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The Root of All Evil: A Review

© 2002 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

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.

MCSE Certified

Thanks to The Root of All Evil, we now have a clear understanding of what "MCSE Certified" represents.

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 Windows.

Customer: You're telling me. Blue looks just hideous with a beige frame. How do I change it to a prettier colour?

Techie: Do you like black? Move the power switch to "off."

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
O'Reilly, 2002.
144 pp.
ISBN 0-596-00193-2.