Homebrew Computer Club

First Apple Computers

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Comment from E-mail

I am thoroughly impressed by you creation of the first apple computers (and some other nifty electronic gadgets.) I have a nice little tech bench set up in my apartment, and spend a lot of time tinkering and inventing little projects, but nothing on the scale of a computer. I am aware that you gave away your schematics for the first Apple at the Stanford homebrew meetings, and was wondering if you still had a copy? I am very interested to see the components you used, and to gauge the possibility of building such a device on my own. I know that it will not bear the same accomplishment as actually designing the machine and then producing it 20 years ago, but I am very interested in the fundamental concepts of computers and would have a lot fun trying to make a computer. I was also wondering where you learned most of your electrical engineering. Books? school? any specific books or courses?

Woz

The schematics that I gave away were of the Apple I. It used some PMOS shift registers (2904 and 2919 I believe) to cycle the screen data, changing characters at the precisely right time. These chips, I'm sure, are unavailable today. The Apple ][ schematics were in our early manuals. You can probably find one of these somewhere. Although I started designing computers at an early age, ones I could never hope to build, I mainly built a lot of small projects. That's where I learned techniques. But today you can't design at the component and gate level as much if you're planning on a computer. It's pretty much all done in LSI chips. I learned my electronics from my father (an engineer), from early electronic kits (hard to find nowadays), from getting a ham radio license (you had to build your own tube based receiver and transmitter back then), from Popular Electronics magazine, from some rare computer journal articles, from Terman's book (a famous old one from the tube days, Terman taught at Stanford), from chip manuals with example circuits, and from computer manuals with logic diagrams of various parts and sometimes code examples.

The "open source" movement

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Comment from E-mail

I read in your comments that you were giving away your early designs. This seems to fit with the current popularity of the "open source" movement, and I wonder if you feel that the recent opening of the OSX Darwin kernel is a step in the right direction for Apple. Many people develop free software for free operating systems. Do you? If so, does the new Apple initiative inspire you to code for OSX?

Woz

That's a very astute observation. I gave away schematics of the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club. I also demoed enhancements to the Apple ][ every 2 weeks at the club. It was the opposite of normal corporate secrecy.

I don't have time to develop now but I appreciate the people who do so in the open source movement. It's been a long time since that was halfway normal. It makes me hopeful because young talented people have a chance to do more than stand by and watch and be paid a salary.

Open Source

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Question from E-mail

How do you feel about the Open Source "revolution"? Do you think that projects like Linux, Apache, Gnome and KDE are rekindling the same kind of spirit as the Homebrew Computing Club? Also, do you see this as being the source of great new innovation, or do you think that new technology are destined to come ala committee's of uber corporations?

Woz

Open source attracts open minds. That's good.

I am a huge fan

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Question from E-mail

I'm giddy about the fabled 'consumer portable' that (in theory) will be announced at MWNY... is there anything you can share with us on this project or will Apple not be too happy?----------------NO...Steve - Do you have a Newton / PalmPilot / Other PDA? Just curious...

Again, I am a huge fan. (Isn't it weird going from a guy who built computers for a homebrew computer club to being someone with almost a cult following? =) ) My first computer was the IIgs with that "Woz" signature on it; it was in many ways a much better machine than a bunch of the stuff you'll find out there today (especially on the peecee side of things...). And I love reading what you have to say about Pirates! B.K.

Woz

Yes, a Newton Message Pad 2100. I used to like to use it for taking notes. But it's sort of obsolete now. I have a PalmPilot but I don't intend to live by it.

Blue Box

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Question from E-mail

How did you make the blue box? Do you still own one? Also.. Do you have the Apple I still or any screen shots of it and programs? If so send me some. Thanks, Andy age:12

Woz

I read an article in Esquire Magazine. It was about the October edition in 1971. The article was entitled "Secrets of the Blue Box--fiction" by Ron Rosenblum. Halfway through the article I had to call my best friend, Steve Jobs, and read parts of this long article to him. It was about secret engineers that had special equipment in vans that could tap into phone cables and redirect the phone networks of the world. The article had blind phone phreaks like Joe Engessia Jr. of Nashville, and the hero of them all, Captain Crunch. It was a science fiction world but was told in a very real way. Too real a way. I stopped and told Steve that it sounded real, not like fiction. They gave too many engineering details and talked on too real a way to have been made up. They even gave out some of the frequencies that the blue box used to take control of the international phone network.

 

The next day was Sunday. Steve and I drove to SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the same place the Homebrew Computer Club would meet 4 years later) because they always left a door or two unlocked and nobody thought anything about a couple of strangers reading books and magazines in their technical library. Finally we found a book that had the exact same frequencies that had been mentioned in the Esquire article. Now we had the complete list. 

We went back to Steve's house and built two, somewhat unstable, multivabrator oscillators. We could see the instability on a frequency counter, but we were in a hurry. We would set one oscillator to 700 Hz and the other to 900 Hz (for a "1") and record it on a tape recorder. Then we'd adjust the oscillators and record the next digit, and so on. But it wasn't good enough to make a call as in the article. So we tried one oscillator at a time. It still wasn't good enough. I was off to Berkeley the next day so it would be some weeks before I designed a digital blue box that never missed a note. The key to debugging it was a guy in the dorm, Mike Joseph, that had perfect pitch. If it didn't work, he'd tell me what notes he heard. If one of them was a C-sharp and was supposed to be an A, I could look up the C-sharp frequency and find out where my frequency divider was off, and replace a diode that was bad. All my problems were diodes that I bought at Radio Shack in a bag where some might actually work. 

The key to the phone network then was a high E note, two octaves above the high E string on a guitar. It was 2600 Hz. The Captain Crunch cerial whistle could blow this note and seize a phone line. The blue box then took over with it's dual frequency combinations known as 'multfrequency' or MF, similar to touch tone frequencies but not the same. Some phone systems worked on SF, or Single Frequency. The 2600 Hz Captain Crunch whistle could make the entire call. One long whistle to seize the line, a short one for a "1", two short ones for a "2", etc. The blind phone phreak, Joe Engressia, could dial an entire call just by whistling it out of his own mouth! 

If you want to test this principal, play 2600 Hz into and long distance call and you'll be disconnected. We had fun doing that in the dorms. But don't be stupid and try to make a blue box today. It's much easier to make or program, but you're nearly guaranteed to get caught right away in most places. I experimented with it in 1972 but even then I paid for my own calls. I only used the blue box to see how many things I could do. 

I have Apple I's and original software and things but they're in storage and I don't have time to get them out and get them working right now.

 

 

Important Product and the start of an industry being given away...

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Question from Colin T.

Hello, I'm Colin T. I have always been interested in Operating Systems, and like the Mac OS. However, I also like free stuff, mostly because the people who make it are considerate enough to realize that what they are giving is really nothing more than virtual words. Therefore, I absolutely love the Linux Operating System. Now, I have started my own, called FluxOS. It will be giving away freely and is going to be open source. I am writing it in Assembly for the MIPS class processor (a nice little RISC chip). But, since I have little experience in Operating System programming, I can't do much. I need to know how the Kernel works, and other such essential elements. Could you point me in the right direction or show me what could be done?

Woz

Nice note. I'm glad that you're into some good things and that you really want to be. I'm glad that you are starting, as I did, with the mentality of helping and giving. It wasn't shown, but I passed out schematics of what became the Apple I computer (after Steve Jobs saw $$$) freely at the HomeBrew Computer Club. Who ever heard of such an important product and the start of an industry being given away?

I can't help point you in the direction you want to go. You'll have to find that on your own. I can only do a certain number of things and I've had a family for the last 16 years.

Apple I Clone

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Comment from E-mail

Hi, I am 14 years old. My friend and I want to build an Apple 1 clone, for fun and to advance our skills. Any help that you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Woz

Noble idea. They didn't show it but I gave out schematics to my Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club before Steve Jobs suggested starting a company. I'd gladly approve you being able to make a cheap one, but don't know how it would be possible today. If it were possible, the Apple ][ is the way to go, I assure you.

I admire you more than Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

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Comment from E-mail

I just saw "Pirates of Silicon Valley" on TNT. I have enjoyed using computers for several years, but I was unaware of all the things that took place between Micorsoft and Apple. I just wanted to tell you that if the movie was accurate, I admire you more than Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. You are incredibly talented and you kept everything in perspective. Keep up the good work.

Woz

The personalities and incidents are accurate in the sense that they all occured but they are often with the wrong parties (Bill Fernandez, Apple employee #4, was with me and the computer that burned up in 1970) and at the wrong dates (when John Sculley joined, he had to redirect attention from the Apple III, not the Mac, to the Apple ][ ) and places (Homebrew Computer Club was at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center).

 

I did give a lot of stock to employees that were with us from the beginning, etc. I also designed 2 computers (the Apple I being the first typewriter model with a keyboard ever and the Apple II being too spectacular to detail :o) ), a mini OS, app software, my own BASIC, lots of interfaces (cassette, printer, serial, modem, floppy) and more. Heck, in the movie Ed Roberts had the Altair computer KIT and Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote the BASIC. That's the last real design any of the other principals did. The part about me being the only true engineer wasn't played out much.