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Trending secret sneaker lust, and other uses of Google Correlate

One of many styles of the Retro Jordan and a screenshot of the Google Correlate application in action

Phlegm. Temperature. Sneezing. Apparently sick people are predictable. Before consulting a physician or shopping for DayQuil, we Google our symptoms – or, at least, we do so consistently enough to provide statistically valuable information.

Google researchers recognized this after comparing search query data to confirmed influenza data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and released Google Flu Trends in 2008 to much acclaim – and some alarm. The tool allows Regular Joes to view global flu trends, as illustrated by the frequency of these searches, geographically, and in near real-time.

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Futurist Ray Kurzweil isn’t worried about climate change

Ray Kurzweil at JavaOne+Develop 2010 in San Francisco. Photo: Flickr/Yuichi Sakuraba

Author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil famously and accurately predicted that a computer would beat a man at chess by 1998, that technologies that help spread information would accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that a worldwide communications network would emerge in the mid 1990s (i.e. the Internet).

Most of Kurzweil’s prognostications are derived from his law of accelerating returns — the idea that information technologies progress exponentially, in part because each iteration is used to help build the next, better, faster, cheaper one. In the case of computers, this is not just a theory but an observable trend — computer processing power has doubled every two years for nearly half a century.

Kurzweil also believes this theory can be applied to solar energy. As part of a panel convened by the National Association of Engineers, Kurzweil, together with Google co-founder Larry Page, concluded that solar energy technology is improving at such a rate that it will soon be able to compete with fossil fuels.

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Could our government shut down the Internet?

Photo illustration by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

After five days with no access to the Internet, Egyptians are finally online again and back to tweeting and blogging live updates from the streets of Cairo.

But you may still be wondering how the government was able to shut down Egyptians’ access to the Internet.

The answer has more to do with politics than technology. There’s no on/off switch for the Internet, no circuit to short or plug to pull. It appears as though someone from the government simply called each of the country’s handful of Internet service providers, or ISPs, and ordered them to shut down.

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Commerce Department calls for online ‘privacy bill of rights,’ but advocates balk

The Obama administration on Thursday issued its second major report in as many weeks calling for new rules regulating the protection of consumer privacy online, including the creation of a federal privacy office and a nationwide “Privacy Bill of Rights.” However, some privacy advocates were skeptical of the recommendations, suggesting they would give companies, not Internet users, control of consumer data.

The report, released Thursday morning by the Commerce Department, contains a set of 10 new recommendations that touch on virtually every aspect of the digital economy, from cloud computing to e-commerce to social media. The most significant of those recommendations calls for the creation of “voluntary but enforceable” codes of conduct for industry-specific activities and a broader “Privacy Bill of Rights” that would enshrine certain core privacy principles across the board, perhaps through legislation.

“This is obviously a major consumer protection issue, because people want to know that their information is going to be safe,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a conference call unveiling the recommendations. “Consumers must trust the Internet if businesses are going to succeed online.”

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Should every kid get a Kindle?

As e-readers and electronic booksellers reshape the publishing industry, companies like Amazon and Apple are seeking entrée into a new and potentially lucrative swath of the market: textbooks. And now, apparently, they’re getting encouragement from lawmakers.

Photo: Flickr/jimmiehomeschoolmom

Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York has called for public schools to give their students e-readers, like the Kindle or the Nook from Barnes & Noble, rather than stacks of voluminous textbooks, which are heavy, expensive and often years out of date. The switch would, of course, be a boon to electronic publishers, which have moved aggressively in recent months to enter the $9.9 billion textbook industry.

“Our children today have almost an expectation that they’re going to have these tools of modern technology from the very earliest ages,” Weiner said in an interview. “And here we are, we’re giving them something that basically even adults believe is increasingly anachronistic, which is a big old textbook.”

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