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Computer Musings by Professor Donald E. Knuth

Professor Donald E. Knuth

View Computer Musings, lectures given by Donald E. Knuth, professor emeritus in computer science at Stanford University. The Stanford Center for Professional Development has digitized more than one hundred tapes of Knuth's musings, lectures, and selected classes and posted them online. These archived tapes resonate with not only his thoughts, but with insights from students, audience members, and other luminaries in mathematics and computer science. They are available to the public free of charge.

About Professor Knuth

Professor Donald E. Knuth

Photo by Timothy Archibald

"I have always liked the concept of universities as they were in Ancient Greece, where folks who had something cool to say would just come and say it. It wasn't about recognition; the impetus was the thought that you were resonating with ideas."

Knuth's impact is far-reaching. Literate programming, attributed to Knuth, essentially holds that computer programs should be developed with an eye toward human comprehension more than computer readability. He maintains that the very act of communicating one's work clearly to other people will improve the work itself.

Knuth's programming texts are considered classics. In 1999 American Scientist named The Art of Computer Programming, Volumes 1-3 among the best twelve scientific monographs of the century. The TeX system for document preparation, which Knuth developed during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is still used to produce most of the world's scientific literature in physics and mathematics.

While acknowledging his contributions to the field, Knuth comments only that "some people seem to be interested in what I have to say."

"These lectures I've given have been inspired and shaped by the questions and responses of the audiences to whom I spoke, and I want to keep them alive," he explains. "We've got these tapes and the world is going digital; SCPD has the talent and expertise to convert them. I feel that archiving is important. I've learned from archived lectures and classes myself, so I think others can learn from these."

To view Knuth's lectures, please set up your computer according to the technical requirements for viewing videos. Click on any of the group titles below to view available lectures.

Computer Musings

A sampling of musings includes:

  • Finding all spanning trees (December 16, 2003)
  • The Joy of Asymptotics (May 30, 2000)
  • Dancing Links (February 22, 2000)
  • MMIX: A RISC Computer for the New Millennium (February 9, 1999)
  • Constructing Bubblesort at Random: One-Dimensional Particle Physics (October 27, 1998)
  • Fast Input/Output with Many Disks, Using a Magic Trick (January 20, 1998)

Chronological     Reverse chronological

The "Aha" Sessions (1985)

"This was an experimental project where we'd have three or four cameras in a basement studio and we would film classes of about an hour," says Knuth. "We got a bunch of our brightest students and gave them extremely difficult problems. You could literally see the 'Aha' taking place. People can watch the problem-solving process as it occurred."

Over 25 hours of these sessions are available for viewing. Notes from these problem sessions were published as A Programming and Problem-Solving Seminar, Stanford Technical Report No. STAN-CS-85-1055.

Date Title
January 8, 1985 Problem 1 - Monotonic squares
January 10, 1985 Problem 1 - continued
January 15, 1985 Problem 1 - continued
January 17, 1985 Problem 1 - wrapup
Problem 2 - Code Breaking
January 22, 1985 Problem 2 - continued
January 24, 1985 Problem 2 - continued
January 29, 1985, Part 1 Problem 2 - continued
January 29, 1985, Part 2 Problem 2 - continued
February 7, 1985 Problem 2 - wrapup
February 5, 1985, Part 1 Problem 3 - Hardware fault detection
February 5, 1985, Part 2 Problem 3 - continued
February 12, 1985 Problem 3 - continued
February 19, 1985 Problem 3 - continued
February 21, 1985, Part 1 Problem 3 - continued
February 21, 1985, Part 2 Problem 3 - continued
February 26, 1985 Problem 3 - continued
February 28, 1985 Problem 3 - wrapup
Problem 4 - Distributed stability
March 5, 1985 Problem 4 - continued
March 7, 1985 Problem 4 - continued
March 12, 1985 Problem 4 - wrapup
January 31, 1985 Problem 5 - High-tech art, Guest Professor Matt Kahn
February 14, 1985 Problem 5 - continued
March 15, 1985 Problem 5 - Final art projects, with comments by Guest Professor Matt Kahn

Mathematical Writing (1987)

"I also gave a class called Mathematical Writing, just for one quarter," says Knuth. "The lectures are still of special interest because they feature quite a few important guest lecturers."

The class notes are available as a Stanford report, Mathematical Writing, and a published book.

Date Title
October 2, 1987 Minicourse on technical writing (1)
October 5, 1987 Minicourse on technical writing (2)
October 7, 1987 Comments on student answers (1)
October 9, 1987 Comments on student answers (2)
October 12, 1987 Preparing books for publication (1)
October 14, 1987 Preparing books for publication (2)
October 16, 1987 Preparing books for publication (3)
October 19, 1987 Presenting algorithms
October 21, 1987 Literate Programming (1)
October 23, 1987 Literate Programming (2)
October 26, 1987 User manuals; Galley proofs
October 28, 1987 Guest Professor Herb Wilf on Mathematical Writing
October 30, 1987 Refereeing (1)
November 2, 1987 Refereeing (2)
November 4, 1987 Illustrations (1)
November 6, 1987 Illustrations (2)
November 9, 1987 Quotations
November 11, 1987 Scientific American Saga (1)
November 13, 1987 Scientific American Saga (2)
November 16, 1987 Examples of good style
November 18, 1987 Guest Professor Jeff Ullman on Getting Rich
November 20, 1987 Guest Professor Leslie Lamport on Writing Papers
November 23, 1987 Guest Professor Nils Nilsson on Art and Writing
November 30, 1987 Comments on student work
December 4, 1987 Computer aids to writing
December 7, 1987 Guest Professor Rosalie Stemer on Copy Editing
December 9, 1987 Guest Professor Paul Halmos on Mathematical Writing
December 11, 1987 Final truths

Other Videos

Also available:

  • two videos from 1980, which are the earliest to feature Knuth in Stanford's archives
  • two five-session short courses about TeX (1981)
  • twelve lectures about the implementation of TeX (1982)
  • video recordings of eight history sessions about Computer Science at Stanford, taped in 1987 and featuring many alumni of our department
  • Can computers help produce beautiful books? A corporate technical colloquium at R. R. Donnelley and Sons Co., Inc., Chicago (1988)
  • some reminiscences by Professors Feigenbaum, Floyd, Golub, Herriot, Knuth, McCarthy, Miller, and Wiederhold about the founding of Stanford's Computer Science Department, The Living Legends (1997)
  • Robert W Floyd, In Memoriam (2002)
  • Stanford Engineering Hero Lecture: All Questions Answered (2011)
Date Title
January 14, 1980 President Carter honors the 1979 National Medal of Science awardees, including Professor Donald E. Knuth, in the East Room of the White House.
May 12, 1980 CS144C classroom lecture about disk storage and B-trees
February 23, 1981 TeX For Beginners: - Session 1
February 24, 1981 TeX For Beginners: - Session 2
February 25, 1981 TeX For Beginners: - Session 3
February 26, 1981 TeX For Beginners: - Session 4
February 27, 1981 TeX For Beginners: - Session 5
March 2, 1981 Advanced TeXarcana - Session 1
March 3, 1981 Advanced TeXarcana - Session 2
March 4, 1981 Advanced TeXarcana - Session 3
March 5, 1981 Advanced TeXarcana - Session 4
March 6, 1981 Advanced TeXarcana - Session 5
July 28, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 1
July 28, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 2
July 28, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 3
July 28, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 4
July 29, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 5
July 29, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 6
July 29, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 7
July 29, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 8
July 30, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 9
July 30, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 10
July 30, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 11
July 30, 1982 The Internal Details of TeX82 - Session 12
March 27, 1987 Special Collections - History of Computer Science at Stanford, Sessions 1 and 2
March 27, 1987 Special Collections - History of Computer Science at Stanford, Session 3
March 27, 1987 Special Collections - History of Computer Science at Stanford, Sessions 4 and 5
March 27, 1987 Special Collections - History of Computer Science at Stanford, Sessions 6 and 7
March 27, 1987 Special Collections - History of Computer Science at Stanford, Session 8
May 23, 1988 Can computers help produce beautiful books? A corporate technical colloquium at R. R. Donnelley and Sons Co., Inc., Chicago.
March 22, 1997 Special Collections - Living Legends Part 1 - Professors Feigenbaum, Floyd, Golub, Herriot, Knuth, McCarthy, Miller, and Wiederhold
March 22, 1997 Special Collections - Living Legends Part 2 - Professors Feigenbaum, Floyd, Golub, Herriot, Knuth, McCarthy, Miller, and Wiederhold
March 20, 2002 Robert W Floyd, In Memoriam
May 12, 2011 Stanford Engineering Hero Lecture: All Questions Answered