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Issue #26: January 17, 2008

Q: I like to use a Logitech cordless optical mouse but it only seems to work on my desktop surface (which has a speckled colored surface). When I place it on a standard Mouse Pad of any color it only works intermittently and won’t work on a black mouse pad. Is there a particular mouse pad or color which will work better with a optical mouse?

– Keith Y.
Niceville, FL

A: Understanding the “which” will require some explanation of “how” so please bear with me. Let’s start with a little history.  The first computer mice contained a weighted ball designed to roll across the surface of the desk when you moved the mouse.  The mouse’s internal mechanisms converted this rolling motion into electrical signals and transmitted them to the computer.  Through the miracle of software, the computer converted the signals into cursor motion.  Great invention, but the problem with this ball-based design was that the mechanism quickly became dirty, and the ball had a tendency to slide instead of rolling smoothly.  Mouse pads were introduced to provide a surface where the ball could get better traction than on the typical slick surface of a desk.  While pads reduced the problem, they did not eliminate it completely.

Someone came up with a solution by inventing “optical” mice, like the one you use, Keith.  These mice no longer rely on a ball, but instead have a light-emitting diode (LED) underneath, and an optical scanner, which “reads” the underlying surface many times per second.  When you move the mouse, the area visible to the scanner changes and the mouse translates the change into the same type of electrical signals used by the older style mice.

With all that said, the reason your mouse won’t work on a black mouse pad is because the optical sensor cannot “see” the changes in the surface under the mouse.  Other colors work intermittently because the sensor is detecting minute imperfections in the surface of the pad, such as the individual threads that make up the fabric covering.  Solid colors, and particularly shiny surfaces, do not work well with optical mice.  On the other hand, the irregular surface of your speckled desktop is ideal, because the sensor can easily see the changes in the surface as you move the mouse.

Many people find it desirable to use a mouse pad even with an optical mouse, because it reserves a space on your desk for the mouse, and may even provide an ergonomic wrist rest.  There are many mouse pads available that are specifically designed for use with optical mice.  Try an internet search for “Optical Mouse Pad” and you’ll see what I mean.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Did you know that you can position the Windows task bar and clock at ANY screen edge?  All you have to do click in an empty section of the bar, hold down the mouse button and drag.  When you get close to one of the edges, the entire bar will flip into a new position.

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