Posts Tagged ‘cloud computing’

Storing Data in the Cloud Has Drawbacks

January 7, 2010



It’s not news to an old-timer like me who’s suspicious of all Internet services – especially “free” ones. See for example the posts on Google Public DNS and Google Wave. In the latter I list (most of) the Google services I use.

FTC LogoThe US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) document is at

Of course, as no less a person than Eric Schmidt says:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

That statement gave me the chills – but it is also a wake-up call to users worldwide. The amplification he gave is factually correct.

“But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time. And […] we’re all subject, in the US, to the Patriot Act, and it is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.”

His apparent assumption that people only require privacy if they are doing something scandalous or illegal is mind-boggling.

There are two types of information that I will keep in the cloud:

  1. Encrypted information where I hold the key.
  2. Information that I don’t mind if it gets plastered over the front pages of the New York Times and the Bangkok Post.

Anything else is held in encrypted storage using a tool that I trust: TrueCrypt.

Confusing Google Docs

November 28, 2009

Google DocsI have been experimenting with putting copies of some of my documents in the “cloud” using my free Google Docs account. Like most users I am starting with existing documents. Then later I’ll see how well it works to create and maintain documents using Google cloud applications.

I have a lot of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. They are not very advanced but contain things like statistics on my photo collection or the vehicle license plate systems for different countries. I’m not putting anything confidential into the cloud like financial or medical records nor anything that I cannot do without.

So far Google Docs have worked well for me and when I have tried editing I have been successful even with my lamentable internet connection from Bangkok.

I had one challenge that turned into an annoyance: Google Docs has a 1MB limit on the size of an uploaded Excel spreadsheet. It was very hard to find this out. I tried to upload a spreadsheet and invariably got a “Server Error”.

Google Docs Server Error

Google Docs Server Error

I thought that was due to communications problems so I tried again, and again, and again. But I always got the same error. I wondered if the file was corrupt. I opened the spreadsheet in Excel and had no problems. It didn’t use any advanced Excel features that could have confused a Google server.

Then I wondered if I was out of space in my Google Docs account. I could not find anywhere that said what the limit is. I was able to upload other documents like Adobe PDF files.

I tried uploading a recalcitrant spreadsheet to another Google Docs account. This time I got a useful error message:

Google Docs Upload Limit

Google Docs Upload Limit

Sorry this file is too big. We can only accept files up to 1MB in size.

Now you tell me! I suppose my other account was running under a different version of the server code.

I don’t know why Google Docs has this limit. It seems arbitrary. I read somewhere that I can upload a PDF file up to 10MB.

I wonder if Google software “reads” my documents and can present me with advertisements depending on the interests it finds therein. If they can do it with my Gmail account there’s no reason they could not do it with documents. So far I have not seen any ads in Google Docs but I bet it is only a matter of time.

It’ll Never Catch On

September 6, 2009

I wrote a fairly long post this morning about reading textbooks on mobile devices. I used the “Press This” feature of WordPress to start from an article on the NY Times web site.

But when I pressed “Save Draft” the tool complained that my post was blank. All the content got lost in the cloud and there was no way to retrieve it.

Very annoying.

If I compose on the WordPress site it saves drafts automatically. But apparently not when using “Press This”.

It’ll be a long time before Internet connections worldwide are reliable enough for critical work. In the mean time I’ll stick to client based applications for the stuff I cannot afford to lose.

Maybe the post will be better the second time I write it. I believe many established writers throw their first drafts away. Tools like this mean it is so easy for first drafts to get published. Perhaps draft destruction should be a standard feature.

Lost in the Cloud –

July 20, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor – Lost in the Cloud –

This is an interesting article by Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain about cloud computing.

I’m not ready to entrust my photos to the cloud yet. Quite possibly I never will be. I use Flickr and Picasa extensively but they are not the repository for my pictures. They are on an encrypted hard drive and some other places.

Professor Zittrain makes good observations about the security and accessibility of the cloud. I don’t think they’ll ever be completely solved.

I’m old enough to remember programming using punched cards. In my first job in ITT Business Systems (IDEC) in Cockfosters, London they were starting to convert from punched cards for the source of our software to storing it in a library on what IBM called DASD – Direct Access Storage Devices – aka Winchester Disks.

I recall the old timers did not trust the new fangled online systems. They kept their source backed up on punched cards – boxes and boxes of them. The biggest incovivenience was that a lab of about 50 engineers had to share a few IBM 3270 terminals. We were still meant to give our source written on coding sheets to data entry operators and the shared 3270s were meant for minor corrections.

As a young know-it-all straight out of university where we has used an ICL online system and ample Teletypes, I scorned the old timers. One sprinkler leak would turn all their cards to papier- mâché I chortled.

Now I am about the age of those old timers. Mike Ritman and Dave Butler, where are you now? Hopefully in a happy retirement. But I’m wondering if my attitude to keeping my photos on a hard drive or DVD that I can see and touch is akin to their attitude, 30 years on?