[nSLUG] Interview with Donald Knuth by Andrew Binstocl

George N. White III gnwiii at gmail.com
Wed Apr 30 08:29:46 ADT 2008


Knuth, one of my heros,  doesn't have patience for most "computer
journalists", but he seems to like Andrew Binstock, who recently tried
to implement a successor to TeX called Platypus that was to provide
better support for software developers.  Binstock had to rethink his
approach: <http://binstock.blogspot.com/2008_02_01_archive.html>,
so he probably has a better appreciation for Knuth's genius than

Some quotes from the interview:

"The success of open source code is perhaps the only thing in the computer
field that hasn't surprised me during the past several decades. But it
still hasn't
reached its full potential; I believe that open-source programs will
begin to be
completely dominant as the economy moves more and more from products
towards services, and as more and more volunteers arise to improve the code."

"To me, it looks more or less like the hardware designers have run out of
ideas, and that they're trying to pass the blame for the future demise
of Moore's
Law to the software writers by giving us machines that work faster
only on a few
key benchmarks! I won't be surprised at all if the whole
multithreading idea turns
out to be a flop, worse than the "Titanium" approach that was supposed to be
so terrific—until it turned out that the wished-for compilers were basically
impossible to write."

"In my experience, software created with literate programming has turned
out to be significantly better than software developed in more traditional
ways. Yet ordinary software is usually okay—I'd give it a grade of C (or
maybe C++), but not F; hence, the traditional methods stay with us."

"Jon Bentley probably hit the nail on the head when he once was asked
why literate programming hasn't taken the whole world by storm. He
observed that a small percentage of the world's population is good at
programming, and a small percentage is good at writing; apparently I am
asking everybody to be in both subsets."

"I currently use Ubuntu Linux, on a standalone laptop—it has no Internet
connection. I occasionally carry flash memory drives between this machine
and the Macs that I use for network surfing and graphics; but I trust my family
jewels only to Linux. Incidentally, with Linux I much prefer the keyboard focus
that I can get with classic FVWM to the GNOME and KDE environments that
other people seem to like better. To each his own."

"A lot of the recent literature is academic one-upmanship of limited
interest to me; authors these days often introduce arcane methods
that outperform the simpler techniques only when the problem size
exceeds the number of protons in the universe"

George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia

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