Archive for May, 2009

31
May
09

Dark Clouds

Over the past year or so, there has been way too much ink, electrons and air spent on cloud computing. The only constant through all of this hype is that no one really knows exactly what the hell it all means other than it has something to do with the web. I’ve heard stories about how The Cloud will render all PCs to little more than thin client shells running everything out of a futuristic browser or less insane stories about how just our data and bandwidth-light applications will live in the cloud. I personally don’t buy the hype and think that the future of teh cloudz will be far different that what the hype machine is making it out to be.

For people who have paused long enough to catch their breath, cloud computing is nothing more than server-side computing available over the open internet (rather than a LAN). The thing that makes this round of server dominance is the rise of wireless internet, particularly cellular data networks, which allows you to get the internet anywhere. The idea is that given the availability of data everywhere, the ever-increasing speed and robustness of wireless networks and the power of distributed computing, you’ll be able to do all of your computing through the browser.

The thing is, most of the people who are so into cloud computing already live in their browsers. When all you do is troll around on the web for news, live in Gmail and do some light text entry, then yes, doing everything in the browser seems quite doable. If you combine your Google Docs with Pandora and use an Android phone (or a Pre in a week or so), upload all of your pictures to Flickr, then guess what? You’re already living in the cloud! Congratulations! You know what else? You have ceded control over all of your data to someone else, usually a large corporation.

That’s my biggest problem with the cloud. I am fully aware of the irony of complaining about this on a blog hosted by someone else, but bear with me. Sites like Flickr and Facebook are notorious for deleting content and banning users, often by deleting entire accounts, which can have far-reaching consequences. Or, they might decide that they own your data and content in perpetuity. Or, the company that’s holding all of your super-encrypted backups or your RAW files just goes out of business, giving you a day to get your stuff back. You and everyone else who has files on that server, that is. 24 hours doesn’t seem quite like enough time for any given server to upload how many terabytes, especially over American intertubes.

And then there are the ISPs. American internet connections are slow and expensive and cellular data is even worse. The future does not promise to get any better, as the large cable companies are still pushing towards tiered connections with ridiculously low data caps, all at a higher price. How many videos do you plan on editing online when you have to count your bits after a YouTube binge?

There are too many roadblocks and bridge trolls in the way for cloud computing to really ever take the place of local computers. The question that I never hear asked is why? Why do I need online storage when 1TB HDDs cost less than $90? When my two year old iPhone has more storage, RAM and processor than the Mac I had in college? When my old-ass Quicksilver G4 (or a Mac Mini) makes a perfectly adequate server? When Amazon suggests that you buy your own drive, fill it up and mail it to them because networks are that much slower and unreliable than FedEx?

Not good enough? How about because anything you put on a remote server can be looked at with a court order because your data doesn’t deserve Fourth Amendment protection when its on someone else’s box? Your TCP/IP requests aren’t protected and neither is your email. I use Gmail like all the other cool kids, but I’m fully aware that the stuff I send and receive is there for everyone to see. That’s why I use Mail.app because Google doesn’t give you this:

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Cloud computing is seriously over-hyped and under-thought. Yes, there are things that live on the web that should live there. Yes, the browser is becoming increasingly powerful. But the fact is that client-server computing is not going to be better than native apps on increasingly powerful and cheaper hardware running operating systems that are super-optimised to take advantage of that hardware. I think that this is all a fad, but one that will be quite persistent.

I think that people will be utilizing web-based apps in greater numbers as web standards become more powerful and are adopted by browsers. I also think that native apps will always have their place and will always be better, first-class citizens. There will always be serious compromises when using remote apps over native, not the least because web apps will always be somewhat lowest common denominator unable to take advantage of local hardware to any significant extent nor interact with the native OS in a first-class way.

Finally, there’s the security issue. If you want to be in control of your own shit, then you leave it on a box that you physically control. End of story. That’s not to say that persistent data access is a bad thing. Next time!

28
May
09

Monsoon

I’ve been re-trying my hand at the creative thing. Trying to learn the Wacom tablet, draw some concept art and get good at Lightwave again. I did a lot of fan renders back in the day and have a bunch of half-finished models. One of the ones I came pretty close to finishing is my version of Lars Joreteg’s Monsoon class gunboat. I’m not going to get into the details of the ship, since this is all about me. 🙂

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A radiosity render with the generic Babylon 5 panel texture.

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Click to enlarge.

A lightdome render with no texture, but I was playing with metal surface settings.

I’ll add some orthos next time, then my first attempt at this bad boy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put up some fresh meat soon!

03
May
09

Radio Killed the Radio Star?

I sometimes find myself worrying that in my increasing old age (pushing 30 *shudder*) that I’m going to end up like my parents and so many in their generation and just stop listening to new music. I have just shy of 10,000 tracks from just under 1000 artists in my collection. If you want to go old school, that’s 1553 albums, a bunch of singles and unsorted stuff, for a total of 26:14:13:34 listening time. Not including audiobooks and podcasts, that’s almost a month of music without repeating. Yikes!

Now, while I already have more music than I can reasonably listen to, I still like to discover new stuff. The tried and true way is to see what’s playing on the radio. I tend not to do this because Scion was very thoughtful and included an iPod dock connector that routes directly to the head unit. I tend to turn on the radio when I happen to have unplugged the iPod and forgot to plug it back in. When this happens, the head unit defaults back to the radio, since there’s no other input. (It does have a CD player, but I’ve only ever put one CD in once, when a friend gave me a burn of Human by the Killers to listen to. iPod > CD to the point that I haven’t listened to a CD in forever. CDs go straight to iTunes and then go on the shelf.)

When I hit the radio one of two things happens. There’s a commercial on or the idiot DJ is talking, I realize my mistake and immediately plug the iPod back in. Or an actual song is playing. When this happens, I usually find myself wondering if I’m back in college or even high school. My default station is Live 105 in San Francisco (105.3 FM), which is the alternative/new rock station. The problem is that their playlist is even older and far more limited than mine. I’ve bounced around some of the other local stations on occasion and its the same everywhere. The radio is no longer the place to find new music!

What the hell happened? Is there nothing new? Clearly something is going on, because I manage to discover new music all the time. The problem with new music and the radio is ultimately the source of all of today’s problems with music: the corporate recording industry. All that I’ve seen coming out of this cultural cesspool is a string of pop culture garbage that’s aimed at pre-teens and young teenagers, a notoriously profitable group. There’s nothing wrong with seeking profits, but they’re not doing anything to advance their art.

Of course the people running the recording industry are the same type running Wall Street and the auto industry. A bunch of “professional managers” with high power MBA’s. These are people who went to Harvard or Stanford business schools and come out with the arrogant notion that they can run any business and know better than anyone else, including people with specialized knowledge about those businesses. Just like how Wall Street executives seem to know nothing about how to run a sustainable bank, recording industry execs know nothing about music. They know how to make lots of money and how to promote artificial groups and artists to impress the kids, but they know shit about music.

Several people have noted that a large percentage of the recording industry’s income comes from their library. That’s either people re-buying things or people discovering older music and slurping it up. What this requires though, is artists with lasting power, not a string of one hit wonders or groups that you loved when you were 12, but horribly embarrassed that you ever listened to when you were 14 and up. The problem is, good, real artists are hard to come by, hard to recognize, and generally have a more limited audience that every 12 year old girl in the US. Its simply not as profitable to nurture talent as it is to manufacture it.

So what am I supposed to do about it? Do I just accept that fact that I’m old and all the good music has been recorded? Ummm, no. Fortunately, there’s an alternative to the radio, and it just happens to be the thing that the industry claims is killing music. I don’t need to enumerate what I use to find new music, since I’m sure everyone reading this already uses them (Pandora, Last.FM, RCD LBL, etc). The point is you have really work to find good music, and then do some more work to actually buy it. Its almost as if the music corporations don’t want us to find any new music. That is to say, they don’t want us to find any new music that fits our tastes and is good. Its like they want us to just mindlessly buy the extremely profitable manufactured music that they shit out every year. But that can’t be it, can it?

In any case, I’m glad that the relative lack of new stuff on my iPod isn’t due to the fact that I’m becoming an old fart, but because, yet again, the recording industry sucks.