Friday, August 15, 2014

Made in Wisconsin: the Supercomputer

When I was at the NSA, I was well aware that supercomputers were a key element in the decryption of intercepted signals that I, as an Arabic linguist, would then translate in defense of my nation.

But I didn't know that, mirabile dictu, it all started in Wisconsin.

Seymour Cray was born in 1925 in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. He served as a code-breaker in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Upon his return, he went to work in nearby St. Paul, MN for an early computer company, Engineering Research Associates (ERA). He left ERA in 1958 to go to work for Control Data Corporation (CDC), where he was primarily responsible for the production of what is acknowledged as the first true, commercial supercomputer, the CDC 6600. 

Seymour Cray left CDC to create his own venture, back in his home of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. His efforts would eventually evolve into the Cray Computer Corporation, which produced supercomputers such that the term "a Cray" is synonymous with "supercomputer." 

I had the chance to visit the NSA's main supercomputer building, on the Fort Meade campus. Basically, imagine warehouses full of hundreds of connected supercomputers, going several stories underground.

But who knew that a Wisconsinite with an early love for technology would matter so much in this field?

Keith Massey was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. He has his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Biblical Hebrew, with a minor in Arabic. After 9/11, he served as an Arabic linguist at the NSA. He is currently a Latin teacher at a public high school in New Jersey.

Keith is the author of Intermediate Arabic for Dummies. His fiction novels follow the adventures of Andrew Valquist, roughly patterned after himself--a man born and raised in Wisconsin who gets pulled into the world of international intrigue. 

Keith's novels are A Place of Brightness, Amor Vincit Omnia: An Andrew Valquist Adventure, Next Stop: Spanish, and In Saecula Saeculorum.