Yoda's (Donald Knuth) Xmas Lecture
Written by Mike James   
Saturday, 22 December 2018

Yes, I know they used to be called Xmas Tree lectures, but the tree is a data structure that you can only do so much with. This year lecture is on dancing links - yes dancing links I'm serious. Oh and read on to find out why it's by "Yoda".

If you don't know about Donald Knuth then you probably aren't going to be in the audience for his Xmas Lecture at Stanford University. Even if you do know about him, you might be surprised to learn the The New York Times has just printed an article that starts:

"For half a century, the Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth, who bears a slight resemblance to Yoda — albeit standing 6-foot-4 and wearing glasses — has reigned as the spirit-guide of the algorithmic realm."

Knuth? Yoda? Well I suppose it sells newspapers....

Actually the picture that they have at the top of the article makes the point reasonably well, but if we used it here they would most likely serve us with a DHCP notice or whatever they are called. A little searching reveals even more proof that Knuth is indeed the Yoda of the computer science world:


He should look so surprised at being able to levitate the entire TAOCP... It explains also his speech patterns idiosyncratic.

To be more serious - the xmas lecture and dancing links:

Yes, it is the same attire as last year's Xmas lecture, and the one before and ... This is what a tradition is all about. I have to admit that this is not easy viewing or listening, but I can promise you that it is worth the effort.

To explain what dancing links, and the associated algorithms, are all about would take too long and the publicist at Stanford clearly had the same problem:

"A simple data-structuring idea called “dancing links” has proved to be surprisingly effective. It has also led to a new class of combinatorial problems, “exact covering with color controls” (or XCC for short), which appears to be quite important. The speaker will explain the basic algorithms and will illustrate them with solutions to dozens of XCC problems that have arisen in a wide variety of applications."

Note the "appears to be quite important". Check out Wikipedia for a wider ranging discussion.

No matter, it is an honour to have sat at the feet of Yoda for a few minutes, even if the instruction went over our heads...

More Information

The Yoda of Silicon Valley (may be paywalled if you have read too many of their articles this month).

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 22 December 2018 )