We all have our CS heroes. Perhaps it’s Linus Torvalds or Bill Gates or a personal favorite of mine, Edsger Dijkstra. There is one genius of the history of computing that doesn’t have much fame or notoriety, and I couldn’t even find his name on a reddit search. This man created the concepts behind the idea of our modern computers. Running a graphical operating system on a limited, simplifed, chipset and mostly just the CPU, rather than having to use specialized hardware. Now he, apparently, lives a sad and lonely life in California, occasionally making his only human contact on the way to Whole Foods to pick up some groceries.
I am talking about Burrell Smith, the Apple engineer who designed the motherboard for the first Macintosh and found ways to shoe-horn upgrades into older computers in ways no one ever thought possible.
You can find some amazing stories about his genius and unique personality here: http://www.folklore.org/ProjectView.py?characters=Burrell%20Smith
What has become of him today? http://tradertim.blogspot.com/2007/07/lonesome-tale-of-burrell-smith.html
According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs there is a chance Burrell suffered from schizophrenia during the 1990s… I don’t know. I just feel sad reading about what has become of him and wish we could tell him somehow that there are geeks out there that appreciate the work that he has done and his unparalleled creativity in the field of hardware engineering.