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Ghost story: Ada Lovelace & the grisly Halloween brain hack

Outside, it was a dank and blustery evening in east London. Inside, the third floor of the repurposed factory was decked out for geek fun and festivity. There were virtual candles guttering on iPads, cardboard Halloween spiders and pumpkin shaped balloons, all hanging jauntily from the ceiling beams.

The ginger boy in the office chair hot-seat at the front of the room had even stuck a rubber fang to his top lip and decorated it with a dash of fake blood. Above his head, on the whiteboard, someone had written in a ghoulish green hand: “Halloween Brain Hack”.

All the action was taking place around a long white work table strewn with soldering irons, beer bottles, loose wires and pizza boxes. Here, a few dozen young men in makeshift Halloween gear – and prominent facial burn marks – were crowding round a youth in a skeleton tee-shirt and outsized laptop.

Suddenly, an individual with artfully tousled blonde hair pulled himself away from the throng and yelled:

“Ready?”

Between two hands he held aloft a homemade helmet and began to stride towards the ginger boy. His trophy consisted of a wire frame covered in baking foil. There were a couple of electrodes hanging off the front. A battery tacked on the back. And someone had stuck a small printout of a brain to the surface with black skull stickers.

The ginger boy beamed at the crucial role he was about to play. The bloke in the skull tee-shirt adjusted his laptop with a snippy air of importance. The tousle-haired bloke placed the helmet reverently onto the ginger boy’s head.

This hack had been three months in the making. Attendees were all technologists, neuroscientists and a handful of DIY enthusiasts. Most were doing PhDs and attended the nearby Old Nichol University. It was designed as part séance, part hackathon and part Halloween party.  

Tousle-haired adjusted the headdress on the ginger cranium. He squeezed out some gel and attached the electrodes to the pale forehead. The room was silent with expectation.

“Are you connected?” shouted tousle-haired.

“Yes!” bellowed skeleton tee-shirt, tapping his prized laptop. “I’m all set to start…”

“Ready?” tousle-haired addressed ginger, who nodded tightening his grip on the office chair’s armrests.

“Go!” yelled tousled.

For a second nothing happened. Then a thin line of smoke started to shoot up from each electrode on ginger’s forehead. Gradually the streams of smoke started to converge into a thick, wide plume, which in turn, began to solidify into a shape. This settled into the clear image of a woman suspended high above the ginger boy. She slowly descended to a spot in the centre of the room.

Ginger looked even whiter and was breathing hard through his nose. Tousled and the rest of the gang were all staring in astonishment. In the centre of the room stood the lady, in a long mauve dress and looped wings of hair, which framed her face and hid her ears.

“Who are you?” asked tousled in confusion.

“I could ask the same,” the lady snapped back.

“We were looking for Charles Babbage,” said tousled. “That,” he pointed to the brain printout stuck to the ginger boy’s helmet, “is his. It is on display at the Science Museum.”

“I liked Babbage,” she replied, “but he could be a bit ill tempered… and didn’t fully realise the potential in his machine.”

“You knew him?”

“I’m Ada Lovelace,” she said offering a gloved hand.

“No, you’re not!” hollered a slurred voice from the back group.

“Shhhh - she didn’t say Linda,” nudged a colleague to his left.

“I wrote up all Babbage’s findings,” said the apparition dreamily, ignoring the kerfuffle from the crowd. “I saw the potential…”

Now standing in front of the ginger boy she began to run a pensive finger along the brain printout tacked onto his foil hat. Ginger leant back in his seat terrified. His skin was paper white save the charred bit around the electrodes, and his rubber fang had come slightly adrift.

All of a sudden, she spun back on her heels to face tousle-haired, her expression deranged with animation: “I could help you too. I could help you translate this…” she swept her lacy Victorian arm round the converted warehouse space:

“I could turn this into something the world can understand.”

“Ummmm,” tousled glanced back shiftily towards his crowd of chums by the table, “it is a very nice offer, but we don’t really need any help”. Most of the crowd behind nodded in agreement, although a chap with a white face and black eye makeup looked like he might be poised to differ.

The lady narrowed her eyes. “There is another hackathon on the floor below…” suggested tousled awkwardly. “This building is packed with techies. You could try your luck there…” And so, with a sniff and a huff, the ghost of Ada Lovelace turned tail and glided towards the door.

The room remained hushed for a microsecond. Then the ginger the boy exhaled loudly through his nose, demanded a beer, and the room broke into a cacophony of sound.  It was a few minutes before a loud crash rang up through the building.

The ghost of Ada Lovelace flew back into the room. She had an axe in her right hand, and had thrust a car battery with dangling live wires, into her ribbon belt. Making a bee-line for tousle-haired she flung out a gloved hand, mussed up his annoyingly contrived blonde fringe, and as his face fell she neatly lopped his head off with the axe. It rolled onto the floor with a crack.

Ginger, still in the office chair clutching his beer, was whiter than ever. Taking the two live wires hanging from her belt she jammed them into his ears so they zizzed and singed. As his orange eyebrows leapt up at right angles and the rubber fang fell from his lips, she pushed back his silly helmet and lopped off his legs at the knees with a sideways swipe of the axe. Next went the arms, one at a time. Then with a yodel of glee, she caved in his skull spewing wet brain and shards of skull across the room.

The rest of the room had dissolved into pandemonium. Ada Lovelace was no longer the neat Victorian lady who had entered the factory an hour before. Her mauve dress was torn and blood spattered. Her hair was loose from its artful draping and stood in crazed clumps. With a jubilant grin she now surged into the crowd of techies, wielding steel and electricity, and dealing death in her wake.

It took next to no time to finish the job. The man in the skeleton tee-shirt had his much-loved laptop jammed through to his shoulders, like a bloody necklace. An overweight gentleman was fried in a mound of melted cheese, jalapenos and pizza crusts. And the floor thumped as disembodied heads and limbs bobbed through a sickly knee-deep reservoir of runny offal.

Eventually as the screaming died down to low moan, and before the silence struck, Ada Lovelace let out her own mad crazed warble. Her work was done. With a final glance at a scalped brown wig placed impishly on top of one of the pumpkin balloons, she slid out through the window, into the damp east London night.

 

Further reading:

What was Ada Lovelace really like?

Ada Lovelace was certainly not an axe-wielding lunatic but after working with Babbage Chares she did try to get in with one of the fledgling electricity experts, Michael Faraday – and he refused. Here are the seven things you really do need to know about her.

Fancy more fictional Lovelace?

We take a trip to heaven on 5th October 2011 where Steve Jobs hopes to be deified. Before he gets the all clear he must face a panel of tech stars including Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers.

What is the brain hacking community really like?

Based on six months research this in-depth PDF report looks at the he $35 billion niche waiting to break. This includes an overview of the full potential in the industry, along with interviews with all the big names at the forefront of this fledgling movement.

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