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Monthly Archives: February 2016

The History of the Treadmill

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Have you ever been jogging on one of those contraptions called treadmills and thought, “Who the heck thought up this torture device?!”  Like the Rack, the treadmill actually started off as a form of torture in British prisons.  Just click on the image below to watch a short TED talk on the history of the Treadmill.

TED - Treadmill.jpg

Image Credit:  TED Talk

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Augusta “Ada” Byron King, Countess of Lovelace

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Did you know that the world’s first computer programmer was an English woman?

Ada Byron Lovelace 2Augusta Byron was born 10 December 1815, the daughter of George Gordon and Anne Isabella Milbanke.  The father had more influence in her life by his absence than he probably would have had by his presence:  Otherwise known as Lord Byron, the poet, he abandoned his wife and only legitimate daughter one month after Ada was born, and left England forever four months later.  Likely because he wasn’t there to shatter a child’s romantic notions of a father, she remained fascinated with him, and even requested being buried by his side before she passed away in 1852.  Her embittered mother wasn’t much help, either:  Often leaving Ada in the care of her maternal grandmother, she would write letters to “it” to prove her motherly care to Victorian society, but in truth had little relationship to her daughter; fortunately for Ada, her grandmother Judith, Hon. Lady Milbanke, doted on her, and that care allowed Ada to develop her curious mind.  Her mother attempted to blot out any trace of Lord Byron’s “insanity” in his daughter by ensuring that she was well-trained in mathematics.  At the age of 12 she decided that she wanted to fly, and pursued the project with methodical passion, even writing a book about the experience, called, “Flyology”.  Her interest in mathematics dominated much of her adult life, though she seems to have made poor relationship choices:  She created a syndicate with several male friends, and at one point she was massively in debt when a scheme of hers to combine maths with her love of gambling backfired; she had to confess it all to her husband, which may have been a strain that led to him leaving her to her mother’s control in the final months of her life.

In 1833 she was introduced by a friend to Charles Babbage (known as “the father of computers”), and they corresponded for many years in a working relationship, particularly on his development of the Analytical Machine.  She translated an Italian article by Luigi Menabrea about his engine, adding her own elaborate notes; these supplementary notes contain what is essentially the first computer program – an algorithm to be carried out by a machine.  While Babbage himself only focused on the capabilities of a computer, Ada envisioned far more possibilities than merely calculations.

Little did she know how right she would be.

Information source:  Wikipedia

Robert Smalls

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Robert Smalls - Wikipedia

Credit:  Wikipedia

Once in a while, an individual rises up who surpasses every social boundary and every limitation to change history.  Robert Smalls was such a man:  Born on the 5th of April, 1839, Robert Smalls went from being a slave in South Carolina to a Civil War hero (he commandeered a Confederate ship, rescued slaves including his family along the way, and gave the Union valuable information along with the ship and its code books), and eventually went on to become a Congressman as well as a Senator, elected no less than five times; he has been given honours such as having met President Lincoln and thereby convincing Lincoln to accept African American soldiers into the US Army; he became the first black captain of a US vessel during the Civil War, and had a US army ship named after him as late as 2004 (the first army ship to be named after an African American).  He eventually bought the house of his former master for his family home, and lived to see the outbreak of World War I; he passed away on the 23rd of February, 1915.

His epitaph reads: “My race needs no special defence, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere.  All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

To read more about this man’s fascinating life and accomplishments, please click on the image.

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