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Wowed by The Woz

April 4, 2022

View photos from the night's presentation here:

Fast-talking, curious-minded Steve "The Woz" Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, took an awed audience on a whirlwind tour of his life as a futurist and meeting Steve Jobs, thoughts on the environment and space junk and a formula for life: Happiness = smiles - frowns.  

Taking center stage in USI's Screaming Eagles Arena as the fifth speaker in the Romain College of Business Innovative Speaker Series, The Woz revealed jokes and having fun were the motivation behind his genius inventiveness that began as a boy when he and his neighborhood chums rigged wires between their houses to buzz each other late at night.  

The self-taught computer guru (there were no textbooks available during his youth) came of age during the dawn of computers, a time when only the government and mega corporations could afford the information behemoths, dreaming of one day owning his own personal computer.  

A mathematically-minded, self-claimed geek, Wozniak set his sights on becoming an engineer, like his father, and built his first computer, a rudimentary storage device, while still in the single-digit age group. Later, he advanced to a binary 8-bit processor he and co-inventor Bill Fernandez named the Cream Soda-that was destroyed when a reporter interviewing them tripped on the cord and fried it. 

Wozniak doesn't have it in him to regret yesterday's woes, he is too busy "dreaming outside the rules" and imagining the next "What If." 

The Woz and Steve Jobs met in high school (Wozniak introduced Jobs to Bob Dylan's music) and their relationship continued as Wozniak went to work as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard, having dropped out of UC Berkeley after one year. He said Jobs didn't have his computer-building skills but was a charismatic front man who sold an idea (a single-player Pong game) to Atari (where Jobs worked) and needed The Woz to create. A four-day deadline had Wozniak working nonstop, which led to an ingenious breakthrough idea during a dozy sleep-deprived state: a video game in color! 

Turning the world on its head and making things fun is central to Wozniak, who describes himself as a "nonprofit person." Together the two concepts led him to give away his designs for personal computers to his friends in the 1970s Homebrewed Computer Club (where Jobs was a member) and helped them build them. More recently, he fulfilled a dream to be a teacher by creating an online educational technology service for students, which he ran for eight years. 

Between these two periods of his life, Wozniak was a loyal employee to Hewlett-Packard with a desire to make things for "normal people" that drove his vision for computers to evolve from punch-card coding to personal devices people could type directly into. He and Jobs were busy developing and perfecting their ideas, one he took to HP multiple times-but HP declined to pursue. Wozniak didn't want to leave HP, didn't want to climb the corporate ladder to so called success. He wanted to engineer computers. It was only when a friend pointed out he could be an engineer and earn money that he quit HP and formed the Apple Computer Company with Jobs. 

Wozniak said his and Jobs' desire to create personal computers were founded on different dreams. Jobs yearned for greatness and The Woz wanted to equal the playing field between the disabled and able; joking his aspiration to develop a device that sighted the blind resulted in the reverse effect, blinding the sighted as so many people today walk around staring down at their phones. 

His fun-loving nature and propensity to joke had him crafting an identification card he used when boarding planes, and upon detention by the Secret Service, claiming he was employed by the "Department of Defiance," (that no one questioned) and later enrolling in college under the name Rocky Racoon Clark, earning a diploma bearing the moniker. At other times, it was hard to tell if he was joking or not as he sounded circular and self-contradictory, saying Elon Musk was a four-letter word to him and then confessing he owned a Tesla. That is the beauty and one of the wonders of the human mind, the capability to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs, such as when he jokingly quipped, "I think the people who brought us electronics should be killed or made to live with them." Despite his tongue-in-cheek observation, it's doubtful any of us want to roll back time when minds like Steve Wozniak are busy dreaming up a different tomorrow.

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