"iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon"
(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JUN 8, 2008)
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but that day, Sunday, June 29, 1975 was pivotal. It was the first time in history anyone had typed a character on a keyboard and seen it show up on their own computer’s screen right in front to them.”
Steve Wozniak’s autobiography, iWoz, is not only an interesting account of his life, but also a good history of the early days of personal computers. Steve, as many people know, is one of the founders of Apple Computers and the designer of the very popular Apple II computer, the first personal computer to sell over 1 million. The book makes it clear that Steve Wozniak is a very smart man and a great computer innovator especially as calculators, video games and computers were beginning and evolving very quickly in the 1970’s and 1980’s. At times, however, he does come across as having a big ego as he describes his ability and contributions not only in his technical contributions but in teaching and setting up concerts. He also tries to set the record straight on his relationship with Apple Computers. Although the book is written at a fairy low level for readability in general, the technical aspects are at times a bit complex and boring, even for me, an engineer who has had college level basic electrical engineering classes.
Much of the first half of the book is spent on Steve Wozniak’s early life before forming Apple Computers. Steve’s father is an engineer and his mother is a stay-at-home mom. Steve attributes his humor to his mother and his technical ability to his engineer father. His father was always encouraging Steve to learn and helped him with his early electronics work and science fair entries that often won. Although early in Steve’s school life he was more popular, athletic and outgoing, as he reached puberty he became more shy and reserved, preferring friends who shared his interests in electronics.
The next part of the book – where Steve describes his life in and out of college as he works for various computer companies -- is, to me, the most interesting. Steve takes several years and a couple of different colleges before he graduates. During this time in the 1970’s, he meets many early pioneers of the design and evolution of the personal computer, many through the Homebrew Computer Club. During these early years, Steve Wozniak designs computers on paper and ultimately with real parts. Before finally graduating from college, Steve works for Hewlett-Packard (from age 22 to 26) primarily on the early HP calculators (which were fairly popular calculators during the mid to late 1970’s). Steve wanted to work on computers for HP, but despite his success outside of HP, they were not interested in having him help them. During his time at HP, but on his own, Steve developed what would become the Apple I computer even doing some work off-hours at HP. Surprisingly (and regrettably in hindsight by HP), he is given a release from HP for his design and ultimately he leaves HP to form Apple Computers with Steve Jobs.
The book does not really spend much time on Steve Wozniak’s career at Apple. Steve makes it clear that he prefers to work alone and although he obviously became a very rich man, he was never in management and was often not happy with how Marketing tried to control the design of computers (which reminded me of some scenes in the Dilbert comic strip). Steve does stress though that although he left his full time engineering position at Apple, that he has remained an employee and still represents them at times.
Steve Wozniak does provide other parts of his life in the book, his failed marriages, his children, his losses from major concerts he organized and his teaching. These are somewhat interesting and provide a little more understanding of Steve’s life.
Although two of my children now have Apple computers, I never have had one and was a bit of an anti-Apple person at one point. However, I became interested in reading this book after listening to Steve Wozniak as a guest DJ on XM radio channel 15. He was very interesting and shared some of my same interests in music. I actually found him more interesting in that two hour or so show than what was presented in the book. In the book, he seems to try too hard to seem humble while still saying “I did this and I did that.” I’m sure he’s a genius and definitely an innovator, but this constant reminder of what he did distracts from what is really an interesting book on the early days of personal computers.
- Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It (September 2006) (written with Gina Smith)
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- Official website for iWoz and Woz.org
- The Age article on Steve Wozniak
- Wikipedia page for Steve Wozniak
- Wired interview on iWoz
- Guy Kawasaki review of iWoz
- The New York Times review of iWoz
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About the Author:
Steve Wozniak born in 1950 and grew up in Sunnyvale, California. He is a co-founder of Apple Computer and helped shape the computing industry with his design of Apple’s first line of products the Apple I and II and influenced the popular Macintosh.
For his achievements at Apple Computer, Steve was awarded the National Medal of Technology by the President of the United States in 1985, the highest honor bestowed America’s leading innovators. In 2000 he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and was awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for Techonology, The Economy and Employment for “single-handedly designing the first personal computer and for then redirecting his lifelong passion for mathematics and electronics toward lighting the fires of excitement for education in grade school students and their teachers.”
Making significant investments of both his time and resources in education, Wozniak “adopted” the Los Gatos School District, providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment. Wozniak founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose .
Steve is currently a member of the board of directors for Jacent, a developer of cost-effective telephony solutions, and Danger, Inc., developer of an end-to-end wireless Internet platform.
Gina Smith is one of the best-known science and technology journalists in America today. As the former technology correspondent for ABC News, she has reported on stories for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Nightline with Ted Koppel, 20/20, Good Morning America, and This Week with Sam Donaldson. Her award-winning column, "Inside Silicon Valley," chronicled the world of tech for the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner for a dozen years. Her sci-tech columns and stories have also appeared in such diverse publications as The Los Angeles Times, Wired, Popular Science, Upside, Glamour, and The Hollywood Reporter. Her weekly radio show, On Computer with Gina Smith, has reached millions of households in the United States and overseas, via the Armed Forces Radio Network.
Smith's far-reaching work translating science topics in plain-English has earned her a number of awards, including a first place in investigative journalism from the Computer Press Association. She has been included in Upside's "Technology Elite 100" and in the San Jose Mercury News' "Top Movers and Shakers in Silicon Valley." An in-demand public speaker at technology forums, conferences, and conventions, she currently serves on the Board of Councilors at the University of Southern California School of Engineering.
She is the author of The Genomics Age among other books.