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.

Industrial action impacts high tech companies too

Thinking of strikes, it is easy to imagine coal miners, railway workers and automobile assemblers with shop stewards quoting Trotsky, Gramsci and Marcuse, and brandishing a well worn copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a naive and foolish stereotype. As this example from Yahoo! shows,  industrial action is alive and well in the high tech industry. Valleywag reported on a strike at Yahoo in France.


(watch the video here if you dont see the embedded player)

Carol Bartz‘s lacerating eccentricity may captivate Silicon Valley, where she’s cutting costs left and right. Not so in Europe: When Yahoo tried to shut down operations in France, workers made this surreal, defiant video. And went on strike, naturally.Their point: Yahoo made about 1 million euros per worker from Yahoo France alone last year, and used to hype how “it’s important to have [locally] concentrated engineering activities… to innovate” in France, where it would base “one of [its] most important centers in Europe.” Yahoo France’s engineers will now stop working until Yahoo agrees that they shouldn’t have to stop working. At least they’re fact checking the internet company’s hype along the way.

(thanks Valleywag).

There is a  lesson for all “global” high tech companies. HR practices that work in the US don’t necessarily travel well. I have quite a bit of research in the pipeline on a related topic. I have seen global HR projects derailed because of worker and union opposition, forcing system redesigns and huge delays.

I’ll predict that the software industry will face increasing collective and industrial action. Social software makes it easier to organize and motivate around an issue, and create a strong collective even without the presence of a union. It makes it easy to reach the broader public too.  We have seen the power of the disgruntled customer using social media to mobilise support and opinion. Employees have access to the same tools and media. Executives of global software companies will need to get a lot more savvy about global HR issues. Gosh, that degree I did in Industrial Relations might actually be useful one day.

More Shakespeare. This time on the software sales pitch.


No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old;
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

Sonnet 123

thanks again to the sonnet a day.