You want me to do WHAT in that prepaid envelope?

Not quite the data dump I thought you meant


Something for the Weekend, Sir? The authorities have asked me to send them my poop in the post. Not all of it, mind. That would be ridiculous.

Why shouldn't the powers that be commandeer a code brown from one of its citizens? They're most welcome; it was only going to waste. And it isn't a joke letter: the requisition order arrived on official paper. Smooth and soft, it is, but strong too.

It is one of those serious letters that you get from time to time that are so poorly expressed in the heavy language of officialdom that it is accompanied by an apologetic pamphlet to explain what the letter meant. The pamphlet in question is colourful but factual and brief, confirming that they really do want me to push out a grumpy for the nation. Not so much "drop us a line" as "drop us a log".

This is disappointing. In Japan, they would at least have hired an illustrator to decorate the leaflet with cute little cartoon mascots cheerfully shitting into letterboxes. Then again, as messaging goes, it is a definite improvement on the type your bank writes to you when it has updated its terms and conditions but won't tell you which ones or why, leaving you to hunt for them yourself in a 24-page booklet printed in 4pt.

It turns out the letter is part of a national campaign to detect colonic cancer early and save lives. This is a relief – in every sense. Ever since entering my fifth decade I have been dreading the inevitable visit to Nikolas Van Helsing in the back of Victor and JJ's ambulance. Now it turns out I can just do a doo-doo and return it by prepaid.

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In a week of strange requests, this one barely raised an eyebrow.

A series of unrelated promotional messages have been seeping through the spam filter enquiring after the health of my wrists. Have I been overworking them recently? Are they suffering from the frantic stress I am putting them through? Strained wrists is a common complaint when you Work From Home, it says here.

Yes, I've often thought VPN sellers should offer special WFH bundles to include surgical wrist guards and ice packs.

The insistent enquiries about the state of my carpals this week, however, led to recommendations that I should purchase one of a variety of weird and wonderful alternatives to the humble computer mouse. This has cheered me up quite a bit as it reminded me of the 1990s glory days of input device madness. Trackballs the size of grapefruit, keyboards that broke in two, keyboards made of light, mice with no buttons at all, mice with entire Qwerty keyboards built into the top, tablets with styluses, rotating dials, things that looked like Coke cans, gloves with wires trailing down your sleeve, raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, the lot.

Logitech might have kicked things off again at the end of last year with its Ergo M575. Logitech does this every five years or so: it gets bored of making reliable and well-built but sensible and dull products, and so it throws a pseudo-ergonomo-nutso gadget onto the market to stir things up. The Ergo is a sort of mouse-trackball combo based on a spaceship from Roger Vadim's Barbarella.

Since then, everyone has been getting in on the act, especially with keyboards and mice intended for gamers. I'm not a fan and they seem about as ergonomic as a Meccano mouse trap. Nor am I the target market, evidenced by the fact that they are often designed to look like pug-ugly trainers for impressionable teenagers. Even the branding puts me off – the BAT 6+ and RAT PRO X3 from Hong Kong's MAD CATZ, for example, sound like off-brand electronica producers trying to sound like Deadmau5.

It can make one spoilt for choice too, of course. There was a time when I would have jumped at the chance to acquire a keyboard like the Nemeio, for example. Its customisable keycaps are labelled in e-ink so they change when you switch keyboard layout. But modern, grumpy me just whines that it doesn't have a numeric keypad. And hey, once you get used to 19 function keys, there's no going back.

The most enigmatic query landing on the virtual doormat at Dabbs Towers this week was: "Enjoy? Or give problems?"

Ooo, I know this one, don't tell me. Can I have "enjoy" please?

Actually, it's a new pop-up for an old free utility I installed some time ago and forgot about. Its purpose is to calculate how often I tap my RightArrow key. Look, don't judge, OK? I had my reasons at the time, even though right now I can't remember what they were.

The pop-up is a blatant excuse for the lone developer to try and scrape a living by drawing my attention to his other utilities, now available on some app store or another. You can imagine the kind of utilities we're talking about: an app for moving files into the wastebasket, or an app that tells you when your battery has run out, that sort of thing. So this pop-up is asking me to indicate whether I am enjoying my RightArrow-tap counting app.

It works, I suppose, and that might arouse a fleeting moment of satisfaction but I have to admit to a lack of any emotion coming anywhere near what I'd call enjoyment. It's not as if every time I see a report of the past month's RightArrow key presses my brain is flooded with dopamine. I might have had my moments in the past, mind, such as when writing my first autoexec.bat or watching a disk defrag hypnotically for two hours (come on, we've all done it) but these days I seek my thrills in loftier pursuits.

This week, for example, I will be going for a shit with a prepaid envelope in one hand and a roll of clingfilm in the other. Carpe diem.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He would like you to imagine what it is like to receive an official-looking letter written in a language that isn't your mother tongue that appears to be asking you to send them some of your turds. How many times, he wonders, would you re-read it before eventually deciding that you understood it correctly the first time? More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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