Understand This

First, a quick update on the gremlins-in-residence: 1) Yesterday when I came home from Reiki, the toilet paper roll and cermaic holder were sitting on the radiator. Larry told his sister, Debbie, about our domestic disasters, and she said, “Let it out! Open your windows and let out whatever is in there!” He laughed at her, but I’m sitting here with most of the doors and windows open wide even though humidity is nearly 100 percent. Will take care of opening the rest before the temp shoots into the stratosphere again. 2) This afternoon the new washer arrived. It does just about everything except sew the clothes, and it plays “The Star Spangled Banner.”

So today’s topic is something I don’t fully understand. Maybe by the time I finish, all will be illuminated.

Cloud computing seems to have arrived about two years ago, and basically allowed companies and universities and big government to gang a bunch of huge servers so they can figure out really complicated stuff at supersonic speed. At least that’s what I got from this Business Week article. The most basic examples of cloud computing are the email services such as Gmail or Hotmail. How Stuff Works has the clearest explanation of how it would help a company that has a changing demand for computer access based on the number of employees. One otherwise pretty garbled account made the great point that companies would save money by paying the company supplying the cloud as needed for email, conferencing, finances, and other kinds of services, instead of having hardware and software sit around.

Of course based on the latest round of hacking, I’m not sure I’d trust my data storage to some non-physical realm even if it is double password protected and the passwords are changed daily. Sure I keep some emails on Hotmail, but the important stuff gets downloaded, and then if it’s really important I back up to a thumb drive or better yet, print out a hard copy.

So I think I get the uses and the disadvantages of the cloud, except maybe how it got its name.

But now comes the Media Cloud. It touts itself as a way to see the “flow of information.” I played around with the visualization part with mixed results. The Top 10 and the map worked great for the BBC and the NYT, but when I put those two, plus Talking Points Memo into the Top 10 pivot with “Whole Foods boycott,” a blank screen appeared and did not go away.

The “who is covering what” section has potential, but it led me to terms like Metameme and Semantic Web. Huh? Not helpful.

I went back to the NYT. There I learned that Media Cloud intends to allow people to see who is writing about what, where, and when. So it will be a cyber version of journalism’s Ws. And the article explained a meme is “anything … that spreads by imitation from one person to another.” Memes even have their own follower, called, surprise! MemeTracker. From there I learned that “lipstick on a pig” had a usage curve during 2008 presidential campaign that looked kind of like the chart for the stock market last year, though the lipstick remark has continued to flat line.

And a metameme is a meme about memes. Oh my. And Semantic Web? My head is hurting, and I don’t think it’s the heat, so maybe we’ll visit that one another day.

But the bottom line is that I do appreciate what Media Cloud is doing and will check back with them in a few months.

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