Donald Knuth = 70

Posted: 10 January 2008 in Uncategorized
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Today is Donald Knuth‘s 70th birthday. If you haven’t at least heard of him, then you probably are not a programmer. I’ve heard several bloggers refer to him as a modern-day Alan Turing (who is widely considered the father of computer science). Knuth is sometimes referred to as the father of algorithmic analysis, so at the very least, his contributions to the field should definitely earn him a place of high regard.

While I’ve never read any of his books, I have used one of the tools he created quite extensively in the past two years: TeX. For those who’ve never had the pleasure of using TeX and seeing documents come out beautifully and professionally formatted with relatively little effort, you’re missing out. Some might argue that you’re missing out on hours of headaches for something you could do in Microsoft Word in 1 minute. I would argue back that while getting TeX to do exactly what you want can sometimes be hard, there are things you can do in TeX very easily that you will never, ever be able to do in Word. Try producing a lower case delta with a hat in Word. Unless you are lucky enough to have a font on your computer with it (and please send me a copy of that font if you do), you will be searching a long time.

There are many Knuth tributes out there from people with far more interesting stories than me. There was an even a call to post, issued by Jeff Shallit. Here are a few:

  • Recursivity – biographical notes and discussion of Knuth’s impact on his life (Jeffrey Shallit)
  • Computational Complexity – some observations about his achievements, his books, and TeX
  • Good Math, Bad Math – a lot about TeX if you’re interested
  • Geomblog – a discussion of something from the second volume of his book The Art of Computer Programming
  • Shtetl-Optimized – more in-depth observations of Knuth’s many contributions
  • in theory – more biographical info and background
  • 0xDE – a pretty remarkable Knuth tribute with some very interesting CS stuff, complete with exercises!
So today presents a great opportunity to learn more about a guy to whom all programmers owe a debt of gratitude.
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