CueCat Guide

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GreyHead's CueCat Guide

This is a guide to using the CueCat in general - and specifically with LibraryThing. It was originally created as a PDF and downloadable from my website. However it seems much more practical to put it here on the Wiki. --GreyHead 05:05, 12 October 2007 (EDT)

CueCat Image001.jpg

Installing a USB :CueCat

Windows XP

A USB :CueCat needs no software or drivers with Windows XP. Just plug your :CueCat into a USB port and Windows XP should recognise the new USB Device and tell you ‘:CueCat installed’. If it doesn’t then unplug the :CueCat, wait a few moments and try again.

Your computer sees the :CueCat as a ‘KeyBoard’ device (not as a scanner). If for some unlikely reason you need to manually install then search for a new USB HID ‘Human Interface Device’.

If you experience difficulty installing the :CueCat in Windows 7, you might try the approach described here: http://www.collectorz.com/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=15897&view=next.

Mac OS 10, Windows 98SE & ME, Linux

Should install as above. Some Mac OS 10 users report that you get a message from the Keyboard Setup Assistant asking you to press a key – just cancel the dialogue and continue. Earlier versions of Windows e.g. 98 may not have USB drivers installed – in which case it’s probably time for an update.

PS/2 :CueCats

PS/2 :CueCats have a special double ended round PS/2 connector that goes between the keyboard and the computer. I’ve heard mixed views: I believe that on Windows XP they will install as above and no drivers are needed. On older operating systems you may need a driver. Note: Simple PS/2 to USB adaptors don’t seem to work, those more complex ones that have conversion circuitry may do. As I write various :CueCat drivers are available here ‘Your_CueCat_Driver_0.91_Win2kMe.zip’ should work with earlier Windows versions.

Scanning Codes with a :CueCat


Because it is a kind of keyboard the :CueCat will give you strange results unless your NumLock Key is ‘On’ – if your keypad won’t give you numbers then nor will the :CueCat.

The :CueCat behaves like a standard English (US or UK) keyboard. If you have a non-English keyboard or a special layout e.g. a Dvorak keyboard than your :CueCat may give unexpected results. To test your :CueCat you may need to reset your computer to expect a standard English Keyboard. Note: LibraryThing will automatically correct for some keyboards, other software probably won’t.

Unmodified :CueCats

Most new :CueCats – including those from LibraryThing -- are ‘unmodified’ and generate results that look like this .C3nZC3nZC3nWCxjWE3D1C3nX.cGf2.ENr7C3v7D3T3ENj3C3zYDNnZ.

This is quite normal and LibraryThing will automatically de-code this output. They do this because :CueCats were originally intended to output a serial number and an encrypted version of the barcode so that they could be used for user tracking.

Other software may not de-code it and if you want to use your :CueCat with other programs it is possible to modify (or de-claw) it. Then it will give human readable output that looks like this 978068484914051500 instead. This is a simple fix (but not a trivial one, it involves opening up the :CueCat and cutting a connection on one of the integrated circuits). See ‘De-clawing a USB :CueCat’ below or http://www.cexx.org/cuecat.htm for more information.

However, if your keyboard is configured with a key layout that is not the usual English American layout (for example if you are in France you will probably use an AZERTY keyboard layout with figures (1, 2, 3...) that are not directly accessible on the upper keys of the keyboard, in Germany or in Switzerland there are QWERTZ keyboards...) then the :CueCat will simulate key strokes using that layout, resulting in an wrongly encrypted text.

For example, instead of this :


In French AZERTY mode the :CueCat will encode the barcode like that:


And the results will not be understood by de-coders, including the one that is included in the LibraryThing forms.

The only way to make your :CueCat work properly in such a case is to switch your keyboard configuration to an American QWERTY layout when you are using the :CueCat. This can easily be done in the linguistic settings of your OS, and most systems (Windows, Mac OS X, most Linux distributions) provide a way to add have a menu always available in the screen to switch between chosen keyboard layouts, and also through a key combination (ALT-SHIFT on Windows, command-space on Mac OS...)


CueCat head on
When your :CueCat is plugged in the small window in its nose will show a pulsing red light. While the light is pulsing, the :CueCat is asleep. To wake it up, hold it nose down on a piece of paper so that the light is reflected back into the window. When it wakes up the light will be a brighter steady red.

Sample barcode
Find a handy bar-code, any UPC code on a book or other product will do. It may help to start with a code that is flat and not too near the edge of the product – a book with a code that’s not right against the edge is ideal.

Open up a text editor on your computer. Notepad is fine, or a word processor.

Note: It’s best not to use LibraryThing right away as, if there is a problem, it’s not clear where it lies. Going step by step is simpler in the long run.

Scanning with a CueCat
Hold the :CueCat vertically with its tail in the air and its nose touching the book. Put it so that its front paws are above and below the barcode and move it off to the empty space at one end of the code. Then move the :CueCat smoothly along the barcode from the clear space at one end to the clear space at the other.
Sample output
Look for output in the text editor like this (you’ll get one or the other depending on whether your :CueCat is modified or not).

There is a knack to this and it will come pretty quickly. Some things to check are:

  • Hold the :CueCat vertically, not at a slope.
  • Try swiping faster or slower – usually a bit faster is better but keep the movement smooth.
  • Keep the centre line of the :CueCat more or less in the centre of the barcode, if you wander off to one side the :Cue Cat may get confused.
  • Start off to one side of the code – allow a centimetre (1/2”) of clear space to give you a run in.
  • It does not matter whether you go from start to end of the code or end to start, nor which way the cat is facing.
  • It may help to turn the book so that you are moving the :CueCat towards and away from you rather than from right to left. I find this helps with longer codes.

When the :CueCat reads the code you should see in your text editor window either the long string starting and ending with a full stop or a 13 digit UPC code. If your barcode also includes a smaller five digit code – like the example above – this is fine, the extra information will cause no problems.

If you have an unmodified :CueCat then as a final check you can copy and paste the coded string into the JavaScript :CueCat Decoder when you should see the ISBN-13 output correctly (NB the Check Digit will show as invalid if the code also includes the five-digit add-on, this is OK.


I spent several hours getting my first :CueCat to work and Googled many sites in the course of doing so. Some are named here, others I passed by and have since forgotten. I particularly acknowledge Norman Gennaro’s pdf ‘LibraryThing and Barcodes’ from http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Librarything/files/ which set me off on this road and gave me several useful sources; and, of course, Tim Spalding and friends for LibraryThing www.librarything.com.

Bob Janes 6th July 2006

  • Version History
  • Version 1: July 2006 basic notes on using a CueCat
  • Version 2: October 2006 added a section on de-clawing
  • Version 3: January 2007 added section on barcodes, main text extensively rewritten to take into account changes in LibraryThing
  • Version 4: October 2007 transferred to WikiThing with minor edits

See also

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