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I'm looking for a program to copy stdin to stdout while showing control characters (like cat -v) and without waiting for an EOF (the input is from a tail -f). I have GNU|Linux; the cat that's installed ignores the -u flag.

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BSD cat's -u option disabled output buffering. From man cat:

-u      Disable output buffering.
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According to the man page on this machine, -u is ignored. –  Blacklight Shining Sep 29 '12 at 11:21
    
@BlacklightShining Chances are, you're noy using BSD cat –  Daniel Beck Sep 30 '12 at 11:26
    
Nope, it's GNU cat (or whichever version is standard on Ubuntu). I guess I should've been more specific… –  Blacklight Shining Sep 30 '12 at 12:08

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