A laptop computer - and a game of cat and mouse

After years of using desktop computers, I finally bought a laptop. That's when the trouble started.

Over time, people have found that the best and most effective way to tame wild animals - whether they be elephants, tigers, lions, or bears - is with plenty of patience and kindness, and by building mutual trust.

Examples include the trainers of the beloved Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, the horse whisperer of book and movie fame, and all those animal behaviorists we see on television.

But alas, I have been tussling with a most obstinate creature, and I have to say it has not responded very well to the kindness-and-trust regimen.

Furthermore, dealing with this beast is downright humiliating. It isn't a lion, tiger, bear, or elephant. It is - well, I'm really distressed to say it out loud - a mouse.

Oh, this is no ordinary rodent. It hasno soft fur, no cute ears, no shining eyes, no busy paws, no quivering whiskers. Furry mice and I get along nicely with one another. I even leave crackers and cheese from time to time for one special friend who lives in the garage.

The mouse that is giving me trouble is flat, metallic, unyielding, and quixotic. In addition, it is an absolute control freak.

After years of using desktop computers, I finally bought a laptop. I spent several hours happily transferring files from my old computer to the new one, and installing all kinds of terrific software.

I am reveling in the freedom my new laptop gives me - more space, being able to take it wherever I go, its quiet hum. Everything, in fact, has been wonderful, except for one thing - the mouse.

Instead of a wholesome, resounding, self-respecting "click," one waves the flat of one's finger over a 2-by-3-inch touch pad that's built in just below the space bar. The slightest touch - even the warmth of one's finger - sends the cursor scurrying hysterically all over the screen.

As a result, instead of sturdily rolling and clicking, I am reduced to tapping and stroking, smoothing and sliding. These are totally unsatisfying actions.

There are also little buttons for holding down with one finger while dragging with another. So there are many times when this space-saving, high-tech product actually needs two hands to do the simplest of tasks that my former mouse did with only one. Somewhat of a stumble, one might say, in high-tech progress.

Sometimes "it" acts in a surprisingly straightforward manner, affording me short, tantalizing periods of predictability. But most of the time our collaboration has gone something like this:

It: "Oh, it's you again."

Me: "I'd like to go online, if that's OK."

It: "So go ahead, only be careful."

Me: "You are pretty cheeky for a mouse."

It: "I'm not a mouse. I'm a synaptic pointing device."

Me: "What?"

It: "A synaptic pointing.... Well, just listen: S-Y-N...."

Me: "I know how to spell it."

The next several taps - and a few slides - get me to the Internet.

Sliding along the touch pad starts the page scrolling. Then, without warning, the cursor drops to the bottom of the screen, taking the text with it.

Me: "Oh, not again."

It: "What's the matter?"

Me: You sent the cursor to the bottom of the screen, and now I can't read any text between the top and bottom paragraphs."

It: "You did it. I didn't."

Me: "Now see here...."

It: "See here? See here?"

Me: "I'm sorry. I mean, 'please take note.' "

It: "That's better."

Me: "Obviously we need to come to an understanding."

It: "We? Did you say 'we'?"

Me: "Well, all right, me. OK, so I have to understand you better."

It: "Good, so let's start with the tapping. You tap too hard. See? There you go again, knocking me right between my shoulders. Softly stroke me. Here - mmm ... on my tummy."

Me (stifling a chuckle): "You've got a tummy? Well, I suppose mice do have...."

It: "I'm not a mouse. I'm a synaptic...."

Me: "Pointing device. I know."

It: "S-Y-N...."

Me: "I know, I know. Now how's this for a little tap?"

It: "Better. Just keep the same pressure and slowly slide your finger along the right groove ... slowly, slowly, slowly...."

Me: "Ah, the screen is scrolling pretty good."

It: "Now you're beginning to get it. Just give me a little pat now to read the text."

Me (gasping, followed by a groan): "What happened? The screen went blank!"

It: "You pulled my whiskers."

Me: "I didn't mean to. I'm sorry."

It (sighing): "Well, I can see that training you isn't going to be easy, but we'll just have to manage. Now try it again. Gently, gently, oh so gently...."

And so, after several weeks, we have progressed somewhat. The mouse, using patience and kindness, has steered me onto the finer points of slipping and sliding, and patting and stroking. And it no longer runs off to play hide-and-seek in the text when I'm typing.

But there are still times when the cursor suddenly rockets to the bottom of the screen or the text disappears altogether, and I fancy I hear a couple of gleeful squeaks.

Yes, it is easy to imagine my mouse sitting back with its feet up, like Stuart Little, preening his metallic whiskers, rubbing his tummy, and contemplating his impertinent behavior with immense satisfaction.

AndI'm beginning to think that I might even put together a little picnic of some crackers and cheese.

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