Thursday, 4 July 2013


Douglas Engelbart has died so:

Click to tweet: . All trademarks are the property of their respective owners - no infringement intended. Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse, has just died. He invented the mouse in about 1960, and nobody remembers where the name comes from. At the time, the mouse consisted of a box with two cogwheels at right angles to each other. Its precursor, the trackball, which is effectively an upside down mouse, was invented by the USAF in 1952 and is not patented because it's a military secret.

It took quite a long time to catch on. At the time, many computers used punchcards or teletypes as interfaces and even cursors were rare. During the 1960s, graphical displays were often interfaced with using "light pens", which wait for the flash on the phosphor of the display screen to detect their position and therefore only work on cathode ray tubes. Later, with the invention of the 6845 cathode ray tube controller chip, which is the ancestor of the modern PC graphics card, an interface was possible with microcomputers and light pens, but the problem with them is the "gorilla arm effect" - fatigue at having to hold the arm up all the time. This could obviously be dealt with by placing the display at an angle like a writing desk. Modern touch screens are similar.

The Xerox Alto pioneered the use of the WIMP interface - Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pull-down menus - later renamed the GUI - Graphical User Interface. This was copied by Apple in the Lisa computer and later the Macintosh, and Microsoft adopted the mouse for use with the Word word processor, and later for Windows itself.

A computer mouse should usually be placed on the left side of the keyboard unless your use of the computer involves a lot of number work, because otherwise it's likely that the user will subconsciously lean over to the right. This applies whether or not you're left-handed. I personally find mice annoying as pointing devices because they feel like drawing with a boulder, and prefer various other options such as digitising tablets, styluses or cursor keys, and i've even used game controllers on occasion. As a piece of engineering though, i like mice because the ball version is easily understood - it consists of two rollers with cogwheels interrupting a light source with a photocell on the other side which blinks on and off, although i don't know how it works out which direction it's going in. That kind of device is simple and could even be home made.

The mouse nowadays seems to be in decline because of the likes of touchscreens and Kinect-style camera interfaces.

Once again, the Turing test video seems to be receding into the distance, because tomorrow will now probably be on insomnia.

In other news, i am going to go for lactation.  I've got someone to help me.  Yay!