Book Review: iWoz by Steve Wozniak

In the last 6+ months the great Steve Jobs has gotten a lot of play in the media. Books, interviews, articles, retrospectives, even Steve Jobs dolls!

With all of that attention it’s easy to forget the brains behind the Apple I and Apple ][. Steve Wozniak. In iWoz Steve (w/ assistance from writer Gina Smith) takes us from his childhood right up through the publication of the book in 2006. (pic via Wiki)

In the early 80s Woz was something of a hero to me, a larger-than-life nerd celeb.I'm not ashamed to say (okay, maybe a little ashamed ;-)) to remember a story from circa 1986. Apple had just released what was to be the final model of the ][ line: the Apple IIGS. At the time it was a technical marvel: 16-bit architecture, GUI w/ mouse, and real stereo sound. When a friend and I learned that one of the rare Limited Edition models was being delivered to a local store we immediately made a trip to see it in person. What made this version special? It was one of the few whose case had been personally signed by Steve Wozniak.

A Look Back At Captain Crunch and Phone Phreaking ]

Over the years I’ve read a great deal about Woz, lots of little anecdotes. But this book does a decent job of stringing them all together in context.

One of the best parts of the Woz saga is how it intertwines with the legendary Captain Crunch and phone phreaking. Woz read the 1971 Esquire article ‘Secrets of the Little Blue Box‘ (full PDF) by Ron Rosenbaum and it got him going down a very interesting path, that included getting held-up at gun-point by someone who wanted to steal one of his phone boxes.

A few items from the book:
1. Woz’s dad worked on some secret skunk-works type projects for defense contractors, and before that was a QB for Caltech.
2. He grew up in one of the original Eichler homes.
3. So that’s how we get the term “twisted-pair?” p. 22

4. Woz became a licensed ham radio operator, at I think age 11. p. 28
5. He was against the Vietnam war and had a strong libertarian streak at times. pp. 75-80
6. And that’s where 2600 magazine got its name. p. 96

7. Who the heck is Oaf Tobar?! p. 110
8. The first business ventire of Wozniak and Jobs together was selling Blue Boxes for profit. p. 116
9. Dial-a-Joke. p. 127

10. The first home VCRs, Woz had it. pp. 138-139
11. Woz even created the first Breakout game for Atari?! p. 144
12. The Zaltair as legendary Woz prank. p. 202

It’s really tough to overemphasize the genius of Wozniak in building the early devices he created. I’d argue that he was as critical to Apple’s early years as Jobs was to Apple later years, perhaps more so. If you’re a deep IT person or better yet a programmer you’ll appreciate a lot of the anecdotes in the book, such as repeatedly writing programs in a paper notebook in machine language because he had no access to an assembler or computer time.

The story of how he created a working floppy-drive for the Apple ][ is nothing short of amazing. p. 212

The book is a quick and easy read. If you’re any kind of Apple fan-boy you should check this one out.

Additional links:
The article that inspired Steve Jobs: “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” – Slate Magazine
Secrets of the Little Blue Box – Esquire
The History of Phone Phreaking Blog: Secrets of The Little Blue Box
Esquire blue box replica – YouTube