You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.

Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages — COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.

Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!

The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new card. Several places I shop — Land’s End, for one — were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put the world’s eggs in one basket, if the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs. That’s not an omelet — just a mess.

I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.

We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on the planet. There is where we store our bank records, personal correspondence, photographs … everything. We use these servers directly when we use “the cloud,” but we also use it indirectly because that’s where our bank, our vendors, the places from which we buy goods and services store their data … or more to the point, our data as it pertains to them.

We assume the people from whom server space is leased are dependable, not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.

Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?

Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent and you rely on their services. Does that sound like a great idea? It makes me sweaty and itchy.

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by any standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I’m not comfy with the idea of entrusting a lifetime of my work to unknown, nameless entities. Google uses servers everywhere, as does Amazon. So does every other “cloud” provider. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place, either. It is broken into many pieces that are stored wherever it went when you saved it. You will not know and cannot discover where your data is, was, or will be.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud, at least not for anything that really matters to me. Call me cynical, even paranoid … but I think that the computer-using public is buying snake oil. I want my stuff on my own drives. Use the “Cloud,” whatever it really is. But have good, dependable external drives too.

Or, as the Arabs say, trust in God, but tie your camel.

Gadget saturation.

Pointy shoes hurt

When I was a young woman, I refused to wear pointy shoes. They hurt my feet. It took some hunting, but I found round-toed shoes. I wore comfortable sandals, even having them made for my feet — simple, flat and strappy. I owned boots with square toes made in England or Australia. I would not wear shoes that caused me pain.

I still won’t wear clothing I don’t like or is uncomfortable. I didn’t care about fashion when I was 20 and I care less today.

I am equally resistant to gadget fads. I’m geeky enough to understand the latest gizmos and old enough (and poor enough) to think long and hard if it would be useful enough to be worth the cost. What I buy, especially tech stuff, is driven by what I need rather than what’s new, trendy or sexy.  I don’t have an MP3 player because I don’t need one and I hate earphones. When I’m not near a computer, I use my Kindle.

Being unfashionable has advantages. It saves money. If you don’t need the latest thing, you need not replace your wardrobe when what was “In” goes “Out.” I have a pea coat  made for the U.S. Navy as warm and attractive as it was 35 years ago.

My computers were bought with an eye toward running everything I have now plus anything I might need in the near future. I bought computers with as much memory as I could get. I got the highest resolution monitors available. I bought fast hard drives and big external drives as back ups. I got the best video cards the machines would support, Blue-ray reader/writers, and sound cards to support any system I want to hook up.

If we aren’t hit by a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake, as far as computers go, I’m set for a while, a few years at least. And most everything is upgradeable.

“The sky is falling,” cried Chicken Little. “PC sales have flattened out!”

I’m surrounded by desktop and laptop computers that run smoothly and on which everyone depends. Meanwhile, ZDNet is predicting the end of the PC.  This deduction is worthy of Chicken Little or maybe, Turkey Lurky. Computer sales having flattened out while mobile device sales remain brisk from which the author concluded everyone will do everything on mobile devices. We no longer need hard drives or embedded applications. We can pick up apps from the app store and everything we need can be accomplished … on the telephone? iPad? Chromebook? Android tablet? Having made an earlier and even more baseless pronouncement that we don’t need dedicated GPS’s because you can use your telephone or iPad, I should not be surprised, but stupidity always surprises me. For some reason, I expect better of my peers.

Others have said we don’t need cameras. If you are a photographer, you’ve probably bumped into these people on forums. They don’t understand the difference between photography and snapshots. “We can take pictures just as good on our phones,” they shout. Shall I take their advice? I will just throw away my cameras, lenses, filters …everything. I mean, Hell, I have a telephone. What more do I need?

They have declared anything I use for work or art obsolete. However, before I start editing a 16 X 20 photograph on my telephone, there are a few issues to work out.

Who are these pundits?

In what world do these predictors live? Do they work? As in, for a living? Are any of them musicians, authors, or photographers? Book designers, engineers, developers? Accountants, financial advisors? Movie makers? Are they aware that most professionals rely heavily on powerful installed applications, like Photoshop, Acrobat, Framemaker and CAD?

Or are they kids who think playing games on their iPhone is the ultimate technological achievement?

People aren’t buying PCs because they have computers … and they don’t like Windows 8. I don’t like Windows 8. I want to like it. I just can’t.

Sooner or later, everyone has enough and they don’t need another, especially if buying a new one means having to relearn everything they already know.  Microsoft made a huge miscalculation when they banked on touchscreens as “the next big thing.” Hubris is dangerous, whether you’re a Greek demigod or a corporation. I think until they back off, Microsoft is in very troubled waters.

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You aren’t going to see a buying surge for microwave ovens or refrigerators either. People usually replace what they have when it no longer does the job. The market for expensive new toys is not limitless. One day, everyone will stop replacing their almost new cell phones with the next generation that has a new bell or whistle. Everyone who wants a tablet will have one, two or three of them.

Right now, almost everyone who wants a PC has one. Most have several. In this household, with 5 computer-using adults, we have 12 laptops, desktops and tablets. None is obsolete. Plus a couple that are in working condition but no one uses.

Like other families, we tight for money. Bad economy. We buy things, but only when something else breaks or becomes too old to do the job. We can’t afford mistakes.

A few years ago, we ran out of space for books. I bought Kindles for my husband, son, and me. Later, I got a Kindle HD Fire that plays audiobooks, music, videos, collects email and can be hooked up with Facebook and Twitter. It’s my compact media center and it didn’t break the bank. it’s not a full service computer, but I knew that before I bought it. I’m addicted to audiobooks. Since I no longer commute, listening has tied me to the computer in my office. The Kindle has freed me to roam.

But I still wanted a lightweight compact computer. My netbook was supposed to fill this niche, and it tried. Like “The Little Engine That Could” it mumbled “I know I can, I know I can.” The Kindle will do many of the things I did on my Netbook — which moved down the line to my daughter-in-law — but the Kindle isn’t a computer. It is what it is, so I got an Ultrabook. I also have an iPhone but don’t use it even for phone calls. I hate it, actually. I have yet to figure out what people find so great about it.

I took a long, hard look at Chromebooks, but lacking a hard drive, its limitations exceed its value.

Lies and suppositions

Not long ago, an equally ill-informed ZDNet author announced the death of dedicated devices, in particular, the GPS. The author (I use that word advisedly) surmised that since we all own tablets and smartphones and will use them for navigation. The idea of using iPads, iPods, or smartphones for navigation attaching a 10-inch or 7-inch iPad to my windshield is hilarious. Having tried my phone as a GPS, no thanks. I can barely understand what someone is saying on a phone call. As a GPS, it’s useless. I wouldn’t be able to read the map or hear directions. Just because a device has a technical capability doesn’t mean it really does the job.

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These same pundits have repeatedly announced the death of personal computers and the replacement of standard application with mobile apps. They y think free apps will replace everything. Really? Or do they believe that we are all going to sign up for expensive monthly subscriptions? I’m not. Are you? I can barely afford my current overhead: I’m not going to up the ante.

We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! 

Instead of professionals producing thoughtful articles about technology, we have a bunch of stooges for big corporations. They are not working for their readers. They are trying to sell us on whatever their sponsors want them to push. The articles are nothing more than slightly reworded corporate PR releases. I would say they are badly researched, but I no research is more accurate. How do I know? Because I used to be a tech editor. I got those releases too.

They got a PR packet, picked some information out of it, did a little tweaking, and voilà, that’s the article. If I’m going to just take the manufacturer’s word for it, I don’t need them.

I assume whoever wrote the last article saying we are all going to do everything on mobile devices has never tried to do anything working people need to do. He certainly never tried to do it on one of the devices he was touting. He probably thinks his telephone is a fine precision camera and he is welcome to his opinion so as long as he doesn’t ask me look at his pictures.

Anything that can do everything doesn’t do anything well.

In the realm of small dedicated devices, from cameras and MP3 players, to telephones, DVD players and book readers, dedicated devices perform far better than equivalent “add ons” to general purpose devices. A modern computers is not a dedicated device: it’s a platform with power to drive a lot of different things, rather like a big empty room. It does many things, but it won’t do everything well. You can use it as a TV, but sitting in your living room, feet up on the recliner and watching a movie on your big-screen TV is a more satisfying experience.

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You can use a computer as a GPS, but a small dashboard or window-mounted unit works much better. Nothing takes pictures like a good camera. Nothing reproduces music better than a sound system with quality speakers. Book readers are great for reading books and if you want to make music, learn to play an instrument.

I don’t want to read on my computer or take pictures on my phone. I am a photographer and I use a camera. If you are positive your iPad is just as good as a camera, if you believe your cell phone or android tablet is good enough to fill your picture-taking needs, you’re probably right. Don’t show me your pictures. Please.

I own cameras. I edit in Photoshop. I write books. I design books and I use Framemaker, the world’s most anti-intuitive software, but also the only software that does the job. In the ZDNet fantasy world, we are going to do everything on our telephones or tablets. Where do I fit into this portable society?

The answer is simple: I don’t. Maybe you won’t, either. Many of us have been declared obsolete.

“There’s an app for that!”

No, there isn’t. There is no app by anyone anywhere that can come anywhere near any version of Photoshop. There is no application other than Framemaker that will create indexes across chapters. For creating PDF books for reading online, you need Acrobat. What? You don’t need to do any of that?

I do. So do others. Spread sheets and other office applications need screen real estate. Before you declare the PC obsolete, you might want to try really working on a tiny devices you want to sell me. You’ll be shocked to discover a spread sheet is invisible on a telephone. You might be able to create a small one on a tablet, but if you are a serious number cruncher, you aren’t going to do it on an iPad or any other tablet. You may use a tablet to display the final result, but you won’t use it to do the work. If you are editing pictures, you’re not going to use a little screen on a pod, tablet, or telephone. You want a big high-def monitor.

Some people take their jobs and art seriously. They want real tools. If you think games are the height of technological achievement, get a job.

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How come people are still buying small mobile devices but not computers? Aw, c’mon. You know why. They don’t need another computer. If they do, they are hoping Microsoft will come to its senses and give us a real operating system before they have to decide what to buy.

Meanwhile, technology for telephones is changing fast too. Telephones are subject to more abuse than other devices. They get rained on, dropped, and sat on. Crumbs and coffee make the keys sticky. Touchscreens become unresponsive. But, people will not always buy a new phone twice a year. They’ll demand sturdier phones that are waterproof, dust-proof and shock-proof.

Eventually, everyone will have enough telephones, tablets, and other gadgets. No doubt there will be new gadgets, but if they want us to buy, they’ll have to come up with new needs. Otherwise, they will create sexy, cute and trendy gadgets and manufacturers will expect a rush to buy them but no one will care. They will be gadgeted out.

Computer sales will stay modest until the expensive high-powered laptops and desktops we recently bought break down or are obsolete. Are personal computers going the way of dinosaurs? Mine aren’t.

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No amount of salesmanship will convince me to buy stuff I don’t need or like.

I like gadgets. I like cool devices. If someone gives me a toy, I will play with it but I’m not going to spend a lot of money to get it. Free is my price on anything I don’t need.

It would also be great if magazines and journals that supposedly provide information to the trades would really do it. I resent them trying to sell me stuff. The only reason I read trades is for impartial information on technology. I can no longer trust what they say so, so other than finding out what’s new on the market, they are useless. They might at least test the products before they tell me how great they are.

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Back it up

 

I was just reminded of something. I go long periods and don’t think about it, but I shouldn’t, and neither should you. By “you” I mean absolutely everyone. Whatever you do — write, take pictures, or whatever — if you do it on a computer, back it up. I learned the hard way.

ILOVEYOU (aka Love Letter), was a computer worm that attacked tens of millions of PCs on and shortly after May 5, 2000. It showed up as an email message with the subject “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment: “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs“. The  ‘VBS‘ file extension was typically hidden by default on PCs back then. It wasn’t on my computer, but I worked on a development team on my own computer at home — an early telecommuter — so it wasn’t unusual for me to get files full of code as part of my job.

It took a mere few seconds to destroy every single jpeg file on my computer. That represented all of the photographs I had ever taken that I was storing on my hard drive, more than a decade of family and artistic pictures. It only took a few hours for a fix to be created and distributed, but it was too late for me.

I had been backing up to CDs, but I hadn’t backed up my photos, only financial records and my writing because that was work-related.

I lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of photographs.

External hard drives existed, but they were uncommon and expensive — very expensive. Now, there’s no excuse. You can get a huge external hard drive for short money. I back up intermittently to my two external drives, but a make sure to move files between my laptop and my big desktop everyday, and I save things online too

Eventually, I have 3 or 4 copies of everything, not counting whatever I store online. I don’t feel it’s too much. You can’t have too many backups of things that are important.

Even if it doesn’t seem very important. it can suddenly become very important if you have lost it forever and can never replace it. Back everything up. If it’s important enough to save it on your hard drive, it’s important enough to back up.

You can, for example, get a 3 TB external Seagate drive from Amazon for $139 including shipping. One and two terabyte drives are less expensive. If you don’t like that, there are ample choices for every budget. Don’t make excuses. One day, something bad will happen. A hard drive dies on you. It happens. It has happened to me twice. The first time, it was a secondary hard drive and I got enough warning to get my stuff off the drive. The second time, a message in a black  message box — I’ve never seen one like that before or since — appeared on my screen saying that there was a problem with my hard drive, back up now. By the time I finished reading the message, everything was gone.

But that time, everything was backed up. It was an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. I had learned my lesson.

Skip learning the hard way. Back it up.

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Everything Is Changing: A Look at the Future While Tripping Down Memory Lane

After contemplating operating systems at length, I started rethinking the whole thing and I began to wonder if operating systems will be relevant a couple of years from now. Because everything is changing.

My current primary computer.

Change is hardly new to the world of computers and technology. Change is what drives the industry. Change is how come you need to buy new software, new hardware, new operating systems. Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used weird languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. Even decades later, personal computers were just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then … everything changed.

First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but soon enough, it got better. And then better again.

There were different players and more operating systems in the beginning. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen that spit out paper.

This was the Amstrad!

Then, everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. It was magic!

I worked on this machine in Israel using the first word processing tool, WordStar.

For a while, it seemed like everything changed every day. One day, there was a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to access it. Once connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around and see what there was do see.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

My first personal computer.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

My first PC. I think everyone had one of these at some point!

Then suddenly AOL popped into existence. I got a really fast modem. It ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

My old 486 ran for 10 years. It wasn’t fast, but it sure was durable.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

Memories of days of yore … but not halcyon I fear,

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Commodore 64 – the most popular computer ever produced.  More than 30 million of them sold.  I had one of these, too.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I personally have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run much faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new bank card. Several places I shop were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

My laptop. Today’s super little machine.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services?

Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put too many eggs in the basket, when the basket falls — as it inevitably will — the eggs break.

You don’t have an omelet; you just have a mess of busted eggs.

Addendum: A Personal Note

I worked for more than 35 years in a development environment. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe. It’s faster and prettier to use a word processor and you get the bonus of being able to see how your document will look when printed, but it’s just elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that we are being herded toward using external storage over which we have no direct control for everything from our bank records to personal correspondence.

For businesses and individuals, data is a very big deal. The biggest deal. Our national economy is information and service-based. We no longer make “things” here. Our product is information. Data.

If that’s too abstract for you, personally, I have twenty years of photography and a lifetime of writing stored on CDs, DVDs, and external hard drives. I won’t entrust this stuff to an unknown server somewhere “out there.” It’s too important to me and too unimportant to anyone else. 

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business requiring little more than a lot of big servers, a place to put them, climate control, and a few capable IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by my standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I am not going to entrust what took me a lifetime to create to an unknown, nameless entity. Google, for examples, uses servers anywhere and everywhere. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place. It is wherever it went when you saved it.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud. Call me an old cynic, but I want my own stuff on my own equipment.