iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon

Steve Wozniak
Steve Wozniak at age 30 holding an Apple I circuit board he received for his birthday. (Courtesy Dan Sokol)
Steve Wozniak
Author, Apple Co-founder
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; 2:00 PM

Computing legend Steve Wozniak was online Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. ET to answer questions and discuss his recently published memoir: iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon (Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith, W.W. Norton, 2006).

Steve Wozniak is best known for inventing one of the first personal computers which ignited the computer revolution, but he's also held the lofty titles of concert promoter, fifth-grade teacher, philanthropist, and is known as an irrepressible prankster.

A transcript follows.


Steve Wozniak: Well, it's Woz and I'm here. I don't need to introduce myself much. Let's get right down to this. Ouch, so many questions, so little time, and my fingers aren't what they once were.


Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Woz,

I read your book (really enjoyed it) and it got me thinking about the adage "it's better to be lucky than smart." However, it seems you were both. Or was it because you >were smart you got lucky (by being in the right place at the right time doing the right things).

What do you think--is it better to be lucky than smart?

Steve Wozniak: It's usually necessary to be smart, although smart can be in a lot of ways. It's almost always better to by lucky. Consider the number of people who are smart by anyone's definition but are unlucky.

I was extremely good at the designing thing. I was going to create some great things in my life. Some of them were at the right time when the world was ready for them, largely due to chip prices having dropped.


Once an Apple II User ..: Mr. Wozniak,

I learned how to program using UCSD Pascal and Apple BASIC on one of your magnificent machines!

In my opinion, Apple made it "cool" for the average person to have a computer at home. Over the last two decades, the once glamorous and hi-tech personal computer has turned into a cheap commodity caught in slash-throat price wars.

Would you say the golden age of the personal computer is over?

Steve Wozniak: A very incredibly age, when everything was astounding and fun and anything you did was 'cool', is largely over. To some young people, they must rediscover a lot of this stuff and have fun at it. Even programming today is not so easy to get into. Remember, the programming language BASIC, the most important part of these new machines, was in ROM in the Apple ][. What days those were!


Carbondale, Ill.: Steve, My wife and I are in our late 40's. Our youngest daughter is 12...the three of us woke up at 5 am on Sunday morning to get in line at the local electronics store in order to secure a 'Nintendo Wii'...which is, in a way, a computer that plays games. Ok Ok...I know we're nuts. But in your wildest dreams, did you envision anything like this (a huge cultural shift) happening?

Steve Wozniak: We envisioned such a large cultural shift but we saw it so differently that it really couldn't have happened that way. It's easy to see what technology is coming but it's hard to see where it will take us more than about a year out, unless it's a technology that keeps getting tried and tried and delayed and delayed.


Washington, D.C.: Your relationship with Steve Jobs has evolved and matured over the years. I gather you both think of each other as friends, but do the two of you (and your families) still do the simple things with each other that friends do--see a movie, have dinner, go to a ball game, etc or is it a different level now?

Steve Wozniak: We were like that (best friends) for maybe 7 years but went in different directions with different friends when Apple started. Steve wanted to be a businessman (run a business to reach higher goals) and I wanted to never do that, only to be an engineer at the bottom of the org chart, which I still am today.


Ashburn, Va.: Steve -- My first computer was an Apple II+ with a cassette interface -- and I loved that machine. Great job! Got a question about the mind of Steve Jobs though, somewhere in history he seemed to take an aversion to color and loved black & white screens instead (ex: Apple Lisa, original Macs, and even a color iPod took longer to market than expected). Did you have to fight Jobs to include color support for the Apple II+?

Also -- amazingly creative stuff was done to get speech and polyphonic music out of the Apple IIs speaker. Were you equally impressed with that? or did you always expected that the speaker could do more than beep simple non-polyphonic notes?

Steve Wozniak: Steve Jobs was interested in changing the world and the company Apple was the way. My goal was to make the niftiest technical products, computers included. I had motivation to have color and graphics and sound when it seemed impossible. The motivation was that it was supposedly impossible. Steve Jobs did not oppose color. He did try to make the Macintosh very inexpensive. But more than that, Bill Atkinson wrote the graphics software for the LISA and the Macintosh and also the Hypercard program. It was not known in Apple but in later years I found out that Bill was color blind.


Baltimore, Md.: Do you think Ray Kurzweil is on target with his predictions of computers surpassing human intelligence within the next 25 years or so? Ray Kurzeil participated in a Live Online last summer: Ray Kurzweil Transcript (, June 19, 2006)

Steve Wozniak: Not even close. So many aspects of AI get done in pieces and never combined. Will a device be created in my lifetime that can hear my voice. For example, can my TV hear my commands from across the room when it's noisy and lots of people are present. A real human could hear and understand me. But this listening device is far far away. Or could we build a robot that could make a cup of coffee? Hardly a prayer unless some young person gets the idea to do it someday in their life. Think about all the steps you go through to make coffee in my house, or vice versa. I was just at a radio station and I could barely make coffee with their machine. This robot would have to find the kitchen and best guess what the coffee machine is and then read instructions and find coffee in one of many forms and find cups, etc.


Bloomington, Ind.: Dear Woz,

Thanks for building a great machine and OS with the Apple and being an inspiration for the builders of the Macintosh, and for teaming with Steve Jobs to provide the synergy to show the world how good things can be, not just with computers, but with everything in our lives, if we apply the root meaning of "elegance".

Q: What advice would you give the President, should we have one who capable of comprehending, regarding science and technology education and policy?


Steve Wozniak: I can only suggest strong technologists around this president, but that won't happen since he chooses them. The committees that advise him on technology are farces. I worked for 6 years on the National Medal of Technology Committee and saw the current president TRY to address technology many times and he not only did not 'get' it, his heart wasn't in it. He read scripts poorly and the words were not even pleasant to him. I saw him address NASCAR drivers on the South Lawn once and he had everyone's names down and their wives and little inside jokes and he loved that group. I see Bush as more influenced by those around him than thinking on his own, but right now they aren't from the technology sector.


Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil: Do you know Humbert Maturana and his work? What about keeping the move to humanize computers?

Steve Wozniak: no, I don't know him.

The human should be more important than the technology. That means that we should work hard to bend the technology to work in natural human ways, and not force the human to bend to use the complicated technology.


Woodbridge, Va.: Was it your math background or electrical engineering training that helped you most in designing your first computer, or were you always experimenting with things (trying to figure them out) when you were a child?



Steve Wozniak: All self taught, little math involved. The electrical training helped to connect chips properly but mainly it came from designing every minicomputer ever made over and over back in high school and college, only on paper. I played a game of trying to design better and better (higher efficiency = fewer parts)


Alexandria, Va.: Woz,

The story of you getting taken in by the Secret Service during your daughters gymnastics meet is hilarious. Do you still carry around sheets of $3 bills?

Steve Wozniak: I always carry my pads of $2 bill sheets - 4 specamins to a sheet, tearable like green stamps. They meet the specs of the U.S. government so by law they are legal tender. The fact that the Secret Service read my Miranda Rights after I was told that the bills were good bugged me so I gave them a phony ID that said "Laser Safety Officer" and I had an eyepatch in the photo.


Palo Alto, Calif.: Do you own an iPod? If so, what's on your favorite Playlist?

Steve Wozniak: Every iPod ever made. My life is heavy on music.

I have classical and jazz and hip-hop and country and folk and comedy and musicals. My tendency is toward a type of singer/songwriter stuff that would be called country or folk.

Next US Festival in the works for September, 2007 (25th anniversary)


Fairfax, Va.: I'm told you were quite a prankster at Homestead High School. That you invented a device to scramble a TV picture when the teacher put a video on for the class? True?

Steve Wozniak: sort of true. I used this TV Jammer my first year of college to get students in a dorm adjusting their limbs to make the TV work. They thought their body positions, even holding a hand over the TV screen, made it work. They never suspected another student with a jammer.


Glover Park, D.C.: Steve,

What's next?

What I mean is, the PC is ubiquitous and so are cell phones and iPods. So far gadgets have really only affected individual behavior, even though that behavior gets repeated over and over. When is technology going to change SOCIETY on the whole? And what will that look like?

(fingers crossed that it involves oversized Tetris and not, you know, Myspace.)

Steve Wozniak: A robot that is indistinguishable from a human.

Not going to happen in my lifetime.

Probably not before we have advanced technology enough to destroy ourselves.


Mount Airy, Md.: Steve, I just finished reading your book, iWoz. Very interesting and enjoyable read! Thanks for doing this chat!

I guess the biggest surprise from the book for me was thinking it's a wonder you ever worked for Apple at all.

Steve Jobs cheated you out of several hundred dollars when you finished the side job for Atari. Many of us would have written Jobs off and never had anything to do with him after that. What was your thinking in deciding to forgive Steve Jobs for cheating you out of money?

Also, you initially told Markkula that you would not quit your job at HP. It took many of your friends, after a call from Steve Jobs, to talk you in to quitting HP and going to work full time for Apple. Have you ever thought of how your life would be different if you had stayed at HP?

Steve Wozniak: I'm glad I left HP. I wasn't going to ever let money or the promise of money run my life. I knew who I was. I had to ask HP to do the computer even though I'd built it on my own time. I wanted to work at HP forever because of how respected engineers were there. So I turned down the money to start Apple until a friend convinced me that I didn't have to RUN the company.

I tried to do many things in my life that I would have done without Apple. I wish I weren't even known to tell you the truth. I got my college degree under a fake name. I taught 5th grade for 7 years, something I'd always planned to do. I didn't let Apple's success take me in business directions.

I got into the internet early enough to secure a 3-letter dot-com, But I see myself as a non-profit kind of person so I use instead.


Ben - Rosslyn, Va.: Steve,

Looking back at the development of personal computers in the 1970's and 1980's, who would have taken the helm if Apple didn't exist?

Steve Wozniak: I would guess Atari. The new machines had to be fanciful and have a 'fun' element to them. Atari would have taken longer but would have headed in this direction, I hope. At least the original Atari founders would have.


Philadelphia, Pa.: How did you manage to keep the book text as light and entertaining as your personal delivery? Please describe the mechanics.

Congrats to you and your writer.

/Apple II appreciator

Steve Wozniak: Thanks for congratulating Gina Smith. She had an illustrious history as a technology writer, radio host, and TV host and ran a division for Larry Ellison to make network computers. She included helpful bits that I didn't write myself, including a glossary, and really gave the book good direction.

My publishers wanted the book in my own voice. To do this I spoke into a tape recorder and Gina got the tapes transcribed and then she edited the pieces together and made sense of them. After all this, we went through each sentence to get some errors out and to make it sound like my speaking voice, not a finely written document. We succeeded. I know this because close friends say that it sounds just like me.


Mexico City: Why dont you get together again with Steve and destroy Microsoft???

Both are genius!!

Steve Wozniak: Steve Jobs doesn't need help in this.

Seriously, there are good people at Microsoft too.

It's better to work constructively, to make the computer world better, little steps at a time perhaps, for the users.


Washington, D.C.: Woz,

I was pretty young when the Apple // hit the market. Still, I can remember the day my dad brought it into the house. My mom derided him for spending so much money on "another toy" that he and I could play with. In the year or so after that, I remember writing programs from code published in magazines and following you and Steve at Apple the way most kids my age were following Spider Man. Looking back, it feels as though that time was a kind of a geek awakening. So first, thank you for bringing about a product that added so much to my childhood (oh, yea. And to the world, too). But have you ever thought about what a close call it was? How easy it would have been for the Apple to have failed to "catch on?" Do you think the PC alone would have inspired the kind of childhood creativity that the Apple // did, or would it have changed to meet those of us who flocked to the Apple instead?

Steve Wozniak: Designing the greatest computer was much easier than convincing the public that it had a place in homes. The press was very generous to us in this regard. We were very passionate to achieve this because the big computer companies said it wouldn't happen.


New Orleans, La.: Do you use a PC? (Non Mac)

Steve Wozniak: Rarely - usually to do something like install an upgrade to my portable XM Radio or to program a PIC microprocessor. But it's always been as little as possible for me. At one time I had real PC's to run networking and routing equipment and modem answering equipment that required them.

I also ran a Sun computer when I first got into the internet and couldn't yet do it on a Macintosh.


Anonymous: Hi Steve,

I am currently in AppleCare management and over the last 4 years due to the incredible growth we have experienced there has been the inevitable "big" business mentality at the higher level.

We would hate to lose the special environment that we all have experienced at Apple. Can you let Steve J know this and that it would be a shame to lose our previous culture and mind set.

Steve Wozniak: Could Apple develop the Apple today? Probably not, the same as HP couldn't see it when I offered.

On the other hand, Apple did develop the iPod. So there's a contradiction right away.


California: Hello Woz. Do you still go to "hacker clubs", as you did back in early ages? Keep on Wozing dude!


Steve Wozniak: No time for that now, but I love attending user groups. Sometimes I speak at hacker conventions and I truly love and respect the attendees.

I stopped going to the Homebrew Computer Club the day I left HP to do Apple for real. To me the club was about helping others for free and a company contradicted that.


Clifton Park, N.Y.: I just wanted to tell you that I named my new kitten Woz in your honor, thanks for being a genius. You're the man.

Steve Wozniak: THANK YOU SO MUCH. I have a god-puppy named Apple in Detroit that I've managed to see a couple of times and I use a photo of her as my desktop picture. I am a total pet lover.


Bethesda, Md.: Did you feel forced out of Apple, or was it a mutual decision by you and the company?

Steve Wozniak: I never left Apple totally. I still have a very small salary and am under an employment contract. Even when I started other small businesses I showed Apple first exactly what I was doing to keep the friendship and trust high. I want to be an Apple employee for life!


Botucatu, SP, Brazil: Thank you for existing!

Steve Wozniak: I hated this for decades. I could never understand why people wanted to shake my hand. I just did a good engineering job and my company should thank me for that. How unusual.

But last year I came to see why people like yourself feel this way. I was at a Berlin concert in California and I looked down on the dancing crowd in the dark and I imagined all these important people, politicians, sports figures, inventors, etc. If one of them had been instrumental in creating the personal computer, that one person would be my own hero. So now I kind of understand it.

I try to be a good symbol, as an example to others, particularly young people who like to make things, hardware or software.


Havertown, Pa.: Woz -

Why doesn't Apple go head to head against Microsoft by porting it's Operating System to the PC??

Steve Wozniak: Wouldn't work. It's not Apple vs. Intel, for example. Apple should improve the entire computer experience for users rather than spending that energy competing without improving things.


Arlington, Va.: Woz,

I dont think that you are as worried about technological singulairty as you ought to be.

Steve Wozniak: I'm not worried, but I disagree with you.


Maryland : Is the answer still 42?

Steve Wozniak: of course.

what a good number, 2 binary digits. I judge things by numbers. I don't judge a hotel room by the view, rather by the number. A hotel room like 427 is great because it's 2 squared and 3 cubed.


Chicago, Ill.: Word up, Woz. Do you read any Apple-focused blogs? If so, what are some of your favorites?

Steve Wozniak: I don't have time for blogs.

I used to subscribe to some Apple laptop forums where I offered help often. I subscribe to many Apple sites with RSS feeds.


Silver Spring, Md.: Had the pleasure of meeting you at the 2005 FIRST Robotics Championship in ATL. Thanks for your great support of that organization.

Question: Do you think the movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" was true to form? Did you have any input? Were you pleased with the results?

Keep up the great work, and let me know when you have an opening on the Segway Polo Team.

Steve Wozniak: That movie was very entertaining and covered the history that people really are the most interested in. The producers didn't talk to any of the principles. The had lots to draw from in the press for Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and, to some extent, myself.

Every event in the movie actually happened and had the meaning ascribed. But each event had to be fictionally created and imagined and the words and personalities are not accurate, but do portray the correct meaning to the events.


Reston, VA: Woz,

What exactly are you doing these days? A bit of this and that?

I've noticed that since you've left the daily grind of Apple, they've lost some soul. Including dumping the all too familiar rainbow apple for the generic black and white look.

Steve Wozniak: Along with other former Apple execs I'm part of a company Acquicor that went public in January and recently announced acquisition of a chip maker (Jazz) in Southern California. I am very excited about this. When I designed the early Apple computers (and GPS stuff more recently) it was always the chips that set the tone for producs a year or two later. That's where the changes in our products starts.


Washington, D.C.: To my idol,

I don't understand'

The computer business is a multi Billion dollar industry. Why aren't you in it. You are the reason why Michael Dell, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are geting all the money. You were the most powerful person in computers when it started back in the 70's and 80's. You should also be the most powerful person in computers in 2006. It's ok going back home in CA and becoming a regular citizen (teacher, etc.)But you belong back in computers. The computer industry needs the greatist computer tech geek in the world. You are my idol. Please get back into the computer world. Form your own company like Dell or form another comany similar like your old one (Apple/MAC)



Steve Wozniak: better to inspire geeks to feel good about who and what they are - they will lead us in the future technologies.

I was shy and didn't want to run things or have any of this glory. You won't find any exceptions to this view of mine.


Ocala, Fla.: Howdy Woz!

How was the Apple clone from Franklin different from say an early 1982 IBM PC clone like Compaq? The Apple clones died where IBM clones thrived.

Also, how do you feel about OS X on standard (non-Apple) x86 hardware? Are you in favor of this?

Steve Wozniak: The Franklin helped define computer copyright issues. They copied the Apple ][, not just the design but the PC board and all. I thought that engineers studied to leart how to make new things, not to run a copy machine. At one trade show I protested that they were selling something of my design without crediting me as the Chief Engineer. The press had gathered, so the President of Franklin said that "yes" I was their Cheif Engineer. I walked away happy.

Now I realize that I should have asked for my salary.


Martignacco, Italy: I recently visited an Apple museum and I had the privilege to use the Apple II and see other old machines. I'd like to know:

- which one you consider your best creation?

- you think that new products like the new intel based macs represent a true innovation?


Steve Wozniak: PC Magazine here rated the Apple ][ as the #1 PC of all time, the best.

I do believe that more people got more fun and learning and excetement from that computer than from modern ones. Everything you touched was revolutionary. It was so easy to devolop your own software or hardware, or better yet both, yourself. Even schoolkids started succesful companies and put themselves on the road to the carreer that they wanted.


Olney, Md.: Do you think your work has been more revolutionary than Kamen's Segway?

Steve Wozniak: Steve Jobs said to me that the Segway has only one basic thing that it does, whereas the personal computer can do any number of things that are of value.


Harrisburg, Pa.: As I am sure your painfully know, the only real money the Beatles made with their Apple Records was the money they received from Apple Computers because they had the name Apple first. How did you come up with the name Apple, and are you still glad you did?

Steve Wozniak: I picked Steve Jobs up at the San Francisco airport and he said that he had a name for our company, Apple Computer. My first comment back to him was that there was already Apple records (biggest thing in records at the time). Steve said they were a record company and we were a computer company and that was good enough for me. We were in our young 20's and a bit naive and a bit inexperienced and a bit risk-taking then. Thank heavens!


Milan, Italy: What do you think about the "iPhone"?

Keep thinking different, Woz!

Steve Wozniak: I hope it's real.

I'll have to try one.

I'm not satisfied with any of the smart phones yet. It's partly hard after the great Newton. But Apple may have a totally different way in which phones can be smart. I would expect it to have thought out what people really want to do with a phone/communication device and not let technology get in the way.


Vaso Corte Madera, Calif.: Please comment on the challenge of bringing the right mix of people together - i.e. you - Jobs - Markula ??

Steve Wozniak: As Apple really took off in the late '70's I wondered why us? Compared to the other startups with young people, we had a truly great team of people - legal, accounting, operations, marketing, engineering,...That was more important than having a good product. It leads to great products.


Ashburn, Va.: Do you still play games on the Apple II today? What was your all-time favorite Apple game?

Steve Wozniak: I play games on my Macintosh! But simple ones.

I loved the early adventure games, back when they fit on one floppy disk. I played about every Apple ][ game in fact.

I can't place any one game as my favorite on the Apple ][ (I could for arcade games). But one time I was in Chicago and got to meet this very young (17?) writer of Ultima, Lord British. I had read a story about how he totally lived this Dungeons and Dragons life and had devoloped his game out of that passion. When I met him my throat and my whole body tensed up and I couldn't even speak. He was like a GOD to me.


Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Hi Woz,

Do you think the DC area (or Boston or Austin or NC Triangle areas) will ever really rival Silicon Valley as being a destination for techies? It seems that while each 'tech area' of the US has some tech and entrepreneurial companies, Silicon Valley is still the king, despite the high housing prices, obscene traffic, etc. Or will the next Silicon Valley be overeas?

Steve Wozniak: You know, I looked at what I did and I could never say that it couldn't have been done about anywhere. Look at Bill Gates and Paul Allen - they started in New Mexico and now Seattle.

The silicon valley density of companies won't change overnight however. But I will point out that San Jose lost population, for the first time ever, a few years ago, due to the dot-com bomb.


Brookville, Ohio: When, do you think, computers will no longer look like computers? The keyboard, the box, the screen seems to me just like my Apple II plus I bought new many years ago?

Steve Wozniak: Ted Nelson or someone proposed a roll-up computer (screen and keyboard) to our Homebrew Computer Club and that idea always sticks with me. It's getting close to possible now.

I also have one of those laser keyboard projectors, the one the size of a salt shaker. What if it incorporated a small color laser projector for the display, or used touch-screen simulation. Then you'd have the entire computer in a salt shaker.

Did I hear "dry ice"?


Bethesda, Md.: You're a big Segway user - what does it need to gain a mass audience, like the way Apple has hooked people into its machines with it excellent engineering and style? In other words, what improvement could be made to the Segway to get more people buying them?

Steve Wozniak: I wish I knew a way to make the Apple ][ of Segways. I am glad that it's strong and durable and that costs money. They did recently reduce the manufacturing cost by $1500 but didn't pass it on to dealers or customers. Yikes, that high $5000 price is the biggest impediment.


Lorton Va.: Mr. Wozniak, the other night on Tavis Smiley, you said that we ought not have programs on desktops, that they ought to reside and be used from servers. I'm paraphrasing but you implied that having millions of desktops was a kind of stupid selfishnes, my wording is too strong.

I can't help but feel that your assessment is naive. With all the problems the programs and records I have are in my control not someone elses. If voting data can be easily manipulated, if credit card info and banking info can be accessed from inside or outside why should anyone trust others when it comes to computing?

What do you think of a computer user bill of rights: That software claims must be truthful or a fine will be imposed and money returned for example?


Steve Wozniak: We ought also to have sucurity. It boils down to trusting your providers.

Having my program running on a far-away machine doesn't necessarily worry me. I put my money in a far-away bank for example.

Why didn't the world wind up with PGP or something better standard on every email platform? When I send a paper letter I lick and seal the envelope and the recipient knows that nobody else has seen it. It's true that we users don't value sucurity and privacy enough yet.

Hmm, I could offer a service and capture all your account information. Better yet, I might seek it through the freedom of information act, since the government has at least scanned all your email and phone calls.


D.C.: Hi Woz--

Longtime fan!

Do you have an opinion on the Net Neutrality stupidity that seems to abound at the moment?

Steve Wozniak: Count me in.

I supported Net Neutrality after being implored to by some pretty outstanding people, but only after a long consideration.

I have always felt that products should be sold at all prices to capture the greatest audience and satisfy the most people.

But I also concluded that without Net Neutrality, big business would only find a way to shaft us. That's how most things like this actually go.

Still, someone has to explain net neutrality to me someday.


Steve Wozniak: Thank you all, I have to get to something else now.

I do apologize for slow typing. I used to be faster but that's how it goes.




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