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Brian Kernighan

  • 19th Mar, 2004 at 3:10 PM

Yesterday, I had the honour of lunching with Prof. Brian Kernighan, from Princeton University. But you might recognise his other persona better. A couple of weeks ago, Director Vic DiCiccio approached me in the CSC about having some undergraduates talk with Kernighan. I told him that we'd be delighted, and asked if we could invite Kernighan to dinner.

A day later, DiCiccio got back to me saying that Prof. Berry already had the privledge, but Prof. Forsyth would like to have three undergrads show up. So Julie, ringzero and I went to the University Club for a nice lunch and chat with him. Julie got to sit near Kernighan with Profs. Wong, Cormack and Kaplan while we sat on the other end of the table.

After a most delightful meal, we noticed that Kernighan was late for his next appointment. None of the professors knew where he was to go next, so I offered to take him there. That's because I had organised that appointment: an hour talk with fourteen undergraduate students. We chatted with him about the "golden days" at the beginning of C and Unix, as well as his thoughts about the future. We also talked about teaching non-technical students about technical issues, and the ever-present problem of male-dominated CS.

After this, I hung about to hear him talk with graduate students. Mostly because I was in the same room, and also because I had the key to that room. They talked about remarkably different things: in the area of computing and its social implications. I think a couple of them were pretty frightened by how far we rely on computers. There was a book signing where we got some books signed, and then a group photograph.

Well, after that talk, nobody really showed up to take care of Kernighan, so I took him back to his stuff in Prof. Wong's office. Then I went to the CSC, got more books to be signed, and a couple cans of Coke and Pepsi. Kernighan seems to enjoy his cola—all day, people were offering him water and juice when he seemed to prefer sugary caffeinated water. Yay Kernighan! I then brought him down to the Engineering Lecture Hall, where he gave his talk on What Should an Educated Person Know about Computers? It was a fairly interesting discussion on what he's been doing to teach future leaders about technology, and how to become technically literate.

I had borrowed infohigh's digital camera for the entire day, and so I have photographs of the event. When he gets the images to me, I'll be sure to upload them to the web somewhere. Probably on the Computer Science Club's homepage.