Apple Icon Remembers Past, Looks to Future
This year's commencement speaker offers advice to grads in interview
By Louis Gray
Steve Wozniak, a pioneer in the personal computing industry and a UC Berkeley alumnus, was recently selected to deliver the commencement speech to this year's graduating class.
Wozniak spent two years of college at UC Berkeley after transferring from Cupertino's De Anza Community College in the early '70s. He received an honorary bachelor's degree from the electrical engineering and computer science department in 1987 for revolutionizing the computer industry by co-founding Apple Computers with partner Steve Jobs. The company produced some of the first personal computers.
In an interview conducted via the Internet Monday night, Wozniak told The Daily Californian that college graduates should find something they enjoy doing, work harder than anyone else doing it and never stop challenging themselves.
He added that he credits his classes and professors during his time at UC Berkeley for his best achievements. He also discussed his vision of computers and technology for the next decade.
The Daily Californian: How did your preparation at UC Berkeley help you in your career at Apple?
Steve Wozniak: I referred back to my computer science classes in writing the Basic interpreter which was so important to the Apple II, being the first computer ever with such a language built in.
Tidbits that I remembered from data structure courses helped with my early software efforts. Synchronous logic design techniques and minimization, which became my favorite styles of design, came directly from classes at Berkeley in 1971-72.
Although I was largely self-taught from books and manuals that I encountered, I always credit my best achievements to my college classes.
The environment, with friends in the dorms, riots, tear gas, "phone phreaking," etc. made the school experience even more enriched and memorable for myself.
DC: Where do you see the world of computing in the next one, five, or even 10 years?
SW: When I was actively designing within Apple, I could generally predict one year ahead, since I was working on products a year ahead. Whenever I tried to predict two years out, I would be surprised by unpredictable events and products which changed things, always more than I had predicted.
My whole life, I only wanted to be involved in electronics that touched people in their homes. That's the only place we're really touched as students anyway. I cared about music and hi-fis and radios and TVs and the like.
I only wanted to build computers that affected normal people at home when computers before had only been applied to the corporate world. So my thinking about the future goes in these directions.
I propose that we're just at the start of at least a "next" phase in the evolution of personal computers. Suppose that in 10 years or so all such machines will have 100 times the RAM and 100 times the HD and much more speed too. We can imagine using half of the hard disk in our laptop computer to store 300 full-length movies.
Movies and music are things that many like in their home and personal space. What can this mean to our lives? Can we afford as much information as we can store? Will copying ethics or laws change? How long will a backup take?
Somewhat farther out we will hit some physical walls that will prevent making "more for less": more RAM for less money, more hard disk for less money, more hardware in general for less money.
From then on, computers should be sort of the same -- the same amount of hardware for the same price year after year. That's when we may go back and look into taking the time to make the software much larger and more humanized.
We don't have the economics in today's competitive market to take three times as long to write software today in order to have it understand what we are trying to do, to detect mistakes, to inform us of how we really want to do it and to offer to do it for us.
This sort of humanized software takes much longer to plan and create. But a software renaissance may come when there's more time and more resources to put into it due to hardware becoming very stable and unchanging.
The Commencement Speech, and Map to Success
DC: What will be the focus of the commencement speech? Have you decided yet?
SW: I will try to be entertaining. Of course, I will strike a few chords. I will blend my own "student" tales, including ethical and moral facets of trying to find a way to "be," with the importance of schools and the ability to think independently and creatively.
I wish that I had more worked out for you, but I will have to find out how long the speech is to be.
At my own graduation, I played a young graduate asking questions and thinking that his discipline held all the important answers to a future job. But I simultaneously played the role of a computer telling that graduate to see a successful organization as being the result of many disciplines working well together.
Interestingly enough, after that graduation, in La Val's Northside, a friend arranged for me to be smacked with a pie so that he could caption the photo "Computer Pie-in-Ear." It's a good photo!
DC: If you could tell students how to achieve success, what would you tell them?
SW: First of all, look ahead to when you die. Imagine two (kinds of) people. One was very successful by all measures. But the other had lots of laughs with friends every day. Which had the better life? To me, success in life is happiness and to myself that means the number of smiles minus the number of frowns.
There are different kinds of people. Many will have the best, happiest life by achieving measures of success like income, title and other serious extrinsic measures. Others will have the best, happiest life by being around fun friends no matter what.
I assume that almost all the graduates have a feel for something that they are good at and enjoy. I would encourage them to continue to do these sorts of things. But give yourself a challenge while you're young with tons of energy. Try to do a better job than every other college graduate, better than every other human.
What you're good at will then likely turn into something valuable, even without a plan. From then on, life will be much easier and rewarding forever.
But, still smile a lot. Even if you have to tell jokes and play pranks while you work.
SW: I have a large family and every kid basically has a desktop and laptop computer, as well as myself and my wife. I prefer the laptop almost exclusively. Our central "family" computer is the futuristic looking 20th Anniversary Macintosh, with its great Bose sound system.
Keeping the computers good and well-accessorized has always been important to me, although I often resort to "the most common" as being a type of "good" too.
I keep up with the latest consumer electronics products and visit Japan occasionally to find ones that are ahead of those in the U.S. So I always have some VCRs, camcorders, digital cameras, tape recorders, etc., that aren't always brought to the states.
I had a totally computer-controlled home as far as the lights. You could press a button once and some set of lights through the house would come on. Or you could press it twice and more would come on.
But it caused me more pain than it was worth, having tons of buttons for obscure buttons that couldn't be written on the faceplates. So I nearly chucked it and wound up having it programmed to just turn near lights on and off like normal light switches. It's fine now.
I have a fantastic self-cleaning pool with a computer control. Basically, on the occasions that I try to use the pool or heat the spa, something breaks and the spa dumps out its water and never works. I still haven't solved that one, but we moved back into a prior house with a small pool that works great.
The TVs in the house aren't surrounded by tons of gear. I had surround sound in one home, in the family room, but due to poor acoustical surroundings, it never worked well. The rear speakers of the surround sound in our master bedroom were too disturbing to (my) daughter Marci in the next room (the other side of the wall). So I'm satisfied with the sound systems built into good TVs.
We generally have a Laserdisk/DVD player, Super VHS VCR, and DSS satellite receiver on each TV. I have a couple of 8 mm VCRs and a couple of DV VCRs in the garage. I'm intrigued by the process of keeping videos in pure digital form from camcorder to computer to editing and back to VCR.
I have my two homes (one of the homes is used as a daytime office) connected to the Internet over (high-speed) T1 lines. I supply feeds off this to local schools, the library, a convent and even friends via microwave links, which are faster and much less expensive than T1 lines from the phone company. At both sites I administer (with the help of friends) this Wide Area Network, programming routers and bridges and hubs and computers and servers and the like.
My 15-year-old son and some friends of his host Web sites for commercial clients right out of our home. We've gotten used to this for some time now.
The Local Area Network in the home I'm living in now is quite sophisticated. Throughout the house are about 30 network plates, each with a couple of phone lines (and phone-net), a couple of Ethernet taps, a couple of fiber taps, a TV antenna feed and a DSS antenna feed. Still, we ran into a number of problems reaching wires across rooms to fit the logical TV and computer sites. I have a dream of designing a home that is easy to add wires to.
I have a lot of computers in the home but not a single CRT monitor. The laptops and 20th Anniversary Macintoshes have LCD screens.
All of our desktop machines have the greatest monitor made to date, a 21-inch LCD monitor from NEC. Its screen is larger than the largest monitor shipped by Apple, but it is only a few inches thick and is easily carried by a child. The totally flat screen is strikingly much better than CRT screens to look at.
Along these lines, in Japan, the best looking TVs are new Sony Trinitrons with extremely flat screens. In every store they just look much better than any other TVs.
It may not count as technology but I keep lots of prank items from the right catalogs around, just for when the kids want to have fun.
SW: As one of the owners of Shoreline Amphitheater, I have attended all but a few shows since it opened. I'm very proud of it and what it has contributed to South Bay culture. I enjoy experiencing such a wide range of music and people. I had Golden State Warriors season tickets for 10 years but dropped them this last year, fortunately.
I play Tetris on my Game Boy all the time and often link up with friends. How many adults can claim to have had their high scores published in Nintendo Power magazine while they were adults?
My full time is spent bringing computers into the lives of school children in Los Gatos, where I live. I used to donate computer labs to schools and then felt guilty that I wasn't giving of myself. So I started teaching young students from fifth to 10th grade. I also held a couple of teacher training courses. My courses have been extensive and there's not room enough here to describe how rewarding it's been. I'm gearing up to start another such course in a few days.
DC: Who do you look up to?
SW: My parents were great people and I wouldn't be what I am today without them both. So many of the things that I learned and the values that I developed can be traced back to their influences.
I really admire singers that capture feelings in their songs and words. Ones that can express the anxieties of growing and experiencing. Bob Dylan was at the top of my list in this regard.
I have looked up to young game writers that lived a dream in their head and turned it into a program. I was once speechless when I met a young 15-year-old that fell into this category.
I have long admired Bill Hewlett and David Packard for everything that their company meant to the area in which I grew up, and in what it meant to engineers.
In a similar sense, I admire Marc Andreesen of Netscape, although I've never met him.
I don't generally admire politicians. My negative feelings about politics developed during my 1971-72 year at Berkeley, in the midst of the Vietnam War. But I strongly admire Jimmy Carter and even voted when he ran (he lost), because of his sincere caring about all people. He's too good as a person to be successful as a president, in my opinion.