Amazing Woman: Ada Lovelace

In this exciting world where everything from our cars to our toaster is run by a computer, it’s nice to pay homage to those who made these modern conveniences possible.

Next in the Amazing Women series, we learn about a woman who as been referred to as the ‘prophet of the computer age’, Ada Lovelace.

Charming and fiendishly intelligent, Ada Lovelace deserves attention.

Daughter of the esteemed poet Lord Byron and his mathematically inclined wife Annabella Milbanke, Augusta Ada Byron (1815-1852) was already fit for a fascinating life from the day she was born. Her mother insisted that in her studies with a private tutor she also learn mathematics, in the hopes that, get this, she not fall into her father’s moody and unpredictable attitudes. Don’t forget, in this time period learning anything that even hinted at applied sciences was most unusual for a woman.

Difference engine at the London Science Museum built from Babbage’s design.

In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Babbage Engine – the first automatic computing machines also known as difference engines. These engines are used to tabulate polynomial functions.

Whoa, a little of my nerd popped right out there. Let me tuck that back in…

Long story short, she got to see one of these very early computing machines at the hands of Babbage himself in 1833 and it was magic. She was fascinated at the possibilities that such an engine could offer.

Still being a woman, marriage and motherhood interfered with her mathematical studies and she had to make do with studying about these mathematical engines in her spare time. (I totally understand the feeling – one of my darling children is calling me as I write this…)

One of these undertakings included translating an article on the Analytical Engine, in which she added extensive notes of her own. In fact, her notes were three times longer than the original article. The translation as well as her notes were published in 1843 in an English science journal under the initials A.A.L.

Within these notes is the very first description of a stepwise sequence of operations for solving certain mathematical problems. For this, Ada is considered ‘the first programmer’ to have graced our world.

Her speculations and analytical thinking pushed the boundaries of mathematics beyond merely numbers and into the realm of manipulating ideas and concepts, such as music.

Ada died young, at age 36, of uterine cancer.

Next time you fiddle with your phone, thank Ada for giving rise to the idea of computer programming.

References:


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Magical Places: Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Ever want to go somewhere that makes you feel like you are on another planet? Those who live in the western United States are familiar with the Bonneville Salt Flats – an impossible stretch of pristine white perfectly flat ground that stretches to the horizon. I’ve been there. It’s both incredible as it is blinding.

Bonneville Salt Flats is ringed by the different ranges within the Rocky Mountains, which are visible in the photo below. Now imagine if it were 100 times larger and you’d have Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest salt flat in the world.

Me, being a complete dork on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Salt flats are formed where prehistoric lake beds have filled and dried millions of times over the course of eons. In Utah, that prehistoric lake was Lake Bonneville and it used to cover over half of Utah. This cycle of filling and drying left behind a meters thick even layer of salts that are distributed so evenly that NASA uses them to calibrate the altimeters of Earth observation satellites.

Salar de Uyuni is part of the Altiplano (literally translates to ‘high plain’) of Bolivia and originated from the prehistoric lakes Lake Minchin and later Paleo Lake Tauca. The altitude is so high in fact, at 11,800 ft, that it’s recommended for travelers to acclimate in La Paz for a few days before visiting. It’s also bitterly cold in the winter, dropping as low as -4F (-20C).

Because it’s as beautiful as it is alien, it has become a highlighted tourist stop for those traveling in Bolivia. Hidden within the vast expanses of these salt flats are technicolor lagoons, gushing hot springs, and surreal deserts.

Now I totally want to create a story that has a salt flat… so cool.

As the brine beneath the crust rises and falls it forms geometric shapes.

Interesting facts about Salar de Uyuni:

  • It’s the largest concentration of lithium on the planet. The battery in your phone most likely has lithium from Salar de Uyuni in it.
  • The final battle scene in The Last Jedi was filmed here
  • After the rain it creates the largest natural mirror in existence.
  • It’s a huge breeding ground for three species of Flamingo who turn pink from ingesting the pink algae.
During the rainy season, Salar de Uyuni becomes a giant natural mirror

Resources:

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Amazing Woman: Lilian Bland

Next in the Amazing Woman series, I want to talk about someone who let their passions guide them to accomplishing several world first moments. Imagine, it’s the early 1900’s and we are part of the age of steam power and are starting to realize the potential of the gas engine. Massive steam ships cross the ocean. Zeppelins float across the sky.

It’s an age of discovery and today’s featured historical figure wanted to be right in the middle of it.

By Screenshot by uploadineditor, original photo uncrdited – Screenshot from Flight Iternational archive, http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1910/1910%20-%201027.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23984699

On to April’s Amazing Woman!

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments in flight, but I guarantee you no one has heard of Lilian Bland. In short, Lilian Bland was the first woman to design, build, and fly her own airplane in 1910.

In this time period, hardly anyone had even seen a plane, let alone ridden in one. The Wright Brothers performed their first flight only seven years earlier in 1903. Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic occurred in 1928.

Lilian’s story is nothing short of incredible. She became interested in flying after her uncle sent her a postcard of the Bleriot monoplane from Paris. With that picture, she studied the measurements and added her own thoughts to the design.

Her plane, the Mayfly, was built in her late uncle’s workshop after testing a series of models and prototypes. With each test she modified and improved the design until the plane was strong enough to lift four policemen. She reasoned that if it could lift four men, it could carry one English engine and then ordered one from A. V. Roe & Co.

A further demonstration of her passion is revealed when she wanted to test the Mayfly with it’s new engine before the petrol tank was ready so she improvised using an empty whiskey bottle and her deaf aunt’s ear trumpet.

By Uncredited(Life time: Uncredited) – “Flying in Ireland”, Flight. 18 February 1911. P. 139, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41310208

The Mayfly’s first successful flight was on a hill in Randalstown in August of 1910. The controls consisted of a bicycle handle bar. The pilot, none other than Lilian Bland herself, sat in an open air canvas seat. This attempt resulted in an engine powered glide of about 30 feet. The Mayfly’s longest recorded flight was approximately 400 meters.

This flight made Lilian the first woman to fly an aircraft in Ireland and was also the first flight of a powered biplane in Ireland.

Seeing as flying airplanes in this time period was still extremely dangerous, Lilian’s father was extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of his daughter. He convinced her to give up flying by buying her a car. Turns out she loved cars almost as much as she loved planes and she ended up running her own car dealership by April 1911.

Resources:

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Amazing Woman: Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

In honor of St. Patrick’s day and the whimsical month of March, this month’s ‘Amazing Woman’ hails from Scotland.

Lady Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale (c. 1680-1749) met her husband, William Maxwell the 5th Earl of Nithsdale and a Catholic Nobelman at the French court.

At the time, Lady Winifred’s father, the 1st Marquess of Powis, was in exile and Winifred’s mother became the governess for James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of the late King James II of England (James VII of Scotland).

Lady Winifred met William Nithsdale while he was visiting France to pay his respects to the former King James II and were married soon after. They lived in Terregles, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Sixteen years into their marriage, William Nithsdale joined the famous Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. He was captured at the Battle of Preston and tried for treason and sentenced to death, which effectively landed him in the famous Tower Prison of London.

Winifred, now a mother of five, traveled to London and made a personal appeal to King George I to ask for clemency, but received none. On the night before William’s execution, she visited the prison with her maid and two friends and gave the guards a generous amount of drinking money. Inside the prison, she shaved off William’s beard and dressed him in woman’s clothing. She then proceeded to smuggle him out of the prison.

Smuggling William Nithsdale out of the Tower Prison

The cloak she used that night is still held by the family.

The couple hid in London until William could escape to France disguised as a servant of the Venetian Ambassador. Winifred then traveled to Scotland to manage her family’s estate. She eventually reunited with her husband at the exiled court of James Francis Edward Stuart – yes, that James, the son of King James II, the same man that Winifred’s mother had cared for as a child. This James Francis Edward Stuart came to be known as the Old Pretender and sought the British throne during the Jacobite Rebellion – yes, the same rebellion that sent William to his death for treason.

It sounds like the plot of a brilliant movie.

For being brave enough to risk her neck to save her husband and smuggle him out of prison dressed as a woman, Lady Winifred Maxwell is my Amazing Woman for the month of March.

Resources:

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Updates

While this isn’t my first conference, I still love when I get shiny pictures to share. If you are in Northern Utah on April 27th this is a terrific conference for a great price. Head over to the League of Utah Writers webpage for more information.

I’ll be teaching “Helping Characters through Tough Transitions using the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle” at 5 PM.

Amazing Woman, Marie Curie

Throughout history there have always been people willing to risk and sacrifice to push forward in their fields. Some become renowned scientists and some help shape the understanding of millions through the words they write.

A big part of the message I want to share with the world is that anyone can be excellent in their chosen field if they are willing to work and sacrifice. The main characters in my books strongly believe this and are all at different points of this process.

Which is why I want to share about scientific pioneer and two times Nobel Laureate, Marie Curie.

The Unstoppable Marie Curie

5 things you didn’t know about Marie Curie

1.

While most people know that Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903 for her discoveries of radioisotopes radium and polonium, did you know that she almost wasn’t mentioned? The award nomination originally only included her research partner and husband Pierre Curie and their contemporary Henri Becquerel.

2.

During World War 1, Marie Curie invented a mobile x-ray unit called a “Little Curie” installed it into “radiological cars” and trained 150 women to operate it. This mobile x-ray unit was critical to getting help to front line injuries and battlefield surgeons. Even more impressive, to further help the ware effort Curie learned to drive and operated her own “little Curie.” It is estimated that through her efforts the total number of soldiers who received x-rays during the war exceeded one million. This makes Marie Curie a War Hero.

3.

Einstein personally came to Curie’s defense. As is true with most ground breakers, Marie Curie experienced a whole host of scandal and controversy that criticized everything from her immigrant roots to her sex life. The situation got so bad that at one point she was counseled to not travel to Sweden to accept her second Nobel Prize. When Einstein learned of this he wrote her a wonderful letter where he encouraged her “to simply not read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.”

4.

Marie Curie’s daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, won her own Noble Prize in 1935 for discovering a way to create artificial radioactive isotopes for use in medicine. Sadly, Marie died before the announcement was made in 1934.

5.

Marie Curie kept a sample of radium next to her bed to use as a night light.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

Resources

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Check it out! The Create Loud Podcast brought me on the show to discuss the writing process and the importance of embracing your own uniqueness.

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Magical Places, Mont-Saint-Michel

Castle and monastery, church and fortress, Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France has been a bit of everything over its thousand-year plus history. Which is what makes it perfect material for a post here on the blog, where I seek to find magic everyday.

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Mont-Saint-Michel at Sunset

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love ancient castles and churches. My Instagram is loaded with gorgeous pictures of them because they stir my imagination and tell so many stories.

 

I visited Mont-Saint-Michel when I was a young naive teenager. At the time, it was just another wonderful place to visit in a series of interesting places I’d been on a long trip through France. Looking back, I wished I had taken more time to soak in the history. I’m making up for that now.

The earliest history of the island extends back to the 8th century, when the island was called Mont Tombe. “Tombe” meaning grave in Latin evokes the feeling of a graveyard or a final resting place. There is a secondary, and far more fitting, translation as “mount hillock” meaning a raised place. For anyone who has visited the island, it fits this description well. From base to tip, the island rises over 260 feet out of the ocean, and all of it rocky unforgiving granite. I remember my legs burning as we trekked up the steep streets toward the monastery.

According to legend, in 708 AD Archangel Michael appeared to Aubery, bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church in the Archangel’s honor. The bishop repeatedly ignored this heavenly visitor, a truly bad idea, until Saint Michael burned a hole into the bishop’s skull with his finger. The church was built October 16, 709 and devoted to Saint Michael. Mont-Saint-Michel literally means “Saint Michael Mount.”

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Saint Michael Iconography

The location of the island is unique as it historically it could only be reached during low tide and was surrounded by silty sand that was prone to becoming quicksand. This made the island easy to defend as the assailants couldn’t continue their fight for risk of drowning.

 

It was also halfway between the two power Duchies of Normandy and Brittany during the early Middle Ages, which made it the target of the two powers and through the ages it changed hands frequently. At one point it was invaded by Vikings.

Fast forward to 1204, the Breton Guy de Thouars, an ally to the King of France, tried to take the island in a siege. In the process, he accidentally set the main buildings of the monastery on fire, destroying the very same buildings he wanted to occupy. The King of France at the time, Philip Augustus, or Philip II, was horrified that a holy site was damaged in connection to him and offered funds for a major restoration and expansion which included many of the Gothic style buildings we see today.

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Courtyard with Gothic arches

Throughout the following hundreds of years the island continued to be an area of dispute. Each successive conqueror added and destroyed parts of the island’s structures until we reach the present day. For more history, there are references below.

 

Modern day Mont-Saint-Michel can be reached by a long bridge built specially to allow the flow of tidewater underneath. Thrill seekers are still allowed to approach over the sand during low tide, however there are signs everywhere warning of the dangers of quicksand.

Do you have a favorite castle or magical place? Share about it in the comments below and I might do a feature on it in the future.

References:

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Update

I swear I’m not teasing you about doing a cover reveal. It will happen, and it looks like it might be by next week’s post. This week we pinned down a few more needed pieces to create the advance review copies for distribution. If you love reading epic fantasy, and even better, love giving reviews, please send me a note!

Also, I’ll be at the Eagle Mountain Writing Conference this weekend. If you are there, come say hi!

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Magical Places, Tree Cathdral, Bergamo

The Fantasy in Real Life series is dedicated to showcasing the weird and wonderful creations and natural phenomenon that occur around the world. This week we visit Bergamo, a city in Lombardy, Italy. Located just 25 miles northeast of Milan, Bergamo can be considered part of the greater Milan metropolitan area. To the north are the foothills of the Bergamo Alps.

As an ancient city, there are plenty of cathedrals and other examples of medieval architecture in Bergamo, but today we are going to focus on something new.

imageThe tree cathedral was the brain child of Italian artist, Giuliano Mauri, and is touted as one of the world’s most impressive examples of organic architecture. A lover of nature, Mauri created the original plans in 2001. Sadly, he died in 2009 before the work could be realized.

In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, Mauri’s plans were put into action as a tribute to his life’s work. 42 beech trees were planted to form a basilica of five aisles will grow into the supporting columns. These beeches are supported by fir poles and branches of hazelnut and chestnut that have been woven together. These will be allowed to deteriorate as the beech trees grow larger. image (1)

Additional resources and articles about the Tree Cathedral:

Magical Places: Bridge of Immortals, Huangshan, China

Bridge-of-Immortals-7

Huangshan, literally translated as “yellow mountains,” are an epic range of steep jagged granite peaks nestled in eastern China. It is one of China’s major tourist attractions and is often a subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography.

It is not, however, for the faint of heart.  Many of the foot paths wander along high steep cliffs, and there is even a section that must be traversed by walking across narrow planks while gripping a chain anchored into the rock. But the pay out is worth it. The tops of the peaks look out over an amazing landscape above a sea of clouds.

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It is rumored that James Cameron found his inspiration for the landscape in his movie Avatar from a visit to the Huangshan.

The Bridge of Immortals is the world’s highest bridge, putting visitors above the clouds. It leads to a cave carved deep into the rock. Part of the lore around the mountains is that the Yellow Emperor. Emperor Xuanyuan, the legendary founder of the Chinese nation and ancestor to the nationalities of the central plains, attained enlightenment there and became immortal.

To learn more about Huangshan, and the Bridge of Immortals check out these links:

To see more of the Fantasy in Real Life series, click here!

Magical Places: Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Image credit: Wearableworldnews.com

Image credit: Wearableworldnews.com

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the few sights of the Fantasy in Real Life Series that I’ve actually visited.  Located in the marina district of San Francisco, this stunning structure is a magnet for photographers and artists alike.

The Palace was originally built as a part of the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, a world fair that ran from February 20th to December 4th in 1915. This particular fair was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and also showcase San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.

The Palace of Fine Arts was one of ten separate palaces that dotted the over 600 acre exhibition, the other nine palaces were for education, liberal arts, manufactures, varied industries, agriculture, food products, transportation, mines and metallurgy, and machinery.

The exhibition was not built to last, the Palace of Fine Arts was built primarily of wood and then covered with a mixture of plaster and burlap-type fiber.  The original intention was for all the palaces to be torn down at the end of the fair, but the Palace of Fine Arts was so popular that the Palace Preservation League was formed before the end of the fair.

Despite their best efforts, the Palace fell into ruin and fell to vandalism.  In 1964 the original Palace was torn down save the steel structure of the exhibit hall, and rebuilt using newer more durable materials, like lightweight poured-in-place concrete. In 1969, the exhibit hall became home to the interactive museum, the Exploratorium.

To learn more about the Palace of Fine arts, check out these links below:

For more of the Fantasy In Real LIfe Series, Click here!

Magical Places: The Hill Giant, Austria

hillgiantaustriaIn the small town of Wattens; located in Tyrol, Austria; is the world famous Swarovski Crystal factory. In 1995 they had their 100th anniversary and to celebrate they commissioned Viennese artist Andre Heller to design a series of unique attractions designed to please crystal lovers around the world.

To enter the “Kristallwelten” one must pass the eye catching Hill Giant that marks the entrance. His eyes are none other than large crystals and a waterfall flows from his mouth. The Hill giant was constructed in 1983.  Inside the Kristallwelten you can find the “Wunderkammern” (or “Cabinets of Marvel”) where each of the artists involved in the project has their own installment.

Later, in 2003, the Kristallwelten was expanded to include several other attractions including a 3D projection “Planet der Kristalle”, the “Kristalldom” (or “Crystal Cupola”), and the giant kaleidoscope filled with healing crystals, the “Kristalloskop”. Outside there is a maze in the shape of a hand

Related sites:

Travel Spotting: The Hill Giant, Austria

Swarovski Kristallwelten