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The Woz, Van Halen, And Me

“Hi Steve,” I said casually to the Woz like we were old co-workers, as he ambled towards me in the parking garage of Avaya’s Santa Clara office yesterday. The co-founder of Apple replied with the enthusiastic, unguarded “Hello!” of a man who, after 30+ years, is well used to being greeted by fans in random places.

It wasn’t a complete shock for me (and my colleague Jaime Schember) to run into Silicon Valley’s patron saint of engineers here. Just the day before, I’d heard Wozniak telling funny, unfiltered stories to Avaya’s Brett Shockley about Apple and the other Steve on stage at the Bay Area Avaya Evolutions event. A sample: according to Woz, Jobs viewed Microsoft’s Bill Gates as “really less of a person” for choosing to focus on writing software for PCs instead of Jobs’ beloved Mac. Wozniak also compared the iPad to his trademark invention: “Only one program can run at a time, just like an Apple II.”

By the way, Woz rolled onto the Evolutions stage on his Segway while Shockley, who had trained with the circus when he was younger, rode in on a unicycle:

woz shockley.jpg

The 700+ attendees were, suffice it to say, impressed.

I was probably the first kid in my Minneapolis suburb to get an Apple II+ computer back in 1981. Coming with a thermal printer (the paper came in rolls that had to be ‘burned’ by the print head) and a set of quickly-broken game paddles (imagine trying to play shoot-em-up games while twisting a pair of Etch-A-Sketch knobs), the Apple II+ cost my dad $3,000, which is probably $10,000 today. But it, as they say, provided hours and hours of enjoyment and learning, as I evolved from avid gamer to soldering iron-armed hardware hacker to small-time phone phreaker and ‘warez’ (games) pirate, to, finally, wanna-be programmer.

I realize now that I was emulating all of the things that the Woz and Jobs themselves had done as teens (albeit more successfully). After all, I’d been reading about their exploits since they were first featured in Time Magazine.


I think this might have been the picture.

Later, as a pseudo-headbanger in junior high, I read with interest about the US Music/Technology Festivals – the short-lived SXSWs of their day – that Woz personally organized and backed, probably so he could photobomb rock stars like Van Halen’s David Lee Roth:


Woz’s attempt at giving Roth the ol’ bunny ears treatment is almost foiled by Roth’s glorious, flammable mane of hair.

They say that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat those mistakes in the future. And who better to learn from than one of the Valley’s pioneers, who remains relevant today as chief scientist at flash memory vendor, Fusion-io?

On stage with Shockley at Evolutions, Woz said that forces such as mobile and BYOD would enable the rise of personal videoconferencing. “Now, we’re ready for video everywhere,” he said, reported Infoworld.

Woz elaborated on that in a post in Forbes. “Businesses will look to use collaboration solutions that ‘just work’ – for every possible need,” he wrote. “Companies will move away from deploying ‘lite’ collaboration apps in favor of all-in-one tools that fit nicely into their existing structures (environments?) and maximize this increasingly mobile workforce. Like every great consumer technology that emerges, though, they need to ensure that their collaboration tools are easy to operate.

Delivering an easy-to-use, ‘no drama’ collaboration platform for every device happens to be where Avaya is headed. At Evolutions, we announced an upgrade to our Avaya Aura Conferencing platform with version 1.1 of the Avaya Flare Experience app. Using the efficient SVC video codec, we can support up to 7,500 concurrent high-def (720p) video sessions running on Windows and iPad. We are also bringing our Scopia Mobile conferencing app to Android - it was already available on iPhone and iPad and PCs – and integrating it closer to Aura. 

Many of these new collaboration features will be extended to our co-optition, including Microsoft Lync, LifeSize, Polycom, Tandberg, IBM Sametime and Salesforce.com. 

The net result? No-jitter, enterprise-grade, multi-platform video calling and collaboration that is as convenient and easy to use as Skype or FaceTime. I would call it ‘Skype (or FaceTime) for the Enterprise’ except that would understate the open interoperability that Avaya is striving for.

You could argue that the Woz is only saying nice things about video’s rise since he was our special guest at Evolutions. My rebuttal? When Woz made a cameo on The Big Bang Theory (the most-popular show in America, by the way) two years ago, he talked to one of the main characters, Sheldon, via videoconference. Or as Woz called it, a “virtual presence device”:

woz sheldon.JPG

Next time I run into Woz, I hope it’s also via a virtual presence device. Unlike Sheldon, I’ll have my old Apple II+ ready for him to autograph.

Eric Lai is the former Editorial Director at Avaya. He joined Avaya in Nov 2012 from SAP, where his enterprise mobility blog attracted more than 100,000 readers a month and was awarded Top Corporate Blog by BtoB Magazine. Prior to SAP, Eric was a technology editor and reporter for a decade and a half in Asia and the U.S. Follow him on Twitter @ericylai. more

2 Responses to “The Woz, Van Halen, And Me”

  1. Great Blog Eric, and welcome to the Avaya Blog Force! I envy your good fortune to meet with the Woz, and I would have loved to pick his brain on NextGeneration 911 and how video will play a crucial role in both the 1st responder community as well as the consumer side.

    With Scopia being so “It Just Works” I can see this being deployed in the field to allow EMT’s to consult with surgeons, live video from a bank robbery, or crowd sourcing details from an accident scene.

    All very possible on the Next Generation infrastructure being built globally. Once again, Welcome to Avaya!


    • If I’d had the presence of mind to say something other than ‘Hey!’ to Woz, I would’ve asked him more about next-gen video. Or I might’ve asked him about meeting Van Halen. It could’ve gone either way.

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