Redlands (CA) – Computer geeks on opposite ends of the Earth have found the original sketch of the world’s first programmer. In a story worthy of a Hollywood movie, a United States Army sergeant in Tajikistan and a programmer in Texas resurrected the legend of Ada Lovelace by buying up a 180-year-old watercolor portrait on eBay.
Ada Lovelace, formally known as Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace is credited with creating the world’s first computer program for the Babbage steam-powered calculating engine. The United States military named their Ada programming language after her and her portrait is used in some Microsoft hologram stickers.
But those stickers and many paintings of Lovelace have been copies of copies. Also it’s a bit weird that Microsoft is probably using a twice removed copy of the sketch as an authenticity sticker. A company spokesman declined to comment on the find.
It was assumed that the original portrait had been lost forever, until a Canadian antique dealer put the original framed watercolor sketch on eBay. The posting would have faded into oblivion if it wasn’t for US Army Master Sergeant Robert McLaughlin.
Currently posted at the United States Embassy in dusty and remote Tajikistan, McLaughlin frequently searches eBay for Ada Lovelace-related items. In a weekly ritual, partly to keep sane and mainly to keep in touch with friends, he sends the results to “Valkyrie”, a friend in Texas. “Ada is Valkyrie’s heroine,” he told us.
The find sparked a flurry of emails, Skype messages and phone calls between fellow computer geeks, historians and antique dealers who tried to authenticate the drawing. Experts soon agreed that the portrait was done in the 1820s when Ada was approximately four-years-old. McLaughlin bid for the portrait and put in another bid with the last moments of bidding. Who would have thought that Army anti-sniper training would be so relevant to eBay bidding these days?
McLaughlin took early leave to pick up the sketch in Southern California. He and Valkyrie met us at a top-secret location (cough Starbucks cough) in Redlands, CA to show off the frame and authenticity letter. Cradling the frame like a baby, Valkyrie joked, “She looks pretty good for being so old.”
Only a few feet separated Ada’s portrait from a MacBook Air and two other laptops and we can only imagine how proud she would have felt about the progress of computing.