Weblogger Jelle starts initiative to help Donald Knuth

Donald Knuth must Pay / the 7 missing checks

Donald Knuth, known for creating the text compiler TeX and writing the programming bibles `The Art of Computer Programming` is also legendary for writing reward checks to readers who found errors in his books. Seven of them are still untraceable although he has checks ready for them. Weblogger Jelle starts a web 2.0 initiative to find them.

Edward de Leau
image I received an e-mail from weblogger Jelle, who was a former class-mate during my university years. He had an interesting idea. We all know Donald Knuth as one of the living legends in the IT world. He not only created the text language and compiler that is required at many universities and publishers to deliver books and papers but he also wrote “The Art of Computer Programming“, a series of books which pretty much summarizes all essential information for programmers to know.
One of the legends surrounding these books is the reward Donald Knuth offers for finding each and every mistake in one of this books. He has send out many checks but unfortunately 7 checks could not be delivered because all snail mail information was lost. The seven persons who “are lost” are the following, according to this website:

  • Du Xiao Wei, wrote from Shanghai on June 10, 1982
  • Dag Mellgrin, wrote on International Herald Tribune stationery in 1984
  • “Mustafa” (once was mustafa@imath.kiev.ua) found an error in the METAFONTbook
  • Ralf Roth (once was rroth@Informatik-Uni-Bremen.de), found two real bugs in TeX
  • Shlomo Varsano, wrote from Los Angeles in 1984 (see comments)
  • Janet K. Webb, wrote from TVOntario in 1983
  • Midori ***, wrote from Severn, Maryland, in 1984

Jelle makes an interesting observation: now that the web 2.0 era has started and many many people are online in all kinds of social networks it must be much easier to actually tracks these people down and forward Donald Knuth their addresses (note that he does not read e-mail!). I thought this was a superb idea and I also thought this can only work if it is somehow viral.
So Jelle (and me) would like to call upon anyone reading this to make your own blogpostings about the 7 missing checks and/or forward this message in your own social networks so we can track these 7 persons down. For all I know this should be a simple thing to achieve in this social web era. Let me know if you find someone and you will become a web 2.0 hero!

update: one person found !!!! 1 down 6 to go!!!
update 2: midori found (see comments), 5 to go!
update 3: I noticed Knuth removed Mustafa and Ralf Roth so I assume that they have been found since posting this, I hope because of this viral Internet effort, 3 to go!
update 4: Janet was crossed off the list
update 5: Schlomo comments that he has contacted Knuth, he is still on the website of Knuth so I will wait until he is crossed from that spot but as far as I can see…….. only 1 to go!!!!

21 thoughts on “Weblogger Jelle starts initiative to help Donald Knuth

  1. Some replies are being posted to reddit.


  2. Dag Mellgrin is probably Doug Mellgren, who works for the associated press, I think: info@ap.org

  3. Cool, it starts, the reddit thread is interesting to keep an eye on as stated above (Shlomo Varsano filed US Patent 20020129157 in 2001. His phone number is apparently 310-335-1074.) (Mustafa’s last name is Sait-Ametov: http://www.imath.kiev.ua/~snmp2003/abstract2003/Sait-Ametov.html). I dont know about RalfRoth.de, he seems to have studies in some other place.

  4. Yes, I found out that Mellgrin should read Mellgren. He published Knuth related work. But he is not Doug, he is Scandinavian and his first name is Dag. He worked for the Stockholm NADA (computer science research institute, now has a different name. He no longer works there)

    This is the publication

    There is somebody with that name on linked-in. we could send him a mail but that requires me to upgrade my profile and I’m lazy about doing that…

  5. hee ed, leuk dat je het geplaatst hebt!
    ik zal het toch ook even op mijn eigen weblog zetten.
    en op een gegeven moment moeten we dan gewoon maar zo’n telefoonnummer gaan bellen… maar goed die knuth doet er ook rustig 7 jaar over om een rekening te betalen dus we hebben nog wel even om te zoeken… :-) leuk, dit.

  6. Yes! – We found Dag Mellgren,

    He happens to have a profile on linked-in.
    That is, he *says* he’s the guy (see below)
    Dag thinks he remembers me from my time at Stanford… hmm that sounds classy, Stanford… O well, “The Hague University” is pretty cool too, right?

    Dag Mellgren wrote:


    Well done, you found me, and I am indeed the guy.
    On my side, I am afraid that I no longer remember you, but you were probably at Stanford during that time period?

    On 10/20/07 5:58 PM, Jelle van Dijk wrote:

    Are you the Dag Mellgren that once found an error in Donald Knuth’s work? If so, he is looking for you so he can send you the check with the reward money.

    Here is the info: http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/%7Eknuth/address.html


  7. Jelle: congratulations!

    I started looking for Midori Wilmoth from Severn Maryland.

    1. I emailed the largest school in the district
    2. I posted on the severn forum: http://www.topix.com/forum/city/severn-md/TFN2C6P4E07QNVT60
    3. Google: difficult
    4. Linkedin: no
    5. myspace: maybe
    6. … investigating

  8. Bob Beckett says:

    For anyone looking for Midori Wilmoth, be forewarned. I just spoke to one of Wilmoth’s former neighbors on Inverness Ridge Rd in Potomac MD. After telling her the purpose of my call, she accused me of being a scam artist and threatened to call the government and my local police department and accuse me of something—I’m not sure what. She was not swayed by the fact that the check was for $2.56.

    I also emailed the previous owner of Wilmoth’s house on Inverness Ridge Rd., but she knew nothing about her. She last saw her fifteen years ago. She also said that Wilmoth was not her last name, that it started with a “T.”

    I have the phone number of another of Midori’s former neighbors, but now I hesitate to call her. I think I’ll write a letter, instead.

  9. Bob Beckett says:

    I believe I have located Midori’s ex-husband. I will send an email to his workplace. Knuth

  10. Cool!

    But did we actually find Midori if we only found the ex-husband? Wonder where the check will go… Anyway, we’re only the hunters, right?

  11. So.. who’ll be next…

  12. Bob Beckett says:

    Well, don’t cross her off the list yet. I haven’t heard from the ex-husband yet. And he may not even know where Midori is, or he may not contact her. I hope he will tell me where she is, so that I can speak to her. Let’s hope he doesn’t call the cops, instead.

  13. Bob Beckett says:

    I have found the former Midori Wilmoth, living in the Washington DC area and working for a US Government agency.

    We have exchanged a couple of emails, and I have encouraged her to write to this site and tell us a little about finding an error and to tell us something of her professional life.

    She told me that she had received a letter from Prof. Knuth, but I’m not sure whether she got the reward check.

  14. Nice to meet you Midori Tanino
    Glad to have found you!
    We are trying to find everyone that is one the list of Mr Knuth, he is still looking for two more people. So our quest is nearly at the end!

    Send our regards to mr Knuth if you get in touch with him for the cheque

    (Ed perhaps remove ms Tanino’s adress, since this is open on the web and all?)

  15. Ok, remove address and replace last name! In a sec…

    Edward de Leaus last blog post..EK 2008 Behang Stickers voor woning, bedrijf, cafe of restaurant

  16. Hi,

    My name is Shlomo Varsano and I found my name on the list of those who’s check was lost more than 20 years ago, after a brief correspondence with Professor Donald Knuth. Now you can scratch another name from the list!

    Shlomo Varsano, Los Angeles

  17. Superb Shlomo! Absolutely fantastic.

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