Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cloudy With a Chance of Coolness

There has been a lot of discussion about "cloud" technology and what that means. In a nutshell, it means that much of the storage -- music, video, spreadsheets, emails and more -- as well as computation are done not on the device you're using, but in data centers somewhere else.

No longer do you have to have all of your data and lots of horsepower on your local computer in order to do what you've been doing for years...listening to music, watching movies, writing emails, working on presentations and spreadsheets and more.

All of these things can now be kept in the "cloud."

For most people, this will be an evolutionary change that takes place over years. In particular, as smartphones get smarter and their connection to the Internet gets faster, there will be less and less things that physically reside on the devices you carry around or keep in your home or office.

Other devices that will rely more and more on cloud technologies include tablet computers, such as the Apple iPad and the tablets that use the Android operating system.

Desktop computers, the ones that sit on the floor or on a desk and aren't particularly mobile, will continue to be used for tasks such as video editing, music composition and large projects that use lots of disk space and plenty of processor power.

Interestingly enough, the work that most of us do daily, such as surfing the Internet, doing email and texting people, is ideally suited for cloud computing.

What has prompted cloud computing's ability to exist is the virtually ubiquitous Internet connectivity. In homes and offices, Internet connectivity is almost a given.

Outdoors, between cable companies providing WiFi as part of their home Internet services and the mobile companies providing Internet services as part of their smartphone services, most places where people go there is some sort of Internet access.

As I wrote last year, more and more airplanes are offering WiFi onboard, for a fee.

So unless you are going hiking, climbing or exploring to remote areas, odds are that you can have access to the Internet.

But cloud technologies do have some limitations. If everything you have is in the cloud, if and when your connection to the Internet -- and hence the cloud -- goes away, your access to your information goes away.

Additionally, if the provider that is storing your data or providing you with the computer power were to go away, you may not be able to retrieve the data. This could also be problematic.

Don't get me wrong. Having data locally on your computer isn't without its perils. If your laptop computer with all of your data goes missing and it's not backed up correctly, the data could be gone, too.

With all of the hype about cloud computing, most consumers will see more subtle shifts of keeping and managing their own data on their own devices to having providers keep and manage it for them. Overall, I see this as a good thing and one which will continue to provide more features that we will find unfathomable to live without.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 19 October 2011.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Maker Faire 2011 - What You Missed

Sept. 17 and 18 was the second annual Maker Faire event at the New York Hall of Science. It is the East Coast exhibition of people who make things.

On the surface, this may not seem like much, but America was built on the ingenuity of our ability to create things, whether they be tools, cars, technology or other things.

For a variety of reasons, including lower labor costs in other countries and globalization of companies, Americans don't make as much as we used to. Nonetheless, the event is a celebration of the creativity and ability to make things that is still alive and well here in the United States.

The event is also an excellent place for children of all ages to explore science, engineering, electricity, creativity, music, visual arts and more.

Some of my favorite exhibits were the 3D Pavilion where there were demonstrations of devices that work in 3D, including 3D printers that can take a design in your computer and output it in 3D. My other favorite exhibit was the Maker Shed where people can actually build things, whether they be small electronic devices or a marshmallow shooter out of PVC pipe — my 6-year-old son's favorite.

In the video I created, which can be viewed at here, one of the crowd pleasers was the "Sashimi Tabernacle Choir," a Volvo to which the owner attached 250 dancing mechanical fish.

Another crowd pleaser was the electrical performance by ArcAttack, a musical group that wears metal suits — Faraday cages, actually — and interacts with huge bolts of electricity generated by giant Tesla coils. Its performance can be seen at www.arcattack.com.

Along with the exhibits that came in for the two-day event, there were a number of speakers, including Westport's David Pogue, who spoke on iPhone tips and tricks.

What interests me the most is to see the creative people who are keeping our abilities to create alive. I also relish seeing adults and children who see things that spark their interest and curiosity in science, engineering and the fact that they can create things rather than having to always buy things.

At the end of the day, it was fun to watch the families leaving Maker Faire talking about the fun things they saw and did.

I know my own family had to make a trip to Home Depot the following day to buy some PVC tubing and corners so that we could make some marshmallow shooters for my son's friends.

After we brought the PVC tubing home and sat on the steps cutting the pieces to size, my son was quite happy to experiment with his marshmallow shooter, putting pieces together, finding out what configurations worked and what didn't, how he could make the shooter bigger or shoot the marshmallow farther. He then had fun taking the new marshmallow shooters we'd made to his neighbor friends, putting them together and having marshmallow wars in the back yard. I think I have a young "maker" on my hands and we'll be going to Maker Faire 2012 next year.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 5 October 2011.