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Seymour Cray: An Appreciation (1997) (man.ac.uk)
46 points by tosh 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments

> There are many legends about Seymour Cray. John Rollwagen, a colleague for many years, tells the story of a French scientist who visited Cray's home in Chippewa Falls. Asked what were the secrets of his success, Cray said "Well, we have elves here, and they help me". Cray subsequently showed his visitor a tunnel he had built under his house, explaining that when he reached an impasse in his computer design, he would retire to the tunnel to dig. "While I'm digging in the tunnel, the elves will often come to me with solutions to my problem", he said.

> I worked for Cray Research from 1984-1996, and I can tell you that the story of him tunneling under his house is largely a fabrication made up by John Rollwagen to enhance Seymour's reputation as a quirky, visionary genius (which he was, but not because he was digging tunnels under his house). What actually transpired involved Seymour having some excavation work done on his basement by contractors. As far as I know, none of them were elves. Rollwagen also took an incident where Seymour burned a sailboat at his lake house and turned it into a mythic tale of Cray building a new sailboat every year, then burning it so he could design and build a new one the following year.


The Ultimate Machine Elves!

The book "The Supermen: Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer" (1997) is great.

What struck me when reading it was that the Cray 1 that Seymor Cray designed alone in his cabin.. when it went for sale in 1977 for $7.9 million it was a 64-bit single core computer running at 80 Mhz, with 8 MB RAM. This computer could probably have run Quake! In 1977! At a respectable resolution/framerate! In 1977! :)

Getting a decent frame buffer in those days was a significant challenge, though. It was like "Hey, the University of Qwghlm just got a 512x512x24 display, let's go apply to grad school there!"

About 20 years ago I was helping a guy design a vector unit for a new CPU. As I was writing the simulations, I began to appreciate Cray's 70s era designs, and the stuff that we manage to stuff into a few square millimeters of silicon these days. The future is here.

Ah.. I can imagine all kinds of weird bottlenecks making it hard to deliver a high-res bitmap at a reasonable framerate, or at all, to a screen back then.

Anyway, if you end up reading this: I really enjoyed so many of your dadhacker posts, years ago. Thanks.

I lived in Colorado Springs in the 90s when Seymour Cray had his new company there. It always baffled me how negative the press coverage of his company and the Cray-4 was. I was rooting for him to make a practical gallium arsenide chip.

I think he was greatly underrated and underappreciated by the larger culture. The man was an inventive genius, maybe even on the order of an Edison. Perhaps he was not as broad in his range of inventions as Edison, but his approach to building supercomputers probably included inventions and innovations in many areas.

I still usually think of him whenever I pass the on ramp on I-25 where he was killed. They have since revised that interchange to make it safer, too late for Mr. Cray, unfortunately.

Drunk drivers are selfish scum, and Cray was taken from us by one such scum. I think he had another act in him, but he definitely didn't leave much of a video library of appearances. One of the great thrills I have is a picture of me standing in the center of a Cray 2 at LLNL. It was super fun to program that summer too. He was a hero.

I'm not sure we will ever see another Edison like figure

You cannot compare those two. Edison rarely invented anything by himself personally, he had a team of inventors and bought many inventions. Cray did it all by himself, and had a marketing problem.


It seems incredible that the little guy could compete on that level. In the days of AWS data centers this kind of disruption seems like a fairy tale.

technical work in SV has changed. geniuses with Cray's personality type aren't really valued much nowadays. it's important to be young, social, bearded and well-motivated by cafeteria food.

Maybe so, but please don't post unsubstantive comments, or snarky comments, here.


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