Cloudflare Shores Up Defenses For Internet Of (Easily Hackable) Things

Security experts have long warned that the connected devices that make up the so-called internet of things are way too vulnerable to hack attacks. These gadgets—fridges, fitness trackers, thermostats, sleep monitors, your next piece of jewelry—are like the zombie soldiers of the internet, often poorly secured and easily vulnerable to the will of hackers. Small medical devices and industrial control systems can be manipulated to do serious harm, and smart home appliances can be hijacked to steal personal data or even spy on their owners, as owners of smart TVs vulnerable to CIA spy software recently learned from a WikiLeaks report.

To counter the growing risk, Cloudflare, which protects websites and networks from digital attacks, launched a new service on Thursday aimed at fending hackers off a range of connected devices, from sophisticated industrial equipment to home appliances. The San Francisco company also said it was working to create a security organization to form best practices and standards for protecting IoT devices that are often considered highly vulnerable.

Perhaps the most serious threat surrounding connected devices so far has been when they’re hijacked in concert at a massive scale: Last fall, tens of thousands of wired devices including internet routers, security cameras, and DVRs were infected with malware called Mirai, which organized the machines into a botnet that launched the largest distributed denial of service attacks in history, reaching 1.2 terabits (1,200 gigabits) per second at its peak and disrupting access to major sites like Reddit, Twitter, and Netflix. In total, around half-a-million devices around the world were thought to be part of the mysterious, malware-formed network at the time, but only an estimated 10% of those were involved in the attacks.

Recent data suggests Mirai wasn’t an isolated incident—a report released this week by security firm Symantec found attempted attacks per hour on the company’s set of test machines nearly doubled over the course of 2016. The scale of attacks is only limited by the market for the devices themselves: Some estimate that there could be more than 20 billion such internet things by 2021.

“If Something Went Wrong, Someone Would Die.”

The Mirai attack was a wake-up call for many IoT manufacturers, says Matthew Prince, cofounder and CEO of Cloudflare. His eight-year-old company had in recent years been getting more inquiries from makers of internet-enabled devices about how its tools could be of use, something that only accelerated after the Mirai botnet.

Cloudflare is best known for its secure content distribution network, which effectively sits between client web servers and consumers’ internet browsers, speeding up delivery of online content and filtering out malicious content like denial-of-service attacks and SQL injections. The company says its network handles almost 10% of all internet traffic.

At the time of last year’s botnet surge, Cloudflare was already hearing from makers of systems for industrial operations like power plants, or computers that would be used in cars, where failures could have serious consequences, says Prince.

“About 18 months ago, we started to get calls to our sales team from various IoT manufacturers that were asking, could we be of help in protecting their devices,” he says. “These tended to be manufacturers who, if something went wrong, someone would die.”

The new service, Cloudflare Orbit, is directly geared toward manufacturers of consumer-grade IoT devices. In addition to protecting servers from attacks by malware like Mirai, Cloudflare will provide secure connections for potentially vulnerable internet devices themselves, keeping them from being reached by hackers or malware.

So far, Cloudflare says about 25 IoT manufacturers have been using the system over the past six months, including connected lock startup Lockitron, industrial monitoring company Swift Sensors, and Karamba Security.

With Orion, device makers work with Cloudflare to ensure their devices are only able to communicate with remote servers through Cloudflare’s secured network, which would function like a VPN for the internet of things. Depending on their needs, they can use Cloudflare’s software development kits to implement firewall rules that restrict communications to the secure connection, or introduce more complicated rules that use cryptography to verify that each piece of data is actually passing through the Cloudflare network.

Then, the manufacturers can use a digital dashboard to set rules for what type of traffic is allowed to pass through the network. That can let manufacturers address security vulnerabilities effectively instantaneously, without having to distribute security patches to all of the devices in the field, he says. If manufacturers learn that a factory-configured password can give hackers access to their systems, for instance, they can quickly tell Cloudflare’s systems to block network traffic containing that string of text, or restrict it to situations they deem safe.

“In the simplest form, you’d just look for that default password, then you can simply block those requests,” Prince says. “You can require that those requests have some additional piece of information for them to pass through, so you could have an additional level of security—essentially in order to use that default password, you have to enter another password.”

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Samsung, the S8 and its experiential strategy

This month, Samsung is busy promoting its latest phone, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and they’re using an experiential strategy to do so. As a product, the S8 is a pretty fancy piece of kit.

With a larger and better display, faster processing speeds and improved menu options, the S8 is Samsung’s answer to the iPhone. It’s an important item for the business, so the big question is, how did Samsung decide to spread the word about its flagship product?

One of Samsung’s main ideas was experiential. Samsung wanted to tour a giant smartphone throughout the UK. With a UK launch date of April 28, Samsung has allowed for plenty of time.

Speaking generally for a moment, this kind of idea may seem a little obvious, but it is great for brand exposure and introducing Samsung to people who wouldn’t necessarily be familiar to the business.

But this experiential strategy offered much more than just eyeballs on a smartphone.

The giant phone was able to showcase scenic views via its new infinity display screen, offering an amazing, jaw-dropping picture of local landscapes. In terms of the different destinations, the installation headed to 20 different areas decided by a public poll.

Some of the destinations that this huge smartphone has already visited include St Ives, Bournemouth, Stonehenge and London.

To anyone looking at this smartphone in action, they’d be amazed.

However, the voting part is key.

This interactive element is important, because any form of vote results in engaged users. The underlying objective for the vote was to find the top, most enjoyable and popular UK views.

The strategy ticks every box. At the heart of the campaign is a simple goal: to raise awareness of a new product. But there are other elements at play that are driving the success of Samsung’s ROI.

The strategy highlights the S8’s new features, particularly the display factor. In addition to this, Samsung is also connecting with Britons.

As far as extremely effective experiential strategies go, this didn’t take much planning. In fact, it’s a fairly straightforward idea and it just goes to show that you don’t have to come up with elaborate ideas every time you have something to market.

Hotcow is a non-traditional creative agency that specialises in experiential marketing that goes viral. Our campaigns generate buzz through crowd participation, PR and content sharing. Contact us on 0207 5030442 or email us on info@hotcow.co.uk.

The post Samsung, the S8 and its experiential strategy appeared first on Hotcow.

How To Make Managing Someone Older Than You Less Awkward

You worked hard and finally landed that promotion. Now you’re the boss—and in charge of a number of team members who are significantly older than you, and who may have complicated feelings about reporting to a younger manager.

“A lot of millennials haven’t done a lot of supervising yet,” says workplace diversity expert Jennifer L. FitzPatrick. “In a way, you may want to look at [the management role] as if you’re coming at it from a different discipline. You’re not going to know everything that the employees who’ve been there longer know, she says. And that will usually make your team stronger.

Get off on the right foot with your reports and defuse any potential conflict by following this expert advice.

Set Aside Your Ego

Lance Vaught, vice president of operations at Penn Station East Coast Subs, started in a management role there nearly a decade ago, when he was 24. Being a young supervisor with so little work experience and supervising people who were expecting their first grandchildren was daunting, he admits.

“You’re not yet proven. You’re not battle-tested,” he says.

Vaught had to earn the respect of people who were 20 years his senior, he says. It may sound trite, but he did so by tamping down any desire to prove he deserved the job and, instead, listening. By getting to know the employees, showing respect for their contributions, and understanding what they needed to get the job done, he soon won them over. It also helped to put in the hours and show his reports that he was working harder than they were, he says.

Find Points Of Connection

FitzPatrick says finding commonalities can help bridge divides in the workplace. Get to know your employees as people. You may find that common interests—sports, hobbies, or even children—can create stronger relationships.

Whatever you do, avoid language that could be considered ageist or create distance. “When you’re generation Y and you say things like, ‘Oh, that was before I was born’ in reference to something, you’re creating more distance between you and your employee,” she says.

Learn Their Strengths And Use Them

The No. 1 thing any employee wants from a manager is help doing their job well, says performance consultant Gerald Acuff, CEO of business consulting firm Delta Point, Inc. To figure out what your team needs from you, you need to get to know them. Ask questions that show you care about what they have contributed and what their priorities are, he says.

When Acuff was a young sales manager, he was supervising an older salesperson who was No. 1 in the company. After conducting the first sales call himself, he watched his new report do the second one. Acuff was blown away by how good the salesperson was, and it drove home the point that his employees could continue to teach him, even as he managed them.

Give Them Authority

Show your employees that you have confidence in their experience and ability by giving them the autonomy to make decisions, Vaught says. After all, they know what they’re doing—let them have some decision making power. Not only does it make the employee feel good because of the vote of confidence, it also frees up your time to devote to other issues that need attention, he says.

Address The Elephant In The Room

If there’s conflict or resentment over your appointment, you may need to address it head on, says FitzPatrick. If the person you’re supervising applied for the job and didn’t get it, for example, and it’s clear that they’re harboring resentment, have a discussion.

“If someone did apply to the job, sometimes it’s really a good idea to just hit it head on and just say, ‘Hey. You know I just want to let you know I have respect for your abilities. I know that you attempted to get the job.’ Sometimes just making that comment can really help, as most people are going to respond to a little bit of vulnerability,” she says. You might also talk to that person about their goals and help them find assignments or ways to contribute that align with their career goals.

Supervising someone older than you doesn’t have to be an angst-ridden experience. Ask questions, don’t be too eager to prove yourself, and show your employees respect for what they know, and you may very well avoid many of the common challenges young managers face.

At Last, Silicon Valley May Have Found A Trump Proposal To Like: His Tax Plan

After grappling with the Trump administration over the travel ban, climate change, and the rollback of broadband privacy rules, Silicon Valley may have finally had reason to cheer the White House today. The White House’s one-page outline of its tax plan includes a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a one-time tax break for companies that repatriate their profits—Apple, Alphabet, Cisco, Oracle, and Microsoft have the biggest overseas cash holdings of all corporations.

The policy staffers and lawyers at those tech giants have been paying close attention to the issue—or, more accurately, the timing of the debate—since the first days of the new administration. And while Trump spoke about tax reform on the campaign trail, and staffers spoke about it publicly after the inauguration, the one-page document released by the White House today represents the first time the White House has put anything resembling a real plan in writing.

The top lines of the coming tax bill, for tech companies, are:

  • A large cut in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent
  • A one-time tax repatriation of profits that corporations have parked overseas
  • A new “territorial” approach to taxes that would minimize taxes on profits made in overseas markets

All of these policies would have a major impact on tech companies big and small, depending on the fine print, which is not available yet, and is likely being worked out behind the scenes in discussions between the administration and members of Congress.

One of the key numbers to be worked out is the exact tax rate on the trillions of dollars now parked overseas by large companies like Microsoft and Apple to avoid paying U.S. corporate income tax. Though it was previously reported that it could be reduced from 35% to 10%, today’s release was vague about the specifics, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin just saying that it would be “very competitive.”

Steven Mnuchin [Photo: U.S. Department of the Treasury via Wikimedia Commons]

According to estimates in late 2016, U.S. companies hold about $2.5 trillion abroad. Tech companies have long held that the tax of 35% on profits returning to the U.S. is unreasonably high, and that they’re breaking no law by avoiding it.

The administration is eager to get the foreign funds back into America, one source told me. Trump has suggested that companies will invest the repatriated money in new factories to create new jobs in the U.S., though economists say that this is very unlikely to happen on a broad scale.

The administration is painfully aware that last time such a tax amnesty was tried, U.S. companies spent the repatriated money mainly on stock buy-backs and shareholder dividends. This time the administration may try to impose rules on how the repatriated money can be spent, which is sure to draw loud protests from the tech community.

Still, chances are very high that some form of repatriation will be included in the final bill.

Apple, for one, would likely be happy about a one-time repatriation of earnings, depending on the details of the plan. In 2016, the European Union, after a lengthy investigation, ruled that Apple parking earnings at its Irish subsidiaries (to avoid paying U.S. taxes) amounts to the tech giant receiving “illegal state aid” from Ireland. As a result, Apple may be required to pay around $14.5 billion in back taxes dating back to 2004. Apple has appealed the decision, and Ireland has so far refused to collect the back taxes from Apple.

Apple would be one of many companies to bring money back, says Matt Gardner, the director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (the research umbrella for Citizens for Tax Justice) in an email to Fast Company. “Any company with substantial offshore cash will be thrilled to have the opportunity to pay a super low tax rate on this cash, and will likely be equally happy that a territorial system will give them an even lower tax rate (that is to say, zero) on profits they shift into tax havens going forward,” he writes.

Gary Cohn [Photo: World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons]

If Mnuchin is able to push through a new “territorial” approach to corporate income tax, repatriation might become a moot point in the future. He gave no details about the approach, but the term “territorial” typically refers to a policy whereby the government only taxes profits generated from domestic sales.

Tax repatriation is a hot-button issue that’s connected to the overarching wealth distribution and fair taxation themes of the election cycles in both the U.S. and Europe last year. Though Trump’s populist position on the issue won out, his views on the issue appears contradictory. On the one hand, he repeatedly promised to remove tax policies that have in recent decades helped transfer billions from the middle class to the wealthy. Such populist rhetoric is included in the White House’s one-pager, with its directive to “eliminate tax breaks for special interests.”

On the other hand, he is very pro-business and wants to give large tax breaks to corporations. Those tax breaks, if passed, will almost certainly be paid for via cuts in entitlements for the middle and lower class.

It all comes down to the specifics. “An aggressive effort to eliminate loopholes would reduce the cost of this tax cut substantially, and could mean that there are specific companies that don’t enjoy huge tax breaks for this deal,” Gardner says. “But if that phrase is as content-free and toothless as it usually is when policymakers say it, then this could be a straight-up tax cut bonanza for almost every corporation,” Gardner says.

Mnuchin said he hopes to have the tax plan passed by August. The White House, however, have backed off from that goal.

One clue to the fate of tax reform is the progress of health care reform, one policy person told Fast Company, explaining that both issues are chronologically and fiscally linked. That is, the administration would like to pass a health care bill that would substantially reduce the government’s health care spend; and those savings would then be rolled into a tax bill that would significantly reduce the government’s revenue intake.

Trump hopes that his tax plan will fire up the economy, but it’s widely expected to result in a federal deficit and a deepening of the national debt. Mnuchin dodged the question of whether the plan is “revenue neutral,” saying it will “pay for itself with growth and with reduced reduction of different deductions and closing loopholes.”

Democrats are vowing a hard fight, calling the tax plan a giveaway to the wealthy, and a throwback to Reagan-era supply-side economics.

“American Gods” Builds Its Mythology Around The Immigrants Who Built America

Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, published in 2001, is the story of an ex-con named Shadow who accompanies the Norse god Odin–who goes by the name of “Mr. Wednesday,” a play on the Norse naming conventions of our days of the week–on an epic road trip across the United States as the old god seeks to consolidate power against the new ones. The book’s theme of pitting religion and mythology against technology and pop culture resonated strongly 16 years ago, but in the adaptation of the show that debuts on Starz on April 30 the most timely and relevant theme the show explores might be that of immigration.

That’s something that the show’s creators, Bryan Fuller (who created the cult favorite Wonderfalls and Hannibal) and Michael Green (who cowrote Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049), were aware of as they developed the show–and something that came into much sharper focus after the election. Suddenly, they realized that a show about the gods and myths that are brought to America’s shores by immigrants was resonant–and the way that those cultural totems come to define America, too.”

“We wrote and produced the show before the regime change,” Fuller says. “We were crafting the show in a progressive administration, and now we’ll be airing the show in an insane administration. That brings out a certain politicization of the story. That wasn’t something we intended, but it’s something we wanted to be authentic. We wanted to tell stories that were genuine from the perspectives of the characters, who themselves are representing different cultures and ethnicities. And then everybody went crazy regarding immigrants. And that’s the heart of our story, so we stumbled upon a much louder platform than we had anticipated.”

Green says that the show was still in its editorial process when “the asteroid hit and leveled America,” but that the opportunity to have a voice that comments on the America that the show will find itself premiering in isn’t something they take lightly.

“It was a strange experience, because we were working on an episode that deliberately was going to be about gun culture, which was an issue that we knew had some heat behind it, but we wanted to explore all sides,” Green says. “Suddenly, things that we were discussing with the network and the studio about, ‘Oh, are we pushing too far’ became plain. Certain images we had that we thought would look satirical suddenly looked like the news. I wish it didn’t.”

If American Gods is going to be pushing some hot buttons, they have a cast that’s equipped to do it. Ricky Whittle, who plays Shadow, brings a quiet, restrained intensity to the role of the ex-con who knows that the system tends to be stacked against men like him–big, dark-skinned, with a record. Relative newcomer Yetide Badaki, in her highest profile role to date, brings a regal authority to the part of Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba–one of the old gods looking to have her power restored. And Orlando Jones–who proved he could thrive in dramatic roles in fantasy-inspired series in Sleepy Hollow–makes his first appearance as “Mr. Nancy” in the second episode.

Whittle, paired with Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday, carries the show on his back, and Badaki stars in the pilot’s most memorable scene, but it’s Jones’s work in that second episode that helped reveal to Green and Fuller that they had something especially poignant and resonant on their hands.

“When we got the dailies back from Mr. Nancy’s coming to America, there’s a scene where the slaves are coming en route to America–not as immigrants, but as slaves–are praying to Mr. Nancy to come to some sort of aid because they didn’t understand what was happening,” Fuller says. “And Orlando Jones gives a fantastic monologue as Mr. Nancy to these slaves about what is waiting on these shores in the land of honey and opportunity for people who are black. And that’s there is no honey and there is no opportunity–you’re slaves, and a hundred years after that, it doesn’t change. And a hundred years after that, it doesn’t change. And a hundred years after that, it doesn’t change. And a hundred years after that, you’re still being shot at by police. And in the moment, we were just trying to be authentic to the black experience as we understood it as two white guys, historically, and the 40 actors who were playing the slaves on the ship gave Orlando Jones a standing ovation. And that has to do with how vividly Orlando brought that to life. Watching those dailies with our postproduction team, we realized, ‘Oh, this is an important conversation to have.’”

All of this is very much an opportunity that seems more relevant than ever because of the current political climate. Orlando Jones’s monologue was developed after simmering in a culture of Ferguson and Black Lives Matter; regardless of who won the election, the themes of immigration and how what immigrants bring to America ends up defining what America is were being teased out in the midst of an election cycle that saw “Build the Wall!” chanted as the biggest applause line at rallies. But it’s also based on material that existed in the original text of Gaiman’s 16-year-old novel.

That means that American Gods doesn’t just reveal a sharp, unexpected look at America through the myths behind all of these gods–it also serves as a reminder of just how resonant these themes have been for decades in America. Our conversation around immigration has certainly taken a sharp turn, but it’s hardly new. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” may have only been coined a few years ago, but the issue of institutional police violence against people of color in the United States didn’t just emerge with the shooting of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Shadow may be a rare hero for a television fantasy series simply by virtue of being played by an actor of color, but he was written that way 16 years ago, too. “We owe a lot to how prescient Neil Gaiman’s book is,” Fuller says. “It speaks to how ever-present these issues are.”

Gaiman himself is actively involved in the adaptation of American Gods for Starz–he created the new character of Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) for the show–and he reads every outline and script, reads the revisions, and watches the cuts and dailies each day. Fuller and Green rely on Gaiman for guidance (“He’s a rock-solid uncle-slash-rabbi who’s there for us whenever we need him,” Green says), and they’re hopeful that he’ll return to the world of American Gods in an even more hands-on way by writing episodes of the show’s second season or further beyond.

There’s a risk, when a show touches on hot-button issues and which is being created at a time when essentially all art is political simply because of the political environment in which it’s being created, of being preachy. But one of the things that Gaiman delighted fans of the book with is something that Green and Fuller are able to tap into as a way to drive home the larger political theme of American Gods, too, while also keeping the focus solidly on the storytelling and the characters: Namely, the vignettes in which we see how each character arrived in America, which provide a strong way to capture the struggles common to any immigrant who arrives in a new country, while also ensuring that the theme of the show doesn’t overwhelm the story it’s telling.

“It becomes about the characters. We have this wonderful cast, and we’ll hopefully add to this wonderful cast.” Green says. “And you want to ground them in their personal emotional experience. What are they struggling with? What are they trying to make better in their lives? What are they trying to leave behind, or what are they aspiring to? So seeing how they metaphorically or literally stepped foot on American soil is the origin story for that person as a new American entity, struggling with their new American identity. And it really all comes from that place.”

“American Gods” Builds Its Mythology Around The Immigrants Who Built America

Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, published in 2001, is the story of an ex-con named Shadow who accompanies the Norse god Odin–who goes by the name of “Mr. Wednesday,” a play on the Norse naming conventions of our days of the week–on an epic road trip across the United States as the old god seeks to consolidate power against the new ones. The book’s theme of pitting religion and mythology against technology and pop culture resonated strongly 16 years ago, but in the adaptation of the show that debuts on Starz on April 30 the most timely and relevant theme the show explores might be that of immigration.

That’s something that the show’s creators, Bryan Fuller (who created the cult favorite Wonderfalls and Hannibal) and Michael Green (who cowrote Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049), were aware of as they developed the show–and something that came into much sharper focus after the election. Suddenly, they realized that a show about the gods and myths that are brought to America’s shores by immigrants was resonant–and the way that those cultural totems come to define America, too.”

“We wrote and produced the show before the regime change,” Fuller says. “We were crafting the show in a progressive administration, and now we’ll be airing the show in an insane administration. That brings out a certain politicization of the story. That wasn’t something we intended, but it’s something we wanted to be authentic. We wanted to tell stories that were genuine from the perspectives of the characters, who themselves are representing different cultures and ethnicities. And then everybody went crazy regarding immigrants. And that’s the heart of our story, so we stumbled upon a much louder platform than we had anticipated.”

Green says that the show was still in its editorial process when “the asteroid hit and leveled America,” but that the opportunity to have a voice that comments on the America that the show will find itself premiering in isn’t something they take lightly.

“It was a strange experience, because we were working on an episode that deliberately was going to be about gun culture, which was an issue that we knew had some heat behind it, but we wanted to explore all sides,” Green says. “Suddenly, things that we were discussing with the network and the studio about, ‘Oh, are we pushing too far’ became plain. Certain images we had that we thought would look satirical suddenly looked like the news. I wish it didn’t.”

If American Gods is going to be pushing some hot buttons, they have a cast that’s equipped to do it. Ricky Whittle, who plays Shadow, brings a quiet, restrained intensity to the role of the ex-con who knows that the system tends to be stacked against men like him–big, dark-skinned, with a record. Relative newcomer Yetide Badaki, in her highest profile role to date, brings a regal authority to the part of Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba–one of the old gods looking to have her power restored. And Orlando Jones–who proved he could thrive in dramatic roles in fantasy-inspired series in Sleepy Hollow–makes his first appearance as “Mr. Nancy” in the second episode.

Whittle, paired with Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday, carries the show on his back, and Badaki stars in the pilot’s most memorable scene, but it’s Jones’s work in that second episode that helped reveal to Green and Fuller that they had something especially poignant and resonant on their hands.

“When we got the dailies back from Mr. Nancy’s coming to America, there’s a scene where the slaves are coming en route to America–not as immigrants, but as slaves–are praying to Mr. Nancy to come to some sort of aid because they didn’t understand what was happening,” Fuller says. “And Orlando Jones gives a fantastic monologue as Mr. Nancy to these slaves about what is waiting on these shores in the land of honey and opportunity for people who are black. And that’s there is no honey and there is no opportunity–you’re slaves, and a hundred years after that, it doesn’t change. And a hundred years after that, it doesn’t change. And a hundred years after that, it doesn’t change. And a hundred years after that, you’re still being shot at by police. And in the moment, we were just trying to be authentic to the black experience as we understood it as two white guys, historically, and the 40 actors who were playing the slaves on the ship gave Orlando Jones a standing ovation. And that has to do with how vividly Orlando brought that to life. Watching those dailies with our postproduction team, we realized, ‘Oh, this is an important conversation to have.’”

All of this is very much an opportunity that seems more relevant than ever because of the current political climate. Orlando Jones’s monologue was developed after simmering in a culture of Ferguson and Black Lives Matter; regardless of who won the election, the themes of immigration and how what immigrants bring to America ends up defining what America is were being teased out in the midst of an election cycle that saw “Build the Wall!” chanted as the biggest applause line at rallies. But it’s also based on material that existed in the original text of Gaiman’s 16-year-old novel.

That means that American Gods doesn’t just reveal a sharp, unexpected look at America through the myths behind all of these gods–it also serves as a reminder of just how resonant these themes have been for decades in America. Our conversation around immigration has certainly taken a sharp turn, but it’s hardly new. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” may have only been coined a few years ago, but the issue of institutional police violence against people of color in the United States didn’t just emerge with the shooting of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Shadow may be a rare hero for a television fantasy series simply by virtue of being played by an actor of color, but he was written that way 16 years ago, too. “We owe a lot to how prescient Neil Gaiman’s book is,” Fuller says. “It speaks to how ever-present these issues are.”

Gaiman himself is actively involved in the adaptation of American Gods for Starz–he created the new character of Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) for the show–and he reads every outline and script, reads the revisions, and watches the cuts and dailies each day. Fuller and Green rely on Gaiman for guidance (“He’s a rock-solid uncle-slash-rabbi who’s there for us whenever we need him,” Green says), and they’re hopeful that he’ll return to the world of American Gods in an even more hands-on way by writing episodes of the show’s second season or further beyond.

There’s a risk, when a show touches on hot-button issues and which is being created at a time when essentially all art is political simply because of the political environment in which it’s being created, of being preachy. But one of the things that Gaiman delighted fans of the book with is something that Green and Fuller are able to tap into as a way to drive home the larger political theme of American Gods, too, while also keeping the focus solidly on the storytelling and the characters: Namely, the vignettes in which we see how each character arrived in America, which provide a strong way to capture the struggles common to any immigrant who arrives in a new country, while also ensuring that the theme of the show doesn’t overwhelm the story it’s telling.

“It becomes about the characters. We have this wonderful cast, and we’ll hopefully add to this wonderful cast.” Green says. “And you want to ground them in their personal emotional experience. What are they struggling with? What are they trying to make better in their lives? What are they trying to leave behind, or what are they aspiring to? So seeing how they metaphorically or literally stepped foot on American soil is the origin story for that person as a new American entity, struggling with their new American identity. And it really all comes from that place.”

Blog post #95: Theresa May’s brave new world

In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1934 futuristic, dystopian novel We (the precursor to 1984 and Brave New World), election day in the fictional OneState is known at the “Day of Unanimity”.

“This has no resemblance to the disorderly, unorganised elections in ancient times, when they couldn’t even tell before the election how it would come out,” the narrator tells us. “The history of OneState does not know of a single instance when so much as one voice dared to violate the majestic union of that glorious day.”

Those outside the UK may be surprised to learn that there was something of Zamyatin in UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent surprise announcement that there would be a General Election on 8 June.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division… Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country,” May said on the steps of 10 Downing Street.

Only with a strong, stable – and unified – political class, she argued, would she able to negotiate the best Brexit deal for Britain – the so-called “red, white and blue Brexit”.

Elections are not generally seen as diffusers of uncertainty: witness the financial markets’ recent relief at Emmanuel Macron’s first round victory in the French presidential elections.

But the more you look at May’s decision, the more it makes perfect sense.

In her speech, she railed against the roadblocks she said had been thrown in her way by the Opposition parties and the unelected House of Lords. With more than a whiff of populism, she referred to division in Westminster.

But with hindsight, it is clear that the real driver for the decision lies in her own Conservative Party, the ineluctable Brexit timetable now unleashed by the triggering of Article 50, and May’s formidable standing in the opinion polls.

The UK Government has a working majority of just 17, leaving it vulnerable to rebellions from those with extreme views on the form of Brexit Britain should take.

The next scheduled General Election was due to take place in spring 2020. In the two-year deadline for the Brexit negotiations will fall, a potentially awkward moment for the PM to have to persuade a fractious House of Commons that a good deal has been obtained.

And most opinion polls give the Conservatives a near-unprecedented 20-point over an ailing Labour Party under leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The temptation to cut and run, and secure her own mandate, was too great, and most are expecting Mrs May to be returned with an increased majority – with some experts predicting it will shoot up to 170.

So that is why, after a General Election in 2015, and an EU Referendum in 2016, UK voters will yet again be heading to a nationwide poll in 2017.

What does this all mean for communications professionals? What will the campaign teach us about the latest tools and techniques of political persuasion that are unleashed with such force during elections?

In 2015 and 2016, Weber Shandwick undertook ground-breaking research into which channels were most effective in swaying people’s voting intentions.

In 2016, we found Facebook to be the most influential social media platform in the EU Referendum campaign, with 40% of those who had engaged with Facebook saying it influenced their views.

Overall, most influential were TV and radio debates, with an influence score of 51%, online news at 50%, print news at 46%, TV and radio news at 45% and family and friends at 43%.

The 2017 General Election offers the ideal opportunity to revisit this data, and to track the efficacy of the channel options that communications strategists have at their disposal.

This is where communications and campaign planning meets UK laws on election spending, which place strict caps on what can be spent by a candidate in any individual constituency during the official campaign window. (The Electoral Commission has opened an investigation into campaign spending by the Conservatives in 2015 and by the Leave.EU campaign during the 2016 Referendum.)

The irony of these investigations is that there are often looking into campaign spending on activities – leafleting, posters, “battle buses” – which leave the public profoundly underwhelmed, according to our data.

The new line item in campaign budgets that does merit deeper scrutiny, however, is the emerging trend for the political parties to spend money on paid social media advertising, especially targeted Facebook advertising.

Considered by communications strategists to be highly effective in reaching the public, it remains far from clear how this spending should be treated in the statutory regulation of campaign finances. What is clear is that there will be a lot of it about in the UK in the next six weeks, as the political parties seek to reach voters below the line.

Oh, by the way, the 2016 Weber Shandwick poll also found the public leaning 46-40 in favour of Brexit. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Sign up to the Weber Shandwick EMEA blog and tap into the region’s smartest and most creative PR brains. Every week, we’ll deliver an engaging essay packed with insights from our experts across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Reputation, innovation, digital and social thought leadership: covered.

The post Blog post #95: Theresa May’s brave new world appeared first on Weber Shandwick UK.

How Satellite Data Caught Gulf Oil Companies Hiding Enormous Oil Spills

In the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for 17% of U.S. crude oil production, appetite for drilling is ticking up amid President Trump’s drive for energy deregulation. In late March, the Department of Interior auctioned off over 900,000 acres of leases in the Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf for $275 million, up from $156 million last year. That might be worrisome, given that the area is still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill, but don’t worry: The oil industry often contends that, barring the occasional mega-disaster, offshore drilling is by and large a safe, if not overregulated, practice.

However, according to a new report from three Louisiana-based environmental groups, offshore oil accidents in the Gulf of Mexico are a more regular and serious occurrence than the industry is willing to admit. The report—released in March by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 350 Louisiana, and Disastermap.netpulled directly from a Coast Guard data clearinghouse and found 479 reports of offshore oil accidents in the northern Gulf in 2016. That’s an average of about nine spills per week, dumping a total of nearly 18,000 gallons of oil and other substances into the environment.

Compared to the size of the 2010 BP disaster, which released anywhere from 134 million to 176 million gallons, that might seem small. But even that 18,000 gallon estimate could be seriously lowballed, say report authors. The Coast Guard data, collected under the National Response Center (NRC), is actually self-reported by the oil companies responsible (the NRC also accepts reports from the public, but these are less common).

“When is the last time you told a police officer you were speeding?” asks Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental activist group and one of the March report’s authors. “There’s no doubt there are a lot more accidents than we know about.”

To find a more independent estimate of the scope of daily oil spills, the report’s authors drew on an analysis of that same NRC data by SkyTruth, a nonprofit that uses satellite imagery—mainly from the European Space Agency, one of the few free resources—to monitor the environmental effects of industrial activity. Using SkyTruth’s numbers, report authors say the total amount of oil spilled in the northern Gulf last year was closer to 875,000 gallons, or about 50 times larger than official estimates.

“When is the last time you told a police officer you were speeding?” [Photo: courtesy SkyTruth]

Eyes In The Sky

SkyTruth, which also analyzes impact of mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia and tracks commercial fishing activity around the world, has neither the ability nor bandwidth to analyze every single oil spill from space. Contrary to popular belief, says John Amos, president and founder of SkyTruth, satellite and radar imagery simply doesn’t exist for everywhere on Earth at all times. Even if it did, the organization’s small team wouldn’t be able to keep up with the thousands of accidents that occur every year.

Instead, the company has developed a formula that acts as a second opinion to the self-reporting of polluting companies. Any time an accident occurs, oil companies are required to report an estimate of the aerial dimensions of the spill. Because reporting on total volume spilled is, shall we say, inconsistent, SkyTruth comes up with its own volume estimate.

First, it assumes that 100% of the reported area is covered in oil—in other words, there are no holes in surface coverage inside the spill zone. Second, it assumes that any spill observable from space is at least one micron (one thousandth of a millimeter) thick. As a general rule, satellite imagery is only able to pick up spills at least one-tenth of a micron thick, but that is under test conditions, not the open ocean. Amos concedes this is an imperfect science. But, he says, neither the organization’s methods nor analyses have ever been challenged.

“For some spills we are going to be overestimating,” says Amos. “For others, I think for most, we are probably underestimating it. Because for most human-caused spills, these are not molecules-thick spills that result. They are generally chunkier than that.” The massive BP oil spill in 2005, for example, was centimeters thick in some places.

Amos had a chance to test his approach in a 2013 study with Florida State University that methodically matched satellite archive images with years of NRC spill data. They found consistent underreporting of spill size to the NRC.

Almost 100% of the time, the slick that we observe on the satellite image is significantly larger than the slick the polluter reported,” says Amos. He points to a systematic underestimating of both the dimensions and volume of a spill by polluting oil companies.

“There are two stages of underreporting,” he says. “One is they are underreporting the aerial dimensions of the slick. Then they are reporting a volume estimate that doesn’t even match that, if you use the one micron assumption.”

Almost 100% of the time, the slick that we observe on the satellite image is significantly larger than the slick the polluter reported,”  [Photo: courtesy SkyTruth]

Data Leakage

Under U.S. law, oil companies can face legal repercussions for failing to report a leak or spill, even small ones. But investigations into all but the largest spills are rare, and there appear to be no penalties for misreporting the actual size of the damage.

According to the March LBB report, one of the most egregious under-estimators is Taylor Energy, a now-defunct offshore drilling company responsible for a leak off the coast of Louisiana that began in 2004. Though the company has ceased operating, the leak continues, and SkyTruth estimates the actual volume to be about 232,850 gallons, or about 178 times larger than the 1,300 gallons Taylor Energy reported in 2016. The company says nothing more can be done to stem the leak, which regulators warn could last for more than a century if left unchecked, and has sued the federal government to recover money placed in a leak response trust.

Both Amos and Rolfes stress the powerful cumulative effect on the environment of these leaks, no matter the size or duration. “It’s the death by 10,000 cuts,” says Amos. “The public is being misled about the severity of day-to-day pollution associated with offshore oil development” which makes it easier “to sell the public on offshore drilling in places where it is not already happening.”

The impact of coastal industrialization goes beyond just oil spills. In Louisiana, decades of oil and gas activity, including widespread dredging for canals and pipelines, has directly contributed to the ongoing coastal land loss crisis. The state has lost about 1,900 square miles of its coast since the 1930s to the combined effects of land loss and sea level rise caused by climate change.

State authorities are working to implement a $50 billion Coastal Master Plan to help stop the loss of as much as 2,800 square miles of additional land over the next 40 years through land restoration and protection projects. But the state shows few signs of slowing oil and gas development in coastal regions, a major source of income.

“It is not consistent to say on the one hand we need to spend billions of dollars to repair our coast but on the other allow the oil industry to destroy our coast,” points out Rolfes. Her organization, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, has called for an end to offshore drilling leases and is also fighting the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which connects to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and would cross over 160 miles of Louisiana wetlands.

As President Trump pushes an aggressive pro-fossil fuel, anti-regulation agenda, Rolfes and other activists are facing an uphill battle to stop any oil and gas projects from moving forward. Trump’s proposed budget cuts are also causing consternation over the availability of spill and other environmental data.

“We’re worried that [this data] is going to disappear for sure,” said Rolfes. “It’s a real, real risk.”

Amos is hopeful technology will one day be able to supplant the current role of government agencies in monitoring polluting industries like oil and gas. In the meantime, though, he predicts SkyTruth and similar watchdogs will have a greater role to play over the coming years as “even the weak systems that we had in place to inform the public about what was happening out there are possibly getting weaker or even disappearing.”

Charmin Truck Dumps Load of TP on Tight End Jake Butt Ahead of Draft


What has four wheels and wipes?

In a match made in marketing heaven, Charmin sent its Charmin Dump Truck to drop a load at University of Michigan tight end Jake Butt’s home in Pickerington, Ohio — just in time for the NFL Draft on Thursday.

The partnership is expected to be fully disclosed later in the week, but early coverage went out late Wednesday via USA Today’s For the Win Blog and SB Nation. And the internet’s inner-12-year-old rejoiced.

Continue reading at AdAge.com