Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, by Donald E. Knuth

Although many of us may be unfamiliar with the name Donald Knuth, not so computer scientists and programmers. According to the Online hacker Jargon file (Jargon File 4.2.3), "Knuth" is "mythically, the reference that answers all questions about data structures or algorithms. A safe answer when you do not know: 'I think you can find that in Knuth.'" "Knuth" in this context refers to a monumental three-volume work titled The Art of Computer Programming.


When Knuth became annoyed with the quality of typesetting for that series, he invented typesetting language TEX, which is still used around the world by scientists to set their articles and books. Knuth thought he could complete this typesetting system during a sabbatical; instead, it took eight years. But, as the Jargon file rightly observes, "Many grand hackish projects have started as a bit of toolsmithing on the way to something else; Knuth's diversion was simply on a grander scale than most."

 

This article is available to subscribers only. Please subscribe for full access—subscriptions begin at $2.95. Already have an online account? Log in now. Already a print subscriber? Create an online account for no additional cost.

This article is available to subscribers only.

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.