At the end of April, Josh Fruhlinger, Editorial Director at AOL Tech, published an article called, “The Cloud: No Sir, I Don’t Like It“. If you haven’t read it, you should, especially if you’re not a fan of this new trend towards Cloud computing. Even though I am a fan of this trend, I enjoyed the article and had a good laugh or two along the way. I was particularly entertained by the following story of Josh’s freshman year at UC San Diego.
“Then one night as I was set to finish a Political Science paper, I couldn’t log in. “We’re sorry, the servers are down for maintenance. Please try later.”
“But… you have my paper!” I whisper-screamed.
I spent that night waiting for the paper-hostage-holding servers to come back online. Thankfully, around 4:00am, they popped back up, and I quickly moved the file to a 3.5-inch floppy where it was safe.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was using the cloud, and I didn’t like it. Heck, it ate my paper.”
In 1990, while Josh was a freshman at UC San Diego, I was a sophomore at the City University of New York at Baruch College. Opposite ends of the country and opposite perspectives on the Cloud. Now don’t get me wrong, I love some things about my PC and the “old” way of working. I loved the control that a PC provided that a terminal did not. I can’t say the same for sneakernet, nor did I ever consider files on a 3.5-inch diskettes “safe”. On the contrary, lets enumerate a few of the situations I came across.
- Many times fellow students came crying for help as they accidentally turned off their PC without saving the files they had spent hours working on.
- Worse, some students had months of work for multiple classes on their PC or floppy disk when it malfunctioned.
- Stories of lost 3.5-inch disks on the train or in a cab were not uncommon.
- PC hard disks crashed or were infected by viruses making them unusable, losing months (or years) of work in the process.
- Students accidentally reformatted their 3.5-inch disks, or discovered to their dismay that taking a 3.5-inch disk to the beach was not a good idea.
- Students in science classes quickly discovered that magnets and disks don’t go well together.
- One of my personal favorites were the students that would eject the disk as they were saving their work because they were in a hurry. They could swear they saved their files before ejecting the disk.
At least the 3.5-inch diskette was an improvement over the 5.25-inch floppy. Those were more easily damaged – warped by sunlight, bent, or dust, scratches and fingerprints got on the disk at the open end.
Coffee cups and disks didn’t go well together. It took some convincing that diskettes didn’t also double as coasters or an ashtray.
It wasn’t all bad, there were some positive outcomes at times.
- Some students would work late into the evening forgetting their disks in the lab. The disks would be saved until the student returned the next day when the lab opened. For those that had to turn in their work first thing the next morning it was a bittersweet moment; they recovered their work, but didn’t turn it in on time.
- On other occasions, a student would mistakenly take another student’s diskette. At least the files were safe. It’s too bad that in some instances the students didn’t know each other and it would take days or weeks before they found one another again (to exchange disks).
- Sometimes a file (that a student had been working on in the lab) was too large to save on a 3.5-inch disk and lab staff would work with the student to resolve the issue. Particularly if it was a file that could not be easily broken up so that it could be saved on two 3.5-inch diskettes.
You see, as a computer major, I spent a lot of time in computer labs, and was regularly asked by other students how to recover their lost data.
One brought me the remains of a disk that had clearly been in flames at some point. I guess they just thought that recovering data from a disk was magic. After all, they weren’t computer majors, why should they have to know about sectors, tracks, file allocation tables, error correcting code, and formatting disks?
Over the years the technology has changed, but the same problems remained.
- Instead of a lost 3.5-inch disk, it became a lost CD, iPhone, or other device left on a train, plane, cab, or somewhere else.
- A colleague had his corporate laptop stolen right out of his car.
- Another backed over a company laptop with his car when he unwittingly left his briefcase in the driveway.
Josh asks, “Are we gearing up for the perfect storm?” You bet. The Perfect (Innovation) Storm, facilitated by technological innovations like those found in Cloud computing.
The Cloud may not be perfect, but it didn’t eat your paper Josh – it gave it back (albeit at 4:00am). That’s more than those who had their data on a “safe” local media can say.