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Originally published Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:30 AM

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A clean, well-lighted place for computer programming manuals

At Ada’s Technical Books on Capitol Hill, co-owner Danielle Hulton has created an inviting space that brings together the worlds of science know-how and neighborhood bookshop.


Seattle Times columnist

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Forgive me if I walked into Ada’s Technical Books and wondered what kind of rabbit hole I had fallen into.

The logo that looks like a cameo. The barista and baked goods by the front door. The soft touches that belie the core of the business: Technology books. Hard numbers and right angles and code.

Even more confusing is that proprietor Danielle Hulton is a lovely young woman who looks like a character in a Jane Austen movie. Not a nerdy note about her.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but ... Ada’s Technical Books?

“It’s a battle that I think is being won,” Hulton said with a smile. “But we’ll see.”

Hulton, 28, is familiar with the hesitation over what the store sells, what it looks like and who owns it. People have felt the same way about her all her life.

She grew up the daughter of an electrical engineer and a kid who loved math, and knowing how things work.

Her first science project explored which objects best conduct electricity.

“My dad threw a bunch of wires at me and walked out of the room,” Hulton remembered. Along with a few wires, a passion was ignited.

Hulton came to Seattle 11 years ago to study electrical engineering at Seattle Pacific University. She got an internship at Pico Computing, Inc. and, after graduation, was hired there as a full-time computer engineer.

But after 18 months, she was finished with it: “The day-to-day thing wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

One night, she and her husband, David, made a list of what she wanted to be instead.

A bookstore owner. A math teacher. A barista.

Eureka. It all came together in a bookstore that Hulton named after of Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician who lived in the 1800s. Her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine, led to her being credited as the first computer programmer.

“This is the best of everything,” Hulton said, sitting at one of the store’s tables, this one with pinned butterflies under the glass top.

“I wanted to build a community around tech and engineering and learning and science. And people aren’t scared away from it. It has become a neighborhood spot.”

With a slightly brainy bent.

On this day, David Hulton was behind the barista counter, using a refractometer to measure the total dissolved solids in an average cup of coffee. In other words, how much coffee is in the coffee.

There are social experiments at Ada’s, as well. The Hultons will move the chairs and tables — by inches — to test the physical and social dynamics of the place.

“So my engineering degree is not a waste of a degree,” Hulton said. “I use it a lot.”

And every month, a local puzzle engineer named Pavel Curtis creates a logic puzzle just forAda’s customers to ponder.

Ada Lovelace watches over it all, not only from the profile that serves as the store’s logo, but the large printportrait of her that Hulton had blown up, hand-painted in China and hung in a gold frame in the store’s main room.

The place isn’t only a neighborhood bookstore cafe with free wireless; it is a reflection of where the culture is going.

“Everyone is interested in technology,” Hulton said, “whether they want to be or not. That’s where society is going. Technology is such an integral part of our lives.”

The stock isn’t so much textbooks as programming books, and teach-yourself books.

“That’s the world we’re living in,” she said. “If you’re motivated enough, you can teach yourself anything. We make our own pickles and beer. We grow our own food. We fix our own bikes.”

It is the nature of her age group, she said, give or take 10 years: Do it yourself. Teach yourself.

“Know just enough to be dangerous,” she said.

Yes, there is a “programming room,” with all walls covered with code-writing handbooks. But there is also a section for cookbooks, science fiction and even “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn — there because she wrote another book with a science-fiction bent.

The store opened four years ago, but last fall, began anew when it moved into the former home of Horizon Books on Seattle’s 15th Avenue on Capitol Hill.

Built in 1922, the house needed a lot of work, and after buying it for $900,000 (the Hultons are the only investors), the couple set to work.

Floors were torn out and turned into art (a Seattle skyline made of salvaged floorboards by Hulton’s brother-in-law, Nicholas Hernandez, hangs on the courtyard face of the building). Walls were painted white, ceilings lifted. Two walls are made of doors and embedded with 4,000 LED lights that can be programmed.

David Hulton’s mother moved to Seattle to help get the store going, but from the first day, Danielle Hulton said, “The store was packed.”

Christmas saw brisk sales, especially a book called “The Secret Language of Color,” which makes sense for Ada’s; Hulton calls it “a very scientific book that is approachable.”

Now that things have calmed down, Hulton is focused on the store’s food program, and converting a large upstairs room into a co-working space where people can rent desks on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

The possibilities are endless; it’s just how Hulton’s mind works.

“This is my life and it’s great,” Hulton said. “This is really fun. I love to think of new ideas, capitalizing on the theme of creating community.

“People say, ‘Oh, I’m not really interested in technology.’ But then they stay.”

Nicole Brodeur: nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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