Can Cloud Computing Change Everything?

Question: What role do you see cloud computing playing in the future of computing?

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Jason Fried: So, cloud computing means a bunch of different things, but basically it means that the software you use isn’t on your own personal computer. It’s somewhere else, it could be anywhere. But you pretty much use it through a web browser or a mobile phone, or something. So, it’s all sort of – your data is stored somewhere else, the software that runs the service that you use is stored somewhere else. That’s pretty much what cloud computing is. And anyone who uses Gmail, or yahoo mail, an online bank. Like you’re using Stuff in the Cloud. You’re online bank isn’t on your own computer, you’re email stuff isn’t probably on your own computer. It’s in the clouds, that’s kind of what that means.

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So, it’s a technical terms for something that’s not really a huge deal, but it’s kind of a big shift and I think that more and more companies and more and more consumers and people, or whatever – I don’t like the word consumers, people. Companies and people even though it’s all people really will be using more cloud based things because it makes sense. Who wants to have to deal with software? Installing it, troubleshooting it, if you get a new computer – I remember eight years ago, or something, I’d get a new computer and I’d have to take a day off from work to move all my software over, reinstall everything. Now, literally, I got a new IMac recently and I was up and running in like 20 minutes because almost everything I use is somewhere else. I don’t have software on my computer very much anymore. I have like Photoshop and maybe a couple of things and a tech center, and that’s pretty much it. I use Base Camp, I use Gmail, and I use all these other things that are just out there. And so that’s a great thing because it removes the technology from things. People don’t have to worry about being a tech person or an IT person. And that’s great, especially for small companies who don’t have an IT staff and don’t want to have an IT staff. They just want to have someone else do the technical stuff and you can just use the service. So, I think it’s great.

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But not everything makes sense on the cloud either. Like, would Photoshop – I know there’s a web based version of Photoshop, but I don’t know why, I don’t know what the real advantage is. But things that are collaborative in nature, where you want to have one version of something. And maybe Photoshop this would make sense if you were working on something collaboratively, but like project management, your contacts all that stuff makes sense to have it in one place so you can get to it from any device at any time. That makes sense.

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Question: How do you evaluate the security risks associated with cloud computing?

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Jason Fried: So, I think there’s a bit of misperception about security. I think security is this perception thing more so than a reality thing. That’s not to say that security is not important or anything like that, it is important, but the idea that if you have something locally, it’s safer than if you have something out in the cloud. Like, I don’t buy that for a second and most people don’t back their computers up. Most people don’t do software patches on their operating system every day. Most people don’t have like –

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a lot of people still don’t have password protected WiFi. There’s so many things that people don’t have at home that would make it really easy for someone who is motivated to get into their own home network, or own home computer and take stuff right off their computer. But because they have it locally, they think it’s safer, it’s just not safer. You’re data is much safer probably on Google servers, or on our servers, or on any one of many companies servers who are reputable, who take security very seriously, who have servers behind biometrically locks and have like the latest patches on everything, have intense hardcore firewalls to keep malicious people out, who encrypts stuff. I mean, people at home don’t do this and a lot of small businesses don’t do this. They’re server is under the desk, and the cleaning guy comes in and he could probable take the computer home with him if they wanted. That’s not secure, but they think it is because it’s under their desk and they can kick it and feel it, but that’s not secure.

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So, I think that the cloud based computing with the reputable companies is significantly more secure than traditional desktop based computing. But it’s going to take people time to get over this and get used to it. Like, people are afraid of buying things online at one point, people were afraid of using online banks. People are afraid of a lot of things. But I’ll tell you what, you give your credit card to a waiter in a restaurant and they go into a back room with it. Like, they could be running copies, but if you buy something at Amazon, it’s pretty damned safe. Way safer than giving your credit card to somebody who you don’t know and then them going away with it. I mean, think about what that’s all about. But we’re comfortable with that because we’re used to it, but it’s not safer than buying something online.

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So, it’s just a matter of being realistic about these fears. I think it’s a cultural shift that’s just going to take time

The founder of 37signals defines cloud computing, its role in the future of computing, and the overblown anxiety around its security.

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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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