Edsger Dijkstra, blogger

Edsger W. Dijkstra

I’ve been thinking about Edsger Dijkstra lately because I suspect some of the ideas he developed will be useful for a project I’m working on.

While searching for some of Dijkstra’s writings I ran across the article Edsger Dijkstra: The Man Who Carried Computer Science on His Shoulders. It occurred while reading this article that Dijkstra was essentially a blogger before there were blogs.

Here is a description of his writing from the article:

… Dijkstra’s research output appears respectable, but otherwise unremarkable by current standards. In this case, appearances are indeed deceptive. Judging his body of work in this manner misses the mark completely. Dijkstra was, in fact, a highly prolific writer, albeit in an unusual way.

In 1959, Dijkstra began writing a series of private reports. Consecutively numbered and with his initials as a prefix, they became known as EWDs. He continued writing these reports for more than forty years. The final EWD, number 1,318, is dated April 14, 2002. In total, the EWDs amount to over 7,700 pages. Each report was photocopied by Dijkstra himself and mailed to other computer scientists.

His large collection of small articles sounds a lot like a blog to me.

You can find Dijkstra’s “blog” here.

3 thoughts on “Edsger Dijkstra, blogger

  1. Indeed, I have long thought of the EWD’s as blog posts! Since about a year ago I have been working on a (very long-term) project to read through and take notes on all of them (at least, the ones in English… well, at least, the ones in English that don’t look like super boring technical reports or whatever). I’m only up to about the mid-200s, but it’s been really fascinating.

    Thanks for the link to the article, I will definitely have to give it a read.

  2. Edsger Dijkstra was singularly relevant to me while pursuing my BS in Computer Engineering in the early 1980’s, and he also helped set the direction of my subsequent career in embedded real-time systems. His thinking and writing were massive influences, not just as knowledge, but also as process.

    So why is it that only now do I hear of the EWDs? Looks like I got me some readin’ to do.

    Thanks, John!

  3. Thank you for calling attention to this treasure! I have been enjoying them for years, but only when lucky enough to get sporadic photocopies. I was delighted to hear that UT had hosted the collection.
    I would encourage everyone to look through the handwritten ones (typical of his later output). Not only is the handwriting clear and legible, I understand that the documents were usually “one take”. I had the honor of taking a seminar in which Dijkstra was one of the lecturers, and saw him in the cafeteria one day. He was sitting, fountain pen in hand with paper in front of him, thinking. When he had his next thought organized, then (and only then) he would write the next sentence.
    That was also characteristic of his conversational style. We quickly learned that a pause didn’t mean that he had finished speaking; it meant he was choosing the next words carefully!

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