postheadericon TECH TALK: All About the Cloud

Last year's most expansive buzzword in the IT world was "cloud computing," and this year cloud computing is probably one of the largest implementations on the IT department's plate of upgrades. But what does cloud computing mean to you, whether you be a home user or an i/NGO wonk hashing out development programs?


To understand cloud computing, just compare cloud computing to something that you know, like Hotmail or Gmail, or even better, Nepal's beloved Facebook. These services offer computing without using software or hardware located in your home or business (other then a simple web browser and Internet connection). For example, if you use Gmail as your primary email application - and interact with your Gmail account solely through your web browser - you are already flying high in terms of cloud computing.

Likewise with Facebook; if you are using Facebook to contact your friends, store and share photos and videos, and spend the entire evening constructing a new city block in CityVille, you are most certainly in the cloud when it comes to your computing behaviour.

Inversely, if you are someone using Microsoft Office applications, and continually upgrading these applications as well as your local storage to hold more and more content, you are firmly grounded in a previous decade's technology, and perhaps falling behind the rolling curve of IT in 2011. And if you are a Nepali business or development organization, you are probably so far behind on that curve you can't even see what you're missing!

But that might be good news for those who have not yet begun to embrace the benefit of having local area networks with a client-server type model of computing. You or your organization might be able to just bypass these old-school setups and instead, leapfrog to the newer model that's blowing over the horizon.

One of the most striking benefits of cloud computing is lower costs. In a cloud environment, delivery of computing services to your staff turns from capital expenditures (high-end PCs, large server boxes, and internally created or maintained software packages) to operational expenditures (third-party cloud storage and application services). One example of how your organization could save big time in the future is with Microsoft's new Office 365, currently out in public beta.

Office 365 is a completely web-based office application solution that is not charged per software license (nor requires a beefy desktop to run), but instead requires just a simple device that has Internet access via a modern web browser. In this scenario, each user pays just $6 USD per month to access all of Office's new web-based tools and web-based personal and shared storage.

Since beta testing began, over 100,000 organizations have signed on board to give Office 365 a twirl. Tim O'Brian, Microsoft's lead platform engineer says,

"We are betting big on the cloud with our most successful product (MS Office) and we are investing heavily in product engineering and physical infrastructure." 

Think of it: no more problematic software installs or storage headaches for your org's spreadsheets, documents, images, or databases!

However, cloud computing does raise some issues for groups or individuals moving there. Security comes to mind, as well as accessibility. For example, if you can't get an Internet connection – ke garne! Yet cloud experts say that in terms of security, this massive centralization of data and services improves it – and allows organizations that devote a large chunk of resources keeping assets safe and free from local viral outbreaks and nasty malwares, to simply focus on something else. For IT professionals concerned with multiple levels of redundancy and backup, private clouds are an option that offer yet another way to keep vital assets safe and secure.

Even for home users, there are already many free or low cost cloud solutions available. Take for example, Dropbox, a drop-dead simple-to-use application that can take all of your sacred files and synchronize them with your own private and/or public place in the cloud. Dropbox has options to back up all of your local data, place your files in shared folders, and works with any device in the home or office (PCs, tablets, and smartphones).

Dropbox encrypts your data in the cloud, and even provides secure transmission back and forth. If by chance you delete a file or folder, you can always recover it. In other words, your files are safer in your Dropbox than on your local computer. Use of the service is free up to 2Gb of files, and if you need more, you just have to pay – $10 USD per month for up to 50GB.

Dropbox is just one great way to soar into the cloud, where more then a few IT experts predict we will all be floating around in very soon.
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postheadericon TECH TALK: Do Clothes Matter?

I began this week’s Tech Talk writing about my vast cable collection, which is stored in a huge closet drawer – the cable drawer – that must have over 1,000 different cables by now, collected in just six years of computing in Nepal. But then I ran across this headline on Orange News.uk: Software Firm Wants Naked Web Coder.

Chris Taylor, the company spokesman for Nude House, a UK-based software house, says:
“As far as I am aware this is not only the first UK office job for naturists in web-coding or web-selling, but is also the first worldwide facility for naturists to earn substantial sums of money from work that incidentally provides them with the capability to work entirely without clothes.” 
Mr Taylor follows that up with a reminder,
“Sex does not play a part in naturism” and customers “...never know that our providers are nude.”
Apparently, what is “natural” in Europe is much different than what is natural elsewhere, as I remember starting my tech career wearing a suit, tie and jacket that conformed to the Company colours: Big Blue. And here of course we have the Daura-Suruwal... Up until about 1987, IBM had a strictly enforced dress code, and one that had been around since the 50s or so. In the 70s, the corporate attire even included a hat, which, as kids, we would enthusiastically try to knock off the heads of IBM commuters, employing huge snowballs from the banks of slush amassed at each carpool point.

The IBM men, and they were all men back then, would stoically scofflaw our immature behavior, but deep down inside I suspect they wished they were the ones throwing slush balls instead of commuting to work like well-dressed robots, to spend eight hours or more behind a cold and formidable terminal, in a hermetically sealed computer room with a raised floor and lined with whirring disk drives.



I left IBM long before the coat and tie did, but I did return to a programming center in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1999, to find my old work chums all programming in temporary cubicles (private offices that have long been replaced by hotel-style workspaces) and everyone was dressed down to shorts, t-shirts, and gym shoes. I felt way overdressed with my Friday casual wear: Dockers, button-down shirt, and penny loafers. So in the course of a few decades, software development had gone from a stuffy conformity to a loose wear-what-you-like environment, and one in which the change of dress can be correlated to the very products produced.

For example, compare a 1995 Lotus Notes or Outlook to Facebook in 2011, and you can see that informality has become the standard in software interfaces as well as employee dress. Perhaps it was Steve Jobs that set this trend with his signature black turtleneck and jeans, but there is no denying that what we wear to work is somehow connected to what we produce while we are behind the computer.

Could Euro-naturalism be a further most-extreme extension of this trend? Or perhaps the trend in fashion-wear and software (informal, comfortable, and homey) is just an outcome of the mobile worker bee that hatched in the 80s, when the workforce began extending itself from the traditional office to the new-age home office.

I had almost forgotten my own elation over being part of IBM’s work-at-home experiment back then, as I could just connect my terminal to my phone line and then telecommute wearing nothing but my boxers and fuzzy slippers. And 30 years later, little has changed except that now my home is my office and I am now the boss.

But naked? Never.

I would dismiss Nude House’s work environment as a click-grabber and publicity stunt, if it had not been for my trip to Amsterdam a few years back, where I was attending a Filipino Independence Day Picnic that reminded me of any mela back home. There were food stalls, grandmas and grandpas on blankets eating lunch, and the teens were all listening to some really bad pop music blaring from the stage. Then, lo and behold! Amid a few hundred Filipino families, comes riding the Dutch Naturalists Bicycle Club – single file on bikes of all descriptions, and all riders were buck-naked. Young and old, even toddlers in bike strollers, all sans attire.

The shock and clash of cultures was chilling... the Filipino picnic went dead quiet while the Dutch nude bicyclists shouted out their freedom calls.
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postheadericon ECS: Apple Mania

From London to New York to Beijing and even here in Kathmandu, the 2011 line-up of Apple products has struck such a sharp chord in the incessant techno chorus clamoring for hipper and trendier technology, that Apple (and Apple disciples) are drowning out all other like brands in the marketplace.

But what is it that created such a mania for, say, a mobile like the iPhone4, which is selling at a rate of over 16 million units every quarter. And why is it that in the case of tablet computers, that Apple’s iPad has outsold all others combined, and is now selling 1.2 million units per month? And along those lines – what about those record-breaking customer lines outside Apple Stores before each product launch?

Perhaps the answer to “Why Apple Mania?” is hidden within the cryptic remarks of chief Apple Designer Jonathan Ive, who on the eve of Apple’s 20th Anniversary in 1997 said: “Our products ask more questions then they answer.”

Just what did Ive mean? Like the meaning of the missing bite from the Apple logo, the questions about Apple products do indeed intrigue; here is one Q from reader Ravi Shrestha, both pith and common: “Why do Apple products cost so much?”

Many Apple products, like their new laptop line of MacBook and MacBook Pros, do cost double that of any comparable machine running Windows, so why would a consumer in these hard economic times choose say an Apple over an Acer?

Status is one theory, and our almost innate need these days for consumable symbols of such. Take choosing a new VW Jetta over a Tata Indica: both have 4 tires and hold a family of the same number, but the Jetta costs twice as much and seems to be very popular on the capital’s streets these days. The Tata says about one’s status “I’m boringly frugal” and the other says “Hey, I’m more Euro-cool and wealthy.”

Design is another theory, and one that Ive’s would pick over status. People do respond well to good design and appealing styles, whether in print, in fashion, or in the type of music player that they plug into their ears. One such early Apple experiment in both status and design was a computer called the TAM. The TAM was the predecessor of the modern-day all-in-one computer - now branded the iMac and arguably the only desktop in the world that has any consumer appeal left.

The TAM cost $7,000 USD as released, and was comprised mostly of off-the-shelf components found in most other computers of the day, but was uniquely designed with curves instead of sharp corners, had leather accouterments, a trackpad, and was sprayed throughout with expensive metallic paint. In other words, it did not look like a machine as much as it looked a work of functional futuristic art.

Other attributes of the TAM (that are still found in Apple products) include high-quality audio or video components, such as BOSE or Harmon Kardon speakers and thin high-quality LCD displays. However, the TAM only sold in the tens of thousands, and was mostly placed on executive desks and movie sets.

So status and design do not seem to fully answer the question of Apple Mania in the magnitude of the millions we see sold in Apple Stores today. But perhaps “a following” does. There is a sense of “cult” around Apple that has been evident since the early days, when college students considered young inventor Steve Jobs a “James T. Kirk” kind of captain figure, leading them to a place where no college-student had gone before.

Perhaps it was the tricorder look-alike device called the Apple Newton that first coalesced this allegiance that now has a much more galactic following - far outside the cosmos of American universities. The Newton was the first mass-produced PDA, and while it did not sell close to the the millions like its current incarnation the iPhone does, this futuristic device nevertheless helped build up the following of today – from grade schools on up to retirement homes.

But many Apple theorists believe that instead of a following, that we are instead being led down this road of Mania and fascination with anything aluminum and imprinted with an Apple logo. Case in point, Rabi Thapa (a local business owner) writes: “An apple a day keeps the doctors away – that has always been my favorite apple quote – and I am happy to report that I am ecstatic with all my apple products: iPod, iPhone, MacBook and maybe soon an iPad too. I cannot seem to resist them!”

Some experts would say that Rabi’s lack of resistance is just what Apple execs have planned all along, and that they have put Rabi (like millions of others) on the controlled path to buy more Apple with each new Apple gizmo released. And there is evidence to support this theory; take for example the ubiquitous iPod, which locks you into iTunes, which also locks you into purchasing new music, movies, and TV shows from the iTunes Store. Likewise the iPad does the same, adding a lock-in to more stores like the App Store and the iBook Store...all storefronts owned and controlled by the Apple cartel.

In addition, all new Apple computers have this feature, the App Store, which while not so restrictive (yet), puts more Apple products in your face, front and center. And once you buy in, you may never get out, as there is no way to transfer such purchases to say a Sony or Samsung device. Using another Star Trek analogy, “Resistance is futile” as more and more new Apple purchases are made.

But whether it’s status, design, cult following or a Vulcan-like mind control, it can’t be denied we are all for the most part, manic about all things made by Apple, and will be for many more years to come.
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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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