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Any questions? No, not you again at the back, please God no

How not to behave at tech press launches

By Alistair Dabbs, 4 Nov 2016

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Toy bears and model aeroplanes. Mini tubs of Pringles. Super-expensive watches that look like rusty bicycle parts adorned with a mashed insects.

[sings] These are a few of my faaaavourite thiiiiings.

Yes indeed, every modern luxury that Western capitalism can conjure are to be found on board this no-frills flight across the channel into one of central Europe's thriving cities of international business.

Who buys these pilot-dressed teddies or a model plane on a plastic stand shaped like a number seven? I've never witnessed such a transaction and feel sure it never actually happens. Perhaps teddy and desktop aeroplane provision is a statutory requirement for international air travel – you know, "just in case".

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass with Plane to Retrieve Bear.

Just six months ago, a short-haul trip such as the one I am on now might have been treated as a routine hop from one European country to another.

Clearly things have changed: apparently the majority of British voters now regard such a trip as an intrepid journey into the darkest depths of ghastly Johnny Foreigner-land where the sun's too hot, the money's funny and they all speak wrong.

Despite my fellow Brits' terror of any culture that strays beyond those great traditional British values of fair play, eating curry and propagating the class system, I continue to enjoy my fair share of business jaunts abroad.

When I say "enjoy", I mean "suffer". My terrors of flying have been documented previously in this column. I would rather walk. By preference, I'd be the proud member of an Infrequent Flyer programme.

When I do fly for business, it's invariably at my own expense on behalf of my own companies, hence my preference for no-frills airlines that fly from one remote farmyard in the sticks to another. Hey, if someone else was paying, I'd choose an airline that flies city-to-city and serves free booze.

It's the least they could do for what they force passengers to put up with. First class or steerage, it's all the same: they strap you to a narrow chair, threaten you with death, force-feed you dry leftovers and permit you to go for a pee only with extreme reluctance.

It's like being held hostage by the Red Army Faction, except without the risk of summary execution or removal of selected body parts for delivering to your relatives (although I imagine Ryanair might yet put this idea under consideration).

If you think no-frills airlines are bad, have a look how British film stars acclimatise to the in-flight experience before boarding in Business Class.

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On this particular occasion, I am travelling as a last-minute invited guest of an international telecoms corporation, so I am yes-thrilled despite the no-frills seat they booked me. My only personal expense so far has been one tea and a Kit-Kat.

Along with scores of fellow European tech journalists, I will be attending a press launch for what sounds like it could be a highly desirable consumer product.

Don't worry, I won't divulge what this product is. I know how important it is to you to be kept in the dark.

At least, the last time I accidentally used this column to mention a product that impressed me – an Android smartphone that cost less than a round of drinks – The Register spiked my column with a terse note to say that this sort of thing was of no interest to our readers. So fret not, dear reader, my lips are sealed.

Since travelling on someone else's budget is a rarity for me, as no doubt it is for you too, I can recall in infinite detail each trip of this type that I have taken.

The most memorable remains Apple's unnecessary two-day gathering of Euro-hacks in 2003, where the top-secret products being launched turned out to be the not-so-exciting first editions of its Safari web browser and Keynote presentation program.

I remember it for the ridiculous Parisian five-star hotel hosting the event, which served no food on day one and, on day two, a curiously strict diet in Spartan quantities comprising three types of soggy vol-au-vent at each meal, including breakfast.

Prissy weakling that I am, I found it difficult to concentrate by the afternoon of day one without any nourishment at all – we couldn't eat on the plane as the caterers on the Air France flight were on strike, of course – but the price of buying a sandwich at the hotel would have cost me considerably more than the aforementioned round of drinks.

I remember the event most notably for making an idiot of myself in front of my peers, as usual, by asking foolish questions.

During the Safari launch, I asked why the browser was called Safari while its icon showed a compass. Why not call it Compass? Or use an icon of a dead elephant? This was the cue for lots of tutting and eye-rolling.

During the Keynote launch, I asked when Apple would complete its MS-Office ripoff with a word processor and spreadsheet program. More tutting, more rolling of eyes. Throw that man out! Doesn't he realise Apple is committed to its unsurpassably great AppleWorks Suite until the very end of time itself?

I can't help it. Besides, these are the kind of foolish interventions one tends to make when you have survived the previous 36 hours on a single prawn vol-au-vent and seven packets of newsagent-brand ready salted crisps.

Apple launched Pages two years later and Numbers another two after that. To date, no one from that press launch has rung to congratulate me on my foresight but I think that's just because they're still waiting for Apple to do something about Safari.

I know I am.

Oh, I can relive the embarrassment of every dumb question I have ever posed over the years at press events – from the time I asked HP why its "recyclable" toner cartridges were not being recycled into... er... toner cartridges, to the moment when Audi revealed its new built-in sat-nav was Google Maps reskinned and I compulsively blurted out: "Are you insane?"

I cringe at them all, not least because I have experienced what it's like in reverse, being the presenter when there's a dickhead at the back of the room punctuating the dead acoustics with the rhythm of his own smart-arsed commentary.

I haven't yet decided upon the dimwittery with which I will shame myself while entertaining my fellow journalists later today but I shall do my best. My continued reputation deserves no less.

Or perhaps I should shut my mouth. I'll let you know how I get on.

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Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He is thankful to be working in a wealthy industry and grateful to be invited to take part in launches. He just happens to suffer from Press Launch Tourette's. What’s the problem, are you disablist or something? FBI Update: 18kg.

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