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The Unix Magic Poster (jpmens.net)
666 points by colinprince on May 3, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 120 comments

Faster download than the archive.org link, same png: https://github.com/tyingq/unix-magic-poster/raw/main/ump.png

Same resolution, lower quality / smaller (smooshed with pngquant): https://github.com/tyingq/unix-magic-poster/raw/main/ump2.pn...

Also, what's "Oregano" in this context? Seems out of place if it's just the herb/spice.

> Also, what's "Oregano" in this context? Seems out of place if it's just the herb/spice.

This is answered in the second paragraph of the linked post...

  > The oregano is reputedly referring to an incident in which one of the
  > original folks involved with BSD was hassled for coming across the
  > Canadian/U.S. border with a bag of what was assumed to be an illegal
  > substance, and turned out to be oregano.

Right, I missed it, somewhat like you missed the peer comment that already pointed that out to me.

" The oregano is reputedly referring to an incident in which one of the original folks involved with BSD was hassled for coming across the Canadian/U.S. border with a bag of what was assumed to be an illegal substance, and turned out to be oregano. "

A few tenuous ones it seems not mentioned yet.

The title "UNIX MAGIC" is arguably on a banner(1).

The wall(1) visible through the window. (On NetBSD there was also a window(1) utility.)

The peak visible through the window in the distance could be mount(1) ________.

And of course, there is a man(1) visible through the window.

The prominent display of the wizard's fingers, as in finger(1), in the foreground is probably intentional.

Having so many things hanging is probably not a coincidence.

Nor is the fact that the shell has an overflow.

The streams flowing from the tubes and from a head(1).

The object in the tar bucket appears to be composed of segments.

Arguably awk is written on what appears to be a block, as in badblocks(1).

The ring on top(1) of diff with the string/line, as in strings(1), must have some significance.

From the wizard's hat hangs something with various initials, maybe a tape, a tail(1) or a strip(1).

Perhaps the crack in "B" is supposed to mean something.

Also, there must be some significance to the question mark/ankh shaped hook on the stirrer in the shell. Maybe a it is a broken link(1).

This just shows another great thing about UNIX. They took names from common things. None of the silly names we see today, especially the ones people choose for "tech" companies.

The artist should have had the wizard pouring some buffer solution. Then the overflow would be even better.

The "lid" on the oregano, whether intentional or not, is a nice touch. https://www.etymonline.com/word/lid

> Perhaps the crack in "B" is supposed to mean something.

B was the _flawed_ predecessor to C. Wikipedia alleges a lack of types was the main issue that consequently drove C's invention.


Well, when everything is a single word representing either an integer or a memory address, things like char, short int, int, long, and long long don’t make much sense. The flip side is: types allow things like structs and more.

> From the wizard's hat hangs something with various initials, maybe a tape, a tail(1) or a strip(1).

Hah, why is the cat(1)'s tail(1) missing from the drawing? Talk about missed oppertunity!


I believe I have one of the originals in my shared office on campus. The poster was originally taped to the wall in Polya Hall. I took it down (as carefully as I could) and put it into a basic poster frame I purchased from Michaels. It will remain in that office unless/until our group moves elsewhere (in which case it will come with us) or I leave Stanford (in which case it will go to whomever else is in that office).

If you want the poster and are in Germany, hit me up, I’ll print it for cost of ink on good 8 colors printer and hahnemühle paper.

Received mine. It's awesome, thanks!

Already been in touch directly but just wanted to give a public shout out to say thanks for doing this, it's awesome :)

Awesome! Dropped you a mail. Mind that you're probably going to be printing this for the rest of the lockdown then :P

Hahaha, that seems to be true, I've been surprised by the enthusiastic response. Sorry for the delayed replies, everyone.

For anyone still interested: I can print a bit larger than A2 format: 43x65cm, the cost is around 4 euro for a print on glossy 190g/m2 epson photo paper or 11,1 euro for Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308g/m2 matte paper (that one is expensive but really good).

Edit: yes, I'd be happy to print the poster for you, feel free to write me!

As a little update: the 12 meters of Hahnemühle Photo Rag I had are gone now (until Friday, then I can print on it again). In the meantime you can get it printed on Hahnemühle Daguerre Canvas 400g/m2. Same price, real canvas with a distinctive texture. You either like it or not: https://www.hahnemuehle.com/en/digital-fineart/fineart-media...

Anyway, thanks for all your kind words and little stories!

A bit of a reply to all who wrote me: prints go out around May 12, as I had to order some packaging and wait for it to arrive. Also, if you haven't got a message from me, please check your spam folder!

P.S. this is how it looks printed on Hahnemühle Daguerre Canvas (colors are a bit more saturated irl): https://rybakov.com/files/unix1.jpg https://rybakov.com/files/unix2.jpg https://rybakov.com/files/unix3.jpg

Dropped an email and just want to say you are awesome! This post made my day :>

Would your kindness reach Portugal? :D All costs on me, plus a pack of beer at least.

Yes, sure thing!

Would you mind sending one to Austria?

Sure, though the shipping would be a bit high with 8,89 € uninsured or 13,99 € insured/traceable.

Are you willing to ship to Norway?

Yes, though shipping within EU would be a bit high 8,89 € uninsured or 13,99 € insured/traceable.

edit: Dropped you a mail aswell :)

The UNIX Feuds poster is great too. Would love to get a high-res scan to print out of it too: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32496748@N03/3038053405

This is phenomenal. All the eggs I could find are: the spool, pipe, cat, thread (on the far left), shell, boot and fork. Are there any others, not including the characters on the cape and the words on the bags/jars?

Books on the bookshelf (top-right) are:

- daemons

- whoami

- traps

- curses

- pwd

- inbox

bags hanging underneath them:

- spawn

- nroff

- dates

- root

a log against the fireplace wall which says "login",

with potion-like bottles saying "uucp"

and the biggest bottle of potion is named "C" (of course),

while an old broken bottle lies on the ground called "B" (of course)

Symbols on the wizard's clothes are all unix symbols:

- $ (default PS1)

- * (glob)

- % (substring)

- > and < (pipe redirection)

Now to the bottom (right to left):

- A jar called "troff"

- A spool called "usr"

- Container called "awk"

- A jar of "oregano"

- Cursive writing on a parchment paper, "shell script"

- A small cup of "tar"

- Another bottle called "diff"

Update: Ah, you said excluding the words! I guess I was too excited to write down what I saw :P

The jar between uucp and C has a label that ends with "ke", could this be "make"?

I assume that the letters jfo on the nroff bag refer to joe ossana, the original author of [nt]roff.

It’s not “inbox” but “mbox”. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mbox

The shell represents the Fibonacci sequence.

Double entendre or meta?

- The wizard hat says "su," naturally

- The "shell process" (visual pun! I love it) is "outputting to null"

- The hat ribbon has the initials "dmr," "kt," and "bwk" - presumably Dennis M. Ritchie, Ken Thompson, and Brian W. Kernighan

Any others?

Also notice the output faucet is shaped like a cat, as in "cat to null"

Check out the "steam" rising from the cauldron...

There are pipes on the ceiling.

- the reaper in the background may represent the duty of PID 1, which must reap dead processes. He stands between the workshop (user space?) and the rest of the kingdom & streams (kernel space?)

- The strand from his hat appears to have initials on it: DMR (Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie), KT (Ken Thompson), BWK (Brian Wilson Kernighan)

- SCM branches appear to rise from the ting

- B has a "chip" in it

- The "diff" vessel seems to have a special purpose -- not sure if that's intentional.

UNIX creator's initials on the cap. Dennis Richie, Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan.

I love that he's "pouring" everything into the "shell".

There’s a bit bucket hanging from a pipe. And if you look in the window, there is a process reaper.

I’m assuming the boot is fit something, not sure what though.

Not just any pipe, it's a "broken pipe".

I think that refers to "booting" a computer.

a tap and daemon

some pipes have tee's

Log by the fireplace?

There’s a bucket, too.

And a cat.

Seriously , that is the coolest thing ever don't feel bad it was worth it. That picture is friggen epic and I think everyone here wants one...number one on hacker news pretty much sais that!

To anyone interested in obtaining the other two posters in the series (UNIX Views & UNIX Feuds) here is some information from Marshall Overacre, son of the author:

> "This poster is extremely rare. My father illustrated this series. He was not happy with the quality of the posters and inadvertently made them rare by throwing them all away. He still has the other two-a small handful that he is willing to sell." [0]

> "This is my father’s artwork. Believe he still has some to sell. I can’t recall which of the pictures he was not happy with the posters and threw almost all of them away. One of them is very rare." [1]

> "This is my father’s artwork. Believe he still has some of these for sale. He will sign if you’d like." [2]

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfGV-jBxizU

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6mGUT4vcIg

[2]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGKzuP3GYRM

Here is also some Reddit threads from people wanting to obtain copies:




These two Flickr photos point to a group of people that might have all 3 of the posters in their possession:



Has anyone fixated on the design of the Wizard's hat? Although it lacks the degree of floppiness I'd expect of a truly magnificent Wizard's hat, it makes up for it with a long ribbon at the end which you could probably swirl around your head quite magnificently.

I suppose the hat helps keep his hair out of his face and the ribbon is there to remind him not to tilt his head too much into the shell? Or perhaps the ribbon is made of a reactive material which serves as a canary?

Why does a wizard’s hat have to be floppy in your mind?

I have a copy of that poster in good condition as well as at least one related one (Unix wars), but am too lazy to dig it out so I'll go from memory.

There are tees in the pipes and I think the trap and valve was significant. I think the bucket is catching a (memory) leak. Is the guy outside using a reaper? That's not just a spool, but a /usr/spool. There was some talk that the castle represented a domain. And of course the big c shell cauldron.

No, it had BSD, ATT, and OSF on it. And I remember someone fishing in a stream with a net. It was also a Unitech poster in a similar style to the OP one.

Actually I stand corrected, it was Unix Feuds and there was also a UniX Views, another comment here posted pictures of both. I might actually have all three.

Here's the poster including a high-res png:


If Gary is still around and wants to sell official prints I (and I’m sure many others) would buy one!

Edit: looks like Unitech Software actually holds the copyright

At the bottom of the article (I think added later but not sure) there is a part about being able to get signed originals. It looks like they are (as of right now) still available as that part is yet to be stricken trough.

> Unitech Software actually holds the copyright

Does Unitech still exist?

Sometimes the original artist retains rights as well.

Looks like UNIX already was sufficiently advanced technology back then.

I expected this to be about actual Unix Magic numbers, which are how UNIX/Linux/BSD/etc. determines file types. [0]

Unix Magic was only one out of three posters in a set. Unix Feuds. Unix Views. Unix Magic. You can see them all on an image search. [1]

  [0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_number_(programming)
  [1] https://www.google.com/search?q=%22unix+views%22+or+%22unix+feuds%22+OR+%22unix+magic%22+poster

Would be awesome to see the original artist open source the art work for official download, and perhaps for a price which could go towards some OSS development. I’m sure people would pay for it.

I've just tried to find Gary Overacre on the web. This page, http://scad-atl-illu.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-weekend.html, has a link to www.garyoveracre.com but it doesn't exist.

Jeff Atwood has the same link on this Coding Horror page: https://blog.codinghorror.com/are-recipes-for-novices/.

Perhaps Atwood knows where Overacre is?

Gary Overacre seems to have been a moderately important illustrator in the US with magazine covers and board games to his credit but now he's slipped into oblivion. Not even a Wikipedia page

Last capture of www.garyoveracre.com by the wayback machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20121107182326/http://www.garyov...

Thank you.

I saw a Reddit thread on trying to get prints of this a while back and someone there mentioned the current copyright holder is a company called infogix.


Things I can identify in the poster:

- A wizard (which is a reference to a highly knowledgeable UNIX expert)

- the cauldron the wizard is using is in the shape of a seashell, and there are shells on the wizard's hat (on UNIX the shell is a textual interface between the user and the operating system)

- the wizard's hat has the word "su" on it ("su" is the "superuser" command used to "become" a "superuser", ie. the most powerful user on a UNIX system, where one can perform administrative tasks that ordinary users are not capable of doing)

- the wizard's robe contains: ">" and "<", which are symbols used for input and output redirection, "%" and "$" which are sometimes used in shell prompts and "$" is used in regular expressions to indicate the end of the line, "*" is another character used in regular expressions to mean "zero or more of the previous character" and used in the shell for "globbing" (as a "wildcard" for specifying a variable or "anything goes" part of a filename), "!" is used in shell history commands to reference previous commands

- there are containers at the bottom of the picture with the words: "diff" - a utility used to show difference between various texts, "tar" - a utility for creating, listing, and extracting archives, "null" - a reference to /dev/null, a "device" file that outputs the end of file when read and which discards any output sent to it, "troff" is a text formatting utility sometimes used for formatting documentation, "awk" is a language used for text manipulation, "C" is the main programming language used on UNIX, and "B" is a language that "C" descended from, "UUCP" - a once common but now obsolete file transfer utility

- there is a scroll with the words "shell script" on it, which refers to a program containing shell commands

- in the background there are pouches with the words: "spawn", which refers to creating a new process, what looks like "JFO" (not sure what this is), and "nroff" - another text formatting utility, "root" (the default name of the "superuser" account)

- there's a shelf with books bearing these titles: "Daemons" (which are background processes, usually used as "servers" on a unix system, which perform some function indefinitely, contrasting with regular applications which are more one-off processes that usually perform one function and exit), "Who am I" - a reference to the "whoami" utility that will tell you your user id, "traps" - the "trap" utility can be used to respond to signals, which are one way to perform inter-process communication on UNIX, usually used to indicate exceptional events, "Spells" - a word in keeping with the wizard theme, but I don't know if there's anything specific in UNIX that would be considerd a "spell" per se, "Curses" - a graphics library

- there is a container on the shelf with the word "pwd", which is a shell command used to tell you what the current directory is

- there is a box on the shelf with the word "mbox", which is a type of mail file on UNIX, and this box with the word "mbox" contains scrolls, which could be mail messages

- there is a black cat, which is also in keeping with the wizard theme, but I'm not sure whether it corresponds to anything specific in UNIX either (update: of course it's a reference to one of the most common and well-known commands on UNIX: "cat", which is used to output the contents of a file... don't know how I missed one of the most obvious symbols in the whole picture!)

- there is a black boot leaning against the wall. To "boot" a user off a UNIX system is to terminate or end their connection, "kicking" them off the system. "booting" a UNIX system is a term used for starting the system. "rebooting" refers to restarting the system.

- in the window a person with a scythe is reaping (or chopping down) some crops... to "reap" processes on UNIX is to kill them (or terminate/end them)

- under the ceiling are many pipes. pipes are used on UNIX for interprocess communication

- there is a bucket under a leaking pipe. The bucket may be there just for aesthetic reasons, though there is an informal "bit bucket" term which could refer to an abstraction for discarding information. The leaking pipe might be a reference to a "leaking abstraction", which is an abstraction (a high-level representation of something) which is supposed to "abstract away" or not reveal anything about how it's implemented, but when it "leaks" it inadvertently reveals something about how it's implemented anyway, causing all sorts of problems, like difficulties in switching to a different implementation.

- other probably purely aesthetic elements in the picture are a castle on a hill, mountains, and a sky seen through the window, a fireplace and a table. the "oregano" container on the table is probably also purely aethetic, as is the mortar (in the pestle with the word "tar")

- on the table lies a fork, which refers to "forking" a process (which creates a copy from an existing process and is a way UNIX has of creating new "child" processes from existing "parent" processes)

- on the "awk" container on the table is a spool of thread. "threads" on UNIX are lightweight processes. the spool of thread has the letters "usr" on it, which refers to the /usr partition on a UNIX system, which usually contains all sorts of UNIX utilities and libraries. To "spool" messages is to collect them for processing.

- the wizard is pouring glowing liquid from test tubes, with what look like circuit traces coming out of the cauldron. In the cauldron there is a ladle with an iron hook at the end. I'm not sure what any of these elements are supposed to represent.

- there is a spigot in the bottom of the cauldron, and it's emptying out in to the container labeled "null", which (as mentioned above) is a reference to the /dev/null device on UNIX, which will discard everything sent to it, so can be thought of as having infinite capacity, so even though it's a lot smaller in size than the cauldron all the liquid from the cauldron and more could be poured in to it without overflowing

- there is a log with the word "login", next to the fireplace. "login" is a process used to respond to what the user types at the "login:" prompt when first connecting to a UNIX machine. A "log" is a text file containing (usually timestamped) information about what a process is doing or to record series of events

- on the wizard's hat is a scroll which reads: "DMR", "KT", and "BWK". "KT" is probably Ken Thompson, one of the creators of UNIX. I don't recognize the others.

That's all I can spot.

Here is a direct link to the high resolution 32 MB PNG image of the poster: [1]

[1] - https://archive.org/download/unix-magic-poster-gary-overcare... Magic Poster - Gary Overcare (1).png

> there is a black cat, which is also in keeping with the wizard theme, but I'm not sure whether it corresponds to anything specific in UNIX either

"cat" is a common command in Unix, it concatenates files (and if you give it one pathname, it displays the file).

Oh, right, of course! cat!

Don't know how I missed that one...

Thanks for the explanations!

Nitpick: a daemon can do a lot of things besides responding to requests, so I wouldn't say it's usually used as a server.

>("su" is the "superuser" command used to "become" a "superuser", ie. the most powerful user on a UNIX system, where one can perform administrative tasks that ordinary users are not capable of doing)

su is "substitute user," but it defaults to substituting the root user.

Also, mortar is mor-tar and has tar on it :)

Still puzzled about the liquid, the hook, the diff jar lid with a ring, the two-colored PCB track-like shapes the cauldron is producing and whether "ke" is make.

"spells" are probably referring to the original spell checker named "spell" and the various descendants like "aspell" and "ispell".

jfo is Joe Ossanna, the author of troff who died in 1977.

Wonderful observation, enjoyed reading this.

I am surprised though you did not recognize DMR (Dennis M. Ritchie) and BWK (Brian W. Kerighan). :-)

The middle initials threw me off. Maybe if I'd just concentrated on "DR" and "BK" (or just took a quick peek at the UNIX article on Wikipedia) I might have got it...

Ken Thompson is also the one I am most familiar with and most in awe of, of this group, so that's why I could readily recognize his initials.

The pipes have tees...

boot -s was boot in single user mode, and boots -s is just a boot.

I'm let down that "oregano" is not a system command

I was going to say "but that's an IRC server", but last second noticed that one is called "oragono" :D (and way younger either way)

If you want to have the .png printed I suggest doing a bit of dust spotting in an editor before, the file is of adequate quality but there are a few defects.

The Unix Magic Poster is great geek lore, for sure -- but I want to thank the OP / author for sharing a link to https://www.whitewall.com/uk/metal-prints/dibond-printing which seems like a pretty great way to print and display a picture.

I have a real one hanging in my living room lol. They're really beautiful pieces of art, and this is the best of the series by far.

Agreed! My wife and I each have one.

(had - one is now in the possession of my adult son)

Well, I guess it's not necessary to ask if he got the nerd genes.

On Unix and D&D, Nethack borrows a LOT from this lore. Guess why & are the demons...

It looks like the wizard is about to drop the test tubes, he is not really holding them.

I think they must have used hands as references that were in about the right position but not actually holding anything.

That is wondrous to say the least. Giggling a little about the oregano incident though.

Love these posters -- the one referenced in the article, and the other (UNIX feuds) noted in the comments. At one time I had both - lost one on a plane, and lost the other in a move. So rich in meaning, as others are noting.

I was going to comment on the lack of pipes and then saw the ceiling :)

I have this printed out and hanging on my wall. Totally worth it.

How big is it? And what do you think would be reasonable sizes for the 32MB image (3675 x 5475) floating around?

Mine is 22x28. It looks fantastic in a frame. I used roughly a 32 MB version of it I believe.

What is the meaning of the Unix Feuds and Unix Views posters? The Unix Magic is pretty straightforward but the other two are - at least to me - quite obscure.

Is 80 Euros the standard price for a custom poster?

I see that the .tiff is available, and I'm down to take it to my local print shop, but only if the total print cost is about $20-$30

You pay for both the material it's printed on and the quality of the print. But mostly the material.

A 3-foot tall poster can be over $500 if you get top-notch quality and put it behind nice glass and a nice custom frame.

It's hard to tell how large the photo is here, but $80 isn't surprising at all if the material mentioned (Al Dibond) really is nice. I'm not familiar with it.

If you just want the poster on normal poster paper, I'm confident you could find a print shop to do it for $25.

If you want to get something fancy like an Aluminium Dibond print, check your country's groupon, you usually find a 50% discount offer there.

Edit: I checked groupon.de and found a 40x60cm (near DIN A2) aluminium dibond print for 19€ + 7€ shipping ( https://www.groupon.de/deals/lieblingsfoto-73 )

An A3 (11-3/4" x 16-1/2") poster here in Ireland starts at around 7 euro ($7.50). 80 euros is presumably for the aluminium dibond print - which sounds like an extreme quality print material, and those gets expensive fast. An A3 on that starts at about 50 euro (and it sounds like the author got an A2 - twice the size of an A3.)

In my experience, Whitewall is also not exactly the cheapest store around (but they are very good).

if you want a paper poster, it will be a lot cheaper. OP had it printed on some rigid aluminium composite.

Unix/Old School Rules D&D crossover. Approve.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure I would want one that big, but I would love a smaller one. I wonder who does similar quality prints in the US

Bay Photo (https://www.bayphoto.com/) is where I go for sizes larger than I can print on my own. They've never let me down, and while their prices are significant for larger formats, they're not out of line with what I've seen from other shops. Good, fast shipping, too.

They do print on aluminum, similar to the described style - it's definitely not "dibond" in that there's no backing aluminum layer and by default (at least) no foamcore backing, but I've honestly never felt the lack. That said, when I hang prints, I hang them framed, so maybe it's a treatment designed for display on its own; when I do get aluminum prints from Bay Photo, they're generally one-offs of signs or other oddball stuff, so I don't really worry about fine-art presentation on those.

I've had great luck with https://mpix.com A lot of great options and prices.

I love how it’s all being mixed in the shell.

I wonder what an updated picture might hide?

Anyone know of a similar-quality version of ‘4.2 > V’? The best I've found is an eighth the size.

What is this, by the way? I'm having a hard time searching for it.

Sorry, I should have explained and linked in the first place. It was a poster from Mt Xinu in the mid '80s, showing a space fighter labelled ‘4.2BSD’ flying away from an exploding AT&T ‘Death Star’ logo. The best copy I've seen online is https://raw.githubusercontent.com/ashaferian/Drive/master/Mt...

maybe you can enhance or maybe vectorize that one.

Wow !!! this is so cool !!! will probably have this printed as a poster and put it on my wall.

This is epic. I just ordered a 20x30 print from Costco for $15. Hopefully they will print it.

Had some good experience with Whitewall in the past. Pricey but worth it.

Does the original artist get any money that people spend on these posters?

No whitewall is just a print shop, you have to give them the image

Was hoping they used super-resolution magic to scale up the image.

Ah, I want one too. ;D

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