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Buzz Kill

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I saw a great sticker recently. It said the following: “It’s not ‘the cloud’ — it’s just someone else’s computer.”

The computer industry is not the only sector that’s awash with buzzwords. If you haven’t thought about that issue, just ask a financial planner about diversification, then stand back while they bury you with terms only they understand (we hope they do, anyway). But it does seem like a haven, if you will, for acronyms and buzzwords, often used to obscure the obvious.

On that note, I can’t count how many times that I’ve heard “the cloud” used to describe a great mythical beast where data goes to rest peacefully, that is somehow available only to you. As the sticker says, it’s really a computer (or actually a great server farm) that belongs to Microsoft or Google or whoever hosts. To think that companies provide this service as a humanitarian gesture to us all is naïve, at best.

Yes, it is used as a way to tie you in to their services, with the hope that you will buy something, if only additional storage space. But if you read their terms and conditions (go ahead, give it a try and see how long before your eyes glaze and your brain screams for mercy), you understand that they are going to mine it for all it’s worth to see if they can sell you something. Or sell you to someone who is selling something.

Read It ’n Scream

And that brings us to this decade’s biggest buzzword of all: “Big data.” If you’ve missed this one, count yourself as lucky; but if you’re in business, or in any field that would benefit from looking some to the future, you’ve been smothered by it.

Take, for example, this prediction, credited to Oracle by the India Infoline news service (and no, I don’t usually read posts from India, but one can enjoy following a thread): “While complex statistics may still be limited to data scientists, data-driven decision-making will not be. In 2016, simpler big data discovery tools will let business analysts shop for datasets in enterprise Hadoop clusters, reshape them into new mash-up combinations and even analyze them with exploratory machine learning technique. This will improve both self-service access to big data and provide richer hypotheses and experiments that drive the next level of innovation.”

O.K., how far did you get in that before you started searching for actual sentences you could understand or use? It managed to meld big data with “innovation” (last decade’s major buzzword) in an obscurity tornado.

What does it mean? As best I can tell, they’re saying that new programs will be developed that will allow you (and not just “data scientists”) to delude yourself into thinking that you can discover great insights by looking at vast heaps of data, perhaps even using “machine learning technique.” Throw in “mash-ups” (i.e., using stuff from all over) and “richer hypotheses” (even wilder wild guesses), and you’ve got a classic.

So where does all this “big data” come from?

Well, it can include information on, Google searches, Comcast’s and networks’ data on most-watched shows, advertising magazines’ analysis of Super Bowl ads or stuff from car manufacturers on most-bought colors. The biggest problem with most of it is that discovering what’s real, as data integrity, or knowing what came from a trusted, verified source, is increasingly difficult. We’re all familiar with how much we should trust “information” from the Internet (hint: not) by using big data, but without checking back on the source, this can be misleading at best and humiliating at worst.

If you’re being asked to move your company’s future, or even its advertising budget, in a given direction based on data analysis, perhaps the biggest question you could ask is, “Where did this data come from?” and “How much of it have you verified from another source?”

What a Waste

On a lighter note, let’s use some big data to look at some of the worst, or most ineffective, commercials of Super Bowl 50. According to USA Today’s Ad Meter, three of the top five worst commercials were from drug companies, probably telling you to “ask your doctor about KillzYou.” Indeed, links to two of them have been “removed by the user” from the newspaper’s website.

Perhaps they’re being a little sensitive. Maybe it was just a side effect, along with “occasional death.” Considering the cost of that airtime, not to mention the production costs, these could qualify as the biggest flushes of cash of the year.

That’s an appropriate metaphor, since one of them was for “opioid-induced constipation.”

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing, and does PC troubleshooting, network setups and data retrieval for small businesses — when not wondering how to include “mash-ups” in everyday conversations. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at cliff@feldwick.com. Older columns are available online at http://feldwick.com.