Steve Wozniak

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Stephen Wozniak (born August 11 1950) is an American computer engineer turned philanthropist. His inventions and machines are credited with contributing greatly to the personal computer revolution of the 1970s. Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs in 1976 and created the Apple I and Apple II computers in the mid-1970s. The Apple II became the best selling computer of the 1970s and early 1980s, and is often credited as the first popular personal computer. Wozniak has several nicknames, including "(The) Woz" and "Wizard of Woz". "WoZ" (short for "Wheels of Zeus") is also the name of a company Wozniak founded. Woz also designed the classic Atari game Breakout. He is known for his introverted character, and he finds his level of celebrity somewhat annoying.


Early life and inspiration

Wozniak's early inspiration came from his father Jerry, a Lockheed engineer, and from a fictional wonder-boy: Tom Swift. His father gave him a fascination for electronics and would often check over young Woz's creations. Tom Swift, on the other hand, was for Woz the epitome of creative freedom, scientific knowledge, and the ability to find solutions to problems. Tom Swift also represented the potential rewards that invention might bring. To this day, Wozniak returns to Tom Swift books and reads them to his own kids as a form of inspiration.

Woz's values were shaped and strengthened over years by his family, individual thinking, moral philosophy, amateur radio ethics (helping people in emergency), books (Swift's utilitarian and humanitarian attitude), among other things.

Wozniak has always loved all that requires heavy thinking, even if it is devoid of any practicality or marketability. He learned the basics of mathematics and electronics from his father. When Woz was 11, he built his own amateur radio station, and got a ham-radio license. At age 13, he was elected president of his high school electronics club, and won first prize at a science fair for a transistor-based calculator. Also at 13, Woz began designing his first computers (including one that could play tic-tac-toe), which laid the foundation for his later successes.

After dropping out of the University of Colorado, Woz and his neighbor, Bill Fernandez, built a computer together (later dubbed the "Cream Soda Computer", because of the beverage they consumed during the creation of the box) in Fernandez's parents's garage. It burned up its power supply in a demonstration, but Woz wasn't fazed. However, because parts at that time were prohibitively expensive, he satisfied himself with designing computers on paper.

Around this time, Fernandez introduced Woz to his best friend and classmate, Steve Jobs. Jobs, an ambitious "loner" who "always had a different way of looking at things," quickly befriended Woz, and they started working together.

Wozniak learned about the "blue box" through an October 1971 article in Esquire Magazine written by Ron Rosenbaum that led to an introduction to the leading "phone phreak" interviewed in the article, John Draper (a.k.a. Cap'n Crunch). The blue box was the basic tool of phone phreaking, a device with which one could (mis)use the telephone system by emulating signaling tones used by analog phone switches of the day to obtain free long-distance calls and explore the system. Unfazed by the trouble with the law that Draper and others in the article faced, Wozniak built and Jobs sold blue boxes for $150 apiece, splitting the profits.

The dawn of Apple

By 1975, Woz dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley (he would later finish his BS degree in EECS in 1986) and came up with a computer that eventually became successful nationwide. However, he was largely working within the scope of the Palo Alto-based Homebrew Computer Club, a local group of electronics hobbyists. His project had no wider ambition.

Jobs and Wozniak came to the conclusion that a completely assembled and inexpensive computer would be in demand. They sold some of their prized possessions (e.g. Woz's HP scientific calculator and Steve Jobs' Volkswagen van), raised USD$1300, and assembled the first prototype in Jobs' bedroom and later (when there was no space left) in Jobs' garage. Their first computer was quite an engineering marvel within the context of 1975 computing. In simplicity of use it was years ahead of the Altair 8800, which was introduced earlier in 1975. Altair had no display and no true storage. It received commands via a series of switches and a single program would require thousands of toggles without an error. Altair output was presented in the form of flashing lights. Altair was great for true geeks, but it was not usable for a wider public. It didn't even come assembled. Woz's computer, on the other hand, named Apple I, was a fully assembled and functional unit that contained a $25 microprocessor (MOS 6502) on a single-circuit board with ROM. On April 1 1976, Jobs and Wozniak formed Apple Computer Company. Wozniak quit his job at Hewlett-Packard and became the vice president in charge of research and development at Apple. The Apple I was priced at $666.66. Jobs and Wozniak sold their first 25 computers to a local dealer.

Wozniak could now focus full-time on fixing the shortcomings of the Apple I and adding new functionality. His new design was to retain the most important characteristics: simplicity and usability. Woz introduced high-resolution graphics in the Apple II. His computer could now display pictures instead of just letters: "I threw in high-res. It was only two chips. I didn't know if people would use it." By 1978, he also designed an inexpensive floppy-disk drive controller. He and Randy Wigginton wrote a simple disk operating system, adapting a file system and simple command line interface licensed from Shepardson Microsystems to his unique technology.

In addition to his hardware skills, Wozniak wrote most of the software that ran on the Apple. He wrote an advanced programming language interpreter named Calvin, a set of virtual 16-bit processor instructions known as SWEET16, a Breakout game (which was also a reason to add sound to the computer), the code needed to control the disk drive, and more. On the software side, the Apple II was also made more attractive to a business user by the famous pioneering spreadsheet: Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston's VisiCalc. In 1980, the Apple company went public and made Jobs and Wozniak millionaires. At the age of 27, Jobs became the youngest man on the Fortune 500 in 1982—a very young age before the dot-com era.

The Apple II and Beyond

For years the Apple II was the main source of profit at Apple, and it assured the company's survival when its management undertook much less profitable ventures like the ill-fated Apple III and the short-lived Lisa. It was because of the reliable profits from the Apple II that Apple was able to develop the Macintosh, bring it to market, and evolve it into Apple's primary technology, eventually replacing the machine that paid for all this. In a sense, then, Wozniak can be considered the financial godfather of the Mac.

In February 1981, Steve Wozniak crashed his private plane. As a result, he had temporary short-term memory loss. He had no recollection of the accident and, for a while, did not even know he had been involved in a crash. He began to piece together clues from things people said to him. He asked his girlfriend, Candy Clark (an early Apple employee who worked in the accounting department) whether he had been involved in an accident of some kind. When she told him of the event, his short-term memory was restored. Wozniak also credits computer games (running on an Apple II) for aiding him in restoring those "lost" memories.

Woz did not return to Apple after recovering from the plane crash. Instead, he married Clark (he says "Superwoman") and returned to the University of California, Berkeley under the name "Rocky (Raccoon) Clark", finally earning his undergraduate degree in 1987. In 1983 he decided to return to Apple product development, but he wanted to be no more than just an engineer and a motivational factor for the Apple workforce.

In 1982 and 1983, Wozniak also sponsored the two US Festivals, which were a celebration of evolving technologies and a marriage of music, computers, television and people.

Post-Apple career

Woz ended his full time employment with Apple for good on February 6, 1985, nine years after setting up the company, but he remains a major stockholder as well as friend to Steve Jobs. Wozniak then founded a new venture called Cloud 9, which developed home remote control switches, bringing the first universal remote control to market in 1987.

Woz went into teaching (he taught fifth grade students) and charitable activities in the field of education. Since leaving Apple Computer, Woz has provided all the money, as well as a good amount of on-site technical support, for the technology program for the Los Gatos School district (the district in which he lives and where his children attend school). Unuson (Unite Us In Song), an organization Woz formed to organize the two US Festivals, is now primarily tasked with supporting his educational and philanthropic projects.

Wozniak received the National Medal of Technology from the President of the United States in 1985.

In 1997 he was named a Fellow of the Computer History Museum. Wozniak was a key contributor and benefactor to San Jose's Children's Discovery Museum (the street in front of the museum has been renamed Woz Way in his honor).

In September 2000, Steve Wozniak was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

In 2002, Woz founded Wheels Of Zeus (note the acronym, "WoZ"), to create wireless GPS technology to "help everyday people find everyday things". In the same year, he joined the Board of Directors of Danger, Inc., the maker of the HipTop (aka SideKick from T-Mobile). In May of 2004, upon nomination by Dr. Tom Miller, Woz received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from North Carolina State University for his contribution to the field of personal computing.

In 2005, Woz was awarded an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Kettering University, in Flint, Michigan.

In 2006, Wheels of Zeus was closed, and Wozniak founded Acquicor Technologies, a shell company for acquiring technology companies and developing them, with Apple alumni Ellen Hancock and Gil Amelio.

Popular culture

An aphorism attributed to Wozniak, "Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window," is quoted in the game Civilization IV when players discover the "Computer" technology during single player games.

In the movie Camp Nowhere, Christopher Lloyd's character scams parents into sending their kids to a computer camp under the fake name of Steve Wozniak.

Current Activities

Segway Polo

Woz is a member of the Bay Area Segway Enthusiasts and a Segway Polo team member. His game is so competitive as to be described as aggressive.

Woz and the Silicon Valley Aftershocks were challenged to a game by the newly formed New Zealand Pole Blacks; the match ended in a 2-2 tie, with the Woz Challenge Cup staying in Auckland. The Pole Blacks will visit the U.S. in 2007 to retain the cup.

Woz created yet another world first with his team - the 1st International Segway HT Polo Tournament - and his fellow teammates and the NZ Pole Blacks will be credited with the creation of such a large contest.


Wozniak has been working on an autobiography, titled I, Woz, which will be published in November, 2006.


Woz has recently taken an interest in laser pointers, and is accordingly very knowledgeable on the subject (he possesses, quite literally, "all the colors of the rainbow").

Woz is also known as a prankster. He loves to make people laugh. He has been known to pay for services using a $2 note from a "pad" of money—he buys uncut sheets of bills from the Treasury and has them bound into booklets; they are fully legal tender despite their perforated edges. On one occasion, this got him into a spot of trouble at a casino in Las Vegas. <ref name="letters78"></ref>

See also



Further sources

External links

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