High-level languages are wonderful to program in, but they do offend my aesthetic sense in one way: their implementations are complicated. All those valuable features - libraries, garbage collection, runtime compilation, continuations and so on - take complexity and space, even for programs that don't use them. They're worth it, of course. But they are an affront to perfectionism, because they bloat the distributed forms of programs.
It's tempting to believe that low-level languages don't have this problem, that they're an efficient paradise, where there is no overhead but what a program inflicts on itself, where everything is possible, even if nothing is easy. It is a myth, of course. Brian Raiter's tiny ELF executables show that there's bloat even in trivial C and assembly programs, because of how code is packaged. By stripping out most of this bloat, and then abusing ELF, he managed to shrink a trivial C executable by 98%.
This is impressive, but depressing, because it shows that even at this level, there is arbitrary waste. And so it is everywhere - in hardware, in network protocols, in the problems computers are used to solve. No level of abstraction is a bloatless Utopia, but fortunately we can pretend they are, because the imperfections of one level don't greatly affect the level above.
(Via Randy Owens, who pointed out that one of Brian's tricks, overlapping data, is also used by some very small viruses.)