Two talks

Yesterday, I got to see a live video feed of Steve Wozniak talking about his youth and how he cofounded Apple Computers. He was reading by the time he was 3, and designing circuits by 6th grade. In high school, he build an electronic adding and subtracting machine (I hesitate to call it a calculator, but that was the main idea). He would go to the library, and read the manuals and schematics about all the available computers at the time, and then go home and redesign them. He got so good at this that he could often design computers using fewer chips than the actual manufacturers. His first year of college, he was given the opportunity to use a mainframe computer, and had reams of printouts cluttering his room. He could not afford to go to college for longer than that, so he got a job at HP building calculators. He really liked HP, and was convinced that he would stay there and happily be an engineer for decades to come. Over the course of several years, he managed to save up enough money to go back to college intermittantly. He met Steve Jobs, who was a complete hippie, but the two of them became best friends. They learned about phone phreaking (when you put the sound of a touch-tone phone into the voice-piece, it dials for you), and built a “blue box” to do this. The got to meet Captain Crunch (code name of the hacker who made this stuff popular), and got in trouble with the police for phreaking later that week. Steve Jobs had taken a job at Atari designing video games (this was back when Pong was the hottest game around, and could only be played in arcades). He convinced Atari to get the two of them to design Breakout, but they had a 4-day deadline (typically, the design of such games would take months). They completed Breakout in those 4 sleepless days, and during this sleep-deprived state, Wozniak had the idea that you could implement graphics in software instead of hardware. When considering this idea further, he realized that he could get the software to mimic TV signals, and you could actually use a TV to display your graphics (instead of designing custom displays for your computers). Another innovation he found around the same time was that you don’t need the interface to the computer to be a bunch of wires and switches; you could have a teletype-like interface. Wozniak and Jobs helped found the college’s computer club, and Woz designed the Apple 1 and distributed schematics to anyone who was interested. This was the first computer with a keyboard and monitor. The two of them and another friend decided to go into business, but first Jobs needed to convince Wozniak to leave HP even though he loved it there. The argument that finally brought him on board with the project was that he could continue to do any engineering work he wanted, and wouldn’t have a manager directing his work. The 3 of them went into business making an improved version, the Apple ][, though the third guy left the company for fear of going bankrupt if it didn’t succeed. After their first few large orders, the rest is history. Wozniak always wanted to teach 5th grade, so he has recently spent about 7 years quietly doing so and avoiding the media. He now has a book out, iWoz, and has just bought a chip-manufacturing company. It was incredible to hear him speak; he has lead pretty much the life I want to lead. He has sat around tinkering with whatever he’s interested in, finds brilliant ways to improve it, and then moves on to the next thing. and when he gets interested in something, he gets so into it that he learns everything about the subject.

This evening, I watched a fascinating tech talk about using Lidar to make a 3D camera. If you can stand to hear them mispronounce Lidar (which is like Radar, but with infrared light), it’s a fascinating talk. Their premise is that to get the camera and the lidar to work together best, you should design the entire system from scratch, so you can grok the entire thing and make it completely badass. They designed all their own parts, from the composition of the semiconductors on up. They now have a system that takes surprisingly high-res lidar images of the world and overlays textures from a regular camera on top of it. They have included filters to get rid of fog, bugs, very close objects, very far away objects, and pretty much anything else that could obscure what you’re looking at. They can even weed out problems like miniblinds obstructing the view of what you’re looking at. There is definitely the potential for privacy concerns here, but if used properly this could be absolutely incredible. and it works in real-time: they can take about 30 frames per second (about as fast as a TV image refreshes)! They shot some footage of the Googleplex, so you can see a little of what it’s like to be there. This is probably the second most amazing use of lidar I’ve seen (after Spartacus‘ use of lidar to correct its odometry and map its surroundings and AAAI two years ago). Although I don’t think custom hardware is the most effective way to create things for the world, these guys seem really impressive.

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One Comment

  1. minorninth says:

    Weird, I’ve never hear anyone pronounce it “lay-dar” before.

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