Tale of Two Mice (and how I modified my computer mouse)

If you didn't already know this, I'm a very frugal person, and often spend an exorbitant amount of time researching any purchase I make for my own personal pleasure if it costs more than a few dollars.

A couple of months ago when my home office desk and my personal computer desks were in two separate places, I noticed that the mouse on my personal computer began experiencing some performance issues. Compared to what's hot in the computer mouse market these days, this was no mouse to write home about. It did however become one a piece of hardware that I came to greatly appreciate over time. It met all of the requirements I had at the time for a mouse. It was large enough that it didn't slip out of my hand, it was heavy enough that moving my hand from keyboard to mouse did not result in my cursor jumping over a few cells of a spread sheet or lines of text, and it was an "ambidextrous" mouse. I use that term in quotations because that just translates to a non-ergonomic design which is suitable to be used in either the left or right hand. In my opinion a true ambidextrous mouse would be ergonomically designed to be used with either hand. I don't design or engineer computer hardware, so maybe that's just a bunch of hot air. Requirements aside, it also had some of those fancy color-changing LED's built into it, which made it look cool from a distance. If you're curious to look it up, the mouse was made by iogear, model gme670. It ran me about 35 dollars, which was about 25% the cost of most mice on display with just about the same feature set. Believe it or not, your options are quite limited when you are looking for an ambidextrous mouse with a decent set of features, and even more limited when looking for a left handed mouse.

Truth be told, within the first few days of fishing this mouse from one of those bins at the local electronics store which held their refurbished and open box stock (did I mention I'm frugal?), I decided to install the customization software with the sole purpose of disabling the colorful LED's. At the time I couldn't help but to look at the mouse and not see sort of action movie hero simply due to the placement of the LED's on the mouse. I was pleased to learn that the software provided by the manufacturer of this mouse was incredibly lightweight. It did not consume enough system resources of my computer to even notice it was running, and was even more pleased to learn that any changes made with this software are immediately transferred to the memory on the mouse itself. This meant that when plugging this mouse into a completely different computer, I would not have to go through the process of re-customizing the mouse again. While I was playing around with the customization software, I also decided to bind the mouse keys to keyboard buttons that I rarely press. This would prove helpful in the future when creating macros for common tasks, as a macro could be ran via the additional buttons on the mouse, or by pressing the key on the keyboard this mouse key was bound to.

Without rambling too much more about the mouse that is no longer, I really liked this mouse, and was really excited to have a "gaming mouse" without dishing out an arm and a leg in the checkout line.

About four years and maybe a dozen of workspace/desk arrangements later, I somehow began using this mouse with on my work computer. There was a lengthy period of time in which I did not using my personal computer, so the mouse did not move from desk to desk very often. Sometime following this, I rekindled my love affair with computer games. We've had a pretty rocky "on again and off again" relationship, often alternating with the temperatures. During the summer, I wouldn't turn my personal computer on for weeks to months at a time. During the winter, I would do some casual gaming during the nights and weekends. This relationship with gaming has been mentioned in a previous blog entry, and I may consider writing on the subject itself at some future date. This is a story about a mouse though.

Suddenly a worldwide pandemic was upon us, and leaving the house was not practical and often stressful to say the least. During this time, I found myself with a hobby project of building upon a creative idea for an online gaming community around a certain game which really hindered any creative out-of-the-box development. That was quite a learning experience that I may go into detail about in a separate post, but the point is that I began using my personal computer more often than I had in the previous several years.

While playing games with this mouse, I noticed that sometimes when I would click the left mouse button, nothing would happen. Initially I attributed it to human error. "I must have not pressed it right" or "Maybe I clicked the wrong button" (the mouse after all did have four buttons in addition to the usual left, right, and scroll wheel).

As a bit of an anecdote, I haven't written anything on this blog in over a month and have just realized that I've poured out over 900 words on just the backstory of a mouse that is long gone. I really love how writing (or in this case typing) has a way tapping into a flow state which brings me a lot of joy.

Anyways, after a experiencing a number of losses in different games which require precise and accurate timing, I finally became frustrated and decided to crack this thing open. I brought out my precision screw driver and very delicately disassembled my most beloved piece of computer hardware as if I were performing open heart surgery on a new born baby. I noticed that there was an indent on the underside of the button in the same size and shape where the physical button (or momentary switch) underneath was positioned. I found the first item on my desk that seemed to fill the gap and placed it in between the two, re-assembled it, and screwed it back together. Over the span of a month or so, I found the issue would reappear and I would (much less gracefully) take the mouse apart and find something to fill the gap.

At some point I realized that this was not going to work as a permanent solution. I was either going to eventually break it further by disassembling and reassembling it on a routine basis, or the button would eventually stop working as electronics often have finite lifetime. Maybe the momentary switch that the manufacture used had an expected lifetime of x number of clicks in it's lifetime. Whatever x is equal to, I'm willing to be that I've surpassed that number significantly.

I began researching the mouse market to see if I could find a replacement, and went down a bit of a rabbit hole in the process. During this time I found that only a small handful of manufacturers produce ambidextrous mice with any bit of emphasis on performance (which is a bit of a requirement when you're considering using a mouse for gaming), and if I wanted a mouse that had any sort of ergonomics, being left handed as I am, I would have to fork over more money than I've ever considered spending on a mouse. I also learned that apparently something like 3% of all people who play video games are left handed. Being someone who works with data often, I'm fairly certain that translates to "3% of people who play video games are stubborn enough to continue using a left handed mouse even though the are far better options available for them if they were willing to learn how to use their right hand". But alas, my options were very limited.

I did find that a well known manufacturer does produce a left handed mouse that is marketed specifically for gaming, however I was unable to find any refurbished or open box items for this model on the internet or in local stores. At this point I began weighing my pros and cons. If I could not find a left handed mouse, maybe I could find a decent ambidextrous mouse. From what I could find, the only left handed mice on the market with positive customer reviews were for mice designed for business use. They all looked really clean and sleek, but generally speaking business use mice are often less performant than a gaming mouse. On top of that, they often costed anywhere from 2-5 times as much as a  non-business use mouse.

Time passed, and my interest in video games tapered off again, and I was able to get by on my work computer by using a cheap wireless logitech mouse that I've had for almost a decade now. Retrospectively, I have no idea how that mouse lasted as long as it did. One evening during the later hours of work, I decided to take a look and see if anything changed in the left-handed mouse market. Nothing stood out, and I found myself looking for the best price on the internet for the mentioned well known manufacturer's left handed mouse. Work finished, and I rambled off my dilemma to my wife about the inequalities of being a left handed mouse user in the modern technological world. She gave me that certain look you get from your loved ones when you ramble off about your first world problems, then proposed a brilliant idea. It went something like "If you're not willing to buy yourself a mouse, why don't you ask your work to buy it for you?". It was something I had not thought of before, and after all this was a piece of equipment that would be used for work every day.

The following day I asked my work if they would be willing to purchase a new mouse for me, and provided the model. Within a couple hours I received a response stating it was ordered and being shipped to me.

The mouse arrived in a few days, and as elated as I was to finally have a mouse that was ergonomically formed to my hand, my initial response was that this mouse was incredibly light. "Oh well, I'll get used to it", I thought to myself. After all, it had a whopping 12 additional buttons that I could customize to my workflow, and sure enough devised a number of scripts to enhance my workflow within the first few hours. Granted, some of them were basic copy/paste commands, but I could feel productivity and efficiency flowing from the finger tips (of my left hand!).

Approximately 6 months after owning this mouse, I realized that my only dissatisfaction with the mouse was that it was such a significant decrease in weight compared to my previous mouse, that any time I moved my hand from the keyboard to the mouse, it would nudge away from the area on the screen that I intended for it to remain. While this was something I could overcome while working, when I moved my office laptop and personal computer to the same desk space and bought a USB switch (a little box that allows for alternating usb device connections between computers), this was a complete nuisance while attempting to play any video games with this mouse which required precise and accurate mouse movements. While this might not seem like much of an issue, I think the part that bothered me most about it was the fact that this is something I could resolve with minimal effort.

I did a bit of research on this and luckily found that I was not the only one with this problem. I was not able to find anything which pertained to the particular model that I owned, but I did find that amidst the responses of "just get used to it", "you'll void the manufacturers warranty", and "lighter mice are better", there were a few reasonably helpful guides on how to make this modification yourself. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but nearly all of them were identical. Take the mouse apart, find something heavy, shove it in there, close the mouse back up again.

So, after a week or so of brewing over whether or not I was going to make this modification to an integral part of my daily workflow, I decided earlier today during my lunch break to give it a shot. It was a gamble, as if something went wrong, I'd have to scramble to find myself a replacement mouse (or even worse, use the track pad on my laptop).

So, I unplugged the mouse, and broke out my precision screw driver set. Grabbing a flat head screw driver to peel up the edges of the mouse feet (little pads on the bottom of a mouse to allow it to glide on a mouse pad smoothly), I opened it up. Just as delicately as I had opened my previous mouse for the first time, I unscrewed the small screws which were hidden by the mouse feet, and pulled the top cover apart from the base. Inside I found the elaborate components that you'd expect inside a computer mouse. A small circuit board, some buttons, ribbon cables to connect to the secondary buttons, and an exposed scroll wheel. A short walk to my workshop and a couple minutes of rummaging through the drawers of excess, refuse, and scrap materials from previous projects. Each item placed in the palm of my hand to feel if it was heavy enough, compared to the other items. Finally I came across a short bolt, only baout 3/4th of an inch long. Digging around more, I found three nuts to screw down on this, and placed it in my palm. "That should do it" I thought to myself. I brought the nuts and bolts back to my desk and wrapped wrapped them in just enough duct tape to cover the metal to avoid shorting out the circuits inside the mouse, and placed it inside the mouse. Initially I attempted to avoid placing it directly on top of what appeared to be the main processor of the circuit board inside the mouse, but found that the top cover of the mouse would close completely as there is a bulbous shape on the underside of the top cover which the light from the LED is diffused through. I considered removing this, but decided against it, as that is a bit more invasive of surgery than I was willing to perform. I moved the bolt insulated in duct table a touch forward, square over the main processor chip, and found that the top cover closed properly this time. Within millimeters of clearance of the bolt, I decided this was good enough. I put the screws back in and tightened them down. I then took the mouse feet and bent them in the opposite direction they were to be removed, and prayed that the adhesive would still work after being exposed to the air for a few minutes. They did so surprisingly well.

I plugged my mouse back in, clicked a few times to make sure I didn't damage anything, and was very happy with the resistance that it gave while moving it due to the extra weight added to it. Overall this modification took about 10 minutes of my time, and I'm fairly confident that I can perform it again if needed. I am a bit concerned that placing the insulated metal directly on top of the main processor chip might cause overheating issues, but I would also be surprised if that were to happen. Any electrical circuit with a processor will generate heat, but I can't imagine this mouse would generate enough heat to cause harm. At most, some of the adhesive on the tape could melt, but as there is not enough room for the bolt to move around, the duct tape insulation will be held in place well enough to prevent the metal bolt from becoming exposed.

I continued the rest of my work day with this mouse and am happy with it's performance so far. My mouse movements do not start with jolt from side to side as I place my hand down on it, and feel precise and accurate. I have not yet tested this out while playing video games, but I expect if I find myself playing in the near future I will have positive results. In due time I may provide an update on the situation, and am hopeful that it will remain positive.

To finish this entries off with something positive, as I have told myself I would in previous entries..

Writing is an immeasurable form of stress and anxiety relief. Prior to writing this entry I felt like my mind was racing to reach the an intangible finish line. Sitting down and writing a couple thousand words in succession feels like I've tamed an unruly beast that I've help captive for weeks. No, that beast was not a mouse, it was the desire to freely express whatever comes to mind in an unstructured manner (hence how long and drawn out this entry is). That may not be easy on the reader, but as I continue the practice of writing it becomes a skill that I'll have worked on and eventually evolve to something beautiful.

Write, sing, draw, create, whatever your form is, make some art. It will bring beauty to your life.  

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