Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Retirement Issues - New Astronomy

The closer I get to retirement, the less I seem to be a fan of change. Don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to try new things, if they are cutting edge and provide something no one ever thought of before. Even better if they solve some problem I didn’t even know I had. What I don’t like is change for no defensible reason, or for no reason other than to line someone else’s pockets.

Not too long ago, I posted in this space about the new astrology, the results of which changed me from a Virgo to a Leo, and my husband from a Capricorn to a Sagittarius. I wasn’t happy about that change. I liked being the virgin with a spouse who was always the goat. Now I’ve discovered that I have to come to terms with the new astronomy, too.

There are, of course, two kinds of astronomy, the literal and the figurative. We all understand the figurative. On the show The Honeymooners, Ralph Cramden was always threatening to send Alice “to the moon.” Even as a child, I knew that was just a figure of speech. I didn’t expect to see Alice perched on a shining crescent in the sky one night. When I fell out of the tree I was climbing as a youngster, I said I saw stars, and when my first boyfriend finally kissed me, I was on cloud nine. No one took me literally.

When the figurative meaning of an astronomical reference changes, it doesn’t affect our lives much. But when astronomy changes literally, as it has recently, it takes some work to keep up. Case in point, you must have heard that Pluto was demoted from planet status to a dwarf in 2006. Those of us who had memorized the mnemonic MVEMJSUNP (My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas) had to come up with a new way to remember the order of the remaining eight. Something like: My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nincompoops. Not the best use of our time, in my opinion.

Sometimes the literal and the figurative overlap. For most of our lives, my brother-in-law and I rarely agreed on much. The older we get, however, the more we find ourselves nodding when the other says something. It’s confounding the rest of our family. Recently when he said something relatively conservative and I announced that I thought he was right, the entire roomful of relatives moved to the window in swarm-like fashion, to see if there was a bright star in the midday sky that they should follow somewhere. Their expectations were figurative, but the star they were looking for was literal. If the room had been a boat, it would have capsized.

Here’s another example that comes to mind, especially when we think of retirees. How many of us have friends who tell us they’re “heading to the sun?” They probably don’t mean they’ve reserved a spot on a Virgin Galactic space shuttle (though over 390 “astronauts” have done so already.) They are in fact heading closer to the sun, however, most likely to Florida for the winter, and probably to a condo that cost a bit more than the shuttle ticket’s $200,000.

Finally—and this is what prompted me to write this post—I return to my earlier spot on cloud nine. Turns out, people mean something very different now when they say they are going “to the cloud.” They mean it literally, or at least as literally as the friends who are heading to the sun. “Cloud” is a metaphor for the Internet, based on the symbol used to represent it. But it also refers to real services that are delivered literally over the Internet.

I decided to find out more about the new astronomy of the cloud. Here’s some of what I learned. It’s a general term for delivering hosted services over the Internet. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describes cloud computing as “enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources.”

You can go to the cloud even if you have no knowledge of where it is physically (What, it’s not up in the sky?) or how its system is configured. So all that Mac/PC/Linux nonsense goes away. (Sorry, admen.) All you need is your personal computer, a functioning web browser, and Internet access. This last item may be the biggest challenge any of us face in getting to the cloud.

As appealing as this sounds, I don’t think I’ll be going there anytime soon. You see, I also learned something scary about the cloud: it can be public. In my mind, I’m back on my comfortable spot on cloud nine. I can tell you this: no way on God’s green acre do I want anything there to be shared publicly. If I wanted the whole world to have access to what I’m doing on my cloud, I’d post it on Facebook. Simply put, WHOCNSOCN. (What Happens On Cloud Nine, Stays On Cloud Nine.)

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