Author Archives: Jeff Norman

Cloud Apps of the Week: What You’ll Want for the New Year

Cloud Apps of the Week: What You’ll Want for the New Year

Cloud Apps of the Week: What You’ll Want for the New Year

As we close out 2011, here’s some information on a few last-minute applications that are sure to improve how you experience twenty twelve.

Animoto

Every season of winter holidays provides an avalanche of fodder that only an attractive video can capture best. But what to do if you haven’t won an Oscar for best editing?

Turn to Animoto, an app that seamlessly creates vivid slideshows for the technologically challenged. Via the cloud, Animoto stores its customers’ videos for them to access from any device. Comparisons between this app and giants of cloud computing business, like Netflix or Dropbox, should end there. Yet Animoto’s founders have replicated these services’ subscription schemes. Though they can create a slideshow for free, more frequent users of Animoto can develop an endless stream of videos starting at $5 monthly. 2012 will reveal if customers are willing to cough up cash en masse for this admittedly catchy app.

Waze

At its worst, cloud computing is condemned by critics for its still sometimes leaky strategy for user security and data protection. Yet nothing trounces the cloud when it comes to harnessing existent information and distributing it to all. GPS app Waze wins on all fronts here: it gathers local information on cities and invites users to add their unique content to that data, without infringing on the privacy of their identities.

Waze is a user-generated application that passively collects data about roads, traffic, and local maps as a driver motors about. All the user need do is have Waze open on their phone while driving, and the application will reroute the motorist away from traffic jams and other hassles along the road. The data used to create such recommendations comes from other Waze users driving nearby. Users can also tweet their location and road conditions via Waze. An ideal app to have handy when navigating the inclement unpredictables of winter weather.

Hojoki

Fetch your cloud computer app cauldron. Pour in your favorite applications — Dropbox, GetHub, Twitter, Evernote, and more. Stir together. Bippity, boppity, boo. What concoction have you created? Hojoki, the integration app that streamlines all of the web-borne activity for a group of users.

The idea of a collaboration interface is certainly not new. Yet it was about time that a cloud app rolled in that would synchronize use of disparate other programs in real-time — a feat that Hojoki achieves swimmingly.
So broad has been this app’s reach that it recently opened in Paris, via “Le Web,” in public beta form. This application looks to make this technology that much more accessible for cloud-phobic users in 2012.

By Jeff Norman

Spend This Christmas In the Cloud!

Spend This Christmas In the Cloud!

Christmas comes but once a year. But cloud computing brings us merry joy the whole year long. These two enormous forces in our community — the holidays and the ever-helpful cloud — will finally meet at a crossroads this Sunday.

Instead of dreaming about cloudy stocking stuffers, why not make your progressive technology dreams come to life for you this year? Here are three festive ways that cloud computing can upgrade your annual celebration from family-overkill bearable to fa-la-la-la beautiful.

Show Off Your Ugly Christmas Sweater!

How could it be Christmas without vacuuming away the mothballs from your prettiest, kitchiest holiday sweater? If you’re a true ghastly garment aficionado, cloud computing could help you win prizes for your ugly-awesome wardrobe. Young & Free St. Louis is staging an Ugly Sweater Contest via an ad hoc Facebook app. Snap a photo and upload it to the app’s cloud storage. A wince-worthy winner will be picked after December 22.

Buy Everything on Your Wish List — On the Cheap

Nothing aggravates me more about the holiday season than how easily I overspend. Sure, there’s tons of family and friends to spoil with cute presents. But it upsets me that bringing them joy means bringing my bank balance too close to zero, every year. Not this time, though! I’m using Pongr Beta, an application which stores pricing info for hundreds of great holiday items in its server. I simply snap a pic of the barcode for my favorite Christmas trinket, and Pongr pins down the best places for me to find it for as little dough as possible — either online or in a store. Wonderful!

Defeat the Gingerbread Man, Dodge the Eggnog

Dieters, duck! There is no more dangerous season for your physique than the fat-laden, carbs-packing, sedentary-lifestyle-celebrating tradition that is Christmas. If you’ve been a very good girl or boy this year, eating healthily in anticipation of holiday poundage, gorge away by all means. But I never make it off the naughty list; I eat sinfully the whole year through. This Christmas, however, I have a secret weapon: My Net Diary. The application maintains a food journal for me to track my calories. Its Instant Food Entry makes it so easy for me to add each of my Christmas meals to the app with a snap. The better to keep my holiday gluttony in check, and my mission for fitness on the rails.

By Jeff Norman

Cloud Computing on Capitol Hill

Cloud Computing on Capitol Hill

Wars. Feuds between world leaders. The frozen-in-motion bull of Wall Street, and the solemn Washington Mall on Capitol Hill. Clouds from nature elegantly rise above it all. They’re too occupied with floating to tend to the political dramas taking place beneath them.

For better or worse, the cloud formed by gifted human ingenuity might be lassoed down to Earth’s governmental concerns sooner than we think.

The White House’s current Chief Information Officer, Steven VanRoekel, has spearheaded Washington’s move into the assets of cloud computing. On December 8, VanRoekel announced the Obama Administration’s plans to integrate substantially more cloud-computing services into standard governmental operations.

This move to the cloud is happening via FedRAMP, or the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, described as a “government-wide program” whose aim is the constant “monitoring of cloud products and services.”

It looks as if Congress is also on board with VanRoekel’s dreams to enter the cloud. It passed a 2012 defense bill this past week, which will require the Pentagon to form a plan of action to shift the majority of its data to cloud-computing resources, in the spirit of condensing and fortifying its information. Such consolidation will need to happen by the 1st of April.

The controversy of involving the government in the cloud begins with issues of security. As professionals well versed in the cloud community deeply understand, cloud computing has yet to completely evade any and all threats of security breaches. That holds true for those of us whose data is not even nearly as sensitive or impactful as, say, the storied files of the Pentagon.

Yet this unprecedented gesture of welcome to cloud computing, on behalf of the government, could also reverberate into the goings-on of several of the cloud’s most elite juggernaut organizations. The Big Three — Microsoft, Amazon, and Google — may eventually be approached by Uncle Sam with a cloud supply contract that Capitol Hill initiates.

Such a move could be interpreted as a formal shaking of the hands from one powerful entity in the world, Washington and its representatives of the American public, to another, cloud computing and its equally sizable reach to the people in this country.

Yet the government’s increasing surveillance and interaction with cloud computing could also spell trouble for the freedom inherent to the technology. Political maneuverings are the bread and butter of Capitol Hill. It’s likely that Amazon and the like have already been approached by zealous lobbyists to forge some pork-lined alliance. If the government started to regulate the cloud to ward off such interactions, could cloud computing withstand the blow?

I’m getting ahead of myself, however. For now, the cloud is only serving as a polite, expansive gatekeeper for governmental data. We’ll keep you readers updated on how this development progresses, with fingers crossed for the cloud’s best interest.

By Jeff Norman

Cloud Apps of the Week: From College to Cancer Cures

Cloud Apps of the Week: From College to Cancer Cures

Cloud Apps of the Week: From College to Cancer Cures

Matchbox

An erstwhile venture capitalist and experienced college admissions officer in might have just revolutionized the pursuit of higher education, via the cloud.

As a staff member of the MIT Sloan School of Management’s admissions team, Stephen Marcus experienced firsthand the vexing process of reviewing applications for prospective candidates. He invented Matchbox out of his Matchbox corrals and streamlines the data associated with a college application; the application makes data easily accessible on an iPad, widely used by on-the-go admissions pros. The infinite space in the cloud allowsMatchbox to perform this action for every student that applies to a particular school. Before Matchbox, MIT Sloan admissions folk waded through 30 printed paper pages of information per application. vexation with the process.

MIT Sloan receives more than 5,000 applications a year. That’s a sea of paper to wade through monotonously, and forests of trees to mourn.
Matchbox significantly slashes the amount of paper associated with the application process. Wondrously, it also shortens and unscrambles the experience of analyzing an applicant for MIT Sloan suitability. Admissions officers buoyed by Matchbox will find it easier to greet each application with a fresh outlook.

Admissions professionals can subscribe to Matchbox for $200 monthly. Helmsman Marcus plans to widen Matchbox’s reach beyond just MIT Sloan (and also UCLA’s Anderson School of Management) to include other business schools, undergraduate offerings, and similar locales of higher education. Schools looking to impress desirable students with their technological prowess should move on Matchbox before the next application cycle.

Visit: Matchbox Site

SIPP from IBM

The National Institutes of Health has joined forces with IBM to simplify and energize what is a tedious yet essential process for medical researchers: sifting through reams of data to find chemical properties that could revolutionize drug research.

The NIH-IBM collaboration has resulted in SIPP, the Strategic IP Insight Platform, which harnesses IBM’s Smart Cloud software-as-a-service offering. SIPP essentially fuels medical professionals’ search through patents and scientific journals for important chemical structures, existing cancer treatments, and products aimed at consumers.

SIPP’s data encompasses more than 30 million patents and scientific publications produced since 1976. Scientists can upload new findings from their research directly to SIPP’s database through the cloud. In a nifty move, every new piece of chemical information maps out to relevant synonyms and related cases.

Storied medical institutions, such as those of Stanford and UC Berkeley have already employed the SIPP app to successful effect. Yet these are hardly the only collegiate institutions to fish the steady stream of cloud applications for a new and important use.

By Jeff Norman

China and the Cloud: Revising Culture to Reap New Business

China and the Cloud: Revising Culture to Reap New Business

Access your information from anywhere.” This is one of the primary tenets of marketing for cloud computing — entice consumers with the freedom to work, or play, wherever they roam. Selling such expansiveness should hit a snag in a nation that underscores authoritarian control, like — as if you couldn’t guess — China.

New-fangled ideas about liberating people, inherent to the cloud’s nature, wouldn’t appear likely to score a home run in the People’s Republic. Yet in fact, cloud computing has ignited China’s never-ending need to be number-one. Last time, it was the Olympic Games; this round sees them aiming to make their IT community the envy of the world. Pity that China’s IT budget pales in comparison to that of America. We outspend the aspiring superpower by a ratio of roughly 6 billion to 1. Yet China compensates for what it lacks in financing with sheer resourcefulness.

Plans are afoot to construct an entire city powered by cloud computing, to be unimpressively christened “Cloud Valley.” IBM has partnered with Chinese firm Range Technology to mount the project by the year 2016. China apparently sees the cloud’s worth in reducing energy costs and maximizing efficiency. Yet this seems hypocritical when one considers how large the city will sprawl — more than 6 million square feet, rivaling the Pentagon’s sweep.
How to uphold China’s primary ethos: build big yet spend little? Realizing that penny-pinching won’t fit the bill for excellence, the nation has decided to shell out the necessary dough, in truth, because cloud computing cushions several of China’s core values.

Stateside cloud centers stand on transparency. They involve public servers that are independently operated. Yet China values intellectual sequestration above all. Its endeavors into the cloud will remain decidedly insular, cloaked in the country’s now-trademark protectionist tendencies: it will employ a private network, and the government will likely monitor the cloud’s data centers.

But you can’t bottle sunshine, and battening down the hatchets around the cloud is fairly impossible too — even for China. The cloud is actually challenging the country to rethink its moral boundaries, in the spirit of business.
China will partly dismantle its infamous Internet censorship scheme, nicknamed “The Great Firewall,” for certain companies in its cloud that it deems worthy.

China has also undernourished its technological community, yet the cloud might provide the shot in the arm it needs. To jump-start “Cloud Valley,” Beijing company heads will outsource their services to IT organizations throughout Southeast China.

China will heavily rely on talent educated and experienced abroad to staff its cloud city. This might be the most noteworthy move China is making out of its comfort zone, by the hand of the cloud. Cloud computing is an American revolution; China’s primary partner in this, IBM, is Yankee all the way. Bringing in cloud-ready professionals groomed in American universities and companies is a white-flag-raising gesture. It essentially admits that the West is superior in education and technology, no matter how China begrudges that fact.

If you can’t beat ’em, they say, join ’em. Such a phrase can’t hold entirely true for China, however. Though the nation might skip hand in hand with American resources to build its own cloud, we anticipate that the People’s Republic will eventually attempt to dominate the global IT community.

China will have to surmount cultural arrogance and learn from the cloud’s inclusiveness in order to do so. Stay tuned.

By Jeff Norman

Ready For My Closeup, Mr. DeMille: the Cloud and Stardom

Ready For My Closeup, Mr. DeMille: the Cloud and Stardom

Ready For My Closeup, Mr. DeMille: the Cloud and Stardom

The marriage of technology and celebrity has produced several happy unions throughout the history of popular culture. The most recent affair features a delightfully polygamous relationship between directors John “Titanic” Cameron and Martin “Mean Streets” Scorsese with the resurgence of 3-D film. After Cameron’s all-time hit of “Avatar,” the latter prestigious auteur answered with “Hugo,” a three-dimensional love letter of a film to cinema itself.

Both pop-out-of-the-screen projects have attracted Oscar buzz.

Buzzing around Tinseltown as of late is a new appreciation of cloud computing, and its potential contribution to the superstar crop.

Lesly Kahn & Company, a major Hollywood acting school, made web headlines for its switch to the cloud. After years of regular technological snafus, cloud computing has streamlined LK & C’s operation. Described as “1,000 times more efficient,” the school has vastly improved how well it communicates notes and analyses on its acting students and their work. A future Cate Blanchett groomed at LK & C could fulfill her promise that much sooner, thanks to the school’s empowered ability to track her growth and steer her in directions that will challenge her technique — all thanks to the cloud.

Actors aspiring to cinematic greatness ought to take a lesson from Michelle Williams, the popular Hollywood starlet whose current role as Marilyn Monroe is courting significant Academy Award attention. Monroe arguably stands as pop culture’s flagship icon; playing her would prove no easier than interpreting Elvis Presley, James Brown, or Cher.

An incredibly studious actress, Williams recognized the need for extensive preparation. One of her most important educational tools: YouTube, probably cloud computing’s greatest success so far. The more obscure videos likely provided Williams with examples of Marilyn at her most authentic.

Future actors should keep abreast of the latest cloud applications, if only to find the next website or program that can help them find truthful inspiration for their roles.

Actors, alongside the other major populations of the film industry, should also prick up their ears at the sound of a hugely important new development in cinema: the forthcoming movie deal between Apple and Hollywood studios.

Film execs have grimaced for years over the extent to which piracy has decimated their profits; instead of heading to cineplexes, folks can easily wait out a movie’s release in favor of bootlegging an internet copy a few months — or weeks — later.

Apple’s dominance, in particular, presents a supreme opportunity to bridle the Web’s free distribution of popular movie titles. For future Hollywood stars, this development could mean a shift away from just creating films and into larger positions of salesmanship.

Celebrity smiles can entice people into theaters, Hollywood would hope, better than a blank-faced computer screen. More beautiful, charismatic, or balls-to-the-wall loony performers may be favored in the future for this reason: there’s something about them that gets the public to pay attention, and pay for their movies.

By Jeff Norman

Women and Cloud Computing, Part I: Is There a “Cloud” Ceiling?

Women and Cloud Computing, Part I: Is There a “Cloud” Ceiling?

I’ve deemed this article as “Part One” in a series of posts on this topic for several reasons. Firstly, the conversation of women in technology is far too expansive for one single post. Secondly, there are scores of women in cloud computing who deserve a feature of their own. Look to hear about many of them in the New Year.

Not to rehash an argument as old as time, but it occasionally bears repeating: the glass ceiling has vexed many a qualified woman over the decades, limiting her rise to the upper echelons of her industry because of her gender. The technological community has proven no better for the fairer sex, unfortunately.

The computer world has always been a boy’s club. Trying to name a significant female pioneer in the community induces a head scratch or two. But cloud computing is all about inclusiveness: maintaining a stockpile of information in the worldwide swimming pool we call the Web.

Could the cloud offer opportunities to women to demonstrate leadership that other technological avenues have not?

The Cloud Network of Women unflinchingly believes it can. This “non-profit consortium of the leading women in cloud computing” has blazed a path for womanhood and progressive technology in a way that other such organizations have failed to do.

Among its ranks are Jocelyn DeGance Graham, among the most powerful women in IT, and EKKO Consulting Partner Becky Swain. Die-hard feminists will object to the presence of a man in the midst of such impressive ladies: HyperStratus CEO Bernard Golden serves on CloudNOW’s advisory board.

I personally don’t chafe that Bernard’s on board. Unfortunately, technology — including new iterations like cloud computing — is a primarily male community. Having a man on board makes CloudNOW’s commendable mission of female tech empowerment more palatable. What’s more, the fact that Golden is a true “cloud guru” legitimizes CloudNOW with his expertise.

Yet men don’t need such an organization to galvanize their creativity and bottom-line production of useful technologies. Here’s a secret: women don’t either.

Laurie Spitz has helmed dietSNAPS, an iPhone app that documents every meal you eat with a picture: the dietary information is all stored in the cloud. Lisa Gordon ensures you’ll never forget a face with NameCatcher, an app that keeps track of names and information of everyone you meet. Most heartening for the women tech community, Gordon claims that even more ideas for apps are in the pipeline.

Women don’t need to masquerade as Ariana Huffington in order to achieve meaningful accomplishments in technology. Whereas their male counterparts concentrate on devices that will reap huge profits and power, women in technology are instead focusing on ways that computers, the Web, and applied science can improve the world: how we eat, how we communicate, how we lift one another up.

Feminist-hating men might deride all this as syrupy Kumbaya drivel. Yet women know better. The cloud, and other developments that help people come together, will usher in the next tech revolution. Don’t be surprised if a lady ends up leading the way.

By Jeff Norman

With the Cloud, Celebrities Push Past the Paparazzi

With the Cloud, Celebrities Push Past the Paparazzi

As the year that was 2011 begins to dwindle down, junkets everywhere begin to mount their best-of lists, countdowns, and other types of sentimental compilations. CloudTweaks is not immune to these articles that summarize a year sweetly; in how they reassure us that a meaningful year has passed, these lists entertain us. But my annual recap begins with a deeper look at our other rich source of yearly entertainment: celebrities, particularly those who took to, or tangled with, the cloud this year. Here are three that immediately come to mind.

Richard Branson

The Virgin mogul has had a rougher year than usual, what with his family home on Necker Island burning to the ground. But every successful businessperson has a phoenix that lurks within him or her. And Branson’s fiery bird has yet to touch ground; if anything, it’s angled upward at the cloud.

Virgin Airlines, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Balloon Flights — what will this man NOT touch? All evidence points to Branson smudging his hands on the video game community as well with — you guessed it — Virgin Gaming. This latest enterprise wields cloud computing to create a subscription-based virtual arcade, where players can access several popular titles and win cash for their efforts.

Virgin Gaming has yet to trend on the same level as Branson’s bigger hits. But let’s give it time. Not even an inferno can stop this juggernaut from daydreaming in the clouds.

Justin Timberlake

The former lead boy-band heartthrob has only one melodic word on his mind as of late: diversification. Since bringing sexy back, Timberlake has won an Emmy for putting his “dipstick” in a box and generated faint Oscar buzz for a dramatic turn in “The Social Network.” Fans everywhere lament that he has not picked up a mike, or headed to a studio, since bringing Sexyback to us nearly SIX years ago.

But his latest cloud-inclusive endeavor into the music scene should help us all breathe a bit easier.

Timberlake wants to take over MySpace, the original social media giant that Twitter and Facebook later trampled. The crooner seeks to return it to its roots: MySpace was intended to galvanize members of Los Angeles’ music scene before it aimed at world domination. Essentially, Timberlake wants to re-brand the social network as the Twitter-Book of the music industry.

A naïf in business and technology, Timberlake will need to seriously study MySpace’s formidable roots in cloud computing, should he ever get his dream off the ground. Memo to you, Justin: we’d appreciate a new album to groove to, while you’re realizing your “Space’s” potential.

Lady Gaga

The cloud computing scandal of the year is resoundingly awarded to Mother Monster.

Early in 2011, Gaga’s new album “Born This Way” opened to massive sales of more than one million strong. But when sold for less than one dollar, selling a disc by a popular artist is a cinch. Amazon, via its Cloud Drive Service, allowed units of “Way” to be sold at 99 cents for one day.

Such a hit was this move that Amazon’s Cloud Drive crashed. Those who purchased Gaga’s disc couldn’t download it. Disgruntled, many fans wished they had coughed up the $12 that iTunes demanded for the same CD — if only to actually hear the music they paid for.

The idea that the cloud can let you hear your music, anywhere and anytime, is a smart and attractive one. But the idea also mandates a major overhaul, if Amazon aspires to develop customer loyalty.

Billboard instated a new pricing policy to curb the inflated sales Amazon encouraged with this faulty move. Gaga herself has remained mum on it all, but we think she’s a smart cookie. Let’s hope that she’ll avoid a Bad Romance, such as this one with Amazon and a poorly managed cloud, in the future.

By Jeff Norman

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