Lovelace & Babbage iPad app review

As you know, we love all things Ada Lovelace here at the Ada Initiative. So we jumped up and down like little kids in front of the Christmas tree when we heard that the iPad version of the Ada Lovelace-inspired web comic 2D Goggles was available. Short version: Download this free app immediately. Slightly longer version: You’ll love this app if you like any of: computing history, new forms of publishing, Victorian England, geeky comics, steampunk, mathematics, Jane Austen, feminism, or free entertainment.

The basic idea of this app isn’t new – making history or science interesting by turning it into comic book form – but the iPad format adds dazzling new dimensions. Hold the iPad one way, and it’s a plain black-and-white comic. Turn it the other way, and a wealth of amusing commentary, fascinating source material, and scurrilous gossip pops up on one side of the screen. Want a quick fun read? Hold it this way. Don’t get the joke? One turn and you’re in on the laugh. The publishing software used to create this app, written by Agant, a UK software company, is called the Annotations Engine in tribute to Charles Babbage’s Engines.

My absolute favorite primary source, available only in this app: A scan of one of Ada Lovelace’s calling cards, found in Charles Babbage’s effects. The front says merely “Countess of Lovelace”; on the back Babbage has written: “Very Interesting.” Other links include a newspaper gossip column about Babbage and Lovelace, a political cartoon about Lord Byron (Ada’s father), and the Wikipedia article on bipolar disorder (which both Lovelace and Byron are suspected of suffering from). The extensive notes by the artist, Sydney Padua, are brand-new for the iPad app and include many new factual tidbits not included in the first version of the comic published online (and a few factual corrections to that version, as well).

In many ways, this app is built on open data. Wikipedia articles and Victorian-era newspapers are included in the app. Many of the jokes and stories are based on material now in the public domain and available online (although often taken down again through the scandal of copyfraud and other tragedies). In my opinion, Sydney Padua has a fair chance of being the world expert on Ada Lovelace, after more than 2 years of combing every publicly searchable archive for mentions of her name.

The first story, “The Secret Origin of Ada Lovelace” is free, the second story, “The Client” is currently for sale. Another story, “User Experience,” will be arriving soon. There are no concrete plans for publication on other platforms or in print, but you can keep up to date with the latest comics (and some funny behind-the-scenes updates as well) at the 2D Goggles blog.