Not my finest hour: Using the wrong mouse

I used the wrong mouse for nearly an entire day.

There are a good number of computers in my office, but they all funnel through to two sets of mice, keyboards, and monitors. One set is connected to the machine I use for day-to-day activities; the other set is connected through a switch box to a collection of machines which I used for testing and a variety of other secondary purposes.

The switch box that controls the second set of mouse, keyboard and monitor makes no attempt to be smart, and if I move the mouse while it is connected to a computer that is broken into the kernel debugger, the switch box will often lose track of the mouse state, rendering it non-functional in all of the machines. To get the mouse to work in a particular machine, I have to reboot it. Since the machines are doing useful (although secondary) work, I don't want to reboot them. Whenever the mouse gets messed up like this, I just rely much more heavily on keyboard shortcuts, and when there's something that really needs a mouse, I fire up MouseKeys and use the numeric keypad to simulate a physical mouse.

One day, I spilled my drink on my desk, and I had to mop it up with some paper towels. And then after I cleaned up the mess, I found that the mouse didn't work. This didn't phase me much, since the mouse had a tendency to wonk out and I just went into my fallback mode of relying on the keyboard for getting stuff done. It's a bit more cumbersome, but it's not the end of the world.

It wasn't until near the end of the day that I realized that my mouse was just fine. It was a simple PEBKAC: I was using the wrong mouse.

There are three mice on my desk, even though there are only two mouse/keyboard/monitor sets. Originally, the mouse on the first set was a PS/2 mouse, but I later replaced it with a USB laser mouse since I was getting tired of cleaning the gunk off of the mouse ball. As a belt-and-suspenders sort of thing, I left the PS/2 mouse plugged in even though I didn't use it any more, figuring I could use it if this whole USB thing didn't pan out. Of course, the USB mouse works just fine, so the PS/2 mouse just sat on my desk, taking up space but otherwise not causing trouble.

Until I started using the PS/2 mouse thinking that it belonged to the second mouse/keyboard/monitor set. I didn't notice that the mouse was actually controlling the first computer because I wasn't looking at the first monitor when I used the PS/2 mouse; I was looking at the second monitor. And the cursor didn't move on the second monitor.

Once I realized what I was doing, I went ahead and unplugged the PS/2 mouse. The USB mouse on the first computer runs just fine.

Comments (36)
  1. Morten says:

    Heh. Did this the other day with a mobile phone. I normally use the mouse in my right hand but sometimes I switch to left hand to give the right a rest. And then it suddenly becomes important where I put my mobile, a big old fashioned thing with the heft of a good mouse. :-) I found the mouse to the left half a minute later when I looked for some papers. Not my brightest hour…

    Perhaps I should just put down the phone in front of the keyboard in the future.

  2. Simon says:

    Raymond, I have to ask. Why not just use one of those new-fangled 4 port KVM switches which don’t break the PS/2 spec?

    [If anybody wants to give me one, I’ll take it. Though it may take me a few months to get around to installing it, because the current one works well enough. -Raymond]
  3. Ryan says:

    Snarky comment:

    Mice are fickle creatures. I had a jittery one a while back. Every so often the cursor would fly around randomly. Drove me nuts, much like when my cordless optical’s batteries run out with about 10 seconds notice.

  4. Clinton Pierce says:

    A long time ago, someone tole me that one of the primary rules of debugging is, "Make sure you’re debugging the right program."

    Of course, "Make sure you’re debugging the right system" gets used sometimes too.

    But "…the right mouse?"  That’s a new one.  :)

  5. Xepol says:

    I hated it when that happened.

    I have since offloaded some machines’ duties onto dedicated bricks that don’t have interfaces and the rest onto VMs.

    That said, once you get 2 VMs on your machine on the screen, a remote destop session going to a machine running a VM you suddenly have to figure out where the focus is between five different machines – the brain starts to seriously warp with the time space continum.

    I find even with just 1 VM on the screen that I occasionally start typing into the wrong window (the VM will show a caret at the same time as the host after all, leading to false visual clues).

    Sometimes multiple displays can be less rather than more.

  6. Gabe says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pounded on the keyboard in vain, only to realize that I’m looking at the wrong monitor or holding the wrong keyboard!

  7. Larry Smith says:

    Nitpicking grammar comment: "This didn’t phase me" s/b "This didn’t faze me"

  8. Jonathan says:

    I took an assembly course once, a long time ago (we booted off 5.25″ diskettes, that’s how long). I remember I was trying to create a .com program, but the compiler (assembler? linker?) kept complaining about something with “stack segment”. I kept trying to change those things-that-no-one-understands around the regualr ASM code, but to no avail – until I discovered that I have been compiling a different file than the one in the editor.

    In my defence, I was 15.

    > … because the current [KVM switch] works well enough

    I wouldn’t call a switch that kills the mouse “works well enough”, but maybe that’s just me.

    I also have several test computers, and a 4X8 KVM (can connect 8 computers and 4 sets of keyboard-video-mouse (I have 5 and 2 respectively), I can assign any computer to any set). But I more and more just rely on VMs and Remote Desktop, since that’s accessible from home.

    [It doesn’t kill the mouse often, and when it does, I can work around it. Not worth the effort to replace it. -Raymond]
  9. JLB says:

    Congratulations in advance to the very one who develops an eye-sensing background webcam application. That in my opinion would solve the aforementioned anecdode, although at the expenses of buying a webcam for each monitor one focuses to.

    [You must not be a touch typist. -Raymond]
  10. Erzengel says:

    Larry Smith, meet Ryan. Ryan already noted the ‘phase’ ‘faze’ thing, 4 comments and 2 hours before you.

    Anyway, I have this ‘using the wrong mouse’ thing happen all the time. It’s because I set my laptop right next to my monitor, with a mouse just to the side. Sometimes, I turn to use the laptop and without thinking I grab the mouse right in front of me, which is for the desktop. When I wonder a) where the mouse cursor is or b) why it’s not moving, I realize I grabbed the wrong mouse and take the one next to the laptop.

  11. Angus says:

    As a postgraduate, I shared an office which had a Sun workstation and a green-screen Wyse 75 terminal. I timeshared with my office-mate, taking the morning on the Sun and the afternoon on the terminal or vice-versa. It was a very common occurrence to move over to the terminal in the afternoon, type a bit, then grab the stapler which usually sat beside the terminal and move it about, wondering why the cursor wasn’t moving.

    We even put a sticker on the stapler and drew a mouse on it, and a request to "pass the mouse" would get odd looks from visitors, especially when a stapler was supplied in return.

  12. tenasty says:

    @Erzengel – Have you ever tried Synergy? It’s very useful in situations like this.  Two (or more) computers, two (or more) displays, one keyboard/mouse.

  13. Anonymous MouseExpert says:


    This is the most boring blog post I have ever read! ;-)

    It’s all uphill from now on :-)

  14. Morgan Wong says:

    I just use one mouse for everything but not a KVM.  I know there are free software solutions but Stardock’s Multiplicity really works great.  I do leave a mouse plugged in and within reach for my server, but that’s mostly for when I’m playing a fullscreen game and want to check how my torrents are progressing on the other machine.

  15. Puckdropper says:

    I’ve done similar, but reversed.  I start typing on the wrong keyboard and expect what I typed to show up on the screen.  Usually after 10-15 characters I stop and switch to the right keyboard…

    Nice that you can keyboard and mouse navigate through Windows.  ;-)  The chances of grabbing both the wrong mouse and keyboard are only 1 in 4.  :-)

  16. Kevin says:

    I’m a left-handed mouser and for years I had three systems on my desk with a separate mouse and keyboard for each. Every time a colleague sat down to use one of my systems they’d grab the mouse to the right and then wonder why it wasn’t working :)  I was never quite cruel enough to place a redundant fourth mouse on the right of the rightmost system.

    @Xepol: I first ran into that problem running rlogin chains between 3 or more systems at Uni. Especially annoying when I’d log out of the first system, thinking I was logging out of the last one on the chain. And of course I sometimes lost track and managed to rlogin back into the first system from one of the others.

  17. brian says:

    "I left the PS/2 mouse plugged in even though I didn’t use it any more, figuring I could use it if this whole USB thing didn’t pan out"

    I keep an old P/2 keyboard attached in case i need to boot in safe mode, apparently my microsoft  natural ergonomic keyboard (usb) doesn’t work for the selection screen.  

    When setting up my comp, I spent an hour double checking all my usb ports were correctly attached to my mobo.  Had i not been trying to "fix" the problem, and booted normally(after waiting 30 secs for auto select).  I would have realized it was the keyboard.

  18. Mikkin says:

    Around here, we have an IT-Speak term: Broken Mouse Syndrome.

    It refers generally to situations where someone chronically struggles with or works around something that obviously needs fixing and can easily be fixed, even though there is an entire department standing ready to take care of it. Yes, it’s not the end of the world, because the productivity cost is usually trivial. It is "only" a quality of life issue.

  19. Matt says:

    Use Synergy, then you won’t have this problem (but a other set of them).

  20. Stephen Jones says:

    —-"Nitpicking grammar comment: "This didn’t phase me" s/b "This didn’t faze me""—–

    Nitpicking the nitpicker; it’s a spelling or lexical mistake not a grammar one.

  21. Dean Harding says:

    brian: There’s probably a setting in your BIOS that’ll let your USB keyboard act like a PS/2 one. I have the same problem with GRUB & my USB keyboard — unless I set that option correctly, I can’t navigate the GRUB menus.

    It’s only needed by things which use the BIOS for accessing the keyboard. Once the OS boots, it’ll bypass the BIOS for that sort of thing.

  22. Alex says:

    Someone already mentioned it but I will second.  Synergy is a fantastic program, it is a bit of a pain to setup (their gui is non-intuitive unless you have seen the config files).  I have used it to control 7 computers with no problems.  I have used it while doing kernel debugging, a short 2 second timeout and the mouse will pop onto the main screen if a computer stops responding.

    The only downside is the connection is not encrypted so you should either make a local network or tunnel if your going to type passwords.  Their official support is "Use ssh"

    If you must use kvm for monitor switching, you can use it in combination.  Just leave the mouse/keyboard off the kvm.

  23. Worf says:

    Heh, oops.

    Once, I was rebooting my work Windows machine, and wondered why everything I was typing was typing as if I had CTRL and ALT held down.

    Turned out I jostled my monitor, and thus a small keyboard I stashed there. The keyboard and mouse are PS/2 units, hooked via a KVM to my Windows and my Linux PCs (at work). Linux PC, because of its nature, needed little maintenance, so it sat quietly. The reason for the little keyboard was because I replace my original v1 MS Natural Keyboard with same but USB only. Since I rarely go to my Linux console, I tucked the keyboard away to avoid clutter and just in case USB failed.

    Turned out the jostling cause that keyboard’s CTRL and ALT keys to be pressed!

    I love the V1 Natural Keyboard. Was sad when a tiny puddle of water destroyed it. Best v1 Microsoft product ever. Too bad the later versions stunk.

  24. Neil says:

    The other reason I prefer PS/2 keyboards is that if you’re taking away a customer’s PC for maintenance any PS/2 keyboard will do, but if their keyboard is USB you’ll need to take it and you’ll also need to remember which port it was plugged into otherwise you won’t be able to press Ctrl+Alt+Del. (If you’re lucky they’ll have Remote Desktop enabled which will allow you to log in and install "new" hardware.)

  25. slimpo says:

    @brian, Worf: that’s not that bad, my desktop box won’t boot without a PS/2 keyboard, but I like my USB keyboard so I once tucked it to the floor on its left side to save space on my desk (since its only needed for KVMing to a server anyways) and later accidentally drove a wheel of my swivel chair into the ESC key, losing something i was working on.

    BTW, most USB mice come with a PS/2 plug, for BC ;)

  26. Joey says:

    @Neil: You have to wait a minute or two at the Loginscreen, so that Windows can recognise the USB-Device and load the Driver.

    My Shuttle Barebone, and all the new Dell Machines here at work don’t have PS/2 Ports at all.

  27. Mark says:

    I do this all the time.  And sometimes worse – My most annoying Doh! is when I copy something on one machine and try to paste it using the keyboard on the one sat next to me.

    It gets more complicate the more monitorskeyboards there are around – currently I can see 5 monitors and 5 keyboards and 4 mice. ;-) and some of those are in front of a KVM.

    @Worf I still have my V1 Natural. MS seem to have an annoying habit of changing the natural keybaords to ones I hate and ones I like alternately.  The Natural Pro was a good one and the Natural Ergonomic 4000 is a good one, but the ones inbetween I’ve really hated, especially the Natural Elite where the buttons were moved in such a way I hit the wrong one every time.

    @Joey – I wish that alkways worked – I have a Dell server that it will only recognise a new USB keyboardmouse after you log in when it detects them and loads the drivers.

  28. Robert G says:

    Back in the NT4 days I was fixing a computer, with it sat next to my actual computer. Came back to my desk, grabbed the mouse and started typing away to get this computer fixed, only the keyboard didn’t work. Strange.

    Then I look back at my computer, which is sitting in user manager where I’d managed to do some "select all, perform action" such as rename everyone to "ejerjr". Big whoopsie.

    Since then, I’ve banned myself from ever having more than one of each input device within reach!

  29. David Walker says:

    Simple: Any mouse and keyboard should control the computer attached to whatever screen you are LOOKING AT at the time.  All it takes is a little hardware and software!

    To switch computers, you should simply have to look at a different monitor.  (Now, if you want the monitor you’re looking at, to be connected to whatever computer you’re THINKING about, that’s going to be a little harder.)

  30. David Walker says:

    "Use Synergy" … now we have TWO problems! Or else we have traded one set of problems for another!  (Didn’t I read that somewhere?)

  31. anon says:

    Most KVM switches with this problem have some kind of magic keystroke to get the mouse state in sync again. You could also try waiting for some time (making sure you’re not moving the mouse) to see if it starts to work; as far as I remember there is a timeout in the Windows drivers. Another thing you can try is unplugging and replugging your mouse from the switch.

    The PS/2 protocol is a piece of crap, but I suppose you knew that already.

    Oh, and synergy and all the other tools are probably great, but I doubt they would work on a machine suspended in the debugger.

  32. James Schend says:

    David: you missed Raymond’s first response to that idea. That only works if you’re looking at the monitor you’re (attempting to) type into. I’m a touch-typist as well, and I frequently type for minutes at a time while looking at a nearby whiteboard, or piece of paper on my desk…

    What would your over-engineered solution do with that situation?

    Anyway, my company (ahem recently acquired by MS but I won’t name it) refuses to allocate me a laptop to go with my desktop, for fortunately this problem is moot for the moment.

  33. Peter says:

    Synergy is wonderful and all, but it only solves the problem in the sense that it only works with one keyboard and mouse – so it’s about as effective at solving this particular problem as Raymond’s ultimate solution of unplugging mouse 1.0.

    Incidentally, I’ve always heard the phrase as "belts-and-braces". Presume it’s an English vs American thing; down this end of the world it sounds quite English so I guess we don’t have a local equivalent.

  34. Igor Levicki says:

    Even worse if that happens with a keyboard. Imagine one computer doing some lengthy process which cannot be resumed — you start typing and when you hit space default button (usually Cancel) gots pressed. Oh joy…

    USB is better than PS/2 for mice. PS/2 is better for keyboards.

  35. Neil says:

    Imagine one computer doing some lengthy process which cannot be resumed — you start typing and when you hit space default button (usually Cancel) gets pressed. Oh joy…

    Assuming the space bar is still pressed and the mouse is within reach, mouse down on the Cancel button, release the space key, drag the mouse out of the button, release the mouse button. Job done!

  36. Sean W. says:

    KVM switches, Synergy…  All these high-tech solutions to such a simple problem…  geez, people!

    Label maker.  $15.  Just label those mice as "main" and "dev" and "useless" and be done with it already.

    Or, if you’re feeling *really* cheap, just find a coworker who has kids and ask for some stickers.  Then you just have to remember that Cowboy SpongeBob is on the non-working mouse and Pirate SpongeBob is on the working one ;-)

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