Sunday, April 14, 2013


iWoz is Steve Wozniak's "brag" book. Humility is not one of his strong points. As a kid he was an "engineering nerd" who was way ahead of everybody else in math and technology. However, he was not so advanced socially. He saw himself as somebody who was interested in both people and technology. (Hmm... Don't all engineers think they have the "human touch", while others are dedicated engineers?)

At the start, we get the kids riding his bike around the orchards in southern Sunnyvale. He went to the (now shuttered) Serra school and Homestead high school. Most of the kids had stay at home moms and were free to do creative antics like create a local electronic intercom system. (Could all the programmed children activities be hurting the creative and education of children?) This silicon valley of the past most have been very different from that of today.

We hear about the science fairs he won, the pranks he pulled, his telephone phreaking, electronic gadgets and plenty of other "nerdy" activities that he did. Then he goes to school, does some pranks, decides to return to De Anza college, gets involved in the home brew computer scene and builds the Apple I. He was lucky to find stores that wanted it. Jobs was lucky to hook up with him and have a knack with people. He was lucky HP (his employer) didn't want part of it. They also tried to sell to Commodore, who didn't want it. He was serendipitously in the right place at the right time. Had he finished school in Colorado, he would probably be just another nameless engineer working at some big company. Had he and Jobs not hooked up, they would both be anonymous dudes. Another one of the many computer startups may have been the one that hit it big. Had they not emphasized quality over price, the ground would not have been set for the current premium model of iOS and mac devices. One thing he mentions is that "marketing" took over Apple pretty early in the company's history. This had started to alienate the "engineer" in him. (But it has ultimately led to the success of the company.) Even during the "dark days" when apple wasn't doing well, they were designing iPods, etc.

Woz wants you to think that he was a uber-engineer who was destined for engineering greatness. In reality, however, he seemed to just be lucky. After Apple, there none of his inventions had really caught on. (Who has used the CL-9 universal remote?) The Apple computer was revolutionary at the time. But he even mentions that he had created the equivalent of the Altair 5 years before it was released. If the Apple I (and Apple II) had not found the right customers, investors and partners, they could have been in the same place. His closing message is to encourage people to go solo and invent without the bureaucracy of a large corporation. However, the "behind the scenes" message is that invention itself isn't worth diddly-squat. You need to make sure the device gets out there and gets sold. Working for a company can leave you rather nameless, but more able to see the fruits of your labors. (Who knows who Jonathan Ive is? Yet, he is responsible for the design of most modern Apple products.)

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