Google took its two newest steps on the march toward world domination this week, first rolling out a feature that lets people make free phone calls from Gmail, and then introducing real-time searching of fast-updating information, like tweets.
The first initiative is off to a hot start. Gmail users placed more than a million phone calls through Google on the service’s first day Wednesday.
Calling from within Gmail, by contrast, requires nothing more than installing a small plug-in program (available for Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.4 or newer and some versions of Linux) and logging into Gmail. Click the “Call phone” link to the left of your inbox, type in a number, click the big blue “Call” button and things proceed as if you had just finished spinning a Bell System phone’s rotary dial [Washington Post].
Scientists have cranked through the numbers and determined that no matter how you mangle a Rubik’s Cube, if you’re doing it right you can theoretically solve the puzzle in 20 moves or fewer. By doing it right, we mean doing it like a supercomputer: Researchers tapped Google’s spare computing power to burn through the Cube’s 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 starting positions.
Even given Google’s processing power, the team–which included a mathematician, a Google engineer, a math teacher, and a programmer–could not solve the problem using brute force alone. They had to take all the starting positions and divide them into more manageable chunks, 2.2 billion smaller groups called “corsets,” which Google’s computers could solve simultaneously.
“The primary breakthrough was figuring out a way to solve so many positions, all at once, at such a fast rate,” says Tomas Rokicki, a programmer from Palo Alto, California, who has spent 15 years searching for the minimum number of moves guaranteed to solve any configuration of the Rubik’s cube. [New Scientist]
Yesterday, Google and Verizon posted their joint policy proposal for internet regulation. The proposal suggests a legislative framework for Congress regarding our current “open internet.” An open internet means all bits are treated the same: internet service providers process every internet content provider’s information at the same speed–YouTube or Hulu, Wikipedia or Britannica. Though the Google Verizon plan is titled “a joint policy proposal for an open Internet,” it leaves some internet neutrality champions concerned; the plan does not address wireless service regulation and allows exceptions to the open internet standard for special broadband services.
We’ll break down the possible implications of this move, but first, a briefing on the basics.
What is an example of an alternative to our open internet? Internet content providers could pay more to get their information to you more quickly–like paying for a plane ticket instead of taking the bus. Since October of 2009, Verizon and Google have issued a shared statement of principles, submitted a joint filing to the FCC, and published a joint op-ed on net neutrality. But after talks between the two companies, a New York Times article and others asked if Google–a self-proclaimed proponent of net neutrality–might pay Verizon to get information to users more quickly, thus ending our net neutral system.
In April, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC–which can regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable–cannot regulate the way internet service providers conduct business. So instead the FCC, which has said it’s in favor of the current open internet, invited major internet players to a series of meetings to devise an agreement. But after weeks of private meetings, talks seem to be breaking down:
The F.C.C. in recent weeks has been trying to negotiate its own agreement in a series of private meetings with a group of big Internet service and content companies, including Google and Verizon, to ensure net neutrality. But the agency canceled a session scheduled for Thursday after the reports of the Google-Verizon talks. [An FCC spokesman] said in a statement that the effort “has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet, one that drives innovation, investment, free speech and consumer choice.” [New York Times]
Yesterday, Google announced on their official blog that they’re pulling the plug on Google Wave–an emailing, instant messaging, and picture-sharing progeny, that allowed users to communicate real-time to share documents, videos, and what they had for lunch. If you haven’t heard of Google Wave, first announced last May, you’re not alone. That’s one reason Urs Hölzle, Google Senior Vice President for Operations, cites for the Wave’s demise:
Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. [Google]
But why didn’t more folks ride the Wave? We’ve gathered some opinions.
Kamil crater, at only about 150 feet wide and 50 feet deep, may not break any size records–but what the Egyptian crater lacks in range it makes up for with cleanliness. In an paper published yesterday in Science, researchers say that its “pristine” impact, spotted in 2009 during a Google Earth survey, makes the crater an ideal model to understand similar impacts.
The best place to see a clean crater? Rocky or icy planets without an atmosphere. Earth’s weather quickly erodes a crater’s structures, making it difficult to determine how exactly a meteorite struck. The Kamil crater, study leader Luigi Folco says, has avoided this fate:
“This crater is really a kind of beauty because it’s so well-preserved that it will tell us a lot about small-scale meteorite impacts on the Earth’s crust…. It’s so nice. It’s so neat. There is something extraordinary about it.” [Space.com]
The world’s largest search engine and the world’s most populous country traded barbs and threats this spring when Google said it might leave the country over the Chinese government’s Internet censorship. That fight cooled to a simmer over the last few months. Today, Google announced on its official blog that China has renewed its content provider license, further defusing the tension between the two.
Google has been waiting to hear back from Chinese authorities about its ICP license since the company filed for its renewal last week. The company’s license must be reviewed annually. Its renewal will allow the search giant to continue operating its China-based site, Google.cn. If Google had been unable to renew its license, it could have meant the end of the company’s operations in China [PC World].
Remember the kerfuffle over “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The 2008 cover story in The Atlantic by Nicholas Carr contended that the barrage of information available on the Web is changing our brains, making us all shallow and deficient in our attention span. It also raised a ruckus across the blogosphere with Web users who didn’t like to be called “stupid.” Now, as if to challenge our cultural ADD, Carr has expanded that article into a book: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.
In book reviewers, Carr finds a friendlier audience to his “more books and less Internet” thesis. The Boston Globe is impressed with the argument, if unimpressed with drawing out the argument to such a great length:
Carr’s argument rests on just three chapters (out of ten). He lays out, first, what we now know about the adult brain’s malleability, or “plasticity,’’ and then draws on a slew of recent studies to make the startling case that our increasingly heavy use of digital media is actually changing us physiologically — rewiring our neural pathways. And not necessarily for the better. “The possibility of intellectual decay,’’ Carr notes, “is inherent in the malleability of our brains.’’
Carr, promoting his book with a CNN essay, grabs neuroscience studies to bolster several claims: That people who multitask while online struggle to concentrate when they’re offline, that spending a lot of time on electronic devices hinders creative and critical thinking, and that students who surfed the Web during a lecture retained less information than those who listened with laptops closed. (That last one is kind of a “duh”—people who fill out Sudokus or read “Twilight” books during class probably don’t retain much, either.)
Is the Vietnamese government following China’s example, and muffling online dissent to pursue its own political ends? Internet giant Google seems to think so. Writing on the company’s online security blog, Neel Mehta of Google’s security team has revealed that tens of thousands of Vietnamese computers were subject to a potent virus attack this week–and that the attack targeted activists who are opposed to a Chinese mining project in Vietnam.
Google writes that the activists mistakenly downloaded malicious software that infected their computers. The infected machines could be used to spy on the users, and were also used to attack Web sites and blogs that voiced opposition to the mining project. This cyber attack, Google says, was an attempt to “squelch” opposition to bauxite mining in Vietnam, a highly controversial issue in the country. The computer security firm, McAfee Inc, which detected the malware, went a step further, saying its creators “may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment [Moneycontrol].
Google’s current spat with China began with a similar accusation, when the company accused Beijing of hacking into and spying on Chinese activists’ gmail accounts. Just this week, journalists in China said their email accounts were compromised because of yet another spyware attack.
In the latest episode of the ongoing Google-Beijing dispute, Google’s attempt to bypass Chinese censors by sending Chinese users of its search engine to an uncensored Hong Kong-based site seems to have failed.
Within 24 hours of the rerouting, Beijing has clamped down, restricting mainland users’ access to the uncensored content on the Hong Kong site. Mainland Chinese users on Tuesday could not see uncensored Hong Kong content because government computers either disabled searches for objectionable content completely or blocked links to certain results [The New York Times]. Earlier, the Chinese government described Google’s move to redirect users to the Hong Kong site as “totally wrong.”
The clash comes two months after Google and China began a bitter standoff over internet censorship on the mainland. Instead of exiting the country entirely, Google has taken on Beijing by defying its censorship controls and sending mainland users to its Hong Kong site, where censorship rules are more lenient.
While the move seemed provocative, Google’s founders at first seemed to think that this redirection would be acceptable to the Chinese government. “We got reasonable indications that this was O.K.,” Sergey Brin, a Google founder and its president of technology, said. “We can’t be completely confident” [The New York Times]. Google said that while the search operations were being redirected to Hong Kong, it would continue to host its maps and music search service in China. However, it now seems that the company misjudged the Chinese government’s mood.
Not happy with only dominating the Internet, software giant Google is looking to expand into the television business, too. It won’t be producing content, but Google will be creating software in partnership with Sony and Intel that will help bring the Internet to TVs and set-top boxes all over the land.
With the just-announced Google TV, people will be able to access web features like downloadable games, Facebook, and streaming video on their TV as easily as if they were flipping channels. Some existing televisions and set-top boxes [already] offer access to Web content, but the choice of sites is limited. Google intends to open its TV platform, which is based on its Android operating system for smartphones, to software developers. The company hopes the move will spur the same outpouring of creativity that consumers have seen in applications for cellphones [The New York Times]. Google expects that products based on its software may be ready as soon as this summer.