Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Countess Ada Lovelace, in 1852
By Henry Phillips (Wikimedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There's a little 'easter egg' in her honor in my Halcyone Space books in the character of Adiana (Ada) May. In the books, the historical creators of the AI source code are two scientists named Dauber & May. CHARLES Dauber & ADA May. These were deliberate choices to echo the roles of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in early computing. 

In my fiction, Dauber did more of the hardware work and May, the software - in homage to Babbage & Lovelace and their roles - Babbage created the physical difference engine and Lovelace grasped its applications. 

So who was Ada Lovelace, you ask? An excellent question!

Augusta Ada Lovelace was born in 1815, the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. Her parents separated just a few weeks after Ada was born and her mother had her educated in science and mathematics as a way to avoid what she saw as her former husband's instability.

As a young woman, Ada Lovelace met Charles Babbage and he became her mentor. Ada seemed to have an intuitive grasp of the possibilities of Babbage's Analytical Engine and in a translation of a scientific paper on Babbage's work from the French, she added notes that more than doubled the original text.

"In her notes, Ada described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today. Ada also offered up other forward-thinking concepts in the article. For her work, Ada is often considered to be the first computer programmer."  From Ada Lovelace: Biography

While this doesn't seem radical to anyone who's played around with computer programs, remember, Lovelace wrote this in 1843.


Her work was essentially lost until the 1950s, but she's now recognized as the first programmer, so the next time you sit down in front of your computer, thank Ada. 

10 Things You Might Not Know About Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace: The First Tech Visionary
How a poet's daughter created the concept of software



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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Safe Deposit Box: A plot bunny in 3 acts

Long neglected paperwork
When non-writers find out I'm a writer, one of the first questions they ask me is where my story ideas come from. It always makes me laugh, because stories are everywhere. You can't avoid them. The hard part is finding the story that has enough energy to get the writer through an entire novel.

Today, I encountered a story idea - or at least the germ of one. To illustrate, I need to go back about a quarter century. . .

Act 1: we rent a safe deposit box

We bought our current home in 1992 and opened a bank account at our local bank. Back then, it was Bay Bank and we chose it because a college friend worked there. Then a few years later, we realized we needed a safe deposit box for things like our mortgage paperwork and other essential documents that it made sense to store outside the house. So we opened a small box in the same branch of Bay Bank where we had out accounts.

Act 2: Our bank is no longer our bank

The 90's were a time of bank mergers and acquisitions and in short order, Bay Bank was BankBoston, then Bank of Boston, then Fleet Bank, and finally Bank of America.

Somewhere, early in the merger game, when banks were starting to charge fees for walking past their branches (okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much. . . ) we moved our accounts to a local bank and got better customer service and free ATM access. But we never bothered to move the safe deposit box.

Over the years, I kind of forgot about it, until our housefire in 2010, when I realized, we lost the key to the box. It then went on my 'to do' list, but always at the bottom, because I didn't relish the hassle and expense of dealing with the missing keys.

Fast forward to today.

Act 3: Surprise!

I got a call from the Bank of America branch. A manager at the local branch was calling to tell me they drilled open our box and found documents. She was giving us one final chance to claim the contents.

Um. . . WTF?? (Which I didn't say aloud, but I was utterly confused.)

The story: The bank was undergoing significant renovations and as part of them was removing its safe deposit boxes. They had contacted patrons several times over the past year letting them know about the deadline and that on Sept 30th, the boxes would be drilled open and their contents inventoried.

I never received any of those letters. Luckily for me, our phone number was on the signature card for the box (which they had on file.)

So what happened?

During all the mergers and acquisitions, our record never got transferred to the new bank's computer system. They didn't know we existed. (And BTW, we stopped getting billed for the box years earlier; I didn't notice.)


We have the contents of the box and didn't have to pay the back rent (which was nice of them - they could have asked), the lost key became a non-issue, and I have an interesting story idea to play with someday.

Any number of things could have been in the box.

Perhaps the story is from the POV of the bank manager or the person who drilled the box open to find. . .

Perhaps the story is from the POV of the box owner or next of kin who discovers family secrets or a legacy. . .

Regardless of where the story might take me (or you!), today I discovered a plausable reason for a lost safe deposit box.

Let the 'what ifs' begin!



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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Welcoming Mya

This is Mya

I didn't have pets when I was growing up. My mother was always a very fastidious housekeeper and didn't much like animals, but I always loved them. I would be the kid playing with the family dog or cat instead of socializing with the other children. To be honest, I still gravitate to the pets when I'm at social gatherings in someone's home.

Dogs have never made me feel socially awkward or shy. They are endlessly forgiving and appreciative of our attention. And as we say  in our family, 'dogs are good people.'

I welcomed my first dog into my life the day before I got married. My sister had called to ask is she could drop her wedding gift because it was fragile and she didn't want to bring it to the wedding. She showed up to our apartment with a 12 week old Lhasa Apso puppy in her arms.

That was Max. Maxwell Smart Dog. While we hadn't registered for a pup, Max became the best gift we ever received.

Max the wonder dog
He was a natural clown and traveled well. We even had friends who would fight over who got to take Max if we were going away without him. He lived to be a grumpy old man of over 16 and the boys' fiercest companion.

When Max died, the kids were 9 and 11. We promised them we'd get another dog; that the right dog would find us, but that we would need to wait until Spring. (Max died in December that year.)

Come Spring, the kids reminded us of our promise, and off to the rescue organization we went. Neil was out of town and I told the boys we were just looking. That I didn't want a puppy, that certainly not a large dog, or one that would be a big shedder.

Then I saw this brindled pup and lost my heart.


Tigger found her home with us and when we got her paperwork, discovered that she was born on the day Max died. She was a sweet and loving pup - easy to train and eager to please. She and I formed a visiting therapy dog team and she was a certified therapy dog for many years.

When the kids got older and were no longer 'puppies' to the dogs, we looked for a companion for Tigger and 5 years ago, brought Dustin into our lives.

This is NOT a Lhasa Apso
We were initially told that he was a Lhasa Apso. Not so much. Jack Rusell Terrier and something floofy is our best guess. If Tigger was 'good dog', then Dustin became 'other dog.' It wasn't that he was *bad*, he just wasn't as well mannered as Tiggs and a lot harder to train.

He also had a significant degree of fear-aggression around other dogs when on leash. This is still a problem, though a lot better that it was, thanks to lots of work with a dog behaviorist and Tigger's influence.

When Tigger died suddenly this summer, Dustin became very lonely. We knew he needed to be part of a pack and he needed the right companion. It had to be a female, a dog that was both playful and submissive. And because we have a dog door, the dog couldn't be more than 40 pounds. It took some time, but we finally found Mya.

She will be coming home tomorrow.

I know that dogs don't replace one another in your heart any more than people do - she's not Tigger and we don't expect her to be. We are just thrilled to welcome a new member of the family.

Stay tuned for a flood of Mya photos in the coming weeks!


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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Poetry, Memories, and Birthdays

Sunflowers always make me smile

I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
   --From OTHERWISE by Jane Kenyon

Today is my 53rd birthday. I slept late, had coffee and chocolate cake (baked by my older son last night) for breakfast.

I headed to the ceramics studio and unloaded a bisque kiln with one of my fellow artists. We laughed and joked and enjoyed the work that had been fired. Then I met a friend for lunch.

When I returned home, I canned all the tomato sauce my husband and I had processed the day before and left simmering in the crockpot. Then I washed, cut, and cranked through the food mill the last 50 lbs of tomatoes we had gotten from the farm last week.

This is some of the work I love, and like Jane Kenyon, I understand that being able to do it is a joy and a privilege that some day will be otherwise.

The truth is, I have more life behind me than is likely left before me. This is something that feels far more present and real this year than ever before. Both my parents died in the past few years and I find that I miss them with a special sharpness today.


A tweet came across my twitter feed with something I hadn't realized: I share a birthday with the poet Mary Oliver. One of her poems. WILD GEESE is a favorite. I read it often, reference it with others, make them read it, too. 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
     --From WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver

What I love is solitude and quiet laughter and watching baseball games with my husband, and all things geeky and creative, and the joy of playing with words.


In early September of 2001, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. We don't make a huge big deal over birthdays in our family. We did, for the kids when they were little, but not for one another. Usually a card, and a lovely dinner was the gift each of us typically wanted. Plus, our wedding anniversary is less than a week before, so my birthday tends to get overshadowed. 

That year, I wanted the gift of time. My husband's work hours had been especially long and our kids were young - elementary school age.  I didn't feel as if we had enough time just for the two of us, so I asked for something I wasn't sure could happen.

I asked him to take the day off from work, so we could just spend a leisurely week day together.

September 10, 2001 was a beautiful Tuesday. After walking the children to school, we returned home to have coffee and breakfast on the back deck. We took the dog for a walk, sat and read. It was a perfect day. A perfect gift. 

Then the next morning, the world shifted.

I remember so clearly holding on to the perfect, gentle birthday that I celebrated with my husband. It had been some kind of crucial inoculation against the evil. 

Doing the work that we love, with the people that we love, is to fight against evil.


I had a lovely day. Dinner is being prepared for me by my family. There is a fresh bouquet of sunflowers in the dining room.  The dog is curled up by my feet. Friends from near and far called or emailed or messaged me with birthday wishes. 

This is an embarrassment of riches. 

It fills me with gratitude.

May you have the joy of doing the work you love with the people you love.


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