Balls for boomers

Posted: 04.24.06

I went to the doctor the other day, to see about a persistent pain in my right shoulder. I told the doctor that my wife thinks it’s from lifting heavy weights (like suitcases into the overhead bins on airplanes, and cases of wine—did you know red wine weighs more than white wine?). The doc said, yeah, that could contribute to it, as he rotated my arm and waited for me to yell. I was afraid he was going to tell me I had a torn rotator cuff and wouldn’t be able to pitch again for the New York Yankees. This doctor, of the orthopedic persuasion, can do as much or more by moving the hurt limb and listening to it than most other doctors can with X-rays and MRIs. Anyway, as I sat there babbling on, telling him how things work and what he should be looking for, he smiled and waited and said, “I know what’s wrong.” “Don’t you want to take an X-ray?” I asked. He shook his head and then showed me a 3D model of the shoulder joint and explained all the mechanics to me, I really like this doctor; he takes time and doesn’t talk down to you.

“You use a mouse much?” He asked. I laughed, “Only 16 hours a day, why?” He smiled again, “Get a track ball.” He said. “Huh? “Get a track ball, mice are one of the worse ergonomic things there are,” he said. “So, what are you telling me; I’ve got mouse shoulder?” He nodded, “Yep. Get a track ball. You’re wearing out your shoulder. You’re not 20 anymore, you know.” Ah, the cursed baby boomer lament.

He then jabbed me in the shoulder with 500cc of cortisone, and told me to put on my shirt and go get a track ball.

So I drove to the local CompUSA and picked up a Logitech Marble Mouse.

Jon’s new ball (Photo: JPR)

Like so many other Logitech products, this is a sweet device. And, man oh man, is this a fast-moving industry. There were three shelves of mice and a few trackballs at CompUSA. The Marble Mouse was listed at $29.95. On the top shelf was a track ball with a wrist pad for $40, but they were sold out, so I picked up the Marble Mouse, and by the time I got to the checkout counter, the price had dropped to $19.95. I was thinking of getting out of line and just hanging around to see if the price would come down any more but I had a conference call to make.

Getting the track ball to work on my machine was difficult. First I had to plug it into my USB hub (remember I now had a really sore shoulder), and then I had to wait for my machine to find the drivers, and finally I had to position it on my desk.

No joke—the thing was almost installed before I got my hands off the USB connector to plug it in.

Using a track ball takes a little getting used to—not much, but it is a different experience. One thing it doesn’t have that I miss is the wheel function. I can’t push down on the ball and scroll. That means if I take it to the game machine I can’t change weapons easily, or not at least not the way I’ve gotten used to.

But, here’s the interesting part: I can already feel the difference. My arm is not as tired, and the speed of the ball and convenience of the side buttons are increasing my productivity—in just a few hours. I’m still in heavy-duty learning mode on the speed issue, and so I tend to overshoot a lot, but that’s a simple adaptation and my hand-brain loop will tighten up in a day or two.

So, if you’re over 40 you can save yourself a trip to the doctor, a shot in the arm, and some unneeded pain by swapping your mouse for a ball. Balls rock, and so does my doc.