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Letters-General Questions Answered  


Q From e-mail:
My question is, would you personally have any hesitancy at this point in time to make a fairly large investment in a Macintosh computer? I want to go with Mac, but I keep getting hit with "PC's are just as good and less expensive" and "Mac OS isn't going to be around much longer." Since I am NOT an engineer who understands the details of operating systems, a lot of the explanations of why PC's have or have not caught up are lost on me. But I do know that my computers have been a dream to work on.

My time is pretty short and these are just my opinions:

The answer is possibly in what you need to do with the computer. Different platforms might have an advantage for certain tasks. Assuming that the PC and Mac both qualify here, the answer is in your own psychology. Do you want to be a part of the Mac struggle. We are a closely knit group that tries to help each other a lot and find solutions when they are needed. Because it's more important to us, we are extremely passionate about our platform. You might prefer the safety of the most (not best) software selections or the most friends to help you fix things. It's no fun to fix any computer problem, but from what I hear, PC's are much much worse here.

I hope that this helps you. It's strange, asking ME to advise you for or against the Mac.

Q From e-mail:
i was wondering how involved with the mac you are today? are you still an apple employee in any way? do you use only macs, and if so, what kind(s)? do you ever talk to steve jobs? have you felt "pushed back" into the spotlight since the movie?

I'm not formally involved with the Macintosh today, but I represent it informally and unofficially on occasion. I keep up with a lot of Macintosh equipment, first hand, and generally know more about what works and what doesn't and what's available and what's not than people inside of Apple

I talk to Steve Jobs on occassion but not too often.

I do feel 'pushed back' into the spotlight right now. Way too much email. I have to handle and turn down lots of reporters. I like a low profile better, it gives me more time to do what I really want to (which might be as simple as taking a child to school).

Q 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.)?

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.

Q From e-mail:
I was still in diapers when you and Steve Jobs started Apple in his parents garage. When I was in grade school my father bought me an ADAM computer (Z80) made by Coleco. Soon after that I was turned to the Apple //e. I remember very vividly the first time, at a convention, the first LISA. I was mesmerized. I first start using the MAC 512 in school, the newspaper. I used them until I graduated from school. I had every thing from the 512 to the Power Mac. Then because of the ever rising price of computers I was forced to turn the enemy, IBM. I now own both.

I was wondering how much you used the IBM compatible computers if ever?? Also, who decided to leave the bite out of the Apple in the logo?? You have seemed to be a very concerned person, kudos on your outlook on life. What is your outlook on the afterlife? What kind of religious beliefs do you have? Please reply, and thank you for your contributions to world that I grew up in .

I barely used the IBM compatables in early times. I kinda' liked the "junior" or something but nobody else did. I use them once in a while these days, when they are needed for my network administration. But I work around them as much as possible. I have a friend who has to use them and develop for and on them and he hates them just as much and always uses a Mac if there's any way. In his case, he's definitely expert enough on both platforms, the PC's are just more difficult.

I talked myself into some very strong religious beliefs around the start of college, and before too. I was very good and pure and generally only crossed streets at the corners and didn't drink or smoke or use drugs or participate in wild things. My religion was a pact with myself. I was very independent and had been strongly influenced by writers like Emmerson and Thoreau. I wasn't to be a follower. I wouldn't conform to my peers and do things just because they did them. If I was to get drunk it would have been alone only, because I had a reason and not just to follow others. I wouldn't join any church because then you're just going along with a bunch of other people. Is it that hard to figure out what's good and bad? I had nothing against the bible but didn't really read it. I admired Jesus. He must have been great to be so well remembered 2000 years later, and his turning the other cheek meant something akin to being good to those who are bad to you or say bad things about you. I picked up a lot of my internal religion cues from Dylan songs and Paul Simon songs (the "Boxer") and Dave Mason ("We just Disagree") and others to this day. I love popular music for these sorts of insights.

My favorite religious person was an engineer at Hewlett Packard who was also a Mormon (but not the former Mormon who was the lab manager and who turned down the idea of a computer, not as the movie shows but rather because he couldn't justify it as an HP product despite the fact that he loved it very much). Bill said that when people say that they have inner goodness, how can you tell if they're telling the truth. Outer things like the clothes they wear or the college they graduated don't mean as much as how they feel about and treat people, what's in their heart. He explained that he didn't forego coffee and other things because they were evil or bad or unhealthy. But these sorts of sacrifices are on the outside where everybody can see. Others can't see your inside but they can see these things. If you make such sacrifices for you religion and never waver, people can see that you hold true to your religion's tenets and beliefs, they can see that you must be true to these other tenets of being good as well.

Q From e-mail:
I just stumbled accross your commentary in response to a Dave Winer article published in a 1996 edition of HotWired. As a former Apple advocate, I wanted to tell you that you struck the nail squarely on the head as to why I chose the path of the PC in my career development. I grew up with Apple. My first machine was an Apple II+ with an external floppy disc (instead of tape... wow!). It was that machine that made me fall in love with computing. Reading your message recalled my sense of loss for what happened to Apple. But what really made me write this is the fact that I'm so impressed that you are doing what you've always wanted to do - teach. Of course, the article was from 1996. I hope you're still doing what you like to do. In my eyes, you will always be a hero.

Well, I wish that Apple could be as incredibly great as back then...

It's a thousand times harder. One view is that I'm taking the easy way out, teaching and all. My response to this view is that I always believed in finding the easy (or at least simple or small) way, but I had a strong internal feeling that I put into direct words long ago that I would NOT run a company and I did want to be a teacher and I did love kids. So others have the job of running the company, a job that I'm probably not capable of. I couldn't even do great engineering again as I once did. It was too hard!

Q From e-mail:
I share your great enthusiasm for the flexible imac and concern with current quality issues. I leave you with two question: (1) Which one of you guys, in the very early days, supposedly typed machine code from memory to build an operating system over a few days time? (Myth or Fact) (2) No one has commented on the old documentary "Triumph of the Nerds", what did you think of this show from several years back? (It is a favorite of mine.)

I wrote all my code on paper in hexadecimal. I couldn't afford an assembler to translate my programs into hexadecimal bytes, I did it myself. Even my BASIC interpreter is all hand written. I'd type 4K into the Apple I and ][ in about an hour. I, and many others too I think, could sit down and start typing hexadecimal in for a SMALL program to solve something that occured or something that somebody else wanted. I'd do this all the time for demos. I certainly don't remember which hexadecimal codes are which 6502 instructions any longer, but it was a part of life back then.

I liked "Triumph of the Nerds." It was one of the best shows ever created of that kind. Everyone has the same opinion, so why ask me? I'm not a history expert and couldn't tell you what it missed or got wrong, but it seemed extremly thorough and insightful.


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