Mouse Pen From Old Parts

No offense to [Douglas Engelbart] but the computer mouse has always seemed a bit of a hack to us (and not in the good sense of the word). Sure we’ve all gotten used to them, but unlike a computer keyboard, there is no pre-computer analog to a mouse. There are plenty of alternatives, of course, like touchpads and trackballs, but they never seem to catch on to the extent that the plain old mouse has.

One interesting variation is the pen mouse. These do rely on a pre-computer analog: a pen or pencil. You can buy them already made (and they are surprisingly inexpensive), but what fun is that? [MikB] wanted one and decided to build it instead of buying it.

The main parts of the pen mouse include a cheap mouse with a failing scroll wheel, a bingo pen, and the base from an old web camera. There’s also a normal-sized pen to act as the handpiece. The project is mostly mechanical rather than electrical. [MikB] took the mouse apart and cut the PCB to fit inside the base. The rest of the build is a construction project.

The result appears to work well. [MikB] includes instructions for installing the mouse correctly in Linux. The net effect is like a tablet but doesn’t’ require much space on your desk. We’ve seen plenty of mouse projects in the past, of course. We’ve even seen hacks for a head mouse if that’s your thing.

22 thoughts on “Mouse Pen From Old Parts

  1. trackballs were around way before mice
    don’t forget “graphics tablets” either, that honkin’ great overlay for the BitPad that we used to sell with autocad V1.

    the other olde time input thingo was the light pen, re Whirlwind, to be fair though that was more a “light pistol”!

  2. I think the reason the Mouse hasn’t really changed since it’s invention, and no other devices have come along and superseded it is because it got it right first time. It does the job it’s supposed to do perfectly. It’s cheap, simple and is fit for purpose.

    For the current style of user interface we have in a workstation setting you can’t replace it, it’s not possible. Touch doesn’t work on the desktop because for that to work you need to have your arms outstretched fingering at your display awkwardly smudging up the screen with oils from your skin.. Stylus with a tablet won’t work because it’s based on a writing implement and there is a disconnect between where you look and where you write. Voice won’t work because it’s clumsy, error prone and noisy.

    1. Yeah, that’s a big problem today. Mouse/trackball are different paradigms for UI than touch screen, stylus and voice.

      There is this huge group think that tries their damndest to make touch screen/stylus interfaces the same as mouse/trackball. They’re not the same though they can, and sometimes do, solve the same problems. But people really need to stop treating all these UI’s as one grand cluster and start thinking of them as unique interfaces with their own unique needs that are capable of solving some interesting problems.

      Microsoft really got this whole business in the most brain dead way possible with their release of Win8. Win10 is better, but not by much. Good way to screw over the desktop guys who’re developing the software for your OS knuckle heads. Android and Apple (iOS) is much better, but a lot of the developers are as brain dead as MS so they’re no help.

      The mouse is married to the keyboard. Period. You can have UI that should be mouse only and you should have UI that can be keyboard only. But the fact is, The mouse and keyboard are in a very long term relationship. As long as there are keyboards, there will be mice (or whatever bastard children they have). Trying to convince the keyboard to have an affair doesn’t make sense. Nothing that beats the accuracy and conciseness of a keyboard.

      Touch screen really shine without a keyboard interface bogging it down. It’s a great UI in its own right, but waay too many people think it’s like a mouse. Or worse… a replacement to a classic game controller. Rovio figured this out but SEGA keeps hiring yesterdays developers.

      If Star Trek: TNG is any indication, voice is the golden panacea to user interfaces. Ms. Siri and Mr. Google work OK, but requiring a connection to the “cloud” is usually a deal breaker for me. I guess that’s no different than having an entire ship process your voice requests so I guess we’re headed in the right direction with that….

      1. I should mention that even though I lump mouse/trackball and touch screen/stylus together, they really should be viewed as separate UI. One probably would not play Golden Tee Golf with a mouse or play Quake with a trackball. But using them in a desktop environment is probably acceptable. My work forces me to use a RollerMouse Red which forces me to use my keyboard far more than I would otherwise.

        1. actually i think a trackball in a fps would give a huge advantage since the x axis is incremental, you often have to lift a mouse to continue to increment. a ball would just continue to spin. i’m sure it’s an illegal advantage in some competitions.

    2. Don’t be so quick to dismiss tablets. Classify the type. Using a tablet ‘display’ would be incredibly awkward and falls in the same grouping as touch screen, but tablet ‘pads’ that sit on your desk are a different animal.
      Personally, I enjoy working with a tablet pad and pen. The absolute coordinates work great, and I am much more fluent with the tablet than I am with a mouse.
      The only thing I don’t like about it, is applications that read the relative motion, and not the absolute position of the mouse don’t work very well with a tablet pad.

  3. There is an excellent book called “The Dream Machine” that talks about the invention of the mouse and how they tried all kinds of different other input devices (light pens, trackballs and many others) but everyone they tested it on went for the mouse. Its been over 50 years since Douglas Engelbart created the first mouse prototype and humanity has yet to create a better input device for GUI based desktop computers.

  4. also take into consideration time. Pretty much every other “innovation” that is going to eliminate the mouse tends to make tasks take more time than just using a mouse. Like it or not it does the job well and pretty efficiently as well. Do some prefer a tablet like wacom makes or even a good old kingston trackball with the ball the size of a cue ball, yes and they have their place. but when it comes down to it we do not want to add seconds doing any task on a computer and more often than not that is what those add when doing everyday tasks. Now if i am using autocad/photoshop/etc I will grab my wacom in a second but that is because of the same reason it eliminates time being used. Until something comes along that can prove that it is more efficient than the mouse I do not see it going anywhere anytime soon.

  5. The “problem” here is that the GUI has evolved around the mouse, and the mouse around the GUI (in as much as the mouse has evolved at all). We’re unlikely to find a new input paradigm that works well without current interfaces because they are fundamentally mouse/keyboard or touch based

    And even touch based interfaces are extremely similar to mouse interfaces, differing only when multitouch gets involved (pinch, twist, etc).

    So, its hard to make a new input system without a similarly evolved GUI to go along with it. Make the input device without the GUI, and you end up with something very inefficient. But make them together? How do you “catch up” with 30+ years of development quickly?

  6. Can I say that the trackball is not an alternative to a mouse, it is a mouse. In fact, it’s like an old mouse upside down. It works the same way. It is just a shame that there is only one fully usable model out there (Logitech M570), and when I say fully usable, I mean with 2 buttons and one scroll wheel. Most of them don’t have a scroll wheel, and when they do, it’s unusable.

  7. Trying to replace mouse with inferior alternatives is plain stupid. NOTHING beats mouse, and I suspect nothing will until we perfect direct neural interfaces to the point of growing artificial ‘cyber’ limbs. Voice is too slow, and wont work without strong AI .. at which point why bother operating UI at all when AI can do it for us without asking (because it knows better :P).

    Touch/pen is as painful as shoving gamepads down FPS players throats (pc master race).

    1. The “pc master race” always seems to forget about the significant portion of pc-users that have rsi-problems from mouse usage when they discard mouse alternatives as meaningless.

      But perhaps we are unworthy untermensch, or we wouldn’t have gotten rsi problems in the first place.

  8. I used to have 2 mice on my PC, one a standard ambidextrous on my left, the other a righty USB. I could use either one, because they both controlled the same cursor. I think a tablet and a trackball or mouse would be a better combination though. But here’s my question: why doesn’t each pointing device have it’s own cursor? That could give you very intuitive pinch, stretch, and twist capability, which would be great for 3D design work.

  9. Hipsters always want to change things just because they think they are smarter – in every way – than those before them. Truth is, some of the old stuff works just fine, and they are just wasting their time (I’m talking about the recent tablet and touchscreen frenzy). Good enough for some stuff, but almost useless for real work.

    1. There are a lot of ignorant posts here about the mouse.

      Mouse = Trackball = Tablet Pad (Like the Wacom Bamboo) = Touchpad (To a certain extent)
      They all do the exact same thing. They provide either an absolute or relative X,Y coordinate for the cursor on the computer screen. The agronomics are different, but this is no different than calling right handed people perfect.

      People use what they are comfortable with. I’ve been using a pen tablet for the past 9 years and find it much more comfortable than a mouse for almost everything. I put the pen down in the top right corner of the pad and the cursor jumps to the top right corner of my screen. Likewise, I have friends using mice that are cranked up to insane speeds and resolutions and find regular mice to be clumsy and slow… you know, just like many people think of those touchpads on laptops ;)

      You don’t need a different UI for these, and don’t really need a different UI for single touch touch-screen or display pen-tablets either. When you introduce multi-touch, pressure sensor, or some other novel idea, then you are talking about a different input method.

    2. This is horrifically misleading.

      Touchscreens are far superior for a number of use cases. Not IT work so much, perhaps, or writing/data entry, but that’s just a slice of the pie.

      Touchscreens are objectively superior for use in limited space areas, on machinery where different sorts of controls are needed for different tasks – in the old days, we’d need huge banks of switches and buttons, but now with touch screens a small, context sensitive screen can display only the controls needed for the current task, is much easier to clean, and in fact cheaper to maintain (it’s trivial to protect the screen itself, while industrial controls with moving parts wear more and are quite expensive).

      From the portable viewpoint, a touchscreen removes a great deal of physical form, allowing the device to be much smaller and more compact.

      They’re not better for regular desktop usage, but don’t be so naive as to assume that is the only or even most significant use case.

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