Dare Not Walk Alone Opening in New York: 24 days from today

That's right, the award-winning documentary that the Los Angeles Times called a "powerful slice of roiling American history" continues to build momentum with its New York opening at the Pioneer Theatre on August 22 for 7 nights (scroll down page for listing). The Pioneer is located at East 3rd Street in New York, between Avenues A and B (closer to A). Phone number is (212) 591-0434.

The film's director, Jeremy Dean, will be attending the opening night screenings. Why not read what the critics say about Dare Not Walk Alone, take a look at the trailer, and start making plans to attend?

Here's what Variety said: “Dean's ability to explore history through such a local nexus creates a uniquely intimate document.” And Film Journal observed: “The racial politics of the current presidential election make this film all the more significant...[Dare Not Walk Alone]...is more than just another civil-rights history lesson.”

The film critic for the leading weekly in Portland, Oregon, described the film as “A powerhouse of a picture...minutely attuned to disparities of class and race...a triumph of outrage and empathy” (Willamette Weekly). And Boxoffice Magazine declared this film “has great potential to do real good in the world.”

Read more at the official website and the film's blog.

~~posted by Stephen Cobb, Producer, Dare Not Walk Alone.

Working in the Word Mine

Victor Kiam might be dead, but his slogan is still remembered: "I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company." That was his landmark ad for Remington. Well, I can now say "I liked the company so much, I went to work for it." That's right I am now working for Monetate.

What's Monetate? A startup started by two Davids, Mr. David Brussin and Mr. David Bookspan. It is also:

“A new way to create personalized site experiences for visitors to e-commerce web sites.”

And my job is to tweak that description, capture the essence of the product, and then make sure the world of online retailing knows all about it. Should be fun.

p.s. That's Victor Kiam in the photo, not me or one of the Davids.

Hackers Are People Too: Cool new doc sheds fresh light

Sometimes, just when your faith in "kids today" has been drained so bad your mind feels like a purple slurpee being rudely slurped by an obnoxious kid who is kicking the bottom of your airline seat as you ride the plane to nowhere in ever-widening circles, something comes along to renew your hopes for the future. A case in point? The debut documentary from a talented young director Ashley Schwartau: Hackers are People Too.

(A.k.a. H4CK3RS Are People Too for the folks who are 3Lit3 or HAPT for those who are into the whole brevity thing.)

The "hope renewed" impact of this documentary hit me on two levels. First and most importantly, HAPT delivers a fresh take on what it means to be a hacker. Schwartau eschews traditional media fear-mongering in favor of the classic definition of hacker: people who like to mess with technology, not to mess it up, but to tune it up, to deconstruct, understand, and re-animate everything from phones to computers to radios and doorlocks and robots. Sure, there are people who break computers and the law, but as one of the many articulate interviewees in HAPT asserts, it makes more sense to call those people computer criminals than to appropriate a word which champions of industry like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were once proud to own.

By taking a positive approach, Schwartau is able to give her audience a rare glimpse of the breadth and depth of talent that is part of the hacking community. We can plainly see that hackers come in all shapes and sizes although most seem to share two characteristics: above-average intelligence and above-average tolerance for people who are "different."

Sure, there are some snarky smart-ass remarks--the movie would have been unbelievable without a smattering of those--but on the whole we see hackers for what they are, relatively likable people. And if that observation sounds too simplistic to be a revelation I suggest you a. watch some traditional media portrayals of hackers and see just how distorted they are, b. hang out, as I have, at some hacker gatherings. As I argued many years ago in a debate at a major security conference, these kids are not amoral sociopaths, they have their own set of morals, some of which, such as tolerance, our society could use more of.

The style of Hackers Are People Too is direct and largely un-narrated, with Schwartau letting the subjects speak for themselves (which they sometimes do with considerable flair). She paired some interviewees in ways that prove effective and engaging, offering a break from solo talking heads. I also like that there are no fancy graphics grafted on to the interviews (after all, the world of hacking is historically one of monochrome command line text interfaces). There is a nice real world feel to the interviews and a refreshing lack of window dressing.

The occasional use of on-screen footnotes to explain some terminology was helpful without being condescending; if you're a geek you probably won't need them, but you shouldn't diss them--this is a film that could reach a lot of people who would ordinarily shun a subject as geeky as hackers. Who knows, some minds might even be changed, for the better.

The first public outing for Hackers Are People Too is a premiere event on August 8th at DefCon in Las Vegas. Look for it on DVD shortly thereafter. You can find the trailer on YouTube right here. You can also check the web site.

When Can We Get A B? Mercedes small car strategy still mystifies

Recently I enjoyed a great weekend in Toronto. What a super city! So many clean quiet neighborhoods close to downtown. And the Greek restaurant row on Danforth. What superb eating!

So what has this got to do with Mercedes Benz? Well, I spotted several Canadian registered Mercedes B Class beauties on the road. These are smaller and more economical than any Benz sold in the States, with a choice of two 4 cylinder engines. The cheaper, 134-hp option is mated to a 5-speed manual and apparently gets over 45 mpg (prices start at: $29,900 Canadian). The sportier turbo version sports a 6-speed tranny and a 193-hp 2.0-liter.

As far as I can tell, Canadians have been able to buy B class models for several years. However, for reasons that would seem to defy all market logic, Mercedes has no firm plans to sell the B in the U.S. of A. Plans to bring the B to the States in 2007 were apparently scrapped (smooth move MB, just ahead of $4 gas). Now there are rumors that Mercedes might in bring over the B in 2011. That's hardly the agility required of a world class competitor. Sigh!

Cool Stuff for Online Stores

Had a very interesting chat today with David Brussin whose new company, Monetate, has developed a very powerful tool for online retailers. This tool/product is also called Monetate and what it does is pretty amazing. Suppose you’re shopping on the web, maybe for new boots. You visit a couple of sites that sell the boots you want. As you flick between sites to find the best price, an offer pops up, giving you 20% off on the exact product you want, if you order today.

If you're selling boots and your site that makes that offer, you may well get the order. Making that offer is what Monetate does.

Even better, from the site owners point of view, Monetate can extend offers like this based on very specific criteria, like "free next day delivery on big screen TVs" but offered only to customers who are within 50 miles of the warehouse. You might think online retailers already have the ability to do this sort of thing and a few do. But many are still struggling to implement this level of personalization. Monetate is relatively easy to implement (it's SaaS, but without the need for clients to code to an API). Plus, you can make personalized offers even to people who have never shopped at your site before.

How does Monetate do this? I'm about to find out. I will report back soon.

Two Blasts From The Past In One Day: Monetate and IMCD

I got two exciting calls today from friends and former colleagues, David Brussin and Michael Miora. two of the guys with whom I co-founded InfoSec Labs and ePrivacy Group.

Mr. Miora is a seriously qualified information security and disaster recovery expert (as in Michael Miora, CISSP, ISSMP, FBCI). He has been working on a product that helps businesses recovery from disasters. It is called IMCD, from Incident Management CD, because one of its many clever tricks is to store, one on CD (or USB thumb drive or SD card) everything your company needs to know in an emergency: who to call, contact details, systems and software applications and data, by department, priority, location, and so on and, Wow, there really is a lot of stuff you need to get your hands on fast when the nasty stuff meets the whirling blades.

One reason I'm familiar with this product is that my brother (Mike Cobb, CISSP, ISSAP, MCDBA) was heavily involved, coding the interface and algorithms and such. The exciting news today was the availability of the new version, boxed and priced to sell, on places like Amazon, for $99.00. At this price it's a very cheap insurance policy and potential life-saver for owners of small-to-medium businesses as well as in charge of regional offices of larger companies. The next step in the marketing plan is to move into brick and mortar retail stores like Staples and OfficeMax. I look forward to seeing it on the shelves soon.

The news from Mr. Brussin was also very exciting--his new company's new product is ready to rock and they've just activated the first client. David is one of those people obsessed with making things work better through the appropriate application of technology. He was running his own networking company before he turned 20 and has been coming up with bright ideas ever since, like the anti-spam router, still the single most effective anti-spam tool you can buy. This latest company/idea is a means of making online retail sites work better (a by-product of spending too much time Internet shopping?). It sounds like David has put together an ace tech team to build this thing and I look forward to learning more about it.

What Fighting Spam Taught Me About Marketing (and Market Forces)

Yesterday I reflected on the emergence of the spam problem and some early work on anti-spam strategies. I'd like to continue the topic today with a second observation from early in 2001:

2. A lot of people want to receive relevant offers.

This is not the same as observation #1 in my previous post: Some people like unsolicited email. Back in 2001, point #1 was true: a not insignificant percentage of email users were open to getting email they didn't ask for. This percentage dropped rapidly over the next few years as the quantity of unsolicited email that these people received increased, together with the proportion of that email which was deceptive and distasteful.

What did not change is point #2; it is human nature to be receptive to a good deal IF it is relevant. We realized this...

Anti-Spam? But some people like(d) email surprises

Back in January of 2001, some of my buddies and I did some serious thinking about spam, the obnoxious unsolicited email, not the canned luncheon meat (email spam is sometimes referred to as unsolicited commercial email or UCE). For several days we sat around a table in a room paneled with whiteboard in the basement of a house in a suburb of Philadelphia. Collectively we came up with some useful and enduring insights. With spam now accounting for up to 90 percent of all Internet email traffic and new, more malevolent variations appearing weekly, I thought it might be useful to revisit some of those insights in this post...

A Small Wonder: World's fastest autogyro

I recently came across a story that intrigued me and at the same time lifted my spirits. It concerns a small flying machine called Woodstock.

But first some background. I've been interested in aircraft at least as far back as my first transatlantic flight (in a Bristol Britannia operated by B.O.A.C. ). That was when my father was on his way to work for the Renfrew Aircraft company in Canada, where we lived for the year that I was six. When I was 10, he and I went on a church outing to Heathrow Airport (my folks belonged to a pretty cool church). We had a guided tour of the Boeing maintenance facilities (where I learned that each of the four engines on a Boeing 707 are held on by just three bolts).

My brother and I got my our first helicopter ride when I was 11 and he was 6. Many years later he completed his training for his helicopter license while staying with Chey and me in San Francisco.

Lavish G8 Menu: A hotch-potch of complacent inanity?

Gotta love those British journalists. They have such a knack for spotting irony. In the Times this morning the headline read "G8 leaders feast on 13 courses after discussing world food shortages." This was followed by a truly sickening menu of the exotic foods upon which the leaders of the world's richest and most powerful nations feasted while pondering a massive increase in world hunger.

And it's not like the Times smuggled the menu out--the summit organizers were actually bragging about it, proving, once again, that the people who currently rule the planet have no clue. I mean, either you eat the fancy food in secret or you make a big show of eating plain food, for a change.

Then the Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott, writing under the headline "A G8 removed from the real world," ponders what action, if any, the G8 will take. Will they do something decisive, for a change? Warns Elliott, "It would be foolish to bank on it." After pointing out that the last summit was way off base, he concludes that we would be "far safer to expect a repeat of last year's hotch-potch of complacent inanity."

And really, the G8 would have done better to dine on "aged hotch-potch of complacent inanity," perhaps served with a side order of humble pie, instead of wolfing down things like corn-stuffed caviar and truffle soup or sea urchin 'pain surprise' style.