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Best of the Web

The $300 gadget that could change your life

The $300 gadget that could change your life

(Sergey Galyonkin/Wikimedia Commons)

Our pick of the week from the web, including the world’s largest Bitcoin mining operation, robot seduction and why virtual reality may soon hit the prime time.

Into the Bitcoin mines
Nathaniel Popper | Dealbook | 21st December 2013

Ex-HSBC banker builds world’s largest Bitcoin mining operation in Iceland, where electricity is cheap. Mining has shifted from home computers to industrial-scale computer farms. Dedicated Bitcoin computers sell for $20,000 each. “The work the computers do is akin to guessing at a lottery number. The faster the computers run, the better chance of guessing that right number and winning valuable coins.”

Cancer and the mythical journey
Graham Joyce | 21 December 2013

“The experience of being struck down by cancer is very interesting. Assuming it doesn’t kill you very quickly (and it does sometimes kill speedily) the cancer sufferer can find himself or herself launched on an heroic journey. By that I don’t mean that I’m a hero because I have cancer; I mean ‘heroic’ in the mythical sense, in that your life is suddenly propelled along a remorseless narrative that has the structure of all great mythical journeys.”         

Virtual reality is ready for prime time
Cyrus Nemati | Slate | 20 December 2013

Prepare for a life-changing gadget. Oculus Rift, a “consumer-focused virtual reality headset”, launched via Kickstarter, goes into mass production next year and will sell for about $300. “The Rift could let someone in a wheelchair run along a beach. Being bedridden doesn’t mean you can’t fly to unexplored planets in a spaceship of your own making. Being 90 doesn’t mean you can’t ride a roller-coaster.”

What I did with my Lamborghini
Dwight Garner | New York Times | 20 December 2013

Literary critic accustomed to “rusted-out Jeeps and Volvos” enjoys test-driving a Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 Roadster. Accelerating from 0 to 60mph in 2.9 seconds produces a sensation “akin to horizontal bungee jumping”. At low speeds “the engine whines like a wedge of pit bulls kept on a choke collar.” Bonus tip: You can grill sausages on the flames from the exhaust. (Metered paywall)  

Interview: Clive Thompson
Bill Tipper | Barnes & Noble Review | 19 December 2013

Author of Smarter Than You Think says gadgets are good for us. “Our thinking processes are already extremely reliant on tools outside of our heads. The only reason we don’t notice how interwoven our thinking processes have become with older technologies – pencils, paper, electric light, penicillin, fire – is that they’re old, so we’ve ceased to notice their effects. But take them away, and our thinking changes dramatically.”

The year in robotic seduction
Anshuman Iddamsetty | Hazlitt | 19 December 2013

“Boston Dynamics was as much its YouTube channel as it was a robotics firm. The videos were what Boston Dynamics did best: present experimental technologies as logical conclusions. Of course we’ll have quadruped robots running faster than Usain Bolt. But there were consequences to this kind of thinking. My – our – obsession with Boston Dynamics served as a kind of military boosterism.”

Where Google Ventures pins its hopes
Miguel Helft | Fortune | 19 December 2013

Profile of venture-capital firm owned by Google but run as a “fully independent unit”. Sixty employees, 220 investments, typically focused on personalised health care, clean energy resources, computer science education. Largest investment so far: $258m in car-hire company Uber. Combination of high-profile parentage and operational flexibility has helped make it “one of the hottest venture firms in Silicon Valley.”

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