What did math nerds do before computers?

Question from E-mail

Dear Mr. Wozniak, My father bought an Apple ][ with an AppleSoft card when I was 15 or so. It had 48k and a floppy drive. It was just amazing what you could do with 48k in those days – we had a word processor (AppleWrite, I think), VisiCalc, and plenty of games. I started programming shortly thereafter, using Apple BASIC. I later moved to Pascal on the Apple. I’m 31 now and making a good living as a Java programmer. I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for the Apple. What did math nerds do before computers?

Woz

Believe it or not, such stories of people getting interested in computers at an early age and making a life out of it bring tears to my eyes. I don’t need any credit, you all merely need symbols like myself. Yes, what would we math nerds have done? (except for those of us who knew electronics and lived in Santa Clara, I mean ‘Silicon’, Valley)

Lisa vs Mac

Question from E-mail

My father gave the ][ away a few years ago to a school where the kids used it for “Turtle Graphics”. For what it’s worth, you were a bit of a hero among me and my friends back then – we knew that you were the hardware guy, and Jobs the business guy. As I recall, and this may be totally wrong, the belief was that Jobs was behind the Lisa, and your “response” was the Mac.

Woz

Very wrong. Steve Jobs was behind bringing the Xerox technology to Apple and building good products with it. But he eventually fell into disfavor with the LISA group. Naturally, the Macintosh became a bit of striking back for him. That’s my opinion. I liked all the people on the Mac team very much, even Steve, but my plane crash kept me from it.

The Dial-a-joke line

Question from E-mail

I also remember reading that a woman called your dial-a-joke line, and you answered saying “I bet I can hang up faster than you.” and then you hung up on her – was this your future wife? Again this was a long time ago so I’m not sure if that’s true.

Woz

True. My first wife. I was thankful back then just to ever have gotten married in my life. There was some doubt that it would happen! I was young and naive and pure and could never possibly not have been there for her alone. But after Apple’s success, I found out that if one party wants a divorce then there’s a divorce. She certainly has a lot more money than I do today.

Once and Future King

Question from E-mail

Like many other posters, I’m glad to see you’re sticking to what your heart always desired. In all honesty, though, I’m secretly hoping you are the “Once and Future King” of Apple, and that one day you’ll return with something just as revolutionary.

Woz

Believe me, that means nothing. I just want good computers that behave well. Someday we’ll have them again.

The ][c

Question from E-mail

I just wanted to say, that really appreciate everything you have done over the years. My dad got me a IIc when they first shipped in 1984, and I used that wonderful little system until 95 when I upgraded to one of your Limited Edition “Woz” IIgs systems. but I chose to stick w/ the past & not only did I get a IIc+ later that year, but a rom 03 IIc…. Lately I have a custom built IBM system, but I still have my IIgs which has been greatly updated thanks to Alltech Electronics and several other companies.. And have helped a couple friends reawaken their old GS systems and bring them up to date as much as a IIgs can be updated. on to other subjects, I watched “Pirates of Silicon Valley” last night, and found it to be very reveiling about the past……and was wondering what you thought about everything that had happened…. ack….blasted server…..gotta go…lag is killing me..

Woz

I loved the ][c the most of all the Apple’s.

All of the early Apple’s had the laptop to typewriter size right in front of you. This is what I like. I broke with tradition for this ‘look’. I have nice minitowers but I rarely use anything but a laptop, a PowerBook, as a computer. I just like it all in front of me, it’s hard to explain why.

I owe you my career in IT

Comment from E-mail

I’m just writing you this little blurb to thank you for creating Apple by making the Apple I and II. I remember getting to the 2nd high school I had to go to because I risked dropping out of the first and seeing the Apple II for the first time. This was 1985. All the students were busy learning stuff and playing games, I immediately fell in love. With the Apple II but also with Apple and its products (and I’m sure part of this was your hand) had this touch of love put in them that put them apart from the rest. Anyway, to make a long story short, I owe you my career in IT and not dropping out of school. So you vision was (and still is) the best one of them all, empowering kids by creating good and simple yet sophisticated computers that will intrigue and stimulate them.

Woz

You couldn’t have a better story. I especially like the, obviously true, reference to almost dropping out. Believe me, as a father of six bright kids, I’ve been too close to this one many times.

I have an idea

Comment from E-mail

Hi Woz. I am a big fan of yours. I’m 18 and live in Los Angeles. Now, I have a really good idea for a program… this idea has been burning a hole in my brain ever since I thought of it. If you like, I will tell you the idea. But there are some problems, the first of which is that I have no idea what to do. I can’t actually start working on it because I’m really not a very good programmer, myself. I also don’t know anyone who is who will just work on it because they like the idea… so maybe you know someone who has the right spirit? At any rate, thanks so much for all you’ve done for computing… matt

Woz

Sorry, but I’m not that good a programmer any more. I do program occassionally, but only for my favorite things, solving puzzles and games. I also have little time to hear ideas. I get such approaches many times each week. But I haven’t the time to contribute anything. If I had the time, things would be different. Best wishes to you, and you are free to tell me your idea. Just don’t expect too much time from me.

Apple BASIC

Question from E-mail

Recently I’ve heard that Apple licensed floating point BASIC from Microsoft. As I had programmed in microsoft BASIC on the IBM PC-XT as well I saw no simularities to the Applesoft BASIC on my ][e so which is the truth? Can you elaborate on how much Microsoft provided to AppleBASIC?

Woz

I wrote the original Apple Integer BASIC. I had wanted it to be the very first BASIC for the 6502 microprocessor. I might then have something to be recognized for. I decided that it had to play games and let me solve engineering problems. I first wrote out a syntax with floating point but then figured that it might be done a few weeks sooner with just integers. I had to write it in the evenings as I worked at Hewlett Packard then. So I cut back to an integer BASIC that I called “Game BASIC”.

I’d never programmed in BASIC. My college had encountered Fortran, several machine languages, Algol, and a couple of special languages. But you could buy a book called “101 BASIC Games”. Plus, the Gates/Allen BASIC was becoming the standard thing to get for your Altair computer, although very few people had these computers yet.

I’d never writting a computer language or taken a course in it, although I’d studied books on my own touching on the topic. I have no idea to this day if I wrote it as anyone else would. I broke the entire language down into a syntax table that was stored in memory, in modified text form. A word like “PRINT” was stored as the 5 letters. If you were allowed an unsigned expression after some word, I stored a pointer to the syntax of that type of expression, which specified what it could be made of. Each line was compared, letter by letter, through this syntax table to see if there was any valid BASIC statement.

I gave each symbol in the syntax table a particular code as on operator. The word “PRINT” might be operator number 5 and “FOR” might be operator number 13, etc. A plus sign had it’s code too. A symbol like a minus sign might have two different codes depending on whether it was prefix (like -5) or infix (like 9-6). A variable or a number was an operand. I pushed the operand references onto one stack and operator codes onto another. But the operator codes each had 2 different priorities telling my BASIC whether to push them on top of the topmost operator already on the stack, or to pop that one off and generate the output program from it. Each operator had a value for it’s tendency to push others off, and a value for it’s resistance to being pushed off. For example, plus tends to push divide off, causing the division to happen first. Strangely all this works.

Then I had to write one short routine for each of perhaps 100 operators. These included keywords like “PRINT”, mathematical operators like ‘plus’, parenthesis, and other grammar symbols of BASIC.

It took a couple of months to get the BASIC to this shape, with an engine that ran the whole thing. Then I would define a Syntax sentence in the syntax table, along with any routines for any new operator symbols. I would test it, get it working, and move on to the next syntax sentence for the next BASIC statement. From this point on, things were very modular and I was only writing very short programs.

Well, the BASIC was a very big success. Especially when I was able to easily add statements and corresponding routines for color graphics and game commands in the Apple ][.

We shipped some apps with our early Apple ][‘s. Apps like ColorMath (a flashcard program) and Breakout (a game I’d designed the hardware version of for Atari). These apps were on casette tapes in 1976, before floppy disks. Mike Markkula, who was our third and equal partner, was running marketing for us (and much more!). He, and some young programmers, and anyone else he could find, wrote our first checkbook program. It led to two items heading our ‘projects to do’ list at a staff meeting. This sort of program wanted floating point numbers (or a programmer like myself who would have preferred integers) and also a floppy disk for speed. These became my top two projects.

I rushed and got one of my favorite and most famous designs ever done in 2 weeks, working every day of Christmas vacation, 1977, including Christmas and New Years day. I’d never designed a floppy disk interface nor worked with one. Nor did I have a clue what was in them. I set out this blind and started designing stuff that would efficiently read and write floppy disks with the new Shugart 5″ mechanism. I wound up with 5 chips one day doing the job, along with some low level 6502 software of my own. Randy Wigginton helped me with this project. My motivation was that Mike Markkula said that if we had the floppy ready to demo at the first CES show that was to permit personal computers to be a part, in Las Vegas, in January. I’d never been to Las Vegas, only dreamed of it. Well, I made the trip and the floppy was a success for Apple.

I next started working on a new floating point BASIC. My design style is to spend quite a bit of time thinking out every angle in my head and in rough sketches, and then to start coding. The first results aren’t visible right away, but at the end they come up very quickly. Steve Jobs got concerned that I wasn’t making enough progress. He even accused me of slacking and coming in at 10 AM in one staff meeting, but I pointed out that I’d been laying out our floppy PC Card (of which I’m extremely proud as I relayed it with one shift register shifting in the opposite direction of my first design after I discovered that would cut the PC board crossovers from 8 to 5, something nobody would ever see but that’s the drive for perfection) and that I’d been leaving at 4 AM every morning, long after even the Houston brothers, Dick and Cliff, had left.

Somehow, we wound up with a Microsoft 6502 floating point BASIC one day. I installed it (which involved a lot back then) and tested it. Since it was already near completion, and only needed some graphics commands added for our Apple, our own effort was best dropped. Mine might turn out better in some regards, but wasn’t worth the risk or effort. I have no idea if this BASIC was written by Microsoft or just found by them. My biggest disappointment was going to the awful string functions like LEFT$ (VAR, 5) and MID$ (VAR2,5,3) instead of my own, which were written VAR (1:5) and VAR2 (5;8) for the first 5 characters and characters 5 through 8 of a variable.

I forget how much we paid Microsoft for this BASIC.

Blue Box

Question from E-mail

How did you make the blue box? Do you still own one? Also.. Do you have the Apple I still or any screen shots of it and programs? If so send me some. Thanks, Andy age:12

Woz

I read an article in Esquire Magazine. It was about the October edition in 1971. The article was entitled “Secrets of the Blue Box–fiction” by Ron Rosenblum. Halfway through the article I had to call my best friend, Steve Jobs, and read parts of this long article to him. It was about secret engineers that had special equipment in vans that could tap into phone cables and redirect the phone networks of the world. The article had blind phone phreaks like Joe Engessia Jr. of Nashville, and the hero of them all, Captain Crunch. It was a science fiction world but was told in a very real way. Too real a way. I stopped and told Steve that it sounded real, not like fiction. They gave too many engineering details and talked on too real a way to have been made up. They even gave out some of the frequencies that the blue box used to take control of the international phone network.

The next day was Sunday. Steve and I drove to SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the same place the Homebrew Computer Club would meet 4 years later) because they always left a door or two unlocked and nobody thought anything about a couple of strangers reading books and magazines in their technical library. Finally we found a book that had the exact same frequencies that had been mentioned in the Esquire article. Now we had the complete list.

We went back to Steve’s house and built two, somewhat unstable, multivabrator oscillators. We could see the instability on a frequency counter, but we were in a hurry. We would set one oscillator to 700 Hz and the other to 900 Hz (for a “1”) and record it on a tape recorder. Then we’d adjust the oscillators and record the next digit, and so on. But it wasn’t good enough to make a call as in the article. So we tried one oscillator at a time. It still wasn’t good enough. I was off to Berkeley the next day so it would be some weeks before I designed a digital blue box that never missed a note. The key to debugging it was a guy in the dorm, Mike Joseph, that had perfect pitch. If it didn’t work, he’d tell me what notes he heard. If one of them was a C-sharp and was supposed to be an A, I could look up the C-sharp frequency and find out where my frequency divider was off, and replace a diode that was bad. All my problems were diodes that I bought at Radio Shack in a bag where some might actually work.

The key to the phone network then was a high E note, two octaves above the high E string on a guitar. It was 2600 Hz. The Captain Crunch cerial whistle could blow this note and seize a phone line. The blue box then took over with it’s dual frequency combinations known as ‘multfrequency’ or MF, similar to touch tone frequencies but not the same. Some phone systems worked on SF, or Single Frequency. The 2600 Hz Captain Crunch whistle could make the entire call. One long whistle to seize the line, a short one for a “1”, two short ones for a “2”, etc. The blind phone phreak, Joe Engressia, could dial an entire call just by whistling it out of his own mouth!

If you want to test this principal, play 2600 Hz into and long distance call and you’ll be disconnected. We had fun doing that in the dorms. But don’t be stupid and try to make a blue box today. It’s much easier to make or program, but you’re nearly guaranteed to get caught right away in most places. I experimented with it in 1972 but even then I paid for my own calls. I only used the blue box to see how many things I could do.

I have Apple I’s and original software and things but they’re in storage and I don’t have time to get them out and get them working right now.

You are a great person for changing our future

Comment from E-mail

So I am 13 and headed real far into computers!!! So you invented the first computer! What year did you come up with that great idea , I mean I’m using one now , and pretty much the world! Well hey if you get this e-mail , e-mail me back! I jus wanted to say you are a great person for changing our future and etc. etc..

Woz

Hey, I’m reminded of things my father said when I was your age. He was a great engineer. But he told me how important we young people were. He said that the adults had a lot of things not working well in the world and that we kids were going to school in order to make the world much better. I was shocked to learn that my elementary school teacher made less than junior high school and high school teachers and even engineers after hearing this speech.

Well, it’s your turn to decide that you want to achieve and change the future. You have to work hard to do better at things than almost anyone else. You have to put off some partying until later, after your success is assured. I wish you well in this.

Thank you

Question from E-mail

I would like to thank you for touching my life and the life of my children. My father bought me an Apple II when I was a kid. I remember him filling out the credit application and actually having an Apple credit card or something of that nature. Looking back I don’t think he could have afforded it but he bought it for me. My 3 girls currently use a 266 iMac which is the main focus of our household. If it wasn’t for Macs my 4 year old would not be as advanced as she is with computers. I’m sure your initial response will be something like “It took a lot of people to build those products” and I thank all of them. But my family thanks you for being a doer and a thinker and I hope I teach my kids to do the same with their lives.

Woz

This is a great story to hear. Sometimes, the Apple ][ is forgotten or deliberately left out but it inspired this whole industry in my opinion.

I’ve been writing Woz-influenced code..

Question from E-mail

Hi, Woz. My dad got me an Apple ][ back in 1979, and I found it so clean and crisp and cool that within days I did a CALL -151, and I’ve been writing Woz-influenced code ever since. Thanks for Wozifying the world!

Ok, I’ve just got to know. Which HP calc was it that most influenced the Apple 1 and ][, the HP 9830 (1972) or the HP 9825 (1976)? The Apple ][ looks a lot like the 9825, but given your tenure at HP, I’d have to guess it was the very cool 9830 with built-in BASIC that had the most influence on you.

Woz

I’m glad to find so many people that still remembering being inspired in the CALL -151 days!

All the small HP Calculators, the HP 35, 45, 55, 65, and 67 influenced the Apple II. They did it in the sense that each key had a worthwhile function meaningful to humans. Each key merely activated it’s own program. A calculator was complete. It didn’t need accessories and peripherals and programs just to have a keyboard you could use.

One man, can make a difference !

Question from E-mail

I can truly say you’ve been an inspiration to me. I’ve had the honor of hearing you speak in person once or twice and was inspired each time. Thank you so much for the past 26 years of home computing. Your simple actions have made quite a difference in my life. Let NO one ever say “one man cannot make a difference” for you have proven that axiom wrong.

Woz

This comment makes my day. I read your note and was glad to hear from someone who encountered and liked and bought Apple products from the start. I’m glad to get credited for making a difference.

We were kings of our machines

Question from E-mail

I am writing this on a 20th Anniversary Mac (one of the “fire sale models” from the Apple Store) and it is a wonderful machine. I also have an iMac in my other farm office. But the IIe was still the most fun I ever had xomputing, and it kept the books just as good as these two machines do.

Woz

I love that 20th Anniversary Mac. I think of it as a perfect college machine, with the computer, TV, radio, CD player and more (AV even) all in one sleek machine. I don’t know why, exactly, the ][e was so good to so many. I hear what you are saying all the time. I think that for a while, software was simple and we were kings of our machines. After the market was recognized as being very large, programs became immense. It became more of a contest to remember which menu something was in, than to do it yourself or make what program you had do the job you needed. It feels like the software is so good and immense now that it’s often more important than we, the people, are. I didn’t feel this way back in the early days. I can still feel that good now, but it’s less often, like when I’m writing a program for fun.

The “Good luck” note

Comment from E-mail

Jim, My name is Brian R. I spoke with you last night around 6pm and you asked me to send you this note. Several years ago, Steve visited Fort Lauderdale at my request for what was the local Apple user’s group. Steve actually made 2 visits down including bringing 2 of the key developers for the Mac, Andy and another gentleman. On both occasions, Steve came over to my house where I showed him what I was doing at the time with a bulletin board system. After Steve’s last visit, about 2 or 3 days later a 5MB hard drive showed up on my doorstep with a “Good luck” note attached.

The success I have experienced since then has everything to do with the Woz spending the time with me that he did in Fort Lauderdale and even on a trip I made with my family out to California shortly after his South Florida visit. As I told you on the phone last night, I am in town with my wife and 21-month old son and would like to stop by to say hello if at all possible. We are leaving Saturday morning to start driving back to Florida. I will call your office around 9-10am on Friday morning. Sincerely, Brian

Woz

Brian, this is Steve. I hope that I can get to see you, but if not, best wishes anyway. I do remember your name when I see this and I remember the two Fort Lauderdale visits as great ones. The parts that I recall might differ from your own. I remember your BBS and was very impressed. The second trip was the week that the Macintosh was introduced and I brought Andy, Burrell, and Bill Atkinson along as a special gift to your club and the one in Washington D.C. (if I remember correctly) where the projector almost didn’t arrive in time. I remember crying on the plane coming into Fort Lauderdale but I won’t say why here.

I get to hear back very often from people that I apparently made a positive difference in their lives, with special gifts or sponsorship. Many of them turn out very successful and I hope that they’ve been influenced positively. I’ve mostly forgotten these incidents. There are many many of them. Plus, they are part of my ‘way’ and not individually special. I am so glad that you remember this good thing.

Your computer had a huge influence on my life

Comment from E-mail

I just saw the “Pirates of Silicon Valley” on cable the other day. It made me feel very nostalgic.

My Dad bought an Apple //e (with 128K of RAM *AND* an 80-column card) in 1984. I fell in love with it (having only used a Commodore PET before that). I was 13 at the time and devoted countless hours to figuring out how it worked. I taught myself BASIC, machine language, and assembly language. “CALL -151” still makes me grin.

I eventually bought a ][gs in 1987 and used that until I made the switch to PC’s in 1994. Nothing, however, will ever compare with the all-around completeness and stability of my Apple //e.

I still fire up my Apple //e emulator from time to time to play an old Infocom game.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know your computer had a huge influence on my life, my career, and my ongoing fascination and interest with computers.

Woz

I’m glad that you were well inspired. So many remember how good the //e was. Today’s computers are just too frustrating. They don’t need to be. Some people even realize that when you added a printer to the //e, with it’s mini-OS, the driver was in ROM on the printer interface card. True plug and play. Today we find plug and install and reconfigure and fix conflicts and update versions more than plug and play.

Important Product and the start of an industry being given away…

Question from Colin T.

Hello, I’m Colin T. I have always been interested in Operating Systems, and like the Mac OS. However, I also like free stuff, mostly because the people who make it are considerate enough to realize that what they are giving is really nothing more than virtual words. Therefore, I absolutely love the Linux Operating System. Now, I have started my own, called FluxOS. It will be giving away freely and is going to be open source. I am writing it in Assembly for the MIPS class processor (a nice little RISC chip). But, since I have little experience in Operating System programming, I can’t do much. I need to know how the Kernel works, and other such essential elements. Could you point me in the right direction or show me what could be done?

Woz

Nice note. I’m glad that you’re into some good things and that you really want to be. I’m glad that you are starting, as I did, with the mentality of helping and giving. It wasn’t shown, but I passed out schematics of what became the Apple I computer (after Steve Jobs saw $$$) freely at the HomeBrew Computer Club. Who ever heard of such an important product and the start of an industry being given away?

I can’t help point you in the direction you want to go. You’ll have to find that on your own. I can only do a certain number of things and I’ve had a family for the last 16 years.

Really a Pirate Flag

Comment from E-mail

I just have to ask you about the Pirate Flag that was in the movie. Was the flag real or was that something they added in the movie? If it was true, who’s idea was it? While watching the movie, my only guess was that Apple raised the flag when Bill Gates met with Steve Jobs for a business meeting. On another note, you’re a great man. Not too many people in the world as caring as you. If the part of your charactor was real in the movie (i.e. telling Steve Jobs to do the right thing, or you will give away some of your stock), I can only say that you DID THE RIGHT THING!! Right on! -Andy

Woz

Couldn’t be the real flag. It did fly all the time. I gave away a lot of my stock to do the right thing, very rare but true. I didn’t go into all this for the money.

Memory Loss

Comment from E-mail

Can you discuss the nature of the “memory loss” that you suffered?

Woz

This may be simplified but here it goes. When you see or hear or othewise sense something, it’s held in your shortterm memory to be perceived. If you hold it in short term memory for a while (5 seconds? 10 seconds? 15 seconds?) it can somehow (unknown) make it to a long term, permanent, memory. The processing path for this formation is well suspected to be through the hippocampus because people who can’t form long term memories, like myself for 5 weeks, often have identifiable lesions in this area of the brain. This is called atereor grada amnesio or some such thing (‘forward’ amnesia). It is quite common after car crashes and plane crashes and the like. Mine wasn’t diagnosed by doctors, friends, family, psychologists, etc. After all, with all my old memories, I could go places and ride my motorcycle, etc. People just thought that I was weird because I said weird things. I couldn’t tell you that I’d seen someone 10 minutes before (I’m presuming) but I had no way to know that this amnesia existed or that I had it during the 5 weeks. I couldn’t have told Steve that I had memory problems, as in the movie.

It was real. I never got any memories from this period. I would never have gone 5 weeks with my dogs in a shelter, nor left a missing tooth be untreated for this period.

The ‘backwards’ amnesia with which we are most familiar is called retrograda amnesia, or something like that.

Good Luck

Question From e-mail (by way of Jim Valentine):

Jim, My name is Brian R. I spoke with you last night around 6pm and you asked me to send you this note. Several years ago, Steve visited Fort Lauderdale at my request for what was the local Apple user’s group. Steve actually made 2 visits down including bringing 2 of the key developers for the Mac, Andy and another gentleman. On both occasions, Steve came over to my house where I showed him what I was doing at the time with a bulletin board system. After Steve’s last visit, about 2 or 3 days later a 5MB hard drive showed up on my doorstep with a “Good luck” note attached.

The success I have experienced since then has everything to do with the Woz spending the time with me that he did in Fort Lauderdale and even on a trip I made with my family out to California shortly after his South Florida visit. As I told you on the phone last night, I am in town with my wife and 21-month old son and would like to stop by to say hello if at all possible. We are leaving Saturday morning to start driving back to Florida. I will call your office around 9-10am on Friday morning. Sincerely, Brian

Woz

Brian, this is Steve. I hope that I can get to see you, but if not, best wishes anyway. I do remember your name when I see this and I remember the two Fort Lauderdale visits as great ones. The parts that I recall might differ from your own. I remember your BBS and was very impressed. The second trip was the week that the Macintosh was introduced and I brought Andy, Burrell, and Bill Atkinson along as a special gift to your club and the one in Washington D.C. (if I remember correctly) where the projector almost didn’t arrive in time. I remember crying on the plane coming into Fort Lauderdale but I won’t say why here.

I get to hear back very often from people that I apparently made a positive difference in their lives, with special gifts or sponsorship. Many of them turn out very successful and I hope that they’ve been influenced positively. I’ve mostly forgotten these incidents. There are many many of them. Plus, they are part of my ‘way’ and not individually special. I am so glad that you remember this good thing.