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Steve Wozniak: Education Technology Champion

A profile of the 2006 EduComm keynote speaker.
University Business, May 2006

To hear Steve Wozniak tell it, he and Steve Jobs were just a couple of college dropouts who simply wanted to build and sell Wozniak's "home brew" computer. They sold Jobs' van and Wozniak's Hewlett Packard calculator to raise the capital ($1,350) to launch Apple Computer, but as Wozniak has said, "Really, we didn't take a risk. I didn't give up my job; Steve just lived at home with his parents. We didn't change our lifestyle."

Not much drama, minimal sacrifice. It doesn't sound like the stuff of which legends are made. But what they began 30 years ago surely helped change the way we all live and work today, and that's no small accomplishment.

The man who helped launch a revolution says it wasn't such a big deal.

Computer technology has become such an integral part of education that we're quickly reaching the point where incoming college students will have no memory of life without it.

Wozniak talks about education and technology-where it came from and where it is heading-in his autobiography, I, Woz, due out in November, and he'll share some of those insights as the keynote speaker next month at our EduComm 2006 conference in Orlando.

Besides his interest in education (he teaches computing classes in his California school district, has provided network capabilities and outfitted a dozen computer labs for local elementary schools, and has supplied hundreds of laptop computers to students), Wozniak has kept his hand in the technology arena as well, with his latest venture, Acquicor Technology. Announced in March, the company founded by ex-Apple executives will seek acquisitions in the technology sector. He is also president and chief technology officer of Wheels of Zeus (WOZ), a global-positioning system and wireless company he formed three years ago.

A man of many eclectic interests, Wozniak claims to be an authority on laser pointers (he says he owns all the colors of the rainbow), and he collects unique phone numbers. He said he had tried for months to obtain a phone number in which all seven digits were the same. When he finally did (888-8888), it proved unusable because it received numerous hang-ups, gurgling, and "dead air" calls. He finally discovered the calls came from babies who had picked up the handset and repeatedly pushed the number at the bottom of the keypad.

Wozniak says he's still a hacker at heart-using the term to describe those who tinker with computer code or machines to make them more efficient or do things they weren't necessarily designed to do. In fact, the first Apple computer was designed in that fashion he says. If his early design had 200 chips, he tried to redesign it with 150, then 100. The resulting Apple I computer ultimately consisted of 62 chips on a single circuit-board, a feat that would put computers in the realm of mass production.

Although he's watched processing power and speed increase each year, Wozniak says there will be a day when the technology will reach a physical limit and begin to plateau. When that happens, the industry's thinking will also have to change.

"It will be more like automobiles where it's a lot less stressful in the hardware areas, and that's when we can go back and make the software obey something like a Ten Commandments of Software, which we don't have yet," he told the San Jose Mercury News. "Starting with things like: Computers shall not crash; if programs crash, they shall not crash the operating system; error messages shall be understandable; error messages should guess what you are trying to do and should explain the proper way to do it; should ask you if you want it done for you."

Steve Wozniak will keynote UB's EduComm conference on Wednesday, June 7, at 9 a.m. in the Linda Chapin Theatre (located in the Orange County Convention Center). Learn more at

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