Wednesday, March 24, 2010

happy ada lovelace day!

like most internet trolls out there, i manage to come across the most interesting and amazing subcultures.  by and large that has to be my favorite thing about the internet.  i am by no means tech savvy, culture savvy, or socially savvy.  hell, i can barely function in social situations enough to not spill a drink on myself or unknowingly talk shit about a guy to his girlfriends face.  so i dont often find myself in art galleries saying oh how droll thaddeus, you are such a rascal!  nor do i sit outside hipster bookstores complaining that banksy is just the next shepherd fairey, exchanging his politically inflammatory and damnable art for that which the masses can appreciate and feel a part of the underground culture.  and then they buy coffee table books of the street art to put on their ikea tables next to their dwell magazines.

but back on topic.  the internet allows for the dissemination of intellectual discourse even for the most unsociable.    recently, through my normal habit of following links from a musician interview to his fav bands to their favorite webpages (with a few quick stops at wikipedia to remind myself what a selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitor is; not kidding, that was my last wikipedia search).  by and by i found a website called finding ada.  its all about ada lovelace, and how she wrote the first computer programs for the first computer that was more than a calculator, the analytical engine.  she has been called the first computer programmer, and the modern computer programming language is named ada.  so today, march 24, is ada lovelace day.  to commemorate this special day we are taking the time to bring attention to other unsung women in the world of technology.  at, thousands of people are writing about a woman they think has made an important contribution to technology today.  so here goes mine.

i hope no one gets snippy, but the woman i chose did not actually have much hands on work in the field of technology.  but nevertheless, without her we would be years, maybe decades behind in the fields of gene therapy, cloning, even the polio vaccine.  although she died in 1951, she has been in the news recently because of a new book called the immortal life of henrietta lacks by rebecca skloot.  ms skloot was on the colbert report recently to discuss her new book, a clip of which can be found here.  to explain in just a few sentences, when henrietta lacks was treated at a hospital for cervical cancer, some of her cells were removed to be studied later (without her knowledge).  possibly because of inadequate treatment, her body became riddled with tumors and she died at the age of 31.  but upon studying her cells, it quickly became apparent that they did not die soon after division, basically they were immortal cells.  these cells were able to then be used to create vaccines, were the first cells to be cloned, and were even shot into space (a nice timeline can be found here).  her family was not told until years later, and seemingly have received no compensation.  the only legacy is that the cell line is called HeLa.  for more specifics on how the science of genetics and immortal cells work, i suggest checking out the new book.  i know i will, as soon as i live in a country that has it available :)  or of course you can spend the day on wikipedia, going from link to link, until the work day is done.

so maybe ms lacks did not create any major technology by her brainpower or ingenuity.  however, the cancer that ended her life has saved thousands, if not millions of others.  so we will give back in the only way we know how, buy spreading your story and your sacrifice.  even though you were buried in an unmarked grave, the people that know your direct impact on science and technology that continues today, we will remember you in our hearts.

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