back to article That time Windows got blindsided by a ball of plasma, 150 million kilometres away

Welcome to On Call, that time of the week when you can luxuriate in the aggravation endured by others, safe in the knowledge it would never happen to you, right? "Russ", now an IT manager in Newcastle, regaled us with a story set a good few years ago, when Windows was at the height of its powers and mice were shedding their …

  1. A K Stiles

    (3) Blind Mice

    I've had the same experience, though with my own mouse, at a time when they were quite expensive (to my personal budget) and this one was quite thin, beige plastic, where the light filtering through the case was sufficient to blind the rotary encoders.

    My - cheap student - solution was to open the mouse then insert cardboard liners around the inside edges of the case to block enough sunlight that it worked for several years thereafter, at least until the rubber started peeling from the ball and the congealed dust, grease and skin on the rollers had become some sort of solid concrete accretion.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: (3) Blind Mice

      Called out a few years ago to a showroom where they had an all in one tv/dvd in the window. The tv was supposed to be showing a promotional video but staff couldn't get it to work. Some days it just wouldn't do anything some days it would. They had changed the batteries in the remote etc. but the tv still didn't respond on off days. So I go round and it works first time to the disbelief of the staff and it continues to do so. Next day it's not happy again so I book to go round at 9am the day after to see what they're doing. It isn't working when I get there but I quickly realised what the issue was.

      Despite the sun being behind the showroom at 9am it was still reflecting in the windows of the building opposite. That proved to be more than enough light to prevent the remote from working. Previously when I'd gone round later in the day the sun was in a different position and there was no reflection. The days it was working for them straight away it was cloudy. The solution came from the manager who had two people go out to switch it on. One had the remote the other a flattened cardboard box to hold up and shield the IR sensor.

    3. John 48

      Re: (3) Blind Mice

      We had a Dell mouse in an engineering lab about 20+ years ago that would stop moving in one axis only in bright sunlight. We fixed that by taking it apart, and colouring the inside of the top case with a black marker pen.

  2. Solarflare

    Sometimes I miss...

    ...ball mice. I mean, a good laser mouse is far superior and works much better on a desktop surface than any ball mice I ever used, but there is just something quite satisfying about taking them apart and cleaning it out which you just dont get with laser/optic mice. That said, it was also gross to see just how much skin, dust and other unmentionable minerals got caught in with the ball and the rollers, so swings and roundabouts I guess.

    1. Dave K

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      There are times I miss them as well. Mainly when travelling, sitting in a hotel room and realising that the shiny surface of the desk in the room prevents my travel mouse from working. Then you find a magazine to put the mouse on, but that's also too shiny, so you're hunting around trying to find a leaflet or sheet of paper that is printed on matte paper and end up digging out your old crumpled boarding pass to use as a mouse mat.

      Ball mice were more forgiving usually in these situations...

      1. Ed3

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        I miss being able to flick the mouse just right to cause the ball to spin sending the cursor across the screen with little to no mousepad travel.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        Try the MX mice from Logitech - they use some cunning, if expensive, darkfield laser system that even works on glass (which feels lovely and smooth). There's a big version and a travel version. The MK III has recently been introduced so it's possible there are currently discounts on the MK II. The only downside is that the rechargable AA battery only lasts weeks instead of months, but they include a USB charging cable.

        I can't think of a computer peripheral, the MK I big version, that has made my life easier. Even still, its RRP of £90 was too much for me so I had to wait a couple for years to find it in sale for £45.

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          "Darkfield laser system" sounds like something the Romulans would use the trap the Enterprise.

          1. Adrian 4

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            The travel version is great. So good I bought the big version (performance MX) for desk use. It's very disappointing : battery doesn't last, its fussy about where on the desk it is (doesn't like the shiny patch where a mouse has been used for years) and it keeps getting stuck in one axis only (obvious fault with a ball mouse but difficult to understand with an optical). Not recommended.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          Yup - been using them for years, upgrading through the models until I had one w Bluetooth so no further need for the receiver.

          I was an early user on account of actually having a glass desk - when the pane if thick enough, it just works. I suspect the quality of the laser is also why it works on practically any other surface.

          I've tried the "office" version once in the shop, but the travel version shape fits so perfectly in my hand that I just bought another travel one instead..

        3. DiViDeD

          Re: MX mice from Logitech

          Plus one for the MX series. I just got their Master 2S and it's a dream to work with - precise, even on glass and very comfy in the ageing, arthritic hand.

          So much so in fact that I'm seriously considering getting one of their 'handshake' MX mice, having had a crack with one over the weekend.

        4. veti Silver badge

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          Logitech make the bestest mice. Hands, no pun intended, down.

          My version has the best of both worlds - ball and lasers. And it works on any surface, including my knee.

      3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        "you're hunting around trying to find a leaflet or sheet of paper that is printed on matte paper"

        Another use for a Gideon Bible.

        1. joeW

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          Implying there are other uses?

          1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            Sure there are many but none require literacy.

          2. d3vy

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            "Implying there are other uses?"

            I use them for practicing drawing cocks.

          3. Frank Bitterlich

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            Squashing bugs.

            1. Shadow Systems

              At Frank Bitterlich, re: the Gideon Bible...

              Squash bugs? Wow! I didn't know you could use one to fix your code! =-)P

              1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                Re: At Frank Bitterlich, re: the Gideon Bible...

                Of course you can, where did you think Microsoft got the inspiration for its "Plug and Pray" system?

          4. Scroticus Canis

            Re: Holy Smoke

            When you've left your Rizla's at home ;)

          5. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            You can use the pages to roll joints in a pinch. Or so I've been told.

        2. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          Had a stay at a hotel in New England and opened the bedside drawer to search for the hotel amenities guide. I found not only the obligatory Gideon Bible but also the Book of Mormon. Then the South Park Episode about the Mormons came on the TV not half an hour later. Coincidence..........? Almost definitely!

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Shadow Systems

        At Dave K, Re: motel mice.

        I found that taking a couple strips of clean bog paper from the loo, laid slightly overlapping to form a largish square, created an impromptu mouse pad for the mice to be able to track properly.


      5. Mark 85

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        Simple solution... carry either a smallish mouse pad or a couple of sheets of paper in your laptop bag. If you forget, the front desk will often give you a few sheets of paper.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          One sheet of DIN A4 is usually sufficient, but in the USA you will probably have to settle for Letter or Legal.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        The joy of a trackball mouse - 10+ years old, and velcroed to the arm of my chair so that I can just sit there without having to move anything but my thumb.

        1. 9Rune5

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          so that I can just sit there without having to move anything but my thumb.

          I bet your wife has a thing or two to say about that!

    2. defiler

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      My neighbour's dog misses his balls too. You can tell because he tries to steal every ball he can find. I don't know his opinion on mice.

      Still, best dog ever!

      1. Imhotep

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        My wife's aunt would would bake two batches of chocolate chip cookies for every family gathering, one labeled With Nuts and the other Without Nuts. The Christmas after my vasectomy, I was able to pickup the pan labeled Without Nuts, and say "Just for me?"

        They were delicious.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          You had nuts. You also had a maze of twisty little passages, all cut.

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            > XYZZY

            Nothing happens here.

          2. Imhotep

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            I also had a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Fair trade? Maybe, maybe not - but my wife thought it best that I quit breeding. I'm still awaiting my Thank You from the rest of the world.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Sometimes I miss...

              Wanted two kids, had said kids but not as planned in the timing department. Considered my dislike of condoms, my wife's inability to consume those little pills on a proper schedule, and general family fertility rates and shortly my cojones were disconnected. Wise move that was never regretted.

        2. Sequin

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          There is a vas defferens between a vasectomy and a castration!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            Had two kids in my first marriage. They grew up to be functional members of society, no notable substance abuse problems, unplanned pregnancies or sociopathic tendencies. Given my family history, a vasectomy was the best way to beat the odds that # 3 would be a trifecta.

            When I later found myself single, Same surgery saved me from a "Woops, I'm pregnant...I guess we need to get married" I was able to reply "Gee whiz, I wonder who the father is?"

            However, that did abruptly end that relationship...

    3. Tom 7

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      I did wonder about trying to patent that gunk that stuck to the rollers. Seemed more stuck than any glue could manage.

      1. Roger Greenwood

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        @Tom 7 I think you are onto something there. Write it up properly and I'm sure an Ig Nobel is a dead cert.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          Back in the nineties a PC magazine included a mouse cleaner as a freebie. It was effectivity a textured mouse ball-sized ball attached to a hex rod for attaching to a power drill.

          1. JJKing

            Re: Sometimes I miss...

            .......mouse cleaner as a freebie. It was effectivity a textured mouse ball-sized ball attached to a hex rod for attaching to a power drill.

            While waiting for my daughter's Primary school class to finish, I used to open the ball mice and clean the rollers. I was very popular with the Principal due to this. However at the schools of higher education the little scrotes discovered the balls were just the right size for use in slingshots. This resulted in the BAP (ball access panel) getting glued shut but the rollers were never cleaned. This in turn resulted in new mice being purchased to replace the glued shut unworkable ones.

            When the optical mouse came on the scene, they needed to be cable tied to the case so the same scrotes couldn't unplug them and take them home. Unfortunately the "highly educated" scrotes instead of cutting the cable tie would rip the mouse out of the computer and end up with the connector still in the USB port and the mouse missing a connector for their home machine (or whoever they were going to sell it to). Got to a stage where computers were sitting idle until the little vandals "graduated" and left or were excommunicated to a different school and they inherited our mouse problem. Little bastards.

        2. Anonymous Custard

          Re: Sometimes I miss...

          On that score nothing beats the remains of this morning's cornflakes, spot-welded to the bowl by the dried milk.

    4. Greg D

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      I will NEVER miss cleaning those things out. Ball mice were terrible. Even with rose tinted glasses on they were terrible.

      1. 's water music

        Re: Sometimes I miss...

        I will NEVER miss cleaning those things out.

        Lke nose picking and smelling farts cleaning your own mouse balls/rollers can be a guilty pleasure. Perhaps not in company. Not so much if cleaning others' balls professionally.

        There, I said it, but I'm not the only one thinking it.

        And consider this. Now we have thought it there is Rule 34 to consider. Sorry. The greasy one with the pocket contents best left a mystery please--->

    5. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      Get a Logitech MX Ergo. Still has a ball, the tiny rollers still, eventually, get dirty. I thought with that new model they'd have replaced the roller balls with lasers but appears not. I only use mine when I have no space for a proper mouse.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      I’m still using the same balled Microsoft mouse I bought back in 2005. Countless others have come and gone in that time, but this thing just keeps on rolling.

    7. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes I miss...

      a good laser mouse is far superior

      You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have mice with frickin' laser beams.

      (Actually, I much prefer isometric pointer controls, aka pointing sticks, aka about a dozen other terms. But if I were to use something else, I'd take an optical mouse over one of those accursed touchpads.)

  3. hmv

    The Benefits of Stygian Offices

    Never encountered this kind of problem myself; one of the fringe benefits of being $work's 'vampire in the closet'.

    My pointing device still has a ball - a trackball. Which reminds me; it's time to clean out some of the cruft under the ball.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: The Benefits of Stygian Offices

      Hi Richmond

  4. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    In a long past life, far away -not far enough from the sun though- at a manufacturer of industrial electronics, we had a similar problem. I can't recall what exactly it was, maybe some sort of testing rig. My solution comprised basically of a photoresistor, potentiometer, transister and a relay. And from then on the shutter would close when the sun was out. That was the time when we already had shutter motors but no automatic controls yet.

    Same place, I remember having had to investigate a dodgy device that sometimes would work properly, sometimes not. Turned out to be the light sensitivity of a glass diode.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A long time ago experienced a problem with a reel-to-reel tape drive (computer not audio), tapes were running off the end of the spool but only some-days and only in the early afternoon. After some head scratching it was determined it only happened when it was sunny, the sunlight was falling on the sensor for end of tape. Solution keep the curtains closed.

  6. Oengus

    Environmental issues

    Working in a manufacturing environment it can get quite dusty. Sometimes the dust and humidity combine to form a sticky mess that has been known to gather on the underside of the mouse and block the optical sensor. Grabbing the isopropyl alcohol and some cotton buds and wiping out the recess where the sensor is placed does the trick.

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Environmental issues

      Dust comes from animals. Specifically humans, in indoor environments where it doesn't just disperse and get recycled by nature. So I wouldn't limit that observation to a manufacturing environment!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Environmental issues

      Similar on traditional balled mice. Dust and oils cause grey crusties to gather on the rollers. Easy enough to scrape off with a fingernail, but that just replenishes the oil which results in crusties again in a week. Proper cleaning with alcohol wipes or swabs takes care of the problem for a few months. Washing the mousepad extends that even longer. Kindly asking the user to occasionally wash their hands, especially after lunch... Well good luck with that.

      1. Alien Doctor 1.1

        Watch who you call...

        a grey crusty you insensitive clod.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Environmental issues

      Occasionally I've had optical mice where a hair has managed to lodge itself in the opening for the sensor, causing a stranger flickering motion of the cursor, but only when you move the mouse in certain directions. Of course, a single hair isn't that obvious, so troubleshooting isn't always that easy.

    4. Stevie

      Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

      I mentioned this on a UK railway modeller forum some years ago and was lectured on how this was a dangerous chemical that required hazmat measures etc, more etc. (Then, unable to resist, I shared my "Cheap Castrol brake fluid paint removal from plastic models technique" and damn near started WWIII).

      In light of that I've been under the impression that the obtaining of the dreaded isopropyl alcohol in the UK was a matter for dark alley discussions with dodgy contacts possessed of either cockney or Russian accents, all the while nervously checking for narcs.

      I've been waiting for the dangerous chemical lobby to weigh in on the pro-Brexit side of the debate as a result.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

        You can scare those idiots to death by just mentioning DHMO, one of the most used chemicals on this planet with some very nasty properties if handled incorrectly. For starters it has been found in all tumors and other cancerous growths.

        1. Imhotep

          Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

          DMHO: colorless and odorless, every year thousands die from inhalation of even small amounts. I believe at least one California municipality was alarmed enough to ban it.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

            Apparently Dettol (Not sure if diluted) makes a good paint stripper for Dinky & other models dunked in a tub of it & left for a few hours.

            Icon because of skinned knees as a kid.

            1. Stevie

              Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

              Dettol (or the US equivalent, Pine Sol) will turn plastic parts into chewing gum in about 6 hours according to my experiments on GW Termagants. It also doesn't fetch the paint particulalry well, and requires that you "air out" anything soaked in it for days top get rid of the "school bog" stench.

              If you want to fetch paint off a plastic or partly plastic thing absolutely safely (with respect to the item to be stripped of paint) the cheapest Castrol brake fluid* will do the job nicely sans damage. In my experiments the paint pretty much fell off after a night and the plastic was still sound after two weeks immersion.

              But everyone knows someone "on the internet" who swears blind the floor cleaner "works".

              * - If you use the more expensive Castrol products the paint stays on because those fluids are formulated to not attack paint.

              1. Noram

                Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

                Having tried Detoll/Fairy Power spray etc, we found that Biostrip does basically as good a job (if not better), and it's safe to handle as long as you don't leave your hands in it for ages :)

                From memory it's even good to use on resin, assuming you're not using failcast that's so soft/weak that physically handling it risks damage.

                You dip the model in some, put it in a tub/bowl with some cling (to slow down how fast it dries), leave it for a few hours and then rinse and scrub with a toothbrush, preferably not your own.

                As it's sold for stripping house paint it tends to go a very long way when used on models.

                1. Stevie

                  Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

                  No toothbrush needed with cheap Castrol brake fluid.


        2. Clunking Fist

          Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

          It's also a major component of acid-rain.

        3. MrReynolds2U

          Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

          Apparently DMHO in its liquid form is a side-affect of this whole global warming lark.

          It's such a dangerous compound by all accounts.

      2. collinsl Bronze badge

        Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

        I just ordered 2 massive bottles of it off of amazon when I needed to clean up some cockroach killing spray

      3. Daytona955

        Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

        "In light of that I've been under the impression that the obtaining of the dreaded isopropyl alcohol in the UK was a matter for dark alley discussions with dodgy contacts possessed of either cockney or Russian accents, all the while nervously checking for narcs."

        Or ordering it from your favourite tax-avoiding, minimum-wage-paying box shifter. In aerosol form anyway. Used to pop into Maplin...

        1. DiViDeD

          Re: isopropyl alcohol?????

          I've managed to persuade my local pharmacy to supply me with a 30ml bottle of 100% (no added water - critical when dealing with electronics) every so often for cleaning tape heads, capstans and the like.

          He was initially reluctant until he understood that I wanted it for kit cleaning and not to maske cheap cocktails with (it can make you blind or kill you, apparently)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Come to the dark side... our mice work better.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Well, that's all very mice for you.

    2. Anonymous Custard

      Yes, but they also tend to nibble on the cookies too...

  8. GlenP Silver badge

    Not Just Mice

    Back in the days when IT had to carry out substantial month end processing on a Sunday morning* on an AS/400 I had it sorted so that, if I wanted to work away from home, I could dial in to work via the Nokia mobile with an IrDA** connection to the laptop.

    Sat outside my tent at a rally, laptop connected to phone processing away when the connection drops. Cue putting phone and laptop adjacent to each other with a dark sweater over the top to block out the bright sunlight.

    *We used to get 1/2 day off in lieu for doing so. When that was stopped we reduced the processing to an absolute minimum and told the bean counters they'd have to do the rest themselves.

    **For reasons to do with signal levels the serial cable would only work reliably if the phone was fully charged and plugged in so it wasn't an ideal alternative when there was no mains power.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Not Just Mice

      We made a set of chips once and they all worked perfectly in testing. Once packaged one of them refused to work. Turned out that one had a new component that only worked when it was illuminated. ISTR the demo package had an unpackaged chip and a light bulb to make it work while we sussed out how to get cct to work in the dark along with lots of whistling.

      1. IJD

        Re: Not Just Mice

        I can beat that -- a chip that didn't work unless you looked at the problem circuit through a microscope and moved it to *just* the right place in the field of view, and this was different for each chip. The light-generated current was adjusting the (random) offset voltage of a comparator to zero if you got the right amount of light falling on each side of the input pair...

        1. NorthIowan

          Re: Not Just Mice

          Touchy electronics reminded me of my first big home computer. An Ohio Scientific 8P-DF(?). Big as in it had dual 8" floppies. This was pre IBM PCs by a few years.

          Anyway the touchy part is occasionally it would quit working. The -9V supply for the RAM would go to 0V. Probing the LM723 pins with a 10 Meg-ohm scope probe would make it start working for several weeks/months. After this happened a few times I replaced the LM723 and a few other parts but never got it to keep working long term.

          1. Long John Brass

            Re: Not Just Mice

            You flash bastard with your *p and *DUAL FLOPPY DRIVES*

            SB-II user with the wonky cassette player

    2. Andrew Moore

      Re: Not Just Mice

      Que traumatic flashbacks of working with Nokia phones and their serial and IR "protocols".

  9. Nick Kew

    Good Mouse

    The mouse's refusal to work in bright sunlight should be adopted by humans, too. For the user[1] it could mean the difference between eyesight in 20 years being much-degraded vs similar to what it is now. Not to mention the effect a poor work environment can have on both productivity and general wellbeing.

    [1] Congratulations on an On-Call story with a difference: the hapless user wasn't being dumb!

  10. Cessquill

    Yep, Same Here

    Had the same problem with a Sun Microsystems mouse back when they required a special metallic mouse mat. Like some kind of Dracula mouse, whenever the sun came out, the mouse died.

    1. lybad

      Re: Yep, Same Here

      Yup - was about to mention them too. We had a lab full of Sun workstations that didn't work well when the sun was out.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Yep, Same Here

        Somewhat ironic really?

        The great thing about those 90's Sun mice/keyboards was you plugged the mouse in to the keyboard and only had one wire to go down to the workstation. Much neater and so obvious the MS adopted it a year later...nope that was me imagining good design!

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Yep, Same Here

        That probably explains why in our open-plan office we used to have walled-off areas in the middle (i.e. furthest from the windows as well as shielded) for the Sun workstations, nicknamed "Sun lounges".

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: Yep, Same Here

          Ours was nicknamed "aquarium" and located on the north side of the building - no problem with sunlight. But some issues with solar and Sun heat. Mind you, much rather than an aquarium it was a transparent oven - being the size to fit three staff, directly under a flat roof without aircon and in charge of heating were four or five Sun workstations and about an equal number of Sun servers plus some storage.

    2. Nick Kew

      Re: Yep, Same Here

      Never had *that* problem with those Sun mice.

      Just the horror of that vampiric mouse mat sucking the lifeblood out of my hand. And of that oversized quantum of mouse movement from the coarse grid: the computing equivalent of an oldfashioned all-or-nothing ketchup bottle, or of a shower that gives hot or cold but nothing in between.

    3. Andrew Moore

      Re: Yep, Same Here

      God, I remember those. And the caddies that you had to put CDs in before inserting them into the CD reader. Once users realised that you could play regular CDs on the Sparcstations, those bloody caddies were like gold dust. Many was the time I'd come back from a break during a Solaris upgrade to find that someone had ejected and nicked the caddy while I was away.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > Back then, before his meteoric rise to management,

    As a general rule, meteors don't rise. They plummet to a fiery death.

    1. Evil_Goblin

      That is kind of the point in a way, but it is also one of those sayings that doesn't stand up so well now that we properly understand meteors.

      Originally it was based around "the sudden appearance and transient brilliance of a meteor streaking across the night sky. By implication, a meteoric rise was swiftly followed by a meteoric fall that led to extinction of talent or reputation." [1]

      The full meaning was therefore something that began spectacularly and then rapidly faded. On second thoughts a meteoric rise to management is probably fairly apt then...


  12. ColinPa

    Try changing your underwear....

    About 30 years ago I often had to go into the machine room, so I got to know the ops. I was roped in to help understand why a tape drive did not work for one female operator. it worked for every one else, but not her.

    It turns out she wore clothes that created a lot of static which then discharged when she touched the controls. Changing her underwear to be cotton instead of nylon solved the problem.

    Another problem; a display would turn on and off when "big John" used it. The problem was the uneven raised floor. When he sat down, he pressed down on one corner of a floor tile, the diagonally opposite corner lifted a table leg, which caused the power cable to move about 1 mm and so disconnected the power.

    Rather than go on a diet, John got a longer power lead.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Changing her underwear to be cotton instead of nylon solved the problem.

      Well, that's certainly the less typical sort of "user support" task.

      1. Kubla Cant

        Re: Changing her underwear to be cotton instead of nylon solved the problem.

        Sounds as if the other operators and you pulled off her pants. Presumably you mean "asking her to change her underwear...".

      2. defiler

        Re: Changing her underwear to be cotton instead of nylon solved the problem.

        I don't imagine there was much tolerance for repeated iterative testing of the proposed solution in a controlled environment.

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: It turns out...

      How? How exactly did you find this out?

  13. David Robinson 1

    Pedant mode

    Surely[*] the phone call would be at a slightly earlier/later time each day, depending upon heading towards/away a solstice?

    [*] Yeah, yeah. Don't call me Shirley.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sticky backed plastic

    At one point some clever so and so was putting tape under the optical mice of the least technical members of staff. The tape was clear, so only messed with them about 50% of the time, but became something I had to check every time someone's mouse stopped working until they learnt to look themselves.

    1. John 110

      Re: Sticky backed plastic

      People think they're hilarious, don't they? One of our "wits" thought that hiding the mouse balls was a brilliant wheeze

      1. ColinPa

        Re: Sticky backed plastic

        My father who was in the Royal Navy had an expression he used on the people who had a laugh at other people's expense. "If wit were sh*t, you'd be smelling of violets - now go and clean the heads"

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Swarthy

            Re: Sticky backed plastic

            "you think you're a real wit! Well, you're half-right."

      2. OssianScotland

        Mouse Balls

        As a (former) teacher, I know that was a favourite "jolly jape", to the extent that the retaining clip had to be superglued in place. Obviously cleaning the rollers became rather difficult.

        At the same time, pupils discovered the fun they could have by shutting down a desktop PC, flipping the PSU switch from 220 to 110 and waiting for some unsuspecting victim to turn it back on. Another use for superglue (no, not gluing the pupils to their desks, although it was certainly considered).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mouse Balls

          had an acquaintance interviewing for a tech position with their old school district. They probably had the job in the bag until they started to regale the interview committee with stories about how badly they had hacked the district mainframe as a student so that after school they could have undetected multi player game sessions with different schools in the district. Think they had a league set up and everything. Also the back door network chat line established - funny how they never got another call on the position.

      3. Evilgoat76

        Re: Sticky backed plastic

        At a well known UK university we would loose dozens over a term. For reasons we never found out the students liked to steal them....and the CD trays, which technically went removable.

      4. Hero Protagonist

        Re: Sticky backed plastic

        “People think they're hilarious, don't they?”

        People don’t realize that the failure mode of “clever” is “asshole”.

    2. MJB7

      Re: Sticky backed plastic

      Good grief. I would have got management to send out a message that anyone found attempting to sabotage company equipment like that would be instantly dismissed.

      (I find practical "jokes" *very* unfunny.)

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Sticky backed plastic

        It depends on context. Doing it to random users is just stopping people working. Playing practical jokes like that on people who are expecting them and should be able to work it out, is a kind of workplace social interaction, and as long as it doesn't go too far is no different to any other use of time for that purpose, like saying good morning over a cup of coffee.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

    I worked in a small soho shop. A customer came in with a faulty mechanical mouse.

    After listening to her complaints, I showed how to clean the ball holder. Unfortunately, I said " yes, they get tired of having their balls rubbed on the table"

    She reported me to my boss - and nearly got me fired. I hadnt even meant to have a double entrandre.....

    Happy times.... a woman in a computer shop in the 1990's


    1. OssianScotland

      Re: In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

      If she'd wanted a double entendre, you would have given her one?

    2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

      Your boss should have explained to her exactly what you meant, no further action.

      Just because she didn't understand the terminology and took it as you being crass, it's no reason to nearly get you fired.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

        We’ve learned not to close a support ticket with technical terms like “problem with thick client”

        The user put in a complaint, they were really unhappy...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

      working with women...

      On the whole, very rewarding.

      Though being a guy has caused me some consternation when:

      - asked by a female coworker how to tell the difference between "male" and "female" connectors

      - resistor color code. Thank GOD that's no longer in common use, because the mnemonic is definitely NOT acceptable in mixed company.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

        Not everyone uses (Or possess the eyesight) for SMD) & I still need to fall back on that mnemonic on occasion.

      2. Trixr

        Re: In my first job, in the days of mechanical mice

        1. Why get in a twist about that? "Oh yeah, funny old terminolgy - the 'male' connector has the sticky-out bit."

        2. For the first time, I'm grateful to have been a female in this trade, although I wish I didn't now know about the vile "traditional" mnemonic (honestly, what was wrong with some men back in the day?) Anyway, I was taught "Big Beautiful Roses Occupy Your Garden But Violets Grow Wild" - twenty years ago! - but I can see there are any number of other ones on a quick google.

    4. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: A customer came in with a faulty mechanical mouse.

      Good job she didn't bring in a Thinkpad with a faulty pointing stick.

  16. Anonymous IV

    "The mouse that never worked in the afternoon"

    A very similar account to this story was posted in November 2016.

    I won't repeat my tale of the Amstrad PCW8512 diskette drives, similarly affected by direct sunlight...

  17. Paul Cooper

    Low tech tape solution

    Way back, in 1977 or 1978, the company I worked for brought its computing work in-house after using an IBM bureau service. We bought a spanking new minicomputer (CMC Reality) equipped with a disc drive and a tape deck. We got our data dumped onto a tape (9-track, 1600bpi - state of the art at the time!) and tried to read it in on the new machine. Didn't work - an alignment problem, and of course both IBM and CMC swore blind that their tape deck was correctly aligned. So we were stymied, until I discovered that a VERY light finger pressure on one side of the tape would bring it into alignment and allow the tape to be read. I spent some hours holding my finger in JUST the right position, and the data were safely transferred.

    Low tech is sometimes the only solution!

    1. Anonymous Custard
      1. IneptAdept

        Re: Low tech tape solution

        A fact that Rupert the Bear taught me

    2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Low tech tape solution

      Couldn't you hjust have glued a penny to it?

      Like sticking a penny to a record deck arm to prevent skipping (yeah it may have worked, but it was a pretty stupid idea as it hastens damage to the vinyl).

    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Low tech tape solution

      I had to do that recently to get some data off a CDROM. I had to force the tray in against the eject mechanism while it managed to read.

    4. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Low tech tape solution

      Trying to remember the story, I think it was an old News Quiz newspaper clipping, from when a fifth British national TV channel was brought in, that mostly used the same frequency as a VCR communicating with the TV by RF modulator i.e, imitating a TV channel. This meant they had to send a technician to try to retune any affected householder's equipment and check reception.

      One of the engineers found no antenna (aerial) connected, but a sausage stuck into socket on the back of the VCR or TV.

      Householder explained that they'd found that they got reception when they stuck their finger in the socket, but they got tired.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: a sausage stuck into socket on the back of the VCR or TV.

        They tried a pork one first but there was too much crackling.

    5. Trollslayer
      Thumb Up

      Re: Low tech tape solution

      Good catch!

  18. Andytug

    Shameless repost...Allegedly genuine IBM memo from the 1980s...

    If a mouse fails to operate or should it perform erratically, it may need a ball replacement. Mouse balls are now available as FRU (Field Replacement Units). Because of the delicate nature of this procedure, replacement of mouse balls should only be attempted by properly trained personnel.

    Before proceeding, determine the type of mouse balls by examining the underside of the mouse. Domestic balls will be larger and harder than foreign balls. Ball removal procedures differ depending upon the manufacturer of the mouse. Foreign balls can be replaced using the pop off method. Domestic balls are replaced by using the twist off method. Mouse balls are not usually static sensitive. However, excessive handling can result in sudden discharge. Upon completion of ball replacement, the mouse may be used immediately.

    It is recommended that each person have a pair of spare balls for maintaining optimum customer satisfaction. Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items.

    Please keep in mind that a customer without properly working balls is an unhappy customer.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Shameless repost...Allegedly genuine IBM memo from the 1980s...

      It seems there was also another IBM memo that said the best way to clean the balls and keep the mouse "happy" was to remove it, put in your mouth for the saliva to clean it.

    2. Baldrickk

      Re: Shameless repost...Allegedly genuine IBM memo from the 1980s...

      These memos existed, but they were not in any way official - I've come across them before. I think Snopes has an article on them.

  19. Terry 6 Silver badge


    Many years ago a new teacher came to share my off-site teaching base. She'd be in while I was in schools and vice versa.

    She kept complaining that our shared PC kept freezing or crashing or something (It was a long time ago a 486 pc I think). I'd never had any problems. I checked it out each time. It was always fine.

    This went on for months.

    Until one morning she was in on my base day for some reason. I was typing. She went past. The PC froze.

    But there was also a distinct amount of static - from her fluffy jumper. Enough to feel it on my arms.

    She got some new jumpers. Problem went away.

  20. Evil Harry


    Back in the early 2000's, I was fortunate to spend some time aboard a brand new, state of the art cruise liner. Before the maiden voyage, the IT manager took great pride in showing us around the ship paying special attention to the modern IT facilities including some PC's in the (get rid of your) kids club area. These PC's were installed in special cupboards that locked the base unit away, recessed the monitors so only the keyboards and mice were exposed and had kiosk mode like software to stop them being messed with.

    When the ship was back in port, we were asked to go onboard and address a couple of issues and we asked the IT manager how things had gone. Apparently everything was great up until the kids discovered they could remove the balls from the mice and then throw them overboard ....

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Balls

      Cruise ship. Less than a year old.

      Large (2m high) really ornate clock in the mezzanine/lobby/main deck as a focal piece. Repair person always kneeling in front of it, adjusting it. Finally, my wife asked why.

      Land lubber designed it. Pendulum. Ship not a stable platform. Never ran on time.

      Paging Mr. Harrison! Mr. John Harrison to the lobby, please!


    2. Vincent Ballard

      Re: Balls

      So the computers were only usable by people who either know how to do everything with keyboard only or can operate a mouse by directly manipulating the rollers. (I did actually on occasion remove the ball from my mouse when doing photo manipulation to decouple the two axes and make it easier to crop precisely).

      1. swm

        Re: Balls

        Some of the old Xerox mice had two rollers for the X and Y axes no ball. Users said that this mouse was more accurate for sketching than the other kind.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I heard of an office where the phones system regularly kept losing incoming and outgoing calls, but by the time BT turned up next morning the fault had cleared. Bits were changed but the faults kept occurring. Finally one of the BT guys sat down and analysed the list of faults and discovered it only seemed to be occurring late afternoon but not every afternoon, so he decided to camp out to see if he figure it out.

    After a couple of days he figured it was that the main phone cable ran behind a wall of metal panelling to hold adjustable shelving and on sunny afternoons it was heating up just enough to warp the panels slightly and crush the cable... mornings and cloudy days were not a problem

  22. Anonymous Custard

    Natural selection?

    So first we had vampire bats, and now we've got vampire mice?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Phillips Fault

    My AHA!! was infra red related

    All of a suddenly anything using an infra red signal started going screwy, mice, TVs, CD players.

    Seemingly at random, they would stop responding, switch themselves on and of, open CD trays or start playing music.

    After a while I narrowed the issues down to the first 20 minutes after entering the room, and about the same after leaving the room; but was still no nearer to finding the cause.

    Then suddenly, it only started happening in the evening.

    Then it dawned on me, the days were getting longer and lighter, so I wasnt switching on the lights first thing - and around the time it all started I had fitted some new fangled Phillips Energy Saver light bulbs (20w = 100w equivalent).

    Swapped the bulbs for old tech, and the problem went away.

    Apparently those early bulbs chucked out a lot of infra red when they were heating up/cooling down.

    I ran into a fair few people struggling with the issue as the bulbs became more common, they all thought I was a genius.

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: Phillips Fault

      My first office CFL bulb screwed with my mouse. The shiny new mouse I'd bought when it's predecessor decided not to work if the sun was shining near it!

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Then it dawned on me


    3. Conundrum1885

      Re: Phillips Fault

      Worth checking the newer variety LED bulbs intended for cooker hoods etc (3W)

      Have one here which flickers, confirmed it is indeed the bulb and not dodgy wiring.

      Needless to say it would be a prime candidate for messing up IR devices, as its already damaged though LEDs do not have as much emission outside the narrow blue and yellow they can sometimes develop this symptom over time due to Auger droop and other non emissive modes.

      That said "Crashed" model helicopters indoors are quite common, manuals are being rewritten to mention lighting as a potential interference source.

      The reason for CFLs affecting TVs etc has to do with the plasma being chaotic, usually the inverter runs at some low frequency between 25 and 80 kHz but this can be all over the place resulting in a "Hooting" plasma forming as multiple harmonics interact with various components.

      Can happen with linear fluorescents as well and is a significant cause of interference especially to HAMs who often use lower bands than most.

  24. IR

    As a teenager I got a new digital watch for xmas. It worked great up until April, when it would mysteriously switch off every now and then. pressing a button would start it up again, but with everything set to zero. This occurred more and more frequently until the summer, when I realised that direct exposure to the sun was the cause. I had to put a black piece of fabric over it for the rest of the summer and got a new watch the following year that wasn't a vampire.

  25. Muscleguy

    Optical mice also borked patterned mouse pads. My spawn gave me a mug festooned with a cartoon of a mouse pulling its mouth open and poking its tongue. It came with a matching mouse pad which I soon couldn’t use as a computer upgrade included an optical mouse.

    I was given the gift because in science I worked with mice, but not on their balls. Though I used to work in lab where a female colleague did work on mouse balls. Whenever she gave talks the male members of the lab would cross our legs.

    Fun fact, mice are well hung, in the ball department at least. They have huge balls in proportion to their body size. A sure sign of rampant sperm competition. Chimps have huge balls and small peckers as well. Pair bonding and sexual selection have a lot to answer for in terms of male insecurity.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Gorillas have relatively small peckers and relatively small balls.

  26. david 12 Silver badge

    Transparently faulty.

    I've actually got a transparent mouse: You can see what's inside, which is fun, and you can see the little interrupter wheels go round, which is fun, and I'm a bit of a technophile and it seemed like a fun idea, so I bought one.

    Used it once. Never used it again, for the reason mentioned in the article :)

  27. Martyn 1

    Back in the days of open reel tape drives I went into the computer room one evening to take some pictures, press shutter release - click - all TE16 tape drives go offline simultaneously. The flash had triggered both the EOT and BOT detectors and the drives didn't know what to do so went offline as a default failure mode.

    Not the end of the world, but had to stop taking pictures and restart all the backups :-(

  28. Alan W. Rateliff, II

    BIOS update to fix a bad spreadsheet?!

    A customer called me to tell me about an Excel spreadsheet which was crashing at a particular point. This was repeatable on the machine but no one else had the problem. I did what every good tech does: removed and re-installed Office. No dice, it still crashed at exactly the same point performing exactly the same actions. After browsing around for a few hours hoping I could find someone coming close to the issue, I decided we would re-load Windows 7 from scratch and try again. The user went to a spare laptop while I re-loaded theirs.

    But then another call came. This spare laptop was also crashing, but with a different spreadsheet and at a different point. Again, repeatable, but also afflicting another machine. What the...? While investigating I had another user tell me they had crashing problems, but with yet a different spreadsheet.

    We had different versions of Excel across several machines, all running an up-to-date installation of Windows 7. Common threads were eliminated: it was not caused by accessing over the network as a local copy performed identically; the anti-virus was uninstalled for testing; all updates were checked. But another common object remained.

    Just barely a week earlier I read an article written by a programmer who was the liaison between product support and the programming group. He mentioned how one of the first things he asked when being escalated a ticket was, what CPU is the customer running? With the answer he would pull known errata for that particular CPU.

    The common thread in my situation? All computers involved were Dell laptops, all but one the same model, and all running superseded BIOS versions. It was a shot in the dark but I understand CPUs have bugs, having been around so long, and I also know that BIOS updates will often carry CPU micro-code updates. What the heck, right?

    As I live and breath, updating the BIOS on all of the laptops fixed the crashing problems for all spreadsheets involved. How esoteric can you get? I might have stumbled across that at some point in a desperate carpet-bomb approach to update all drives and BIOS and whatever else, but to specifically target that solution? I might not have if not for an article, written by a programmer to share his experiences, and stumbled upon by a tech just falling down a rabbit hole one night.

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