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Why I chose analysis of algorithms as a subject


Working on a series of books of my collected papers
Donald Knuth Scientist
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The fact that I started swimming in the '90s also had a nice... a nice other secondary effect and that's where I met you at the pool one day and you said, 'Why don't I... why don't we... we publish a book about literate programming?' - this idea that you're so hot on. And I... I think, in fact, in Japan such a book had come out already, that... that someone in Japan had... had decided to... to write such a book. And... and I was, you know, I had plenty already on my plate but then you went and got one of my best students, John Hobby, to... to make a plan as to what such a book would contain and so then I was sold on it. And in fact I got so hooked on the idea that... that I was thrilled by the thought that I could... that I could have the papers that I'd written, collected together and published during my lifetime. As a... as a person who uses libraries a lot I... I certainly make great use of... of collected works of scientists and... and I know many volumes that I... that I consult... that I consult frequently of the... of the papers that... of mostly mathematicians, but physicists and others. And... but these are almost always collected together after the guy... the guy died and... and sometimes 100 years after the person died. So here was... here was something where you were actually proposing to take several of the papers that I wrote on... on literate... that had literate programming as a... as a unifying theme and put them together in a book. That... once I realized how satisfying this would be, you see, the... I... I have these 160 papers and they... and I have reprints of them all and they're all in different sizes and shapes and colors and... and I always thought if my wife wanted to surprise me some day she could have them nicely bound and then... then they wouldn't all be in... in such chaos... form. But here you're saying no, not only could it be nicely bound it could be, in fact, reprinted and I could even correct the mistakes that I knew about in these papers. So... and you were going to do all the work yourself and you had... and you had Beth Bryson taking care of it so she sent me the cleanest copy. I... I've never had a case before where somebody had worked with... with my papers and presented me with something that I didn't have to almost totally redo - this was before I met Silvio Levy. And so... so I got the... I got a book that was... that was amazingly attractive to... to me as well as... as sort of fulfilling one of the... my dreams that I didn't know I had. And then it developed then that all of my... all of my papers would appear in... in subsequent volumes organized by the... by the different topics.  And so far, six of those eight volumes are finished. And I must say how happy it makes me to... to have them, you know, all in a consistent format and with the errors that I know about, sucked out of them and... and put into context and... and sort of recast the way I wish I'd written them in the first place. It gives me a chance to... I mean they're not true to the historical record, if somebody wants to know what error did I make in a certain year, you know, they can look it up in... in the journal, but if they want to know what excited me and why I wrote the paper and... and what I... what I think is important about that paper in the future, they can look at the book - at these... at these collected works that you've prepared.  So... so there's six of eight are done. The one that I'm dedicating to Bob Floyd is coming up next and it's about the design of algorithms and the... and the last one that I'm saving for dessert is the one about fun and games that I've already referred to. And so, as I was going through my... my priorities, you know, as to... as to what would I do if it was told that I only had a... a certain number of days to live, I... it... it occurred to me that I really would... would very much like to have those last two volumes of the collected papers finished. So I hope that this... that that works out. I've... I've got, the part of Volume Four that I'm working on right now I have to do first, but... but then I'm going to do these other two collected papers, get them... get them finished and... and continue on Volume Four after that point, is my... is my current... is my current thinking. The one book on, you know, the one book on typography is... is a particular pleasure for me because... because of the... it has lots of great illustrations in it, but the book on analysis of algorithms is... is, you know, that's my main life's research work and there... there... having all those papers put together in one... in one place is... is something that, you know, gives... gives a certain... gives a lot of fulfilment.

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: Japan, Dikran Karagueuzian, John Hobby, Beth Bryson, Silvio Levy, Bob Floyd

Duration: 5 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008