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Jonathan Fildes | 12:09 UK time, Monday, 16 August 2010

pylons_226.jpgOn Tech Brief today: secret messages, DIY drones and pylon people.

• Two of the biggest names on the net are squaring up to do battle. There have been plenty of rumours that Google is piecing a new social network, possibly called David Gelles and Richard Waters in the Financial Times say the new offering is "explicitly designed to challenge Facebook".

"The most visible evidence of this fight is Google's sudden shopping spree. On Friday it bought Jambool, a company that runs virtual currency systems for social games, including those played on Facebook. This month Google paid about $200m for Slide, a major developer of Facebook applications with a wealth of talented engineers. And shortly before that it invested $100m in Zynga, the largest maker of social games. "

• Earlier this year, the arrest of 10 alleged spies in the United States thrust the art of steganography into the limelight. Now Jim Giles at New Scientist reports on a new tool called Collage, which can be used to hide messages in digital images. It is aimed at people in countries where the web is censored and will allow them to download stories from blocked sites, while seeming to visit "uncontroversial sites such as Flickr".

"In the prototype, stories from the BBC news site are used, but in principle any web content could be hidden. Collage can hide as many as 15 news articles in just seven medium-sized Flickr images."

Pylon of the Month - an invaluable resource for those interested in the electricity pylons. But for some, the giant structures are an unsightly blot on the landscape. Now, Duncan Geere at Wired reports on a design that would transform them into art. The giant human-shaped pylons have been proposed to carry electricity cables across Iceland's landscape.

"The figures can be placed into different poses, with the suggestion that the landscapes could inform the position that the sculpture is placed into. For example, as a power line ascends a hill, the pylons could look as if they're climbing. The figures could also stretch up to gain increased height over longer spans."

Google recently landed itself in hot water over its admission that it had mistakenly been collecting personal wi-fi data, via its Street View cars. Then last week, reports circulated that it was testing drones to help with its mapping services, although the firm later denied the reports. Now, according to Slashdot, Dutch hackers have merged the two concepts to create their very own wi-fi sniffing drone.

"Designed to provide a vehicle to project cyber-offensive and defensive capabilities, and visual / electronic surveillance over distance cheaply and with little risk. "

• And finally, Star Wars fans rejoice: George Lucas has given the release date for the six-part Blu-Ray boxset. Unfortunately, there is still a long time to go, as the release date is far, far away. October 2011, to be precise.

"Why wait? Lucas doesn't appear to have said, but the wait gives him plenty of time to make the tweaks and adjustments he always seems to make when any of the movies have been re-released on tape and disc. "

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