This is part one of a series on cloud computing. In this part, I discuss what the cloud is by comparing it to radio. In the next part I will talk about ways that writers can put some popular cloud services to work for them.
Maybe you’re too young to remember radio? Okay, that was hyperbolic, despite my own wishful thinking, radio hasn’t yet shuffled off into oblivion. In fact, I’ve seen stats that claim that ninety-three percent of Americans. listen to AM/FM radio. These stats are by people who claim to know and I don’t intend to refute them. Were I to so intend, I could probably find equally compelling stats claiming otherwise from people who claim to know differently, but who are not in the business of selling radio.
I think it is fair to say that most of us hear radio whether we want to or not. Radio provides the background noise in many offices, retail stores and bordellos across the country. If you ever get within seven blocks of a construction site you hear what radio sounds like at full volume through cheap speakers. Maybe your friend insists on having it on during the pinochle game.
If you read back you’ll see that I said most of us hear radio often without much choice. I intentionally did not say that most of us listen to it. Sure, millions of people spend portions of the day in the car en route to work listening to car ads, political bloviating and maybe if they are lucky that Dwight Yoakum song they love. But, increasingly more of us are discovering that using the cloud we can skip the pundits and pushers and get right to Dwight Yoakum.
This article is not really about prevalence or perils of radio and despite the title, it’s not really about Dwight Yoakum either. In fact, I chose the radio exactly because almost everyone has a reasonable idea of how it works. As such it has served me well as one side of an analogy where the cloud is the other side. I Chose Dwight Yoakum for his performances in Sling Blade and Goliath, and because the name fit the title well.
Before we move on to the cloud let’s torture the radio side of our analogy just a little more.
Assume that hearing Dwight Yoakum sing Fast As You is your goal. In a radio only world, you tune your radio to a station that broadcasts country music and you hope Dwight comes on when you are in your car on the way to work. If you are feeling particularity brave one day you might even call from work and ask the station to play Dwight (and then hope you are not in the restroom when they do).
Radio is pretty simple really, but let’s simplify even further how it was that you came to get your Yoakum groove on. Someone in a building not that far from you broadcast the song you requested using expensive machines. Because you had your radio dial set to the proper number, you received that broadcast. It is unlikely anyone was hurt in the process and all of this went on invisibly. Anyone who had their radio tuned to a different station or did not have the radio on had no idea it was happening.
When it comes right down to it that mystical magic thing called the cloud is not so far removed from the radio. Think of a cloud service as a radio station, your computer as the radio, and your clicking on a link as your call to the DJ and you are most of the way there. Internet radio is a great example by which to compare because of the end result, you listening to Fast As You, is the same but you can hear it exactly when you want and you do not have to suffer talking to a DJ. It still happens invisibly and no one gets hurt.
Even as much music as Dwight Yoakum has turned out, I doubt a traditional radio station exists in America which plays nothing but his songs. If one does exist but it is not close by, you can move to where it is or you are out of luck. Using the cloud, you can create one just for you. If you want you can share your all Dwight all the time station with others who like him as much as you. If you don’t share it no one is the wiser. Want to add some Lyle Lovett? Go ahead. toss it in and add some Billy Bob Thorton while you are at it. Meanwhile, I can use the same service to deliver Metallica, Brahms, and Pink Floyd.
The cloud is just another name for the internet. You probably think of the internet as the thing you use to read this post, most people do. In fact, the World Wide Web service is just one of the hundreds of cloud services. Email is another. It is likely you use cloud services for at least some of the TV you watch. Cloud services let you store files for your own use or to share with others. You might converse with an old friend or make a new one using the cloud. You might even use it to make phone calls.
Suppose you send an email to a friend and attach a picture of your dog sparky doing something incredibly clever. You are taking that picture (and the message it is attached to) and uploading it to another computer somewhere in the world. The photo of sparky is in the cloud. When your friend downloads that picture she takes it from the cloud. Most likely she actually takes a copy of it from the cloud. A cloud service (this time email) handles all the details of getting your picture from your computer to the machine which hosts your email and then to your friend’s inbox.
Your internet radio station works much the same. Instead of a DJ causing the song to be broadcast, a computer somewhere opens a file and sends it a little at a time directly to your computer. This process is called streaming. Just as your friend downloads the amazing photo of Sparky you are simply downloading Dwight Yoakum.