My Father and the Two-Button Mouse (a true story)

in General Discussion edited January 2014
I'm all for Apple making its own two-button mouse and shipping it with all new Macs -- not that I want to start that debate here again! I should think that by now, well into the PC revolution, nearly everyone these days should be able to handle two mouse buttons without getting confused.

Except, apparently, my father.

My father is a smart man. He's a retired math teacher, and he was interested enough in computers from long enough ago to make sure that the high school where he taught was one of the first in the country to have computers for student use.

At the time, having computers meant having remote access to an HP-2000 via cranky, unreliable teletypes that printed on what looked like rolls of cheap brown paper towels at the amazing speed of 10 characters per second -- ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS. He used to create programs in BASIC to solve mathematical problems, type them in, and save them under six-letter file names like QDEQU1.

Somewhere between this old world of punched paper tape and the brave new world of glowing pixels and lowercase letters, Dad lost touch with computers.

These days, my father has an old 350 MHz iMac that my sister and I bought him for Christmas a few years back. He's actually managed once in a while to read, and even send, a few e-mails. But he'll get frustrated with something, leave the computer alone for weeks or months, and then have to learn all over again how to perform basic operations. To this date, he's still lost if one window goes behind another, and recognizes no clear distinction between Internet Explorer and, say, a specific web site like Google, nor the difference between typing in a URL or typing in a search string.

My father lives in Florida, and I live in New Hampshire, so it's been difficult giving him assistance. He completely lacks the technical vocabulary to explain things over the phone so that I can figure out what's going on with his system. One time, he kept talking to me about an "envelope" on his screen. I'm thinking this has something to do with e-mail. After 10 minutes, I finally realized that he was talking about a Finder window. The window was stretched wider than it was tall, so he called it a envelope, because he thought the window was sort of shaped like one.

I thought Timbuktu would be my salvation, but my first attempt to use it was hopeless. I don't know if any of you have ever tried to remotely operate another person's computer with Timbuktu through that person's 56K modem connection. If you haven't -- don't bother. You might as well send trained carrier pigeons to peck at the remote system's keys for all the speed you'll get.

Recently, however, my father moved to a new place where he could get DSL. (Okay, moved to a place where he could struggle against numerous screw-ups by his ISP and, after dozens of phone calls and a month and a half of effort, get DSL.) I had updated my father's iMac to OS X the last time I'd visited, installed a Timbuktu update, and had given him a nice new Logitech two-button optical mouse. (I wasn't being cheap -- I'd have given him a wireless mouse, but I knew he'd be lost the first time the batteries ran low.)

All the pieces were finally in place. I was going to bring my father into the 21st century. Hell, I'd settle for bringing him into the mid 90's.

Over DSL, Timbuktu is usable. Dragging and resizing windows remotely sucks (too bad there isn't an olde-fashioned drag/resize by outline in OS X for speed), but at least I can function, I can go to a web site or start a download on the remote system and not kill my own connection in the battle for bandwidth.

"So, how do I get into Internet Explorer?" my father asks. The OS X dock is new to him.

"You see that big blue letter 'e' at the bottom of the screen?"


"Right there, where I'm pointing the cursor."

"I don't see anything."

Furiously wiggling the cursor about, I say "Right THERE!". This is my father I'm talking to. I'm sure my tone of voice remains completely patient and respectful.

"No... wait. Oh, there. Yes."

"Just click on it."

Now under my father's control, I watch the cursor slowly wend and weave towards the blue 'e'... then a little bit past... and then back again, more or less on top of the 'e'.

There on my remote view of the iMac in Florida, I wait to see the blue 'e' bounce up and down in launching glee. Instead I see a little pop-up menu that says:

[Show in Finder].

My father says, "Nothing's happening."

"You have to left-click. Click with the left mouse button." I clear away the pop-up menu for him myself before he tries again.


[Show in Finder]

Again my father says, "Nothing's happening."

"Click with the left button. The LEFT BUTTON."

"I was hitting the left button."

"Are you sure?" My father might have become a little slower in his old age, but I don't think he's forgotten the difference between left and right. I wonder if he's leaning on the control key.

"Make sure you aren't leaning on the keyboard, and try again."


[Show in Finder.]

My father is starting to lose patience. At least he's more patient when he's got me to talk to. Left to his computer on his own, he has all of the patience, and calm, of a Ralph Nader voter watching Fox News. I start to explain what "Show in Finder" means... but quickly abandon that off-topic tangent, realizing that discussing the Second Law of Thermodynamics with my cat might be easier.

Eventually, I click on Internet Explorer for for father, and decide it's time to find out what he wants to do on the web.

He wants to look up the word "bactrian" on Google. He likes words like "bactrian". He has a Master's Degree in English, in addition to his Master's Degree in Mathematics. He is, as I said before, an smart man.

I'd already set Google up as his home page -- so getting to Google was thankfully accomplished automatically. I wiggle the mouse at the search string blank, eventually Dad sees what I'm wiggling at, and I watch him type "b-a-c-t-r-i-a-n" at a speed which would make those old teletypes from high school seem blindingly fast.

I continue, "Now click on the 'Google Search' button."

"Okay... ... ... ... Nothing's happening."

Well, something did happen. I see that the search button now has a blue highlight around it. He must have clicked on the button. But with the right mouse button again.

"Hold on...", I say. At this point, I'm fairly certain that my father has a ham-fisted grasp on the mouse, that he is operating the mouse with all of the delicacy of a brain surgeon wearing boxing gloves. I go into System Preferences, go into the Logitech control panel, and make sure that no matter what button my father pushes that his mouse will act like a one-button mouse.

Moments later, "Results 1 - 10 of about 15,000". My father has successfully searched using Google, clicking on the search button with his very own mouse.

My next task: My father wants to know how to organize his old e-mail. Explaining how to click on a message and drag it into a folder should be a hoot. Wish me luck.


  • Reply 1 of 25
    der kopfder kopf Posts: 2,275member
    Now that's a nice story.

    On a side note: I don't think your father is/was using his right mouse button, it seems more like he's not so much clicking, as he is holding down the left mouse button for a long time. Try it: hold down the left mouse button over the 'e', and you'll see the 'show in finder' option just the same. What you could do is in the mouse control panel, set the clicking speed to slow. It's probably common in older people (no offense, of course) that their fingers aren't as zippy as they used to be.

    Anyhow, that story reminds me of my retired university physics professor grandfather and his mac. Lovely.
  • Reply 2 of 25
    majormattmajormatt Posts: 1,077member
    Remember that program that shipped with pre-1990 Macs, the black and white one that teached people how to use a mouse, drag, click, and double click?

    I think that's in order.
  • Reply 3 of 25
    alcimedesalcimedes Posts: 5,486member
    yeah, i go through that with my parents. it's painful, but hey they're your parents.
  • Reply 4 of 25
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member

    Originally posted by der Kopf

    On a side note: I don't think your father is/was using his right mouse button, it seems more like he's not so much clicking, as he is holding down the left mouse button for a long time.

    I can see that having been the problem too... I've seen him press the mouse button the same way you press the button to start up a clothes dryer... but once I disabled right-clicking, the problem went away, at least for the next few clicks.

    Just in case, however, I will adjust his click speed and remind him not to lean into the mouse until something happens.
  • Reply 5 of 25
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member

    Originally posted by MajorMatt

    Remember that program that shipped with pre-1990 Macs, the black and white one that teached people how to use a mouse, drag, click, and double click?

    I think that's in order.

    I wonder if anyone makes an up-to-date equivalent? If it was any good, I'd buy it, that's for sure!
  • Reply 6 of 25
    mrmistermrmister Posts: 1,095member
    maybe you should just give him back his 1-button mouse?
  • Reply 7 of 25
    cosmonutcosmonut Posts: 4,872member
    The first thing I thought was, "Maybe he's using the mouse BACKWARDS!" Is it possible that your dad has the mouse turned around so that the "tail" is coming out from his side of it?

    Gosh, for being such a big computer person long ago, I'm amazed that he knows so little about modern computing.

    A thought: Have you considered setting up a web cam so you can see what he's doing, and video conference with him?
  • Reply 8 of 25
    cubedudecubedude Posts: 1,556member
    Man, and I thought it was bad with my parents. It took me a half-hour to show them how to use iPhoto, Mail, Camino, and the Finder. A total of a half-hour. I thought that was long, but I guess I'm just impatient.
  • Reply 9 of 25
    shetlineshetline Posts: 4,695member

    Originally posted by CubeDude

    Man, and I thought it was bad with my parents. It took me a half-hour to show them how to use iPhoto, Mail, Camino, and the Finder. A total of a half-hour. I thought that was long, but I guess I'm just impatient.

  • Reply 10 of 25
    placeboplacebo Posts: 5,767member
    I liked the on-screen help of OS 9- where it actually circled things on the screen, like how Brady gets circled in the Superbowl...never mind. It guided you through, step by step, showing you what to click. I still like OS X better, though...
  • Reply 11 of 25
    nebagakidnebagakid Posts: 2,692member
    Some stories are of people physically touching the mouse to computer screen...... slapping the mouse down on the table.....

    man, we are lucky that we grew up knowing how to use the mouse effectively... i was just thinking about how CRAZY! it must have been when it first came out!
  • Reply 12 of 25
    chychchych Posts: 860member
    I remember back in the day when we first got our first computer, a Mac SE (I was about 7 at the time) we first opened up the tutorial, which had the mouse clicking thing. Cute, heh... they should still have those nowadays.

    Multiple buttons and contextual menus do throw off my parents some times though, and I can see why apple holded so long to implement contextual menus (and more than one button), as it really is not a novice feature. Even with 10+ years of experience using computers for them, they still need help on some simple things; I suppose we who have learned computing at a young age do not have this problem.

    I think the problem really lies in the mentality to some that "If I click here, I will destroy the computer" which is slowing progress in learning the computer, where we have learned to experiment things and see what doing x does without fear. Though sometimes people can really mess things up this way (I guess we learn what is good and what is bad).
  • Reply 13 of 25
    I myself can relate to this. When my own father tried switching his Wallstreet G3 from AOL to a local ISP, I spent an entire afternoon with him explaining how to reset his internet preferences and email settings. It is why AOL has come to be so dominant with novices, but that is another discussion. To this day, he is unable to reset the desktop photo on his computer. My son loves to reset the picture all the time on my father's machine when he visits just for kicks. It always leads to another call and further explanations on going to the apple menu, then to control panels, etc. to finally choosing the photo of choice. I would have already purchased a processor upgrade along with Jaguar, but decided that it just wasn't worth it. It would only lead to endless numbers of additional phone calls. He seems to be functioning fine on OS 9. He only uses the computer for web surfing, emailing and word processing. I won't destabilize him by putting OS X on his machine. For all I know, he would continue to boot into Classic anyway, that is, if he could ever figure out how to change the boot up folder. My brother purchased him a one button mouse on my advice. That second button would only have added to his confusion. My own father is also an intelligent man and it baffles me why the computer gives him such a hard time. Even printing a document was an exercise in confusion. It just goes to show that computers still aren't very user friendly. And it makes me glad to have given my father the PowerBook. It is bad enough talking him through on OS 9. It would have been a nightmare on Windows. He would have ended up like my father in law who did get a computer with Windows 98 from his son. That machine simply sat on a shelf for months. I haven't visited him in a while and don't really know what ever ultimately became of that machine. At least my own father's PowerBook does get used regularly.
  • Reply 14 of 25
    My mom is better, she does e-mail, and word, but can't download her Digital Camera.

    becuase of all this stuff, I am starting a new Mac site "New 2 Mac" which will have articles/how-to on how to do the basics to learning the cammand line, to programming. THe articles will be broken down into baby steps so that even our parents will understand how to do the stuff.

    I even will have a picture of the OS X desktop for people who don't know what things are. all they do is click on that thing with images at the bottom of the screen etc, and that will navigate them to the articles on each part of Mac OS X.

    Can you guys give me article/tutorial ideas for the site so I can add them to my list? I also need ideason how to catagorize allthe articles. The only top catagory i have so far is Mac OS X Basics, and Terminal and Darwin.
  • Reply 15 of 25
    drewpropsdrewprops Posts: 2,321member
    The distance element is a doozy.

    I try to help my parents as little as possible with their computers because I so dislike screaming at them like a madman.

    And you've GOT to shout.

    You just have to.
  • Reply 16 of 25
    overhopeoverhope Posts: 1,123member
    Shetline, great story, thanks for sharing.

    My father has have Windoze at home, and he's the type who won't ask for help anyway, so he just stomps around in a rage when he can't make it work.
  • Reply 17 of 25
    gargoylegargoyle Posts: 660member

    Originally posted by CosmoNut

    The first thing I thought was, "Maybe he's using the mouse BACKWARDS!" Is it possible that your dad has the mouse turned around so that the "tail" is coming out from his side of it?

    You might not believe it, but a few years back the web design studio I worked for shared an office with another company and they had a guy in the basment office that used to do print work on his Bronze PB.

    V.Nice guy, i used to go down and talk apples with him from time to time... but he did actually use the mouse backwards!!!

    Must be a bit like left handed people, to him it just seemed easier that way!!!
  • Reply 18 of 25
    minimacminimac Posts: 40member
    My mom is a retired teacher and I was screaming at her when in MS Word she called me because she could not understand why the text kept printing the same although she had doubled the size of the fonts.

    She was changing the "Zoom" value.

    Then she said: "Look young boy, this is the first time in human history that older generations'knowledge is outpassed by younger's, so be patient"

    Well she had a point.

  • Reply 19 of 25
    majormattmajormatt Posts: 1,077member
    Us crazy left handed people using the mouse on the left side.
  • Reply 20 of 25
    Check out this slashdot story for humerous tales of supporting your family's computers.

    The comments are actually better than the main story, some are hilarious and other have useful advice on the best way to support the technologically dyslexic from the other side of the country.
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