Review: Naked Steel, Bare Flesh Sex Up Game of Thrones

King Robert Baratheon arrives at Winterfell. Photo courtesy HBO.

Game of Thrones opens with violence, nudity, foul language and a soundtrack dominated by cello and kettledrums. A medieval-looking haze of smoke hangs over the computer-generated cities of Westeros. Mud and filth fill the castles. Characters drop their silks and furs to engage in flesh-smacking sex inside ancient stone towers. There are two decapitations in the first 10 minutes.

In other words, the new show is everything a big-budget American TV channel and an imaginative swords-and-sorcery fantasy novelist can offer, baked up into one big, savory lamprey pie.

Game of Thrones is a 10-episode adaption of George R.R. Martin’s novel of the same name. The book is the first in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, a sequence of seven novels (only four of which have been published) that is one of the most ambitious fantasy epics in recent memory.

The fact that the first book is coming to HBO as a series — that it’s not being crammed, Harry Potter-style, into the impossible confines of a two- or three-hour feature film — is cause for celebration.

It’s welcome, too, that the creators of Game of Thrones have stayed true to Martin’s bloody, lusty vision, which is equal parts fantasy and historical fiction.

Well, sort of historical: The continent of Westeros is based loosely on medieval Europe during the Wars of the Roses, but is otherwise a completely made-up world.

There is a bit of sorcery to liven things up, but the emphasis in the show and in the books is far more on castle politics, knightly warfare and basic human brutality. It’s a complex drama of power and violence salted with a little magic and pageantry.

You don’t need to be a Dungeons & Dragons nerd to enjoy this series, but it definitely helps if you like the sight of horses, swords and naked women.

 

Read the full review on Wired.com: Naked Steel, Bare Flesh Sex Up Game of Thrones | Underwire | Wired.com.

Review: Naked Steel, Bare Flesh Sex Up Game of Thrones

Video: Spaceship Lands at San Francisco Airport

 

One of the first planes to dock at Virgin America’s new San Francisco International Airport terminal was a spaceship.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo arrived hitched between the twin fuselages of WhiteKnightTwo, its mothership and launch platform.

“For the first time we’ve brought the spaceship and WhiteKnight to a commercial airport…. It’s just a fantastic, exciting day,” says an obviously amped-up Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. Before he was the company’s CEO, Whitesides was one of the first people to sign up for a $200,000 ticket to ride on the space plane.

Commercial flights will begin in a year or two, Whitesides added.

The spaceship/mothership combination landed at SFO in formation with a more typical Virgin vehicle, an Airbus A320, which carried celebrity passengers such as Virgin founder Richard Branson (seen peering out the window in the video above) and pioneering astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Full story: Video: Spaceship Lands at San Francisco Airport | Autopia | Wired.com.

Video: Spaceship Lands at San Francisco Airport

Microscopic Art Hides Inside Computer Chips

Where's Waldo? Inside a computer chip

Considering the expense, precision and difficulty of manufacturing computer chips, you would think the engineers designing them are pretty serious people.

But it’s not all business inside a chip fab, as these microscope photos reveal. In fact, the designers of microchips frequently hide tiny cartoons, drawings and even messages alongside the super-tiny circuits and semiconductors they create.

Chipworks, a company that analyzes microchips by peeling them apart and looking at them under microscopes, has discovered many examples of silicon art. We’ve selected a few highlights here from the firm’s extensivegalleries of silicon art, but check the Chipworks website for more.

The images in this gallery are magnified 200 to 500 times.

As Chipworks explains, these drawings are made with the same processes used to assemble the rest of a computer chip. Designs are etched onto photolithography plates which are then used to “print” the chips’ circuitry, layer by layer, in thin films of silicon, silicon dioxide, aluminum and other materials. It’s a complicated process that takes hundreds of steps and millions of dollars worth of machinery, and it requires incredible degrees of precision and repeatability.

But if there’s a little unused space in a chip, why not fill that with an entertaining design? It’s not as if most of the chip companies’ customers will ever notice. The only people likely to see these designs are the chip engineers’ supervisors and analysts at companies like Chipworks.

“The mass production of these works of art as parasites on the body of a commercial IC goes unnoticed by most observers,” writes Chipworks. “Their existence is a tribute to human resourcefulness and creativity, surfacing from deep within a complex process.”

 

Full story: Gallery: Microscopic Art Hides Inside Computer Chips | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Microscopic Art Hides Inside Computer Chips

Virgin’s Richard Branson Plans Deep-Sea Diving Venture

Photo of Virgin Oceanic sub in San FranciscoGallivanting billionaire Richard Branson is well on his way to space. Now he plans to explore the deepest parts of the ocean as well.

Branson announced his undersea exploration venture, Virgin Oceanic, on Tuesday. Unlike his suborbital-space-flight company, Virgin Galactic, the new venture is not accepting paying passengers. Instead, it will comprise only five deep-sea dives, each one carrying just one person, to the deepest points in each of the five oceans.

Virgin Oceanic tested its submarine in San Francisco Bay recently. Photo courtesy Virgin Oceanic.

To make the dives, Virgin has built a custom submarineand a flashy promotional video (see below). The sub’s cockpit has a bubble-like dome made of quartz, which can withstand 13 million pounds of pressure across its surface, Virgin says.

Overall, the sub looks a bit like an airplane, the better to “fly” to its underwater destinations. It weighs 8,000 pounds, is made of carbon fiber and titanium, and is rated to withstand pressure up to 37,000 feet below the surface. It’s not fast, though, with a maximum speed of just 3 knots and the ability to dive at 350 feet per minute, so its life-support systems are meant to last up to 24 hours.

In addition to its one human, the sub will have a water sampling system that can filter microbes and viruses from the water for later study. It will also be able to deploy unmanned probes. So far, the sub has only gone for a dip in San Francisco Bay.

Virgin Oceanic notes that sub was originally the brainchild of aviator and adventurer Steve Fossett, a friend of Branson’s, who crashed during a solo plane flight in 2007 but whose remains weren’t found until 2008.

To support and transport the sub, Virgin has retrofitted a 125-foot carbon-fiber racing catamaran with a crane, generators and lots of electronics.

The first dive will be to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a 36,201-foot canyon deep in the western Pacific. Humans have made it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench just once before, in 1960. The commander of that expedition, Jacques Piccard, later recounted the experience of that record-setting dive.

The second dive will be to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench, which at 28,232 feet below the surface is the deepest trench in the Atlantic Ocean. Branson himself plans to pilot the sub for this journey. Branson will be the backup pilot for the Mariana dive too, if his designated pilot is unable to do it. Three other dives are planned, each to the deepest point of other three oceans.

There’s a serious scientific purpose to Virgin Oceanic’s missions, Virgin says, with actual scientists lined up to make the most of these dives for their research into bottom-dwelling microbes, bioluminescence and seafloor geology.

But mostly, we suspect, it will be an excellent adventure for the man Wired magazine has called a “happy-go-lucky tycoon.” More power to you, Sir Richard. We’ll be watching for the IMAX movie.

 

Published on Wired.com: Virgin’s Richard Branson Plans Deep-Sea Diving Venture | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Virgin’s Richard Branson Plans Deep-Sea Diving Venture

Happy 30th Birthday to the Portable PC

The portable computer was born 30 years ago this weekend, when Adam Osborne unveiled the Osborne 1 in San Francisco.

Osborne, a journalist and book author, made the transition to entrepreneur on the strength of his personality, ambition and vision. And for a short few months, his computer company was on top of the world, with one of the steepest revenue growth curves ever seen. A year and a half later, it was bankrupt, a victim of bad management and the now-notorious “Osborne effect,” referring to the sales-stifling result of announcing a next-generation product while the current generation is still on the shelves.

It’s hard to believe now, but the suitcase-sized PC shown above was state of the art for its time, with a tiny but usable CRT, disk drives and a full-sized keyboard. While its processor and operating system pale in comparison with the humblest smartphone today, it set the stage for later, more successful portables, from the Kaypro to the first Compaq laptop.

For the first time, the notion of taking a computer with you, wherever you might go, was conceivable. That was a huge leap, when less than a decade earlier computers were still the size of filing cabinets, locked away in fluorescent-lit, white-tiled computer rooms.

Harry McCracken has a fantastic, in-depth story on the history of Osborne and the early portable computing industry at Technologizer. It should be required weekend reading for anyone interested in computers.

“He was a God,” legendary technology journalist David Bunnell told McCracken, about Osborne. “I tell people that in those days there were three major people in the industry: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Adam Osborne, and not necessarily in that order. He had a huge following.”

Osborne! (Technologizer)

This post originally published on Wired.com: Happy 30th Birthday to the Portable PC | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Happy 30th Birthday to the Portable PC

How a Legacy From the 1800s Is Making Tokyo Dark Today


A strange legacy of the Japanese power system’s infancy in the late 1800s is complicating efforts to keep Tokyo supplied with electricity.

The problem, as explained by IDG News Service’s Martyn Williams, is that half of the country uses power whose current alternates at 60 Hz, while the other half gets its power at 50 Hz.

The discrepancy has to do with the founding of electric power in the country. Tokyo Electric Light Co. used German generators, which operated at 50 Hz, while in the west part of Japan, Osaka Electric Lamp Co. used generators from General Electric, an American company, operating at the same 60 Hz standard that is used in the United States to this day.

Unlike the U.S. grid, the Japanese power grid was never unified on a single standard. While it’s possible to connect the two grids, the frequency-changing stations required can only handle up to 1 gigawatt.

When the quake hit, it shut down 11 reactors including three that were in operation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that is now at the center of Japan’s nuclear problems. With the 11 reactors offline, 9.7 GW was gone from eastern Japan’s electricity production capacity.

And that’s the root of Tokyo’s current electricity problems: Utility companies in west Japan are unable to make up for all of the lost power.

Residents of Japan have faced a crisis of unimaginable proportions, with earthquakes followed by a tsunami followed by a nuclear disaster. The rolling blackouts in Tokyo are, in comparison, a relatively minor problem.

Still, it’s interesting to see how historical decisions from more than a century ago can have unexpected consequences today — all because of a frequency mismatch. Chalk it up to path dependency.

A legacy from the 1800s leaves Tokyo facing blackouts [IT World]

 

How a Legacy From the 1800s Is Making Tokyo Dark Today | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

How a Legacy From the 1800s Is Making Tokyo Dark Today

Silicon Art Hidden Inside Samsung’s Galaxy Tab

Silicon chips have billions of transistors in every square inch. But sometimes there’s enough room left over for chip engineers to insert a little joke.

While using a scanning electron microscope to examine the microcircuitry of a chip found in Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S phone, consulting company Chipworks discovered a surprise.

Underneath six layers of aluminum and silicon dioxide circuitry, almost at the level of the polysilicon wafer that underlies the entire chip, engineers concealed a tiny, tiny message.

Below the letters IFX (the stock symbol for Infineon, the company that makes the chip) is a tiny warning, made out of letters just two microns (2 µm) high:

IF YOU CAN READ THIS YOU ARE MUCH TOO CLOSE

“You would never find this message unless you were seriously looking for it,” says Chipworks marketing manager Rob Williamson.

The chip, the Infineon PMB5703, provides radio-frequency transmission and reception functions relating to the devices’ baseband and 3G features.

Chipworks has put many chips under the scanning electron microscope and has discovered dozens of hidden images and messages like this one. Constructed of the same materials as the chip’s circuitry — silicon dioxide, aluminum, copper and the like — the artwork can include cartoons, icons, or merely the initials of the chips’ designers.

In many cases, this artwork is not only tiny, it’s completely invisible unless you are disassembling the chip. Before it found this message, for instance, Chipworks had to delaminate the chip, layer by layer, putting each layer under the microscope. The purpose of that project was to understand the chip’s architecture, not to find hidden messages, but sometimes these Easter eggs pop out.

The makers of the Infineon PMB5703 must have had some extra time on their hands, because Chipworks found no less than four other images on the chip, including a smiley face, a drummer, a baby duck  called Calimero and a smiling dragon named Grisu.

Hidden warning message found in Samsung’s Galaxy tablet

 

Originally published as: Silicon Art Hidden Inside Samsung’s Galaxy Tab | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Silicon Art Hidden Inside Samsung’s Galaxy Tab

Sony Touts Console-Like Power of Upcoming NGP

SAN FRANCISCO — Sony is blurring the line between portable game consoles and larger consoles currently trapped inside TV cabinets.

With a high-resolution screen, a powerful processor and graphics card, and massive amounts of memory, the upcoming Sony NGP will be closer to the capabilities of a PC or PS3 than it is to Sony’s current portable, the PSP, according to a Sony executive speaking at the Game Developers Conference Wednesday.

The NGP’s 5-inch screen is substantially bigger than the PSP’s 4.3-inch screen, and has 4 times the resolution, or 960×544 pixels. That’s about midway between the PSP and the PS3, according to David Coombes, a platform designer for Sony Computer Entertainment America.

“People get choked up, they get tears in their eyes when they see that screen,” said Coombes.

Inside, there’s a 4-core, 32-bit ARM9 processor.

There’s also a PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU inside, which should deliver impressive video rendering. This is also a multi-core chip with the ability to dynamically load balance between its cores.

The NGP also includes some dedicated chips for media playback.

“It’s very similar to a modern PC” in terms of its processing power, said Coombes. And while Coombes wouldn’t state specifics about memory, he said it’s closer to the PS3 than to the PSP in terms of available RAM.

Games can be loaded via game cards with a capacity of either 2GB or 4GB, giving developers lots of room to create huge, complicated software and datasets.

A big NGP game will take about 4GB, compared to around 9GB for a PS3 game. By contrast, Coombes said, a typical iPhone game occupies only 10MB. The point is that an NGP game can include a lot more data, making it potentially far more complicated, with richer graphics, more detailed and larger worlds, and so forth.

For big games, developers will be able to reuse a lot of assets from existing Xbox or PS3 games, Coombes said, although naturally models, shaders and textures will have to be simplified for the NGP.

A demo of Uncharted for the NGP showed a rich, complicated environment and a variety of ways to control the little man on the screen, from using the analog controls and buttons to swiping on-screen to make him climb from handhold to handhold or to throw enemies into the abysses below. (See below for video.)

Other features included in the NGP include a second analog stick, plus a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope, for 6 axes of motion sensitivity.

There’s a touchscreen on the front and also on the back, which you can manipulate with the fingers you’re using to hold the NGP. Both touchscreens support multitouch, and can register how hard you are pressing them as well. A quick demo with a developer from BigBig studios showed the rear touchscreen being used to deform a cartoon landscape to roll a ball around, while touching the front touchscreen changed the camera angle and position.

Like nearly every other portable device hitting the market this year, the NGP has a camera on the front and one on the back. The cameras are meant for game play, said Coombes.

“We need high frame rate, so we can get sharper images” for fast-moving game play. So the cameras are optimized for high-speed, low-light video, not for taking pictures.

Wi-Fi-only and 3G/Wi-Fi models will be available, although the final configurations are not yet settled. The 3G models will also include GPS support, although the Wi-Fi models can also do positioning via Skyhook Wireless, which uses data about Wi-Fi hotspot locations to get relatively accurate location information.

Originally published on Wired: Sony Touts Console-Like Power of Upcoming NGP | GameLife | Wired.com.

Sony Touts Console-Like Power of Upcoming NGP

How Thunderbolt Could Hook Up Notebooks With Powerful Peripherals

Intel’s new high-speed port technology is called Thunderbolt. But what is it, exactly?

Think of Thunderbolt (formerly code named “Light Peak”) as two cables in one. One is a fast PCI Express cable for transferring data, and the other is DisplayPort, for driving an external display.

A Thunderbolt cable is capable of delivering data between a computer and a peripheral (say, an external hard drive) at 10 Gbps in either direction, Intel claims. That’s fast enough to transfer a full-length HD movie in under 30 seconds.

It’s also 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and 20 times faster than USB 2.0, according to Apple.

Because a ThunderBolt connector is also a DisplayPort connection, that means a single port on a notebook — such as the new MacBook Pros, which have Thunderbolt ports — can connect to an external monitor, which in turn can connect to storage devices via PCI Express. We call this “daisy-chaining” devices.

In theory, the monitor could also connect to a keyboard, mouse, additional displays and even a gigabit ethernet connection, with all the data for those peripherals going through the single Thunderbolt cable connecting the monitor and the notebook. The makers of these hardware devices simply need to add a small Intel chip to decode the Thunderbolt signal into its PCI Express and DisplayPort signals.

“All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common connector, and let individuals simply daisy-chain their devices one after another, connected by electrical or optical cables,” Intel’s press release states.

In short, a monitor could become a hub for PCIe peripherals to which you can easily dock your notebook with a single cable connection. For that to work, of course, you’ll need a Thunderbolt-compatible monitor — and none currently exist.

Fortunately for Mac users, Thunderbolt plugs have the same shape as the Mini DisplayPort connectors in all recent Macs, and it’s compatible with them, so you can plug an older monitor into a new Thunderbolt port (even using a DVI, HDMI or VGA adapter) and it will still work. You won’t have a data channel, but the video connection will function.

In the longer term, the speed of the PCI Express bus makes it possible for a variety of devices to be connected through simple, external cables rather than internal expansion cards, greatly increasing the expandability of notebooks and even netbooks. Video-capture devices, RAID arrays and who knows what will all be easy to add simply by plugging in a Thunderbolt port.

For now, Apple is the only company we know of offering Thunderbolt-compatible gadgets. Intel lists several other partners who will be using the standard, including storage makers LaCie and Western Digital, and says it is working with other companies to bring the technology to “computers, displays, storage devices, audio/video devices, cameras, docking stations and more.”

Originally published on Wired.com: How Thunderbolt Could Hook Up Notebooks With Powerful Peripherals | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

How Thunderbolt Could Hook Up Notebooks With Powerful Peripherals

Video: Internet, Gadgets Make Corvette Even More Awesome

Within a few years, your car may become a hub of interconnected devices, media and online services.

And you thought it was for getting you around town.

I recently spent a little time in a tricked-out 2009 Corvette whose dashboard included some proof-of-concept technology to integrate the car with a smartphone, a tablet, and the internet.

The console was created by QNX, the company that makes the operating system that underlies GM’s OnStar systems, Toyota’s upcoming Entune, and other vehicles. It’s similar to these systems, except it extends them by adding even more integration with the consumer devices you’re carrying.

In this car, the dashboard can interact with other devices in your car, such as your iPhone, a BlackBerry, or RIM’s upcoming tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook. It can play media from all of the above, or connect to the internet (via 3G) to stream music from Pandora.

Because QNX also makes the operating system underlying the PlayBook, there’s also a possibility that developers can create software for your car as easily as they can for the tablet, using HTML5, Java and other tools familiar to app developers.

In this video, I take a look at some of the ways cars will soon gain even more sophisticated connectivity.

Originally published on Wired: Video: Internet, Gadgets Make Corvette Even More Awesome | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Video: Internet, Gadgets Make Corvette Even More Awesome

Hands-On: Eccentric YikeBike Gives Segway a Run for Its Money

When the tentacled aliens from Gliese 581g arrive on Earth, they’ll probably be riding a YikeBike.

At least, that’s how the YikeBike looks. In reality, it’s made for the posteriors of humans, not the glistening thoraxes of our future Gliesean overlords. It’s the most compact electric bicycle ever made, its creators claim, and it looks the way it does because they threw out every preconception about the way bikes are supposed to look.

Instead, they stripped the YikeBike down to its essentials: One big wheel to propel you forward and one little rear wheel to stabilize your ride. It’s a design that inventor Grant Ryan, the founder of YikeBike, calls a “mini-farthing.”

We spent some time with Ryan recently, riding his strange two-wheeled contraption around the Wired parking lot. Watch the video above to see it in action. Despite its looks, it’s quite fun to ride.

Full story: Hands-On: Eccentric YikeBike Gives Segway a Run for Its Money | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

Hands-On: Eccentric YikeBike Gives Segway a Run for Its Money