back to article User spent 20 minutes trying to move mouse cursor, without success

Welcome again to On-Call, in which The Register brings you readers’ tales of tech support traumas. This week, meet “Wanda”, who found herself called upon to some citizen sysadminnery when shopping. Wanda’s story started with a broken mobile phone and a desire to replace it. Said desire took her into a retail outlet where a …


    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Sun optical mice, circa 1985

      How many here remember the optical mice on early '80s Sun worksations?

      Yup. I think I probably have a few in the garage still...

      (I got given[1] a load of old Sun Sparcstation & Sun 1 stuff that the office I worked for at the time was throwing out. I've junked some but I think there's still a box of stuff in the garage..)

      [1] My car got between the back door and the skip and the boot was conveniently open. I also got a small fireproof tape safe[2] at the same time on the basis that "it was missing the key and it's special type that you can't get hold of". Well, not unless you were friends with a locksmith..

      [2] It's small but very, very heavy. Took 3 of us to carry it out to the car. Since our house isn't sat on a concrete raft, recovering it from the underfloor void after the floor burns out will be fun..

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the others in the tray?

      Next week the "On Call" column will be temporarily substituted by an "In Tray" piece, where a harassed and under-refreshed IT journalist has to construct something at least superficially worthwhile out of some really dull stories submitted by readers, and then suffer the complaints made by not-only those same readers, but also the ones whose careers are so dull they didn't even have a /boring/ story to suggest.


      For myself, I thought the story was ok.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How are the others in the tray?

      We removed all those coffee cups out of the tray, because only cd and dvd are allowed.


      1. Killfalcon Bronze badge

        ON-CALL is mostly an excuse to ship-toast in the forums anyway, the story barely matters.

        "I remember mice... in my day, people still thought they were rodents, but of course nowadays we all know they're really Legumes."

  2. Peter Clarke 1

    The more unruly school kids soon found/find the mouse ball is an excellent missile. IT support would normally superglue the ring shut so stopping any more investigation of the inner working

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: superglue the ring shut

      Dude, that's a tad harsh.

      1. JakeMS Silver badge

        Re: superglue the ring shut

        In my school the teacher had the genious idea to superglue their balls in place, so it they be taken out and thrown at him.

        Suffice to say the mice didn't work after that and the IT guys were not happy.

        It was funny though.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: superglue the ring shut

        Dude, that's a tad harsh.

        Not if you went to the school that I did..

  3. David Gosnell

    Rubber bands

    Going back 25-odd years, I remember overhearing a conversation in a computer shop, where the customer explained that they had cleaned the mouse-ball mechanism. Well all apart from the little rubber bands round the rollers.

    1. Andy A

      Re: Rubber bands

      Last century I spent a while dealing with end-users and their faults. We tried to avoid sending an engineer half way across London for simple calls, such as "erratic mouse" reports.

      Most of the mice were Microsoft ones, which were quite decent quality. The rollers were actually metal rather than the cheapo plastic ones.

      Speak to the user and introduce them to the extraction of the ball of their mouse. "You see the two metal rollers?" "Yes." "You see the two little rubber wheels in the middle of them?" "Yes." "That isn't rubber. It's gunge."

      Shortly thereafter, they could wander round their office earning themselves brownie points for sorting out everyone else's erratic mice, thus keeping our profits up.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Rubber bands

        I used to clean mice bals & rollers, while waiting for NT to finish whatever user install\reboot I was performing at the time as a courtesy detail (Pharma company again) - Saving me time & effort on future calls to replace mice across two connected sites.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Rubber bands

          "I used to clean mice bals & rollers, while waiting for NT to finish whatever user install\reboot I was performing at the time as a courtesy detail "

          Similar here. Part of the field engineers kit was foam cleaner and screen cleaner. It was normal for the cleaners to never, ever be allowed to touch computers so they were often quite mucky. I did one call to a factory where the computer screen was almost too dull to see, even with brightness and contrast turned up. Normally that would be an EOL CRT or an HT driver issue. In this case it was just a matter of cleaning the screen then turning the now blindingly bright screen down to more normal levels.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had to show some kids how to load paper properly in the printers in a build-a-bear last year, they were very happy as the IT support was based in America and they had to wait till the afternoon with lots of unhappy parents and kids unable to print the certificates. They even gave me a 20% discount which was nice, so it was now only slightly overpriced.

  5. GlenP Silver badge

    Minor Citizen sysadminnery

    I recently had to assist some museum staff to get an audio system working (it basically consisted of an iPad and headphones) as the person "who knows all about it" had taken the day off. I didn't mind, 10 minutes out of my holiday wasn't an issue.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One-finger typing bobby

    I once had to go behind a police officer's desk and type my own complaint, as he wasn't being able to type in the text fields of a Word template. After some 10 minutes of seeing the guy mumbling curses and do everything (at least) twice over, I asked him (the most politely way I could manage by then) to move over and assumed command of the keyboard. Besides not having to fill my complaint using only his right index finger, he also found out he could use tab to jump from one field to the next. And before you ask, this was the late noughties, so he probably had been doing that job for some years!

  7. DJO Silver badge

    Training the trainer

    Last time I was "between jobs" I was sent on a compulsory computer course.

    Twas a joke, the training material was absolute garbage, once the poorly trained trainers worked out I really did know a lot more than they did I spent the entire time there correcting the course material.

    That was interesting but I pity the poor sods who took the course before me, from the content I think at a pinch they could open an Excel document but little more.

    1. tfewster Silver badge

      Re: Training the trainer

      You think that's bad - I took a SANS training course that was written and recorded by one of the worlds top experts in the subject and had been used for years - and I still ended up correcting him in a few places!

      1. Giovani Tapini

        Re: Training the trainer

        I had great fun doing this once or twice in the past. Scared one by saying my reason to be on his course was simply to review it - classic expression on his face. A second time where I was pointing out inaccurate information in the notes, and bits cut and pasted from previous versions of courses.

        I was eventually allowed (I suspect encouraged) to do the final test early, take my certificate, and have the rest of the day off. Those were the days....

        1. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: Training the trainer

          Can happen in any walk of life. One day you're helping bail out of a BSOD, the next it might be fixing a wobbly chair.

          English language O-level, we had a "teacher" who was borderline-illiterate. One minor recollection from that was a spelling test she had prepared for us. When it came to marking it, I had to correct her on three (of twenty) words. Each was a long argument before she finally looked it up and confirmed I was right.

          1. lglethal Silver badge

            Re: Training the trainer

            In the first year of my bachelor degree (Aerospace engineering in the early 2000's), we had a mandatory computing course.

            In the very first lecture, the professor started explaining what was a mouse, a keyboard, etc., etc. After about 10 minutes of this, he began to show us how to open a Word document. At this point, he proudly announced that by clicking on the X in the corner you could close the document (all spoken in a tone of voice that left no doubt to anyone that this was amazing magical bleeding edge computing technology). He clicked the X, a pop up appeared "Would you like to save the changes you made to this document befoe closing". 3 options were available - Yes, No and Cancel.

            The professor clicked Cancel. The document did not Close. He clicked the X again. Up came the Pop-up. He clicked Cancel. The document did not Close. He clicked the X again. Up came the Pop-up. He clicked Cancel. And so on for a full 5 minutes. At which point I got up and left.

            I didnt bother going back to that class. I just turned up for the exams and still got a high distinction. To this day, I have no idea how long the professor kept clicking close before someone eventually took pity on him, or perhaps he did it until the end of the lesson. I have no idea.

            1. onefang Silver badge

              Re: Training the trainer

              "To this day, I have no idea how long the professor kept clicking close"

              Until the computer got bored and decided it was a good time to update and reboot.

          2. ChrisC

            Re: Training the trainer

            "English language O-level, we had a "teacher" who was borderline-illiterate"

            My GCSE IT teacher knew barely enough about computers (and bearing in mind we're talking about BBC micros here, so nothing terribly complex to deal with) to cope with the practical sessions during our course, and wasn't all that much better on the theoretical side of things either. When you're having to explain to your teacher how to load something from floppy disc, it sets the bar pretty low in terms of what you expect them to be able to teach you in return.

            That I still ended up getting an A grade (back in the days before all these newfangled starred grades came along to confuddle matters somewhat) says as much about how relatively easy most GCSE subjects were as it does about how much I already knew about the subject...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Training the trainer

              "I had great fun doing this once or twice in the past. Scared one by saying my reason to be on his course was simply to review it - classic expression on his face"

              Not quite the same thing, but I was on a LEAN course, and they were asking why we'd all signed up. Usual mix of "I want to do my job better" and "my boss told me to". Me?

              "I worked for the Inland Revenue a few years back, when they did LEAN first time".

              The instructor just stopped and said "Really?"

              "Yes. I was on the LEAN pilot that went so badly it made the national news."

              Turned out the instructor had one of his grad students do a PhD thesis on that particular disaster, and we had a great conversation later on about how LEAN can go wrong, and what had been learned from such things.

        2. 2Nick3 Bronze badge

          Re: Training the trainer

          "I was eventually allowed (I suspect encouraged) to do the final test early, take my certificate, and have the rest of the day off. Those were the days...."

          Except when the test is looking for the wrong answer taught in the course. Bits and bytes are not interchangeable terms...

          1. onefang Silver badge

            Re: Training the trainer

            I've mentioned this some time ago, but it fits here, so time to trot this little anecdote out once more.

            Many decades ago, during a period of unemployment, the government decided it was a good idea to fund one year of a two year computer course. Despite the fact that I had lots of experience as a computer programmer.

            One of the subjects was "Desktop Computing", basically how to use Windows / Word / etc. It was well known amongst the faculty that I was an experienced computer professional. On the first day of this subject, before the teacher started doing the actual teaching, and while every one else was getting settled, she took me aside and asked "Can you teach me how to use a mouse please?".

          2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

            Re: Training the trainer

            > Except when the test is looking for the wrong answer taught in the course.

            I remember nearly failing the European Computer Driving License (ECDL) course. Not because I couldn't work a computer, but because the "interactive" test expected you to achieve things exactly the way it was taught in the course (the long way round).

            The one that really sticks in memory was "Create a shortcut to file foo.doc on the desktop". Explorer was already open in the directory, with foo.doc there.

            Right-click. Wrong. Fuck. Left click, Edit menu, Copy. Right click on desktop. Wrong. Fuck.

            Ultimately what the test expected you to do, was (using the menus in explorer), copy the file, paste as shortcut into the same directory as foo.doc, then relocate that shortcut to the desktop (via Explorer, not by minimising explorer and being on, you know, the desktop). So I got that question wrong, because you only got 3 opportunities to say fuck before it moved onto the next one.

            In a weird way, it's one of the hardest tests I've ever sat. Not because the challenges themselves were in any way complex or difficult, but because they'd taken the view there was only one way to complete any given task, and that way was the most bone-headed inefficient way you could possibly think of.

  8. Douchus McBagg

    good times...

    another little gem i'm sure you're all aware of:-

    transparent cello tape (scotch tape) over the optical "eye". initial eyeball mk1 inspection can easily miss it, but there is enough I/R reflection off the adhesive side to blind the pickup sensor rendering the mouse cursor motionless.

    also one or two stray cat hairs in the sensor hole (or substitute as necessary), also renders an optical mouse non functional.

    had a PHB fall for the tape variant and reboot his machine as it "must have crashed, losing a couple of days of work" apparently. God knows how much work he lost every weekend and had to re-do on Monday when the machines all got a scripted restart on Sunday night.

    A lot of serial mouse connectors had locking bolts and cable strain relief built into the plug. None of this "falls apart after a year" apple connector rubbish. IIRC those aluminium mouse pads flew beautifully spinning in a long lazy cork-screw arc. usually to end up sticking in the plasterboard walls. RIP proper built kit (Sun/Sgi etc.).

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: good times...

      also one or two stray cat hairs in the sensor hole (or substitute as necessary), also renders an optical mouse non functional

      Hmm.. I've never been subject to that - and my house has more than it's fair share of cat hair (we have cat hair in every shade, available to blend in with every style of clothing).

      I just hope that whoever has our about-to-be-traded-in car isn't violently allergic to cats. There's probably a whole cats-worth of hair inextricably woven into the fabric seats..

      1. gotes

        Re: good times...

        My mouse has been disabled on several occasions with very small fine cat hairs, and I only have one cat.

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: good times...

          Then you know which cat to thank for the thoughtful present of their personal fur, .. er I mean blame.

  9. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Mouse balls.

    In the old days, if I was feeling particularly mean to someone I might substitute their mouse ball for one from another mouse that was slightly smaller.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Mouse balls.

      In the old days, if I was feeling particularly mean to someone I might substitute their mouse ball for one from another mouse that was slightly smaller.\

      Ever tried a grape? The funny shape of the grape will make the mouse go all funny.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Mouse balls.

        If it's someone you really don't like, try a chocolate ball.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Mouse balls.

          Give chocolate to a non-friend? For any reason at all???


          1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

            Re: Mouse balls.

            There used to be these small plastic spheres about the size of a marble. The plastic was clear, there was clear liquid inside, & a smaller sphere inside floating in the liquid. Some places sell things of that design with the inner sphere being a compass for navigation. The toy was a "floating eyeball". I used to have fun swapping the mouse ball for an "eyeball" & wedging it in place so the mouse wouldn't track. The owner would flip it over to check for gunk, see the eyeball looking back at them, scream & throw the mouse away as they scrambled from their desk chair like their ass was on fire. I'd "go check what was wrong", replace the eye with the ball, & feign innocence when the person returned gibbering about eyeballs.

            I'm not evil, I prefer the term "creatively vindictive". ;-D

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mouse balls.

      Back when we were in middle school a friend of mine & I went through our local electronics megastore & swapped all the mouse balls for ones of different sizes. It was fun to watch customers twitching the mice & getting no reaction from the computer, then the employees trying to fix them by banging them on the counter. While the employee went back to get replacement mice, my friend & I switched the balls back. We left before they caught on & ejected us. We did this a few more times before we got bored & went on to other mischief. We started swapping to which computer each mouse was attached, thus making the mouse gestures in front of one computer twiddle the mouse on the screen of another. Ahhhh... good times!

  10. Terry Barnes

    Mouse cursor?

    It’s WIMP, not WIMC...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mouse cursor?

      Yes, but the stories here are more gooey.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Mouse cursor?

      TBH I'm happy with "mouse cursor" to annoy the pedants.


  11. Peter27x

    As others have mentioned keyboards and mouses^h^h^h^h^hices are cheep, I suspect that replacing them annually in offices would reduce the cost of illness in offices more than enough to offset the cost.

  12. heyrick Silver badge

    Done that a bunch of times

    In various shops, a library, and a bank (in the days before the rampant paranoia).

    All you need to do is explain in really simple terms, reassure them that it won't blow up, and be certain to never actually touch (or attempt to touch) anything yourself. Most people are grateful because although you're just one person, it's probably been "on the blink" for days/weeks and they're the ones stuck attempting to carry on using the thing.

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: Done that a bunch of times

      I second this one.

      The CSR's at my bank recognize me by name & understand that I did IT support work for a living before I lost my sight. If they're having a problem with their machine they can describe the issue to me, I'll think about it for a moment, then patiently, politely explain how to fix it. It works more often than not, they're happy that they don't have to wait for "official help", & then they're all too eager to help me do whatever I need to do that brought me to the bank in the first place.

      A little kindness, a bit of patience, & you can relate your computer know how to someone for whom computers might as well be unknowable arcane wizardry requiring incantations, magic circles, & sacraficial animals to shed blood in order to work properly.

      The last time it was because the plug on the cable to the digitizer tablet (the part where you sign with the stylus) had come loose from the back of their tower. A simple push back in, tightening of the retention knobs, & it worked - it took maybe five minutes of my time, saved them an hour on the phone to hell desk, & the problem was no more.

      It's little things like that, random acts of kindness, that help the world become a nicer place for us all.

    2. Robert Sneddon

      Re: Done that a bunch of times

      A while back I was picking up some exhaust bits for my van from a local branch of a well-known chain of repair depots (beings with K, ends in fit) near the end of the business day. The guy on the counter was filling out forms rather than typing stuff into the workshop's online system. I bent my head around and saw a classic BSOD on the monitor.

      "Do you know something about these things then? I got to write all the jobs up tonight 'cause it's bust. I'll be here for ages."

      I nodded, gave the keyboard a three-fingered salute and after it thought about it for a minute the screen cleared and displayed an NT4WS login followed by a burst of activity from the modem followed by a functional data entry screen followed by a thirty quid discount off my order.

  13. Andy Taylor

    The old Apple (Mighty) Mouse scroll wheel was easily clogged with dirt. The "fix" was to hold upside down and rub said wheel on a sheet of paper. Sometimes isopropyl alcohol was required to shift particularly troublesome dirt.

  14. A K Stiles

    fuzzy balls

    In a previous existence I used to regularly get someone complain that their "mouse isn't working!!!!"

    For a while I would attempt to clean the things there and then, but that nearly always got the chorus of "Ew" and "humph", so instead I used to fetch a 'spare' from the stores, swap them out and then clean the previous one whilst waiting for something to load/install/compile, before returning it to the stores for the next time. We only actually had a couple of 'spares' and about 5 new mice in the stores. After 3 years we still had 5 brand new mice in their boxes.

    Now don't get me started on the phone headset ear-sponges! (bleurgh!)

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: fuzzy balls

      Headsets should be considered personal (single user) equipment. I have walked out on a job as a student because they refused to provide me with a new (sealed in box) unit and instead insisted I used an over-ear unit that looked like it had been worn by a pig the previous day (Judging from the other people there, it can't have been far off). Hearing stories from others that got talked into staying I'm glad I refused that particular job.

      Heck, desk phones are just as gross. First thing I did at my last internship at the time when I got issued a desk phone was to late in the day take the receiver apart and clean with alcohol. My supervisor initially started making a fuss, until I showed him the inside. I lent him my cleaning kit the next day. I had enough experience at that point to know the intern gets the old, grungy and barely functional stuff from the back of the closet.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Fuzzy Balls & Telephone Sanitizers

        Ahhhh the Golgafrincham is strong in you.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: fuzzy balls

      "For a while I would attempt to clean the things there and then, but that nearly always got the chorus of "Ew" and "humph", "

      Whenever I got that reaction I took a little sly pleasure in pointing out the vast majority of the gunk was their own sweat, grease and skin flakes with a dash of their lunches from the last 6 months.

  15. H in The Hague Silver badge

    Prevention at the pharmacy

    Accompanied our elderly Dutch friend to the pharmacy. Pharmacist apologised for the slow service due to a new computer system being set up. Wandered over to have a look and noticed that the label printer's network cable was bent double right by the connector. Figured that might eventually damage the cable. Mentioned it to the pharmacist who immediately understood the issue, rerouted the cable and secured it with a sticky bandage (effective strain relief, but not a pretty sight).

    Here's one for the weekend.


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