“2 Oxen or 1,024 Chickens”

There are at least 2 delightful things about this little story about Seymour Cray, the designer of the Cray supercomputer:

Cray had always resisted the massively parallel solution to high-speed computing, offering a variety of reasons that it would never work as well as one very fast processor. He famously quipped “If you were plowing a field, which would you rather use: two strong oxen or 1024 chickens?” By the mid-1990s, this argument was becoming increasingly difficult to justify, and modern compiler technology made developing programs on such machines not much more difficult than their simpler counterparts.

Cray set up a new company, SRC Computers, and started the design of his own massively parallel machine. The new design concentrated on communications and memory performance, the bottleneck that hampered many parallel designs. Design had just started when Cray died suddenly as a result of a car accident. SRC Computers carried on development and specialized in reconfigurable computing.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seymour_Cray

Delightful thing #1: The famous quip about chickens and oxen. (There are others, as well. Oh also, Seymour Cray was a hobby tunneler.)

I’ve noticed some people seem to mint multiple of these colorful, memorable ways to make a point over the course of their career, and others don’t. I’ve long wondered whether this is a teachable ability, but I doubt it is. I think it’s just how some creative minds work.

Delightful thing #2: Seymour Cray was able to change his mind. He did so in the face of a preponderance of evidence that the approach he had been dismissing (with colorful chicken-oxen analogies!) was in fact the better approach.

History celebrates those who get it a bit quicker than Seymour Cray did. We call them visionaries.

But still, we all benefit from being willing to change our mind in the face of evidence.

-P