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Programming IT Technology

Knuth: All Questions Answered 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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Knuth: All Questions Answered

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  • by bentini ( 161979 ) on Saturday March 16, 2002 @11:29PM (#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?
  • by Papineau ( 527159 ) on Sunday March 17, 2002 @12:24AM (#3175833) Homepage
    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!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 17, 2002 @12:56AM (#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.
  • Re:Software errors (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Sunday March 17, 2002 @02:21AM (#3176037)
    Well, it took me 3 hours to figure out how to change the resolution on my Red Hat installation. Who do I bill?
    What about the Slackware installation that kept bombing out? Who do I bill? Shit, I fucked with that thing for a day!
  • Knuth's students (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sinserve ( 455889 ) on Sunday March 17, 2002 @02:58AM (#3176104)
    Should really be proud to work with a legend.
    I have been coding in C for six years, without
    seeing the internet, then I saw the picture of
    Denis Ritchie, and I almost brusted in tears ..
    ahem, I actually did.

    I have read about Ritchie, Kernighan, Thomson,
    Pike, and the rest of the bell guys (from books.)
    Then I got into BBSing, and read source code writen by
    Joy (and the rest of BSD), McKenzie (and few other GNUers.)
    , Kees J Bot and the Minix hackers at Vrije or just around MINIX,
    Bob Stout, Paul Hsieh, Terje Mathisen, Delorie, the DOS extender
    scene lead by TRAN and many many others who have release public
    domain Unix and DOS source code.

    I have read almost every line of code, I could lay my hands on. To
    the point I was able to reuse a huge table of hex #defines, I ripped from
    a compression code in another project (I didn't know about perl, and
    generating constants for table driven code was a bitch. I knew about
    code that had the exact same values :-)

    Then I met Knuth. It was a new birth. It had the same effect on me, as
    reading Abelson&Susman had, a bird's eye view of all that is there.

    It took me 11 months to learn Chapter 1 (without the MIX specs!) but after
    that, it was a revelation, and I am never the same man ever since.
  • Re:some humor..... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dolly_Llama ( 267016 ) on Sunday March 17, 2002 @05:39AM (#3176300) Homepage
    You're trolling now, but I just cant resist..

    Hitler was in no way a christian, in fact his aryan beliefs were in almost complete contradiction to any christian belief. And the holocaust was based on race, not religion.

    Hitler was indeed a christian. He did very evil things, but he was still a christian. Your second point however, is correct, the holocaust was about race, however the eugenicists saw it..

    The Christian religion, is one of the primary reasons for the development of Europe to where it is today. Considering the immense influence it has had over the last 1500 years, it it not supprising that bad things came along with the good. The problem is with human nature, compared to any powerful instituion before it, it was a model of civility.

    In fact, Christianity was one of the prime factors holding BACK Western European civilization for the 6-800 years following the fall of the roman empire. What need is there to innovate and to improve your lot in life if the messiah's second coming is right around the corner? It was only after Greco-Roman thought was re-introduced via Islam that Western European civilization started its upswing. Even later, the church had to be pulled kicking and screaming through the centuries by science. From Gailileo to Creationism, the church has had a great damping effect on scientific progress. See A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom [santafe.edu] for many, many more examples.

    I'm not trying to take a dump on your beliefs. If they work for you, great. Have a cookie. But don't try to paint Christianity, or any other religion too rosy. Like most institutions, it has its darker side, and Christianity has a very dark one indeed.

  • I tend to agree, LaTeX/TeX is pretty horrible for computer-readable stuff. It's basically designed for typesetting printed pages, and is only really good at that. But many papers are available like that because the authors are writing them primarily for journals, and outputting to a PDF they put up on their website is the easiest way to publish it online.

    So yes, for web stuff, I think MathML is the best choice. It's now supported by default in the latest Mozilla; I don't know about other browsers. Unfortunately it's not usable in a standard HTML document, but only in XHTML documents (XML/CSS basically), which makes it have a bit of a learning curve. But then again LaTeX certainly has a learning curve...

    The main argument I've seen against MathML by mathematicians is that it's clumsier than LaTeX to use a lot, especially for those who are already used to LaTeX. Basically this is due to the nature of XML tags -- and pairs are going to be more clumsy to use a lot than LaTeX's \( and \) commands.
  • by chialea ( 8009 ) <chialea.gmail@com> on Sunday March 17, 2002 @01:18PM (#3177046) Homepage
    First of all, you get a complete control over the layout. Secondly, you don't have to read tons of manuals in order to use it.

    I don't know exactly what you've done, but as someone who's had to do papers in both word and latex, let me respectfully point out that making a word document look the same (or even have the same number of pages) on multiple computers, let alone multiple versions of Word, is something that made me tear my hair out. You want control, you use TeX. Period. You want a lot of control, but ease of use, you use LaTeX. You want total and complete frustration because your paper is a different number of pages depending on the computer, splits text in the dumbest places (leaves orphan headers), and so on ad nauseum, you use Word. You don't get control with Word. Even when you've micromanaged the text. I spent a week doing this, and vowed never to use Word again, and thus to never submit to this conference. (The conference I was submitting to was a bit out of my area, in any case, and is completely out now.)


  • Re:some humor..... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgroskind ( 198819 ) on Sunday March 17, 2002 @01:35PM (#3177094)

    Or perhaps you have heard of the Third Punic War, which basically amounted to a campaign of genocide.

    This description of the Roman Empire is equivalent to judging Germany solely by Nazi era and ignoring Goethe and Beethoven.

    The reason that Roman was able to hold the loyalty of most of the provinces of Italy when Hannibal invaded was because of the fundamental fairness of its rule. Cathages' provinces in North Africa were anxious to revolt when Rome provided an opportunity because of Carthages' brutality.

    But they were not the nice people you seem to imagine.

    The Roman Empire had its faults but its rule was enlightened by the standards of the time. Within the Empire there was period of peace and prosperity unmatched until modern times.

  • Re:some humor..... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgroskind ( 198819 ) on Sunday March 17, 2002 @02:19PM (#3177216)

    It was only after Greco-Roman thought was re-introduced via Islam that Western European civilization started its upswing.

    This statement is plain wrong. Christianity is a synthesis of Hebrew and classical Greek philosophy. If Christianity did anything [historyguide.org], it preserved the thought of classical antiquity. Classical authors were widely cited by early Christian thinkers. The idea of theology -- a rational inquiry into the nature of God -- is a Christian invention based on Greek thought.

    The Arabs contributed to medieval thought by making Aristotle known in Christian Europe. However, their sources for Aristotle were Christian sources in Constantinope.

    The Church has been in conflict with science thoughout its existence but it is probably no accident that the founders of modern science (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton) were all believing Christians.

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