A retronym for non-Cloud Computing: Raindrop Computing

With the recent adulation (and blunders) of Cloud Computing, I’ve wonder what is a good name for plain old regular computing? Just as “acoustic guitar” was created to differentiate it from the new “electric guitar,” and “snail mail” is used to poke fun at the postoffice in the age of e-mail, there should be a retronym for non-Cloud Computing. How about “Raindrop Computing?”

Raindrops are the opposite of a cloud in many ways. Clouds transform into raindrops (and visa-versa via evaporation). In contrast to whispy ephemeral clouds, raindrops are tangible objects. Raindrops are tiny, but in combination they can carve mountains and valleys. At best, clouds can only provide some temporary shade.

Raindrop computing is any computing done on your own computer, either alone or combined with others raindrop computers. Typing a shopping list into a notepad application on your computer is raindrop computing, while entering the same list into Google Docs is cloud computing.

The Reddit social news site is an example of a cloud computing system that runs on Amazon’s Web Services computers. BitTorrent is a raindrop computing system forming a completely decentralized file storage system. A classic raindrop computing system is SETI@home (and its BONIC brethren), which harnesses the idle time of thousands of small raindrop computers to create a virtual supercomputer.

My Macintosh port of the W3C HTML Validator (Validator S.A.C.) is a good example of cloud vs raindrop. The W3C’s validator is a cloud computing service, while Validator S.A.C. is a straight port of the web service to a local application — a raindrop application. Both the service and application do the same thing, validate HTML, but the application version runs on your own Mac under your own control and avoids the network and privacy issues inherent in the cloud service.

Cloud computing seems to currently have the upper hand, but I’d bet it will be the raindrops that shape the computing landscape in the long run.

Pirates are Terrorists?

I was disapointed by the Beat the Press segment “Are they pirates? Or terrorists?” from WGBH‘s Greater Boston. The normally intelligent group of journalists manages to convince themselves that the Somali pirates should be described as “terrorists,” rather than pirates. This completely butchers the meaning of terrorist – someone who uses violence and intimidation to further a political goal. From all reports, it seems absolutely clear that the Somali pirates are not terrorist. Their only goal is ransom money. They have no political aims.

“Terrorist” has become a common epithet (like Captain Haddock‘s “Visigoths!“), but I would have expected seasoned journalists to defend the meaning of words, rather than distort them. I understand the motivation behind the segment. The word “pirate” has been so romanticized by movies and popular culture, that it seems too soft to describe real-life organized gangs of water-borne hijacking extortionists. However, the same problem applies to other romanticized words like mobster and cowboy, and the press manages to write about them without the need to mangle the language.

I don’t know of a perfect way to name these villains, but diluting the meaning of “terrorist” won’t help.

Pharmaco-Lexicography: the new phrase “Ask your prescriber”

I heard an intersting new phrase used in a drug commercial. American drug ads are highly formulaic (probably due to regulations), so they almost always end with the phrase “Ask your doctor if X is right for you.”

However, a recent Ambien CR TV ad used the phrase “ask your prescriber” instead of doctor. Apparently, the phrase has been in use since last year, and was the result of petitioning by nurse practitioners (who can also prescribe some drugs).

Of course, it could also be because the Lake Superior State University placed “Ask your Doctor” on its 2007 list of banished words, describing the phrase as “The chewable vitamin morphine of marketing.

Amusingly, another common phrase using “prescriber” is “prescriber profiling” – the practice of drug companies buying prescription data from pharmacies in order to customize sales pitches for individual doctors, and then track the effect of the promotions.