Dead Mouse

Unfortunately, we’ve got a dead mouse in the house.  Fortunately, it’s not a mouse of the furry, four-legged, cheese-loving, living in holes in walls and getting chased by cats in cartoons variety.

Instead, it’s our ancient computer mouse that isn’t working.  It was doused in coffee as a result of a desktop spill yesterday, and the soaking apparently has affected its innards and batteries enough to render it inoperative.  It’s an incident reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live “Pepsi Syndrome” skit, where a knocked-over soft drink on a computer keyboard caused a nuclear meltdown.  This morning’s task list therefore will include trying to figure out if there is some way to get the old mouse scampering again, short of going out and buying a new mouse — which might not even be available given the advanced age of our home computer.

And, by virtue of the spill, we are reminded yet again of interconnectedness of our modern world, where every link in the technological chain is important.  It’s great to have a fully functional computer, but there’s not much you can do with it when a working mouse is not in the house.


Father Of The Mouse

Most of us use one just about every day.  We roll it along the surface to guide that little arrow around the screen.  It’s how we point and click, edit our work, and drag and drop.

It’s the mouse, of course.  We take it for granted, but it didn’t always exist.  It had to be invented, just like every other manufactured item that has become an accepted part of our everyday lives.

In the case of the mouse, the inventor was Douglas Engelbart, who died this week.  He filed for a patent for the mouse in 1967 — describing it as a device that allowed the user to alternate visual displays at selected locations — and received one in 1970.

The early mouse was a clunky wooden object with two wheels, three buttons, and a cord coming out the back like a mouse’s tail.  After the patent was granted, other companies began experimenting with Engelbart’s invention, and by the 1980s the mouse had become an accepted part of every home computer kit sold at technology stores.  In the process, the design was modified and the bulky wooden mouse morphed into the sleek plastic item that conforms comfortably to our hands and that we now use without a second thought.

Engelbart’s colleagues considered him a visionary.  He also came up with far-sighted concepts concerning computer networking, digital collaboration, and video teleconferencing that the computer types consider to be even more significant than the mouse.

They may be right, technologically, but from a social standpoint it would be hard to top the impact of the humble mouse, which helped make computers accessible and usable for bloggers, and Facebookers, and other average folks like us.  We thank you for that profound contribution, Mr. Engelbart, and we will remember you.