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Today's inspirational quote by Russell Kirsch, the guy who invented the computer:

"...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."

Check out the full story (archived below). We all need to be open to meeting such people. Next time you're in a coffee shop and some weirdo starts talking to you, take the opportunity. You never know what you might learn.

An Unexpected Ass Kicking
By Joel Runyon

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 curiosity 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 0.29 second, 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.

(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:

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

[EDIT: And don't forget: "when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things." Smart phones and tablets are such easy ways to consume that we forget to get on a real tool and MAKE STUFF.]

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

Now I'm off to do something productive. In the words of a famous Wizard, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

What are you going to conceive of and do with your time this week?



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 9th, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
What an awesome story.
Aug. 10th, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
Aug. 9th, 2012 08:36 pm (UTC)
This is a great story, and I'm happy it has a nice ending, but telling people they should be more open to weirdos trying to chat them up is advice coming from a very high place of privilege.
Aug. 9th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
Well, sure, but one can always tell the person to take a hike if they get truly weird. This is what community is for: Weirdo-screening.
Aug. 9th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
one can always tell the person to take a hike if they get truly weird

Because that works so well for everyone. All the time.

Hello, harassment policies? Please apply to your response the fact that a group of people had to organize themselves to assist at cons where women are being assaulted by men who won't hear the words "go away?"
Aug. 9th, 2012 08:45 pm (UTC)
Point taken!
Aug. 9th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
Tonight, be sick. Monday was ambulance, though, so I figure I'm good for a while.

Aug. 10th, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
Hope the sick gets better ASAP!
Aug. 10th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
OMG. This is a wonderful story! I loved every single word of it, and it happened in MY TOWN!

And the underlying idea that nothing is withheld is really inspiring...so often I seem to fall into the trap of thinking things ARE withheld.

This week? Finish painting my bedroom (it's beautiful!!), get the new rug there, move my stuff back in, and start a new art-box.

what are YOU going to conceive of and do this week?
Aug. 10th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
I know! Had to share.

Soon after reading this, I went out and fixed my months-dead Saab. Check!

Today I go to the doctor to see about fixing my wrist. Later today, I finish developing the syllabi for my Fall courses, update the class websites, and write to my students.

Tonight and tomorrow I go out camping with friends to watch the Perseid meteor shower.

Sunday we resume work on restoring the Chevelle.

Next week, somehow (I have a guest, so maybe "during the next couple of weeks"...), I want to finish the first 30k of my new novel and get it out to an agent.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 12th, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
I hear you about future tech and possibilities, but right now these tablet devices are way less capable. The touchscreen will soon be as good as flat keyboard, but for now it's WAY slower and problematic. Putting so much effort into devices that simplify consumption - and that's exactly what these do - is his complaint. I would love to be able to have even 1/10 as much productivity on this as I have with even a single program on my computer.

Like Kurt Russell.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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