Love at first byte

Kara Platoni in Stanford Magazine:

Among the many enduring passions of Donald Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming is only the one with the most pages.

Knuth_don In 1957, a lanky, bespectacled college student named Donald Knuth caught a glimpse of a beautiful stranger through a window and fell deeply in love. The object of his affection blinked enticingly back at him. It was an IBM Type 650, one of the earliest mass-produced computers and the first Knuth had ever seen. Although computer science wasn’t even really a science yet, Knuth was a goner.

As he would later muse in a memoir, “There was something special about the IBM 650, something that has provided the inspiration for much of my life’s work. Somehow this machine is powerful in spite of its severe limitations. Somehow it is friendly in spite of its primitive man-machine interface.” Knuth saw it as his passport to the new, man-made landscape of computer science, a world he would never tire of exploring.

…Before young Donald met the IBM 650, he was a physics major from Milwaukee at the Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve). His interest in physics was a departure from a long-contemplated career in music: he played the organ, tuba, saxophone and sousaphone. Then one day, having missed the bus to band practice, he unraveled an extra-credit math problem so difficult that his professor had promised an automatic A in the course to anyone who solved it. By the year’s end, he was the math major with the highest GPA in his class. Knuth published two scientific papers as an undergraduate, not counting his debut article that devised a system of weights and measures for Mad magazine. (Basic unit of force: the whatmeworry.)

More here.