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Giving a lecture series on science and religion at MIT


Chess master playing at Adobe Systems
Donald Knuth Scientist
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I got the artwork though from the... from the world's calligraphers. That all arrived while we were in Boston, and it was coming in... it was... it was like Christmas every... every day, because we would get another beautiful letter from somebody with... with their contributions to the book. And so, the artwork was so great, I tried to make the... the quality of my accompanying texts somewhere that would approach the quality of the artwork I was receiving. I spent some time then, on weekends for the next several years, and then... and then it occurred to me, I had better digitize this art, because the world was... was getting a little more digital all the time, and a... a company called Adobe Systems had been founded and... and I called up... I called up John Warnock, the cofounder of Adobe and by a serendipity, he answered the phone. I tried it many times since then, it never worked. But this day, you know, he answered the phone. I said, 'John, I've got this... I've got some great artwork and... and I think I'd like to capture it in digital form and... and we want to make a poster which puts the artwork in a different size. Is it possible to do this with any computer software?' And he said, 'Jo...', he said 'Don, I've got just the thing for you, we have a... a program we're working on called Photoshop, and... and we've got... you know, Streamline' (which is... it turned out to be a kind of a dud, but that's what he... he liked it at the time) and... and he said, 'So, come on out and use our equipment.  Take... bring your artwork with you'. So, during the summer of 1989 I went over and I was... I was the night watchman at Adobe Systems. I...I worked in their art department and I would... and I had about 50 Macintoshes in a room every night when most people were home. I could... I could be running my... Photoshop was really not anywhere near beta test stage yet at that point, but... and I... I got to work with the... with the man, Tom - Tom... I... just call him Tom - from Michigan, who... who was the main implementer and... so we got some of the bugs out of Photoshop at that period.  But anyway, I... I could use the artwork from my... my 3:16 book at Adobe and... and after... after several... a couple of months, I had... I had it all in form that I like, ready to... ready to do... the... Macintoshes were very slow at the time, and dealing with a file of... of two or three megabytes was a... a heroic effort. You could start Photoshop going on a... on a filtering operation on one machine, and then five minutes later it would be ready for the next operation, so that's why I could go to another Macintosh.  It's something like a... a chess master playing a... a simultaneous tournament. You make a move on one board and then, you go to, you know, you go on to the next thing. So, but I'm... I'm getting this artwork slowly through the press this way and it takes also a long time to transmit these files to the... to the printer, but they had... they had what they called a RIP in those days, a raster image processor, and you could... you could print the films that I could use for the... for the book.  And I got a... I went to Singapore to see the book through the press, and... and I was expecting that... that the... that I might have one or two readers who... who were touched by the book and liked it, and that would make my... make the whole project worthwhile and my wishes were fulfilled within a week of the publication. It was amazing. I was expecting, you know, to have a lot of negative reactions to the book, actually, because why... why is a computer scientist doing something that he has no right to be doing - writing about the Bible.  You know, would I... would I read a book by a theologian about programming, you know... and the only thing I could... I could do that a theologian couldn't do, is I can... I can in my book commend theologians for having done their work well, in... in many cases. You know, I can... I can give a testimonial while they can't do that because they obviously have an axe to grind.  But, I can... as an outsider, I can at least direct people, saying, you know, here's something really cool that... and so that's one thing that... that I could do. But anyway, I... I found this weekend project was kind of an enriching thing and I am so glad it turned out as well as it... as well as it has.

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: Boston, Christmas, Adobe Systems, Photoshop, Streamline, Macintosh, 3:16, RIP, Singapore, Bible, John Warnock

Duration: 5 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008