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Head in a Cloud

Posted by Dirck on 11 March, 2013

Today provided one of those upsetting little coincidences which, depending on one’s inclination, can be seen as support of precognition, as evidence of synchronicity, or as a simple coincidence in a world so filled with things that coincidence is inevitable.

As I was paddling about the house this morning, I was listening to what was once a book on tape, transformed into about 200 MP3 files (I’d bought the tape, I’m not distributing the files, all is kosher).  I was musing upon the postage-stamp size on my player, and the vast concert-halls worth of noise that could be contained within.  My musings then turned in the direction of cloud storage, and I’ll return to them after the coincidence.

In a lull at The Regular Job, I had a look at this blog posting, in which a new book about the current efforts to solve problems by creating brisk, shallow, technical solutions to them (many of which problems weren’t really problems until the solution was on offer, naturally).   While not right on track with either the evident thesis of the book nor the criticism thereof, I thought it was an interesting conjunction with my earlier thoughts.

Cloud storage, sez I, is definitely to a solution to a problem that doesn’t appear.  I can understand the utility, certainly, but I guess my age is such that I can’t bring myself to trust it.  If my data is going to get corrupted, I want to be the one accidentally pouring juice into the hard drive or not inspecting for mouse-nests in the wiring with sufficient regularity– that’s not the sort of duty which I want to hand off to some anonymous person in a possibly-distant land.  In the same way that I like to have that old book-on-tape cluttering up my house, even if I do get the content by other means, I want some tangible artifact of my data to cling to.

Likewise, I far prefer buying discs to watching things through on-line services.  I know where a disc is (usually).  I have a great say on the matter of availability.  Browsing through Netflix (whose browser is an excellent reproduction of walking through a video rental store after a tribe of baboons has been through), one keeps finding things marked as going away after a certain date.  Did you really like that film?  Did you mean to share it with a date, whose interests are similar but who has never seen it?  Too bad.  It was pulled from the service a week ago.  That doesn’t happen with the lamentably bulky cabinet full of discs.

All of which is really no big deal, up to the point that the providers of the technical means decide that there’s no need to support your preferred format any more.  I’ve got a few old games on 5¼” floppies that I’d really like to revisit, but that’s not on, is it?  My big tussle upgrading my computer’s OS a while back was largely because the company doesn’t put stuff on physical media anymore; one had to download it.  It’s not too far a step from that to, “Why would you want a hard drive? The application is in The Cloud!”

Swell, unless one is somehow cut off.  A downed phone line would do it at my house.  I can go on a nice long hike in a complete cel/G4/WiFi desert with my little MP3 player as it is, but if it were a mere receiver….  Heading out to the quiet old cottage out at the lake to work on the third draft of the novel goes out the window, too.  My analogy is that of a man who decides to remember nothing more than how to breath and walk, and the location of the books he’s written everything else down in– that works so long as he can get at the books.

Vaporous concerns, of course, but like the oldster who kept a sock full of cash under the mattress as a consequence of living through the Great Depression, I’ve seen enough infelicities caused by media changes to make me mistrust the good intentions of those who decide change is due.  It also has precious little to do with my usual area of concern, except for the tenuous link of “hey, writing something down is an extremely non-volatile and high-compatibility means of storage!” line, and that sort of gets undercut by the end of the last sentence.

While I’m vaporing, I want to also cry out against Google Glass, which I shall hereafter call Google Goggle.  Again, I can see some of the utility, but I can also see enhanced opportunities for missing out on what’s happening around you because you’re trying to add “connectivity” to your regular, waking world; rather than remembering your child’s first steps, you remember the overlay of text and icons indicating that you’re successfully recording it and that you have four emails waiting and it’s 23° and you have an appointment in an hour.  I can also see (for those who don’t subscribe to SideWalkALERT™) enhanced opportunities for tripping over crap that went unnoticed because some friend’s lunch picture tweet just overwhelmed your entire sensorium.  Worst, I can see a lot of employers making the damn things mandatory, in the same way that Blackberrys made most mid-level business professionals in North America into a myopic hunchback from about 1998 onwards.

Hopefully, I’ll have my time machine ready soon, and can retire to slightly pre-Industrial England, with occasional visits to 2001 for medical and dental exams, and of course for fresh supplies of ink for the fountain pens I won’t be able to use in front of the locals.

Today’s marvel from the future and/or past: Sheaffer Sovereign Snorkel
Today’s ink that won’t clog same: Herbin’s Bleu Myosotis


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