Ultimate Nerds

I was just reading Marlena’s blog post on her ultimate nerds and this sentence in her section on Charles Joseph Minard caught my eye:

“There is so much focus in tech on completing your most important work in your twenties or maybe early thirties at a stretch, and it’s bullshit.”

This sentence made me think of one of my ultimate nerds: Donald Knuth. The reason? He is 74 years old and still working to to complete his most important work: The Art of Computer Programming (TAOCP).

Other reasons that, if I had a list of Ultimate Nerds, Knuth would be at the top:

  • While writing TAOCP he was so frustrated at the state of the art in electronic publishing that he took years off before completing it to invent TeX and METAFONT, considerably advancing the art of electronic publishing and typsetting.
  • He used to pay $2.56 (a hexadecimal dollar) to anyone who was the first to find a bug in his books.
  • TAOCP includes the definition of a theoretical computer and assembly language instruction set he invented to illustrate the algorithms in the book.
  • His first technical publication was in Mad Magazine. He talks about it here.

There’s so much more that could be said about Knuth but I’ll stop here. I guess you’d have to say I’m a fanboy…

OK, one more thing (this one appeals to me as a tester), a line in a memo from Knuth: “Beware of bugs in the above code. I have only proved it correct, not tried it.” (Other Knuth quotes here.)


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