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Pipe organ music is one of the great pleasures of life


The importance of awards and the Kyoto Prize
Donald Knuth Scientist
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I think awards... awards are important in a person's life to... to validate that... that other people appreciate the... the work that goes into, you know, the... the things that I do are... are fun but there's also parts of them that aren't fun and... and it's pleasing to know that it's... that it's appreciated.  So... so getting an award is certainly a... a fine tradition. The first... the first one of importance to me was to get the Medal of Science from President Carter and this was totally unexpected but... but I... but it was my great privilege to be sitting next to Richard Feynman when he got the Medal of Science from President Carter. And when he... when... just before I went up to get the... to get it he... he went like this with his elbow and said, 'Okay Don, here's your big moment'. And... well, he's one of my huge heroes. I... I knew him at Caltech and... and so this was one... this was, you know, a big day for... for me for sure. Then some other prizes I... where I could, you know, represent computer science in... in... there was a prize called the Harvey Prize in Israel.  Again, these are prizes that are open not only to computer scientists but also to chemists, physicists, biologists, people of... of all... of all scientific disciplines. Some other prizes also were open to... to people from humanities, I'm glad to say one of my doctor is... doctorates is a doctor of letters, I mean after I worked on Metafont I ought to have a doctor of letters I figure. So... so this has been something that, I guess deep down, gives me some... some satisfaction and encouragement to keep going. The biggest prize of all of course was the Kyoto Prize which... which was about 10 years ago and... and that's... that's a prize that is probably the best a computer scientist can... can hope for.  It recognises a lifetime achievement in... in the field and... and... it... it is offered to a... to a somebody in... in technology every three or four years. I, at that time, I was able to... to bring my family and my wife's family and her... and, you know, my sister could come and my... and my mother... mother and father-in-law and... and sister-in-law with my kids and spent... spent several weeks in Japan to... so... so it was also a good thing for the whole family. During that time, I... I was in Japan for three weeks, I gave 13 lectures on 13 different subjects, eight of which were prepared and five of which were improvised. I got to meet the Emperor and Empress of Japan, you know, and... and wow, she is an extremely impressive person. I got to meet my hero, Nob - the greatest puzzle expert - and we... we could go to a... to a hot baths together and... and with him and his family and so we... we could experience many, many parts of Japan and this was another important highlight of my life.

[Q] And there's a nice, if I'm not mistaken, a nice tie-in to the beginning of your career, as it were, in grade school in Milwaukee. You donated some of the... the prize to your grade school.

Oh, oh, that's right, the Kyoto Prize also comes with money, you know.  It's... it's not as rich quite as the Nobel Prize but it's... it's enough to... it's enough to convince the world that they... that they thought twice before they gave the prize. And... and it's... and so it amounted to about $400,000, and Jill and I didn't want this to ruin our life because we were happy without the money so we didn't know what we would, you know, if... if having this would be... would be bad. So we used 100,000 to pay for the trips of our... of our family and 100,000 went to my school where I had started, you know,  the eighth grade... the first grade through eighth grade, you're right, and 100,000 to Stanford and 100,000 to pay for a new... a new pipe organ at the... at the church where I go here in Palo Alto.

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: Kyoto Prize, Medal of Science, CaltechHarvey Prize, Israel, Metafont, Japan, Milwaukee, Nobel Prize, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Richard Feynman, Jimmy Carter, Nob Yoshigahara, Jill Knuth

Duration: 5 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008