Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

review

February 16, 2014

Book review: Netflixed, the story of Netflix

(I've been reading a lot of books lately about the stories of how various technology companies came to be, and it's been great food for thought as I work on the next chapter in my own professional life story. This is the first in a series of blog posts about these books.)

Netflixed-Gina-KeatingI remember hearing about Netflix from a geek news site sometime in the early 2000s, and I think I was among the first folks in my town to try the DVD subscription by mail service that they'd launched in 1999. I was skeptical of it, having a hard time imagining a day when I wouldn't rather just stop in to the local movie rental store than bother with ordering a disc online and then waiting for it to show up by mail. But I tried it out, thinking it would be an interesting way to access some of the independent and obscure films that local stores wouldn't bother to stock.

And so I took my place as one of the many video watching consumers that Netflix, Blockbuster and other media companies were battling to attract and keep as customers over the last 15 or so years, leading right up to present day where the release of the second season of the Netflix-produced House of Cards on Friday was a major media event.

That battle and the personalities that made it interesting are the focus of Gina Keating's great book, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America's Eyeballs.

- Read More -

January 31, 2013

1Password alleviates the horrors of password management

1PMainWindowI come to you today a recovering password management hypocrite.

I have over 190 accounts and logins for which a password or PIN is a part of my access: website tools, online banking, social media, email, internal company tools at Summersault, and so on.  I used to pretend that I was maintaining the security of these accounts by having a reasonably strong set of passwords that I re-used across multiple sites, sometimes with variations that I thought made them less likely to be broken into if someone did happen to compromise one of my accounts.

But as I prepared to give a talk in December about email privacy and security issues, and really stepped back to look at my own password management scheme, I realized just how much pretending I'd been doing, and just how vulnerable I was making myself to the increasingly well-equipped and highly-automated attempts at compromising accounts, stealing identities and stealing funds that are being launched every day.  I went and tested some of my passwords at the Password Strength Checker, and I was ashamed.   The potential impact of this really hit home as I read Mat Honan's personal tale of woe and his follow-up piece Kill the Password in Wired magazine.  Add in Passwords Under Assault from ArsTechnica and you'll be shaking in your boots.

So I decided that I was not going to be that guy who goes around telling people about how vulnerable they are with their simplistic password schemes while quietly living a lie in my own password management scheme.  I might still be hacked some day, but I would not be found giving some teary-eyed interview to Oprah where I whined about how the pressure of the 190 accounts to manage just got to be too much and how I knew using a simple dictionary word plus a series of sequential numbers was wrong but I still didn't do the right thing.

That's when I found 1Password from AgileBits, a password management tool that alleviates the horrors of password management.

- Read More -

June 25, 2012

Mini reviews: Brave, Quiet, Reamde, Freedom and more

Some mini reviews of books (and one movie) I've had a chance to take in lately.  For most items I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first:

Brave (2012), Pixar
I can't say that Brave, Pixar's latest feature film, is anywhere close to my favorite from this studio.  It's not that the animation isn't stunning (it is) or that the watching experience isn't enjoyable (it was), and it's certainly great to see a strong female main character whose departure from limiting traditional roles is largely uncompromised.  But the world wrought by the story feels somehow smaller and more forgettable than other Pixar adventures.  The nuanced and emotionally complex experiences of the characters mostly overcame the awkward dialog and sometimes dragging plot, and in the end it was observing their inner transformations that was most compelling,

- Read More -

January 30, 2012

In The Plex, a great history of Google

I just finished reading Steven Levy's In the Plex, a great history of Google, Inc.'s origins and growth, and a great insight into what the company could look like in the future, or at least how it might get there.

The story of Google that matters for most people is how it affects their daily lives (searching, web browsing, mobile phones, mapping/navigation, email, calendaring, YouTube, news, etc.) but I appreciate that Levy's book focuses on the personalities and processes driving the evolution of what is arguably one of the most transformative corporate and technological entities of our time.

It can be easy to forget that behind some of the game-changing products and services produced by the company, there were real people thinking through issues of privacy, dealing with cross-cultural considerations and navigating interpersonal dynamics all while trying to make a living and find a sustainable business model.  They had/have desks, meetings, slide shows to give, families to care for, water-cooler conversations to have, and Levy does a great job capturing and re-telling those stories from the days of "two guys in a garage" all the way through the present days of life as an international corporation.  This is not always done with the most critical eye - those with concerns about Google's operations or policies may be put off by the extent to which this book is an homage - but on the whole I think Levy is fair in calling out the moments when individual Google employees or the company as a whole screws up, and placing those in the context of Google's good intentions.

A few themes in what Levy's book revealed about "the Google way":

- Read More -

November 16, 2011

Review of Zack Parker's Scalene

I recently received my DVD copy of local filmmaker Zack Parker's latest film, Scalene.  This is my review (partly of the film and partly of the making of the film), which doesn't contain any plot spoilers but may still affect your own viewing experience if you read it first.

Scalene is a dark thriller that tells a story of a mother, her son, and the son's caretaker as they interact around some events that change their lives significantly.  The film shows the perspectives of each of the three characters using a combination of linear (forward and reverse) and non-linear story-telling, a technique that certainly keeps things interesting and always a bit unsettling.

The movie was filmed in Richmond, and so as a resident it was also "fun" to try to pick out the locations and backdrops along the way - various scenes in the City building, various restaurants, Glen Miller Park, etc.  I've even been pulled over by one of the Richmond Police Department officers who makes an appearance in the film, but I don't think that qualifies me for an on-screen credit.

- Read More -

September 6, 2011

Summer reading mini book reviews

What We Leave BehindIt's been a decent summer of reading for me, and I thought I'd post some very brief reviews of some of what I've encountered along the way.  For each book I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.  I've organized the reviews into three sections: Culture, Novels and Business & Politics:

Culture

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Finally, Mitnick gets to tell his side of the story when it comes to his adventures in computer cracking and social engineering.  Though his writing style isn't particularly compelling and his personal meditations on the interpersonal aspects of his adventures are a bit awkward, the details of how he pulled off some pretty technologically impressive (albeit illegal and sometimes destructive) hacks - and how law enforcement responded - make for compelling reading on their own.  As someone who spent a fair number of hours in my childhood trying to deconstruct how the phone system and the emerging world of BBSes and Internet nodes worked, Mitnick's book is a great visit to the past and a reminder that humans continue to be the weakest link in all computer security.

- Read More -

July 12, 2011

Initial thoughts on Google+

Google PlusI've had a few days to play around with Google's new social network offering, Google+, and I thought I'd share some initial thoughts.

First of all, kudos to Google for "going for it" in the Facebook era.  They're one of few players who actually has the resources and skill to make a serious go at a viable alternative to Facebook, and you've got to admire the effort.  If the success of the movie The Social Network tells us anything, it's that Facebook has become mainstream and popular, and as generations of younger people look for ways to establish their identity in the digital age, they'll be looking for alternatives to the place where their parents and now grandparents also hang out online.  By the same token, people of all ages and professions are trying to figure out just how to effectively and safely use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media tools in a world where we're being encouraged to blend our personal and professional lives together more publicly.

Is Google+ just the right thing at just the right time?

People are already writing about the high bar that Google+ will have to jump in order to see any significant migration of Facebook users, not the least of which is all the time people have invested in curating their lists of "friends" there.  Facebook is going to make it as difficult as possible for its users to do any kind of exporting of account information from their system, and I don't think Google is devious enough to launch an unauthorized workaround.  So people will be left to recreate their online identity on Google+, where the number of people you are connected to still largely drives your user experience.

- Read More -

June 19, 2011

Book reviews: Game Change, Public Speaking, Rework

I'm fortunate to have had time to read some actual books cover-to-cover in the last few weeks.  Other than some novels that made for decent beach reading, a notable theme of business, communication and politics emerged.  A few reviews are below; I've linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your local bookseller or visiting your local library first.

Game Change
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Published in 2010, Game Change recounts the stories of the 2008 Presidential election with a behind-the-scenes perspective unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. The book reads like a novel (think Joe Klein's Primary Colors or even a John Grisham work) and is simply fascinating to take in.  Chapter after chapter paint a nuanced picture of what Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, John McCain and other candidates were experiencing from the time they decided to run until the election itself - it's a narrative that the media simply couldn't have assembled along the way.  Knowing of the extensive research and interviewing that the authors did to assemble it together made it all the more impressive.

- Read More -

November 20, 2009

Various Reviews of Various Things

Numa and the TrainI've been consuming a lot of information, and I'm here to tell you, briefly, what I've learned:

Book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz: a great little book, a quick read full of wisdom that seems like it should just be common sense.  To find happiness, be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions, and always do your best.

Book, Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor: moving reflections on a life devoted to ministry and service, and the unexpected twists and turns in how that was manifested.  As someone who has vacillated widely in my relationship with organized religion over time, much of it rang true for me.

- Read More -

Older Posts