Skip to comments.My Most Memorable Gadgets, By Steve Wozniak
Posted on 07/03/2009 11:23:15 AM PDT by MyTwoCopperCoins
We're kicking off our series exploring memorable gadgets from memorable people with one of the most influential tech giants: Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. JC
For that definition, it was probably an electronics learning kit I got for Christmas at about age 8 or 9. As I recall, it didn't teach electronics formulas or resistor codes, but was full of projects to hook up input devices like switches and output devices like buzzers and lights. It was like learning how to connect all the devices to your hi-fi, or connecting all your peripherals to a computer. It also gave me a good start toward understanding logic rules, like both switches have to be on for the light to shine, or if switch A is on, then switch B selects which light is on.
I call this one the most meaningful, because, pretty clearly to me, it preceded my other important gadgets and inspired me to like gadgets and to understand how to build some. It's like how the transistor led to the chip, which led to microprocessors, which led to personal computers. Everything goes back to the first invention, in that sense. This electronics kit gave me the understanding that made it easy to progress to large logic devices with multi-pole switches, and some relays, which then progressed to a large tic-tac-toe computer with transistors which progressed to a large adding/subtracting machine with transistors, etc.
The word 'meaningful' has the root 'meaning' which implies some emotion. In that sense, my first transistor radio, at about age 10, would fit the bill. It gave me portable music that I could listen to all night long as I slept, every night. 20 years later came the walkman, and 20 more years later came the iPod, but the real change in life, the one having the most 'meaning', was with the transistor radio.
I always wanted my own computer. With the Apple I, I now had a machine that I could program. I would never run out of things to do in my entire life. So it's a close runner up to the other two.
The gadget that has been the most attractive of attention ever is not my Segway. It's my nixie tube watch from CathodeCorner. It looks very large to other people and looks very strange. It's handmade in America too. The nixie tubes run on 140 volts on your wrist. Airport security guards who have seen every kind of watch ever made have a thrilling time with this watch.
I used to fly to Japan regularly to scour new gadgets, and always bought tons of things which were always surprising at the time, but looking back, few have special meaning. The first consumer digital camera, I think the Mavica technology, was meaningful. The first one for computers, not TV's, was the QuickTake from Apple. But in many ways, no digital camera to this day has been as good as the first Ricoh one.
The HP-35 calculator was also very meaningful in my life, as it led me to an incredible job designing for the follow-on models.
Much thanks to Woz for helping to kick off our series. Coming up soon: Phil Torrone, gadget maker and modder extraordinare.
Image credit: Sony Mav, HP Calculator
I’m such a gadget freak, and it seems to me that there as been a dearth of creative gadgets over the last decade or so.
Cell phones have met a certain design limit, and need to be rethought IMO. It’s time for a breath of fresh air.
The iPhone is a good product, but there are even problems with that.
It’s disheartening to see kids preferring fully-built toys over DIY stuff, these days.
At least, take the toy apart!
I have a kit like that, but I bought it for myself, also from Radio Shack.
I went into a local Radio Shack a few days ago and didn't see anything like that on the shelves. I wonder if they still carry them?
Toy safety regulations would probably keep them off of shelves.
Imagine starting a fire with nickel-cadmium batteries and a piece of wire...
I just decided what to get my 10 yr old for his birthday next week. Thanks for the idea.
Yes, they have 50 in 1, 75 in 1, 130 in 1, and more!
The Apple Macintosh was the last computer I repaired to the component level on. Most of the time I would resolder joints on a power transistor.
I built a working radio from mine! I could pick up the control tower at a local airfield!
Sadly, they’re a bit more than $15-20 these days, but there’s a really nice one that I think is about $70. Of course they make smaller and less expensive ones. Please do let us know how it turns out.
That led to an interest and then license to operate ham radio. From there to a physics degree 15 years later. Now a ham for 53 years.
Life is good.
Benton Harbor, Michigan.
What became of the Heathkit Company?
Today, the Heathkit Company, Inc. is still located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The Heathkit Company is completely out of the electronic kit business and now concentrates on Heathkit Educational Systems electronic learning materials for classrooms, schools and training centers.
I thought he broke his leg before he did it. BTW, I have never seen DWTS.
That photo is hilarious!
I forget if he broke his leg, I think he just hurt it rehearsing, but he continued anyhow through the pain. I gave him credit he did pretty decent for a big guy.
The crowd and the audience at home loved him, the judges didn’t like him as much.
Unimat lathe (gift from my Uncle), slot cars, rockets, gadgets made from Popular Science plans, Ammonia Tri-Iodide crystals, Potassium Permanganate and Glycerine. Lots of fun stuff. And lots more I can’t remember right now.
Yes they run on the antique but effective DOS but it fits in the pocket, runs on 2 AA batteries and has a flash card that still lets me transfer to my Mac as needed. Micro$oft persuaded HP to go to WinCE and discontinued the 200LX 10 years ago, there is still a dedicated group that keep them running.
Then I got a Science Fair three transistor super regen RX....I was hooked. A ham for may years and professional radio guy. Lots of fun and moreso now that the bands are opening up once more.
****in Corvallis WA****
Actually, The Corvallis HP plant is in Corvallis Oregon.
Boy, that's the truth. I'm trying to get my grandson going by getting him the "How Things Work" book. He's into Legos, so not all is lost. HERE's a neat site for further leads.
My thing was the Erector sets. Loved constructing an Empire State building, complete with elevators that worked off a string-and-winch combination. A buddy of mine was into chemistry and got one of those sets prevalent in the '50s. One day I found him sitting on the stoop to his apartment (this was NYC). He said his mother threw him out "till dad came home". He was experimenting with his new set and created SOMETHING that just kept bubbling and bubbling until it overflowed the flask and left a brilliant purple stain on his mother's new rug. Kids today, for the most part, will never know "The thrill of discovery".
The last decade has brought us MP3 players, phones with cameras, phones that are almost computers, pocket PCs the size of trade paperbacks with full laptop functionality, digital cameras that are affordable and actually useful, Bluetooth, not to mention the huge technical leaps in handheld gaming and e-books. then of course there’s the device that made a lot of that possible: SD cards (and their cousins, mini and micro-SD), I’m not sure how anybody over the age of 30 can look at a piece of plastic the size of your pinkie nail that can hold two complete movies (8 GB microSD) and not say “woh”.
There’s been a lot of killer stuff in the last decade, of course most of it so quickly becomes just a part of life I think we no longer get the “gee whiz” time that used to make gadgets cool.
Oopsie - thanks for the correction.
There was the Sony Walkman clear back to the 1980s. So the MP3 players don’t really impress me that much. They are undeniably more versitle as they do incorporate new technology. I still don’t see them as something that changed the game all that much. I listened to music on the go more than twenty years ago.
Phones with cameras are nice. They are now beginning to get to the place where they have the larger digital file format, so yes that is nice. I still always carry a good camera with me, so this is a little less than impressive for me. I carried a cell phone back in the 80s, so I’ve pretty much been there done that. Since the early 1990s, I’ve had a small phone.
You mentioned phones several times here. Show me a one of them that has a screen that is large enough to use the functions you mention as more than a curiosity, and I would probably buy into your premise. I have the Cingular 8525 and the IPAC 51v. Here we are, it’s 2010, and no computer company has figured it out that people want a tablet with a 6 to 8” screen with mobile phone capabilities, that’s a fully functional pc computer. I’m just bored with what they have to offer these days. Laptops are better. Desktops are better. I’m still not giddy by the new stuff that is out there. There are enhancements and improvements to be sure, but I’m still left with a ho hum reaction.
I bought my Sony FSC 828 camera back in 2001. It does most everything I need it to. It’s an eight megapixil 7:1 zoom camera. It takes video if I want.
Blue Tooth is great. I use it successfully. You’d be surprised how many people out there can’t.
The handheld gaming is great. I still question why folks would spend all that dough to mess around with a four inch screen. My Genesis unit for television in the 80s was magnificent.
Those memories are undeniably something special. So is the increase in memory and speed for our computers. I’ll grant you that. I’m not sure how much time you spend on aplications that use the speed. I try to develop video, and still can’t quite accomplish it with my system that was guaranteed to do so.
I’m jaded. What can I say. I think most people would agree with your MP3 comments, and the Blue Tooth., some of the other stuff too. I guess I’m just not in the right mood or something.
I think the greatest advancement of the past decade is the way the Internet has spread all over, that makes so much possible, so quickly.
I agree. Communications has certainly seen a revolution.
I was contributing to the political debate in the 1970s on Compuserve and on Prodigy as well.
Every time I see the Pseudonym McFly I recall seeing that tag on both of them.
None the less, the graphic and video capabilities are so great these days.
np. And to think I passed up an HP 100LX in perfect condition at a garage sale last weekend...shame on me.
Walkman’s don’t compare to MP3 players except in the broadest sense. Yes they’re personal music players, but once you get past that nothing. My cheap MP3 player holds around 60 albums, with better sound quality than cassettes, and it’s about half the size of a cassette (the cassette, not the player, not even the case). MP3 players have changed the game a lot, they’ve been instrumental in the MP3 revolution that has completely rewritten the music distribution business (and the bootleg section of music distribution too).
Once again you’re running a comparison that just doesn’t work. The modern cellphone has features never imagined in the 80s and their smaller and lighter than the SPEAKER of your 80s cell.
Phone’s are where a lot of the change has come as they come closer and closer to being computers. Blackberry’s are the official cell for where I work and while there are plenty of interface issues with them the screen size is pretty good and plenty of people there do all of those things I mention.
Actually plenty of companies have figured out that people want a 6 to 8” screen with mobile phone capabilities. There’s netbooks and there’s pocket PCs with bluetooth functionality both of those fit that bill pretty well (netbooks are more dependent on the cloud for apps).
2001 would be in the last decade.
Just because some people can’t use Bluetooth doesn’t mean it’s bad. Some people still can’t program a VCR.
PSP’s can be plugged into a TV for $20, and the graphics hold up pretty good, a heck of a lot better than Genesis had.
I think it’s the speed. The rate at which these things are coming out, being adopted, and being replaced by the next generation makes everybody jaded. The most kick ass super awesome fill in the blank that just came out yesterday has an even better replacement/ competition due out next month. And these things are instantly a part of people’s lives because the digital generation has grown up expecting new things. When microwaves and VCRs and cable first hit it was a BIG DEAL when somebody you knew got one, and really cool when you did and changed your life perceptibly. Now new stuff comes out and people just get them and use them and don’t think about it. About the only time you notice if somebody gets a new gadget now is if you were thinking about getting it, then you ask them about it.
We’re in that part of the rubber band of technology where new and revolutionary has become typical and expected. We KNOW something new is going to come out in the next 12 months that rewrites everyday activity, and we don’t really care, we’ll probably buy one but we probably won’t stop and think about what it’s doing and how really cool that is. That’s why it’s good to step back once in a while and look at these things with fresh eyes. Even microwaves and VCRs are still pretty kick ass if you think about it.
I would bet you could have turned a profit by buying it there and selling it to Thaddeus / Palmtop. Most people want the 200 but the exterior shell’s are the same and break in use so the 100 still has value.
I’m going to have to admit that MP3 is not something that would have ever appealed to me. I recognize that dates me or says something about me. I’m just not convinced my life has been more empty because I didn’t have 60 albums with me wherever I went. If I wanted music with me, I had it available. If I wanted other audio, I had it. I think you could make the case that books on tape make the MP3 player a much more appealing device for people like me. On those grounds you could probably get through to me. As for quality, I think that’s a fair argument. Once again, if you’re on the move in public you’re not hearing the music without a lot of background noise in most instances, so the quality issue isn’t quite as impressive as it would be otherwise. I realize my opinion is not going to match a lot of other people’s on this item. Still, I stared of by saying that “I” wasn’t impressed with the breakthroughs the gadget breakthroughs in the last decade.
I had the Microtak Elite Cell phone in the early 1990s. It wasn’t text capable, but in it’s cell function, it was a great phone. I was able to be contacted just about any time folks wanted to. I personally use Blue Tooth today partly because the phones have become small enough to be more bothersom than convenient. It is more of a convenience, but I could use the hands free function of my old phone. The Blue Tooth is nice, but it’s not really a necessity. It’s a nice perk, but not quite the breathtaking breakthrough it’s sold as.
Isn’t the Blackberry screen about 3.2 inches. It’s about the same size as mine. I use it. I like it. I still realize it’s inadequate. Look, these phones are slick. They do provide quite a bit of functionality. I’ve had my Cingulary 8525 for three or four years. I’ve been looking to replace it, but just about every phone out there has some drawback that causes me not to pull the trigger.
I’ve seen the PSP on television. It doesn’t bother me if you want to think it’s better. I had some pretty good games, I don’t hold the same opinion.
I think some of the reason for us kindof talking past each other, is that some of the advances you can point to, just aren’t like inventing the things in the first place.
Another words, yes these are more advanced, but I lived well with their predicessors and don’t see these in all instances, the necessity I thought their predicessors were.
It may be an age thing. Thanks for the responses.
I’ll remember that next time. I always buy old HP calculators at garage sales. They are like gold.
That was my absolute favorite toy. Thomas Edison's favorite toy, before the days of electronic kits, was a similar chemistry kit, where he learned how to perform experiments and build batteries. This type of toy has such a profound impact that I wish there were more of them and they came with better quality books. For now the NXT robot kit is probably one of the best toys out there. There's going to be a dot-com like boom for robotics. Some where out there the next Bill Gates has already been born.
I didn’t used to think MP3 players would be cool, but one boring vacation I decided to rip all my CDs, then I got an MP3 player just to see, got a cheap one just so if I hated it no big deal. Then I was hooked. I can keep an nice sampling of all the different kinds of music I listen to much more conveniently than CDs. And remember it’s not just headphones and background noise, it plugs into the car, it plugs into speakers, it plugs into the computer. and almost all of them can play video too, not sure why I’d want to watch a movie on a screen the size of a shot glass, but I could.
Blue Tooth isn’t a necessity, but then most gadgets aren’t. That’s the difference between a gadget and an appliance.
Yeah the Blackberry screen is pretty small. It’s got really good resolution and contrast though. I can actually read off of them over somebody’s shoulder without my glasses on. Not for long, but I can do it. I wouldn’t want to write the big report for work on one, even with my glasses, but I could if I had to.
I was just talking the graphics. For it’s time the Genesis was nice. But it’s max resolution was was 320x448 with 512 colors, the PSP’s does 480x272 with 16 million colors. Game taste is individual but on a technical level the PSP kills the Genesis.
We’re not talking about inventing. You said none of the gadgets of the last decade are any good. I pointed out a bunch of pretty amazing gadgets from the last decade. There’s a lot of really amazing stuff, most of it isn’t a necessity, but again we’re talking gadgets. Heck a lot of them I don’t even have, I’m not a phone kind of guy, almost never make phone calls, own no cellphone, have no desire to ever own a cellphone, but that doesn’t change the fact that the modern age of cellphones are some pretty amazing gadgets that can do just about anything short of mix you the perfect martini, and many of them can find you the perfect martini.
I’m a week from turning 40, I don’t think it’s an age thing. I think you’ve just fallen into the cycle. Gadgets come by too fast to amaze anymore, unless you stop and really look at them. Even the ones you don’t feel a need to own do neat stuff, as far as handheld technology goes we’re actually doing better than Star Trek, and that’s pretty freaking cool. Now if only we could get some warp bubbles and fake gravity going.
What's with this giant handbasket, and why are we all in it?
I think my wife would agree with you much more than I do. I’ve never been a huge music lover. I like a lot of stuff from the 60s through the 80s, but the music industry would curl up and die if they had to depend on folks like me to keep them going.
If you’re heavily into music, I’m sure the MP3s are a big deal to you. To me, they just aren’t. While I agree with your comment regarding Walkman vs the MP3, the Walkman suited my purposes very adequately.
I agree that Blue Tooth is nice. Look, I used wired ear buds for a long time. Is Blue Tooth better? Sure. Is it a something that will change your life? No.
I’m not trying to trash things you like here. I think it’s great you have the MP3s. I’m glad you enjoy them. As for the Blackberry, I think that’s nice too. Don’t get me wrong. While I like what I have too, I have been longing for something better for a long time, and it just hasn’t been forthcoming.
I’m hoping Apple’s black works 10” tablet that has been rumored for years, is about to be released. Of course it depends on which way they go with that too, so we’ll have to see about that too.
At the time we had a 26” Sony top of the line television. It was a great set. The Genesis filled the screen and the graphics were crystal clear. How that could be with 320x480 I’m not sure, but it was great. The games weren’t as complex as the ones today obviously, but we’re talking some pretty decent games.
I know the PSP does some wireless things, the internet and all. That’s pretty cool. I guess at 58 I’m a bit beyond the thrill of video games. I think that does impact some of the other things we’ve talked about, as far as appreciation goes. You don’t think it will make much difference, but at a certain point you just see some things differently.
Here’s what I initially said.
“Im such a gadget freak, and it seems to me that there as been a dearth of creative gadgets over the last decade or so.
Cell phones have met a certain design limit, and need to be rethought IMO. Its time for a breath of fresh air.
The iPhone is a good product, but there are even problems with that.”
You’ve pointed out that there have been some things coming down the pike that you thought were pretty cool. I think they are too. The problem for me is that much of them had an analog version that met my needs before the new ones came along. That doesn’t mean they aren’t super, but I’m just not that impressed. I don’t feel compelled to go out and make a purchase of these things.
I appreciate the responses. For you the things that have come out over the last decade have been top quality, and you have been impressed. That’s good. I’m sure there are plenty of people who agree with you.
I don’t see how things having an “analog version” in the past makes the new things not good gadgets. Using that kind of reasoning then cars aren’t that big a deal because we had horses before that met people’s needs. Nothing about the past devalues the now, modern cellphones with their tiny size and Blue Tooth and internet and PC synch and applications and cameras and MP3 playing would be no more impressive had the cellphone never existed, they’re a kick ass gadget one way or the other. MP3 players with the ability to hold 1200 albums or 30 movies are no less interesting because personal audio existed before.
It’s not “for me” that top quality things have come out in the last decade. It’s simple reality. The personal electronics world has been completely re-invented in the last decade. And yes many of those things are “mere” improvements on existing technology, that’s just life, there haven’t been that many truly brand spanking new inventions in the world, even those “analog versions” you remain satisfied with were primarily improvements on existing technology or ideas. Walkman’s are an improvement on transistor radios, cell phones have been getting worked on in fits and starts for 100 years, your Sega Genesis is on the path from the Magnavox Odyssey. That’s the path humans take, other than those times when we figure out something truly revolutionary like electricity or the Hero engine we primarily are tweakers and improvers. And there’ve been a lot of pretty dramatic tweaks and improvements in the last decade.
That's all I did as a kid. Well, blew them apart to be exact. Surprised I never ended up in the demolition business.
Wonderful idea. This is a gift he will come to appreciate.
Thanks for the link!
Thank you, I will check it out.
What’s with this giant handbasket, and why is it getting so HOT??????
Thanks for the additional comments.
I still have my Heathkit IM-13 VTVM (Vacuum Tube Volt Meter). They don't have a picture of mine in the Heathkit Virtual Museum but Google found one:
I was devastated when they folded their kit division.
Anybody remember their retail stores? They had one in Sacramento. I really wanted to build their 26" color TV.
You should've seen the video...