It's a story about one person, but it's also a story about the evolution of the modern Internet, technology and civil liberties, depression and suicide, and the tension between sharing/creating knowledge and selling access to knowledge. It's an important story of our time.
(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.)
I 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.
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,
You should watch the film Life In a Day. It's a crowd-sourced documentary assembled by the folks at National Geographic and YouTube, where folks from around the world sent in 4,500 hours of video footage of their lives as recorded on July 24th, 2010. (Don't worry, the film itself is only an hour and a half.)
Life In a Day weaves together moments of joy and sadness, frivolity and struggle, plainness and great beauty into a wonderful fabric of the human experience. It at once shows the ways in which the routines of our days are shared across cultures and landscapes (we wake, we clean up, we eat, we interact, we travel, we love, we argue, we sleep), but also the stark contrasts of wealthy and poor, privileged and oppressed, healthy and unhealthy, troubled and care-free.
There are only a few "characters" we see multiple times throughout the day - a man bicycling around the world, a family struggling with cancer - but the amazing editing and soundtrack create a story arc grounded not in personality or plot twist, but in the experience of having 24 hours pass and all of the amazing (or mundane) things that can happen in that time. It's a masterpiece that will perhaps seem quaint in a few decades, but that could not have been possible even 5 or 10 years ago.
Life In a Day is inspiring and moving. Best of all, it's real.
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.
I saw the movie The Social Network tonight, here are my spoiler-free comments.
The movie was incredibly well made. Aaron Sorkin's writing was as good as the best days of The West Wing, each member of the cast seemed to just nail their role, the editing was some of the best I've seen, and so on.
Perhaps most enjoyably, this is a mainstream movie that is at least in part about the culture and goings-on in the modern world of Internet entrepreneurship, I believe the first of its kind. It fully embraces the geekiness that was and is a part of building a web application like Facebook: in the first 30 minutes, the Apache webserver software project is mentioned at least twice, there are dramatic lines about needing more Linux webservers running MySQL, there are punchlines that involve the emacs text editor, and scenes of glorious code writing marathons - wow.
Let's see, how am I doing on my target of blogging three times per week in 2010? FAIL. Actually, January and February were pretty good, but March has been sorely lacking. I will for now use the excuse of "I was busy" and throw in some specifics like "I was planning an open house" and "I was writing a new vacation policy for my staff," but I don't expect you to be any more forgiving as a result. Let's see if I can start to get back on track.
In the meantime, as a distraction, here are some things you might want to click on and check out:
For over a year now, I've been living well without cable or broadcast television in my life. I thought I would share some thoughts on how that transition has gone, and some pointers to tools and technologies you might be interested in if you're on a similar path.
(Disclaimer: I'm not here to tell you how to live, but my general sense is that the world would be a better place if people didn't spend their time watching television. Period. That said, and the reality of TV watching as a cultural norm firmly in place for now, I continue with my narrative.)
The end of channel surfing
The first stage in my transition away from "watching TV" was to get free of the notion that my schedule should ever revolve around the schedule of TV broadcasters.
I'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.