POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

iWoz - Curiosity, Pranks, and the Making of the Computer


iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It
W. W. Norton - September 25, 2006

I just finished reading the new autobiography of Steve Wozniak, the man who is credited with launching the personal computer revolution in the mid 1970s.  The book was a fun read which flowed pretty fast.  Seeing the early days of a huge cultural story develop is very interesting to me.  Normal people, who dream, care, try, and develop their God given abilities (even if they deny God gave them) are always those who change the world.  The very fact that I sit here typing on a keyboard, looking at characters on a screen is due to this man's labor to understand how electrons move through logic gates to make calculations.  Reading this book brought me back to my undergraduate days where I took digital electronics, laid out cricuit boards, created finite state machines, and even dabbled a bit in Motorolla assembler.  It reminds me that large problems, broken down into their smallest parts, and then executed at incredible speeds can simulate all matter of things.  Most people see computers as exceedingly complex.  The men who invented them saw them as very simple.  Simple in that if you got one part of a system to work logically, knowing its inputs and outputs, you could add complexity to do amazing things. 

To put into perspective some of the things "Woz" did is pretty amazing. 

  • First, he was able to create video games in hardware - to wire up electronics to create arcade games which would play on your TV. 
  • He was the first ever to have add a typewriting keyboard to a computer and have its input reflected on a monitor.
  • He created the code to operate these devices
  • He created the version of the Basic programming language to run on the first Apple PCs
  • He designed a system to integrate the newly invented "floppy disk" drive into PCs allowing them to store programs to run again at a later time.  This may not sound huge, but many of us do not realize the way it used to be.  You would turn on your computer and have to type in the entire program (could take an hour or so) before running it.  After turning it off...it was gone and you would have to type it all in again to run it the next day.
  • He added comptuer graphics to the PC with the Apple II - a run away success in the early 1980s

Woz is shown as a playful man with a heart for humanity - always thinking technology is there to help humanity.  He is a bit too optomistic perhaps about technology, saying early in the book that he thinks technology is "always good" for people.  I would want to qualify that statement quite a bit in light of some of the technological tragedies and atrocities (chernobyl and the atomic bomb come to mind).  He is the consumate prankster always desiring to make others laugh. I have heard him a few times on TWIT finding him to be very fun to listen to.

His highest pursuit in life seems to be "being happy" with true happiness being doing what you love to do - no more, no less. This seemed a bit simple in light of the fact that most people in the world  just try to eat each day...to say nothing of "doing what you love."  Themes of religion and meaning to life are touched periodically yet superficially, but the big questions of life and the universe are skimmed over.  

All facets of his life are covered.  School days, science fair rock star acclaim at a very young age, high school ingenuity and electronics guru, forrays in and out of college, marriages and divorces, Apple successes and failures, a plane crash, the creation of large concert events, early ideas on a universal remote control for media devices, and time as a school teacher.  As much as happiness is exalted in this book, I always sensed that it was eluding Steve Wozniak.  It always seemed to be something external to him causing him problems.  Decisions at Apple, wives who don't get him, and relationships which don't resolve. 

Overall Wozniak did see his work as having a huge significance, as one who understood he was changing our world.  There is almost a tone of providential leading under the surface, though I do not know if he would acknowledge as such.  The sheer wonder of all that has happened in the world of computers is due in part to a community of curious American kids.  I do pray that the youth of our country would find science, knowledge, and learning interesting once again; I was attracted by his voracious desire to understand how certain things work. 

During his college days he mentioned his association with a guy who was a Christian; he seemed attracted to how this guy lived the gospel.  My prayer for Woz is that he would again look at Jesus, the one who created the electrons which conduct and tunnel around the circuit boards, and see that there is much more going on under the surface of this universe and have the desire to ask some probing existential questions about the nature of his own soul.

I highly recommend it - especially if you have any background in computers.