ellen ullman, the bug

I’ve just finished Ellen Ullman’s The Bug. I’m considering teaching the novel next spring in my honors section of English 225, the second course in the composition sequence at UMKC. Ullman describes the interaction between human and machine with a remarkably poetic voice, such as this passage where programmer Ethan Levin reads an email from a technical consultant and then ponders a software bug he’s trying to solve:

It all presented itself as a continuum: hardware at the bottom, with all its miniature mechanics and electronics, becoming at each step upward more abstract, becoming software. It produced in him a certain vertiginous pleasure–this glimpse into the slip-space between the hard and soft, the physical and mental worlds, layer upon layer of human thought turned into chips, circuit boards, programs. And it struck him, as it sometimes did these days, how briefly physical the computer was. All software on the top, then just a small layer where it was only dumb wire and plastic and silicon–beneath which everything immediately turned abstract again: the intelligence of the circuits, “logic gates” designed with software and etched into chips, through which moved the bits of stuff human beings had named “electrons.” (45)

Coincidentally, I’m dealing with my own bug as the university’s “Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access” email server is only letting me log in about one out of every twenty attempts. The very patient folks in the university IT department can’t find anything wrong. As for me, I miss telnet and pine, and I’m very tired of Microsoft. Apple is selling 12″ iBooks for under a thousand bucks, and I’m very tempted. I’m using OpenOffice for my office-related tasks, GIMP for my image editing, MovableType for most of my website management tasks lately, and jEdit for my text encoding. Hmm. If only I could remember why I decided to go with this laptop running m$.

Matt first piqued my interest in The Bug, btw.

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2 thoughts on “ellen ullman, the bug

  1. I have had better experiences with the university Outlook web access on my iBook. I can usually access it ok from Windows computers at work and school, but I can never forward or send an email from those without getting some error message that I need to install something else (which I, as a non-IT person at those places, don’t have).
    I can, however, do everything I need to do using the Outlook web server on my Mac.

  2. Well, in 18 months of using the university Outlook web access, I’ve never run into this problem before. Usually it works just fine. But yesterday and today (on my win2k laptop and L’s OS X Powerbook) it has been acting weird. I haven’t yet figured out what is causing the problem, but I think I’m close: it seems that when I just close the browser window without logging out, I then cannot log back in. And sometimes I just have to quit the browser altogether, then start it back up in order to log back in. Weird.

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