Monthly Archives: April 2009

No rooting for tooting one's own horn

Eric S. Raymond is a legend in both the Unix and the open source worlds, and published author of hacker fame. Actually I am the proud owner of first edition of The new hacker’s dictionary. Sometime ago Eric published the Art of Unix Programming which I promptly bought and shelved.

Recently having found myself in a nostalgic mood , I started reading it in the twilight hours of the morning. This is the only quiet time that I have when the family is sound asleep, the time right before I have to don my battle suit and tie and head of to work.

I must admit that I am disappointed not by the prose or the data or even the advice embedded in this book. It is an exquisite work in its own right, full of facts and sage advice. Alas I am put off by Eric’s constant not so subtle tooting of his own horn. In more that half a dozen places in the book the case studies contain parts or design concepts of fetchmail. Fetchmail is a “robust” to quote its author batch mail retrieval program which incidentally has been authored by Eric himself. Don’t get me wrong, fetchmail is nice and dandy and it works, but come on dude, it appears so often in the book that my head started spinning. After a while it really put me off from reading any further a book that I almost enjoyed.

Another major miss of the book is the audience that it is supposed to attract. Quite frankly I find no audience for it. I, like old time unix hackers are mostly privy to the information in this book, so theoriticaly I did not have to buy it, yet I did in the fashion of a must have cultural/religious object. After reading through it for a number of days I asked myself, is this book of use to more people than our cabal ? As much as I hate to admit it I had to give a negative answer. It reads like a missionary statement of the church of unix, and as everybody knows missionary vocalizations are not easily digestible. That prevalent us vs them attitude that suffuses the book will drive away even users that have been badly singed by the devil, you know that Seattle corporation.

Eric if you happen to read this blog, you have done great work but this falls short of my expectations , and I expect of others as well.