<IT WORLD> Deja vu all over again
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - The end of the world as science knows it may be at hand if
an international team of scientists are correct in believing they have
experimental results indicating that particles can travel faster than the speed
Measurements taken over three years show neutrinos (subatomic particles)
launched from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Center for
Nuclear Research near Geneva, arrived at a site in an underground cavern 730
kilometers away in Italy 60 nanoseconds faster than a light beam would have.
If confirmed, the results would undermine Albert Einstein's theory of special
relativity and his "cosmic constant" of the speed of
light, around 300,000 kilometers per second, being the upper limit of velocity.
"If this is proved to be true it would be a massive, massive event," Subir
Sarkar, head of particle theory at Oxford University, was quoted by the
Guardian in the United Kingdom as saying. "The constancy of the speed of light
essentially underpins our understanding of space and time and causality, which
is the fact that cause comes before effect. Cause cannot come after effect and
that is absolutely fundamental to our construction of the physical universe. If
we do not have causality, we are buggered."
Google executives faced a grilling from US lawmakers and competitors this week
over whether the company stifles competition and manipulates its search results
in favor of its own services. Chief executive Eric Schmidt took the hot seat
for the three-hour hearing on Wednesday in which he defended his company's
policy of being selflessly dedicated to helping people find the most useful
information on the Internet and creating economic opportunity for thousands of
The panel of senators and rival company representatives begged to differ as
they accused the company of slanting search results towards its own commercial
interests such as online shopping and travel.
In recent years, Google has come under increasing scrutiny from US and European
antitrust regulators as it rapidly expands its operations far beyond search.
Following in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who gave similar
testimony in the late 1990s, Schmidt faced a barrage of accusations including
suggestions that Google has "cooked it" so that its own services always appear
prominently when people are searching for online shopping.
One senator produced a chart depicting search rankings of Google's own shopping
services compared with its competitors; the pattern seemed clear enough -
rivals' rankings were widely varied while Google's services all had prominent
positioning on the first results page. He stated that the company has a "clear
and inherent conflict of interest".
Jeffrey Katz, chief executive of Nextag - an online shopping and price
comparison portal - demanded a level playing field and stated "what Google
engineering giveth, Google marketing taketh away. Today, Google doesn't play
fair. Google rigs its results, biasing in favor of Google Shopping and against
competitors like us."
"Let's be clear: Google is no longer in the business of sending people to the
best destinations on the web. It has everything to do with generating more
revenue," claimed Jeremy Stoppelman, chief executive of online review and
recommendation website Yelp.
Schmidt remained steadfast in defending Google's dominance and even hinted that
it was "in the area" of becoming a monopoly, though he later back-tracked and
said that the company was "not a monopolist". He went on to state that Google
"does nothing to block access to any of the competitors and other sources of
information in web searches".
A number of Google's competitors stated that they would not start their
businesses today with Google taking so much of the online real estate already.
In its efforts to conquer the social market as well as the search market,
Google this week threw open the digital doors to its Google+ network. The
company has moved from a field testing to a beta version, which no longer
requires an invitation to join - it is open to all. In less than 90 days, the
service attracted over 20 million users who have shared over a billion items.
It still has a long way to go to catch Facebook with its estimated 750 million
Google has introduced a raft of new features to entice users to join its
fledgling social network. Mobile Hangout allows Google+ users to have video
chats with groups or "circles" of friends - both Apple and Skype should be very
interested in this functionality. A Hangouts On Air feature allows users to
broadcast their sessions live so that others can tune in and listen or watch.
These features will all integrate with Android mobile devices as well as the
Other improvements included integration with Google search, better SMS support
and improved voting via its +1 button, which is slowly infiltrating the web. To
counter Google's social salvo, Facebook announced a slew of its own
improvements, in addition to another recent redesign, at a company event this
Hewlett-Packard this week kicked out chief executive Leo Apotheker after only
11 months in the job and put in his place Meg Whitman, the 55-year-old former
eBay chief executive.
HP reports annual revenues of just more than $120 billion and $5.5 billion
profits, but under Apotheker's brief tenure the share price has almost halved
In March, HP said it would put WebOS software, which it had bought along with
the purchase of Palm Inc in 2010, in every PC shipped by Hewlett-Packard. Yet
in August, the company said it was considering spinning-off its PC unit. It
also discontinued products running its WebOS software.
China's space ambitions have taken another leap forward as it remained on
schedule to launch an unmanned test module into orbit next week via the
Long-March II F rocket. The Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace 1", 8.5 tonne
module is to be used for docking and rendezvous operations in what could be the
initial stages of Beijing's plan to build a space station by 2020.
Scientists are conducting final preparations for the launch from the Jiuquan
Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province between September 27 and 30.
According to state news agency Xinhua, an unmanned Heinz-VIII craft will be
launched later this year to dock with Tiangong-1 - this will be the big test.
At least one manned docking is scheduled in 2012 with the Heinz IX and Heinz X
Rendezvous and docking procedures for manned missions are fraught with danger
as two craft travelling at 28,000 kilometers per hour need to enter the same
orbit and connect with precision. Next week's launch will bring China closer to
the US and Russia, which are the only two countries to have successfully
mastered rendezvous and docking.
Due to severe budget restraints, it is unlikely the United States will test a
new rocket to take people into space until 2017, and Russia has stated that
manned missions are no longer a priority for its space program, which has
struggled with numerous delays and glitches.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.
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