Stanford Magazine Profile of Donald Knuth

From Kara Platoni’s profile of computer science demi-god Donald Knuth, regarding why the poor state of technical book typesetting in the 1970s led him to create TeX:

“The worst of it was the spacing, the way the letters would jam up against each other,” Knuth says. “It was like if you took every letter and you wiggled it and made some of them go up and some of them go down. It wasn’t random — it was systematically bad.” Because the letters in some words got smooshed together, it gave them the illusion of being darker than the others. The eye is naturally drawn toward dark spots, so the reader’s focus would jump all over the page. By 1976, when it was time to print a second edition of Volume 2, Knuth could no longer stand to look at his own work, and he felt that other scientists were getting a similarly raw deal. “We didn’t want our papers just to be there, we wanted them to be beautiful,” he protests. “I wouldn’t have wanted to write The Art of Computer Programming if it was going to look ugly.”

(Thanks to Jonathan Delacour.)

Thursday, 26 April 2007