Spiga
Google
 

A shaggy hog story: Boris, the extinct 'sheep-pig', gains a new trotter-hold in UK

sheep
sheep
He is a pig... but not as we know it. From those extravagantly insulated shoulders down, he looks for all the world like a sheep.Viewed from a less literal perspective, it would seem, he bears a compelling resemblance to one of our more flamboyant politicians.Which is why keeper Tony York has christened his newest and proudest porcine possession Boris Johnson, after the Tory MP and London mayoral candidate. The four-legged Boris represents what Mr York hopes will be a renaissance for the Lincolnshire Curly Coat pig, often called the sheep-pig, and a breed which became extinct here 37 years ago.In his quest to reintroduce the breed, he discovered British farmers had exported many Curly Coats during the early 20th century to Hungary, where their coat helped them survive harsh winters. There they were cross-bred with the Mangalitza, a similar breed, creating the 'Lincolista'.Mr York found the sub-breed thriving in Austria, and brought 17 of the animals back to his Pigs Paradise farm near Stonehenge, Wiltshire, driving a trailer 2,400 miles across Europe to ensure they had regular food and water stops."It was a mammoth task," said Mr York. "It was no good acquiring just one or two. We drove hundreds of miles from farm to farm in an attempt to round up enough unrelated stock to build a good herd." The British Pig Association has agreed to register his acquisitions as direct descendantsof the Lincolnshire Curly Coat, securing the link with UK farming heritage."It's like a dream come true that the Curly Coat genes live on," said Mr York. "They might be Austro-Hungarian in origin, but they do offer a glimpse of our farming past - and one of our more unusual domestic farm breeds."As for Boris, he is very loveable. We called him that because he shares the same hairstyle as Mr Johnson and he's very interested in the ladies."Mr York remembers the day, in 1971, when the last known pair of Lincolnshire Curly Coats were sent for slaughter."It was a tragedy," he said. "The market was for faster maturing breeds and that was that for the Curly Coats."Hair from the pigs is popular in the U.S. where its ability to retain air bubbles under water makes it ideal for tying fishing flies.

Paris Hilton and Nicky Hilton Do Hawaii

paris
Paris Hilton still smiling while on vacation with her family in Hawaii before she found out about grandpa Hilton giving away her inheritance to charity. Do these two look incredibly silly and overdressed for a day on the beach at a family resort, or is it just us? And who wears ballet flats on the beach?
Someone please just slap her. It’s our dearest Christmas wish.

Suicide Attack on Rally May Have Killed Bhutto

bhutto
A bomb blast devastated a political rally being held by the Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto near the capital, Islamabad, Thursday, killing several people and seriously injuring Ms. Bhutto, according to witnesses and local television reports. Some reports said she had been killed.Witnesses at the scene said Ms. Bhutto was fired upon before the blast, and an official from her party said Ms. Bhutto had been badly injured by the explosion.A local television channel, Geo-TV, quoting Ms. Bhutto’s husband, said Ms. Bhutto had been injured and hospitalized by the blast, which was apparently caused by a suicide attacker.Hundreds of supporters had gathered at the rally, which was being held at Liaqut Bagh, a park that is a common venue for political rallies and speeches, in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital.The site was littered with pools of blood. Shoes and caps of party workers were lying on the asphalt, and shards of glass were strewn about the ground.Farah Ispahani, a party official from Ms. Bhutto’s party, said: “It is too soon to confirm the number of dead from the party’s side. Private television channels are reporting 20 dead.” Television channels were also quoting police sources as saying that at least 14 people were dead.The attack immediately raised questions about whether parliamentary elections scheduled for January will go ahead or be postponed.Ms. Bhutto was the target of a suicide attack in October in Karachi when she returned from exile to Pakistan. That attack, caused by two bombs exploding just seconds apart, narrowly missed Ms. Bhutto but killed scores of people.

Lips Forum releases mobile Linux specs

The Linux Phone Standards Forum has released its first complete set of specifications for mobile Linux.Comprising members such as France Telecom, Texas Instruments, ARM, and Freescale, the Lips Forum is only one of several major industry consortia that want to use Linux on handsets in a relatively unified way. Open-source-based technology already powers many consumer mobiles, but there is no agreement on a single standard that suppliers can use. Other such groups include Google's Open Handset Alliance with its Android platform, OpenMoko and the Linux Mobile Foundation. However, these groups are more focused on creating a shared base implementation of mobile Linux, with scope for proprietary technology being added by manufacturers. The Lips Forum, by contrast, is trying to create a fully open-source set of specifications for mobile Linux. The Lips Forum published its first application programming interface (API) set in June, with the prediction that the full Lips specifications would be out by the end of the year. This promise has now been fulfilled. "With this release, Lips enables mobile industry players to achieve basic interoperability for applications and services deployed on Linux-based phones, benefiting Linux-based software stack suppliers, mobile device OEMs and regional and global telecom operators," read a statement from the organization that was published on Monday. The Lips Release 1.0 specifications include the Lips reference model, telephony, messaging, calendaring and scheduling, presence, the user interface service, address book and voice call enabler APIs. "Standards-based interoperability is crucial to the success of the global telecommunications marketplace," said Lips president Haila Wang on Monday. "Lips is following the clear path blazed by GSM, TCP/IP, Wi-Fi and other standards that enable communications among device types and brands, over multiple operator networks and across regional markets." According to the organization, next year will see the release of the LiPS application framework and APIs for advanced services, device management and for enabling multimedia.

Start-up creates flexible sheets of light

1234

Let there be light on the side of municipal buses.That's the motto of CeeLite, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based start-up that has devised a thin, bendable light source that can be integrated into walls or wrapped around poles. The company is in the midst of trials with 32 cities, which are putting signs equipped with CeeLite's light on the sides of its buses.The signs, which require only about 4 watts of power per square foot, can measure up to 12 feet long and 30 inches high, but they are less than an inch thick. The actual light source inside the signs is only about an eighth of an inch thick, but it can reach 6 feet long. (The 12-foot sign contains two light sources.)The bus lights, of course, don't just blare white light at drivers and pedestrians. Transparencies emblazoned with advertisements are placed on top of the sheets, thereby making the ordinary bus advertisement pop. "I want to light surfaces that aren't lit today. I want to light floors. I want to light floorboards," Mike Binder, senior vice president of business development, said during a presentation at the ThinkGreen conference here this week. "I have the ability to light objects with the objects themselves."And there are a lot of surfaces that can be exploited, he asserted. Recently, Binder spent a weekend in Las Vegas, where he visited 120 restaurants by himself to check out the market potential. There's a lot of unadorned real space, he said. "Self-illumination is a massive untapped market."CeeLite's signs are powered by a light-emitting capacitor, or LEC. LECs effectively store energy like standard capacitors, then release it into a substrate sprinkled with phosphors, which emit light when a current is applied. Different researchers and companies have worked on LECs and similar electroluminescent products for years, but the results weren't great. The products wore out over time or were relatively small."We figured out what makes EL (electroluminescence) fail," Binder said.CeeLite's LEC, embedded between two polymer layers, is plugged into a power source. The company currently uses fresh plastic but is working on a way to use recycled plastic. Ideally, companies like Coca-Cola could make signs out of their old bottles.From a functional standpoint, LECs are similar to organic light-emitting diodes. OLEDs, though, tend to be relatively small. Sony has released an 11-inch TV with an OLED screen, but the biggest customers for OLEDs right now are cell phone makers.

OLED makers like Universal Display, however, are also trying to get into the lighting market, where they say they'll be in a few years. They have also worked on the durability of their products, which they claim can last 20,000 hours.One of the more novel OLEDs, from Universal Display, is a transparent piece of plastic that can serve as a window. Humans can see through it, but when a current is applied, it emits light.Binder further added that CeeLite's signs are fairly durable. The signs can endure the pressure of power washers, which can spray water at several hundred pounds per square inch. To demonstrate, he also grabbed one of the company's lights, bent it several times and then jumped on it. It stayed lit.Executives from hedge funds and private-equity firms gathered around to give him their cards.

Air Force base in Nevada goes solar with 15-megawatt array

nellisbasesolar

Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the land of lots of sun and plenty of land, will be home to a 70,000 solar-panel installation which, at 15 megawatts, will be the largest in North America.The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday said Nellis and SunPower have finished the first phase of the project, which will save the base $1 million a year and roughly $83,000 a month, when fully commissioned.

(Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay)The project, started in July of this year, will bring the final two-thirds of the panels online in the next two months.The SunPower solar panels will be installed on 140 acres of Nellis Air Force base land and use trackers that move the mounted panels to follow the sun during the course of the day. The trackers improve output by 30 percent. The 15-megawatt installation will be one of the biggest solar farms in the world. The Bavaria Solar Park in Germany is a 10-megawatt plant, and the Serpa Power Plant in Portugal is 11 megawatts.But those solar parks act as power plants, whereas the Nellis installation will power only the base, which employs between 12,000 and 14,000 people, according to a representative. By comparison, Hewlett-Packard installed a relatively large corporate solar array in its San Diego facility last month that can generate 1 megawatt of electricity.Under the contract, the base will pay a less expensive rate for electricity over the life of the panels, which typically have a 25-year warranty.

Critics rap Microsoft safety study of IE, Firefox

Internet Explorer is more secure than Firefox, according to a senior Microsoft executive, who compared how many vulnerabilities were found in the two browsers--but critics say his study is flawed.Jeff Jones, security strategy director of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group, released a study last week comparing the flaws in Microsoft's Internet Explorer to Mozilla's Firefox browser; unsurprisingly, he concluded that Microsoft is doing a better job than Mozilla.Challenging early predictions that Mozilla's Firefox browser would experience fewer vulnerabilities than IE, Jones conceded that both companies' browsers have experienced significant flaws.Jones said Mozilla has fixed more flaws in its browser than Microsoft during equivalent periods, which he said renders Firefox more vulnerable than IE.

"Since the release of Firefox 1.0 in November 2004, Mozilla has fixed 199 vulnerabilities in supported Firefox products--75 high severity; 100 medium severity; and 24 low severity. In the same timeframe, Microsoft has fixed 87 total vulnerabilities affecting all supported versions of Internet Explorer--54 high severity, 28 medium severity; and five low severity," Jones said.
Comparing Microsoft's 2004 release, IE 6 (Service Pack 2), with Firefox 1.0, Jones said Microsoft fixed 79 flaws while Mozilla fixed 88.He also compared IE 7 with Firefox 2.0 over a 12-month period, during which he said Mozilla fixed 56 flaws while Microsoft fixed only 17 in IE 7. "While the data trends show that both Internet Explorer and Firefox security quality is improved in the latest version, it also demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, Internet Explorer has experienced fewer vulnerabilities than Firefox," said Jones.However, Jonathan Oxer, technical director and founder of Web application development company Internet Vision Technology and president of Linux Australia, said the study is flawed because Microsoft tends to bundle its fixes, which leads to a lower count over the period being compared."For example, when fixing a vulnerability there might be several issues being resolved in one go. So it decreases the bug count," he said.Oxer explained that the way in which levels of security are reported is frequently different. "In the case of Firefox there may be issues that (Mozilla) has reported for which there is no known exploit--a theoretical exploit--so it's not necessarily accurate to directly compare fixed exploits without an understating of how the numbering or definition of an exploit is determined," he said.Oxer believes that a more valid way to score software in terms of security is to give each exploit a value depending on the number of days from discovery of a bug to the release of a fix, multiplied by a severity factor."Two products that have a similar number of exploits fixed over a certain period may actually be very different in terms of the number of days of exposure to which users are subjected," Oxer said.Distributor support

The Microsoft data also raises the issue of support for legacy versions of the software. While Mozilla ends support for each version six months after a new release of Firefox, Microsoft maintains support for up to a decade after the version ends, in line with its cycle for operating systems."If Microsoft had this same policy, then support of Internet Explorer 6 would have ended in May 2007, or similarly Internet Explorer 5.01 support would have ended in 2001. In contrast, Microsoft generally releases a browser in conjunction with a new operating system release and commits to supporting that version for the lifecycle of the product--now 10 years for business products," Jones said.

Support issues also affect third-party distributors, Jones said. Despite Mozilla ending support for Firefox 1.5 in May 2007, Ubuntu 6.06 LTS--which integrates that version of Firefox--has committed to providing security support until 2009. Likewise, Novell Suse Linux offers support for Firefox 1.5 until 2013. While Ubuntu and Red Hat released patches for Firefox version 1.5, Jones said: "The vulnerabilities patched by each vendor only overlap partially.""Lifecycle considerations are likely (to be) more important to corporate enterprises, as they sometimes have custom Web applications and are hesitant to upgrade between major releases very often, and even then may have a relatively long transition plan," Jones said.However, Linux Australia's Oxer said this manner of delivering support is a benefit of the open-source model, because it allows customers greater flexibility throughout a contract."One of the major differences between the proprietary and open-source models is when multiple vendors are providing support for a single code base...even though Mozilla may end its support, there are software vendors--such as (Linux) distribution providers--that are committed to providing support to enterprise customers," Oxer said."What it means is that end users get to choose the level of support they want. If you choose a company with long-term support for maintaining a stable operating environment for desktops, that's one option they can take. Or they may want a distributor with more frequent updates," he said.The disadvantage of using a proprietary software company such as Microsoft, said Oxer, is that enterprise customers are shackled to the schedule of a single vendor, which may not fit the organization's timetable.

FAQ: All about coal--a necessary evil


Coal is a major source of air pollution, mining accidents, and environmental damage. Unfortunately, we can't live without it.

The coal question remains perhaps the largest and most difficult issue in the clean-tech and energy world. Proponents of solar, wind, and even nuclear power tout themselves as cleaner and safer alternatives. Environmental activists and many scientists also warn that "clean coal" technologies will only dupe the public into a false sense of security.

On the other hand, coal use continues to climb, particularly in China. Clean coal technologies, along with carbon capture and sequestration, may be the only practical way to adapt to climate change. The profits, moreover, are potentially massive.

"Clean coal is the biggest opportunity" in clean tech, said Stephan Dolezalek, a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners earlier this year. "If you can solve that problem, it will be bigger than Google."

What are those opportunities? They are mostly on the drawing board now. Here's a primer on the basics of coal:

Q: How much coal is there?
Approximately 998 billion tons of recoverable coal sits underground, according to a 2006 estimate from the International Energy Agency. The U.S. has the most, with 268 billion tons, followed by Russia (173 billion tons), China (126 billion tons) and India (102 billion tons). The four collectively hold 67 percent of the recoverable reserves.

In 2006, 1,438 U.S. mines produced 1.163 billion short tons of coal, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 2.8 percent increase from the year before. A short ton is 2,000 pounds.

A ton of coal, depending on the grade, has as much heat energy (25 million BTUs) as 4.5 barrels of oil (PDF). There are probably only 1.9 trillion barrels of conventional oil left for human consumption, and not all of it can be recovered. Thus, there's more than twice as much coal out there than oil.

How fast is demand growing?
Steadily, but ominously. Coal accounted for 26 percent of energy consumed in 2004 worldwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, and will grow to 28 percent by 2030. Total energy consumption, however, will be going up a few percentage points a year, so in that same period of time, coal consumption will rise a whopping 74 percent, form 114.4 quadrillion BTUs to 199 quadrillion BTUs.

India and China will account for 72 percent of the increase, but coal consumption is expected to also rise in Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. The U.S. is something of a wild card. With carbon taxes and more alternative energy, the growth could decline, but coal will still be a big part of the energy profile.

"Ninety percent of the fossil fuel reserves in the U.S., India, and China are in coal, and China and India are not going to move from this fuel in the future," said Jeremy Carl, a research fellow in the program for Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University. "They are not going to turn off the lights."China last year erected 90 gigawatts' worth of coal plants last year alone, Carl noted. That's bigger than the electrical grid of the U.K.

Where does it get used?
Primarily in electrical power plants. In the United States, roughly 1.03 billion tons of the 1.1 billion tons of coal consumed (PDF) in 2006 got gobbled up by power plants. Coal accounted for 49 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. in 2006, a slight decline from 2005 due in part to warmer temperatures. (Nuclear power was second, with about 20.2 percent, while natural gas clocked in at 18.8 percent. Solar and wind barely account for 2.4 percent.)

How does coal affect pollution?
Coal accounted for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in 2004 (behind oil) but is expected to pass oil for the No. 1 spot in 2010, according to the EIA. Even if the United States were to replace every incandescent bulb in the country with compact fluorescents, the benefits would be eradicated by the carbon dioxide from two coal-fired plants over a year, said Ed Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030. The nonprofit encourages builders, suppliers, and architects to move toward making carbon neutral buildings by 2030."The only fossil fuel that can fuel global warming is coal. If you stop coal, you stop global warming. End of story," Mazria said.

Other pollutants include nitrogen compounds, sulfur, aluminum, silicon, and even trace amounts of radioactive materials like uranium. China has banned the use of coal burners in homes in cities like Beijing, but coal pollution remains a large health hazard in the country.Environmental and health problems include acid rain, polluted water systems, stripped forests, and mining hazards. Deaths attributed to coal range from several hundred to several thousand a year, depending on who does the counting and which respiratory deaths get attributed to coal.

How much does it cost?
In the early '70s, natural gas was a cheaper source for generating electricity, but coal surpassed it in 1976 and has been at the bottom ever since. In 2005, generating a million BTUs from coal cost $1.54, compared with $8.20 for natural gas. Coal prices are rising, but so is the cost of everything else. Solar thermal plants, which generate electricity with heat from the sun, are approaching the cost of natural gas plants.

Google is watching you! The internet colossus is amassing an awesome amount of information on every one of us

Gazing up at a giant projector screen in Google's futuristic headquarters in Silicon Valley, California, I am being given a unique insight into the collective preoccupations of a billion human brains.By and large, it seems, we are a pretty trivial, celebrity-obsessed lot.For right at this moment, mankind is hungry for facts about: Michael Jackson; golf balls; Spanish words; Captain Nemo; Britney Spears; surfwear; cheese recipes; Kurt Cobain; and, for some reason, Carol Barnes, the former ITN newsreader.

Facing the future: Will too much power be concentrated in Google's hands?
This huge, constantly-scrolling screen, which shows people's online searches as they are happening (but with the lewd ones filtered out), is only one of many amazing peculiarities of the so-called "Googleplex", the sprawling, steel and glass home of the world's favourite source of information.Picture a place that combines the laid-back ambience of an IKEA-designed university campus with a disquieting hint of The Prisoner - the 1960s cult TV series centred around a sinister and secretive commune - and you begin to imagine what it's like inside the rarified preserve of the Googlers, as the company's 16,000 staff call themselves.In Googleland, no one wears a suit and tie, works fixed hours, or sits rigidly at a boring old desk.Instead, shaggy-haired computer geeks play pool or darts as they ponder some unfathomable programming code, and - frighteningly - young executives wearing ripped jeans recline on multi-coloured beanbags while discussing billion-dollar projects.Staff are encouraged to bring their pets and children to work.They ride around the campus on bicycles, and nourish their brains with healthy gourmet meals and a bottomless supply of snacks, all handed out free.Then they burn off the calories with a stress-busting, team-building game of volleyball in the leafy quad or a swim in one of two training pools.Another thing you notice as you stroll around the Googleplex is that almost everyone is smiling in the manner of someone who knows something you don't.This is slightly disconcerting.Perhaps it is simply that working here really is such "incredible fun", as one of the evangelical,oh-so-nice PR team showing me around - and making sure I don't uncover any trade secrets - would have me believe.Then again, maybe everyone is grinning because there are so many millionaires in a company founded less than a decade ago in a rented garage by two nerdy computer students, and which now has a staggering market capitalisation of $216 billion - more than all the other dotcom companies combined.Thanks to a generous share option in their salary package, hundreds of employees have become fabulously wealthy, having seen Google's stock rise by a staggering 900 per cent in just eight years.The newest member of the "Googles of Money" club is Employee Number 41, Bonnie Brown, who was recruited as the company's in-house masseuse on £225 a week back in 1999 and has just pocketed tens of millions by selling her shares.Such is the perceived magic of the firm that David Cameron has visited twice in two years.This week, the Tory leader was revealed to have been flown there, at his host's expense, to deliver a glowing eulogy at the recent Google Zeitgeist conference.But then, Cameron is by no means the only big player to be entranced by Google.This is a corporate colossus so ultra-cool that Richard Branson or U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama are likely to be seen munching tofu in the communal canteen, and Hollywood stars rouknowledgetinely drive 450 miles up the Pacific Coast Highway just to hang out here.Another Google-lover is former U.S. presidential candidate-turned-environment campaigner Al Gore, who will doubtless congratulate the 34-year-old founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin following this week's announcement of a multi-million dollar research programme to find a green energy source to replace fossil fuels.There is no doubting that, like the company's feel-good workplace, attention-catching projects such as these help enhance Google's altruistic image.It's an image that has grown up with Page and Brin since their combined genius came together at Stanford University to devise a unique "algorithm" - or computer formula - which, at a keystroke, dragged the process of computerised searches out of the Dark Ages.From the earliest days of their incredible rise, Page, the son of a computer science pioneer, and Brin, a Moscow-born √®migr√® whose father is a maths professor, appear to have regarded the vast profits that have accrued from their remarkable invention as almost incidental to their project.Rather, they proclaimed themselves to be on a "democratic" mission to gather all of the world's in one place (the first time it has been attempted since the library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC) and make it freely available to everyone.Mindful that information can be used for good or bad, they devised a simple core mantra which, they claim, sums up their philosophy: Do no evil.Among a great many netsurfers, therefore, the brilliant duo behind Google came to be revered as shining New Age heroes of the World Wide Web.This reputation survived largely untarnished even when - having made virtually no profit for the first three years and surviving on investment capital - Google began raking in huge profits by selling advertisements to run alongside its free search results.Disciples even seem prepared to accept inevitable changes in Brin and Page's once-humble lifestyles, now that each is worth in excess of £10 billion, making them, respectively, America's fifth and sixth richest men.They may still own environmentfriendly Toyota Prius cars and dress down to mingle with fellow Googlers, but they stamp their carbon footprint across continents in a Boeing 767 acquired from Quantas.By all accounts, at weekends Brin likes to fly his new wife to Hawaii, where they indulge their newfound passion for kite-surfing. Page's tastes have similarly developed far beyond pizzas and Coke in the college dorm.Celebrity guests invited to his wedding, due to be staged at a mystery location next Saturday, have been warned to bring their passports.And yet, for all this, in recent months there has been a discernible shift in attitude towards a company which was once so universally admired.From privacy campaigners to libertarians to politicians, people have belatedly started to eye Google with suspicion.They fear that now it has become the search engine of choice for 50 per cent of all internet users, it already stores far too much information about us.And they question its motives in wanting to learn a whole lot more.In many ways, the company can only blame itself for creating this climate of distrust.Speaking in London last May, chief executive Eric Schmidt looked forward to a world in which Google would have amassed so much intimate information about its users that it would be able to shape every aspect of their lives.

Unaware that his words would not only spread panic but play into the hands of the civil liberties brigade, Schmidt said that Google was only at an early stage of acquiring the total information it hoped to gather about its users."We cannot even answer the most basic questions about you because we don't know enough about you. The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask questions such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and 'What job should I take?' This is the most important aspect of Google's expansion."Mr Schmidt's reckless comments could barely have come at a worse time.The following month, the human rights watchdog Privacy International ranked the company bottom in a major survey of how securely the leading internet companies handle their users' personal information.Later in the summer, Orkut, a social networking site owned by Google, was heavily criticised for passing a client's confidential internet service provider (ISP) address to the Indian authorities, who wanted to trace him for allegedly posting insulting images of a leading historical figure on the net. The client was later convicted and jailed.Another storm broke over Google's agreement to censor certain "subversive" sites in China, under pressure from the hardline Communist government.This hardly squares with the 'Do no evil' buzz-phrase, but then, a billion potential advertising customers are not easily passed over.Then there are rumblings about Google's policy of rapaciously gobbling up smaller companies, which, some critics suggest, indicates that its ultimate aim is to be the internet, rather than just be a part of it.Its latest and most significant acquisition is DoubleClick, the leading digital marketing company which it has bought, subject to ratification, for $3.1 billion.When the deal is finalised, it will give Google a massive advantage over its nearest (but still distant) competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft."It's a Google world," sighs Chris Tolles, vice-president of marketing at Topix, a news website - service whose revenue comes from running Google ads on its site."We just live in it."Indeed. Yet it is not what Google is doing now, but what it has the potential, and quite possibly the intention, of doing in the foreseeable future that is really spreading alarm.At present, as even the least computer literate person knows, Google is way ahead of its electronic search rivals because its system is so much quicker and more efficient.This is largely down to PageRank, the unfathomably complex computer program which Brin and Page invented.What it does is to prioritise and order the pages of information which web searchers receive when they type a particular search request into Google. Thanks to the way that it operates, it is supposed to send back the most relevant websites first.Indeed, I was assured by Google's vice-president of engineering, Douglas Merrill (who looks more like a rock star than an IT specialist, and works beside his Dalmatian dog) it is quite impossible for individuals or corporations to manipulate Google's search system to their advantage.These days, lying back on their beanbags, company executives are using their imaginations to envision a brave, new, Googledominated future.For, as Merrill says, the company has realised only a tiny percentage-of its capabilities.

One plan, which has already tentatively started, entails making literally everything in the world accessible at the click of a button. For now, this means every book, piece of music, film, TV and radio broadcast, official document and photograph.But eventually, far-fetched as it sounds, Google boffins believe it can be extended to people and their personal belongings.The idea is that we, and our treasured possessions, will be fitted with minute microchips which could be linked to the internet, via computers, by a digital radio frequency.In this way, you would only have to type "Where is my watch" or "Find Joe Bloggs" into your PC or handheld computer, and Google could assist you.The theory, at least, is that we will never lose anything and never be out of contact with oneanother - fine for parents wishing to check up on little Johnny at nursery, perhaps, but an unpalatable prospect for those who fear the temptation such a network would present to criminals or totalitarian regimes.More immediately, Google is switching its main focus from PCs and laptops to mobile phones.For while we may not spend all day in front of a computer screen, the firm's latest research shows that 95 per cent of users keep their phone within 3ft of their person at all times.So, coming to a store near you, Google phones with all manner of weird and wonderful accessories will soon be available.But the development that most alarms privacy watchdogs is known as "personalised search".Under this Big Brother-ish concept, the details of every web search we launch and every e-mail we send could be stored to build up a worryingly detailed personal profile - age, interests, family, hobbies, tastes in food and so on.This could then be passed to advertisers, who would bombard us with suitable adverts.This sort of service is already available, strictly on request, though the company has agreed to delete personal data after 18 months. The danger is that could eventually be kept in perpetuity, and be misused - or fall into the wrong hands.John Batelle, the author of the definitive book on Google, highlighted the possible ramifications recently in a controversial article which imagines what might happen if a psychologically disturbed Google employee was able to tap into sensitive information about his girlfriend, then use it to stalk and murder her.Less melodramatically, he questions whether any single company should bear the enormous responsibility of safeguarding such a bottomless ocean of information as Google possesses."I think, at present, Google are good guys with their basic values intact and our best interests at heart," Battelle told me."I also think they have a tremendous capacity to change our world for the better. That said, I do think they have too much power."Dr Gus Hussein, a senior fellow at Privacy International, agrees."We don't actually know how much personal information they are holding, but they probably know more about you than you know yourself," he says.Disturbingly, he adds: "It's all very Borg-like" - a reference to the Cyber race in Star Trek who synthesised the thoughts and feelings of other species into one big, centralised brain.Meanwhile, back in the Googleplex, Douglas Merrill is at pains to dismiss such doomsday scenarios as alarmist poppycock."Privacy is at the very core of our DNA," he says, stroking his Dalmatian."We believe privacy and our users' trust are intrinsically linked. If people don't trust us, they won't use us."To emphasise his point, Merrill reassures me that, even with his elevated powers of access, he would be unable to tap into Google's own databanks to find out one solitary fact about me.Perhaps so.But who would bet on that remaining the case for ever, or that America's security services have not found a way to hack into the system? If Google did ever face a security breach, it would make our Inland Revenue's loss of 25 million people's personal details look trivial.It is truly terrifying to think that in under a decade, the Googlers at this HQ in San Francisco have achieved the sort of power and global influence beyond the dreams of any tyrant in history.The trouble is, they look at you with such misty-eyed sincerity, and they are all so unfailingly nice, that - against every instinct - you find yourself believing their protestations about fail-safe systems and benign intent.And that may yet prove the most dangerous mistake of all.