fear

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Adelaide Railway Station

This podcast returns to my hometown of Adelaide and turns thing inside out, with The Arch Window’s Nicholas Fryer asking me questions. Some of them dig into my past.

We talk about internet influencers, internet advertising, the role of the ABC as Australia’s national broadcaster, the shift in focus of The Australian and other Rupert Murdoch media outlets, Malcolm Turnbull, Korean boy band BTS, The Veronicas, Bipolar II Disorder, the nature of being a writer, Sky News Australia, bourbon, repressed memories, getting older, and the importance of fear.

You can listen to the podcast below. But if you want all of the episodes, now and in the future, subscribe to the podcast feed, or go to SoundCloud or Spreaker.

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This podcast was recorded on Sunday 30 October 2018 in Adelaide, South Australia.

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Firefighters tackle the Wentworth Falls bushfire, 2 August 2015

ABC logoAs Monday morning kicked off, the Wentworth Falls bushfire that I mentioned in yesterday’s Weekly Wrap was of course a major news story.

ABC 702 Sydney breakfast presenter Robbie Buck asked for locals to talk about their experiences, so I gave him a call. Here’s the three-minute conversation that resulted.

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The audio is ©2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

[Photo: Firefighters tackle the Wentworth Falls bushfire, 2 August 2015, via the NSW Rural Fire Service.]

ABC7 Los Angeles screenshotIt’s time to have a few words about words. Yes, words. Words like “webinar”. Words like “disruption”. And words like “I have no words”.

Elephant stamps of approval go to the staff of American Airlines and Los Angeles International Airport for being fearful of a Wi-Fi hotspot name, and the fans of One Direction who didn’t know what a poppy symbolises.

And there’s more stuff, but you’ll have to listen.

You can listen to the podcast below. But if you want all of the episodes, now and in the future, subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe automatically in iTunes, or go to SoundCloud.

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If you’d like to comment on this episode, please add your comment below, or Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

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The Australian Federal Police were talking up the risk of “cyber threats” in the Fairfax news yesterday morning, so I ended up talking about it on ABC NewsRadio.

Now the AFP was bouncing off a report from McAfee, which from the title I assume is yet another of those “The internet is dangerous, m’kay?” fear pieces. 2012 Threats Predictions. I won’t bother linking, because all these reports from the major infosec vendors are much the same, jumbling together everything from minor vandalism to “cyberterrorism” — whatever the fuck that is — with little critical analysis.

But I suppose it is actually getting this stuff onto the agenda.

Slowly.

For six minutes.

At this point I reckon I should re-link to two of my pieces from the eCrime Symposium held in Canberra in November 2011. eCrime Symposium: Harden up, warns Aussie crime fighter and eCrime Symposium wrap: Satisfaction tinged with frustration.

The presenter was Cathy Bell (who seems to be missing from the station’s page of presenters), the producer Jared Reed.

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The audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. While the audio was posted shortly after broadcast at the ABC NewsRadio website, I’m going to post it here anyway. It’s easier for me than trawling their automated daily audio archive.

This is being posted a full day after the actual radio appearance, even though the post was ready within an hour of the broadcast. Why? Because I didn’t want it on the website before I’d posted last week’s Weekly Wrap. Is that good editorial judgement? Or just a little bit too anally-retentive?

Daily Telegraph (UK), 19 August 1939, page 3 (part): click for a closer view

If the world was about to explode into a Total War lasting six years, would you know?

As I wrote back in 2007, TV documentaries about World War II cover the rise of Adolf Hitler in a few minutes. We forget that Hitler was head of the National Socialist Party from 1921, fully 12 years before he became Chancellor in 1933. It was another 6 years before the invasion of Poland.

What did it look like for people living it in real-time?

My guess is that for the vast majority of people the rise of Hitler had very little impact on day-to-day life — just as today the distant wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have virtually no discernible impact on my life in Sydney. Nor do the many minor changes to our laws which increase the powers of central government without any balancing increases in our own ability to hold that government accountable.

In the summer of 1932, a few politically-aware people sitting in sunny cafes might have discussed that odd Mr Hitler’s failed run for the presidency, but I doubt anyone would have seen it as heralding global war.

This is why I’m starting to find George Orwell’s diary intriguing.

Initially, as the Orwell Prize published the entries exactly 60 years after they were first written it was, to be honest, boring. Laughably so, in fact, as the meticulous journalist documented the day-to-day activities in his garden. On 30 November 1938, it was nothing more than: Two eggs.

But now, we’re only eleven days out from the German invasion of Poland. Thirteen days from Britain and France declaring war on Germany.

Orwell notes a Daily Telegraph report (pictured): “Germans are buying heavily in copper & rubber for immediate delivery, & price of rubber rising rapidly.”

Orwell’s journalistic eye could see the signs. Could ordinary citizens? Sure, gas masks were being distributed and air raid drills held, but did people believe them?

In 2007, did we believe John Howard’s “alert but not alarmed” scaremongering? Or didn’t we? And if not, but they did in 1939, what’s the difference?

I reckon Orwell’s diary will be an interesting read over the next 13 days.

It was Oscar Wilde or G B Shaw or — oh, somebody interesting — who, when accused of shocking people, replied to the effect that people should be shocked a good deal more often. Or offended. Anyway, I can’t find the right quote so here’s a different one.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

That’s Wilde.

Yesterday we ruffled a client’s feathers. We were invited to tender for a web development project. Our response was, in essence, “Yeah we’re interested — but not if you’re going to do it that way. We don’t think that’ll work because [reasons]. We strongly recommend doing it [some other way]. Before we go any further, is it cool for us to tender that way, knowing that’s not what you asked for? Oh, and here’s the keys to our intranet, so you can see the dialog which led to this conclusion.”

Bang!

Someone’s worldview was gunned down ruthlessly! Politely, but we did use phrases like “high-risk death march”.

Now I should say that one of us worked with this client for almost a decade and the other has worked with them on two projects in the last year. So our comments were based on some knowledge of the organisation and its needs as well as our own professional opinions. Nevertheless, what we said was shocking.

I’ve always wondered why clear, direct communication is so rare in business.
People seem almost afraid to say what they mean. “Don’t upset the client!” So a recommendation like “Process A is dangerous and you should change that immediately or risk almost certain failure” becomes a mealy-mouthed “Is everyone happy with the assumptions relating to Process A?”

All urgency is drained away. The project continues flying serenely towards the looming mountain.

But don’t upset the client.

If your recommendation is for major change, when do you broach the subject?
Sign up to the “wrong” concept of the project and then try to change it? Leave it until people have spent more time going down the wrong path, and the deadline is closer? No, something so important should be communicated as soon as possible.

Organisations aren’t used to people speaking quite so directly. When it happens, it’s like a splash of iced water into the face. And sometimes, that splash into alertness is precisely what’s needed.