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Optical mice, mouse cleaning and Japanese men

January 1, 2003

in All Articles,Miscellaneous

Mary from asks:

“Our mouse is getting increasingly independent. Can that be just dirt and age? Is there a way to clean it easily or should we buy a new mouse? I tried a new mousepad and that seemed to work for a while — the old one was a slick surface that dirt seemed to cake onto. Any suggestions?”

“Yeah, that ‘Last Samurai‘ movie looks really cool! Even with lots of makeup, I bet it was hard for Tom Cruise to be Japanese.”

That’s the line that caught my attention. I had been having lunch at a Chinese restaurant. While marveling at the accuracy of my fortune cookie, I overheard that quote. Since there aren’t any laws against it, I listened to the couple in the next booth. Apparently, the gentleman speaking thought that Tom Cruise’s character in the movie was Japanese, and not what he actually is: a captured American soldier. Like John Wayne as the rootin’ tootin’ Genghis Kahn in “The Conqueror“, or Mickey Rooney as the insulting Japanese stereotype in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, I found it difficult to believe that anyone who had seen the preview would think the ex-Mr. Kidman was playing a Japanese role.

But, this person had indeed seen the preview, and was arguing his position. I would’ve given my egg roll to join in, especially when the topic turned to a certain Bruce Willis blockbuster: The same man said, “I thought ‘Die Hard‘ went a little overboard.”

Now, this was lunchtime. People were taking off from work to relax and eat. A certain amount of careless thought is allowed. But when I heard someone dishing dirt on Die Hard, the testosteroney bits of me got upset. Of course it went overboard! That’s part of the appeal of “that kind” of movie. That’s like saying you didn’t like the claymation-filled movie “Chicken Run” because it looked too fake. Conceptually, there’s a direct link between the two movies. Whether it’s Bruce Willis sprinting barefoot over shattered glass, or a chicken wearing a knitted pair of flight goggles, the over-the-top macho/goofy aspect is part of what makes the movie so entertaining.

What’s the point of all this? They had such a tennis-match argument about the Tom Cruise issue. The simple solution would be to do a little research and find out the answer. This is an easy case, when you probably know where to go for help, and can find the information you need with little difficulty.

But what about when you don’t know where to go for help? What if there’s a simple money-saving solution to a problem? That’s what this article is for: Computer mice are really simple devices, but even simple devices will wear down or fail at some point. Just look at my parent’s toaster – after a dozen years of quality bagels, it broke. My parents decided to save time, effort and potential electrocution, so they bought a new one.

There are a couple things you can do before you need to purchase a new mouse. (These instructions assume you own a traditional “ball” mouse, as this is the mouse type most likely to have the problem Mary has: On the bottom of the mouse there is a ball that rolls when you move the mouse on your mousepad. A newer type of mouse is called an “optical” mouse. I mention these below.)

1) Roll the mouse on a different surface. Use a book, a piece of plain cardboard, or anything else that provides a slightly “grippy” surface. Does the mouse performance get better? If so, just buy a new mousepad. Pads wear out and accumulate dirt as you use them, and that can make your mouse grumpy.

2) If it’s not the pad, it’s the mouse. Here’s how to clean it:

Gently twist off the ball cover on the bottom of the mouse. The ball inside will come out. This ball is just held in by the cover, and sits on rollers contained inside the unit. Look inside the unit. See the rollers? There will be two or three of them. They will be thin gray bars, or thicker black wheels. Rotate them with your fingers and check for gunky linty buildup. If there is buildup, you can usually scrape it off with a fingernail. Get those rollers clean and pop the ball back in. (Do not use any cleaning agents, either on the rollers or the mouseball.) Then put the ball back in the mouse and twist the cover back on. You’ve just cleaned your mouse.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, and the mousepad doesn’t help either, then the solution is a new mouse. Luckily, they’re cheap: Basic mice are $20-$40.

You might want to bring your old mouse into the store so the salesman can see what the mouse’s plug looks like. He can then give you one that will definitely work on your computer (there are 3 different ways a mouse can plug in to a PC).

If you decide to get a new mouse, I’d recommend purchasing one from either Logitech or Microsoft – both companies make durable, reliable, well-supported mice.  Also, make sure you buy an “optical” mouse. To keep the explanation short, let’s just say that it’s the next generation replacement for the mechanical ball-mouse. Optical mice will work much better. Do not buy any mouse under $15. Mouse quality is directly related to the price you pay for them, and I’ve seen ten-dollar mice have problems after a week of use.

If you’re looking for fancy mice, you can go wireless. It’s a neat feature, but personally I don’t like them since reception fades after a certain distance and you have to change batteries every few months. I’d rather have a cabled mouse powered by the computer. Besides, if our mice have their tails chopped off, do they cease being mice? And what would PETA say? It’s a philosophical and moral debate I’d be scared to enter.

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