Of Clouds and Men. And Mice.

I kindof dropped out for about 15 years… and when I dropped back in again, the internet was just starting to filter in. I worked for Auckland University in NZ who used to download and cache locally, the entire web. We had Mosaic as a browser – I don’t think it could show pictures. Pictures sent via user-groups were long strings of ascii that you had to edit together, save as .bmp and open locally.

We used to use thin-client machines linked to a mainframe for doing exam results.

My Boss (Dylan) (a star and a drinking buddy) said that “Yea, thin client seems to come and go – there’s a never-ending vacillation…”

And so it is. It’s never gone away, it’s never dominated.

So now google appears to be getting into hardware – making browsers specifically set up to handle it’s javascript-heavy code apparently not enough. And I don’t have any particular problem with that to be honest. If they can be the anti-apple, then more power to them.

Couple of problems though…

… Amazon has just demonstrated that we can’t trust the cloud. Gawker and McDonalds have just demonstrated that we can’t trust the cloud. Paypal, Visa and Mastercard have just demonstrated that we can’t trust the cloud. (did you know that the Gawker hackers put all of Gawker’s source code up on Bittorrent? LOL. That’ll fuck them up. At least when you use WordPress that isn’t an issue)

Anyway, the point of having things locally is that they’re private, and we control them.

There’s an article here about the need for an open-cloud, and various open-DNS projects are underway. Open Bittorrent (funded by the EU) is drawing closer – for windows users, it’s here… for linux… imminent. I’m currently playing with Bitcoin.org – which is a P2P currency… about a year old with about a $million dollars in circulation.

So. The Cloud. “The Cloud” is a crafty bit of reframing. What it really is is “Thin Client”. It’s back to the mainframe model.

We used to use it at Ernst & Young to deliver Microsoft Office in a totally controlled way. Everyone used to run a server version. Then laptops turned up, laying that model on its side. The point is… the point was… centralised control. That’s what thin-client is for, that’s what the cloud has always been for. It pretends not to be, but it is.

It may not seem that way to you – but it’s true. Douglas Rushkoff’s new book… Program or be Programmed… is particularly relevant.

Doug Rushkoff: 2008 Applied Brilliance Conference.mov from Applied Brilliance on Vimeo.

I listen to everything this guy says about 5 times. It takes a while to sink in… but I think what he’s trying to do with this latest thing is create a (typically gen-x paranoia) sensitivity to how we’re manipulated by the people who create the systems we use. The cloud is set up to make us feel like it’s a wonderful ever expanding resource where you can get anything you want, just by paying a bit extra. Actually it’s not. It’s a way of extracting micro-payments from you, while allowing your information to be controlled by someone else. And if you piss off the corrupt and criminal American Govt, they’ll have you silenced.

If you look at the Google offering above – the biases come singing out… once you become sensitised to spotting biases. They want you to be online all the time, permanently hooked into services they provide. They will “protect you” and have granted themselves access to update your machine without informing you. There will be an option to switch this off, but it will be on by default… it represents a society-wide possibility of the school-admins-spying-on-kids-at-home-via-their-webcams situation. Think they won’t?

This machine isn’t by users for users. It’s by a corporation with a certain set of philosophies… and it is specifically designed to draw you in those directions. It’s a shiny, friendly, trustworthy face, stuck on the front of a machine… and it may just be the most benign machine out there, but it’s still a machine. It’s not us.

The cloud needs to be P2P. How to do that, I’ve no idea. It definitely should not be controlled by corporations though.

Because The Cloud is a providing a necessity, masquerading as a service. “Services” should be separated from “Necessities”. Services are things like hair-dressing and pizza-delivery. Necessities are things like food, water, energy, waste-management, security/police… and information. The providers of these should at the very least, be democratically accountable. Ideally they should be P2P or individually controlled. The worst nightmares in the world happen because necessities become controlled by greedy sociopaths – and corporations are inherently greedy, and inherently sociopathic.

So the dichotomy “Thin Client vs Localised Power” has become a trichotomy “Thin Client vs Localised Power vs P2P”.

And Thin Client is evil. If there’s a choice, always go local and P2P.

8 Comments » for Of Clouds and Men. And Mice.
  1. I know no code. I am tech dumb, as you’ll soon see. But I do think privacy as a concept should be over, even admins watching kids, etc. Private is an illusion, never had it anyway on some level.

    The dumb will be absorbed and manipulated like sheep by corporate intent (you saw where my phone conversations were used by my ISP to target ads on my browser based on the words I uttered?) But I’m out of the society’s pressures to buy or think. Let’s fish it out all on the table and deal. Life Lingerie.

  2. admin says:

    Nah – Privacy for Individuals; Transparency for Authority

    We need to draw that distinction – Authority needs to be transparent, because without transparency it can’t be accountable, and without accountability it’s illegitimate.

    Individuals should have the base-line right, to shut corporations and governments out. It should be our choice, not their’s.

    Just because the nature of privacy is changing, doesn’t mean that corporations and governments should have a carte-blanche to spy on us and compile data on us at will. The idea that they should be able to do this is just another type of authoritarianism.

  3. Phil Ruse says:

    The “this is it/end of” pronunciation each time we switch between thick/thin client always makes me smile. I can’t get my head around the idea of service provision via P2P though!

  4. I’d like to retract as much hubris as possible from my previous comment. I realize I’m also dumb. On further reflection, I realize that the autonomous feelings I have over the choices I make are probably the same feelings that everyone else feels about theirs too. No one imagines what they are doing as wrong.

  5. sintetic says:

    You are totally right. I agree with you 100%. Also you are an idealist, and as any idealist you see the world and the people that populate it as you wish they were, not as they actually are.

    The vast majority of people don’t give a shit about the ideals eloquently stated above. They are lazy, selfish and ignorant, interested only in getting their instant gratification. They rather give away their money and privacy as long as they are not bothered to figure things out. The ultimate consumers. That’s why Linux, open source, open etc. is not the norm in today society and I don’t think it will be. “Let the idealist defend the ideals I just wanna download “free” music and movies.”

    Btw, Apple makes great laptops and phones.

  6. admin says:


    … although it’s obviously my inclination to regard the rest of suffering humanity as lazy, feckless and vain – I don’t think that’s necessarily the lens that’ll yield the best results. Talk to the change you want to see in other words. If you talk to people as feckless, you’ll get feckless. If you talk to them as fantastic… well you might not get that, but they’ll sure try their best.

    It’s not human-nature, it’s meme-nature. What tends to work best is whatever allows memes to propagate fastest and with more impact. If twitter starts censoring (and there’s a distributed alternative) then see how quickly people leave. Diaspora raised what? $200,000 from individual donors? Facebook could go the way of Friendster 1/2 the time.

    What the P2P has over the cloud, is the ability for memes to route around top-down control. If top-down control starts getting draconian (as it’s showing signs of) then you’ll see a shift. If a company goes bust and/or loses everyone’s uploaded videos, photos – then there will be a buzz of conversation, and people will gravitate to the service that will stop that happening again… and the best bet is distributed.

    Cos people aren’t actually guided by laziness at all, they’re guided by memes. By virii of opinion.

    The reason Linux is not the norm is that if it’s not pre-installed, it’s beyond the abilities of most people to deal with – I know, because I use it, and even I find it hard work – and I don’t do anything except play with computers. Linux will become mainstream when emerging (giant) economies start using it as a default install. Which they will.

    “I just wanna download “free” music and movies.” is one particular frame. Another is “I want to engage with my culture as much as possible, with minimal friction”… this perspective will offer more (and better) options – and doesn’t fly in the face of evidence – that repeated studies have shown that the people who pirate the most are also the people who spend the most.

    Here’s what I have against Apple



    The crunch with all of this – is how much control we give away, and at what point it’s too late to change.

  7. admin says:

    And this morning we lost delicious – and I’m starting to get nervous tweets coming in about Flickr as well.

    Flickr aside – delicious represents… what? Millions of man-hours categorising and tagging the web. I don’t know how useful this is… or whether the effort is duplicated by all the other social-tagging sites, but it would not be that difficult to make a distributed folksonomy system, which would be a whole lot harder for corporates to cut the budgets of, and in so doing, kill.

    I think what’s needed is an engine a bit like tribler – http://www.tribler.org/trac/wiki/whatIsTribler – which has access to a designated part of the hard-drive, but which is either a plugin-platform, or can take HTML pages like a browser… to open up an ecosystem of 3rd party p2p apps.

    The crunch with p2p at the moment is that you have to download a new app for each service…. eg: skype, email, bittorrent, gnutella etc. What’s needed is an engine that simulates a cloud-type experience, but instead of the data being stored on Amazon or Yahoo’s servers, it’s distributed across hundreds of thousands of personal machines.

    Bitcoin.org are doing this – storying and synchronising data across machines. There are limitations to it admittedly… but it ain’t impossible – whereas getting corporations to act in anything other than their own interests probably is.

    Really, building vital infrastructure on top of corporations is like building infrastructure on the backs of fighting dinosaurs.

  8. admin says:

    And within that of course – the memetic thing… the ability to break IP law is becoming more and more a practical as well as a moral imperative… as IP law encroaches more and more and undermines democratic integrity more and more.

    The cloud doesn’t cater to this – witness google trying to negotiate around the record companies trying to stop you from moving music you’ve bought from one device to another http://www.pcworld.com/article/213845/will_google_music_be_a_locker.html