Josh Davis

I'm currently a software engineer working on machine learning at AWS and am living in Seattle.

I like to learn, read books, and code.

I never save anything for the swim back.

11 October 2017

An Email from Edsger Dijkstra’s Son

Over four years ago I wrote about how I learned to write like Dijkstra. Since then it has become one of my most visited blog posts.

The last person I ever expected to read it though was one of Dijkstra’s family members.

In January 2016, I received an email from Marcus Dijkstra, Edsger’s son. It was a surreal moment and an one of my favorite emails to date.

I want to share it with everyone because of the extra details it has about how Dijkstra improved upon his handwriting.

The Email

Hi Josh,

a friend pointed me to your blog post on handwriting improvement.

Edsger used always a clipboard, where he would use a page with horizontal lines under the white A4. I suspect that that (as long as one can be self-disciplined enough to keep paying attention) does contribute to the groundedness of the script.

He spend quite some time finding the right spacing, and experimented with double lines, so as to have a top and bottom for the aceimnorsuvwxz letters, as well as length indicators for bdhklf and gjpqy sticks. In the end this was discarded in favour of a fairly wide spaced lined one.

The script itself was carefully designed (and subsequently trained on, always carefully drawing the individual letters one by one, albeit faster in time) to avoid ambiguity like between x and multiplication, one and the letter l, seven and one, zero and the letter o etc. after he found sometimes not being sure about what he actually wrote the day before and seeing students ending up in real messes.

From the party trick department: After having trouble with his right wrist (arm?) caused by too many hours of writing he decided to learn to do it left handed too. After a few months he could, and kept writing left handed alternate days, also after his right arm was back in business.

Enjoy your script,

Marcus

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