jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

More shell, less egg - All this

Relating to the previous link, I can’t believe I’ve never posted a link to this Dr. Drang classic about Donald Knuth and Doug McIlroy’s differing approaches to the word counting problem.

Knuth wrote his program in WEB, a literate programming system of his own devising that used Pascal as its programming language. His program used a clever, purpose-built data structure for keeping track of the words and frequency counts; and the article interleaved with it presented the program lucidly. McIlroy’s review started with an appreciation of Knuth’s presentation and the literate programming technique in general. He discussed the cleverness of the data structure and Knuth’s implementation, pointed out a bug or two, and made suggestions as to how the article could be improved.

And then he calmly and clearly eviscerated the very foundation of Knuth’s program.


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