Computer Tips

Clean your mouse!

... when your cursor is jumping around

by John Averell

Note that Bob Ross included much of this tip in an earlier article of March 2004 (click here). This article will remind users who may not have seen the first one.

Most of us have a mouse that we use almost continuously every time we sit at our computers. The type I'm addressing here has a "tail" (hence the name) connected to the back of the computer. The trackball mouse does not have the problems addressed here. Laptops generally don't use the old style mouse. You just rub your finger over a pad. I hate that kind. Some "mice" are called "optical". They don't need a cord, and these don't suffer the problems I'm addressing in this article. (They have their own, but that's another story.)

Over the years there have been many people that complained that as they move their mouse around, it jumps, it sticks, and they sometimes can't even get it to move where they want. You will eventually have this problem, unless you clean your mouse. Here is how to do it.

Turn the mouse over. There will be a circle visible, about a half inch diameter, with a gray ball visible. You can feel that it is rubber to the touch, and if you rub it, the cursor will move. The first step is to take the ball out. It is held in with a thin plastic ring that you should rotate counter-clockwise with two finger- or thumb-nails. Turn it back over and catch the ring and ball.

First, blow away all dust from the ring and the ball, and also the cavity of the mouse. Surprising how much you may find. Now take a good look at the inside. You will see three small wheels, usually two black and one white. These wheels, as they turn, signal to the computer that you are moving left-right and up-down, and how fast you are moving. The friction of the rubber ball as it turns moves each wheel accordingly.

You probably will also notice tiny rings of fluff clinging to the wheels. These are what makes the mouse jumpy. Your job is to clean the wheels off. This is not as easy as you might think, because the fluff and dirt stick firmly to the wheels. Blowing is not enough.

A Q-tip and a little rubbing alcohol is one method. I find that you really have to get a finger or a flat instrument in to gently scrape off the wheels as you turn them. Make sure you get all the dirt and fluff loosened up, and blow out the cavity when done.

Put the ball back in and replace the ring, turning it clockwise to lock it. You'll be amazed how smoothly the mouse runs now.

Anyone with this type mouse definitely has to clean it out a few times a year, so do it if you haven't. Don't be afraid to try. You can't mess anything up if you are gentle and put the ball and ring back.

Parenthetically, it is truly amazing that with the incredible complexity of modern PCs and Macs, with integrated circuits and memory chips, almost all navigation on the monitor is done with this very simple piece of hardware. I remember sometime in the early 80's when this style mouse was introduced. Before this there were some much more complicated and expensive hardware devices to translate hand motion to the screen that (fortunately) never became popular. Now there is a movement to eliminate the mouse in favor of the touch-screen method, but don't hold your breath. Simple and cheap is good!


March 7, 2008



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