History and Honor

January 4, 2018

Comment from E-mail

Q1: Thank you for taking the time to reply. As a historian, to have received an email from someone who made history in such a BIG way is quite exciting and an honor.

Q2: In my walking tour [of San Francisco] I speak about the Civic Center, and the history that occurred there – such as the United Nations being created in 1945 at the War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building. Years ago, I thought that I read that a version of the Apple had been introduced at Civic Auditorium at an early computer fair.

Q3: So the purpose of my question is really see if a historic event involving the Apple occurred at the Civic Auditorium. Did you introduce or in any other way promote the Apple at any time at Civic Auditorium, and if so, what was the significance to Apple, the computer industry, (perhaps even yourself) of that event. Did you or the company ever participate in something there that you think any person, San Franciscan or visitor, would find exciting to learn? In that vein, what key events in the story of Apple happened in San Francisco, if any?


A1: I actually manage to answer most of my email. I do have a lot of it every day.

A2: Yes

A3: This is VERY MUCH the case.

Steve and I had started a company and sold mostly built computers during 1976. I had designed the Apple ][. It had half the parts and ten times more things than any other low cost computer, including many revolutionary ones that would set the tone of what a personal computer should be. It would wind up being the first successful, massively selling, personal computer.

But this industry was just kicking off and we realized that we could probably sell 1,000 of this great computer per month. That took a lot of money. We had none, so we went looking. We met Mike Markkula, and he launched us. I had to leave Hewlett Packard, which was tough.

At this time the [first] West Coast Computer Faire was being planned for Civic Auditorium. Steve Jobs got the info packet. Both he and I felt that we had such a good product that we should immediately secure the prime booth spot, which we did. We also arranged to rent a video projector. This was such an early year that such projectors were virtually unknown. It was a BIG deal.

The few of us that made up Apple at this time were all there to meet people and show them what we had. Mike Markkula talked to store owners and gave them legal paperwork to establish accounts with us and start ordering. We were a rare company at this time to even have such a professional approach. Almost all the companies had amateur technologies and amateur business practices.

This would be the show to officially unveil this great machine, and the company. It is fair to note that I had insisted on introducing the Apple ][ PC board (not the cased computer) by holding it up in front of the Homebrew Computer Club and explaining what it had and how it worked. This had been a big deal for me, because I was too shy to talk much back then. The only 2 times I actually said anything to the club were when I introduced the Apple I and Apple ][ computers there.

There was no such thing as political correctness at this time. The top selling joke book was The Official Polish/Italian Joke Book. I created one of the programs that we demonstrated at Civic Auditorium. It asked the user their name. It tried to figure out their nationality and would ask back “Are you by chance French?” or “Are you by chance German?” or whatever it guessed the corresponding nationality was. If the last name ended with a vowel, it guessed Italian. As a last resort, it would ask the user to type in their nationality. Then it would start presenting jokes, modified for that particular nationality.

Another thing that I remember is that Mike Markkula arranged to have something like 20,000 brochures printed. I was astounded that this many people might attend. I decided to do a major prank.

The hot-selling hobbiest computer platform then was called S-100 and the computer that had started this movement was the MITS Altair, based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor. The company Zilog had come out with a compatible processor, which they called the Z-80. A few companies using this chip were establishing brands based on Z words. Like ComputerZ or Z-Node or the like. I created a phony ad for a product called the Zaltair. I copied some of the worst ads I could find for wording. It started out “Imagine [this]. Imagine [that]. Imagine [other]…” with superlative descriptions of a computer that solved every problem in the world. I came up with ridiculous lines like “Imagine a car with 5 wheels” as though it would be better! I made up words like PerZonality, BaZic, etc.

I also had a comparison chart. I compared this new phony Zaltair computer to the Altair, the Apple and a couple of other ones. The categories I made up were ridiculous, things like “software,” “hardware,” “usefulness,” “appearance,” “durability,” etc. The Zaltair was normalized to 1.0 for every category. The next best computer was always the Altair, with numbers like 1.8 or 2.5. This was another ridiculous clue, since the Altair wasn’t superior to the other computers of the comparison. The other computers would have numbers like 5.3, 7.1, etc.

I added a section where you could ship back your Altair 8080 of Altair 680 computers (the latter was a real dog) and get a discount. This phony Zaltair was supposedly from the same company MITS. I’d made sure in advance that MITS would not be at the show.

A very young high school aged friend in Los Angeles helped me with some of the corny wording. He found a place to get it laid out professionally and I had about 8,000 printed down in L.A., to be safer. Even Steve Jobs didn’t know I was doing this.

The only people that knew were Chris Espinosa, my L.A. friend Adam, and Randy Wiggington. Eventually, we slid Chris to the side so there were basically 3 of us involved. Adam and I spotted a huge table filled with handouts from many companies at the show. So we went to our hotel and came back with a box of 2,000 Zaltair handouts, in various colors. We set the box down and went away laughing. Not much longer I heard that the brochures were gone. We went and looked, and sure enough they were gone. My calculations didn’t add up to that many going to show attendees so quickly. So we walked to the hotel and got another box. We set it on the table, and not very much later at all a gentleman came over, looked in it, and took it away. It turns out that a rep for MITS was at the show.

Now we started taking large batches of our Zaltair handouts under our coats, and in bags from the show. We’d lay batches out on any table or phone booth we could find at the show. If I had a green batch, I would find another batch of green brochures, take a few of them to ‘read’, place them on top of my green Zaltair handouts, and put the green stack back in place. One time I immediately saw someone rush over and read the top brochure. In my mind, he was from the MITS rep, trying to catch the perpetrator.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I put a fake quote from Ed Roberts, the president of MITS, at the top of the first side of my Zaltair brochure. It said things like “Predictable Refinement Of Computer Equipment Should Suggest Online Reliability. The Elite Computer Hobbiest Needs One Logical Option Guarantee Yet.” The first letter of each word spelled Processor Technology, another top hobby computer company. I had learned from many pranks before that it was better to make it look as though someone else did it.

At the conclusion of this show in Civic Auditorium, as we were taking stuff out to our cars, Mike Markkula told me that it was really going to happen, that he’d seen the signs at this show to know that we were on the track that would make us worth $500M in 5 years.

The next night there was a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club. Some people talked about the Zaltair ad and waved them in the air. It did cause a bit of a stir, and some people had actually gotten this brochure. But someone said that he had called MITS and that it was a hoax.

The very next day, we were talking about the show at Apple. I pulled out a Zaltair handout and asked Steve Jobs if he had seen it. He started reading it and inspecting it closely. Rod Hold came over and said that it didn’t exist, that the handout was full of “Imagine [this]” wording in the first paragraph. But Steve said it had to be real because it even had copyrights and trademark notices. I’d put on things like “Zycolac is a trademark of…” and “Zaltair” is a trademark of MITS” with the company logos.

I was barely holding my laughter and acting like it was kind of funny when Steve saw the computer comparison chart, with categories like “quality.” When he said “Hey,we didn’t do too bad” I couldn’t hold my laughter so Randy and I made an excuse to get out and go to Bob’s Big Boy.

When we returned, Steve had called MITS and found out that the handout was a hoax.

A few days later, back at Apple, Gordon French visited Apple in search of work. The Homebrew Computer Club had started in Gordon’s garage. I called his attention to my Zaltair handout. Like others, Gordon was aware that it was a hoax. He said to me that he knew who did it. I almost laughed and asked who that would be. Gordon said it had to be Larry Ingram (I think) of Processor Technology because he had a ‘strange’ sense of humor. I could hardly contain my laughter. I said that I’d heard there was some sort of cypher in the starting quote, something like the first letter of each word. So Gordon, Steve Jobs, myself and others started reading the letters “P-R-O-C-E-S…” Steve Jobs said the final “Y”. Gordon, and a lot of the world, were convinced from that day that this guy at Processor Technology had done the prank.

Maybe 6 or more years later I gave Steve Jobs a copy of the Zaltair handout, framed, as a birthday gift. When he opened it he started laughing. He had never connected me to this one. …..Woz