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Ministry of Innovation

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar

Aurich Lawson

This is the first in a two-part series exploring Butterfly Labs and its lineup of dedicated Bitcoin-mining hardware. In part one, we look at the company and the experiences customers have had with it. In part two, to be published on June 29, we share our experiences running a Bitcoin miner for a couple weeks. Spoiler alert: we made money.

The more I dig into Bitcoin, the stranger it gets. There’s gray-market online gambling and Russian-operated futures markets—to say nothing of the virtual currency’s wild ride over the last several months. It’s full of characters with names like “artforz” and “Tycho,” supposedly two of the largest Bitcoin holders out there. Of course, like most things Bitcoin, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure.

While reporting on a Bitcoin-based gambling story earlier this year, I interviewed Bryan Micon, who works with a Bitcoin-based poker site called Seals With Clubs. (To continue the lack of information, Micon won’t say who owns the site.) Micon has taken it upon himself to investigate what he believes are Bitcoin-related scams—such as the ill-fated Bitcoin Savings and Trust online bank—and he makes public pronouncements about them.

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar

Aurich Lawson / Jonathan Naumann / Joi Ito / Stanford CIS

Fifteen years ago, I was living outside Geneva, Switzerland, spending my lunch hours screwing around on the nascent Web a few dozen kilometers from where it was created. I popped into chat rooms, forums, and news sites, and I e-mailed family back home. I was learning French and getting my dose of tech news by reading the French-language edition of Macworld magazine. (Génial!)

I returned Stateside mere months after Ars began, reading more and more about the people behind many of the technologies that I was becoming increasingly fascinated with. I consumed just about every book I could find describing the history and personalities behind graphical user interfaces, networking, the Internet itself, and more.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all that, it’s that most people involved in technology continue the Newtonian tradition of humility. The most iconic innovators all seem to readily acknowledge that they stand on the shoulders of giants. In fact, when I met Vint Cerf and thanked him for making the work I do possible, he was a predictable gentleman, saying, “There were many others involved in the creation of TCP/IP, not just me.”

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar


Stephen Balaban is a co-founder of Lambda Labs, based in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

Cyrus Farivar

PALO ALTO, CA—Even while sitting in a café on University Avenue, one of Silicon Valley’s best-known commercial districts, it’s hard not to get noticed wearing Google Glass.

For more than an hour, I sat for lunch in late May 2013 with Stephen Balaban as he wore Google's new wearable tech. At least three people came by and gawked at the newfangled device, and Balaban even offered to let one woman try it on for herself—she turned out to be the wife of famed computer science professor Tony Ralston.

Balaban is the 23-year-old co-founder of Lambda Labs. It's a project he hopes will eventually become the “largest wearable computing software company in the world.” In Balaban's eyes, Lambda's recent foray into facial recognition only represents the beginning.

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar

On Thursday, the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, announced that it would require all users to “be verified in order to perform any currency deposits and withdrawals. Bitcoin deposits do not need verification, and at this time we are not requiring verification for Bitcoin withdrawals.”

The company did not provide any explanation about why it was imposing this new requirement, but it did say that it would be able to process most verifications within 48 hours.

The move comes two days after federal prosecutors went after Liberty Reserve, another online currency that had notoriously poor verification. (In court documents, a federal investigator in that case included an address of “123 Fake Main Street, Completely Made Up City, New York” to create an account that was accepted.) It also comes two weeks after the Department of Homeland Security started investigating Mt. Gox over the possible crime of money transmitting without a license.

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Original author: 
Casey Johnston

Casey Johnston

Aereo, a service that streams over-the-air channels to its subscribers, has now spent more than a year serving residents of New York City. The service officially expands to Boston tomorrow and is coming to many more cities over the next few months, including Atlanta and Washington, DC. Aereo seems like a net-add for consumers, and the opposition has, so far, failed to mount a defense that sticks.

But the simple idea behind Aereo is so brilliant and precariously positioned that it seems like we need to simultaneously enjoy it as hard as we can and not at all. We have to appreciate it for exactly what it is, when it is, and expect nothing more. It seems so good that it cannot last. And tragically, there are more than a few reasons why it may not.

A little about how Aereo works: as a resident of the United States, you have access to a handful of TV channels broadcast over the air that you can watch for free with an antenna (or, two antennas, but we’ll get to that). A subscription to Aereo gets you, literally, your very own tiny antenna offsite in Aereo’s warehouse. The company streams this to you and attaches it to a DVR service, allowing you both live- and time-shifted viewing experiences.

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Original author: 
Megan Geuss


The foc.us headset.

Ars Technica

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Earlier this week, Ars showed up at a demo day for the painful-to-read HAXLR8R (pronounced hack-celerator), a startup accelerator program that takes ten teams of entrepreneurs, gives them $25,000, and flies them between San Francisco and Shenzhen to work on a hardware-based product of their design.

Most of the products were still in progress, so many teams spent demo day courting VC funders or imploring the crowd to visit their Kickstarter campaign. But Foc.us, a company founded by mechanical engineers Michael Oxley and Martin Skinner, actually had its product launch that day. Its Foc.us headset is a device that is meant to shock your brain with electricity—and make you a better gamer because of it.

The headset is a red or black band that goes around the back of your head, with four disks that are placed on your forehead, just above your eyebrows. The disks contain electrodes beneath small circular sponges soaked in saline solution. When the headset turns on (via a physical button in the back or a companion iOS app), you get a shock to the prefrontal cortex that can range from 0.8 to 2.0 mA. For context, a hearing aid usually runs on about 0.7 mA—but you’re not directing that electricity into your head.

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WIRED UK

Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium

Imagine a future where solar panels speed off the presses like newspaper. Australian scientists have brought us one step closer to that reality.

Researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) developed a printer that can print 10 meters (about 33 feet) of flexible solar cells a minute. Unlike traditional silicon solar cells, printed solar cells are made using organic semi-conducting polymers. These can be dissolved in a solvent and used like an ink, allowing solar cells to be printed.

Not only can the VICOSC machine print flexible A3 solar cells, the machine can print directly on to steel. It opens up the possibility for solar cells to be embedded directly into building materials.

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Original author: 
Casey Johnston


Pichai seems open to Android meaning lots of different things to lots of people and companies.

It Came from China

An interview with Sundar Pichai over at Wired has settled some questions about suspected Google plans, rivalries, and alliances. Pichai was recently announced as Andy Rubin’s replacement as head of Android, and he expressed cool confidence ahead of Google I/O about the company’s relationships with both Facebook and Samsung. He even felt good about the future of the spotty Android OS update situation.

Tensions between Google and Samsung, the overwhelmingly dominant Android handset manufacturer, are reportedly rising. But Pichai expressed nothing but goodwill toward the company. “We work with them on pretty much almost all our important products,” Pichai said while brandishing his own Samsung Galaxy S 4. “Samsung plays a critical role in helping Android be successful.”

Pichai noted in particular the need for companies that make “innovation in displays [and] in batteries” a priority. His attitude toward Motorola, which Google bought almost two years ago, was more nonchalant: “For the purposes of the Android ecosystem, Motorola is [just another] partner.”

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Original author: 
Megan Geuss

A website built by two programmers, Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, displays recent changes to Wikipedia in real-time on a map of the world. When a new change is saved to the crowd-sourced encyclopedia, the title of the edited article shows up on the map with the editor's location according to his or her IP address.

Not all recent changes are counted, however. Actually, the website only maps the contributions made by unregistered Wikipedia users. When such a user makes an edit, they are identified only by IP address. This is just as well—a similar website called Wikistream logs all changes to Wikipedia (although not in such a graphically-friendly way), and watching the flood of new entries can get overwhelming, fast.

LaPorte and Hashemi said they built their map using the JavaScript library D3, datamaps-world.js, a service for searching the geolocation of IP addresses called freegeoip.net, and Wikimedia's recent changes IRC feed. The two programmers note in their blog that “you may see some users add non-productive or disruptive content to Wikipedia. A survey in 2007 indicated that unregistered users are less likely to make productive edits to the encyclopedia.” Helpfully, when you see a change made to a specific article, you can click on that change to view how the page has been edited (and change it back if it merits more editing).

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Original author: 
WIRED UK

Bryan Mills

A study of the Bitcoin exchange industry has found that 45 percent of exchanges fail, taking their users' money with them. Those that survive are the ones that handle the most traffic—but they are also the exchanges that suffer the greatest number of cyber attacks.

Computer scientists Tyler Moore (from the Southern Methodist University, Dallas) and Nicolas Christin (of Carnegie Mellon University) found 40 exchanges on the Web that offered a service changing bitcoins into other fiat currencies or back again. Of those 40, 18 have gone out of business—13 closing without warning, and five closing after suffering security breaches that forced them to close. Four other exchanges have suffered serious attacks but remain open.

One of those is Mt Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange, with Moore and Christin stating that at its peak it handles more than 40,000 Bitcoin transactions a day, compared to a mean average of 1,716. It has been the victim of a huge number of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks over the past month during the peak of the Bitcoin bubble (and its subsequent bursting—though the price now appears to be rising again). Its latest statement, dealing with the attack it suffered on April 21, is long and comprehensive, seeking to assuage the fears of Bitcoin users who feel that Mt. Gox is becoming a weak chain in Bitcoin's infrastructure.

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