Doug McIlroy's list of most surprising Unix programs


Typo was as surprising inside as it was outside. Its similarity measure was based on trigram frequencies, which it counted in a 26x26x26 array. The small memory, which had barely room enough for 1-byte counters, spurred a scheme for squeezing large numbers into small counters. To avoid overflow, counters were updated probabilistically to maintain an estimate of the logarithm of the count.

I rather like the descriptions of dc, struct, and pascal. And egrep, and parts.

Here’s the list. (“Reminiscing a while ago, I came up with a list of eye-opening Unix gems. Only a couple of these programs are indispensable or much used. What singles them out is their originality.”)

Wikipedia says:

McIlroy is best known for having originally proposed Unix pipelines and developed several Unix tools, such as spell, diff, sort, join, graph, speak, and tr. He was also one of the pioneering researchers of macro processors and programming language extensibility. He participated in the design of multiple influential programming languages, particularly PL/I, SNOBOL, ALTRAN, TMG and C++.

via dragonfly