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My class on Concrete Mathematics


My graduate students and my 64th birthday
Donald Knuth Scientist
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At this time - 1990 - my final two or three students finished their PhD and so that gave me a grand total of 28 students.  Mathematicians say that 28 is a perfect number. It's just a bit of a joke but if you... if you consider all the divisors of 28 it's 14, 7, 4, 2 and 1, and that adds up to 28 so it's called a perfect number. And remarkable 28 students, 28 different personalities from many different parts of the world, about half of them went into academic careers and half of them are... are in... in industry. For example, the people who worked with me on TeX, Michael Plass became one... one of the key programmers for Xerox in their DocuTech systems and many of their... their desktop publishing system. Frank Liang went on to be one of the key people in Microsoft Word and many of the students that I had in the typography program, again, were very... have leadership roles in the... in the software industry for... for printing. Bob Sedgewick was chair of Princeton Computer Science Department, Jeff Vitter chair of the Purdue Computer Science Department, now Dean there.  So I have a lot of academic students. Others are back in their native countries, in Spain, Brazil and... so all in all I'm, you know, really grateful that I... I had so many great students who pretty much taught me as much as I taught them. While I could take credit for their successes, it's really their... it's really... they were great and are great. Only one of my students was a... was a sad case and he seems to have committed suicide after an unhappy life.  But, you know, 1 out of 28 I think... it's a pretty good... pretty good score card. And... well we still see... I still see at least half of them because they're in this area now. It reminds me, I might as well mention a huge surprise on my 64th birthday when... when people came from all over the world for a two-day celebration and my... and Jill had kept it totally secret from me and... and I just couldn't believe... every time... every time I'd look another way I'd see yet another amazing person who... who came. Why 64 years birthday? Well, a computer... to a computer scientist the number 64 is... the powers of 2 are the most important numbers.  So after 32 then the next interesting number is 64 and after that 128 is the next interesting number. So I doubt if I'll have another more appropriate birthday time and... and so we call it my millionth birthday since in the binary number system you write 64 as one followed by six zeroes. That's when I got to see lots and lots of my students, so I... so I... the thought came up now.

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, Xerox, Princeton Computer Science Department, Purdue Computer Science Department, Purdue University, Princeton University, Microsoft Word, Michael Plass, Frank Liang, Bob Sedgewick, Jeff Vitter, Jill Knuth

Duration: 3 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008