets also appear on the public timeline which is a page that shows everybody’s tweets – this, however, has become less interesting and it is hard to catch your own tweets the bigger twitter becomes.

You may also direct a tweet at a friend or accaintance by putting their name after an @ sign in the tweet – these tweets will be brought to their attention as being directed at them, and their name will become a link to their homepage when people view your tweet.

As well as using Twitter’s web site, there are many Twitter client applications you can run on your own computer, which provide an easier interface. In many of these, new tweets from your friends will appear as a small popup window, much like an instant messaging system.

There are also Twitter clients that run on smartphones and PDAs, or you can tweet via SMS/text messages from any mobile phone.

For the community/social journalism side of blogging twitter is helping to get stories noticed or for headlines to break before the article is even written! There is also Twitpic which is a site that allows you to post pictures through twitter.

Twitter has a direct message service on it, for sending private messages to other users, though this too is restricted to the short character count.

There is unique form of spaming going on in twitter where accounts are made, often with nonsense posts (though sometimes not), the whole perpose of which is to get people to click through to adverts and things.

Having said that many companies and individauls such as writers use Twitter as an effective marketing tool, with interesting tid bits for their followers to engage with. However there are considered to be some security risks associated with Twitter as they will share information they have collected with ‘third parties’.

Twitter has recently gone main stream due to the news coverage of Stephan Fry’s usage, much to the horror of those who have been using it and who have watched it grow. This means marketing companies have finally noticed it and that the amount of spam or spoof accounts is likely to sky rocket.

However it does mean that more of the poeple you know will now actually be using it. There are also RSS feeds which you can add to your blogs, social networking sites and websites that show your tweets.

Twitter is fun and versatile and when things are broken they have a lovely picture of the Fail Whale being carried by little birds which we here at Web-Empire love. There is even a Fail Whale fan club complete with merchandise!

However, Twitter is centralised and has control of your account – by it all being based on their servers – this is a potential risk for security reasons as it is one large target to be hacked plus it means if anything happens to the central organisation you could loose all the contacts you’ve made.

But it is free and this means you do not need access to your own space on a server. There are also news letter emails occasionally, too. We like Twitter but it is not the only micro-blogging system which is something we will hopefully cover in future posts.

We hope this has been informative from all of us here at Web-Empire.

An Adventure in Technology

The weekend saw the second Tech Adventure at the Trinity Arts Centre in Bristol – though the organiser pointed out that it was technically the third, but the first one happened a bit too long ago.

Web-Empire was in attendance at both this one and the one in 2008.

This one saw robotics students, a self-replicating 3D printer, DJs, a mix of motion and music though technology, various old and interesting computers with or without games, a swap shop, a 3D display device, a games table, a Wii area and various talks.

BB gun and motion sensor dudes creating music with motion Heximotional 3d printer - reprap the gubbins

One of the talks was on parallelism and performance in systems – which doesn’t necessarily have to be about computer systems. This was by Colin Butcher and was very very interesting and deserves its own post in the future.

The event brought programmers, inventors, and roboticists all together allowing them to exchange ideas and information.

There were even musical instruments and Geek Poetry present including a competition of spot of the programming languages mentioned. The prize was a wiggly pet! These helpful and friendly creatures happen to have a blog hosted by us so we were pleased to see them out at such an event and the poetry wasn’t bad either.

Upstairs there was also a No2ID event – a subject we here at Web-Empire feel needs looking into more thoroughly for a future post.

We will hopefully also find out about the next one in time to let you all know about it.

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