Google Gives Users Some Latitude
Wondering where your friends are so you can hang out? Need to know where your teen-ager or perpetually late boyfriend got to? Google can help you find them. The search company just introduced a service called Latitude that lets mobile phone users reveal where they are to a few contacts and even find others. "What Google Latitude does is allow you to share that location with friends and family members, and likewise be able to see friends and family members' locations," explained Steve Lee, product manager for Google Latitude.
Google hasn't forgotten the privacy issues. You must specifically sign up for the service to use it. You can choose to share your precise location, what city you're in, or nothing at all. What's more, you get to decide who is allowed to know where you are, and in how much detail. As with almost all Google services, this one is free, though the search giant hopes it will lead to location-based advertising revenue.
Google Latitude works in 27 countries. It finds users' locations via both GPS satellite and proximity to mobile phone towers and wireless networks. It will work on most BlackBerry phones with a color screen, most phones with Windows Mobile 5.0 or later, and most Symbian-based devices. The Google Android operating system is being updated to support it, and iPhone and the iPod Touch will be able to use the service very soon. Lest this service sound a little too much like Big Brother, it's worth noting that you CAN lie with it; it lets you hide from specific people, disappear altogether, and even manually set a specific location if, for example, you want to tell someone you were at the gym when you were really at the donut shop.
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The World's Biggest Sundial?
You think you know a building, and then you learn that it's hiding something in plain view. That's what Robert Hannah of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, would have us believe about the Roman Pantheon. This enormous structure, completed in 128 AD, is widely believed to be nothing more (and nothing less) than a temple. But Hannah argues that it is, in fact, the world's largest sundial.
The Pantheon features a cylindrical chamber with a domed roof. At the center of the roof, a circular hole lets in a shaft of sunlight. In addition, the structure includes a colonnaded courtyard at the front. But here's where it gets interesting: during the six months of winter, the light from the noon sun travels along a specific path on the inside of the domed roof. During summer, that light falls on the lower walls and floor. At the equinoxes, in March and September, the light through the hole hits a point between the roof and wall, landing just above the Pantheon's grand northern doorway where a grill above the door lets light into the front courtyard. It is only during these equinoxes that the front courtyard sees sunlight if its main doors are closed.
Hannah notes that a hollowed-out hemisphere with a hole in the top represents one style of sundial the Romans used, and that making the Pantheon in the form of a sundial was meant not only as a tribute to the gods, but to elevate the emperors who worshiped there into a more godly realm. Astronomy historian James Evans is intrigued by Hannah's theories, but thinks the case is far from certain, because if the Pantheon ever included sundial-related markings, they have not survived.
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Teaching the Singularity
Singularity University is more than just a name; it's a guiding philosophy for the new educational institution that is the brainchild of world-renowned scientists Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. To be set up on the NASA Ames base near Mountain View, the college will open its doors to its first students in June. Its mission: help solve the world's biggest problems.
The school is looking for students with a background in a number of emerging disciplines, such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology. "We are reaching out across the globe to gather the smartest and most passionate future leaders and arm them with the tools and network they need to wrestle with the grand challenges of our day," said Diamandis. The university derives its name from Kurzweil's theory of "Technological Singularity," which expresses the belief that certain exponentially growing technologies will radically increase human intelligence in the next 20 years and reshape humanity's future. For his part, Kurzweil hopes the university will accelerate technology enough to help us solve the pressing problems of humanity. Health and medicine. Poverty. Democratization.
Funding for the school came in part from Google, and Nobel Prize-winning scientists had a hand in its creation. As to Singularity's curriculum, it will consist of a single, nine-week course of study every summer. During this course, 120 students from various disciplines, chosen from graduate and post-graduate programs around the world, will mix with the goal of tackling important issues, large in scope and their affect on mankind. Tuition for the course will cost $25,000. If that sounds like too much for you, never fear; Singularity University will also feature three-day and ten-day courses for business executives, to provide them with a look at the future.
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