The Root of All Evil: A Review
© 2002 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint
Personal computers, and personal computer users, are very
funny. Even the super serious types who want to do "serious
work" on their computers are funny &endash; often funnier
than the not-so-serious types. So it is no great surprise
that cartoonists, from the editorial page to the daily
comics, make frequent reference to these funny machines and
the funny people who use them. I'm still waiting for the
first mention of a personal computer in Prince Valiant. Even
B.C. and Wizard of Id have passing references to computers,
so Prince Valiant can't be far behind.
And one of the funniest computer cartoons is User
Friendly, a thoroughly odd strip about an Internet Service
Provider in British Columbia. Like the cartoon, the
cartoonist, "Illiad" (J.D. Frazer) is also from British
Columbia, so the strip is filled with gentle jabs at
Americans as well as some really scorching commentary on
Canadians. Computer nerds, as well as the computer clueless,
are dissected in startling detail in three-panel strips.
Marketing types and accountants, not to mention
non-technical managers trying to manage technical people,
are mercilessly mocked. Since the fictitious Columbia
Internet is a Linux shop, Microsoft and AOL come in for a
regular pounding, if not a severe beating.
Some of the best strips are collected in The Root of All
Evil, Iliad's third collection of strips published by
O'Reilly. If you recognize the title as being an outrageous
computer pun, this book is for you. And if you don't
recognize the pun, read the book and you'll soon learn a
great deal about the funny, funny things that happen when
digital intelligence collides with human intelligence.
Several weeks after reading the book, I happened to go
back and read the Introduction, written by former Byte
columnist and sometimes science fiction writer Jerry
Pournelle. Even this was funny: Jerry managed to throw in a
not-so-veiled reference to one of his novels and a veiled
slam at the comic strip Dilbert. Something tells me that
Jerry wouldn't laugh at the same things I found funny, but
that's funny, too.
Thanks to The Root of All Evil, we now have a
clear understanding of what "MCSE Certified"
Naturally, the strip is better with pictures than
without, but here's a sampling from one strip. One of the
ISP's technicians, headset perched on head, is trying to
help a customer on the phone with a problem:
Techie: Tech support. Greg speaking.
Customer: Hello. My computer screen went all blue on
me and I don't like it.
Techie: Well, I can't say I blame you. You've just
suffered the blue screen of death. A fatal error under
Customer: You're telling me. Blue looks just hideous
with a beige frame. How do I change it to a prettier
Techie: Do you like black? Move the power switch to
Sound advice from a cartoon book. Also worth looking at
are the two previous volumes, User Friendly and Evil
Geniuses in a Nutshell. The last title is particularly
inspired as it makes fun of Frazer's own publisher.
Illiad, The Root of All Evil