back to article You can drive a car with your feet, you can operate a sewing machine with your feet. Same goes for computers obviously

Welcome back to The Register's series of On Call stories from those who have to face the most unpredictable resource in the IT world: the user. Our tale, from a reader Regomised as "Mike", takes us back to the glory days of the personal computer revolution and the service department of a ComputerLand outlet. The year was 1982 …

  1. Cheshire Cat

    Foot pedal

    In those days, the usual recipient of these machines was the secretary. If you've ever seen the old dictaphone machines, they had a foot control (to stop/start the tape playback as the secretary types in the boss' correspondence) which looked very much like a computer mouse. It's not surprising that some people thought that the mouse was supposed to be foot-controlled.

    1. drand

      Re: Foot pedal


      Do you use a Dictaphone?

      No, I use my finger like everyone else.

    2. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Foot pedal

      Just search for "Transcription Foot Pedal". They are still around and lots of different models are available on Amazon. My daughter is a legal secretary and uses one every day.

    3. OGShakes

      Re: Foot pedal

      Old? I saw these in use still at my solicitors the other day!

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Foot pedal

        Touche! I was no more aware of dictaphone foot pedals than the customer was of of mouses!

        Well,a vague bell has rung in my head now you've brought it to my attention, but even before doing so I was thinking of sewing machines, pianos, organs, guitars, electric keyboards with sustain pedals...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

        I asked mine why they still insist on using faxes and was told "they cannot be forged and the sending number is traceable / accurate"


        1. Jack 12

          Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

          My understanding with fax is that it is guaranteed delivery, i.e. if your machine says it sent, then it's because the receiving machine confirmed receipt, thus it has legal uses for proving that the recipient actually received the correspondence. You don't really get that by default with email.

          1. Spanners Silver badge
            Thumb Down

            Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

            I have come across fax machines that , when they run out of paper, they store the incoming faxes in memory until you put paper in. Then they print out the drivel they had received.

            If however, they are powered off & on, the memory is cleared. The sender, presumably gets their successful transmission message but no trees are killed.

            1. Jack 12

              Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

              Whether something is actually "guaranteed" to have been delivered, and whether the law accepts that it has definitely been delivered might not be the same thing, but the second is still useful :-)

              1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

                Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

                This sounds like the legal distinction between being delivered and being read, or in the case above being printed out?

            2. JetSetJim

              Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

              I vaguely recall being able to receive faxes by email, no paper involved. Receiving number piped the fax into an image and emailed it. If it had the email wrong, recipient didn't get it.

              Fax will indicate that the target device received it, but not that the intended recipient did.

              I suppose even with paper fax this is also true.

              1. keith_w

                Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

                there are several fax systems that receive faxes to a server and then distribute them based on various criteria.

          2. Cynic_999

            Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...


            .. if your machine says it sent, then it's because the receiving machine confirmed receipt ..


            Sure, the remote machine may have received the fax correctly, but it could be sat in the machine's RAM with a "Paper Empty" message on the front panel. Whereupon the over-cautious secretary turns off the machine before fitting a new roll of paper ...

            1. Persona Silver badge

              Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

              The legal acceptance of fax goes back to the day when there was no storage involved. It printed out as it was being transmitted and proof of reception was returned. Should the recipient lose the paper after this it was their fault and did not compromise proof of transmission. Similarly were the recipient to install a machine that could lose received faxes in its memory that is the recipients problem too as the fax has legally been received.

        2. MiguelC Silver badge

          Re: "they cannot be forged and the sending number is traceable / accurate"

          In the 90's we had so much fun at the office spoofing email senders and fax numbers...

          One time we sent a fax to the office's fax machine faking the sender to be a dance school and confirming a colleagues ballet classes booking. He was something of a macho bully and we laughed about it for months afterward, everyone feigning to believe he really had booked the class.

          Another good one was when we sent an email purporting to be from a PFY, who had called in sick, to our manager, with an "X-ray" attached proving his illness. It was a fake x-ray revealing a broken bone inside a penis (really NSFW, but those where different times)

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

          Sending number might be traceable, but getting the destination right can be problematic

          A large finance house in New Zealand had the same fax number as my residential number in another area code

          in the 1990s I started getting annoying fax calls which didn't stop, so I attached a fax machine and out popped credit application after credit application with all kinds of sensitive information attached as branches in other cities faxed this stuff off to head office (none of the origin points were in my area code)

          Phone calls and a lawyer letter to the company complaining and asking that they cease/desist were ignored for months

          Faxing the applications back with "Application rejected, poor credit risk" in big fat marker over top (to the originating fax and the helpfully supplied number of the applicants) stopped it in 72 hours

          This highlights the risks behind the reason why the NHS got ordered to stop using faxes.

          These days I'd just take the faxes to the ICO and let them know of GDPR breaches by the senders. Back then the right sort of privacy laws didn't exist

          1. irrelevant

            Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

            I had this exact thing happen to me .... with prisoner transfer documents faced me from various courts and intended for a local cage-on-wheels company. It transpired a '8' had turned into a '3' on a multiple-times-photocopied fax list of contractors that had been making it's way around the country... In the end, it was only because they were switching over to a "more secure communications medium" (probably email!) that they stopped...

            Shame, reading about the low-lifes was occasionally entertaining, and gave me a reason to keep hold of the old fax machine that's now buried in a cupboard somwhere..

          2. Stevie

            Re: "Old' and "solicitor" doesn't narrow things down...

            1996, new (and first) PC with fax software and a voiceview modem sitting in home office.

            Phone rings at too-damn-early on a Saturday and I get fax squeal when I pick up. And again. And again.

            So I go downstairs boot PC and make tea while that happens. Then I start the fax software and out prints some poor woman's lab results with - as I'd hoped - a cover sheet with the phone number of the sender.

            I call them, young woman answers and we fall down the rabbit hole:

            "You are faxing the wrong number. Please check your machine."


            "Okay. Let's review for a moment. You say you are faxing the right number. *I* say you are faxing the wrong one. What are the alternatives? Either I am right and you are sending - let me see - Mrs Elsie Zzzzzz's medical records to a private address, or you are right and I am a crank caller who has called you and accused you of sending a fax at exactly the same time as you actually did send a fax, and I have guessed randomly the exact details of the fax you are sending. You choose the more likely scenario."

            "Okay. I'll re-check the number I dialed."

            "Thank you. And I will shred the sensitive personal medical documents you sent to me, shall I?"

            "Yes." Click.

      3. benjya

        Re: Foot pedal

        They're still used by typists / secretaries, except it's all digital dictation rather than dictation machines (eg BigHand). Last time I played with this (5 or 6 years ago) the typists had a USB-connected pedal with foot controls for forward, stop, back etc. And the solicitors had a USB (or wireless) hand held unit which looked like a dictation machine but which linked to the digital dictation system. All very slick when properly configured. Could even do tricks like send the dictation off for voice recognition first.

        1. TeraTelnet

          Re: Foot pedal

          I use one of these every day, but I don't even need the connected dictation device - it's all mobile apps now.

    4. jake Silver badge

      Re: Foot pedal

      Most people who did support back when the mouse was new have a version (or three) of this story. It actually happened occasionally, I saw it myself.

      1. WhereAmI?

        Re: Foot pedal

        Me too. Once. All I remember now is that the machine was an Olivetti 286 and the mouse did indeed resemble a small dictaphone foot pedal.

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        It happened to me about twenty years ago.

        One of my wife's friends was complaining over the phone about how difficult using a mouse was. The next time we went over for dinner, I had her show me what the problem was. It was simple : she had positioned the mouse the wrong way, buttons under the palm of the hand.

        I smiled and gently turned the mouse around.

        We had quite a fun dinner after that, and she took a gentle ribbing quite graciously.

        1. JetSetJim

          Shame mouse settings don't expose "invert-x" and "invert-y" parameters

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            In a lot of vendor drivers (even logitech), they did have an invert option

          2. swm Silver badge

            I had a friend at work that modified the microcode in a computer to invert the x-axis. There was no way to get the mouse/cursor working together except by running the mouse on the underside of a desk.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Foot pedal

        On the other hand there REALLY WERE foot-operated pointing devices too.

        They tended to be giant trackballs rather than mice

    5. disgruntled yank

      Re: Foot pedal

      Americans of a certain age will remember Rosemary Woods, a secretary in the Nixon White House, whose work on the foot pedal made the newspapers during Watergate.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Foot pedal

        Rosemary took the fall for the 19 minute gap. The photo of her "yoga pose" showing how it allegedly happened is a classic.

        We all know who really erased it (at least, who ordered it), and why.

        1. FloridaBee

          Re: Foot pedal

          I used a Dictaphone foot pedal rig to transcribe for a court reporter for years back in the early '80s. No way a transcription rig foot pedal could actually erase or overwrite anything--you had to have a microphone unit for that back then.

    6. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Foot pedal

      Foot pedals are still used. Lexacom. Dragon Dictation. Some of my worst site calls are crawling around under desk for foul encrusted cable entangled foot pedal noisiomness.

    7. Sequin

      Re: Foot pedal

      When the company I worked for were short staffed I was asked to help out with doing a hardware refresh at a solicitors' office in Dewsbury (I was employed as a developer).

      I turned up and started exchanging machines, installing software etc and was then asked if I was going to install the foot pedals for the transcription software. After they explained what they were and what they were used for, I wint to plug them in only to find that they wre serial devices and had 9 pin RS-232 plugs at the end of the cable, but the new desktop machines were USB only.

      I had to make a trip to the local Maplins to clear out their stock of USB-Serial converters. Luckily I had a company credit card with me.

      After all of that, I got back to my car to find that I had a puncture and the wheel nuts were seized!

      What a day.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Foot pedal

        "only to find that they wre serial devices and had 9 pin RS-232 plugs at the end of the cable, but the new desktop machines were USB only."

        I hope the sales/tech sale/project lead got a good bollocking for that. It's a rookie mistake to miss something like that. Fair enough if it's a one off "special" user, but not when it's a significant number of the PCs being replaced/installed. Especially when the upgrade involves PCs which don't have the same ports as the old ones.

        Talking to a tech at one of our customers a few years back and she recounted how they had to order in a load of video conversion dongles because their "transformation team" had failed to take into account that many of the existing LCD panels they were going to reuse were VGA only and the new PCs were DVI/HDMI only.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Foot pedal

          Previously I had to suffer where some numpty pointedly tried to only order LCD displays which preferably only had fecking VGA connectors! A digitl (pixelmap) image, being mangled through a digital to analogue conversion only to be converted immediately from analogue back to digital for display on a digital (pixelmap) panel? FFS, just dumb in every way. Not a single one of those displays remained within a month or two as they were uniformly rubbish and the office had an entirely random range of display resolutions and mismatched dual monitors on a desk? Eek. It wasn't even remotely hard or expensive to deploy digitally connected monitors running at a uniform 1980x1080p resolution and just the support and usability issues resolved paid for this within a few weeks.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Foot pedal

      In the early days of PCs making it into industry where I worked, ONLY the secretaries had them (and a few the technical departments). God, you wouldn't believe how hard it was to justify one if you weren't a secretary.

      As a youngster - and with many of the secretaries also being young - I assumed (this was early 90s thinking, you realise) that they 'understood' computers since they were using them all day every day. At the time, they typed up all memos and reports using the old DOS-based WordPerfect (5.2, if I remember).

      Time passed. Not much time, since things were moving apace back then, but enough for the company I was with to move to a Windows-based version of WordPerfect (6.0a).

      All hell broke loose. The secretaries were in tears, and couldn't use it. It was chaos.

      It turned out they all had little hardbacked notebooks that they had handwritten themselves, containing the various slash codes they needed to make text bold, italic, save, open, print, and so on! The mouse concept was completely alien to them.

      In later years, when accessing some of the SOP files produced at that time (by then, we typed them ourselves instead of relying on secretaries), I discovered that all the formatting - even in WordPerfect 6.0a documents - had been achieved using the space bar! No tabs, no columns, no tables - just the space bar. Every physical line had a [CR] at the end, as the concept of the 'paragraph' in word-processing terms was not known to them!

      I discovered this when I was trying to reformat some text and it wasn't having it. I turned on the code display and the screen filled with the periods/dots that represented a space.

    9. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Foot pedal

      My mum had a sowing machine with a foot pedal. She could control the sowing machine speed with it in what you would call sub-pixel accuracy. It was simply a button with about 3/4 inch of play. She could get it to go from off to a gentle hum (no movement) through to flat out with seemingly infinite precision. I could get it to stop or so fast it sewed right through my thumb, nail bone and all, before giving up. I used to use it to modify clothes (at 6'5 nowt fitted) but never got past digital.

      30 years later I sat down with it and found I too could control it with precision and was baffled until I started to teach my daughter to drive.

      Since then I've used midi-pedals for helping control games and might try a ball mouse or two for some 3d stuff!

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Foot pedal

      When our company moved into its new tower block they established a typing pool connected to the internal phone system. You dialled a number - then recited your memo etc.

      The idea was that you could do corrections on the fly. Unfortunately if a typist picked up your message in real-time you often received your hard copy verbatim before you had time for an afterthought. If you paused too long to gather a new thought you could also receive a "finished" hard copy up to that point.

      The system wasn't really designed for techies trying to express complex ideas.

      1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge

        Dictation, was Foot pedal

        My boss once dictated a specification for an electric train controller, and sent it off to be typed. What he dictated at a certain point was "The controller must pass 1000 Amps on the first notch", referring to the way different values of resistance were switched in and out by "Notching Up", a device common with both trains and trams. What he received back was a very neatly typed specification containing the instruction "The controller must pass 1000 Amps on the first of March". The typist had typed what she thought she had heard, and had not bothered to ask for clarification.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Dictation, was Foot pedal

          Unfortunately that kind of thing happens when someone has to try and transcribe things that are technical, as in require specialist knowledge to understand, and the error rate is large and has potentially quite serious repercussions. On the other hand, if it's accepted that there will be errors but that overall it's a time saving and the output has to be reviewed, it's not necessarily a bad process.

  2. Mr Dogshit

    To be fair

    Someone did come up with a foot mouse in the mid eighties, the idea being that you'd have both hands free to type. I can't remember whether it made it into production, or whether it was just a patent, but I did read about such a thing.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: To be fair

      It wasn't a mouse, but I fiddled about with a foot pedal input device back then. Was a Moog Taurus originally[0], but I modified it so various chords became control, alt & shift keys, Fx keys, Sun's "L" keys, and a couple other key bindings depending on the computer it was plugged into. It was an attempt to bring sanity to EMACS, among other things.

      Even when working well, it turned out to be more trouble than it was worth, so I never pursued it. A friend of mine took my breadboard rig & used the basic idea for an alternative input device for disabled folks while getting his Masters at Stanford.

      [0] Don't swear at me, I didn't wreck it! Somebody had cannibalized most of the electronics, I found the carcass in a pile of trash outside SAIL's DC Power building when we were moving out in 1980. The idea of making it an input device flashed into my mind as soon as I set eyes on it.

    2. benjya

      Re: To be fair

      I bought one for a user back in 2001 (give or take a year or so). Was a 'elf and safety requirement due to RSI. Had two large pedals on which you rested your feet. One of them had a ball joint so you could move it in all directions to move the mouse. The other had two switches for "toe" and "heel", for left and right click. Cost about £300 (a lot 20 years ago). I think she gave up on it after a week!

    3. David Austin

      Re: To be fair

      I think the coolest system like that I've seen was a prototype setup with two hand mice; The one for your weaker hand was calibrated for big movements, and the dominate hand mouse was configured for super fine granular control.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: To be fair

        1997 - linux desktop

        left mouse, right mouse, Cirque Easy CAT glidepoint touchpad keyboard, Trackball - all connected at one, using whichever one was closest as needed (the glidepad was nice as you could mouse with your thumb without lifting hands off the keyboard)

        The cat (who had discovered that if he sat on my input device, would get a scratch behind the ears before being removed) was peeved until he discovered he could sleep on top of one of the monitors and watch me instead

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Back then I was training users who were moving from VT100's to PC's running early Windows. Training them to use the mouse was always fun ... "Please slide the mouse over, don't pick it up and put it down"

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I took the example my driving instructor used when teaching me to drive He explained, in basic terms, how a clutch worked. Likewise, teaching users how to use a mouse, it was very helpful to explain how a mouse worked and show them one that had been taken apart so they could see the ball, rollers, wheels and optical sensors.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "He explained, in basic terms, how a clutch worked."

        I find that the reaction to such explanations these days is "TMI!". (Too Much Information!).

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Anyone on a training course or asking for help who complains of "too much information" when I'm around will be told to leave.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "[...] will be told to leave."

            The last occasion was when a Brexit friend didn't want to hear any explanation about export/import implications.

  4. Admiral Grace Hopper

    No, not there

    "No, you don't use the mouse on the screen, if it you use it on the mouse mat it will make the cursor move on the screen".


    As an aside, I had a nostalgic moment when reminded of the Trash-80. Being a Z80 machine the software sold for those machines also ran on my Dragon 32.

    1. nil0

      Re: No, not there

      6809 + Microsoft Color BASIC

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: No, not there

        Yes, he meant the Tandy Color computer, something very, very different from the TRS-80.

        1. Admiral Grace Hopper

          Re: No, not there

          Yes, she did. My bad.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: No, not there

            Oops, sorry ma'am!

            1. Admiral Grace Hopper

              Re: No, not there

              No worse than my TRS-80/Tandy solecism. Let's have a beer.

  5. GlenP Silver badge

    Back in the late 80s I was called to assist a lecturer (I was working for the local college at the time) on his recently received PC. I can't remember the actual problem but as he was left-handed the mouse was on the opposite side to normal.

    I'm right handed so he was most annoyed that I could use the mouse with my left hand better than he could!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Yeah, in those days there weren't any of the functions we have available now, such as the ability to swap buttons or redefine them in any way.

      It was right click to select, left click for menu, and that was it.

      Today, I am using a Logitech G602. It has no less than 8 buttons in addition to the basic 2, all programmable. I use all of them.

      If Logitech had existed back then, and brought that mouse to market, I think people would have had strokes trying to wrap their heads around the amount of functionality !

      But to get here, we had to start there.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "Yeah, in those days there weren't any of the functions we have available now, such as the ability to swap buttons or redefine them in any way."

        Actually, in the old days you had to manually define all that, from scratch, if you wanted to use the dratted thing. If anything, they were more easily customizable, because the interface was documented.

        Logitech was founded in 1981, and was shipping two button mice in the early '80s. Mouse Systems, the builder of early Sun 3-button mice, had many-button "programmable" mice in the mid '80s. There were others, most were used for CAD systems.

    2. NITS

      I used to use the mouse left-handed at the office, and right-handed at home, to even out the carpal tunnel wear. Never bothered to remap the keys, just learned them as "left mouse button / right mouse button" as opposed to "index finger / middle finger".

      Didn't seem difficult to me. YMMV.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        I did the same thing, for much the same reason. Though my problem is fused joints in each hand. What makes it easier is that I’m ambidextrous. About the only thing I cannot do left handed is write well and that’s just due to lack of practice.

        Taught myself to do the whole process of making transgenic mice left handed.

    3. TomPhan
    4. Charlie van Becelaere

      Left-handed rodents

      I've always been a sinister mouser, simply because the first time I had a mouse for my machine (a Deskpro 386 as I recall), that was the side where I had space on my desk for a mouse.

      Now I'm glad I learnt that way, as it leaves the right hand free for the number pad and so forth.

      In other news, I still have a friend who uses her mouse with the cord facing away from her. It drives her coworkers mad, but it's how she started, and it's hard to unlearn many years of muscle memory.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Left-handed rodents

        I've been ambimousetrous since the early days, when there was no standardization on placement.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Our occupational nurse was impressed that I used the mouse in my (non-dominant) left hand. There was apparently some RSI explanation about why using your dominant hand for both mouse and keyboard wasn't good for you.

  6. Roger Greenwood

    Watching users run out of desk trying to use a mouse is one of the funniest things ever. Those were the days.....

    1. Umbracorn

      Oh, Alexa, how we laughed.

    2. Andytug

      Obligatory Dilbert...

    3. NITS

      Q. Why do engineers use trackballs?

      A. Because they don't have the square foot of clear desk space for a mouse.

  7. 45RPM Silver badge

    My problem with the mouse, back in the eighties when I first saw such a beast (dangling out of my new-fangled Amstrad PC-1512, as it happens), was a) orientation (all these years later, I can’t for the life of me work out why I found it so hard to point the mouse with its tail away from me) and b) understanding that I could pick the mouse up without moving the pointer if I needed it to scoot a little further than the desk permitted.

    Not, it must be said, that the mouse often troubled me. The GUI bundled with it, GEM, was a pile of old pants - and, for years, I stuck with what I knew from my previous computer. Wordstar. Which didn’t need a mouse. To the extent that, when I carelessly bundled the computer into the boot of my car to come home for the summer vac (I was at Uni), I slammed the boot on the rodent and drove home with shattered rodent bouncing on the motorway. It’s death bothered me not one jot - and I didn’t touch a mouse again until I bought a Mac* to learn 68000 assembly language on.

    * I wanted a computer with an internal hard drive, which is why I didn’t go for Amiga or ST, and I wanted a small footprint (big box Amiga or ST could have given me the hard disk that I wanted, but they’d have competed for desk-space with the Amstrad’s replacement - a mammoth Opus PCV386) - so I got an SE/30 second hand. Which I still have.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Ah, Wordstar.

      I used to know the keyboard shortcuts for everything. It was so much fun.

      Then Borkzilla imposed Word on the world, and ramped it up until The Ribbon.

      Now, keyboard shortcuts in word processors are almost a thing of the past.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I remember when we first had Windows 3 in the office, and we had more PCs than mice as our MD was a bit of a tight wad. You'll leave the office and some bugger will nick your mouse.

        In the end it was easier to learn how to use the keyboard shortcuts - helped in one site visit where the user had managed to move the Excel screen off the screen and couldn't access the menus. They had been quoted a complete reinstall of Windows etc to fix it.

        Quick Alt-space, maximise, Alt F4, reopen to make sure it worked - job done.

      2. gryphon

        1st year at Uni we were taught Wordstar. Lots of training, endless practice etc.

        Came back from summer holidays to find they’d changed every system to WordPerfect 5.1.

        Us - Any training manuals or anything available for this?

        Uni - Don’t be silly. You’ll work it out in no time it’s easy peasy.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Ah, yes. The old "It has menus, it's EASY!" bullshit. That was the beginning of the rise of the marketards. We should have shot them all while we had the chance ...

          ANYwho ... How long did it take you to find the switch to make it behave like Wordstar? Almost everything had a Wordstar compatibility mode back then, even EMACS.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      The SE30 had a maths co-processor. I was using a bespoke 3D reconstruction program to reconstruct mutant mouse legs. It was coded to take advantage of the co-processor when present.

      Rendering the reconstruction, you had to specify x, y, and z coordinates the hit go, went from hit go, go get a cup of coffee to hit go, drink some coffee, go damn, rejig the coordinates.

      It was a nice wee beast.

  8. illiad

    head the old one about 'polish your balls' :D :D

    1. jake Silver badge

      "Mouse Balls" was written as a joke field service memo by a FSE at IBM Boca in roughly 1988, soon after the release of the IBM PS/2. Seems manglement were going on and on about the importance of the mouse with OS/2, and he was in the mood to poke fun at them.

      The memo looked official, the original had the actual part number of the FRU mouse balls. It also had the tie-line number of the FSE who wrote the memo. It was never supposed to go outside his immediate office. He is probably embarrassed about it to this day.

      The last time I checked (15 years ago (??)), P/N 33F8462 - Domestic Mouse Balls and P/N 33F8461 - Foreign Mouse Balls were still valid part numbers at IBM, with inventory on hand.

      1. William Towle
        Paris Hilton

        > "Mouse Balls" was written as a joke field service memo by a FSE at IBM Boca[...]

        That, and the quality of translation was often so bad we concluded manuals must have gone back and forth through an automated system until the result no longer changed (not that failure to spot "the translation service is not currently available, please try again later" came back is any more helpful in these modern times...)

        I had one (possibly TrueMouse - don't quote me, the paper copy got lost and the floppy in the box is a 5in one, so I can't confirm easily) where the guide suggested "the speed of your balls can be adjusted for comfort".

        (now: *sigh*; then: *fnar*)

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      That reminds me of the number of times I had to pick out the fluff from a ball mouse.

      Thank God for laser mice !

      1. John 110


        I supported 30 PCs in a diagnostic Microbiology lab - all with ball mice. You really don't want to know what I had to pick out of the rollers. I started buying cheapo mice in batches of 5 so that I could just throw out (via the autoclave) mice that I deemed unrecoverable. (You should have seen my boss's face when I demonstrated to him why this was necessary.

        That's when I threw out all the plastic mouse mats we'd been given (with Elonex printed on them) and replaced them with the cheapest fabric ones that I could find.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Claurty

          I've told this story before, but back in the day I used to be the office 'tech assistant' (nothing to do with my actual job).

          We had one guy in the office who ate at his desk and NEVER washed his hands. He'd eat potato chips, spread butter on bread, peel oranges, everything, and yet his idea of 'cleaning his hands' amounted to rubbing them together when he'd finished eating. One time, he even got into his car pool pick-up one morning with an open can of sardines he planned to make up as sandwiches that day for lunch. As a result, his computer screen would have little pixelated areas because of the juice he'd managed to spray on it, and his keyboard was full of crumbs. Come to think of it, you could barely see the white-on-grey lettering of the Hewlett-Packard keyboard - the keys were black.

          One time, he was having trouble with his mouse pointer not moving. I opened it up, and I swear the cavity was solid with a greasy black gunk. I almost threw up.

          1. Rufus McDufus

            Re: Claurty

            This also reminds me of the same university I just commented on. A doctor (of computer science) came down with a non-working keyboard one day. She'd tried to clean it, firstly under the tap, then for some bizarre reason with cooking oil. She then somehow managed to throw up on it. Keyboards were expensive back the. but sadly this one had to go. I believe she's head of the computer support group at that university now.

      2. Rufus McDufus

        I worked for a university back in the late 80s/early 90s which had thousands of Sun workstations. They had mostly laser mice. There was a fairly bewildering number of possible mouse mat/mouse combinations as Sun introduced different models over time. The original mats got swapped out onto other machines, and possibly some third party ones got introduced somehow, and I got to learn pretty much all the possible faults with mismatches, or in some cases just the mat the wrong way round,

  9. phy445

    Sinclair mouse would have worked

    IIRC Sinclair had a plan for a "mouse" that was essentially a joystick without a stick. It had a pad that you tilted to move the pointer. I don't think it ever went into production for some reason...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sinclair mouse would have worked

      It's a pity he didn't do that for the shit he did put into production.....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sinclair mouse would have worked

      Dell Latitude E6410 laptops have two ways to move the mouse pointer. One is an obvious touch pad. The other is a little round button nestled between the GHBN keys - behaves like a joystick without a stick.

  10. Blofeld's Cat

    Hmm ...

    I remember being sent to train people trying to use a mouse in industrial environments.

    Broken mice from a couple of these locations resulted in an impressive collection of ones packed with grease, filled with metal shavings, partially dissolved or simply melted.

    We always brought with us a selection of heavy-duty trackballs and industrial joysticks as replacements.

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      Re: Hmm ...

      Years ago, I went to investigate a problem at a printing press which had been running successfully and, apparently, continuously for four years. Then, suddenly, and without warning, it stopped. The press seemed to be on - but nothing was being printed, and it didn’t appear on the network.

      The problem wasn’t too hard to diagnose. The RIP was running on a PowerMac 8100 - and when I say running, I mean ‘not running’ and when I say PowerMac 8100, I mean ex-PowerMac 8100. Such apparent reliability is astonishing for a computer running MacOS 7.1 (IIRC), but I suppose that if it’s only running one application, and no ones fiddling with it then that helps. It’s even more astonishing when you consider all the paper dust flying around - and which did for the Mac. Not only was the PSU clogged (I’m amazed that there wasn’t a fire), but the system unit was stuffed with the biggest papery dust-bunnies you’ve ever seen. Result? Overheating and a dead Mac. I replaced the Mac, and everything was well again - although I’m sure that it probably ended up meeting the same grisly end.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Hmm ...

        Ha! I know that set up well. Fortunately we had a separate pre-press department, but the 8100 was still in the same room as a digital sheet-feed press. Noisy as f***. Could send the RIP output to a number of devices - the e-Print, a Fuji dye-sub proofer or a Fuji ImageWriter which spat out huge lengths of roll film. Also had a Chromalin proofing system which was great fun. Used to love running those off. Could spend a whole afternoon just quietly banging out proofs one after another - it was a skill. Ah... great days.

        1. 45RPM Silver badge

          Re: Hmm ...

          At risk of giving away where I worked, I was on the company stand at IPEX in 1998 (I think) and a large print supplies company had the spectacular idea of having a free bar staffed with glamour models for the use of bona fide visitors (use of the bar, that is, not the models) to their stand. Not something that you could get away with now. No one wanted to visit our stand at all, which meant that I was very lonely doing demos of a high end scanner and printer (I can’t remember whose, except that my then girlfriend worked for the scanner company and the printer company was Israeli). No one wanted to see my boring demo.

          In a break, I got chatting to one of the girls, who’d been watching my demo. She asked if I had to use the scanner, or whether I could just import pictures by other means and print them out - thereby only using the printer - because she wanted a high quality hard copy of her portfolio. I cleared it with my boss, and imported the images from a CD that she gave me - where she was wearing a damn sight less than she was on the stand with the bar. Suddenly my demos were a lot more popular! There was plenty of variety to the content as well - her friends wanted their portfolios printed too. I don’t know why the print supplies company didn’t object - but they didn’t seem to. They certainly didn’t cease and desist us.

          One of the girls gave me her business card, with her hotel room number on it. I didn’t take her up on the hint - and now, more than twenty years later, I can’t for the life of me work out why not. Regrets? I’ve had a few…

          1. Loyal Commenter

            Re: Hmm ...

            One of the girls gave me her business card, with her hotel room number on it. I didn’t take her up on the hint - and now, more than twenty years later, I can’t for the life of me work out why not.

            One would hope that it is related to the earlier part of your post, which mentions "my then girlfriend".

            If not, then this is toxic masculinity at its finest...

            1. 45RPM Silver badge

              Re: Hmm ...

              You’re quite right. Thumbs up. Very toxic. My tongue was (inappropriately) in my cheek - but nevertheless, I wish that I had gone for a drink with her. Not for anything other than to talk to another human being and find out what makes them tick. I’m a gregarious fellow, and I’m always interested in other people - and I missed an opportunity there. Although not for hanky-panky because, as you correctly point out, I was off-the-market. That said…

              …I do have friends who swing, equally split male and female. So, whilst it’s not unreasonable to call me out for toxic masculinity, it’s not 100% sure to be the case…

              1. Loyal Commenter

                Re: Hmm ...

                So, whilst it’s not unreasonable to call me out for toxic masculinity, it’s not 100% sure to be the case…

                Well, since you didn't act on it, it would be unfair to call you on it.

                If you had, though, then it would.

                Being tempted by something you shouldn't do is one thing, acting on it is quite another...

            2. Hollerithevo

              Re: Hmm ...

              Toxic? Your bar is set very low, L. Commenter.

              1. Loyal Commenter

                Re: Hmm ...

                I'm not sure the "not cheating on your partner" is a particularly low bar to be honest.

                As a mammal with a functioning reproductive system, I do appreciate what it is like to be influenced by those urges, but as an evolved sentient being, I also have a brain which is quite capable of overriding them.

            3. jake Silver badge

              Re: Hmm ...

              Masculine? Excuse me? Have you never heard of a "Dear John" letter?

              Toxic? Since when was finding a new person to date considered "toxic"? Are you going to honestly tell me that you have never, when dating someone, run across somebody that suits your needs/wants more precisely?

              The only toxicity here is you assuming that everybody else on the planet must obey your moral understanding of the world. Who died and placed you in charge of our morals?

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: Hmm ...

                Woah! She probably just wanted to druck his brains out.

              2. Loyal Commenter

                Re: Hmm ...

                Have you never heard of a "Dear John" letter?

                So your argument here, is that sometimes women will dump men, so it's find to sleep with a model at a trade show?

                The "toxic masculinity" thing is toxic because society in general looks down on women who cheat on their partners, but not on men who do the same. A guy who sleeps around is "Jack the lad", but if a woman does that, she will be shamed. And of course, women cheat on men, just as men cheat on women (and women cheat on women, men on men, etc. etc.) Just because someone else might do it, doesn't justify doing it yourself. "Don't be an arsehole" isn't a bad motto to live by.

                Are you going to honestly tell me that you have never, when dating someone, run across somebody that suits your needs/wants more precisely?

                Two things here - if you don't like the person you are with, you shouldn't stick around until you "find something better". String someone along isn't exactly a good character trait. Of course, if you do get on with the person you are with, you shouldn't cheat on them, just because you happen to run across someone you fancy more.

                Of course, sometimes it happens that you may be in a relationship that is plodding along, and you run across someone who is obviously going to make you much happier. You don't just jump into bed with them and betray your partner though, unless you are a proper arsehole. I really don't think that a model at a trade show who slips you her hotel room number is going to fall into this category. You'd be naïve to think that such a liaison would be anything other than a one-night stand. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that sort of thing between consenting adults, if you don't already have a committed partner.

                The only toxicity here is you assuming that everybody else on the planet must obey your moral understanding of the world. Who died and placed you in charge of our morals?

                I never claimed to be "in charge of anyone's morals", but if you're going to act like an arsehole, be prepared to be called out on it. Your moral compass seems to be firmly set towards the "self gratification and screw everyone else" setting, so I'd suggest that maybe you should think about the effects your actions have on others. It's a fairly basic concept, and not "holier-than-thou" moralising to suggest that you don't go around doing whatever you want without any regard for the effects on others. You don't have to look very far in the world to see the results of people acting entirely selfishly. You might do well out of it; you might even get to run a country, but you sure as hell are going to cause a lot of damage along the way with an attitude like that.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hmm ...

            "One of the girls gave me her business card, with her hotel room number on it"

            As a green youngster I was on my first overseas assignment. In the hotel I often ended up chatting to some women at the bar. One night they invited me up to their room for a drink after the bar closed. Another guy was also present. In the timeless words of The Sunday People reporter "I made my excuses and left".

            En route to a customer I would often say hello as I passed them working in the town square.

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Hmm ...

      We use touchpads now.

      At least we would if you did'nt have to scrape a coating of grease and god knows what off them, on the bright side , you'd never get covid on them...

      Wheres the vomit icon?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Hmm ...

        "We use touchpads now."

        Who is "we", Kemosabe?

        I hate touch screens. I've spent half a century keeping the greasy mitts of the luser-base off my nice clean monitor ... and then the bean counters just HAD to bring out fondle-thingies, didn't they? I hates 'em. Hates 'em, I does.

  11. DJV Silver badge

    "the occasional overheated Apple III motherboard"

    Not sure about "occasional" - overheating plagued that model! And the resulting cooling (when off) and heat cycles would then pop chips out of their sockets. Wandering chips was something that afflicted Amiga 500s as well. At least, with the Amiga, you could use the renowned fix of dropping it from about 3 feet in the air onto a soft surface like a bed! Fun days!

    1. Sam Therapy

      Re: "the occasional overheated Apple III motherboard"

      The Amiga fix was even officially blessed by Commodore, IIRC. Although, I remember it being about 6 inches onto a hard surface, such as a desk. Anyhow, it worked for me.

      There's also the old problem of Amiga mice not liking bright sunlight, which shone through the gaps in the casing and made the optical sensors freak out. Didn't happen on their old style mice (although they suffered from the problem of having silver switch contacts) but affected the redesign. I stuck a piece of insulating tape over mine.

    2. DougMac

      Re: "the occasional overheated Apple III motherboard"

      That was the fix Apple techs gave out as well, although suggestion was inches, not feet.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: "the occasional overheated Apple III motherboard"

        Another fix that involves a bed is for XBOX 360s 'red ring of death' which was caused by poor understanding of the newly mandated lead-free solder in its design. Some folk reported that turning the console on and then wrapping in a duvet or towel would bring the console back to life. The reasoning was that by preventing the machine from cooling itself the solder would soften and repair the cracks, at least for a while.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the occasional overheated Apple III motherboard"

      My Apple ][ had a similar problem. Only a few of the ICs were plugged into sockets - possibly the ROM. The cure was every few months to to take them out and put them back. Had presumed the tin-plated contacts were building up slight corrosion because of the low current flow.

  12. WhereAmI?

    Dirtiest PC

    The dirtiest PCs I ever saw were on an oil rig and I was there to fetch them off. I truly have no idea how they kept working because they were covered in black sticky oil residue and the residue had attracted its own layer of residue. Compaqs, IIRC, but I really didn't want to see the inside of them. The rig was still in the shipyard, more's the pity, but a few days later my boss got an unscheduled chopper trip as the replacements weren't quite hooked into the rig systems when it needed to be towed out on the tide. I never forgave him for that.

    1. OssianScotland

      Re: Dirtiest PC

      Far, far worse - a PC on the factory floor of a fish processing company. I will leave the rest to the imagination, but whenever I went there I would walk, and be thrown into a shower when I returned home!

      1. Rob Daglish

        Re: Dirtiest PC

        20 odd years ago I had the dubious pleasure of installing a thinnet connected photocopier in a fish processing factory. Guy who sold them it was patting himself on the back as he’d got them one with a stapler in it for the same price as the base model. Nobody had the heart to tell him they weren’t allowed to use it as no metal was allowed in the production area... I also seem to remember they took pity on me and let me wear the white suit, hair net and wellies rather than the canary yellow ones most visitors got!

    2. gryphon

      Re: Dirtiest PC

      Coal processing plant for me.

      Was replacing old units with new ones ruining Windows NT to run the weighbridges.

      Took the old unit outside, took top cover off and turned over. Must have been a few kilos of coal dust fell out. How it had been running I have no idea since the psu was caked with it internally.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Dirtiest PC

        A new issue nowadays: I had a site call to a GP's where the keyboard smart card reader wasn't working. Before just swapping the keyboard I thought I'd pop the lid and just check inside. The innards were almost floating in clinical sanitiser from Covid wipe-downs. I gave up and just replaced the keyboard.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dirtiest PC

      Underground railway with a PC installed in a cubby hole very close to the tracks. After only a few months it looked like it had been there for centuries. Presumably all the detritus from passing trains was attracted to the PC by the CRT monitor.

  13. cschneid

    Flash install recommended

    Amusingly, the linked ComputerLand history site exhorts me to install the latest Flash player.

  14. slimshady76

    New tech and old folk...

    I believe I've shared this one before. Back at the late 90s I was the head of the IT deaprtment for a local Uni, and at one time the Dean brough a visiting Chilean professor into my lair. Before he escorted the venerable professor in, he reached me over the phone and stressed a lot the fact this particular professor was pretty much the definition of a luddite: he stil typed all of his papers/mail on a mechanical Olivetti typewriter, exchanged mail only over the snail/physical route, and if any electronic communications had to be had, he derived them to his secretary. "OK", I said "bring the folk in and we'll have him set up in no time!".

    Enter the ederly, venerable professor. We had to set him up a local user, email account, give him access to several online resources, the internet proxy, etc. The venerable professor was in a very good mood to learn all the different procedures involved in our online campus: he listened, asked when in doubt, and cheered when we demonstrated a feature. Until the moment when I asked him to log in to the webmail interface. I presented him the entry webpage, and handed him the computer. He sat in, I instructed him to click on the "username" field, and waited. I anticipated he might face some trouble while getting used to the mouse, so I said "now, move the mouse UP until the pointer in the screen is positioned above the udername field". The pointer was still cemented to the lower part of the screen, and the professor complained "I'm moving it UP, but nothing happens!". I persisted, "move the mouse UP, and the pointer will do the same!" while looking at the screen.

    This went back and forth for a couple of minutes, until one of my PFYs pat me in the shoulder with a funny face, and looked the way of the professor's rigth hand: he was lifting the mouse UP from the mouse pad, instead of rolling it towards the farthest part of it...

    I took three deep breaths, gently held the professor's hand and lowered it to the mouse pad. Then, I proceeded to guide it towards the top of the mouse pad, positioned the pointer over the right text box, made his index finger click on it,and the let go off his hand. All without a word. The venerable professor looked me with a mix of wonder and surprise in his eyes, and then proceeded to type his username, roll the mouse closer to him, to position the pointer over the password field.

    The only time I recall seeing such an amazement face on someone older than me was when I taught my -then- 61 years old aunt to ride a biclycle...

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: New tech and old folk...

      " looked the way of the professor's rigth hand: he was lifting the mouse UP from the mouse pad"

      This happened a lot.

      The key phrase to get things done: "SLIDE the mouse around the pad"

      Remember: Solitaire and Minesweeper were installed to cause users to self-teach click and drag skills

      1. slimshady76

        Re: New tech and old folk...

        Yup, that's what I meant to highlight by writing UP in capitals. I Instantly realized how I was misleading the professor by saying it. In Spanish I replaced the "mueva el mouse hacia arriba"="move the mouse up" instruction with "deslice el mouse hacia el monitor"="slide the mouse towards the monitor".

    2. C R Mudgeon

      Re: New tech and old folk...

      Sometimes that's the perfect teaching method. (Neither of these examples is computer-related, but whatever.)

      At rather a younger age than your professor -- I might have been 10, and emphatically not an athletic kid -- my dad was trying to teach me to throw a baseball overhand, and after repeated explanations, I just wasn't getting it. Finally he stood behind me, took my hand, and physically guided me through the sequence of motions. It worked; I got it. I never became good -- it wasn't a skill I cared enough about to practice -- but neither was I hopeless any more.

      Many years later I paid it forward. At a Pagan festival, I was at the beginning of the evening's drum circle with my friend and her two very young granddaughters. The older kid, who was 4 or 5, loved listening to drumming and liked to play along, but was all over the place; it seemed to me she hadn't yet grasped the concept of "the beat". She had no idea when -- and, worse, when not -- to hit the drum. So there she was, standing behind a djembe over half as tall as she was (the ergonomics of that were horrible, but that's a separate issue), hitting it pretty much at random. I squatted down on the other side and said, "Delia [*], hit it when I hit it", and proceeded to bang out the basic beat -- as simple as it could get, just 1, 2, 3, 4. She followed along, and when I stopped, she kept on -- 1, 2, 3, 4. At the following evening's concert, she was sitting on her grandmother's lap, bopping along to the band. And Grandma said to me: "She's got it! She's on the beat." Not all my doing of course; clearly Delia was developmentally ready to learn the lesson. But equally clearly, she needed it taught, and a physical demonstration was a good approach.

      [*] Not her real name, obviously. The pseudonym is an homage to Delia Derbyshire (

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: New tech and old folk...

        "[...] and a physical demonstration was a good approach."

        Tell me - show me - let me do it. In many cases of learning a physical action - hands-on guidance accelerates the initial acquiring of the muscles' memory.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't get it

    The dude really tried to use the mouse with his feet ?

    WTF ? Is he trying also to use his phone with his feet ? How does it work ?

    1. Martin

      Re: Don't get it

      It's not that daft. If you've never seen a mouse before, but you've seen a foot pedal for a dictaphone or a sewing machine, you might well think that it's a foot pedal.

      And it's not actually clear whether the customer is a man or a woman - but I have to admit I'd assumed a woman, because of the reference to a sewing machine in the headline.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Don't get it

      "Is he trying also to use his phone with his feet?"

      Don't be silly, the holes are far too small to easily dial with your toes.

      More seriously, the phone evolved over several generations. In the early days, you had to physically take the ear-piece "off hook" to place it to your ear, and then speak into the wall-mounted microphone. That left your other hand to jiggle the hook to get the operator's attention. By the time dial telephones came out, people naturally gravitated to using their spare hand to dial.

      Other people have addressed the foot pedal thing.

  16. Blackjack Silver badge

    Now I want to hock my Wii fit to a computer and try to see if I can make it work like a mouse.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I do remember reading an article (in a magazine) about ripping out the innards of a ball mouse and mounting them onto an exercise bike. Then you could use it to play this new game called "Doom"

  17. HPCJohn

    Typists using early PCs

    My mother was a shorthand typist. I got a TRS-80 as a Christmas present. We introduced my mother to the machine.

    She set it up on a special heavy rubber pad - such things were used to support typewriters and you are about to know why.

    She sat in a proper position, hands poised above the keyboard...

    Then proceeded to POUND THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of it. I saw the case flex under the onslaught.

    typists were trained to operate mechanical devices which needed a lot of force...

    Also she would use the letter l key for the digit 1 - I think typewriters lacked a digit 1 key as you could work out the sense from context.

    Also she was an audio typist who used a foot pedal. Never used the mouse with her foot though - she was a smart lady!

    1. swm Silver badge

      Re: Typists using early PCs

      "Also she would use the letter l key for the digit 1 - I think typewriters lacked a digit 1 key as you could work out the sense from context."

      Yep - the LGP-30 flexowriter didn't have a "1" key - you used the "L" key.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Typists using early PCs

        Was there a reason why it lacked a number 1 key? Did they also missed off the zero key too?

        1. Martin

          Re: Typists using early PCs

          Typewriters were originally big expensive mechanical beasts, so they wouldn't duplicate keys if they didn't have to. Hence the capital "O" was indeed used as zero, and the lower case "L" was used as one. Everyone learned to type using this standard, and so in future, all typewriters were built this way.

          I'm not an expert, but I speculate that IBM's invention of the golfball typewriter was the start of including a 1 and 0 on the keyboard.

          There is actually an Asimov short story which turns on the lower case L being read as a 1 - All in the way you read it in More Tales of the Black Widowers.

          1. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge


            My name begins with an uppercase i, not a lower case L. It annoys me when salesdroids ring me up and ask for "Lain". I say "No-one here of that name", and hang up on them. If they can't be arsed to differentiate between the two, I don't want to speak to them <\rant>

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Uppercase/Lowercase

              "It annoys me when salesdroids ring me up and ask for "Lain". I say "No-one here of that name", and, so I hang up on them."


          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Typists using early PCs

            Thanks Martin. Will see if I can find that story/

    2. C R Mudgeon

      Re: Typists using early PCs

      I've done school projects on mechanical typewriters back in the day. I don't remember the force required (though I don't doubt it), but what I do remember is the insane key travel -- a significant fraction of an inch, if I recall. Also the tendency for the type hammers to jam if you pressed two keys too close together -- close in time, I mean; I'm not sure whether physical proximity mattered that much -- though if you missed your aim and pressed two adjacent keys with one finger, they were obviously close in time as well as space, leading to a jam.

      I can vouch for the lack of "1" key too. Though the SCM portable I had in highschool not only had a "1" key, it was replaceable. You could remove the head from that one hammer, and the corresponding key cap. They sold other ones with different special characters on them. I never had any but the "1" it came with, but it was a nifty capability.

      IBM made a terminal called the 2741 -- basically a repurposed Selectric golfball typewriter. (It didn't speak ASCII, I don't think, or even EBCDIC. You had to send it some weird tilt/rotate code that directly addressed the characters' positions on the type ball.) What makes the 2741 relevant here is that two keys on its keyboard required noticeably greater force to press than the rest: ENTER and BREAK (the latter being commonly used as the "abort the last command" key). I presume IBM's engineers had noticed a very common human tendency to hit things harder for emphasis, and had designed those two keys to withstand especially rough treatment. Another thing about the 2741's keyboard is that the whole thing could lock, such that the keys physically wouldn't depress. It was a half-duplex terminal, and the system would lock the keyboard when it was unable to accept input. Nice haptic feedback, that.

      1. wub

        Re: Typists using early PCs

        " I'm not sure whether physical proximity mattered that much -- though if you missed your aim and pressed two adjacent keys with one finger, they were obviously close in time as well as space, leading to a jam"

        Yes, close in space was a problem - adjacent keys jam more easily than those that are widely spaced. The QWERTY key arrangement was in part originally intended to minimize key jams that happened when quick typists were typing common letter combinations that included letters adjacent in the alphabet.

    3. ICPurvis47 Bronze badge

      Re: Typists using early PCs

      Reminds me of when I had my mother come in to the Uni office to type up my MSc thesis on her very small portable typewriter. She was pounding it so hard that it was scooting about all over my Formica topped desk, and every time she swiped the carriage return lever, the typewriter would shoot to the right hand end of the desk. I anchored it by placing two cylinder heads (Ford Escort 1300 Cross-flow IIRC) on the desk at right angles so as to act as backstops on the right and behind it. My writing was/is so bad that she could not decipher some of it, so I had to go over the typed pages and write the correct words IN CAPITALS so she could retype it correctly (My bad, not hers).

  18. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

    Lining up the screen pointer...

    I was called upon to go for a field test user training session for a project I was working on. I was picked to go because I was the only one who knew how to set up and sort out data comms problems with network we were using. That and I'd written the rather complex logon script, which had to navigate a packet switch network and then get into an IBM mainframe through a communications controller...coming in from a Mac (later, PCs). The script had to handle things like expired passwords and a few other potential error messages.

    The test site was using Macs.

    Since the set up and test worked without issues, I spent my time in the back of the room waiting for problems to occur...which they didn't. So I spent time watching one trainee struggle to use the unfamiliar mouse. At a break, I took the trainer aside and suggested to her that the trainee seemed to be trying to rotate the screen pointer by twisting the mouse. When the session resumed, the trainer worked her way around behind the trainee, watched for a bit, returned to the front of the room, and launched into an explanation of how the mouse-and-pointer system worked and that the angled pointer was supposed to be that way and you couldn't change least, not by rotating the mouse.

    I was thanked later for providing the needed insight and the rest of the day went much better.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tale from a law firm

    I worked for a major law firm in London in the mid-90s. They were rather old-fashioned - they still had uniformed tea-persons and although they had email they still employed messengers to deliver important documents on paper within the building.

    They had recently introduced Windows PCs and the story went that they had more than one lawyer who initially tried to use the mouse by placing it on the screen...

    As someone once said "a mouse is only intuitive once the user has been shown how to use it".

  20. C R Mudgeon

    My first Unix machine came from Computerland

    This was in 1987 or maybe '88, at a time when having a Unix box at home was truly exotic -- and wanting one in the first place was deeply geeky. (Linux and 386BSD were both several years in the future.)

    But after having experienced Unix at university, I'd been lost in the wilderness for close-on a decade. GCOS, RSX, the Amiga (which was cool, but not nearly *as* cool) -- and just enough occasional tastes of Unix to keep me jonesing. When news came that Computerland was unloading AT&T UNIX PCs for $1500 (Canadian) -- a steal compared to the $5K+ (US) list price -- some friends and I jumped at the chance.

    The UNIX PC was MC68010-based. Mine had a 20 MB hard drive; I can't remember how much RAM. It ran more or less SVR2, but with enhancements pulled in from SVR3 and BSD. It had a green monochrome screen. I think there was some kind of windowing system, but I never played with that. Its main claim to fame, as I read about it now, is that it looked so cool and futuristic that it tended to show up in movies a lot.

    My friends and I each bought a computer, but for some reason there were neither install media nor doc sets for all of us. So we spent an evening or two with all our machines set up at my place for (5 1/4") floppy-copying sessions, and one of the guys found a copy place that would Xerox the manuals for cheap.

    That UNIX PC served as my main home machine for quite some years, until I built a 486 box to run Linux on.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: My first Unix machine came from Computerland

      "at a time when having a Unix box at home was truly exotic"

      It wasn't really "exotic", it was just a matter of need. Most computer professionals and students who were working on that kind of thing had access to one form of *nix or another at home starting in the early 1980s.

      Coherent came out in '80.

      Xenix (which was NOT written by Microsoft, it was actually Version 7 Unix) was ported to the 8088/8086 by SCO in 1983. Prior to that, there were also ports done by other companies for TRS-68000, Zilog Z8001, and Altos 8086. SCO also did a port of Xenix for the Apple Lisa, which almost makes my Lisa into a usable machine!

      And of course, if you lived in a university town, you could often get a dial-up UNIX shell account for free in the early '80s ... if you knew who to ask. Free for the account, that is. Local telephone calls cost money. UUCP and scripting sure came in handy :-)

  21. Rufus McDufus

    I worked for a very well known internet retailer back in their early days (the fact they hired me tells you something about their questionable hiring policy back them). I heard of a promising new-hire web developer, who on their first was ushered to the desk. He/she took one look at the computer mouse and asked "what's that?". Lasted in the role until lunchtime apparently.

  22. John H Woods

    USB foot pedal ...

    ... which can be bound to any key, is surprisingly useful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: USB foot pedal ...

      We have some USB foot pedals used for dictation - as mentioned above.

      They are listed in Device Manager as a Game Controller. Which is great if I need to test it as I can just run USB game control setup,

      Never tried it for playing games though!

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: USB foot pedal ...

      "bound to any key"

      Sounds useful. As in Kick any key to continue. ... Would certainly bring a little catharsis to folks who are saddled with Windows.

  23. Dapprman

    I want to laugh but...

    Actually checked firs tin case a former colleague had already posted this.

    Late 1990s I worked at a district council in the UK. We had just moved the users in the revenues department across from dumb terminals to a mix PCs running Windows and modern terminals running Citrix Winframe client. One of my colleagues had a call from a very distressed lady who had just been moved across about how difficult it was to use the new system. He went round expecting to guide her through the new interface and tools to find, as with the OP, a case of the foot pedal being too hard to use .....

  24. martinusher Silver badge

    Seems logical

    A mouse doesn't work well with a keyboard. It can be used instead of a keyboard but because you have to take your hands off the keyboard to use it it breaks continuity, interfering the flow of work. If you look at an organist, someone making music on a machine that has a complex user interface, you'll notice that there really isn't time to reconfigure the user interface while you're playing a piece, you use preset stops and different manuals (keyboards) to achieve tonal color (your feet have a manual plus stop controls and one or two swell ("volume") controls. (That's why the only mice you'll find around an organ are the organic sort.)

    One irritant when playing is managing page turns. There's never been an entirely satisfactory solution until recently -- in the past you either played from memory, grabbed at the sheet music hoping not to bring the lot down on the keyboard or had someone to do the job. In recent years I've seen people using an iPad with a small pedal device to turn the pages. The first time I saw this it was being used on a harpsichord -- a nice combination of Baroque and Bluetooth.

    1. H in The Hague

      Re: Seems logical

      "It can be used instead of a keyboard but because you have to take your hands off the keyboard to use it it breaks continuity, interfering the flow of work."

      Which is why I use a Roller Mouse, placed just below my keyboard and mostly operated by my thumbs. Expensive but worth every penny/cent. Makes me more productive and happier as I don't have to move my hands from the keyboard to the mouse/trackball/tablet. Highly recommended.

  25. Lars Silver badge

    Could be one of "those" stories as that one went around in both Finland and Sweden during that time.

    I had a Apple II+ but the first mice came with an Amiga and that was quite some step from the Apple.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like