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Alistair Dabbs

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing.
Candle in the dark

Behind the candelabra: Power cut sends Britain’s boxes back to the '70s

“Would you like to watch a film with me tonight?” Although the timing seems good – it has just gone 8pm – the offer is extraordinary. You see, in the busy Dabbs household, each member of the family works to his or her own barely compatible calendar and so it is mandatory to book in advance before any interaction can take place …
Alistair Dabbs, 30 Aug 2013

Holiday HELL: Pourquoi, monsieur, why is there no merdique Wi-Fi here?

DAY 1 I arise at 02:00am and clatter about the house noisily. This is my preferred method of waking up the family without the ignobility of knocking on bedroom doors or the inevitable upset that follows from vigorously shaking shoulders or throwing iced water into faces. I have booked a cheapskate pre-dawn flight and I do not …
Alistair Dabbs, 23 Aug 2013

You MERCILESS FIEND... you put that audio file on AUTOPLAY

It was a quiet morning at the office. The early risers among the team were settling gently at their desks and discreetly going about their business. All that could be heard was the swish of papers, the soft clicking of mice and several varieties of birdsong. Birdsong? I thought I might be suffering the effects of the previous …
Alistair Dabbs, 26 Jul 2013
Colossus computer from The Forbin Project

Knocking China with shocking phones and mocking tones

This week began with a story that has become a stalwart of lightweight modern journalism: someone was killed by a computer. It’s a provocative and, let’s face it, often entertaining concept that has inspired many sci-fi writers and filmmakers from the 1950s through to the late 1970s. Of course, in fiction, the solution is for a …
Alistair Dabbs, 19 Jul 2013
New infantry kit modelled by British troops. Credit: MoD

Gadgets are NOT the perfect gift for REAL men

Let’s pretend it’s your birthday. For some of you, it may actually be your birthday, in which case you’re going to find this bit simple enough. Now, what kind of present would you like? Concentrate as I work myself into a trance. The mists are clearing... you want... you want... some sort of techie gadget. Well, that was easy. …
Alistair Dabbs, 12 Jul 2013
Messy mouse ball. Source: University of Washington

Tickle my balls, stroke my button and blow the fluff from my crack

“Give yourself a little blow job every morning and your working day will be a happier one!” These were the unabashed directions given to me during my first professional computing training course. The trainer was full of these saucy one-liners. Another of her favourites - for my trainer was a she - was: “If fluff gets down your …
Alistair Dabbs, 05 Jul 2013
spark fun electronics rotary dial mobile phone

Live or let dial - phones ain’t what they used to be

Shut up shut up shut up. Some annoying tit is typing away on his laptop as I’m trying to snooze on the train – except it doesn’t sound like he’s typing so much as rummaging through a bag of Scrabble tiles. It’s a horrible clattery, clickety, plasticky noise. Shut up shut up shut up, you twat. I’m on the train heading home after …
Alistair Dabbs, 28 Jun 2013

Pussy galore: Bubble-bath webcam spy outrage

“I can make money from it, so why not?” This was a soundbite from a Radio 5 Live phone interview with a “Finnish webcam hacker” who claimed to have “sold” the ability to watch women as they sit in front of their laptops. The reporter and presenters were suitably appalled at the callous and blatant admission, and everyone agreed …
Alistair Dabbs, 21 Jun 2013
iOS spangles at WWDC

Apple dangles Spangles while Dabbsy's cables rankle

Yet another Apple keynote has just whizzed by without so much as a squeak of useful criticism. The non-revelations in the opening keynote of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this week confirmed just about everything that had already been leaked. To summarise, there will be an iOS upgrade that looks like a …
Alistair Dabbs, 14 Jun 2013
Duke of Wellington

Help! I’m trapped inside the Chamber of Hollers

There’s this guy in the office who sits ten feet behind me. Lovely bloke, diligent worker, cares passionately about his job, loud voice. Oh yes indeed, a really loud voice. It doesn’t seem to matter that there’s an office divider between us, his voice is as clear and piercing as if he was sitting next to me. It’s not even an …
Alistair Dabbs, 07 Jun 2013

Fear the Embarrassing Bodies webcam

Some of my colleagues get writer's block. I suffer from reader's block. I may have a mild form of dyslexia or it may be due to having a very short attention ... you know, whatever. Today, I am unable to reach the end of the following sentence without forgetting how it started. You have a go... A multi-tiered, hybrid approach …
Alistair Dabbs, 31 May 2013
Radioactive wives can be a domestic hazard

Curse you, old person, for inventing computers!

Since being allowed back into public places without causing the skin of those nearby to melt or for Jurassic sealife to shuffle out of the Pacific and sneeze fire at Tokyo Tower, Half Life Wife has enjoyed several evenings out at the theatre with yours truly. My love for theatre has only recently returned, having been beaten out …
Alistair Dabbs, 24 May 2013

I said ‘no’ to a million-pound Tech City empire

I have been propositioned in a toilet by a 72-year-old man. He wants me to move in with him and do the business. Ah, it’s possible that I may have phrased this poorly. What I really meant to say is that he is looking to me to arise and provide him with a youthful injection to keep him in the game. No, no, you’re getting the …
Alistair Dabbs, 17 May 2013
Sony Xperia Go rugged Android smartphone

Excess all areas

My career is taking a turn for the worse. No doubt some of you consider that getting paid to bash off 750 ill-judged and frequently inaccurate words every Friday morning about one’s inability to use a computer correctly is an obstacle that you might suffer to stumble over as you stagger along your own rocky career path. I’m …
Alistair Dabbs, 10 May 2013
Intel Moore's Law

Mooreslaw: Chopping up chips for the future

While computer enthusiasts enjoyed something of a golden age of magazines in the late 1980s, with comic-book inspired titles like Bong! and Fart!, those who were lucky enough to be actually working in the field of business or government computing at the time were served by what could fairly be described as an aluminium foil age …
Alistair Dabbs, 03 May 2013
Monster Beats Pro

Master Beats: Why doesn't audio quality matter these days?

Returning from a school trip to New York, my son handed back most of the $350 spending money we’d given him. Yes, I too thought it was a lot of dosh for a four-day tour but then I have no experience in the matter. When I was a kid, a school trip involved walking up to the pond to catch tadpoles for biology class, not …
Alistair Dabbs, 26 Apr 2013
Spaced's Daisy Steiner

British bookworms deem Amazon 'evil'

“My only real prediction is that it’s all changing.” Well, ask a stupid question - in this case, about the future of book publishing. The lobotomy-inducingly obvious answer was provided by author Neil Gaiman. If I’d written this prediction here on El Reg, I would have been derided as a time-waster specialising in stating the …
Alistair Dabbs, 19 Apr 2013
Robo doggy doo

Oh S**T, here comes a ROBOT to take my JOB

The enormous lump of shit sat steaming directly outside the publisher’s door facing the first-floor landing, welcoming early morning office workers as they arrived with a cheeful “Hello! I’m a giant turd! And I smell really bad!” Each member of staff who had chosen to begin work at 7.30am that day reacted the same way: wrinkled …
Alistair Dabbs, 12 Apr 2013
spok

The healing hands of guru Dabbs

A colleague strides purposefully across the open-plan office to the production desk. She has the wrinkled brow and wild eyes of someone who is simultaneously baffled and angry. She’s on deadline but her computer is “doing stupid things” and she doesn’t understand what or why or how to stop it. Oh no, I'll have to ask Dabbsy "Oh …
Alistair Dabbs, 05 Apr 2013
Personality glasses - Joe 90

I am NOT a PC repair man. I will NOT get your iPad working

“My nephew bought me one of those iPad things for my birthday.” My heart sinks – I can already tell where this is going. I’m at a neighbour’s house party, the time is last summer, and one of the older partygoers is about to tell me that some new-fangled technology is too much for him to cope with now that he has reached the age …
Alistair Dabbs, 29 Mar 2013
word_2_doc

Oi, Microsoft, where's my effin' toolbar gone?

Half-life Wife is angry. She has begun swearing loudly through gritted teeth and is shaking her fist in a threatening manner. This, believe it or not, is a relief. Mrs D tends to not so much experience emotions as perform them, so the shaking fist is less a warning of intention, more the art of expression. And while I probably …
Alistair Dabbs, 22 Mar 2013
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
Hapifork

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
Plugs

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
GooPad

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
Dabbsy

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
Dabbsy

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
Dabbsy

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
Dabbsy

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
Dabbsy

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