The personal computing pioneer shares stories and his life philosophies
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
On January 15, the Lesley University Boston Speakers Series presented one of the instigators of that revolution—Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak—an icon of the innovation that set a trajectory to transform the way humans work, communicate and live.
The ripple effects of Wozniak’s inventions resonated during his lecture, held in Boston Symphony Hall. With rapid-fire recollections and stories, Wozniak conveyed his early love of gadgetry and electronics as a boy. That fascination evolved into an inexorable passion to create new technologies and build devices, starting with the Apple I and Apple II computers and eventually leading to a wealth of later inventions and refinements, such as the universal television remote control.
“I didn’t set out to be a genius of electronic design. I just kept doing it and became very good at it,” said Wozniak, who founded Apple with Steve Jobs in the 1970s. He credited “repetition, repetition, repetition” with their ultimate success.
Wozniak recalled that he was always in pursuit of using the fastest and fewest parts, and he was forced to be creative because he had very little money before Apple became a huge success.
“I got really good at thinking up unusual ways to use things … and using one part to do another job: double duty,” he reflected. “I loved it, loved designing computers.”
Wozniak said he wasn’t a typical child and didn’t fit in socially with the mainstream, but he was lucky enough to find friends who shared his interests, and he excelled in math and science. He described himself as “very shy” and awkward, and joked that he was grateful his last name started with a “W” so that he was always seated at the back of the class.
He discovered an acuity and deep love of math early on. “In math and science you always have an exact answer. What is truth?” he posed. “Math.”
Before starting Apple, he got a job as an engineer for Hewlett Packard. There he worked on engineering the early handheld scientific calculator, which would cost $2,000 in today’s dollars, he said. He worked on his own projects in all his spare time, and humorously painted himself as a straight-edge nerd amid the experimental California counterculture of the 1970s. This “nerdy” technical focus proved to be a productive juxtaposition of opposites with Steve Jobs, the savvy, driven entrepreneur of the pair who could sell anything.
“I had no chance for a girlfriend or wife. I watched ‘Star Trek’ and ate TV dinners, and I would design something just for fun,” Wozniak recalled. “When I met Steve Jobs it was the days of the counterculture. He would walk around with bare feet eating seeds. I liked hanging out with” hippies, he said, but he was different.
And he credited Jobs’s marketing prowess with their ultimate success.
“With me designing it, would it have gotten to the world without Steve Jobs? No!” he said. “I place good marketing above good engineering.”
His talk revealed a mind that moves at warp speed, and some of the content was highly technical. But he also emanated optimism and revealed a playful side. He spoke of his love of jokes and pranks, and expressed his life philosophy as revolving around friends, fun and food – “the three F’s” – and around never having regrets.
“Community, and people talking to each other, and sharing ideas – that’s what makes people happy,” he mused.He loves animals and talked about his work with his local humane society, as well as how he spoils his two aging dogs with thin strips of filet mignon.
Wozniak has long since shed the shy exterior of his youth and has become adept as a world-traveling raconteur. He even appeared on the popular television programs “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Big Bang Theory,” which he referred to during his lecture.
“’Dancing,’ boy did I regret that for a while,” he said of the physically rigorous reality dance program. He confessed that before he was approached by “The Big Bang Theory,” he had never seen the show, a popular sitcom that chronicles the lives of a group of geeky scientist friends living in California.
But now, Wozniak says he is a devoted fan of “The Big Bang Theory” and keeps all the episodes on his iPhone and takes notes on them.
A wide-ranging audience Q&A, moderated by Phil Redo, managing director of WGBH-FM, Lesley’s media partner for the Boston Speakers Series, followed Wozniak’s talk. Questions ran the gamut from his relationship with Jobs to whether technology will ultimately end humanity, to which Wozniak quipped, “They didn’t tell me you were going to be in the audience, Isaac Asimov.”
Wozniak said computers will never replace humans’ ability to think logically and solve all types of problems. However, he added, “When you need an answer now, who do you go to? It starts with ‘g-o,’ and it’s not for ‘God,’” he said referring to Google.
He said that he and the late Jobs were “friends to the end.”
“He was a great friend. We were so compatible. We loved the same things,” said Wozniak.
Earlier in the day, before his talk at Symphony Hall, Wozniak visited Lesley’s Brattle Campus and met with students, faculty and staff in the Washburn Hall auditorium for a brief lecture followed by a Q&A session where he was introduced by Assistant Professor Bob McGrath and student Nick Tuccinardi. Second to engineering, Wozniak said he was always drawn to the teaching profession and would have loved to teach as a career.
His lecture at Symphony Hall was sponsored by Plymouth Rock Assurance.
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