Great Lakes Geek Book Review

iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon:
How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It
by Steve Wozniak with Gina Smith

So I am a few years late.

I finally got around to listening to the unabridged audio version of iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It

It's the 2006 autobiography of Steve Wozniak written with Gina Smith.

I always liked Woz. Especially when compared to the other Apple Steve. Woz was the engineer, the science guy, the geek. Jobs was the slick marketer.

It was fun to hear the stories and experiences of young Steve Wozniak. His dad was an engineer so he had early exposure and lessons on circuits and other engineering subjects. Though showing his brilliance early in school and science fairs, he was also a regular little boy. He loved adventure stories like Tom Swift, ham radio and playing complicated pranks on and with his pals.

Born in 1950, he came of age at the perfect time for a kid with engineering talent and interest.

Woz said that ever since 5th grade, he wanted to be a 5th grade teacher. And sometimes it sounds like he is writing the book for an audience of young people interested in changing the world.

He tells stories of the famous Homebrew Computer Club and his time working at Hewlett-Packard. He loved HP and fully expected to stay there for life. He called it the greatest job in the world for an engineer.

He tells how he accidentally picked up an issue of his mother's Esquire magazine and saw an article about phone phreaking. He soon built his own blue boxes and with younger pal Steve Jobs sold some and met their idol, Captain Crunch.

I thought he spent too much time talking about a few of his pranks like his TV jammer that he wreaked havoc with at college. But he states that pranks are a big part of who he is so his Dial-a-Joke stories and Blue Box escapades are part of what makes him Woz.

Steve Wozniak - The Woz

Everything is told through an engineer's eyes. He was always striving for elegant designs and the fewest chips possible whether it was the Breakout game he developed as a moonlight project in 4 days for Atari or the Apple II.

The details and timeline that Woz describes in creating the Apple I and II make it evident that he was the sole creator of these revolutionary devices. Steve Jobs was on board for the marketing, sales and creation of Apple but it was Woz alone who built the design, boards and eventual systems of those first personal computers.

Woz loved the early developers who wrote software or created hardware boards for the Apple II. I believe that if he had his way, Apple would not be the closed company that it became controlling all aspects (hardware,software, peripherals) of their products. They probably would have surpassed the IBM PC if they had followed that path.

He stresses throughout the book that he just wants to be an engineer and do cool stuff rather than be a manager or company executive. In fact he was reluctant and sad when he and Steve Jobs found Mike Markkula to run Apple. Markkula told them that Apple would be a Fortune 500 company within five years and demanded that Woz leave HP. He reluctantly left after deciding that he could still be an engineer at Apple and not management.

Woz is still an Apple employee, receiving a small salary. Despite claims, he never really quit or was fired. He was especially loyal to and proud of his Apple II team which he feels was treated poorly by the Lisa/Macintosh division.

He recounts their visit to Xerox PARC where he and Jobs first saw a graphical user interface, mouse and other ideas that would become standards.

He started another company, CL 9, because he wanted to create another revolutionary device. Basically it was a universal remote. But he had to leave CL 9 shortly after it began. He says that the CL 9 era was the only really big falling out he ever had with Steve Jobs.

The book recounts how many thought Steve Jobs was disloyal when he quit Apple or were surprised at the $400 million order that Jobs' Next company got from Apple. But in general he is fair to Jobs, praising his marketing skills and charisma. But the products that saved Apple, such as the iMac and iPod, were already in development when Steve Jobs returned to the company but Jobs' stage presence reinvigorated the Apple faithful.

He spends some time talking about his US Festival rock concerts and his personal life. One scary incident was when he crashed his plane and had no memory of the incident. In fact, for the next 6 weeks he was unable to form any new memories. Then suddenly he was better.

He peppers advice for young engineers, scientists and inventors throughout the book and at the conclusion. He tells them to follow their instincts and to work alone. He says that great things don't get done by committees or project teams.

And though he is well versed in binary, he advises us to see things in grayscale, not black and white.

It's a fun read especially if you can relate to the young boy reading science fiction, eager to discover what makes the world tick.

Great Lakes Geek Rating:4 out of 5 pocket protectors.

Reviewed by Entreprenerd Dan Hanson, the Great Lakes Geek

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