The Cloud Beckons

This post is about Cloud Computing as understood by me, a nonspecialist in technology. A few days ago the CeBit, one of the world’s leading ICT trade fair, was held in Hanover, Germany. During this week, one of the trending topics was Cloud Computing. Then on the TED website, I came across a feature on a company called Akamai, which provides platforms for Cloud Computing. The signs were there, urging me on to write about it. Therefore here I am writing a post about this super-duper what-ever-it-is.

If Cloud Computing conjured an image of a computer in the clouds turning water into food, I have to disappoint you. No, it has nothing to do with resolving world hunger ala “Cloudy with a chance of meatballs”. That would have been pretty cool. However Akamai claims that Cloud Computing would help fight against global warming. How you ask? To find an answer to that we need to define Cloud Computing.

What is Cloud Computing?

There is no single definition of Cloud Computing and so the following explanation is my personal understanding of it. In essence Cloud Computing refers to sharing server capacity by numerous users and/or organisations around the world. A suitable metaphor I can think of is a safe. You can either store your valuables in a safe at home or you can store them in a bank vault or you can use both to satisfy your need to protect your valuables. Storing at a bank has the added advantage, that there is someone looking after your property all the time and they probably have more resources to protect your property than you might have at hand and you don’t have to buy an expensive safe.

However Cloud Computing is not restricted to sharing hardware only. There are services offering licensed software for the users in their clouds. Therefore instead of buying x number of licenses, which at times might be restricted to use in specific devices, you can make use of a software via the Cloud regardless of the device you are using.

How does Cloud Computing support sustainability?

Carbon footprint has become a household term. When you book a flight, you pay a fee to offset your carbon footprint. When you order a package to be delivered to your house, you pay a fee to offset the gases emitted by the delivery van. You cycle to work and walk to the grocery shop. Your conscience is clean. Maybe you should think again. Do you know how much electricity you consume each day? Laptops, iPads & co., mobile phones all need energy to operate. Do you have any idea what your personal carbon footprint in this area is like? I have to admit I don’t but it probably accumulates to a substantial amount in my lifetime.

Companies are all into sustainability nowadays. Cloud Computing helps you be green and at the same time reduce costs. Have you ever been inside the server room of your company? The rooms are usually cool to prevent the hardware from overheating and there are lots of blinking lights, even when no one is in the office working. Therefore there is energy consumption without corresponding productivity or in other words value creation. By joining the Cloud, you are basically outsourcing these servers. You no longer have hardware taking up valuable office space and consuming energy even when they are idle. You store all your information in the Cloud.

Now those offering Cloud Computing platforms do have hardware, with all the associated non-green aspects mentioned earlier. Is the concept really green? The key point is by serving a wider user base, the Cloud can effectively reduce idle time and utilise the server capacity available. Therefore instead of 500 000 thousand servers being used by various organisations, the Cloud only needs about 40 000 servers to do the same amount of work. (These numbers were cited by Akamai in a promotional video.)

How does Cloud Computing impact you?

Chances are you have already had contact with the Cloud in some form. You are simply not aware of it. Akamai alone has some reputable customers and there are so many other providers of Cloud Computing on the market.

Have you ever lost a work laptop? You lose more than the presentation you were working on. There are usually sensitive company data stored in the hard-drive. Data and information equals to money and competitive advantage in today’s world. If you were using the cloud, no data would be stored locally and ergo no data lost and no breach in security to fear.

Security leads me back to the metaphor of bank vaults. It is common knowledge that valuables are stored in bank vaults. Therefore they are often the target of criminals, who want to get rich quick by getting possession of these valuables. Likewise the Cloud might become a target for hackers and if you are unlucky, they might find a way to get hold of your data. By storing data in the Cloud, you are solely dependent on the Cloud to protect it for you.

My Conclusion

Every cloud has a silver lining. But clouds could cause floods too. As a private individual, I would probably buy an external hard drive to store my personal data; like photos. As it is Facebook and Google know way too much about me, I don’t need to add the Cloud to that list too. I shiver at the thought of what would happen, if they all joined forces. 🙂 That is my view on Cloud Computing.

Related Articles

  1. http://www.ted.com/pages/266
  2. http://www.akamai.com/html/misc/ted.html
  3. http://www.cebit.de/home
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Server_%28computing%29

Neglected by evolution or man’s own doing?

What do the following biblical characters have in common apart from the fact that their related by blood; Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah? They are also known as the Antediluvian Patriarchs, which translates as Scriptural Fathers of the Pre-Flood Age. According to the bible, they all lived to be a couple of hundred years old. That was my first thought when I read the synopsis of a TED talk under the theme; “Might you live a great deal longer?”

This is the final post on an unintentional series about ageing. I have written about immortality, the youth culture and the final act. Today’s post looks at Aubrey de Grey’s assertion that the first human beings to live to a 1000 years have already been born. The British researcher on gerontology claims that we need to develop treatments that repair the damage caused by ageing and thereby delaying pathology. Below you will find the video of his TED talk. However be warned that he talks really fast and packs a whole lot of information into 18 minutes.

Basically Aubrey claims that ageing leads to pathology because of physical damages accumulating in our body. He identifies 7 areas where this damage occurs; Cell loss/atrophy, Death-resistant cell, Nuclear Mutations and Epimutations, Mt DNA mutations, Protein crosslinks, Junk inside cells and Junk outside cells. (These points were listed on a slide Aubrey used during the talk – 16th minute.) I need an encyclopaedia to make sense of some of these points. But the gist of it is metabolism damages our cellular structures, which culminates in death.

Aubrey proposes that it is possible to repair the damage through treatments. He says that anti-ageing treatments would keep improving and treat people before they enter the certain death phase and thereby increasing their life duration century by century. As a result of these continuous treatment improvements it would be possible to reach a life span of a thousand years. However we need to invest in the research of such treatments immediately, if we want to experience longevity to this extent.

In the Q&A session after the talk, Aubrey stressed that ageing is not the result of selection. In his opinion, evolution has neglected to find a way to resolve mortality because it would require too much energy and more sophisticated genes. In other words, if evolution were more hardworking we probably would be immortals by now.

This brings me back to the topic of the Antediluvian Patriarchs. I probably would get to hear that the bible is a fictional work and thus not a fitting reference when trying to find answers to a scientific question. Since this is my post, we will stick to the assumption that the Antediluvian Patriarchs had existed. The last of this group, Noah, supposedly lived up to 950 years. Therefore according to the bible, men started out with life spans of almost 1000 years. However after Noah, the life span continually decreased until King Solomon only lived to be about 70 years old. According to WHO statistics from the year 2009 the median life expectancy is at 71 years. It would seem that human life expectancy has been constant for thousands of years.

Why has the time we spend on earth shortened after Noah? It would appear that sin and men distancing themselves from God led to a drastic cleansing through the flood. Noah was the chosen one to start a new civilisation on earth. However this new world became tainted by sin too.

Since I believe in the existence of God, I do not find it too farfetched to assume that God’s original creation had very sophisticated genes. However the quality of genes deteriorated overtime as a result of our indulgence in activities harmful to our physical wellbeing. Therefore I think it is plausible to undo these damages through advanced medical treatments.

Do I think this is the right time to invest in such medical treatments? No. In my opinion, if such treatments were available now, it would only benefit the rich. After all, we have vaccinations for diseases that still kill thousands of children in the third world country. The reason for their death is lack of money, which bars their access to the medication. Thus you can imagine how it would be, if it were possible to live for centuries. It would be naive to assume that such treatments would be free of charge.

What do you think?

Related Articles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antediluvian
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchs_%28Bible%29#Antediluvian_Patriarchs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah
http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/life-span-of-bible-patriarchs-before-after-the-flood.html
http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/mortality_life_tables/en/index.html

Similarities between Gouda and Life

I love Gouda. I love the creamy taste of its young body rubbing against juicy ham between 2 slices of soft white bread. I love the slightly crunchy taste of its older body and gladly wash down the saltiness with a glass of fine red wine. It would be wrong to assert that Gouda gets better with age. To claim the opposite would be wrong too. Gouda tastes great in any age to me.

To me Gouda presents a suitable metaphorical comparison to the human lifecycle. As it is with Gouda, I will not claim that life gets better with old age. Surely there might be aspects that get better with age like our wealth of knowledge and experience. Similarly there are aspects that definitely worsen over time like our eyesight.

We should refrain from comparing old age with middle age or youth or focusing on the things that no longer function as well as they used to. Instead we should be seeing it as a unique phase of the human life cycle. As a unique phase that has its own ups and downs and potentials for self-realisation.

I used to liken life to the seasons in nature. Spring symbolises Childhood, summer symbolises Adolescence, autumn symbolises Midlife and winter symbolises Old age. Is one to view life as a process that progresses from growth, maturity, decay and ends in waiting for the cold embrace of death? That sounds like a rather pessimistic view of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. Winter can be a wonderful time for relaxation. A time to go on a virtual trip together with a good book, with a cup of hot chocolate in a hand, while snuggling under a fluffy blanket. Winter is also a wonderful time to take walks in the nature, especially for those who like me suffer from hay fever. Such a walk provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life, while breathing in the cold and crisp winter air. Therefore there are ways we can make the wintery phase of like more pleasurable.

Although I have about thirty years to reach this phase of my life, I was inspired to write this post after watching a TED talk by Jane Fonda titled: Life’s third act. Below you will find a video of her talk, which lasts about 11:20 minutes.

Here is the gist of her talk. We live on average 34 years longer than our great-grandparents and a whole adulthood could fit into this time span. However old age is still viewed as the time before death – a time when our bodies weaken and degenerate. Jane Fonda calls the last three decades of our lives <em>The Third Act</em>. She talks about how an ageing demographic has forced (the intellectual) society to rethink its definition of this period in life, which has its own unique characteristics and opportunities. Traditionally life is viewed as an arch; where it is all downhill after the peak in midlife. But she thinks the metaphor of a staircase to more suitable to describe ageing. As we age –ascend the staircase – our spirits become wiser, more whole and more authentic.

Jane Fonda relates about the time when the thought of growing old made her depressive. Now she is right in the middle of the life phase she was terrified of and she realises she has never been happier. She does admit that ageing is no bed of roses and we might encounter problems as a result of our genetic construct. Nevertheless we can undertake measures to make use of the extra life time we have available. Old age presents us with the opportunity to review our lives. We can tie up loose ends, find closure for unresolved business, forgive others and ourselves and move on. As a result, we can change our relationship with our pasts.

In closing, she makes a point that as children we know who we are and what we want. As we grow older, to be part of a group or another person’s life we compromise who we are. In old age, we have the freedom to focus on our person again and redefine our lives. This would not only impact the rest of our lives but also impact the lives of the younger generation, who can use our new gained knowledge to (re)shape their own lives.

I agree with Jane Fonda, although in her stead I would have used the Gouda instead of the staircase as a metaphor. 🙂 Do you agree with Jane Fonda’s view of The Third Act? Do you already have plans to make your third act special?

Forever young – I want to be forever young

As I write this post, the chorus of the Alphaville song Forever Young is playing over and over again in my head, like a broken record. There is a line in the song that goes, Youth like diamonds in the sky and diamonds are forever. Some time ago, I blogged about why immortality is not as great as it sounds. This post is about what I believe to be more than a trend in modern society – the mission or obsession to remain youthful and also about why I hate Jennifer Aniston and the likes of her.

When I was about 16 years old, I participated in a public speaking competition. There were two parts to the competition. The first part was delivering a prepared speech and the second part to make an impromptu speech on a topic given by jury. My prepared speech was on the topic of Youth Culture. I spoke about, if it is just a trend or a way of life. I am so sure about what I spoke about so long ago because I was traumatised by a case of total mental blackout on stage that day. But I also remember that most of the points in my speech came from my teacher. Honestly what can a youth know firsthand about trying to stay young as long as possible? However ever since I have crossed the thirties threshold, I am confronted with this topic every day – whether I want to or not. With age comes wisdom and I believe I have enough experience of my own to add my two cents worth to this subject.

Wrinkle free skin and a body I would have been proud of in my twenties
Wrinkles and grey hair are widely accepted as the first signs of growing old. I was distraught the day I turned thirty and the salesgirl, who packed my “make-me-feel-good” shopping items, added a sample of an anti-wrinkle cream to the lot. I still do not know what I did to her to deserve such horrible treatment!

The ladies in Hollywood are turning the natural process of ageing into a nightmare for me. Have you noticed how incredible actresses like Demi Moore look the older they get? I am certain Jennifer Aniston looks better in her forties than in her twenties. I know that a lot of money and effort is invested in maintaining this appearance. But the mind only hangs onto the thought that it is possible to look age defying young. If they can do it, I should be able to do it too, right? Who cares that even in my youth I did not have toned muscles or a flat tummy? I can imagine that I am not alone here and that others feel the same way too. So whose idea of youth are we trying to emulate? (Again the word stereotype comes to mind.)

Manipulating our age to look younger
We have a couple of ages. There is the calendar or chronological age, the biological age and the perceived age. The calendar age is self explanatory. It is the number of calendar years we have lived. The biological age is much more difficult to ascertain. It is a combination of various factors, which reduce, slow down or reverse the constant cellular deterioration that constantly goes on in our bodies. The perceived age refers to the age others estimate us to be at based on our appearance, attitude and behaviour.

There is nothing we can do about our calendar age; apart from forging birth certificates. But it is possible to manipulate our biological age. Here is an interesting talk by Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor at UCSF.

From the sound of it, it takes more than creams, hair dyes and clothes to being youthful. No pain, no gain. I am not referring to the pain due to plastic surgeries or Botox injections. (Honestly taking away the mimic from your face does not make you look younger. Instead it makes you look like a well embalmed zombie.) I am referring to the muscle aches as a result of exercising and the pain of having to abstain from sinfully delicious fatty food. The good news according to Dean Ornish is that sport, a healthy diet and lifestyle have a positive effect on our cellular structures. This helps us reduce our biological age.

My perceived age is younger than my calendar age, which is actually a curse in disguise. It keeps me from exercising because my subconscious tells me that there is no need to start just yet. (In project management speak; I am using up my puffer time.) In my opinion, two factors contribute to the perceived age. First is the appearance factor, which is influenced by the physical appearance and fashion sense. Certain types of clothes or hairstyles can make us appear older than we are. Second is the attitude factor, which is the way we think and behave. Our attitude towards technological advances and affinity to new social media could make us appear younger.

Why do we want to be youthful?
One reason that comes to mind is that looking youthful has an impact on the level of success in our career. On the one hand, looking old might give an impression of not being up-to-date. On the other hand, looking youthful is associated with being dynamic, open-minded, flexible and able to easily adapt to changes. It might sound shallow but it is common knowledge that good-looking people are more successful in their careers. (I blogged about it some time ago.) Given the choice between a youthful looking candidate and a old looking candidate with the same qualification and experience, I am pretty sure that the youthful looking candidate would be chosen. In this case, it would not even be a case of ageism.

Another reason I can think of is the fact that we live longer than our ancestors did. Retirement may mark the end of one’s career but it marks the beginning of life. Retirees finally have enough time and money to catch up on all the dreams postponed in favour of the career and the quest of earning money. Therefore being physically youthful is necessary to support an active and possibly adventurous lifestyle.

As I have expressed in this post forever young could mean many different things. Do you want to be forever young and what does being young mean to you?

Are you leaving behind a digital inheritance or a digital zombie?

As I was researching for the post on the Facebook app, If I die, I came across a Ted talk by Adam Ostrow. His talk was titled: After your final status update. It is about his idea for the future of our digital inheritance. He pondered the possibility that all the digital content we create during our lifetime, could be used to create digital personas. These in turn can interact with the living even after our death. Click here to view the video. Here is a transcript excerpt of his talk that inspired me to write this post.

But what if those robots were able to interact based on the unique characteristics of a specific person based on the hundreds of thousands of pieces of content that person produces in their lifetime?

Finally, think back to this famous scene from election night 2008 back in the United States, where CNN beamed a live hologram of hip hop artist will.i.am into their studio for an interview with Anderson Cooper. What if we were able to use that same type of technology to beam a representation of our loved ones into our living rooms — interacting in a very lifelike way based on all the content they created while they were alive? I think that’s going to become completely possible as the amount of data we’re producing and technology’s ability to understand it both expand exponentially. Now in closing, I think what we all need to be thinking about is if we want that to become our reality — and if so, what it means for a definition of life and everything that comes after it.

Do the contents we are creating accurately describe us?
Adam mentions in his talk that on average of 200 million tweets are posted in a day and each user creates about 90 pieces of content on Facebook in a month. By the sounds of it, we are creating a lot of content. There should be enough input for some machine to analyse all the content we have created and generate a digital persona incorporating our interests and views. Theoretically this digital persona would create new content on its own and continue to interact with the world and no one might be the wiser for it.

But how much of the content we are creating is new content and how much of it is forwarding content created by someone else? Of course you might argue that the act of forwarding in an indication of our interest. Is it really? Or do we think about what others would favour and post accordingly? Of all the videos uploaded on YouTube, what proportion are rip offs of TV series and movies and how many are original? (One user uploaded a video of a popular TV series and added the disclaimer “No copy right intended”. I wonder if the producers would agree with her. :-)) How about the YouTube stars? Is the image they are presenting really theirs or are they saying and doing stuff just to attract the clicks? How would their loved ones react, when this digital persona is brought to life? Would they feel as if they are communicating with someone they know or would they think that it is a stranger?

Do I want this to be my reality?
Two aspects come to mind when I consider this question. One aspect is would I want to “live” on after death, albeit in a digital form? A part of me says yes. Otherwise why do I blog? There are other ways I can improve my writing. Don’t we all feel the need to leave some kind of “legacy” behind? Leave something that would make others think of us after we are dead? What about all the photos we take and videos we make? Even having children could be seen as a way of keeping a part of our genes alive. It might sound narcissistic. But I think that human beings are somewhat narcissistic; some more than others. But would I want some algorithm to calculate what I would post, if I were alive and do it on my behalf? I don’t think so. I might want people to read what I had written but not what I might have written.

The second aspect is would I want to digitally interact with a dead person? Every one deals with loss in a different way. In the movies, grieving people often watch home videos or photos showing the person, who passed away. Wouldn’t a hologram of the loved one sitting next to me and conversing with me- using words written by my loved one- be more satisfying? Wouldn’t it be great to get an answer to a question and the answer would be what your dad would have told you had he been alive? On a superficial level I would say yes. If I really think about it, I would have to answer with a No.

Saying goodbye might be the hardest thing to do. But wouldn’t having a digital replica to hang on to only prolong the grieving period? The temptation might be great to hang on to an inanimate being; especially when we are feeling lonely and vulnerable. The movie Lars and the Real Girl comes to my mind. In the movie, shy and single Lars compensates his loneliness with a Real Girl doll. The whole village plays along, treating the doll like a real person and giving him the feeling that he is in a real relationship. Eventually he doesn’t need the doll and she dies from an “illness”, giving him the opportunity to meet a real girl. I think there is a danger of people withdrawing from reality and leading a life with a digital persona, if they feel alone.

Definition of life and what comes after it
I do not want to get into a religious discussion here. I am Christian and my definition of life after death is different from those of other religions. I would like to sum up the points I made earlier though. In my opinion, if it possible to live digitally after death, we all might spend more thought over the contents we generate in the digital world. After all these contents would make up the “genetic” code of our digital being.

From the perspective of the one living and interacting with a digital zombie, it could mess up the rest of our lives, if we become dependent on it and use it to delay dealing with the grief of losing a loved one. I would rather manually go through the posts, photos and videos instead of having a machine do it for me. I think it is a necessary process of dealing with death. On the other hand, to have a hologram repeating but not creating new content is a much comfortable way to do through the digital inheritance of a person than surfing through posts on the internet.

What do you think?