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Developing Metafont and TeX

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Giving the Gibbs lecture on my typography work
Donald Knuth Scientist
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I got my users' manual ready and had visitors from the American Mathematical Society. They were... they were... they had horrible... horrible typesetting problems. They're the largest publisher of mathematics in the world, and they... they tried to do their best with their journals, but their journals were looking terrible, just like, you know, just like my books. They were... they were upset about that situation, so they had heard about... rumours of my system. Even their... their most prestigious publication, the... the Mathematical Reviews, which they had typeset by... by a really expensive company, that company couldn't do all of the operations that they wanted.  So... so they came, visited me for two weeks and... and took a look at my system and I... and I showed them some mock-ups of how we could maybe typeset journals as well as The Art of Computer Programming. I was invited then to give... to give the... the... something called the Gibbs Lecture of the American Math Society. Every year it's a... it's one of the main invited lectures to the... to the main annual meeting, and the lectures are usually given by a pure mathematician, but every 4 years they take somebody who's more applied.  So Einstein had given one of these lectures, you know, all the various glorious mathematically oriented... mathematically oriented physicists had... had done, so it was quite a thing to give a Gibbs... to be invited to give a Gibbs Lecture. I decided my Gibbs Lecture would not be about what they expected in computer science, but I was going to talk about typography.  So my Gibbs Lecture was about mathematical typography. And I still... I still didn't have my fonts all done though, for... for Volume Two, I just had enough done that I could test my system, but there was still a lot of work to do to get the... to fine tune and make it look like... like a high quality thing. Still, I could give the Gibbs Lecture in... at the end of, well, it was the beginning of 1979, and it was a big hit with the... with the audience, so... so I knew that there was also a hunger out there for, you know, for... for people being able to do better typesetting of the mathematics.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: TeX, American Mathematical Society, Mathematical Reviews, The Art of Computer Programming, Gibbs Lecture, Albert Einstein

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008