Online column

A weekly tech column written for The Southland Times, a company that pays well enough to keep me in handbags and Drambuie

You’re missing the fit Russian blokes in tights

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

Gather ’round children, as today we learn all about something from the olden days, that long ago time before Facebook and texting: how to behave like a real human being in public.

Ballarina DudeI went to the ballet a couple of weekends ago and it was awesome: fit Russian blokes in tights flitting around the stage with a bunch of pretty wee sheilas, rousing music and a spot of Cossack dancing chucked in for good measure made for a spectacular afternoon of entertainment.

However, the cellphones nearly ruined it. Turn the damn things off, or at least turn down the volume. And don’t text during the performance: it’s rude to the performers and distracting to those of us in the audience who are there to see the ballet. You know, the enthusiastic leaping stuff with the fit blokes that was happening on stage.

And if you arrive late, don’t take that as an opportunity to have a not-so-quiet chat with you friends who arrived earlier.
And, damn it, don’t kick the back of the seat of the person in front of you. Or take your shoes off and put your gnarly foot on the armrest next to the person in front of you.

I was back at the Civic a few nights later to see ventriloquist David Strassman and his merry wee band of puppets and, once again, it was cellphone city: two of them rang during the first half of the show and the bloke two rows in front of me who spent most of the first half texting could at least have turned down the brightness of his screen so it didn’t shine like a beacon.

The minute the lights came up for the half-time break, every second person had their phone out, texting, surfing or just being generally isolated. Why do we go out with other people if we are simply going to limit our human interaction to whatever we can manage via cellphone? It’s like we’re losing our ability to actually interact with other human beings face-to-face.


Don’t let the trolls in

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

All the hoo-hah that has erupted over the trolls invading the Southland Trader Co Facebook page is a good example of why we all should be careful about our online privacy.

If you upload photos to a social network site such as Facebook, you need to be aware of who will see those photos. And even more importantly, who can steal those photos.

I’m not singling out Facebook for criticism: all content you upload to the web is vulnerable. It’s quite simply that Facebook is one of the biggest players so is therefore one of the biggest targets.

If we, as adults, choose to post photos of ourselves on social networking sites, then that is our choice. However, if we load photos of others we should show a little consideration: don’t load images of your friends without letting them know you plan to because it’s their privacy you are compromising. And if you want to load photos of your children, perhaps it’s a good time to check your privacy options and limit access to those photos to a more select group of your closest friends and family rather than all 1000 of your internet friends, and their friends, and friends of friends, and . . . well, you get the picture.

It’s a bit like that old TV ad about the dangers of sexually-transmitted diseases: you might sleep with just one person but you are sleeping with their previous partners, and their partners’ partners, and so on. And let’s be honest, crossing paths with these online trolls is about as desirable as getting a blister on your nether regions so the analogy is quite apt.

It pays to pop into your account settings in Facebook from time to time and check if anything needs changing because it seems that every time there is a tweak or change in Facebook’s setup, it rattles your privacy settings. Click on the cog icon at the top right of your Facebook page, scroll down to “privacy settings” and have a bit of a play around until you get things just the way you want them. The ability to limit who can view every post, photo and gallery you post is something that is often overlooked, so don’t forget that you can click the dropdown at the bottom right on all content you are posting to change it from “public” (the default setting) to friends only.

It’s a shame that a small bunch of low-life bottom-dwellers can ruin what was shaping up to be a popular Facebook page but remember: don’t feed the trolls because your indignant reactions are what they thrive on.

Besides, take heart in the knowledge that anonymously bugging people online is the best thing in their lives and that much like high school bullies, this is them at their peak. They are to be pitied more than anything else.


Keep ‘selfie’ culture at arm’s length

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

Do we really need an app to encourage people to take more selfies?

Well, the obvious answer is no, we don’t. Unfortunately, we’ve got one anyway.

Frontback combines pictures of what a person is seeing and their reaction, using both the front and rear cameras in some devices to take both shots at the same time, before combining them into one tidy little image that can be shared on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

OK, so it is quite a clever idea but good lord, do we really to give the selfie-addicted more opportunities to overshare?

There are already far too many people out there who just can’t help but take one of those “hold-the-camera-at-arm’s- length” images to share on Facebook every time they go out with friends, go shopping, or even simply successfully leave the house with matching shoes and their underwear on the right way.

Or after spending a bomb on buying the phone with the best camera, they chuck the pictures on Instagram with trendy filters to make them look like some craptacular photo taken with a 20-year-old point-and-shoot camera.

Then they go on holiday with their fancy-schmancy mobile devices and take lots of snaps of interesting things but because they are taking a selfie instead of getting their travelling companion to take the photo like us old people do, and their arms aren’t 2m long, you can’t see the interesting things in their photos.

All you can see is the aforementioned selfie-taker, either smiling like an idiot in their perfected selfie pose or trying to look all moody and interesting (but usually looking more constipated than anything else).

According to the Mail Online, Frontback is “taking San Francisco by storm, and experts say it is set to ‘explode’ in popularity”.

I can see the usefulness of it, perhaps for getting a shot of a grandparent meeting their new grandchild for the first time, or the reaction of a groom as his bride walks up the aisle. Unfortunately, I suspect we’ll be seeing shots of a more hipster nature: brooding dudes and dude-ettes with their fashion- statement dark-rimmed glasses staring moodily at their hipster dinner plate. With a moody Instagram filter, of course.


Facebook click can cook your goose

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

I reckon the Government could have saved a lot of kerfuffle with that whole spy bill drama by just setting up a Facebook account and friending all of us.

While we’re all up in arms – and rightly so – over the possibility of our government spying on us, we’re also keen to overshare our lives with anyone and everyone via social networking: from photos of our kids to details of family rows, from endless pet photos (I’ll raise my hand to admit guilt on that one, but it’s not my fault Seymour the Wonder Cat and Norman the Naughty Cat are so incredibly photogenic) to equally endless selfies, it’s all there online, cluttering up the interwebs.

Even the Pope has been at it, posing for a selfie just last week ( Although I’m pleased to say he didn’t do the duckface.

National carrier Air New Zealand has been involved in a bit of an online privacy bunfight of late, demanding a nosy at the Facebook pages of an ex- employee.

The flight attendant was sacked earlier this year over a sick leave dispute and she went to the Employment Relations Authority, claiming unfair dismissal.

Air New Zealand had demanded to see her Facebook and bank details ( xuTBzp) because it was questioning the legitimacy of her sick leave.

While she had to hand over the information she did eventually win her case, but there’s a lesson in there for everyone who uses Facebook, Twitter or any other social media sites: don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your employer to see.

Even if you have your profile privacy set up so only your friends can sample the wondrous details of your day-to-day life, that information is no longer under your control once you put it out there.

I’m sure all those wee starlet chicky- babes who ended up starring in their own sex tapes never expected such private moments to go public, but many a disgruntled ex has cashed in on that naive belief.

The same is true for all of us: an angry friend, unscrupulous co-worker or evil ex can destroy any expectations of privacy with one click.

So next time you update your Facebook status, ask yourself if you’d be comfortable with your boss (or your Mum) reading it.


Conspiracies made for the internet

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next tin-foil hat-wearing crackpot, and the internet has certainly made the sharing and perfecting of those conspiracy theories so much easier.

When the news broke at the weekend that Scotland Yard was having another look at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it sped around the internet faster than a peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich at an Elvis Presley convention.

It’s been nearly 16 years since Diana died in Paris but the rumours about her death being a hit ordered by the Royal family, the British military or possibly even the government have never really gone away.

Given the fact that there have been other members of the family who have caused every bit as much embarrassment in the ensuing years, you’d think that if there was any truth to those rumours, there’d be a certain bent-nosed rugby player with a taste for canoodling with sheilas they aren’t married to who might have been in line for an, ahem, unfortunate accident.

Unless, of course, it was the Queen Mother who did the hit. Then that would explain the lack of retribution.

It is quite sad that after all this time there is still so much doubt about how she died but now more than ever, it seems there is a hardcore group of people looking for the conspiracies in every high-profile death.

Barnaby JackWhen New Zealand ATM hacker Barnaby Jack (pictured) died suddenly last month, just a week before he was scheduled to speak at a Las Vegas hacking conference on how to hack into pacemakers and defibrillators, the web was awash with rumours: The death of a man who claimed to have discovered how to perform a hack hit was conspiracy theory nirvana.

While I was a bit concerned by his claims – particularly since I was told last year I’ll be needing one of those internal cardiac machines myself and had visions of being hacked by an angry Nigerian investment broker with a Hotmail address – I was also keen to hear what he had to say.

Sadly, he never made it to the conference and now the online rumour mill is busily spitting out theories on how and why he died.

He was just 35 years old and for his family, it’s a tragedy not a conspiracy.


On a brighter note, isn’t it great that we finally have marriage equality here in Godzone?

Congratulations to all those who have taken that leap into married life this week.

I reckon the whole debate was summed up beautifully by a quote I saw online a few months ago: Saying someone else’s marriage is against your religion is like getting angry at someone for eating a donut while you are on a diet.


Twitter nearly implodes with tiny arrival

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

There are some news stories that just take over the web and this week’s arrival of the newest royal was one of those stories.

As much as we try to pretend we are interested in serious, grown-up newsy stuff, there’s no denying most of us are suckers for a warm fuzzy story or a bit of juicy gossip. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather hear the warm fuzzy “the baby’s here” story than some bit of tawdry celebrity dross any day.

It’s hard to believe one tiny little baby could cause so much buzz but there you have it: the royal munchkin has arrived and prompted much excitement both online and in real life.

Online news websites were taken over by baby fever, with story after story on every possible aspect of the impending arrival and on the goggle box, TV reporters struggling to fill in time as they waited for the Duchess of Cambridge to evict her little tenant.

Twitter very nearly imploded under the weight of a gazillion #royalbaby tweets and Facebook was awash with speculation on when and what gender (before his arrival) and what his name would be (after his arrival). I still think Norman has a good ring to it, and if it’s good enough for both my brother-in-law and my cat, then it’s certainly good enough for a future king.

For the most part, the feedback was positive: we were happy for a young couple about to become first-time parents. There were also plenty of good-humoured jokes and puns popping up (on Her Majesty’s secret cervix) as the world celebrated.

However, there were some negative undertones, with some posters on Facebook and Twitter having a whinge about there being so many updates about the royal baby and a few even being downright nasty.

Interestingly, you see a lot of that online and often from people who I know personally and can vouch for the fact they aren’t like that in real life.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect everyone’s right to express their own opinion but it seems that often people are far more critical and/or nasty online than they ever would be in the flesh.

I don’t have strong feelings either way about the royal family but like so many others out there, I was feeling quite chirpy when news of the wee fella’s arrival broke: you don’t have to be a staunch royalist to feel happy for the new parents and to appreciate a good news story among all the murders, job layoffs, natural disasters, wars and daily dramas.

Welcome to the world future King Norman. Hasn’t that got a nice ring to it?


Gaming takes over unveilings

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

technologically advanced photographer

There’s more to technology than just gaming.

Maybe I’m turning into a grumpy old woman, but I just can’t get excited about all the latest announcements and unveilings at E3.

Sure, the various flavours of gamers are all a-flutter about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but these days you’re more likely to find me doing gentle battle with Mah Jong on my iPad that mowing down nasties in a first-person shooter. Although, it is worth noting that the new PlayStation should be a tad cheaper than the Xbox.

Just in case you don’t know, E3 (full title the Electronic Entertainment Expo) is an annual trade fair for the computer and video game industry. It used to be for all things related to electronic entertainment but now seems to focus on the gaming, a hugely popular part of the electronic entertainment market.

Apple, meanwhile, continues to do its own thing, holding its own conference at the same time. We don’t want to go sullying our pretty Apple products with all those common as muck other products now, do we?

Anyway, it seems the software behind everyone’s favourite phone is in for a wee facelift, with the most “revolutionary re-design of its operating system since the iPhone was introduced in 2007″.

It’s a brave move but Apple is known for its brave moves and its unwillingness to follow trends so let’s hope it pays off for the company.

Although, instead of a fancy-schmancy new look for the operating system, I reckon a social media idiot filter would be a good move. Facebook has its good points but there are some people out there who just don’t know how to behave on a public social network. During the past few weeks, I’ve seen several alleged adults have very public meltdowns, very public slanging matches with their own family members and very public meltdowns and equally public slanging matches with their own family members.

Then there are the young’uns proclaiming their undying love for someone they’ve never actually met in the flesh or telling all and sundry the gory details of their romance of the century.

And don’t get me started on the drama queens who update their status with comments about how ugly they are in the hopes of prompting a flurry of “oh no, you’re beautiful” comments from all their friends (a word I use loosely when it comes to Facebook).

For those who are adults and still getting up to these antics: get a grip, you should know better by now. And for those of a younger persuasion: trust me, if you do ever actually grow up, one day you will be embarrassed by your online antics.

I’m not saying I didn’t do stupid things when I was a teenager, that’s what teenagers are meant to do. However, I embarrassed myself in front of (real) friends and family only. For the teenagers of today, living their lives so openly online, those adolescent acts of stupidity might come back to haunt them over and over again for years to come.


For those with a short attention span …

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

Ever wondered how often you should wash your sheets? Wonder no more!

I’ve had the attention span of a gnat lately and the internet is the perfect accessory for the concentration-challenged.

I’m blaming my shortcomings on my recent surgery: I couldn’t stay away for the first day after the anaesthetic and during the following two weeks I went from someone who would easily read two or three books a week to someone who struggled to focus on more than a couple of pages at a time.

I had my iPad with me at the hospital so between checking my emails, updating Facebook and watching animal videos on YouTube, I managed to keep myself fairly well occupied.

So, just in case there’s someone else out there struggling to do anything that involves mental focus, here are some weberiffic time-wasters.

Have you ever thought about mapping Bob Dylan? I suppose it would take a reasonably high level of concentration to go through all of the great man’s songs and put a pin in a world map for every street, town or city to feature mentioned in a Dylan song, but it has been done.

If that’s a little too challenging for a tired brain, then maybe a game is more your speed. The simple but addictive “Spot the Difference” game will keep you occupied for hours. As you solve each level, new and more complex levels become available but be warned: you may end up cross-eyed and frustrated.

If you’re looking for a slightly less stressful game, Guess the Celebrity Moustache could be what you are looking for. If you fancy yourself as a connoisseur of facial fuzz, give it a bash.

And if all three of those sites are still too much for you, then perhaps the American Cleaning Institute’s “do I need to wash this” page is more your style. Yes, apparently we do need a list detailing how often we should wash everything from our undies to our sheets.


Rugby World Cup: are we excited yet?

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

RWCI know the Rugby World Cup is just around the corner but for some reason I cannot get excited about the whole thing.

The hugely discounted HP Touchpads that went up for grabs on Tuesday were much more exciting, even though I didn’t buy one.

When it comes to our national sport, for me, the Ranfurly Shield and Bledisloe Cup are what it’s all about, and right now I’m happy that the Bledisloe Cup is held by its rightful owner. Go the All Blacks.

But I digress. Maybe I was scarred for life after the 2003 RWC semifinal and that is why I can’t bring myself to feel excited about the impending tournament although many of the other rugby fans I work with/drink with are starting to buzz about the big event, counting down the days (14 sleeps to go) and there is a lot of chatter online about it.

However, there’s not as much buzz about the coming general election (92 sleeps to go), so maybe we need to rethink how we run the thing.

Instead of all those political types flitting around the countryside and blathering on about all the good stuff they will promise us, perhaps we should run the election a bit like a rugby tournament. We could have Paul Henry doing the commentary and the panel from 7 Days could provide the coaching expertise. We wouldn’t have enough teams to do the whole pool thing but a round-robin tournament would sort things out nicely.

Failing that, we could run the election like a professional wrestling match. All our politicians (and wannabe politicians) would have their signature moves. I can already picture Winston Peters strutting his stuff, resplendent in Lycra tights and waving a giant hand, just like Hulk Hogan used to. Or maybe he’d opt for a length of timber in the style of Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

Am I showing my age here?

And let’s face it, after listening to some of the bull … um, debating that goes on in Parliament, I’m sure they’d all easily cope with the acting required.

Oh, and speaking of how close things are: 121 sleeps until Santa comes. And I bet there’s someone out there who has already completed their Christmas shopping.


Let’s cut northerners some snow slack

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

I’m a proud born-and-bred Southlander but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the pain of my northern countrymen and women.

This latest patch of decidedly non-tropical weather engulfed the entire country and divided it at the same time.

You see, apparently Aucklanders aren’t allowed to complain about the cold weather. Permission to have a wee moan about freezing your bits off is reserved for those of us living in the South Island.

Well, that’s the rule according to many of the Trade Me message-board users who have jumped on and belittled everyone north of the Bombays who has dared to mention they are feeling the cold.

That same attitude has popped up elsewhere online too. Even Wellingtonians have been copping flak for daring to mention the snow (pictured above in a photo taken in Willis St, Wellington by Dominion Post photographer John Nicholson).

Come on, people, of course the poor buggers in Auckland are struggling with temperatures that we probably think are pretty decent numbers for winter readings: that’s because their city is generally a few degrees warmer than here.

Get over it.

And yes, residents of our nation’s capital were buzzing about the white stuff falling because it was such a huge novelty. Again, get over it.

There were a few Cantabrians who certainly didn’t do their province proud when they got stuck in to some of our more northern Kiwis for complaining about being cold, one, in particular, trundling out the old “typical bloody Jafa” line, before comparing the February earthquake and the snowfall and suggesting they harden up (but with a few extra, not-suitable-for-a-family-newspaper words thrown in).

I never realised it was a competition to see who could have the biggest disaster.

It’s nice to see Aucklanders have a sense of humour about it all, with supportive Facebook groups popping up (I hit the “like” button for the “I survived Auckland’s snowfall 15/8/2011” page as a sign of my support).

So listen up my wee Jafa friends (and I use the term Jafa in a friendly, affectionate manner): I hope you all manage to stay warm and toasty during this chilly time. May your lattes be fluffy and your skies blue.

I also Facebook liked “Wearing shorts in Invercargill, because this place is f…ing tropical” because it made me think of my dad, who died 11 years ago.

Like many Southland blokes of a certain age, he wore the year-round uniform of T-shirt, shorts and Jandals, adding a Swanndri on top during the coldest part of winter.

The other Facebook page I hit like for this week had nothing at all to do with the weather: “Gluing coconuts to your dog’s feet so neighbours think you have a horse” has all-season appeal  although I don’t own a dog.

I wonder if it would still work with a cat? Perhaps the neighbours will think I have a Shetland pony.



Jillian "George" Allison-Aitken

I live in the deep south of New Zealand, where smelly dairy cows are taking over from sheep in the livestock stakes. My hometown is the small but perfectly formed city of Invercargill, which is also the hometown of the original boy racer, Burt Munro. Find out more about me here.


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