Alistair Dabbs

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing.
iMac monolith

Touch screens and greasy mitts: All you need is glove

Currently, my most generous client has conspired to have me surrounded by shiny glass and plastic rectangles between the hours of 6pm and 6am. Working night shifts always seems a little exotic at first for namby-pampy light-lubbers like myself but the novelty eventually wears off as vitamin D levels decline. iMac monolith …
Alistair Dabbs, 15 Mar 2013
Borked computer keyboard

Chaos Theory causes password entry pandemonium

There are things in this tiny microcosm of the universe that I will never comprehend. For example, why do so many humans require the assistance of spectacles? How does the phase of the moon affect emotional behaviour? And what is it about the otherwise harmless, uncontroversial and inoffensive Justin Bieber that makes me want to …
Alistair Dabbs, 08 Mar 2013
bug on keyboard

Keyboard, you're not my type

When I chose to wave goodbye to wage slavery by turning freelance some (cough) 19 years ago, it was during an era in which the principal means of electronic communication between IT journalists was called Cix. Computers were powered by coke burners and required a team of navvies to work the bellows; monetary currency comprised …
Alistair Dabbs, 01 Mar 2013

Official: Cloud computing invented by two technophobic old geezers

Not a day goes by without a dozen press releases on the topic of cloud computing thrusting their way into my inbox (ooh, matron). I think I’ve made my opinions of the cloud con clear enough in previous columns but for the benefit of newer readers, let’s just say that I think it’s cock. Well, that is, cloud computing itself isn’t …
Alistair Dabbs, 22 Feb 2013
Brando 16-port USB hub

Any storm in a port

Consider this column to be a virtual pub. I raise my glass to all time-wasters out there. It’s customary for this column to ignore the big news items of the week and instead focus on things that don’t really matter. So permit me to avoid wasting your Friday afternoon fruitlessly on conjecture about the inexplicably popular topic …
Alistair Dabbs, 15 Feb 2013
HP Spectre XT TouchSmart 15-4000ea Ultrabook

Review: HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

El Reg looked at HP's 13in Spectre XT Ultrabook in October last year and liked it a lot. What you're looking at here, then, is a meatier version with a bigger display, touchscreen support, more ports and the inevitable Windows 8. I like it a lot. HP Spectre XT TouchSmart 15-4000ea Ultrabook It looks absolutely nothing like an …
Alistair Dabbs, 11 Feb 2013
Electronic waste dump in China

Paper computers: Not mere pulp fiction

I love it when I read or hear the phrase “Print is dead”. Idiocy is so enthralling. I am fascinated by people who can shamelessly proclaim their own ignorance in public with such determination. Tomorrows World Elliot light pen 1967 Future tech: Elliot light pen shown on Tomorrow's World in 1967 How many trees could you grow in …
Alistair Dabbs, 08 Feb 2013
Google Glass

Google's Glasses: The tech with specs appeal?

I don't like wearing a wristwatch because it's uncomfortable. As the prime minister always says when being evasive or unintelligible, let’s be clear about this: I wear a wristwatch on most days but I find that doing so is uncomfortable. I would never wear a watch at home. I strap it on when I set off to a customer site and take …
Alistair Dabbs, 01 Feb 2013
Screen glare

Shiny, shiny! The window's behind me...

For reasons too mundane to express, the location at which I have been currently working comprises two adjacent but separate open-plan areas conjoined by a small office occupied by the departmental boss. The easiest and quickest way to get from one open-plan area to the other is to pass through the little office. In fact, it’s a …
Alistair Dabbs, 25 Jan 2013

What’s a computer? Eat yourself fitter!

Despite the saturation of oh-so-hilarious pre-Christmas comedy TV shows summing up the year before it has actually finished, January strikes me as the more logical time to do like Antony Worrall Thompson: have a good look around, take stock and move on. In December, we wallowed in the Olympics and something to do with Sgt Pepper …
Alistair Dabbs, 18 Jan 2013
HP Envy x2 Windows 8 convertible

Review: HP ENVY x2 Windows 8 convertible

The flourishing market for tablet computers has left people wanting more. Those using tablets at work invariably end up buying a keyboard and regularly curse the limitations of a mobile operating system. Those using a Windows laptop at work often wish they could occasionally dispense with the keyboard for convenient touchscreen …
Alistair Dabbs, 10 Jan 2013
Windows 8 tiles

Windows 8: At least it's better than ‘not very good’

By the pricking of my thumbs, and by the noisy crowd booking out half the pub, the wickedness of office party season has kicked in big time. Certainly, 'tis the season to be jolly and to suffer the indignities of itinerant workers debasing themselves in order to get invited. Another year at the Cheshire Cheese The importance of …
Alistair Dabbs, 14 Dec 2012
dell laptop fire damage - image courtesy tom's hardware guide

Take it or break it: the return of the drop test

In flagrant negation of the forces of nature, I seem to be growing less clumsy as I get older. That is, I break fewer things and do it less often. This is partly the result of a series of conscious decisions to be more careful. One such was choosing to don my spectacles before making breakfast rather than after, thus cutting …
Alistair Dabbs, 07 Dec 2012
Alistair Dabbs

Smear campaign

Men as a gender can be a smelly lot. There are cultural reasons underlying some of our questionable standards of personal hygiene but we are also victims of our own DNA. Like stature, baldness and the length of our ah… noses, there are many challenging aspects of our bodily functions that we simply inherited. For example, I have …
Alistair Dabbs, 30 Nov 2012
Empty phone battery

Assault on battery

When working on-site, I like go into the office early on Thursdays because I have to leave by 5pm. It’s simply essential that I get away in good time on Thursdays. And on Wednesdays. Oh, and Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Weekends are completely off-limits, by the way. Empty phone battery 'Heylp! Heylp!' Source: Pratheek …
Alistair Dabbs, 23 Nov 2012

Power to the people - if you can find a spare socket

Changing family circumstances have resulted in my need to use long-distance trains more frequently. They used to call them "InterCity" services back in "the age of the train" but the less said about that the better. InterCity trains when I was a child were horrible: dirty, uncomfortable and stinking of piss, an odour that could …
Alistair Dabbs, 16 Nov 2012
ViewSonic VSD220 Android AIO Smart Display

ViewSonic VSD220 22in Android mega tablet

Depending on how you might want to look at it, the ViewSonic VSD220 is either an expensive 22in monitor or an inexpensive tethered Android tablet. But then you'd be missing the point: it's actually both and neither. It's an unusual mashup for which ViewSonic deserves credit simply by giving it a go. ViewSonic VSD220 Android AIO …
Alistair Dabbs, 15 Nov 2012
Borked computer keyboard

A bitter spill to swallow, or 'how to smeg up your keyboard'

Trouble at mill. Someone’s password isn’t working. It’s day two for one of the casuals and he’s forgotten what the temporary password is. It’s been an entire 24 hours and his natural creativity doesn’t extend to remembering how to type ‘Passw0rd’. Brilliant. Confused computer keyboard I remind him of his password and he gets …
Alistair Dabbs, 09 Nov 2012
Amazon Kindle Fire HD

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in Android tablet review

Carl Jung once wrote that a beautiful woman is a terrible disappointment. And so it is with Amazon's long awaited (it's been a year) British release of its Kindle Fire 7in tablets. Having pre-ordered the top-end 32GB Fire HD model, I was thrilled when I found it waiting for me at home and excited as I tore open the box, but grew …
Alistair Dabbs, 08 Nov 2012

Apple iPad Mini 8in tablet review

Hitting the Apple Store shelves a whole week after Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD tablets began arriving in the post, and two months after Google launched the Asus-made Nexus 7, the iPad Mini deserves to suffer in comparison. Even Google managed to slip a new 32GB version of its Nexus 7 under the radar at the beginning of the week …
Alistair Dabbs, 05 Nov 2012
London Tube Passengers

We don’t talk any more... on the commute

“Is this the train to Faversham?” asks a woman as she boards. A regular commuter returning to the southeast London suburbs, I always get off at the first stop and have no idea where the trains eventually end up two hours later. “I’m afraid I don’t know,” I reply. “What?” she cries incredulously. “Don’t you know what train you’ …
Alistair Dabbs, 02 Nov 2012
Alistair Dabbs

Kick your computer... before it kicks you

My in-laws are a boisterous clan, or so it seems to a reserved half-Scot like myself. You see, they are French... well, more of a volatile Spanish-Italian-Latin mix with an explosive temper born from a Mediterranean climate, macho upbringing and unspeakable experiences in revolutionary Algeria. Meals are embellished with …
Alistair Dabbs, 26 Oct 2012
Garbage dump (pic from US National archive)

The hoarder's dilemma, or 'Why can't I throw anything away?'

I like my house zen. Unfortunately, I am a hoarder, so it’s not. My half-life wife has been trying to educate me by making me watch TV programmes with titles like Extreme Hoarders, I Can’t Stop Hoarding and Smelly Old Fat Bastards Who Don’t Wash And Won’t Throw Anything Away. To some extent, this does the trick. After each …
Alistair Dabbs, 19 Oct 2012

Why is solid-state storage so flimsy?

No matter how much storage space you get, and no matter how much you free up later on, it always gets stuffed to the gills. I am, of course, talking about my attic... and the garage, and indeed the garden shed. Many reasons for this have been mooted, including the need to do something with my kids' childish belongings as they …
Alistair Dabbs, 12 Oct 2012
Sony Vaio T13 Ultrabook

Sony Vaio T13 Ultrabook review

It’s only natural that manufacturers want to show off their biggest (or in this case, smallest) and best but Sony has spotted the flaw in this plan. By thrusting their fabulously lean but powerful sexy bits in your face all the time, Ultrabooks have gained a reputation for being the Page 3 girls of computing: naughty, vigorous …
Alistair Dabbs, 08 Oct 2012

Will you soon be fingering your seven-incher?

The mill that grinds out iPad Mini launch rumours was hit by a hurricane this week, its normally creaking sails thrashing like helicopter blades. I’d love to say that I’m bored by the whole thing but unfortunately it’s going to affect everyone at work. You spend six months preparing for the Kindle Fire UK launch – a “game- …
Alistair Dabbs, 05 Oct 2012

iPhone 5: the fab slab to grab

I have decided that the iPhone 5 is fantastic. Not that I own one, mind you. It’s just that the commentators slagging it off probably don’t own one either, so my ignorant opinion is just as valid as theirs. It is, of course, the tallest iPhone ever: OK, a bit of realism first: you can take hyperbole er… too far. A couple of …
Alistair Dabbs, 28 Sep 2012

Hapless Kate topless, toothless law useless

I rush back from town mid-afternoon in order to participate in an online conference, or what they prefer me to call a "webinar". At home, I discover that my son is sitting at his computer. It’s a school day. This might not be such a bad thing: since his school doesn’t teach about computers any more - see 'Emotional Baggage' - it …
Alistair Dabbs, 21 Sep 2012

I spy: Drug drops and foxy couples

When I was a child, mid-September was the time when the holiday photos turned up in the post from the developer. It seems I cannot shake this photographic jetlag in adulthood, as I have only just this week removed the SD card from my camera to look at what I shot in the south of France last month. I’m not very skilled in …
Alistair Dabbs, 14 Sep 2012

Emotional baggage

Two days before my teenage son was due to begin Sixth Form this week, the school phoned up to say that he's not allowed to study ICT at A-level. This came as a bit of a shock since computing was going to be one of his principal subjects. He might not be one of those 'A-star' students that you read about on results day - jumping …
Alistair Dabbs, 07 Sep 2012

Safer conjugal rights via electronic skin

My wife is radioactive. I'm terribly excited about this, to be honest. It's like living with a superhero or a 1950s B-movie starlet just before she grows to 50ft. And while the house may be host to the occasional randy spider on the lash at night, my wife was not bitten by some escaped bug from a science exhibit. Radioactive …
Alistair Dabbs, 31 Aug 2012

Mr Bank Manager, help yourself to my smartphone contents

Hacking through the 1,100 press releases waiting for me upon my return from vacation has been a daunting task and has, as yet, revealed few surprises. Once I disposed of the misdirected (“I thought you might be interested in a case study from Golfbreaks.com...”) and semi-literate (“Hi hope your well?”) missives, most of the …
Alistair Dabbs, 24 Aug 2012

The problem with wireless: all those effin' wires

Those of you who choose to pursue the itinerant professional life will be familiar with the need to carry one's tools of the trade everywhere, usually in a heavy bag slung over one shoulder. Like me, you may have found that the number of devices you have to carry around has increased, for a variety of reasons that I have moaned …
Alistair Dabbs, 17 Aug 2012

Not a Cloud in my holiday sky

As I type this, the cloudless sky is a deep azure, while the bright green, sprinkler-assisted lawn offsets the ochre of the sunburnt wild grass beyond the untidy hedge of rhododendrons. Our man on his mission Dabbsy spies out his nearest Wi-Fi hotspot Evidently, Toto, I am not in Britain any more. I am on vacation. The bottom …
Alistair Dabbs, 10 Aug 2012

Tablet tech is really a Psion of the times

Excitedly but carefully, I tore open the tough cardboard packing and slid out my latest purchase: an iPad keyboard. Not an Apple wireless keyboard, mind. That would be silly. That would be like buying a bicycle pump bigger than my bike. Instead, I purchased a keyboard the same size as the iPad, with the ability to click onto it …
Alistair Dabbs, 03 Aug 2012

IT support bod? Whatever you earn, it's not enough

It might amuse you to read that one of the senior IT support managers at one of my client workplaces confessed this week that his experience of IT support 'from the other side' was disappointing. By 'from the other side', of course, I mean as a user: my colleague is not a spectral secret shopper from beyond the grave. Laurel …
Alistair Dabbs, 27 Jul 2012

Darth Vader is a pansy

American country music doesn't appeal to me, but Johnny Cash atoned for its worst sins. Whitney Houston’s foghorn cover of Dolly Parton’s funeral-favourite I will always love you could finally be forgiven when Cash returned the favour with his version of Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus. But if you had turned up at the wrong …
Alistair Dabbs, 20 Jul 2012

Tablets, copycats and Weird Al Yankovic

"They are not as cool." With these five words, Judge Colin Birss became Samsung's friend and tormentor in one. He had just found in the company's favour in its defence against Apple but ruined the moment for Samsung by hinting that the Galaxy Tab was, well, a bit crap compared to an iPad. Apple iPad Cool tablet Birss …
Alistair Dabbs, 13 Jul 2012
Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society

Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society on Blu-ray

First released in its native Japan in 2006, GITS:SAC:Solid State Society (to contract its convoluted full title) was not created for cinemas but as a feature-length original video animation (OVA) destined for TV broadcast and DVD sales. Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society GITS:SAC:Solid State Society …
Alistair Dabbs, 09 Jul 2012

Door creaks and girl farts: computing in the real world

A few weeks ago I dissed the expensive new Apple MacBook Pro for trading a downgraded component spec in return for a pretty display and solid-state memory. In passing, I gave an example of this downgrade: the lack of a CD drive. Several readers helpfully commented that they hadn’t used CD media in ages and wouldn’t miss an …
Alistair Dabbs, 06 Jul 2012

Dimming the lights on smart(arse) TV

"The TV has stopped working." This is the kind of announcement that I both dread and am accustomed to in the Dabbs household. A bit like the bath-fitter who is expected to know how to fix blocked sewers, as a computer journalist I am held personally to account upon the failure at home of anything electronic... or indeed …
Alistair Dabbs, 29 Jun 2012

Why I love Microsoft’s vapourware tablet

When I first got into this journalism lark in the late 1980s, the exploding nature of the personal computer market would force the hand of IT companies to reveal products far in advance of their intended launch date. Such was the race to give the appearance of being cutting-edge, they sometimes found themselves announcing …
Alistair Dabbs, 22 Jun 2012

Retina Display detachment

Those Cupertino Infinite Looping gits have done it again. I don't mean this in an upbeat, admiring, I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter kind of way. I mean it more in a they're-selling-us-less-for-more-cash, not to mention a downbeat now-everyone-else-will-do-the-same, kind of way. As regular readers are aware of me mentioning at …
Alistair Dabbs, 15 Jun 2012

Focus groups are for mugs

Journalists can be a contrary lot and IT journalists are no exception. Whatever we get asked to test and review, we’re never really happy with it. But that’s OK because the manufacturers and their PR companies, and often the readers too, are never happy with what we write either. While the risks that IT journalists run tend to …
Alistair Dabbs, 08 Jun 2012

You only want me for my BYOD

They've taken advantage of my goodwill yet again. The really annoying thing is that I pleaded with them to do it, so it's my own fault. And it may be yours, too. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I want to talk about BYOD. For the benefit of sole traders reading this, it stands for Bring Your Own Device and is the latest craze in …
Alistair Dabbs, 01 Jun 2012

Passwords are for AES-holes

When did you reach burnout? For me, it was spring 2009. Looking back, I did well to last as long as I did but the constant pressure of coming up with something new, again and again, became too much. I'm not confessing to an emotional crisis, by the way. I'm talking about my ability to create new system logins that I can remember …
Alistair Dabbs, 25 May 2012

Txt-speak is a sign of humanity 4 U

It barely warranted a mention in Reg Hardware's recent Retro Week, but mobile telephony will be celebrating a couple of anniversaries this year. Groupe Spécial Mobil (GSM) was founded 30 years ago and the first commercial GSM networks came into service ten years later. First text More significantly for what old farts call ' …
Alistair Dabbs, 18 May 2012
HP Envy Spectre 14in

HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook

The test unit I reviewed was forwarded on to me from the Harrods press office. That alone should tell you a lot about the HP Envy 14 Spectre. For you, Harrods may conjure images of oil sheiks browsing bling, affectatious middle classes buying ham and feeble-minded tourists ogling Saint Diana's soiled crockery, but Harrods makes …
Alistair Dabbs, 15 May 2012
Monty Python and the Holy Grail Blu-ray disc

Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Blu-ray

Round and round we go the video format bush. First you recorded it off the telly. Then you bought it on VHS. Finally, you acquired a perfectly brilliant version on DVD. And now, finally again, Sony Pictures has found yet another way for you to part with your money for the love of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Monty Python …
Alistair Dabbs, 11 May 2012

Jolly rogered

I note with dismay that the recent High Court ruling to force some ISPs to ban access to The Pirate Bay has been hijacked by lobbyists who are confused about what the interweb does. A classic example was heard on Radio 4's Today on Tuesday, which devoted eight minutes to John Humphrys inexpertly tying himself into a mesh of …
Alistair Dabbs, 04 May 2012