Soundcheck Sunday: Hem, “Leave Me Here”

Hem reached my consciousness through, of all things, a Liberty Mutual advertisement. I’m not normally one to find the entreaties of an insurance company particularly compelling, but the music was so moving, so touching, that I had to find out who it was, and I immediately ran out and grabbed as much of their music as I could get my hands on. It turns out that “Rabbit Songs,” the album from which the Liberty Mutual track (“Half Acre”) is taken started out as a project to make an album that, in the words of the band members, “they could love for the rest of their lives” — and I’d say that it’s mission accomplished.

This is due in no small part to the simply remarkable vocal talents of Sally Ellyson, who auditioned for the band by sending in a demo tape of lullabies. You can see how that would work, and why the other band members might be so taken with her voice. If you’ve never heard Hem before, you’ll be hearing them in your head a lot more from now on.

Back to the future

Imagine a computing technology where your data is instantly available from anywhere on the network: no matter where you are, there are your files — just as you left them. You work with relatively simple tools, with a consistent user interface, and it’s entirely location-independent. If you’re over at a friend’s, just open up your account and do your thing. There’s no need to haul USB drives around, or worry about who has the most current version, it’s all Out There, Somewhere.

Hey! Welcome to 1984!

I can’t be the only person who thinks we have, once again, come full circle in the computing industry. It’s hard to tell whether this is a good thing or not. But the innovations in processing power, the cheapening of mass storage, and the hellacious pace of network deployment and development have brought us to a place where the solutions don’t seem all that different from what we started with back at the beginning of the whole experiment. At the dawn of networked computing systems, the idea of having one master copy that you worked with wasn’t particularly radical; that was just how things worked. The rise of the killer microcomputers and PCs with steadily improving power and accessibility meant that the centralized computing facility, shared by scores of users, started to decline in its importance. But those PCs weren’t really useful until we networked them together, and then we were left with the problem that although they could talk to one another, they were still individual machines.

So now here comes cloud computing that is going to unshackle us from our PCs for all time (or somesuch nonsense; I don’t read the PR) by turning every computational device we have in our homes into what is basically a dumb terminal with a much prettier interface (and longer boot times). I remember this from the early 1990s; we called them X Terminals. And I’m hard pressed to think what the point of all that development work was, if we’re going to return to a model from the past. In the case of Google’s Application Suite, so long as you could get a compliant Web browser to run on a device of some kind, why on earth would you still need a multicore processor-driven machine with 3D graphics capability?

I’m not saying this is a bad model. Believe me, there are a whole bunch of things in my life that would be a lot easier with ubiquitous cloud computing (free of bandwidth limitations, mind you, which is my biggest worry about this whole concept). A few of us have even half-assedly kicked the idea of starting a private cloud up — a decidedly low-tech cloud, mind you, but a cloud none the less, with the same intentions as the more staid offerings from the usual suspects. It’s not a bad idea at all. It does promise to be very liberating, and make technology work in a way that might actually be useful.

I’m just trying to figure out why it’s better than a remote account on a Unix box in a data center somewhere and either an X client and/or copies of putty and rcp. Because it’s pretty?

Hope and faith for the future

“We’ll know when we get there.”

I don’t know whether there’s an actual origin for this phrase. It’s something that’s been flitting in and out of my head for a couple of years now, since I ran into it as the title of a blog that contained a poignant post about the death of John Hughes. And the other day, turning it over, I realized what it was I liked about it: the phrase is, at its core, an expression of hope and faith for the future. A collaborative future. Not “I’ll know” — “we’ll know.” And it’ll be OK.

(Upon reflection, this seems to have been the entire theme for “Battlestar Galactica,” too.)

Statistics Rantlet

A woman on CTV Vancouver earlier this evening described the “probability” of the Canucks winning tomorrow’s Stanley Cup Final as “50-50.” NO. JUST… NO. I see this all the time and it drives me up the wall. (I may need a vacation.) There are two outcomes. If the event was truly random, then yes, you would have equal probabilities of either outcome, and you could legitimately call it “50-50.” Sporting events are not random events — even in the most evenly matched series, there…

… oh, you know what? Nobody cares. Innumeracy wins. Again.