Ray Ozzie knows about Mouthsticks … do you?

December 15th, 2008 | by dnw |

Wired recently ran an article about Microsoft CEO Ray Ozzie.

One incident in particular introduced Ozzie to the magic that comes when people connect via computer. He had taken a part-time assignment helping a professor finish writing some courseware. The prof lived on the other side of town, so Ozzie collaborated with him remotely. Ozzie came to know and like his boss, save for one annoyance. “He was the worst typist ever,” Ozzie says. “He was very eloquent on email, but on Term Talk it was just dit-dit-dit, sometimes an error, but agonizingly slow.” At the end of the project, the man threw a party at his house, and Ozzie discovered the reason for the typing problem: The professor was a quadriplegic and had been entering text by holding a stick in his teeth and poking it at the keyboard. Ozzie was floored.

[link: Ray Ozzie Wants to Push Microsoft Back Into Startup Mode – Wired]

So Ray knows about MouthSticks and the power of connection, and that some people use things other than their fingers to access devices*.

I thought maybe it’s time I introduce the rest of you to the MouthStick.

From the name of it a MouthStick is a stick held in your mouth (to state the obvious). It’s held in the mouth and used kinda like a single finger.

Here’s me using my mouthstick:

Tools 051

Now MouthSticks can and have been made from many materials. I was introduced to a MouthStick by an Occupational Therapist at the Spinal Injury Rehab centre over 27 years ago. That model was wooden dowling with tubing one end to hold in your mouth by your teeth while the pointing end had a little rubber knob. I quickly found after a bit of use that saliva would get into the wood and it would disintegrate causing me to be ‘spitting chips’, wooden chips, literally.

I looked for a better model and over the years developed what I’ve used for 20 odd years. That consists of a piece of perspex plastic rod (10mm diameter) cut to length (in my case about 300mm) with some clear plastic tubing to bite on at one end (3/8″ from hardware store) and one or two rubber thimblets at the pointing end (from any stationary supply store), held on by rubber bands.

The perspex rod is ideal as it’s strong, light, can be cut to any length and is readily available (I buy 2 metre lengths for under $10). Length has to be watched as it can get wobbly the longer it gets, getting hard to control, and also more likely to snap (I’ve snapped more than I can count, but I’m harder on them than most – trying to move immovable objets doesn’t help). All other bits are, likewise, common, readily available from non-specialist suppliers, and cheap.

I like the rubber thimblets on the end as they offer grip while turning pages or moving objects around. When they wear out I just whack another over the top, thereby giving me more padding. Recently I’ve come to putting a spare stylus on my stick as well so I can operate my PDA when it’s on my desk. This doesn’t get in the way at all when typing, I just spin the MouthStick around so it’s at the top.

Tools 051Tools 049

The plastic tubing which is on the end that goes in my mouth is the bit tat wears the most from constant biting on it. So I buy it by the metre, usually a few metres at a time.

I have tried, in the early days, a moulded teeth grip with a wire sticking out the front but that was a nightmare for me. The wire sprung too much and I required assistance to put it in. As it is now, I have the MouthStick on my desk in its holder (see below) and I can roll up at anytime and use it, no assistance required. I can also put it down whenever I want and I’m not tied to it or my computer – this aspect of freedom to use it when I want is an aspect I value greatly and is forefront in the decision of the design of what I use..

I should point out that I hold my MouthStick between my teeth along the right side of my mouth (interestingly I find it near impossible on left – don’t know if that’s due to other physical characteristics or is akin to a right-handed person), that way I can get good grip by many teeth on it and that offers good control as well as protection of my teeth. It’s important not to just use the stick held in your front teeth only for very long as you risk serious damage to teeth due to leverage effects. I’ve broken teeth and had a lot of work done over the years but nearly always it’s been damage to front teeth as a result of being careless while holding the MouthStick in front teeth only. Held firmly as I do, I’ve broken many sticks without effect to my teeth – yet a big shock nonetheless :)

I would be remiss not to mention the partner in crime of my MouthStick, the MouthStick holder. In picking a holder I looked for something that was heavy on the bottom yet not too heavy that I couldn’t move it, had spots to hold my stick at the correct angle and was readily available and cheap. Being a former motor mehanic, I settled on a piston turned upside down. Not all pistons work, for a start it needs to be flat on the bottom and the sides tall enough to hold the stick at the correct angle. I use mostly Holden (GM in US) pistons which are about 3.5″ diameter and 3″ tall.

Tools 057

I haven’t found a better replacement for these piston derived MouthStick holders in over 20 years and now have these sitting wherever I need to hold my MouthSticks.

So there you have it, probably more than you needed to know on what what a MouthStick is and mine in particular.

As Ray Ozzie discovered early on in his career – even though on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog – not every dog on the Internet uses their paws!

As an aside: I’ve been intending for years to put out my MouthSticks as a kit. If anyone would find this useful or better still would like to assist me to achieve this, please drop me a comment. But please, only offer if you’re serious.

*(with all the finger-touch stuff coming out, maybe Steve Jobs needs an introduction, but that’s another story)

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  1. 4 Responses to “Ray Ozzie knows about Mouthsticks … do you?”

  2. By Gary Barber on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

    Dave – have you every experimented with a mouth stick for the finger touch stuff. I’m assuming they work off micro electric capacitance of the skin

    Have a small touch pad on the stick that has the surface fed from small capacitor, milli amps here.

    Suppose others have tried.

  3. By dnw on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

    Hey mate. I’m not aware of anything that’s been tried. I’ve tried the stylus they put out – see my other posts here http://lifekludger.net/?s=touch+barrier

    So how would a capacitor on its own work? Wouldn’t it need to be charged somehow sometime? Do you know much about electronics? Or know anyone who’d work with me to try some?

    Thanks for reading and your comment.

    Dave

  4. By Ricky Buchanan on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

    Dave, there’s a post on ATMac from Paul Nasch who uses a stylus and did some experimenting with the iPod touch. He had some success with just covering the end of his stick with tinfoil. Have also seen people say the negative terminal (flat end) of a small battery can be used, and if you got one of the Pogo styli which needs skin to skin contact simply connecting a strip of tinfoil or thin wire between the stylus and somewhere it’ll touch your skin or mouth would work I believe.

    Article is here: http://atmac.org/2008/10/08/ipod-touch-ideas-for-stylus-and-mouth-stick-users/

    You may also be interested in the comments left at the bottom of this post by Samuel Senott: http://atmac.org/2008/12/08/a-happy-ipod-touch-stylus-user/

    Best wishes! I’m glad I found this blog, it’s great reading :)

  5. By dnw on Dec 16, 2008 | Reply

    Hey Ricky, thanks for the ideas and the feedback, will check out those links. I haven’t yet found the acceptable solution for me to the touch-barrier. Good to see some discussion going on about it though.

    Cheers

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