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Wozniak Describes Techno Childhood; Endorses Autobiography

By Kirtana Raja


Steve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple II, the world’s first personal computer, and co-founder of Apple Computer, Inc., made an appearance at MIT yesterday to tell his inspirational story of success as well as sign books for his new autobiography that was released this past Monday.

Wozniak, or Woz, as he refers to himself, told the audience about the history of his Apple II invention, briefly touching upon his childhood ambitions and then giving a technical and anecdote-infused timeline of his innovation.

Several MIT students, faculty, and other MIT community members attended the MIT Coop-sponsored event to get signed copies of his new book iWoz, and also to take pictures with Wozniak. One MIT student even brought an antiquated model of the Apple II computer to be signed by its creator.

Wozniak began his talk by mentioning that that he really got his education at MIT, although he technically attended Berkeley. “My friend from high school, Alan, went to MIT. Alan would send me books in the mail from his computer classes and I would sit and read through them by myself. Thus, I got an education that was independent from school,” said Wozniak.

Wozniak said that he always knew he was good at making computer designs and that as a kid his ambition was to build a four kilobyte computer for himself. His father told him it would cost as much as a house knowing the price of computer parts at that time, to which the young Wozniak replied that he would just live in an apartment as long he could have his computer.

Wozniak said that he got his big breakthough when he was employed at Hewlett Packard as a calculator designer and engineer. A member of a computer club that was affliated with MIT, he found out from the members that there was something called a microprocessor that could be used as the main processing unit of the computer.

Wozniak implemented the microprocessor, along with his own setup of a color TV and keyboard system as well as programming BASIC into the system to create a user interface that could take input and display output on the color TV screen — the world’s first PC.

Wozniak said that he and Steve Jobs, the current CEO of Apple Computers, were able to market the PC for the low price of $666.66, thereby creating a computer that people could actually afford. Apple II was soon found in businesses as well as households all over America.

When asked by an audience member where he foresaw the future of the computer industry, Wozniak said that he did not generally like making predictions about the future, although he saw some promise in artificial intelligence.

Wozniak also mentioned that one of the challenges he saw in the computer industry was keeping personal information safer on the Internet.

When asked about the rationale behind the Apple name, Wozniak said that it was Job’s creation, who came up with the name out of the blue one day, presumably after spending time working on an apple orchard for a summer job. “After trying to think of better and more technical names, both Jobs and I realized that Apple was a good fit.” In addition, Apple was a name that suggested that the complex computer was something that could be used in homes across America, like fruit.

“Jobs designed the 6-color Apple logo and therefore it was really expensive to make. But we were the ones that brought color to the world,” said Wozniak.

Today, The Tech interviews Steve Wozniak about his new book as well as his career and opinions on the computer industry.

The Tech: What would you say is the most important message that your autobiography conveys to aspiring scientists and engineers?

Steve Wozniak: You can be more oriented towards hooking things together and doing other little technical things all on your own and not necessarily be one of the big, out-going, well-recognized people in school — and you can still be on the right track to doing great things. That those people can be heroes too.

TT: What would be your advice to budding computer science majors at MIT?

SW: Well one thing is make sure you’re really doing what you want to do not just something that you think is the right formula for success. Make sure you have a lot of passion and work really hard when you’re young because as you get older there are some things that you can’t get done. Also, don’t assume that you have to learn everything from books. As long as you can figure out things by yourself and learn how to put the pieces together in your head, you can probably figure out something much better than someone who has been educated in that area but hasn’t done that work in ten years.

TT: We all know that you revolutionized the computer industry when you put the Apple PC on the market. How does a great leader in the computer field like yourself view the information technology outsourcing issue — how do you feel that it is going to affect innovation in the computer industry in the US?

SW: It’s people who think up the innovations and inventions and use the tools and parts available to try out an idea. Sometimes when you get an idea you want to try it out and put it together and see if it really works. But if you don’t have those kind of people who have those kinds of skills or the tools then you don’t have the components [for innovation] and then it’s going to happen somewhere else in the world.

Although, my own personal opinion is that we are all part of the same world. For example, if we outsource something to Nevada then I wouldn’t care. So if all of the countries in the world were kind of like brothers, kind of like the states, then it wouldn’t matter. If all the countries work together then we would all be trying to get the best job done at the lowest prices possible. So when outsourcing from country to country, without competition, then outsourcing is a really good thing and it actually makes sense.

TT: There has been a drop in enrollment in CS courses in US colleges in the last few years. What are your thoughts and what changes would you recommend to increase these numbers?

SW: I’m not sure that the world ever needed more than a certain percentage of people to be in any category in life. With the big explosion of interest in personal computers came the inception of the Internet, which connects everybody and makes it really easy for new, high-quality software to be created just once and sent to everyone. Now if we needed 500,000 programs, then we would need 500,000 programmers. But we only need 50 programs, so there isn’t really that much room for new people to come in the field unless they have a different approach. So to develop programs, we only need a very few of the very best for any kind of application.

TT: Recently Apple has started using Intel processors which allow users to switch between using both Mac OS and Windows. How do you think this capability will affect the market share with respect to the regular PC running only Windows?

SW: No I don’t think so — as a matter of fact Apple’s market share went down last month. The fact that it can be used as both is a plus, but most people would prefer to buy a regular PC at a lower price where everything actually works. When you look at the new Apple PC, not everything totally works in the PC mode. So I think it’s one of those things where you think you’ve developed something that adds value, but the added value is so little that it doesn’t amount to very much.

TT: Out of all your accomplishments so far, what is the one thing you’d most like to be remembered for the most?

SW: That would be the design of the Apple II — I developed the most new features and did the most new innovation on that project, and it has really impacted the world. It has directly put the world into the path of personal computers and therefore it’s the most important thing that I’ve got.

TT: What are some of your hobbies?

SW: I like to play Gameboy Tetris. I also like to ride my Segway in many ways both for fun and productivity, like when I go shopping or to the movies. I also play Segway polo. One of my big hobbies is collecting jokes. I like to collect a lot of jokes online and I also like to play pranks. I play extreme pranks, ones that take months to plan and pull off as well as smaller spontaneous ones.

TT: What are some examples of some pranks that you have done?

SW: Well, I carry a lot of magic tricks with me all the time and I switch them around every once in a while so that I always have new tricks to show. I also get science toys and experiments that are scary enough to amaze and amuse people.

Recently I got a real quality printer to print some foil labels that I could stick wherever I go. I printed some that said “Do not flush over cities” and I stuck them in the bathrooms of a couple of planes.

TT: Has anyone ever caught you on your jokes?

SW: Of course. I used to use laser pointers all the time and people would come up to me and say “What are you doing with that laser pointer!” So I made up a fake ID that said I was a laser pointer security man.

Speaking of jokes, as a matter of fact, I hope to sell Stephen Colbert some bills that look fake, but that are really legal, Thursday on his show. But, he’s so in control of what goes on in his show that I may not be able to. We’ll see tonight (last night).