Steve WozniakCo-founder of Apple Computer, the geek's geek, one-time darling of tech millionaires and one heck of a guy, The Woz's amazing power is that in the thirty years he has been in the public eye, he's never once come off as anything but the genuine article. Hence, when we hear about something happening to Woz, the natural reaction is how could you?
Wozniak's life is entirely linked with that of Steve Jobs, an Eastern-influenced self-loving West-Coast nutjob whose entire career has been spent ignoring the advice of anyone around him and injecting his insane obsessiveness on talented people. This has led to soaring glories and crushing, manic defeat. Many hundreds of people have lived under his reign, but it was Wozniak, back when both were in their early twenties, that first got the stick. A typical example is "The Breakout Story."
When Steve Jobs worked at Atari, the company was working on creating the arcade game Breakout, which required 80 Integrated Circuits (ICs). The less ICs there were, the cheaper the games would be to produce, so Nolan Bushnell (Atari's president) offered $100 for every IC that could be knocked out of the design. Jobs brought Woz the challenge, and over four days and nights at Atari they put together a design that only required 30 ICs. Bushnell gave Jobs his $5000 bonus, which Jobs "split" with Wozniak by telling him it was a $700 bonus, giving him "half," or $350. Woz was delighted, but years later found out the truth. And cried.
This little story really does show the difference between the two founders: Wozniak, the classic hacker, facing challenges and improving a project so that people like himself could enjoy it, and Jobs, the goat fucker. As life has gone on to prove, it's the goat fucker that ends up running the company. Or, as might be said more poetically, In the valley of the goats, the Goat Fucker is king. Jobs would run the company for a good number of years before being shoved aside, and then return in a triumph when the company sunk to new lows in the 1990s.
Wozniak basically created the Apple I and Apple II computers by himself, with a small group of friends helping here and there. Jobs demanded and put a pretty plastic case on it. The Apple II sold millions, and when Apple Computer went public, the Steves became the first media-celebrated tech stock multi-millionaires. Young kids, raking in the bucks! The story would play out in the 1990s again and again, but this was a decade and a half before that.
But where Jobs decided the next thing to do was find another set of people he could slave-drive into creating another big seller (the Macintosh), Wozniak kept it real. He kept his engineer's cubicle and slaved away at Apple, day in and day out, until one day he nearly died. Not from Apple, of course, but from a plane crash. Woz's ultralight plane crashed in Berkeley, California in 1981 and Woz spent 5 weeks in the hospital with amnesia. His amnesia wore off but he figured out something very important at that point: stop busting your hump for the company, live a little. For the next twenty years, Woz followed that mantra to a T.
While still keeping employee status at Apple (but taking a leave of absence), Woz launched into a bunch of money-losing but personally fulfilling moves. The first was creating the US Festival, two rock concerts that cost him millions personally and showed him that the rock promotion business was even more nasty than the computer business had become. But instead of becoming bitter, Woz just kept going at it, becoming, at various times, a father, philanthropist, and even a schoolteacher. But of course, all these pale to the next great thing he created after the Apple II: The Cloud 9 Remote Control.
Yes, friends, Cloud 9, Wozniak's high-end remote control, was the bad-assingest, mother-pimpingest remote control you could get your sweaty hands on. Where The Man wanted you to have some lame little soda straw of infra-red signal pissing along randomly to your appliances, The Cloud 9 flooded the area in rays, guaranteeing you could sit on the crapper and send the important news that the radio should go up full blast down your hallway and into the living room. If you're still skeptical, let's drop this little bit of trivia on you: The Cloud 9 had dual processors. In 1985. It had a fucking programming manual that explained recursive coding techniques. If there was something that needed any signal to do anything, of any kind, to do something, Cloud 9 was the mack.
Cloud 9 also had the coolest phone number, ever (long since gone): 1-800-999-9999. When Cloud 9 finally choked it down, Wozniak did what Wozniak does: give the number away to a teen runaway line, where desperate youth could grab any payphone and press the 9 key over and over until someone could speak to them. For publicity? For a good name? No, because Woz is just that cool.
Wozniak has had his ass dragged into Apple whenever they needed to legitimize the steps they were taking; he's been at a couple shows and at big announcements that needed that extra oomph to push them through, like an actual sense of honesty. But you can be sure that Jobs and Woz don't sit around the living room sipping Chateau Margaux and discussing the old times.
And when the dealing's done, when the Two Steves shuffle off the mortal coil and receive the accolades, writings, speeches and remembrances of an industry they helped create and the millions of people their work affected, one thing is for sure: they'll remember Jobs, but they'll cry for Woz.