All posts by Christopher Hepworth

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the global oil industry. We depend upon it for almost every aspect of our lives and until recently our biggest fear was that oil would run out. How would we drive our cars and fly to our favourite destinations without this precious commodity? Whole economies including those in the Persian Gulf, Russia and to a lesser extent the USA still depend upon oil for their wealth and wars have been fought to ensure access to cheap and reliable sources.

The US oil and gas industry is worth over two hundred billion dollars a year and employs ten million people in the US or about one in nineteen of its working population. The wealth that the industry produces is enormous and is firmly emblazoned on the American psyche and culture. I remember watching shows like the Beverly Hillbillies and Dallas with fondness and the instant riches that ‘black gold’ bestowed on those lucky fictional families.

The oil industry carries a huge responsibility and on the whole, it does so very well. Most multinational companies have ‘green’ programmes and are obsessive about health and safety. Its employees are highly skilled, trained and well paid. Most multinational oil companies are respected and rightly so. When you consider the massive logistical effort in extracting oil from some of the most inhospitable places on earth it is cheap and convenient. It has always amazed me that a litre of petrol is often cheaper than bottled water.

Unfortunately, oil extraction has come at a significant cost to the environment and human life. The large number of ‘spills’ including Deepwater Horizon and the Exxon Valdez has been well documented. And there is considerable debate on the long-term effects of ‘fracking’ which is well covered in my book ’The Last Oracle’ due out in October.

All three of my three books have taken an apocalyptic view of particular industries that we rely upon and trust. I explore the implications for the world should those industries (e.g. the pharmaceutical and social media companies) abuse the power that society has bestowed on them. My study of the oil industry has been especially fascinating because of the enormous wealth it generates. How far would the industry go to protect its wealth and position at the top of the food chain? I have focussed on a fictional but entirely plausible conspiracy by the oil industry to eliminate its main competitor – the electric and solar powered vehicle industry. I have imagined a situation where the fossil fuel industry has used its vast resources and influence to corrupt our politicians and engineer the destruction of emerging renewable technologies to protect their interests. The impact of this action brings about catastrophic climate change as the rise of greenhouse gases from vehicle and power generation chokes the planet.

But is such a scenario realistic?  I honestly believe that it is and is happening right now. An astonishing thirty cents of every dollar donated to Republican presidential candidates in 2016 came from people who owed their fortune to fossil fuels. The total amount donated by those individuals to the candidate’s election Super Pacs was over $107m.  Unfortunately, because of the massive expense of running for office, American presidential candidates cannot win elections unless they have considerable independent wealth (like Donald Trump) or their fund raising teams accept donations from industry special interest groups. That is why so many presidential candidates push the agendas of the gun lobby or climate science denial so hard. Ted Cruz, for example, banked 57% of his campaign funds from fossil fuel interests* and claimed climate change is a fiction perpetuated by liberals who want control over the economy. It is now almost a prerequisite for Republican presidential candidates to ignore scientific evidence and deny climate change.

My new book explores the possibility that politicians would go one step further and kill off an entire developing industry that competes with fossil fuels even though it would mean the eventual destruction of the planet. I leave you to judge whether this scenario is pure fiction or is happening for real even as we speak.

*Source US Federal Election Commission

Unlike today’s Gen X’ers, Gen Yer’s and Millennials, I was born and educated in mankind’s Industrial Age but graduated in the Information Age. Just as Fred Flintstone and his stone age car existed on the cusp of the bronze age, my career has straddled two different epochs. Unlike my Information Age business colleagues, I have never lost that child-like sense of awe as each new invention is unveiled with ever increasing frequency.

Here I pay homage to six inventions that have had a profound impact on my life. I list their finest qualities and their positive impact on my life. But I also take a nostalgic look back and assess what each invention may have taken away from my former Industrial Age innocence.

 

1.  The Sinclair Cambridge pocket calculator. Okay, so I missed out on the abacus, but when I first studied maths at school I was instructed in the use of logarithmic tables and slide rules.

I know what you’re thinking. Am I that old? Captain Cook and Dr Henry Livingstone used a slide rule to chart their way around the world. But when the sleek Sinclair Cambridge pocket calculator made its appearance in the classrooms of England, it was too good to be true. I took my subsequent maths exams with a grin that spread from ear to ear. All the while I half-suspected that the examiners would realise a dreadful mistake had been made and would confiscate our Sinclairs only to replace them with Victorian era log tables.

Sir Clive Sinclair was a flawed genius and went on to invent the death trap that was the C5 electric car. But he will forever have a place in my heart. Forty years later I still have his marvellous invention in the top draw of my desk at home.

 

2. The Grandstand Model 2000 video game. I had always assumed that televisions were inert, dumb objects that sent information one way. It controlled you. Sure, some of the programmes of my youth like Star Trek, Get Smart and Dr Who were pretty cool, but when I saw the Grandstand Model 2000 video game with its four functions (Football, Squash, Tennis and Practice) that I controlled, I knew that I just had to have one. In 1978 I became the master of the short white line and the square ball that bounced infuriatingly around the screen. The Grandstand 2000 was my first taste of computer technology and it started my lifelong interest in consumer electronics.

On the flip side, its novelty value soon wore off and I am still receiving psychotherapy today for its incessant high-pitched beeping and bopping. My Grandstand console had an electrical fault and blew up two of my dad’s black and white TV’s. Luckily he never suspected my Grandstand 2000 was the culprit or I wouldn’t be here espousing the qualities of modern technology with you today.

 

3. The email. Many of today’s workers would not know what life was like without email. This marvellous invention came into my life as a post-graduate student at the University of Essex in 1984. I instantly recognised the impact and primary use of this epoch changing technology.

Until that moment, one had to pluck up vast reserves of courage and find the right moment to chat up the girl of your dreams, but with email it was possible to be charming and witty at the touch of a button. You didn’t even have to look the part. Dating would never be the same again.

But the fun couldn’t last. As the use of email spread from the university campus to the work place its purpose as an exciting carrier of flirty messages was corrupted forever in the name of corporate greed. Inboxes around the world would soon be filled with meaningless corporate drivel and cover-your-ass memos. The age of innocence was lost forever.

 

4. The Fax Machine. I had been in industry for almost a year when my company bought its first fax machine. I watched in stunned awe as my purchase order disappeared into the beeping, hissing rectangular box to appear instantly at the supplier’s end hundreds of miles away. It was the closest thing to magic I had ever seen, particularly when the supplier returned my purchase order, duly signed minutes later. Ten years before I had scoffed at Star Trek’s transporter beam as stretching credibility too far, but my document was being beamed up in front of my own eyes. Unreal!

All good things come to an end and so it was with the fax machine. Rest in peace, my friend. You have earned pride of place in the great electronic scrapheap in the sky.

 

5. The Microwave oven. It might be mundane and ‘old hat’ now, but when it first came out, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Not only could the microwave oven cook food in three minutes, but it could do so without heat! Had I been born three hundred years earlier I would have cried out ‘witchcraft’! Indispensable for warming up cold cups of tea and last night’s leftovers, it has forever etched a place in my heart.

Regrettably, the microwave oven never conquered the baked potato and left chicken looking insipid and foul smelling. Its street cred was damaged beyond repair with the rise of poncy TV shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules.

 

6. The Satnav. I was never blessed with a good sense of direction and have been known to occasionally wander aimlessly along my own street looking for my house. So when I bought my first TomTom, all my Christmases arrived at once. So useful was this little marvel of the twenty-first century that I could even forgive it for dumping me in a non-existent cul-de-sac in the dodgiest corner of the Bankstown. The Satnav is the gift that keeps on giving and even directs me away from the unseen four mile tailback that threatens to wreck my day. Just how clever is the little lady in the satnav that guides me serenely to my destination despite my attempts to take a wrong turn at every junction?

Unfortunately, satellite technology is also threatening to give us driverless cars. In my book that’s one step too far. When little backseat satnav driver takes control, I will know that my Industrial Age boy racer days are well and truly over.

 

Honourable mention: must go to the smart phone which has changed our lives forever, but not necessarily for the better. You only have to walk down the street to see the entire population of Australia bowing their heads to the mighty iPhone. Try getting a sensible comment out of a Millennial when they are within ten metres of an iPhone and you will understand why the smart phone did not make my ‘big six’.

I do understand that my ‘Six of the Best’ is a personal journey. Feel free to let me know your own ‘big six’ and what impact they have had on your life.

 

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Six months before last year’s presidential election, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog about how to survive a Trump presidency. A week later the blog was subject to an orchestrated ‘no prisoners taken, pile-on Troll attack’ by twenty or so Trump supporters. The attack lasted for a couple of hours, but when no-one responded to their insulting and ‘braindead’ comments they disappeared, never to return. The process was brutal and I discovered a Troll attack is a very disturbing experience indeed!

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/six-ways-survive-donald-trump-presidency-christopher-hepworth

So why do these small but highly organised ‘follower armies’ of Trolls bother to pile on to random blogs, written in jest on the other side of the world? Because on the fringes of our society there is an internet culture war taking place. Most Trolls are extremists on opposite sides of the political spectrum and their intention is to polarise debate into one of two ‘camps’. In their simple minds, you are either with them or you are the enemy, deserving of their insults and threats. There is no room for reasoned debate or polite acceptance of opposing views.

Their strategy is to claim ‘victory’ based on their imposed majority judgement of the targeted chat forum. On a grander scale, it means that small, well organised, on-line groups can magnify the impact and influence of their extremist viewpoints. They are able turn random social media platforms into propaganda machines that suit their ends. Think anti-vaccinating, Brexit, fossil fuels, abortion, Trump, gun laws or any other controversial social issues of the day.

For those who do not have polarised views, the behaviour of the Trolls is boorish and irritating. Our natural inclination is to push back against those views – an activity known as feeding the Trolls. A sad reflection on our society is that this boorish style of commentary has become so prevalent it now mainstream. I read a serious column in a respectable Australian newspaper where a government ‘spokesman’ suggested that anyone who believed in man-made climate change was a ‘cardigan wearing, Guardian reading, elitist.’ I suspect most of his moderate-leaning readers switched off at that point.

So how best to fight back against a Troll Follower Army that has taken possession of your favourite internet forum?  Trolls are after all, mythical creatures that can be outsmarted by low-IQ Billy Goat Gruffs! Here are six ‘Resistance’ strategies that may not win the war against a full blown Troll pile-on but they are more fun than seething impotently at your computer screen:

  1. Ignore them and they will go away. It’s the ultimate strategy. Trolls thrive on conflict and are the masters of trench warfare. They have incredible stamina and will win any war of insult. But with no ammunition or target, their short attention spans will cause them to quickly leave the field of battle.
  2. The Commando Hit and Run. When a Troll Army has invaded your favourite forum, sneak in and lay a ‘sticky bomb’. This explosive argument should be logical, factual, unemotional, unbiased and hard hitting. Then get the hell out of there fast leaving the Trolls chasing nothing but shadows.
  3. The Sniper Attack. Locate the Troll Army general. He’s the loudest, most obnoxious and most irrational Troll on the chat forum. Take aim and hit him between the eyes with a killer line of reasoning backed up by telling scientific references. Then exit the chat room leaving the troll army stunned and leaderless.
  4. The Kamikazi. Unfortunately, you are going to have to take one for the team by zeroing in on the Troll heavyweight. This involves dropping ‘the big one’ – the latest academic research paper on the lead Troll’s sweeping generalisations. You might inflict irreparable damage on his flawed logic, but you are also likely to be shot down in flames by sheer weight of numbers.
  5. The ‘Johnny Come Lately’. A strategy used to great effect on US websites. This involves supporting the one remaining voice of reason surrounded by a sea of angry Trolls. With the battle almost over and the Trolls on the back foot, you enter the fray with a few hard-hitting facts and well-constructed conclusions. Your support is often enough to send the orchestrated Troll pile-on packing.
  6. The ambush. Draw the trolls out into the open with a few rookie comments while keeping your best logic, your carefully researched facts and your supporting reference sites hidden. Once the troll army has revealed their position let rip with your entire debating arsenal leaving them stunned and bloodied. Then get the hell out.

Freedom of expression demands that the ‘sensible centre’ sticks up for what it believes to be right and does so in a calm logical way. It’s time for normal people to fight back!

It may not be the best way of dealing with the Trolls, but then the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff would have been a complete anti-climax if the little billy goat had not given the Troll a taste of his own medicine.

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You can access the giveaway page at this link http://bookdeals.today/. This opportunity is available for a limited time only and will expire on 8th July. Enjoy

The giveaways are handled via Instafreebie and are subject to their terms and conditions.