Before Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak revolutionized the world of personal computing with the Apple II in 1977, he was a self-described introverted geek, social loner and college dropout. But Wozniak had a lot of ideas from a brain that works a little differently than most people's, he said Oct. 3 at Elon University’s Fall Convocation and the school’s 125th anniversary in Alumni Gym.

“When I heard something like 125 years, instead of thinking that’s a long time, I was like, that’s five cubed,” Wozniak said.

From a young age, Wozniak was fascinated with electronics, moving parts and mechanics. He described himself as a leader of a group of children growing up in Sunnyvale, Calif. — what would later become the Silicon Valley.

Together, they built a house-to-house intercom with bits and pieces from Sunnyvale Electronics down the street. All was well until a neighbor cut the wiring into 50 pieces, so the kids learned to run the wiring on the other side of the fence.

A prankster at heart, Wozniak rigged an electronic metronome inside a close friend’s locker that ticked like a bomb, inviting several police cars and pushing one principal on the verge of a heart attack. Wozniak could barely contain his laughter.

“I learned that the way to pull pranks is don’t tell anybody else you’re doing it,” he said. “I got away with everything in high school.”

High school was also the first time Wozniak experimented with computers, when his high school electronics teacher gave up and told Wozniak he already knew everything he could teach him. So he sent Wozniak out into the world with a computer-architecture handbook, challenging him to design his own computer.

“I realized a human being can’t do one thing a second, hardly,” Wozniak said. “This computer could do a million things a second. Wow.”

On weekends in high school, Wozniak would sneak into the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center down the road, a hot spot in computer engineering at the time. It was then that Wozniak told his dad he was going to build a computer. His dad told him it would cost as much as a house.

“I thought for a few seconds, and I said, ‘I’m going to live in an apartment,’” Wozniak said.

Growing up without much money, Wozniak couldn’t afford the supplies for making a computer at home the conventional way. But Wozniak said he’s better off for it.

“Make do with what you have,” he said. “Search for solutions that don’t cost as much money and you sometimes find better solutions.”

As a freshman in college at the University of California at Berkeley, Wozniak enrolled in a graduate-level introduction to computers class, where he could write programs to his heart’s content. The computers ran them and printed off the results, until one day Wozniak’s instructor stopped him and told Wozniak he had run the class’ budget five-times over.

The famous duo of Wozniak and Steve Jobs first met at Berkeley. Both shared a passion for pranks, the counter-cultural music of Bob Dylan and technology.

The pair created a device that manipulated telephone tones to make free calls anywhere in the world, and they sold the technology to other students at the fiscally-minded Jobs’ insistence. Their parents only told them not to do it on their phones.

“I would do anything I thought of,” Wozniak said. “I’m very good at getting away with things. Every year of college was the best year of my life, and the next year was better yet.”

In 1971, after Wozniak’s third year at Berkeley, he took of a year to work on Hewlett-Packard’s scientific calculator. Job’s was working the night shift at Atari at the time, because, “nobody liked to work with him during the daytime.”

Along the way, Wozniak developed a one-player version of the popular video game, Pong, for Atari in a caffeine-fueled, no-sleep, four-day marathon. During this creative binge, Wozniak imagined creating a personal computer that used digital signals instead of analog, saving hundreds of dollars in the process. And the blueprint to the Apple II was born.

“In those four days and nights without sleep, your brain kind of wanders off,” Wozniak said. “When you’re falling asleep and you’re waking up, there’s a little less inhibition in your thoughts.”

The Apple II came out more than 30 years ago, and the progress technology has made in accordance with Moore’s Law is astounding, Wozniak said.

Wozniak said he remembers the first time technology really blew his mind: When Apple was developing its ill-fated Newton PDA in the early 1990s.

“I wrote a note to myself on a notepad and it said, ‘Sarah, dentist, Tuesday, 2 p.m.,’” Wozniak said. “Not knowing what it was, I hit the ‘assist’ button and it opened up my calendar and had put the appointment Tuesday at 2 p.m. I had written a note to myself as a human and a machine understood me. That changed my life forever."

After the talk, Wozniak lingered to sign autographs on iPads and iPhones and take pictures with fans.

“I found him very accessible,” said Ben Harris, founder of the Alamance Makers Guild. “He’s an important, busy person, but I emailed him a while ago and he emailed me back and we had a correspondence. I just had to meet him.”

Freshman Sam Shantry agreed.

“I just thought it was really inspirational to see someone who was so passionate in their craft taking the time to come here and share everything he knows with students, with people like us.”