Watch 110 Lectures by Donald Knuth, “the Yoda of Silicon Valley,” on Programming, Mathematical Writing, and More

Many see the realms of literature and computers as not just completely separate, but growing more distant from one another all the time. Donald Knuth, one of the most respected figures of all the most deeply computer-savvy in Silicon Valley, sees it differently. His claims to fame include The Art of Computer Programming, an ongoing multi-volume series of books whose publication began more than fifty years ago, and the digital typesetting system TeX, which, in a recent profile of Knuth, the New York Times' Siobhan Roberts describes as "the gold standard for all forms of scientific communication and publication."

Some, Roberts writes, consider TeX "Dr. Knuth’s greatest contribution to the world, and the greatest contribution to typography since Gutenberg." At the core of his lifelong work is an idea called "literate programming," which emphasizes "the importance of writing code that is readable by humans as well as computers — a notion that nowadays seems almost twee.




Dr. Knuth has gone so far as to argue that some computer programs are, like Elizabeth Bishop’s poems and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, works of literature worthy of a Pulitzer." Knuth's mind, technical achievements, and style of communication have earned him the informal title of "the Yoda of Silicon Valley."

That appellation also reflects a depth of technical wisdom only attainable by getting to the very bottom of things, which in Knuth's case means fully understanding how computer programming works all the way down to the most basic level. (This in contrast to the average programmer, writes Roberts, who "no longer has time to manipulate the binary muck, and works instead with hierarchies of abstraction, layers upon layers of code — and often with chains of code borrowed from code libraries.) Now everyone can get more than a taste of Knuth's perspective and thoughts on computers, programming, and a host of related subjects on the Youtube channel of Stanford University, where Knuth is now professor emeritus (and where he still gives informal lectures under the banner "Computer Musings").

Stanford's online archive of Donald Knuth Lectures now numbers 110, ranging across the decades and covering such subjects as the usage and mechanics of TeX, the analysis of algorithms, and the nature of mathematical writing. "I am worried that algorithms are getting too prominent in the world,” he tells Roberts in the New York Times profile. “It started out that computer scientists were worried nobody was listening to us. Now I’m worried that too many people are listening." But having become a computer scientist before the field of computer science even had a name, the now-octogenarian Knuth possesses a rare perspective to which anyone in 21st-century technology could certainly benefit from exposure.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

150 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we've developed a rich lineup of online courses for lifelong learners, many of which will get started next week. The courses aren't free. But they're first rate, giving adult students--no matter where they live--the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.

The catalogue includes a large number of online Creative Writing courses, covering the Novel, the Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Travel Writing, Poetry and more. For the professional, the program offers online business courses in subjects like Fundamentals of Project ManagementValue Investing: An IntroductionHow to Build Successful Startups: Learn Lessons Straight from Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs and Leadership by Design: Using Design Thinking to Transform Companies and CareersAnd there's a growing number of online Liberal Arts courses too. Take for example The Geology and Wines of California and FranceDrawing Inspiration: Developing a Creative Practice, and The Daily Photograph: Developing Your Creative Intuition.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the larger catalogue. Stanford Continuing Studies has 150 courses getting started this Winter quarter (next week), many taking place in Stanford's classrooms. The two flagship courses of the quarter include: Pivotal Moments That Shaped the Modern World and The Ethics of Technological Disruption: A Conversation with Silicon Valley Leaders and Beyond.

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130 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we've developed a rich lineup of online courses, many of which will get started next week. The courses aren't free. But they're first rate, giving adult students--no matter where they live--the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.

The catalogue includes a large number of online Creative Writing courses, covering the Novel, the Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Travel Writing, Poetry and more. For the professional, the program offers online business courses in subjects like An Introduction to Project ManagementHow to Build Successful Startups: Learn Lessons Straight from Silicon Valley EntrepreneursValue Investing: An Introduction, and Leadership by Design: Using Design Thinking to Transform Companies and CareersAnd there's a growing number of online Liberal Arts courses too. Take for example Leo Tolstoy's War and PeaceThe History of WineGreek Mythology and Drawing Inspiration: Developing a Creative Practice.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the larger catalogue. Stanford Continuing Studies has 130+ courses getting started this Summer quarter (next week), many taking place in Stanford's classrooms. For anyone living outside of California, check out the program's list of online courses here.

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Hidden Ancient Greek Medical Text Read for the First Time in a Thousand Years — with a Particle Accelerator

Image by Farrin Abbott/SLAC, via Flickr Commons

Long before humanity had paper to write on, we had papyrus. Made of the pith of the wetland plant Cyperus papyrus and first used in ancient Egypt, it made for quite a step up in terms of convenience from, say, the stone tablet. And not only could you write on it, you could rewrite on it. In that sense it was less the paper of its day than the first-generation video tape: given the expense of the stuff, it often made sense to erase the content already written on a piece of papyrus in order to record something more timely. But you couldn't completely obliterate the previous layers of text, a fact that has long held out promise to scholars of ancient history looking to expand their field of primary sources.

The decidedly non-ancient solution: particle accelerators. Researchers at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) recently used one to find the hidden text in what's now called the Syriac Galen Palimpsest. It contains, somewhere deep in its pages, “On the Mixtures and Powers of Simple Drugs,” an "important pharmaceutical text that would help educate fellow Greek-Roman doctors," writes Amanda Solliday at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.




Originally composed by Galen of Pergamon, "an influential physician and a philosopher of early Western medicine," the work made its way into the 6th-century Islamic world through a translation into a language between Greek and Arabic called Syriac.

Image by Farrin Abbott/SLAC, via Flickr Commons

Alas, "despite the physician’s fame, the most complete surviving version of the translated manuscript was erased and written over with hymns in the 11th century – a common practice at the time." Palimpsest, the word coined to describe such texts written, erased, and written over on pre-paper materials like papyrus and parchment, has long since had a place in the lexicon as a metaphor for anything long-historied, multi-layered, and fully understandable only with effort. The Stanford team's effort involved a technique called X-ray fluorescence (XRF), whose rays "knock out electrons close to the nuclei of metal atoms, and these holes are filled with outer electrons resulting in characteristic X-ray fluorescence that can be picked up by a sensitive detector."

Those rays "penetrate through layers of text and calcium, and the hidden Galen text and the newer religious text fluoresce in slightly different ways because their inks contain different combinations of metals such as iron, zinc, mercury and copper." Each of the leather-bound book's 26 pages takes ten hours to scan, and the enormous amounts of new data collected will presumably occupy a variety of experts on the ancient world — on the Greek and Islamic civilizations, on their languages, on their medicine — for much longer thereafter. But you do have to wonder: what kind of unimaginably advanced technology will our descendants a millennium and a half years from now be using to read all of the stuff we thought we'd erased?

via SLAC

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

150 Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies Next Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we've developed a rich lineup of online courses, many of which will get started next week. The courses aren't free. But they're first rate, giving adult students--no matter where they live--the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.

The catalogue includes a large number of online Creative Writing courses, covering the Novel, the Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Travel Writing, Poetry and more. For the professional, the program offers online business courses in subjects like Product Management for the Internet of ThingsThe Business of Self-Driving CarsValue Investing: An Introduction, Visual Thinking: Working with Pictures, and Mergers and AcquisitionsAnd there's a growing number of online Liberal Arts courses too. Take for example The History and Geography of Current Global EventsRevolution: The Beatles’ Innovative Studio Years (1965–1967)Ethics for Artificially Intelligent Robots, Byzantine Art, and The Great Discoveries That Changed Modern Medicine.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the larger catalogue. Stanford Continuing Studies has 150+ courses getting started this Spring quarter (next week), many taking place in Stanford's classrooms. For anyone living outside of California, check out the program's list of online courses here.

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How to Get Over the Anxiety of Public Speaking?: Watch the Stanford Video, “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” Viewed Already 11 Million Times

How many of us fear public speaking more than death: four out of five, nine out of ten, 99 out of 100? We've all heard a variety of statistics, all of them suggesting the formidability — perceived or real — of the task of getting up and talking in front of other people. But perhaps you'll get an even clearer sense of that from the number 11,175,098: the total view count, as of this writing, racked up by "Think Fast, Talk Smart," an hour-long talk on public speaking techniques by communication coach and Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Matt Abrahams.

The pedants among us, myself included, will have already taken note of that linguistic infelicity in the very title of the talk, but Abrahams himself wastes little time pointing it out himself. He also points out its value: you've got to catch the attention of your audience, and a deliberately made mistake (or even a non-deliberately made one) catches it as well as anything.




He goes on to elaborate on various other techniques we can use not just to get other people listening well, but to get ourselves talking well, the first priority being to get ourselves to stop tripping over our innate desire to talk perfectly.

Abrahams leads his audience through several short "games," instructing them to do things like explaining their weekends to one another by spelling out loud and selling one another Slinkys, with the underlying goal of breaking the habits that have so often impeded our ability to simply get up and speak. He also provides physical techniques, like doing push-ups or taking a walk around the block before giving a talk in order to get your mind more "present," and intellectual ones, like always adhering to a structure, no matter how simple and no matter how ordinary the situation. ("I practice these structures on my kids," he notes.)

Taking the wider view, we shouldn't look at speaking as a challenge, according to Abrahams, but as a chance to explain and influence. "A Q&A session is an opportunity for you," he says, and practicing what he preaches, he opens one up at the end of the talk, underscoring that we can improve our public speaking skills by doing as he says, but even more so by doing as he does. Some of those more than eleven million views surely come from people who have watched more than once, studying Abrahams' own use of language, both verbal and body. He also demonstrates a good deal of humor, though brevity, as Shakespeare wrote, being the soul of wit, you might consider chasing his talk with the four-minute Big Think video on the same subject just above.

Abrahams regularly teaches courses on Public Speaking at Stanford Continuing Studies. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, give his classes a look. Also see his books, Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

170+ Courses Starting at Stanford Continuing Studies This Week: Explore the Catalogue of Campus and Online Courses

Quick fyi: I spend my days at Stanford Continuing Studies, where we've developed a rich lineup of online courses, many of which will get started this week. The courses aren't free. But they're first rate, giving adult students--no matter where they live--the chance to work with dedicated teachers and students.

The catalogue includes a large number of online Creative Writing courses, covering the Novel, the Memoir, Creative Nonfiction, Food Writing, Poetry and more. For the professional, the program offers online business courses in subjects like Project Management, Business Communication, Design Thinking, Creating Startups and Value Investing. And there's a growing number of online Liberal Arts Courses too. Take for example Drawing Inspiration: Developing a Creative Practice; The Geology and Wines of California and France; and Cyber Technologies and Their World-Changing Disruptions: Election Hacking, Fake News, and Beyond.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the larger catalogue. Stanford Continuing Studies has 170+ courses getting started this Winter quarter, many taking place in Stanford's classrooms. Here are a few on-campus courses I might recommend: Leaders Who Made the 20th CenturyJames Joyce's Ulysses, and Stanford Saturday University: 2018.

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