Math in the News
Don Knuth Defends Status Quo of TeX
May 2, 2008
Donald Knuth, the acclaimed author of the seminal The Art of Computer Programming, was recently interviewed on InformIT, a web site run by technical book publishers. Hailed as the "father" of the analysis of algorithms who also helped to popularize asymptotic notation, Knuth discussed the merits of open source programming; the problems of multi-core architecture; the lack of interest in literate programming; and the trouble with reusable code. He also talked about the mathematical tools TeX and LaTeX.
"Changes to TeX would cause much more harm than good," he noted. "I want to take permanent responsibility for TeX and Metafont, and for the nitty-gritty things that affect existing documents that rely on my work." His working style involves writing "Everything first with pencil and paper, sitting beside a big wastebasket. Then I use Emacs to enter the text into my machine, using the conventions of TeX," he said. "I check my math with Mathematica."
Now working on another update of The Art of Computer Programming, Knuth observed that "A lot of recent literature is academic one-upsmanship." Authors these days, he said, "often introduce arcane methods that outperform simpler techniques only when the problem size exceeds the number of protons in the universe. Such algorithms could never be important in a real computer application."