A Piece of Pie for You Slackers
The Mountains of Pi
by Richard Preston
Gregory Volfovich Chudnovsky recently built a supercomputer in his apartment from mail-order parts. Gregory Chudnovsky is a number theorist. His apartment is situated near the top floor of a run-down building on the West Side of Manhattan, in a neighborhood near Columbia University. Not long ago, a human corpse was found dumped at the end of the block. The world's most powerful supercomputers include the Cray Y-MP C90, the Thinking Machines CM-5, the Hitachi S-820/80, the nCube, the Fujitsu parallel machine, the Kendall Square Research parallel machine, the NEC SX-3, the Touchstone Delta, and Gregory Chudnovsky's apartment. The apartment seems to be a kind of container for the supercomputer at least as much as it is a container for people.
Gregory Chudnovsky's partner in the design and construction of the supercomputer was his older brother, David Volfovich Chudnovsky, who is also a mathematician, and who lives five blocks away from Gregory. The Chudnovsky brothers call their machine m zero. It occupies the former living room of Gregory's-apartment, and its tentacles reach into other rooms. The brothers claim that m zero is a "true, general-purpose supercomputer," and that it is as fast and powerful as a somewhat older Cray Y-MP, but it is not as fast as the latest of the Y-MP machines, the C90, an advanced supercomputer made by Cray Research. A Cray Y-MP C90 costs more than thirty million dollars. It is a black monolith, seven feet tall and eight feet across, in the shape of a squat cylinder, and is cooled by liquid freon. So far, the brothers have spent around seventy thousand dollars on parts for their supercomputer, and much of the money has come out of their wives' pockets.