Tag Archives: poetasting

Ada Lovelace astride two cultures

Ada LovelaceRegular readers will have noticed my recent predilection for poetry.  I am going to deviate from the theme, but only slightly, by highlighting the work of Ada Lovelace who has been described as writing about differential calculus with the same passion that her father, Lord Byron wrote about forbidden love.  As I observed last week, we need more people who can write with passion about engineering and science; so it is appropriate following International Women’s Day on Sunday to highlight the work of Ada Lovelace who worked on programs for Babbage’s analytical engine. She could be described as the world’s first computer programmer.  However, she was much more than that because in her writings she foresaw a world in which computers would be aesthetic tools capable of creating language and art.  She was at least hundred years ahead of her time.  Perhaps growing up surrounded by poetry gave her the skills to express her passion for technology and the vision to see its potential.  If that is the case then we should encourage prospective engineers to read English literature and not books on engineering as implied in my post entitled ‘Good reads for budding engineers‘ on February 25th, 2015.  We need engineers to stand astride the boundary between the ‘Two Cultures‘ [see post of the same title on March 5th, 2013].

For more on modern female scientists and the gender imbalance in science watch the short film from the Royal Society entitled ‘A Chemical Imbalance‘  [see my post on of the same title on October 2nd, 2013]

Sources: Steven Johnson, A glitch in time, Financial Times, 18/19 October 2014.

Poetasting engineers

donegal ruinA few weeks ago we spent a long weekend in Dublin. Its a capital city on a small scale but well-endowed with world-class museums, galleries and civic grandeur with good victuals available nearly everywhere.  We are frequent visitors to Dublin and, for me, no visit would be complete without half-an-hour or so spent sitting in the National Library listening to recordings of Yeats’ poems being read out loud.  You can listen on-line by visiting the ‘Verse and Vision‘ exhibit at the National Library of Ireland website.  I find reading poetry really challenging but I enjoy listening to someone else reading it.

My link to John Updike’s poem ‘Ode to Entropy‘ in my post entitled ‘Cosmic Heat Death‘ didn’t work – sorry about that!  It is reproduced in full on Clutterbuck.  I made another mistake last week and unintentionally published two posts, which perhaps reduced the impact of my request for ‘Good reads for budding engineers‘.  I have had no responses yet…

Staying with poetry.  Engineers appear to have a poor reputation for writing poetry.  Hilary Mantel in her short story ‘How shall I know you‘ describes reading clubs founded ‘by master drapers and their shop-girl wives; by poetasting engineers, and uxorious physicians with long winter evenings to pass.‘  Poetasting means writing indifferent verse.  Admittedly writing good poetry is not part of the role of an engineer but writing clear and concise prose is an essential skill.  Unfortunately most young engineers and many older colleagues are the prose equivalent of poetasters –  they write terribly turgid text.  Our inability to communicate in sparkling prose means that our profession appears uninspiring to potential recruits and remains hidden and obscure to most of society.  Climate change, poor air quality, autonomous machines and ubiquitous big data  are amongst the many challenges facing society for which we need engineering and science-literate citizens and lawmakers.  The responsibility for educating society lies with engineers who understand the technology and must strive to communicate more effectively [see my post entitled the ‘Charismatic Engineer‘ on June 4th, 2014].

Source: Hilary Mantel, ‘Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ Henry Holt & Co, New York, September 2014.

Photo credit: Tom