An Unexpected Ass Kicking

You can read the followup to this post here.

I sat down at yet-another coffee shop in Portland determined to get some work done, catch up on some emails and write another blog post.

About 30 minutes into my working, an elderly gentleman at least 80 years old sat down next to me with a hot coffee and a pastry. I smiled at him and nodded and looked back at my computer as I continued to work.

“Do you like Apple? As he gestured to the new Macbook Air I had picked up a few days prior.

“Yea, I’ve been using them for a while.” Wondering if I was going to get suckered into a mac vs. pc debate in a portland coffee shop with an elderly stranger.

“Do you program on them?

“Well, I don’t really know how to code, but I write quite a bit and spend a lot of time creating online projects and helping clients run their businesses.”

“I’ve been against Macintosh company lately. They’re trying to get everyone to use iPads and when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things. You can code, you can make things and create things that have never before existed and do things that have never been done before.”

“That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before.”

I nodded my head in agreement and laughed to myself – thinking that would be something that I would say and the coincidence that out of all the people in the coffee shop I ended up talking to, it was this guy. What a way to open a conversation.

The old man turned back at his coffee, took a sip, and then looked back at me.

“In fact, I’ve done lots of things that haven’t been done before”, he said half-smiling.

Not sure if he was simply toying with me or not, my curiousity got the better of me.

Oh really? Like what types of things?, All the while, half-thinking he was going to make up something fairly non-impressive.

I invented the first computer.

Um, Excuse me?

I created the world’s first internally programmable computer. It used to take up a space about as big as this whole room and my wife and I used to walk into it to program it.

What’s your name?”. I asked, thinking that this guy is either another crazy homeless person in Portland or legitimately who he said he was.

“Russell Kirsch”

Sure enough, after .29 seconds, I found out he wasn’t lying to my face. Russell Kirsch indeed invented the world’s first internally programmable computer and as well as a bunch of other things and definitely lives in Portland. As he talked, I began googling him, he read my mind and volunteered:

Here, I’ll show you

He stood up and directed me to a variety of websites and showed me through the archives of what he’d created while every once in a while dropping some minor detail like:

I also created the first digital image. It was a photo of my son.

At this point, I learned better than to call Russell’s bluff, but sure enough, a few more google searches showed that he did just that.

 Russell Kirsch Impossible

(Photo by Joel Runyon, licensed CC-BY-3.0)
Want to mess with your mind? Without the man in the photo, the photo of this man wouldn’t exist. *mind blown*

As he started showing me through the old history archives of what he did while any hope of productivity vacated my mind as I listened to his stories and picked his brain about what he had done.

At some point in the conversation, I mentioned to him:

“You know Russell, that’s really impressive.”

“I guess, I’ve always believed that nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do. Most people think the opposite – that all things are withheld from them which they have conceived to do and they end up doing nothing.”

“Wait”, I said, pausing at his last sentence “What was that quote again?” 

“Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”

That’s good, who said that? 

God did.


God said it and there were only two people who believed it, you know who? 

Nope, who?

God and me, so I went out and did it.

Well then, I thought – as he finished showing me through the archives – I’m not going to argue with the guy who invented the computer. After about 20 minutes of walking me through his contributions to technology, he sat down, finished his coffee,  glanced at his half-eaten pastry now-cold, checked his watch and announced:

Well, I have to go now.

With that, we shook hands, he got up, walked to his car and drove off as I just sat there trying to figure out what exactly had just happened. As I sat there thinking: two things he said reverberated in the back of my mind:

  • Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.
  • Do things that have never been done.

The first meaning: if you’ve conceived something in your mind, decide to do it, and are willing to put in the work – nothing can stop you.

The second is fairly self-explanatory but carries the extra weight of it coming from the guy who invented the very thing that’s letting me type these words out on the internet.

“Do things that have never been done before” – The guy who invented the computer
[click to tweet]


Time to step it up.

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You can read the follow up to this post “7 Lessons I’ve Learned From My Encounter with Russell Kirsch” here.

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  1. Ryan says

    What an awesome experience!

    I agree with him. It is much more fun to create your own path than to constantly be trying to walk in the steps of someone else.

    One of the things I have learned in life is to be open to the thoughts and experiences of others, especially our older generations.

    Some of the most interesting and engaging conversations come from totally random interactions.

    I wonder if having Impossible on your shirt aided at all in triggering the conversation 😉

    • says

      I didn’t even think about that – I wonder if he did…hmmm…

      I need to work on my patience with them a bit, but when I do, I find older generations have a ton of wisdom to share. It’s fun to get inside their heads sometimes :).

      • Bill says

        “It’s fun to get inside their heads sometimes”.

        That cracked me up…

        I suspect your trajectory was perturbed more than his. :)

      • Darrell Brogdon says

        Its one of the (real, non-conspiritorial) benefits of being a Freemason. Nothing but a bunch of old guys who love to tell you their story.

        And if you’re smart enough to shut up you will learn a lot about just about anything.

        Also, a heartfelt Thank You to Russell. His doing the impossible changed my life.

      • Lillian says

        One thing that came to my mind is his age and how our educational system has evolved to teach differently than in the “old days” as if the education back then was not adequate enough. But this man and many others was raised in this antiquated system. So what was wrong with it in the first place?

        • Julia Collier says

          So true, Lillian. But it wasn’t just the educational system. It was the view and way of life. Kids were expected to go outside and explore, and make things, and handle things in three-dimensions, and dream things up. Nothing was given to you. Games weren’t created for you. To complain of being bored reflected poorly on your character, even if you were only four! It’s important to support and nurture kids, but parents feel that it’s their job always to entertain them, that for kids to feel bored, they must amuse them as they must feed them when kids feel hungry. But being bored is the starting point for discovery.

          • Barb Ryan says

            I totally agree…without boredom who would explore or investigate. Maybe to dream…do kids just lay on their backs and watch the clouds, or dig in the dirt to see what’s there? Or play with colors?

          • says

            I agree with you so wholeheartedly Julia!!! When my children are bored I have a tendency to try to entertain them. Then I think back to my childhood, during which we were never entertained – we had to entertain ourselves. I am gradually trying to teach my children the art of self entertainment. It’s a slow process but a very important lesson can be learned from this. Reading this entry underlined it even more so for me.

          • gotoandlego says

            Children of every generation have had games made for them. Kick the can, freeze tag, tennis, cowboys vs Indians, conkera, tennis, checkers, etc. Saying otherwise because today’s games are primarily on a computer is misleading.

          • Joyce W says

            When my sister and I complained of being bored, my Mom would tell us the stairs need sweeping. Funny, how creative we got immediately.

        • Allen Halverson says

          The education system back then wasn’t a good enough indoctrination system to create good consumers. That’s what’s changed.

        • Sara Davis says

          The old system (and world) worked extremely well for a few people, but not for all. The kids who didn’t do well in that system quickly dropped out and got jobs. That doesn’t work any longer. Why do we always think that there is going to be one answer for everything?

          • John Armstrong says

            I have bit of a different feeling, not totally opposite, just a different perspective. I have a constant battle trying to find entry level employees; this in an area where unemployment hovers near 10%. High School grads can’t read, write, do basic math without a computer (yes, I do expect long division), and more importantly, they’ve never learned to work… They don’t have any idea what different hand tools are for – “why all the different wrenches; won’t this adjustable one do everything?” Torque wrench, what’s a torque wrench? Oh, and by the way, a flat bladed screw diver is NOT a pry bar. Trust me when I tell you there is a huge need for young men and women who will simply work. I guess many coddled kids think manual labor is beneath them – those are the ones who end up “Doing Nothing”. Mom and dad, get Billy and Sue out of the house…

          • thehawkreturns says

            Getting a job doesn’t work any more? Straight from a Democrat. I guess I have to work to feed your kid’s fat asses?

        • says

          “So what was wrong with it (educational system) in the first place?” For a few it worked very well. For most it got them by in an era where the needs and problems were completely different than today. Life today has additional problems beyond the classics that all struggle through everywhere, and those new ones are game changers. You can look to seniors to tell you about relationships, fortitude, etc. but they have nothing for you in terms of working, economics, careers, etc. today. Heard a senior say “Get a good job with benefits and keep it”, like that is still the world of 60 yrs ago. This wonderful computer inventor (from the blog) is exceptional by anyones standards — some excel beyond anyones expectations. But like you said, the system was/is adequate. I am working to change that model from adequate to exceptional–the old system did not try to make you exceptional. The expectation was that the exceptional would rise to the surface, everyone else expected to shut up and stay in line. It was easy when America was the only undestroyed country after WWII, but the rest of the world is our competitor now and we can match their numbers only with exceptional people. Lots of them. That requires a new system.

          • says

            I agree. Let me tell my perspective on what is happening to these needed exceptional people…
            In the 1950s, the Russians zoomed ahead of us in the technology/space race. Americans had a “holy crap” moment and began to develop the science and math skills of their gifted students. In fact, modern gifted education in the US stems from this event. We won the space race in 1969 with a lunar landing. Ah…but then the 70’s showed up. We were still swinging towards providing equality to everyone. Making certain that the academically gifted were given opportunities to develop their gifts started to be frowned upon. This trend has slowly grown until we arrived at the “No Child Left Behind Act.” NCLB mandated that ALL students would pass minimum profiency tests. Well, no all students are going to do that no matter how much energy and effort you provide. What has happened since that legislation hit is that resources have been directed away from our gifted and towards our challenged learners. The curriculum still proved to be too difficult for ALL learners to master it and since schools and teachers were being judged on their success rates, the curriculum has been altered to make it more “learnable” for everyone. That is great for the kids on the low end. It is killing the kids on the high end. The general concensus is that the high ability kids will learn it on their own. That is partially true. What is happening is that the are typically not challenged academically and never learn to really study or think. Remember that their curriculum is based on minimum profiency, not some super ramped up high level curriculum.
            When students enter school, they should expect 180 days worth of instruction and growth. Research has shown that most gifted kids don’t get introduced to new material until January and that the majority of them could pass the NCLB based tests at the beginning of the year. What ends up happening is nothing short of tragic.
            Gifted students who are not challenged do not reach their potential. They need training just as a world class athlete needs training. They learn underachievement. Without challenge, the do not learn perseverance.
            This is where your shortage of “exceptional” people is coming.

        • says

          What a great post! Some nice old fossil plants themselves next to you, and you and I would expect dull and old and he proceeds to blow your mind. lol I dont believe in accidents so meeting him was right on time for you. I do hope you stay in touch with him–so you can post his thoughts and enrich us all. I’m sure he has much, much more to say. I hope you make the effort to ask him for his thoughts. He is quite right, anything is possible if we believe it–and act on it with determination. I’m reposting this post to facebook. Thanks Joel

        • Chris says

          With a little research on Wikipedia, I found that Mr. Kirsch was not educated at a traditional school like most of America had access to in that day. Rather, he went to The Bronx High School of Science. He was fortunate enough to live in a city that was big enough to provide such facilities. A majority of Americans then and now have not had access to this sort of education.

          Of course, he also didn’t need to learn skills that have been developed since his time (e.g. Computer Literacy). I would hate to think that the modern education system did not teach our children modern skills.

          • Bradely Derby says

            I think quality of education isn’t so black and white as being able to attend a well named school. My grandmother grew up in the rural mountains of Colorado in a town called Leadville, a town slowly dying like the mines that fueled its economy. I used to sit there in amazement at her on road trips as she would make trigonometry problems out of road signs, mile markers, license plates, info on road maps and pretty much anything at hand. She would show us the problem and then work the answer. When I was little I thought it was magic, as I grew older I thought it was her just me, when I learned higher math I profoundly respected her education and wisdom. The school she attended had around 20 students from kindergarten through 12 grade. I’ve seen tests from then she had to be able to pass and from my perspective I know that as a senior in high school I could not have passed many of them. Children are exposed to much more information now but are equipped with far fewer skills to actually succeed in school, or in the work place. Mandatory skills such as delayed gratification/patience, pattern recognition and analysis – of information and materials, much less critical thinking and ability to research effectively (crazy considering they have access to vastly improved technology). Seems to me a quality education is about two factors coming together: 1)A quality teacher that doesn’t just parrot information and pass out examines; but actually knows the content they’re teaching, and how it relates to the world we live in. 2)The ability to teach children and adults to think for themselves; not just parrot information which is soon forgotten, and apply their thoughts to some form of work/creation. Exposure isn’t enough, for if it isn’t focused it becomes overwhelming and breeds stagnation through desensitization.

        • says

          Extraordinary people came out of the old education system. Extraordinary people come out of the present education system. Ordinary and mediocre people were and are the majority. I think part of the problem today as in the past is that non-conformers pay a price. Even people who claim to value creativity tend to habitually enforce conformity and extract that price. It is rare for people to brave enough to follow their own drummer – and to do so without letting bitterness and rebellion poison the well.

          • D.M. Ryan says

            Thanks so much for those wise words. People who change the world are neither bitter nor rebellious; they’re enthusiastic. Sad to say that a lot of valuable non-conformity is lost between the Scylla of rebelliousness and the Charybdis of bitterness.

      • George Dixon says

        I wonder about the elders, too…what goes on in their brains? Some wisdom, too, I’m sure. For some, just repetition of all the old things they didn’t learn. I’ve always loved being around them, and have been taught much by them…some of which I can discard. I learned about God (gawd?…heh) from an old one who fought in Spanish American and World War I. Now that I’m 80, I’m glad that wonders never cease. George

        • Steve says

          In general, older people (especially over about 70 or so) will tell you everything if you ask. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell. Consequently, most of their priceless wisdom goes unheeded.

      • Dominic Bascarino says

        Joel, thank you for sharing this truly inspirational story with us and thanks to Russel for this great invention of his and this lifetime.

      • Robert Barsky says

        They have a lit if wisdom? You just realized that? Think about it this way. You think you have a lot of the answers niw and you probably do. Do you think it will all disappear as you get older and/or you will not build on it?

        • Brian H says

          Read of some recent IQ studies that characterized aging as the slower use of more information, with more ability to accommodate more viewpoints. Youth excels in speed, focus, detail. Perspective and depth take time, though that doesn’t guarantee they will develop. Otherwise there would be no old fools, just young ones!

      • Rozone says

        Wow. As one of those “old timers” I find your comment strange. But, what you don’t know is that we don’t need to get inside the younger generation’s heads to figure out what they are up to and how they think. Never lose sight of the fact that one day some young man is going to call you an old timer and declare a lack of patience for you just because you are old. Sad. Your comment actually says you didn’t grow one iota after that incredible experience.

        • says

          I’m not quite sure what you’re mad about. I said I like learning from people wiser than myself. I wasn’t impatient with Russell at all – otherwise I wouldn’t have sat and talked with him for 30 minutes! :)

          If you find that offensive in some way, I’m afraid you’ve terribly misconstrued my words.

          • David says


            In response to Rozone assuming things you didn’t say, I have come to learn that while young people frequently do not respect older people, the reverse is equally true. There are a lot of things that youngsters do today that annoy me, but because I am involved with a lot of youth, I tend to be able to set aside my views enough to tolerate them. I have the same issue with older people though, and have to set aside my views there as well. As a 50-year old, I am able to see both sides. I do have a lot of respect for older people, as they have a lot to teach us, and I feel it is usually better to learn from other people’s mistakes. That does not mean older people are always right, nor that they have some copyright on how people should behave. They are just as intolerant as younger folks can be.

            We all need to understand that every group of people have something of value to offer. Even extreme examples like Christians and Muslims – each group can teach the other things. Blacks and whites, men and women, all differences can have value, even when we disagree with the values of those who are different.


      • says

        In my opinion, that’s a bit bold of a statement to say you can get into the head of someone whose experience supercedes your in almost every respect…

        Anyhow, thank you for sharing this story. It is truly inspiring.

      • John H. Holliday says

        Joel, go rent “Logan’s Run.” Then rent “12 Angry Men” and pay attention to the “old man” on the jury…and how his wisdom and experience ultimately open the eyes of the other jurors.

      • George Dixon says

        He possibly did think it through…the old guy built his own seismographometer?, knew Greek and Hebrew, played the organ, and frequented Honolulu hotel bars to connect with us servicemen and bring them to his wash-house (his living quarters…poor due to low pension I guess) and introduce us to God. I still think of his home as my palace away from home then.

        • Darren says

          It seems that most of the responses to this post are ignoring the fact that Russel believed God for what He promised and acted upon it. That is the main reason why we are failing in America. We have removed God from everything.

    • Jay says

      Having Impossible on his shirt may very well have triggered the event. On the other hand, once you reach a certain age giving back to others becomes much more important. When I was younger, I was a fighter pilot and everything was about me and winning. In a year I will be 60 and every day now is about making a positive difference in the lives of others. Chances are you already know this. If not, I promise someday you will remember it. Stay the course and have a great life Ryan.

    • Jürgen says

      Ryan this was like a wake up call to me. Unbelievable story you met the invetor of all the things we love and use today in a coffe shop. Is this coincidence or does it has a meaning? It has a meaning, things like that don’t happen just like that. This post went around the world maybe as a reminder who did all that. Yeh I wanna create something.

    • JoJo says

      Um, I wonder what verse in the Bible says “Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.” He must be using some bible other than the original one because it is NOT in THE Bible.

      • EllieGinger says

        JoJo not sure why you think he said it was a bible verse…I interpreted what he said, as a tongue in cheek conversation he had with God.

    • Phil Blackman says

      I know what Kirsch meant when he confided God had said “nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.” He was quoting Genesis 11:6. In this Chapter God is looking on as man is building the tower of Babble. Here is the quote as it appears in the King James:
      “And the Lord said, ‘Behold the people is one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do.”
      By the way, with Babble Fish morphed into Google Languages, the world does seem to be back in the pre-tower-of-Babble condition.

      • Ivone Chant says

        If you have his card, call him. Don’t think of it as a one-time encounter. I’m sure, at his age, he would have a lot to teach you – and not just about computers, but about all his experiences. :)

  2. Annie wagener says

    What an amazing story. Technology has increasingly cut us off from personal interactions because everyone has their heads down in some device. We’re missing out on what is most important in life; each other. How wonderful you didn’t miss out on this conversation. This is truly inspiring, thank you.

  3. says

    This has to be the most epic blog post I’ve read in a while.

    The whole consuming VS creating part is so true, and one of the most empowering discoveries (or rediscoveries after forgetting about the art of creation after early childhood).

    I love how open he was with you, too.

    • says

      Great blog, great story. Very inspirational, and a good reminder to make sure we take the time to learn from those who came before us.

      On a side note, I used to work at Apple as a “Specialist” (salesperson). We were allowed to describe the products in pretty much any way we wished, when talking to a potential customer, and having a few different messages was integral in breaking up the monotony of repeating the same thing to 100 customers.

      Anyway, we were always comparing notes with each other to learn new ways to describe products. One of our better Specialists taught me the almost exact phrase that Russell Kirsch used, when someone asked the main difference between an iPad and a Macbook. The former is a “consumption device”, while the latter is a “creation device”. Now I wonder if he had actually heard/read about Kirsch in the past…

  4. Bill says

    Your initial smile said you were open – and that turned a random event into a providential one. What a lesson, thanks for sharing this.

  5. says

    This has made my day. I almost never comment anywhere, but couldn’t leave without saying “wow”. What a fantastic thing to happen, and an interesting guy to meet.

  6. says

    You, my friend, lived a blessed life. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing that story and for being the kind of person who is willing to take a minute to listen to an old man.

  7. Jeremy Murfitt says

    You were so lucky, right place at the right time. I have been to Starbucks/Costa and sat working on my PC, blinkered and remote from my surroundings. When you walk around towns and cities a significant number of people spend their time looking at their phones. They don’t take in or are aware of their surroundings. In London a couple of weeks ago I just sat on a bench in Green Park and watched people, it is amazing how people are engulfed in their own bubble.

    I recognised this when I recently went sea kayaking. Not a big trip about 14km but roughi at times as the wind picked up. I had a GPS on deck and spent too much time looking at it. Next time I stowed it the day hatch, easily accessible but not a distraction from either the task in hand or the experience.


  8. says

    Wow. What an incredible experience. I love that you were open enough to have the conversation – and look where it led! Every day since WDS I’ve been trying to bring that spirit into my daily life. Thank you for the powerful reminder of why. :)

  9. says

    Wow – that’s all I can say! Well, obviously I can say more but I’m not sure if it would make sense. Just what an honor it must have been to have met the man who created the first computer! Just wow!

  10. says

    Incredible. I knew there were a lot of cool people in Portland but I didn’t know HE lived there. What an amazing coincidence that he’d come up to you. I guess he could tell you liked to do the Impossible too. Takes one to know one.

  11. says


    It just goes to show you that when you have the can do attitude, others pick up on it.

    I’m always blown away when I meet people in coffee shops or standing in line. The stories are great and the achievements are impressive.

    You definitely need to send him a shirt.

  12. says

    Sometimes I wonder about fate and choosing your own path. I mean, in this case you sat in the right place at the right time next to a man that is all about doing the impossible. You chose to do things that are impossible and here is a man who actually struck up a conversation with you who actually do all that. I hear the Twilight Zone theme playing in my head as I type this. LOL

  13. says

    That’s amazing Joel. This story really moved me. I believe in synchronicity.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I am going to go get some stuff done now.


  14. says

    Quote—”They’re trying to get everyone to use iPads and when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things.”

    Given that quote, I wonder when he lost his inspiration, his ability to see the creativity in someone else’s tool (as opposed to his own creation).

    With an iPad, anyone can create music, movies, photos, books, virtually any art of of their choosing. You can program on the iPad, and thus make more tools for budding creators.

    You can use this tiny screen, this portal, itself a work of art, as a window to view, to imagine, your art becoming reality.

    When I am as old as him, I hope I don’t lose my appreciation of others’ creations.

    • says

      I think he meant that computers (iPads specifically) have shifted to a more media consumption device than a creation device.

      Originally, all you could do on computers was code and solve problems. Now people use them to entertain themselves like a television – which is what I think the point of his critique was.

      • says

        I think it is a matter of perspective. I don’t believe that tools change, or shift. Some people look at a pen, and view it as a ink distribution system that allows them to sign their name on checks and receipts. Others look at a pen, and they see the next great American novel. If he sees iPads as consumption devices rather than as tools for creation, then I think this says more about him than the iPad.

        • Anum says

          I think Russell has a point. Jim, I feel like people like you are in the minority. How many people pick up an iPad for that purpose, I wonder? (for creating rather than consuming). Just speculating.

          • says

            I agree that Russell has a point, Anum. And it is a unwise one. If we spread (purported) wisdom that is based on what we assume the majority do, would anyone ever attempt a challenge? Break the four minute mile? Do the impossible? Whenever we accept someone’s anecdotal observation as fact, somewhere, a dream dies a lonely death. We need people that believe in the impossible, so they will achieve the impossible. That type of inspirational wisdom is what our elders should be teaching to our current and future creators. If that puts me in the minority, then I am in much better company than those in the majority.

          • says

            Don’t get me wrong, but I’m thinking you’re nitpicking. If it came across that he spent hours ranting against the iPad, he didn’t. He mentioned it for about a half a second and moved on to his real point (creating vs. consuming). I’m sure he cares much less about the actual device than what people are doing with it.

          • says

            Well Joel, if you wish to dismiss my discussion as nitpicking, have at it—this is your website. I think I spoke about his statements accurately. I don’t believe that I gave the impression that I thought he ranted on for hours about it. He stated an opinion as fact, and I believe that exposes why such statements should be questioned. If someone has a valid point, just make it. Instead, he opens his discussion showing a predisposition against Apple (“I’ve been against Macintosh company lately.”). Pretty ironic, given that you can “…code, you can make things and create things that have never before existed and do things that have never been done before…” all on an iPad, utilizing technologies that most modern computers have yet to incorporate. By the way, if you want me to nitpick, I’d suggest changing the closing quote to: “Do things that have never been done before” – The guy who invented the first internally programmable computer. (The Z1, Colossus and ENIAC were the first programmable computers, and they all predate Kirsch’s work.) His statements of “I invented the first computer.” and “I created the world’s first programmable computer.” are simply false. I’m not dismissing the improvements that he made to programable computers, and he certainly deserves respect for his creation of digital images. But if he makes false statement, I am not ashamed to point them out. And that is my 3¢. Well, I am off to do things that I have never done before.

          • says

            Maybe nitpicking isn’t the right word, but I think it’s fair to say you missed the point of the article, by grasping onto one reference point rather than the spirit of his statement.

            As for his intro – it’s from my memory, so it could be faulty – but I think that’s a perfectly fine opening line for meeting a stranger at a coffee shop (especially when he clarified “first internally programmable computer” immediately after I asked him to), especially when you consider that he had no idea of the technical background of the person he had just struck up a conversation with.

        • John Hahn says

          I disagree with that. If you are talking about apps like games, etc, then the iPhone and iPad are consumption devices, not creation devices. You’d be hard pressed to find a development team anywhere that makes iOS games where the engineers on the team actually type in code on an iOS virtual keyboard, and you’d be hard pressed to find artists that actually create their content on the device itself. Software creators use “real” computers (desktops and laptops) to make the software, and then the iOS devices are simply a means of easy distribution and consumption of the software.

          Basically, portable devices are, for all practical purposes, consumption devices, not creation devices. Is it possible to make software with the device? Probably. Is it practical or realistic to do so? Absolutely not. If for no other reason, simply because the screen is too tiny to realistically use as a workstation, and touchscreens are inadequate input devices for complex tasks.

          Yes, they probably have docking stations where you can plug in your portable device and get a real keyboard/mouse and large monitors with it, but realistically, who wants to use that as a software development workstation? Content creators need high end hardware to get stuff done in a timely manner.

    • says

      Think more laterally Jim. Imho Kirsch is absolutely right about Apple´s strategy and company policy. Apple is not interested in any creatives. Neither in programmers nor in Filmmakers. Simple: Programmers must pay 100$/year “Developer fee” to be allowed to offer your apps in the appstore. Film and photo editors must use glossy screens.
      Serverdocks are cancelled. This are really common examples but they show that apple removes itself more and more from the creaters. Kirsch is not talking about hobbypurposes. No one would say that creating a music track with garageband for the ipad and editing a picture with instagramm or snapseed would be a fancy creation and a self-fulfilment for someone. The more Apple products i use, the more i am consuming. I dread to think what will be my next invoice for consuming movies with apple tv. Btw. The statement of the story is not about such things it is about reaching anything you want when you just do it and you do not hesitate.

      Do something – do it wrong, but do something!

      So long, René

      • says

        Think more impossibly Rene. Isn’t that why we are here?

        Apple supports creatives more than any other company I’ve seen. Their products inspire people to create. I speak from experience here. Without Apple products, I would not have created the original and new sleight-of-hand products that I have created (three dozen to date, and counting). I have been lucky enough to have some professional musicians as friends. Without Apple products, they would not be making the high quality music that they do. When I attend Jeff Goldsmith’s screenings in Hollywood, the one tool that I hear mentioned by professional filmmakers over and over is Apple products.

        Patrick Rhone writes all of his current books exclusively on his iPad. A artist painted with his fingers on a iPad, and it became the cover of Time Magazine. The Gorillaz create professional music on their iPads.

        My friend Joe edits studio films on his glossy screen. My friend Mark (he writes and plays in several bands, not the least of which is the Grateful Dead) only uses Apple products.

        There are amazing tools available on the iPad. Tools for professional use. Tools that allow artists to actualize their dreams. GarageBand is a stepping stone to ReBirth, BeatMaker and NanoStudio. InstaGram is a beginner’s toy compared to FilterStorm Pro. I had a artist friend pick up a iPhone for the first time, and use SketchBook Pro. In less than a few minutes, she created a piece of art that inspired me. I wonder how many artists could have done that with Kirsch’s machine?

        $100 is a trivial amount to invest for all of the services that Apple provides with the Apple store. They provide Xcode in that fee. How much does Microsoft charge for their IDE? Microsoft Visual Studio Professional is $549! The Apple Store handles all of the business expenses that would be needed to sell a product. You don’t need to create a store, have a merchant account, pay for servers and store programmers, no expense for bandwidth or maintenance.

        I could go on. The point is that Apple provides inspirational tools that allow creative people to make amazing works of art. Anyone who doesn’t see that is surrounding themselves with the wrong perspective and the wrong people.

        • Michael Allen says

          Completely agree. The author of the article (and Kirsch) simply miss the point. Mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads are primarily designed for media consumption. However, most people that use an iPad are either tech-saavy users who use it in addition a desktop/laptop or people who otherwise would never use a computer for anything other than basic work-related tasks. An easy way to refute the idea of consumptive devices and culture replacing the creative DIY tech-culture of yore is the vast ocean of applications (and the scores of independent developers coding them) that now defines the new age of digital media. Every generation thinks the next is in some way or another falling short of the goal they worked so hard to make possible… Russel Kirsch’s perspective is more a sign of his aging than some all-knowing sage-like wisdom.

          • Mr. Grogg says

            The author and Mr. Kirsch missed the point? How is that possible when they were the ones having the discussion? They are the source of the material for the article and any points it makes. To say they missed the point is nonsensical. They’re the ones MAKING the point! Clearly you’ve so thoroughly moved away from the original point that you’ve impinged upon the territory of the non-relevant.

            Regarding this one nitpicked point, even the most ardent fan of the productive qualities of Apple and the many devices and technologies they provide must admit that the vast majority of users utilize them as consumptive devices. That a talented minority uses them as productive devices does not change the fact that they are primarily currently used for consumption. But when Kirsch was in his hey-day, there was very little entertainment to be had on computers. They were primarily for producing solutions to problems. A few people may have programmed simple guessing games and similar things, and those people formed the minority. The ratio of productive-to-consumptive use of computer technology has changed since the time Kirsch considers the “good ol’ days”, and that was what he probably was referring to in his comment.

            As for Jim Krenze: Just because you have a raging hard-on for Apple and can’t abide anybody ever saying anything remotely critical of it, you got that far into the article and then immediately closed your mind to anything else. I have and love an iPad. I’m a big fan of Apple. But I don’t defend Apple to the point that I fail to experience the more important things in life. The sentiments expressed my Mr. Kirsch are inspiring, but instead of allowing yourself to ignore the completely irrelevant icebreaker to the completely powerful discussion that followed, you focused on the trivial and lost the transcendent. That’s a real pity. From the erudite manner of your writing it’s obvious you’re a smart guy. Somebody like you has a lot to gain by listening to the wisdom of somebody like Mr. Kirsch. But, since he’s on the other side of the concrete wall you’ve built around yourself and Apple, you can’t hear him. The world will thus lose whatever you might have created had you allowed yourself to be inspired by words on the other side of that wall. That’s a loss to you, and perhaps to the world as well. It’s a real shame.

        • John R says

          Jim Krenz, I am going to agree with Joel that you are nitpicking or rather, you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. How else can you explain you getting your panties in a knot over a couple sentences from a guy making an observation in the context of what seems to me to have been just an icebreaker. Then you say that Russell is stating opinion as fact so he has to be questioned… well, almost everything you have stated in your comments is your opinion and YOU are stating as fact…seems someone is being a hypocrite… but I am not going to waste my time questioning you… or pointing out your rediculous and obnoxious statements… because I know your type and you are so full of yourself thinking yourself superior to everyone else and can never be wrong, engaging you would be as fruitful as hitting my head against a wall. Have fun living with the minority, but you are mistaken thinking you will be “in much better company than those in the majority” because if the rest of the minority are like you, what a pathetic mess. Guess you enjoy hanging out with jerks.
          Another area where you are mistaken is acting like Apple has a monopoly on creativity with computers. Now days, all thr creative activities you mention can be done with other hardware and other operating systems with a lot more software options and a non-Apple system being half the price of a comprable Apple System Apple is so interested in keeping control, they fill their boxes with proprietary hardware, limit the amount of upgradabilty so user have to buy a new computer at a faster ratem and they set as off limits parts of their operating systems. So if you don’t care about having control over your own system and if you don’t care about not being able to repair your own system and be required to take it into an Apple store, that is your choice. In the end, I do not know any serious computer person be it programmers, web developers or network administrators who use or recommend Apple products and I think one reason is how small of a market share Apple has, but also Apple limits their development ecosystem leaving the only realistic programming being developing apps for other Apple products. And that leaves the typical Apple user being a simplicity-seeking novice or people that have never used another computer system so they basicly don’t know any better.

          • says

            John R.—I’m wrong on many things in life, just not on the items brought up here. I may be wrong about this: your post feels like it is full of anger and bitterness. It sounds like you want to yell at me instead of having a discussion. From your words alone, it looks like you have a lot of issues to work out. Consider these as my last words to you (this is not a frivolous suggestion, but a sincere one): see a good therapist. Good luck John.

          • John R says

            Jim – thank you for your mental health advice, but like so much of what you have said, you are wrong. It seems from your comments on the original article and your response to my comment that you are not a very careful reader. It should have been clear I was yelling at you… and I did not want to have a discussion with you because it would be pointless due to your arrogent attitude. I disagree with you that I have issues, but I do have an issue… I cannot stand egotistical, pompous, rude asses. Since you don’t have a problem making glib mental health evaluation, you should have a problem if I take a shot at armchair diagnosis… based on your faulty thinking and your confrontational attitude, I would say that you have an autism spectrum disorder.

          • mothy says

            Jim Krentz is just a mac fanboy and gets his panties knotted when someone disagrees with him.

          • Steven says

            Actually, a lot of creative people use Apple products and you absolutely can create software for other non-Apple computers/operating systems on a Mac.

            Everyone at GitHub (a site that is key to a lot of opensource and commercial software development these days) uses a Mac, even the developers of their Windows app dual boot Windows and OSX on a MacBook. The site itself is written on Macs running OSX and deployed to Linux servers. Most of the developers and designers at Facebook also use Macs (again, it’s deployed to Linux servers). Same story with Twitter, Google and a lot of other companies who need to create cross-platform or web software. With a Mac you can easily create and deploy software for OSX, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry and the web. Only two of those platforms are controlled by Apple.

            I also don’t know any serious recording studio that would even consider using a non-Apple computer and the movie industry makes extensive use of Apple products for animation, 3D modeling and graphics/video editing. I personally (having used both) wouldn’t even consider using Windows for any serious audio, video or graphics editing. Then again, I wouldn’t use an iPad for that either.

            You’re definitely right about one thing, though. Apple has gone to great lengths to make their computers harder to repair and upgrade than your average Windows PC. It’s not only frustrating, it’s also not environmentally friendly, which is why the city of San Francisco is no longer buying any Apple products.

          • Brian H says

            Changing the terms/goalposts. Creating on Macs is not the issue; creating on iPads is. S/W for iPads is not (ever) written on iPads. S/W for Macs (and much else, as you point out) is written on Macs. Because Macs are GP (General Purpose) computers, open in almost all directions. iPads are constrained, narrow, specialized by comparison. Very good at what they do, but the wrong tool for many jobs and task-types

    • says

      Mr. Kirsch is correct. Sure, there are exceptions, but his statement is valid.

      I know a lot of people who have iPads (and other Tablets). They’re cool devices, they’re convenient, and they’re very fun.

      But they are content/media consumption devices. Now, I’m not saying that they *can’t* be used for content creation. But that isn’t the way they get used. I work in IT, and I have a lot of tech-oriented friends. The kind of people who could create content/media for iPads. I don’t see it happening when they’re using their iPads.

  15. says

    Totally mind blown. Thanks for sharing this moment with us.

    PS: That coffee shop is a great place to sit down and write. I miss Portland.

  16. says

    Great post. It seems that all too often, we feel that technology is increasing so fast that the older generation has been left behind. In eastern cultures, they have great respect for older people, wanting the learn from their wisdom. You never know what you will pickup for a chance encounter.

    The lessons you took away from the conversation were great as well. I think too many people wait for someone else to do it first to show everyone that it is possible. Kinda like breaking the 4 minute mile. Everyone was told it was impossible, that your heart would explode. When Roger Bannister did it in 1954, it all the sudden seemed possible. Soon, others bought into the idea that they could do something that they had never been done before.

    All it takes is a spark, an idea, a conversation….

  17. says


    I wish I had gone to that coffee shop after WDS, but I’m glad you did.

    In my arrogance I often believe we (I) are the first. It’s great when we can relax in receive wisdom and experience from others.

    So what have you conceived that was never done – that you are doing?

  18. says

    Absolutely incredible event. Great blog too! I am sharing on FB and with writer friends and would like permission to include in my latest book too, full story with links to your blog! What an amazing incident; there are no coincidences!

  19. Shelley Green says

    As I read this, I found myself starting to smile. As I finished reading not only was I smiling, I was reminded of how I have taken life for granted. That I need to do more, put my thoughts into actions without the fear that it hasn’t being done (or done that way) before. I am going to try to remember the quote “Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”

    We were put here on this earth to do something. It doesn’t matter who we are we all can make a difference in the world around us. The power of “one” one person making a difference in some way, helping someone, is incredible. Having the power of “one” as well as your love for God and Gods love for you is amazing. We all have the chance to make a part of the world around us better. The only thing that matters is that we do what we conceive and know that nothing will be withheld.

  20. says

    A true master, and you were at the right place and time.

    He told you something that you (and most of us) needed to learn at this point in life.

    Thank you for sharing such wisdom from someone who actually did what he loved and believed… a living legend.

    From México. Constantino.

  21. Steve Palmer - London says

    the word Serendipity comes to mind …
    This was a fantastic blog , clearly demonstrating
    why we must always be mindful , even if it’s not at the
    forefront of our everyday thinking.

  22. says

    Great story, thanks for sharing. I don’t think he realised it, but he’s the only dude with a legit argument against apple products! (the iPad atleast)

  23. says

    “Do things that have never been done before” means a lot of uncertainty is going to yield from it, precisely what scares people from doing anything. You definitely have a lot of wisdom to learn from the older generation before you no longer have the chance.

  24. says

    Wow! That’s truly lucky to randomly meet up.

    I too have a pretty excellent experience with a tech individual that I met through my boss. His name is Michael, he’s work for Apple, IBM, and Microsoft since the early 80’s.

    It’s amazing what you can learn from the long-timer’s in the computer world. They really ground you.

    You’ll be excited to jump onto some new technology but they’re there, as a mentor, to show you that there are core items that truly matter (like programming) which is what really gives you the ultimate flexibility to make something amazing.

    Like he said, the problem with a lot of modern computing is that it’s all UI. People don’t dig around ad much these days.

    My interactions with Michael, inspiration from the original developers (like in your post), and my own quest to learn is the reason I’m back in college for computer science.

    Again, wow. Such an awesome experience. Really glad you shared this one with us :)

  25. says

    Love this post it is so great when something unexpected just opens up your eyes. Your posts which I get in my inbox do this for me on most days! You are inspiring and I have to say thanks! Keep them coming.

  26. says

    I believe you had an encounter with a “Earth Angel”….you have touched many lives because you chose to write about this “chance” meeting..( I live near Portland!)….what a powerful message that is being talked about all over the world and shared..and yes, changing lives..I am sure of this…I saw this on my facebook feed and I shared it on my wall,too..this is my first time to your blog..I believe this was a very spiritual experience and that you were on some level open to receiving…after all, we are spiritual beings having a human experience…

  27. Juliet Schutte says

    Ohhh this blog makes me SMILE! SO amazing to me how the Universe sets up the greatest experiences for us without our even needing to ask!!

  28. says

    Thanks for sharing this amazing experience. Great reminder to stop, take time, be present in the moment- because you took time to talk and visit with a stranger you ended up having an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing it!

  29. Fran Pullara says

    I just heard about you from a FB friend. I am an active 75 but am in WA visiting my much older sis in a retirement home. I have had such great talks with the elderly here and so many accomplished amazing things in their prime. I’m Geary from your excellent post.

  30. Rugger Ducky says

    I agree wholeheartedly, with one single caveat. I know several artists who use iPads to create amazing things. A quick search also reveals plenty of examples.

    Most Americans treat their computers and tablets the same way–as consumers, not creators. It is always a select few that look at each new tool as something with which to craft greater things.

    On the shoulders of giants.

    • says

      I agree. I think he was speaking more to the tendency of most people to use it as consumption devices, but there are people who make amazing things with iPad. However, I think as a broad seque into his overall point, that statement stands well on it’s own.

      • CJ says

        agree. one can create great new things by using certain apps. but if u walkin on a beaten track, u will never get to new places.

        gr8 post, u made my day. respect

  31. J. Read says

    May I ask – did Kirsch ever patent any of his creations or did he believe they should be there for everyone to enjoy/share/evolve???

      • Malcolm Weir says

        The projects Kirsch refers to were done by and for the National Bureau of Standards, i.e. the US Government, so they could not involve patenting inventions (the taxpayer paid for them).

        • Bradely Derby says

          My step father worked for Ball Aerospace as an electrical engineer. I bring this up because most government contract employees like my step father; and probably Mr. Kirsch, had to sign agreements to give up their patent rights to the companies they worked for, for anything created on the job. There was usually no bonus, or other form of compensation either. Most technical jobs; in and out of the government, were run that way in Mr. Kirsch’s day. My step father John Stanley created a hand held device that detected RF and EM leakage/shorts in aircraft wiring systems, they still use this device on airplanes to this day. He is credited with its invention, but never got compensation for it. That was just how business and industry was run in those days. In my step fathers case it was never about the compensation,he is simply proud that he invented something that protected pilots and passengers lives. The work and personal ethics of that day are something we should all aspire too.

          Thank you Joel for this blog post, it has resonated with me on so many levels. Reminds me to honor family, and inspires me to reach for something greater. Kudos. Sometimes the very best things in life are free, and as simple as sitting and listening.

  32. says

    Awesome! That chance meeting was NO accident…you were MEANT to share this story! Wish I would have met you at WDS, but I am good buds with your handy photographer. So glad you took a moment to connect. This is a story worth sharing :)

  33. Chris G says

    I need to hang out with more Veterans like that. Anyone who can say “I invented the mother fucking (anything)!”, Respect.

  34. Teresa Boardman says

    This reminds us that younger generations are not as tech savvy as we think. Using a touch screen does not take as much intelligence and tech savvy ness as programing a computer takes.

  35. Marcie says

    I needed this story today. And while it may sound a little out there, I don’t think that was just a random encounter or a right place at the right time kind of thing. I think you guys were definitely meant to meet. And how great that you have the ability and opportunity to impact others with his message as well.

  36. Đại úy Paul says

    A lady I love, Rebecca, sent this to me. I’ll be “stealing” the lesson and carrying it as a permanent fixture in my ready-ruck.

  37. says

    Yes! Which is why I detest the iUniverse. Specifically to the iPad, I wrote my school district and the editor of my local paper to protest iPads in our school district:

    I think of the iPad as cavemen-tech…why did we toss our keyboards and mice (input devices) and replace them with finger swipes like we’re making doodles on cave walls?

    Then I created my site. Now all of us can use our keyboards and mice (if we still have them) to shape the social conversations in our communities! You can create something there today!

    Thanks for the article. I hope it wakes more people up.

  38. says

    Joel, this is a great story, thanks for writing it up.

    I note that Russell’s wikipedia page lacks a photo of him.

    Your photo of the two of you together is a great capture. If you could explicitly license it as CC-BY-3.0 (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0) by labeling it and linking to the license as such, I’d be more than happy to add your photo to the Wikipedia page.

    Thanks again for the write-up. Nice inspiration for a Saturday afternoon.


  39. says

    The last two weeks I’ve been stuck, really stuck, and trying to crawl out of the cave into the sunlight – and your story is a HUGE boost propelling me forward as I ponder ways to revamp my business. What an awesome story and what awesome take-aways. A friend posted the link on FB and I’m sharing it with others. I wish we had more people like Russell Kirsch (at any age).

  40. Roland says

    Very cool experience – great of you to give the man time to tell his story (I am sure homeless people have a lot of stories to tell too 😉 ).
    It is also interesting to see what he says and you interpret. He is very specific on saying that he created the “world’s first internally programmable computer” and you interpret it as “the guy who invented the computer”. Your interpretation is – however – not true, as the first computer was invented quite a bit earlier 😉

    • says

      The phrase “world’s first internally programmable computer” isn’t quite twitter friendly :).

      I think, given the context, conversation and links to appropriate biographies, it’s not an misguided interpretation as much as a means of shortening for brevity’s sake.

      • rick says

        Joel, with all due respect, you shortening his credit to inventor of the computer is never the less an inaccurate misrepresentation of a very impotant set of historical facts. Not anywhere is Russell credited for ‘inventing the computer’. Shortening a credit to something that is, in the minds of many, very different, is simply an irresponsible exaggeration.

  41. Linda says

    I love “coincidences”! You have been subtly guided to continue opening up to the people around you. We all have a story and a lesson to teach. Most people don’t hear the people or the lessons. On this day you did….

  42. Geoff Mason says

    What a great article. Life is filled with opportunities to learn and sometimes you just have to jump at them. It is strange that some people aren’t able to comprehend the enormity of the opportunities people are offered and can show an appreciation for that and instead nitpick. Congratulations for not just dismissing him as some old timer who wanted to tell a story.

  43. says

    I love this story! These are always my favorite conversations to be had – and I’ve actually been on a mission to not blow them off like I normally would do because I’m busy or preoccupied but to instead open myself up and be a little more approachable in these settings… And this is an awesome example of all the cool people out there in the world just waiting to be met!

  44. says

    The lesson learned is that many older people have a story to tell. Much of the time, all you need is to listen and filter out those people who have a great story. People at the library, coffee shop, grocery store, etc. have lived long lives and seen many things.

    Younger people are very absorbed in what they are doing and with good reason most of the time. Life is full of work, relationships, kids, etc. that is is hard sometimes to sit back, think and dream a bit.

    There are many people walking down the street or sitting on their porch who have done amazing things in the past. My suggestion is that young people should find an older mentor (or several) and talk. Youth gets to live some of the past and we older folks get to relive the experiences we had when we were young.

    I remember leaving an IEEE meeting at NC State a couple years ago and Fred Brooks was leaving at the same time. He asked if we remembered if he had worn a hat and left it in the building. We didn’t think he wore a hat. I wish I could have sat down with him to talk about his experiences and his mythical man month ideas. Maybe next time.

  45. Bart Bernales says

    Your story can be compared to having an enlightenment after spending long meditations in the Himalayas. Haha.
    I consider myself tech savvy, but I can’t code. I’m a computer technician, and I love to bring old and abandoned computers and gadgets back to ‘life’. Most of all I have a passion with digital image art (I’m into desktop publishing and design too!) Your story is one the most inspiring one I’ve read, and I felt so fortunate to know that Russel is the ‘badass’ guy who made all of these beautiful pixels possible! Whew! *mind blown*
    I’m gonna share your link to my FB, and also do some ass kicking to my so-called ‘tech savvy friends!’ LOL

  46. says

    I don’t think that we, who grew up surrounded by “proper” computers, suffer from this particular problem, but I wonder about those growing up now and 10 years from now who might not touch a programmable computer, but rather only media devices.

    Still, think about music. 200 years ago, if you “liked music”, you played an instrument or two, because to hear music, you had to make it. Music recordings enabled entire generations of people to enjoy music without having to produce any of it. Nowadays, you can have any piece of music produced in the first world whenever you want it. Question: has that stopped people from making great music? I don’t think it has. It might have reduced the number of people making great music, but I don’t think it has reduced the amount of great music being made.

    Yes, there will be fewer programmers, but I think the field will advance at a more than acceptable pace, anyway. Fewer will be driven to create, but those who are, will.

  47. says

    While I don’t think Apple is deliberately trying to discourage innovation, one of the things I dislike about the iPad is that it’s very hard to to create any kind of original and customized content on it. It’s even hard to edit social media posts. It’s hard to correct typos. It’s physically difficult to place the cursor where you need it to go. The iPad is definitely made for passing info on, not creating it in the first place.

  48. Dixiegirl says

    This is probably the best story I’ve heard in awhile. And yes, my mind was blown by your photo observation.

    How awesome you were in the right place at the right time. What a wonderful and profound experience.

  49. Some Dude says

    Great story, but it’s so compelling that I’d imagine it was staged. Super marketing chops, though.

    • Dorrk says

      I’m positive it wasn’t staged. Why? Because I had a very similar conversation with a total stranger — Kirsch — almost exactly 2 years ago in another coffee shop just a few blocks away from World Cup.

      I was meeting with a web design client and we were looking at my laptop when an old man at the next table interjected his entire life story into the middle of our conversation.

      He was an interesting guy, and we were polite and listened, but I took rather less inspiration away from the encounter and more a suspicion that this was a lonely guy soliciting validation from strangers.

      Now that I see he does it somewhat chronically, my impression is further reinforced.

      • Mark J says

        I suppose that’s one way to look at it. Here’s another.

        Christians have an evangelist gene implanted in them at rebirth. Jesus’ great commission was to “Go” and spread the gospel.

        Mr. Kirsch is simply obeying that impulse. He is reminding people that God has given us the keys to everything positive … if we just believe and act on it.

  50. J. P. says

    Wow, I would have flipped out if I had met such a person, amazing story, it reminded me to get back into learning programming. One point to mention is that he did NOT invent the computer, Konrad Zuse did it. Mr. Kirsch invented the first “internally programmable computer” how you wrote above. I just noticed that you reffered to him as general inventor of the computer later on. Sorry for nitpicking…

  51. says

    I realize that Russell’s iPad “consuming vs. creating” comment might be getting over-exaggerated, and I know that I may be in a minority like other commenters here with my computing habits, but I want to weigh in on the consuming vs. creating debate. Now alomst 60, I’ve been in the tech industry for almost 30 years, and I’m more creative with computers now than I’ve ever been, whether it’s a Mac, an iPad, an iPhone, or a Windows PC. The variety and depth of tools on all platforms allow me to build things I used to only dream of. Having spent 15 of those years producing computer games, we were building games when the Apple II was the multimedia computing standard and the IBM PC had only a few colors and no sound. I think we watch too many commercials and assume we have a grasp of what the market is really doing with computers based on that. I learned a big lesson 15 years ago when I was caught in the trap of living in Silicon Valley and thinking that because I lived in the cradle of development that all the creativity was happening here and the rest of the country was just consuming what was created. Once I traveled outside the valley more, I realized it was exactly the opposite. And I think the current younger generation gets a bad rap as being a mindless consumer of things. I just got back from Yosemite, watching my teenaged daughter and her contemporaries using their Powerbooks to build multimedia presentations that rivaled what someone would have needed a Video Toaster to be able to create 20 years ago. And the quality of the tools allowed them to be much more expressive than I could I have imagined doing at that age. Bottom line- the slackers get all the press, but the real creators go right on building their worlds.

  52. Some Random Guy says

    This is utterly fantastic. I never worked with Russ but because we had a mutual friend at NIST (originally NBS), I was able to spend many lunchtimes with him over a period of many years. The conversations were wide-ranging, as are his interests, and every one of them was interesting.

    After he retired and left the area I lost touch and frankly thought he may be dead. Your picture brought back many memories and made me smile.

    Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  53. Gwathiell says

    Great story, well written too. :) I personally love this quote :
    “Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”

    Thank you. I needed to come across that :)

    Best wishes,

    • J. P. says

      That’s what I remarked, too… In some passages the article is correct (inventor of the first internally programmable computer), in others it isn’t (inventor of the computer).

  54. Kjetil T. says

    I suspect he didn’t actually claim to invent the first computer. The first practical stored program computer was operational a year earlier in Cambridge, UK. He created the first *American* computer. Which isn’t half bad, either 😉

  55. Valerie Cameron says

    Joel, dig out that card and put it in a safe place. He gave it to you for a reason. It wouldn’t be out of line for you to establish an ongoing relationship with him. I think he’d welcome it. Do it!

  56. Lindsay Gaff says

    I hate that I can’t switch off the nitpicky jerk in my head that has to comment, because I’m overlooking the entire point of the article in doing so, but to me it’s important not to downplay the achievements of others.

    Kirsch, as it states on wikipedia, created the first functional stored program computer in the united states. EDSAC, a british computer constructed by Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge began operation in 1949. SEAC (Kirsch’s computer) itself was an improvement on an earlier stored-program design called EDVAC, designed by John Von Neumann, whose name is given to one of the two main architectures in use today.

    Then there’s the Zuse Z3, constructed by Konrad Zuse in 1941, an improvement on the Z1 design from 1938; although it lacked a conditional branch operation, so in a large sense it was not programmable, merely a very large calculator.

    If you were going to single any one person out as the inventor of the computer though, at least theoretically, that would be Alan Turing, who quite literally wrote the book on computability.

    I’m not in any way trying to disparage Kirsch’s work by this mini-rant, his contributions are equally important and these quotes are phenomenal, but i’d fall short of saying he invented the computer.

    • Darin says

      Yes, with computers it becomes difficult to define “invent” and “first”. EDVAC I would have classified as first internally stored memory programmable computer, which makes it odd that a computer based upon EDVAC would be listed by some as “first”. However EDVAC had some delays before being put into production. There was also EDSAC but that was in the UK.

      Then there’s the issue that computers really are a continuum of improvements. Before EDVAC was ENIAC which I would call a “computer” even though not an internally stored program. Who invented a computer is even more murky than deciding who invented the modern automobile.

      In that sense perhaps people should not worry about “inventing” things with the sense of something big and new and impressive. That may be too intimidating for most. We really don’t have much anymore invented by a single person, things are developed in teams. Even back in Edison’s day he had a team of people doing the hard work. Instead just improving things is important. So stand on the shoulder of giants and do something so that later someone else can stand on your shoulders.

  57. says

    Wow! This reminds me of Vaynerchuk’s statement about always trying seek out old(er) people to learn from them. But to have a chance meeting like that is sweet. Thanks for sharing this. Very inspirational.

    • kshade says

      This. It’s certainly not the first computer, the first electronic computer or the first touring-complete programmable computer. Guy’s still right though, and it’s a cool story.

        • Malcolm Weir says

          Sorry, but as others have stated, Kirsch’s SEAC was only the first in the US. The real first internally programmed computer was either the SSEM built by Manchester University in England, which ran its first program in June 1948, or Cambridge University’s EDSAC, which started work in May 1949. The controversy over which was “first” depends on your definition: SSEM was built as proof-of-concept device, so although it truly was an internally programmed computer, it was not a machine built to do anything; it was a computer that didn’t actually compute anything. By contrast, EDVAC had the same “internally programmable” feature, but was built to do useful work. (Manchester’s SSEM evolved into the Manchester Mark 1, which was operational in April 1949, but didn’t run “error free” until June 1949, giving the honors to Cambridge); architecturally, EDVAC was more of an evolutionary dead end, and its fair to say that whatever you’re reading this on is a logical descendant of the Manchester Mark 1/SSEM.
          For the record, Kirsch’s SEAC didn’t start work until May 1950, but which time several other stored program machines had been produced.
          By way, while SEAC was the platform that lead to the first digital image, the Manchester Mark 1 brought us the first computer game (a subset of chess), while Australia’s CSIRAC delivered the first music!
          Despite all of the above, don’t lose sight of the fact that Russell Kirsch was one of just a couple of dozen pioneers, all of whom were working more-or-less independently. However, many Americans are surprised by the influence that the UK had on the development of what has become a quintessentially American strength. Of course, one of the major factors in this was the nationality of one man: John von Neumann.
          (not that Britain has been totally asleep in the time since then, as the Olympic Games opening ceremony reminded us: “This is for everyone!”)

  58. Stephan says

    what a great story and yes I agree most uf us never do new things, because we are afraid to stumble on our path. Let’s go outside and try new things!
    kind regards from Germany

  59. says

    wonderful story– I am having an impossible music career thanks to internet… so thanks to him, without computers my music would not be listened to worldwide.. If you ever see him again say “THANK YOU” from a classical musician!!

  60. says

    You make my day with that story. Early in the morning sitting in the train and reading it, the whole story motivates me enormous to hold on my decision to give up on my 9am to 6pm office job and to do something that no one ever done before. The whole quote about it is awesome.

    Regards from germany, René

  61. paawun says

    Very interesting anecdote! Loved reading it. A friend recommended this blog and I have bookmarked it :). Since I am not a programmer, I can’t argue with genius…but I don’t know if you can dismiss apple just on that premise. Apple is not just about the iPad. And a lot of Apps made for the Apple line of products have and are changing the world as we speak, and they are good programming too. I used to be anti Apple on some misguided notion that they were too arrogant and controlling and exclusivist, until I held my first iPhone 2 years ago. AND I changed my perception and became a loyalist in 1 day. It was a mindblowing experience to have an iPhone.Pretty, uncomplicated, so wonderously useful, and ready with a nice fresh surprise in terms of Apps every few days!!! I was in the middle of an experience that allowed me to use an uncluttered, intuitive device, yet, it was constantly evolving. Not being a cold logical thinker or a great rationalist, I still know what experience speaks to me. And while I still like the keyboard on windows better because I am so used to it…I love Apple Products. I love their quality. Allows me to trust, that I am not going to be lured into buying empty hype. There is solid substance there! And not everybody can create. You need consumers too :)

  62. says

    What an inspirational chance-meeting. I do have to agree with Kirsch, that as a whole, we have become largely consumers ‘poking’ at the digital world. The good news is . . . everything happens in cycles, so this phase too, shall pass.

  63. says

    Thanks for posting this. It’s excellent. I remember when there were multiple hardware architectures and that was for 16, 32, and 36-bit, and when people built things, whether it was hardware or software.

  64. says

    Maybe he invented the computer but he doesn’t realize that thanks to the accessibility of the appstore, a lot of pple, including me, became programmers without a computer science degree. Same goes for Garage Band, iBook Author, iMovies, iTunes and other Apple software which empowers common pple to produce creative content and gives them access to a massive market.

  65. Geekoid says

    “Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.”
    And if ti is, well then you didn’t want it bad enough.

    What a bunch of clap trap.

  66. says

    I love that the quote from God is from the Tower of Babel, which gives Russel’s use of it such nuance. The danger of the Tower was everyone thinking alike, cementing everything in place for fear of change, of encountering the different, the challenging. No individual stones; only bricks, which must be identical.

    But talking to random old strangers in coffee shops? Definitely an out-of-the-tower idea. Props (to both of you).

    • Mat says

      Actually, it gives it more than nuance, it give it a complete misuse. The quote from Genesis 11:6 is a warning of the capacity of man to do evil. God was not saying that it would be a good thing if mankind did everything that he imagined to do. Ironically, he said he was the only one that believed, yet his understanding of it was completely wrong.

      • says

        This would be true if God had never sent Jesus to this earth. You see, the Cross changed everything. God’s no longer mad at this world. As a result, Russel’s understanding of the scripture in Genesis is correct.

  67. Melissa says

    What a great message. There are no coincidences and that was a meeting you and he were to have. I just finished typing a note to a friend trying to articulate what you so eliquently posted about your encounter: Thank you so much for sharing this for us all. :-)

    “Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”

    That’s good, who said that?

    God did.


    God said it and there were only two people who believed it, you know who?

    Nope, who?

    God and me, so I went out and did it.

  68. Linda A. says

    Oh man….I don’t read blogs but came here from Lars.

    This is a great story!!!

    Forget about meeting a celebrity, I’d rather meet Mr. Kirsch! He literally “changed the world”.

    How many people can say they’ve met someone like that? I envy you.

  69. says

    When he was asking about the Mac it seemed like he was some crotchety old man, possibly Truly Crazy, but what really piqued my interest was his words “…using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things.” This brought to mind the DIY movement and the back-tracking thought “hey, maybe this guy’s on to something.”

    And indeed he was and still is!

  70. says

    In other news, creator of typewriter lambasts first programmer of computer for championing device that is bad for the future of storytelling.

    Anyone who thinks you can’t create webpages, write code, edit photos, create stunning pieces of art, create and enrich relationships, build and work with 3D models, edit movies, write songs, record guitar, et motherfucking al on an iPad or iPhone doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

    I don’t care if you’re 100 and invented silicon, you’re dead wrong if you say iOS devices are “not computers.” Even worse if you think Apple is behind consumption culture. I write code on an iPad with Coda, made by Panic right here in Portland. I’ve tons work and connect with people daily using Instagram, which doesn’t even have a desktop interface. When I photograph an Oregon football game and need to get 4,000 raw images to my editor heading back from Eugene on I-5, the iPad with LTE is just what the doctor ordered. Last week I did some troubleshooting for The Portland Art Museum’s backup Drobo with TeamViewer screen sharing on my iPhone. In my car while the Hawthorne bridge was up.

    I know I’m an edge case and that most people don’t use their iDevices that way, but to be perfectly fair, most *computers* are consumption devices. Most people surf the web and use social networks for 90% of their computer usage with a 10% foray into the wide world of Word.

    I think that people sitting around waiting to be poets, musicians, artists and writers as soon as Apple would stop standing in their way is a strawman argument wearing a red herring t-shirt. Or, as we say in the development community “fucking horseshit”.

    It’s too bad that “I don’t understand modern computing devices” gets so quickly transposed into “People don’t understand, modern devices aren’t computers” by someone who must have had to do insanely high-level creative thinking and problem solving in his day.

    Bottom line: The difference between creators and consumers is not their tools.

    Nice story, though. Old people are cute.

    • Robert Sullivan says

      Actually the analogy doesn’t work because with a typewriter, or a computer, you can still write. There are those who would say some of the finer points of writing is lost with the ability to quickly edit, vs. writing a manuscript, but I digress. So I think you angry people are missing the point here, he’s not dissing the creative types who are doing movies, photoshop, garage band, etc. (And by the way, as a programmer, with an appreciation for the artistic folks that can make a web site rocking beautiful, all respect.) But dig this – What he’s talking about is code slinging. And yes, as others have pointed out, you can hook a keyboard up to an iPad, and SSH to your home or work computer, and crank out the code. So again, he’s specifically talking about coding, that’s his area, he probably had no intention of angering the multitude of folks doing amazing creative stuff that’s never been done before using an iPad. Maybe what he’s talking about it is that we are all mindlessly perusing blogs and getting in flame wars instead of actually contributing anything useful. So – to the OP – thanks for the contribution. In my opinion, you all angry folks missed the point a bit, it’s not an attack on iPaders, it is actually a good point. So – anyone out there going to work on a nice development environment for an iPad? I will buy it, wouldn’t mind saving the money over buying a Macbook Air. Awesome dev machine, by the way, Russell 😉

      • says

        Robert—I can’t speak for what you perceive. My perception is that people are contributing to a vibrant discussion here, sharing their individual viewpoints. I don’t see anger or flamewars at all.

        It is a pity that Kirsch isn’t here to defend his statements or his intent. I think this is one of the dangers in blog journalism: when a third party is involved, communication from the originator is absent at worst, or filtered at best.

        As far as native development environments on the iPad, take a look at one (or all) of these: Koder;Textastic; Codea; Gusto; and “for i”. There are numerous others, but not knowing your environment, I am just making general suggestions.

    • Webbing20 says

      The fact that you guys keep discussing Apple products demonstrates that you completely missed the point of this story…

  71. says

    This is not only a truly incredible story but very inspiring. I am just blown away by all of it. I love the lessons that you put forward here. I am at a stage in my life, where this really resonates with me.

    Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.

    That is such a beautiful and powerful line. I guess it starts with conceiving and next comes action. Once we can conceive it, then it becomes possible.

    Then it comes down to taking the actual journey to make it real.

    A very powerful post Joel.

  72. says

    I’m reminded of a PBS Nova episode from decades ago, this guy is telling a story: “I was out vacationing, some man came up to me and asked ‘why do you have Feynman diagrams on your VW Microbus?’

    “I responded ‘well, it’s my VW Microbus, I guess can put whatever I want on it. Oh by the way, I’m Richard Feynman.”

  73. says

    Wow! What an astounding story. I enjoyed quite a lot reading it. It reminds of a phrase I once read: “Do the unexpected”. I am going to follow this blog for sure!

  74. Helen says

    Joel, what a wonderful experience. I love the delight you have obviously taken in this unexpected meeting with Mr Kirsch.

    I think Jim and one or two others totally miss the point, and therefore will miss out on many of life’s unexpected treasured moments.

    You met a LEGEND, and took the time to allow a treasured memory to unfold, while they will keep their blinkered approach, and won’t notice any such moments.

    You have done things that THEY have never done before, and are highly unlikely to! :-))

    • says

      Wow, Helen—it feels like you are judging me without due cause. I’ve never dismissed the value of Joel’s meeting with Kirsch. I simply questioned Kirsch’e opinions, as reported. I’ve met many legends in my life, and will meet more. Not because of happenstance. I seek them out. And I question them. I think they respect me all the more for it.

      For example, I met Ray Bradbury in the library that he virtually lived in when growing up. I grew up loving his words. When I heard that he was lecturing, I had to go. He gave a small talk, and he answered all of our questions. If he had claimed that he invented the first typewriter, I would have questioned it. All he claimed was his absolute love of stories, of writing and of life.

      I would have never met Mr. Bradbury while hanging around in a coffee shop.

      Growing up, I made it a point to meet with Doug Henning, David Copperfield and Penn & Teller. I’ve shaken the hands of Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk. None of them were by chance. If you have the chance to meet with your heroes, out of respect for yourself (and your dreams), do it.

      Think about one of your heroes right now. See if they are scheduled to appear at a convention, a book signing, or any other event. Try to contact them today, ask them questions from your heart and see what happens.

      • Randy Carpadus says

        “I’ve never dismissed the value of Joel’s meeting with Kirsch.” By your comments you sure fooled me. With the nit-picking (hey, I’m not the only one) over the Ipad issue you come off as (again as someone else said) “an Apple FanBoy with his panties in a wad”. Give it a rest. Stop being so defensive over your Apple products, they stand on their own.

  75. Trupti says

    Superb! Your experience is EPIC! The humbleness of Rusell is commendable and his contribution to this world is Something that we are not even eligible to comment upon! Hats off to this Great man!

  76. Aramis Erak says

    Next time you run in to him, you might want to point out that the non-apple tablets, equally as consumption focused, have dozens of programming environments. Many available at no charge. My Android tablet (running ICS) has 4 programming languages and 5 dev environments installed.

    • Mark says

      Well said, Aramis, we do all tend to miss the point when we become too platform or brand specific.

      For instance, even though I develop daily on a Mac at work, I find that our Android and Linux platforms give me a huge range of freedom to customize and streamline my workflow, helping me enjoy the process and getting results faster because the setup is my own.

      Code on the ipad? Please. If the fan boys on most of these blog flame wars would settle down and look around for some positives in the fine work done both inside AND outside the Apple garden, we’d all get along much nicer and perhaps would learn more from each other in the process. (And I’ve been designing and developing on Apple machines since the early 90s! :-)

      I appreciate your outlook; here’s to multiple approaches to solving problems! Again, well stated.

  77. takeshi says

    Maybe encourage people to “do the impossible” and teach themselves physics, calculus, or a programming language instead of the some empty victory of no consequence like a triathlon. Like mountaineering, or even landing on the moon, carrying out these kinds of programs produces the same sense of futility that comes from doing anything merely to prove to yourself that you can do it.

  78. Kelvin says

    Fascinating…but he was wrong, the world’s first programmable computer was Collosus, built in secret in WWII at Bletchley Park in England. It was built by a post office worker who originally wanted to make an automatic telephone exchange, but realised that he could do so much more.

    Unfortunately, it was so secret that after the war he couldn’t do anything with the knowledge of how to make a computer. When he went to approach people with the idea he couldn’t say “I’ve already built one and it worked fantastically” because it was still secret…

  79. paawun says

    @Jim Krenz – I like your informed and balanced perspective. Mr. Kirsch is a great pioneer, but it does not mean that his opinions are always so correct, that that is the only way to look at things.

    Also, like someone else reasonably pointed out…we are hearing his word’s from the mouth of a third party. His own opinion is implied here…not really clearly stated.

    It’s a very nice personal story, and the opinions of an important person are put forth with honest intent.But that’s about it. People have the right to agree with that perspective or not.
    @Kelvin – Who is that person? Even that is a secret?

    Bottom line…I am not going to Stop loving APPLE, just because It does not allow me (questionably) to be a great programmer. I am not even a programmer.

    Majority of the world is not programming! Only Some are…and those some don’t make the whole world. I love Apple. It is a great product with a great culture of outstanding Quality and Design :)

    • says

      I believe the person was Tommy Flowers, but like Kelvin says, he wasn’t allowed to make anything of it after the war since it was all official secrets. It’s only recently they’ve started showing documentaries here in the UK about what happened, particularly in the light of the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth.

      There are so many “firsts” in computing (I suspect “internally programmable” applies here) and for me it doesn’t detract from what a great story this blog post is.

      • says

        I’m glad someone has mentioned Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers, Colossus and the vital work done at Bletchley Park during World War II that undoubtedly introduced the idea of computational ‘thought’ to the world, albeit in secrecy.

        People who worked at Bletchley Park (11,000 at one point) during the war signed the Official Secrets Act and when the conflict ended all evidence of the codebreakers’ efforts, all scraps of paper, the bombes, Colossus, all records and intercepted codes were destroyed.

        The existence of Bletchley Park and its wartime activities remained secret until 1974, meaning that much of the progress with computers made there was halted, except for the knowledge of people like Turing who continued to work in similar fields. Alan Turing spent time in America, during the war and at the end, so it’s possible that there’s a connection between Kirsch and him?

        Please don’t take this as nitpicking! With all great firsts there’s a collective knowledge or experience behind them. Joel – will you stay in touch with Russell? Loved the post and the photograph. I wonder if he’s read this thread?

  80. Thomas says

    Encounters like this make great memories. back in 1981 my friends and I were at a convention in Saint Louis, sitting up late, in the hotel lobby, discussing theater and acting. During the debate over Method vs Technique we drew the attention on an elderly man and a couple of his friends who had just arrived. While his friends when over to check in, the man joined our conversation. He was polite, charming, clever and seemed to really understand acting as a craft and passion. As the conversation wound down, nearly two hours later, we all said our good nights and he left for the elevator. A few minutes later, one of the people who had come in with him came back to the lobby and offered us all tickets to the Muny Opera production of Camalot. Then told us Mister Harris enjoyed the conversation very much and wanted to thank us. As in Richard Harris.

  81. RobG says

    Thought-provoking post, but the comments expose the real problem. As a society, we are losing our ability to receive wisdom. An old man telling his life story to a young man is not a lecture or a history test. It does not necessarily need to be fact-checked or dissected. In the course of any good story, there will be hyperboles and strategic omissions. The old man to young man message is, and has always been, learn from the past, make a better future.

    • says

      RobG – THANK YOU! What a blessing to meet and learn from this older gentleman, regardless of the specifics of computer invention. Sorry to see so many folks who are completely missing the point of the story.

  82. says

    Thanks for posting this encounter. I remember you from your shirt and saw you talking to Russell but just thought it was another pleasant conversation among strangers. While it was I certainly didn’t know of the depth. What a great story. We posted it on our FB page and its getting quite a nice amount of play. Again, thanks for sharing!

  83. Scott says

    After looking through many of the responses to this wonderful article, it seems as though the main point of the story is being missed entirely.
    How was the God reference overlooked? Mr. Kirsch drew his ambition to do something bigger than himself from, well, the one something bigger than himself. Our generation seems to think our frail little human minds are individually special and capable of awesomeness on our own. I’d be willing to bet the guy lives his life by the Bible, thus conforming to God’s plan for him. If we could get away from our own arrogant thoughts of ourselves, and our dependence on the material and meaninglessness, we’d accomplish so much more greatness while avoiding many pitfalls of human existence.
    I know the responses will come hard and heavy now…they always do…I will respond to no insults or ridiculousness. If you wish to have an intelligent debate, I’m game. A dialogue is best achieved if all participants are well-informed (don’t talk trash about something you’ve not explored, read, or become in some way accustomed.)
    Mr. Runyon: fine article and a very uplifting read, sir. I hope that interaction created a desire for you to find out what he’s talking about…we’re only tools for the job…

  84. Pat says

    Do that which others believe cannot be accomplished. I’ve managed to do that once in my life.. but only because nobody told me the eggheads at Watson said such until after I’d finshed :)

    Content consumption device users, Marching Morons, same difference :)

  85. Vida B Good says

    Like attracts like_my impossible quotient is high. I tell my lovers “I do the easy things, you do the hard things.. and I do the impossible things.” Glad I found your blog, stay in touch. :)

  86. Gary G says

    Just think how this might have gone had it been a Tech Snob with no respect for elders. What a unique experience you received. Good for you.

  87. says

    Wow!! Very Inspirational Article. Glad I noticed the shared story on Facebook. This has my mind entertaining many avenues of thought. 1. To be more open and interactive with the people I meet everyday. 2. To just be more aware. 3. Listen for God’s Leading and Promptings. 4. Create more than Consume 5. Live a life worth living. etc.
    My Daughter lives in Portland and Loves it there. Now I know why. She is definitely one of the creative types.
    Thanks for sharing this article (even learned from the comments. I will stay tuned for more.

    Kathy Clark

  88. Terry G says

    This is grandiose!!!I’ve read a lot of inspirational blogs but this is one to remember and to learn from!I was waiting for this.

    Thank you

  89. says

    This just makes my day! What a heart warming story. Regardless of what Apple is up to, Kirsch makes good points. What a wonderful chance happening. Thanks for the share.

  90. Vanessa says

    Wow! This is quite the experience and while I’m often around computer scientists –some of those who create amazing things and push the envelope every day– I, like most others, need to fan the flames of the fire under my ass to keep on going!

    I’ve thought of consuming vs producing for a while now, and with the world full of great content (and more and more these days), it seems like filtering and curating is a job in itself, but it’s still not *creating*.

    Thanks for sharing this story! and thanks for that awesome mind-blowing picture, I like the meta-reference (oh and via this post, I found your blog which is pretty cool too — so thanks for the 3rd time!)

  91. says

    I love Russell,

    I met him a few years back at a local SIGGRAPH event, he’s a very lively and entertaining man who loves to talk tech.

    He does show up randomly at the Cascade SIGGRAPH events to check in from time to time.

  92. Carl says

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m thinking ahead to when I’m 80 years old myself, and I end up talking to some kid in a coffee shop who’s using the latest holographic laptop or whatever, and telling him about how I used to study Fortran and register for classes using punch cards or play chess against a huge university mainframe that had one millionth of power of his iPhone 25.

  93. George Dixon says

    I’m really thrilled such a thing happened…imagine meeting the inventor. I’m also thrilled I met The Inventor in 1952 of the universe.

  94. says

    What an awesome experience!

    Your story has totally made my day!

    Now to head out to a cafe and wait for a random old genius to approach me for a chat …

  95. Blaine Kozak says

    See Time Life Books: 100 Photographs that Changed the World. You will find Mr Kirsch with the first digitized image which he created of his infant son who also lives in Portland.

  96. Hannah Twitty says

    So fun, thanks for sharing that experience. My favorite is his nonchalant and very normal insert of God’s involvement in his creativity. Such a sweet picture.

  97. says

    Be thankful that you had the oppurtunity to talk to the man. That had to have been a wonderful experience.

    And he’s right; pads are for absorbing and taking, not giving and creating. Part of the reason I’ve resisted the change to them, and still do not and will not have one.

    I use a computer for writing, listening to music, and artwork creation. That is what it gets used for on my end. And it’s true – these things allow us to CREATE if we choose to do so.

    He’s right on all of his points. That is a wonderful memory to take with you through life – that you got to talk to the man who invented the computer and digital imaging. Love it!

  98. Marcus says

    What an experience. This is something to tell your grandchildren and blow their mind. I think I would have completely lost my nerve half way through the encounter and called my wife all my friends to come round and meet Mr. Kirsch as well.

  99. Alexis says

    As WH Murray (a fine scottish mountaineer!) said:
    “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
    Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

  100. Hans Lee says

    I like this article,so I translate it into Chinese and put it on my own blog.
    I really like it and it’s very inspired.Now I want to publish the translated article on a China’s magazine.
    I think I need your permission first.
    PS:I try to send this message on your “contact” page,but I failed.Like this “Failed to send your message. Please try later or contact administrator by other way.”,I don’t know why…

  101. warbler says

    Joel, great and very inspiring blog.
    With all due respect for both your piece and Mister Kirsch, I would propose that one thing the man hasn’t mastered is humility. His proposal that God and he are in a class of two and his taking credit for something which almost certainly was the result of a coming together of people and ideas seems a bit much. Definitely a remarkable meeting though and hats off to you for unpacking it so well.

    • says

      He was very specific about his creation (clarifying as soon as I asked him to). He’s not putting himself in a class with God, he’s just recognizing that unfortunately, too many people don’t live up to their given capabilities.

      In my opinion he had a very humble mannerism about him. If that did not come across, that’s my fault in the storytelling.

  102. says

    It just goes to show, if we slow down long enough to pay attention, we can learn some wonderful lessons. This post really hits home for me this week. I hope others are as inspired.

  103. says

    Fantastic experience and fantastic post. Thanks for sharing.

    This made me want to do two things today:

    1. Speak to a stranger, particularly someone older than me. Probably someone older than my parents. I want to hear their story (or stories).

    2. Do something that makes me nervous or unsure of the outcome.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  104. eric says

    So, why is this an ‘ass kicking’? Sounds like you had a cool conversation with a cool dude & learned some things.

    maybe a little shakabuku, but ass kicking? hardly.

  105. says

    Hi Joel, this article was so cool! A good friend of mine suggested that I read it, and I’m so glad I did. I’m a chiropractor, and I work to emphasize the amazing abilities of our bodies to heal themselves and the capabilities of people change the trajectory of their health naturally. I’ve really been slacking with my own blog on my website, but I’m inspired to put a new post after reading this.
    I’d like to ask a favor; may I use this quote, “Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do” as the starting point for my blog entry? Thanks for posting about this experience!

  106. says

    It is surely a remarkable experience, but I don’t like the way you use the words “created” and “invented” interchangeably when referring to Kirsch and the computer.
    Yes, he *created* the first internally programmable computer (which, by the way, does not mean the first computer at all), but he didn’t *invent* it.
    Internally programmable computer was invented by John von Neumann ( ). He invented the very idea, design and architecture of such a machine and published a paper on it in 1945. Kirsch implemented his idea. What’s funny, von Neumann worked for the team that built EDVAC, which *had to be* the first internally programable computer, but it’s construction was delayed and EDVAC began operation in 1951, while SEAC built by Kirsch was operational in 1950.
    So, Kirsch is the *constructor* of a first computer but by no way is it’s *inventor*.

  107. says

    In today’s instantly-quoted, Google-indexed world, a casual attitude to the truth has consequences. You write about “the world’s first internally programmable computer”, Xeni Jardin at Boing-Boing picks it up and goes with this as the subject line, and before we know it the top Google hits for “inventor of the world’s first computer” lead to Russell Kirsch via your article.

    And that’s simply false.

    It’s bloody disrespectful to all of the other people who worked on the problem, and it emphasizes all of the wrong things about your interesting encounter with an interesting man. Look at this comment thread. I’m sure you hoped for a lively discussion about this piece; did you really want – or expect – that it would all revolve around your uncritical repetition of an old man’s innocent hyperbole? Taking a little care, thinking through the consequences, doing a little fact-checking: this isn’t nit-picking, it’s the cost of doing good work.

    Good writers shouldn’t need to fudge the truth to make their points. Ask Jonah Lehrer where that leads…

  108. Popius says

    First i thought you saw the ghost of Konrad Zuse. But Wikipedia makes “I invented the first computer.” to “created America’s first internally programmable computer”.

    Never forget: The world is bigger than the US.

  109. The Old Wolf says

    My mind has been officially rotated 90° out of your space-time and mine. What an amazing encounter… how fortunate you were. I agree with everything Kirsch said, but to hear that from one of the fathers of computing? That was a “I won the internet” day. Mad props to you.

  110. Alouette says

    I’m writing in hopes that you’ll examine the part of your public statement when you say “another crazy homeless person in Portland”. That kind of cliche summation of humans who don’t have homes is reductive, unkind, unnecessary, and uninformed.
    Your statement infers that humans who are mentally ill and living outside are a real bother to those of us writing on our computers in coffee shops. Every person who is ill and living outside is an individual who deserves more than to be tossed off derogatorily in an intelligent blog.

  111. says

    What an interesting and meaningful conversation. I’ll bet this memory will surface time and time again in your life.

    These old guys can be pretty interesting. We had an old guy with Alzheimer’s at our church. Very sweet man, but no one you would pay much attention to. Until my husband went to his house one time to do some fix-it work. Found out he had been a literal rocket scientist and had worked on the space program at Nasa for most of his career. So sad that a brilliant mind like that was destroyed by such a terrible disease.

  112. Kevin says

    Wow, that is truly amazing. I’ve run into a couple people like Russel Kirsch in my life and they left me transformed. Something to be cherished.

  113. says

    late to the game but wanted to comment..

    holy shit, an unexpected impromptu convo with Russell Kirsch!! When I read the name, I didn’t have to google. I learned about him back in college when learning about the history of the internet. Pretty interesting stuff. Had no clue he lives in Portland! And out of all the coffee shops and out of all the people he chose to talk to you.. mind blown!! His quote about conceiving things reminds me of Napoleon Hill’s quote.. “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” The God bit probably throws people off, but I get what he’s saying. The magic happens when you surrender to that universal flow.. and just do your part to make shit happen.

  114. wes spurling says

    “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” — Napoleon Hill, ‘Think and Grow Rich’; 1937 (.. the summary of PMA)

  115. says

    vow!!! such a wonderful discussion and you have penned it down so well :) :) Am jealous u got to meet him 😀 :D… so true what he said, takes willingness to attain your goal. Difference between dreams & reality is that the former requires you to sleep and the latter requires you to never sleep :) :).. thanx for sharing this :)

  116. says

    Back in the mid 1990s, I met Douglas Engelbart, who invented several computer-related devices including the mouse. It was at an event where I was too awe-struck, so I didn’t savor the moment the way I should have. But I’ll also never forget it.

    Thank for this blog post. Inspiring thoughts.

  117. says

    That’s pretty fantastic.

    “Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.”

    This is a paraphrase of Genesis 11:6: “And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

    Anyone? Bueller? It’s from the story of the Tower of Babel.

    Verse 7: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.””

  118. says

    Holy crap what an amazing experience!! Agree that people are too eager to take the well worn path rather than the road less traveled. (Thanks to the late great M. Scott Peck for that turn of a phrase)

    I work with families all the time in my business and at the risk of sounding like my grandmother, kids today are mostly coddled and seem to need constant stimulation from the external world. Many of them largely spend their time responding and reacting rather than exploring their world, learning natural lessons and proactively creating.

    Not to mention their time is SO structured from the time they’re very little with lessons, classes and clubs! There is very little room for their natural curiosity, creativity, exploration, and imagination to blossom. Awesome awesome post!

  119. says

    This was the single best thing I’ve ever read on a blog, and Russell was right … time to do things that have never been done. Thanks for the story.

  120. Tammie Cook says

    People cross our paths for a reason. I believe you were meant to pass his inspirational words on to many. Thank you.

  121. says

    wow. This serious gave me the chills when I read it. That almost never happens.Thank you so much for sharing. I actually bookmarked it. Something I wish to never forget. And Russell …thank you as well on so many levels

  122. Lauren says

    Joel, it literally took me aback to see someone from my college debate days share a link to the blog of a high school classmate in my Facebook feed. Awesome story, awesome work, and all the best!

  123. says

    Wiki says that Kirsch was born in 1929, so he would have been only 21 when SEAC became operational in 1950. He was actually in college at that time at NYU. He could have worked on SEAC as a student, but it seems highly unlikely that he led the project. His name is not on the main papers describing it, but is on a review of it some years later. The work on digital scanning in 1956, though, could have been all his.

    I don’t mean to take away from his accomplishments, or from the inspiration you received from him. The scanning work alone is profoundly important. Almost everyone from that era is gone, so it’s wonderful to have actually met one of these pioneers!

  124. says

    Great article; inspirational. One slight correction: Russell Kirsch invented *America’s* first programmable computer. The Bombes developed by Alan Turing & co at Bletchley Park, UK to crack Engima are earlier examples.

  125. Lloyd L. says


    Yeah, really… do you ever wonder where this guy came from? Beautiful story. In Portland, of course. Maybe I should spend more time in coffee shops.

    Like at least one other commenter, I almost never comment on blogs. Perhaps it takes something special to move me. Your exchange with Russell, and your sharing of it, is indeed noteworthy to me, perhaps as inspiring as your moment with Mr. Kirsch.

    It’s two men meeting, one not only older but deeply experienced, one younger, willing to SEE each other and listen and share.

    It’s two creatives meeting from the vantage points of different times.

    It’s a spiritual reminder, kick-in-the-*ss as you observed.

    For me, it’s not even about his field of mastery. I do no programming, but am heartbroken and optimistic at the same time at state of consumption versus creation in the sleeping culture today. I create beautiful objects via my MBP, but it could be, and sometimes is, via other means as well.

    His observations are sage wisdom. Wisdom is not about fact, though it is based in deep experience.

    I’d call him, Joel. Not as a guru or some guy on a pedestal, but as a unique opportunity that few recognize.

    (Jeez-I’m also not one to offer “advice” to someone I don’t know. It’s more like cheerleading. “Go Joel go! )

    Truth is, many of us are envious, too.

  126. says

    Impossible….This is nothing!….Being out there(creatively)is not for everyone and is rarely a taught skill. This is something learned along the way. Creativity is something that will always feed a person but sometimes the diet is not what was expected. Your a lucky man to be the recipient of an elder kindred spirits story! Thanks for posting this bit of inspiration!
    From the upper left (of Washington State)

  127. says

    Great read.
    I’ve always lived by the same rule. I started my first business at the age of 25.
    It’s far better to be the one breaking new ground than the one following in someone else’s footsteps.

  128. Tom says

    “Do things that have never been done before”

    You may add a quote from Mama Cobol here:

    “And dont’t ask for permission – you may appologize later.”

  129. says

    That is pretty cool, Joel! I think that it is kismet that he showed up and said those things to you when you are the man who does the impossible. How cool is that? Great story and I love the photo to go with it!

  130. says

    I love the thought of doing and creating, but I beg to differ with what Mr. Kirsch said at the beginning that Apple has stifled this ability with the iPad. Yes, Apple has made the masses into consumers of media more that creators, but I also think they have made it easier to create software–namely in the form of apps. My husband is a high school math teacher and his students make apps for fun, creativity and sometimes items that can be really useful. My husband has always been an early adoopter (first computer was an Osborne 1)and a self-professed tech geek. He wasn’t happy with alot of the apps that were out there for education, so he started developing them himself. Of course, he’s still teaching and I’m still working my “day job” but it is great to be a part-time entrepreneur selling apps in countries all around the world via iTunes. I’ll often say to kids (including my own) who like to play computer games, text and watch YouTube, “Hey, why don’t you look into computer programming? It’s amazing what you can create.” And thankfully, my daughter won’t have to take the old 1980s DOS classes I had to where we would literally draw a shark with green zeros and ones–or was it gray–on a black screen. Congrats on the chance encounter and thanks for sharing the words of wisdom. -Monica

  131. Ubuntu says

    meh. ipads dont help you create? Not true, but presuming it is….does a book “give you a platform to create”…an empty argument.

  132. Judy from Clarks Hill says

    You are one very lucky, or blessed guy. Talk about being in the right place, and right frame of mind. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps old age isn’t so bad after all.

  133. no says

    Yep. I’ve stated this for years. When I was a teenager (in the 90s), you had to make an effort to have and use a computer. And you primarily used them to learn and build. Learn how to build and run a BBS. Learn about telephony. Learn about software. Learn about networking. Learn about coding. Etc, etc.

    In the last decade? Computers are used for kids to chat about their boyfriends via IM, consume porn, play video games, read celebrity gossip, and post inane self-whoring crap on Facebook and Twitter and Youtube (kids don’t even bother learning how to design a basic web page anymore, because Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr are “just enough” for them!).

    All people do, now, is consume. It is rare to find someone who actually *creates*. And all too often, people are happy to attribute “I wrote a blog post” or “I write tweets” or “I make self-involved stupid youtube videos” as “creating stuff”.

    • NoxArt says

      While I don’t want to zealously defend this generation, your criticism seems to me on the line of “people no longer make their own paper from wood or parchment from skin, they just buy the paper and write some novels or draw pictures on it or whatnot”. Couldn’t it just be, that the central point of focus turned into a tool?

  134. says

    Great post, thanks!

    Those two lessons you identified ARE excellent, but I’m fascinated by the general silence on the biggest lesson in Kirsch’s story:

    Listen to God.

    Why ignore it? Russell Kirsch certainly didn’t, and look where it got us. :)

  135. says

    Just what I needed to read today. Have found myself resting too much on what I’ve already done without truly recognizing the real power is in the doing rather than accomplishment.

    Thank you!

    Skip Hunt
    Austin, Texas

    • Mat says

      Odd that anyone would believe that everything came from nothing. Or that the Creator wouldn’t have anything to say to His creation. Very strange.

      • George Dixon says

        Odd that accident happened from nothing. Surprising that Life came……? No? Then why not God who is Life, who gave us Light, and light expressed in The Word and His Word.

    • NoxArt says

      If you were being raised in that way from birth it’s difficult to make a clear judgement, no matter how technical or brilliant the mind. Not sure this was his case, just my guess.

  136. Rita says

    Are you kidding me? 9000+ tweets on this post? HOLY MOLY Joel!! I think you’ve just hit a whole new dimension! :) This is amazing! I’ve read thru most of the comments too and it’s awesome to see! wow! WAY TO GO! I’ve read the post a couple of times already, but don’t think I commented on it, and just wanted to say, I’m grateful Jacob was there to capture the moment and that you were impacted enough by the experience to share it here. Thank you!

  137. Eric says

    Thank you for sharing this story! I came here from Reddit, and was pleasantly surprised with your experience.

    Thanks for helping motivate me to get out there and start ‘doing’ again.

  138. George says

    His generation came from an era of great innovations – technology was a virgin land just waiting for the exploits of entrepeneurs and adventurers. Today these lands have been turned into well organized farmlands where entire businesses have as their sole mission to lead people from one feeding station to another. I agree with him that nothing can stop you if you just decide to go ahead with something you’ve conceived in your mind, but things are a lot different these days. Heck, even during the nineties, there were no such thing as “social sites” – if you wanted to be present on the web, you had to learn the goddam code and establish you personal home page youself, linking it to other personal websites and creating a true social network. Today, companies like Facebook have set all the standards and made all the formulas by which social activity on the web is even thinkable. To reach the productivity level of guys like Kirsch, we need new virigin lands to exploit and new frontiers to explore.

  139. says

    Wow. I think my brain just melted.

    Seriously thought that is an amazing story. What an experience! And what great words of wisdom and inspiration. The best part I think is that it is true – so often we are focused on what we cannot do, rather than what we can accomplish.

    I think there’s a strong bit of faith in that thinking reversal.

  140. says

    Don’t know why. This blogpost and the pic of you and Rusell gave me goosebumps while reading it. Especially with the 2 quotes he left you with.

  141. Laura Vann says

    His comment on God was refreshing. No doubt Russell Kirsch was referring to Philippians 4:13 “For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

  142. Jas says

    What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing!
    I didn’t read through all the comments so I’m not sure if this has been mentioned already or not, but it kind of debunks the myth of the digital native knowing more than the older generation, doesn’t it!

  143. Kuy says

    What Russell Kirsch said is indeed true that God himself said “Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do” . This is the exact wording according to God’s word that he is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond whatever we ask or IMAGINE according to the power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

  144. says

    Wow! What a amazing chance encounter
    …but I wonder if russel goes to coffee shops all over Portland and waits for some young guy with a computer to sit down and then pounces and blows peoples’ minds!

    • Steve says

      Well, he’s most probably retired and has a little free time on his hands. Can you imagine a better way to spend some of it? I bet he had almost as much fun blowing Joel’s mind as Joel had having his mind blown.

  145. says

    Not to belittle the man in any way, but that was *America’s* first programmable computer, not the world’s. The first was built at Bletchley Park in the early 40s – though to be fair it was still classified when Kirsch did his amazing work.

  146. Gail Moss says


    Great post. Part of me wants it to be an elaborate hoax, complete with a fake Wiki page. However there are lots of sites with references to this man, I’ve not bothered date checking them. So fake, or real – it’s pretty fantastic.

  147. Jeff White says

    Surely there’s a point at which there are so many comments that leaving another is pointless and probably redundant, especially since I openly admit I’ve not taken the time to read every comment to make sure this point hasn’t already been made, but since it wasn’t made in the first hundred, I thought it might be worth adding.

    I applaud the adventure and novelty seeking lifestyle, and recognize the great value we derive from those who insist on pushing limits and creating new things.

    But in the argument of creation vs consumption I think it’s important to acknowledge that without consumption there is virtually no point to creation in the first place. If you use high end tools or even invent new ones to, say, make a new movie, create a new type of literature, make anything at all, what good is it if no one bothers to “consume” it?

    The whole attitude that creation is everything and consumption is a fool’s pastime leads inevitably to the conclusion that it’s not worth it to create anything.

    Let me also say that other words for “consumption” are “discovery”, and “learning”, all completely valid human activities that I pursue with vigor, just as I read this post, and added my own perspective, on my Apple iPad.

    While it is undeniable that Kirsch is an amazing and unique individual, it is amazing to me that someone with such insight, along with the esteemed writer of this blog, can so totally miss the point of this valid and important technology.

    • says

      Excellent observation and comment. I can’t seem to see anywhere where you said there was no value in creation. Shit tons of people see value in creation, the majority of which are consumers.

      With today’s technology everyone has the opportunity to be a creative, regardless of what the old guy says about our devices of choice. In fact, if you’d like to fast forward to the future, where we live in a world where everybody is a content creator, just turn on cable access television. Enjoy.

  148. jim hayes says

    follow-up get the oral history
    take a visit to Computer History Museum, or The Computer Museum.

    thanks for the cc by 3.0

  149. says

    I think a lot of people commenting on this blog are over intellectualising the post. The post is not about the state of the education system or the wiseness of old people its about making stuff and not being a passive consumer.

    Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.
    Do things that have never been done.

    so get out there and make stuff, learn to code WITH your kid, sew, paint, fix your own car, plant stuff, make a website, make a simple computer game, whatever it is just make stuff. Then with the basics in place we can try and make something that has never been done.

  150. Kirk Johnson says

    Thanks Joel. I shared this in my class. I really appreciate learning not only about your experience, but also the way you didn’t initially dismiss the unexpected encounter.

  151. Steve says

    Great little blog… Two things that stick out to me are:

    1. Too many only consume and don’t create. This can be anything tangible or more difficult to identify; things like emotions, good will, cooperation, etc.
    2. “Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”

    Number 2 may require some hard work, effort and come after difficulty…making it all the more worthwhile. I think our politicians need to read and heed this blog….

  152. says

    Wow, that is very cool! I kind of agree though, the iPad is a pretty incredible device, but very poor for creating content. I’m always trying to work on my blog or post stuff to various sites, so after getting one a while ago (for my wife and I), it rarely gets used. Maybe I’m just to used to having multiple workspaces (Ubuntu) and a physical keyboard!

  153. says

    That’s awesome! I’ve always found it intriguing to talk with older people who have been around and learned lots of lessons to share. This may be the tops for that example.

    It is a nice needed kick in the pants too! Thanks.

  154. Lakepress6 says

    Great story … here is slightly different take on “doing things” from Stonewall Jackson – “You may be whatever you resolve to be” … it’s written on one of the barrack porticos at the Virginia Military Institute.

  155. Clay Franklin says

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
    Next step is to memorize the sayings and keep them fresh in my mind.

  156. Bart says

    Excellent anecdote. I certainly don’t mean to disparage Dr. Kirsch’s admirable and salutary advice, but it made me laugh a little when it made my mind wander to this movie quote:

    “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen; all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.” -Ty Webb

    Be the ball!

  157. fustian says

    Interestingly, I doubt he invented anything in a coffee shop. Which is where he really could have used an iPad.

    I’m surprised this guy didn’t understand what the iPad actually is and what its potential is.

  158. Orion says

    I’m sorry. I can’t help myself.

    He didn’t build that. Oh wait..Yes, he did!

    Eat THAT, President Obama. LOL


  159. Michele Cozens says

    A beautiful, wonderful story. Would love to adopt him as a grandparent, if it were possible. Life needs more of these moments, especially lives of those who spend their energy on meaningless destruction.

  160. DADvocate says

    “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

    W. Clement Stone / Napolean Hill 1960 in “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude”

  161. teapartydoc says

    That part about being able to do whatever is conceived is a derivation of one of St. Anselm’s proofs of the existence of God. Then he goes on to give God credit for his accomplishments.

  162. Mark J says

    I think Mr. Kirsch was referring to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7: “7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

    Jesus said it, Christians quote it, but rare is the person who really believes it.

  163. Ugrin says

    “Without the man in the photo, the photo of this man wouldn’t exist”
    Well all the photos of me also wouldn’t exist if I didn’t exist…

  164. Despsier says

    With the indebted behemoth that are the many layers of Govt in the way you can’t invent anything anymore… Even if you manage to invent something the chance of getting it to mkt with the current regulatory nightmare is between 0-0.01%

    Unless of course you have some pie in the sky idea about “Green Energy”… Then it only needs to be an idea without any basis in reality.

  165. George Dixon says

    Generally true that not many seniors voluteer information. Probably afraid they will be accused as being not -up-to-date if not out and out out-of-date. But I volunteered to be put in the lion’s den with some 150 youth and field one and all questions. It will be interesting to see how it goes….I’m now 80. George Dixon

  166. JerryBoyd says

    Great post. Reminds me of an exchange with then-Governor Ronald Reagan and some student demonstrators.

    “Governor Reagan, it’s impossible for your generation to understand us. You didn’t grow up in a world of instant electronic communications, of cybernetics, of men computing in seconds what once took months, even years, or jet travel, nuclear power, and journeys into space….”

    Reagan, “You’re absolutely right. Our generation didn’t have those things when we were growing up. We invented them.”

  167. Glitchus says

    This is precisely why I’m now a Linux guy and was formerly a DOS/Windows guy. Apple was always far too proprietary with its custom hardware/software, yeah, it worked good, but you couldn’t build “Frankenstein” systems with it like you could with a PC, which was my particular hobby. With the older Windows and DOS you could build whacky stuff but the newer Windows OS’s are a nightmare, while Linux has a veritable cornucopia of OS derivatives to match any platform.

  168. Jerry Ballard says

    Wonderful story.
    I do take exception with…
    “Without the man in the photo, the photo of this man wouldn’t exist.”
    That implies the ‘great man’ theory of history that says that only that person would have come up with the idea. Don’t buy it. Not to take credit from him, odds are that he was ‘first’, but ultimately not ‘only’.

    I would also have loved to show him the applications I use daily that let me code, write, CREATE music, communicate and (to a degree that I frequently find superior to a traditional computer interface) edit photos.

    Judging a technology by its current state is always a mistake. All things progress. iPads, faster than most.

  169. Lawrence says

    Your article is one of the most inspiring, moving, and challenging set of ideas I have come across in a long time.

    Gratitude, humility, wonder, and a desire to dust off the laid-aside plans of creating things were some of the initial responses to your piece; oh – and shock and awe .

    Some of the commenters have proven your points by responding to this awesomeness with vitriol that comes from having run it through their own filters, without having learned a thing from it – only using what they want to see to reinforce their existing beliefs.

    How sad.

  170. says

    Shivers just up and down my spine. Don’t we always tend to look at ‘old people’ as just that and never into what they have contributed to the world today.
    That you didn’t poo-poo him off was very galant of you.

  171. says

    What an amazing story! So inspirational! There are no coincidences. God (the Oneness, etc. ) and the Archangels (non-denominational) are working in this post-2012 world to lift the vibration of humanity. The world as we know it is changing. Russell Kirsch is a living example for the rest of us. We should all strive to fulfill our God-given potential to co-create the world in which we want to live. His life is an example of the power of faith and creativity. It is also a lesson that it is not science vs. spirituality, but science in service of the spirit within–the inspiration to create! It was time for that example to be given to the world through Joel. It was no accident these two were brought together. It was a miracle and the words Joel wrote and the ones Russell spoke are lifting us higher already! Thank you, Joel, for sharing and, Russell, for believing!

  172. says

    Thanks for the blog, inspiration, and lessons, Joel!

    Great to see momentum building towards creating versus consuming and understanding how and what we consume.

    Now to move my work day to a Portland coffee shop. . .

  173. Logan Green says

    “Mat” and “Matt Curtis” are correct. The scripture Kirsch referred to is Genesis 11:6.

    “And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”

  174. says

    A truly blessing experience! Many might have jumped back on their work, not paying any attention to that “old” man. I put old in quotation marks because I think we listen much too less to their experience.You did, thanks for sharing the story

  175. Sherlene Gatrell says

    You are my breathing in, I possess few blogs and infrequently run out from post . “Never mistake motion for action.” by Ernest Hemingway.

  176. says

    Well, while amazing persons like Russell Kirsch motivate us after retiring, it is equally amazing to observe that personalities like Abdul Kalam, the former President of India, find time to inspire others while even being in Office.

    I salute them.

  177. says

    This is about more than just ass kicking.

    It was also a perfect illustration of how you chose to “tune in” rather than “tune out” to a moment….and how that choice usually delivers a delicious surprise.

    Well done.

  178. says

    Your story reminds me of an occasion ca. 1968 when my dad introduced me to an ordinary looking gent on the Cornell campus, saying, “This is my favorite physicist, Hans Bethe. He figured out what makes the sun shine.”

    All I could think to say was, “Wow, that was a good one!”

    He chuckled very amiably, saying “Ja, a pretty good one I guess.”

    Little did I realized that Prof. Hans Bethe had received the Nobel Prize the year before.

  179. says

    What an incredible experience and a great story to tell the grandkids one day.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if he could see this post with over 400 comments in just a few weeks. I hope you at least got his email :)

  180. Jami Broom says

    WOW!! Thanks for sharing this — what a great story. And may I recommend a book to you and your readers that goes along with everything Russel was telling you – it’s called “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace Wattles and it was written over a hundred years ago. A very powerful book if you’re interested in doing things. It’s changed the way I see the world, and I’ve gotten so much out of applying this “science” that it’s unbelievable sometimes, yet still makes so much sense.

  181. MG says

    You just won me as a fan a million times over dude!
    And your follow-up post is just as awesome (maybe even more) that you original post…
    Thank you for sharing this!
    Its something that I am never going to forget for the rest of my life…
    really appreciate it bro.

  182. Stacey E says

    It seems like lately that when I try to do stuff, I am swimming upstream because a lot of people don’t want to change toward a direction of trying something new – on the surface, they seem lazy to me or distracted by menial things. Now, I don’t know if that is generational, or due to iPads or what….seems like a bit of a streach to say iPads have made lots of people resistent to change. Might be more due to lack of “education”, or people are too interested in the latest gadgets, coolness, fame, etc. Versus focus on what improvements are best for the holistic picture. Did iPads really help with world hunger, or human suffering, or US poverty, or SUSTAINED economic improvements, or leaving a better place for the next generation (education, understanding)? Maybe / maybe not…I do know that iPads made some Apple stockholders and board members richer and (in their minds) happier.

  183. Roger Wilco says

    “Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.
    Do things that have never been done.”

    The intersection of these two statements, wherein you can do something that hasn’t been done before, and then achieve it because you want to, is really quite narrow. The likelihood that you thought of something that someone else has already thought of and executed upon is tiny. There is already intersecting discovery and there has been since the turn of the 20th century; see Tesla vs Marconi: both conceived of wireless radio transmission, but who was “doing something which had never been done?”

  184. says

    The man who invented the first computer is against Apple. Maybe we should really pay attention to that. “when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things”. This is just one aspect of a greater issue: Digital Restrictions Management or DRM. Most people who purchase an iPad don’t know that they are giving up most of the basic freedoms that one is entitled to, with a computer. The iPad is the first general purpose computer which blocks the user from running programs not approved by the maker of the computer. It is a fact that you cannot create anything on the iPad without Apple’s permission.

  185. says

    Just goes to show you never know who you’re going to run into. What a truly small world we live in. Experiences like this are always stimulating, especially when one shares a similar interest.

  186. says

    Awesomoe! Thanks for sharing!!! There are lots of things who never were done before! And I can conceive some – like writing these lines – and other greater ones as giving my time and respect to all those enlightened encounters who are about to come!
    There is one more thing that will be not withheld from me anymore as to express myself in english with full proficiency; and I´m building this skill up!

    It was great to learn those two points:

    *I Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.
    *Do things that have never been done.

  187. says

    My opinion is a general one. I love in this blog all topics written by the blog author. Nice blog and nice type of expression. For my part for the blog author: I decorate him with twelve stars. Very nice blog.

  188. Frankie says

    That is an absolutely mind-blowing story. So many questions, yet Russell seemed to sum them all up nicely into two memorable quotes. Thanks for sharing!

  189. says

    Such a cool experience. Makes me wonder how many times I should have been more patient with people who try to strike up conversations while I’m just too busy being busy.

  190. Whitney says

    We can really learn a lot if we just take the moment to listen from the older people around us. Being able to meet and talk to Russell Kirsch is incredible, but we can learn from any older person around us from their wisdom gathered from experiences in their life.

  191. says

    I wish I had been there! These guys are the total stuff that we should all learn from. Some of them college educated, some not! Definitely were able to amuse themselves ;]

    Hats off to you, and hats off to Russel. Touching lives seems to be his real specialty, even if he doesn’t realize it.

    Literally, Billions of lives!

  192. Marvis says

    Fake. Photo evidence is not valid proof. Could have been any old guy who did research on the topic and thought he would try it out and what do you know he fooled you. You were conned.

  193. says

    This is a really amazing story, thanks for sharing. I first heard about Kirsch in a story about how he wanted to improve the square pixel. For me, learning about his work has really driven home the importance of taking action.

    • says

      Seth – He still stops by on occasion. I chatted with him and he can go on about “stuff”. He is a great storyteller and great man. Hope you get a chance to meet him.

  194. says

    Next time I read a blog, Hopefully it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I really believed you’d have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something you could fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.

  195. Spook SEO says

    I know that this article was published last year but REALLY?! 565 comments?!

    The second advice reminded me of the saying…

    “If you want to archive something that you’ve never archived before, then you’ve got to do something that you’ve never done before”… Not sure if the wording is correct (I highly doubt it though) and who said this (I think he’s an american president) but it sure fits the second description.

  196. says

    That is an awesome story Joe.I grew up in the 80s with the Sinclair Spectrum and a Commodore 64. Moved on to the Apple II, the Olivetti M64 (286) and coded my first website in HTML on a 386 DX2-66. You get the picture.

    I’m with Russell

    I get to feel real old sometimes when I listen to my teen son’s. Young people often act like they invented the technology. The early Internet was an exclusive place reserved for people who knew what they were doing, and we used it to do things that had not been done before.

    I love what computers and the Internet have become – the free flow of information, to be able find out things easily, the ability to communicate and the ability to teach. I’m trying hard not to sound like an old man, but I’m going to bemoan the drivel, driven by the consumerism Russell talks about. Connecting is great, but I can only bear so many cutsie pictures of animals on Facebook.

    Mr Kirsch was right, technology is now all about money, and to make it, companies like Apple, are driving a kind of popcorn information consumerism. It could have gone so many other ways.

    What is awesome though that the iPad is finding a place as an educational tool. Placed in the hands of a rural child who is struggling to get an education, it becomes his or her means to do things that have never been done before

  197. says

    well I’m trying something here in mauritius with the project #CorsairHackersReboot

    the aim to make people understand how computers works
    and the second phase make kids learn to tinker with hardware


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