> Rather than 'looking up' what xargs -L does, just do 'xargs --help' and it tells you (not that that is much harder than 'man xargs').
In what way is "xargs --help" not "looking it up"?
> Rather than agonizing over what factor does, try 'factor 16' and 'factor 17' (one obvious prime, one obvious non-prime) and it is instantly obvious.
Again I know what factor does (its in the name), what I don't know is that the output format is "INPUT: N1 N2 ... Nk". So I did exactly as you described (except I used 4 and 7).
There is nothing particularly complex about looking things up like this, and I had to look some things up for ruby as well (its been a few years since I have used it heavily). The key difference is that ruby has functions like "numeric.prime?" which (following standard naming convention) is a test if the numeric is prime, and has a standard obvious boolean return value.
The shell variant of this was a rather convoluted test if the output of "factor" was "N: N" which is a rather indirect way of testing if a number is prime. One could reasonably suspect that "factor" 7 would output "7: 1 7" or that factor 8 would output "2^3" or "2,2,2". There is no apriori reason to believe that factor should output the input number followed by the non-unit factors in increasing order (and separated by ":" and " ").
That is one of the advantages of a programming language. Real datatypes make it easier to guess what a function might return (factor() should return an array of prime factors [sorting and the unit are open questions]), and the subsequent manipulation of those objects is usually sufficient to say what kind of object was returned. If my test for primality of x was:
Then it is clear that factor() returns an array of factors not including 1. In addition the standardized syntax makes it easier to guess what the functions might be.
Now at the expense of portability I could write a program /usr/bin/prime and simplify the shell script. I might even be able to write something like ruby's group_by in shell but it stretches the meaning of "shell" to say that such a script is "standard *nix shell."