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Have you watched one of the best TV shows from Hollywood about Technology?

Alternatively: Decoding Halt and Catch fire’s fictional into real events.

This one is not about just Cloud or Security, it’s about Information Technology in general and it’s evolution over the few decades past.

It’s about all of this, in a fictional world.

Of course this is not a review of the show, the actors or even the production itself, but my thoughts on the show — focusing on the Technology aspect of it.

I am sharing this, since it was so inspirational to me as an IT professional who loves history.

./theShow

The show is called “Halt and Catch Fire”.

It follows the story of four techies and a few other people that are involved in some ways with IT.

The four techies have different backgrounds, skills and goals — and these are obvious and well explored (most of the time) throughout the four seasons that the show ran.

  • Software Genius
  • Hardware Genius
  • Visionary
  • Business Genius

What strikes me in the show is how they portray and showcase how all these different skills have a place in the Industry. And in a more subtle way: their competition (amongst themselves and the industry) to have the best idea and execution — this is made clear by a couple things:

  1. The show’s title “Halt and Catch Fire”, referred to as HCF in computing:

HCF became a humorous catch-all term for instructions that may freeze a processor, including intentional instructions for testing purposes, and unintentional illegal instructions. Some are considered hardware defects, and if the system is shared, a malicious user can execute it to launch a denial-of-service attack.

2. The show’s opening highlights this in many ways, as discussed here:

An idea can be a violent thing. Birthed out of nothingness, forcing its way into the world with a stroke of luck, a flash of inspiration, and sometimes, the push of a button.

In the opening to AMC’s new period drama Halt and Catch Fire, a spark blazes a trail through sheer red, scorching an idea into existence. Zeroes become ones. Input becomes output. The characters’ faces, nothing more than glitchy approximations, are barely recognizable in the vermillion void.

Following a white signal (representing and idea) in a vermillion landscape (with other white signals/ideas alongside it).

Breakthrough!

Elastic — Opening Credits: Halt & Catch Fire — YouTube

And the show delivers exactly that throughout its episodes — whilst mentioning key moments in the IT industry starting from the PC revolution in late 70s/early 80s and onwards.

By the end of the journey, the show makes an incredible connection about what everything is about. A lesson that it connects to Technology and Life.

It’s something that Steve Jobs nodded to as well in his famous Harvard speech (something else I need to write about!) — in that instance Steve said (in a simplistic way) that everything in life happens for a reason. The show connects life and tech with the following sentence:

“The thing that get you to the thing”.

./why

Why you should spend your precious time watching it?

Well, I’ll point out a few reasons as someone that enjoys:

  • Good Direction
  • On point Dialogues
  • Amazing soundtrack
  • Technology: IT/Cloud/InfoSec
  • Good use of Symbolism

In short:

I find it’s quite an amazing feat to see interesting and engaging drama around real technological discussions with top quality production.

Aesthetically, I believe the show conveys an ethereal vibe with the use of Synth music, silences, shots with awkward angles — it leaves viewers enough time to process and digest the feelings that they’re conveying.

The sense of emptiness and loneliness followed by desperation in some scenes, while the excitement and hope of others — somehow, did transpire humanity despite the technological setting.

That’s remarkable from an artistic perspective, IMHO.

And bear in mind that:

The show touches on eras of modern computing — representing real world figures of the IT industry — and most importantly, showcasing the importance of technological breakthrough.

This is what’s remarkable, from a technical perspective.

./eras (CONTAINS Spoilers — you’ve been warned)

And so, what technological eras are hinted at during the show’s seasons?

These are the ones I Picked up:

Season 1: Personal Computing / GUI

  • Personal Computing: Relating to PC vs Apple 2, then Macintosh (it Speaks!) at the end.
  • GUI: the concept of Graphical user interface was revolutionary, ask Xerox and the invention of the mouse — and how Steve Jobs loved this idea :)

Season 2: Gaming / Malware / Cloud / Startups / Social / Antivirus

  • Startup: with Mutiny starting in a house with a bunch of young programmers.
  • Security: A network self-propagating software that puts the network to a halt, this is a nod to Creeper.
  • Antivirus: An antivirus company is stated at the end of the season.
  • Cloud: A simple concept that is mentioned by Joe, to rent mainframe’s idle time (the time-sharing concepts) during off work hours. Very early cloud days, where IBM and DEC had their hands on it.

Season 3: Networking / Internet Safety / Venture Capitals / Web Browser

  • Networking: The design for a distributed network of computers is mentioned, much like ARPANET:
  • Internet Safety: How a character’s fate leads to the discussion of Internet and people’s wellbeing/safety.
  • Venture Capital: Although not created by any of them, the concept is nodded at.
  • Web Browser: much like the early days of the web and the need to have a Graphical tool to navigate it, this is discussed by the end of the season. This is a nod to Mosaic browser.
April 22, 1993: Mosaic Browser Lights Up Web With Color, Creativity | WIRED

Season 4: ISP / Web Indexing / Web Portal

  • ISP: Internet service Providers were a big thing mid to late 90s. you must remember their CD-ROMs to install their dial-up software? America online is mentioned if I remember correctly.
  • Web Indexing: A web crawler, a nod to the race to dominate the search engine market. Yahoo is mentioned, nod to Google too.
  • Web Portal: These were also a big thing 25 years back, it was all about being the users’ preferred page. It concentrated services like email/news/chat/games/search and everything else you could want on the web. A nod to Yahoo and MSN from back in the days.

Who here doesn’t remember and cherish (yeah, right!) web portals from the ?90s? Just look at MSN.com in October 1996:

source: Msncom-1996.png (304×327) (wikimedia.org)

If you’ve seen the show, what did you think? Also, have I forgot about any important tech in the show (of course I did), which?

I’ll leave you with some thoughts:

Halt and Catch Fire, Episode 1, “Computer’s aren’t the thing…” — YouTube

“The thing that gets you to the thing” — Halt and Catch Fire (HACF) — YouTube

Follow me on twitter (for some more random posts — but mostly InfoSec/Cloud content:): Camillo (@iamcamillo) / Twitter

Learn more about my Cloud and Security Projects:

Web: www.cloudnsec.com

Listen: bit.ly/cloudnsecspotify
Watch: bit.ly/cloudnsecyoutube

Thank you for reading and leave your thoughts/comments!

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Andre Camillo

Andre Camillo

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Cloud and Security technologies, Career, sometimes Music and Gaming easter eggs. Technical Specialist @Microsoft. Opinions are my own.