Who you gonna call? Mousebusters!

Ghost in the machine? Everyone seems to think so when the wireless mice don't work as expected

Who you gonna call? Mousebusters!
Credit: flickr/Rob Young

Even we in IT can resort to decidedly nontechnical solutions to computer issues -- you know, turn it on and off, maybe smack the side of the unit. But get your civilian staff involved, and be ready for an earful of superstition and other improbable explanations.

Years ago, I worked at a company where the administrative assistant staff wanted to upgrade their boring wired mice to what was at the time the latest and greatest tech: wireless.

Funding was approved, so our IT department ordered wireless mice for the admin floor. It was a decent choice -- the mice were sturdy and good-looking. To make it easy on us to replace and maintain, we got everyone the same model.

The big day came, and we replaced all the old wired mice with the fancy models. The staff were thrilled, and nothing unusual happened -- at first.

Strange happenings are afoot

A couple of days later, we got a call from a user who said the cursor was moving on its own. No biggie, we thought. Faulty mice can vibrate and jitter sometimes.

But when we investigated, we discovered the mouse was indeed moving on its own accord. It was scrolling and clicking with lifelike movements. We figured it must be something with that mouse, so the offending device was replaced and we went on our merry way.

Hours later the same user called us. "It's doing it again," she said. We went to investigate once more, only to find the same seemingly sentient movements.

“Virus!” we immediately thought and sent the computer to be formatted. Nope! Perhaps a remote intruder? We unplugged the network cable and waited. Click, click, scroll, scroll. Drats!

As we investigated, more and people called us with the same issue. However, the extra wireless mouse I kept for myself worked OK.

Spirits in the material world

I didn’t have time to think about that, as a new wrinkle cropped up: The users started talking of the old building's resident ghost. There'd always been rumors about said ghost, and now they had tangible evidence.

It's difficult to squash supernatural suspicions when you have no explanation. But even we skeptics quietly looked for reassurance, asking ourselves, “Of course there was no ghost haunting the mice … right?”

We spent days analyzing network packages, running virus scans, and checking drivers with no luck. All the while, the talk about the ghost intensified.

Finally, one of our techs asked, "How come only yours works?" We thought through what was different and realized that mine was the only device on our floor, which was several stories away from the admin floor. 

Following this thread, we found the answer: All mice were the same model and apparently the same frequency. The cursor movements were so lifelike because someone else's mouse was picked up in the receiver. We switched back to the old wired mice, and that did the trick -- no more haunting. The users started to relax.

We in IT tend to favor complex solutions. But it’s good to remember that Occam's razor applies to technology -- and ghosts.