Woz Live - no girlfriend, just genius

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak speaking in Auckland this morning. Photo / Phillip Davis
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak speaking in Auckland this morning. Photo / Phillip Davis

When Steve Wozniak checks into a hotel, he doesn't judge the accommodation by the quality of the room or size of the bed, but by the number on his door.

Speaking at a one-off event in Auckland this morning, the Apple co-founder said he spends his life looking for numbers he can play games with in his head.

For Apple fans at least, it is a mind the world can be grateful for, as Wozniak whittled away his youth mastering the programming skills which led to him starting Apple Computers with Steve Jobs in 1976.

"I was very much a nerd," Wozniak told the audience at the Viaduct Events Centre.

"I had almost no chance of finding a girlfriend or wife, so I had a lot of time."

Wozniak opened today's event by sharing the Apple story - from his discovery of binary code at the age of 10 to eventually meeting Steve Jobs in the early 1970s.

'Woz' fell in love with computers early and decided he wanted to spend his life as an engineer. He gained a ham-radio license at 10-years old and went on to win every school science award going.

"I wanted to learn everything I could about computers.

"I was so shy, I couldn't even socialise or talk to people but I was an electronic genius."

By college, he was such a prolific programmer that he ran his classroom budget five times over and was cut off from using the school computer.

A confessed prankster, he built a transmitter that allowed him to sit in a room and "fuzz up a TV set", then reset the picture. He tricked his friends for weeks that they needed to place themselves in various awkard positions around the room to make the TV work.

It was during a year off school that Wozniak was introduced to another young student called Steve Jobs.

"We hit it off well," Wozniak said.

It was a winning combination - Wozniak the engineering genius and Jobs the businessman with a head for money.

"Every time I came up with something good, he found a way to turn it into money," Woniak said.

"I was so far from being a businessman, I just wanted to design."

Wozniak described Jobs, who passed away in October last year after a battle with pancreatic cancer, as someone who often clashed with people.

But together they received their first $50,000 order for the Apple 1 computer.

That order was "the biggest financial shock in Apple's history", Wozniak said, because neither he nor Jobs had any money.

Jobs got his hands on the parts they needed, on 30 days credit, to build the computers in a garage.

Next came the iconic Apple Macintosh, before Wozniak left the company in 1987.

Although they came after his time, Wozniak described the Apple iPhone as "the greatest invention ever" and the iPad "a beautiful machine for just average people like my wife's parents".

Those attending this morning's session were struck with Wozniak's enthusiasm.

"The thing he brought to this event was sheer energy and passion," said software architect Yashdeep Patil.

"He inspires me to not to keep anything out of the picture but to break shackles."

Software developer Ratha Long said he enjoyed hearing Wozniak talk about Jobs.

"How he could just take things from Wozniak and make it into a business."

Today's audience later heard about "Disruptive Innovation", as Wozniak looked to inspire business leaders and innovators to revolutionise the corporate culture.

Since Apple, Wozniak has run various companies, including Wheels of Zeus (WoZ).

He has been chief scientist for data storage and server company Fusion-io since December 2008.

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