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James Larus Quotable Quotes

Quotes worth saving and sharing

What were the lessons I learned from so many years of intensive work on the practical problem of setting type by computer? One of the most important lessons, perhaps, is the fact that SOFTWARE IS HARD. From now on I shall have significantly greater respect for every successful software tool that I encounter. During the past decade I was surprised to learn that the writing of programs for TeX and Metafont proved to be much more difficult than all the other things I had done (like proving theorems or writing books). The creation of good software demands a significantly higher standard of accuracy than those other things do, and it requires a longer attention span than other intellectual tasks.
—Donald Knuth, Keynote address to 11th World Computer Congress (IFIP Congress 89).


I have spent a fair amount of effort during periods of my career exploring mathematical questions by computer. In view of that experience, I was astonished to see the statement of Jaffe and Quinn that mathematics is extremely slow and arduous, and that it is arguable the most disciplined of all human activities. The standard of correctness and completeness necessary to get a computer program to work at all is a couple of orders of magnitude higher than the mathematical communities standard of valid proofs. Nevertheless, large computer programs, even when they have been very carefully written and very carefully tested, always seem to have bugs.

When one considers how hard it is to write a computer program even approaching the intellectual scope of a good mathematics paper, and how much greater time and effort have to be put into it to make it 'almost' formally correct, it is preposterous to claim that mathematics as we practice it is anywhere near formally correct.
—William P. Thurston, “On Proof and Progress in Mathematics,” Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, v. 30, n. 2, April 1994.


A research triumph is easier to achieve than it may seem, because the researchers who do the work also do most of the reporting.
—Nick Tredennick and Brion Shimamoto, “Mercy, Mercy, Merced,” Microprocessor Report," v. 13, i. 12, Sept. 13, 1999.


From: Jim Gray
Sent: Tuesday, July 04, 2000 1:51 AM
To: Jim Larus
Cc: Michael Parkes
Subject: RE: Visit?

well, the <omitted> paper is in good company (and for the same reason).

The B-tree paper was rejected at first.

The Transaction paper was rejected at first.

The data cube paper was rejected at first.

The five minute rule paper was rejected at first.

But linear extensions of previous work get accepted.

So, resumitt! PLEASE!!!


Within about six weeks, [Maurice] Wilkes made one of the most far-reaching discoveries of the computer age: that getting programs right was more difficult than it looked. As he subsequently recalled, it was while he was developing his very first application program that "the realization came over me with full force that a good part of the remainder of my life was going to be spent in finding the errors in my own programs."

Martin Campbell-Kelly, "In Praise of 'Wilkes, Wheeler, and Gill'", CACM, Vol. 54 No. 9, Sept. 2011.


"In theory" <=> "Not in practice"
—Mark Hill, University of Wisconsin, Madison.