10 January 2008

Knuth is 70

Donald Knuth is seventy. The four posts I've linked to say more about this than I can.

In his honor, I hope to take a class in the analysis of algorithms this term. (Okay, I was planning to anyway.) In fact, just now I got it approved that I could take this class. It's not in my department, so doing so required a couple e-mails -- but the analysis of algorithms is a legitimate field of mathematics. I'm not going to explain why here, because in doing so I would probably just say lots of foolish things that I don't fully understand. This is why I'm taking the class -- I am interested in the analysis of algorithms but I don't know much about it.

I hope that one day I have enough money that I feel like I can give $2.56 to everybody who catches a mistake that I make and not be bankrupted by this. (Knuth gives this amount -- "one hexadecimal dollar" -- to anyone who finds an error in one of his books.) I would be willing to adopt such a scheme right now if all other authors adopted it as well, though; since I read much more than I write I'm reasonably sure I'd come out ahead -- so long as I was the only one eligible to receive such money. (Is there anybody who reads less than they write? That seems like it would be a very strange state of affairs.) However, if all other authors adopted such a scheme they would probably also be more diligent in proofreading their work, and I'd have competition for finding the errors; in the end some sort of equilibrium would be reached among all people who read and/or write, and I'm not sure whether I would end up paying out more in such bounties than I take in.


Anonymous said...

It looks like you're expected to turn in your problem sets in TeX for that class, so that truly is appropriate for a tribute to Donald Knuth.

mcherm said...

If you think offering $2.56 to the first finder of each error in his books is good, you should see what he offers for errors in his PROGRAMS.

$2.56 for the first error, and $5.12 for the second, $10.24 for the next and so forth, doubling every time!

(Unfortunately for the mythology, http://www.ams.org/notices/200203/fea-knuth.pdf says that he stopped doubling when he reached $327.68 per error.)

Now THAT takes confidence!

(The even cooler thing is that people don't cash the checks: they're worth far more _uncashed_ as a collector's item then the monetary value.)

Anonymous said...

Knuth is very nifty.

As someone involved with typesetting since the '60's, he helped me understand what was involved in getting words in print.

PLUS his books "The Art of Programming" are wonderful.

Aaron said...

Is there anybody who reads less than they write? That seems like it would be a very strange state of affairs.

All snark about drugstore thrillers and cheap bodice-rippers aside... ;)