Adrift in a world of clouds

I've been floating in the clouds pretty much all year. It started with the final days of 2010, actually, as my plane descended through the clouds above Lima, Peru, to deposit me on the Pacific shores of South America. 

After a week acclimatizing to the southern weather and fending off my first bout of food poisoning, I found myself floating through the clouds again en route to Iquitos, Peru, one of the most isolated cities in the world.

The interesting thing is I was reading an article on cloud computing. Although I'm moderately computer savvy, I had never heard the term before, so naturally it piqued my interest.

I struggled through the Spanish text, only occasionally turning to the following two pages for the English translation, and although the words and sentences made sense, the idea was still as nebulous as — well — a cloud.

What I managed to figure out is that information, programs and a bunch of other electronic stuff are just out there ... floating around like clouds. Basically, anyone can hop on one, then bounce on over to another one without ever touching the ground.

Reading that story made my brain hurt so I flipped to a travel article as the pilot took us back through the cloud layer on our descent into the jungle.

I went about my merry way, hoping the clouds wouldn't unleash the worst the rainy season had to offer. Fortunately they did not and I floated — this time on the waters of the Amazon and Marañon rivers — back to civilization.

A few weeks later, I found myself literally standing on top of a layer of clouds looking down from the second highest peak on the Inca Trail, preparing to descend the following day into the cloud forest that lies outside the historic ruins of Machu Picchu.

Battling through a few more bouts with the stomach crud and witnessing some other amazing sights along the way, I made it back to Lima for a grueling four-leg bounce through the clouds that landed me back at Port Columbus.

I had forgotten all about the cloud computing thing until I went out cell phone shopping.

And despite my best efforts in recent years to avoid the whole smart phone thing, I broke down, bought an Android and signed up for the data package. What I didn't realize is that I also joined the cloud computing club. I didn't have to go through any ritual and I don't have to carry a card I can swipe for discounts, but yep, I joined the club.

I unwittingly bounced onto my first cloud when I pulled up the map and it showed me I was on U.S. Route 33 just east of Marysville. From there, I bounced on to my first free game — Stupid Zombies, a super sweet sniper game in which you get to blast the heads off the walking dead.

Now when I look at the sky on a cloudless night, I can pull up my Google Sky Map and identify which constellations I'm looking at.

And I started asking myself how can all this information fit onto this teeny-tiny computer I carry in my pocket. A few years ago, I heard Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour make a comment that a computer the size of the convention room he was speaking in that day couldn't do half what these handheld devices do at that time. He certainly hit that one into the clouds.

And thinking back on that statement and that article, it all came together. It's not here on the computer ... it's up there ... in the clouds.

It was the click of the final piece of the puzzle in my tile game app sliding into place. All these apps they're not even on the phone. They're in the clouds.

When I look back at the old Commodore 64 I used to play incredibly uncomplicated video games that were stored on cassette tapes, I get a laugh. I couldn't even begin to imagine how many tapes a game like Stupid Zombies or Angry Birds would require. But now, they require nothing — no tapes, no discs, no wire to the wall ... just a nebulous web of clouds floating somewhere out there in the electronic ether.

Reuben Mees is an Examiner staff writer, recent traveler of Peru and newly converted smart phone junkie. He can be reached by e-mail (goes straight to the smart phone) at