Woz goes hands-on with technology relics

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak appears at Computer History Museum to talk about some of the products and people that inspired him to create the first Apple computer.

Steve Wozniak with his famed creation, the Apple II computer, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
Steve Wozniak with his famed creation, the Apple II computer, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Scott Ard/CNET

Working in journalism can make for a lot of bad days, such as the time I had to ask for family photos of a woman whose estranged husband shot her and lit her car on fire as she arrived at work. Or when I maneuvered my unsafe, classic Mustang through the streets of Dallas in a wicked ice storm only to be told by an airport executive (in person, as was required by my editor so we could get a dateline in the newspaper), "We aren't closed, we just aren't allowing flights in or out."

Today, on the other hand, was a great day. As a very amateur tech historian and a small-time collector of technology relics (my original Apple IIe is in my CNET office, plugged in and ready for a round of Choplifter or Robotron 2084), a chance to hear Steve Wozniak reminisce about the influences that led him to build the first Apple computer was not to be missed. Even better was that he would be doing so while walking among the very technology he grew up reading about, using, and eventually building.

The location was the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., a city in the heart of Silicon Valley, where Wozniak in the 1970s witnessed the personal computer revolution that was just getting started, a revolution in which he would eventually play a crucial role. And the reason he was strolling through the museum's artifacts with a small group of journalists was to provide a sneak peek at an exhibit dubbed "Revolution: The first 200 years of computing," which is one part of a two-year, $19 million renovation the 25,000-square-foot museum will be revealing to the public in January. As Wozniak, who clearly enjoys talking about the history of computing, said at the event, "I say no to a lot of things, but never to the computer museum."

"Revolution" houses a fantastic array of devices and gizmos that have led to the Facebooks, smartphones, and PlayStations of today (later, I'll publish a separate photo gallery about the museum, including photos and video of a working Babbage Difference Engine. Look it up.) For his tour, Wozniak focused on eight machines and people that shaped his personal journey of discovery and creation:

  • IBM punch card machine

  • Stibitz one-bit Model K Adder (K standing for kitchen, where it was built by George Stibitz)

  • IBM actuator disk stack

  • Control Data Corp. 6600 supercomputer

  • Supercomputing pioneer Seymour Cray

  • Data General Nova computer

  • Honeywell Kitchen computer

  • Regency TR-1 transistor radio

  • Home Brew Computer club (a collection of computing hobbyists and tinkerers who witnessed Wozniak's demonstration of the first Apple computer. It celebrated its 30th anniversary at the same museum in 2005 and you can see CNET's coverage here)

Without further delay, CNET brings you several videos of Wozniak talking about his life influences, what he was thinking when he built the original Apple, how he and Steve Jobs came down with mononucleosis while creating a game called Breakout, and several other fascinating tales.

Wozniak talks about his favorite highlights at the Computer History Museum

Wozniak on the origins of the hard disk

On designing the first Apple computer

Wozniak on his early work as a hacker

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