I’m Old, Part LX: The Humble Mouse

When I was at Adobe, they started me off with a Sun workstation for writing code. It was OK. It ran the compilers that I needed and was good enough for my day-to-day work. Most of the engineers in the department had similar machines. It came with Sun’s optical mouse that required a special metal mouse pad with a red and blue plaid pattern on it. This was a crappy misfeature. The mouse felt soupy and if a hair got into the optical sensor (which happened every couple of days), the mouse tracking went wonky.

In my second year, Computer Santa Claus came by and brought me a brand-spanking new DECStation 3100, which was a shit ton faster than the Sun and the monitor was in color and it had a better mouse. Well, in some respects. It had a unique mechanism which had two wheels, one canted around the X axis, the other canted around the Y axis. Unlike a ball mouse, no part of the rollers which come in contact with your work surface ever enters into the mouse itself. Unlike mechanical mice with balls, it rarely needs cleaning. Unfortunately, the form factor is terrible. It’s too wide and too low. A soap bar shape would have been much better.

A few months in, I was getting wrist pain, so I figured I would try to find a replacement for it. DEC didn’t supply the pin outs on the mouse connector. But hey – it’s a Hawley mouse – I know that name! I found that the mouse had been designed by Jack Hawley, who had also worked on the Xerox Alto and lived in Berkeley. I called his company, The Mouse House, and left a message. He called me back and we had a nice long chat about it. He didn’t have the pin outs either and suspected that it wouldn’t help if I did. The form factor and the communications were all DEC’s doing, the mechanism was his work. He made some suggestions on modifying the mouse itself.

We got to talking about family history and we couldn’t find any common relatives going back a few generations. Oh well. He asked me if I knew the Hawley coat of arms. My grandparents had a copy of one, but I never thought it was correct. He said he had a very old heraldry book and because the Hawley coat of arms in it was so simple, he suspected that it was the correct one. He asked for the company fax number so he could send me copies of the pages.

The cover sheet had his business card which was done up in a gilded age style with the words: “Jack Hawley – Berkeley’s Great, Though Humble, Inventor” Yes, he is definitely a Hawley. The pages that followed include the title page of the book and the page with the Hawley coat of arms. The book was over 300 years old! I couldn’t believe he put a 300 year old book onto a copier!

He was quite an interesting fellow and although he couldn’t help me directly, it was nice to talk to him and find out a little more about my family name.

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