Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Woz: the Attribution Stump Speech
December 5th, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena
When somebody runs for public office, they usually have several stump speeches that can be trouped out in front of the appropriate audience: “I’m very pro-labor” when the candidate’s standing in front of a manufacturing facility. “I believe government should be pro-business” when they’re standing in front of the Chamber of Commerce.
In recent years, I’ve heard Steve Wozniak speak numerous times and to me it seems he has at least 2 different stump speeches: “Technology is wonderful and is changing the world for the better” when talking at the Computer History Museum. “Steve Jobs made a lot of money off of things I invented” when talking in front of engineers at DAC, or a bunch of well-heeled suburbanites as he did this week at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night.
The Steve Jobs bit probably plays well in front of engineers who often feel under-appreciated, or sense that Sales & Marketing makes more than their share of the winnings from intellectual property developed and refined by Design & Engineering. The Steve Jobs bit may not play so well, however, in front of mid-Peninsula suburbanites who drive late-model BMWs, Mercedes and the odd Tesla here and there, never chew with their mouths open, and passionately want their children to behave, excel on their SATs, and go to Ivy League schools. These people believe in Steve Jobs – they all carry iPhones and, more importantly, all believe in the money they’ve earned by investing in Apple here in the new millennium.
Wozniak is an interesting speaker – almost frenetic – and from the get-go offered his 1500+ person audience on December 4th a stream-of-consciousness data dump that started by explaining that geeks such as himself who are shy and weird have different definitions of fun, that he’s moving to Australia, and that he had 8 vials of blood drawn for a health exam this week, but had trouble producing a urine sample. He also let us know that his past hi-jinx have included the use of good printers to produce fake IDs, $2 bills that are valid currency, and small stickers for airplane bathrooms that say, “Do not Flush over Cities.”
We learned that in his youth Woz got late-night access to the IBM 360 at De Anza College by getting somebody to duplicate the security key for him, and that the grades you get in school are never a reflection of your knowledge – just a reflection of how much rote learning you’ve mastered, so you can regurgitate it on exams.
Woz told us he met Steve Jobs in high school – hard to understand, as Wozniak was born in 1950 and Jobs in 1955 – and that the two of them repeatedly made money off of things that Woz had invented. They also did a lot of cool hi-jinx stuff together, including unfurling a big banner over the wall of the high school to welcome parents to graduation that included an oversized rendering of the internationally recognized symbol of the middle finger.
We learned that Wozniak was a huge Bob Dylan fan, that Jobs merely liked to listen to pleasant music and ergo liked the Beatles, and that “the movies get it all wrong” with regards to who liked what and when – those “movies” being the current spate of biopics lionizing the mythology of Steve Jobs.
Woz told us, “I had a strong ethical background” and hence did not like student debt, so before each academic year at U.C. Berkeley, he spent a year earning the money to pay his tuition. While he was enrolled at Berkeley, however, the hi-jinx continued including bringing cherry bombs into his dorm on campus, because “naughty minds are creative minds [whereas] academics train you to [stay] on a track. Free thinking, however, allows you to go off the rails.”
We heard about the famous beeping box that Wozniak invented that allowed him and his pal Jobs to make endless phone calls by gaming the pay-phone systems of the day. They “bamboozled” lots of phone systems – and phone system employees – and then Wozniak got hired at Atari, where “Steve Jobs was never a designer of hardware or software.”
Nonetheless, Atari suggested to Jobs that if he could produce a more efficient chip-set design in just 4 days, they’d pay cold hard cash. When Jobs proposed to Wozniak that he do the design to earn said cash for the both of them, Woz lamented that the assignment would take months, not days, but Jobs insisted.
So after 4 sleepless days and nights, Woz produced the winning design and Jobs took payment on the deliverable from Atari. Jobs paid Woz half of the reported $700 reward – in other words, $350 – but 12 years later, a then-employee of Wozniak’s read Jobs’ autobiography and let Woz know that the Atari reward 12 years earlier had actually been thousands of dollars, not hundreds.
In and around this infamous anecdote, we learned that Steve Jobs’ sister Patty was, at one point in her life, short on cash and asked her brother to give her a computer for free. Jobs refused, so Wozniak coughed up some money, bought the computer and gave it to Patty.
We also learned that early in his career, Wozniak became deeply involved in the Homebrew Computer Club based in Silicon Valley during which time he designed his own terminal that predated everything Internet. Even the Arpanet, per Woz, was only in its infancy, so his invention was a thing of wonder. More importantly, his motivations were pure: “I wanted little geeks [like me] to feel empowered, important, and masters of their own fate. I wanted to supply the social [nutrient to help them connect with others.]”
Again setting the record straight, it was Wozniak who first took Steve Jobs to the Homebrew Computer Club, not vice versa as is claimed in those darn movies. In those first 5 years when they were hanging out together, per Woz, “We took my ideas [again and again] and turned them into money.”
Then Woz gave an abbreviated history of Apple. Here’s my CliffNotes version of his version: The Mac was weak, but the Apple I and Apple II were not.
In conclusion, Woz told us that “engineers like functionality” and Wozniak is an engineer. “Apple [on the other hand] likes style.”
And finally, “Steve Jobs was always embarrassed that he didn’t understand the technology.”
During Q&A after he was done with his formal presentation, Woz was asked why he is moving to Australia. He said he could have moved somewhere cool like New Zealand, but he got an email from someone in Australia asking him to move there, so he decided on that instead.
p.s. Steve Wozniak never, ever did drugs …
The San Mateo Performing Arts Speakers Series is widely attended, and in fact is sold out for the 2013-2014 season.
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