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Alan Turing
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Post Title: Alan Turing (b. June 23, 1912; d. June 7, 1954)

Post Date: July 23, 2014

In 1936, Alan Turing, at age 24, wrote a research paper entitled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” foreshadowing the design of present-day computers. Today that paper is regarded as a major milestone in computer science. His novel “universal machine” concept was basically a general-purpose computing device that could, in theory, solve any mathematical or logical problem capable of being solved.

During World War II, the Nazis used encrypted — that is, scrambled — messages to communicate among their army commanders. They encrypted their communications with a device called the Enigma. The device was electromechanical in nature, requiring a “key” to both encipher and decipher its messages. But since the Nazis changed the encryption key several times a day, the British found that without it, deciphering an Enigma message was virtually impossible.

But the British had their own top-secret project, called Ultra, which was borne out of their discovery of Germany’s use of the Enigma machine. The Ultra project secretly harbored a constellation of some of Britain’s most brilliant researchers at the Victorian estate of Bletchley Park, near London. There, Turing’s research ideas were implemented in late 1943, using the most advanced technology available. Until then, code-breaking devices were built with electromechanical relays. But the Bletchley Park “backroom boys,” as they were known, built the Colossus, a variation on Turing’s concept of a computer, using 2000 vacuum tubes instead of electromechanical relays.

A relay, essentially a switch, used both electricity and moving parts to accomplish its intended purpose. In contrast, a vacuum tube had no moving, mechanical parts, except for minuscule electrons in the form of electrical current.

Also, the Colossus was a special-purpose device, dedicated specifically to breaking encrypted German messages; it was not the general-purpose computing device that Turing first conceptualized in his brilliant research paper. It could read and process intercepted and encrypted Nazi messages at what was then the astounding rate of 25,000 characters per second.

By dint of hard work, along with some lucky twists of fate, the Bletchley Park team was able to crack the encrypted codes generated by the Nazis’ Enigma machine.

Alan Turing, a bona fide genius — and also, incidentally, a homosexual — played a significant role in the Allied Forces’ victory in World War II. In tribute, a street is named after him in the UK.

Post Title: Seymour Roger Cray (b. Sept.  28, 1925; d. Oct. 5, 1996)

Post Date: July 23, 2014

Seymour Roger Cray almost singlehandedly put the United States in the forefront of supercomputing. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a BSEE (1949) and an M. Sc. in Applied Mathematics (1951), Cray wound up being employed by Control Data Corp (CDC). It was in 1964 at CDC that he played a crucial role in the design of the CDC 6600, generally regarded as the world’s first supercomputer.

Cray eventually founded Cray Research Corp. in the city where he was born, Chippewa Falls, WI. He designed the Cray-1 supercomputer in 1974. The Cray-1 used integrated circuits (ICs) and shorter wiring paths. The shorter wiring paths increased the speed of the supercomputer because the electrons comprising the electrical current have to travel a shorter distance. To cool the Cray-1, Cray and Dean Roush, a mechanical engineer, designed a system using freon flowing through a “cold bar” which came in contact with the supercomputer’s processor modules....

Cray would eventually also found Cray Laboratories in Colorado Springs, CO; Cray Computer Corp in 1989, and SRC (Seymour Roger Cray) Computers in 1996.

[Posts edited for length]

Title: All-Stars of Modern Computing | Address: computingallstars.blogspot.com

Author: Richard Vega | From: National City | Blogging since: May 2014

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