Tuesday, 11 November 2003

"The Bug"

I am the child of a computer program.


I can prove it. It says so right here on my birth certificate, under the seal of the City of Cambridge: “Father’s occupation: computer program”.

Back in 1960, I guess, the clerk didn’t know what a “programmer” was. Growing up, even on Route 128 , relatively few of my friends knew what that was either.

I’ve never been a programmer, but I’ve been around them in various capacities (family, friends, housemates, co-workers, lover) for most of my life. So I suppose it’s natural that it was love at first byte when I came across Ellen Ullman’s memoir of 20 years in Silicon Valley and South of Market, Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents . Like many readers, I found it the best depiction I’d seen in print (or pixels) of real life in software development and testing. (And if you think there is no intersection of “real life” and “software development and testing”, all I can say, is, “Read Ellen Ullman’s books.”)

I’ve been home sick yesterday and today (Wi-Fi + netBook = blogging in bed), hoping to get over a sinus infection before getting on a plane on Saturday. So I’ve had a chance to plunge into Ullman’s new work, The Bug: A Novel. I’m smitten again.

Leave it to a woman, and a self-described “Old Programmer”, to capture the essential truth that de-bugging, not design or coding, is the essence of programming, as well as the mindset of its practitioners (not to mention the elusive yet polymorphously perverse sex life of the geek, both male and female). Some may find the plot a bit unrealistic, but those in (or who’ve been exposed to) the life of the coder may find the characters too real. Certainly too real, I suspect, to be a best-seller (sadly), but still an instant classic.

(Caution: The Bug contains strongly technical language and explicit images of unexpurgated C code, although no understanding of either is neeeded to follow the plot. Reader discretion is advised for the squeamish or computer-phobic.)

[Addendum, 12 February 2005: The Bug has also been published in a paperback edition.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 11 November 2003, 21:44 ( 9:44 PM)
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