I don’t know the counts of Unix and Linux servers. I do know that my heart sinks whenever I look under the hood in Linux. It is has been so overfed by loving hands. Over 240 system calls! Gigabytes of source! AC compiler with a 250-page user manual (not counting the language definition)! A simple page turner, ‘less,’ has over 40 options and 60 commands! It’s proof that open-source can breed monsters just like the commercial pros. Miraculously, though, this monster works.

Douglas McIlroy

The net result of all this is that we have data centres occupying many hectares, filled with computers that are architecturally identical to a Packard Bell 486 desktop running MS-DOS long enough to boot a crippled and amateurish clone of Unix circa 1987, and an endless array of complex, kludged-up hardware and software components intended to hide all of that.  I would ask for a show of hands from those who consider this progress …

We are here in part, because this is probably the best we can do with today’s technology and, in part, because of historical accident. The accident is that we have adapted a general-purpose technology to very specialized tasks while still using general tools.

Don Norman, “Why Interfaces Don’t Work”

We are reaching the software event horizon. Somehow we have employed more and more people to write software of less and less quality to satisfy an insatiable market for computer programs. As these programs perform more poorly than their predecessors, we find ourselves buying upgrades more frequently, and the demand for programmers increases to compensate for their lower effective productivity.

In 1989 they had a small exhibit on the New York World’s Fair site in Queens called “Remembering the Future” where they celebrated the futuristic visions of 1939 and 1964.

The 1939 future mostly came true but, somehow, the 1964 future fell short of expectations and there are myriad reasons for this including political changes and social evolution. I have felt these changes in several fora but nowhere has the shortfall been so dramatic as in the forum of the digital computer.

Audio-bookery

I read books very rarely these days, or rather very slowly, sometimes just a page or two a day. One of the ways I do “read” regularly is orally rather than visually, by listening to 10-15 minutes daily. Audible.com’s $14.95 monthly membership happens to work out quite well for this, since I rarely finish listening to a book in less than a month. Yes, ten years ago this would’ve been a joke, but it’s totally worth it.1

Selecting audiobooks is very different from regular books or e-books. It’s impossible to “hoard” them2(!) A bigger difference is what I end up looking for. Instead of going by the author or the theme, I find myself giving a huge weight to the narrator. An average narrator ruins the experience3.

The reason I mention this is I found a two-year old article4 about the same, which has a list of “famous” narrators. One of my famous narrators didn’t make the list, so I’ll mention her here. Wanda McCaddon5 was the narrator of “The Birth of the Modern” by Paul Johnson, and ever since, I’ve been seeking her out everywhere (my favorite so far has been “The Guns of August”).

Anyway, depending on your point of view, available time and inclination to listening to someone talk, you’ll either find the idea of audiobooks a “fad” or something you’d enjoy6. If it’s the latter, go for the 30-day free trial and see how you like it.


  1. Think “price of a haircut”, or “four cups of coffee at Starbucks” 
  2. Well, ok, you can, but you have to try hard. Compare to e-books, where a whole mass of them piles up in a jiffy. Which is why I gave up on them. 
  3. I wish most authors who try to read their own stuff would take a hint (one notable exception being Prof. Michael Drout
  4. Wall Street Journal, “The New Explosion in Audio Books 
  5. Though she uses a stage name, and I encountered her as “Nadia May” 
  6. On the other hand, some of the add-ons, like the so-called “immersive reading” experience where you buy both the audiobook and the e-book are definitely not worth it.