I have seen things… you people wouldn’t believe…

The images of a mob invading the Capitol looked surreal to me, as I was watching it on CNN –Trump-declared snake den of fake news- from the cozy comfort of my coach. It looked like a badly enacted B-movie, where terrorists are allowed their 17 minutes of destructive fame, before Bruce Willis,  Sylvester Stallone,  Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Jason Statham blast them into oblivion. You know, Rambo style, with more firepower than an attack helicopter, bleeding very manly, and writing literature history with poetic four-word-sentences like “out here , I am the law”, or “Hasta la Vista, baby

Only, the expendables did not show up this time. The National Guard was nowhere to be seen as the Capitol Hill police and a handful of secret service agents tried to protect congress representatives and senators. O, and a vice-president. It seemed unreal that the same United States that steamrolled through the Nazi defenses in 1945 was on the brink of being unable to defend the core of the national democracy: the Capitol. Defend, mind you, not against a well-trained, willing to die, highly efficient terrorist sleeper army, but against some middle aged, red faced, overweight dudes in badly adjusted camouflage gear, and a guy that came dressed as a bison.   

I am not going to go through the why, the how… Not going to preach that words matter, that words are weapons. I am not even going to point out the crushing responsibility of Him Who Shall Not Be Named,  the only one-time president that was impeached twice, in firing up his supporters.  There have been tons of posts on that, and history will be a relentless judge.

fake memories: Bladerunner

The scene reminded me of Bladerunner. Ironically the science fiction movie was projected around 2019… It features humanoid robots, implanted with fake memories. “…attached to the emotions driven from the implanted memories and a sense of false purpose driven from those feelings. Even fake and implanted memories can evoke real emotions, and that is what is important here. It’s not a question about what is real, and what is not. It’s a question of focussed empathy.”  

Even the fake,  constructed stories based on demagogic rhetoric, trigger real emotions. And uncontrolled, petrol fueled emotions make mobs do real stupid things. Like attacking the Capitol, dressed up as a bison…. and thinking you will get away with it.

Roy Batty’s death soliloquy evoked that « all his moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” The people involved in the Capitol attack have no such luck. They will be remembered by history, labelled as “domestic terrorists”. Most of them are slowly wakening into a shocking reality: that actions have consequences.

I do not want to the bringer of bad news… but Mad Max was set in the reality of… 2021.

Freedom of speech is also the right not to amplify an idiot

My social streams are burning glowing red with passionate debates on “freedom of speech”. These debates are often linked to a couple of powerful social networks (finally) kicking that bitter and angry man in the White House off their platforms. Mind: they gave it a lot of thought before suspending his accounts. Trump could permit himself way more than citizen lambda ever could. He got ample warning from both networks that he was over the line. By a mile.

But if you are  pro or contra Trump is not really the subject here. It’s the “freedom of speech” that gets used and abused like there is no tomorrow that triggered me. Honestly, for some of you: it does not mean what you think it means 😉.

It’s a  human right

Freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice“.  (thank you Wikipedia).

ICCPR specifies that  the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities and can therefore be subject to certain restrictions when necessary for respect of the rights or reputation of others or for the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals“.

Luckily, there are boundaries

Freedom of speech and expression is, as you might have understood by now, by no means absolute. Common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech apply, and relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, dignity, the right to be forgotten, public security, protection of minors, negation-ism and perjury.

Mill’s Harm principle

Justifications and an ethical framework for these boundaries include the harm principle, proposed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, which suggests that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”  Otherwise said: like most freedom, the freedom of speech stop where another freedom begins.  

It’s the law

In most countries freedom of speech is included in the constitution itself, or in one of the amendments or bylaws. The first amendment of the United States Constitution notoriously says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In short, this gives every single US citizen five protected  freedoms: speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government.

So the ones that plead for freedom of speech, but condemn the right to assemble and (peacefully) protest should really do some research 😊.

In most countries, this right to freedom of speech has boundaries that follow mostly the exceptions of the ICCPR.

It’s for the government, and its institutions

The freedom of speech refrains governments, governmental institutions, and governmental agents from interfering with expression, as long as it is within the legal boundaries (= the list of exceptions), and refrains them to retaliate in any way on the communicators. Ergo: a citizen has the (human) (constitutional) right to express himself, within certain well defined boundaries, without having to fear pressure or negative impact from the government for doing so.

China jailing people for talking about the events of the Tian’anmen Square is clearly a breach of the human right to free speech…

Private terms and conditions

All this is very well, but every social media platform has a binder of small lettered terms and conditions that set out the multiple rules linked with the use of the platforms. Often, (and in the case of as well Twitter as Facebook), these terms and conditions set limits to the freedom of expression on those platforms, that are directly taken from the ICCPR list of exceptions.

You do not have to like the platform, you may vehemently disagree with its purpose, its shareholders, its set-up. You may even question its grueling impact on today’s society. But nobody forces you to use it. And… if you do, you’ll have to accept the limits as set out in its terms and conditions (assuming that those are not against the law) .

Freedom of speech does not give you a right to be amplified

Within certain boundaries, you can say whatever you want, but this constitutional  and human right does not oblige third parties to amplify you. Press, platforms, etc are free to amplify what they want. You might not like that, but it is their right. In short: no private company can be forced to spread your gospel. Moreover, if you would force them, you would be jeopardizing their very own right to freedom of speech.

So yes, Twitter and Facebook have every right not to amplify an idiot. Maybe they should have exercised the right not to carry stupid, racist, misogynist, and violent messages way earlier.

#SXSWCorona: NO, COVID-19 will not break the internet. It was built to withstand a global nuclear war

Country after country goes into lock-down. City after city grinds to a halt. Businesses migrate from the office parks into the living rooms of countless workers. While fiber connected, high speed internet wired office buildings are now populated by skeleton crews, most of the internet users are now connecting from the -safer- confinement of their homes.

Millions of students are banned from schools, colleges and universities, and are confined at home, with severe restrictions to their mobility. While they are supposed to be studying and attending online classes and courses -and, we are sure they are 😊-, they also connect massively to more re-creative uses of the internet.

With a population of 60 million clustered at home, Italy saw its internet use go through the roof. Online access to goods, news, work and entertainment accounted for a massive pike in the country’s internet use.  Collaborative platforms, streaming movie services and online gaming platforms (especially Fortnite and Call of Duty) found their way towards the hesitant bandwidth of the Italian homes.

Disconnected. Connected. Repeat.

Thousands of people complained about faltering connections and difficulties to connect to the world wide web. Telecom Italia, “We reported an increase of more than 70% of Internet traffic over our landline network with a big contribution from online gaming.”

Bloomberg said 48 hours later that: “Telecom Italia’s network is working perfectly and with higher volumes compared with previous days, the issues reported affected temporary just some applications and the internet.”

Similar scenarios in Spain, France, Belgium, the USA, the UK… where the lock-downs become more real, the internet usage dramatically changes -and increases-.  Co-working tools struggle, connections seem slower than usual in lots of cases.  

Demand for online video and chat tools, from Slack to Zoom to WebEx, is also increasing. The traffic to Cisco’s videoconferencing went up to 70% even 80%, the company said. Video conferencing service GoToMeeting admitted that “it was experiencing unprecedented traffic for our product during peak starting times,” causing its services to falter.  Even Microsoft’s Teams collaborative software suffered outages this week. The Seattle based company scrambles to address the issue, and to keep pace with the growing demand.  VPN use was up 53% in the U.S. last week, and more than doubled in Italy, according to AtlasVPN.  Pornhub proudly reports double digit increase in all lock-down areas, and World of Worldcraft sees massive gatherings on its servers.

The tougher guidelines in the US, limiting groups to  10 people (5 in some States), multi-week school closures, and enforced social distancing,  are expected to increase the home internet use 10-fold.

Will we break the Internet?

The glitches, and perceived slowing down of the internet highway is causing some concern, up to downright panic that the Internet will break, cutting our lifeline with life and business-as-we-used to know it.

Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, a Internet infrastructure and security company is convinced that the Internet can handle the extra load:  “The Internet was really designed from the beginning to respond to literally a nuclear emergency.

DARPA: redundancy and dynamic rerouting

The current internet, also known as the World Wide Web is built on, and intertwined with the old military (D)ARPANET. Based on a concept first published in 1967, (D)ARPANET was developed under the direction of the U.S. (Defence) Advanced Research Projects Agency ((D)ARPA).

In 1969, the idea became a modest reality with the interconnection of four university computers. The initial purpose was to create a redundant and dynamic reroutable web between military installations, and by extension a communication web between users and connected institutions that was next to impossible to take down.  ARPANET took advantage of Vint Cerf’s  new idea of sending information in small units called packets that could be routed on different paths and reconstructed at their destination.  Cerf coined this dynamic rerouting development in the TCP/IP protocol that still governs the internet, that network of networks, today.

The internet at its very basic is just a very large number of computers all networked and connected. A large office building with a couple of thousand computers connected in a network to allow file sharing between employees, is connected to the internet via a cables/connections. Severing that cable, the building’s connection to the outside world (the internet), would go down, but not the building’s intra-net. A cell phone modem could reconnect the building to the rest of the world. You could theoretically segregate a whole country or area of a country from the rest of the internet if you severed all the possible routes between that area and the rest of the internet. As long as one line is open though, communications will re-rout.  To “destroy” the internet, you would have to destroy every server and every service provider, every connection point. Considering that they are located throughout the entire world and there are literary millions of them, it seems unlikely that somebody or something could destroy the internet faster than it can be repaired or rerouted.

Prince is right: it was built to withstand a full-on nuclear war.

The weakest link: your homegear

While the internet will be all right, your home connection might not. Offices are routed on high capacity nodes, most households are using throttled down internet access (squeezed down by the internet provider in your contract’s commercial restrictions), and lower capacity/slower routers, switches and Wi-Fi radio’s.

In short: most homes are (not yet) wired for a full blown, all guns out, full family 24/h internet use at the same speed as the big office parks/buildings are able to provide. Routers are slower. WiFi is often slowed down by too much concrete at home, and not enough WiFi relay stations, older (slower) cables, etc.

At home, an internet connection of 30 megabits per second will normally be enough, linked to a lower to mid-tier Wi-Fi router.  But when you, the kids, and your partner connect to a single Wi-Fi network at the same time to stream or host video conferencing, keep digital TV up, and some connected gaming… the system congests, and the more data hungry apps will collapse under their weight.

Providers worldwide are now scrambling to upgrade house internet speeds to a guaranteed 50 megabits per second, resulting in faster speeds and more bandwidth.

The “O Shit” VPN

Another weak link in the system might be your company’s VPN, VPNs are virtual private networks. Companies and organizations use them to let workers securely access their systems, even if they’re not in the office. It allows centralized security, and control.

You can think of it as almost a castle and moat strategy where all the employees and all the secrets of the business are in the castle and the bad guys are kept out through the moat,” Cloudflare’s Prince said in an interview with NPR: “VPNs are like drawbridges that let certain people into the castle, such as employees who are on the road or working remotely. A lot of companies never built it  to accommodate the entire workforce being outside of the castle.”

Go easy

You can help to bridge the gap, avoid peaks, and speed your web up:

  • Work offline. Go to the server, take your doc, log-off, work local, put the revised document back on the server
  • Avoid video conferencing. Honestly, most of the time voice is enough. Or send a document around to amend. Highly efficient. Avoid screen and document sharing on a low  speed line: send the presentation in advance, so people can follow if their connection is slower.
  • If you must do video: 360 pix is enough. Nobody needs to see your pajamas in 4K.
  • Buy a faster home modem, or switch from WIFI to cable (faster)
  • Switch off your TV, your Spotify and kick your kids from your home router 😊.

COVID19 will ebb away, but your values will go viral

What is civilization? The poet Robert Frost once eloquently described civilization as “a clearing in a dense dark forest”.  As we collectively hacked our way to establish a clearing, to industrialize, to modernize, we began to think that this vista of our action was the defining world view. This is an idea that we continuously strengthen through the everyday.

It looks like that clearing in the forest might be very temporary after all. The meadow of civilization seems to be extremely vulnerable. As soon as something rattles the very fragile fabric of civilization, the dark reptilian ancestor in our brain seems to take over, and human values are banned and contained.

Fighting for toilet paper

People bash each other’s heads in for 12 rolls of toilet paper, and a flacon of hand sanitizer. Here in Austin, stores opened at 8am and had sold out of their full stock of milk and bottled water five minutes later, some gas station pumps are running dry. Finding masks, hand sanitizer or bleach is next to impossible. “Some people bought in bulk and are not hesitating to resell at a premium” said Tevin Hunter, a sales representative at Target in an interview with the Straits.

Shopping mall parking lots are empty. Some non-essential stores are open, but with a staff that longs for one thing: going home. Pasta, rice, virgin olive oil, meat and toilet paper are sold out at most places. Bizarrely, some other things are getting short in supply. Headphones and webcams are sought after items, tech stores run out of external monitors. Homeworking takes its physical toll on the supply chain.

Bikes and tents and moonshine

People bought more bikes, apparently to avoid public transportation, or to self-exercise now that gyms are closed. As a high number of these bikes are off roaders, it seems people are preparing for the apocalypse. Tents, flashlights, camping gear. You never know. Most Texans keep their impressive V8 vehicles topped up to the brim.

An Austinite was filling the flatbed of his truck with cases of beer, wine and Bourbon. “I need enough to kill the time before my moonshine is ready”, he laughed: “Smokes and booze, I can as well be honest about it.

Guns and ammunition

More worrying are the long queues at some gun shops.  Some of these shops sold more than a month worth of inventory over the last few days. Pistols, guns, rifles, and ludicrous amounts of ammunition were sold.  While we experience some fights on the parking lots of supermarkets in Europe, I do not dare to imagine what this would look like in a US State that allows for open carry. Gun ownership in Texas is at an estimated 35,7 percent, nor are Texans required by law to register their firearms.

Mind you, people do not buy guns and rifles to go hunting or fishing in this time of (perceived!) short supply.  Ken Booth, a gun owner, told the Buffalo News that he was stocking up on ammunition for his rifle and his girlfriend’s new handgun because he fears if there are widespread closings of stores selling essentials such as food, it could create social and economic turmoil and result in lawlessness.

People haven’t stood in soup lines in this country since the Great Depression,” said Booth: “What happens in a month from now when people start coming for what I have?” Booth said.”

Racism and extremists

The Chinaman disease” or “stay away from the yellow fever”, I heard somebody call it, a bit in line with Trump’s consequent usage of “Chinese virus”.  Some extreme right wingers finger point immigrants, hope COVID19 erases the homeless, or see a solution for the “pension problem” as COVID19’s primary mortality victims are the elderly.

Battling disinformation

Some of the biggest technology companies banded together in a commitment to fight coronavirus-related fraud and misinformation, as the internet was flooded with conspiracy theories, disinformation and hoaxes. The group includes Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube.

Amongst others, Twitter and Facebook are committed to providing non-governmental organizations vast advertising credits to boost public health campaigns and spread targeted and correct information.

Tech companies stepping in

Cisco announced free access to its video conferencing tool Webex for all countries where it is available, on top of the recent free availability of the platform that was limited to the countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google would roll out free access to the Hangouts Meet video conferencing capabilities to all G Suite customers globally. The rollout will begin starting this week, and free access will be available until July 1.

Microsoft offers a free six-month trial of its Teams product, which facilitates remote work through video and text chat.

Telecom operators worldwide offer higher bandwidth, and/or free access to on demand content. Some newscasters take down (albeit partly) their paywalls.

Onlineschools.be offers a comprehensive suite of (free) tools for schools and educational services.

Doing good

All in all, companies scramble to maintain business continuity, while at the same time ensuring flexibility and safety for their employees. Ranging from home-working where possible, over flexibility on sick-day-credits, to help with medical bills or day care.

The hotel (Lakeway Resort and Spa) in Texas where I am typing this, is providing staff AND visitors alike with gels, latex gloves and pro-grade masks for those that need to go through an airport.

Countless entrepreneurs and consultants offer services and advice for free, and set up platforms, websites and ways to help. Local volunteers take care of babies, childcare, and help the elderly with their shopping needs.

As often, a crisis brings out the best in people. The herd protection reflex at its fullest: the knowledge that together, we are stronger. That as a species, to prosper or to survive, we need each other. That, to maintain our clearing in the forest, we need to co-operate.

The dark side

Sadly, the same crisis also makes masks drop. Some people and corporations show their darkest side in full survival mode. They will rather throw the others under a bus, if they think it will give them the tiniest advantage.

A time of reckoning

We will learn a lot from this crisis. From each other. From our colleagues. From our bosses. From our friends. From our partners. From our neighbors. From our suppliers. From the old man in the shop.

In three weeks, we will know each other’s true hair color, and we will know each other’s true colors. No more hiding. No more pretending. Values are what you display when you are at your best, or at your worst. As an individual, as an employer, as a friend, a spouse, a parent, a brand.

May history be kind on your words, your actions and your mails. As this COVID19 crisis will pass, your empathy and your actions will go viral and will not be forgotten.

Take care.

#SXSWcorona: Living and working through your keyboard

All the sudden, millennia of civilization grind to a screaming halt. Streets are empty. Flights are cancelled, hotels go to minimal service, or close. Lockdown and curfew are used in our daily vocabulary for the first time since WWII.   A small sneeze or cough generates (understandably) immediate concern and panic. People are willing to maim each other over some rolls of pink slightly perfumed toilet paper.

Offices, restaurants and shops are moving their business out of the open. Work from home, stay in, don’t go out. Meetings that mandatory required everybody’s presence, are all the sudden morphed into videoconferences and conference calls. The laptop is the window to the world, the smartphone the only weapon against isolation.   

While most people have had multiple ways of digital contacting at their fingertips (ranging from messenger and WhatsApp, to Skype (for business) , WebEx, Hangouts, Teams…) it is shocking to see that a lot of them have never used it to the fullest in their personal or private environment.  For some employees, these platforms are just an icon on their desktop, that was never used until now. Too bad businesses did not invest in training programs and tutorials before the shit hit the fan.

Shift your thinking

Working and communicating remotely is quite a shift from being in the (open spaced) office. It is work, hard work, but not as you are used to know it. While the same business imperatives apply (delivery on time, on spec, and on budget), the rules of engagement and practicalities shift. Things taken for granted and years of habit go down the drain. You’ll have to shift your thinking, the virtual communication world is complex, powerful, and has lots of possibilities. You will just have to think outside of the non-virtual office box. Here are the tips I gathered from three decades of being a mobile warrior, enhanced with devilish wisdom from some of my fellow keyboard knights and SXSW veterans. They are brought to you from a mobile device, on the edge of the Texan desert.

The Goodies: hard- and software

  1. You need a computer (preferably a laptop), a (smart)phone and a (fast) (unlimited) internet connection. Without this, things are a tad difficult.
  2. Invest in a good headset for calls and reaching out. You might consider investing a bit more in noise cancelling varieties, with an easy mute button. A soundproof bubble with crystal clear sound is totally worth the surplus cost. (all online shops ship them overnight. Don’t rush to the store buying one). A good webcam helps obviously for the video-calls.  Most laptops and phones have them build-in. While the webcam focuses mostly on your face and nostrils, I invite you to avoid taking calls in pajamas, and -please- wear pants. I’m unable to forget the sight of one of my clients casually getting up in the middle of a video-call to grab coffee. He had totally forgotten he was only dressed up from the waist up: most disturbing Mickey Mouse sighting ever (on his boxers).   
  3. If you do video, make sure you have correct lighting. Turn your face TOWARDS the window or install a little LED that illuminates your face. Little cameras suck in low lighting.
  4. Install the right software, and check if it’s working before hopping on client calls. If necessary, contact your IT department. I am sure your email is set-up right, but ensure you have the rights to install/operate specialized tools like Slack, Skype for business, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, etc…
  5. Get a mobile subscription with unlimited data if possible.  That makes you truly mobile and offers a good “B” plan on those moments that Wi-Fi falters.

Your workplace

  1. Urm: it’s work. Ok, at home, but still: work. Taking that video-call in your onesie sitting on your bed chewing chips and downing a liter of Chardonnay might give the wrong impression. That basket of dirty laundry behind your shoulder, or youporn.com playing on that screen in the background are also things to avoid.
  2. Your kitchen table, dining table, or coffee table are totally acceptable. Just make sure the background is tidy, and as professional as possible. Too bad for the cat. It will have to move.
  3. Do make your home/work environment efficient and pleasant. You need outside light, a view, and some space to be creative, efficient and productive. Some soft music, cold water, and a green plant or two do wonders. Cacti might make you depressed 😊.
  4. Set a schedule. Divide your time in “work”, and “off”. Get up in the morning. Shower. Dress. Eat at noon. Turn off around end of business. This schedule is of the uttermost importance to get your spirit up, and your energy flowing. Follow the cycle of natural light as good as you can.
  5. Make your house members aware of your schedule. Show them the worktimes that you need to use to concentrate, and the video call moments where you’re going to be off-limits.  Toddlers and babies are forgiven everything, as it should be.
  6. Might seem obvious, but eat, drink (water), sleep, repeat. Being in your own bubble might make you forget that your body needs to continue to function. For that, it needs exercise, food, fluids and rest.
  7. Set a schedule with your co-workers, clients, managers. Keep taps on people, keep feeling the pulse of what’s happening. Keep connected, keep connecting. Even in lock-down: it’s not the end of the world. Yet.
  8. You need a fresh nose and some fresh air from time to time. A balcony, a garden, a terrace. If allowed, go for a walk. Even if allowed, steer and stay away from other humans. Worst case scenario: open a window. It helps clearing the lungs and the head.
  9. Code-word: healthy snacks. You WILL go for snacks and comfort food. For the sake of your wardrobe, let it be carrots, celery sticks, mini tomatoes and cauliflower.

Do’s

  1. If you can, go for video meetings. Just audio will make you lose a lot of the non-verbal communication that is essential for good interpretation and understanding. It also helps “humanizing” the whole situation. The other party is probably at work from home too: you give each other a glimpse of your private space, which is important for bonding and client intimacy.
  2. Stay close to your camera and your microphone (when not using a headset), the microphones on smartphones and laptops are excellent, but are calibrated only for short range.
  3. Please, mute if you are on a multiple person call. If you are the organizer, ask everyone except the presenter to mute. Cappuccino machines, screaming babies and an ear shattering feedback beep are very disturbing.  Mind that they are on mute, so, if you ask a question: allow them a second to unmute, or… tell them to unmute if they want to talk. It would not be the first time that somebody talks for a couple of minutes into a muted microphone.
  4. Do send presentations and documents before the call. Yes, you can share your screen, but some people on slower connections might have difficulties if there refresh rate goes down. They can still follow your talk, when they have your slides local.
  5. Send a clear agenda upfront, follow it rigorously, summarize highlights and certainly action points (and action owners) during the call, and repeat conclusions and decisions. This allows everybody to be on the same page., and gives everybody time and occasion to react, or assert that the information/summary is correct.  Send a summary of the call, with clear action points, action owners, and due dates within 12 hours after the call. Invite all to accept/amend before calling the minutes “final”.  If you plan to record the meeting: ask permission upfront and make the recording available for all.
  6. While not in the office, mail, chat, and connection tools are all you have: so, keep an eye on them during office time and (re)act timely. A nudge on WhatsApp is the digital equivalent of a little tap on the shoulder. It’s comforting for co-workers, clients and management that you are -indeed- available and connected. On the other hand, respect that it might take a bit longer for people to respond to you. There is a small natural lag in digital conversations.
  7. Do point out “better” hours for connecting via video/sound (I’ll be without kids in half an hour is a great argument!)
  8. Respect your natural working time. Working remotely does not mean “always working”. When you’re off, you’re off: except in emergencies you should not work.  

Don’ts

  1. Eat while conference calling. Food crunching during a call is gross and extremely disturbing. So is drinking. And farting.
  2. Do not take calls, even audio, from the comfortable porcelain seat in your bathroom. Just… don’t.
  3. Don’t take long calls from the warm intimacy of your bed: you WILL fall asleep, and nothing more embarrassing that snoring during your board call…
  4. Disclose if there are other people with you (kids, spouse…) so people can judge what level of confidential information they want to share. Don’t forget: NDA is NDA, at home, or not. Don’t let sensitive information spread.
  5. Make sure your mute is a real mute before cursing, ranting, or making out with your loved one.

If you have other tips, please let me know: I’ll gladly add.

#SXSWCorona: Your opinion does not matter. Science, and facts do.

It’s been on my agenda for three years now: the battle against fake news. The level of dumbfuckery that is served daily on my personal interwebs channels gives me the flying scoobidoobidoo. It wants me to scream, yell, shake, and slap a good number of internauts into sense. Luckily for them that seems illegal in most countries, and still a bit difficult to do “the cyber way”.

Hanging out -safely social distanced, no worries- with some more social media aficionados and marketing and communication professionalsin a hot outskirt of the USA, one conversation point pops up immediately: the tsunami of fake, troubling, distorting and flat-out dangerous posts on the global pandemic, also known as COVID19, or -if you prefer- the Coronavirus.  Consensus is: something needs to be done about this. Question is: how?

Social vigilance

The fist step is not that difficult. Social vigilance. Don’t believe everything you read: analyse, think, verify. Is there a credited source? Multiple ones? Is it verifiable? Is it not already on one of the multiple good “factcheck sites”?  I copy a suggestion of good factcheckers below this post, verified by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). There are other good ones, send and I’ll add 😊. 

Seriously, don’t spread fake news. The truth is often complicated and hard enough.  Stuff that starts with “A good friend of mine, who is in the medical industry….” = nope, njet!  If you believe -without verifying- what uncharted friends of friends believe, I have a couple of nice bridges to sell you. 

Look for reliable sources and cross-examine them. That lowers the chances of spreading garbage.  Here are a couple of good sources on health and COVID19, as collected by the Harvard Medical School:

  • rely on experts who use well-accepted scientific analyses and publish their results in reputable medical journals
  • have a mission to inform and protect the public, such as the CDC and the WHO, which recently added a myth busters page to its information on 2019-nCoV
  • are not promoting or selling a product related to the information provided.
  • MedlinePlus, from the US National Library of Medicine
  • the UK’s National Health Service (and other national health services)
  • the US Food and Drug Administration
  • major news outlets with deep expertise in health reporting, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe’s STAT News.

Your opinion does NOT matter

Confucius, the famous French medieval enlightened philosopher (you might want to verify that one before spreading) notoriously said that “opinions are like assholes, everybody has one”. While that is absolutely and verifiably true (wait, it is not: one out of five thousand people is born without one! http://www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/medical_services/surgical/minimal/conditions/ianus/signs.html ), that does not mean I want to listen to every single one…

Way too often attempts at adult conversations on the internet are slapped with references to “I’m intitled to my opinion” and “freedom of speech”. Let me spill this out for you: your opinion does not really matter. You have the absolute right to say that -in your opinion- the earth is flat, the moon landing was a hoax, God created the world in seven days, there is no climate change urgency, and Corona was invented by a political party to dethrone Trump. You have the right to that opinion (in which case I evoke my constitutional right to think you are an utter and hopeless moron), but that does not really MATTER in an adult conversation. It’s just verifiable WRONG.

Your right to think that 2+2=5 is just that, it stops there. You’re allowed to think whatever you want. That does not mean that your thinking is not WRONG. Your thinking that you have the right to drive 250 on the highway will end you up in jail, your 2+2=5 claim will make you -rightly so- the laughingstock of every fundamental school class.

Moral duty: debunk

It’s our duty, especially in these shaky times, to debunk. Point out facts. Point out idiocies and fake beliefs. It’s like AIDS, you are the last line of defence. Whether it is aliens, creationism, populism, flat earth, anti-vaxxers, reptile people, illuminati, refugees wanting to take over your world: it can and should stop with you. NO excuses. Debunk. Point out the flaws. Don’t take opinions for an answer. Your and my timeline will look so much better!

We might all put pressure on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and tuti quanti and nudge them into helping us to separate the wheat from the chaff. They have been running from that responsibility for too long. Yes, people can and should express opinions. Our social platforms -and news platforms- should put warnings on those opinions that are wrong, manipulative or misleading. That is not censorship, it’s common sense. Nothing debunks fake news harder and faster than facts, figures, and science.

COVID 19 debunked

No, it was not engineered in a Chinese lab; you cannot get rid of it by gurgling hot salty water; sniffing Cocaine will get you high, not cured; praying does not help; neither do tele-evangelists and preachers; it’s not “like the flu”; it does not stop at the border; you will not get it from your Alibaba Chinese package; being young will not save you from harm; you cannot vitamin C your way out of this; vegans have no lesser chance of contamination than the others; being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing is not a Corona-free indication; yes you should get the flu-vaccine but no, it will not help you against COVID19; you can get it in countries with temperatures above 27 degrees; and if you hope that spring will cure humanity forever you’re a mild form of an optimistic idiot.

You’re welcome.

Fact check sites

AllSides. While not a fact-checking site, AllSides curates stories from right, center and left-leaning media so that readers can easily compare how bias influences reporting on each topic. 

Fact Check. This nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by U.S. political players, including politicians, TV ads, debates, interviews and news releases.

Media Matters. This nonprofit and self-described liberal-leaning research center monitors and corrects conservative misinformation in the media.

NewsBusters. A project of the conservative Media Research Center, NewsBusters is focused on “documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias.”

Open Secrets. This nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit website run by the Center for Responsive Politics tracks how much and where candidates get their money.

Politifact. This Pulitzer Prize winning website rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials. Run by editors and reporters from the independent newspaper Tampa Bay Times, Politicfact features the Truth-O-Meter that rates statements as “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half True,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire.”

ProPublica. This independent, nonprofit newsroom has won several Pulitzer Prizes, including the 2016 Prize for Explanatory Reporting. ProPublica produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Snopes. This independent, nonpartisan website run by professional researcher and writer David Mikkelson researches urban legends and other rumors. It is often the first to set the facts straight on wild fake news claims.

The Sunlight Foundation. This nonpartisan, nonprofit organization uses public policy data-based journalism to make politics more transparent and accountable.

Washington Post Fact Checker. Although the Washington Post has a left-center bias, its checks are excellent and sourced. The bias shows up because they fact check conservative claims more than liberal ones.

(with thanks to Wim Labie!)

#SXSW2020: Welcome to Hotel California

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night.
(The Eagles)

Austin 2020. The cancellation of SXSW2020 hit the town midships, and under the waterline. Tumbleweeds are rolling silently through the almost empty city streets.  Normally, this time of year Austin is full of street artists, musicians, rock stars, filmmakers, tech gurus, developers, thinkers, dreamers, inventors, writers and visitors. Over 350 million dollar in direct revenue to the city. The bread and butter of countless small entrepreneurs and hospitality workers, mostly directly depending on this event. The event, cancelled by Corona, Covid19. Ironically, the thousands of workers that now see close to half of their yearly paycheck go up in smoke, have no health insurance…

Convention Center, Hilton Hotel… dead. Walking through this part of the city feels creepy. Like those influencer videos of Chernobyl. No death rays that will glow you in the dark, but the creepy little virus can be heard giggling behind every empty street corner.

O yeah, people did show up. We’re  meeting them. On terraces, in lobbies. maintaining social distances. A bit hesitant. A bit awkward. But quickly back into what matters. The future. Of tech. Of society. Of humanity. The future of SXSW even, if there is one.

RIP SXSW?

Because, make no mistake: Austin takes a hit. But the financial and trust blow to SXSW LLC, the company that organizes SXSW since 1987 is a hefty one. The corporation saw mayor Steve Adler cancelling SXSW mere days before the festival was about to start, and with the first delegates and visitors already arriving or on their way to Austin.

SXSW LLC cannot count on insurance – while it’s covered from all possible angles, pandemic viruses are considered an act of God. Insurance companies nor God seem very keen in stepping in to repay for the damages. A lot of the investments for this year’s festival vaporized overnight.  For SXSW LL, the city’s decision is putting its future in jeopardy. It scrambles to pick up the pieces, make decisions, and stay afloat.  

SXSW laid off 60 employees on Monday, a third of its 180 full time staff.  Most of the temporary staff was let go as well. SXSW communicated that “We are rigorously reviewing all options and operations, and are in the unimaginable position of reducing our workforce. We are planning for the future and this was a necessary, but heartbreaking, step.”

Roland Swenson

Roland Swenson, SXSW co-founder and CEO stated that:  “SXSW is planning to carry on and do another event in 2021. How we’re going to do that I’m not entirely sureOur losses could run into the tens of millions of dollars. Without measures, we could be out of money by this summer if we don’t find additional sources of income. As we do not have insurance coverage for cancellations triggered by bacterial infections, communicable diseases, viruses and pandemics, insurance will likely not cover the cancellation.

Too big to fail

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is confident that SXSW LLC will be able to hold the event again.

They told me they fully intend to come back next year,” Adler said in an interview with The Statesman “They haven’t quite figured out the path yet. But they fully intend to come back. It is part of who we are — it’s part of our brand — and I think this city wants to help them and the (hospitality) industry overall.

It looks like city, local tycoons and state are going to step in to make sure the illustrious festival will be held next year.  If not, the impact on Austin’s international profile and tourism industry will be devastating.  Many of the  food trucks, restaurants, bars, hotels and other businesses in downtown Austin took a severe blow, and are scrambling to survive until the next edition. No new edition would mean certain death for many of them. The economic and reputational hit of the total death of the festival in the context of Austin’s annual economy would be downright catastrophic. SXSW is the flagship event for Austin on as well the touristic as the economic sectors.

Austin, symbol of innovation, freethinking, and home of thousands of start-ups cannot really permit to lose the shiny Lone Star of its famous festival, that attracts over 200.000 music fans, technology geeks and innovative culture enthusiasts to the city’s downtown each March, and many businesses in the area have come to count on the free-spending attendees.

Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, told a local newspaper that “SXSW has a significant impact on the standing of the city and on the perception of Austin as a regional hub of technology and creativity, benefits that will be difficult to reproduce if the event can’t continue. That would be a big and costly loss for Austin and for Texas and would impact a significant  part of downtown Austin businesses. The hospitality sector in the area probably has too much capacity without the annual tide of SXSW visitors.”

Lock down

You might think it unwise that one festival has such a dramatic power grip on a local economy, that failing might mean wrecking the local economy. Austin will save SXSW. We saved our banks. Detroit’s car manufacturers were saved.

Our economy resists terrorism, but folds like a card house by a tiny moisture spread virus. Civilization as we know it reinvents itself over night in a stressed-out all-in attempt to outsmart a brainless micro-organism.

State of emergency, lock-down…  Driving my truck through the desert roads of Texas, I listen to Sirius Radio. the Eagles knew it all along:

 Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’
” (The Eagles
)

It’s called home!

So, we moved. After 15 years in our previous home, it was time to move on. We had many great moments, tough cookies to crack, moments of laughter, some tears.  The arrival of Yoko (the cat) 7 years ago, and -after endless waiting- Tara 4 years ago were the absolute highlights. It was a great house.

But, it was time. Don’t ask me why. Restlessness. An urge for something new. So we packed, moved everything we own (minus a couple of cases we gladly donated) to a new home a 1250 meters away.

Moving a lifetime of books, a 4-year-old, a cat, and joined memories and furniture took us many late hours, a lot of fun, some dramatic asthmatic and dust allergy attacks (=me) and an endlessly energized organizational wonder (Nathalie).

A green house!

But now we’re settling in a house that provides for 95% in its own energy, with solar-everything, deep geothermal heat-pumps, heat recuperation, etc. A house that’s intelligent, drives sunscreens on its own, and is buzzing with domotica features. You should see the grin on my face.

And its nice, cozy, silent, comforting.  I started calling it home. That’s a big deal 😉

The future-killing thought bug: The Chicken or The Egg

A quick rant before diving into the first day of #SXSW. O sweet Jesus. We all know them. The very often well-dressed, well-groomed, but slightly under CPU-ed pseudo intellectuals that kill off all future scoping thoughts with the “yes, but”. Teenagers use social media to bond and band together to protest against global warming: “Yes, but do they know that they are polluting with their cellphones?”  Bill and Melinda Gates funding the battle against malaria: “Yes, but are we sure that they are not colluding with the big pharma bros”.  The crucial importance of safety of and ethical rules for personal data: “Yes, but most people don’t care that much.”

The yes but is a future killer. It allows for throwing that je-ne-sais-quoi shade over the conversation at hand. Around SXSW it manifestates itself in an even more vicious version: the chicken or the egg. On the development of autonomous cars: “won’t work, the legal red tape is not cut yet.”

Let’s throttle back here a little: autonomous cars are doomed to fail, because legislators, insurance companies and courts failed to keep pace? That is a chicken or egg thought bug: “what needs to come first”, is not clear,  ergo (and much to Plato’s chagrin) it can’t happen.

The clean car energy impasse

Best example at hand, prominently being discussed in press and social networks uncomfortably close to you: clean energy.

While a lot of the conversation at this year’s edition of SXSW is (again) about the future of transportation, critics with great corporate hair are quick to add their grain of salt: “Yes but, have you calculated the impact of batteries? The mining of cobalt and lithium?”  Etc, ad nauseam.

As if you cannot simultaneously develop an all-electric car, and work on clean production tracks, and sustainable energy solutions, and more intelligent battery break-through’s.

Habit

People won’t use electric cars.  Charging is complicated. It is against their habit. They do not see the need.” Let’s get back to reality: look at the picture below. In a decade the face of the earth changed, pushing horse-and-carriages and its whole sustaining economy into oblivion. In a decade. There was no habit for cars. No habit of fueling up. No paperwork or laws were ready at hand. It happened, because it had to. Horses were simply too polluting

Super Chargers

Electric cars are doomed, there is no nationwide network of chargers and superchargers. That needs to be fixed first”. Really? There were no gas stations in the 1900’s. No movie theaters either. No fast-food retail. No shopping malls. No….

Never in history (based on the empirical evidence of a 5 minute internet search) has the non-availability of a network refrained progress. On the contrary, most of the things we value today were developed as an ecosystem around an invention: cars, movie theatres, electric appliances, fast-food…

So there is no chicken or egg dilemma. If more and more electric cars hit the road, more chargers will pop up. More chargers will incite more people considering going electric. It’s a vortex, not a dilemma.

Batteries

The batteries are weak. Not up to spec. Polluting. Too heavy, that needs to be fixed first”.  The first combustion engines were made in really robust and heavy metal, and generated single digit horsepower. Still, cars were built around them, and people happily used them. 120 years later a combustion engine delivers potentially over 950 horsepower for a tenth of the 4 HP motor of 1922.

Blockers and drivers

The success of corporations, households and nations thrive on their capacity to tackle everything that blocks their process, and take advantage of every tiny bit that drives success.  Yes but, and chicken or egg thinking do not very well in that chapter.

So, what comes first? The Chicken? Or the Egg?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating… I ordered a chicken and an egg on Amazon. I will keep you posted.

SXSW: Truth to Power, Power to Purpose

SXSW 2019 slowly powers down. My 15th one, and, -once again- a splendid edition. Austin is still weird. SXSW still inspiring. We’ve found the answers to some questions, and part with a gazillion new questions spinning in our heads. Mission qua brain fuel: accomplished. I tried to synthesize some highlights, before the maelstrom of things to do grabs me by the collar and that the reality of the business catches up.

Inclusion

SXSW does not have a lot of patience for yesterday’s thinking and yesterday’s habits. While most corporations and countries are still struggling with equal rights and diversity, SXSW is already full steam on inclusion. Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. The difference between striving for equal rights, and inclusion is huge. Inclusion means that diversity in all its forms is firmly and structurally embedded in the very fabric of your society and your organization.

Inclusion tilts your organization to new heights, as women and men from every ethnic background, sexual preference, life choice and age contribute their full potential in finding the right path to a brilliant and bright future. Inclusive strategies have all the right ingredients from the very moment of conception.

Change is happening at neck breaking speeds, and all indicators show there is no slowing down any time soon. To answer this constant pressure, a culture of change needs to be installed in the root directory of every organization that wants to stay future-proof. Secondly, you will have to swing from your front foot. The best way to do that is with an inclusive team.

Fusion

The heydays of the Renaissance man are over. In Leonardo Da Vinci’s time, a polymath or Homo Universalis could know about everything there was to know at that time. Today, very few people span the necessary expertise in a broad number of subject areas. To be able to succeed in the decision-making, a fine set of skills and understanding needs to be fused together. Fusion thinking, and fusion rooms let people with different views, expertise and skills work closely together. This creates sparks that ignite (re)new(ed) thinking. Organizations need to draw on a complex set of knowledge to solve problems that get increasingly multifaceted.

A Fusion room where creative and impactful sparks rub off intense conversations and brainstorming in all openness and safety, is the beating heart of the culture of change. Supercharged collaboration, the ability to tackle everything, everywhere, anytime based on the fusional power of many. I like it.

Transparency, truth, power, purpose

SXSW clearly has no tolerance for the good old backroom tactics, grey zone approaches and black-box solutions… Transparency, traceability, and openness are the new power words. As well in B2B, as in B2C honesty and transparency became two extremely important metrics. In a world where the clients become more and more vocal, every transaction becomes a moral ‘tic off’ on the values of the business partner.

Brands find power in the values that are inherently linked to its experience. Perception becomes reality, and reality is fact based, and in these times of fake news fact checked. Values connect people and brands with links that go beyond the commercial transaction.

MGM’s Beverly Jackson’s personal motto nails it: “Truth to Power. Power to Purpose.”

Communication shifts from what you offer, to why you matter. Brands that are able to communicate (and show) clear purpose win, hands down. Marketing, communications and media put increasingly more emphasis on the softer bit of the corporate message.  Less down to earth product pushing, more purpose driven value matching.

P&G, Danone, Nike, Starbucks, Mercedes, Johnny Walker and countless other brands are stepping up to this purpose driven interactions.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people

Justin Billingsley, Global CEO Publicis Emil hopes that the next generation consumers will be able to say: “Advertising was the stuff that annoyed our parents when they were trying to do something else.”

The shooting from the hip at consumers on every single possible available platform clearly will not get you into the charts anymore. Consumer time and time indicate that they have had enough with media carpet bombing, and with brand messages that are not relevant to them.

The heavy intrusion of brands in digital media –and especially on social media-, communicating in ways that are not “native” to the platform is perceived as extremely annoying, up to a point that users try to hop from new platform to new platform in a desperate try to be ahead of the Corporate Media Rollercoaster.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people. The data and connection technologies are available to connect to everyone, at any given moment, on any device. The key is to find ways of using that nuclear connection power in combination with messages that are non-intrusive, relevant and engaging.

An ad blocker is a defensive weapon. If the internet user would not feel under attack, the ad blocker would simply not be deployed.

The battle for content

Content is magic. Content that is engaging, well made, informative, relevant, funny, inspiring… seems to be the elfenbridge between brand and consumer. Over the coming months, the battle for content is going to be fierce. With consumers more reluctant to share their own personal stories online, the social media and digital platforms are frenetically looking for good, engaging content. State-of-the-art, premium content- in text, info-graphic, audio and video is in high demand.

Life as it is doc’s, neighborhood focused news, memes, quality journalism overall, citizen journalism or good old entertainment, the social platforms are scrambling to get their timelines more relevant, more attractive, and more engaging.

Brands are also slowly waking up, and see that dry 6 pack shots in reach&frequency campaigns on Facebook buys them little more than very vocal consumer’s annoyance. On the other hand, good thought-true content on the same social platform creates huge added value.

Premium Content strikes back

Content is so good that people would be willing to pay for it,  -correct that-… are paying for it. The freshly launched Quibi video streaming service, Netflix, Spotify, HBO, CNN, Twitter, ShowTime,  YouTube,  Amazon Prime… they all were on stage to put the spotlight on their premium content.

From new episodes of Game Of Thrones, award winning top-notch productions (Roma!), over the return of the podcast (the clear winner of the battle for the intelligent speaker), to alliances with the world most creative influencers… premier content stood tall and proud.

The growing willingness of the market to actually pay for premium content makes content platforms less dependent on advertising dollars. Spotify, Amazon Prime, and Netflix are proving that they could run solely based on a subscription revenue.

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights

Big Data might be the most used hollow phrase of the last years. There is data, yes: oceans of it. But, what do we do with it? What is the capacity of translating data in actionable intelligence?  How does data become a driver that moves the business needle in the right direction?

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights was a revealing session on how to leverage the science of Information Architecture to redefine ROI for your brand. Data is everywhere, but the value and usefulness of that data can at times be elusive. Very Elusive.

SXSW took a steep and deep dive looking at the infinity pool of metrics at hand in a fully IOT- world. How to decipher which metrics are most valuable and the ability to re-invent the rules: there is gold to be had.

From drive-in movies, to movies in the car

Remember the day where youngsters would take the car, and enjoy a drive-in theater? Those days are long gone. The car developed into a supreme driving machine, and is on the verge of becoming something else altogether. Most of the premium car-brands are looking into (semi) autonomous cars. Electric cars that is. Fossil fueled cars seem to be in a blind alley, and alternatives like hydrogen are nowhere in the race for the moment.

Yes, there are still quite a few hurdles to take: We need laws and regulations. We need (even) better maps. We need cleaner, greener and sustainable energy to power those cars. (We need that to power our cities too, btw.) Investments in charging networks need to happen, and fast. We need better batteries; better battery management, and a transparent battery (re)lifecycle based on respect for people and planet. But all that will come within the next generation.

Most people have an audio system in the car that delivers music in a superior way than the systems in their living room”, analyst Jeremiah Owyang said:  “The car is not only a vehicle that takes you from A to B. It is the device that delivers you content and that enables you to interact: with people and with brands.

Once the car is fully autonomous, the curved windshield of the car could very well turn into the biggest and most impactful content delivery screen. Future car manufacturers will have a perfect entry point in the content experience of the commuters, and the car becomes de-facto a new competitive add-on as one of the connecting points in the already crowded communication and media ecosystem.

Business as usual

Honestly, there is none. 🙂

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