Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Ephemeral Cloud

I've been a proponent of trusting the cloud for a long time, but I'm starting to rethink that trust.

"The cloud" is a murky term, but what I mean by it here is: leaving your shit with someone else. Your files, your music, your movies, your everything...if it's not physically stored somewhere in your home, it's probably in the cloud. Most of my stuff is in the cloud. I've trusted it to remain there until I need it, but lately, that trust has been broken. The cloud has screwed me over three times in the past week:

First: for some reason, a file that was emailed to me via Google Drive is no longer accessible. One cloud service (Gmail) lost its link to another cloud service (Google Drive), and now I have no way of getting to my very important file.

Second: a simple web page, which I had saved the link to, blinked out of existence. It was a news story with an interview I'd done by phone, so there is no other record of it anywhere (other than the Wayback Machine, luckily).

Third: OneDrive announced that it was nerfing its storage limit. Since Microsoft got its head out of its ass and started doing useful things, all linked to OneDrive, I've been using their services a lot. For example, all my photos are backed up to OneDrive, which was convenient when it had unlimited storage. But now OneDrive's storage is capped, and if I had over 1TB stored there (luckily I don't), I'd risk losing everything I'd trusted with the service. More importantly, I can't really trust anything with Microsoft again, because at their whim, it could be intentionally wiped out. Even more more importantly, the same thing applies to anything else in the cloud too.

I guess the lesson is that all things are fleeting. All the stuff above could just as easily have been wiped from a hard drive, or a backup hard drive, or a cloud backup of a backup. The only way to ensure anything stays in my control is to have three or four different ways of storing it and hope they don't all crap out at once (I'm looking at you, EMPs). I've fallen into the trap of thinking of the cloud as a magic data centre in the sky that will safely keep my digital life safe forever. I was dumb.

Just think of how this will play out when we're uploading human consciousness to the cloud.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ghosts, Everywhere

One thing I love about big cities is the history.

This is the view from my hotel room in San Francisco.

It's not much to look at, so I was disappointed for a moment. Then I looked closer at everything that is there, outside my window, and indeed everywhere in San Francisco: layers of history, starting at the street and stacking up to each level of the looming buildings.

One thing caught my attention: "Hotel Paisley," in faded letters at the top of the building I'm facing, partially covered over by history. The windows below look like they'd crumble if anyone stared too hard through them. The hotel's sorry state hints that it's been there for a long time, and probably has stories to tell. Luckily, those stories are Googlable.

What I found didn't disappoint. According to this article, the place is layered with entities that haunt it, from the woman who's lived there for twenty years, to the man who sees skeletons over his bed and swears the hotel is full of spirits, to Florence Cushing.

In 1911, Florence flung herself from one of those old windows across from me and splattered on the barren concrete below—the view I'd considered so uninteresting a few minutes before.

I'm sure similar stories are all around me. It's almost overwhelming. But I think it's best to wait until after I leave to Google my own hotel's name + "haunted."

Monday, August 03, 2015

Laziness Drives Progress

Via Rinspeed
I think about autonomous cars a lot.

That's partly because I don't enjoy driving. However, a lot of people do. Many of those people promise that they will never buy a self-driving vehicle. I propose that laziness will drive that promise right out of them.

Today, even people who own cars will occasionally take a taxi. To the airport, or out drinking, or when traveling. As taxis become autonomous, they will be even more convenient. Imagine tapping your smartphone, then 30 seconds later a car arrives for you, and you can step inside and keep dicking around on your phone, or have a meal, or get work done, until it drops you off right at your destination. And it only costs a few dollars.

Even people who love driving will take advantage of that once in a while. At first maybe it'll only be to get to the airport. But then it'll be when they have a deadline coming up, or are really hung over, or are just feeling lazy.

As those situations become more common, and driving your own car becomes less common, the per-trip cost of owning a car becomes prohibitive. Is it worth tens of thousands of dollars in purchase price, fuel, maintenance, and insurance just to drive a car once a day? Once a week? What about once a month?

"I'm too lazy to drive, just this once" can quickly become "I haven't driven in a month and I might as well sell my car." As more and more people succumb to laziness and rely on a cloud of autonomous vehicles, houses will gradually lose their driveways and garages, and the thrill of driving will be confined to go-kart tracks.

In short, human laziness will lead to a more efficient, car-ownership-free world.

I think it'll be a good change. The people who disagree will be too lazy to resist it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Creativity is Something Other People Do

There's a tendency to think of art as something others do. Art is mysterious; it comes from a magical place. It's not like going to a day job and pumping out widgets or code or happy customers—all the things you and your ordinary friends produce.

Maybe that's why it's always slightly uncomfortable when good friends create good things. When watching a friend's band, or play, or art show, it may be objectively fantastic, but that's weird, because fantastic acts of creation shouldn't come from the real person you've known for years. They should come from an other.

We've even invented the concept of a muse: an other—real or imaginary—who provides the source of artistic inspiration. No way, it couldn't be a regular person's brain coming up with this stuff. It must originate somewhere else.

It's all bullshit, of course. Art is a result of regular brains and regular hands put to hard work. But the belief persists, for some reason.

I try to be aware of this. As a writer, and a writer of horror, the creepiest art of all, I am conscious of how strange it can be for people around me. Self promotion is uncomfortable, partially for that reason. I'd almost prefer to stand up on a stage and talk about my book to a crowd of strangers—to whom I am an other—than post about it on Facebook.

P.S. Buy my book.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


The problem is, when I have a short thought, I post it on Twitter. When I have a longer thought, I write a book about it. That leaves little room for blogging.

Maybe this should be the place for medium thoughts. Yes, there is Medium for that, but having my own place on the web, which looks crappy but unique, and can't be destroyed if some corporation decides to "pivot," still has value to me.

So, medium thoughts. Snack-sized brain nuggets. The Goldilocks of cognitive output. That's this blog's new purpose. If anyone is still out there, I hope you'll join me for a few minutes at a time.