Archive for the 'Personal Recollections' Category

Thoughts upon the passing of a friend

You passed away a month ago, but I’ve been so torn up about it that it took me this long to put thoughts to paper. Plus, I’m still in disbelief – you were such a positive whirlwind of energy that I have a hard time believing you were taken from us so soon.

The very first time I met you was when you were working at Stan Veit’s Computer Mart of New York. I was working for a company a few blocks away, designing computers. That first time I just ran in there to get some random part I needed, rather than waiting for mail order. Somehow we ended up talking. After that I’d tell my work that I urgently needed a part, just to go to CMNY to talk to you some more. Dave Levine showed me how to program the Computalker to say ‘things’ to you after I’d left.

While we were both in our own orbits, we passed each other often enough to become close friends. I have a series of vivid memories, though I can’t put them in any sort of definite time sequence other than by relating them to other events in my life, looking at concert ticket stubs, and so on. After we reconnected, I told you a number of these – some you remembered, some you could even pin down to a specific time and place, and others you didn’t remember at all. As you pointed out, we were partying pretty hard together during some of those times.

Stan’s CMNY closed and he ended up at Synchro Sound. Shortly after that, my project was shut down and I was looking for work. I asked Stan for a job and he was kind enough to set me up with a job there. You were working in that shoe company office in the Empire State Building and I’d commute back to Manhattan and meet up with you.

Eventually I lost track of you. I would run into various friends of yours at the strangest places – in a diner in the middle of nowhere in New Jersey, at the DMV, and so on. I’d always ask “Have you heard from Sue?” and the answer was always “No”, sometimes with a “If you do hear from her, let me know.”

I had pretty much given up finding out what ever happened to you when by chance I came across Stan’s obituary at and saw that you had posted there. Knowing your married name I was able to find you with a web search. I discovered you were happily married and were doing what you loved. I decided I didn’t need to interject myself into your new life just to say “hello” and reminisce.

I don’t know why it took me so long, but 10 years after I located you, I decided to reach out and contact you via email. That was in October 2020. You were surprised but very glad to hear from me, and we had a brief but intense exchange of long emails filling each other in on what we’d both been doing since we saw each other last. I promised I’d come visit, but somehow never managed to find the time.

At the beginning of December 2021 you posted that you were in the hospital. I figured it wouldn’t slow you down at all – you were a force of nature, after all. With increasing disbelief I saw your less and less frequent posts, until your husband David announced that you’d passed away on December 30th. I was in shock – how could someone so full of life pass away so soon? It just wasn’t fair!

As I said above, it has taken a month for me to write this, and I’m in tears even now. One thing I do know is that wherever you are now, you’re definitely livening up the place with the joy you spread so freely to all around you. The lights here on Earth may have dimmed, but the heavens gained a new star when you joined them.

You go by Suzie Kerr Wright these days, but to me you’ll always be Sue (and when I need to distinguish between you and anyone else named Sue, “Sue with blue hair and roller skates”, or “Blue Sue” for short).

Farewell, Sue. I love you and I miss you more than you can imagine.

Suzie Kerr Wright

1960 – 2021

St. Peter’s College and the Mouse Balls

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, St. Peter’s College* had a number of labs with PCs for student use. Each lab was a separate room equipped with a relatively large number of identical systems. In this particular case the room was full of Northgate Intel® 386™SX systems. These were purchased as complete systems from Northgate, along with their Omnikey keyboards and “Microsoft mice”. These systems had been in use for some years (replacement of expensive working stuff takes a long time at private colleges). We’d learned earlier on that people would steal anything that “wasn’t nailed down”, so the PCs had metal cables wrapped around table legs and locked to the PC case, and the keyboards and mice had their cables tied onto those metal cables near the PC case with plastic cable ties.

The mice were your basic original Microsoft mice, shiny white plastic, 2 buttons, a roller ball and a 9-pin serial connector. None of that ergometric optical PS/2 wheel and 3-or-more buttons stuff.

We should have known that wasn’t sufficent security, as people had popped random keys off the keyboards every now and then. That wasn’t terribly difficult as they just popped off. Northgate even conveniently supplied a keycap removal tool with each keyboard.

Another thing you should know is that having an offbeat sense of humor** was pretty much a requirement for working in the Academic Computer Center at SPC. This was actually pretty common – you can see some other examples of it in The Jargon File and the original BOFH. The protagonist of this story is Joe, a fellow who looked a lot like Radar from the M*A*S*H TV series, who would often wear a hat with what looked like a fish sticking through it. One of Joe’s jobs was to handle minor wear-and-tear items in the computer labs.

One day, Joe comes downstairs to my office and tells me “Somebody took the balls out of all the mice in the Northgate lab!”, to which I replied “You mean someone castrated them?” He asked me what he should do, and I answered “Call Microsoft and order some new ones.” A few hours later he came back into my office and said he couldn’t get anybody on the phone at Microsoft who knew about Microsoft mice (Microsoft’s Hardware Division was apparently a secret at Microsoft, at least to the people who answered the main phone number at Microsoft). I tell him to keep trying and he eventually comes back and tells me he got the phone number of someone who could help him. Very proudly, he dialed the number from my office on speakerphone so I could hear the exchange:

Microsoft: “Microsoft, this is Ms. X at extension xxxx”
Joe: “Is this the group that handles Microsoft Mouse parts?”
Microsoft: “Yes, how can I help you?”
Joe: “Somebody castrated all our mice!”
Microsoft: <Click>
Joe: “Hello? Anyone there? Hello?”

I told him to wait a few hours and call them back from his office and order the darned mouse balls. He came back and said they agreed to the order, at which point we had to do the song-and-dance to get a purchase order issued (a story for another time).

In due time, a box arrived and Joe went to put the new balls into the mice. He comes back down and says “They don’t fit!”. I asked what he meant and he said they didn’t fit into the housing inside the mouse. I told him to call Microsoft back and ask what was going on. Again, he used the speakerphone in my office:

Microsoft: “Microsoft, this is Ms. X at extension xxxx”
Joe: “My balls are too big!”
Microsoft: <Click>
Joe: “Hello? Anyone there? Hello?”

Deja vu all over again. Eventually he gets a hold of someone who asks where he got them, and it turns out that when Microsoft increased the resolution of their mice, they did it simply by changing the size of the ball. They then fobbed their inventory of the older, lower-resolution mice off on their OEM Windows customers who needed cheap mice to sell with their computers.

Eventually, a package arrives from Microsoft with the correct size mouse balls and Joe installs them, much to the relief of the students who have been crowding into the other PC labs when they needed to use Windows software. This package was somewhat oddly-addressed, being sent to “St. Potato’s College”. Apparently someone at Microsoft shared our oddball sense of humor (or had been “infected” with it after the ball-ordering incidents). We decided to use superglue to glue the access covers for the mouse balls onto the mice to prevent this from happening in the future.

While I don’t have the address label from that second mouse ball shipment, Microsoft continued to use “St. Potato’s College” as the official name on our customer account for a number of years:


* The domain name at the time was Later on, they renamed the school to St. Peter’s University. Fortunately, (pronounced “spew” or “ess pee-yew”) was already taken by Seattle Pacific University, so they used Around the same time, Jersey City State College ( renamed itself to New Jersey City University. Shouldn’t that be New Jersey Jersey City University, or maybe New Jersey2 City University? Anyway, they went with – I don’t even know how to say that – nijj-koo, maybe?

** We actually developed a “litmus test” for co-workers to see if they would fit in. It was pretty simple – we’d ask someone to imagine Elmer Fudd singing the theme from “The Way We Were”. If they broke out laughing or cracked a smile, they’d be a perfect fit. If they looked puzzled because they didn’t get it, they’d need some on-the-job training in our particular sense of humor. If they didn’t like it, chances were close to 90% they wouldn’t fit in and would leave relatively soon. In case you don’t get it… Mem-wees… Misty watta-color mem-wees of da way we wuhhhhhhhhhhh…

Picking up blogging again

While my blog has been silent for over a year, I’ve been inspired to start posting again. This was mostly because I’ve been relating various anecdotes to different people and many of them have said “you should really write a book about your experiences.” I also visted the Computer History Museum in California during the fall of 2016, and the combination of seeing their collection and going “I’ve worked with one of those” and seeing how much history has been lost made me decide to create some content of my own*.

Upcoming posts in the Computer History category will (mostly) detail my personal experiences with computer hardware and software for over forty years (yikes!). These posts will combine items from my personal collection as well as information I know about them. I will be researching these posts and will add links to external reference sites where I can.

The Personal Recollections category will (mostly) be narratives about my experiences working with the people who work with computers. These will be from my memory, to the best of my ability. In cases where I have posted the story to Usenet or a forum (BBS, DECUServe, etc.) site and they differ in a non-minor way from the version I post here, I will try to provide links to my prior posts. Not all of those sites still exist, though. When I name people, they will either be first names only or will have consented to being mentioned (when you read some of these posts, you’ll know why).

As always, all photographs will be by me, unless otherwise credited.

* Both categories will often have footnotes (like this one). Often, some of the funniest bits will be in the footnotes. You can either click the blue asterisk(s) when you come across them in the main article, or just read your way down to the footnote(s) at the end.