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Literate programming

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Donald Knuth Scientist
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I was expecting to be... the greatest day of my life when the book arrived in January of 1961, '81, 1981. I was expecting that would be the greatest time to... to open this book and, you know, celebrate. I finally had the project done. Well, it was one of the worst days of my life. I opened the book, and I didn't like it at all, OK ...what I see. I mean I had, you know, the... it was the old binding, and... but when I looked at... and I... and I opened it, and it just looked completely different.  And I had, you know, from the proof that I'd seen, I had thought that it was going to be... it was going to be fine, but I... I felt so... I mean, I... I could feel this huge rush of heat as I'm looking at it saying, 'Oh no!' I had spent all this... all this time and... and I got this.  And... and, you know, I tried to... the people, you know, would say, 'Nice job Don', and so on.  But I couldn't believe them, you know, I... and inside of me I... I said, 'My gosh, I'm way far from... from being done with this and getting something, you know, something... something decent'. The worst thing was the... was the numbers. I mean, most of the pages looked okay if you... if you aren't too fussy, the... but... but as you're paging through a book, you're... and you're looking for a certain page, you're looking at the numbers - your eyes are focussing on numbers - and I... and I debugged the A, B, C, D and E, but the zero, 1, 2, 3, 4 I didn't spend much time on and... and boy, those numbers just were very ugly. So I had to go through another... first I couldn't get the letter S, now I couldn't get a 2 or a 5, and so I would, you know... all the 25 mile hour limit speed limit signs I would see on the road I would... I would say, 'How did they do that?' And... and so, anyway, I'm... I'm depressed by... by this, knowing that there's still so much to do. The... but... but I've got lots of users around the world who... who don't know that I'm depressed about it, and... and so I'm trying to... but then ... but my font designer friends... designers said, 'Look Don, the period of apprenticeship for a type designer is always five years, you've only been working on this for two years, how can you expect to have, you know, have succeeded after two years?' So, they were very kind to me and... and through the grants that we had now, I could invite them to Stanford and spend, and... and spend time with... with them and... and learn... learn from them what I should've done. And this is when I found that the people in the graphic... the graphic artists are just about the nicest people in the world as far as I've met so far, anyway. So... so it was a great... great thing. I couldn't keep up with all my teaching at Stanford though, I'm not on sabbatical but... but I found that doing software was much... was much harder than writing books and doing research papers. It takes another level of commitment that you have to have so much in your head at the... at the time when you're doing software, that... that I had to take leave of absence from Stanford from my... from my ordinary teaching for several quarters during this period.

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: Stanford University

Duration: 3 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008