Movie Review: Breach

Posted on August 12, 2007
Filed Under Movie Reviews | 1 Comment

BreachBreach, directed by Billy Ray, is based on the true story of the take down of possibly the worst spy in American history, FBI Agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper). Hanssen sold numerous U.S. secrets to the soviets over a 15 year time frame for about $1.4 million in cash and diamonds before being brought down.

Hanssen was ultimately brought down thanks in part to a valiant effort by young FBI upstart Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) who was undercover as Hanssen’s assistant and gathered the evidence the FBI had been seeking.

The movie takes O’Neill’s point of view through the months leading up to Hanssen’s take down and I think that choice leads to a very exciting and insightful film. Seeing things through O’Neill’s eyes gives us the chance to really see Hanssen as a person and it leads all of us to feel for him once he is finally brought down even though we know he deserves all he gets and more.

Chris Cooper does an incredible job playing Hanssen as well which really pulls the viewer into the story and the mind of a spy. I would even go as far as to say that Cooper’s portrayal of Hanssen is Oscar worthy.

While Hollywood usually over dramatizes “true stories” Breach was only dramatized in a handful of tasteful places to add to the suspense of the film but overall it seems to be very true to life. I highly recommend checking Breach out when out when you have a chance. It’s both a great film and a history lesson rolled into one.

Read Books via RSS (& e-mail) with DailyLit

Posted on August 8, 2007
Filed Under Books, Media, Media 2.0 | 6 Comments

DailyLitDailyLit truly puts a new spin on reading by allowing users to subscribe to books via e-mail or RSS. Once the user/reader subscribes to a book DailyLit sends a chunk of the book to them each day until the book is finished. The feeds are even customizable which means each user can decide their own delivery frequency and even read ahead if they have some extra time on their hands.

How long does it take to get through a book this way you ask? Here is your answer straight from the DailyLit FAQs:

That depends on three factors. First, on how many installments are in the book (shown when you browse for books). Second, on how frequently you choose to receive emails. Third, on how often you read more than one installment (by using the “send me the next installment immediately” feature). So here is a typical example. I am currently reading Dracula, which has 187 installments and I am receiving installments on weekdays, i.e. 5 days/week. So at most it will take me 187/5 = 37 weeks. But when I am on the train or waiting, I often read more than one installment, so I usually wind up reading about 10 installments/week. This means I will finish Dracula in about 19 weeks or 5 months. If that seems long to you, try something shorter!

The initial thing that got me excited about DailyLit was that they delivered the book content via a feed since I realized how easy it would be to slide a small chunk of a book into my feed reading each day and, thus, read more books. The e-mail delivery is also great as it widens the possible audience to people that may not understand feeds (hard to believe I know but there are still RSS ignorant people out there…) or who may have feed readers blocked on their office computers.

It looks like DailyLit is currently providing older books presumably because they are part of the public domain so DailyLit doesn’t have to worry about copyright issues. Hopefully they will work out content deals in the future to get new(er) books as well since reading in this manner will likely help a lot of busy people be able to read even more. I know I would definitely pay for that service. How much I’m not sure but there is probably a market out there for this beyond me.

Kudos to Chris for the tip.

Techrigy: Big Brother for Blogs

Posted on August 7, 2007
Filed Under Technology, Business, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments

TechrigyVentureBeat ran a post today on a new service from a company called Techrigy which could cause the amount of people getting fired for writing blogs to increase dramatically.

Techrigy’s new service is called Social Media Monitoring (or SM2) and it is designed to help companies track their employees blogs and wikis. The service essentially works like a custom search product. The company first creates a list of employees, competitors and organizations that they want to monitor and the system pulls back a list of blogs and wikis based on the list. The company can then refine that initial list down to the exact blogs and wikis they want to keep an eye on. After the list is refined SM2 will capture every new post and save it (you can also search the archives as well) at which point the company can run “policy checks” on the content.

Policy checks look at all of the content collected by the SM2 crawler and decide if there are any company policy violations in the content. Companies can search for pretty much anything including, but not limited to, statements that could mean an employee is discontent, political and religious sentiments and comments on company management. As VentureBeat points out SM2 sounds a lot like Big Brother.

There are already a lot of e-mail monitoring solutions out there for employers (see the VenutreBeat article for a nice short wrap-up of them) but this is the first corporate social media monitoring solution I have seen.

Unfortunately this line is one which we should not cross casually but we will probably leap over it without much thought. Why you ask? Well, the answer is pretty simple.

Companies want more control and Techrigy’s SM2 technology will give them that control. In that sense Techrigy looks to be a very promising investment to whatever VC or group of VCs that decide to put up the $2 - $5mm Techrigy is shopping for right now. Techrigy will most likely get funding and then companies, looking mainly at the short term, will probably adopt the technology.

Bottom line: there seems to be money to be made with SM2 so someone will try to make it whether it is right or wrong. In this case it is a very grey area and although it feels ethically wrong to me it may not to others.

This technology seems to be delving much too far into the personal lives of employees. The small fraction of a percent of employees that are looking to harm their employer can probably be found without such invasive actions. As one VentureBeat commenter puts it:

So what this does, at the end of the day, [is] let corporations scan for every stupid photo of you dancing, singing on an online karaoke competition, [and] collect all that info, just in caseā€¦. sounds like a military state to me.

SM2 could easily be compared with the Patriot Act in the sense that both give up far too much privacy for law abiding citizens in order to catch the handful of bad eggs. In fact, a Ben Franklin quote comes to mind that sums things up nicely:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Employers should look to hire good employees that they can trust to make good decisions outside of work. Of course no one has a 100% good hire rate but companies should be able to find the folks that aren’t doing well by the company without forcing everyone in the company to sit under a microscope.

Book Review: The World Without Us

Posted on August 6, 2007
Filed Under Books | 1 Comment

The World Without UsTypically I don’t find books I want to read by simply walking into a bookstore and browsing but that is exacly how I found Alan Weisman’s “The World Without Us.” I had just finished Positively False and was heading toward my gate at SFO to catch a flight back to Chicago when I spotted it. After reading the jacket I knew it was a book I’d love.

The basic premise of the book is what the title succinctly states. The book is an exploration of what the world would become if humans ceased to exist (albeit not through a disaster - it looks at the world if we simply disappeared one day).

That concept and the archaeological side of the book are what attracted me at first. I was incredibly curious what future beings would find from our modern day civilization 500, 1,000 and 10,000 years from now. However, when I really dove into the book on the flight back to Chicago I was treated to a well researched work that really got me thinking even more about what we, as humans, have done to our planet.

The information Weisman puts forth is far more compelling that Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in my mind because it looks at environmental issues from a completely different angle than Gore did.

Weisman looks at how long it will take everything we have done to the planet to reverse itself rather than what will happen if we continue on as we have been.

It is troubling to read page after page about how long it will take for the world to heal itself. The most interesting piece of the book in terms of how we’ve harmed the planet was the section on plastics. The plastics that we have produced over the past fifty years or so will be around for thousands of years to come even if we don’t produce any more as of right now.

We humans truly have been parasites on this planet in much the same way the aliens in the movie Independence Day were but there is a happy ending and it lies in our brains.

We humans are smart and we understand what we are doing to our planet and that it needs to stop. It remains to be seen if we have the wisdom needed to enact some things that will help nature fight back but I believe we can and will.

The other silver lining is that nature is ferociously resilient and will renew itself should we begin to lessen the strain we place on the planet.

In time I hope we learn to live in harmony with nature which we will be able to do as soon as we realize that we’re no different than any other species. We can also become extinct and maybe even take our whole planet down with us if we’re not careful.

The World Without Us is a must read for all human beings as it will get anyone who reads it to start seriously thinking about our impact on our home. Weisman should be commended for such a well written and researched book.

TECH cocktail Boston: Coming (very) Soon

Posted on August 5, 2007
Filed Under TECH cocktail | 1 Comment

BostonWe haven’t fully nailed down the details for TECH cocktail Boston yet but I thought it would be good to start spreading the word. Here’s the info we have so far:

Date: Thursday, September 6th
Time: 6:30pm - 9pm
Venue: Tequila Rain on Landsdowne Street (right behind my beloved Fenway)

We’re hoping to have everything locked down soon and the RSVP list up on the TECH cocktail site as well so stay tuned and make sure to block the time off on your calendar.

Also, I just want to thank our Boston sponsors in advance. We’ll have their logos up on the TECH cocktail site soon but in the meantime here’s the list:

Northbridge Venture Partners

Without them TECH cocktail Boston would not be possible.

This event is definitely going to be wicked awesome and I am very excited to bring TC back home. Hope to see you there!

Photo Credit: Eric Hill via Flickr

Feeds: The Publishers Enemy?

Posted on August 3, 2007
Filed Under Media, Media 2.0 | 1 Comment

Some in the blogosphere have speculated that feeds are not a friend of the publisher and the reasons why they believe that feeds are the enemy can be summed up in three bullet points:

These things are all true… right now. What I think people forget or choose not to acknowledge is the future and what feeds could and will become.

A good analog to the situation we currently see with feeds and web sites would be that of the web and newspapers 10 years ago.

When the web started to gain traction and more content began to appear on it the newspapers took notice and started to develop web sites. However, they were unsure of how much to give consumers on the web since, you guessed it, the following issues were staring them in the face:

The newspapers still pushed forward though in the hopes that web sites would drive people to become print subscribers and we all know how well that worked out and that is to say not well. This is another analog to the current world of feeds in fact.

There are some who think publishing limited content in the feed will drive users to their sites but we at FeedBurner have found that to be untrue just as it was for web sites driving print subscriptions.

Do feeds have a way to go? Sure. Are they changing the way content is consumed for more and more people every day? Yes. That said, I don’t think feeds are any publishers enemy and I don’t think any publisher looking at the long term view would disagree. Feeds are a publishers best friend.

Pubvertising is Here: Publish and Advertise in One Place

Posted on August 3, 2007
Filed Under FeedBurner, Media, Media 2.0 | Leave a Comment

AdverblishWe’ve been wanting to introduce pubvertising on a wider scale for some time now and I am excited it is finally out there.

The whole concept behind pubvertising - or publishing + advertising - is pretty simple. We want to allow publishers who are using our tools to easily be able to create an ad that contains their feed content which they can then easily place in the FeedBurner Ad Network.

These ads are designed to drive awareness of the publishers content and drive subscriptions to their feed(s). What better place to find feed subscribers than other feeds right?

The tool that publishers can use to create their ad is called Headline Animator. Headline Animator allows any publisher using FeedBurner to create a completely custom graphic that will include their latest feed headlines.

Right now we are setting the sizes of ads publishers can place to 468×60 and 468×120. You can see some examples below. Also, make sure to read the official FeedBurner post on pubvertising as it says things with more wit than I can. It also provides much more detail than this post does in case you’re interested in giving this concept a shot.

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