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Problems with Volume Two


Tuning up my fonts and getting funding for TeX
Donald Knuth Scientist
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After I had so many users, I realized that the... the original... my original designs were too naive. They had... I had to go... I had to retool them and... and so the... as I was doing it, I... I came across the idea of literate programming at the same time. But I have to postpone that a second first of all because meanwhile, with the old systems, with the TeX 78 and Metafont 79, I also wanted to tune up my fonts, you know, so that I could... so that I could really match the... the letter forms, and I'd been reading a lot of... I'd been reading a lot of things about font design and learning more about history of letters, and so I... I... while also talking with and meeting people at... in industry, like Linotype and you know, Mergenthaler, and so they introduced me to... to type designers and especially I got to know Chuck Bigelow and Matthew Carter and... and eventually, Hermann Zapf, who were the three of the four leaders in the field. The fourth man, Frutiger, I never did meet. He was... he was ill, but... but I could have if he had been... if he had been healthy. But... so... so they helped me get the worst glitches out of... out of my... my designs and when I had the... the Metafont 79 I could, I... I had the benefit of their comments to... to revise my... my designs. I also... I also had to... had to buy a typesetting machine, and... and so I took trips around the world to different places, to where they had different experimental type... typesetting machines, and when we finally got what's called an AlphaType, which had the highest resolution of any machine that I... that I could get... and... it was also... we could afford it. It cost us, I don't know, $40, $50,000. I think Addison-Wesley paid for $20,000 of that. We were running on a shoestring, but... but it turned out later we got... we got good... good research funding. I was supported by the National Science Foundation to do research in algorithms, and that was including, as far as they knew, that was what I was going to do during my sabbatical year and I said, you know, my research on algorithms is going to... going to have the following seven parts to it. And the first six parts are, I'm going to study algorithms for, you know, various combinatorial problems, and the seventh part was, I'm also going to work on algorithms for... for typesetting so that I can explain the research that I'd done on the... on the first six parts of my grant. And really, I spent all my time on... on part seven, pretty much because I had the other research basically done already, so I could... I could still have the other thing on my... on my progress report.  But I was working full-time on... on this typesetting. And, so they were supporting it through the backdoor. And later on, System Development Foundation learnt that. Well, I met with NSF people and we were open about the need for it, and they said, why don't I make a proposal to another division of NSF for work on digital typography after the... my Gibbs Lecture and so on. They... then people knew about it, and so I got... so I got NSF support also from another division.  But then the System Development Foundation was a... a special thing that they were trying to... to spend a lot of money wisely that had been left over from the System Development Corporation's Sage Project in Southern California, and... and they... they supported things like Stanford's Center for Music and Acoustics, and they gave me a million dollars to, in the words of their Chief Financial Officer, who... what you call him?... he said he... he wanted to give me this money so that I could finish the work on TeX and get back to The Art of Computer Programming. So... so I had good funding eventually, but in the early days it was... it was... we... we were not flush with money by any means. So, I get... I get advice from the top... the world's top designers, they... they look at the letters and they mark it up with red pen and... and then I fix it until it... until it satisfies them. And I... and I get this AlphaType machine.  And in order to run the AlphaType machine I had to write my own software for... for the insides of the machine. It had a little, tiny 8-bit computer inside... in it with six levels of interrupts and I had to write my own assembly program for it, and... and it had... it had very little memory in. We had to transmit from our mainframe to this computer with little Zilog machines. It was a heck of a lot of fun, but also very frustrating too, because... because this... this machine is deaf and blind, and... and it took a lot of work to get it going. Finally I was able to typeset on the AlphaType, and I had pages that looked like... that looked like, you know, high resolution and much better than the ones that I did. So, I... I, after all this work... of starting in 1977 and... and continuing on much longer than the year that I thought it was going to take, I finally had Volume Two all ready and printed on the AlphaType and I could send it to Addison-Wesley for them to photograph and... and print by offset.

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 78, Metafont 79, Linotype, AlphaType, Addison-Wesley, National Science Foundation, System Development Foundation, Sage Project, Southern California, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, TeX, The Art of Computer Programming, Ottmar Mergenthaler, Chuck Bigelow, Matthew Carter, Hermann Zapf, Adrian Frutiger

Duration: 6 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008