The Bug Report

The only Bug that's good for your computer!
A Publication of the Greater South Bay PC Users Group
Volume 20 Number 07
June 2002

A monthly publication of
GS-BUG Inc. (c) copyright 1996.
Reproduction of any material herein by any means is expressly prohibited unless written permission is granted. Exception: Articles may be reprinted by other users groups in unaltered form if credit is given to the author and the original publication.

Editor - Kay Burton





By Dr. John Hanson

A  beginners SIG  has  been started  on  Tuesdays from 1 to 4 at the Scout center  where  the  hardware  and  DIG SIG meet.  Dr. Hanson is the leader  and  will  nourish  you gently with help from whatever level you  are.   The  current attendees are learning to use the mouse more  effectively  in  shifting windows around and resizing them.  One game that  is very useful for mouse work is called Cruel.  It is like Solitaire but  more useful.  Rich Bulow has found another program which  is especially useful for keyboard learning.  Complete beginners, who  well as those  who  want  to  be more proficient in any area.  Be sure  to  call  Dr.  Hanson  at 643-9882 if you can or can’t come each time so he  can make  plans for helping you.  If you have specific programs  that you  want  to  be better in, bring in your computer  so  you  can practice  with your own machine.  You can park right in front  to unload it easily.
   1.  Video Card Failure
   2.  Motherboard Data
   3.  Program Speakers
   4.  Power Supply Failure
   5.  LCD Monitors
   6.  Computer Repair Class
   7.  Windows Beginners SIG
      1.  When Video card fails:  One day you turn on your  computer and the icons are much bigger.  You are in a hurry to print  some color  pictures and try to start Photoshop but it says  it  can’t run without 256 colors and you had more than that before. Somehow the video display setting were changed from what  ever they  were to the default 480x640 so you go to  Start,  Settings, Control Panel, Display, Settings and change them back.  When  you click  on  Apply it moves them back.  You try  again  and  Panic.  Then you go to your back up computer, if you have one, to get the work  done providing you were wise enough to have the same  files on each.  If you have the all in one motherboard that I recommend you  may  not be able to just plug in a spare  VGA  card  without disabling  the on board VGA.  So what should you do?   Always  do the easiest thing first which is to re-install the video  drivers from the CDrom that came with your motherboard.
   2.   You may remember that I told you to keep the  motherboard booklet  and CDrom always with the computer in an envelope  glued to the outside of computer or inside.  You should also have  made a copy of the CDrom and kept it in a separate file folder.   In  my case I was lucky as somehow the drivers had  been  corrupted and everything was fine with that simple fix.
  3.  Getting good Programs:  One of the most difficult jobs  in any club is that of program chairman.  The same applies to Rotary and Kiwanis, etc.  How do you get interesting, informative speakers for free, meeting after meeting?  John Sellers has been doing an  excellent  job  for a long time so please take  the  time  to compliment him.     It’s  embarrassing when a speaker is dull and boring but  what do  you  do  when they don’t even show up and you  have  so  many talented,   sharp  people  sitting  there  waiting  for   a   good presentation.   Normally I like to stay in the background but  in the Rotary Club it was a common experience so I began offering to pinch hit.  And soon I was doing it in other countries, during my business  travels, when their Rotary Club speaker didn’t show  up and  sometimes  you have to speak their language.   You  are  not prepared but you do the best you can so please don’t be too  hardon  me  when I offer to help President Sexton.  If  someone  else would like to take over, be my guest.
   4.   Power Supplies do Fail:  If nothing happens when you  try to start your computer it could be the power supply.  It is  easy to  replace and runs about $15 to $20 depending on where you  buy  it.   Some places even charge $40 so be careful.  300 watts is  a good  value  these days.  At the computer show you  can  buy  the whole case with a 300 watt supply for only $20.     How  can you tell if it’s really the power supply.   Open  the case and stick one probe of a voltmeter into a black wire hole of a power connector and the other probe into the red (5v) or yellow (12  volt)  if working.  On my ATX computers I like to  splice  a wire onto the purple wire and run it to a green led I install in the  front  of the case.  This is the power good wire  and  is  5 volts  whether  the computer is on or off.  If the  switch  is on  the power  supply  is turned on.  Leave one probe  plugged  into  the black  wire of a power connector and stick the other  probe  into  any  orange wire of the ATX connector that plugs into the  mother board.  If power supply works it should read 3.3 volts.  You will note there are many orange wires, many red, many black and a  few yellow.   Usually all the wires of the same color go to the  same place  and are numerous because lots of current needs to be  carried  in that circuit.  There is one red that is different but  I am  not  sure what that is for so far.  I am not  sure  what  the green wire is for.  It is 2.5 volts when the computer is off  and zero volts when the computer is on.  If anyone knows, please  let me  know.  Jack Burton has built an excellent load to  test  very small switching power supplies and Emmett Ingram is building  one to test standard size ATX power supplies.   If  the power supply is not working unplug the wires.  Make  a note of where they go.  Remove the four screws in the back and it comes  out easily.  Install the new power supply (make  sure  its switch is off) and plug in the wires and test your computer.    A  young member brought me her dead computer and a  new  power supply fixed the problem easily.  We took the power supply  apart and  could  see  where the failed part started a  fire  and  Carl Warner noted that the failure was so hot it melted the solder  at the  start of the failure.  It is almost impossible to  repair  a failed ATX power supply and not worth it considering the low cost of a replacement.  If you own an older AT computer the  procedure is  almost  the same but be sure to mark the orientation  of  the wires  that plug into the motherboard.  If you have a brand  name computer you might have to go to one of their repair stations and   could cost you a lot.  Remember I told you not to  buy  brand name  desktop computers but to buy good quality  clones  instead.  This is only one of the many reasons not to buy brand name  desk-top  computers.   On the other hand when buying  a  notebook  youshould buy a good brand name but I would avoid Gateway and HP.
   5.   Want  an LCD Monitor?  Frys has some nice sales  now  and then but be cautious with anything at Frys.  If the sale price is about $300 for a 15 inch monitor with a rebate you are better off buying  one at the computer show.  There you pay the same  price, no  rebate is required and most important you can see it  working to make sure it has no flaws and the seller guarantees it.  I did get a good buy at Frys with a 14 inch for $200 but the second one I  bought at the computer show was a KDS Rad-5 15 inch  for  $306 and  both are marvelous.  KDS is an excellent brand.   There  are some limitations with LCD monitors you should be aware of.   They work  best  only  at their native resolution and  they  are  very expensive when you go larger than 15 inches so if you have a good 17 inch or larger monitor stick with it for awhile.  You can get excellent brand name used CRT monitors of 17 inches or larger for only about 60 to $100 at the computer shows and even from Rita at the TRW Ham swap meet.
   6.  Computer Repair Class:    Member Bill Juneau told me about an excellent computer  repair class at Narbonne High School on Western south of Sepulveda.   It is run by Mike Ochoa, who really knows computers and is an excellent  teacher.   He  makes the learning experience  fun  and  yet pushes  you to really learn how to jump start a  totally  crashed computer.   I joined in the middle of the class and so  can  you, even  for  the summer class.  It’s only $15 and  is  worth  every cent.   It runs three hours two evenings a week from 5 to  8  pm.  You can go on Monday - Wednesday or Tuesday - Thursday as I do as well as other members Bill Juneau, George Austin, Jimmy  Corones, Art Harris, and John Sellers.  Some of the members take excellent notes which John Sellers types up and sends out via e-mail  which is especially useful, even if you don’t miss a class.  If you are very experienced like Bill Juneau you don’t need to take the formal part at the front of the class but can go in  the  back  and do your thing with all the old hardware  available  and the  benefit of having a good teacher available  when  necessary.  Bill is building a computer on a breadboard so he can see how all the parts work.  It’s a great learning experience.
   7.  Windows Beginner’s SIG:  Everything I know about Windows I  learned from attending John Sullivan’s and Virginia’s SIG classes as  well as Herman Krause’s Internet SIG.  Actually I don’t  know much  about  Windows as most of my work is in DOS  such  as  this article so I am learning with my students.  It’s run very  informally and is lots of fun.  Come join us if you want to be  better at  anything.  See the notice elsewhere for more info.  It  would be good if you could attend the other Windows SIGs as well.
   Editor’s  Note:   John Hanson is the inventor  of  Tooties,  a superb  self-teaching system used by millions in schools,  homes, and  by  eye doctors around the world to improve vision.  He  also invented  a new form of psychology  called QET  (Quick  Effective Therapy)  which  transforms  poor students  into  good  students, almost  overnight,  usually  in 5 to 15 days.  He  has  also  had outstanding  success in helping brain damaged people, even  years after their accident.  Why go to therapy for years and spend lots of  money  when  you can improve quite fast with  QET?   He  uses computers to document his cases for his books so that others  may benefit and improve their vision and other skills.  Visit his web site at for more information.

By Frank Chao

Welcome one and all to the 46th article in the “Internet Talk” series. This is also the third newsletter that is being compiled by Kay Burton, our new editor. Kay has incorporated some eye-appealing format changes to the “look and feel” of this publication. Please feel free to join me in commending her on her creative efforts on behalf of this great computer users group. If you do not get a chance to speak to her in person, you can send e-mail to her at
On April 26th, Liz and I attended the Internet World Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  We have been attending this show for the past 4 years and this is the smallest one that we have ever attended.  In spite of it’s diminished size, this exhibition was still fascinating to us. The various technological wonders that comprise the Internet continue to advance in complexity in spite of financial setbacks for some of the companies that participate in the Internet phenomenon. If you would like to see what we saw at this great show, go to   Hope to see you there in the Spring of 2003 !!
Web logging or blogging is a simple way for you to create a personal Web page. It usually consists of publishing one’s comments on a Web page. You usually also have the option of posting pictures, artwork, and hyperlinks to Websites that you want people to go to.  For examples of “blogs”, see
For technical and non-technical information about blogs, see:
If you create a blog, let me know about your experience.
While visiting the home of a GSBUG member last week, we noted that  Yahoo Mail’s Website ( was slower than molasses running uphill on a cold day.  This club member was especially unhappy since he is paying Pacific Bell some big bucks for his DSL Internet access. On a hunch, I told him to try accessing the Yahoo Mail Website with his Netzero (56 kilobytes per second) dial-up Internet access. After logging in and waiting for the ad banner to show up, we restarted Internet Explorer 6 and the Yahoo mail Website was working fine. After looking at his “Inbox” for a few minutes, we turned off the modem and attempted to use his Pacific Bell DSL again and the Yahoo Mail site was still slower than slow. Next, we used Pacific Bell dialup, which is free for subscribers of Pacific Bell DSL. After completing our dialup connection, we logged into his Yahoo Mail account and it was fast again. Finally, we disconnected from Pacific Bell dialup and tried to log into Yahoo mail through Pacific Bell DSL and it was slowsville again.
In other words, the Yahoo Mail Website was slow for DSL Internet access
and fast (or faster) for dialup Internet access.
Under normal circumstances, the same Website is many times faster when accessed via a DSL connection compared to access by means of a dial-up connection.
One analogy that might explain this unexpected situation is:
Traffic on the San Diego Freeway is usually faster than traffic on surface streets. However, there are times when the San Diego Freeway is jammed and traffic along surface streets moves at a faster average pace than along the San Diego Freeway.
If you are having problems with a certain Website and it is slow or locks up, you might try dialing up with an alternate dialup Internet connection. Even if you have a super duper DSL connection or a cable modem, if a certain Website is slower than slow, try your backup Netzero or Juno dialup connection.This example also underscores the advantages of having some dialup Internet access capabilities, even if you have the latest and greatest DSL or cable modem connection for your computer.  When your broadband (DSL or cable modem) Internet access is slow or inoperative, then your dialup Internet access serves as a redundant backup connection for the Internet.
If you are a  real light user of dial-up Internet access and Netzero or Juno do not have toll-free phone numbers that are available to  you, AT&T’s PrePaid Internet Service might have a toll-free phone number for you to use.  To learn more about this service, go to tp://
According to this Website,AT&T’s PrePaid Internet Service is incompatible with both flavors of Windows XP, so it will only work with Windows 95, 98, ME, and 2000.At the end of May, I purchased a startup kit for $9.95. This package consists of a calling card and a CD-ROM with proprietary software.  It allows me to use up 8 hours of dial-up Internet service over the next 12 months, with no additional charges. The calling card has a serial number and a PIN number that you have to enter when you use the CD-ROM to install the software. After installing the software on the CD-ROM, I ended up with an icon called “AT&T PrePaid Internet Service” on the “Desktop” of my Windows 98 computer.  Since that time, I have logged on three times and each time, my V.92 modem was only able to connect at 28.8 kilobits-per-second to an AT&T modem that is located in Gardena. I will experiment with this Internet service and attempt to see if I can make a faster connection in upcoming months.
Using multiple operating systems on a single computer can enhance the amount of fun and utility that you get out of Internet-enhanced computing.To learn about dual booting or multiple booting more than one operating system on your computer, go to
If you have any questions or problems, I can be contacted by the following methods:
1. Leave a voice message for me at 310-768-3896.
2. Send me e-mail at:
3. Send “snail” U.S. Postal Service mail to
Frank Chao
PO Box 6930
Torrance, CA 90504-0030. Or sell your computer and take up golf instead !!



Big news this month is that the club has a copy of Windows XPProfessional that will be raffled off at the July general meeting. That members is next month. There are ONLY 30 chances. Buy one for $5.00 or 3 for $10.00.  Odds of wining are really good if you buy several chances. Give me a $100.00  and take the box! As you can see this is one great raffle.Buy your chances at the general meeting or on Tuesday at the hardware sig at the Torrance Scout Center. You can also senda check to our P.O. box and I will put your  name on the chances.  You  do not need to be present to win. Last month we started to take pictures of members at the general meeting for the new ID  cards that will be made for members. Some  venders said they will offer special deals to members with ID cards. Our president, Gary Sexton, is working on this. Right now it is the chicken or egg thing. We need the cards before we can get the big discount deals for you and we need the pictures before we can make the cards. So if you haven’t been photographed yet, do it at the general meeting or come to the Torrance Scout Center on Tuesdays between 12:00 and 2:00 pm. That’s your part.
Are you interested in a copy of your picture in a digital format?  I can give you the original file as captured by the camera and the worked over version that will be used in making the ID cards on a disk for our usual library duplication and distribution charge of $3.00. This is a deal because each one has to be made separately. You can then use the file in many ways. Copies for family etc. Work it over in your photo editing program. Put it on your web page. So on.  If interested, let me know.
Disk of the month. How many of you listen to the Jeff Levy show on KFI on Sat and Sun morning at 10:00 AM? Each week he writes a lesson in plain English  on how to do something with your computer. How to fix a problem or make something run better or easier. So far there are 219 lessons. How would you like to have a copy of them to study and get computer smart?  Pick up a disk. Nothing to  install. Can run from floppy.


(Recycle/Reuse Options for Whole, Functional PCs)
by Lee Hudspeth
October 18, 2001
This article focuses on how to responsibly recycle whole PCs. There are several different categories of functionality for whole, recyclable PCs. A PC that you’re considering recycling could be obsolete (from your point of view, perhaps not so for others) or it could be marginally useful to you in a special role. Also, if you run a PC wholesale or retail operation then you might have an overstock situation. Note that in this and subsequent articles when I say “recyclable PC” I mean “a PC you don’t want any more.” Any PC, even your latest hotrod PC, is a candidate for recycling.
If the PC you want to recycle is fully functional then consider these options:
* keep it for a while
* sell it
* donate it to a charitable organization
* recycle (dispose of; scrap) it in an environmentally appropriate way
In any of the above cases—except if you continue using it, say, as a telecommunications server—you should completely sanitize its hard disk (more on this in a moment). Optionally you may want to go the extra mile and render the drive MS-DOS bootable after sanitizing it, as a courtesy to whomever the recipient may be. Even in a “keeping it for a while in storage” scenario, sanitize the drive since you might forget about it while it’s in storage. When you stumble across it years later and it doesn’t boot up due to some lack-of-use hardware failure, you won’t have any worries about proprietary data sitting exposed—but not easily erasable— on the belly-up PC’s drive.
While it’s true that you can scrap a fully functional, obsolete PC, I encourage you to try and keep it in service if at all possible. This way someone continues to extract value from it as an operating device, not just scrap metal or spare parts, and this minimizes inefficient, premature recycling.
If the PC is not fully functional then you’ll need to make a judgment call. If the problems aren’t too severe, you may be able to repair the PC yourself for just a few dollars. Even with severe problems, there may be a market for it in the used component channel. If you’re fortunate to have a PC donation/recycling organization nearby, contact them and see if they accept dysfunctional PCs.
Here’s how to sanitize a whole, recyclable PC. Folks, always sanitize a PC before you sell it or give it to someone else, even if you’re giving it to a scrap heap!
Boot into Windows and manually clear the Recycle Bin, clear your browser caches, delete proprietary data, delete password files, uninstall programs, delete Registry keys containing sensitive or confidential information, and so on. Then run a Windows-based tool like Norton Utilities WipeInfo.
Note that if you’re working with a hard drive that is beginning to fail, since a deep government-level wipe operation may tax it, I recommend you take the precaution of first manually deleting everything you can so at least you get that far in the event the drive crashes during the wipe.
Although I have not yet personally evaluated any of these file/disk sanitizing tools, there are plenty of them. Go up to ZDNet Downloads and search on “erase”.
These tools that popped up repeatedly during my Internet searches:
* DiskSanitizer, FormatSecure 2001, and Eraser 2000
* Zdelete
Alternately—and ideally for an older Windows 9x (or prior, including even MS-DOS-only) system—you have a copy of the now defunct but extremely cool Norton Utilities MS-DOS tool WIPEDISK. There’s also a version called WIPEINFO that supports a “Wipe entire drive” option.) I have kept copies of my Norton Utilities v4.5 diskettes around for years, with the masters safely tucked away; in fact, these tools’ timestamps date back to 1989! This tool scrubs the entire drive to U.S. Department of Defense specifications, and eradicates the system areas, so when you’re done you’ll have to format the drive for it to be usable again. That’s exactly how well scrubbed you want your hard drive to be before it leaves your possession. You don’t have to do any manual deletion from within Windows with this tool, just run it from “Restart in MS-DOS mode.”
If you want to sell a whole, recyclable PC, you can always try your local newspaper and other printed media channels. Here is a list of Top10 Links’ current top ten (by popular vote) computer auction Web sites:
Here’s a listing of computer scrap companies in the U.S. (list maintained by “Share the Technology,” a nonprofit corporation). You may be able to locate other similar firms in your region either through the yellow pages or by searching the Internet.
In future articles I’ll provide resources for donating and recycling (disposing of; scrapping) a whole PC.
I welcome your comments on recycling techno-trash.
You can reach Lee Hudspeth at:


By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

In 1980, Apple Computer asked a group of guys fresh from Stanford’s product design program to take a $400 device and make it mass-producible, reliable and cheap.
Their work transformed personal computing.
DEAN HOVEY was hungry. His young industrial design firm, Hovey-Kelley Design, had been working on projects for Apple Computer for a couple of years but wanted to develop entire products, not just casings and keyboards. Hovey had come to pitch Apple co-founder Steven Jobs some ideas. But before he could get started, the legendary high-tech pioneer interrupted him. “Stop, Dean,” Hovey recalls Jobs saying. “What you guys need to do, what we need to do together, is build a mouse.”  Hovey was dumbfounded. A what?   Jobs told him about an amazing computer, code-named Alto, he had just seen at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). In early 1980, most computers (including Apple’s) required users to memorize text commands to perform tasks. The Alto had a graphical user interface—a symbolic world with little pictures of folders, documents and other icons—that users navigated with a handheld input device called a mouse. Jobs explained that Apple was working on two computers, named Lisa and Macintosh, that would bring that technology to market. The mouse would help revolutionize computers, making them more accessible to ordinary people. “When I walked out that door,” recalls Hovey, ’78, MS ’85, “I was ready to change the world.”
Just one problem: a commercial mouse based on the Xerox technology cost $400, malfunctioned regularly and was nearly impossible to clean. That device—a descendant of the original computer mouse invented by Douglas Englebart at the Stanford Research Institute in the early 1960s—was a masterpiece of high-concept technology, but a hopeless product. Jobs wanted a mouse that could be manufactured for $10 to $35, survive everyday use and work on his jeans. “We thought maybe Steve wasn’t getting enough meat in his diet,” says Jim Sachs, a founding member of Hovey-Kelley, “but for $25 an hour, we’d design a solar-powered toaster if that’s what he wanted.” The toaster probably would have been easier. Jobs wanted Hovey-Kelley to take a piece of technology developed by some of Silicon Valley’s greatest minds, dramatically improve its reliability and cut its price by more than 90 percent.
They did. The mouse’s evolution “from the laboratory to the living room,” as one of its designers puts it, is not well known—even some Apple fanatics aren’t familiar with it—but it reveals something of the personalities of its designers, the Stanford program that trained them and even the history of Silicon Valley. Everyone knows that the University has helped shape the region, but the influence is often described as a function of great individuals like Frederick Terman, specific inventions like the klystron or an accident of geography. The story of the mouse demonstrates the impact of a particular academic program—product design—on the Valley.
When Hovey-Kelley was asked to design the Apple mouse, the firm was a two-year-old start-up. Hovey and David Kelley, as well as most of the firm’s other early members, had met as graduate students in Stanford’s product design program. An interdisciplinary program that combines mechanical engineering, art and, often, math, physics and psychology, it was founded in 1958 by Robert McKim.  McKim, ’48, was an industrial designer rebelling against the “styling illness” he saw as common in his field. He wanted his students to go deep, to think about aesthetics, technology, users and economics. “Bob McKim was trying to create little Leonardo da Vincis, people who were skilled in many things and diverse enough to create a whole product,” Hovey says.
The post-Sputnik years were a good time to be a rebel with a cause at Stanford; federal research money flowed freely and ambitious administrators like then-provost Terman, ’20, Engr. ’22, and engineering dean Joseph Pettit, Engr. ’40, PhD ’42, could afford to support unusual departments. “There is always room in a university for one maverick program,” McKim says. Its oddball status allowed the program to move into promising new areas quickly. The invention of the microprocessor in 1974 opened up new ways to combine electronics with mechanical design, even novel ways of thinking about the relationship between a product’s form and its function. McKim’s colleague Larry Leifer, ’62, MS ’63, PhD ’69, started a “smart products” course to explore this territory; Kelley, MS ’78, and Sachs, MS ’79, were among its first teaching assistants
McKim won not only the support of his superiors, but also the affection of his students. “If McKim had been a Nazi artist, I’d be a Nazi artist now,” Kelley says. McKim’s engineering-school colleagues, however, didn’t necessarily share his passion. “My peers thought I was pretty strange,” McKim says. “And the design division was kind of strange, and loved being strange.”
That strangeness led in some surprising but fruitful directions. In the 1960s, McKim participated in studies of the impact of psychedelics on creativity, co-authored a book called Altered States of Consciousness and founded a medical instruments company. This blend of entrepreneurialism and counterculture might have been unusual in academia, but it brought the product design program in sync with the emerging personal computer industry, whose leaders also mixed cultural radicalism with high tech. Both groups shared a faith that scruffy genius could succeed where conventional expertise failed, both preferred late nights in the machine shop or lab to meetings, and both saw themselves as outsiders, whether from the conventional design world or from corporate America.
THAT PREFERENCE for late nights came in handy in the spring of 1980, when Hovey-Kelley’s offices fairly hummed with activity. Hovey, the mouse project’s informal head, says he “hacked together” the first conceptual prototype in a weekend—using the ball from a bottle of Ban Roll-On deodorant and a butter dish purchased at the Palo Alto Walgreens (“the mouse parts store,” he calls it). That wasn’t the only unusual source of components: one morning, his wife discovered that their refrigerator no longer worked because portions of the motor had gone into a mouse prototype. Not to be outdone, Kelley took the stick shift off his BMW when he was experimenting with mouse shapes. “We all did the same thing,” explains Sachs, who with Rickson Sun focused on the electrical and optical components. “We sacrificed circuitry, we sacrificed anything. The idea of [formally] designing something and having everything fabricated to your specifications was simply too long, slow and expensive.” Better to “take apart something else, or find something similar, and glue it together or cut it in half.”
This approach was a textbook example of “rapid prototyping,” or building something quickly to test one’s ideas, relying more on models and materials than formal specifications. A cornerstone of the product design program, it was a method well suited to imagination-rich but cash-poor freelancers and start-ups. And it encouraged ferocious concentration. Explains Hovey: “When you’re in one of those modes where you’re building something and you need a part, you figure, ‘Either I can stop and wait, or I can go forward and wreck [the refrigerator]. But it’ll be $20 to fix it—it’s no big deal.’ When you’re in the midst of the passion of designing, you just do it.”
The designers also drew insights from unexpected directions. The company had set up shop in a $90-a-month office on the second floor of a downtown Palo Alto building (and as Kelley recalls, “we were scared to death, paying $90 a month”). The aging building’s uneven floors helped Hovey reach the first breakthrough in simplifying the mouse’s design. He was trying to eliminate the precision part that the Xerox PARC mouse used to push the ball onto the table. As Hovey watched balls roll off his gently tilted table, he realized, “That’s exactly what I want it to do: I want it to roll without slipping.” The ball didn’t need to be pushed; it could float. “We’d barely [need to] touch it to get the information about where it was moving,” Hovey says.Sachs, who had taken some electrical engineering classes as an undergraduate, designed an optical encoder system that used rollers, light-emitting diodes and phototransistors to track the ball’s motion; this reduced the number of moving parts in the mouse and lowered the cost. Sun, ’78, MS ’78, added an idler wheel with a spring-loaded roller to make sure the ball and encoders kept in contact.
By late spring, “we had solved a number of problems,” Sachs says. But the designers worried that “we had created something that reuired such precision it probably couldn’t be mass-produced.” As students, the group had often been assigned difficult, even dangerous, exercises: build a Rube Goldberg-like device, design a one-wheeled vehicle for a race down Sand Hill Road. The mouse had evolved into a similar bundle of odd challenges. Electronics were normally expensive and high-tolerance, or inexpensive and low-tolerance; the mouse would have to be cheap and precise. Even the cord posed problems: electric cords were normally either flexible or strong, but the mouse cord needed to be both.
The designers needed something that could keep these contradictory demands from breaking the mouse. Jim Yurchenco proposed connecting the electronics and optics to a single plastic platform, which could keep them in correct alignment and protect them from shocks. Yurchenco, MFA ’75, had studied sculpture as a graduate student, and his experience with crafting three-dimensional shapes made him the obvious person to design this platform, nicknamed the rib cage. (Most of the mouse parts had in-house nicknames—the exterior cover was the fur, the cord the tail—but rib cage was the only one that stuck.) Yurchenco did most of the work in his head—a tour de force of 3-D visualization abilities, according to others on the project. Not only did the tiny parts have precise specifications, but Yurchenco had to make it possible for assembly-line workers to snap them onto the rib cage. The rib cage pushed the state of the art in tooling and injection molding. “There were a lot of very small features that had to be crammed into a very small space,” Yurchenco says, “and building a mold to do that was complex. Nobody had actually done this before.” But once the mold was made, the rib cage could be mass-produced, to exacting tolerances, for pennies a unit. Yurchenco also designed a ring on the bottom of the mouse that users could remove to take out the ball and clean the rollers without touching the electronics.
The group turned its attention to the exterior design in the summer. Kelley and Douglas Dayton made prototype shapes out of wood or plastic, ranging from square mice to wedge-shaped mice to one complete with “two little eyes like a mouse,” Kelley remembers. “Apple rejected it completely.” After conducting user tests, Dayton, MS ’79, and Apple designer Bill Dresselhaus, MS ’74, produced the final exterior design. Apple also decided to reduce the number of buttons from three to one after discovering that users had trouble remembering which was which. The mouse was finished in early 1981. Naturally, the designers showed it to Bob McKim, who declared it “an elegant solution, very ingenious.” Looking back, he observes that the mouse project was “a stretch” for his former students, “but not too much of one. There is such a thing as the interesting project that’s a little bit beyond your capability, but not so much beyond that you fail.”
Fail? Hardly. The Apple mouse transformed personal computing. Although the expensive Lisa flopped, the Macintosh, released in 1984, made the graphical user interface the industry standard. Microsoft responded with Windows, and its own mouse—also engineered by Jim Yurchenco. “We made a mouse mass-producible, reliable and inexpensive,” says Sachs, “and hundreds of millions of them have been made.”
The mouse established Hovey-Kelley’s reputation, and its influence continues to resonate in the successor company, IDEO . “The most sought-after projects in the company are the ones in areas where we don’t have a lot of experience,” says Kelley, who now divides his time between IDEO and Stanford, where he is an associate professor in the product design program. (Sun, Yurchenco and Dayton also are still with IDEO; Hovey and Sachs have since founded other companies.) The mouse, Hovey says, “had the right balance of mechanical design, ergonomic design, software design and electronic design that really mapped well with the generalist, mini-da Vincis that Hovey-Kelley had. Even down to the tactile aspect of the click, it was a perfectly scaled project for a Stanford product designer.”
THE CLICK? What’s so important about that? From a mechanical point of view, the button was simple, but Hovey-Kelley’s attention to it is illuminating. The feel of the mouse shaped the experience of using the Lisa and Macintosh, and the button defined the experience of using the mouse. A rugged detector and encoding system, a rib cage to hold the electronics and mechanical parts together, and a removable cleaning ring were all necessary to make a mouse that would work.
Paying attention to the subtle ergonomics and aesthetics of the button was necessary to make a mouse that would be used. Getting the button right—giving it an audible “click” to tell users how far to push, figuring out how far it should depress, making it responsive but not so sensitive that it could be accidentally activated—meant getting the mouse right. It was part of what Sachs calls “the Zen of the product,” the hard-to-describe qualities that shape the experience of using a technology. We normally think of technologies as mere applied science, reducible to drawings and parts lists; but as Sachs explains, every device has a ghost of “intangible intellectual property about how something works that you simply can’t document, or things where language fails us. The Zen of the product is something you can’t write down.”
That might help explain why the story of the Apple mouse isn’t widely known. It would seem to have all the ingredients of a good Silicon Valley story—young protagonists, innovation to burn, a wildly successful product, a Steve Jobs cameo—but product design just isn’t something journalists or historians tend to write about. It’s supposed to be invisible:the work designers do belongs to their clients. It’s the reverse of fashion, in which the designers are household names and the producers are anonymous. Companies may actually forget that they were clients—in fact, the first patent Apple filed on its mouse mistakenly assigned sole credit to an Apple employee. But it’s more than that. Even in histories of Apple, “the mouse gets lost and is just sort of there,” Sachs says. “Those of us involved in the design actually smile at that, because our objective was to make it seamless and invisible,” he says. “The fact that the mouse was unobtrusive and natural is the result of a lot of work.” Few users ever notice the heft of the cord, or the effect the connector linking the cord to the mouse has on the mouse’s agility, or the silence of the ball as it moves across the desk. But they’re not supposed to. It’s the peculiar fate of good design to erase traces of itself; bad design is far more noticeable (remember the first iMac mouse?). As proud as the designers are of the mouse’s popularity, they’re even prouder of its invisibility.