[TUHS] Ideas for a Unix paper I'm writing

Larry McVoy lm at bitmover.com
Tue Jun 28 10:26:31 AEST 2011

On Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 10:11:40AM +1000, Warren Toomey wrote:
> Anyway, if you can think of good ideas/references about the elegance of
> Unix, especially from the design perspective, I would much appreciate them.

This may just be me getting old or something, but here's a story that lead
to an aha! moment for me.  Long winded, so let me go get a glass of wine...

I was an undergrad and a grad student in CS at the University of Wisconsin-
Madison, a school that contributed a bit to Unix dev, especially 4BSD series.

It took me a while but eventually I got a login on an 11/750 named slovax
which held the sources.  As a nerd, I spent a lot of time just reading the
sources.  I really didn't know shit, I had read K&R so I could do hello
world as good as the next guy but I was trying to move on.  I had not
yet read Rochkinds book, that would have helped but it came later (for
me at least).

I did not just read the kernel, I read libc, wandered through all of that
stuff.  Had some aha's when I say varargs, but the big one for me was
popen().  I was so naive it just had never occurred to me that a library
call would create a new process to do your bidding.  I didn't have a 
mental model as to how it should work, I just knew popen() did something,
but when I read the (small) amount of could I was stunned.  To me it 
was really cool, it changed how I thought about programming.  popen()
is a pretty elegant combining of the kernel interfaces to make a very
useful interface.

I have to believe that others here had similar (and better) aha moments,
maybe a series of those would make a nice appendix or something?

Good luck with the paper, writing is hard, if you run out of reviewers
I cna try and find some time to make comments if that helps.
Larry McVoy                lm at bitmover.com           http://www.bitkeeper.com

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