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I had a TV set and a typewriter and that made me think a computer should be laid out like a typewriter with a video screen.

Steve Wozniak

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At college Wozniak again ran into trouble when his programs proved to have used so much time-share that he had consumed five times the level of the computer science department’s annual budget.

He was on much safer ground when he came across a DEC PDP-8 manual which he read thoroughly and then challenged himself to redesign the computer using his, by then, broad understanding of electronic circuitry.

He acquired other minicomputer manuals and on paper and in his mind he worked on improved designs that would use fewer chips.  He could not afford actually to pursue any of these notions but he remained confident that his designs would work and represented an improvement on the originals.

He took a sabbatical year from college, working as a programmer at Tenet, an operation developing a minicomputer system.  While there one of the Tenet team acquired some chips for him.

He and a friend, Bill Fernandez, used these to build the Cream Soda computer, so named because they had consumed Cragmont cream soda as they built it.  This had no screen and no keyboard, programs were entered by punched card and results had to be read from a series of lights.

This had most of the features of the Altair and other early kit systems yet was built without a microprocessor.  Sobering that it would take five years for the MPU-based kits to arrive and yet they would offer no more than the Cream Soda computer.

A local reporter, whom Wozniak’s mother arranged to review it, stepped on a lead at the end of the interview, the device shorted – and was no more.

But his work with Fernandez did connect him up with Steve Jobs.  On meeting they experienced one of those moments when two minds collide.  They discovered they were both working on projects, they were both pranksters and they shared many of the same aspirations for computing.

 

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