Those IT gadget freebies you picked up this year? They make AWFUL Christmas presents

Cyber Monday is coming but I still feel so green

woman drinks vile green liquid

Something for the Weekend, Sir? An eerie green glow is radiating from my 1960s sideboard.

Arming myself with the only weapons at hand – a TV remote control and a cushion from the sofa – I guardedly edge towards the ghastly rectangular cuboid of varnished beech. A dull, distant thumping can be heard, growing louder as I make my approach, and ultimately swelling into a cacophony of beating drums as I come face to face with this hideous dated furniture from Hell.

I realise I have been holding my breath. I exhale with relief. False alarm!

You see, the glow's coming from the drinks cupboard. This means there is nothing to be concerned about. It's just the green stuff.

Quite some years ago, Mme D's grandparents presented me with a parting gift of a bottle of an unidentifiable alcoholic beverage. That is to say, it had a label and all that, but I had never heard of it before. Nor since.

We accepted graciously, vocally marvelling at the luminescent verdant liquid inside the glass while mentally promising ourselves never to touch it without asbestos gloves. We just referred to it as the green stuff and put it away at the back of the drinks cupboard. It has remained there almost ever since.

Almost. I once made the mistake of trying a sip. Just once.

The warning signs should have been obvious. First, as I noted at the time of this curious gift, the bottle was already a little less than full, having previously been opened. This ought to have told me that its previous owner had tried a sip and now felt compelled to share it with someone else – in its entirety and at the earliest opportunity.

Secondly, the label looked very old. It had burnt and faced edges, like a pirate map. The text used gothic typefaces that appeared especially ancient. Some of it was in runes.

Thirdly, on that momentous day when I retrieved the bottle from the back of the cupboard "for a test", I discovered that the label had by then burnt away to ashes, possibly by some mysterious internal force during the intermediate years. You know, a bit like the way the Ark of the Covenant does with stencilled Nazi swastikas.

So when I got around to taking a sip with a couple of colleagues, this is what happened:

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As we Brits wave a frowning farewell to "gruesome" Halloween before launching ourselves with cheerful gusto into our annual national celebration of murdering Catholics, most of us keep a keen eye on Christmas. And in my case, I plan to be especially careful in my selection of family gifts this year.

Because last year, I now admit, I was shamefully guilty of giving to all and sundry the personal tech equivalent of green stuff. That is, nasty unwanted gear that had been given to me and thought it might be clever to foist onto someone else.

There used to be a time when you had to be an IT journalist in order to receive little computing freebies as promotional mini-bribes. These days, however, everyone gets them, don't they?

I'm not talking about proper devices. I mean cheapo giveaways that suggest the low esteem in which the manufacturer holds your custom. Here's a quick list of the kind of thing I mean:

  • smartphone screen cloths barely big enough for a gnat to sneeze on
  • bottom-quality earbuds that stop working after two uses
  • pocket Bluetooth smartphone speakers that are actually quieter than your smartphone itself
  • smartphone cases designed to fit every model apart from yours
  • foam plastic cable tidies that tear if you so much as pick them up with two hands
  • capacitive styluses with huge rubbery tips that are about as accurate as trying to write using a balloon dog
  • ballpoint pens containing a Torx screwdriver head of the wrong size
  • USB storage sticks with woefully inadequate capacities (4GB if you're lucky)

Don't call me ungrateful. I bet you acquire this kind of stuff through the year too and you probably hold it in a similar regard.

Just take a walk around the exhibition stands at any IT-related event and within half an hour you'll have picked up multiple branded tote-bag-fulls of such junk AND feel nauseous from the metric tonne of Quality Street you grazed as you went.

Go on, admit it. Come Christmas time, you'll be taking a peek inside your freebie box(*) and decide to distribute the goodies – or rather, baddies – to bulk up the stockings for your immediate family. Publicly you want to be seen as playing Tech Santa while internally we all know you're playing CompuScrooge.

By the end of last year, I found that I had acquired several OEM pocket powerbank smartphone rechargers each with a different company logo cheaply printed on them at a wonky angle. Aha, I thought, they'd make ideal presents for the family!

Come Christmas morning, imagine my dismay as spouse, first-born and runner-up get around to unwrapping the nasty powerbanks I had given them… just minutes after unwrapping powerbanks given to them by other people. Inevitably, the latter were quality products purchased with actual money from the likes of Anker, making my freebies look twice as shit.

During this summer, I shipped another carload of clothes and belongings to my daughter at her new flat. As I rooted around for stuff to take with me, you can guess what I found.

There it was, still in its box, unopened and still cradled in Christmas wrapping paper: the crap powerbank I'd give her. She'd put it at the back of her old wardrobe, much as I'd done with my evil green stuff.

Lesson learnt. Cyber Monday here I come.

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Alistair Dabbs will be erecting his Christmas tree this weekend
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. Writing this week's column piqued his curiosity, sending him back to the drinks cabinet to seek out the green stuff for the first time in years. It had gone. Mme D admitted to having used it to clear a blocked toilet, which apparently it achieved most efficaciously.

(*) Not a sexual euphemism. Not this time, anyway.


Biting the hand that feeds IT ? 1998–2017