BEFORE THE “CLOUD”

ARE YOU OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER?
OH SURE YOU ARE.

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 as if 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.

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.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there. 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.

stone tools

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.  Three computers are in daily use plus two Kindles — and only 2 people live here. We should get computers for the dogs. For all I know, when we are out, they go on-line and order stuff.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function.  Now, we live in “the cloud.” It’s the same old Internet, but cloud is the “new” word for data 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. Most people don’t care … until they discover it has been hacked.

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 at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I own. Mine. Just in case. Because I’ve used a lot of different clouds over the years and at least half of them have folded their servers and disappeared. The only places where my data lives permanently are Amazon for books, Audible for audiobooks … and places I shop. And, of course, the bank. Because some things, you just have to count on surviving.

All my photographs are on external hard drives as is all my writing. Including the posts from this blog. Because it makes me feel better.

I can’t live with the idea of entrusting everything —  from photographs to manuscripts — to an unknown server somewhere in the world. It 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? Is hit by an earthquake?

You have no way of knowing what country your data is in or how stable its government is. Or how good an infrastructure it has — or how frequently it has been hacked. Your financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

My bank got hacked too. I think almost every place I have data stored has been hacked at least once. On the other hand, my personal, external hard drives have not been hacked because they aren’t hackable.

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.

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? Come to think of it, we may already be there because when our WiFi is down, we feel … crippled. Like we are missing our hands.

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 if you put the world’s eggs in one basket and the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs.

That’s way beyond an omelet. It’s just a complete 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 earth for our bank records, calendars, contacts, blog posts, Facebook, Twitter … and everything we’ve ever bought on line. Everything. We assume the people from whom this server space is leased are dependable. We assume they are 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?

An old PC. I think I had one like this for 20 years …

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; you rely on their services.

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? A lot of it is located in places that have government which are — by any standards — unstable. 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 easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

Remember when Equifax got hacked? How appalled we were, but how they sort of shrugged it off? That won’t be the last time.

Meanwhile, the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.

Call me cynical. Paranoid. I think the “cloud” is snake oil. Use the “Cloud” when you must, but have dependable external drives too.

Trust in God, but tie your camel.

29 thoughts on “BEFORE THE “CLOUD””

  1. Wow, Marilyn, this is one powerful bit of thought.., the very bits of thought that have haunted from when first I was compelled, no, ordered to use a computer. Now computers were not new to me as I was working in the professional audio world of recording. As the recording process advanced and we began to use tape machines capable of recording more than 1,2, or even 3 tracks, then finally 24 tracks of simultaneous information, a way of controlling those machines had to be used. Microprocessors were the answer, miniature computers dedicated to only one thing, controlling that machine. No remote access, no internet, no external storage and, God forbid, no cloud. Commands were simple in comparison PLAY, STOP, PAUSE, FAST FORWARD, REWIND, RECORD AND TRACK SELECT etc. The nearest thing to a modern computer was a “word processor” cumbersome by comparison, but unconnected to the outside world unless shared with a “fax” service over phone lines. I was determined not to get sucked into the computer thing. Then one day I found myself out of work and needing a way to generate many resumes while collecting unemployment insurance. That was in 1993.., I bought my first Mac computer, and it’s been downhill from there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We are very attached to our computers. I don’t think we’re going to detach anytime in my life … maybe not ever. I just think we need to maintain some control over at least parts of our world. For me, it’s writing and photographs. But a lot of other things, we don’t get a choice. They bank owns the stuff or some other company. I hope they all keep working. Pul-eeze.

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    2. In some ways, it seems like “yesterday” when computers were a thing of the future and not to be taken seriously. Then, suddenly, we were informed our tv newsroom was going all computer. I still didn’t believe it. Then, one overnight, my trusty manual typewriter was kidnapped. Next day, I was dragged, protesting, into the computer age. It wasn’t pretty.

      Now, my trusty manual typewriter is a distant memory. Gone but not forgotten.

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  2. My very first computer was the original IBM PC with a blazingly fast 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 chip. It had no hard drive, just two floppy disk drives (a: and b:). The PC, a monochrome monitor, and a dot matrix printer cost me about 3 grand. My first accessory was a 10 Mb hard card. I thought those 10 Mb would last me a lifetime. Then I got a 300 baud modem so I could communicate with other nerds via bulletin boards. And then Prodigy (a precursor to AOL in the same way MySpace was a precursor to Facebook) came along. Ah, those were the days. Back then, “the cloud” was just something that obscured the sun.

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    1. I have essentially the same history, but I got lured into the business, too. My first HOME computer was that tiny 1 mg internal memory Apple 1A (I think) that I eventually (gasp) expanded to 1.5 MB! Soon after, I got the PC — same as yours. I think everyone had one of them. No hard drive. You had to keep switching floppies. Horrible monitor that made you blind after a while. And it cost me half a year’s pay, too. I started out with a superfast moden – 1200 BPS! Soon, I was upgraded to (holy moly) a 2400 BPS modem that was considered practically flying! I also remember trying patiently to get the modem to connect to our old copper phone lines. Oy.

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  3. I have a,so been to all of those places, but more a spectator. Today I try to avoid what I don’t need or want, but that is difficult. Actually it was Mr. Swiss that got me involved with computers. He suddenly organised our email system and brought home the first computer which I was also allowed to use

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    1. I fell into high tech work in Israel. I was a writer, but writing free lance was more a hobby than a way to make a living. They did need technical writers and they needed ENGLISH technical writers. I wasn’t particularly technical, but I needed a job. It turned out, I was more technical than I thought and once I discovered cut & paste, I was hooked. Not having to retype everything because you make a mistake or needed to change a paragraph? That was heaven!

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  4. I am old enough… The School ‘computer’ took up a whole room and was little more than a calculator. Yet we have adapted to iclude them in every aspect of our lives. Even the dog is microchipped.
    But I still like external hard drives…

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    1. I’ve watched at least four different “free clouds” vanish. Dell had one they closed. Amazon closed one down too … a huge one. Yahoo. Google changed it from unlimited to very specific uses and only if you are a member of Google + or use Blogger. And buying space in someone’s “protected” cloud is expensive. Crazy expensive. Meanwhile, external hard drives have become very inexpensive and they don’t take up a lot of room, so I’m happy knowing I can (with luck) find that missing photo. At home. I totally distrust “free forever” clouds. Free forever, or until we decide we’ve changed our minds!

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  5. The cloud’s a good place for a backup. In case my hard drive catches fire.
    My first PC was an “IBM compatible” 20MHz monster with 2MB RAM and a 105MB hard drive. It cost exactly the same as my first car.

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    1. I remember. My first “serious” computer costs thousands of dollars and I had (gasp!) a 40 MB hard drive. People were astonished at the power of a drive that big. It was huge. A cloud backup is fine … as long as it isn’t your ONLY backup! Because clouds seem to catch fire too! Oh lord, the heavens are on fire! Is it the end of all things? No, it’s yahoo collapsing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. OMG I remember learning FORTRAN and COBOL and dropping the bloody pile of coded cards before I fed it into the “computer”. Learned to number them after that… and playing a game with a single line of green print-_” you are in a room. To the left is a window, to the right…”. I back up to an external hard drive but have been a bit slack about virtual storage. Was not aware that the companies might go AWOL! Have been considering cloud storage so will think hard about it. Love your post.

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    1. Cloud storage is great, but I don’t think it should be your sole means of storage. I’ve seen too many companies decide they don’t want to do it anymore and give users two weeks to move their stuff. Forever isn’t.

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    1. I remember having to insert the comments to make a document break the page, or leave a space under the header — or even set the margins on the four sides. We are still doing that, but we have single keys that set the same information into the text. It really hasn’t changed, except for the GUI and the WYSIWYG part. We have MUCH better graphics and mostly, our interaction with the computers is a lot simpler. But the same information is going in and coming out … just the formatting changed.

      The cloud makes me very nervous. I remember when I had something like a blog on Yahoo way way back when and then, they folded. Many of the “clouds” closed up shop, telling everyone “sorry, move all your stuff” and it isn’t that easy to remove all you stuff if you have a lot of it. I don’t use anything for my personal material. I can’t help using the bank and Amazon and other companies with which I do business because that’s how business is done, but at least my own personal work stays home. I got a HUGE 5 TB FAST external drive when I got this computer … and I have three others. A big Hitachi 3 TB speedy drive, then I have a few smaller ones that I use as backups for the system. Everyone should have at least two or three backups of their personal stuff. Writing, pictures, and important documents and these should be simple enough that they can be attached to ANY computer in case they are needed. If something happens to me, I want to know that other people can get into the files and get what they need.

      My biggest problem is remembering to BACK UP THE FILES. I only do it once a month because I’ve had a lot of issues with “continuous backup” working on systems that change too often, so you wind up with a backup no one can use anymore. So mine are very simple and anyone with an ounce of computer savvy should be able to plug them in and make them run.

      The first time I lost everything on my computer was to a virus that came out in the mid 1990s — called the “I love you” virus and it wiped ALL my photographs and ALL my personal documents that hadn’t been saved externally. The photographs never returned, so I have nothing from before the early 2000s and not much of them, either. I also lost a huge hard drive. They replaced the drive, but the data was gone. That was when I realized that pictures and writing mattered. I had saved — backed up — work material, but not done any personal backups and I was so very sorry.

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      1. I lost a bunch of stuff when my old desktop crashed on me. I have two family members than own computer stores and will one day ask them to try to get it back for me.
        I can’t believe how small the exterior hard drives are now. We got a 4 TB one that looks no larger than an Ipad or whatever they call those phones.

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  7. I’m not a cloud person. I think I drew a line there. I don’t have tons and tons of data; I am happy to delete photographs. I have plenty of disk space around my various tools. And tools with additional disk space. It creeps me out — I think I’m most creeped out by the term “cloud” — clouds, to me, are ineffable, mutable, vaporous, undependable, sky beings. I don’t want to put my stories in them. In a way it struck me (and still strikes me) as a marketing term that verges on dishonest. Plus, I don’t want to pay for it. Nope. I first used a computer when I was 7 — the Burroughs/Univac monster that my dad installed at Denver Research Institute, so it’s not fear of computers. It’s just me saying, “No.” 🙂

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    1. When I first started “working” on computers, it was the mainframe at the Weizmann institution in Rehovot. It was a building and the guy who fixed it, a little super-religious Hassid who carried a little black suitcase (like an old fashioned doctor) would mysteriously arrive and make it work again. It was slow and you had to go to another building to collect your document, printed on a gigantic machine that was essentially a computer-driven typewriter.

      My pictures matter to me. I don’t think they will matter in the greater scheme of humanity, but I like having them. I particularly like looking at how the seasons change through the years. Less delightful is how much WE change with the years. And my writing. Having published with Amazon, I’m dubious about their ability to actually have a viable copy of it anywhere, so I have all of it and everything else I’ve collected on a drive. Documents don’t take much room, so it’s not a problem. But pictures take up a huge amount of space. I’m not as much of a space hog as a lot of photographers. I don’t shoot in RAW, which uses an insane amount of disk space. If I’m only publishing on the Internet, I don’t need publishable versions of pictures and although everyone tells me how much better my work would be if I used RAW, I don’t see that big a difference. Probably my eyes are going.

      I use the cloud where I have no choice. The bank. Companies with whom I do business. Google. Amazon. There’s no choice about that, but for my personal stuff? It’s mine. I’ll keep it myself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Needless to say I am also a “cloud skeptic” and so only certain things like my contacts are allowed to be stored in the “cloud.” My recordings and photographs are backed up to a few different “Raid” drives which has saved my butt twice. Recently I’ve noticed “personal” cloud units being sold at some of the computer/electronic stores. Most that I’ve seen are in “raid” formats where multiple drives, mounted in the same housing, are recording the same info, or parts there of. If you get interested in these drives just be careful how you set them up. The two main ways seem to be data is stored on the drives in “mirror” form, or exactly duplicated on those drives. The other is that componenets of your data are spread across the multiple drives. This last one is useful for folks doing video editing as it allows faster access to the project data. If you don’t need speed, then I recommend “mirror” where you data is simply duplicated on the drives.

        They are betting, on the theory, that all the drives will not fail at the same time and those left can rebuild the data onto a replacement drive, restoring your raid status. Good plan, but you never know?

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  8. What a stroll down memory lane! I was born four decades before computers were ‘personal’. I too watched the Internet expand and grow. I had the title of “Word Processor Operator” when I was a young woman. Recently I had a conversation with what I believe is called ‘a millennial’. A person born 1990 or later. I asked them what they would do if there weren’t any computers and what did they see in that scenario? It was beyond their comprehension. They said they had no idea what they’d do if there wasn’t a machine to mess about with. They looked troubled by the idea. I find that more horrifying than the fact that some unsavory people might steal my electronic bits. But you’re right. Shakespeare said it best IMHO:

    Iago:
    Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
    Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
    Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
    ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him,
    And makes me poor indeed.

    Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161

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    1. This is because they never learned to read. I would rather have the electronics, but I can read. Even though I don’t read often these days because I prefer to listen, I can and do. But they didn’t learn to read for entertainment, just to get through school. What a world of knowledge they are missing!

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      1. Aaaaah, the power of pen and ink (or lead) on paper. My most bestus back up is the stuff I take the time to write down. Like names, addresses, phone numbers, and finally, the myriad of user IDs and passwords to the many things I use them for. There are programs, out there, that that offer safe password storage either in the cloud or on your computer. OK! Stop laughing, because you are exactly right. Using them is like a Dog chasing its tail.., you’re still in the computer mess, which, if that ship goes down .., you go down with it.

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        1. I have everything important (unless I think I did it but I really forgot and only intended to do it — an entirely different issue) in documents and save files in gmail. AND on sticky notes. And in a little notebook whose location I have temporarily lost, but I’m sure it will resurface someday.

          There is just so much STUFF. When I was working, I remembered things without writing them down. Now, I have to write EVERYTHING down or it’s gone in a blink.

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  9. Yes, I’m old enough to remember all of this. I actually owned one of those SE’s and used one at work. One job I had included a cheat sheet. I got it out every morning and followed the directions to get that computer on line so I could start work. No one explained what or why I was clicking various keys, it worked, but it drove me crazy because I didn’t understand it. Right now people are in an uproar about FB data being mined. What does anyone think is going on with all that stuff in the Cloud? If it is online, it’s available to the person or organization looking and willing to go to extremes to get it. 🙂

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    1. I have been saying that for years. How do they think these groups earn money? It isn’t because of traffic or the ads people post. It’s that they guarantee that we will probably buy at least half of the posted ads — something TV and radio and newspapers could never promise. It’s all data mining and it isn’t new. It isn’t NEWS either. It’s just THIS time, some particularly unsavory people got the mitts on it, but we have no idea who has been using it in the past. No one did a “savory” test on any of them. Data mining is what makes the business world go round and it is only going to get worse.

      Short of locking yourself in a cave and losing all your entertainment and connections, this is the way it is and will be. It amazes me that people are STILL ranting about it. The level of naivete is appalling. Where is everyone living? Under the bed with the dust bunnies?

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