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Posts Tagged ‘Donald E. Knuth’

The author of this poem [the book of Job] is a profound philosopher with a superb command of language and an exquisite sense of natural beauty.  But the astonishing thing about the book of Job is that everyone who reads it comes to a somewhat different conclusion.   Job makes us vividly aware of the paradoxes in one of life’s ultimate questions —  why do we suffer pain?  —  but he doesn’t solve the problem.  He merely demonstrates that there are no easy answers.
This is similar to one of the principal discoveries of computer science, namely that some problems are inherently so complex that they can’t possibly be solved in a finite number of steps.  We must learn to face the fact that an intellectual approach will not lead to an understanding of the cosmos; we can’t transcend our limitations.  Yet we should keep trying.  We should question authority and be aware that the traditional wisdom of religious orthodoxy might be mistaken.  This book says that after an honest search, like job’s, we’ll learn to trust God’s fairness  —  even though some good men suffer, even though some wicked men prosper, even though religion itself remains a mystery.
  —  Donald E. Knuth
From his book:  “3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated
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On This Day In:
2018 Let Us Dare
2017 Two Good To Be Real
Secrets
2016 Learning Subtle Differences
2015 Dog Eat Dog World?
2014 And Sometimes Blogs About It
2013 Outside-In
2012 They Are All Perfect
2011 Delegation – The “How-To’s”
2009 Diet Update and Other Bits & Bobs…

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My idea for a Bible class was based on a fourth way to select Bible verses for study, making use of a mathematical principle that provides an effective way to gain knowledge about complicated things:  A large body of information can be comprehended reasonably well by studying more or less random portions of the data.  The technical term for this approach is stratified sampling.  It something like the Gallup poll, in which a lot  can be learned from studying comparatively little.  Stratified sampling is a surprisingly good way to magnify our perceptual abilities.
  —  Donald E. Knuth
From the Forward to his book:  “3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated
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On This Day In:
2018 Weight / Health Update
What’s Happening With You?
2017 The Great Leveler
Conservative Depressions
2016 Election + 1 Month
2015 Dance And Sing
2014 A Measuring Stick For Progress
2013 Courtly Love Or Victory Over Habit
2012 Have We Met?
2011 Efficiently Useless

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3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated”  —  book review
Today’s review is for “3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated” (1991©) written by Donald E. Knuth.  Back in 2011, I read another book by Knuth, titled: “Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About“. (Review here.)  That book, was a discussion about the author’s faith and his prior book, which is being reviewed in this post.  When I retired (in 2017), I was presented with an Amazon gift voucher, which I promised to “waste” on books, music or technology.  In this case, part of it was used to buy this book (along with a number of other Knuth books).
To save everyone the time of reading my earlier review, basically, Knuth wanted to know if one can learn anything unique or unusual about the Bible by doing a stratified (but random) sampling / review of a particular Bible verse.  In theory, if you have a sufficiently large sample to draw from, you can gain “some” knowledge about any topic by analyzing a random sample of the topic’s data.
Because Knuth was not sure this type of investigation would work for literature, Knuth chose a verse he knew would have at least one interesting data point: “Chapter 3 Verse 16”.  The chapter and verse he was confident about was John Chapter 3: Verse 16 – “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only child, so that all people with faith in him can escape destruction, and live forever.
The first problem Knuth encounters is that not all of the books of the Bible have 13 verses in their chapter 3.  To get around this, he simply carried the sample forward the same number (count) of verses and take up wherever that left him.  There were, however, a number of books which were simply to short to use even this method.  In those instances, he simply chooses to drop the book. Knuth ends up with a sampling size of 59 verses.
The second issue was Knuth found scholars did not always (rarely, in fact) agree on what exactly was meant by the writings in the various Bible sources.  Not only were the scholars interpretations differing, so were the texts across the various Bible versions.  There was (is) even disagreement on if some source material is valid and / or should be included in the Bible.
In order to determine why this was happening, Knuth determined to read the Bibles in their original Hebrew / Aramaic and Greek / Latin.  He could then present his own translations as he felt they should be interpreted.  In addition, he felt he needed to translate the verses immediately before and after the target verse to ensure he was accurately relating context as well as the literal meaning.
The method of describing each of the 59 verses itself is interesting.  Each verse is covered in four pages.  Page one provides overall historic, geographic and character background information.  The second page is devoted to a calligraphic representation of the verse.  The final two pages are a word by word breakdown of the verse.  In order to do this in a manner which makes sense, Knuth sometimes adds an analysis of the preceding or following verse(s).  Just a word on the calligraphy.  Knuth approached a friend who happened to be a world renowned typeface designer to assist with the book cover illustration.  The friend (Hermann Zapf), in turn commissioned calligraphers from over 20 countries to provide the “illustration” pages.  This calligraphy, in turn, became part of a formal exhibit which I believe is currently “owned” by the San Francisco Library.  I don’t know if it (the entire exhibit) is ever shown publicly.  I know it was back in 2011, but I was not able to go view it back then.  My loss, I am sure.
So, is this book interesting?  Is it entertaining?  Is it enlightening?  Yes.  Yes, and Yes!  I am a life-long Roman Catholic, but I have never read the Bible through cover to cover.  I tried to a few years back, but had limited knowledge of the names and places and found it rather boring.  I attempted to co-read Isaac Asimov’s “Guide To The Bible“, but even this was of limited value.  I now think I just gave up too soon.  Mea culpa.
Almost every chapter of this book explained something I didn’t know or fully appreciate about the book being covered in that chapter.  Some were simple “interesting”.  Some were “that never occurred to me”.  And, some (a few) were “Wow! I’ve got to go back and read that!”  Anytime I read a book which prompts me to read more or more in-depth, I am grateful to the author.  (I’m still not sure if I’m weird that way…)  In any case, I’m now more determined than ever to read more of Knuth’s books.
In this case: final recommendation – very highly recommended!!  Even if you are not a Biblical scholar or particularly religious, this book will provide insight into one of the greatest books in all of literature.  At less than 270 pages, this is a fast read and the calligraphy is truly beautiful.  Two final notes: 1) in the afterward, Knuth wonders if his selection of “3:16” was not “influenced” and therefor not entirely random.  His conclusion was, with further analysis, it may have been, but was not intentional.  He adds, however, that he enjoyed the process so much he intends to use the methodology for further future study of other verses.  And, 2) I’ve seen in various places this book was copyright in 1990.  My version says 1991 and that’s the year I’m using above.
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On This Day In:
2018 Happy 34th Anniversary, Hil!!
2017 Happy 33rd Anniversary, Hil!!
2016 Happy 32nd Anniversary, Hil!!
2015 Happy Anniversary Hil!!
2014 30th Wedding Anniversary
2013 Number 29 (And Counting)
2012 Hammer ‘N Roses
Happy Anniversary
2011 I Can Hear It Now

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My recommendation is to aim for a good balance between breadth and depth.  The definition of a good, liberal education is to know something about everything and everything about something.
   —  Donald E. Knuth
From the book: “The Essential Knuth
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On This Day In:
2017 Getting It Done
2016 Getting To Know Me
2015 Why I Pay Taxes
2014 Inequality Of Sacrifice
2013 I Never Saw A Moor
2012 Fill In The Blank
Not For Naught
Cliff Notes To Life?
2011 Conference Games Sunday

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There’s no universal way to think about things, so I can’t claim that someone else is thinking about something wrongly if they don’t think about it the way I do.
   —  Donald E. Knuth
From the book: “The Essential Knuth
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On This Day In:
2016 Supervise The Results
2015 Just Magic!
2014 It Lies Ahead…
2013 At Least One Difference
2012 Are We, Are We?
On Not Playing The Game
Scale
2011 Nutcracker And Nooks
Seeing Differences

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The Essential Knuth”  (2013©)  —  book review
This book is an interview of Professor Donald E. Knuth by Edgar G. Daylight (and edited by Kurt De Grave).  The book is part of the “Conversations” series and covers topics like Knuth’s childhood / family, college life, and then more typical topics – ALGOL, structured programming, other software pioneers and finally the history of computer science history.  Basically, it’s a chance to record the thoughts of a pioneer in his field (computer science) about his life and views about his accomplishments and opinions of other greats in this field.
Is it earth-shattering?  No.  Is it interesting?  Yes.  Knuth appears to be a man who rather humbly acknowledges his own “greatness” in his field, but puts it down to both ability and the good fortune of being born at a time when his field of interest was new.  If you are interested in the thoughts of a giant in his field (and I am in this field), you should like this.
The book is very short: less than 90 pages and has practically no technical information.  It is, therefore, entirely accessible to the general public.  If reading isn’t your “thing”, I have subsequently found most of the book is also available on YouTube in short interviews.  Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  The book is so short and contains so little technical info, you will lose almost nothing for investing the couple of hours it will take to read this book.  And, it is interesting (even if in only a limited way).
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On This Day In:
2016 Hoping For The Best Come January
2015 Adaptive Security
2014 Wants
2013 Side Effects
2012 Just Trying To Earn A Living
2011 Productive Worry

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The main difference between his life and my own was that he was always involved to the hilt with local things, doing things for the people that he knew.  I had more of a calling to global things; I’m mostly thinking about what I can do for people who live far away, people that I’ll never meet.  So I don’t have much time to be a volunteer like my father.  In a way I’ve been selfish, because the things that I do tend to be recognized widely, while he worked tirelessly in a small community.  He was the kind of a person who provides the “lubrication” that’s necessary to make the world work.  Furthermore, the things I do don’t scale up;  there isn’t a need for ten of me in the world.
   —  Donald Ervin Knuth
(Describing the difference between himself and his father)
From: “The Essential Knuth
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On This Day In:
2016 Itchin’
2015 In The Not So Distant Future
2014 Sources
2013 Three Essentials
2012 Just Looking
2011 Religious Lessons
2010 View From Under The Bus… (A mid-term report card on the Obama Administration. Long, but still worth reading for historical perspective.)

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