A Brief Conversation with Woz

During the Apple/Homebrew reunion, having never met him before in person, I briefly introduced myself to Woz as the guy that makes those Apple 1 clones that he always signing. He said, “nice”. He was surrounded by a crowd of people, so I let it be at that, and moved on. At least I had introduced myself.

Later on, as I was talking to Daniel Kottke, whom I have known for several years, Woz came over and joined us. We talked about that small change that he thought could add a color to the Apple II. I mentioned that I tried to make that change, but couldn’t make it work, right. He said he knew that. I was a little surprised by this reply, since I don’t think I ever reported that I had spent time experimenting making that change, but failed to make it work well. Maybe, I had emailed him my results and then forgot about it, I don’t know.

Woz also talked about a change he thought he could have made on the Apple II, that would have saved a chip, but required more complicated software in order to implement video support. I’m not sure what that change would be, but I’m thinking that creating an incompatible Apple II to save a chip isn’t anything I’ll be working on, at least in the near future.

Woz talked about the video system on the Apple 1. He says he copied it from some terminal product, clearing up that point, once and for all. Part of this video system has a rather complicated state machine that implements the carriage return logic. Woz admitted to Daniel and I, that he never understood that logic. In return, I admitted that I never understood it either. Actually, I was probably being a bit humble, as I understand the concept of that circuit, but never completely understood the details of the implementation. I expect he was saying the same thing.

Woz finally mentioned that there was one part of the Apple II design that didn’t meet timing specs of the chips. He then said that he knew it, but never told anyone. He was counting on the conservative specs of the chips involved from turning this timing violation into a real problem. I think that he was right, as I have never heard of any timing issues on the Apple II, actually causing problems.

I wonder if Daniel and I were the first to ever hear this confession, as I don’t recall hearing about it, before. Anyway, this confession reveals some of the difficult decisions that design teams, even the best, have to deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes these sorts of decisions come back to haunt us, and sometimes they don’t. The reason that engineers sometimes hold back on reporting latent issues, is that openly reporting issues may cause endless debate within the design team and possible delays on the project. I’m sure that Woz would have reported it, if he thought it was going to be a real issue.

By the way, I don’t advocate holding back information from your boss, I’m just saying that it does happen and why.

Meeting Woz in person, was a real pleasure. He is a great guy, exactly the same in person as when on stage or virtually, via email.

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