My first mouse

Some say the ubiquitous computer mouse was born 40 years ago in 1968 when SRI researcher Douglas Englebart demonstrated, in what author Steven Levy called “the mother of all demos,” not just a kludgey wooden-cased mouse, but the system of user interactivity based upon it. However, I can say with authority that the mouse had escaped Englebart’s Augementation Research Center some months before.

Lawrence Livermore's PDP-1 installation

In September 1966 I began working at my first job after grad school. I hired into the engineering group supporting Lawrence Radiation Lab’s computer center with visions of working on the supercomputer (for the time) time-sharing system being assembled. My boss, Bob Wyman, however, gave me a wire-wrap tool and pointed me at the PDP-1 with the goal of designing and building an interface to a mouse George Michael was having built. George had seen Englebart’s work, and wanted a mouse to “play with.” My assignment was to design a two-channel A-D converter to digitize the x and y analog signals for the two potentiometers in the mouse. I don’t recall how long this took, but I think I made a good showing with my first project. For sure, the mouse was functional on the PDP-1 in early 1967.

Not long after I completed the mouse interface I transferred to a smaller engineering group supporting nuclear chemistry labs, so I’m not sure how much the mouse was ever used on the PDP-1, and getting all wrapped up in the laboratory automation that minicomputers ushered in, I paid no more attention to the user interface issues that Englebart was pioneering.

In 1984, the mouse became a permanent fixture in my personal computing environment when I bought an Apple Macintosh.

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