Alistair Dabbs

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing.
Skip full of rubbish outside an office building. Photo via SHUTTERSTOCK

My hoard of obsolete hardware might be useful… one day

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Internal hard drives with dust, fluff and shit on. Bundles of CAT5 all tangled like string. These are some of my least favourite things. Regular readers will know that I have banged on before about our shared tendency to hoard bits of hardware that we don't need. That is, we don't …
nikla tesla illustration - shutterstock

Nikola Tesla's greatest challenge: He could measure electricity but not stupidity

Something for the Weekend, Sir? There is a house in old Belgrade that has male and female private parts. If you were tempted to sing that last sentence, I suppose you could call it the House of the Rising Bum. Bum-bum tish. I thank you. You many not consider a building with gender junk to be so unusual. After all, there are Hitler houses and cat cottages, …

Sorry friends, I'm afraid I just can't quite afford the Bitcoin to stop that vid from leaking everywhere

Something for the Weekend, Sir? First, an apology. Allow me to express my sincere regret for any offence caused by the videotape you will soon be receiving of your faithful servant buffing the old banana, courtesy of some mysterious stranger. Well, perhaps not so much offence as surprise. After all, it is jolly unusual to receive a videotape in the post …
Alistair Dabbs, 26 Oct 2018
Dabbsy holding a phone 1

Silent running: Computer sounds are so '90s

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Hold down the Shift key as you drag the vertical divider horizontally, and you find that you can adjust the column width in your table without changing the… BOOM-A-CHUKKA BOOM-A-CHUKKA BOOM-A <snip> "Sorry! Carry on." OK… er, try this: select a row and hover your mouse cursor over it. See how the cursor changes? Now if you …
Alistair Dabbs, 19 Oct 2018

Take my advice: The only safe ID is a fake ID

Something for the Weekend, Sir? My name is McLeod. Graham McLeod. If you're looking me up in a list, you'll find me under M as "McLeod, Graham". This is in contrast to "Dabbs, Alistair" – which I understand is now the title of an IT publication. At least it is according to an email I received this week, which began thus: With Dabbs, Alistair​​​ having such …
Alistair Dabbs, 12 Oct 2018

Where can I hide this mic? I know, shove it down my urethra

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Forget the stereotype: small is better. And as I get older, it seems to be getting smaller. Only last night I had to ask Mme D to help me look for it. Next time I shall take more care over where I leave my spare microSD card. Actually I have several of these lying about the house but I cannot place them all just at the moment …
rusted stairs descend onto footpath between highway and train track

Why are sat-nav walking directions always so hopeless?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I stumble on a large root. At least that's what I think it is. For all I know, it could be a low fence, a rotting corpse or a very hardy badger. Some dodgy software has led me here, maybe some even dodgier software is waiting to mug me behind the next tree. It's past 10pm, the moon's just ducked behind clouds and I can't see a …
Alistair Dabbs, 28 Sep 2018
weeping techie with crumpled coffee cups

I want to buy a coffee with an app – how hard can it be?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I can't get it up. Give me a few moments and I'll try again. Yes, I have tried rubbing it but thanks for the suggestion. What's that? I'm grasping it too firmly? Or I'm flashing in the wrong direction? Tell you what, I'll keep fiddling with it while you satisfy one of your other customers. How difficult can it be to buy a …
Alistair Dabbs, 21 Sep 2018
Faux pop art illustration: sweating man thinking "Oh no, no"

How an augmented reality tourist guide tried to break my balls

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Tech-enhanced tourism can be tough on your testicles. An hour ago I was striding along hallowed corridors once paced by 14th century popes. Now I am hobbling across the halls like a medieval court chimpanzee. And it's all because a tourist guide decided to get a little too interactive with my nuts. More on that later. This …
Alistair Dabbs, 14 Sep 2018

Post-silly season blues leave me bereft of autonomous robot limbs

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Oh, the things I could do with a third hand! It could hold things steady while my other two hands are occupied. Hang on, I have a better idea: I could use my two existing hands to hold the things steady while my third hand gets down to work. Come on, now, you must have found yourself in circumstances that might have been …
The two flavours of Reg Classic T-shirt

Nah, it won't install: The return of the ad-blocker-blocker

Something for the Weekend, Sir? If I give you some money, would you take your clothes off? Now that's what I call premium service. This is just my personal fantasy, of course. I wouldn't really stop passers-by and ask them to remove their apparel. Not since the restraining order, anyway. As I wander along my local high street, advertisements glare at me …
Alistair Dabbs, 27 Jul 2018

Either my name, my password or my soul is invalid – but which?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Try as I might, it won't go in. I have entered pretty much everything else so far but this time I'm getting a definitive "no". I respect that, of course, but it leaves me jolly frustrated. Despite all my powers of persuasion, I'm left standing in the cold with one hand on my lock. Yes, lock. The site keeps rejecting my …
Alistair Dabbs, 20 Jul 2018
Woman talks into smartphone / cellphone with the device held flat

No, seriously, why are you holding your phone like that?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I don't like to do it sideways. I won't do it at any fancy angle. Call me conventional but what can I say? I'm a straight-talking kind of guy. How hard does it have to be to get a firm grip on it… and hold it against the side of your face? Oh right. Put that yoga manual down, you might have misunderstood my meaning. I was …
Alistair Dabbs, 13 Jul 2018
Hiker checks dead battery on smartphone... against wild valley backdrop. Photo via Shutterstock

Every step you take: We track you for your own safety, you know?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Jeff Bezos does my gardening. This was something of a surprise to me, too, as my usual gardener – who's called Geoff, eerily enough – has already visited this morning. Why Mr Bezos should now be in my back garden trimming bushes and edging the lawn is beyond me. Maybe it's a Prime Exclusive. Unfortunately, I haven't seen JB …
Fuel pump

Automated payment machines do NOT work the same all over the world – as I found out

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano. This would be easier if I'd been armed with a proper phrase book rather than a single page of everyday expressions at the back of my tourist guide. And it would be more effective if I was trying to communicate with a human. I am, of course, talking to a machine. No one else is around, which …
Alistair Dabbs, 29 Jun 2018
Quite possibly the first software package in the world to provide Help in a PDF file.

How a tax form kludge gifted the world 25 joyous years of PDF

HTML is the world's most common digital document file format. However, it's not the one everyone turns to when they want to create a precise document that looks, prints and behaves the same on any platform on any device. And it's hardly the format of choice for immediate offline reading, easy sharing or simple portability. For …
Alistair Dabbs, 21 Jun 2018
Wayne's World product placement visual gag (Wayne eats Pizza Hut pizza, displays branding, while talking about product placement)

In defence of online ads: The 'net ain't free and you ain't paying

Something for the Weekend, Sir? It's about to get wet. Have some towels ready. Indeed, I anticipate a good soaking this weekend, both inside and out. This is because Friday 8 June has been announced as World Oceans Day. Come on, you know – that famous international day of celebration when we, er, get the day off work? (no) … hold ocean-themed parties? (no …

Kill the blockchain! It'll make you fitter in the long run, honest

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I am looking for a fit man. Sorry, did I forget to put that in quotation marks? C'est Mme D qui parle and she's staring at her computer screen. "I am looking for a fit man," she repeats in a monotone. I have a quick check around the room: nope, we haven't acquired an Echo, although she did say it twice (heh heh). Is she using …
Man looks into his cellphone/mobile - which looks back at him

Is your smart device a bit thick? It's about to get a lot worse

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Hooded eyes are following my keystrokes. Hidden ears are analysing every shuffle. Deep inside its circuitry, my laptop is tutting and rubbing its silicon chin. I am trying to write another weekly column for a notorious IT-themed scandal sheet and my computer does not like what it detects as I tickle fitfully at the keys. …
Alistair Dabbs, 25 May 2018
A man holds in his poo while looking at the toilet

Want to know what an organisation is really like? Visit the restroom

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I like to hang out in company toilets. That's not to say I linger long after the shake-off – I'm no washroom loiterer – but I do enjoy the visit. It's because I am curious. As an itinerant freelancer, my work takes me to a variety of tech-savvy business premises. And while small companies each have their own style of office …
Alistair Dabbs, 18 May 2018
Red hate key on a keyboard

Your software hates you and your devices think you're stupid

Something for the Weekend, Sir? “I want you to kill Barbra Streisand.” Yup, no problem, I’ll enjoy doing that. Anyone else? “Kylie Minogue. And bloody Madonna, I can’t stand her any more.” Consider them bumped off. It’s sounding a little misogynistic, though. Are you sure? “Leave Chaka Khan alone.” Fine, Chaka survives to sing another day. Anyone else …
Alistair Dabbs, 11 May 2018
50 of your British pounds. Photo by Shutterstock

Blame everything on 'computer error' – no one will contradict you

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Please pass on my regards to Mrs Cromwell for selling me her fig. What's that? You can't? Your email isn't working? Maybe that's because you are trying to log into Gmail with your Yahoo ID. That's right, they are different. They are supposed to be different. Yes, really. No, the computer isn't broken. You're broken, perhaps …

Can't log into your TSB account? Well, it's your own fault for trying

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I am a time-waster. And I hate people who waste my time. This means I know what I'm hating – have fun, all you amateur psychologists out there. I don't want to dither about but at least it's my own time I'm wasting. I am a procrastinator. That's not really the same as a time-waster, is it? Perhaps you could spend a few minutes …
Alistair Dabbs, 27 Apr 2018
Walter Spier L Peter LeComber R photo courtesy University of Dundee Archive Services

The tech you're reading these words on – you have two Dundee uni boffins to thank for that

Every time you use a smartphone, glance at your smart watch, fire up a computer, watch TV or endure a PowerPoint presentation, you experience a little bit of Dundee. The flat-panel technology we use in modern devices wasn't invented by megacorps in Japan or Silicon Valley but by a pair of academics in Scotland's fourth-largest …
Alistair Dabbs, 25 Apr 2018
Statler and Waldorf - copyright - The Walt Disney company - the muppets studio

There is no perceived IT generation gap: Young people really are thick

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Blank faces abound. No, not all are blank: some are horrified, revolted even. What did I say? Security is swiftly called. The usual routine, I think, as a pair of uniformed bouncers slip unhurriedly into the open-plan office, fire doors swinging gently behind them. But no – they come to a halt several paces in front of me and …
Alistair Dabbs, 20 Apr 2018

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