We still have a few days left in March, which happens to be Women's History Month.
you know that the first computer programmer was a woman? Lady Ada
Lovelace is generally credited as the author of the first step by
step algorithm for solving a problem with a general purpose
calculation device, the Difference Engine designed by her friend and
mentor Charles Babbage.
are many other women who’ve made important contributions to
computing and technology, but alas, we mostly hear about people like
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. That’s one reason why for this
Charity Sunday, I am supporting Girls
Who Code, an organization devoted to educating girls and young
women in computer technology, encouraging them to pursue careers in
tech, and changing public policy to make the computer industry more
equitable and inclusive.
Who Code runs coding camps and clubs, with a special focus on
minority and disadvantaged girls; develops and disseminates “code
at home” projects to excite young women about computer programming;
works with legislators to include computing in K-12 curricula; and
sponsors research to document the gender gap in computing as well as
to measure the impact of their programs.
a software engineer myself. I know how challenging and satisfying it
can be to use computers in order to solve real world problems. The
rise of AI means that more than ever we need a balanced view of the
benefits and risks of computing. Females tend to bring a more
human-centered view to engineering. Personally, I feel that world would definitely benefit from less tech testosterone.
- for every comment I receive on this post, I will donate two
dollars to Girls Who Code.
as usual on Charity Sunday, I have an excerpt for you. In fact quite
a few of my characters are female engineers. Here’s a bit from
The Journeyman’s Trial, the second book in my
Toymakers Guild series. Gillian Smith, my heroine, is an engineering
genius, but she has been exiled from Randerley Hall for a month
because she and her lover Rafe acted irresponsibly and put the Guild
at risk. At first she has a difficult time – but her work saves
the first week and a half of her sentence, restless energy tormented
her. She spent many hours walking by sea, despite the chill winds and
frequent rain. Although she tried to appreciate the natural beauty of
the wintery scene, she could not blot out the memory of Edward
Thorne’s stern expression when he’d dismissed her. Anxious
thoughts cycled relentlessly through her mind. What if he decided to
expel her from the Guild after all? How could she convince him to let
the few months since she’d arrived at Randerley, it had become her
home. She’d become accustomed to having intelligent, creative and
curious companions, not to mention being free to express her carnal
desires. How awful to go back to the stupid, stifling, hypocritical
society epitomised by her aunt and her repulsive son, superficially
moral, secretly corrupt! She’d managed to adapt herself to that
life before the Guild took her in, but now? Better to live like a
hermit in some isolated hideaway, where she could be herself.
she were readmitted to the Guild community, though, could she truly
guarantee she wouldn’t commit another offence? Blinded by passion,
she and Rafe had made their plans without stopping to weigh the
larger consequences. Rafe held sway over her body and her heart;
wouldn’t she always put him first?
I did manage to refuse him, she
thought, returning at dusk from one of her long hikes. She shucked
off her sodden outerwear, peeled off her damp skirt and bodice, and
stretched out on the rag rug wearing only her chemise and drawers to
toast herself in front of the fire. I
chose this penance, this sojourn alone, instead of running away with
but the cost was high! She missed him desperately. With all her
walking, she never tired herself to the point that she didn’t ache
for his touch. All she had to do was close her eyes and he was there,
stroking her cheek, cradling her breasts, parting her legs to kneel
between them and breathe her in. His distinctive scent teased her
nostrils. His ragged hair tickled her inner thighs. She could almost
feel his delicate tongue, dancing lightly across her taut clit and
driving her to distraction.
ran her palms over her breasts and down her flat belly. The thin
muslin of her chemise transmitted both heat and pressure. Pleasure
rippled through her, but solitary touches offered no real relief from
her raging need. Though she doubted self-stimulation would be
considered a violation of her promised celibacy, it hardly seemed
worth the effort. She might make herself spend, but she knew the
fleeting satisfaction would be a mere shadow of the bliss she enjoyed
with Rafe. Their emotional connection amplified their physical
compatibility, spiritual bonds manifesting as intense sensual
never experienced that sort of deep-seated satisfaction before, not
even with Rawlings. That had been simple and uncomplicated. Her lust
for the burly groundskeeper had stripped her bare. He had turned her
into a rutting animal without scruples or shame. With Rafe, there
were infinite depths and nuances, their coupling a meeting of minds
and hearts as well as flesh.
glanced toward the rough table where she ate her meals and wrote in
her journal. In the centre stood the little hourglass Rafe had
fashioned for her. She kept it there to remind her of her beloved,
and as a symbol of the patience she always seemed to be lacking.
should she settle for an ordinary climax at her own hands when she
knew the astonishing power of their shared pleasure? The Master had
separated her and Rafe for good reason, understanding how their love
could overwhelm them. Her unrequited longing for her lover was part
of her punishment. She was determined to bear it stoically, along
with the other privations of her exile, until she returned to
Rafe has decided to leave the Guild forever. The
thought was a chill fist clenched around her heart. She recalled him
storming out of Amelia’s office, rebellious and angry. Gillian was
certain her own future lay with the Master, if he was willing to
accept her back into the fold, but what about Rafe? Would he choose
unrestricted personal freedom over the responsibilities and the gifts
of the Guild?
sudden revelation stunned her. If he did reject the Guild, then he
was not, after all, the soul mate he had seemed.
fellow journeymen, their paths aligned. They shared a common set of
goals and values, dedicating both their erotic creativity and their
technical abilities to the Guild’s mission. Members of Randerley’s
wanton and uninhibited community, they belonged to an elite group of
natural libertines, a handful of brave souls committed to answering
the call of desire.
outsider would never understand the bonds that linked the Guild
members to one another. And despite several years of experience at
Randerley, if Rafe were to turn his back on the Master and his
perverse flock, he would become an outsider.
grief swept through her, as though she’d already lost him. At the
same time, she felt a new clarity and strength of purpose. She knew
her own mind and heart and had made her own choice. Over Rafe’s
decisions, she had no power. Only when she’d completed her
banishment would she know the outcome.
she could make herself useful. In response to Amelia’s suggestion,
Gillian had brought her experimental Analytical Engine with her to
Cornwall. This interlude of isolation was an ideal opportunity for
her to address the difficulties that had previously frustrated her,
with no competing tasks and no sensual distractions.
by emotion and her hours of walking, she fell asleep by the fire. The
next morning, however, crisp sunlight woke her. After dressing and
stirring the embers on the hearth into a blaze, she breakfasted on
hot tea, brown bread and curd. Then she pulled the complex mechanism
from her luggage and set it on the table near the hourglass.
worked until well past noon, refreshing her memory regarding the
modes of failure she’d observed during her last efforts with the
device. When the usual boy from the village arrived to deliver
provisions, she realised she was ravenous, but she didn’t want to
take the time to cook lunch. She grabbed an apple, a hunk of cheese
and more bread, and returned to her contemplation of the recalcitrant
appeared to be consuming the instructions encoded on the perforated
paper strip. The problem seemed to lie in translating them into
actions. She’d built a small, highly simplified model of the
punishment rack to use for testing, really just a set of levers and
gears intended to represent one percussive instrument like a paddle
and one reciprocating item like a dildo. These components did in fact
move in response to her programme, but in an uncoordinated, erratic
she made mistakes in implementing the engine? She’d followed Lady
Lovelace’s notes faithfully, with the exception of one or two
improvements that had seemed obvious. Could her minor enhancements be
responsible for the poor performance? Anything was possible. Indeed,
Lady Ada’s design might contain flaws; Ada Lovelace had never
actually built an instance of her celebrated engine, having been more
interested in the theory and its mathematical underpinnings. Going
back to the notes, Gillian reviewed them step by step, searching for
any omissions or for ambiguities she might have misinterpreted.
two, Gillian put the work aside and went out walking. The skies had
cleared since the previous day and the views from the headlands were
glorious. Despite her frustration with her development efforts, she
found her spirits rising. She still had more than two weeks. She’d
solve the puzzle eventually and return to Randerley triumphant, with
the solution in hand.
to catch her breath, she gazed out at the sea. It was unusually calm.
Overhead, the lowering sun painted the streaked clouds in shades of
pink and orange. She’d walked all the way to Porthcumo, almost five
miles. To the south, she could just make out the rhythmic pulsing of
Wolf Rock Lighthouse. The open vista and the distant horizon were a
marked contrast to the rolling country around Randerley.
swelled in her chest. Amelia had been generous in offering this
simple, peaceful haven. Mrs. Featherstone, at least, seemed to want
her to come back. Gillian was determined to earn her redemption in
the Governing Director’s eyes.
the time she’d returned to the cottage, it was pitch dark. Gillian
made herself a simple supper, read for a while by the light of a
candle, then lay down on the narrow iron-framed bed. All the doubts
churning in her mind had subsided: her shame and regret at having
endangered the Guild; her fear that they wouldn’t accept her back;
the wistful longing for Rafe’s presence and the craving for his
touch. She drifted into sleep, relaxed and at peace, and woke alert
and energised. Today, perhaps, she’d unravel the riddle.
did not in fact get the engine to function correctly that day, or the
next. However, she forced herself to remain calm and focused.
Persistence and discipline were the key to progress. She disassembled
the engine, examined each of its many parts for imperfections, then
put it back together, step by step. Each time she integrated a new
component, she tested its function using sets of minimal
efforts did not lead to success, but they built her confidence in the
physical construction of the engine. As far as she could tell, it had
been implemented correctly. The crux of the issue must lie elsewhere.
the days ticked by, she worked and waited for the moment when she
could rejoin the fellowship of the Guild. The answer came to her on
which happened to be her twentieth birthday.
expected to celebrate this milestone in the company of her fellow
engineers at Randerley. Indeed, she’d imagined the Master might
organize another erotically-charged gathering, sharing more of his
magical winter wine. Still, she didn’t waste mental energy on what
might have been.
did allow herself a glass of Burgundy with her birthday supper of
cold chicken and boiled potatoes. The single room where she’d spent
nearly a month felt warm and cosy, lit by a merry fire and a pair of
oil lanterns. She raised her glass – a simple tumbler, not a wine
goblet – and smiled. Her voice was loud in her ears. “Happy
Birthday, Gillian Smith! Here’s to another year of new adventures
and new insights.”
her abstinence over the past weeks, the wine went straight to her
head. Giggling, she refilled her tumbler. The Analytical Engine
caught her eye, carefully put aside on the far corner of the table
along with her tools and her notebook. “And here’s to you, you
bloody stubborn machine,” she continued. “Sooner or later I’ll
figure out how to make you obey me!”
shifted at the back of her mind, loosened perhaps by the alcohol.
Maybe what she needed was commands. Her symbolic language for
controlling the engine had specific representations for each possible
instrument and each individual movement. Perhaps that was the wrong
level of abstraction. If she could generalise the actions, that might
permit smoother reactions...
wasn’t about to try out her theory while she was tipsy. The next
day, though, she began to sketch out a new grammar for her
programmes. It took her until the third of February to create a
paper-based sequence of instructions using her revised approach.
Holding her breath, she watched the paper slide between the rollers
that fed it to the engine. For a moment nothing happened. Then the
miniature paddle began to swing, at a slow, even tempo, just as she’d
Boole and Babbage! That’s it!” Jumping to her feet, she danced a
little jig around the table. “I’ve done it! The Master will be so
* * *
find buy links for this volume and the Toymakers books on my
I do hope you’ll leave me a comment. Every one might help open a
young woman’s eyes to a rewarding and important career.