Ada Lovelace day. Two academics.

I’m featuring two academics for this year’s Ada Lovelace day. It is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.

 Firstly: Dr Sue Black. 

I’ve not met Sue, except on twitter,  but I have admired her efforts to support Bletchley Park for some time now. She blogs about them here. 

I think Bletchley Park should be a global heritage site. It is one of the cradles of the our industry, and the work of the people there was as heroic as that of any soldier. Sue’s work in raising the profile of Bletchley is my main reason for featuring her, but her campaigning for women in technology is relentless, and her academic research is well worth a read too. 

 Secondly:  Theano.

I’ve not met her either, and she isn’t on twitter.

Theano of Crotona was the wife of Pythagoras.(born c. 546 B.C.),

According to tradition, Theano was the wife of Pythagoras. She and her two daughters carried on the Pythagorean School after the death of Pythagoras. She wrote treatises on mathematics, physics, medicine, and child psychology. McLemore writes that her most important work was the principle of the “Golden Mean.” But discerning what Theano actually did is extremely difficult. As stated in the article in the Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science,

That Theano continued to operate the school of Pythagoras after his death is often affirmed but not confirmed. Thus, it can only be stated that, according to tradition, Theano was a mathematician, a physician, and an administrator—someone who kept alive an important training ground for future mathematicians.

In addition, Damo (ca. 535-475 BC), the daughter of Phythagoras and Theano, is said to have published her father’s treatises on geometry as well as treatises on the construction of a regular tetrahedron and the construction of a cube.  via this site.

According to one source, Theano’s principal works included a Life of Pythagoras, a Cosmology, The Theorem of the Golden Mean, The Theory of Numbers, The Construction of the Universe, and a work titled On Virtue. None of the primary sources that remain, however, reveals anything of her personality.

Theano’s most important work is said to have been the principle of the Golden Mean. Like the geometrical constant pi, the Golden Mean is an irrational number that shows up in many relationships in nature. Its decimal value is approximately 1.6180. In geometry, a “golden” rectangle is one whose sides are related by the Golden Mean ratio, for example 13:8. Both the ancient Greeks and Egyptians designed buildings and monuments with proportions based on the Golden Mean. It is now known that some growth patterns observed in nature occur in accordance with the Golden Mean, examples being the spirals in the nautilus shell and the ratio of clockwise to counterclockwise spirals in a sunflower.

In a treatise on the construction of the universe attributed to Theano, she reportedly argues that the universe consists of ten concentric spheres: the Sun, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Earth, Counter-Earth, and the stars. The Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury move in orbit about a central fire. The stars are fixed and are not considered to move. In Theano’s theory, the distances between the spheres and the central fire are in the same arithmetic proportion as the intervals in the musical scales. via this site.

It is a shame that the work of both Theano and Damo is lost in the mists of time. It is my view that many of the great scientists of the past owe much more to their spouses than history lets on. Programmers may have heard of Theano as a python library.

Spring is in the air. So is my home office.

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


Here is my take on spring.




The box shades the computer so that I can see the screen but I’m still in the sun.

The tulips are from my trip to Utrecht last week.

Usability doesn’t mean UI

I have mentioned many times that the latest, coolest UI technology doesn’t mean that an application has good usability. Good design requires ingenuity and creativity but it also requires discipline and a focus on details.

I you want to check how seriously a vendor takes usability, do this simple test. Have a look at the error messages. I’m not talking here about witty 404 errors, but the stuff that happens when the payroll currency  conversion field is incomplete.

If they are up to date, accurate and easy to to understand, chances are the application is too. If there are spelling mistakes, missing entries and unintelligible codes then the vendor’s commitment to usability is skin deep. 

Error messages aren’t hip, glamorous, or agile, but they are a window into the development ethos. Error messages are the canvas in a suit. 

Ask for a list of all error messages when you do your next vendor evaluation. You will learn more about the vendor’s commitment to usability and product quality than you will fathom from a slick demo.