If you haven’t read An Unexpected Ass Kicking yet, read this first.
After debating a few days whether or not to even share last weeks post, I hit publish. Over the first few days, it got some traffic along with some residual views from views from my six pack transformation. But Sunday, the piece really took off. It hit the top of Hacker News for 6+ hours, and got featured on BoingBoing (twice!). In short, over the last few days, the story has received over ~350,000 visits in the past few days and been shared 40,000 times on facebook and 8,000+ times on twitter.
After melting some servers, Russell’s words still reverberated.
- Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do.
- Do things that have never been done.
All this started from talking to some old man I didn’t know in a coffee shop. It was an incredible conversation and even more incredible experience. Here’s 7 things I’ve learned from my encounter with Russell Kirsch:
Table of Contents
This is really simple.
Go create something. The only limit on you is what you can imagine. So imagine some impossible things. Then stop waiting around and go create them.
You Are Not That Important – Be Humble
I could have missed out on an incredible encounter if I would have treated Russell like anybody else you see at a coffee shop.
I could have thought I was too important for a tangential conversation with a stranger about Macs and PCs but instead I chose to listen.
On the flip side, a few people commented that Russell needed to learn humility – saying he sounded arrogant. If anything came across like that, it’s my fault in the story telling. If anything, Russell was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. Just because someone talks about their accomplishments (even as something as big as the first american internally programmable computer), doesn’t mean they’re arrogant. He was relaying facts after I asked him to elaborate.
I’ve kept in touch with Russell since the encounter and let him know about the popularity of his posts. I asked him if there was anything he’d like to add, but he told me he preferred not to talk about his accomplishments en masse.
If one of the guys responsible for one of the biggest advances in the biggest pieces of technology in the last 50 years can be humble about their accomplishments – you can too – you never know who you might meet.
Details May Make You Right, But They’ll Probably Make You Miserable
Several people got so angry about one or two minor details, they missed the point of the story. The story was not supposed to be a wikipedia entry about the history of the computer or the creative potential of the iPad.
Sure, there are ways you can create on an iPad. Sure, there were other advances in computer technology before Kirsch. It wasn’t supposed to be a persuasive essay on the inferiority of iPads or a historical paper on the computing technology of the last 50 years. It was a story.
If every time you meet a person with a different viewpoint than you and all you want to do is tell them how stupid they are, you’re gonna have a bad time.
If I would have interrupted Kirsch to reference wikipedia at every possible second and asked for cited references as he told me his story – not only would that have been incredibly rude way to talk to people – but I would have missed out on the opportunity to actually talk to him, hear his story and (maybe, just maybe) learn something from him!
If I would have cut him off on the iPad comment, which was little more than an icebreaker, I would have missed his entire reasoning behind it. And, even if I disagreed with him, I would still be able to have a conversation with him since he was explaining his point of view and not bullying, pushy or arrogant about it at all.
Sure details are important, but they can also make you so dogmatic that you completely miss the point. Being open to learning from other people is more important than defending your viewpoint.
Don’t Complain – Fix It Yourself
Russell invented the first square pixel while creating the first digital picture. As much as square pixels are used (they laid the foundation for satellite imagery, CT scans, virtual reality and Facebook), they have a lot of limitations and end up getting pixelated and grainy up close (you’ll notice this if you zoom in on any photo to any measurable degree).
He mentioned it to me during our conversation.
“I’ve been waiting ever since for someone to change it – and no one has.”
He elaborated on this in an interview with Wired a few years back:
“Squares was the logical thing to do,” Kirsch says. “Of course, the logical thing was not the only possibility … but we used squares. It was something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since.”
Now retired and living in Portland, Oregon, Kirsch recently set out to make amends. Inspired by the mosaic builders of antiquity who constructed scenes of stunning detail with bits of tile, Kirsch has written a program that turns the chunky, clunky squares of a digital image into a smoother picture made of variably shaped pixels.
He applied the program to a more recent picture of his son, now 53 years old, which appears with Kirsch’s analysis in the May/June issue of the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“Finally,” he says, “at my advanced age of 81, I decided that instead of just complaining about what I did, I ought to do something about it.”
So, instead of waiting for someone else to fix it, he’s started on it himself. He’s continuing that work with variable pixels now after be inspired by mosaics and even written a program to turn square pixels into variable pixels to smooth out the photo images.
Instead of complaining, critiquing and critizicing other people’s work (or even your own) and waiting for someone else to fix it – step up and fix it yourself.
Don’t Stop Creating
No matter your age, you can create. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t start, and just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re done. Russell started his work with his computers in his twenties and is still working on the pixel problems well into his 80s.
It’s never to late to keep changing things.
Keep creating. Don’t stop – Russell hasn’t (and he still finds time to randomly blow young people’s minds in coffee shops throughout Portland). Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t start and just because you’re old, doesn’t mean you’re done.
You’re only done when you decide you are.
Live A Good Story
A couple people told me I made up the story. I didn’t.
A couple people lamented that Russell was bragging. He wasn’t.
I’ve said from the beginning – do something worth writing about…then WRITE ABOUT IT. People love good stories and you’re not bragging if you’re simply relaying facts of what happened.
If other people get offended by your stories, then maybe they need to step up their story. If you’re bored with life, try living a better story yourself, rather than trying to have other people live worse ones.
LifeTip: If someone’s accomplishments make you feel small, there’s two things you can do. You can get mad and angry about it and let it make you feel really insecure OR you can use it as a challenge and inspiration to do something yourself and step your own game up and start telling a better story yourself. I recommend the second option (after all, that’s why I started everything I’m doing).
Live a good story. Then don’t be afraid to tell people about it.
Most Of All
Most of all. Stop reading. Start doing. There’s a lot of things that haven’t been done yet that need you to go do them. Go.
Thanks Russell. Time to step it up indeed.[Read the original unexpected ass kicking here]
Jim Flanagan says
Thank you for hitting “publish”.
“Finally,” he says, “at my advanced age of 81, I decided that instead of just complaining about what I did, I ought to do something about it.”
I believe this message needs to be shared and heard by everyone. It transcends every category of life.
I didn’t even know square pixels were original!
Thanks Joel for stopping the train in your head that most people get on when a stranger speaks to them, “my gosh are you POSSIBLY interrupting ME”, especially our older generation, they have seen so much change, lived it breathed it and some, like this wonderful man, created that change . In my life my best days are when I truly LISTEN to people, embrace their ‘story’ there are some cherished moments that if I had let my ego get in the way, I could never look back on today. Peace kindness and humility, all things I am striving for….make the change!
Carole Pivarnik says
So much this! Amazing what a smile and a warm hello can do to start a conversation with someone–especially in an “agenda neutral” place like a coffee shop.
Peter Grabas says
Glad to hear you are still in touch with Russell. Good points about being young and old, creativity and humility.
Sharon Zwaagstra says
Dear Joel, Thank you for writing your article and to my son-in-law, James, for posting it. I feel like we’ve all shared your amazing encounter through your blog post and in no small way. I have a little tile on my bookshelf a friend gave me when I started my business – it says “She believed she could, so she did.” I want to live that way, every day.
May I suggest you add one more take away to the summary list? I believe it’s the most important thing I’ve read here. The man said – God said it – and I believed it.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NIV) Thanks for the inspiration of the day!
My immediate thought was that Russell was referring to 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.
Karen Highland says
I was wondering what the reference was. Interesting.
I love both posts and am grateful that you shared your story.
I like to think of everyone out there who read these and got the extra motivation/shift in perspective to propel them into being today’s Russels.
Thanks for the post, thanks for the inspiration.
It’s funny to see how people so easily misinterpret things.
So glad you hit publish on both your posts.
And that you responded to the comments on the first post – yes, indeed, they missed the point! Don’t sweat the small stuff – get the big picture!
Great lessons – let us not forget them.
“You can get mad and angry about it and let it make you feel really insecure….”
Give that up? Dude, that’s my STRENGTH! It’s the one thing I’m actually pretty good at!
It makes me ticked off at myself. No more excuses. Starting right now, this weight that has plagued me for years is coming off and I will start finishing projects that I want to complete and keep putting off.
Jim Bathurst says
Stay thirsty, my friends!
jo Hodson says
Love this…I hope that I am aroud to tell such an amazing story at that age and still keep going! Inspiring stuff, so many words and quotes to take forward into my own life and work.
Seniors who want to talk? I always want to listen. If nothing else, I remember that it’s okay to slow down once in awhile and just listen to their story or their idea. To stop and to think before just plowing through might keep you from having a bad time.
Thanks for doing continuing to share and inspire Joel – you are impacting many lives -much more than you will ever know. You blog received so many hits because you got it so right and you have addressed the “detail” freaks well in this last post.
I’m sure this coffee shop meeting happened for a number of reasons including an opportunity from the universe to reach more people. Gifts come in such interesting packages.
Many thanks and Keep inspiring Us Joel.
Joe Ketcherside says
Joel, thanks so much for posting the story and for the follow-up post. There is so much in there, I have read and re-read them. I have always believed in Edmund Burke’s statement that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. You add so much more fuel to the engine that will get people up and challenge them to just DO.
Dave Ketcherside says
Joel, thank you for publishing this great story, and i give thanks that it’s a true story. I am so often duped by bogus ‘feel good’ stories because i love stories that make me feel good. 🙂
Maggie Dodson says
Monica Englander, LCSW says
2.) You are AMAZING.
3.) Keep speaking up — keep telling the truth, and pointing to what is of real value.
Thank you — you have courage.
Linda Mae Baldwin says
I almost didn’t read the first post because when something says, in the title, “man who invented the computer” more often than not it goes on to praise Apple and bash Microsoft. I’m glad I read it this time because it’s so true and right and real. My husband works for a technology company in Education and I’ve forwarded it on to him. And as for older folks, well, at 52 I’m heading that way, and I sure do hope people don’t start shutting me out! I got lots to say 🙂
Carlos Ramos says
I recently began reading this blog and I find it refreshing. I admit I speacially tend to complain and not do a thing about it. I am on my way to fix that. Thanks for the post!
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
I learn so much from listening. I had a couple of long breakfasts with an 81 year old relative this weekend (we were the two early birds at a family wedding weekend). He talked. I listened.
I also am a big believer in bragging. Not in an obnoxious kind of way. If I don’t think I am awesome, then how can I expect to have an awesome life and meet awesome people? This is something that is available to everyone. Get in touch with your inner awesomeness! Celebrate your successes! Your success is my success and I believe my success is your success, so I am going to tell you about it. I am motivated to do the next impossible thing by recalling how I did the last one. As a coach, I assign all my clients to keep a book of wins. Brag away.
Thanks for another great post, Joel. I love your message and I love your writing.
Cindy W says
Love the idea of celebrating our successes! As I’m a counselor, I’m always amazed at people who don’t listen, but want to share their next idea before I’m done with mine. When you think about doing this next time, take a breath…it helps a lot. And Joel? Thanks for sharing these posts 🙂
Thank you for sharing THIS amazing story! There were a lot of amazing things that happened during WDS in Portland, but what I love hearing about more is what’s happened since, and what happened in and around the weekend that we don’t get to find out about, unless someone like you share it! So thanks for being that guy Joel! Thanks!
At age 54, I would count as a spring chicken. Thanks for passing on the swift kick. I love Walt Disney’s quote about, “It is kind of fun to do the impossible.” I have dreams to follow and things to do.
Kelly Lang says
You are so very wise! Thank you for sharing and clarifying! The world needs to hear your wisdom and take heed!!
Amir H says
I feel sorry for the people accusing him of BRAGGING! IF you invent the first fucking programmable computer you must at least have bragging rights, don’t you think?! In a world that every loser brag about their very insignificant instagram entry, all of the sudden this dude should not talk about his invention or he’s too arrogant!
Anyways, great story.
The sort of people who see an earned pride such as this man’s and think “arrogance” and “bragging” are the sort of preachy mediocrity who go beyond their unshakeable belief in their own impotence, to actively hating those who aren’t.
Ayn Rand called it “the hatred of the good for being the good.“
Yes, it is the most misconception about the iPad is that you cannot create stuff from it. Sure you cannot directly compile programs or deploy web pages directly from the iPad, but I do not think that is the target market of that device. I can take notes in meetings and classes using a iPad. I can remote into my workstation to code and other things that cannot be done directly on the iPad. I can read and respond to email, create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations all from the iPad. These are the things that I have used a notebook computer to accomplish in the past and looking at my mobile computing needs, a notebook computer would be a waste of money. We as a society need to understand the concept of looking at our requirements, and purchasing the tools that meet our needs. Each person’s needs are different and therefore there will be different tools to meet those needs. Each person also has their own preferences to meet their needs, therefore there will be different solutions to meet those preferences. Another thing we have to realize, is that sometimes needs change and therefore we should continually reevaluate our solutions based off our needs, NOT the way that we have always done something. If you base decisions because of the way that you have always done something, then you will miss out on great opprotunities.
I think you missed the point. It’s not the computers, it’s the idea! It’s not the tools, it’s the person and the drive within them. It’s not the choice of tools, its the choice of doing!
You missed the point even after it was explained to you.
Skip Hunt says
I got exactly what he was talking about with regard to the iPad. Although I know you can create wonderful things with it, and I have… the gist of the device is geared toward promoting consumption.
Brilliant article that I’m so very glad you wrote and that I found. And glad to find such a wonderful blog!
I think life’s great inspirations comes from listening to those who have done it, namely our older generation. When I meet older people on my many motorcycle trips, I relish those conversations. Some notable ones to date; meeting a survivor or Pearl Harbor, a gentleman who rescued my buddy’s BMW who happened to be POW at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, a former Nova Scotian Police Officer(who happened to patrol on a 1930’s Harley) who chased down rum runners.
Life is full of interesting people (not all of them can create a computer) and much is to be learned if we stop with our own self absorbed world and just listen.
History is best learned (IMHO) from the breath of those who created it.
This post conveys a great message! I hope people take what you have written about in this post and try to implement it into their own lives!
This story is giving me the push I need to do something I really need to do…gotta close the browser now and create.
Joel, I discovered your blog due to the Russell Kirsch blog post. I have been floored and re-inspired since that day. I never got a whiff of arrogance, if anything I thought it was a telling encounter of Russell’s generation. My dad is 80 and he has done some amazing things, some of them also the “first” – heck if you live 80 years on this Earth, especially lived through the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s 90’s and 00’s – I would imagine that you have done some amazing things and experienced life like no one else likely will.
I can only hope that my next 50 years will be full of the world changing, life changing discoveries that Kirsch was a part of and I can only hope to make an impact anywhere near creating the square pixel.
(Yes, I know we have seen amazing things – stop being so self focused.)
Think about what the world was like in 1931 when he was born and fast forward to where we are today. That is freaking night and day. Nuclear war, World War, Commercial flight, Space, Computers, Science, feats of construction like the Empire State Building, all witnessed with the naked eye – all in his lifetime.
Yet what does he do for inspiration? look at “mosaic builders of antiquity”… amazing. Fantastic blog post.
Brian H says
The biggest Next Big Thing I’m pulling for/following is here:
A realistic shot at making distributed dispatchable power available world-wide at under 10% of best current costs. The end of poverty, starvation, water-shortage and pollution are just a few of the probable consequences.
Of course all such advanced science stands on the base of computational capabilities.
William Dulitz says
But, if I stop reading and start doing, I won’t be reading your site
Joel Runyon says
If you’ve only got time to do one thing – spend it doing :).
Thanks so much for sharing these posts and for stopping to listen to such a gifted and insightful human being.
What an amazing experience that must have been!
It’s just disappointing, once again, that some people are still jumping on the iPad/PC/i’M right/you see train.
That express train is going nowhere, dudes! Look across the tracks! Everyone else is on the slow train listening, learning, sharing, reflecting and daring to create. I know whose carriage I’d rather share! 🙂
Thanks for these two posts. Just … thanks. There is so much good advice, good insight and just plain goodness in here that my brain overwhelms my fingers and I am stuck at simply … thanks.
Thank you for choosing to post two of the best *stories* I’ve read in the last week. Awesome. Pure & Simple.
Must admit that the first *story* actually brought tears to my eyes. Wasn’t expecting that to happen. So ya, wow.
Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful story, and for being someone who was open to such an opportunity.
Synchronicity rather than coincidence perhaps?
Great story. I took one more lesson out of it. Get out of the house. Even if it’s just to work on your computer. Being physically out there in a public space opens us up the world and opportunities and chance encounters.
Do something that’s not been done before. I’m possible! Boom! So inspired. Thanks!
Randy Carpadus says
I wanted to post this to the prior blog post but for some reason it didn’t render well on my PC and the comments (and the end commenting box)ended up over the top of the rest of the page and were unreadable/usable.
First of all, thank you for this follow up post, it hit the point(s)square on the head. People like Jim completely missed the forest for the trees!
Secondly, thank you so much for the first post. I am having to “reinvent myself” at age 55 after being kicked out of the profession that pretty much defined who I was for much of my life and am starting a new business (non-high tech) from scratch with close to no money. Your last two lines/sentences/paragraphs are my new mantra:
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
What I am doing (to quote another great, “Do or do not, there is no try) has never been done before quite my way and your post, and Russel’s quotes give me strength. I think I will make a poster out of them to put in my office as a reminder.
What good would it have done if Russell had just kept to himself that day in the coffee shop?
This post wouldst have been written and I and many others wouldn’t have benefited from it
To those who think Russell was bragging, let me ask you
Who are your favorite athletes, actors or authors?
Would you consider an author to be bragging because he wrote a book and displaying his talents?
Would you consider your favorite actor be to showing off by acting in movies that you love?
If people don’t share their talents, we wouldn’t have all the wonderful inventions and work or art that we so enjoy
It doesn’t help anyone to hide away their talents from the world
Two things — first, I love that what you learned was to *do — to create, to act.
I would just say that one must also know — in the sense of thinking things out, but also in the sense of seeing things whole — and that takes NOT DOING — thinking, learning, studying, but also, just BEING, in silence. None of which will take place if one is passive, paradoxically, so I think that still speaks to your point.
Second, is it a picture of yourself with Russell in the other post? If so, who took the photo? I think you should tell about that, because it would take away any doubt that this is a real story. Maybe you addressed it in the comments, but there are too many for me to read through. Maybe a caption would be helpful.
JR Griggs says
Honesty, I can’t believe how many complaints or really ignorant comments you got. Some people don’t get it and may never get it.
They can read something that should inspire them to do something great and instead will only be inspired to nit pick.
Has this genius ever been nominated for a Nobel Prize? Seems to me, that he is something very special!
Otto Pernotto says
Simply excellent! Both posts are so incredible. It reminds me of the story of Bill Crawford who was a janitor at the Air Force Academy despite being a Medal of Honor recipient. The cadets looked upon him as a janitor yet he had earned the most honerable award our nation can bestow yet he was a very humble man.
Bev. Coooke says
Thank you for both of these stories, and for YOUR humility, which shines through every word about this remarkable man. You were humble enough to treat a total stranger with respect and deference enough to listen. To be polite to a stranger long enough to learn that this stranger was someone special, with something to teach you. You were humble enough to absorb not only the wonder of meeting a remarkable and innovative man, but to learn from him. Not many people under 50 are mature enough and smart enough to do that, no matter who the person is.
Makes my day! And yes, even at 57, I can learn from both you and him about how to make a difference, and how to create. Thank you for that, too.
Byron Smith says
It was not an ‘ass kicking’. It was a Space Shuttle Rocket Booster experience. I’ve run into a few of those ‘older’ gentlemen in my career and had similar experiences. I look back with love on those moments. You have written an excellent piece, and even though I am now retired, I’m going to look for those ‘opportunities’ to expand myself as well. If Russell can smooth out his own pixel problem, maybe I can find a like endeavor in my lower field of computer administration. Thanks!
Meg Walker says
Both the original article was *AMAZING* and this follow-up one was as well. I echo the people who have said THANK YOU for pushing “publish”! It was an incredible story to read! My brother posted it on FB and that’s how I found it – I’m so grateful.
My father has been gone many years, but he was a successful man in the movie industry. I remember him trying to strike up conversations with younger people – a waitress, a store clerk – and how they acted as if he were invisible, this great, accomplished man. It just made my heart ache.
It never ceases to amaze me that everyone really DOES have a story.
Thanks for posting about Mr. Kirsch.
For me this is like the first time I read ZAMM, The Universal Traveller and Kathleen Norris’ Dakota.
Doc Chevalier says
Thank you Joel for investing the time to create these posts. I’m sorry that some people misunderstood either by omission or commission your intent but it happened, and will continue to happen. I commend you on an interesting story and your choices as a consequence. For those who choose to disbelieve or to make their own interpretations of the quality of your character or Mr. Kirsch’s character, still a personal choice, but a loss for them. So thanks from me to you. No more than that.
SM Babb says
I place this encounter as a “Divine” appointment.
It was meant to happen at the right time for the right reason (for both of you). Russel reached out, you were receptive.
“Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”
Is it encouragement to pursue something you have conceived and have yet to bring to fruition? Is it something you have yet to conceive and support was provided to you to continue the search, analyze and create?
Only God and “possibly” you know what that may be.
I have no doubt you gained far greater than “7” bits of wisdom from this encounter.
Certainly not an asskicking, but a blessing.
Thank you for sharing your blessing with others.
Kirk Farrar says
Just wanted to say thanks to who brought me here – Thank you Instapundit! Great site, great story, I think I’ll stick around for awhile.Kirk
Bob Rosenbaum says
I’m not worthy! What a great guy. Thanks. What a fine post. Bob
Love this whole post, but especially the second to last point. Thanks for sharing!
Ezra Adams says
Excellent post for teachers, learners, and leaders of every age. I’ve called it a must-read and sent it to my network. Thanks for sharing your encounter with Russell Kirsch.
Greg Milbank says
Thank you very much for publishing this thought provoking encounter. Reading through the great responses, I was not surprised to discover no one acknowledged who Russel attributes his own inspiration to, God. For the many who who thanked Joel and Russel for their inspirations, I did not read one that gave thanks or even acknowledged the source of Russel’s inspiration. You want an impossible challenge? Attribute some aspect of the origins of scientific thought to God.
You must not have read the third comment from the top by Sharon, and my response to it. Yes, God is the author of ALL creation, and since we as humans are created in His image, we have the gift of creativity, too. But I’m glad to see that someone else here thinks it is important to acknowledge God the way Russell did.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater! ( apologies to Vonnegut)
Wonderful post – great story. Comments are interesting and while I share the lament of current teaching methods, I believe it is the parent’s responsiblity to provide a medium for the child to grow – a loving and nurturing home perhaps or just one that recognizes no limits on creativity and action. I am reminded that Steven Spielberg’s mother let him blow something up in a pressure cooker, just to film it.
Thanks for the post.
Ed Stillman says
Joel, thanks for the story. I’m in my 60’s and encourage your readers and business leaders to observe vs. see and listen vs. hear. Going deeper in conversations by asking, “…tell me more” or “…what else?” will develop a more meaningful conversation and understanding of the topic or story being told. God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth and we should use them accordingly.
Truly awesome stuff! I’ve come to similar conclusions myself, though it’s nice to hear someone else say them. Very inspirational.
Martin Tassoni says
Like you, I just met this very interesting 83 year old man who claimed to be Russell Kirsch. I can’t think of any chance meeting I have had as interesting and inspiring as the one I just had with Russell. He is quite a person and I think we will have a sustaining relationship in the months and years to come in our weekly meetiings in the little coffee shop where we just met.
Steve Woodward says
Hey, Joel. I just stumbled across your two posts on Russell Kirsch. It brought back memories of the piece I did on him for The Oregonian in 2007 (“The man who taught computers to see,” http://www.oregonlive.com/living/index.ssf/2007/05/russell_kirsch_the_man_who_tau.html). Russell is remarkable for many reasons, but perhaps most for the sheer breadth and audacity of his imagination. He and his colleagues spent many unauthorized hours using the SEAC computer to dabble not only in digital imaging, but also in syntactic pattern recognition, chemical structure searching, acoustic signal generation (precursor to speech synthesis) and artificial intelligence. Even in his old age, he and his wife, an art historian, have studied the underlying “grammar” of paintings and petroglyphs. His masterpiece, digital imaging, resulted from a simple question he asked himself: “What if computers could see?” That historic first digital image, by the way, is hanging in the Portland Art Museum.
One more lesson: Don’t be surprised by who you can run into in the Portland area. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, lives here, as does Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki. The next time one of your elders sits down at your table, ask him or her how they changed the world. They just might tell you.
Thank you for this article and thank you for publishing Mr Kirsch’s insights. I was looking for a kick in the can to get moving, and, I think I’ve just got it.
An extraordinary story, with so many lessons to be learned. You might add the old refrain “listen to your elders.” Also a great achievement for your blog. This is why we have blogs. Who invented them by the way?
As a grammar/fitness challenge, if you will kick the habit of saying “if I would have” and instead say “If I had” – that is ‘if I [past perfect] then I [conditional perfect] – then I will promise to work out. I pledge to do 100 push-ups every time you use that construction correctly. And I’ll send you a video of the push-ups.]
Of course now you’re going to use that construction 100 times in one post, so I’m forced to do 1,000 push-ups 😉
Than you so much for both of these articles.
I’ve never liked the iPad but could never put words to my dislike – now I can. On the other hand it is an incredible tool for some people such as my legally blind child.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve told people to google “an unexpected a**kicking.
Efjay Dee says
Just finished reading your posts about Russell Kirsch. I would have found it to be a very moving and transformative experience, I was amazed just reading about it. The photo of you both is amazing too, I would say it is iconic with a Grand Patriarch of Computing sharing wisdom. Thank you so much for sharing and eternal thanks to Russell Kirsch for his contributions to technology we all take for granted today.
Aaron Tang says
Arrived here from one of Darren Rowse’s posts. What a wonderful story. Best one I’ve read in a long time.
All the best ahead to you!
David Grover says
So glad you hit publish. However I am even gladder that it was you in the coffee shop! Your intelligent and sensitive responses to the inevitable detractors were spot on.
Incidentally – and the only flaws – were:
“Here’s 7 things I’ve learned from my encounter with Russell Kirsch:”
and “there’s two things you can do.”
Methinks Russell would never make such grammatical errors!
Madhushree Kulkarni says
This is so important.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us Joel! 🙂
Adeeba Zaidi says
This fed me the fire I needed today! Thank you!