Friday, December 22, 2006

Steve Wozniak gives my old Apple ][ a hug.

Bruce Damer runs the DigiBarn, a sort of alternative to the Computer History Museum. I enjoy the CHM, but in a lot of ways I think that DigiBarn is closer to the old-guard hacker ethos -- home-grown and eclectic, it's the product of Bruce's pesonal vision and efforts, rather than a well-funded corporate retelling of the story.

I met Bruce through a conference that we both attend with some regularity.

The first real computer that I ever used was an Apple ][ with 16K of RAM, upgraded periodically over the years. I still get enthusiastic about words like peek, poke and hires. I remember working past midnight with my stepdad, Bill Jellison, writing programs in 6502 assembler. I am still ridiculously proud of the first real computer game I wrote -- a horse racing game with ASCII graphics and betting that used random numbers to control outcomes and some trickery that I invented myself to avoid integer overflow in computing your bankroll after a win.

I was certainly a latent geek up to that point, but that Apple ][ is what turned me into an engineer.

My stepdad bought that computer in the first place, and he and my mom held onto it for years, even after its place on the desk was taken over by a Lisa, and then by a 128K Mac. When they moved out of the house, they shipped it, along with a bunch of other retro computer gear, to me.

I eventually donated the machine to Bruce and the DigiBarn. It was one of the very first Apples made -- serial number 495 -- and almost certainly assembled by the Steves in the garage. It was doing no one any good in my attic, and seemed to both me and Bruce to be a valuable addition to the DigiBarn's collection.

A week or so ago, Steve Wozniak visited Bruce while filming a program for the Discovery Channel. Steve Jobs gets most of the Apple glory in the press, but Woz will always be the original Apple to me. I know the story of the floppy controller redesign over Christmas. The Apple ][ was elegant, and Woz was the engineer in the company. It's really unbelievable what he accomplished with a bunch of MSI components and a connection to a television set.

Bruce has posted pictures of Woz's visit, including several of his cuddling up to my old Apple ][. You need to scroll down to the middle of the page for the pictures I like best, or you can just look at this one.

Woz, that is exactly how I feel about that computer. Thanks, man.



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