Thursday, October 26, 2006

Echo! Echo!

Noah is a funny guy. He has started a death watch on my other blog because ... well, in his words:

Well, it has been some time since he posted to this second blog. In fact, it has been nearly as long as it was between my last post and today's unexpected flurry of bloggery here at Source-Filter. It is possible, perhaps plausible, that this delay, like the delays in my own posting schedule, indicates that Josh's secondary blog is terminally ill.

So there you have it folks, Noah admits that his blog is "terminally ill!"

Ok, alright, point taken. This deathwatch is richly deserved. I haven't posted to Knuth's Masterwork in a week. If I don't post today, it will indeed have been every bit as long as it was between posts for Noah when I started the deathwatch on Source Filter.

So - I have some reading to do!

One correction to Noah's post. The Art of Computer Programming is actually intended to be 7 volumes, not 3. I have only set myself the task of reading 3 because (a) that's really all the time I have (and if I keep at the pace I've been going I won't even have time for that!) and (b) the first three volumes are the only that were available for many years anyway, so I suppose they are the core of the "foundational book in algorithms" that Noah describes. Knuth started writing this book in 1968 and hasn't finished it yet. As legend has it, he became frustrated with the typesetting of the second edition, and in 1977 resolved to create an electronic typesetting system of his own to fix the problem. This became TeX, which most people know though the document preparation macros built on top of it called LaTeX. Reading up on this today, I find that Guy Steel - heroic co-creator of the Scheme programming language and therefore friend of all mankind! - was also influential in its development as he just so happened to be visiting Stanford when Knuth started on it. I guess few worlds are as small as computer science was in the 70s.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that the book is intended to be 7 volumes. Knuth got sidetracked mid-project, so for many years only three volumes were available. Sometime in the late 90s, volume 4 came out to much fanfare, and according to Knuth's website, he will be finished with volume 5 shortly. If you read between the lines on the same site, it seems that prospects are dim for volumes 6 and 7 ever seeing the light of day. Knuth is getting old, and in any case may have crammed everything worth saying into the first 5 volumes in the end.

I only intend to read the first three volumes by the end of the semester. Speaking of which, I should probably crack one now, eh? Before Noah performs last rites (or whatever the Jewish Atheist equivalent is) on my blog...


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