living in the cloud

“A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard”

“You can call me Al”
Paul Simon

so lately,  the big idea among the nerds I hang out with at work has been the concept of “cloud computing.”  This is the idea — not new, really, but starting to gain some momentum (and moving from vaporware to real applications) that data (and increasingly, processes to act upon the data) serves us best when it exists, not in one place, but smeared out over many machines, distributed across the net, accessible from anywhere….Google is a good example of computing in the cloud. You cannot point to any one server where Google’s document index “exists” — it’s spread out massively — which is why it works so well.
Of course, cloud computing is a more complex concept than I’ve expressed here — computer geeks feel like they aren’t earning their keep if they keep things simple — but at it’s core it’s a fairly simple idea, and a very powerful one.  Thanks to pioneers in cloud computing like Amazon.com, the average person soon will have access — or already does, in some cases — to computing horsepower that was unimaginable in the hands of anyone but superpower governments not that long ago.  Thanks to cloud storage of data, our class list was not lost when my home server crashed a few months ago — because I happen to store a copy of our mailing list “in the cloud” as well, just in case something like that happens.
I’m not usually well prepared.  Chalk it up to a Boy Scout moment, I guess.
So what’s cloud computing got to do with anything?  Well, probably not much.  But humor me…
Anyway, yesterday I attended a fun little “neighborhood reunion” — a gathering of a bunch of us who, as kids, grew up ina neighborhood off of Upper Ridge Road in south Everett WA, back in the 1970’s. (the linked map, btw, is only about half of the kids — I just don’t have addresses for the remainder). The neighborhood back then was much more rural than it is today — “sub-rural” I guess you’d call it because it was in the suburbs but bordered on undeveloped land that has since become the Boeing 747 plant and the surrounding industrial ecosystem.
I mentioned this group of people — a surprising number of whom were in the Class of 1976 — in a post on this blog a few weeks back in case this is starting to sound familiar.
by the way: here they are:


from left:  Dick Nichols (Class of ‘76); Gemma Bell (Class of ‘77); Bill Butner (Class of ‘78);
Brad Meacham (Class of ‘76); Kellee Snyder-Saunders (Class of ‘77); Les White (Class of ‘76)

Most of us hadn’t seen one another for 30 years or more, but growing up, we saw each other daily, hanging out at the bus stops together, playing pick-up games of soccer or football in Apker’s field (across from Darli Lund’s house, btw) all summer, riding our bikes through the woods, playing hide-n-seek in the dark ’til 11 p.m., then playing penny-ante poker ’til dawn. We stood up at one another’s weddings, graduated from high school together (not necessarily in that order), had lives that were tightly connected.
Sometimes we got in fights.
You get over it.  30 years will do that.
This shared history was certainly no surprise — we had a rare opportunity as kids to grow up in a neighborhood where most of us moved into our homes in elementary school, and stayed in the same place for the next 10 or 12 years.
A few of our number STILL live in the old neighborhood, in houses that once belonged to our parents.

But there were surprises to be had:  As we recounted stories and searched our middle-aged memories for names and places and dates, it was striking to realize how much of “self” is not stored in our minds, but smeared out across all those we know –  maybe especially so those who we grew up with, were close to. The mere mention of a name, the recollection of an incident as small as the tossing of a snowball, would quickly lead to a whole flood of long-forgotten associations, of things we had forgotten about ourselves, but that others had held on to.

I’d say it was magical, if I believed in magic.

Oh hell, it was magic, even if I don’t believe.

And it was interesting to see how much of who we are is NOT self-defined, not really:  for all the “me generation” talk of self actualization, of defining one’s own reality — in some ways, it seems to me that who we are doesn’t belong exclusively to us.
Rather, it’s smeared out in the cloud –little pieces tucked away in dozens of memories and lives we’ve touched — constantly being processed, being selectively remembered, reshaped, and reprocessed into something that’s really a lot larger than our own selfish notions of who we are….

Maybe this is where the concept of  karma comes from, of the golden rule….of doing unto others….ideas that reflect our essential interdependence on one another.
Not just interdependence for sustenance, or well-being — but for preserving our very identities — our memories of who we are, who we were.
Almost makes the idea of holding on to those memories of old friends seem like a moral imperative, doesn’t it?
Well, pardon the rant — I am not a particularly deep thinker — as those of you who ARE have figured out long ago.  Just passing along some random thoughts that ran through my mind as I drove home from giving a lecture at the UW this morning, on a wondeful, sunny Seattle day.

Deconstruct them as you wish.
In other, miscellaneous news:
- I had a very enjoyable coffee break with Shawn Hicks a couple of weeks ago — he was kind enough to meet me in downtown Seattle as I was on my way to a meeting.  We probably talked more in two hours than we did in 4 years of high school, but it was surprising how easy it is to strike up a conversation with someone who you share so many common links with.  By the way, Shawn sent me a very special gift following our meeting.  Thanks, Shawn.
- Added several people to the mailing list, including Trula [Hagedorn] Cha,  Donna [Lacy] Lemmon, Sherryl Gene’ Conklin-Holeman (who may win the contest for the longest last name in our class), Terry McStott, Darli Lund and Marion Sogn.
- A REMINDER:  Mariner High Alumni Association Dinner and Auction to benefit the Alumni Association scholarships for MHS students is Friday, May 8.  If you plan on attending, please drop me a line — trying to get a fix on how many people from our class plan on attending.

- A NAG:  if you’re aware of anyone who would like to be added to this list, please have them contact me.  We’re up to nearly 100 people from the Class of 1976 now — double what we had prior to the 30th reunion in 2006.  Most of that is thanks to you guys, ratting out….er, suggesting to your friends that they join the list.

I’m heading to San Francisco May 2-7 for the National Environmental Partnership Summit, so if any of you are living down in the Bay area, and would like to get together, drop me a line.   Will be in the Rosslyn VA/Washington D.C. area May 24-25, so likewise if you live in the D.C. area.

until next time,

Scott “Insomnia is my middle Name” Butner
MHS Class of 1976
living/working in Richland WA

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