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  • Writer's pictureTim Burns

The Mentor who inspired my interest in "Nonnumerical Analysis"

In my excellent and satisfying job as a "Data Architect, " most of what I do is explore data with "nonnumerical analysis."

I've been thinking a lot about gratitude and those who mentored and inspired me with the right words at the right time.

This morning I remembered Nelson H. F. Beebe, who introduced me to the work of Donald Knuth, whose work lurks in every single computational device we use.

Dr. Beebe ran the computer lab in the Math department at the University of Utah. I was looking for some way to get skills that I could trade for a steady income, so I hung around the computer lab and took numerical analysis classes.

These were the days before Google, and so if you were stuck on a problem, you could ask a student or the professor for help, you could go to the library, or you could try to find some clue on the vast, unprotected filesystems of departmental computers. Like I've stated in a previous blog entry, I wasn't the best student, so I would search around the file systems for easy answers.

On the Math department systems, I could type a keyword and a list of the files containing that keyword returned instantly.

find "knuth"

In the computer lab in the computer science department, the same command returned an error and the method offered by the help desk took forever.

find / -type f -exec grep -i 'knuth' {} \;

The first command on my powerful MacBook Pro still. returns an error and the second one takes a long time. The reason for that is that the first method runs off a full-text index that Dr. Beebe explained to me and the second is a brute force keyword on every file.

The point of this article, however; is that Donald Knuth is still with us.

I run the brute force find and and is the start of the snippet but the result contains well over a hundred hits on references to Donald Knuth in my MacOS files.

I stand on the shoulders of giants: mentors like Nelson Beebe, who is a personal and professional inspiration to me. I need to remember that every day in my professional and. personal life.

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