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What the other Steve has to say...

Date: 24 Aug. 2006
Author: Rachel Metz
Published at:

· · · Rachel Metz · iWoz Logs Leap From Geek to Icon · · ·

Steve Wozniak has been teasing his fans with the promise of an autobiography for nearly two decades. Finally, he's releasing one in September: IWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It, which he co-wrote with author and journalist Gina Smith.

What does a computer geek cult icon do now that he's written his life story? During a respite from traveling this summer, Wozniak sat down at Round Table Pizza for a Q&A with Wired News to talk about his international Segway polo adventures, his plans to drive a Hummer around the South Pole with Buzz Aldrin, and his disappointment that Steve Jobs declined to write a foreword for the new book.

Wired News: You're releasing your long-awaited autobiography this fall. Why are you doing it now?

Steve Woz: In the past I had offers to do autobiographies, even 10, 15 years ago, and I would take advances of money, big amounts of money -- sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and then I would sit around and not have the time to dig out all the papers and some of the little mementos that would remind me of things so I could write it. I had too many other interesting things going on in life and I'd return the money.

This time was more recent. I met someone at a concert at Shoreline, so she gets on her cell phone and calls her friend Gina Smith, who was a writer and in the business, and she said, "Do you know a guy named Steve Wozniak?"

And Gina says, "Hold on, hold on! I want to write his autobiography!"

It might have been a month later we got together at a concert and Gina showed up, and I started talking to Gina and we pretty much agreed to do the autobiography.

WN: So does the book start with Apple or even earlier than that?

Woz: No, it starts with early childhood. Childhood, electronics playing, and certain toys and pranks, things I did with other kids on the block, getting my ham radio license by sixth grade. I built some large computer projects even by sixth and eighth grade. And then I completely designed tons of computers in high school. That stuff comes out and some of my reasons why: What did I put as valuable in designing? Why did I design? I was so independent; I was so shy. I was so alone when I did it -- totally introverted. But I came up with goals as to what makes a good design, what makes a bad design.

WN: What kinds of things are in your autobiography? Is there anything that will surprise people?

Woz: Actually, a lot of it has been told in stories. People get memories from it, they've been copied over into shows like Pirates of Silicon Valley, they've been repeated in different articles. Never in one place. And it sort of has a lot of the themes of inspiration, what motivates you, how you get the desire for excellence, and a lot of the early Apple days. Meeting Steve Jobs, some stories with him.

He declined to do the forward, which really was wrong. He said that it kind of made me look like kind of a good, pure guy and him sort of a bad guy.

Listen to the full interview:

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I said, "No, that couldn't be. I don't talk that way." I don't have those feelings about Steve. But I didn't want to call him. I didn't want to push him.

WN: How did that happen?

Woz: He read it. He saw most of the book -- probably not the last (part), where I said some really good things about him. We heard indirectly through somebody who works at Microsoft that knows Steve that he had read it and thought it made him look that way.

(Smith) went through it and reread it another time and said, "Yeah, it does kind of make him look bad that way." We would have rewritten it. She even told him we'd rewrite anything he wants.

WN: Tell me one anecdote that's in the book.

Woz: If there was one page (that could) sell the book, it would probably be a story I've told before. It was the night I met Captain Crunch.

WN: OK, tell me about that.

Woz: He was the most famous phone phreak. He hadn't been caught by the FBI. I had stumbled onto this article in Esquire magazine (about him). Steve Jobs heard somewhere that Captain Crunch, unknown to the FBI, had done a radio interview on KTAL in Los Gatos, (California). We called the station but we never heard anything.

And then a friend from high school dropped by, and we shared a bunch of stories and I told him all of my phone phreak stuff. And he said, "Don't tell anyone, but I know who Captain Crunch is."

And I was stunned. How could a friend from high school know who Captain Crunch is?

He says, "His name is John Draper. He works at KKUP in Cupertino."

What a bomb he dropped on me! So Steve and I called KKUP one day the next weekend, from Steve's room at his house. And we said, "Is John Draper there?"

They said, "He dropped out of sight right after the Esquire article."

So we knew we had him. And 10 minutes later -- less than 10 minutes later -- the phone rang, and it's John Draper. Oh my God! And I said, "I've designed this digital blue box...." He wanted to see it, of course. He wanted to get together with another budding phone phreak. And he agreed to come to my dorm room.

Now, I had been spreading the stories all over my dorm of this incredible guy -- Captain Crunch -- like he's a suave guy with the girls and everything. So that night my roommate's in the dorm room with his girlfriend and I'm in there and the door knocks, you know, we're so nervous.

I go to answer the door and I open it up. And there's a strange, disheveled guy, looks like a bum, with his hair all straggly and out and he hasn't washed in weeks and he's missing half his teeth. And I look at him and I'm expecting some really cool, bright engineer. And it's this guy.

And I say, "Are you...?" and he says, "I am he, Captain Crunch."

So he came in and that night he showed us some boxes of his and then he wanted to go back out to his van to get his special automated blue box. Oh my God -- I had read about this van in the article and I'd surmised it to have racks of computer and telephone-switching equipment that he could plug into pay phones and turn on all of his equipment and switch calls all over the country and everything.

So I said, "Can I go out to your van?"

And he looked at me like, "Why would you want to?"

And I'm starting to think something's wrong -- something's a mismatch between the image I had of him and the real person. Well we walk out to the van and it's empty. There's no equipment in it.

"Don't you have any equipment?"

He says, "What do you mean? I have this antenna here."

Laying on the floor of the van was an antenna. He would drive around in a wreck and he would broadcast a bootleg FM channel and call it San Jose Free Radio. Well, he brought in his box, he taught us a bunch of codes. And I had followed some instructions I read in the Esquire article to make long-distance calls to other countries. It hadn't worked but I'd actually done the right steps. He showed us how to call every single country.

WN: You're working on Acquicor Technology with Gil Amelio, right?

Woz: And Ellen Hancock. It was kind of strange. Gil called me and told me there's this thing called an acquisition corporation, where you raise all this money and you go public and you aren't allowed to know what you're doing. And that alone is intriguing. The fact it was Gil was the reason I'm in. I really respect him and have confidence in Gil and he's our CEO. Well, we went on a road show, and I've never been on a road show. We made presentations to investors, talked to them about who we were and how we thought and we couldn't tell them what we were doing because we don't know.

WN: But, "Give us money"?

Woz: Give us money, put it in a blind trust. So it's in a trust. We don't own it; we don't pay ourselves salaries. But we have 18 months to make an acquisition.

WN: What else are you looking forward to doing now that you have the book wrapped up?

Woz: Our local Bay Area Segway user group formed a polo Segway group and we went over to New Zealand and won the (first international Segway polo tournament). Well we didn't. We tied. The next international match will be in San Francisco or Silicon Valley -- one or the other -- in the summer of 2007.

Also in the summer of 2007, either in May or September, we're working hard, we've done a lot of planning, on another music festival. We can't call it US Festival because somebody else now trademarked it. So we'll call it Woz Fest or Woz Festival or something like that.

And in the end of 2007, in December, if our grant to the NSF gets approved, which I think it will, I will be driving my Hummer, modified for hydrogen and fuel cells, to the South Pole. And in my Hummer will be Buzz Aldrin, and then we'll have some scientists in another Hummer, and we'll have a film crew shooting in stereo in another Hummer and some support vehicles.

WN: What is the point of this?

Woz: There's a new road being built to the South Pole, a thousand-mile road by the NSF, and we're going to drive it -- be the first ones to drive real cars.

Listen to the full interview: Courtessy of

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