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iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing Itby Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
Synopses & Reviews
The mastermind behind Apple sheds his low profile and steps forward to tell his story for the first time.
Before cell phones that fit in the palm of your hand and slim laptops that fit snugly into briefcases, computers were like strange, alien vending machines. They had cryptic switches, punch cards and pages of encoded output. But in 1975, a young engineering wizard named Steve Wozniak had an idea: What if you combined computer circuitry with a regular typewriter keyboard and a video screen? The result was the first true personal computer, the Apple I, a widely affordable machine that anyone could understand and figure out how to use.
Wozniak's life — before and after Apple — is a home-brew mix of brilliant discovery and adventure, as an engineer, a concert promoter, a fifth-grade teacher, a philanthropist, and an irrepressible prankster. From the invention of the first personal computer to the rise of Apple as an industry giant, iWoz presents a no-holds-barred, rollicking, firsthand account of the humanist inventor who ignited the computer revolution. 16 pages of illustrations.
"Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made his mark by designing some of the most efficient, even graceful, bundles of circuits the computing industry has seen. In his new memoir, 'iWoz,' he tries to explain how he accomplished that — and reveals that he doesn't write with nearly the same precision. At its best, the book shows 'Woz' to be a quirky, dedicated innovator who would have been a perfect... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) subject of one of Apple's 'Think Different' ads if only he hadn't helped start the company first. 'iWoz' opens with scenes from an idyllic middle-class childhood of reading kids' adventure books, playing sports and fiddling with wires and circuits. Wozniak expresses deep contentment at how he learned the finer points of electronics through his dad's gentle coaching and his own sometimes obsessive tinkering. Here's a typical grade school science fair project for him: a 'giant real-life electronic model representing what each of the ninety-two atoms in the periodic table looks like in terms of its electrons.' That same cleverness leads him to play a variety of pranks and gags in high school, college and afterward — for instance, rigging up a pocket-size gizmo to jam a TV set's reception, and running a dial-a-joke line out of his house. He also notes his evolving political thoughts and increasingly bitter arguments with his dad. But guessing whether or how the two reconciled is left as an exercise for the reader. The book reaches its highest altitude in recounting the extraordinarily creative period in the 1970s when misfit tinkerers like Wozniak invented the personal computer — even as the companies that ran the 'real' computer industry, such as Wozniak's employer, Hewlett-Packard, found ways to miss the whole thing. Wozniak and his partner Steve Jobs come off as a latter-day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, bouncing from one escapade to the next. They learn how to make free phone calls using 'Blue Boxes,' they develop the game Breakout for Atari (Wozniak says Jobs ripped him off on his share of the fee but expresses zero bitterness over it), and they team up to found Apple. Wozniak sells his HP-65 calculator and Jobs hocks his VW van to raise $1,000 to manufacture the first batch of Apple I circuit boards; they set the computer's list price at $666.66 — and the world is never the same. While chronicling these adventures, Wozniak tries with only intermittent success to explain the workings of things like logic gates and memory chips. You get what a big deal it was for him to hand-write the Apple I's software source code, but most nontechnical readers will get lost in his explanation of developing the Apple II's extraordinarily elegant floppy-disk circuitry. Wozniak's prose must bear some blame for that — and for the way too many of his other stories lose focus in this disorganized, underdone work. He writes in a relentlessly chatty manner, interjecting 'oh, man' and 'you know' and routinely advertising what he just said or will say next. (His collaborator Gina Smith's involvement is a mystery until the acknowledgments explain that her role was conducting the series of interviews that turned into the book.) The book's structure exhibits comparable ailments, often flitting from topic to topic without any clear reason. In a few cases Wozniak loses track of his own facts: First he says that in 1980, Apple became the first company to sell a million computers, but several pages later he exults that, in 1983, the Apple II 'was the first computer to sell a million units!' (Since Apple I sold only in the hundreds, both statements can't be true.) In a digression toward the end, Wozniak tosses out another impossibility in asserting that the old Mac system software was 'invulnerable' to viruses. After he crashed his plane on takeoff in 1981, Wozniak's active involvement with Apple all but ended — and so, at this point in the book, does much of its momentum. 'iWoz' tapers off into a series of vignettes about such later episodes as the two US Festival concerts he underwrote and a company he founded to make universal remote controls. Eventually, Wozniak moved on to teach a fifth-grade computer class — where he probably did more to inspire future engineering geniuses than this fitfully interesting book can." Reviewed by Rob Pegoraro, who writes the Fast Forward personal-tech column for the Business section, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Everyone should enjoy Woz's very personal and engaging story....What a wild ride!" Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of Singularity Is Near
"Every engineer — and certainly every engineering student — should read this book….It is, in a nutshell, the engineer's manifesto." Guy Kawasaki, author of The Macintosh Way
"Worth waiting for…adds intriguing new information to the history of the origins of the personal computer revolution." Alan Deutschman, author of The Second Coming of Steve Jobs
"'The Woz' built the first [personal computer]--by hand, by himself."--USA Today
Before slim laptops that fit into briefcases, computers looked like strange vending machines, with cryptic switches and pages of encoded output. But in 1977 Steve Wozniak revolutionized the computer industry with his invention of the first personal computer. As the sole inventor of the Apple I and II computers, Wozniak has enjoyed wealth, fame, and the most coveted awards an engineer can receive, and he tells his story here for the first time.
About the Author
Steve Wozniak has been inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Technology and the Heinz Award. He lives in California.
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