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Knuth Airgaps &
Knuth Buffers

Donald Knuth is a decorated darling of computer science.

Knuth knows how to maintain information hygeine.

Knuth Airgaps

Knuth is unreachable via digital communication. He airgaps himself from the internet:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

I have a wonderful secretary who looks at the incoming postal mail and separates out anything that she knows I’ve been looking forward to seeing urgently. Everything else goes into a buffer storage area, which I empty periodically.

— Donald Knuth via his website

He also maintains airgaps between his machines:

I currently use Ubuntu Linux, on a standalone laptop—it has no Internet connection. I occasionally carry flash memory drives between this machine and the Macs that I use for network surfing and graphics; but I trust my family jewels only to Linux.

— Donald Knuth via informit

Knuth Buffers

He buffers ideas on paper before putting them on machines:

The kernel of the idea is first put on paper. Yeah, that’s where I write and I’ll write maybe five programs a week. Of course, literate programming. And these are before I describe something in my book, I always program it to see how it’s working.

— Donald Knuth via Lex Friedman

I’m working on a research problem I generally begin by filling dozens of sheets of scratch paper with partial calculations. When I eventually get to a point where I can think about the problem while swimming, then I’m often ready to solve it.

— Donald Knuth via Authentic Inquiry Maths

Neal Stephenson – arguably one of the best sci-fi authors of all time – maintains a Knuth Buffer:

I seem to remember seeing the transcripts for the Baroque Cycle were all handwritten. Are you still handwriting your books and if so, what advantages do you think it has over using a computer?

Mostly handwritten, yes. It’s slower, and so each sentence spends longer in the buffer before it gets written out, so first draft quality is higher.

— Neal Stephenson via reddit