Alistair Dabbs

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing.
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
man reads tablet on the toilet. Photo by Shutterstock

Best thing about a smart toilet? You can take your mobile in without polluting it

Something for the Weekend, Sir? A man on the internet wants me to take a look at his ring. He claims his ring detects hand gestures. Apparently with one flourish of the fingers, it will open up and let you in. His ring supports input as well as output. You can store things in it. It accommodates accessories. He uses it as a means of payment in lieu of cash …
Alistair Dabbs, 13 Apr 2018
Marconi and transmission equipment

My Tibetan digital detox lasted one morning, how about yours?

Something for the Weekend, Sir? My nuts are freezing. So are my toes and fingertips. It's chilly here on my remote Tibetan mountaintop. Being removed from the hurly burly of everyday modern existence gives me a chance to contemplate the truly important things in life. I exercise mindfulness as my exhalations produce swirling clouds before me. I consider the …
Flying pig

Autonomous vehicle claims are just a load of hot air… and here's why

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Up, up and away-a-ay in my beautiful, my beautiful balloooooon… Bye, then. I'm staying here. Nothing would persuade me to get into one of those hot-air death traps. Off you go, floating among the stars, singing your song while sailing along a silver sky or whatever. I've got work to do. OK, OK, I admit I'm scared of the …
Alistair Dabbs, 30 Mar 2018
Man on old phone, image via Shutterstock

Zucker for history: What I learnt about Facebook 600 years ago

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Sudden infant wails finally brightened the delivery room late that night, a relief to everyone, not least the mother. After a quick wipe-down and weigh, the baby was swaddled and handed back to the parents to be comforted. I leant across the bed towards the crying baby, put on my best Yorkshire accent and whispered into her …
Alistair Dabbs, 23 Mar 2018
Leonidas, king of Sparta, as portrayed by Gerard Butler in the film 300. Pic copyright: Warner Bros

I couldn't give a Greek clock about your IoT fertility tracker

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Like to get wet, confides (or asks) the manufacturer in suitably moist English. Faithful admirers of my long-standing column will immediately recognise a sexual double-entendre when they read one. But this time you'd be wrong. Or at least you might be. I'm not sure. I am looking at Comper Healthcare's promotional web pages …
Alistair Dabbs, 16 Mar 2018

A ghoulish tale of pigs, devs and docs revived from the dead

Something for the Weekend, Sir? "My pages have come alive!" accused one from my pod of guinea pigs, unfeasibly. This (as it turned out) not-so-singular anecdote from my murky professional experience working on large-scale content management projects came to mind this week while reading The Reg. It was triggered by that recent Who, me? story about the little …
Office workers in meeting seem frustrated.

Another day, another meeting, another £191bn down the pan

Something for the Weekend, Sir? "Wow, that was quick!" Yeah, sorry about that. I don't like to waste time. I prefer to get my thrust in first and finish off straight away. "You're not joking! I barely noticed it happening, it was over so fast!" I readily admit I have a reputation as an early finisher. If I can, I'll try to get it over and done with before …

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