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I can't think of anyone else who has been so effective at managing both the biggest abstractions of theory and the smallest concrete elements of practice.

I once attended one of his lectures about MMIX. After he was introduced he fired up Emacs and I remember distinctly that a ripple of voices ran through the audience. I think it was because most of us expected some form of slides or something.

Then he hacked along for an hour or so never leaving Emacs. On every seat of the room there was a little leaflet with the MMIX instruction set which was very helpful. Donald Knuth showed us all kind of stuff you could do with MMIX and it was one of the most down to earth lectures I've ever heard.

I've heard that Knuth gives some amazing lectures and some really dry, boring ones. I've only seen him talk once, and luckily it was one of the former. It was on SAT and game theory and involved seeing whether some very senior computer scientists in the audience could come up with a strategy to beat him in one of the games (which was entertaining).

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