Encounter with the Woz

When I went to see Woz at a book signing of his autobiography at the Union Square Barnes & Nobel in Manhattan on November 29, 2006, I came prepared. I knew of Woz’s sense of humor from reading entries on his website. Check out these stories before reading on:


I initially wanted to get my hands on a copy of the Zaltair brochure simply because I wanted to know exactly what it said. I found a link that showed the front and back of the brochure, but it was too fuzzy to read:


Eventually, I found a readable image of the front of the brochure by searching for “Zaltiar” on Amazon’s site. It will direct you to the book, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. And, if you click on the “Search inside this book” link and search again for “Zaltair”, page 469 contains the image. The scanned page is definitely readable.

I decided I wanted to get Woz to sign a copy of the brochure, even if I only had the front. But, if you print that image, although readable, it still looks fuzzy. Using some tools made by Adobe, I used the image as a template for creating a pdf that highly resembles the original:


I printed out a few copies and put them into a folder. Then, I decided to go one step further. I navigated over to the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing website and purchased a sheet of 4 $2 bills. Could I get Woz to sign the brochure and the sheet of bills?

I got to the book signing early expecting a crowd. But, people really didn’t start showing up until about 30 minutes before the event. Woz delivered an engaging speech that summarized the discussions of his book. The audience was really moved and became annoyed when a Barnes & Nobel staff member interrupted Woz 30 minutes into his speech to tell him he had to start taking questions. But, the staff member was booed away enabling Woz to continue talking for another 15 minutes. 15 minutes of questions followed and then it was time to line up for signing.

The line moved rather quickly, which started making me nervous. From what I could see, Woz was only signing books. In fact, that same Barnes & Nobel staff member announced that since the speech and question sessions lasted twice as long as they should have, that no one should request to be photographed with Woz, which would slow things down even further. Before I knew it, I was next online. A knot started forming in my stomach. The Barnes & Nobel staff member was standing right next to Woz to increase his signing efficiency. He was taking books from people online, cracking them open to the title page and presenting them to Woz for signing. I picked up 2 copies of iWoz; I hoped that 2 would give me enough time to make the requests.

So, I handed the books to the Barnes & Nobel guy and then I immediately whipped out the Zaltair brochure. I saw Woz’s eyes jump right to brochure and a smile form on his face. He started laughing and asked where I got it. He said a picture of it can’t be found in his book. I told him it was difficult to track down and I could only find the front. He picked it up and glanced at the blank back and said that the back is the funniest part where he had a table comparing Zaltair to Apple and other computers. I told him I knew and I asked if he would sign it anyway. And, he said he would be happy to do so. As he did, I said I have to show you something in the book. I flipped to page 204 where at the very top it has the fake Ed Roberts quote from the Zaltair brochure with the hidden message. I showed him in book, the word, “Hobbyist”, is spelled correctly, but on the brochure, it’s misspelled as “Hobbiest”. He laughed that off.

As he started signing my copies of iWoz, I pulled out a thick, black Sharpie marker and I yanked the cap off. I asked him if he could do one more favor. I said, “Could you sign your name really big on this…” I pulled out the sheet of $2 bills. Once again he started laughing and asked where I got it. I found that question strange. He omitted the $2 bill story from his book. Was it an exaggeration or completely made up? In fact, he wrote on his webpage, “I have tons of $2 bill stories that will make a whole chapter in my book someday”, but it never made it into iWoz. I actually considered saying, “I bought them from a guy that hawked basketball tickets,” since that’s what he wrote on his site. But, I just said, “The same place that you get them.” And, I showed him the folder from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing I used to transport the bills. Then he said, “Ah! It’s not a ‘real’ one,” referring to the fact that mine were not perforated. I told him that I didn’t go that far. Then I showed him how I wanted it signed, across the backs of all 4 bills. His signature would cover the engravings depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He signed it slowly and messy. It was obvious he rarely if ever signed his name that large.

As I was capping the marker, he said that I really should have a “real” one. Then as a joke I said, “Well… wanna trade? I’ll trade you for a ‘real’ one.” He flatly said, “No.” I figured as much, but then he added, “But… I’ll give you one.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the book. The book is real! But, it didn’t look like I expected. I thought the bill book would resemble a legal pad, having a rigid cardboard back. But, as he described on this website (“I carry large sheets, folded in my pocket”), the sheets are gummed together at one end forming a pad and the bills are separated by perforations. The pad was folded accordion style along the perforations. He separated a sheet from the rest of the pad and presented it to me. Then he asked me if I wanted it signed as well. I said sure and he asked me how I wanted it signed. But, then the Barnes & Nobel guy interrupted. He said the line is really long and I was holding it up. So, Woz handed me the “real” sheet of bills unsigned. I shook his hand and I told him this is unbelievable.

Check out the cool stuff I walked away with from my encounter with the Woz. Click on any of the images below to zoom up:


The following links were not filmed at the event I went to, but they’ll give you a sense of what it’s like to see Woz in person: