A lifelong ambition has come true: our darling toy, WOWCube, was approved and signed by Steve Wozniak.
I am a keen fan of computers and all things related.
When I was a kid, it was impossible to find an original Apple computer in the USSR. However, two plants produced its perfect clones. Whether or not, one could use them to execute classic Apple II games, such as Lode Runner, Pac-Man, or Prince of Persia. The Soviet clone of Apple, Agat, was my first PC, when I studied in the seventh form. I used it to write my first programs in Applesoft BASIC.
Since that moment, all my life has been connected with computer technologies. In 1996 I was a winner of the national students’ programming contest. Then in 1999 I launched my first Internet/Web company (it would be called a startup today), which I sold to the Moscow branch of Hearst Corp. in 2012.
On moving to the USA in 2014, I found, surprisingly, that nearly all video games of my childhood were published by Brøderbund whose HQ was located in Novato, the same town, where I happened to settle down with my family. It seemed that I was doomed to reside in the computer-related world, which increased my assurance that I was treading the right path.
Three years ago my son Savva, who was 12 then, and me started tinkering with kids microelectronics and a 3D printer, for educational purposes. Soldering a printed board and trying to copy the frame of a third-party gaming console on the printer, we thought up the concept of our WOWCube, when Savva proposed that it would be nice to build a microprocessor in a Rubik’s cube with displays on the cube’s faces. Then, he added, game characters could move from one face to another.
Unforeseeable coils of fate took me back to Apple computers, Basic, and their creator and programmer, Steve Wozniak. Could a kid hacking the Soviet clone of Apple II imagine that he would shake hands with the best known living Engineer of our planet, who created the marvel of Apple computers?
It took us three years and more than a million dollars to develop the prototype hardware and software (applications and games) for our WOWCube. At first, there were only two of us, myself and my son. We started with Arduino and a home 3D printer and rallied an excellent team of engineers and other specialists to build a dozen of perfectly operable devices demonstrated for the first time at Maker’s Faire stand in San Mateo.
It was then that Napoleon Smite III, a producer from Hollywood (a TNMT sequel and the Captain Kangaroo series), bored his way through the crowd of teenagers, who were swarming round our stand, fighting for a chance to play with our cube, and saw our invention.
He twiddled the cube, asked about parameters of our business, and said, “WOW, it’s a fantastic toy. I think it will be an absolute hit in, say, 2022, if you market it successfully. Have you shown it to any of the big guys?” “No,” we said, “since we don’t know anybody in the US yet.”
“Well, I know Steve Wozniak, and I will arrange a meeting for you,” said he, and smiled a big sun-tanned Texan smile.
“Friends, I will help you. You’ve made something absolutely fantastic, and the whole world should know about it!”
On October 16 this year, we, having traveled 800 miles from San Francisco to Phoenix, AZ, entered the venue of the DecTechAZ Conference. Right from the car, streaming with sweat, we were trying to find our friend Napoleon, who had promised to arrange a personal meeting with Steve in the VIP hall the next day.
And then we see Napoleon, who takes me by the shoulders and drags me forward through the crowd in the corridor.
“Steve’s here, Steve’s here, get your cubes ready!” he says, and Max, my friend and business partner, opens up his backpack and pulls out our gadgets, and Napoleon works his way forward and addresses Steve Wozniak as an old friend.
“Look here,” says he, “these are those crazy Russians I told you about. They made Rubik’s cube into a whole new gaming console, with games and apps you can upload to it!”
And I stand sweating and exhausted after 16 hours of driving, and the cubes are low on charge.
The thing is that it is a feature of the cube: it has no buttons, and switches on (wakes up) in two steps; first, when its gyroscopes are actuated, and second, when a user rotates its faces. It is assumed that the user lifts the cube from the table, and the processor wakes up, turns on peripheral devices (it takes some time), but not the displays, and then, when the user starts rotating faces, the displays start glowing instantaneously, like magic.
This is a cool video effect, but it played a bad joke on us. During the 16-hour ride our car was pounding, evidently, the cubes were waking up and going to sleep repeatedly, and reached Phoenix nearly dead.
Nevertheless, Steve got the general idea, and during our next day meeting we managed to demonstrate our device in all its splendor and even get it autographed by Steve, who wrote WoZ on it with a white permanent marker. When I asked him to sign the cube, Steve said, “My honor, my honor. This is the most incredible thing I have seen.” We also met people from Steve’s team, his business partner Ken, and Karen Ewing Young, the head of WOZ University, who suggested that options of our possible cooperation should be discussed.
Surprisingly, legends converge, and at the same conference we met Fred Chesnais, Atari CEO, who also examined the cube with interest and even criticized some of its minor aspects (being right about them, by the way).
Surely, Steven Wozniak is not the head of a major corporation or the President of the USA. But for me this man is legend, and meeting him was like meeting a childhood hero from the time, when sitting at a computer terminal and waiting for the system to start from a floppy disk was like a miracle. I do remember the sounds and even the smell of those computers, and they are absolutely nostalgic for me. Surely, on moving to the USA I bought a vintage Apple II and show now, how it works, to kids and guests, and play classic games on it.
For me, Woz is a symbol of absolute good, a man who gave something perfect to the world, something that made the world better forever. I believe that he deserves to be mentioned along with Edison and Tesla, and may be even before them. Leaving the conference, I thought that business outcomes of our meeting were not important for me. I met Woz and shook his hand. This will stay with me forever, regardless of my successes and failures.