By fourth grade Wozniak became, as he put it, one of the “electronics kids.” He had
an easier time making eye contact with a transistor than with a girl, and he developed the
chunky and stooped look of a guy who spends most of his time hunched over circuit boards.
At the same age when Jobs was puzzling over a carbon microphone that his dad couldn’t explain,
Wozniak was using transistors to build an intercom system featuring amplifiers, relays, lights,
and buzzers that connected the kids’ bedrooms of six houses in the neighborhood. And at an age when
Jobs was building Heathkits, Wozniak was assembling a transmitter and receiver from Hallicrafters,
the most sophisticated radios available.
Woz spent a lot of time at home reading his father’s electronics journals, and he became enthralled
by stories about new computers, such as the powerful ENIAC. Because Boolean algebra came naturally
to him, he marveled at how simple, rather than complex, the computers were. In eighth grade he built
a calculator that included one hundred transistors, two hundred diodes, and two hundred resistors on ten
circuit boards. It won top prize in a local contest run by the Air Force, even though the competitors
included students through twelfth grade.
Woz became more of a loner when the boys his age began going out with girls and partying,
endeavors that he found far more complex than designing circuits. “Where before I was popular
and riding bikes and everything, suddenly I was socially shut out,” he recalled. “It seemed
like nobody spoke to me for the longest time.” He found an outlet by playing juvenile pranks.
In twelfth grade he built an electronic metronome—one of those tick-tick-tick devices that keep
time in music class—and realized it sounded like a bomb. So he took the labels off some big batteries,
taped them together, and put it in a school locker; he rigged it to start ticking faster when the locker
opened. Later that day he got called to the principal’s office. He thought it was because he had won, yet again,
the school’s top math prize. Instead he was confronted by the police. The principal had been summoned when the device was
found, bravely ran onto the football field clutching it to his chest, and pulled the wires off. Woz tried and
failed to suppress his laughter. He actually got sent to the juvenile detention center, where he spent the
night. It was a memorable experience. He taught the other prisoners how to disconnect the wires leading to
the ceiling fans and
connect them to the bars
so people got shocked
when touching them.