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Bytes: What’s new in tech

Feds bust Bitcoin black market; Amazon unveils Kindle Fire HDX; A patent for designer babies

Feds bust Bitcoin black market
Some of the Internet’s more nefarious users are likely experiencing “intense panic,” said John Herrman in BuzzFeed.com. Last week the government shut down Silk Road, an online “black market” that uses virtual currencies such as Bitcoin to trade in products, including illegal drugs. Its founder was arrested for money laundering, hacking, narcotics trafficking, and trying to hire a hit man, but he’s not the only one “in serious trouble.” All the Bitcoin assets on the site were seized, so “any money held in a Silk Road account is no longer available to the users who deposited it.” The fallout has left Silk Road users—and dealers—empty-handed. It’s “just a reminder that, as silly as buying and selling drugs on Tor with Bitcoins sounds, it’s still buying and selling drugs.” Silk Road has processed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of orders in the virtual currency, so “the ripple effects of this shutdown will be massive.”

Amazon unveils Kindle Fire HDX
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX must be seen to be appreciated, said David Pogue in NYTimes.com. The $230 reading device boasts up to 17 hours of battery life and stereo speakers, and weighs less than its predecessors. But the real highlight is its screen. With 323 tiny dots per inch, it is sharper than high-definition TV and “makes the iPad Mini’s 163 dots per inch look coarse.” But the sharpness only matters “when you’re looking at source material with resolution that high.” So while books and magazines look “razor-sharp,” don’t expect much improvement for TV shows or movies.

A patent for designer babies
Are custom babies on the horizon? asked Brandon Keim in Wired.com. A consumer genomics company called 23andMe has filed for a patent with the U.S. Patent Office, for a system to help parents choose traits for their future kids—from disease risk to hair color. “Put another way: It’s a designer baby-making system.” A company spokeswoman said that while “there was some thinking the feature could have applications for fertility clinics,” 23andMe “never pursued the idea and has no plans to do so.” Yet in fertility clinics that offer pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, some parents already practice “a form of selection, but in very broad terms.” Doctors can scan an embryo’s genome before it’s implanted, allowing them to prevent serious genetic disease and “in a small but growing number of instances, to pick a baby’s sex.”

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