Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Don Knuth doesn’t validate

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 11:30

Prof. Donald E. Knuth is one of the über-gods of computer science; most people know him as the author of numerous computer science papers, author of “The Art of Computer Programming", the author of the TEX typesetting system, and as the editor of the Journal of Algorithms and the ACM Transactions on Algorithms.

Knuth is known to be very fastidious in his work. The quality of the TEX system is legendary; Knuth pays a reward for every bug found in TEX, which started at $2.56 (one hexadecimal dollar), and doubled every year (until it was frozen at $327.68). TEX is essentially frozen, and has been in use unchanged for 20 years. While the first three volumes of The Art of Computer Programming have already been published, at the age of 67, Knuth is still preparing the remaining four volumes, expecting to work on them for another 20 years.

Unfortunately, he is also known for under-estimating timescales: When he started work on TEX, he expected to complete the project during his sabbatical; in fact, it took about eight years. The first draft for The Art of Computer Programming was supposed to be a book on compiler design, but turned into a 3000 page manuscript on the fundamentals of computing.

Recently, Knuth clashed with the administrators of W3 Validator, a validation service for HTML documents. The complete email exchange started with this message. Knowing a little about Knuth’s personality and mode of work, I found it quite hilarious.

Oh, the reason why this message is not sent from Knuth’s own email address is that he doesn’t have one. This lucky person quit using email in 1990, he has a secretary for that.

(Thanks to ScottyTM)

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