Friday, December 31, 2010

"The Cloud" is all about "ka-ching!"

Notice Microsoft's TV commercial trying to push "the cloud"? Notice Google pushing a new netbook that has a minimalist "operating system" that is little more than a glorified Web browser? Notice the barrage of e-mails about "net neutrality"?

We are on the frontier of the corporativization of the Internet, indeed of all of the cyberworld, which is not unlike the coming of "civilization" to the Wild West. Up to now the Internet has been a multinational, geeky environment of minimal restraint and increasingly affordable access: my Web site has gotten more or less the same shot as The New York Times, my voice and Paul Krugman's are out there as cybernetic equals.

Don't call me paranoid just because they're after us, but ...

There is a longstanding commercial reason why powerful corporations want you to go to "the cloud" and want to be able to control bandwidth allocation: there's more money in it.

In the cloud, corporations can hold your data hostage in private storage spaces that belong to them and impose whatever recurrent fees they want to use programs and access your own information. The potential for mischief and price gouging are enormous!

Credit card companies and PayPal have banded to make a financial pariah of Wikileaks, declining to process donations to the group that has aired a great deal of horse manure in the U.S. government's Augean stables.

You think they couldn't or wouldn't do the same to you, if you crossed them?

And think about it: the cloud is a giant leap away from the PC.

The personal computer, or microcomputer to be precise, is a machine you can own, like a car. You can buy or download programs to use whenever you want. You can store whatever data you want, including those naughty pictures you'd rather no one else see.

And it's all physically located in your own study or kitchen table or office that no one else has the right to interfere with, provided you don't use them to harm others.

It used to be that computers were giant machines with tapes, guarded jealously by guys (they were all guys) in lab coats. You could use a dumb terminal, essentially a keyboard and screen without storage or memory of processor. Your terminal was attached by wires, phone lines, whatever, to the big machines. You, or more likely your employer or research facility, had to pay per minute of computer time: 2+2=4, that's X microseconds, add 8 thousandths of a penny to the bill.

That's the model that networks and networking are going back to under the metaphoric "cloud" -- which is a dumb, cheap machine attached to a mainframe belonging to Microsoft or Google or whomever.

Instead of opening WordPerfect or Open Office to write your Great American Novel essentially for no more than the original fixed, one-time cost of getting software and hardware, suddenly every tool you use to write belongs to Big Brother, Inc. Big Brother USG (US govt. or in Iran, Ahmadinejad) can come with a warrant, or just say "pretty please," and start a file on every intimate thought you ever commit to cyberstorage.

If you run out of money or if some Poobah decides your thoughts are undesirable, you can get locked out of your own stuff.

Won't happen? Tell that to the millions who were evicted out of their own homes in the last two years because they were conned into signing away rights in humongously unequal and predatory transactions.

The same thing goes for Net Neutrality, the notion that you and The New York Times have equal rights to access the wonders of the Internet -- in fact you have more rights because you are (Supreme Court decision notwithstanding) a real, flesh and blood person.

You've been warned.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Blessed are the Holbrookes

Usually I speak ill of famous people who die and get lionized in print and puffland. Richard Holbrooke will serve as the first exception to the rule that celebrity dead old farts smell as bad as the living, the obscure and even the young.

"When I graduated from Brown," he told an interviewer, "John F. Kennedy was president and we all thought that public service in government was the highest thing we could do, a noble calling."

How often have you recently heard anyone say that out loud, with meaning, without winks and nods suggesting that, of course, making money is better? Working in government can be just as dull and idiotic as working in the private sector, no doubt.

Holbrooke embodied that idea of noblesse oblige, that privileges carry with them obligations, an idea once common to anyone with a university education.

The man who brought peace to the Balkans after the bloody break up of Yugoslavia could be very gruff (how else do you get a Slobodan Milošević to deal?). He was not a saint (pace, Diana Johnstone).

Yet Holbrooke represented the best instincts of the nonideological pre-boomers and he stands as someone with a remarkably more solid character than his peers. A young man graduating from any university today could certainly do worse than to emulate him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Opera 11 bats it out of the park!

I'm in love! Yesterday I downloaded Opera 11. Once again I  experienced the thrill of the original Firefox, which was the Roadrunner to the slow moving, poky Internet Explorer's Wile E. Coyote. Now Opera 11 does it to the arthritic Firefox.

Opera 11 is a free (as in "free beer") web browser with e-mail and lots of other functions. It is fast and the install file is little more than 8 mb. (Get it here.)

All right, so I have to learn a few things about Opera. In two minutes I got the essential functionality I crave thanks to extensions and "widgets." There's much tweaking to come, of course. I'm a perennial tweaker.

But later, dude. Right now I just want to zip around the 'net like I did in the old Firefox hotrod. This is a new start. I'm not even importing my literally thousands of bookmarks.

Thanks, Opera!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What If Obama Knows What He's Doing?

The taxi driver called me one of those "far left liberals who are disgruntled" when he defended the president out of long overdue ethnic pride, but little else. What if, a nagging thought argued quietly, Barack Obama has a benign overarching plan hidden in plain sight for strategic reasons?

It's a crone of a thought: the mother of all doubts.

Over and over during the 2008 campaign, my heart sank at some apparent stumble. "There goes Obama," I'd muse sadly. I believed, oh how I believed! It was 1960 again (some folks got Kennedy-Johnson bumper stickers to prove it) and this time ... this time there would be no assassinations, no Vietnam.

It took me until the nomination to figure out Obama's strategy. Obviously, he can't do it again the same way; he doesn't need to, in fact. There's also no reason why the president should share his grand plan with, of all things, a blogger.

Still, I'm bitterly disappointed. Let me pluck the health care petal, the finance reform petal and the peace petal to begin counting the ways. Yes, Obama's "deal" keeps millions out of the cold ... for now.

It all comes down to the man: Is Obama merely a more skillful liar than Bush or is he one of those once-in-a-lifetime statesmen with a plan? In the fog of the moment, I can't tell.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Today Is as Good as It Gets

A diaphanously sunny day as seen from the cozy comfort indoors, today is actually cold and a wind slices through anyone out on the street. My mother would pretend the weather was a sudden break in a midsummer heatwave: cool air, at last! But that's still fighting it.

What if I became one with approaching winter, surrendering to its chill as a snowman might, with pleasure? What if I undertook to receive "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" -- which are, after all, merely random, irrational instruments designed to deliver pain -- and embrace them?

What if I accepted that I am small, that the forces of nature and fortune, that what sets in motion almost everything I face, pleasant or unpleasant, is beyond my control?

In truth, the past is gone, the future is not yet here. There is only today. There is only me with my limitations. All in all, today I suffer less than many, more than a few. Tomorrow, who knows? Yesterday, did all my troubles really seem so far away, or did I simply not know today?

I shall go out to meet the day that awaits me. It is the best today I shall ever have.

Friday, December 03, 2010

I can't handle more sellouts

Some time ago I wrote (here) that the Democratic Socialists of America "has embodied to me ...  the only kind of U.S. socialism I could abide." No more.They are so completely sold out to the union demagogues and thugs that they might as well not be socialist, because they aren't.

In the most recent election, the local to which I belonged, and in which I was in the "steering committee," preferred to endorse the incompetent with the union stamp of approval, even though I pointed out that neither candidate was really socialist. Winning by a hair's breadth, the bolsheviki-style majority decided to ram down everyone's throat an outrageous and triumphalistic statement that had no relation to reality.

Meanwhile, the one chance in a generation for genuine school reform and cleanup has gone up in smoke and the toadies are back, pushing employment security for the underworked and overpaid deadwood.

This is not socialism, ladies and gentlemen.