Knuth launches The Bank of San Serriffe

Matthew Sparkes
31 Oct 2008

Donald Knuth, creator of TeX and author of The Art of Computer Programming, used to post checks to anyone who spotted an error in one of his books – one hexadecimal dollar, or $2.56. It was a clever way to ensure that his work was as accurate as possible.

Nobody used to take the money, though. Instead the cheques are pinned up on notice boards in computer science departments all over the world as mementos. I’m lucky enough to have two, which I've stashed away at home.

“It turns out that only 9 of the first 275 checks that I've sent out since the beginning of 2006 have actually been cashed. The others have apparently been cached,” says Knuth on his website.

Unfortunately, though, he’s been forced to stop because of bank fraud. “The system that I've been using has worked well for almost forty years; but recently I have had to close three checking accounts, and the criminal attacks on those accounts have caused significant grief to my bankers,” says Knuth.

To get around this, he's started the fictional Bank of San Serriffe, whose website now lists account balances instead. It's the end of a tradition which has lasted 40 years - almost as long as computer science itself. The main irritation, though, is that I'm now going to have to find a new error to get listed on the site.

Thanks to G0SUB for the picture

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