back to article Scalpel! Superglue! This mouse won't fix its own ball

Hurrah! A fresh week awaits! Who knows what delights lurk within. One thing is for sure, it all starts with a tale from the Who, Me? mailbag. Today's story comes from "Dave" (no, definitely not his name) who was working for a small software and hardware consultancy. "Every engineer," he said, "was either a computer science or …

  1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    I once made this very same erroneous assumption myself, however in my defence I was about 12 at the time. And I didn't attempt to use super glue to fix it.

    1. goldcd

      and me

      Took apart the mouse on the very expensive new family PC and after a bit of experimental poking, managed to break one of the o-rings.

      Quietly shitting myself, I reassembled and whilst it seemed to work, was anticipating the bollocking to come.

      Penny only dropped when the o-ring re-grew.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: and me

        > Took apart the mouse on the very expensive new family PC

        I hope no one told a tail on you...

    2. Joe W Silver badge

      Yup. This. I was actually scared for a sec that I broke it. And it does look like some rubber o-ring.

      (and no, I don't miss that either).

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Ball crud

    I do remember quite clearly the ball-cleaning sessions I used to have with my Microsoft Mouse. It was quite easy to tell when it needed cleaning too : the movement started getting bumpy because something was sticking to the ball.

    It was the heyday of mouse mats as well - they improved ball movement.

    Thank $deity for wireless laser mice. Just have to blow on it every now and then to dislodge some minuscule piece of dust that makes the pointer not work properly.

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Ball crud

      When I did student support, we'd frequently find someone had gone into one of the labs and removed several (or all) of the balls from the computer mice in that lab. As the mice were cheap, we just superglued the ball cover in place and replace them when needed. Not very environment friendly, but it was either that or explain to the lecturer who had booked the lab why their students could not use the mice.

      The funny thing is that every student we caught doing this appeared to think they were the first. We were dealing with this regularly.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        For optical mice: clear tape over the sensor. At least that can be removed easily, so it is a quick fix (in contrast to replacing mouse balls).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ball crud

          Yeah, replacing mouse balls is a delicate task to do.

          1. Scott 53

            Re: Ball crud

            Best to use a wrist static strap when manipulating the balls. Nobody wants a sudden discharge.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ball crud

            If you think that replacing their balls is delicate, just wait until you have to do the prep work. First you have to find a tiny razor...

      2. Tommy G1

        Re: Ball crud

        Some years back the company I worked for at the time lost the contract to supply PCs to a local further education college.

        We were told it was down to the fact that one of our competitors offered a 'College Grade Mouse' i.e. you needed a special tool to open the ball cover. Apparently the size to weight ratio of the balls made them excellent for throwing at people.

        1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

          Re: Ball crud

          At the FE/HE college I worked at we used to put U-bolts in the back of the case and thread all peripheral leads through them. This was specifically aimed at mouse leads so the RM serial mice with steel ball bearings didn't get stolen - they were about £60 each at the time. The mouse traps were glued shut. Pain in the posterior for maintenance but we were secure!

          I was less than happy one day when I noted that the little darlings had decided to cut the cables to steal the mice - most of them were electronics students and one had worked out they could just solder the leads back together ... doh!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Ball crud

            When i was a student i used to carry a can of zippo fuel* with me, just to liberate the balls, as yes they did make good projectiles

            *anything with naptha in will do as a superglue de-bonder

            1. Nifty Silver badge

              Re: Ball crud

              There's a Radio 4 series called'The Reunion' where erstwhile adversaries from a historical situation meet and reminisce. This would almost make a programme.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Ball crud

                My best mates mum was the admin, awkward chats were had when I was over his house...

                Used to regularly make her shit herself by remotely ejecting all the cdroms on the multi changer.

                Was presented with a ream of printouts detailing the last 6 months of my network activity, I then pointed out that it only covered my user account, and they really should change the default network account passwords and not let the RM engineers be so easily shoulder surfed...

                That they should add users not just groups to folder permissions, and thanks miller's mum for hosting the quake binaries in a hidden folder in her home share 8 player death match was awesome

                I got my comeuppance in the end, I started my career working at fe and he institutions dealing with scrotes like me, full on poacher turned gamekeeper..

                1. J. Cook Silver badge

                  Re: Ball crud

                  That is called karma, friend. I've had my share of it as well. :)


                  Re: Ball crud

                  You ever check those scrotes' pockets for mice balls?

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Ball crud

                    The move to optical was in full swing at that time, so long as no cars were done with them a blind eye was turned, when a car was done it was the final hurdle to replacing the lot with optical mice

                  2. Swarthy
                    Paris Hilton

                    Re: Ball crud

                    Checking scrotes for balls, that sounds...medical and unpleasant.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        "The funny thing is that every student we caught doing this appeared to think they were the first."

        One of the many hazards of youth. They also think they invented sex :-)

    2. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Ball crud

      Laser mice?

      Yeah, until you are oh-so-bloody-stilish as a mate from university, who got imself a nice clean clear glass desk. Looked bloody great, but the optical mice don't work.

      1. Anonymous Custard

        Re: Ball crud

        It still happens occasionally (at least prior to the pandemic) with certain brands of hotel who have such glass desks in their rooms when you're on a business trip and trying to use your laptop and mouse on the desk.

        Still at least it does finally give a use for those complimentary magazines of local "attractions" etc that they also tend to dump in the room too...

      2. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        Or the muppets who (try to) use red mouse mats

        1. Chris Evans

          Red Mouse mats!

          I presume you are thinking of the red laser. Well I've got a box full of red mouse mats and they seem to work fine with the half a dozen or so optical mice my wife tried. She was searching for one that gave her the right feel in her hand.

          1. Chloe Cresswell Silver badge

            Re: Red Mouse mats!

            Or red LED on early ones. Had a client where the mouse would go nuts occasionally. Tigger's nose on her mouse mat was the right shade, so every time the mouse crossed the nose it would go dead, then suddenly start working again when it crossed to another colour

      3. Flightmode

        Re: Ball crud

        I remember at some point having an early what-at-least-claimed-to-be-laser mouse, it was probably a Logitech. It required a specially patterned mouse pad - highly reflective with a very fine grid silkscreened on it - longitudinal and latitudinal lines very slightly different shades of blue. Glad we got rid of THAT nonsense.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Ball crud

          Oh the fun you could have with those. Just rotate the mouse mat of your unsuspecting coworkers and laugh as their mouse suddenly moves 90 degrees in the wrong direction.

          1. Shalghar Bronze badge

            Re: Ball crud

            I believe that this would not work with the original mouse systems 3 button ones.

            They would also work on anything with any kind of horizontal/vertical lines on it, even math paper from college blocks.

            Opening such a wondrous thing revealed two optical chips, one per axis. Something looking like a solar cell grid encased in clear glass like acrylic that formed a DIL 8 case, much like the noble and snobbish relative to a mundane NE555.

            Further investigation revealed metal mirrors in the upper part of the mouse to reflect the reflected light from the red and (quite rare at those times) blue-ish LED for the respective axis onto those "solar cell" photo magic chips.


              Re: Ball crud

              Not long after your post, someone uploaded a video.

        2. Down not across

          Re: Ball crud

          It required a specially patterned mouse pad - highly reflective with a very fine grid silkscreened on it

          I don't recall a Logitech one, but Mouse Systems did make one and in fact Sun Microsystems Optical Mouse Type 4 was in fact rebranded Mouse Systems M-4. If my memory serves.

          1. Cederic Silver badge

            Re: Ball crud

            I remember the Sun ones. Didn't know they were a rebrand of someone else's tech.

            I miss Sun :(

            1. Nick Pettefar

              Re: Ball crud

              I have a nice collection of Sun mouse mats.

      4. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        It is just the choice which mouse. The glass problem has been fixed a few years ago, just select a mouse which can handle it. Logitech Darkfield were the first one (by my knowledge), though they don't use the term any more. They just write "working on glass".

      5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        "Yeah, until you are oh-so-bloody-stilish as a mate from university, who got imself a nice clean clear glass desk. Looked bloody great, but the optical mice don't work."

        Ditto for the white high gloss finish lab benches in medical labs.

      6. Swarthy

        Re: Ball crud

        Logitech's darkfield mice (IR laser, as I understand) solves that, and the red mousepad issue. However, one particular (white(-ish)) table played merry hob with the mouse.

    3. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Ball crud

      Blimey, is it already time to mention this ( again?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ball crud

        And another old story...

        A colleague complained his mouse wasn't working. I glanced over to discover he had managed to put the mouse on top of a 3.5in floppy and was sliding the pair across the desk

      2. Flightmode

        Re: Ball crud

        In Swedish, in addition to the double-entendre inherent in the word fall "ball", the word for "mouse" is aslo a well-established colloquial term for female genitalia.

        Remember my former colleague who blew up a power supply from my comment last week?

        He found himself on the phone with another of his steady clients one afternoon. Also female, this one was north of 90 years old and hard of hearing. Situation only got better from hearing his side of the conversation, with him repeating himself and raising his voice as he went along;

        - Well it's possible you just have dust in your mouse*.


        - NO, IN THE MOUSE.

        - You can just unscrew** it and take the ball out.

        - Take the BALL out of the MOUSE.


        - Yeah, then just blow on it.

        ( get the drift)

        *) Off to a great start, right off the bat.

        **) Sadly this one isn't naughty in Swedish.

        It wasn't until he hung up he realized everyone in the office was staring at him.

        - What? What did I say? It was Jane Doe, you know she can't hear a word of what I'm saying.

    4. Chris G

      Re: Ball crud

      Not only mouse balls but keyboards too, I saw a guy selling old PC stuff at a flea market recently that would make a fortnight in Chernobyl seem a lower health risk than ownership of said items.

      The keyboards looked particularly rich in biological samples.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        Did he look something like this? ----------------------------------->

        Flea market sellers are....a different breed. Takes a special type to gather up all that old junk, store it who knows where, then load it into the vehicle, schlep it to the flea, set it all up, then load 95% of it back into the vehicle and schlep it back, unpack it and store it again....repeat weekly. Knowing (though in some cases I have seen that is not the case) that with every week, the probability of selling goes down, as the stuff ages, and demand decreases..

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ball crud

          I remember seeing a guy at a flea market selling used power strips. Looked like over half his 55 gal drum of them were the model that had just been recalled...

          1. Marty McFly Silver badge

            Re: Ball crud

            Ah, they had been recalled...but had they been claimed?

            I cleaned up on the recall of APC 1990's era surge strips. I literally had dozens of them going on 20 years old. All swapped for brand new.


              Re: Ball crud

              Our entire office is powered by them. We've got sticks, half-moons with the crystal bezel-covered button in the middle, rackmounted... All 15+ years old.

      2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud


        "I saw a guy selling old PC stuff at a flea market recently that would make a fortnight in Chernobyl seem a lower health risk than ownership of said items.

        The keyboards looked particularly rich in biological samples."

        I wondered what happens to all my old keyboards that suffer the Friday fate during BOFH reading time...

        Nuke 'em from orbit... only way to be sure

      3. Floydian Slip

        Re: Ball crud

        Back in my support days, I remember a chap in sales asking how we kept our keyboards clean because the keyboard on his home PC was filthy

        Told him it was simple. Gently prise the keycaps off and wash in warm, slightly soapy water. Rinse and allow to dry. Whilst drying, gently vacuum (using the dusting brush) the rest of the keyboard.

        When the keycaps have dried, simply refit them.

        Of course, we had to lend him a keyboard the next day so he could work out the correct order to replace the keycaps in

    5. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Ball crud

      > It was the heyday of mouse mats as well - they improved ball movement.

      The main purpose of my mousepad is to keep a clear space for the mouse. Anyone that places something there gets their hand smacked.

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: Ball crud

        Still use a mouse mat here, cloth top, foam backed ones, generally secured to the desk with double sided tape. Even with the optical mouse I use now.

        The cloth absorbs dirt and grime before the sliders on the bottom of the mouse get cached in it. When at a temporary desk I get tired of cleaning them at least once a day to eliminate stiction or tracking issues as the mouse gets jacked up beyond its focal point.

        Of course every six months or so you will look at the pad and notice "that mouse pad's filthy". You can sponge them down a couple of times before the fabric comes off but ultimately you do need to regard then as disposable items.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Ball crud

          "The cloth absorbs dirt and grime before the sliders on the bottom of the mouse get cached in it. When at a temporary desk I get tired of cleaning them at least once a day to eliminate stiction or tracking issues as the mouse gets jacked up beyond its focal point."

          Another solution is to clean your desk regularly and get in 18 months of more frequent than usual handwashing practice.

          1. the spectacularly refined chap

            Re: Ball crud

            But think of the pies! They won't eat themselves...

    6. the future is back!

      Re: Ball crud

      Still using a mousepad from 2011 (I know 'cause it was custom and says "Get A Job" with a 2011 calendar printed on it). Optical mouse though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ball crud

        My brother gave me a cool mousepad made from a circuit board. (Probably a board with failed traces; no components had ever been attached.) I loved it until I went to use it with an optical mouse - it's too shiny to work properly. Grr!

      2. irrelevant

        Re: Ball crud

        My daughter asked me for a mouse pad the other day; it seems her desk is too shiny for the optical mouse, and the bit of paper she was using was falling apart!!! Not having one to hand, I had a dig through my workshop and found her a promo one I'd liberated from work some time previously. Still in good condition, it was from a local-ish motor company and promoted the BMW 328ci, which a quick google dates it to the late 90s, about ten years before she was born! She went away happy..

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Ball crud

      I still have a wired, balled Microsoft mouse as my daily pointer manipulator. It must be at least 16 years old now and still going strong.

      I bought a newer wired, optical Microsoft mouse for a laptop about five years ago. Its pointer movement was becoming erratic a few years back and I ended up throwing it away.

      They truly don't make them like they used to.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        I spotted an OG Microsoft Intellimouse (their first optical one) on one of our developers desks the other day. As far as I know they've never even used Windows (they use a macbook).

        Those things just never die.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ball crud

          Microsoft Intellimouse, easily the best product to come out of Microsoft.

          1. Zebranky

            Re: Ball crud

            Actually I've never had any serious complaints about any Microsoft PC peripheral hardware.

            The sidewinder Joystick (with USB connection) is still going, as are the 2 x intellimouse optical (although I did have to replace the USB cable on one after the wires broke internally at the flex point where the cable enters the mouse), The Xbox style controller with USB just works and my sidewinder mouse with all the options keeps soldering on...

            Sometimes I think Microsoft should have gone into hardware because this stuff is so reliable, but then I remember reliable stuff ends up bankrupting companies so I'm just glad I got some quality peripherals before they bailed :-)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Ball crud

              I bought a Microsoft wireless mouse and keyboard set, and the scroll wheel was erratic from day 1. Called and complained, and they sent me a whole new set, and didn't ask for the old one back. Being an engineer, I then disassembled the bad mouse and found that the wheel wasn't *quite* in the right spot - when not clicking the wheel, it was a bit too far down, so the optical encoder sometimes missed the wheel spokes. Wrapped a bit of Scotch (/cello) tape around the right bit to add a bit of height, and it worked just fine.

              I didn't need two sets, so I sold one for half the original purchase price. Still have the other set. To this day, I'm not sure which set has the repaired mouse!

    8. Robert Moore

      Re: Ball crud

      I still have a mouse pad. I picked it up at a thrift shop. The only reason I bought it is because it has printed on it the floor plan of Riverview Mental hospital, with all the fire exits shown.

      I thought that this mouse pad was such a monumentally bad idea, that I just had to buy it.

      Mine is the one with the really long sleeves.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ball crud

      I love my trackball mouse - still have to clean out the lint and droppings now and then.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Ball crud

        Yep. Have to do that with mine, usually when it stops tracking properly. pop the sphere out, run a tissue 'round the cavity to clear the schmoo off the little white dots that hold er in place, make sure the encoder window's clear, and plop it back in.

  3. John Riddoch

    Regular problem in the computer labs at the Uni I worked at. I had a well practiced technique of scraping off the crud with my Leatherman blade when I found a mouse which wasn't moving properly.

    Certainly don't miss having to do that and very glad optical mice took over.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Swiss Army Knife user here - the mini chisel on that did an excellent job of stripping roller crud off, and it was oh so satisfying when it came off in a single unbroken (aside from where the blade initially sliced across it) strip.

      Whilst I also don't miss the maintenance requirements that ball mice had, I do still miss the mechanical inertia they could provide to pointer movements if you wanted - these days you either have to live with the precise but "dead" movements that optical sensors provide, or suffer various different attempts to implement simulated inertia which are guaranteed to always choose the wrong moment to kick in and send your pointer across the far side of your desktop. There was also something oddly satisfying about the way it felt lowering the mouse back onto the mousepad after relocating it during a particular long pointer move operation, as first the ball made contact and then rose up into position with its weight supported by the pad, whilst the rest of the mouse body remained held slightly airborne in your hand but now noticeably lighter.

      This is part of why retro computing using the original hardware is so popular in comparison to using emulators running on newer hardware - there's some very distinct physical attributes (looks, sounds, tactile sensations) to those older systems that anyone familiar with them will instantly pick up on as being missing or not quite emulated correctly on anything other than the real deal.

      1. Spanners Silver badge

        My memory of seeing someone cleaning a mouse inside and ball was in Glasgow University Library seeing a lady using her burka to clean it. The temporal mix of this remains with me always.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          My personal temporal mix story - doing physics homework using a graphing calculator... by the light of an oil lamp. (The power was out.)

          1. Steve Aubrey

            We had a power outage once, and I grabbed a movie DVD and a laptop, so we could watch "television" by candle-light.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I found that using a material harder than the rollers such as a metal blade would scratch the roller surfaces and they'd pick the crud even faster, leading to much more frequent cleaning being required. I always used a soft plastic "blade" to scrape the crud off once I learned from my mistakes.

  4. hittitezombie

    Shit, flashbacks to mouse cleaning days..

    Actually it hasn't gone fully away since I'm a trackball user but LED+motion sensors made the cleaning a much easier thing.

  5. Jaspa

    Sweaty palms

    Not so much the internal but external crud.

    Once had the semi regular pleasure of dealing with a Colleague that had the worlds sweatiest mits.

    I "sourced" a few spare mice and gingerly swapped the rodent out when any issues were reported.

    Given the current climate, a BNC suit and bio hazard team would be called in for these :)

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: Sweaty palms

      "Given the current climate, a BNC suit and bio hazard team would be called in for these"

      Would those be the suits that have quite secure twist-on/off connections between gloves and sleeves...

  6. John Jennings

    in my first job in a computer shop

    I was disciplined (nearly lost the job) when I had a young customer of the female persuasion come to my counter with a faulty mouse she had bough a week earlier.

    I knew about the crud issue.

    I (probably 17 at the time) confidently opened the little cover and popped out the weighted ball - reaching for the alcohol and a plastic scraper for the contacts

    I made the mistake of trying to engage her (she was standing in front of me, and I was trying to show her how to do this herself) when I said -

    'Ah mice - the get tired of having their balls rubbed on the desk'

    There was an awkward silence.

    The floor manager heard me.... riot act read. My only defense was that I could have thought of a better chat up line if I had done it on purpose!

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: in my first job in a computer shop

      that was.... close

      (never mind the keyboard, hot tea expelled though the nostrils is no fun. At. All. )

  7. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    I can remember my first mouse too - a Genius mouse, one of those square boxy mice.

    It did the job jolly well. Including picking up crud as well.

    I miss it. It had character.

    Not sure where it wandered off to...

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      AMX Mouse for the ZX Spectrum here. Ergonomic disaster area, but great fun to play with.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Same here, but on a BBC micro. It came as part of a DTP package at the college.

    2. Alistair

      My original Genius mouse is sitting with my mom's TI/99 on a shelf in her basement. Both still work.

    3. pirxhh

      I know *exactly* were mine is.

      Bought it directly from the manufacturer at CeBIT trade fair in Hanover in the 80s.

      Now that it's dead, I severed its "tail" and put it in a mousetrap (actually, a rat trap as it's larger) on my wall. No great art but a nice geeky conversation piece.

  8. ColinPa

    How do I top up the water?

    We bought my aged mother a laptop who struggled with it. We gave her a fish tank screen saver, so we had fish swimming around.

    I came in one day to find her with a watering can in hand and she asked "I thought the water might needed topping up - which hole is it?".

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Laptop Fans

    A related one from my early years of IT Support. Dismantled a laptop that needed a clean. Found all the fluff that builds up next to a laptop fan. Thought it was an air filter.

    1. My-Handle

      Re: Laptop Fans

      It was, just not one that originally shipped with the product :D

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: Laptop Fans

        That one has probably crumbled into dust and been blown through the innards of the machine...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Laptop Fans

        You're more right than you know. A "dirty" air filter is actually more effective at removing particulate than a new one. (Makes sense in retrospect, the larger holes are now plugged.) Current COVID-inspired advice is to only change/clean the filter when it's bad enough to decrease efficiency; frequent replacement results in dirtier air!

    2. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: Laptop Fans

      Thought it was an air filter.

      Had that here when I cleaned out my old laptop, dam of fluff in front of the exit grill kinda explained why the fan sounded like a jet going into orbit

  10. GlenP Silver badge


    Ever had to deal with a situation for which the only solution was a new hardware and a pack of wet wipes?

    Not a mouse but a whole laptop! It came back from the user in a state where a hazmat suit would have been desirable before handling it. They have been given a warning that if the replacement is treated the same way they may be charged if it fails.

    1. My-Handle

      Re: Recently...

      I used a colleague's desk one day and found that the scroll wheel on his mouse had a thick, sticky, 2 or 3mm thick ring of orange crud around it. It had even been squared off by the edges of the plastic cover.

      I have no idea how it continued working. Once I figured out that it wasn't some kind of rubber grip, I refused to use the damn thing.

    2. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Recently...

      Twice: Once directly, and once indirectly.

      Both were from the time that I did work as a field repair tech. The direct time was when I went on site to a field office that had a dead server. it was literally out at a construction site, and when I opened the case of the dead server, it was covered on the inside with mouse droppings. Thankfully, I had a truck, and happened to have a flattened cardboard box in the back for the server to sit on as I brought it back to the shop for the depot techs to work on.

      The depot techs had a pretty bad job at times; Since the outfit I worked for also handled 3rd party extended warranty service for computers,* we had some really nasty ones come in. I walked in one fine afternoon and found that the inside of the building just reeked of cigarette smoke. Seems this one person's computer broken down, and they had this warranty service on it. They brought it in, and the depot tech took one look at it, documented the state that it was in, and duly called it in as 'unrepairable, data salvage only'. The house it was in probably had 3-4 adults, and all of them were carton-a-day smokers. There was a layer of nicotine residue all over the inside of the machine, all the fans were seized up, the works.

      * i.e., you bought the thing from a retailer, and instead of having the factory warranty extended, it got fobbed off to some other company that in turned hired us to fix your machine if/when it broke.

  11. Scott Wheeler

    There were optical mice well before then. Unlike modern mice, they had hard metallic pads with a pattern marked on the pad. They were usually used on things like Sun Workstations, but I think I bought some for our PCs as well.

    1. sebacoustic

      yes i remember the Sun stations at the lab in university with the fancy oprical mice: they did't collect mouse wheel crud but still didn't work very well overall: sensitive to not having the mouse angle aligned correctly to the pad, etc. t correct angle. NB where's the greybeard icon.

      1. Evil Scot Bronze badge

        180 degrees was the optimum angle to irritate.

        Sadly judicious application of double sided tape put a stop to that.

      2. APR

        Same here, we had optical mice for the Sun workstations in the University labs in the early 90s. As you (and Evil Scot) mentioned, they were very sensitive to the angle of the reflective metal mouse mats! Thankfully todays incarnations are far more tolerant.

  12. Electronics'R'Us

    The sweet smell...

    Well, not quite.

    Ever had to deal with a situation for which the only solution was a new hardware and a pack of wet wipes?

    Many years ago when I was fixing radios for a living (having an FCC general licence at the time was literally a meal ticket) we had a rather hefty HF radio come in and the odour being emitted almost required the donning of a mask.

    Most high power two way radios[1] are not designed to transmit for more than a few seconds (perhaps a few 10s of seconds) at a time[2]. Due to a manufacturing defect (that I eventually found), when this transmitter was keyed up (so transmitting at about 100W), it remained in transmit mode even when the transmit button was released. Needless to say it failed quite shortly after that first (continuous and hot) transmission.

    The power output stage (a very large power transistor and associated circuitry) had burned out completely and released all the magic smoke. The remnants of the parts had, however, stuck to the inside of the box. Cleaning it was interesting to say the least. I wasn't allowed to do that inside at my workstation; had to take it outside to the garage (we serviced a lot of vehicle radios) and even then the stench was almost overpowering.

    I did manage to save the PCB which was designed for relatively high temperatures; the power stage failed before it could delaminate.

    I remember we billed the manufacturer for it (warranty repair) with a separate line item that read 'Decontamination equipment'.

    [1] Your cell phone has a maximum transmit power of about 2W and rarely actually goes that high. That amount of transmit power is manageable in the thermal sense.

    [2] RF transmitters can be quite inefficient, FM in particular which sometimes (particularly in the years I am talking about here) required a linear power amplifier which can only ever achieve 50%, so for every watt transmitted the power stage has to dissipate (as heat) a watt. 100W transmitted = 100W heat at the power amp.

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: The sweet smell...

      That remembers me of those efficient LM7805 (or any LM78xx) used in various home computers a few decades ago... The power supplies were called "irons" for a reason.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The sweet smell...

      Back in the days of valves a transmitter unit came back from loan (they were used in silent alarms) with a dead mouse inside.

    3. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: The sweet smell...

      [RF transmitters can be quite inefficient, FM in particular which sometimes (particularly in the years I am talking about here) required a linear power amplifier which can only ever achieve 50%, so for every watt transmitted the power stage has to dissipate (as heat) a watt. 100W transmitted = 100W heat at the power amp.

      .. that explains why the digital radio systems we have a [RedactedCo] have mahoosive heat sinks on them. Might also explain why a faulty kept tripping the breaker on the PDU it was plugged into as well, even though the power strip it was plugged into was fat, dumb, and happy.

  13. chivo243 Silver badge

    mouse balls!

    They won't work when covered in dried chocolate milk! There is a gross story, but I will pass at this time...

    1. keith_w

      Re: mouse balls!

      Thank you for not sharing. :)

    2. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: mouse balls!

      ... aaand now I have an entire not work appropriate song from the tv show "south park" running through my head.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Air Route Traffic Control Center Balls

    Supported some prototype software for the ARTCCs in the US, had 25-30 giant trackballs so the controllers could do their thing. Had to clean these frequently as they were in-use 24x7 .. the curved tool in a pair of travel nail clippers fit the roller perfectly but it was a disgusting, thankless job.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mouse Balls ?

    Back in the early 90's I served six months in Purgatory as the service manager for a ComputerLand store. Not a week went by when we didn't get a call or two late in the afternoon (after school was out) asking, "Do you have mouse balls?" followed by laughter, giggles and a quick hang-up.

  16. Rufus McDufus


    I worked at a good university (known for science, engineering and medicine) in the computing department 30 years ago. A PhD teaching assistant once brought in a keyboard, probably a Sun or Apple one, saying it wasn't working. I could immediately see it was glistening somewhat. Turns out this TA had puked on the keyboard, then rinsed it under a tap to clean it. It still didn't work, so the next obvious step was to douse it in cooking oil. Weirdly that didn't do the trick either so (s)he brought the sorry mess down to me.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Nice

      "so the next obvious step was to douse it in cooking oil."

      Well, yes, obviously. It's science and engineering. Clearly the water had got to places where it was difficult to dry it out. Oil displaces water and is non-conductive. Simple logic :-)

  17. Alistair

    Trackballs have the same issue

    Although it does tend to take a bit longer to get to the "sticky, bouncy, inaccurate" state. The little knobbies in the bowl that hold the ball in alignment get these neat furry caps. (nowadays mostly catfur) and the light panel can sometimes need cleaning. It is however much easier than the mechanical wheels on my original trackball which needed pulling the whole critter apart and the use of a toothpick and a can of compressed air, and quite a bit of meditation to prevent permanently disfiguring the wheel. The scroll wheel on my 20 (20+ ?) year old logitech trackball originally had the same issue. Last time I had to disassemble and clean that I (carefully) put box tape on either side of the wheel, and now I can clean it with compressed air without tearing it apart.

  18. PJD

    Apple powerbooks

    My variant on this story was when a trackball on a powerbook 170 stopped working. Trackball was in the keypad, simple twist ring to open and remove the ball for cleaning (like a regular mouse on its back). The ball 'rolled' on two small rollers. My rollers appeared to have rubber rings about 2mm wide on them, I assumed for traction. One was delicately peeling off the underlying roller. "Aha" I thought, "the rubber ring has perished, I just need to replace them". Called the local computer parts shop specializing in apple stuff (this, thank God, was prior to 'genius bars' and other stupidities). Much confused back-and-forthing as I explained I wanted to order replacement rubber rings for my mouse rollers, and they thought I wanted new rollers, and I insisted the rollers themselves were fine I just needed the rings. Eventually the problem clicked for the woman I was speaking to and she said "I kind of suspect those 'rings' are matted hair and fluff - try removing it from both rollers and putting the ball back in". Problem solved, but quite embarrassing..

  19. NITS

    I've run into this so many times -- called to a retail store for some other problem, had to do something on their back office pc, found lumpy mouse movement. A quick scrape with the pocket knife to get rid of the crud, and a very grateful manager.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apologies For Repeating This...

    I've told this story before, but I was the department 'IT fixer' (though not an IT Department employee), and jumpy mice were a common issue for the aforementioned reason of skin oil and crud building up on the rollers. Cleaning them was a simple 5 minute job.

    But one guy in the department was filthy, and he made sandwiches at his desk. There were crumbs everywhere, and since he used butter and a knife, grease smears everywhere, too. And he never washed his hands. He'd just rub them together when he'd finished cramming food into his mouth (which was a sight to be seen in itself).

    Emptying his keyboard of food residue was bad enough, but one time I was showing him how to do something on his PC and the mouse was basically not moving at all.

    I opened it up and nearly threw up. The entire cavity was filled with black, gritty grease-like material.

  21. APR

    Serial "Interference"

    Reminds me of a time when I was at a client site doing some private work for a former colleague who was trying to start up his own consultancy back in the early 90s. The client had another technician on site at the time (from a local PC supplier I think) and he was investigating some issues with the mouse. He declared that there was some "interference" on the serial port causing the problem. I waited until he left the clients office, pulled the ball out of the mouse and cleaned the dirt from the rollers. Problem fixed.

  22. vectorspace

    Early days in 1st line IT support, 15 years ago. A user's ball mouse was misbehaving, I showed them how to take the ball out and clean the gunk off the rollers, and advised them to do the same every now and then. Their response - "Isn't that the cleaner's job?"

  23. nonpc

    The modern day equivalent is the crud buildup on the feet/sliders on the mice - if you don't use a mat, which I guess wipes as its used. That seems to grip instead of slide. Build-up from sweaty palms, I guess...

    1. Shalghar Bronze badge

      That seems to depend on how those glidepads are glued on.

      The usual cheap ones seem to have typical "sticky paper" glue, that absorbs normal air moisture and then begins to soften up and leak at the sides of the glidepads.

      This leaked and softened glue not only collects any kind of dirt, but also tends to transport even more moisture towards the center of the glue pad, deteriorating the still uncompromised portion of the glue until the glidepad falls off.

      I tend to remedy that with cyanoacrylate or similar after cleaning both mouse case and glide pad thoroughly. That seems to mostly prevent further buildup of dirt, greasy stuff that sticks on the glidepads edges still happens, though.

      If you know someone working in the wood furniture industry, try to get some of their glide tape that they use at the circular saw to prevent scratches to the boards. Its some kind of duct tape, only with a very slick and sturdy surface. Put this under any mouse (window for the optical sensor must be cut in, of course) and you never have glide and dirt issues again.

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