I will read stories about Richard Feynman all day long and this one is no exception. Danny Hillis remembers his friend and colleague in this piece originally written for Physics Today (original here).
Richard arrived in Boston the day after the company was incorporated. We had been busy raising the money, finding a place to rent, issuing stock, etc. We set up in an old mansion just outside of the city, and when Richard showed up we were still recovering from the shock of having the first few million dollars in the bank. No one had thought about anything technical for several months. We were arguing about what the name of the company should be when Richard walked in, saluted, and said, “Richard Feynman reporting for duty. OK, boss, what’s my assignment?” The assembled group of not-quite-graduated MIT students was astounded.
After a hurried private discussion (“I don’t know, you hired him…”), we informed Richard that his assignment would be to advise on the application of parallel processing to scientific problems.
“That sounds like a bunch of baloney,” he said. “Give me something real to do.”
So we sent him out to buy some office supplies. While he was gone, we decided that the part of the machine that we were most worried about was the router that delivered messages from one processor to another. We were not sure that our design was going to work. When Richard returned from buying pencils, we gave him the assignment of analyzing the router.