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Knuth: All Questions Answered

timothy posted more than 12 years ago | from the art-of-computer dept.

Programming 400

sunhou writes: "The AMS published a lecture by Donald Knuth called All Questions Answered (pdf), where Knuth simply responded to questions from the audience. Topics ranged from errors in software ('I think Microsoft should say, "You'll get a check from Bill Gates every time you find an error"') to how he gets distracted by fonts on restaurant menus, to software patents. There were some really good questions (and responses)."

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400 comments

first! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175569)

wahoo!!!

The 2nd Official 'Saturday Night Live' Thread (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175693)

This comment and all replies will pertain to tonight's episode of Saturday Night Live.

This is a great comedy show, and consists of several different live skits, a musical guest who normally performs two songs, and a host.

Tonight's host is Sir Ian McKellen (sorry if I spelled that wrong). I don't remember who the musical guest is; perhaps you could reply and include their name.

So, to reiterate -- watch SNL, come back to this comment and reply to it with your thoughts during commercial breaks, and enjoy! It's fun to socialize with Slashdot friends and peers although I do admit that this is incredibly off-topic.

I don't do this to troll; I merely do it as a means to communicate in a forum-like way with all of you. SNL is a great show and it's uber fun to share thoughts with friends.

Let the show begin!

Yeah.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175574)

...you first.

I don't have acrobat. (1, Informative)

Lunar82 (541435) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175581)

So I made up my own Knuth interview

All Questions Answered
Donald Knuth
318 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3
On October 5, 2001, at the Technische Universität
München, Donald Knuth presented a lecture entitled "All Questions Answered". The lecture drew an audience of around 350 people. This article contains the text of the lecture, edited by Notices senior writer and deputy editor Allyn Jackson.
Originally trained as a mathematician, Donald
Knuth is renowned for his research in computer science, especially the analysis of algorithms. He is a prolific author, with 160 entries in MathSciNet. Among his many books is the three-volume series The Art of Computer Programming [TAOCP], for which he received the AMS Steele Prize for Exposition in 1986. The citation for the prize stated that TAOCP "has made as great a contribution to the teaching of mathematics for the present generation of students as any book in mathematics proper in recent decades." The long awaited fourth volume is in preparation and some parts are available through Knuth's website, http://www-cs-faculty. stanford.edu/~knuth/.
Knuth is the creator of the TEX and METAFONT
languages for computer typesetting, which have
revolutionized the preparation and distribution of
technical documents in many fields, including mathematics.
In 1978 he presented the AMS Gibbs Lecture
entitled "Mathematical Typography". The lecture
was subsequently published in the Bulletin of the
AMS [MT].
Knuth earned his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1963
from the California Institute of Technology under
the direction of Marshall Hall. He has received the
Turing Award from the Association for Computing
Machinery (1974), the National Medal of Science
(1979), the Adelsköld Medal from the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences (1994), the Harvey Prize from
the Technion of Israel (1995), the John von Neumann
Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers (1995), and the Kyoto Prize from the
Inamori Foundation (1996). Since 1968 Knuth has
been on the faculty of Stanford University, where
he currently holds the title of Professor Emeritus of
The Art of Computer Programming.
--Allyn Jackson
Knuth: In every class that I taught at Stanford,
the last day was devoted to "all questions answered".
The students didn't have to come to class
if they didn't want to, but if they did, they could
ask any question on any subject except religion or
politics or the final exam. I got the idea from
Richard Feynman, who did the same thing in his
classes at Caltech, and it was always interesting to
see what the students really wanted to know. Today
I'll answer any question on any subject. Do we
allow religion or politics? I don't know. But there
is no final exam to worry about. I'll try to answer
without taking too much time so that we can get a
lot of questions in.
So, who wants to ask the first question?... Well,
if there are no questions...[Knuth makes as if to
leave.]
Question: There was a special report to the American
president, the PITAC report [PITAC], containing
some recommendations. I am wondering
whether you would be willing to comment on the priorities
outlined in these recommendations:
better software engineering, building a teraflop
MARCH 2002 NOTICES OF THE AMS 319
computer, improvements in the Internet including
higher security and higher bandwidth, and the
socio-economic impacts of managing information
available via computer networks.
Knuth: I think that's a brilliant solution of the
problem of what to present to a president. But in
fact what I would like to see is thousands of computer
scientists let loose to do whatever they want.
That's what really advances the field. From my experience
writing The Art of Computer Programming,
if you asked me any year what was the most important
thing that happened
in computer science that year,
I probably would have no answer
for the question, but over
five years' time the whole field
changes. Computer science is
a tremendous collaboration
of people from all over the
world adding little bricks to a
massive wall. The individual
bricks are what make it work,
and not the milestones.
Next question?
Question: Mathematicians
say that God has the "Book of
Proofs", where all the most
aesthetic proofs are written.
Can you recommend some
algorithms for the "Book of Algorithms"?
Knuth: That's a nice question.
It was Paul Erdos who
promulgated the idea that God has a book containing
the best mathematical proofs, and I guess
my friend Günter Ziegler in Berlin has recently
written about it [PFB].
I remember that mathematicians were telling
me in the 1960s that they would recognize computer
science as a mature discipline when it had
1,000 deep algorithms. I think we've probably
reached 500. There are certainly lots of algorithms
that I think have to be considered absolutely beautiful
and immortal, in some sense. Two examples
are the Euclid algorithm and a corresponding one
that works in binary notation and that may have
been developed independently in China, almost as
early as Euclid's algorithm was invented in Greece.
In my books I am mostly concerned with the algorithms
that are classical and that have been around
for a long time. But still, every year we find brand
new ideas that I think are going to remain forever.
Question: Do you have thoughts on quantum
computing?
Knuth: Yes, but I don't know a great deal about
it. It's quite a different paradigm from what I'm used
to. It has lots of things in common with the kind
of computing I know, but it's also quite mysterious
in that you have to get all the answers at the end;
you don't make a test and then have that determine
what you do next. A lot of you have seen the movie
Lola rennt (called Run Lola Run in the U.S.), in which
the plot is played out three different times, with the
outcome taking three different branches. Quantum
computing is something like that: The world goes
into many different branches, and we're interested
in the one where the outcome is the nicest.
I'm good at nonquantum computing myself, so
it's quite possible that if quantum computing takes
over, I won't be able to do the new stuff. My life's
work is with computers not
because I'm interested so
much in computation, but because
I happen to be good at
this kind of computing. Fortunately
for me, I found that
the thing I could do well was
interesting to other people. I
didn't develop an ability to
think about algorithms because
I wanted to help people
solve problems. Somehow, by
the time I was a teenager, I
had a peculiar way of thinking
that made me good at programming.
But I might not be
good at quantum programming.
It seems to be a different
world from my own.
I'll take a question from
the back.
Question: I am working in
theorem proving, and one of the most important papers
is your paper "Simple word problems in universal
algebra" [KB] from 1970, written with
P. B. Bendix. I have two questions. The first is, do you
still follow this area and what do you think of it? And
the second is, who is and what became of P. B. Bendix?
Knuth: This work was published in 1970, but I
actually did it in 1967 while I was at Caltech. It
was a simple idea, but fortunately it's turned out
to be very widely applicable. The idea is to take a
set of mathematical axioms and find all the
implications of those axioms. If I have a certain
set of axioms and you have a possible theorem,
you ask, does this theorem follow from those
axioms or not? I called my paper "Simple word
problems in universal algebra", and I said a
problem was "simple" if my method could
handle it. Now people have extended the method
quite a lot, so that a lot more problems are
"simple". I think their work is beautiful.
The year 1967 was the most dramatic year of
my life by far. I had no time for research. I had
two children less than two years old; I had been
scheduled to be a lecturer for ACM (Association
for Computing Machinery) for three weeks; I had
NON SEQUITUR © 2001 Wiley Miller. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
320 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3
to give lectures in a
NATO summer school
in Copenhagen; I had to
speak in a conference at
Oxford; and so on. And
I was getting the page
proofs for The Art of
Computer Programming,
of which the first
volume was being
published in 1968. All
of this was in addition
to the classes I was
teaching, and an attack
of ulcers that put me in
the hospital, and being
an editor for twelve
journals. That year I
thought of two little
ideas. One has become
known as the Knuth-Bendix algorithm; the other
one is known as attribute grammars [AG]. That
was the most creative year of my life, and it was
also the most hectic.
You asked about Peter Bendix. He was a sophomore
in a class I taught at Caltech, "Introduction
to Algebra". Every student was supposed to do a
class project, and Peter did his term paper on the
implementation of the algorithm. He was a physics
major. This was the time of the Vietnam War, and
he became an objector. He went to Canada and
worked as a high school teacher for about five
years and later got a degree in physics. I found he
was living near Stanford a couple of years ago, so
I called him up and found out that he has had a
fairly happy life in recent years.
In the 1960s, if I wrote a joint paper with my advisor
Marshall Hall, it meant that he did the theory
and I did the programming. But if I wrote a paper
with anybody else, it meant that I did the theory and
the other person did the programming. So Pete
Bendix was a good programmer who implemented
the method.
Question: It seems to me it's easier to revise a
book than the huge software programs we see day
to day. How can we apply theory to improve software?
Knuth: Certainly errors in software are more difficult
to fix than errors in books. In fact, my main
conclusion after spending ten years of my life working
on the TEX project is that software is hard. It's
harder than anything else I've ever had to do. While
I was working on the TEX program, I was unable to
do full-time teaching. Although I love teaching, I
had to take a year off from it because there was just
too much to keep in my head at one time. Writing a
book is a little more difficult than writing a technical
paper, but writing software is a lot more difficult
than writing a book.
In my books I offer rewards for the first person
who finds any particular error, and I must say that
I've written more checks to people in Germany
than in any other country in the world. I get letters
from all over, but my German readers are the best
nitpickers that I've ever had! In software I similarly
pay for errors in the TEX and METAFONT programs.
The reward was doubling every year: It started out
at $2.56, then it went to $5.12, and so on, until it
reached $327.68, at which time I stopped doubling.
There has been no error reported in TEX since
1994 or 1995, although there is a rumor that somebody
has recently found one. I'm going to have to
look at it again in a year or two. I do everything in
batch mode, by the way. I am going to look again
at possible errors in TEX in, say, the year 2003.
I think letting users know that you welcome reports
of errors is one important technique that
could be used in the software industry. I think
Microsoft should say, "You'll get a check from Bill
Gates every time you find an error."
Question: What importance do you give to the design
of efficient algorithms, and what emphasis do
you suggest giving this area in the future?
Knuth: I think the design of efficient algorithms
is somehow the core of computer science. It's at
the center of our field. Computers are incredibly
fast now compared to what they were before, so
for many problems there is no need to have an efficient
algorithm. I can write programs that are in
some sense extremely inefficient, but if it's only
going to take one second to get the answer, who
cares? Still, some things we have to do millions or
billions of times, and just knowing that the number
of times is finite doesn't tell us that we can handle
it. So the number of problems that are in need
of efficient algorithms is huge. For example, many
problems are NP complete, and NP complete is
just a small level of complexity. Therefore I see an
almost infinite horizon for the need for efficient
algorithms. And that makes me happy because
those are the kinds of problems I like the best.
MARCH 2002 NOTICES OF THE AMS 321
Question: You have a big interest in puzzles, including
the "Tower of Hanoi" puzzle on more than
3 pegs. I won't ask a harder question--what is the
shortest solution?--because I am not sure everyone
knows this puzzle. But I will ask a more philosophical
question: Is it possible to show this can never be
solved?
Knuth: Do people know the "Tower of Hanoi"
problem? You have 3 pegs, and you have disks of
different sizes. You're supposed to transfer the disks
from one peg to another, and the disks have to be
sorted on each peg so that the biggest is always on
the bottom. You can move only one disk at a time.
Henry Dudeney invented the idea of generalizing
this puzzle to more than 3 pegs, and the task of finding
the shortest solution to the 4-peg problem has
been an open question for more than a hundred
years. The 3-peg problem is very simple; we teach it
to freshmen.
But take another, more famous problem, the
Goldbach conjecture in mathematics: Every even integer
is the sum of two odd primes. Now, I think
that's a problem that's never going to be solved. I
think it might not even have a proof. It might be
one of the unprovable theorems that Gödel showed
exist. In fact, we now know that in some sense almost
all correct statements about mathematics are
unprovable. Goldbach's conjecture is just, sort of,
true because it can't be false. There are so many
ways to represent an even number as the sum of
two odd numbers, that as the numbers grow the
number of representations grows bigger and bigger.
Take a 101010-digit even number, and imagine
how many ways there are to write that as the sum
of two odd integers. For an n-bit odd number, the
chances are proportional to 1/n that it's prime. How
are all of those pairs of odd numbers going to be
nonprime? It just can't happen. But it doesn't follow
that you'll find a proof, because the definition
of primality is multiplicative, while Goldbach's conjecture
pertains to an additive property. So it might
very well be that the conjecture happens to be
true, but there is no rigorous way to prove it.
In the case of the 4-peg "Tower of Hanoi", there
are many, many ways to achieve what we think is
the minimum number of moves, but we have no
good way to characterize all those solutions. So
that's why I personally came to the conclusion that
I was never going to be able to solve it, and I
stopped working on it in 1972. But I spent a solid
week working on it pretty hard.
Question: What are the five most important problems
in computer science?
Knuth: I don't like this "top ten" business. It's
the bottom ten that I like. I think you've got to
go for the little things, the stones that make up
the wall.
Question: You
spent a lot of time on
computer typesetting.
What are your reflections
on the impact of
this work?
Knuth: I am extremely
happy that
my work was in the
public domain and
made it possible for
people on all platforms
to communicate
with each other
via the Internet. Especially
now I'm thrilled
by some recent projects.
Two weeks ago
I heard a great lecture
by Bernd Wegner from
the Technical University
of Berlin about
the plans for online
journals by the European
Mathematical Society.
Such things
would simply have
been impossible without
the open source
software that came
out of my work. So I'm
extremely delighted
this is helping to advance
science.
I'm happy to see
many books that look
pretty good. Before I
started my work,
books on mathematics
were looking worse
and worse from year
to year. It took a lot
of skilled handwork
to do it in the old system.
The people who
could do that were
dying out, and high
priority did not go to
mathematical books.
I never expected that
TEX would take over the entire world of publishing.
I'm not a very competitive person, and I did not
want to take jobs away from anybody who was
doing another way of printing. But I found that nobody
wanted to do mathematical publishing well,
so math was something I could improve without
getting anybody upset about me being an upstart.
The downside is that I'm too sensitive to things
now. I can't go to a restaurant and order food
322 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3
because I keep looking at the fonts on the menu.
Five minutes later I realize that it's also talking
about food. If I had never thought about computer
typesetting, I might have had a happier life in some
ways.
Question: Can you give us an outline for computer
science, some milestones for the next ten or
twenty years?
Knuth: You're asking for milestones again.
There is a lot of interest in applications to biology
because so many things have opened up in that
domain, with chances to cure diseases. The fact
that human beings are based on a discrete code
means that people like you and me, who are good
at discrete problems, are able to do relevant work
for this area. The problems are very difficult and
challenging, and that's why I foresee an important
future there.
But in all aspects of our field, I really don't see
any slowing down. Every time I think I've discovered
something interesting, I look on the Internet
and find that somebody else has done it too. So we
have a field that at the moment still seems to be
like a boiling kettle, where you can't keep the lid
on.
In the field of biology, I think we can confidently
predict that it's going to have rich problems to
solve for at least 500 years. I can't make that claim
for computer science.
Question: What is the connection between mathematics
and computer programming viewed as an
art?
Knuth: Art is Kunst. The American movie
Artificial Intelligence is called Kunstlicher Intelligenz
in Germany--that is, artificial as well as artistic. I
think of programming with beauty in mind, as
being something elegant, something that you can
be proud of for the way it fits together. Mathematics
in the same way has elegance. Both fields, computing
and mathematics, are different from
other sciences because they are artificial; they
are not in nature. They're totally under our own
control. We make up the axioms, and when we
solve a problem, we can prove that we've solved it.
No astronomer will ever know whether his theories
of astronomy are correct. You can't go up to the sun
and measure it.
So these are my first thoughts on that connection.
But there is a difference between mathematics
and computer programming, and sometimes I
can feel when I'm putting on one hat or the other.
Some parts of me like mathematics, and some
parts of me like emacs hacking. I think they go
together okay, but I don't see that they're the same
paradigm.
Question: What is the relationship between God
and computers?
Knuth: In one of my books, 3:16 Bible Texts
Illuminated [BTI], I used random sampling to study
sixty different verses of the Bible and what people
from all different religious persuasions and different
centuries have said about those verses. I did
the study at first on my own, and then I found it
was interesting enough that I ought to make a book
about it. I got sixty of the best artists in the world
to illustrate the book, many of them in Germany.
The artwork was exhibited twice in Germany, and
in other countries around the world. It was also
shown in the National Cathedral in Washington,
DC. In that book I used methodology that computer
scientists often use for understanding a
complicated subject, to see if that method would
give some insight into the Bible, which is a complicated
subject. In the book, I don't give answers.
I just say I think it's good that life should be an
ongoing search. The journey is more important
than the destination.
Question: Do you know whether "P equals NP"
has been proved? I heard a rumor that it has.
Knuth: Which rumor did you hear?
Question: One from Russia.
Knuth: From Russia? That's new to me. Well, I
don't think anybody has proved that P equals NP
yet. But I know that Andy Yao has retired and
hopes to solve the problem in the next five to
ten years. He is inspired by Andrew Wiles, who
MARCH 2002 NOTICES OF THE AMS 323
devoted several years to proving Fermat's Last
Theorem. They're both Princeton people. Andy
can do it if anybody can.
Three or four years ago, there was a paper in a
Chinese journal of computer science and technology
by a professor who claimed he could solve an
NP-hard problem in polynomial time. The problem
was about cliques, and he had a very clever way to
represent cliques. The method was supposedly
polynomial time, but it actually took something like
n12 steps, so you couldn't even check it when n
equals 5. So it was very hard to see the bug in his
proof. I went to Stanford and sat down with our
graduate students, and we needed a couple of
hours before we found the flaw. I wrote the author
a letter pointing out the error, and he wrote back
a couple of months later, saying, "No, no, there is
no error." I decided not to pursue it any further. I
had done my part. But I don't believe it's been
solved. That's the most mind-boggling problem
facing theoretical computer science, and maybe
all of science at the moment.
Question: What do you think of research in
cryptographic algorithms? And what do you
think of efforts by politicians today to put limits on
cryptography research?
Knuth: Certainly the whole area of cryptographic
algorithms has been one of the most active and exciting
areas in computer science for the past ten
years, and many of the results are spectacular and
beautiful. I can't claim that I'm good at that particular
subject, though, because I can't think of
sneaky attacks myself. But the key problem is,
what about the abuse of secure methods of communication?
I don't want criminals to use these
methods to become better criminals.
I'm a religious person, and I think that God
knows all my secrets, so I always feel that whatever
I'm thinking is public knowledge in some way. I
come from this kind of background. I don't feel
I have to encrypt everything I do. On the other
hand, I would certainly feel quite differently if
somebody started to use such openness against me,
by stealing my bank accounts or whatever. So I am
supportive of a high level of secrecy. But whether
it should be impossible for the authorities to
decode things even in criminal investigations, in
extreme cases--there I tend to come down on the
side of wanting to have some way to break some
keys sometimes.
Question: Will we have intelligent machines sometime
in the future? Should we have them?
Knuth: There have always been inflated estimates
as to how soon we are going to have a
machine that's intelligent. I still see no signs of
getting around the central problem of understanding
what is cognition, what it means to think.
Neurologists are making better measurements
than they ever have before, but we are still so far
from finding an answer that I can't yet rank
neuroscience as one of the most active fields of
current work. Biology has been getting answers,
with DNA and stem cells and so on. But with cognition
we are still looking for the secret.
Some very thought-provoking books came out
a year or two ago, one by Hans Moravec [Mo], and
one by Ray Kurzweil [Ku]. Both of them are saying
that in twenty or thirty years we are going to have
machines smarter than humans. Some people were
worried about that. My attitude is, if that's true,
more power to them. If they are smarter than us,
so what? Then we can learn from them. But I see
no signs that there are any breakthroughs around
the corner.
Two weeks ago in Greece I was at the inauguration
of a new book by Christos Papadimitriou, who
is chairman of computer science at Berkeley. He
published a novel in the Greek language called The
Smile of Turing [Pa]. I don't want to give away the
story, but when it gets published in German or
English, you'll find that it has a very nice discussion
of artificial intelligence and the Turing test for
intelligence.
The most promising model of how the brain
works that I've seen says that the brain is a dynamic
genetic algorithm that operates all the time. As I
324 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3
am talking to you now, your brains have a lot of
competing theories about what I'm going to say. It's
the survival of the fittest, a continual
battle among the competing theories.
Some come to the surface and actually
enter your consciousness, but the
others are all there. Some kind of mating
of concepts might be going on in our
heads all the time. This model seems to
have the right properties to account for
how we can do what we do with the
relatively slow response time that our
neurons have. But I am by no means an
expert on this.
Question: What is your thinking about
software patents? There is a big discussion
going on in Europe right now about
whether software should be patentable.
Knuth: I'm against patents on things
that any student should be expected to
discover. There have been an awful lot
of software patents in the U.S. for ideas
that are completely trivial, and that
bothers me a lot. There is an organization
that has worked for many years to
make patents on all the remaining trivial
ideas and then make these available
to everyone. The way patenting had
been going was threatening to make
the software industry stand still.
Algorithms are inherently mathematical
things that should be as unpatentable
as the value of . But for
something nontrivial, something like
the interior point method for linear programming,
there's more justification
for somebody getting a right to license
the method for a short time, instead of
keeping it a trade secret. That's the
whole idea of patents; the word patent
means "to make public".
I was trained in the culture of mathematics, so
I'm not used to charging people a penny every time
they use a theorem I proved. But I charge somebody
for the time I spend telling them which theorem
to apply. It's okay to charge for services and
customization and improvement, but don't make
the algorithms themselves proprietary.
There's an interesting issue, though. Could you
possibly have a patent on a positive integer? It is
not inconceivable that if we took a million of the
greatest supercomputers today and set them going,
they could compute a certain 300-digit constant
that would solve any NP-hard problem by taking
the GCD of this constant with an input number, or
by some other funny combination. This integer
would require massive amounts of computation
time to find, and if you knew that integer, then you
could do all kinds of useful things. Now, is that
integer really discovered by man? Or is it something
that is God given? When we start thinking of complexity
issues, we have to change our viewpoint as
to what is in nature and what is invented.
Question: You have been writing checks to people
who point out errors in your books. I have never
heard of anyone cashing these checks. Do you know
how much money you would be out of, if everyone
suddenly cashed the checks?
Knuth: There's one man who lives near Frankfurt
who would probably have more than $1,000
if he cashed all the checks I've sent him. There's a
man in Los Gatos, California, whom I've never met,
who cashes a check for $2.56 about once a month,
and that's been going on for some years now.
Altogether I've written more than 2,000 checks
over the years, and the average amount exceeds
$8.00 per check. Even if everybody cashed their
checks, it would still be more than worth it to me
to know that my books are getting better.
References
[TAOCP] The Art of Computer Programming, by Donald E.
Knuth. Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms (third
edition, Addison-Wesley, 1997). Volume 2: Seminumerical
Algorithms (third edition, Addison-Wesley,
1997). Volume 3: Sorting and Searching (second
edition, Addison-Wesley, 1998). Volume 4: Combinatorial
Algorithms (in preparation).
[MT] Mathematical typography, by Donald E. Knuth. Bull.
Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.) 1 (1979), no. 2, 337-372.
Reprinted in Digital Typography (Stanford, California:
CSLI Publications, 1998), pp. 19-65.
[PITAC] President's information technology advisory committee.
See http://www.itrd.gov/ac/.
[PFB] Proofs from The Book, by Martin Aigner and Günter
Ziegler. Second edition, Springer Verlag, 2001.
[KB] Simple word problems in universal algebras, by
Peter B. Bendix and Donald Knuth. Computational
Problems in Abstract Algebra, J. Leech, ed. (Oxford:
Pergamon, 1970), pp. 263-297. Reprinted in Automation
of Reasoning, Jörg H. Siekmann and Graham
Wrightson, eds. (Springer, 1983), pp. 342-376.
[BTI] 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, by Donald E. Knuth.
A-R Editions, Madison, Wisconsin, 1990.
[AG] Semantics of context-free languages, by Donald E.
Knuth. Mathematical Systems Theory 2 (1968),
127-145. See also The genesis of attribute grammars,
in Lecture Notes in Computer Science 461
(1990), 1-12.
[Pa] TO XAMOGELO TOY TOYRINGK (The Smile of Turing),
by Christos Papadimitriou. Livani Publishers,
Athens, Greece, 2001.
[Ku] The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed
Human Intelligence, by Ray Kurzweil. Penguin
USA, 2000.
[Mo] Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, by
Hans P. Moravec. Oxford University Press, 2000.
Photographs used in this article are courtesy of
Andreas Jung, Technische Universität München.

Re:I don't have acrobat. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175591)

someone mod this guy down.
damn karma whores.

Re:I don't have acrobat. (1, Troll)

slickwillie (34689) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175659)

There is something just plain wrong about seeing "All Questions Answered (pdf)".

Re:I don't have acrobat. (3, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175900)

How dare they use an openly documented, commonly used format.

Mod parent up! (2)

phr2 (545169) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175787)

The AMS site is slashdotted--I did manage to download and view the PDF file and the above is a copy of the interview.

Online PDF Conversion Here -- (5, Informative)

sh0rtie (455432) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175860)



http://access.adobe.com/adv_form.html

just enter the url of said pdf and hit submit and voila good ol' html is returned

First DKMC Post! (-1)

Jesus Christ (154953) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175590)

Donald Knuth Molests Children. Have ever seen that guy? His hobby is "playing his large wooden organ for the youngsters at his church." Indeed!

Open Source? More Like Openly Racist (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175598)

The Open Source movement, otherwise known as 'Free Software', has been a topic of considerable debate on the Internet's most controversial site. The majority of this debate has centered around the technical merits of the software, with the esteemed editors argueing against adopting Linux by employing the full depth of their considerable intellects, and the other side hurling death threats and similar invective. This has allowed many who would not otherwise receive quality information about Open Source software to be made aware of many of its ramifications, but one issue has been left alone: The overt racism that is deeply embedded in the movement.

Allow me to explain.

Alan Cox; Richard Stallman; Bruce Perens; Wichert Akkerman; Miguel DeIcaza.

What do you see in this list of names? Are there any African-Americans on it? Absolutely not, none of those names sound like one a self-respecting black person would have! No Maurice, no Luther, no Lil' Kim. There are many other lists such as this, you can see one here. Flip through each page, do you see anything other than white faces? Of course you don't, because Open Source and its adherents are ardent racists and they absolutely forbid access to the sacred 'kernel' by any person of color.

Lets look at another list, this time a compendium of the companies using Linux. Are there any black owned companies on that list? Nooooooo. How about these companies? They all have something to do with Open Source software, any of them owned by an African-American? No again. Here is an extensive collection of photographs from a LUG (Linux User Gathering) meeting, more can be viewed at that link. What is odd about these pictures, and every other photograph I have ever seen of a LUG meeting, is that there is not one single black person to be seen, and probably none for miles.

More racist overtones can be found by examining the language of Open Source. They often refer to 'white hat' hackers. These 'white hats' scurry about the Internet doing good, but illegal, acts for their fellow man. In stark contrast we find the 'black hat' hackers. They destroy the good works of others by breaking into systems, stealing data, and generally causing havoc. These two terms reflect the mindset of most Linux developers. White means good, black means bad. Anywhere there is black, there is uncontrollable destruction and lawlessness. Looking further we see black lists that inform other users of 'bad' hardware, Samba, an obvious play on the much hated Little Black Sambo book, Mandrake, which I won't explain except to say that the French are notorious racists. This type is linguistic discrimination is widespread throughout the Open Source culture, lampooned by many of its more popular sites.

It is also a fact that all Unix 'distros' contain a plethora of racist commands with not so hidden symbolism.

It can hardly be coincidence that the prime operating system of choice of the 'open source supremacists' - Linux, features commands which are poorly disguised racist acronyms. For example: 'awk' (All White Klan) , 'sed' (shoot nEgroes dead), 'ln' (lynch negroes), 'rpm' (raical purity mandatory), 'bash' (bring a slave home), 'ps' (persecute sambo), 'mount' (murder or unseat nubians today), 'fsck' (favored supreme Christian klan). I could go on and on about the latent racist symbolism in Linux, but I fear it would take weeks to enumerate every incidence.

Is there a single unix command out there that does not have some hidden racist connotation ? Suffice it to say that the racism pervades Linux like a particularly bad smell. Can you imagine the effect of running such a racist operating system on the impressionable mind ? I don't have to remind you that transmitting subliminal messages is banned in the USA, and yet here we have an operating system that appears to be one enormous submliminal ad for the Klan!

One of the few selling points of Open Source software is that it is available in many different languages. Browsing through the list I see that absolutely none are offered in Swahili, nor Ebonics. Obviously this is done to prevent black people from having access to the kernel. If it weren't for the fact that racism is so blatantly evil I would be impressed by the efforts these Open Sourcers have invested in keeping their little hobby lilly white. It even appears that they hate the Japanese, as some of these self proclaimed hackers defaced a web site with anti-Japanese slogans. Hell, these people even go all the way to Africa (South Africa mind you, better known as White Africa) and the pictures prove that they don't even get close to a black person.

Of course, presenting overwhelming evidence such as this is a bit unfair without some attempt to determine why these Open Sourcers are so racist. Much of the evidence I have collected indicates that their views are so deeply held that they are seldom questioned by the new recruits. This, coupled with the robot-like groupthink that dominates the culture allows the racist mindset to continue to permeate the ranks. Indeed, the Open Source version of a Klan rally, OSDN (known to the world as Open Source Developer's Network, known to insiders as Open Source Denies Negroes) nearly stands up and shouts its racist views on its demographics page. It doesn't mention the black man one single time. Obviously, anyone involved with Open Source doesn't need to be told that the demographic is entirely white, it is a given.

I have a sneaking suspicion as to why their beliefs are so closely held: they are all terrible athletes.

Really. Much like the tragedy at Columbine High School, where two geeks went on a rampage to get back at 'jocks', these adult geeks still bear the emotional scars inflicted upon them due to their lack of athletic ability during their teen years. As African-Americans are well known for their athletic skills, they are an obvious target for the Open Source geeks. As we all know, sports builds character, thus it follows that the lack of sports destroys character. These geeks, locked away in their rooms, munching on stale pizza and Fritos, engage in no character building activities. Further, they interact only with computers and never develop the level of social skill that allows normal people to handle relationships with persons of color.

Contrasted with the closed source, non-geeky software house Microsoft, Open Source has a long, long way to go.

Re:Open Source? More Like Openly Racist (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175612)

racism rules! I'm serious, a little racism never hurt anyone. It's good for you... plus racism is true most of the time.

Re:Open Source? More Like Openly Racist (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175623)

Oh shutup you cotton-picker. Go back to the fields to pick the cotton that'll eventually make my "got root?" shirt!

Hehehe...j/k. Actually, I'm sure there are plenty non-White open source activists out there.

Re:Open Source? More Like Openly Racist (1, Offtopic)

Sj0 (472011) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175717)

Oh man. That's funny. You either have a fantastic sense of humor or a terrible hatred for the world. :)

Re:Open Source? More Like Openly Racist (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175754)

I'm fairly certain you're only the fifth fatal accident I've ever witnessed but it's still difficult to look away.

Re:Open Source? More Like Openly Racist (0)

groke (160115) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175757)

mmmmmm.... stale pizza.....

besides, I've got character! hell, he's almost level 12!

COME ON!! MOD THIS UP FUNNY! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175884)

The fact that this hilarious post was modded down by mindless drones of slashdot only proves how blind and stupid all the moderators are.

This is far more funny than ANY post I have EVER seen moderated as "Funny".

I guess to get a funny score you have to make fun of Microsoft.

Well, some of us appreciate your work, Sir, it is one hell of a post!!

Babel (0, Offtopic)

Da Penguin (122065) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175605)

The site is down, just 3 comments here. I really want to say something smart to raise my karma, but I just can't think of anything. Didn't think that ams could be slashdotted like that (even crashed my internet explorer, but wasn't nowadays?)

I hope it comes back up. As I'm involved in mathematics, I have been using TeX a lot, and (after trying LaTeX) have basically started to use it for everything that comes up. It's a really nice system (WYSIWYM - What You See is What You Mean) and has finally allowed me to be free of MS (Multiple Sclerosis?) Office. I highly suggest it since (after a bit of learning) you can put together really professional looking documents and automagically raise your marks, with much less effort. It even works on the command-line for people like me whose favourite internet program is telnet (for mail, http, irc...).

And now it looks like the pdf file is finally loaded, so I might actually be able to make an intelligent comment soon!

Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good,
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.
-- Ogden Nash

Re:Babel (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175698)

why it got /.ed - large pdf file w/ b&w pics

why it crashed ie - good question. hasnt crashed mine.

The technology behind TeX (5, Insightful)

Above (100351) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175610)

TeX has always facinated me. Let's face it, it works. I believe there is more bugs than he is writing checks for, but that said they are seldom encountered by mere mortals. If you do normal stuff it just works.

There is nothing else like it. No commercial product, no non-commercial product. If you want to typeset mathematics, it's the only game in town. If you want to typeset anything, it's one of very few games in town. It's open source. It's multi-platform. It has a huge following, but gets no press.

It really is an amazing thing, and something that every open source project should aspire to....

Biggest problem with TeX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175677)

and the reason it isn't in wider use:

How do you pronounce it?

Re:Biggest problem with TeX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175696)

TeX

Re:Biggest problem with TeX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175712)

Isn't the last letter the Greek "chi"? Here's how to prounounce it:

[ch], a sound which does not exist in English (but exists in Scottish, as in "loch"). [che] is pronounced as in Spanish "general". Phonetically, it is an unvoiced velar fricative.

So some of the possible way to pronounce "TeX" would be:

Tex (like Tex Ritter, the singing cowboy)
Tek
Te-Chi
Te-Fricking unvoiced velar fricatives.

Re:Biggest problem with TeX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175726)

The friction comes, of course, from the repressed state of the unvoiced velar. Velars are notoriously anal aggressive and are found to be frictive in most social situations. Sadly there's nothing for it. :(

Re:The technology behind TeX (1)

zook (34771) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175779)

EXERCISE 1.3
After you have mastered the material in this boo, what will you be: A TeXpert, or a TeXnician?

...And the answer?...

1.1. A TeXnician (underpaid); sometimes also called a TeXacker.

Re:The technology behind TeX (1)

zook (34771) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175789)

Of course, I miss the 1 and hit the 3. That's exercise 1.1, for those of you following along at home.

Re:The technology behind TeX (3, Insightful)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175785)

Let's not go too far now..Sure, it's a good product, and great for all the reasons you mention, but the only game in town (for mathematics or anything)? No, not really. Sure it's used a lot for university journals (papers etc), by students (engineers at my university HAVE to learn it, even if they only learn bold, center, etc), and even by some tech-oriented presses (some O'Reilly books--not all--use latex for at least some of their content..I'm not sure I've seen even an O'reilly book that uses tex and nothing else).

In the publishing field, there is quite a lot of software used before latex and from what I understand, it's looked down upon by many as being lower quality (though it seems these stigmas originated in years past...I have no idea if they are still justified)--and I don't mean in comparison to MS Word or WordPerfect. The publishing field still also largely uses Macs...and pre-OSX macs at that.

Re:The technology behind TeX (5, Interesting)

Papineau (527159) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175833)

In the publishing field, there is quite a lot of software used before latex

And LaTeX has been in use since 1986 IIRC. The current version (LaTeX2e) dates from 1994. I'm not sure the first PowerPC was commercialised at that time.

Not to mention that LaTeX is an extension of TeX, which is even older. The TeXbook has been published in 1984, which was after the release of the program itself.

If you have some name of program used before LaTeX and still in use, could you name them for us? Thank you!

Re:The technology behind TeX (5, Informative)

Lictor (535015) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175846)

>but the only game in town (for mathematics or anything)? No, not really.

I can't speak for general publishing, but for serious math publishing I have to respectfully disagree. If you have ever even remotely come into contact with serious mathematics you will be aware that Springer-Verlag (http://www.springer.de/) is one of the major publishers.

I have never prepared a manuscript for a Springer book or journal that was *not* in TeX format.

Could you give me some examples of the "quite a lot of software used before latex"? Specifically what "math" publishers use standards other than TeX... I'd truly be interested because I've never come across one.

As a side note, please be careful not to confuse LaTeX with TeX. LaTeX (which I admit to using most of the time) is kind of like "TeX for dummies". (Thats not entirely fair... LaTeX makes 95% of what I want to do easier and faster than plain TeX... but for that last 5%, LaTeX makes me want to punch things. LaTeX=easy, TeX=flexible).

Re:The technology behind TeX (3, Funny)

ricardo2c (561838) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175901)

Thats not entirely fair... LaTeX makes 95% of what I want to do easier and faster than plain TeX... but for that last 5%, LaTeX makes me want to punch things. LaTeX=easy, TeX=flexible).

This should be:
LaTeX = Flexible... it stretches well, at least!

A check? (-1)

Seor Obvious (549685) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175627)

I think Linux Torvalds should send me a check every time I get an error message in Linux.

Of course, to save money, X under Linux uses the tried and true strategy of inexplicably freezing, thereby saving money from error message checks.

Mirror (4, Informative)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175628)

Re:Mirror (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175720)

Thanks!

interview (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175629)














So I made up my own Knuth interview All Questions Answered Donald Knuth 318 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3 On October 5, 2001, at the Technische Universität München, Donald Knuth presented a lecture entitled "All Questions Answered". The lecture drew an audience of around 350 people. This article contains the text of the lecture, edited by Notices senior writer and deputy editor Allyn Jackson. Originally trained as a mathematician, Donald Knuth is renowned for his research in computer science, especially the analysis of algorithms. He is a prolific author, with 160 entries in MathSciNet. Among his many books is the three-volume series The Art of Computer Programming [TAOCP], for which he received the AMS Steele Prize for Exposition in 1986. The citation for the prize stated that TAOCP "has made as great a contribution to the teaching of mathematics for the present generation of students as any book in mathematics proper in recent decades." The long awaited fourth volume is in preparation and some parts are available through Knuth's website, http://www-cs-faculty. stanford.edu/~knuth/. Knuth is the creator of the TEX and METAFONT languages for computer typesetting, which have revolutionized the preparation and distribution of technical documents in many fields, including mathematics. In 1978 he presented the AMS Gibbs Lecture entitled "Mathematical Typography". The lecture was subsequently published in the Bulletin of the AMS [MT]. Knuth earned his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1963 from the California Institute of Technology under the direction of Marshall Hall. He has received the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (1974), the National Medal of Science (1979), the Adelsköld Medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1994), the Harvey Prize from the Technion of Israel (1995), the John von Neumann Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (1995), and the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation (1996). Since 1968 Knuth has been on the faculty of Stanford University, where he currently holds the title of Professor Emeritus of The Art of Computer Programming. --Allyn Jackson Knuth: In every class that I taught at Stanford, the last day was devoted to "all questions answered". The students didn't have to come to class if they didn't want to, but if they did, they could ask any question on any subject except religion or politics or the final exam. I got the idea from Richard Feynman, who did the same thing in his classes at Caltech, and it was always interesting to see what the students really wanted to know. Today I'll answer any question on any subject. Do we allow religion or politics? I don't know. But there is no final exam to worry about. I'll try to answer without taking too much time so that we can get a lot of questions in. So, who wants to ask the first question?... Well, if there are no questions...[Knuth makes as if to leave.] Question: There was a special report to the American president, the PITAC report [PITAC], containing some recommendations. I am wondering whether you would be willing to comment on the priorities outlined in these recommendations: better software engineering, building a teraflop MARCH 2002 NOTICES OF THE AMS 319 computer, improvements in the Internet including higher security and higher bandwidth, and the socio-economic impacts of managing information available via computer networks. Knuth: I think that's a brilliant solution of the problem of what to present to a president. But in fact what I would like to see is thousands of computer scientists let loose to do whatever they want. That's what really advances the field. From my experience writing The Art of Computer Programming, if you asked me any year what was the most important thing that happened in computer science that year, I probably would have no answer for the question, but over five years' time the whole field changes. Computer science is a tremendous collaboration of people from all over the world adding little bricks to a massive wall. The individual bricks are what make it work, and not the milestones. Next question? Question: Mathematicians say that God has the "Book of Proofs", where all the most aesthetic proofs are written. Can you recommend some algorithms for the "Book of Algorithms"? Knuth: That's a nice question. It was Paul Erdos who promulgated the idea that God has a book containing the best mathematical proofs, and I guess my friend Günter Ziegler in Berlin has recently written about it [PFB]. I remember that mathematicians were telling me in the 1960s that they would recognize computer science as a mature discipline when it had 1,000 deep algorithms. I think we've probably reached 500. There are certainly lots of algorithms that I think have to be considered absolutely beautiful and immortal, in some sense. Two examples are the Euclid algorithm and a corresponding one that works in binary notation and that may have been developed independently in China, almost as early as Euclid's algorithm was invented in Greece. In my books I am mostly concerned with the algorithms that are classical and that have been around for a long time. But still, every year we find brand new ideas that I think are going to remain forever. Question: Do you have thoughts on quantum computing? Knuth: Yes, but I don't know a great deal about it. It's quite a different paradigm from what I'm used to. It has lots of things in common with the kind of computing I know, but it's also quite mysterious in that you have to get all the answers at the end; you don't make a test and then have that determine what you do next. A lot of you have seen the movie Lola rennt (called Run Lola Run in the U.S.), in which the plot is played out three different times, with the outcome taking three different branches. Quantum computing is something like that: The world goes into many different branches, and we're interested in the one where the outcome is the nicest. I'm good at nonquantum computing myself, so it's quite possible that if quantum computing takes over, I won't be able to do the new stuff. My life's work is with computers not because I'm interested so much in computation, but because I happen to be good at this kind of computing. Fortunately for me, I found that the thing I could do well was interesting to other people. I didn't develop an ability to think about algorithms because I wanted to help people solve problems. Somehow, by the time I was a teenager, I had a peculiar way of thinking that made me good at programming. But I might not be good at quantum programming. It seems to be a different world from my own. I'll take a question from the back. Question: I am working in theorem proving, and one of the most important papers is your paper "Simple word problems in universal algebra" [KB] from 1970, written with P. B. Bendix. I have two questions. The first is, do you still follow this area and what do you think of it? And the second is, who is and what became of P. B. Bendix? Knuth: This work was published in 1970, but I actually did it in 1967 while I was at Caltech. It was a simple idea, but fortunately it's turned out to be very widely applicable. The idea is to take a set of mathematical axioms and find all the implications of those axioms. If I have a certain set of axioms and you have a possible theorem, you ask, does this theorem follow from those axioms or not? I called my paper "Simple word problems in universal algebra", and I said a problem was "simple" if my method could handle it. Now people have extended the method quite a lot, so that a lot more problems are "simple". I think their work is beautiful. The year 1967 was the most dramatic year of my life by far. I had no time for research. I had two children less than two years old; I had been scheduled to be a lecturer for ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) for three weeks; I had NON SEQUITUR © 2001 Wiley Miller. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 320 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3 to give lectures in a NATO summer school in Copenhagen; I had to speak in a conference at Oxford; and so on. And I was getting the page proofs for The Art of Computer Programming, of which the first volume was being published in 1968. All of this was in addition to the classes I was teaching, and an attack of ulcers that put me in the hospital, and being an editor for twelve journals. That year I thought of two little ideas. One has become known as the Knuth-Bendix algorithm; the other one is known as attribute grammars [AG]. That was the most creative year of my life, and it was also the most hectic. You asked about Peter Bendix. He was a sophomore in a class I taught at Caltech, "Introduction to Algebra". Every student was supposed to do a class project, and Peter did his term paper on the implementation of the algorithm. He was a physics major. This was the time of the Vietnam War, and he became an objector. He went to Canada and worked as a high school teacher for about five years and later got a degree in physics. I found he was living near Stanford a couple of years ago, so I called him up and found out that he has had a fairly happy life in recent years. In the 1960s, if I wrote a joint paper with my advisor Marshall Hall, it meant that he did the theory and I did the programming. But if I wrote a paper with anybody else, it meant that I did the theory and the other person did the programming. So Pete Bendix was a good programmer who implemented the method. Question: It seems to me it's easier to revise a book than the huge software programs we see day to day. How can we apply theory to improve software? Knuth: Certainly errors in software are more difficult to fix than errors in books. In fact, my main conclusion after spending ten years of my life working on the TEX project is that software is hard. It's harder than anything else I've ever had to do. While I was working on the TEX program, I was unable to do full-time teaching. Although I love teaching, I had to take a year off from it because there was just too much to keep in my head at one time. Writing a book is a little more difficult than writing a technical paper, but writing software is a lot more difficult than writing a book. In my books I offer rewards for the first person who finds any particular error, and I must say that I've written more checks to people in Germany than in any other country in the world. I get letters from all over, but my German readers are the best nitpickers that I've ever had! In software I similarly pay for errors in the TEX and METAFONT programs. The reward was doubling every year: It started out at $2.56, then it went to $5.12, and so on, until it reached $327.68, at which time I stopped doubling. There has been no error reported in TEX since 1994 or 1995, although there is a rumor that somebody has recently found one. I'm going to have to look at it again in a year or two. I do everything in batch mode, by the way. I am going to look again at possible errors in TEX in, say, the year 2003. I think letting users know that you welcome reports of errors is one important technique that could be used in the software industry. I think Microsoft should say, "You'll get a check from Bill Gates every time you find an error." Question: What importance do you give to the design of efficient algorithms, and what emphasis do you suggest giving this area in the future? Knuth: I think the design of efficient algorithms is somehow the core of computer science. It's at the center of our field. Computers are incredibly fast now compared to what they were before, so for many problems there is no need to have an efficient algorithm. I can write programs that are in some sense extremely inefficient, but if it's only going to take one second to get the answer, who cares? Still, some things we have to do millions or billions of times, and just knowing that the number of times is finite doesn't tell us that we can handle it. So the number of problems that are in need of efficient algorithms is huge. For example, many problems are NP complete, and NP complete is just a small level of complexity. Therefore I see an almost infinite horizon for the need for efficient algorithms. And that makes me happy because those are the kinds of problems I like the best. MARCH 2002 NOTICES OF THE AMS 321 Question: You have a big interest in puzzles, including the "Tower of Hanoi" puzzle on more than 3 pegs. I won't ask a harder question--what is the shortest solution?--because I am not sure everyone knows this puzzle. But I will ask a more philosophical question: Is it possible to show this can never be solved? Knuth: Do people know the "Tower of Hanoi" problem? You have 3 pegs, and you have disks of different sizes. You're supposed to transfer the disks from one peg to another, and the disks have to be sorted on each peg so that the biggest is always on the bottom. You can move only one disk at a time. Henry Dudeney invented the idea of generalizing this puzzle to more than 3 pegs, and the task of finding the shortest solution to the 4-peg problem has been an open question for more than a hundred years. The 3-peg problem is very simple; we teach it to freshmen. But take another, more famous problem, the Goldbach conjecture in mathematics: Every even integer is the sum of two odd primes. Now, I think that's a problem that's never going to be solved. I think it might not even have a proof. It might be one of the unprovable theorems that Gödel showed exist. In fact, we now know that in some sense almost all correct statements about mathematics are unprovable. Goldbach's conjecture is just, sort of, true because it can't be false. There are so many ways to represent an even number as the sum of two odd numbers, that as the numbers grow the number of representations grows bigger and bigger. Take a 101010-digit even number, and imagine how many ways there are to write that as the sum of two odd integers. For an n-bit odd number, the chances are proportional to 1/n that it's prime. How are all of those pairs of odd numbers going to be nonprime? It just can't happen. But it doesn't follow that you'll find a proof, because the definition of primality is multiplicative, while Goldbach's conjecture pertains to an additive property. So it might very well be that the conjecture happens to be true, but there is no rigorous way to prove it. In the case of the 4-peg "Tower of Hanoi", there are many, many ways to achieve what we think is the minimum number of moves, but we have no good way to characterize all those solutions. So that's why I personally came to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to solve it, and I stopped working on it in 1972. But I spent a solid week working on it pretty hard. Question: What are the five most important problems in computer science? Knuth: I don't like this "top ten" business. It's the bottom ten that I like. I think you've got to go for the little things, the stones that make up the wall. Question: You spent a lot of time on computer typesetting. What are your reflections on the impact of this work? Knuth: I am extremely happy that my work was in the public domain and made it possible for people on all platforms to communicate with each other via the Internet. Especially now I'm thrilled by some recent projects. Two weeks ago I heard a great lecture by Bernd Wegner from the Technical University of Berlin about the plans for online journals by the European Mathematical Society. Such things would simply have been impossible without the open source software that came out of my work. So I'm extremely delighted this is helping to advance science. I'm happy to see many books that look pretty good. Before I started my work, books on mathematics were looking worse and worse from year to year. It took a lot of skilled handwork to do it in the old system. The people who could do that were dying out, and high priority did not go to mathematical books. I never expected that TEX would take over the entire world of publishing. I'm not a very competitive person, and I did not want to take jobs away from anybody who was doing another way of printing. But I found that nobody wanted to do mathematical publishing well, so math was something I could improve without getting anybody upset about me being an upstart. The downside is that I'm too sensitive to things now. I can't go to a restaurant and order food 322 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3 because I keep looking at the fonts on the menu. Five minutes later I realize that it's also talking about food. If I had never thought about computer typesetting, I might have had a happier life in some ways. Question: Can you give us an outline for computer science, some milestones for the next ten or twenty years? Knuth: You're asking for milestones again. There is a lot of interest in applications to biology because so many things have opened up in that domain, with chances to cure diseases. The fact that human beings are based on a discrete code means that people like you and me, who are good at discrete problems, are able to do relevant work for this area. The problems are very difficult and challenging, and that's why I foresee an important future there. But in all aspects of our field, I really don't see any slowing down. Every time I think I've discovered something interesting, I look on the Internet and find that somebody else has done it too. So we have a field that at the moment still seems to be like a boiling kettle, where you can't keep the lid on. In the field of biology, I think we can confidently predict that it's going to have rich problems to solve for at least 500 years. I can't make that claim for computer science. Question: What is the connection between mathematics and computer programming viewed as an art? Knuth: Art is Kunst. The American movie Artificial Intelligence is called Kunstlicher Intelligenz in Germany--that is, artificial as well as artistic. I think of programming with beauty in mind, as being something elegant, something that you can be proud of for the way it fits together. Mathematics in the same way has elegance. Both fields, computing and mathematics, are different from other sciences because they are artificial; they are not in nature. They're totally under our own control. We make up the axioms, and when we solve a problem, we can prove that we've solved it. No astronomer will ever know whether his theories of astronomy are correct. You can't go up to the sun and measure it. So these are my first thoughts on that connection. But there is a difference between mathematics and computer programming, and sometimes I can feel when I'm putting on one hat or the other. Some parts of me like mathematics, and some parts of me like emacs hacking. I think they go together okay, but I don't see that they're the same paradigm. Question: What is the relationship between God and computers? Knuth: In one of my books, 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated [BTI], I used random sampling to study sixty different verses of the Bible and what people from all different religious persuasions and different centuries have said about those verses. I did the study at first on my own, and then I found it was interesting enough that I ought to make a book about it. I got sixty of the best artists in the world to illustrate the book, many of them in Germany. The artwork was exhibited twice in Germany, and in other countries around the world. It was also shown in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In that book I used methodology that computer scientists often use for understanding a complicated subject, to see if that method would give some insight into the Bible, which is a complicated subject. In the book, I don't give answers. I just say I think it's good that life should be an ongoing search. The journey is more important than the destination. Question: Do you know whether "P equals NP" has been proved? I heard a rumor that it has. Knuth: Which rumor did you hear? Question: One from Russia. Knuth: From Russia? That's new to me. Well, I don't think anybody has proved that P equals NP yet. But I know that Andy Yao has retired and hopes to solve the problem in the next five to ten years. He is inspired by Andrew Wiles, who MARCH 2002 NOTICES OF THE AMS 323 devoted several years to proving Fermat's Last Theorem. They're both Princeton people. Andy can do it if anybody can. Three or four years ago, there was a paper in a Chinese journal of computer science and technology by a professor who claimed he could solve an NP-hard problem in polynomial time. The problem was about cliques, and he had a very clever way to represent cliques. The method was supposedly polynomial time, but it actually took something like n12 steps, so you couldn't even check it when n equals 5. So it was very hard to see the bug in his proof. I went to Stanford and sat down with our graduate students, and we needed a couple of hours before we found the flaw. I wrote the author a letter pointing out the error, and he wrote back a couple of months later, saying, "No, no, there is no error." I decided not to pursue it any further. I had done my part. But I don't believe it's been solved. That's the most mind-boggling problem facing theoretical computer science, and maybe all of science at the moment. Question: What do you think of research in cryptographic algorithms? And what do you think of efforts by politicians today to put limits on cryptography research? Knuth: Certainly the whole area of cryptographic algorithms has been one of the most active and exciting areas in computer science for the past ten years, and many of the results are spectacular and beautiful. I can't claim that I'm good at that particular subject, though, because I can't think of sneaky attacks myself. But the key problem is, what about the abuse of secure methods of communication? I don't want criminals to use these methods to become better criminals. I'm a religious person, and I think that God knows all my secrets, so I always feel that whatever I'm thinking is public knowledge in some way. I come from this kind of background. I don't feel I have to encrypt everything I do. On the other hand, I would certainly feel quite differently if somebody started to use such openness against me, by stealing my bank accounts or whatever. So I am supportive of a high level of secrecy. But whether it should be impossible for the authorities to decode things even in criminal investigations, in extreme cases--there I tend to come down on the side of wanting to have some way to break some keys sometimes. Question: Will we have intelligent machines sometime in the future? Should we have them? Knuth: There have always been inflated estimates as to how soon we are going to have a machine that's intelligent. I still see no signs of getting around the central problem of understanding what is cognition, what it means to think. Neurologists are making better measurements than they ever have before, but we are still so far from finding an answer that I can't yet rank neuroscience as one of the most active fields of current work. Biology has been getting answers, with DNA and stem cells and so on. But with cognition we are still looking for the secret. Some very thought-provoking books came out a year or two ago, one by Hans Moravec [Mo], and one by Ray Kurzweil [Ku]. Both of them are saying that in twenty or thirty years we are going to have machines smarter than humans. Some people were worried about that. My attitude is, if that's true, more power to them. If they are smarter than us, so what? Then we can learn from them. But I see no signs that there are any breakthroughs around the corner. Two weeks ago in Greece I was at the inauguration of a new book by Christos Papadimitriou, who is chairman of computer science at Berkeley. He published a novel in the Greek language called The Smile of Turing [Pa]. I don't want to give away the story, but when it gets published in German or English, you'll find that it has a very nice discussion of artificial intelligence and the Turing test for intelligence. The most promising model of how the brain works that I've seen says that the brain is a dynamic genetic algorithm that operates all the time. As I 324 NOTICES OF THE AMS VOLUME 49, NUMBER 3 am talking to you now, your brains have a lot of competing theories about what I'm going to say. It's the survival of the fittest, a continual battle among the competing theories. Some come to the surface and actually enter your consciousness, but the others are all there. Some kind of mating of concepts might be going on in our heads all the time. This model seems to have the right properties to account for how we can do what we do with the relatively slow response time that our neurons have. But I am by no means an expert on this. Question: What is your thinking about software patents? There is a big discussion going on in Europe right now about whether software should be patentable. Knuth: I'm against patents on things that any student should be expected to discover. There have been an awful lot of software patents in the U.S. for ideas that are completely trivial, and that bothers me a lot. There is an organization that has worked for many years to make patents on all the remaining trivial ideas and then make these available to everyone. The way patenting had been going was threatening to make the software industry stand still. Algorithms are inherently mathematical things that should be as unpatentable as the value of . But for something nontrivial, something like the interior point method for linear programming, there's more justification for somebody getting a right to license the method for a short time, instead of keeping it a trade secret. That's the whole idea of patents; the word patent means "to make public". I was trained in the culture of mathematics, so I'm not used to charging people a penny every time they use a theorem I proved. But I charge somebody for the time I spend telling them which theorem to apply. It's okay to charge for services and customization and improvement, but don't make the algorithms themselves proprietary. There's an interesting issue, though. Could you possibly have a patent on a positive integer? It is not inconceivable that if we took a million of the greatest supercomputers today and set them going, they could compute a certain 300-digit constant that would solve any NP-hard problem by taking the GCD of this constant with an input number, or by some other funny combination. This integer would require massive amounts of computation time to find, and if you knew that integer, then you could do all kinds of useful things. Now, is that integer really discovered by man? Or is it something that is God given? When we start thinking of complexity issues, we have to change our viewpoint as to what is in nature and what is invented. Question: You have been writing checks to people who point out errors in your books. I have never heard of anyone cashing these checks. Do you know how much money you would be out of, if everyone suddenly cashed the checks? Knuth: There's one man who lives near Frankfurt who would probably have more than $1,000 if he cashed all the checks I've sent him. There's a man in Los Gatos, California, whom I've never met, who cashes a check for $2.56 about once a month, and that's been going on for some years now. Altogether I've written more than 2,000 checks over the years, and the average amount exceeds $8.00 per check. Even if everybody cashed their checks, it would still be more than worth it to me to know that my books are getting better. References [TAOCP] The Art of Computer Programming, by Donald E. Knuth. Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms (third edition, Addison-Wesley, 1997). Volume 2: Seminumerical Algorithms (third edition, Addison-Wesley, 1997). Volume 3: Sorting and Searching (second edition, Addison-Wesley, 1998). Volume 4: Combinatorial Algorithms (in preparation). [MT] Mathematical typography, by Donald E. Knuth. Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.) 1 (1979), no. 2, 337-372. Reprinted in Digital Typography (Stanford, California: CSLI Publications, 1998), pp. 19-65. [PITAC] President's information technology advisory committee. See http://www.itrd.gov/ac/. [PFB] Proofs from The Book, by Martin Aigner and Günter Ziegler. Second edition, Springer Verlag, 2001. [KB] Simple word problems in universal algebras, by Peter B. Bendix and Donald Knuth. Computational Problems in Abstract Algebra, J. Leech, ed. (Oxford: Pergamon, 1970), pp. 263-297. Reprinted in Automation of Reasoning, Jörg H. Siekmann and Graham Wrightson, eds. (Springer, 1983), pp. 342-376. [BTI] 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, by Donald E. Knuth. A-R Editions, Madison, Wisconsin, 1990. [AG] Semantics of context-free languages, by Donald E. Knuth. Mathematical Systems Theory 2 (1968), 127-145. See also The genesis of attribute grammars, in Lecture Notes in Computer Science 461 (1990), 1-12. [Pa] TO XAMOGELO TOY TOYRINGK (The Smile of Turing), by Christos Papadimitriou. Livani Publishers, Athens, Greece, 2001. [Ku] The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, by Ray Kurzweil. Penguin USA, 2000. [Mo] Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, by Hans P. Moravec. Oxford University Press, 2000. Photographs used in this article are courtesy of Andreas Jung, Technische Universität München.

A question no one will answer? (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175630)

Why the HELL am I getting spammed at my address that I REGISTERED WITH SLASHDOT and gave to NO ONE ELSE!? You fucking monkeys sold it to the spammers!!

Re:A question no one will answer? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175639)

my penis hurts
will you fuck it up my ass for you?

Can't read the site... (0, Troll)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175636)

a) because it's slashdotted
b) because the link is a pdf and I don't feel like switching over to my Microsoft system to read it. Since Acrobat is closed source, and the only free PDF readers are shit, I have no way to easily read his document.

Now, I've read the first three volumes of TAOCP, and I have all the respect in the world for Knuth. He's a brilliant guy.

However, I think he has an counter-productive obsession with typesetting. TeX is great for formulas, and PDF is great for sending stuff to a print shop... but most of us just need to communicate plain english characters (whether prose or code) efficiently an effectively, in a manner that work on all platforms. Plain ASCII works best for me. HTML is pushing it.

acrobat works fine in linux (3, Informative)

spotter (5662) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175653)

Acrobat works fine in linux. I'm currently using the plugin in galeon and it displays fine. No need to use windows.

Here's another mirror
http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~spotter/fea-kn uth.pdf

Re:acrobat works fine in linux (1)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175661)

Acrobat works fine in linux.

if you happen to be running one of the most popular architectures, endorsed by Adobe.

Re:acrobat works fine in linux (1)

Bake (2609) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175680)

Well, then there's the PostScript viewer for KDE, it works pretty good too, with anti-aliasing and everything.

You'll swear your PDFs never looked this nice.

Re:Can't read the site... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175654)

because the link is a pdf and I don't feel like switching over to my Microsoft system to read it. Since Acrobat is closed source, and the only free PDF readers are shit, I have no way to easily read his document.
People like You, dear sir, are the very reason why trolls like myself exist on Slashdot.

Mirror here (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175641)

Computer Literacy Interview With Donald Knuth
By Dan Doernberg
December 7th, 1993


CLB: You have just-published books on both CWEB and the Stanford GraphBase, two areas of your own research. Let's start with CWEB, which integrates C and TeX to facilitate program documentation.

Knuth: The CWEB system is an add-on to C that makes programming better than any other method known in the world, by far. I simply have to be honest and say that it's the greatest thing that's there. The CWEB System of Structured Documentation is the definitive user manual and complete explanation, more than anybody really needs to know about CWEB.

CLB: You've said that CWEB gives an order of magnitude improvement in programmer productivity--- how so?

Knuth: Well, maybe not an order of magnitude, maybe only a factor of two. People who have used CWEB have noticed that they write better programs, that the programs are more portable, more easily debugged, more easily maintained... and they don't take as long to write.

CLB: Has CWEB been used just at Stanford, or in industry as well?

Knuth: It's being used around the world. We've had WEB, the original version (for Pascal) in a variety of systems, and then more and more people started getting infected by it. TeX was written in WEB. Silvio Levy did the conversion to CWEB in 1987. It was experimental for a long time, and now I'm just saying "The experiment worked!". CWEB is much better than WEB, because C is a much nicer language to work with for system programming and lots of other things. For anybody who really cares about programming, I have no idea why they would not prefer this to any other system.

CLB: Easy to use, runs fast, all that good stuff?

Knuth: Right, and it makes you happy after you finish writing a program!

CLB: Even if you write a bad program?!

Knuth:(Don's wife--Ed.) Almost... well... yeah! Jill will tell you, I come out of my office several times a week saying, "CWEB programming is such fun!" It's true, I just can't do enough of it.

The frame of mind that you're in when you're writing a CWEB program is that much better than the old attitude. You think of yourself as writing for a human being, explaining to a human being what a computer should do, instead of thinking of yourself as talking to the computer telling it what to do. You get your act together better when you're explaining it to another person. This approach helps even for a program that you're going to throw away after an hour. CWEB is a tool that I recommend using even if you're writing a program only for yourself, for your eyes only.

CLB: CWEB seems very close to the structured programming models of the 70s...

Knuth: Right, it's the next step. With structured programming, there were some people saying program top-down, and others saying program bottom-up. With WEB/CWEB you can do parts of it bottom-up and parts of it top-down, whatever you feel is right for the program, or for the part of the program you're in.

The structured programming methodology was great... but the way to really understand it is not as a cookbook of rules, but as a way to understand the relation between high-level and low-level views of a program. The way you do that is by viewing the program as a web, as a bunch of small pieces that are simple in themselves and that have simple connections to other small pieces. This way of understanding the complex whole in terms of simple small parts, and the connections between those parts, is supported by the WEB scheme.

You can create the parts in whatever order is psychologically best for you. Sometimes you can create them from the bottom up. Bottom-up means that you know somehow that you probably need a subroutine that will do something, so you write it now while you're ready, while you're psyched for it. With this bottom- up programming, your pencil gets more powerful every page, because on page nine you've developed more tools that you can use on page ten... your pencil is stronger.

With top-down programming you start at the beginning and say "I'm going to do this first and then this, and then this"... but then you have to spell out what those are--- you can wind up gasping for breath a hundred pages later when you finally figure out how you're actually going to do those things!

Top-down programming tends to look very nice for the first few pages and then it becomes a little hard to keep the threads going. Bottom-up programming also tends to look nice for a while, your pencil is more powerful, but that means you can also do more tricky stuff. If you mix the two in a good psychological way, then it works, even at the end.

(TeX: The Program--Ed.) I did this with TeX, a very large program: 500+ pages of code in the book . Throughout that entire program, all those lines of code, there was always one thing that had to be the next thing I did. I didn't really have much choice; each step was based on what I'd done so far. No methodology would teach me how to write a piece of software like that, if I followed it rigorously. But if I imagined myself explaining the program to a good competent programmer, all that this long program was, then there was just this one natural way to do it. The order in which the code appears in the book is the order in which I wrote it.

CLB: To what extent did you or do you follow the "holy war" debates about software engineering methodologies?

Knuth: I didn't follow every nuance of that work, but I was aware of the dominant ideas. I didn't know what the CASE tools were until many years after other people did. I think it was bad to make too much of a religion out of it. There was a lot of "political correctness" about how to program in those days.

There was a similar thing in the mathematics community in the 1920's, where people were saying that good mathematicians would have to prove theorems a certain way. You weren't supposed to use certain tools of proof that some people thought might lead you into paradoxes. It was like trying to do mathematics with a hand tied behind your back. Similarly, politically correct structured programming was keeping people from getting good programs done, when they knew perfectly well what they were doing, just because their approach didn't happen to fit with the current idea of correctness. Computer science is like every other field; it goes in waves of fashion. Some of the trends are good, but almost every good idea seems to get used in a different way than it should have been.

For example, take random number generators. People had no theory about how to generate random numbers for fifteen years. Then somebody proved one small result about a particular method: if you averaged the serial correlation over an entire period of a billion numbers, the average would be zero, which was good. All of a sudden, everybody switched over, they took out all their old routines and converted to this new method, because it was the only one that had any theory to it whatsoever. It turned out this was a horrible random number generator; the theory had not noticed that the average over the first half was +1 and over the second half was -1! All through history, people have taken ideas and misunderstood the limitations of them.

CLB: Which method was this?

Knuth: Well, it was called RANDU in most subroutine libraries. It's been pretty well purged by now; still, if anybody sees a subroutine named RANDU, get rid of it!

CLB: Did you integrate WEB with C because so many programmers today are using it, or do you personally like C and write with it?

Knuth: I think C has a lot of features that are very important. The way C handles pointers, for example, was a brilliant innovation; it solved a lot of problems that we had before in data structuring and made the programs look good afterwards. C isn't the perfect language, no language is, but I think it has a lot of virtues, and you can avoid the parts you don't like. I do like C as a language, especially because it blends in with the operating system (if you're using UNIX, for example).

All through my life, I've always used the programming language that blended best with the debugging system and operating system that I'm using. If I had a better debugger for language X, and if X went well with the operating system, I would be using that.

An extreme case occurred one year I worked in a lab where the operating system had been designed by Ned Irons. The system was for one of Cray's early machines, and Irons had also written a compiler language called IMP. IMP had a lot of horrible features. One, it was an extensible language, and everybody in the lab would keep extending it. A program that worked on Monday wouldn't work on Tuesday, and the first thing that you'd do if your program failed was to check whether the compiled code was OK. The second thing about IMP was that it was an extremely terse language. For example, where in PASCAL you would say "IF X > 0 THEN...", in IMP you say "X+=>". In other words, your program was very short. You felt like you were writing elegant programs, because there were only a few characters, but you couldn't read them the next day! Being very terse meant that you couldn't fathom this bunch of marks on the page...

CLB: I realize your current emphasis is on "literate programming", but were you ever whatsoever attracted to APL as a math-oriented language?

Knuth: That's another story. APL is for people who have problems to solve and don't care too much about efficiency; they want a nice elegant way to state the solution to their problem, but the solution that they come up with is not necessarily anything that a computer has an easy job doing. It's a problem specification language, but not a system programming language... there is an APL-WEB.

But I want to say more about IMP. The third thing against it was, if you made a mistake, the compiler would either get into an infinite loop, or it would stop on your first error and say "ERROR ERROR ERROR" and quit; you would have to figure out what the mistake was! It was not a great language or compiler.

However... it was still my language of choice, because it fit that operating system perfectly. The arrays would be named in a way that you could easily see in the debugger, and you could know where the storage was being allocated, you knew what was going on, and you could actually get your program running reliably, because IMP blended with the operating system. You couldn't do that with any of the other languages. You might be writing with a better language, but you would get your work done a couple of weeks later, instead of getting answers. I used IMP.

CLB: Was IMP being used at Stanford?

Knuth: It was at a research lab in Princeton. A year before I came to Stanford, I worked there on a classified cryptanalysis research project.

CLB: Please tell us about your other new book, The Stanford GraphBase.

Knuth: The GraphBase book is for two kinds of people. It has a research purpose; the people who are working on the study of new algorithms for combinatorial problems need a standard set of test data on which to compete with each other, and for benchmarks. As I was preparing Volume IV of The Art of Computer Programming, I decided that I would make all the examples and data that I'm using in that book available to everyone. There was a need for some standard benchmarks, and everything should be well arranged so that it is easy to use in thousands of ways. So... I now have a collection of thousands of standard data sets; anyone in Poland can have exactly the same data as anyone in California or China. It's very portable, and can be downloaded from the Internet.

The second purpose of the GraphBase hook is that it is an example of CWEB programming--- it's actually 32 examples of CWEB programming. They're short programs that illustrate the programming style that I prefer. The examples are like little essays, little short stories of computer programs, that are perhaps fun to read.

CLB: What is your current hardware and software environment?

Knuth: I use CWEB for my programming. I use the Emacs editor very heavily, and I use a great high-level language called METAPOST for drawing technical illustrations. This is a new language by John Hobby that is going to be released soon, I think. It's based on METAFONT. 75% of the code is mine from METAFONT, but it's fixed up so that it generates PostScript. I love it.

I also use Mathematica. The people at Maple are trying to convince me to switch over to Maple, another excellent system. At the moment, I like Mathematica because you don't have to type your multiplication signs; you can say "2X" instead of "2*X". Also, the Mathematica manual is exceptionally good.

CLB: You like Wolfram's writing style?

Knuth: Especially the index... you can easily find your way around that book. With the first edition, when I had a new problem to solve, I would look in the index and it would almost always refer me to the right page. There were three or four times when the word I tried wasn't there, and I penciled in where to look when I had this problem next time. In the second edition those had all been fixed, and I had not reported them to anybody.

CLB: Let me get your quick impressions on a few research areas, and whether you've read or done any work in them. The first is genetic algorithms. How do you feel about the general concept, that instead of the human determining the algorithm, you somewhat let the machine have at it...

Knuth: I plan to do a lot of experimenting on this as I get into Volume IV. There's genetic breeding, there's simulated annealing, there are other strategies that people have developed. I have a method in The Stanford GraphBase book that I call "stratified greed". These techniques are all competing for the same kind of problems, and I want to try a lot of examples; some of them might work better on one than the other, and I want to get a feel for this. Certain problems are naturals for neural nets... genetic algorithms are likely to do well on tasks related to language recognition, and people say also like predicting the stock market or something like that. Somehow the closer a problem is to nature, the more you expect the genetic algorithm to work, while the closer it is to number theory or something artificial, the more you expect some other kind of approach will help. It's hard to understand the way these methods scale up; on a small problem they might do terrifically, and then they might break down completely just when the problem gets a little bit bigger... or it might go the other way.

CLB: It sounds like you have several years of disciplined testing with your data sets ahead of you.

Knuth: The Stanford GraphBase gives me an unlimited supply of problems that I and other people can do. I read what other people have claimed about their methods, but I also try them all myself. The original work I do in The Art of Computer Programming is to take the methods of two different authors and analyze method A from the standpoint of author B, and method B from the standpoint of author A. They have only given their sides of it, so I try to fill in ....

CLB: What about object-oriented programming? Is it just a current buzzword, or does this approach appeal to you?

Knuth: I've always thought of programming in that way, but I haven't used languages that help enforce the discipline; I've always enforced the discipline myself in other languages. Programming languages can now catch you if you make a mistake, and they make it easier for you to hide information from one part of the program to another. In my own programs, with older languages, I wouldn't use what I wasn't supposed to use; I would have to discipline myself to follow these rules. I could, so I did. There weren't programs I couldn't write... but the new tools do help.

The problem that I have with them today is that... C++ is too complicated. At the moment, it's impossible for me to write portable code that I believe would work on lots of different systems, unless I avoid all exotic features. Whenever the C++ language designers had two competing ideas as to how they should solve some problem, they said "OK, we'll do them both". So the language is too baroque for my taste. But each user of C++ has a favorite subset, and that's fine. CWEB fully supports C++ as well as C.

CLB: What are your thoughts about chaos theory, fractals, those areas? Their indeterminateness seems a little discordant with the domains you've focused on in the past.

Knuth: I did some early work with fractals and so on, and I think it's a great new abstraction. People can build models that they wouldn't have thought of building before, that really match a lot of things in nature that have this character of looking the same when you change the scale. You know, if you magnify the coastline, it still looks like a coastline, and a lot of other things have this property. Nature has recursive algorithms that it uses to generate clouds and Swiss cheese and things like that. So now we have mathematical techniques for understanding such processes that go beyond the kind of differential equations that people used to have in previous centuries. Now we have a brand new tool to work with, but I'm not very intuitive about such methods. I know the limitations of my own intuition; I can solve some problems well, but I know other people are able to see something right away which takes me a long time... It's not my cup of tea.

CLB: To what extent have you ever followed developments in artificial intelligence? The third program you ever wrote was a tic-tac-toe program that learned from its errors, and Stanford has been one of the leading institutions for AI research...

Knuth: Well, AI interacts a lot with Volume IV; AI researchers use the combinatorial techniques that I'm studying, so there is a lot of literature there that is quite relevant. My job is to compare the AI literature with what came out of the electrical engineering community, and other disciplines; each community has had a slightly different way of approaching the problems. I'm trying to read these things and take out the jargon and unify the ideas. The hardest applications and most challenging problems, throughout many years of computer history, have been in artificial intelligence--- AI has been the most fruitful source of techniques in computer science. It led to many important advances, like data structures and list processing... artificial intelligence has been a great stimulation. Many of the best paradigms for debugging and for getting software going, all of the symbolic algebra systems that were built, early studies of computer graphics and computer vision, etc., all had very strong roots in artificial intelligence.

CLB: So you're not one of those who deprecates what was done in that area...

Knuth: No, no. What happened is that a lot of people believed that AI was going to be the panacea. It's like some company makes only a 15% profit, when the analysts were predicting 18%, and the stock drops. It was just the clash of expectations, to have inflated ideas that one paradigm would solve everything. It's probably true with all of the things that are flashy now; people will realize that they aren't the total answer. A lot of problems are so hard that we're never going to find a real great solution to them. People are disappointed when they don't find the Fountain of Youth...

CLB: If you were a soon-to-graduate college senior or Ph.D. and you didn't have any "baggage", what kind of research would you want to do? Or would you even choose research again?

Knuth: I think the most exciting computer research now is partly in robotics, and partly in applications to biochemistry. Robotics, for example, that's terrific. Making devices that actually move around and communicate with each other. Stanford has a big robotics lab now, and our plan is for a new building that will have a hundred robots walking the corridors, to stimulate the students. It'll be two or three years until we move in to the building. Just seeing robots there, you'll think of neat projects. These projects also suggest a lot of good mathematical and theoretical questions. And high level graphical tools, there's a tremendous amount of great stuff in that area too. Yeah, I'd love to do that... only one life, you know, but...

CLB: Why do you mention biochemistry?

Knuth: There's millions and millions of unsolved problems. Biology is so digital, and incredibly complicated, but incredibly useful. The trouble with biology is that, if you have to work as a biologist, it's boring. Your experiments take you three years and then, one night, the electricity goes off and all the things die! You start over. In computers we can create our own worlds. Biologists deserve a lot of credit for being able to slug it through.

It is hard for me to say confidently that, after fifty more years of explosive growth of computer science, there will still be a lot of fascinating unsolved problems at peoples' fingertips, that it won't be pretty much working on refinements of well-explored things. Maybe all of the simple stuff and the really great stuff has been discovered. It may not be true, but I can't predict an unending growth. I can't be as confident about computer science as I can about biology. Biology easily has 500 years of exciting problems to work on, it's at that level.

CLB: Use of the Internet is exploding right now, with everyone getting on...

Knuth: Some day we are going to try to figure out who is paying for it!

CLB: Do you currently use it? I know you did in the past.

Knuth: I spent fifteen years using electronic mail on the ARPANET and the Internet. Then, in January 1990, I stopped, because it was taking up too much of my time to sift through garbage. I don't have an email address. People trying to write me unsolicited email messages get a polite note saying "Professor Knuth has discontinued reading electronic mail; you can write to him at such and such an address."

It's impossible to shut email off! You send a message to somebody, and they send it back saying "Thank you", and you say "OK, thanks for thanking me..."

Email is wonderful for some people, absolutely necessary for their job, and they can do their work better. I like to say that for people whose role is to be on top of things, electronic mail is great. But my role is to be on the bottom of things. I look at ideas and think about them carefully and try to write them up... I move slowly through things that people have done and try to organize the material. But I don't know what is happening this month.

So now I don't read electronic mail, but I do use it occasionally. Say I'm taking a trip to Israel and I've got to make last minute arrangements. When I visit another university or research center for a few days, I have to send email from there. I've learned how to use the email facilities in Emacs, but I don't want to get good at it.

CLB: You have many interests outside of computing and mathematics--- music, religion, writing. Is music a creative outlet for you, a means of recreation, or a spiritual outlet?

Knuth: At the moment it's recreational. I like to have friends come to the house and play four-hands piano music. If I could do it every week, I would. I hope to live long enough so that after I've finished my life's work on The Art of Computer Programming, I might compose some music. Just a dream... it might be lousy music, of course.

CLB: You have written some compositions already, haven't you?

Knuth: Yeah, but it was mostly arrangements of other people's themes. I did write a short musical comedy when I was in college called "Nebbishland". Remember how Nebbishes were all the rage in the late 50s? "Nebbishland" was only about a ten minute skit, but it was all original music and lyrics.

CLB: Do you have the score somewhere in the attic?

Knuth: Yeah... no actually, I think I've lost it. I have only part of it. I'm hoping to come across it. I'm going through my files now and making a computer index of everything I have in the house.

CLB: Sounds like you don't have a paperless house!

Knuth: No!

CLB: Have you fiddled with MIDI computer technology for music, or have you purposely stayed away from it?

Knuth: I have fun with it. I bought a synthesizer for my son last Christmas, and I played it for hours and hours. I loved it. I had once played on a Kurzweil synthesizer years ago, at Marvin Minsky's house, a grand piano imitation. More recently, a friend went to England for three years and didn't want to bring his grand piano him, so he bought a Yamaha with six voices. When I visited his house, I had a tremendous time for three days going through all of the pieces I'd learned on the piano, playing them as if they were on vibraphone, or on a harpsichord, or some other voice. His "piano" has a harpsichord voice, but the keyboard is pressure-sensitive, so you can play loud and soft, which you can't do on a real harpsichord. These synthesizers are great.

CLB: When did you retire from Stanford?

Knuth: This year. I was on leave for two years until I could officially retire. Unofficially, I retired in 1990, on the same day I gave up email. I announced my plans three years earlier. I realized that my main goal in life was to finish The Art of Computer Programming; I had looked ahead and seen that it would take twenty years of work, full-time. If I continued doing everything else that I was doing, it was going to be forty or fifty years of work. I was just not getting anywhere, I was getting further and further behind. So I said, "Enough." Naturally, I hate to give up many of these other things that I like doing very much. But there are some things I didn't hate giving up, like writing proposals. I'm very happy to give up those!

CLB: You had to write proposals?? I assumed you were insulated from that somehow.

Knuth: You've got a great sense of humor! I don't have to do it anymore; but as a professor, in order to have decent equipment for my grad students, or to have visitors for active research programs, to publish reports, etc., I needed to find sponsors. It's a lot of work begging for money. The System Development Foundation said they'd give me a million dollars so that I could finish TeX and get back to The Art of Computer Programming.

CLB: Did you take them up on it?

Knuth: Sure, but it still took many, many years to finish TeX. I decided that the only way I would be able to finish The Art of Computer Programming is by going into full-time writing, and being a hermit, and telling people "No." It was hard to adjust the first couple of years. Now I feel real efficient, and the writing is going well. A nice steady state.

I give lectures at Stanford every month or so, when I'm in town, called "Computer Musings" . I plan to keep this up for twenty years, to give a talk on whatever I find interesting that month, on neat ideas I've picked up... I bring up problems that I can't solve, so that somebody will do it for me. Now, if I can't solve a problem in two hours, I've got to give it up and tell somebody else to work on it; otherwise, I'll get behind again. As I write the book, I've got to move from topic to topic, and my attention span is maybe three weeks on any particular topic.

CLB: You're best known for your writing and research; did you enjoy teaching and the interaction with students?

Knuth: We had the greatest students in the world. I can still get together with students through my lecture series, except I don't know their names anymore. That's a problem.

CLB: No student interns?

Knuth: Suppose I give a "Computer Musings" lecture, stating an open problem, and suppose that a student in the audience solves that problem, writes his thesis and finishes it in the next two weeks (maybe two and a half), and shows it to me. Then I'd still be interested in the topic, would still read it, and I'd be glad to sign his thesis... but that's the only way. 28 is the total number of Ph.D. students I've had graduate, and that's probably all that I will have... unless something happens at high speed through the "Computer Musings".

CLB: Real-time Ph.D.'s! What changes have you seen in the students coming into the computer science program over the years?

Knuth: There is a very profound change that I can't account for. In the 70s, the majority of our students were very interested in music. The first thing we'd ask them when they came in was "What instrument do you play?" We had lots of chamber groups and so on. Now almost none of the students are interested in music. I don't know if it's because a different kind of people are enrolling in computer science, or because it's true of all today's students, or what. If you ask computer science students now what their hobby is, the chances are most of them will say "Bicycling". I recently had one who played a harmonica, but there were almost no musicians in the group.

CLB: Any changes in the quality of the students?

Knuth: Not the quality... but they don't know as much about mathematics as they used to. We have to do more remedial stuff in college, even at a school like Stanford.

CLB: How about changes in the field itself... with so much progress and so many more people involved, is computer science today very different than it was earlier?

Knuth: Well, there's all the media and the visual things, that's a lot different than it was. There's also the competition; it's a great deal more difficult now than it was in my day. When I started, it was so easy to come up with something new compared to now, when you've got thousands and thousands of smart people all doing great stuff. There might have been ten great Ph.D. theses a year at one time; there's just no way to keep up with all the stuff now.

No matter what field of computer science you're in, everyone is finding it hard to keep up. Every field gets narrower and narrower, since nobody can cover all the territory anymore. Everybody can choose two small parts of computer science and learn those two parts; if one person knows parts A and B, another knows B and C, and another knows C and D, the field remains reasonably well connected, even as it expands.

CLB: Do you see yourself as one of the last of computer science's "Renaissance Men"?

Knuth: I'm not as broad as you might think--- I only work on one thing at a time. I guess I'm a quick study; I can become an instant expert in something. I've been collecting stuff for thirty years so that I can read the literature on each topic in "batch mode"--- not swapping lots of different topics in and out. I can absorb a subject locally and get good at it for a little while... but then don't ask me to do the thing I was doing a few months ago! Also, I have lots of people helping me correct my mistakes.

CLB: My last question, your least favorite to be asked... what is the current plan for completing all seven volumes of The Art of Computer Programming?

Knuth: I'm going to have fascicles of about 128 pages coming out twice a year. We're gathering four of them before we come out with the first two actually; we're going to keep some in the pipeline! Look for the first fascicles in 1995 or 1996; they will be beta-test versions of the real books. I'm thinking I can finish Volume IV (parts A, B, and C)in the year 2003, Volume V in 2008, then come out with new editions of Volume I, II, and III, then work on VI and VII... There will be a "Reader's Digest" version of volumes I through V.

CLB: What would your career, and life, have been like had you not announced the 7-volume set?

Knuth: Oh, I didn't announce it at first. I thought I was writing only one book. But if I hadn't done that, I suppose I still would have been doing a lot of writing. Somehow it seems that all the way through, I've enjoyed trying to explain things. When I was in high school, I was editor of the student paper; in college I edited a magazine. I've always been playing around with words.

That's a DIFFERENT interview, not a mirror (1, Troll)

phr2 (545169) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175778)

Someone put the text of the actual interview in comment #3175581 [slashdot.org] but it got modded down to 0-redundant. It shouldn't have been modded that way since it wasn't redundant when it was initially posted.

UUEncoded version of the PDF (-1, Redundant)

Lunar82 (541435) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175642)

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Re:UUEncoded version of the PDF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175724)

You have to be fucking kidding me.

Re:UUEncoded version of the PDF (-1)

RoboTroll (560160) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175768)

HAHAHA, that is a genius crapflood. Well done Sir.

Re:UUEncoded version of the PDF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175824)

And it -1 Redundant, implying some dipshit moderator thought it was value UU data.

Software errors (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175667)

> 'I think Microsoft should say, "You'll get a check from Bill Gates every time you find an error"'

Solution is simple, really. Every time we waste time forking around with some Microsoft product, we send a invoice to Microsoft for billable time, say at $250 an hour. If enough people do this, then they will no doubt get the message not to excrete crappy software.

Re:Software errors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175730)

No doubt they will shake their heads in wonder at the optimism, or perhaps the abundance of spare time, of people like you. You might also like to write a letter and state that you personally (and none of your friends or family) will not buy another Microsoft product and give your reasons in detail.

Yours will be a story told in the break room, as in "did you hear about that loser who sent us a bill!" or "check out this dickhead's letter, he actually took the time to write all this!".

Unfortunately you appear to be more simple than the solution.

Re:Software errors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175794)

So can I do the same thing with the 2.4.x kernels? Is the time running fsck because the kernel farked the filesystem up, billable or just the time while I actually type on the computer?

Re:Software errors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175930)

1. You didn't buy the software.

2. The software explicitly comes with no warranty whatsoever

see section 11 and 12 of the GPL version 2

And who do I bill for open source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175856)

Yeah, and who sends me a check the next time GCC dumps core on me. Or Mozilla crashes. Or gnome explodes. Or....

Comments here would be a lot more worthwhile if they looked at the whole picture, and not just at destroying Microsoft.

The right answer. (3, Funny)

Decimal (154606) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175669)

Pfft. That's nothing. I can give the answer to any question. (It's 42.)

Re:The right answer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175697)

You idiot. 42 is not the answer to any question. It's just the answer to one question, but no one seems to remember it.

Re:The right answer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175739)

No, YOU are an idiot. 42 is the "answer to everything".

Re:The right answer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175809)

No, 42 is the answer to the question about...well, everything really. Of course, some things aren't a question and have a hard time having an answer. "Speaker wire." "42!"...see? It just doesn't work...

Microsoft - Software Industry (1)

Da Penguin (122065) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175684)

> You'll get a check from Bill Gates every time you find an error.

There goes Gates's fortune. Talk about get rich quick schemes! (Unless it's in those monkey dollars, although I already find bugs whenever i punch/shock/click/tickle/jab the monkey)

-- If God is dead, who will save the Queen?

Old Windows 2000 Joke. (2)

Decimal (154606) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175830)

> You'll get a check from Bill Gates every time you find an error.

There goes Gates's fortune. Talk about get rich quick schemes! (Unless it's in those monkey dollars, although I already find bugs whenever i punch/shock/click/tickle/jab the monkey)


This reminds me of the old joke when Windows 2000 came out:

The truth isn't that it had about 65,000 bugs: They just had to stop counting at 65,535 to prevent an error.

Re:Old Windows 2000 Joke. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175881)

wait, where is the joke? when do i laugh?

Knuth is God (4, Funny)

BinBoy (164798) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175690)

Please post more Donald Knuth stories in the future. Knuth is God.

Re:Knuth is God (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175744)

go see this [slashdot.org] , posted a few minutes after your post

some humor..... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175705)

got this in an email a few days ago....

Richard M. Stallman, Linus Torvalds, and Donald E. Knuth
engage in a discussion on whose impact on the computerized world was the greatest.

Stallman: "God told me I have programmed the best editor in
the world!"

Torvalds: "Well, God told *me* that I have programmed the
best operating system in the world!"

Knuth: "Wait, wait - I never said that."

Re:some humor..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175741)

dammit -- i coulda used the 2 karma points from that post. i guess i feared it getting OT'd. oh well

Re:some humor..... (2)

renehollan (138013) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175798)

Er, RMS is an atheist, so the joke falls a bit flat, but still funny.

Re:some humor..... (1)

Decimal (154606) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175838)

Er, RMS is an atheist, so the joke falls a bit flat, but still funny.

Considering it's a joke, it shouldn't matter at all his religion. I'm an atheist, and I thought it was funny.

Re:some humor..... (1)

theNeophile (238938) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175920)

Er, RMS is an atheist, so the joke falls a bit flat, but still funny.

"Dissecting humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies." -EB White

Re:some humor..... (1)

Mashby (11155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175937)

As a matter of fact, so is Linus. The following is a quote from the November 1999 issue of Linux Journal.

Margie: How about religion?

Linus: Hmmmm, completely a-religious -- atheist. I find that people seem to think religion brings morals and appreciation of nature. I actually think it detracts from both. It gives people the excuse to say, "Oh, nature was just created", and so the act of creation is seen to be something miraculous. I appreciate the fact that, "Wow, it's incredible that something like this could have happened in the first place." I think we can have morals without getting religion into it, and a lot of bad things have come from organized religion in particular. I actually fear organized religion because it usually leads to misuses of power.

It *is* funny (3, Insightful)

anomaly (15035) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175863)

But I think that it's important to note that Donald Knuth, like many other brilliant men, is a Christian. Thus, it's unlikely that he would presume himself to be God.

It *is* funny, though. :-)

Regards,
Anomaly

Re:It *is* funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175887)

Blasphemy is the sincerest form of flatery!

Knuth Jokes (5, Funny)

oni (41625) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175706)

As a CS major, I learned to worship him. So I found this cartoon quite funny:

Dr-Fun [ibiblio.org]

Knuth is an amazing man (3, Interesting)

bentini (161979) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175721)

Having seen this man in action and having heard more stories, let me just say that he is *very* smart on *many* levels. Last fall I dyed my hair blue, and went to the first and last stop on his most recent book tour.
Last Thursday, I went to his office, and the first thing he said to me was "You changed your hair color." (It's since grown out). He had little reason to remember me and less opportunity, but he did.
He's written me checks for $5.12 (and I've only read one book by him one time through.)
What do the rest of you think of Knuth?

Re:Knuth is an amazing man (4, Funny)

eric17 (53263) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175894)

Having seen this man in action and having heard more stories, let me just say that he is *very* smart on *many* levels. Last fall I dyed my hair blue, and went to the first and last stop on his most recent book tour.
Last Thursday, I went to his office, and the first thing he said to me was "You changed your hair color." (It's since grown out). He had little reason to remember me and less opportunity, but he did.


I'm sure Knuth is quite smart, but perhaps you might consider that maybe, just maybe, it was the red nose and white face paint that clued him in.

Man in Los Gatos, CA? (1)

DrPascal (185005) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175740)

Near the end of the text, he refers to a man in Los Gatos, CA that cashes a check for $2.56 a month. Who is this, Wozniak? I live on the outskirts of Los Gatos, and this struck me as quite interesting.

Wow (1)

whovian (107062) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175769)

I haven't seen him in person for a while, but his photos in this article make him seem like Yoda.

BTW, thanks for TeX, Prof. Knuth.

I just ordered TAOCP... (1)

Papineau (527159) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175802)

and the LaTeX Companions Boxed set. Even if I'm not is the CS field per se, I like to program in my spare time and to help me in my field (mechanical engineering).

I don't have time right now to read that paper, but if the GP of Malaysia is boring (like if Shumacher takes the lead at the start) I'll read it tonight.

My Experience With Windows (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175866)

My Experience With Windows
I am a long-time Linux user and avid fan of GNU products, but I decided to try Windows to see what the hype is all about.

The long and short of it is that Windows sucks. It is basically unusable in its current state. I mean, who needs 8 half-working text editors? vi beats them all anyway, hands down.

Luckily I was running a vmware session so I just killed the session and the pain was over.

[ Reply to This | Parent ]

My Experience with Heterosexuality (Score:-1, Offtopic)
by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, @03:12PM (#3174178)
My Experience with Heterosexuality

I am a long-time Homosexual fag and avid fan of Homosexual products (like dildos), but I decided to try Heterosexuality to see what the hype is all about.

The long penis and short penis of it is that Heterosexuality sucks. It is basically unpleasurable in its current state. I mean, who needs 8 half-working female vaginas? Ass beats them all anyway, dick up.

Luckily I was sucking a guy's cock so I just swallowed the semen and the pain was over.

Anyone who has read Brooks' "The Mythical Man-Month" will tell you that more coders != more productivity. Not always, anyway. And I think that this especially applies to open source projects where coders are often doing their work in different countries, if not different continents. I'm sure the openoffice team spends a hell of a lot of time just getting together and planning stuff, integrating everyone's code, etc. During this time the core KOffice developers can be banging away at the keyboard writing more code.

So it's not hopeless, even the smallest coder can change the course of the future :)
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Re:there's still hope (Score:0)
by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, @03:55PM (#3174345)
Anyone who has read Brooks' "The Mythical Man-Penis" will tell you that more penises != more semen. Not always, anyway. And I think that this especially applies to open source orgys where fags are often sucking their penis in different countries, if not different continents. I'm sure the openpenis team spends a hell of a lot of time just getting together and sucking penis, shoving their penises up each other's asses, etc. During this time the core KPenis developers can be banging away at their penises making more semen.

So it's not hopeless, even the smallest penis can change the course of the future :)

More Knuth Stories Wanted (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175888)

Well, I would like to ask the slashdot editors to please post more Knuth news. I think that his contributions to Computer Science deserve to be more widely appreciated by everybody even remotely connected with Computer Science (and not only the theoretically inclined people).

Unfortunately, I recognize that not everybody reading Slashdot has a theoretical education in Computer Science (well, many people are only practically trained -- if such a thing even exists) and miss the elegant construction of algorithms that Donald Knuth does in his books, algorithms which are efficient both regarding space and time (things which I miss in most software being written today, sadly).

This is not to mention the care with which his books are written, from didactic, technical and typographical standpoints: a lesson on how to write well.

I guess that the problem I mentioned above about current programmers writing code which is not exactly space- and time-efficient is that they must think "it's not worth it" (or many haven't actually even thought about the subject). A pity indeed.

This is, unfortunately, one of the bad sides of the ease of current (integrated) programming environments (which doesn't man that they are bad): people which aren't exactly trained can program, their programs run, but in a sub-optimal way.

I also think that many programming environments are an incentive to trial-and-error programming ("recompiling the program is too easy -- don't even bother to think if we have to add 1 or subtract 1"). This, of course, leads to sloopy programming.

Anyway, back to Knuth, I would really love to see a Slashdot interview with him, as I would appreciate anything regarding him and computers.

Another Knuth interview (c't GERMNA) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175893)

http://www.heise.de/ct/02/05/190/default.shtml

and an general article about Knuth.

Google cache (got an 404 on orginal article)
http://www.google.de/search?q=cache:xZ8q _Xthv8cC:w ww-x.nzz.ch/folio/next/articles/haffner.html

Ein ganz normales Genie
Den Lehrstuhl hat er aufgegeben, die E-Mail-Adresse gelöscht, und besuchen darf ihn nur, wer mit ihm vierhändig die Kirchenorgel spielen kann. Donald Knuth opfert alles dem Werk, das er vor vierzig Jahren zu schreiben begonnen hat: die Bibel der Computerwissenschaften.

Von Peter Haffner

Er fällt auf im Kreis der Kirchgänger, die dem Gotteshaus der First Lutheran Church an der Homer Avenue in Palo Alto zustreben, einer kleinen, hellbraun gestrichenen Kirche in einem der stillen, pastoral anmutenden Wohnviertel von Stanford Town. Doch nur deswegen, weil er die meisten um mehr als einen Kopf überragt. Denn wer ihn dann sieht, wie er, den Oberkörper in Demut gebeugt, seine Gebete verrichtet, würde nie vermuten, dass dies erst recht im übertragenen Sinne gilt: Donald Knuth, eines der treuesten Mitglieder von Pastor Segerhammars Gemeinde, ist der Guru der Computerwissenschaft. Er ist der Mann, um den sich Legenden ranken nicht erst seit dem Tag, an dem er sich aus der Welt zurückzog, sein Werk zu vollenden - The Art of Computer Programming, so etwas wie die Bibel der Branche.

Für das Opus magnum, das er selbst nur TAOCP nennt und dessen letzter Band, so Gott will, in einem der nächsten Jahrzehnte erscheinen soll, hat Knuth die höchsten Auszeichnungen erhalten - den Turing Award, die National Medal of Science und den Kyoto-Preis, an Bedeutung dem Nobelpreis gleich. Und obwohl unvollendet, wird The Art of Computer Programming bereits zu den zwölf einflussreichsten Wissenschaftsbüchern des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts gezählt - zusammen mit Paul Diracs Quantum Mechanics, Albert Einsteins Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie und den Principia Mathematica von Bertrand Russell und Alfred North Whitehead.

Die Feiern zu Verleihungen von Preisen und Ehrendoktoraten rund um den Globus sind, neben dem sonntäglichen Gottesdienst im Universitätsstädtchen im Herzen des Silicon Valley, nahezu die einzigen Gelegenheiten, Professor Knuth in der Öffentlichkeit zu sehen. Vorzeitig emeritiert, übernimmt er keine Verpflichtungen mehr, gibt keine Interviews. Das Büro des Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming im Computer Science Department der Universität, noch übervoll mit Büchern und Papieren, ist verwaist. Maggie, seine Sekretärin, eine beeindruckende, in feuerrote Seide gehüllte Erscheinung, hält da Wache, besorgt, ihm alles vom Leib zu halten, was ihn in seiner Konzentration stören könnte. Donald Knuth arbeitet zu Hause, abgeschirmt auch da - nur der Name seiner Frau Jill steht im Telefonbuch.

Wann immer in der Computergemeinde die Rede auf Donald Knuth kommt, werden Anekdoten herumgeboten, in deren Pointe eine Prise von feierlichem Ernst liegt. Selbst die jungen Cracks, die längst mit anderem beschäftigt sind als mit den fundamentalen Algorithmen und formalen mathematischen Beweisführungen, für die Knuth berühmt geworden ist, zollen dem Doyen Respekt. Auch wenn sie dann lieber von dem reden, was jetzt hip ist - Object Orientation, Pair Programming, Extreme Programming und dergleichen mehr.

Jason Brazile etwa, ein junger Amerikaner, der seinen Arbeitsplatz im Loft einer jener Softwarefirmen hat, deren Geschäftsleitung kaum älter ist als ihre Lehrlinge, gibt die Geschichte von einem der ersten Programme zum Besten, das Knuth noch als Schüler schrieb. Es erlaubte, die Leistungen der Basketballspieler seines College auf Grund verschiedener Kriterien zu bewerten, wurde erprobt auf einer IBM 650 und brachte dem Team den Titelgewinn. Und den jungen Autor in die Spalten von Newsweek. Knuth kann irgendetwas von der Strasse auflesen und Mathematik daraus machen, resümiert der Schweizer Erich Gamma, der, eben erst vierzigjährig, selbst zum Software Pioneer gekürt worden ist, zusammen mit Altmeistern wie Niklaus Wirth, Edsger Dijkstra und C. A. R. Hoare. Für Gammas Generation ist Knuth ein Monument, an dem vorbei man seine eigenen Wege geht.

Und doch, wer die Gelegenheit hat, möchte sie nicht verpassen. Einmal im Monat, wenn's geht, gibt Knuth in Stanford eine Vorlesung, und das Publikum strömt in Scharen zu diesen Computer Musings, einer Art von amuse-gueule für mathematische Feinschmecker. Totally Acyclic Digraphs (Spiders) and how to squish them heisst das Thema der achten Christmas tree lecture, über das Knuth an diesem 6. Dezember 2001, einem klaren, sonnigen kalifornischen Wintertag, im Hörsaal des Gates Building spricht. Doch was heisst da sprechen: Er stammelt, stottert, wiederholt sich, korrigiert sich, kritzelt und krakelt auf den linierten Schreibblock, der vor ihm liegt und auf eine Leinwand projiziert wird. Auf der ist, überlebensgross, nur seine Hand, der Filzschreiber und das, was er notiert, zu sehen - Nullen und Einsen, X und Pfeile, die mit Befehlen wie while, change, false, return true und return false in Reih und Glied gebracht werden.

Bald schon findet sich der Dozent in dem Papierwirrwarr nicht mehr zurecht, streicht sich die spärlichen Haare über die Glatze, blickt hilfesuchend ins Leere. Was dem Laien alles etwas seltsam vorkommt, bis er realisiert, dass er hier nicht Konsument eines Produkts, sondern Zeuge eines Denkvorgangs ist. Gebannt lauschen denn auch die Studenten, runzeln angestrengt die Stirn, lachen und rufen, hat er einen Fehler gemacht, ungeniert dazwischen. Was Donald Knuth nie zu verdanken vergisst.

Nach eineinviertel Stunden ist er erschöpft. Das Publikum steht Schlange, um sich die ersten drei Bände von The Art of Computer Programming signieren zu lassen, auf deren Fortsetzung man nun schon seit bald drei Jahrzehnten wartet. Weshalb Knuth, in Bluejeans, über den grauen Rollkragenpullover auch das hellgelbe T-Shirt gestreift hat, das, wie er eingangs bemerkt, seine Frau ihm vor Jahren schneiderte: Reklame für Band vier. Das ist eine grosse Ehre für mich, sagt mit einer tiefen Verbeugung der japanische Student, der neben Knuths gesammelten Werken eine Videokamera mitgebracht hat, um die Begegnung mit dem Meister filmisch festzuhalten. Sie kennen mich doch nicht!, sagt der mit einem milden Lächeln, während er geduldig seinen Namen in die Bücher schreibt.

Es war Maggie, Knuths Sekretärin, die die Türe schliesslich geöffnet und ein Gespräch ermöglicht hat. Dass der Eremit trotz der Firewall, die er um sich aufgebaut hat, weder ein Autist noch ein idiot savant ist, war zu vermuten. Auf seiner Homepage figurieren unter den FAQs nicht nur Antworten auf Fragen wie die nach dem Erscheinungsdatum von Band vier von TAOCP, sondern auch, woher er die coole Brille hat und wie man die Bücher seiner Gattin bestellt. Und so akkurat wie über Wissenschaftliches wird man über die Geburt eines Enkels, den Tod einer Tante oder die Tatsache informiert, dass Knuth nun seit exakt vierzig Jahren mit ein und derselben Frau glücklich verheiratet ist.

Donald Knuth ist ein umgänglicher Mensch, der auch in Gesellschaft dem Prinzip huldigt, das er über sein Leben gestellt hat: dass man, was immer man tun will, mit höchster Konzentration tun soll. Und dass man, wo dies nicht möglich ist, es lieber gleich ganz bleiben lässt. Wir Computerwissenschafter, sagt er, nennen das batch processing, Stapelverarbeitung. Genauso arbeite ich: immer eines nach dem anderen.

Zwei Stunden pro Tag verbringt er in der Bibliothek, alle vier Monate reserviert er sich eine Woche, um die 35 abonnierten Fachzeitschriften durchzusehen, vierteljährlich einen Tag, die eingegangene Post zu beantworten, und halbjährlich einen, wenn überhaupt, für die eingetroffenen Faxe. Und Tag für Tag freut er sich, dass er seit 1990 keine E-Mail-Adresse mehr hat - nicht ohne andere auf seiner Website zu mahnen, sich doch endlich den Bindestrich zu schenken und Email zu schreiben. Wie viel Lebens- und damit Arbeitszeit das sparte! Die Unbeirrtheit hat etwas Antikisches. 1962 hat Knuth das Werk, mit dem er Computergeschichte schreibt, begonnen. Damals noch Student am California Institute of Technology, hatte er einen Ruf als whiz kid, weshalb ihn der Verlag Addison Wesley fragte, ob er nicht ein Buch über Compiler schreiben wolle, über Programme, die eine menschennahe Programmiersprache in Maschinensprache übersetzen. Vier Jahre später, er war noch keine dreissig, hatte er 3000 Seiten von Hand zu Papier gebracht. Ich dachte, das würde etwa 700 Buchseiten ergeben, aber der Verleger sagte, das ergebe genau 3000, also entschieden wir uns, die ganze Sache auszuweiten und in sieben Bänden herauszugeben.

Noch gilt der Plan. Band vier, den er jetzt in Faszikeln veröffentlicht, soll 2007 fertig sein und rund 2000 Seiten umfassen, dann wird Band fünf drankommen, während er gleichzeitig die Bände eins bis drei überarbeitet und aktualisiert, worauf er beabsichtigt, eine Kurzfassung der Bände eins bis fünf zu publizieren, bevor er sich dann an die Bände sechs und sieben macht, die er, wie er meint, schreibt, wenn das, was ich zu den betreffenden Themen zu sagen habe, noch relevant sein wird und von niemand anderem gesagt worden ist.

Das Talent, sich in der Welt der Ziffern und Zeichen zu bewegen, zeigte sich so früh wie die Hartnäckigkeit, ein einmal gestecktes Ziel zu verfolgen. Im achten Schuljahr beteiligte er sich an einem Wettbewerb, den ein Süsswarenfabrikant ausgeschrieben hatte; es ging darum, wer am meisten Wörter aus den Buchstaben des Produktenamens Ziegler's Giant Bar bilden konnte. Der kleine Knuth legte eine Liste von 4500 Wörtern vor - 2000 mehr, als die Jury hatte -, gewann den ersten Preis, einen Fernseher, sowie genug Schokoriegel, die ganze Schule zu versorgen.

1956, im Alter von achtzehn Jahren, begegnete er, noch vor seinem ersten Mädchen, erstmals einem Computer. Der Transistor war erfunden, die zweite Generation von Rechnern erblickte eben das Licht der Welt, und universelle Sprachen wie Fortran und Cobol begannen die Maschinensprachen abzulösen. Knuth brachte sich das Handwerk selber bei und war darin, wie er rasch erkannte, einiges besser als die Verfasser der Handbücher, die mit den Maschinen geliefert wurden.

Computerwissenschaft hat mit abstrakten Dingen, mit Mustern zu tun - wie Mathematik, wie Musik, sagt er. Man springt ständig von einer Ebene zur andern, vom Kleinen zum Grossen. Es ist die Art des Denkens, die uns unterscheidet - zum Beispiel von der von Medizinern, wo es darum geht, eine Diagnose zu stellen. Dass die Computerwissenschaften so explodiert sind, meint er, hat seinen Grund nicht zuletzt darin, dass Leute, deren Denken immer schon so strukturiert war, plötzlich die Mittel in die Hand bekamen, es anzuwenden. Wenn ich alte Arbeiten lese, die vor Hunderten von Jahren geschrieben worden sind, erkenne ich sie am Stil, diese Autoren, sagt er. Lebten sie heute, wären sie Computerwissenschafter.

Knuth, der das Case Institute mit summa cum laude abgeschlossen und von der Physik zur Mathematik gewechselt hatte, ging nach dem Caltech nach Stanford, wo er später den ersten Lehrstuhl für Computerwissenschaften einnahm. Edsger Dijkstra, der Lehrmeister der ersten Programmierer, war einer der wenigen, von dem er etwas hatte lernen können. Was ihn von diesem unterschied, hat Ed Schonberg, ein Schüler, so zusammengefasst: Von Dijkstra lernten wir, was falsch und was richtig ist. Von Knuth aber, was soso lala und was wirklich toll ist.

In den meisten Wissenschaften sind die Gründerväter längst unter der Erde. Was Darwin für die Biologie, Newton für die Physik, Euklid für die Geometrie geleistet hat, liegt Jahrhunderte zurück. Nicht so in der Computerwissenschaft. 1966, als Knuth sein Manuskript vorlegte, konnte ein Einzelner noch das gesamte Forschungsgebiet überblicken. Heute ist es wie in jedem anderen Fach auch - keiner weiss, was der Kollege tut. Ob ihn das nicht frustriert, da er sich doch vorgenommen hat, das Buch der Bücher seiner Wissenschaft zu schreiben? Hätte ich gewusst, was auf mich zukommt, hätte ich nie angefangen, sagt er. Und manchmal, wenn ich morgens aufstehe, kommen mir Zweifel.

Aber wenn er sich dann an die Arbeit macht, sich an seinen Tisch unter das Poster mit den Bibelversen setzt, erzählt er, ist es immer aufregend, und nicht selten passiert es, dass er aus dem Zimmer rennt und seiner Frau zuruft, was für grossen Spass ihm das alles doch mache, entzückt, die Lösung für ein Problem gefunden zu haben. Längst hat er es aufgegeben, das gesamte Gebiet der Computerwissenschaft behandeln zu wollen. Jetzt will er sich nur noch mit dem befassen, was er als den Kern des Ganzen ansieht, mit den Fundamenten. Dass diese solide sind, ist in der Praxis da wichtig, wo es darauf ankommt, hundertprozentig fehlerfreie Programme zu schreiben - Programme, die medizinische Apparate, Raketen oder Nuklearanlagen steuern. Betaversionen kann man sich nicht leisten, keine Tests nach dem Trial-and-Error-Verfahren wie bei der Software, die unsere Kaffeemaschine, den Videorecorder oder den Heimcomputer steuert und uns mit ihren Mucken immer wieder zur Verzweiflung bringt.

Gut, dass sich andere mit solchen Dingen beschäftigen: Es gibt mir Zeit, das zu tun, was ich am besten kann - und das sind eben die mathematischen Beweisführungen. Er redet von der Pflicht, von seinen Talenten Gebrauch zu machen, vom Sinn der Beschränkung auf das, was ihm intellektuell Befriedigung verschafft, und vom Schicksal - dem Gefühl, das tun zu sollen, wozu Gott ihn ausersehen hat. Ich laufe nicht herum und befasse mich mit jedem Problem, über das ich stolpere. Ich löse die, von denen ich den Eindruck habe, dafür genau der Richtige zu sein.

Wenn andere anderes besser können, um so besser. Es gibt Leute, die suchen nach neuen Grenzen, pflanzen die Fahnen auf, sagt er und meint, er gehöre nicht dazu. Er sieht sich als der, der das Feld bestellt und für Ordnung sorgt; eine Bescheidenheit, die dem Verfasser von dreien der bedeutendsten Algorithmen und Autor revolutionärer Programme gewiss unrecht tut. Knuths Pionierarbeit über Compiler wurde grundlegend für die weitere Entwicklung von Programmen, die zwischen Software und Maschine vermitteln, seine Forschung zur Semantik von Programmsprachen war wegweisend, moderne Tools wie Java gäbe es nicht ohne seine Vorarbeiten. Aus seiner Feder stammen CWEB - eine Software, um lesbare Programme zu schreiben - sowie Tex und Metafont, zwei Programme für digitale Typographie, die gerühmt werden für ihre Schönheit und nichts anderes zum Zweck haben als die Schönheit selbst.

Um diese beiden, seine Lieblingsprogramme, zu schreiben, hat Knuth die Arbeit an The Art of Computer Programming für ganze zehn Jahre liegen lassen, zehn Jahre, in denen er keine Briefe mehr beantwortete, bis er die Sache bugfree und das Ziel erreicht hatte: dass Mathematiker, Wissenschafter, Musiker und wer auch immer Sonderzeichen benötigt, um seine Manuskripte auf dem Computer zu schreiben, diese in typographisch ansprechender Form zur Verfügung haben. Er konnte es nicht ertragen, seine Bücher in dem scheusslichen Computersatz, der den Bleisatz ablöste, drucken zu lassen; lieber hörte er auf zu schreiben. Dank Knuth weist nun das griechische Delta die richtige Krümmung auf, kann jede chemische Bindung korrekt geschrieben und selbst ein gregorianischer Choral in zeitgenössischer Schrift notiert werden. Wie alles, machte er auch dies mit der ihm eigenen Gründlichkeit, schrieb eine Arbeit allein über den Buchstaben S, in welcher er dessen sich durch die Jahrhunderte verändernde Gestalt mathematisch zu erfassen suchte; mehrere Tage, sagt er, habe es ihn gekostet, die Formel zu finden, die dem Buchstaben den angemessenen Schwung gibt.

Tex, das Programm, das die Typen auf der Seite positioniert, und Metafont, das ihre Gestalt definiert, können heute als freeware gratis vom Netz heruntergeladen werden. Zwei tschechische Astronomen, denen es endlich glückte, ihre wissenschaftlichen Arbeiten in sauberer Form niederzuschreiben, waren dafür so dankbar, dass sie den von ihnen entdeckten Kleinplaneten Nr. 21656 nach Knuth benannten. Knuth misst knapp fünf Kilometer im Durchmesser und befindet sich, wo das Geistige herstammt - im Sternbild Aquarius.

Programmieren, sagt Knuth, sei für ihn eine Form, Kunst zu machen, und er möchte, dass man seine Programme liest wie ein gutes Buch - bezaubert von der Schönheit und der Eleganz, mit der die Botschaft vermittelt wird. Als er 1958 Stan Poleys SOAP-Assembler-Programm studierte, war es um ihn geschehen gewesen; da war ein Autor am Werk mit einer Handschrift und einem Stil, der ihn begeisterte. Auch er wollte Autor werden, ein Leseerlebnis vermitteln, Programmzeilen schreiben, an denen es nichts mehr zu verbessern gibt. In seinem berühmten Essay über Computer Programming as an Art von 1974 meinte er, es müsste eigentlich auch, wie in der Literatur, Kritiker geben, die das zu würdigen und Pfusch zu verreissen wüssten.

Jede Woche verfasst er ein kleines Programm. Es ist wie Gedichte schreiben: Ich wache auf, und die Zeilen fliegen mir zu, sagt er. Und wenn ich dann daran herumfeile und es mir gelingt, eine Zeile zu verbessern, bin ich überglücklich. Er lacht immer ein bisschen, wenn er solches erzählt, als machte es ihn verlegen, vom Kuss der Muse und vom Glück, das er dabei empfindet, zu reden. Eine besondere Befriedigung verschafft es ihm, etwas mit beschränkten Mitteln zu erreichen. Einen Compiler zu schreiben für einen primitiven Minicomputer mit nur 4096 Wörtern Memory, 16 Bits pro Wort, hat ihm das allergrösste Vergnügen bereitet. Georges Perec ist sein Lieblingsautor; einen Roman zu verfassen, in dem der Buchstabe e nicht vorkommt, sieht er als Herausforderung für einen Künstler, alle seine Kräfte zu erproben. (Er hat selber einen mathematischen Roman verfasst, Surreal Numbers.) Als ich Programmieren lernte, konnte man sich glücklich schätzen, wenn man fünf Minuten pro Tag an die Maschine durfte. Und wenn man wollte, dass das Programm lief, musste man es eben richtig schreiben, erzählt er. Programmieren war, wie in Stein zu meisseln. Teure Computerzeit und kleine Speicher zwangen zur Ökonomie - und damit letztlich zu etwas, dem auch grosse Kunst verpflichtet ist: mit wenig Mitteln viel zu erreichen.

Es hat ihn zum Perfektionisten gemacht, und der Satz, der unter einem seiner Programme steht, ist in Computerkreisen zum geflügelten Wort geworden - gerade weil er, Knuth, wohl der Einzige ist, der solches von sich behaupten kann: Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.

Er zahlt jedem, der einen Fehler in irgendeinem seiner neunzehn Bücher findet, 2 Dollar und 56 Cent und 327 Dollar und 68 Cent für jeden entdeckten Fehler in den Programmen Tex oder Metafont. Eine Liste der Errata findet sich auf seiner Homepage, und für Fehlermeldungen hat er sogar eine E-Mail-Adresse eingerichtet, knuth-bug@stanford.edu, die für andere Zwecke zu missbrauchen er eindringlich warnt. Antwort, verspricht er, erhält man innert sechs Monaten.

Wie in jeder Kunst ist auch in der seinen das Werk grösser als sein Schöpfer, dessen Scheitern programmiert. Kunst kommt aus dem, was wir nicht verstehen, sagt Knuth, und sie unterscheidet sich von der Wissenschaft darin, dass wir sie einen Computer nicht lehren können. Wir wissen zum Beispiel eine ganze Menge darüber, warum Mozart so schön klingt, kennen die Harmonien, die ganze Musiktheorie - und doch: Erst wenn wir versuchen, einen Computer dazu zu bringen, solche Musik zu komponieren, merken wir, wie unvollständig diese Regeln sind. Im Misslingen liegt der Reiz - ein Test darüber, was man wirklich weiss. Für Knuth ist es keine Frage, dass das Wissen um solche Dinge fortschreiten, die Wissenschaft sich Terrain erobern wird, das man ihr heute noch verschlossen glaubt. Aber ebenso scheint ihm klar, dass es Dinge zwischen Himmel und Erde gibt, die der Verstand nie begreifen wird, und im Gegensatz zu vielen seiner Kollegen ist er ganz zufrieden damit.

Ich schätze die Tatsache, dass es Geheimnisse gibt, und ich wäre unglücklich in einer Welt, in der man alles beweisen kann, sagt er. Aber ich möchte auch nicht in einer Welt leben, in der man nichts beweisen kann. Das ist der Grund, weshalb ich Mathematiker, Computerwissenschafter bin. Es gibt etwas in meinem Leben, über das ich genau Bescheid weiss, Probleme, von denen ich mir sicher bin, dass sie eine Lösung haben. Wäre ich Astronom, müsste ich sterben, ohne je zu erfahren, ob das alles auch richtig ist, was ich geforscht habe. Das würde ich nicht aushalten.

Das Streben und die Suche sind es, was uns zu Menschen macht. Vielleicht wollte Gott deshalb, dass die Bibel mehrdeutig ist, sagt er, und hat sie uns zu einem Zeitpunkt geschenkt, bevor wir die modernen Technologien hatten. Hätten wir Jesus auf Video, was bliebe unserer Vorstellungskraft übrig? Dem Nachdenken, dem Ringen um die Wahrheit?

In Kalifornien, wo die Träume von der künstlichen Intelligenz geträumt werden und wo Computerwissenschafter sich nach ihrem Tod tiefgefrieren lassen, um dereinst, wenn die Medizin so weit ist, in jugendlicher Frische aufzuerstehen, ist solche Zurückhaltung nicht eben verbreitet. Die Hybris liegt im Beruf - der Mensch an der Maschine, Schöpfer eines Universums, über das er Macht hat.

Was Knuth hingegen mit anderen Computerwissenschaftern teilt, ist die Liebe zur Musik. Saxophonist und Tubaspieler in der Highschool-Band, hatte er mit einer professionellen Musikerkarriere geliebäugelt. Als er es sich leisten konnte, hat er sich in seinem Heim in Palo Alto eine ausgewachsene Orgel einbauen lassen, von Abbott und Sieker, L. A., nachdem er mehr als ein Dutzend Orgelbauer in Europa und den USA besucht und ihre Instrumente geprüft hatte. Opus 67, gestimmt auf norddeutschen Barock, hat 812 Pfeifen in 16 Registern und ein Gebläse von Meidinger aus der Schweiz, das er seiner Geräuschlosigkeit wegen wählte. Im zweistöckigen Raum, in dem das Instrument thront, stehen auch ein Bösendorfer-Konzertflügel und das Monarch-Piano, das Don von seinem Vater geerbt hat, der Kirchenorganist und Lehrer an einer Lutheranerschule war. Knuths Liebe zur Musik geht so weit, dass, wer mit ihm vierhändig spielen kann und exotische Notenliteratur mitbringt, eingeladen ist, ihn für eine Jam-Session in seinem Klosterleben zu stören.

Manchmal spielt er am Sonntag in der kleinen Kirche von Pastor Segerhammar. Es wird viel gesungen in der Gemeinde, die sehr auf Liberalität hält. Lesben und Schwule sind willkommen, und Pastor Segerhammar, ein Sportstyp, drückt sogar ein Auge zu, wenn sein prominentestes Gemeindemitglied seinen Gott auch in anderen Religionen am Werk und christliche Werte in fremden Kulturen findet. Lutheraner zu sein, heisst für Knuth, von seinem Verstand auch in Glaubensfragen Gebrauch zu machen. Die Einstellung hat er vom Elternhaus, das durchdrungen war vom Glauben an die frohe Botschaft und, wie er sagt, frei von Hypokrisie und moralischem Druck. Die einzige religiöse Enttäuschung, an die er sich erinnern kann, war, als er als Junge nach dem Besuch eines Jahrmarkts das Riesenrad, das er sich vom lieben Gott wünschte, am anderen Morgen nicht im Garten vorfand.

Den Dingen auf den Grund gehen will er auch in religiösen Fragen. Sein Sabbatical in Boston, das er seiner Frau zum fünfundzwanzigsten Hochzeitstag schenkte, indem er ihr versprach, ein Jahr lang die Einkäufe zu besorgen, zu putzen und zu kochen, nutzte er zur Niederschrift eines theologischen Buches, mit dessen Vorarbeiten er Jahre zuvor begonnen hatte. Er wollte Techniken, die er verwendete, um grosse Computerprogramme zu studieren, auf die Bibel anwenden.

Was die Mathematiker als Randomization bezeichnen, wurde zum 3:16 Project - einer Grand Tour durch die Heilige Schrift, deren Stationen der jeweils sechzehnte Vers des dritten Kapitels eines jeden der biblischen Bücher war, eine Reise von der Genesis bis zur Offenbarung. Dazu hatte er, wie er sagt, Tausende von Büchern durchstöbert mit den Kommentaren von protestantischen, katholischen und jüdischen Theologen aller Richtungen und Zeiten und darüber hinaus die Verse selbst mit Hilfe von Wörterbüchern aus dem Hebräischen und Griechischen übersetzt. Der Gedanke, an zufällig ausgewählten Stellen in die Tiefe zu bohren, statt ausgedehnte Passagen mit vereinzelten Kommentaren zu lesen, erwies sich als fruchtbar. Man bekommt ein ziemlich ausgewogenes Bild vom Ganzen, wenn man sich Stichproben genau ansieht. Mit Numerologie hat das nichts zu schaffen. Ich wollte nur dafür sorgen, systematisch unvoreingenommen zu sein, sagt er und weist darauf hin, dass man mit ein bisschen Zahlenzauber aus der Offenbarung des Johannes ohne weiteres einen versteckten Hinweis auf Bill Gates lesen kann. Sein Buch liess Knuth von Kalligraphen aus der ganzen Welt illustrieren; die Originale sind in der Harrison Collection of Calligraphy in der Public Library von San Francisco zu sehen.

Die Kollegen waren, obschon er seinen Glauben nicht auf der Zunge trägt, etwas irritiert über seine Beschäftigung, zumal es damals, in den achtziger Jahren, ganz in Ordnung war, religiös zu sein, wenn man Jude oder irgendeines anderen Glaubens, nicht aber, wenn man Christ war. Als Pastor Segerhammar ihm dann die Kanzel überliess, als Maleachi 3,16 auf dem Predigtprogramm stand, nutzte der Herr Professor die Gunst und las fast eine geschlagene Stunde über seine Funde. Was dem Pastor dann weniger des Inhalts als der Geduld seiner Gemeinde wegen Sorgen machte.
Man sieht ihm den workaholic nicht an, wenn er, seine nicht viel mehr als halb so grosse Frau Jill an der Seite, nach dem Abendmahl im Vorraum der Kirche mit den anderen Gemeindemitgliedern plaudert, Kaffee trinkt und Kuchen isst. Ein Smørgasbord steht auf dem Programm; es ist Santa-Lucia-Fest, ein schwedischer Brauch, der an die Christenverfolgungen zur Römerzeit erinnert.

Lucia, gespielt vom ältesten Mädchen, trägt eine Kerzenkrone, Starboys und Gingerbread Children im Gefolge, und Donald Knuth steht in der Kirchenbank und singt aus voller Kehle mit, als ob er nichts im Leben lieber tun würde. Dann, wie er den Löffel in den Reispudding steckt, der im Anschluss an die Feier gereicht wird, meint er plötzlich: Ich muss unbedingt versuchen, musikalische Haikus zu komponieren. Sie kennen die Harmonienfolge?

Und fährt den Gast, der überzeugt ist, einen glücklichen Menschen getroffen zu haben, in seinem alten rostroten Volvo Kombi zum Hotel.

TeX is impossible to get (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175896)

I went to compusa they didn't have either tex or latex, but they did have ms office

Book of Proofs (2)

danny (2658) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175902)

An fun attempt at a layperson's cut-down version of "God's book of the most beautiful proofs" (mentioned in the interview) is Aigner and Ziegler's Proofs from the BOOK [dannyreviews.com] .

Danny.

Knuth is human, too (1)

apirkle (40268) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175903)

"Every time I think I've discovered something interesting, I look on the internet and find that somebody else has done it too" -- Knuth


I'm sure that at times, most everyone in a technical field feels like everything has been done before. It's nice to know that someone as badass as Knuth has the same problem :)

I don't cash my Knuth checks (4, Funny)

jquiroga (94119) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175911)

  • To cash my two Knuth checks: $2.94 + $2.56
  • To show them off to my hacker friends and see their faces turn green with envy: Priceless

Lameness filter: off (-1, Offtopic)

The true Anne Marie (566980) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175919)

I only like white guys!

die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!
die nigger die!

Lameness filter: off
smdfaksjdfokjasdfiasjdfioasjdfojasdfoiioasjdf ioajs dniofnasofiojsdifjwqi0ur09432ujitnrweu098u0298c49- 23i4190cu904uc132904u89123un40cu12394u12903u902u-r c902ur39rui9123uirc92u39ru21c90rui42u3hct9rgiuhmr3 i10ur-381r0-8490tu94904u39tjoiprwjigfjetrwoiui0qwu 290uripouqcweour0iwqeuriuqwe90iu09q2cu4c90uq0iruip wequripoqweruqiu0923uq4592u3opruoipqwurio[uew9ru9q ur[opeurpiouqwe09u930q24roi0uqw2poir[q[ewu9v1um59u io3p4ri9w-3umwur[i5549u349v5mu4oierumqweu[q94mu590 24q5[m9q0ur9unq9v2umrqc9r9uwer90uvm3590qur90qwu9vr mq0549qvuwi[ewurijewijrvqiweuipwutvboueriontuvbrti iiiiiii;hr8y43298ry89 1y4r892y43u9y2 9384r9uihwuifhq89twy897y2wru9htgq4ury8971 yr892yhrui9y12389y891u2rui yhr89uyr892134r89 yhu9ry 89yr 8192ryiou1 4yr897ye289r y19824y 89y 89123y r9u298y 89y12389 y18932yu91 h3r9uhe28r9 y987 y89ry 89yr8923 198ry 98y 89321yr 981y239ry12398ry984 y98y3r 8912y983y21 r89p38 8

Re:Lameness filter: off (-1, Troll)

The true Anne Marie (566980) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175933)

I only like white guys! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! die nigger die! Lameness filter: off smdfaksjdfokjasdfiasjdfioasjdfojasdfoiioasjdfioajs dniofnasofiojsdifjwqi0ur09432ujitnrweu098u0298c49- 23i4190cu904uc132904u89123un40cu12394u12903u902u-r c902ur39rui9123uirc92u39ru21c90rui42u3hct9rgiuhmr3 i10ur-381r0-8490tu94904u39tjoiprwjigfjetrwoiui0qwu 290uripouqcweour0iwqeuriuqwe90iu09q2cu4c90uq0iruip wequripoqweruqiu0923uq4592u3opruoipqwurio[uew9ru9q ur[opeurpiouqwe09u930q24roi0uqw2poir[q[ewu9v1um59u io3p4ri9w-3umwur[i5549u349v5mu4oierumqweu[q94mu590 24q5[m9q0ur9unq9v2umrqc9r9uwer90uvm3590qur90qwu9vr mq0549qvuwi[ewurijewijrvqiweuipwutvboueriontuvbrti iiiiiii;hr8y43298ry89 1y4r892y43u9y2 9384r9uihwuifhq89twy897y2wru9htgq4ury8971 yr892yhrui9y12389y891u2rui yhr89uyr892134r89 yhu9ry 89yr 8192ryiou1 4yr897ye289r y19824y 89y 89123y r9u298y 89y12389 y18932yu91 h3r9uhe28r9 y987 y89ry 89yr8923 198ry 98y 89321yr 981y239ry12398ry984 y98y3r 8912y983y21 r89p38 8

Another Font Obsessive - thank Ghod (2)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175925)

I used to think I was the only person who had an obsession with picking out what fonts were used in signs, printed material, etc. I had an inner core of friends who were constantly amazed, and would bring me ones to take a look at (TT fonts are now more common than Adobe originals, even on big signed, etc).

Then I happened to sit next to an engineer at a big radio dinner and speech thing on a holiday party cruise - we picked out all the fonts, figured out where the photocopier for the custom meny had drum faults versus schmutz on the glass, and walked over to the corner, where they started laying out the menus, and found the printed original to verify it was laser printed.

Ghod, the speeches were boring.

--
Evan

PDF (2)

krokodil (110356) | more than 12 years ago | (#3175938)

I have 800x600 laptop and it is pain in the arse to
read this 2 column PDF file on it. I have to scroll
up and down all the time.

The guy is smart, but his choice of format is more suitable for old, soon to be obsolette printable media not for the Internet.

So please tell me someone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3175940)

where's the DVI version of that transcript?!

What a shame. TeX is great and all, but look how things have turned out ... Knuth's lecture in pee dee ef. Nice. Man, really looks like TeX/LaTeX needs some help in the marketing dptmt, otherwise this will become an interesting academic exercise, nothing else.

"Only members of the sect need apply."

Again, TeX is excellent for publishing, but somehow it's getting old.

In short, give me dvi instead of pdf any day (and please!, someone write a decent gnome dvi viewer).

gyrx

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