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Books Media

The Bug by Ellen Ullman 1547

Never Rock Fila writes "On the front page of tomorrow's New York Times Book Review, a slightly breathless but overdue enthusiastic review of Ellen Ullman's new novel, The Bug. The review acknowledges that 'Ullman has already established herself as an indispensable voice out of the world of technology' -- if you haven't read her first book, a memoir, Close to the Machine, read that too -- and it's nice to see a mainstream publication like the Times, the gold standard of book reviews as I understand it, giving such prominent and positive attention to a novel by a former 'software engineer' that's all about getting inside the mind of a programmer, even concluding 'If more contemporary novels delivered news this relevant and wise they'd have to stop declaring the death of the novel.' The reviewer, one Benjamin Anastas, has the chops to develop a sustained comparison to Mary Shelley, to legitimately place the 1984 computer programmers at the center of the novel among 'all the best characters in fiction,' and to declare the book 'thrilling and intellectually fearless.'"
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The Bug by Ellen Ullman

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  • Wow. (Score:5, Funny)

    by mrseigen ( 518390 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @02:58PM (#6200719) Homepage Journal
    First Cryptonomicon hits the best-seller lists, now a paper does a favorable review of a novel about a geek.

    Either us geeks are buying more books, or the mainstream population is getting brighter. Somehow, I think it's the former. American Idol is still on television.
    • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zebbers ( 134389 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @04:04PM (#6200969)
      geekier != brighter

      cryptonomicon wasn't any more 'intelligent' than other books, it just had its basis in a geekfriendly subject

      the majority of novelists do a substanial amount of research about the state of their subject in real life. Writer's spend a decent amount of time in libraries.

      I dont find Farscape to be all that more entertaining than American Idol. Its called personal preference, taste.

      The Slashdot crowd really reminds me of the punkish segment of population. Rebel and Yell. The system sucks, damn the system, damn the man, damn the sheep. Lets all dye our hair green. In the end, you aren't much different. You only seem different if you focus soley on those areas where you do differ so much.

      Maybe the technocratic elitist themes in Cryptonomicon are true....
    • >Either us geeks are buying more books ... (ahem) Either *we* geeks are buying more books... Several years ago I couldn't even spell "geek", now I is one.
    • Re:Wow. (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Get with it! American Idol is not still on TV.

      American Juniors, however, has taken its place.

      Posted anonymously for obvious reasons.
    • please.

      i've read both close to the machine and cryptonbloodywhateveritwascalled. ullman's book was well written and insightful. stephenson's book would be close to the worst book i've ever finished. i cannot imagine why you would categorise the two together, unless it's because of this 'us geeks' nonsense.

      'us geeks' indeed - care to step out side an urge to run with a pack and think for yourself for a minute?

    • Either us geeks are buying more books, or the mainstream population is getting brighter
      It means more geeks are unemployed. You can't read while driving to work, and you can't read at work. With only the weekend free, one day is taken up by shopping, leaving Sunday to read a book. All this is assuming you don't spend a day posting to Slashdot ;-)
  • by Drakonian ( 518722 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @02:59PM (#6200724) Homepage
    If you get a chance, read Ellen Ulman's article Programming the Post-Human - Computer Science redefines life. It was an excellent and realistic look at the current state of AI development. It was found in the October 2002 issue of Harper's Magazine. (I couldn't find an online copy) I'll have to think about picking up this book now, I thought her writing was superb.
  • Ellen Ullman Stuff (Score:5, Informative)

    by the end of britain ( 575444 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:01PM (#6200734)
    Salon.com loves Ellen Ullman almost as much as I do. Read excerpts from The Bug here: http://archive.salon.com/books/int/2003/05/16/ullm an/index_np.html You can read articles by Ullman here: http://archive.salon.com/directory/topics/ellen_ul lman/ Salon is free as long as you watch a little commercial (C'mon--its 10 secondds, and then you get to read Ulllman--for free!!!)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's funny. I just heard of Ellen Ullman last night when reading a random blog that linked to "The Dumbing-Down of Programming" [salon.com]

      I loved the way she described it all... I was reliving my days back in the dorm, installing slackware for the first time. Highly recommended.
      • "Dumbing-down is trickling down. Not content with infantilizing the end user, the purveyors of point-and-click seem determined to infantilize the programmer as well."

        And don't you just love those pop-ups where "your" computer tells you what it wants you to do!

    • In "Closer to the Machine" she gets intimate with clients and co-workers during the project even.

      Extremely unprofessional.

      And really...yuck.

      • like fiction or artistic license.

        Yeah, if someone bedded a coworker or client before a deadline, it would be worthy of censure. However I don't believe the narrator of "Close to the Machine" is Ms. Ullman herself.
        • You said: lemme introduce you to a few abstract concepts like fiction or artistic license.I don't believe the narrator of "Close to the Machine" is Ms. Ullman herself.
          in response to my comment that in "Closer to the Machine" she gets intimate with clients and co-workers during the project even

          Mr. Jpeg: did you read it? Closer to the Machine is a MEMOIR.

          From the spamazon Editorial Review of Closer to the Machine by Cliff Barney:

          Author Ellen Ullman, an independent computer programmer, ho

          • Read it and weep. What I find so disturbing is the non-technical community's (read: Salon, Book Editors) lack of censure for her non-professional approach.

            I don't even know where to begin. Since when is it inhernetly unprofessional to maintain personal relationships with co-workers/clients? And since when is accurately recalling your life, even its mistakes, censure worthy? (It is, after all, a MEMOIR, as you kindly pointed out.) And why is it your place to judge her for it?

            A bug that only happens


            • Since when is it inhernetly unprofessional to maintain personal relationships with co-workers/clients?

              Ever since Potiphar's wife came on to Joseph, and Joseph had to say "thanks, but no thanks" and suffer the consequencs. It's not OK. You don't screw the crew. End of story. It's not good programming, and it's simply not professional.

              A memory leak is a failure to deallocate memory causing the program to consume ever more system resources.

              Which causes transient failures, typically at diffe

              • It's perfectly possible to have relationships with co-workers without being unprofessional.

                Professionalism is being able to stay focussed on business issues, while being able to put personal issues to one side for the duration of your work. It has nothing to do with who you see when you go home at the end of the day, when you should then put business issues to one side.

                If you can't keep the two separate (and be seen to do so by your colleagues), then you're not being professional. But equally, if your c
                • Besides being completely unprofessional, is totally and completely morally wrong to initiate and maintain sexual relationships with co-workers and clients. And we can add subordinates, contractors, direct supervisors, professional colleagues, students (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral), faculty and administration to that list. Even where the personal relationship pre-dates the professional relationship, there are serious moral, social and professional issues -- issues that simply don't exist

              • Ever since Potiphar's wife came on to Joseph, and Joseph had to say "thanks, but no thanks" and suffer the consequencs.

                In other words, you believe it's unprofessional because you believe it's immoral. You may as well have put this out on the table to begin with, rather than shamefully trying to hide your convictions behind vague claims.

                Which causes transient failures, typically at different locations in the code every time. Fact. You obviously have never had to work with code that has a memory leak. And a

          • Yes, I read the book.
            I have no doubt that you'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall that the narrator did not sleep with her subordinate (the business suit guy)on the project. She spoke of the intense sexual tension and attributed it to a result of long hours working closely on a project. The narrator and the GUI guy with the dog developed another common dynamic.

            I don't remember the narrator bedding any of the clients on that project. I remember the narrator relaying a few anecdotes, perhaps about the p
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:03PM (#6200740)
    How come everybody always posts these broken links that require registration? Why can't they link to, say, the Google partner URL or some such? Is this some kind of unwritten rule? Or do the Slashdot editors make sure to find the registration-required URLs? I always see replies with "no reg link", etc. Why don't the original authors use these?
  • I hear that the bug got squashed and didn't make the best sellers list! But on a more serious note, that will make a very good read. Im glad someone finaly went to the trouble to write a book about the stuff I do everyday! also maybe it will get programmers some more respect. The sterotype of a pale loser breaking out with zits is getting on my nerves! But oh well I cant say anything about it really, I have not read it yet.
    • I started to wonder one day, why do they only call movies with lots of violence and killing action-movies? I mean, there are many, many more activities other than killing people. Why don't they call movies about lawyers working on a difficult case or movies about philosophers trying to prove other philosophers that everyone else but the prover is wrong action movies (that'd be freaky...)? Maybe in the near future, books and movies about hacking will also be labeled 'action'.

      Imagine a white-hat hacker and a

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:10PM (#6200772)
    "...and it's nice to see a mainstream publication like the Times, the gold standard of book reviews as I understand it..."

    I thought Oprah's book club was?

    • >> "...and it's nice to see a mainstream publication like the Times, the gold standard of book reviews as I understand it..."

      > I thought Oprah's book club was?

      It's a close contest.
  • read it, liked it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sith ( 15384 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:16PM (#6200789)
    Finished this a few weeks ago after reading the sample of it Salon had posted. A very solid book, and the technical stuff was pretty solid as far as compiler interaction and such. It doesn't paint a rosey picture of life as a programmer though, and made me glad I got out of CSCI when I did...
  • by Opinari ( 603868 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:29PM (#6200842)
    FYI, Palm Digital Media [palmdigitalmedia.com] has Ms. Ullman's tome available for the Palm Reader.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:32PM (#6200849)
    it's nice to see a mainstream publication like the Times, the gold standard of book reviews as I understand it, giving such prominent and positive attention to a novel by a former 'software engineer'

    I've read the review, it suck. Here it is :

    Welcome to The New York Times on the Web!

    For full access to our site, please complete this simple registration form.
    As a member, you'll enjoy:

    In-depth coverage and analysis of news events from The New York Times FREE

    Up-to-the-minute breaking news and developing stories FREE

    Exclusive Web-only features, classifieds, tools, multimedia and much, much more FREE

    Signing up is as easy as 1-2-3

    Thanks for review NYTimes. Here's one book I won't buy : it's all about internet junk !

    • Re:Strange review (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Try this...

      username: slashdot321
      password: slashdot321

      Enjoy. :-)
  • B & N instead (Score:5, Informative)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @03:45PM (#6200892) Homepage Journal
    A little offtopic, but I'd like to see book links point to somewhere else, like Barnes & Noble. After all the coverage on /. of the amazon.com patents I thought this would have been obvious. Let's not support software patents and shop somewhere else instead. Here are the B&N links:

    The Bug [barnesandnoble.com]
    Close to the Machine [barnesandnoble.com]
    • Re:B & N instead (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )
      Except BN.com has inventory problems and incompetant customer service. And besides, if you're going to boycott anybody who holds software patents, you'll never be able to buy software again -- every major firm hold them or relies on them. If you want to make a difference, write your congressperson, be politically active, join a movement, all the Citizen of a Democracy stuff. It's time consuming and hard work, but a lot more effective than this kneejerk boycott crap.
      • Re:B & N instead (Score:3, Insightful)

        by truthsearch ( 249536 )
        if you're going to boycott anybody who holds software patents, you'll never be able to buy software again

        I don't.

        If you want to make a difference, write your congressperson

        I do. Hillary Clinton doesn't write back to any of her constituents who I've spoken to.

        be politically active

        I am.

        join a movement

        I have.

        a lot more effective than this kneejerk boycott crap

        It's hardly kneejerk and every little bit helps.
        • You never buy any software? No game CDs? How about a system BIOS?

          OK, that's a little unfair. And I have to applaud your social comittment. But I just don't see refusal to pay for software as a viable political strategy. It's simply impractical for 99% of all computer users.

          But! you say. "Free" software is making big inroads against unfree software! Yes, and that's because companies like IBM, Borland, SGI, and Sun are pushing it. Although they prefer to call it "Open Source". They like it because its a b

        • I do. Hillary Clinton doesn't write back to any of her constituents who I've spoken to.

          C'mon, you've got two others, just in Congress!

          As for boycotting Amazon--if you want to do that, has your organization informed Amazon, directed links to their competition, and been as public as they can about it?

          If not, it's not a boycott. It's just "voting with your dollars." And rather ineffectual at that.
        • How can you possibly blame Amazon for taking out a patent on one-click shopping. If our patent system is so fucked up that they would allow such a rediculous thing, then a person at Amazon could not just say "well we better not file a patent because the founders of the constitution did not envision the purpose of patents to be fucking obvious things that cover common sense" It's the US patent office's fault, and also congress's fault--it is NOT the fault of Amazon. You can not blame a corporate entity fo
      • Except BN.com has inventory problems and incompetant customer service.

        I make a lot of purchases from bn.com and the only circumstance in which I've run into inventory problems has been with used books listed for offline used book stores. The two times I've contacted customer service they were courteous and competent.

        BN also actually honors the allowed contact methods you give them and don't have a privacy policy subject to change with no notice and applied retroactively, both of which are provisions o

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was tricked (in retrospect) into reading "Close to the Machine" by a fellow graduate student who similarly cheerleaded for the tech-informed literary prowess of Ms. Ullman. I was sorely dissapointed by that outing (was I expecting too much? I doubt it). The problem was that "Close to the Machine" was a good literary effort when measured with the but-I-am-a-programmer stick and a bad book when measure with the a-book-is-just-a-book stick. I hope that this book is better, but I'll wait for the reviews (
  • Benjamin Anastas (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    wrote a very funny novella called "An Underachiever's Diary". Highly recommended if you want to read something different from your staple sci-fi/fantasy/computer-book diet.
  • While it's preferable when females write intelligent things about the scene (vs. writing stupid things about the scene ala aimee deep), and are cast as intelligent females in fictional accounts of hacking (as in Digital Fortress [amazon.com]), or even as interesting characters in computer games (Lara Croft) "The Bug" is still a female writing about computers, rather than writing software , developing algorithms , modding hardware etc.

    OTOH, any progress is good, and since progress in the area of "the image

  • by ivi ( 126837 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @05:05PM (#6201234)
    Folks, -any- profession (&/or the workplaces
    around it) that has influenced -lots- of
    peoples' lives has had TV series about itself.

    We've had lots of medicos... from "Ben Casey"
    & maybe some before him...

    We've had lawyers... from "Perry Mason" &

    We've had police from The "Untouchables"...

    We've even had teachers & schools (recently
    "Boston Public" - which got -cut- in Australia,
    soon after a sequence on the use of "Nigger"
    (we're not racist down here, we just don't
    want to give our people anything too controvertial
    to think about...)

    Someday (if/when programmers become influential
    again (remember when we were -mostly- physicists,
    mayhematicians or electronics engineers?),
    we might see some TV series on programmers.

    Would anybody like to brainstorm up some story-
    lines for "The Programmers" that might fit into
    a 30-minute slot, each week?
    • Would anybody like to brainstorm up some story- lines for "The Programmers" that might fit into a 30-minute slot, each week?

      Isn't that what Dilbert [dilbert.com] is for?

    • by Bodrius ( 191265 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @06:32PM (#6201590) Homepage

      All the professions that have spawned TV-series of their own are essentially social professions: police, doctors, investigators, lawyers, artists, teachers, reporters, etc. The core of the working-time (as seen in TV) in these cases has to do with interacting with people.

      Even the exceptions that have more "technical meat" (CSI and the like) tend to be off-shoots of the typical case. Like a secondary character in a novel that becomes a favorite, but would normally not stand by itself.

      This is not about who "influences society". It's about emotions. Emotions move plots more quickly and easily than ideas, and don't have to be explained too much. TV is about simple, approachable, uncomplicated emotions driving simple plots around emotions. The facts are not important unless emotionally charged, or sprinkled at least a little bit.

      Face it, computer programming is not the most socially interesting profession. Certainly not the most emotionally charged for an outsider. It's logically, intellectually challenging, which means boring for someone looking for a sit-com instead of a documentary.

      People connect to the pathologist's "determination", as he "earnestly" looks for evidence to "catch the evil bastard". They don't connect to a professional obsession for doing the job well. They might as well watch a mechanic work.

      Of course, a TV series could be made around a computer programmer, as long as its thematic is about social interaction and not programming. It wouldn't be a show about programmers, though, just like "thirty something" was not a show about architects, and "Drew Carey" is not a show about HR coordinators. The profession will be an uninteresting prop, assumed to happen off the set.

      Another choice would be to focus on the weirdness of the social interactions themselves are, as compared with the rest. But people don't want to watch that either, they want to connect to social interactions they're already familiar with, that they can empathize with. The excellent "Freaks and Geeks" was almost exclusively popular with... you guessed it, freaks and geeks. We all know where that one ended.

    • Yah! And I can see Scott Adams doing the writing for it.

      There was a British series called "Attachments" that actually had some decent programmer content/activity, though it was dominated by dotcom management pratfalls and consequences that we've all seen in real life by now, so why make yourself sick watching it on TV.

      What's more interesting is the "junkyard wars" format, with Robot Wars [robotwars.co.uk] and Robotica. And yet you don't get very good representation of the interesting part -- they're presented li

    • mayhematicians

      Causing mayhem for a living? Now *that* sounds like a fun job!
    • Almost all successful television series have some plot device to plausably permit a stream of new and odd characters to run through the premise-world inhabited by the series regulars.

      This is why crime shows and police dramas are always standard. Plenty of odd and unusual behavior. Same with hospital shows. A stream of patients. Not too many prime time weekly series about life on farm in the middle of nowhere (Little House being the exception) or life in a senior citizens home. TV Series located in re

  • So how do we know Ellen Ullman even exists let alone what are the chances they actually read the book before writing the review?

    It's a joke, folks. Calm down.


  • by rossz ( 67331 ) <`ogre' `at' `geekbiker.net'> on Saturday June 14, 2003 @05:49PM (#6201430) Homepage Journal
    Couldn't they have put the review in a more reliable newspaper such as the Weekly World News, National Enquirer, or The Sun?
  • Now there is a new development that's changing this. I think that the open source movement is a way for coding to be a social act. It's social in the way programmers are social; there's a lot of ego involved in it, showing off your work and getting recognition for it, and I think that's fine. The most promising thing about it, in addition to having open source, is that the practitioners now have a social way to interact around programming.

    I am somewhat curious what some in the crowd deign the strengths a

  • I got about a third through the book and then had to stop. It's rather unsettling to read about a character in a novel, and then slowly come to realise that it is pretty much oneself who is being described here, and in such an unflattering light.

    Ethan Levin is a lot like me, living in the Bay Area as a programmer pushing forty, with an ex-girlfriend working for a nonprofit org, even down to some of the smaller mannerisms (Shudder). I'll stick to O'Reilly books in the future, they are much less unsettling
  • Hi.

    Once upon a time I read this book and posted a review on kuro5hin.org [kuro5hin.org]. It was a good book, and it's still on my shelf (meaning I haven't seen myself able to give it away or sell it yet). Keep an eye out for it at your local Half-Price books.

  • by perotbot ( 632237 )
    I remember reading a hacker book in High School (1983) called the Adolesence of P1. P1 was a program that managed to take over the networked IBM and CRAY mainframes of the day (the 70's??). Typical adventure fair but with many old school hacks like the bank and the school machine that did grades. I thought about it a year ago and it was frightening in that it predicted most of the security fears that people have now... anyone else remember this?
    • I remember reading a hacker book in High School (1983) called the Adolesence of P1. anyone else remember this?

      Yup. I read it in junior high and thought it was great. I found it in the library in college and reread it--unfortunately in between I had developed some literary sensibilities (not a lot, but a few) and didn't dig it quite as much. But if I could find a copy, I'd grab it and read it again.

  • Great Book (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bugmaster ( 227959 ) on Saturday June 14, 2003 @09:01PM (#6202127) Homepage
    I just finished the book - at the urging of the Salon review. One way I can describe it is "Pi [imdb.com] in book form". You can literally feel the insanity creeping into one of the main character's minds... It gets even scarier when you see the characters go through the same emotional upheavals that you yourself do when coding. Really scary stuff... The book is very, very realistic. You can see that the author actually understands the programmers and the QA testers she writes about -- as opposed to, say, the mainstream media which still seems to be fixated on the 13-year old scr33pt k1ddi3 image.

    Let me put it this way: this book literally made me fear for my own sanity. Now, if that's not a good endorsement, I don't know what is.

  • I wonder if I could get it read by non-programmers in my company.
    Just in order to make them feel the psycological consequences of them changing their specs two weeks before commercial release...
  • Actually, it was on p. 6, and not even the lead fiction review. That the NYT would grant it such a long review is miraculous enough; it was too much to hope that it would be on the front page.

  • why isnt this story archived

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