Covered Topics

Please see the list of the topics I've covered. It's located near the bottom of the page. Thanks for stopping in!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cyber-Clouds In My Coffee*

We have all heard all the hoopla about cloud computing, and how it is the greatest thing for mankind since sliced bread. It's been harder than I would expect to get a coherent explanation of what cloud computing really is. Boiled down, it refers to a paradigm in which computing is basically a "service" or a "utility" that you pay a monthly fee to use, rather than as something you buy in a box, take home, setup, and plug in. [I think of it as akin to regularly sending one's laundry to a laundry service as opposed to buying a washer and doing it at home.] Taken to its ultimate end, it could involve having your applications software hosted on a remote server, and also your data stored elsewhere. You would access your applications and data from anywhere there is Internet access via small, relatively cheap commodity devices such as tablet computers and "smart phones".

While it probably does have its place, its widespread implementation has some important and potentially negative ramifications for Joe Average User. Especially in this day of terrorism, government crackdowns, and a general lack of accountability on the part of Big Business. The huge new legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of this technology are unprecedented and could take years to resolve.

Before you swallow all the marketing hype "hook, line, and sinker", check out this article quoting Richard Stallman, activist, privacy advocate, and computer programmer:

The article, and the ones linked to at the bottom of this post, do quite a bit to de-mystify the general concept of cloud computing by striping away the marketing mumbo-jumbo to get to its essence.

Here are a few quotes highlighted from the article:
Stallman said "But there has been growing concern that mainstream adoption of cloud computing could present a mixture of privacy and ownership issues, with users potentially being locked out of their own files."

"One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he said. "It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's web server, you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

He goes on to tell people "to stay local and stick with their own computers."

He said it more eloquently than I could have. Using my laundry analogy above, one must trust that the laundry service won't lose the wash, spill bleach or dye on it, overcook it in the dryer and shrink it, return it to the wrong person, ...

Here's where it "hits home":
Typically, my ISP is 'down' an average of two days per month. I have few viable options for Internet services in my semi-rural location. It's not that the infrastructure isn't here for more service providers; it's the fact we have one 300# gorilla that has cornered the market and for all practical purposes locked out the competition. I'd be crazy to want my access to my music, school homework, business files, ... contingent upon having access to the Internet. That's just a couple of the 'local issues'. But there are much larger implications.

Having observed the government crackdowns on Internet and phone service in places like Egypt and parts of the Arab World, and the continuing government control of the Internet in places such as China, I have a very cautious and skeptical attitude toward anything in which we as individuals and small businesses are asked to (or told we must) give up any more control over our own data and infrastructure.

* In keeping with giving proper attribution of ideas to their owners, the title of this post makes reference to the song "You're So Vain", by Carly Simon. "Clouds in my coffee" refers to illusions, or having "cloudy" vision so you can't see things clearly.

The following sites will help "part the clouds" surrounding this potentially game-changing technology:

A short side bar - but related issue:
The Obama administration and our illustrious congress critters are working to pass a bill that would give the U.S. Government the power to shut down and/or censor Internet and presumably telephone access for US citizens at the slightest whim. Another bill - the so-called "Protect IP Act" - in the works essentially gives large companies such as Microsoft and Hollywood studios carte blanche to censor our access to many websites we use everyday. See the short video at to understand the far-reaching implications of this legislation.
I've talked about this and related topics in my posts regarding Internet censorship, service interruption, and the need for "grass roots" neighborhood "mesh networks". Judging from my blog stats on those posts, my attempts to reach and warn people of the chilling effect this can have on our basic rights of free speech in the digital age have failed. But please bear in mind that until 911, legislation such as the "USA Patriot Act" would have seemed unthinkable to most Americans. For those interested in more information about Internet Censorship and how to beat it, check out the following:

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