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Letters-General Questions Answered  

 

Q From e-mail:
I loved the Pirates of the Silicon Valley movie. I graduated high school, with honors in Mathematics and Science in 1975, and had a chance to go to Berkeley. I used to write programs for the Olivetti 101 Desktop programmable calculator, which would hold up to 128 instructions! I just couldn't help thinking, while watching the movie, "There but for the grace of God, goeth I." A lot of what happened back then was pure luck, don't you agree?

On a slightly different note, the movie never went into the US festival, which I feel was one of your more significant accomplishments. I enjoyed the Summer of 1982 more because of the festival, and I have never forgotten it. It was one of the best times in my life. My question for you is this: I recall something called the Country US Festival. I am pretty sure it was related to the US festival, even though it occurred a week later. I have looked for any information on it, and even the US Festival website says nothing about that. Do you remember that part of the US Festival, and can you share any recollections you may have about that first festival?

WOZ:
In June of 1983 the US Festival lasted 3 days. The very next week, the big country US Festival was held at the site..

Q From e-mail:
I watched Pirates of Silicon Valley and loved it. I had one question. In the movie, your character makes a wonderfully profound comment: "Sometimes you find things that are more important to you than the things you think are important." This is a very quotable line. In fact, I'd like to use it and attribute it to you. The question is, did you really say it, or was it the work of the screen writer? If you did say it, where and when? For whatever it's worth, I watched the movie on tape the night before setting off for the Washington DC AIDS Ride (a 330 mile ride over 4 days that just raised $4.9 million for AIDS services in Washington DC). I thought that your quote neatly captured what I'd been feeling about the Ride and its impact on my own life. The Ride reordered my priorities to some degree -- because if it I found some things that are now more important to me than the things I thought of as important six months ago.

WOZ:
I'm actually not so poetic, but I could have said this phrase. I always knew that engineering and Apple and teaching were important. I certainly didn't say it at the time the movie shows. It portrays me as going off because of bad things in Apple. I loved Apple. But I wanted to have a small, fun, company to build a programmable remote control, so I left, but not even completely. I kept my salary and Apple employment contract active. I openly discussed my product plans with execs on a whiteboard, so there would be no surprises or suspicions that I was going to build a computer. The Wall Street Journal wrote a big article about this time that sounded like I was leaving because I didn't like Apple. Every paper in the country picked this up, and now it's in all the history books. But it's wrong and I'd told the Wall Street Journal writer that.

Q From e-mail:
I started wading thru all those comments in your web site, but didn't see what I needed. Hope the answer to this is not buried in there somewhere. My sister is a history teacher and teaches a college course on modern history - the 50's, 60's and 70's. She thought she saw a reference to a book in the credits for "Pirates...". Was she right and if so, what is the name of the book? If not, can you recommend a book or books that she should read about this important time in cultural evolution? Thanks a bunch for your help. I, too, felt like you were the most redeeming character in the show and I was surprised and heartened by the fact that you are still personable and accessible to folks like me. Thanks again.

WOZ:
I think that i may have seen a reference to "Hackers" by Steven Levy. All teachers are very important.

Q From e-mail:
Mr. Wozniak, Like your other e-fans, I am a great admirer of your work. Just doing what you did at the time that you were able to do it is an incredible feat. I was left with a big question after seeing the TNT movie, and reading more about the creation of Apple. HP had rights to anything you developed, yet the naively passed on your concept. Why did they pass, and did they actually have to sign legal rights to you to develop your product? Also, this may sound odd, but I collect autographs and I was wondering if you have an address or P.O. Box that I could send a self addressed stamped envelope to and possibly request your autograph? Thanks alot for taking the time to respond to your fans.

WOZ:
I'd just designed and built the computer that was to become the Apple I for fun. I enjoyed my computer club, I liked designing, and I liked showing others how much you could do with so little. When Steve suggested forming a company, it wasn't a matter of Hewlett Packard having a stake in my work. That came later. With the Apple I, I first WANTED Hewlett Packard to make it. I totally loved that company. I had a lot of incredible friends there and I loved the atmosphere and the history of the company and I loved their products too.

So I met with the lab manager, Miles Judd, and my Section Leader and my Group Leader and maybe more. I laid out how inexpensive it was to build a machine for regular people that could be programmed in BASIC. Miles was not at all like the actor in "Pirates." He was very intrigued by this idea. He had been high up in the Hewlett Packard lab in Colorado Springs, out of which had come several desktop scientific calculators, the forerunners of my own lab's handheld calculaters. He knew that a desktop machine running BASIC for $800 was a super idea. He had to RELUCTANTLY turn down the project at that time because of problems with Hewlett Packard getting into something on the ground floor. They weren't at all the sort of company that could risk outside pieces ruining their reputition and making customer support difficult. The outside component would be the user's home TV. Also, he didn't have the resources, the bodies. But he was intrigued and would stop me for months thereafter to tell me that he hadn't been able to sleep after hearing the idea.

So Steve and I formed the partnership to sell PC boards for $40 when they'd cost us $20. I thought we'd lose fail to sell 50 of these and lose some of our investment but Steve said at least we'd have a company. Who could turn that down.

I didn't leave Hewlett Packard. After we made a PC board, my direct boss said that I should contact HP's legal department. I did so, they questioned all the HP divisions about interest in an $800 BASIC computer, and gave me a letter to the effect of no interest.

After some time, our own HP lab started a small computer project. Not the fun, open computer that the Apple I was. This HP project had a keyboard, a small monitor, a microprocessor, dynamic RAM, printer interfaces, a built-in tape drive, and even a BASIC language. 5 people alone were to work on the BASIC. I'd just done all these thing singlehanded for the Apple I. So I went to the new lab manager and asked to be transfered to that project. I told him that my first love was computers and I was tired of working on calculators. I said I'd do any small engineering job available. But I got turned down.

With the Apple II, Mike Markkula was willing to put in $250,000. That's worth a lot more of today's dollars. It seemed like a big deal. But I still LOVED Hewlett Packard. I had a good engineering job in a good engineering company and I had security for life. I didn't have pressure to leave engineering for management there. I designed computers like the Apple I and the Apple ][ on my own time for fun. I could always do that. My whole life would be good staying at HP.

Actually, I was afraid that with my lack of interpersonal skills and with my 'softness' I would be devoured by the wolves in any role but engineering. I was afraid that if we started this company, I'd be kicked out as soon as it started with my invention, and that maybe I'd lose my stock. So I told Mike and Steve Jobs that I wouldn't start Apple as a real company. Steve got my friends and relatives to call me and try to talk me into it. But I didn't budge. Then my friend Allen Baum called. Allen was my only computer friend in high school and college. He had introduced me to HP in the first place. He also worked at HP. Allen is the only other person that did any computer design of the Apple ][, helping code the monitor program.

Allen said that I could start Apple and go into management and get rich. Or that I could starte Apple and stay an engineer and get rich. This was the first time I'd heard anyone suggest that you COULD start a company and stay an engineer and keep designing in a lab. That was what I needed, and I left HP that day or the next. I first told one friend I was leaving, then another. But I couldn't find my boss. People kept coming up to me all day saying that they'd heard that I was leaving. I was afraid my boss would hear it elsewhere before he heard it from me. HP was very gracious and I was able to leave that day, telling them what I was leaving to try.

 


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