Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your Thanksgiving homework

Cloud computing.

Every semester at the beginning of classses, I suggest that my students know something about this. Every year, I seem to be getting blank looks. It’s time for this to stop.

Here is a simple, summative article that pares down to the minimum what you need to know about getting into the cloud:


If you’re familiar with Apple’s new iCloud, or Google’s music streaming service, or Picasa or Flickr for photos, you’ve got the general concept. Basically, you “own” a piece of real estate out there on the internet where you can store your stuff. What stuff? You can store music, of course, or pictures. But more importantly for those of us who are not artists, you can store documents.

It’s probably something easier for you to experience than for me to describe—which is why I’m recommending this article with a curated short list of five services. I personally use DropBox and Box.net every day. Each has slightly different features and interfaces—one is good for some things, the other is good for other things.

These are “freemium” services. That is, you get a starter package of space; the company makes its money from those who sign up for more space. Unless you are storing film, image or sound, though, you’ll likely be able to live happily within your means.

Now—what can these cloud services do for you? Here’s a short list of imaginary scenarios:

  • You’re writing a paper due for a class tomorrow. Your hard drive crashes. But you’ve got all your working files syncronized to the cloud. You can go to any computer with internet access and continue working.
  • You’re at a job interview. You forgot to bring an extra paper copy of your resume (shame on you!) But your resume is online; all you have to do is hop on a computer and print a copy—not only saving the day, but impressing your employer-to-be.
  • You’re at an airport. Your flight is delayed; in fact, you’re sleeping overnight in the terminal, and not by your own choice. You have an important project that has to be on your boss’s desk by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning—and you’re not going to be physically present to turn it in. You don’t have access to a computer. But you flip open your iPhone or your Android phone or your tablet, and make the completed project available by a link you create on the spot.

While you’re on break, consider starting an account!

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