The super information super highway

Some days, it's easy to forget the power of the internet

Was anyone else surprised to learn that BBC TV presenters with “significant brain injuries” aren’t too dissimilar from TV presenters that don’t have such damage?

I must say I am glad that Richard Hammond is on the road to recovery and oddly, he’s breaking speed limits in this process as well.

When news broke that Top Gear’s favourite Hamster had crashed at 300 mph, I had several people contact me for information. I write the odd car review for the New Zealand Top Gear magazine but Richard and I hardly hang out together. In fact I, like everyone else, used Google and hunted out the news stories.

Initially the best source was the BBC. However, someone at Beeb Online decided to update the story within the original URL without writing UPDATE or NEW or anything useful at the top of the page. I kept looking for new stories only to find all the news was in the original story. It was a long night for the Hamster and his family and a long day hitting refresh here in New Zealand.

In the end I discovered the BBC was being very careful in what it did report. Corporate sensibilities overtaking the newshound, I fear. Instead, I switched to Wikinews, an offshoot of Wikipedia. There I found an avid Top Gear fan who was listening to local radio in the UK and writing down snippets and opinion. For the first day, that sufficed. For the rest of the week I set up a Google news alert. Handy things, news alerts, except it swiftly became apparent that Google looks only at news stories, not columns, and is designed for American readers. It didn’t get any of the opinion pieces from the UK dailies on whether Top Gear should carry on or Clarkson’s wonderful column about his mate and the crash and how they’d discussed what to do should one of them die.

That’s not the only news story I follow online though. The power of the news alert is such that I have kept up with the stupendously strange tale of Corey Maye, a man who was woken by the sound of armed men breaking into his house, who grabbed his handgun (yes, this is in the US) and who shot dead the first guy into the room. Only then did the others mention they were police officers serving a “no knock” warrant. The dead police officer turned out to be the son of the local police chief and one quick trial later, Maye ended up on death row.

Fortunately, an appeal judge has thrown out the sentence, but not the verdict, following much pressure not from the national media in the US but from a number of bloggers who have kept people like myself informed.

Some days, it’s easy to forget the power of the internet. The idea that connecting information dots to create a bigger picture is such a fundamental one (think about the card file index) that it’s easy to forget just what an impact it can have.

For example, Google Earth is being used by archaeologists to pinpoint long lost villages, roads, towns and — yes — topless sunbathers. A decade ago this was science fiction.

This week brings the news that Intel plans to keep adding processors to its hardware, reaching 80-processor PCs within the next five years. That many processors, apart from keeping you toasty and warm, will deliver a trillion floating point operations per second. That’s a terabyte of data moved in a second — in a machine that can sit on your desk.

My own industry has been changed fundamentally by the new technologies and yours won’t be far behind — if it’s behind at all. Office productivity is one thing, but a terabyte of data a second in five years’ time … that’s something else again.

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