Comment from E-mail

My name is Michael C. Barnes. I read the first Popular Electronics Magazines about personal computers while I was in the Army. I never thought that this would lead to a career. It just looked like something that would be really cool. I used my GI Bill and signed up for a Digital Industrial Electronics Course and a CREI Microprocessor Technology course. I was consumed by my hobby.

I think that it was 1978 or so, I saw the Apple computer at the first Computer show that I went to in Washington, D.C. Almost every booth had an Apple or some CPM machine. At that time, I was astonished by the graphics. I remember thinking that they looked like cartoons.

I was reading articles that had your name and Steve Job's name. I felt that I was left behind. I even felt that I was an under achiever because you guys were building an industry and I was simply serving my country.

When I got out of the Army, I went into Government but left because I simply felt the call of computers.

I was out trying to find a way to make money in computers about 1980. At that time, the only computers were Atari, Apple, and a bunch of CPM machines. I worked in a store that sold audio, video and computers. At this time, everyone in the industry was doing it as a hobby. I think everyone was simply having fun.

I finally got into the industry professionally working for Burroughs. The person that hired me now runs all of the Americas for Sun. He told me that when he me me, he instantly realized that the indsustry was changing and there was a new generation of computers emerging. He said he never heard anyone talk about computers the way I did and hired me simply because he felt that not hiring me would cause him to fall behind.

Four years later, I was at Sun Microsystems. All this time, I felt that I was in the shadow of people like you. I never believed I could make it rich or make a name for myself simply working for someone else.

Over the years, the industry has changed. By simply working for Sun and buying their stock, I became a millionare. I wound up in Thailand. I started my own company based on a loudspeaker design I came up with. I am now creating amplifiers and audio equipment -- as a hobby. I get more recognition for this than anything I have ever done.

At 46, I am finally at piece. I think that I did okay and that I don't need to feel that I didn't meet my potential. My family is secure. I love my work. I have invented something.

Thank you for setting the bar high. I believe that my modest success is in due part to the early success that pioneers like you had. I think you made it easy for late comers such as myself.

Woz

Your story probably means much more to many more people than my own. We, and the way we started Apple, were the rare exception, and not what people should be taught to expect. But your story is more real and an example of just plain wanting to be in the industry and making sound decisions that did well for you. The best thing is that you say you are at peace. Not everyone could do what we did with Apple, but everyone should see themselves capable of your sort of success.

Thanks for sharing this fine story with me.

All terms: army, Jobs, Washington
Comment from E-mail

I am a huge Apple fan, favoring the old Apple //e. I'd really like to own an Apple computer, but due to the cost, I can't. Why do Apple's cost $3,400 or more, when I can pick up an IBM for around $400???

Woz

We just give you more for the buck than PC clones, that's all.

All terms: Apple //e, IBM
Comment from E-mail

Q1: Thank you for taking the time to reply. As a historian, to have received an email from someone who made history in such a BIG way is quite exciting and an honor.

Q2: In my walking tour [of San Francisco] I speak about the Civic Center, and the history that occurred there - such as the United Nations being created in 1945 at the War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building. Years ago, I thought that I read that a version of the Apple had been introduced at Civic Auditorium at an early computer fair.

Q3: So the purpose of my question is really see if a historic event involving the Apple occurred at the Civic Auditorium. Did you introduce or in any other way promote the Apple at any time at Civic Auditorium, and if so, what was the significance to Apple, the computer industry, (perhaps even yourself) of that event. Did you or the company ever participate in something there that you think any person, San Franciscan or visitor, would find exciting to learn? In that vein, what key events in the story of Apple happened in San Francisco, if any?

Woz

A1: I actually manage to answer most of my email. I do have a lot of it every day.

A2: Yes

A3: This is VERY MUCH the case.

Steve and I had started a company and sold mostly built computers during 1976. I had designed the Apple ][. It had half the parts and ten times more things than any other low cost computer, including many revolutionary ones that would set the tone of what a personal computer should be. It would wind up being the first successful, massively selling, personal computer.

But this industry was just kicking off and we realized that we could probably sell 1,000 of this great computer per month. That took a lot of money. We had none, so we went looking. We met Mike Markkula, and he launched us. I had to leave Hewlett Packard, which was tough.

At this time the [first] West Coast Computer Faire was being planned for Civic Auditorium. Steve Jobs got the info packet. Both he and I felt that we had such a good product that we should immediately secure the prime booth spot, which we did. We also arranged to rent a video projector. This was such an early year that such projectors were virtually unknown. It was a BIG deal.

The few of us that made up Apple at this time were all there to meet people and show them what we had. Mike Markkula talked to store owners and gave them legal paperwork to establish accounts with us and start ordering. We were a rare company at this time to even have such a professional approach. Almost all the companies had amateur technologies and amateur business practices.

This would be the show to officially unveil this great machine, and the company. It is fair to note that I had insisted on introducing the Apple ][ PC board (not the cased computer) by holding it up in front of the Homebrew Computer Club and explaining what it had and how it worked. This had been a big deal for me, because I was too shy to talk much back then. The only 2 times I actually said anything to the club were when I introduced the Apple I and Apple ][ computers there.

There was no such thing as political correctness at this time. The top selling joke book was The Official Polish/Italian Joke Book. I created one of the programs that we demonstrated at Civic Auditorium. It asked the user their name. It tried to figure out their nationality and would ask back "Are you by chance French?" or "Are you by chance German?" or whatever it guessed the corresponding nationality was. If the last name ended with a vowel, it guessed Italian. As a last resort, it would ask the user to type in their nationality. Then it would start presenting jokes, modified for that particular nationality.

Another thing that I remember is that Mike Markkula arranged to have something like 20,000 brochures printed. I was astounded that this many people might attend. I decided to do a major prank.

The hot-selling hobbiest computer platform then was called S-100 and the computer that had started this movement was the MITS Altair, based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor. The company Zilog had come out with a compatible processor, which they called the Z-80. A few companies using this chip were establishing brands based on Z words. Like ComputerZ or Z-Node or the like. I created a phony ad for a product called the Zaltair. I copied some of the worst ads I could find for wording. It started out "Imagine [this]. Imagine [that]. Imagine [other]..." with superlative descriptions of a computer that solved every problem in the world. I came up with ridiculous lines like "Imagine a car with 5 wheels" as though it would be better! I made up words like PerZonality, BaZic, etc.

I also had a comparison chart. I compared this new phony Zaltair computer to the Altair, the Apple and a couple of other ones. The categories I made up were ridiculous, things like "software," "hardware," "usefulness," "appearance," "durability," etc. The Zaltair was normalized to 1.0 for every category. The next best computer was always the Altair, with numbers like 1.8 or 2.5. This was another ridiculous clue, since the Altair wasn't superior to the other computers of the comparison. The other computers would have numbers like 5.3, 7.1, etc.

I added a section where you could ship back your Altair 8080 of Altair 680 computers (the latter was a real dog) and get a discount. This phony Zaltair was supposedly from the same company MITS. I'd made sure in advance that MITS would not be at the show.

A very young high school aged friend in Los Angeles helped me with some of the corny wording. He found a place to get it laid out professionally and I had about 8,000 printed down in L.A., to be safer. Even Steve Jobs didn't know I was doing this.

The only people that knew were Chris Espinosa, my L.A. friend Adam, and Randy Wiggington. Eventually, we slid Chris to the side so there were basically 3 of us involved. Adam and I spotted a huge table filled with handouts from many companies at the show. So we went to our hotel and came back with a box of 2,000 Zaltair handouts, in various colors. We set the box down and went away laughing. Not much longer I heard that the brochures were gone. We went and looked, and sure enough they were gone. My calculations didn't add up to that many going to show attendees so quickly. So we walked to the hotel and got another box. We set it on the table, and not very much later at all a gentleman came over, looked in it, and took it away. It turns out that a rep for MITS was at the show.

Now we started taking large batches of our Zaltair handouts under our coats, and in bags from the show. We'd lay batches out on any table or phone booth we could find at the show. If I had a green batch, I would find another batch of green brochures, take a few of them to 'read', place them on top of my green Zaltair handouts, and put the green stack back in place. One time I immediately saw someone rush over and read the top brochure. In my mind, he was from the MITS rep, trying to catch the perpetrator.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I put a fake quote from Ed Roberts, the president of MITS, at the top of the first side of my Zaltair brochure. It said things like "Predictable Refinement Of Computer Equipment Should Suggest Online Reliability. The Elite Computer Hobbiest Needs One Logical Option Guarantee Yet." The first letter of each word spelled Processor Technology, another top hobby computer company. I had learned from many pranks before that it was better to make it look as though someone else did it.

At the conclusion of this show in Civic Auditorium, as we were taking stuff out to our cars, Mike Markkula told me that it was really going to happen, that he'd seen the signs at this show to know that we were on the track that would make us worth $500M in 5 years.

The next night there was a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club. Some people talked about the Zaltair ad and waved them in the air. It did cause a bit of a stir, and some people had actually gotten this brochure. But someone said that he had called MITS and that it was a hoax.

The very next day, we were talking about the show at Apple. I pulled out a Zaltair handout and asked Steve Jobs if he had seen it. He started reading it and inspecting it closely. Rod Hold came over and said that it didn't exist, that the handout was full of "Imagine [this]" wording in the first paragraph. But Steve said it had to be real because it even had copyrights and trademark notices. I'd put on things like "Zycolac is a trademark of..." and "Zaltair" is a trademark of MITS" with the company logos.

I was barely holding my laughter and acting like it was kind of funny when Steve saw the computer comparison chart, with categories like "quality." When he said "Hey,we didn't do too bad" I couldn't hold my laughter so Randy and I made an excuse to get out and go to Bob's Big Boy.

When we returned, Steve had called MITS and found out that the handout was a hoax.

A few days later, back at Apple, Gordon French visited Apple in search of work. The Homebrew Computer Club had started in Gordon's garage. I called his attention to my Zaltair handout. Like others, Gordon was aware that it was a hoax. He said to me that he knew who did it. I almost laughed and asked who that would be. Gordon said it had to be Larry Ingram (I think) of Processor Technology because he had a 'strange' sense of humor. I could hardly contain my laughter. I said that I'd heard there was some sort of cypher in the starting quote, something like the first letter of each word. So Gordon, Steve Jobs, myself and others started reading the letters "P-R-O-C-E-S..." Steve Jobs said the final "Y". Gordon, and a lot of the world, were convinced from that day that this guy at Processor Technology had done the prank.

Maybe 6 or more years later I gave Steve Jobs a copy of the Zaltair handout, framed, as a birthday gift. When he opened it he started laughing. He had never connected me to this one. .....Woz

Comment from E-mail

I doubt this will be actually read by you but here goes.I want to thank you for your contribution to this world the Apple computer!My first experience with a computer was in middle school(`83)I believe. I used the Apple II computer.I remember just typing commands that would spell something after I typed the word "run"..lol.. Later in high school I took basic programming but unfortunately didn't go any further with it. My interests were mostly in playing games.I remember a friend of mine got a Mac and we would play Ultima IV for hours. This was sometime in the eighties.Now its the year 2000 and six months ago I purchased a Emachines 400i computer.Man things have changed so much.I feel totally lost in the computer world today.I cant keep up with the upgrade madness. Did you ever envision that your invention would go this far? In closing I want to say its really nice to be able to talk to a forefather of the computer age.

Woz

I didn't think that I'd actually get to write to you, but here goes...

It's hard to catch up with everything that's happened, but the world is getting to the point that you can come in new and learn just the new ways, mostly on the web, and do OK. Even my mom does OK.

If I ever thought that it would get this complicated and a nightmare to maintain more than a couple of computers, I would have probably not have done it.

All terms: Apple II, Mac
Comment from E-mail

I am thoroughly impressed by you creation of the first apple computers (and some other nifty electronic gadgets.) I have a nice little tech bench set up in my apartment, and spend a lot of time tinkering and inventing little projects, but nothing on the scale of a computer. I am aware that you gave away your schematics for the first Apple at the Stanford homebrew meetings, and was wondering if you still had a copy? I am very interested to see the components you used, and to gauge the possibility of building such a device on my own. I know that it will not bear the same accomplishment as actually designing the machine and then producing it 20 years ago, but I am very interested in the fundamental concepts of computers and would have a lot fun trying to make a computer. I was also wondering where you learned most of your electrical engineering. Books? school? any specific books or courses?

Woz

The schematics that I gave away were of the Apple I. It used some PMOS shift registers (2904 and 2919 I believe) to cycle the screen data, changing characters at the precisely right time. These chips, I'm sure, are unavailable today. The Apple ][ schematics were in our early manuals. You can probably find one of these somewhere. Although I started designing computers at an early age, ones I could never hope to build, I mainly built a lot of small projects. That's where I learned techniques. But today you can't design at the component and gate level as much if you're planning on a computer. It's pretty much all done in LSI chips. I learned my electronics from my father (an engineer), from early electronic kits (hard to find nowadays), from getting a ham radio license (you had to build your own tube based receiver and transmitter back then), from Popular Electronics magazine, from some rare computer journal articles, from Terman's book (a famous old one from the tube days, Terman taught at Stanford), from chip manuals with example circuits, and from computer manuals with logic diagrams of various parts and sometimes code examples.

Comment from E-mail

I was just wondering what you think of Steve Jobs being the now Official CEO of Apple again. Do you think he has what it takes to keep the company going as well as it is now, is seems he has done a LOT of growing up since he was pushed out of the company so long ago. Do you think he might get to comfortable again and the same problems will crop up again?

Woz

I like what Steve has always pursued. We probably had some differences whenI felt that the Apple ][ was being unfairly discriminated against, within Apple, for products like the Apple /// and the Macintosh. But I've never seen Steve pursue less than the best and products that change things for the better. I feel, like many others have said, that Steve has matured and is a better judge of the impact of rash negative behavior. But I'm just guessing. In 30 years I've never seen this side of him.

All terms: Apple ///, Ceo, Jobs
Comment from E-mail

Dear Woz, Your philosophy of life-as I have read it-seems to reflect a philosophy I had always been taught but never fully understood until I "experimented" with my mind in a "Grateful Dead" kind of way during my college and post college years.I found it a very profound and moving experience that for the first time in my life had the absolute ring of truth. In other words I discovered a philosophy of brotherhood, kindness and the oneness of all things that was not just a mere belief for me - but more of actually "knowing" as truth" deep in my heart. I debate with people constantly about the importance of the Psychedelic experience in America's past-as a major influence in the social changes that have occurred as well as creative development of many things important to the human saga-one of them being the computer. It is not anything I have read but more of something that I have felt though I have no factual basis to back this up. So I wanted to ask you if those type of mind expanding experiences influenced you, not just in your personal philosophies but also as a creative spark in your invention of the Apple computer ? My girlfriend thinks anyone who has "been on the bus" is a loser. I tell her that it is the complete opposite,that it is these types of people who led the way for many of the advancements-both social and technical-in our society today,and that the world is a better place because of it. Am I correct in my thinking or do I need to eat my words ? I look forward to your answer and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing a good Karma computer like the Apple into existence and for being the person you are.Once again, the world is a better place because of it.

Woz

My philosophy of life is deeply internal but it also includes being able to tell close ones, including parents, about anything you do, even if they might consider it wrong. It's one thing that kept me away from drugs. I would only do things that I was willing to say I believed were right. As long as I believe it internally strong enough to tell even my parents, I had a very good internal feeling for why my behavior was right. In the case of blue boxes, I broke the law (I was absolutely an 'ethical' phone phreak here) but I told my parents. They didn't like it but somehow didn't turn on me. Probably that was because I was honest and they could see my side and could accept this stuff as being interesting enough to attract me and they understood me better. I was very bright and didn't want to risk a good future with drugs. I found that I didn't need to. I could be among others smoking pot and taking LSD and was accepted by them anyway. Partly that was due to my youth and hippie look; partly it was due to my acceptance of others' behavior without preaching an absolute view of behavior for all. I only had to say "I'll pass" and I was still included in parties. Only a couple of times was I excluded and feared as a possible narc. I think that it's possible to have an incredibly open mind with or without drugs. You just have to believe in that and believe in yourself.

Comment from E-mail

What an ordinary person like myself who doesn't have any connection, can do to acquire the privilege of establishing contact with a man of your stature? In 1992 I heard and read about you for the first time. I wanted to contact you ever since that time. I admired your drive and achievements. I am writing you now because I am planning to initiate an important project of my own. I need to discuss it with someone of your quality and caliber. I am in need of some personal advice, approval and support. I must get it right this time. I can not afford to make any mistake. Why? I am a 55 year old man, married for the last 12 years and have a five year old boy who is my whole world. I was a mortgage banker and a small real estate investor until several years ago. when the real estate crunch came to southern California, I lost it all and ever since that time my struggle began. I only hope if you approve of the project, you would then grant me the opportunity of a meeting with an investor. As I seem to have difficulty meeting with a credible one on my own. $175,000 is what it takes to initiate the project. I sincerely believe this amount as small as it may seem, can turn our lives around. You are our last hope. will you please help? I realize at this time of year successful people like yourself are usually very busy. Thus, I would be grateful if you could spare a few moments of your busy schedule to talk with me about my project at your convenience. Any advice whatsoever would be greatly appreciated. With your help I have no doubt I will make it this time. Happy holiday Steve.

Woz

Your need is worthwhile but I can't invest in or give time to the huge number I receive. I do wish you the best.

All terms: Advice
Comment from E-mail

I have emailed you before, and i got so excited that a major player in the computer world awnsered me. So here goes my question. My friend and I want to make our own computer software, We bought an old computer and scraped it, and made a new computer, but we want to make our own operating system, You said you made basic for the Apple 1 and II. What did you us to make it? what type of software, if any would we need to make it with, and is there any hard ware we might need?

Woz

I don't know if these comments will apply, but here they are.

In high school I fell in love with minicomputers, which were basically small computers equivalent to the microprocessors once they came out. Well, I could never afford a minicomputer but I looked at the programming instructions for machine language and tried to write my own short routines. In college I started trying to figure out how compilers, like Fortran, were written. I knew that the compiler program had to read a line at a time and figure it out and convert it to code that the computer could run. So I started writing a routine in assembly language (machine language) that would analyze a line for correctness. But I never could afford a computer to try it on, nor an assembler to type it into. It was just a personal program that nobody else knew about.

After I'd designed a computer, before Apple was even conceived, I decided to write a BASIC for real. I'd never studied how to do this, but I had self trained myself a bit back in college as I described above. I'd never used BASIC but I knew that this was the popular language for games and that was too important to ignore. The first thing I did was get a BASIC manual at Hewlett Packard, where I was working. I read it and made notes and pretty much learned what commands it had. Of course this was Hewlett Packard BASIC. It differed from the Digital Equipment BASIC, that Bill Gates' first BASIC was based on, mostly in some string manipulation. This later turned out to be the greatest difference between my BASIC and theirs. I was tired of MID$, LEFT$, RIGHT$ type functions so I preferred the HP BASIC better (A$(5,7) meant the 5th through 7th characters of A$).

I'd never formally educated myself in the area of compilers and interpreters (compilers translate a program to machine code to run rapidly later, interpreters scan the program and figure it out as it's being run, which results in much slower execution--BASIC is an interpreted language). But I knew how Syntax charts defined the structure and words of a programming language, as you find these in programming manuals. I decided to write down a full Syntax description of my BASIC to begin. I'd never done such a thing, but it wasn't hard and was modeled after others that I could find.

I next decided that I'd actually put this syntax list into memory as part of my BASIC interpreter. It was stored character by character. I figured that I'd just scan the input line, after the user hit Return, character by character, tracing a path through the syntax table and backing and retrying things. If the line made it through the Syntax table then it was good, otherwise it was in error.

The unexplainable part is how I came up with the way my BASIC would actually do what it was supposed to. As BASIC elements were found in the Syntax Table, I generated tokens (codes) for these elements. For example, a left parenthesis might generate token #87. But in another usage, a left parenthesis might generate token #115. It depended on where it was encountered in my Syntax table in memory, the one I was traversing character by character and matching the input line. In an inefficient effort to make my BASIC very tiny and save every possible byte (even the minimal amount of memory for a computer language was very expensive in 1975) I actually counted how many BASIC symbols the 'matched' one was from the start of the syntax table, and used that count as it's token value.

After this step, I generated a line that didn't have to go through the Syntax evaluator again. The Syntax evaluator could be very tiny and run slowly, as it only ran once per line, which took only a fraction of a second for a typical line. When the program ran, it was already half in shape for speed.

Now comes a less explainable part. I had read and heard some things about compilers but I still don't know to this day if what I did was good or bad. As a line executed in a running program, it consisted of numbers (precompiled into constants I think) and variable names and grammar elements like a plus sign token or a left parenthesis token. When, during execution, the BASIC encountered a 'noun' (number or variable) it was pushed onto a noun stack, ready for retrieval. This was like our HP calculators where I worked.

When the BASIC encountered a 'verb' (a token that called for an operation) it would be evaluated in comparison to a verb stack. This was the way of reading a human-written expression from left to right, but doing the operations in a different order (2+3*4 does the multiplication first in most computer languages, even though the plus sign appears first). For each token I assigned 2 priorities. One was the priority to push preceding tokens off the stack for execution. For example, 3 + 7 * 5 would push 3 on the noun stack, + on the verb stack, then 7 on the noun stack (where it's ready to be the first element removed from this first-in last-out stack). When the * is encountered, it had a higher execution priority than + so it didn't pull the 7 and 3 off and add them yet. Instead it pushed the * onto the verb stack and then the 5 onto the noun stack. The end of line was a token with priority to push everything off.

So at this time the * is the 'topmost' token on the verb stack. It comes off and runs a prewritten multiply routine that pulls two items off the noun stack, adds them, and pushes the result back on that noun stack.

Any token that causes others to be executed immediately off the verb stack would keep looking at token priorities until it's own priority was such that it would merely be pushed onto the verb stack and await later execution.

Parentheses bring another factor into play. A left parenthesis is always pushed onto the top of a verb stack, hiding the execution priority of the preceding operator token until a right parenthesis, with extremely high execution priority, causes all tokens to be executed until the left parenthesis is encountered. At that time the right parenthesis has found it's mate and stops forcing ops (tokens) to execute. This is a sort of exception to the concept of a single priority. In addition, the left parenthesis forces no ops off the verb stack, acting as though it has extremely high priority. But no ops force it off, until the right parenthesis, as though it had an extremely low execution priority. So I actually had two priorities for each token, a 'push' tendency and a 'pull' tendency. A verb (token) would only push other verbs off the verb stack and execute them if it's push priority was greater than their pull priority.

I have no idea where these sorts of ideas came from. They just came to me as I needed an elegant solution.

A table held bites with 2 one of zixteen priorities for each token that might be in the interpreted BASIC program. Another table held an address pointer for each token, that pointed to the routine to run when that token was forced to execute. So for each of the dozens of tokens, I had to only write a short routine. This kept the program less complicated and easier to add new commands to.

I couldn't afford an assembler. I wrote the entire program on paper, assigning memory addresses for each program instruction. When I shortened a routine, it was too much trouble to re-write (by hand) a few K-Bytes of code just to shrink the space. So there were many cases of short empty spaces in my BASIC. When a routine needed to expand, I'd usually jump to a patch area where it's latter part was. None of this would have happened if I could have afforded an assembler, which would have packed things properly.

All terms: Apple I, Apple II, BASIC, HP
Comment from E-mail

First of all I just want to say I viewed your biography this evening on A&E. As a fellow "Macaddict", I am first of all indebted to the genius of your invention and how it has made my life more pleasant. Second of all, I am equally impressed with you as an extremely decent and moral human being that has placed himself above the "Greedmill". And last but certainly not least, I've been trying to convince a close friend that Macs are simply easier and more reliable to use than PCs. His reply is that my opinions are just advertising and propaganda. Any advice on how to deal with it?

Woz

Unfortunately, we once had a valid point. But it's hard to say why, logically, now. The best thing going for the Macintosh is that it's rarer. We can feel more special, like we are making a sacrifice to have a 'different' machine. The design fits into home interiors better. There's less software so there's less to go wrong or be incompatible with other software. Macs are very good, but I don't think that you can get anyone to switch platforms based on that.

Now let's say that your friend has an older mother that has no computer experience at all, but who 'might' want to get on the internet. You could make the case that her first experience may determine whether she uses or avoids the internet for the rest of her life. The less techie looking, more home styled, Macintosh might be a lot safer way to insure this.

Then again, WebTV might be the safest of all.

All terms: Greedmill, MacAddict, WebTv