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Donald Knuth

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This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites.

Chris Devereaux has recently been reading up on "Literate Programming," an innovative (and mostly unused) approach to programming developed by Donald Knuth in the 1970s. It got him thinking about new ways of implementing tests. "Well-written tests, especially BDD-style specs, can do a better job of explaining what code does than prose does," he writes in his question. Also, tests "have the big advantage of verifying their own accuracy." Still, Chris has never seen tests written inline with the code they test. Why not?

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Imagine any acoustic instrument able to act as a synth, and you begin to appreciate the potential instrumental pioneer Paul Vo may be about to unlock.

As we reported last month, music-technological innovation can absolutely involve guitars, not just synths with keyboards. So, it’s fitting that we tun now to a lover of keyboards and guitars alike, Chris Stack, for a look in video at the work of Paul Vo.

Vo may not be a household name in sound tech, but he should be, as the inventor of the impressive Moog Guitar. Here, we get look back at what came before — and what’s next.

Below, Chris gets his hands on a one-of-a-kind prototype that came before the Moog Guitar, in the form of a fretless model. You can see the fruits of the labors on Moog Guitar in the video at bottom, which demonstrates what a versatile electronic instrument this can be – as much a “synth with strings” as anything, beyond only what you might think of in guitar tone.

But having done fretless, electric, bass, and lap steel, Paul Vo’s tech now reaches a truly new frontier: the acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments. And that could be very big news. Watch, at top. It’s still early to fully grasp what this instrument may be like, but already there’s something really special going on:

The Vo-96 Acoustic Synth is the newest innovation from Paul Vo, the inventor of The Moog Guitar. It opens a new method of musical expression called Acoustic Synthesis. Will Rayan and Vincent Crow of The Electric Jazz Project try it out for the first time.

Code-named LEV-96, the concept instrument here uses harmonic content from strings as its source material. The inventor explains:

The numeral 96 refers to the number of individual harmonic control channels. Each channel is capable of controlling the behavior of one harmonic partial of a string’s timbre. 16 such channels are instantiated per string. 6 x 16=96

And if your mind isn’t blown yet, here’s more from Paul on how he’s thinking:

Add-on hardware, says Vo, will unlock the harmonic content of acoustic instruments in a way you haven't ever heard before. Photo courtesy Vo Inventions.

Add-on hardware, says Vo, will unlock the harmonic content of acoustic instruments in a way you haven’t ever heard before. Photo courtesy Vo Inventions.

With Acoustic Synthesis™ any acoustic musical instrument – any object that makes a sound – can be enhanced to bring out its hidden acoustic voice. Think also of potential new instruments – playable objects of acoustic art.
So far I’ve worked mostly with vibrating strings. The musical instrument string is arguably the most ubiquitous means of making music. It’s also the most difficult to vibrate coherently using electronic control. One idea I had back in 1979 turned out to be a great solution. I was amazed to find it was still unknown and patentable 20 years later.
Over the past 50 years or so we have accepted and become familiar with using synthesizers to create an endless variety of sounds electronically. I’m saying we are now beginning to extend this idea into the physical realm. We can make the virtual become real. We can artistically create new sounds by bringing out modes of vibration that have up to now remained hidden within the material objects we call musical instruments. Through Acoustic Synthesis™ the same sonic exploration is possible for other acoustic instruments and even creative objects of acoustic art that no one has imagined – not just yet anyway.
Analog Synthesis. Digital Synthesis. Acoustic Synthesis™: it isn’t empty hype, this really is a distinctly different and new method of voicing instruments, designing new sounds, and making music.

He covers this on his site:

Vo Inventions

Finally, a look back at the best-known Vo project, the Moog Guitar:

Chris’ site has been recently improved, so it’s well worth exploring all that he’s doing with creative instrument adventures and exploring sound design.

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I'm proficient at programming, though there are still things I'm not entirely comfortable with (function pointers, what?), but the largest gap in my knowledge is of algorithms. I competed in ACM my freshman year of college and did pretty well (second place at a small competition, 5th at a slightly larger one), but that was largely because I had a teammate who had a huge binder of algorithms for the complicated problems. I've gotten a little burned out on figuring out my own solutions to problems I know have been solved, and I want to learn some of those solutions. What should I learn?

(I know sorting algorithms, and I've heard a little about fancier things like edit distance and such. I'm interested in data processing currently; smoothing, approximating, best-fitting, etc. Currently trying to work on something to predict/learn trends--how it's changing, how fast it's changing, and how long that change will last. I'm interested in algorithms in general though.)

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"All Questions Answered" by Donald Knuth

Google Tech Talk (more info below) March 24, 2011 Presented by Donald Knuth. ABSTRACT Bill Coughran, senior vice president engineering at Google, hosts a Q&A session with Stanford Professor Donald Knuth. More about Donald Knuth:

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