My latest rant

Sometimes I just need to rant. Be afraid, you are my captive audience.

And the winner is … Chorus

Get ConnectedThe gushing news reports would have us believe that everyone in Dunedin is celebrating their little corner of the world winning the much-hyped Gigatown competition but let’s be honest: it’s Chorus that should be doing all the celebrating.

This year-long marketing “competition” was a brilliant marketing ploy for the company: the lovely citizens of the various towns and cities wanting access ultra-fast broadband took part in quizzes and promotions that used the “gigatown” tag, and directly promoted Chorus. In return, they got the opportunity to be the town finally selected for the big Gigatown deal.

I’m not saying that ultra-fast broadband wouldn’t be an awesome outcome, and getting it for a while at a reduced cost is even better. And the $200,000 development fund and $500,000 community fund Chorus is offering is the icing on the cake. But really, how good is that proverbial cake? The publicity Chorus has received from this competition is phenomenal, with news stories popping up everywhere each week to keep the momentum going. How much would that level of promotion over the course of a year have cost the company? I’m betting a lot more than the probably-tax-deductible $700K they’ve stumped up for those two funds.

There’s no doubt Dunedinites will benefit from getting UFB, and getting it at a discount is not to be sneezed at. However, we already pay too much for fairly average broadband in this country so in reality, the prize is probably more of a “UFB at the price it should be” offer.

Congratulations Dunedin. And congratulations Chorus: I’m not having a dig at you guys for running a marketing campaign masquerading as a competition, because that’s how all giveaways work. However, dragging it out for an entire year or more is pretty impressive.


Weather or not you believe it …

The whole global warming debate continues, and while it’s hard to see it as global warming when we froze our collective arses off here in New Zealand last summer (but had an almost tropical winter), there is no doubt that something dodgy is happening to our climate.

So let’s call it climate change, which covers all the weather wonkiness and makes it easier to comprehend for those who stick their nose out the door on a chilly day and proceed to bitch about what a crock global warming is because “it’s so cold” and that they can’t believe how cold it is in Southland all the time. Because, of course, their short-term memories have been frozen into a state of malfunction by all the cold weather last summer that so they conveniently forgot the incredibly mild winter and pretty spectacular spring of the year before. Oh, and the awesome autumn we enjoyed this year.

But I digress. Sea levels are rising, average temperatures are up and greenhouse gases are at 800,000-year highs. Bugger.

In this video, Hank Green (my favourite geek) from SciShow explains an October 2013 report by the United Nations about global warming and tells us five things we really need to know about our warming world.

Yes indeed, it is getting warmer.


Ice, ice baby

It seems like everyone in celebrity-land is jumping on the ice challenge bandwagon at the moment, with a raft of famous faces taking part in a soggy challenge in the name of a good cause.

And it has to be said: Bill Gates has geekified the whole thing and taken it to a new level.

Do I detect a spot of deja vu? Didn’t we already do that here? OK, so our watery warriors were acting in the name of the Cancer Foundation and the northern hemisphere Johnny-come-latelys are raising awareness of ALS, but you get my drift.

For anyone who may have been residing under a rock for the last little while, the ice bucket challenge involves dumping a bucket of ice water on your head to promote awareness, and to encourage people to donate to the cause. If you do the challenge, you also get to nominate others.

Celebrities have taken to it like the proverbial duck to (icy) water and the ice bucket challenge has exploded on social media.

Unfortunately, there has also been a lot of grumbling about it all online, with complaints about it being a waste of water, the whole slacktivism argument and reminders that we’d be better off just donating to the cause.

While I usually agree with anyone who pokes a sharp stick at slacktivism, in this case I reckon it’s pretty inoffensive. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or motor neurone disorder, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a terrible illness that offers little more than a grim and short life for those diagnosed with it. Every muscle in the body eventually atrophies until the sufferer dies

Awful, truly awful.

A friend of my in-law’s died from this disease and each time they visited her they saw her struggle more and more just to swallow, to speak. Just to breathe.

It’s also relatively rare, so anything that raises awareness has got to be a good thing. Awareness means there is more chance of research, and the more research there is, the better the chance of one day finding a cure and/or prevention.

While I’d like to hear that all those well-paid celebs uploading their cutsie videos are also chucking a few dollars at the research fund, I can’t feel to peeved about them putting the spotlight on this disease.

Slacktivism normally bugs the living crap out of me, particularly when it’s done via Facebook or other social media sites. You know what I mean: the stupid, pointless status updates about how there are people in this world with [insert illness/fear/whatever here] and how if you are brave enough you’ll copy and paste this post into your own status to show your support. Ooooh, yes, very supportive.

Or the equally stupid, equally pointless cryptic updates that involve mention of the colour of your undies, or some outrageous statement about being knocked up to raise awareness of breast cancer but with the warning to not let the men in your life in on the secret, just to make it fun. Um, sure. Because we all know breast cancer’s fun, right? And cryptic messages that we keep secret from half the population? What an awesome way to raise awareness.

Yes, that was sarcasm.

The ice bucket challenge is raising awareness. Let’s just hope it also raises some cash.

Oh, and really northern hemisphere dudes, us Kiwis were a tad tougher about the whole thing, it being the middle of winter and all!



The stench of oversharing

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

What would Benjamin Franklin make of all this interweb malarkey?

During a chat about the perils of Facebook this week, a workmate reminded me of the old saying that compares houseguests and fish, but I reckon the internet has given Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote even more oomph.

The United States founding father and inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals said that both fish and visitors stink after three days but I suspect that if @bennyF happened to be around today he would extend his range of things that stink to the pleasingly alliterative families, friends and Facebook. And perhaps he would shrink that timeline, too, because three days is a tad generous when it comes to smug status updates, drama queen moves and pointless hashtagging.

It’s a strange old world we now live in, where social networking via Facebook and Twitter means we know a whole lot of stuff about almost total strangers and even more about our nearest and dearest. And that can make things more than a little uncomfortable.

There’s that person you followed or friended because you met them at a friend’s party or they made an interesting comment on a friend’s Facebook or Twitter feed: suddenly you are getting all their updates and know the intimate details about their life that should really be saved for those who know them well. One person who friended me after a chance meeting via a mutual friend-of-a-friend and a cold beer shared with the world every angry word between her and her then-partner, the perils of menstrual cramps, a three-week battle with thrush, an ongoing comparison of the best home cures for constipation for those following the Atkins diet, her brother’s relationship woes, her thoughts on the pedigree of the aforementioned brother’s “cheating slapper of a girlfriend” and the financial crisis facing one of her colleagues. Until she popped up on Facebook, I didn’t even know her last name or where she worked, but after hitting that little button to accept her friend request I knew far more than I ever wanted to about her life, and the lives of those around her.

After just a couple of weeks, I quietly deleted and blocked her and hope to never run across her again.

But perhaps even worse that the over-sharing semi-stranger is the over-sharing family members. It’s easy enough to block someone you don’t really know but when family members are littering your feed with drivel you’d rather not have to read, it can be a lot more awkward. It’s all about attention seeking, from their I’m at the gym/my child is a genius updates to the endless photographs of every boring, mundane meal they stuff into their gobs, or those cryptic “life is so hard” posts designed to have everyone asking in their very best pretend-concerned-online-voice: oh, are you OK 🙁

I don’t care about your latest sweaty efforts at the gym, I don’t care that you believe your child is some sort of prodigy (besides, my cat is a genius and furry, that’s even better), and I certainly don’t care about your Sunday roast. Sure, if you’ve been to an awesome new restaurant, share your thoughts. Or if you’ve just had an amazing degustation menu, show us all a photo or three. But if you’ve just dished up meat and two veg? No one needs to see that.

And if you ever feel compelled to make one of those drama queens posts telling the world how hard things are for you, then when a concerned friend or followers asks if you’re OK you reply with “I don’t want to talk about it”, be prepared to be unfriended. You aren’t Greta Garbo and you really aren’t that interesting.


Small victory for fat chicks

Radio presenter Rachel Smalley found herself in the poo after a not-so-timely comment or two this week but it was her attempt to weasel her way out of it that offended me.

Smalley thought her mic was turned off after a news story about the effectiveness of an emergency contraceptive pill for women weighing more than 70kg. Obviously gravely offended by the knowledge that the average New Zealand bloke-ess weighs in at  (gasp) 72kg, she was heard to comment that we Kiwi chicks are “heifers” and a “bunch of lardos”.

Outrage ensued both online and off, and Smalley did the cliched “apology” thing: I’m so sorry, please forgive me, yada, yada, yada …

But let’s be honest here: she was apologising because she was caught out, not because she felt bad about what she said. Because if that had been the case, she wouldn’t have said it in the first place.

As someone who falls into the slightly more generously proportioned category, I’m not particularly offended by her comments. I am, however, offended by yet another person in the public eye who has cocked up and expects us to believe that suddenly, they have seen the error of their ways and want us to forgive them.

On Facebook, several people commented that Paul Henry has said worse. And yes, he has. And I have no doubt he will continue to say things that offend the masses. However, at least he owns it. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the man says what he thinks and would never consider offering a bullshit apology just to stay in the good books.

I’d have had more respect for Smalley if she’d just told all us heifers to fuck off and eat a pie.



Shock, horror: Wrinkle alert!

I make no secret of the fact that I am no fan of any of the Kardashians (famous for fuck all apart from dodgy marriages and, well, actually that’s about it). But I really think it’s scraping the bottom of the barrel to be banging on about Bruce Jenner’s puckered jawline being a combination of ageing and botched plastic surgery.

Yes, he may well have had some questionable plastic surgery back in the day but holy crap … he’s a 64-year-old bloke with a wrinkly neck. Isn’t that normal? A whole lot more normal than mama Kardashian (Kris?) and her taut, line-free face. Or indeed the faces of so many Hollywood types, with their wind-tunnel look hiding any evidence of age.

Here’s the deal: as we get older, our skin loses a little of it’s perkiness. As do many of our other bits and pieces. This is how it is meant to be. I hardly think gravity is newsworthy.

OK, so he’s a slightly odd-looking bloke with slightly effeminate features (rumours are of an impending sex change surgery, which he has denied … who knows), but the wrinkly neck is probably not as bad as that of the average, normal REAL 64-year-old.

The high-waisted grandad pants (click on the link below)? Well that’s a whole other story!


Bruce Jenner reveals puckered jawline


One for the haters

The sad death of Charlotte Dawson at the weekend has reignited the whole debate over online assholes being, well, assholes.

Not that it’s much of a debate: “if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then keep your trap shut” is probably a good code to live by. Unfortunately, there are plenty of trolls out there who get their kicks from aggravating and annoying.

If you’ve spent any time on a message board or chat room, or if your name is in the media for any reason, you are likely to become a target at some point. For most of us, we can shrug off their bullshit. But some people are a little more fragile, and sometimes the bullying and bullshit becomes a lot more persistent.

A few years back, there were a couple of quite public suicides in a relatively short space of time, one of them actively encouraged by chat room participants who egged on the victim as he put in place the rope he planned to use to hang himself.

Since then, online bullying seems to have become more and more common. As wrong as that is, I’m sick of seeing the blame being laid with Twitter, or (a stupid fecking site, certainly, but participants are there by choice) or any other site. The blame belongs to none other than the person doing the bullying.

Although, I’m seeing several young people I know personally getting themselves worked up into a lather lately over questions and comments on their accounts and am starting to think that sometimes the “victim” needs to take some of the blame. Not a lot, and not all the time, but sometimes. If you are being abused on Twitter or Facebook, you can block the person but you can’t really stop them saying what they want. However, the sole purpose of seems to be to set yourself up to be asked dodgy/sexual/nasty/leading questions. Really people: don’t go there if you don’t want the negativity!

Sure, I’ve had some thoughts that I’ve shared online about the like of Justin Beiber being a douche, but he brings that on himself by doing stupid and uncool shit like spitting on his fans, driving like an idiot and generally behaving like a spoiled brat.

Anyhoo, the little ditty in the video is both catchy and timely.


Thanks for the extra, but not to Xtra

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

It’s bad enough that so many Xtra email addresses have been compromised but the fact that Yahoo, the company responsible for managing that email system, won’t even give an answer on how many accounts is nothing short of arrogant.

emaildramaIf you have an email address of any description, it’s likely you have been affected in some way by the Xtra email dramas: either your email has been hacked or your address spoofed. I have suffered the latter fate and I’m not happy. And there isn’t a thing I can do about it.

This whole sorry saga began at least a year ago, when hackers managed to get their grubby paws on the login details for 87,000 of Xtra’s 450,000 email accounts. Yahoo has been running the email service for seven years and while it has never officially explained what went wrong, those a tad more tech-savvy than me reckon is was a cross-site scripting attack that targeted a security flaw in a piece of blogging software used by some Yahoo geeks. Everyone thought the problem was fixed but the ongoing problems would seem to indicate that our email addresses are still in the firing line.

I’ve had phonecalls from friends and colleagues who thought my email had been hacked because they had received messages from me with odd links but while I’ve actually managed to avoid the whole being hacked part of the equation, I have still been affected. How? I’m being spoofed.

It looks like the hackers copied the address books or took the email addresses from messages Xtra users had sent and they are now spoofing those addresses in the emails: the from line might say it’s from me but it isn’t. It just looks that way.

This is worse than being hacked because it means that no matter how carefully you secure your email account, how good your security software is, no matter how careful you are, you cannot stop your address being spoofed.

The only way around it is to change your email address and if – like me – you have had your address for a couple of decades, changing it is a bit of a nightmare.

Sure, I have the obligatory Hotmail address, and Gmail. I even have one tied to my website domain.

However, my main email address is that little beastie and I’m peeved that it’s now out there in the big, bad web being exploited.

Telecom must be a bit worried about losing customers because I got a nice wee note from them this week telling me they had added a further 10GB to my current web plan at no extra cost.

That’s all very nice, Telecom, but I’d rather you hadn’t given ownership of your Xtra email to a company that seems to have no interest in offering any sort of explanation to its customers.

So that’s a thank you to Telecom but a “shame on you” to Yahoo.


Customer service? Pfffft

It’s nearly the end of the year, so it must be time for me to have another rant: this time it’s about a large, well-known cafe at a local department store.

Nick and I went there the other day for lunch. We looked at the specials sign outside the door and decided the menu looked reasonably appealing (hey, it was mid afternoon and I needed to find some lunch so I could take my heart pills, the offerings weren’t spectacular but they were okay-ish).

issues-burgundyAfter queuing for what seemed like an eternity but what was probably really somewhere between five and 10 minutes, the wee chicky babe at the counter informed us that no, we couldn’t order anything from the menu because the kitchen had closed.

I told her we had only come in because of the items listed on their specials board at the door and, after rolling her eyes, she informed me the sign was no longer there.

Well it was fecking there when we arrived, not our fault we had to wait so long to be served. Anyway, after suggesting they should actually have the time fact the kitchen closes part-way through the afternoon noted on their sign, I said we’d go elsewhere.

But no, we would still have to pay for sandwich and cake Nick had put on the tray as we made our way along the queue to be served.

I didn’t want anything they had to offer because of health issues: I’m diabetic and have a slightly buggered heart (hence the medication and pending surgery).  I didn’t want a salt-laden ham sandwich or one of the luminous yellow pastry things lurking in their food cabinets. I was hoping to order soup. I tried to order soup. I got an eye roll and attitude in response.

This isn’t the first time I struck this at this same cafe: earlier in the year we went there one Saturday and discovered the kitchen had closed (it was earlier in the day) and once again, there was no indication of this until we got to the end of the counter and tried to order.

And again, I got attitude.

Anyway, I told the cheese-roll jockey serving us that we had come into the cafe only because of the sign outside, which gave no indication the kitchen was already closed. Eventually she went off to see her manager, then came back to the counter and told me we wouldn’t have to pay.

That was something, I suppose. An apology for the rude attitude would have been better.

And before anyone mutters anything about it being close to Christmas, overworked staff etc, shut it! We’re all in the same boat and I”m pretty sure that if I started taking out my pre-Christmas mood on our readers and advertisers, my boss would be spitting sparks.

Besides, the last time I got bad service and bad attitude there it wasn’t Christmas, it was just a quiet Saturday afternoon.



Good ad for birth control


We went out for dinner to the Cabbage Tree last night. It could have been a nice evening but it was buggered up by a clutch of screeching brats who were running around as their indulgent parents looked on.

Why is it these people think the rest of the world is as delighted by the company of their offspring as they are? Because we’re not.

If I want to spend an evening listening to children scream and shriek as they jump up and down on the chairs and climb across the table, I’d go to McDonald’s. Actually, I don’t even think McDonald’s would tolerate that behaviour.

The children appeared to be with a group of simpering adults who could do with spending less time making sure their hair is perfectly styled and more time actually parenting. One of the waiters told the children a couple of times not to run around inside the restaurant but it continued, with ineffective mothers looking on adoringly as their little brats continued to ruin the evening of everyone else. In the space of about 10 minutes they very nearly ran into staff laden with both full and empty dishes half a dozen times and it was the fancy footwork of the waiters and waitresses that stopped them wearing the lot.

When I was growing up, we rarely went out to a restaurant, but when we did we knew how to behave. My parents weren’t tyrants, they weren’t even overly strict, but we knew that a certain standard of behaviour was expected.

badge (1) Then, when I became a mother myself, I had those expectations for my son. I’m not saying he was a perfectly behaved when he was a nipper, because all kids play up at times. It’s normal. However, we never had the whole “being a brat in a restaurant” situation arise because when he was of an age where I thought he might not handle sitting down and behaving at grown-up  restaurants, I didn’t take him to them. Have these parents not heard of McDonald’s or Cobb and Co?  We didn’t take him to a grown-up restaurant until we felt he was old enough to appreciate and enjoy it because that’s better for everyone: us, the kid and other diners.

What made last night’s noise-fest even worse is that the restaurant has a substantial outdoor area and it was a beautiful evening: can’t these people send the fecking children outside to run around? Isn’t that what normal kids do?

It’s worth mentioning that the noisiest of these creatures were two little girls who looked old enough to know better, probably somewhere around 8-10 years old. And contrary to the beliefs of one of my family members (if you’re reading this, you know who you are and you won’t be surprised by my aversion to screaming brats because we had this same discussion as you looked me in the eye and told me all children scream when they are playing): normal children don’t scream like banshees when they are playing. I didn’t, neither did any of my siblings. Neither did my son.

Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon experience in restaurants these days. Parents, it’s time to take some responsibility: if you can’t control them, leave them at home.



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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