The Origin of the Blinking Cursor

Long-time Slashdot reader jimminy_cricket shares a new article from the technology site Inverse exploring the origin of blinking cursors. They trace the invention to the 1960s and electronics engineer Charles Kiesling, a naval veteran of the Korean War who "spent his immediate post-war years on a new challenge: the exploding computing age." Still decades away from personal computers — let alone portable ones — Kiesling was joining the ranks of engineers tinkering with room-sized computers like the IBM 650 or the aging ENIAC. He joined Sperry Rand, now Unisys, in 1955, and helped develop the kind of computer guts that casual users rarely think about. This includes innards like logic circuitry, which enable your computer to make complex conditional decisions like "or," "and," or "if only" instead of simply "yes" or "no". One of these seemingly innocuous advancements was a 1967 patent filing Kiesling made for a blinking cursor...." According to a post on a computer science message board from a user purporting to be Kiesling's son, the inspiration for this invention was simply utility. "I remember him telling me the reason behind the blinking cursor, and it was simple," Kiesling's son writes. "He said there was nothing on the screen to let you know where the cursor was in the first place. So he wrote up the code for it so he would know where he was ready to type on the Cathode Ray Tube." The blinking, it turns out, is simply a way to catch the coders' attention and stand apart from a sea of text. The article credits Apple with popularizing blinking cursors to the masses. And it also remembers a fun story about Steve Jobs (shared by Thomas Haigh, a professor of technology history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee): While he was in support of the blinking cursor itself, Haigh says Steve Jobs was famously against controlling it using cursor keys. Jobs attempted — and failed — to remove these keys from the original Mac in an effort to force users into using a mouse instead. In an interaction with biographer Walter Isaacson years later, he even pried them off with his car keys before signing his autograph on the keyboard.

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