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07 November 2005

 

Knuth

The Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) is posting “Computer Musings,” lectures given by renowned Professor Donald E. Knuth, Stanford University’s Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming. SCPD is digitizing about one hundred tapes of Knuth’s musings, lectures and selected classes and posting them here. They are available to the public free of charge.“I have always liked the concept of universities as they were in Ancient Greece, where folks who had something cool to say would just come and say it,” says Knuth. “It wasn’t about recognition; the impetus was the thought that you were resonating with ideas.” These archived tapes resonate with not only his thoughts, but with insights from students, audience members and other legends in mathematics and computer sciences.Knuth’s impact is far-reaching. Literate programming, attributed to Knuth, essentially holds that computer programs should be developed with an eye toward human comprehension more than computer readability. Knuth maintains that the very act of communicating one's work clearly to other people will improve the work itself. His programming texts are considered classics. In fact, in 1999 American Scientist named The Art of Computer Programming, Volumes 1-3 among the best twelve scientific monographs of the century. The TeX system for document preparation, which Knuth developed during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is still used to produce most of the world's scientific literature in physics and mathematics.While acknowledging his contributions to the field, Knuth comments only that “some people seem to be interested in what I have to say.”“These lectures I’ve given have been inspired and shaped by the questions and responses of the audiences to whom I spoke, and I want to keep them alive,” he explains. “We’ve got these tapes and the world is going digital; SCPD has the talent and expertise to convert them. I feel that archiving is important. I’ve learned from archived lectures and classes myself, so I think others can learn from these.”The Musings: (View Videos)A sampling of musings includes: * Dancing Links * Fast Input/Output with Many Disks, Using a Magic Trick * MMIX: A RISC Computer for the New Millennium * The Joy of Asymptotics * Bubblesort at random (one-dimensional particle physics) * Trees, Forests, and Polyominoes * Finding all spanning treesThe “Aha” sessions (1985):"This was an experimental project where we'd have three or four cameras in a basement studio and we would film classes of about an hour," says Knuth. "We got a bunch of our brightest students and gave them extremely difficult problems. You could literally see the Aha taking place. People can watch the problem-solving process as it occurred." Over 25 hours of these sessions are available for viewing. Notes from these problem sessions were also published as a Stanford Technical Report.Mathematical Writing (1987)"I also gave a class called Mathematical Writing, just for one quarter," says Knuth. "The lectures are still of special interest because they feature quite a few important guest lecturers." This collection contains thirty-one tapes. Lecture Notes for this course are also available.Other VideosAlso available are two five-session short courses about TeX (1981); twelve lectures about the implementation of TeX (1982); video recordings of eight history sessions about Computer Science at Stanford, taped in 1987 and featuring many alumni of our department; and some reminiscences by Professors Feigenbaum, Floyd, Golub, Herriot, Knuth, McCarthy, Miller, and Wiederhold about the founding of Stanford's Computer Science Department, The Living Legends (1997).Questions from audience and students are important to the learning process, according to Knuth. “Sometimes the expression of a more mature idea isn’t the most interesting or effective way to learn —you may learn more from how a professor reacts to an idea or a question.” He pauses, and then adds, “People might learn a lot from watching me fumble around to answer a question.”Start “fumbling” with Professor Knuth. Visit and bookmark http://scpd.stanford.edu/knuth.

SCPD - Donald E. Knuth


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