Archive for November, 2010

The Woz on Coding

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Thanks to a good friend I had the honor to join a select group spending some time with The Woz. Topics ranged from how mutually intelligible Beijing and Hebei dialects of Mandarin are to whether history should be taught in schools. Being a nerd of the right age I had to ask Steve some questions that had been haunting me since 1978. I learned how to program by looking at SWEET16 code, the (build in) assembler/system monitor, Integer BASIC and DOS. His recollection powers are incredible. Not only could he answer all but one question without pause, he also could describe how long it took, who else participated, what the other Steve did and most interesting to me he often gave an introspective view of how he felt while doing it, why it turned out the way it did and what he did not know but might have wished he had. If he ever needs a headshrinker he will be done in half a session. For example, he would describe this “flow” effect that we coders all know when working one something complex. Incasu, Steve was working on a different timing of the disk head read/write signal. Specificly he moved from a 4/8ms to a 4/8/12ms signal in order to cram in some 25% extra bits. He described, much better than I can reproduce, how he worked till he was too tired, getting it almost done. Than next day it would take very long to get back into the flow and he would work till he was too tired again, getting it almost done. Than one night he did what he had to do and worked till early mornings to finish it. He declared it the hardest code he ever did. He also compared performing a complex dance as a non dancer to writing Integer BASIC without relevant experience or training. In fact he disclosed he did not know, back than, that BASIC was a collection of incompatible dialects (like Mandarin). This entry is getting too long so I leave you with just one more gem. Steve wanted BASIC for the Apple because of the book “101 BASIC Computer Games“. He still seems oblivious of the enormous impact of this decision. He chose my first computer language for me and for most all my peer coders.