5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 1/10

The Bitcoin chip race, prosopography, tiny figurines in Singapore streets, colorful diagrams of nuclear reactors, and the telemarketer's lawyer of choice.

1. Perhaps the strangest thing about Bitcoin is that it's made chip development more exciting than it's been since Bob Noyce was still at Intel

"At the heart of the computers made by HashFast and similar startups such as KnCMiner and Butterfly Labs is a chip known as an ASIC, or an application specific integrated circuit. Unlike the general purpose Intel (INTC) chip powering a PC or an ARM (ARMH)processor in a smartphone, an ASIC typically performs a single function extremely well. A security company might make an ASIC to speed up the encryption of data, for example. For Bitcoin-mining toolmakers like HashFast, the goal is to make an ASIC that is precisely tuned to crunch Nakamoto’s algorithms. 'It would take 70,000 of Intel’s fastest chips to match one of ours,' de Castro says...

In August, Austin (Tex.)-based CoinTerra announced two Bitcoin computer designs, which it dubbed GoldStrike and TerraMiner. So far the company has $20 million in presales. Ravi Iyengar, a veteran chip designer, runs the startup. Iyengar has worked at Intel, NvidiaQualcomm, and, most recently, Samsung, where he led a team that developed chips for the company’s phones and tablets. After hearing about Bitcoin, Iyengar quit his job to use his experience to outrace other Bitcoin-mining startups. Iyengar has watched Intel, IBMApple, Samsung, and other heavyweights slug it out in the chip business for years. 'No arms race in the history of the chip industry even comes close to this,' he says."


2. Define prosopography.

"In historical studiesprosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable, by means of a collective study of their lives, in multiple career-line analysis. Prosopographical research has the aim of learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective biography, and proceeds by collecting and analysing statistically relevant quantities of biographical data about a well-defined group of individuals. This makes it a valuable technique for studying many pre-modern societies."


A boy with wings (FoundIn)

3. There are a bunch of tiny figurines sitting on the streets of Singapore right now. 144 have been found; 264 are still waiting.

"Bringing art from exhibition spaces to urban streets, the figurines disrupt one's preoccupation in the metropolis and ask city dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings and notice the small details. All figurines in Foundin are individuals seeking to be found in one way or another, just like every one of us. By shrinking human figures to miniature plastic models, the project places a miniature city within a city and explores how we, the higher and larger beings, interact with much smaller counterparts."


4. Massive, colorful isometric drawings of the world's nuclear plants

Fulton Nuclear Power Plant Wall Chart (University of New Mexico)


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