Zen And The Art of Scrollball Maintenance

Hands up if you have a scrollball on your computer mouse. You know, that tiny pimple on the top that you roll around under your finger.

Wow, that many huh?

I have one too. My Apple Mighty Mouse (inspired name choice) has a small grey ball that can not only scroll up, down, and sideways, but you can also program it to do extra stuff when pushed in. Mine is currently set to invoke Exposé, which to all you non-Mac-using plebs means it zooms all my windows out to a single view.

Anyway, I digress. The trouble with scrollballs is, with use they can get tiny bits of dirt and fluff inside them and they stop working: sometimes completely but more often in just one direction. This has happened to me several times before, but a quick Internet search gave me more cleaning solutions than I will ever need. Most popular among which is the following:

  1. Disconnect mouse
  2. Get a clean sheet of paper
  3. Turn the mouse upside down
  4. Touch the ball to the paper surface and gently roll it around for a couple of minutes

The idea of course is that any dirt will be dislodged and gravity will do the rest. I’ve used this method a couple of times before and it has worked well, but this time–three tries–it has made no difference. My ball will happily scroll up and sideways, but down is, erm, Down. I returned to the Web in search of more drastic measures, and this time found methods involving wet wipes, Q Tips and sticky tape. I tried the sticky tape one: the mouse got stuck to the tape. I also found a couple of YouTube videos with titles like, “Clean Your Scrollball in Under 5 Seconds!” (that video was three minutes long). I started watching a couple but in both cases the ‘instructor’ was an 11-year-old American kid with an untidy bedroom, and after a few seconds I had to stop it short; I think I’d rather live with a broken scrollball than have to admit I was taught how to fix it by a spotty 11-year-old.

So, I have concluded that there is more than fluff behind the problem and my Mighty Mouse is beyond repair. For the last three days I have been trying to get used to life without it–first rolling the ball downward out of habit, then cursing, then dragging the mouse pointer ALL the way to the scrollbars on the right of the window. Such a chore.

 

Macs have another neat feature where you can zoom the screen in and out by scrolling the ball while holding a certain key down. I use this a lot when doing presentations and demos; it really helps the audience focus in on the part of the screen to which you are referring. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Yesterday I zoomed in (CTRL-Scrollup) on something, only to realise with dread a few seconds later that my CTRL-Scrolldn options were extremely limited. I tried several key combinations in hope of finding a keyboard equivalent, but nothing worked, and for ten minutes this was all I could see on my screen:

View what? Go where?

In the end I managed to click on the huge Apple icon and move down the huge menu options until I found the word LOGOUT in massive letters across the screen, and clicked it. The screen zoomed out, I logged back in and vowed never to zoom again.

Luckily, being an organised chap, I have a spare in the shape of a Bluetooth mouse that I bought a couple of years ago for my laptop, but hardly ever used. I keep it easily accessible in case of emergencies in the drawer of my bedside cabinet, in our London flat four thousand miles away. As luck would have it Karen is there at the moment so–as long as she remembers to pack it–I’ll be back to full scroll mode by this time next week.

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About Chris Neal

Personal Technology Consultant. Tailored services and advice for people who want more from their technology.
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