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Letters-General Questions Answered  



Q From e-mail:
Do you write the html on your page by hand,(which I've done but don't anymore) or do you use a program, or does someone else do you page for you? another question what is your favorite joke/prank you've done on someone?

First, an apology. I don't create these particular pages myself.

I'm not sitting back and hiring others to do technical things for me. Only volunteers help with web pages, and nothing else is done by others here. The web pages are just a low priority among the hundreds of things I've got going on. I have multiple T1 lines to my ISP, going to different sites and different portions. I program routers at these sites to divey up my networks with the proper TCP/IP segments and to do other things. I route IP zones to other routers that I provide, and originally programmed, for freinds to have firewalls on their own servers. I let lots of friends install servers. I also set up lots of virtual domains and their web and ftp servers right on the same machine as woz.org. The machine in my office is used this way too but one friend administers most of that one. I have 10BaseT switched hubs distributing a LAN throughout my 'office' home, hubs which I set up for my SNMP admin programs to observe. I have special hubs that allow for LocalTalk and for Apple's MacIP internet protocol. I deal with the companies providing the equipment and T1 lines. I run several radio links to schools and libraries at 4 Mb per second, faster than T1. I provide them with internet service too. I set up many domains like woz.org and deal with them. I set up all the DNS servers (except that one, unuson.com, is handled by a friend) and email servers and web servers and ftp servers. I have a couple dozen Macs that I take care of and keep running at home (6 kids) and office. So you can see why my own web page might get low priority. Especially when so many count on me for the other things. I'm sure that I forgot a great many, too. Like my home which has fiber and 10/100BaseT and LocalTalk and telephone lines and TV antenna and DSS lines distributed to about 60 outlets each from the network closet.

I have taught web page development. I believed in using SimpleText in the early days of HTML. I plan to teach it this way again. At least the HTML should be written this way, in my opinion, for a while to understand when it is good and when it is bad. Then it's OK to let a program assist you, a program that you can judge yourself.

Al Luckow, does the woz.org pages at this time. He's as busy as I am this week, creating pages for all my replies.

I'm too exhausted to get into pranks now.

If I ever don't have time to answer your email, at least I read it. I'm totally swamped in it, especially now.

Q From e-mail:
Steve, I have followed the discussion of "Pirates" closely over the past week, and noticed a part of Computer history being omitted. There is no mention anywhere of the role played by Sam and Jack Tramiel while at Atari. I have owned an Atari computer of one kind or another for over 15 years; only within the past year did I break down and buy a Windows-based machine.

I recall some pretty wild stories about the Tramiel brothers in the early 80's. Did they really swap companies (trade Commodore for Atari)? Why did the Tramiel Operating System for the Atari/ST look so much like the Mac OS? Since you were there at that time, perhaps you could regale us with a few stories about them?

I can't tell much about what you ask, but Jack Tramiel did turn down buying the Apple ][ from us.

Q From e-mail:
Hi Woz, I had read all your comments that have posted on the web. And also I have watched the movie. But one thing that is missing from the movie is about how and when you get started with building such a great invention called PC or more precisely Apple. I am very fond to find out more about when and how did you get such a great idea of creating PC? BTW, when did you get started to toy around with silicon chip? Thanks for the great invention. It literally changes our lives! I am sure your story will be told one day. Have you ever thinking about writing a biography of your life? I think it's very important for the coming generation to know more about you--the creator of Personal Computer for ease of use! Thanks Woz! --Lai

In 2nd through 4th grade I got switch and light electronic kits. I also excelled at math. I built electronic science fair projects. By 5th grade my father started teaching me Ohms law and more about electronic calculations. In 5th grade, my scienc fair project was still switches and lights but it was big. The switches had an immense amount of logical thinking applied. There was a switch for each of the 92 non-transuranic elements. Throw the switch and lights in all the various shells and orbits would light to show the electron levels for that element. The logic was in the fact that as you moved upwards in the periodic table, sometimes orbits would disappear from before, it wasn't an arithmetic sequence.

In 5th grade I read the book "SOS At Midnight" about young ham radio operators and some kidnappers. I decided to get a ham radio license and I began studying for it. I had to learn a bit of radio theory and recognize and analyze some common tube based circuits. My father was an electrical engineer and helped ma a lot here. I got my ham radio license in 6th grade.

My father worked at Lockheed on military projects that I never knew much about. But he had one journal with some articles on the state of the art of computers in the 50's. I got intrigued with articles on CRT tubes being used as memories, and other such things. This was in the era of vacuum tube computers.

One article was on logic and a thing called "Boolean Algebra." I found this to be a very short and simple topic. I fell in love with the ability to think in terms of gates and to draw them as such or write them as mathematical formulas. I loved learning how to change AND gates into OR gates with DeMorgan's Theorem.

Tic-tac-toe can be played by pure logic. You can play every possible game on paper. My dad and I did. You can then make up sets of rules for each decision. For example, if square 1 is "X" AND square 2 is "O" and square 7 is "X", the right move for "O" might be square 4. It's logical. Well, I wrote down hundreds of logic equations for every possible game. My dad got hundreds of transistors from a local transistor company in the early days of Silicon Valley, before it was even called that. I nailed tons of nails into a 3' by 4' piece of plywood and soldered transistors, diodes, and resistors to make my logic equations into circuits. My father taught me how the components worked to make gates. This is where I learned about transistors and diodes. I nearly got this machine finished but not quite.

By eighth grade, I was able to builde a neater and smaller logical device. I learned how a set of logic gates, connected the right way, could make a 1-bit adder. A bit is the smallest unit of counting. It can only be zero or one. So a 1-bit adder can add 0 and 1 and come up with 1. Or it can add 1 and 1 and come up with 0 and a carry (like adding 1 to 9 in decimal arithmetic). I learned how several of these 1-bit adders could be connected, one after another, to make a larger adder. Would you care for 3 bits (numbers up to 7)? or 10 bits (numbers up to 1023)? Or would you care for more?

I saw the logic diagrams for both a 1-bit adder and a 1-bit subtractor in that old journal I described previously, the same one I'd seen around 5th or 6th grade. I noticed that they were similar. This is the difference between someone who is 'destined' for logic and one who merely sees and understands it. I not only saw that they were similar, but I was able to use boolean algebra to add a couple of gates that would make the 1-bit adder become a 1-bit subtractor if a switch were thrown. So now I'd created my own 1-bit adder/subtractor!

The first one of these adder/subtracters that I built had a problem. My transistor logic gates didn't always work right as a meter showed. I'd used a basic component, a diode as my basic 'AND' gate but I'd used resistors as my 'OR' gate because resistors were cheaper. Resistors mixed two voltages. If they were both positive, the output was positive. If they were both negative, the output was negative. But if only one was positive, the output voltage was halfway, which my transistor considered positive. I finally deduced that my problem had to do with this. I think it let the wrong voltage leak back to my switches, or it might have been that the half-voltage wouldn't work well when put into the next OR gate. So I corrected the circuit by using diodes instead of resistors.

I constructed a science fair project with 10 of these 1-bit adder/subtractors. It had 10 swiches for one addend, and 10 more for the other addend (or minuend/subtrahend). It had one switch for add/subtract. And it had 10 lights for the result. This adder/subtractor won lots of prizes. In the San Francisco Bay Area Science Fair, the Air Force awarded me their prize for the top electronics project in the fair, even though I was only in eighth grade and judged with up to 12th graders.

The next year I went to the Bay Area Science Fair just to look. I saw a project and picked up a description. It would perform a logic calculation or operation as directed by some switches, and then advance a stepping motor to the next set of switches for the next operation, and so on. It could also rotate the motor back to a prior set of switches. It finally clicked to me as to what a program was, and how a computer worked, the stage beyond an adder/subtractor. This was a big learning step for me.

You probably notice that my education was long and haphazard. I learned it all on my own, mostly by accident.

In high school we didn't have a computer. Our high school had a fine electronics course and teacher. That teacher saw that I was too advanced in electronics and was playing too many pranks. He arranged for me to go to Sylvania Corp. in Sunnyvale once a week to program a computer, whatever a computer was. I got introduced to the IBM 1170 (I think) which was like a 16-bit minicomputer executing instructions every millionth of a second or so. I got a Fortran programming manual.

The next week I returned with my first program. It was the Knight's Tour from chess, where a knight chesspiece has to jump around the board, in legitimate knight's moves, and hit every square exactly once, no more and no less. Well, my program just ran and ran and nothing happened. The solution didn't print. I rewrote the program the next week so that I could toggle a switch and print out what my program was doing. Using this version I found that my program was doing exactly the right thing, trying all possible combinations of knight's moves. But I was able to see that it might take 10 to the 25th years to solve this problem.

Looking back, there are some problems that can't be solved by raw computer speed, only by clever Algorithms, methods and approaches that programmers use. Even with a modern computer doing 1 billion calculations per second, 1000 times faster than the one I used, it would take 10 to the 22nd years to solve this problem. That's on the order of how long the universe has existed.

While programming this IBM 1170, I encountered my first computer manual, entitled "The Small Computer Handbook". It described the Digital Equipment PDP-8 computer. It became my first 'bible'. I eventually started designing logic circuits for all the things this computer was. I started designing a real computer. I had logic gates in my past experience, and in catalogs of chips that my father got for me. I now also had a complete computer description. I only had to figure out how to make one out of the other.

I worked and made design after design of this and many other minicomputers that I got manuals for. It became the passion of my life, to design these things. I designed them over and over, looking for better chips and combinations, always looking for a smaller, cleaner, simpler design. After all, I didn't do this openly. I didn't do it with friends or my dad or teachers. Nobody knew I did it. Nobody gave me recognition. I didn't get a grade or a salary or a title or awards. I JUST did it, the way Forrest Gump JUST ran. The only rewards were in my internal sense of accomplishment.

Since there was no grade for a certain quality of design, my only goal was always to outdo my previous designs. This led to my learning many many tricks and unusual designs to cut down the number of parts for my 'record'. I was doing this in high school but nobody knew it. Also, I could never dream of being able to buy the parts to build any of my designs.

Around 1968 or 1969, Data General was formed and had the Nova minicomputer. Their brochure, seeking financial credibility, even showed an unusual computer instruction set, something you'd never see today. I saw that it was very very different than that of other computers. One day I sat down to design a trial Nova computer on paper. The architecture of this computer led directly to chips in my chip catalog, without a lot of connecting chips to get things right. My computer design took about half as many chips as all the others. But it was just as good a computer.

This accidental encounter really shaped my thinking about design forever. I saw now that the architecture of a design could be thought out, not in a white room, but taking into account which types of chips existed with which functions and connections, and result in as good a product with half the chips. There are many options where either way will work fine. So don't just pick one and take credit. Think about which one requires fewer chips. This was a big learning step for me, since I already wanted to minimize chips for my internal goal.

Soon thereafter, I visited a very acknowledged chip designer at Fairchild. I forget his name but he was known for a set of synchronous chips like the 74161 adder and 74166 shift register. I showed him that one of my designs took fewer chips using Signetics chips instead of my design using Fairchild chips. But he pointed out to me that the Fairchild chips were smaller and that the total number of interconnections and connections to make were much greater with the Signetics chips. I was totally convinced that my low chip count goal was wrong, that I should think in terms of the fewest chip pins or the smallest board space. I held true to this goal up to and including my Apple designs, which were before everything got put on a single chip where the user can't judge the quality of the design within the chip.


to questions about "Pirates of Silicon Valley"

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