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The Resilience of the Reed Relay

This simple electromechanical device, once crucial to telephone exchanges, lives on in portable defibrillators

1 min read
Vintage ad showing reed relays
Photo: Randi Klett

Invented in 1922 by a professor at Leningrad Electrotechnical University [pdf], the reed switch contains two slivers of wire that make contact in the presence of a magnet. Bell Telephone Laboratories evolved this device into the reed relay, in which the switch is controlled by an electromagnet. By the 1960s, reed relays were a fundamental component of telephone exchanges. Their ultralow power consumption also made them popular for space applications, including the Apollo missions.

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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