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The great and powerful Woz.

Steve Wozniak interviewed in 1982

October 8th, 2018 10:33 AM
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Steve Wozniak has given many interviews about the old days of inventing the Apple II and working with Steve Jobs. But back when the old days weren't yet old, Woz was interviewed by Michael Harrison, who hosted the Harrison's Mic talk radio show on KMET in Los Angeles, 1975–1986. Harrison has since transitioned from radio to podcast, and he's now re-aired this 1982 interview as an episode of his podcast, The Michael Harrison Interview. The episode is 33 minutes long, with the 1982 interview beginning at 4:49. It's a fascinating opportunity to draw parallels between Woz's observations and predictions, and the culture that eventually arose.

The Michael Harrison Interview on PodcastOne

Woz wastes no time in sharing his insights into how the Apple II created a new generation of entrepreneurs:

It's really amazing to find how many 16-year-olds in high school right now are making more money than even anybody's parents in the schools are making… They've gone and written a program for a personal computer, like a game, a popular game, or a Rubik's cube program, or a chess program, and they'll market it through some of the companies that have sprung up to sell these programs, and good ones sell like hotcake… I don't know a single one that's as old as I. I'm 32. All the very popular names that are coming up, they're almost all 16, 18.

This echoes Tim Enwall at Misty Robotics, who recently attributed the success of the Apple II to this third-party innovation:

Apple didn't create or find VisiCalc. Based on the Apple II providing a relatively affordable, sufficiently powerful, and easily enough programmed platform, VisiCalc found it.

Woz also predicted the ubiquity of personal computers:

Harrison: Do you see that spreading to all of society in 10–20 years, where we're all going to become electronics freaks?

Woz: Oh, no. No. Not at all… We all have TVs. We all have Hi-Fis. And we're not TV freaks or Hi-Fi freaks or car freaks. But there's going to be a lot more exposure to it. It'll be commonplace.

This is the same thing Leigh Alexander meant during GamerGate when she wrote, "'Gamers' don't have to be your audience. 'Gamers' are over." — not that an audience or culture was dead, but that it had become so pervasive as to be meaningless. We can all enjoy a good game, computer, or recipe without being a programmer, engineer, or chef; you don't have to understand what's happening under the hood to appreciate the results.

Speaking of electronic games, Woz expressed some concerns about this emerging medium:

It's great when it's fun and it's a game, but you can get very intense into it, just like some people get into football very intensely and wind up hitting the TV set. When you take a game very seriously, it can be very addicting and result in a lot of negative behavior… We don't have any evidence, but we know it. We know that it's a problem.

I was surprised and disappointed to hear Woz take such a strong stance while admitting there's no evidence to support it. We live in a society that often ignores or contradicts scientific evidence when it contradicts our "common sense". Of course, at the dawn of personal computing, there was little evidence one way or the other; nowadays, I hope any opinion Woz has now was arrived after reviewing the available resources.

Did you learn anything new in this interview? Was the Woz of 1982 much different from the Woz of today? Leave a comment with your reactions below!

(Hat tip to Talkers)

Wax Woz

April 4th, 2016 8:24 AM
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On April 1, Apple Inc. turned forty. From humble beginnings sprang an empire, born of the genius and passion of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. While the company and products have long been celebrated, and Steve Jobs' legacy has been lauded with books and movies, Steve Wozniak has not gotten his fair share of credit and attention.

Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum, aims to fix that by adding Woz to the collection, alongside Jobs and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Over 350 measurements were taken by the Tussauds staff to create as accurate a representation of the Apple co-founder as possible.

The final figure was revealed last month at Silicon Valley Comic-Con:

The decision to create a wax Woz was made by fans. "Wozniak earned the highest number of votes when the public was asked to choose who among the Bay Area tech innovators should be the next figure to be immortalized in wax," reports Menchie Mendoza. "Other finalists in the voting include Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Edwin Catmull of Pixar, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Larry Page of Google, George Lucas of Lucasfilm, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Jane Metcalfe of Wired Magazine and Frank Oppenheimer of Exploratorium."

Meeting the Woz's waxy double is no substitute for the real thing — for that, you need to go to KansasFest and hope for the best. But it's good to see at least one medium grant the Woz the same recognition Jobs has earned.

Steve Wozniak's Formative AMA

March 21st, 2016 11:39 AM
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Steve Wozniak may be a rambling storyteller, but he still has stories to tell. All he needs is structure and editing — which social news site reddit recently provided when Woz participated in their original video series:

FORMATIVE aims to explore one defining moment in a person’s life. We’ll sit down with eight creators utilizing technology: travel back in time to when that moment occurred, hear about the circumstances surrounding it in their own words, then return to present day and see how it has influenced their lives.

As part of a series of origin stories, Formative focuses on Woz's early partnership with Steve Jobs, debunking the myth that Apple was founded in a garage but also relating the passion and enthusiasm he had for digital computing. I never knew that Woz didn't see his future in this field — not due to lack of interest or confidence, but because the field was so new, he didn't know it could be anything more than a hobby. It was inspiring to know that one of our heroes found his passion before it became his career.

Complementing the release of the video, Woz hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA), which uses the reddit message board as a live chat wherein anyone can submit questions for the host. Over the course of a few hours, Woz answered nearly two dozen questions, ranging from the FBI-Apple encryption dispute to "Outback vs In-n-out?" Two of my favorites:

Q: Even though you left in 1985, what was your relationship with the company like after, and how has that changed compared to now? Are you, for example, allowed to go and visit any colleagues that still work there or are you simply another outsider?

A: … I always was on good terms with Apple and they always liked me, I'm always welcome. I could come by, Steve Jobs would always make sure I had a badge that could get me into any building. I didn't use it much, but I can go there. The only trouble is I'll get mobbed.

Q: Who was the first person to call you 'Woz'?

A: … I found out later in life that almost every Wozniak gets the nickname Woz over time. Their friends just start calling them that. My uncle is Uncle Woz. My son, his friends call him Woz, and I turn to my kid and I realize they’re talking to Gary instead. So it goes back. It's just nice.

Among the more fun answers were also some meatier ones open to analysis. Minda Zetlin of Inc. interpreted one of Woz's responses as him being out of touch with what makes modern-day Apple. Inc so great: "Woz is an uber-geek, and there's a common mistake most geeks make: They think technological capability is all that matters. They don't care about design, usability, or marketing — three areas where Steve Jobs's genius really shone through."

No wonder Woz is a hero to the Apple II community: design is important, but we're more hackers than consumers, interested on what's inside than in how it looks.

Between the video and the AMA, there's a lot of insightful, focused, original commentary from Apple's legendary co-founder. As much as we think we know everything about Woz, he always has something new to share.

Dinner with Woz

March 7th, 2016 12:22 PM
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Steve Wozniak is a helluva nice guy. He'll share the same anecdotes in a stream of consciousness, but he'll rarely say a bad word about anyone or anything. He is also, as you know, a complete and utter genius, without whom there'd be no Apple Inc., Apple-1, Apple II, KansasFest, or Juiced.GS.

How much would you pay to spend an hour in the company of such a person — not just to hear him speak on stage at a conference, but to have his ear and his wisdom for an hour?

The current bid is $5,100 in this eBay auction for dinner with Woz. If you can get yourself and three friends to Silicon Valley, you can have the opportunity to dine with the co-founder of Apple.

It's not unusual for celebrities to donate their time and talent to charities. In this case, Woz is doing it as a favor for his friend, Matt Spergel: "The proceeds of this auction will benefit East Bay Live Music, a new type of live music promotional service which aspires to provide musicians with an easier way to make a living doing what they love. Once funds are raised, it will be taken to market."

But wait — there's more!

ChampagneWinning bidder will also receive a one-of-a-kind unopened bottle of wine from the Apple IPO party which can be signed at dinner by Woz. This bottle was originally given to Marty Spergel by Steve Jobs, a business partner of Apple Computer in its early history. Winner must be at least 21 years of age to receive this bottle.

This auction is a bit rich for my blood — it's already more than twice than what the Castle Wolfenstein painting, which I bid on, went for. But I hope whoever wins makes it an evening to remember!

(Hat tip to David Pierini)

Reviving the 8-Bit Generation

January 4th, 2016 3:04 PM
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In February 2012, I heard of an upcoming computer documentary called 8-Bit Generation. As it was scheduled to ship imminently, I paid to preordered a copy to review in Juiced.GS. But the ship date came and went, no DVDs shipped, and emails to the director went unanswered. I learned that October that some customers had received refunds, but I was not one of the lucky ones.

Jason Scott saw the bigger picture: what we'd lost was not just a few preorders, but an impressive collection of documentary footage with industry founders and luminaries that may now never see the light of day. As a director himself of such invaluable productions as GET LAMP and BBS: The Documentary, Scott understood the trials of creating such a product and the value of seeing it through to the end.

Thanks in no small part to Scott's empathy and support, the film's producers came out of hiding and sought to finally finish what they'd begun. A successful Kickstarter this past fall produced the necessary funds to see the film through to completion. An email from the project manager assured me that those who have not yet received refunds from the original preorder will eventually receive the documentary. So instead of backing the project at a level that would get me the DVD, I backed the Kickstarter for $1 to get access to any backer-only updates.

The film still isn't done, and the last Kickstarter update is from two months ago, but I've seen enough to now believe that this film exists and will become a finished product. Bil Herd, a former Commodore engineer, will be the narrator, and interviews with the elusive (and now deceased) Jack Tramiel will be donated to the Internet Archive and the Computer History Museum.

Here's an example of a familiar story told in stunning HD quality:

I've never had the ambition or talent to create a documentary and don't envy those who would tackle such a challenge. I believe this time, they'll prove worthy of the faith that's been shown in them.

Erasing the Apple II

December 14th, 2015 11:31 AM
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We all know the history of Apple Computer Inc. (now Apple Inc.), and how its first products were the Apple-1 and Apple II, designed primarily by Steve Wozniak. The Apple II was the company's cash cow up to and well after the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, as has been documented in interviews with John Sculley and represented in films such as Steve Jobs.

While Woz laid the foundation for Apple, it was Steve Jobs who built upon it; now, so many generations of products removed from the Apple II, it's easier to think of Apple as Jobs' company more than Woz's. And apparently, that perception is not only just fine by Apple — the company is actively encouraging it. Starting with the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 8, 2015, all Apple press releases close with this tagline:

"Apple revolutionized personal technology with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984."

That's a true statement, and from a marketing perspective, it's sensible to reference a product that's still on the market. But it also starts in the middle of the story, ignoring the genius of "the other Steve" and the products that launched an enterprise.

It's not news that Apple abandoned the Apple II — in fact, the last Apple press release to mention the Apple II at all was June 22, 2010. But for this new tagline to eliminate seven years of its history from press releases seems deceptive. Should Apple take a step back and publicly acknowledge its heritage?

(Hat tips to Sam Varghese and Darrick Deel)