Atari

About Atari

in
Comment from E-mail

I was just curious about what you did for Atari? I've heard that Steve Jobs had worked there and was using you for chip consolidation on the Breakout arcade game. I was curious if this is true and what all you did for Atari?

Woz

I did design Breakout for Atari, in very few chips. Steve got me to do it in 4 days which is unbelievable for hardware. We both stayed up all night for 4 nights in a row and barely finished it. While Steve wirewrapped my design and it's changes, I would go onto the factory floor and play all night, for free, the first driving arcade game, GRAN TRACK 10. I got so good that years later, when I'd moved to Scotts Valley, I found a pizza parlor with that game and a free pizza for a score over 36. I could easily do this and after two free pizzas they took the game out.

I worked at Hewlett Packard. I had designed my own version of Pong with very few chips and the Atari people saw it and offered me a job. But I loved HP too much.

About Steve Jobs

in
Comment from E-mail

What's your opinion on how Steve Jobs ripped you off with the whole blockout game at Atari?

Woz

It's a small thing in most regards. It hurt me because we were like best friends and I would have done it for free to help him out anyway.

The Apple ][ colour controller

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Comment from E-mail

I was reading slashdot.org today and I saw someone had posted this comment. Is this true? > "Actually, the Apple ][ color controller was an accident! They didn't know it was generating colour until one day they connected it to a colour monitor, rather than a Black&White one, and to their surpise, it was colour...so Woz had to reverse engineer his system to figure out how to control it's colour capabilities."

Woz

That is so so untrue. I dreamed up the method of using pixels on a color TV screen, based on an exact multiple of the color subcarrier frequency, while constructing a [hardware] game for Atari around 1974. I based my [monochrome] 1975 Apple I design on this frequency, intending to add color ability to it later. When I got down to adding the color, I came up with so many circuit optimizations that I designed the Apple ][ instead.

I used such a simple, patented, scheme to generate color that the circuitry doesn't show any direct evidence. It's as though you'd have the same number of chips to generate the video, even without color. But you'd have a tough time explaining a chip or two that gated the color subcarrier frequency during part of the horizontal blanking. It can't be passed off as an accident. Not to mention that you could never even 'see' color on a TV without this subcarrier reference.

Did you actually play a 2600?

in
Question from E-mail

Just wondering, Woz... Did you actually play a 2600 in the hospital after the crash? If not, why do you think the writers placed on ein there? Also, I noticed that the game on the film was nothing like any 2600 game I've ever seen-- could that be due to any refusal by Atari/Hasbro to place a real 2600 game in there?

Woz

I have no memories of my hospital stay, but I have seen pictures of myself playing games on my Apple ][. I've never played a game on a 2600. I think that I was playing the first ever "Choplifter" game around this time.

Friends tell me that I had them sneak in pizza and milkshakes to the hospital. I can't remember the hospital food, but I'm sure it was bad and I'm sure that this is a true story.

The Breakout Atari project

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Comment from E-mail

I just read that the Breakout Atari project was a scam and that you didn't know it until you read about it in a book on a plane. It say's you were hurt by it (I would be too) deeply. It shows you are a forgiving person to let that slide then, and to seemingly harbor no bad will toward Jobs now.

Woz

That's my approach to all of life's conflicts and setbacks. I'm very forgiving and it would give me a worse feeling head if I kept sadness inside. Better to forgive and forget and remain friends. Good things can come out of that.

Linux, FreeBSD, BeOS, etc...

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Question from E-mail

First I want to say thank you, not just for your contributions as an engineer but for serving as a valuable role model as well. My personal experiences with computers evolved from the C64's to Apple IIe's, Windows then UNIX (several varieties) and now I feel as though I found the perfect OS with Linux. With all the discussion of Mac vs. Windows it seems like other good options don't get the recognition they deserve. I would like to know your opinions on these alternative OSes (Linux, FreeBSD, BeOS, etc...) as well as the open source movement. Have you ever played around with any of the other systems and if so do you think it possible that you might switch to something other than a Mac?

Woz

It's only been Apple ][ and Mac for me. I used a little UNIX in the far past, and have to touch on it for some of the network equipment that I administer.

Over the years I met so many people doing things with Atari computers, particularly the Amiga, that were not easily doable with Macs or any other PC, that I was very impressed. Many of the best people ('best' meaning those that want things other than normal and that can't stop moving and all) are into Linux so I admire it. But with all my time consumed with a large family and many computers to maintain and a network too, and mail and magazines and updates and all, I won't have time for things like Linux for quite a while. I actually look forward to my children being gone.

What kind of education did you have?

in
Comment from E-mail

When you first began working with the Apple (and I've read that you worked for both HP and Atari) what kind of education in the area of hardware construction and software development did you have (e.g. formal logic, mathematics, etc.)?

Woz

In third grade I was the only boy that could do flash cards as fast as the girls. In 4th and 5th grades I built electronics projects for science fairs. By 6th grade I could build and design many simple electronic circuits and had a ham radio license. I built my Hallicrafters receiver and transmitter as kits. In 6th grade I also built a tic-tac-toe computer out of hundreds of transistors and diodes on a 3' x 4' piece of plywood, using nails for connectors to solder to. I almost finished this computer, based on logic gates. In 8th grade I built a 10 bit parallel adder/subtractor and did very well in the local science fairs. The Air Force gave me their special award for the best electronic project in the Bay Area Science Fair, even though as an 8th grader I was competing with up to 12th graders. 

I constructed house to house intercoms in my neighborhood as a kid and read Popular Electronics, along with Tom Swift. I once won a soldering iron from Popular Electronics Magazine for submitting a joke. Occassionally I could ride my bike all the way to Sunnyvale Electronics and buy enough parts to build some small project, most often for a school prank. 

In high school I got my first minicomputer manual. I know how logic worked and I'd already sketched out many pages of a calculator design. Now I worked out a design for the PDP-8 computer based on my knowledge of logic. I started getting more and more computer manuals to practice my designs. Also I kept up with the latest chip catalogs. Every time I redesigned a minicomputer, I tried to use fewer chips than before. My design skills got better and better and I started getting very tricky on occassion. I would first look for the best chips that did the job at hand, but then would spend many more hours trying to find one chip intended for something else, that would do the job with fewer chips than normal. I found that I could often win at this game. 

It was only a game. I had no friends or relatives or teachers that did this design stuff with me. I had nobody to even show my designs to. I'd be embarrassed if anybody watched me designing them while in classes. It was an advantage for my shyness that nobody knew what I was doing. 

I was a math and science and electronics star in Junior High School and in High School, winning many honors. I was also a good math and science student, achieving many 800's on my college entrance exams. I didn't apply to any prestigious colleges because I visited the University of Colorado in Boulder and saw snow for the first time. That was the only place I'd go after that. 

I kept up my designs in college. I took a year off to pay for my third college year, programming for a local computer company. I took some real computer courses my third year, at Berkeley. I loved these courses so much that I'd sometimes finish the course bookwork in 2 weeks. 

I took off a year to earn money for my fourth college year. I wound up working on calculators at Hewlett Packard as an engineer. As my career progressed, I didn't have a chance to complete my degree. I worked on countless interesting computer projects outside of work. I also ran my dial-a-joke in this time frame. Eventually, we started Apple. 

 

You may have some answers in this long discourse, but mainly it boils down to my having been mostly self taught and not formerly educated in computer areas.