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Jonathan Fildes | 13:13 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

streetview.jpgOn Tech Brief today: Google gets a caffeine shot; why the new iPhone display doesn't live up to its name and how to hack a computer in a Hollywood film:

• Back in May, Google admitted that its Street View cars had been harvesting data from private Wi-Fi networks around the world. Countries are still grappling with how to deal with Google. In the meantime, Google has published a very technical third party review [PDF] of the software used to gather the information on its policy blog.

"That report, by the security consulting firm Stroz Friedberg, is now complete and was sent to the interested data protection authorities today. In short, it confirms that Google did indeed collect and store payload data from unencrypted WiFi networks, but not from networks that were encrypted."

• Google has also given a power shot to the inner workings of its web indexing system. The new version, called caffeine, promises "50% fresher results". If that means nothing to you, Google offer this primer:

"When you search Google, you're not searching the live web. Instead you're searching Google's index of the web which, like the list in the back of a book, helps you pinpoint exactly the information you need."

The firm's software engineer Carrie Grimes explains on the Google blog that caffeine overhauls this system to suck in fresh pages and data when it comes available. That's a lot of data:

"Caffeine lets us index web pages on an enormous scale. In fact, every second Caffeine processes hundreds of thousands of pages in parallel. If this were a pile of paper it would grow three miles taller every second."

Rik Myslewski at the Register picks up on figures from research firm Hitwise that suggest that UK traffic to social networks has overtaken traffic to search sites for the first time. The stats also show that Facebook dominates the web social scene for Brits with 55% of the market.

"But if Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla of social networking, Google is the 10-tonne Tyrannosaur of search. When you combine Google.co.uk's 87.8 per cent of all UK searches with Google.com's 3.9 per cent, over nine out of every ten May UK searches were Googly."

• Earlier this week, Steve Jobs strode on to stage in San Francisco to show off the latest iPhone. One of the features he was keen to show off was the new high-resolution screen, called Retina, which he claimed displayed "awesome text, awesome images, and awesome video." But science blogger Dave Munger takes issue with the name:

"To achieve the highest resolution discernible by the human eye, the iPhone would need a resolution of 1060 ppi, or roughly 3200 X 2100 pixels! My 23-inch iMac has a resolution of just 1920 X 1200. So if you could shrink my computer display to the size of an iPhone display, you'd still need to triple its resolution to match the perceptual power of the human retina."

• Does the internet make you smarter? We certainly hope so. But for a more eloquent answer, try Clay Shirky's essay in the Wall Street Journal:

"We are now witnessing the rapid stress of older institutions accompanied by the slow and fitful development of cultural alternatives. Just as required education was a response to print, using the internet well will require new cultural institutions as well, not just new technologies."

• Or for the counterpoint, Nicholas Carr asks whether the net is making us dumber?

"If the slow progression of words across printed pages damped our craving to be inundated by mental stimulation, the Internet indulges it. It returns us to our native state of distractedness, while presenting us with far more distractions than our ancestors ever had to contend with."


• Finally, we all know the scene. The on screen hero needs to break into the villain's computer to retrieve the information that will save the world. But there's just one thing stopping them; they don't know the password. Now all they need to do is log on to College Humour to check out their handy flow chart to hacking a computer in an action movie. Top tip for finding that password:

"Let your eyes roam around the room until they fall on a single item. Stare at it until you suddenly known the password."

If you want to suggest links or stories for Tech Brief, you can send them to @bbctechbrief on Twitter, tag them bbctechbrief on Delicious or e-mail them to techbrief@bbc.co.uk.

Links in full
Alan Eustace | Google blog | Wi-fi data collection
Carrie Grimes | Google blog | Our new search index
Rik Myslewski | The Register | Social overtakes search
Dave Munger | Word Munger | Does the retina display live up to its name?
Clay Shirky | Wall Street Journal | Does the net make us smarter?
Nicholas Carr | Wall Street Journal | Does the net make us dumber?
Owen Parsons | College Humour | How to Hack a Computer in an Action Movie

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