No, Really, the PC Is Dying and It’s Not Coming Back

A little while back, we started to hear a few voices speaking up against the drumbeat of doom. No, PCs weren’t dead. They were maybe even coming back.

Well, they’re not.

Market research outfit IDC has revised its prediction of PC shipments in 2015 downward. It’s projecting a drop of nearly 5 percent this year, worse than its earlier forecast of a 3.3 percent decline. In all, IDC expects 293.1 million PC units expected to ship this year.

To put that figure in perspective, Apple sold more than 74 million iPhones during the last quarter alone. At an annualized rate, that would put iPhone sales alone above IDC’s prediction for the entire PC market. Apple won’t likely sustain that pace—it tends to sell more iPhones at the end of the year—but its success is emblematic of the criss-crossing trajectories of mobile devices and PCs.

And not just in terms of the number of devices moving. The PC industry is also losing money. According to IDC, the PC market shrank 0.8 percent last year to $201 billion. This year, it expects that number to balloon to 6.9 percent. By 2019, the firm expects the overall market to shrink to $175 billion, or several billion less than Apple’s 2014 revenue ($183 billion).

No, PCs weren’t dead. They were maybe even coming back. Well, they’re not.

None of this should come as a surprise in an age where mobile devices have become the dominant computing platform. But this latest prognosis is still worth noting for the way it signals the much larger tectonic shift currently underway in the industry.

No More PC Power

Yesterday, Intel—the primary supplier of microprocessors for PCs—reduced its revenue outlook in the first quarter by almost a billion dollars. The company acknowledged it is seeing weakening demand from businesses for desktop computers and lower inventory levels across the industry supply chain. Among other short-term rationales, the hardware company pointed to businesses delaying PC purchases in anticipation of upgrading out of Microsoft’s outdated Windows XP operating system. It also blamed challenging economic and currency conditions, especially in Europe, as possible explanations for its diminished outlook.

But those concerns start to sound like excuses in the context of the direction of personal computing as a whole. Case in point: earlier this year it emerged that Google’s capital expenditures had hit $11 billion, exceeding the $10 billion spent by Intel. Since Intel’s capital spending has traditionally served as a kind of tech industry high-water mark, Google’s ascendance was a big deal. Intel has typically spent its money on property, manufacturing plants, and chip-building equipment, while Google spent its cash on the data centers, computer servers, and networking equipment that underlies its online empire.

As Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple all follow suit in spending unprecedented amounts on data centers, that can’t be all bad for Intel, which makes many of the chips on which those data centers run. But it shows just how much the power dynamic has shifted. It’s not the companies that make the basic components that run computers—especially PCs—that have the power anymore. It’s the companies that make the things with which users—especially mobile users—interact that are building and profiting off tech’s future.

You Can Now Watch and Upload 360-Degree Videos on YouTube

As first promised back in January, YouTube has officially begun supporting 360 degree video formats in the majority of its mobile and web platforms. It’s a smart move, especially considering the growing interest in content-starved virtual reality platforms.

YouTube says it will support 360 video viewing in its existing YouTube Android app, on YouTube’s website, and in embedded videos on Chrome. Mobile users can tilt their device arund to adjust the point of view, much like you would with an augmented reality experience, while on the desktop, viewers can use their mouse to drag the video and see new angles. iPhone and iPad support isn’t available yet, but it should be available in the future.

Google is working with a number of cameras and manufacturers, including Bublcam, Giroptic’s 360cam, IC Real Tech’s Allie, Kodak’s SP360 and the Ricoh Theta, so that the 360 videos they capture are easy to upload to YouTube. In the future, Google will add additional features like auto-detecting when a 360-degree video has been uploaded, the ability to add filters (because what is life when it’s not viewed through a vaguely retro lens?), and better search functionality for finding these videos.

360 degree video may not be pervasive yet, but a growing number of hardware and software are supporting the form. The Samsung Gear VR, which straps a Galaxy Note 4 to your face with head-tracking goggles, is itching for content beyond Google Street View videos and a handful of gaming titles. Mobile apps like Fyuse, which presents itself as a “spatial photography” offering, also take advantage of the creativity 360 video can provide.

Google has more details about the technical requirements for 360 videos on Github (you’ll need to run a script on your video to ensure it’s equipped with the proper metadata), as well as on its YouTube Creators blog. There are still a number of steps YouTube and its hardware partners need to take before it’s seamless and pervasive. But it’s an important first step towards the fully immersive video experience you’ve been dreaming of since your very first View-Master.

River algae affecting mercury pollution at Superfund site, study shows

Dartmouth scientists and their colleagues have found that periphyton -- a community of algae, bacteria and other natural material living on submerged surfaces -- is helping to transform mercury pollution from a Superfund site along a New Hampshire river into a more toxic form of the metal.

The study also found lower than anticipated levels of methylmercury in crayfish, mayflies and small fish downstream from the former chemical plant along the Androscoggin River in Berlin, N.H., despite elevated methylmercury in the sediment, water and periphyton.

The results, which shed light on mercury dynamics within rivers and their food webs, appear in the journal Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

Methylmercury is a highly toxic form of mercury and the form that most easily passes up the food chain where it can reach high concentrations in predator fish. In aquatic systems, mercury is transformed into methylmercury in a complex biogeochemical process mediated by bacteria. Periphyton, which consists of algae, bacteria, fungi and detritus attached to submerged rocks, plants and other surfaces, is a fundamental part of aquatic ecosystems and can be a primary food source for small fish and invertebrates.

Researchers at Dartmouth and the U.S. Geological Society set out to determine whether mercury originating from the Superfund site enters the lower levels of the river's food chain. The mercury comes from a chlor-alkali facility that produced chlorine used in the manufacture of paper at the adjacent pulp mill from 1898 to the 1960s. They found surface sediment next to the site had methylmercury levels up to 40 times higher and total mercury levels up to 30 times higher than other reaches of the river. Mercury concentrations in the water next to the site were up to five times higher than downstream.

The potential for periphyton to produce methylmercury was highest next to the site as a result of high bacterial activity and low periphyton density, though periphyton methylmercury production rates in other reaches of the river were close to or below reporting limits. Methylmercury concentrations within the periphyton significantly increased from upstream to downstream. Contrary to the scientists' expectations, methylmercury concentrations in crayfish, mayflies and shiners didn't increase downstream from the site like large adult fish concentrations shown in previous studies. Total mercury and methylmercury bioaccumulation in small fish and invertebrates varied with no clear patterns of distribution downstream.

It's not clear why bioaccumulation patterns are different between predator fish and the smaller creatures they eat, but the researchers say the leaking mercury's impact may be more localized than they originally expected. "While our study clearly demonstrates that the chlor-alkali Superfund site is impacting this section of the Androscoggin River, future studies could investigate whether other factors such as dams, river grade, wetlands or upland drainage influence the patterns of bioaccumulation," says senior author Celia Chen, a research professor of biological sciences and principal investigator in Dartmouth's Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program. "An even greater potential may exist for mercury bioaccumulation downstream of the Shelburne Dam, where the river broadens and slows even further."

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The above story is based on materials provided by Dartmouth College . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Tech Time Warp of the Week: The Electric Tricycle That Was the Tesla of the 1980s

Elon Musk made his fortune at PayPal. But he’s probably best known for his audacious projects like SpaceX, Hyperloop, and, of course, Tesla Motors.

Tesla has helped bring electric vehicles closer to the mainstream than ever, and the Model S was met with near universal acclaim. Apple shareholders are even asking Tim Cook to buy the company. But when Musk was still a teenager, another tech tycoon took a run at shaking up the automotive industry with an electric vehicle.

It didn’t work.

Sir Clive Sinclair was the man behind the ZX Spectrum—a home computer from the early 1980s that was essentially the Commodore 64 of the UK. After being knighted in 1983, Sinclair decided to take the fortune he’d made in the computer industry and spend it on reinventing transportation.

The result was the Sinclair C5, released in 1985, which you can see in action in the infomercial embedded above. Yes, it looked like a bumper car, but the electric trike had an advertised range of about 20 miles—plenty for running errands around town—and parking was a snap. And it was cheap. It cost just £399, and you didn’t a license, registration or even insurance to drive it on the road. It was, in theory, the perfect vehicle for the urban driver on a budget. But it was a total flop.

What the infomercial conveniently avoids mentioning is that if you wanted to take the C5 up a hill, you’d have to pedal. Actually, if all you knew about the C5 is what you saw in that video, you could be forgiven for not realizing that it had pedals at all.

And really, that’s just the start of what was wrong with the thing. Its lack of a roof made driving it in the winter unappealing, and the “one size fits all” design wasn’t particularly comfortable. But what really doomed it was that it was so low to the ground that people felt terrified of driving it in traffic.

You can get a pretty detailed look at a restored C5, warts and all, in the video below.

Although the C5’s failure put an end to Sinclair Vehicles, Sinclair himself was largely undeterred. He has continued to develop new products under the guise of Sinclair Researching, including an electric bicycle—the Zike—in 1992 and a folding bike called the A-bike in 2006. In 2010, he announced a successor to the C5 called the X-1 that was to be released the next year. We’re still waiting, but who knows. Maybe an electric tricycle will give Elon Musk a run for his (vast amount of) money after all.

Week’s Best TV: Liam Neeson Reads an Ominous Bedtime Story

In the bad old days before TV and Internet and on-demand programing, it would have been impossible to see a historic civil rights activist, Thor, Bette Midler, and two of comedy’s hottest young voices all in the same place at the same time. But now you can, and they’re all right here in WIRED’s weekly roundup of the best TV! Hear about what Kim Kardashian has been up to as told by the Divine Miss M, listen to Liam Neeson read you a story before bed, and then learn about what it was like to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with no more effort than a scroll and a click. Why swear allegiance to one late night host when you can have them all?

Saturday Night Live—Avengers News Report (Above)

Anyone think this sketch would have been dramatically improved by fewer clothes? Yeah, us too.

Jimmy Kimmel Live—Bette Midler Sings Kim Kardashian’s Tweets

Heres a post for moms everywhere, because moms love Bette Midler. You’re welcome, moms.

Late Night With Seth Meyers—Ginnifer Goodwin’s Nine-Month-Old Son Is Khal Drogo

Not only does Ginnifer Goodwin look like an elf, she’s also apparently Queen of the Nerds in real life. Star Wars cosplay marathon at Ginnifer’s house! Bring your Boba helmet!

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have managed to turn even the biggest stars in comedy into gushy fanboys and fangirls. We get it. So are we.

Saturday Night Live—The Iggy Azalea Show

Iggy Azalea has recently dropped off social media as rumors of discord between her and her management have gotten louder. Also, she’s pushed back the start of her arena tour from the summer to the fall, with some speculating that the high volume of guff she’s been getting on social media have something to do with her public retreat. Hopefully, Azalea considers this sendup to be more flattering than damning, and doesn’t slip further into her (hypothetical, speculative) shame spiral as a result.

Late Night With Seth Meyers—The Crazy Stunt That Got Jada Pinkett Smith Her Job On Gotham

The fact that Jada Pinkett Smith is pretty awesome is often overshadowed by her very famous husband and her even eccentric children. But Pinkett Smith, the mouth of such 1990s gems as Set It Off and Woo and A Low Down Dirty Shame, is a cool cat in her own right. So as she confirms her departure from the show Gotham (she played the series’ only original villain distinct from the comics mythology in Fish Mooney) let’s share some laughs with her and Seth Meyers. In this clip she talks about how she defined her evil persona for the role of Mooney, and all the light bondage it entailed. Then, if you want to see her talking about all the “chocolate tastiness” in Magic Mike XXL—and we strongly encourage you to do so—you can find that portion of her interview here.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—John Lewis Part 1

Congressman John Lewis speaking about his experience in the march on Selma resonates as much now as it ever has. Watch Part 2 of Lewis’ conversation with Jon Stewart here.

Jimmy Kimmel Live!—Liam Neeson Reads a Bedtime Story

Fresh off some very respectable reviews for his new movie Run All Night, Liam Neeson drops by Jimmy Kimmel to share with us a lovely, ominous, cautionary bedtime story. Read us all the stories, Liam!

'Warhead' molecule to hunt down deadly bacteria

Targeting deadly, drug-resistant bacteria poses a serious challenge to researchers looking for antibiotics that can kill pathogens without causing collateral damage in human cells. A team of Boston College chemists details a new approach using a "warhead" molecule to attack bacteria -- and spare healthy human cells -- by targeting a pair of lipids found on the surface of deadly germs, according to a report today in the journal Nature Communications.

The new strategy required the researchers to develop a novel type of "warhead molecule" capable of selectively targeting bacteria, overcoming biological conditions that interfere with bonding to pathogens and avoiding healthy human cells, said Boston College Associate Professor of Chemistry Jianmin Gao, the lead author of the report.

The BC team found answers to those challenges in the covalent chemistry of lipids, Gao said.

"In contrast to other efforts focused on the charge-to-charge attraction between molecules, we are using a completely different mechanism to target bacterial cells," said Gao. "Our method exploits the covalent chemistry of lipids -- where the lipids react with synthetic molecules to form new chemical structures based on the formation of new covalent bonds."

Pathogenic bacteria that are resistant to conventional antibiotics pose increasingly serious threats to public health. Researchers in medicinal chemistry, particularly those who seek to develop new antibiotics, are constantly looking for new ways to identify and differentiate bacterial pathogens from host cells within the human body.

Gao said bacterial cells are known to display a different set of lipids in their membranes. Prior research has focused on the use of positively charged peptides to target negatively charged lipids on the surface of bacterial cells. The approach has seen limited success as the charge-charge attraction between the attacking molecules and bacteria is prone to weakening by the presence of salt and other molecules, said Gao.

The researchers developed a novel, unnatural amino acid that serves as a suitable molecular warhead to target bacterial pathogens. Gao and his group sent the warhead molecule after bacterial lipids known as amine-presenting lipids -- specifically phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and lysyl phosphatidylglycerol (Lys-PG) -- which can be selectively derivatized to form iminoboronates, a covalent bond forming process that allows the selective recognition and labeling of bacterial cells.

In addition, because amine-presenting lipids are scarce on the surface of mammalian cells, they are able to seek out and label bacterial cells with a high degree of selectivity, Gao said. Furthermore, iminoboronate formation can be reversed under physiologic conditions, giving the new method a high degree of control and allowing the warhead molecules to self-correct if unintended targets are reached.

Gao said a large number of bacterial species present PE and Lys-PG on their surfaces, making the covalent labeling strategy applicable to many applications in the diagnosis of bacterial infections and the delivery of antibiotic therapies.

"For the short term, we hope this work will inspire other people to consider using covalent chemistry for interrogating biological systems," Gao said. "Going into the future, we are excited to explore the potential of our chemistry for imaging bacterial infections. We are also working hard to apply our current findings to facilitate the targeted delivery of potent antibiotics to bacterial cells only."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Boston College . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

It Takes Crazy Effort to Clear Snow From Airport Runways

A United Airlines jet blows snow on a runway at O'Hare International Airport , Feb. 1, 2015, in Chicago. A United Airlines jet blows snow on a runway at O'Hare International Airport , Feb. 1, 2015, in Chicago. Nam Y. Huh/AP

Airports view fighting mother nature as war against cancelled flights, with runways as the battlefield. Much like state highway departments do, they prepare for bad weather with well-choreographed plans to deal with whatever might happen.

It turns out that it takes quite a bit of snow to completely close an airport. Thanks to modern chemicals, gigantic snow-moving equipment, and really good planning, airports can keep runways and taxiways clear of snow long enough for some planes to take off and land.

The biggest priority is keeping ice from forming on runways. Snow and rain can be easily dealt with, but once ice bonds to the runway surface, it takes a lot of work to get back down to dry pavement. That means constant preparation and hard work.

Everything at an airport slows down when it snows. Runways where planes are normally taking off every 45 seconds now can only handle one every 90 seconds. Baggage handlers must move slower because of slippery conditions; planes must be actively deiced before taking off; and runways need to be shut down periodically so armies of trucks with giant plows and brushes can get them down to bare pavement.

What it means is that in a snowstorm, an airport’s ability to handle arriving and departing aircraft can be cut in half, or worse, which results in a lot of cancelled flights.

As for how the airports keep the runways clear in winter weather, it’s similar to how state highway departments keep the roads clear—though with some very different priorities and techniques.

For example, highway departments use salt-based chemicals to keep ice from forming on roads. They work really well, but cars in winter states can accumulate rust as a result. Corrosion and airplanes do not mix, so airports need specialized (and really expensive) formulas that don’t affect metal on the airframe.

Highways generally use steel-tipped snowplow blades which can cause potholes, but are much cheaper. Airports cannot have potholes on the runway for obvious reasons, so they use polyurethane blades that are gentler on the surface.

Like all things associated with aviation in this country, the process is heavily regulated by an FAA document called the Airport Winter Safety and Operations advisory circular. The 60-plus-page document advises airport operators on how to develop a snow and ice control plan, and tells them how to conduct runway friction surveys to determine if it’s safe for a plane to land or take off.

Industry groups like the American Association of Airport Executives are involved too, with airports in similar climates (Boston and New York, for example) working together to share best practices and knowledge.

Normal climate helps determine how well an airport can respond to winter events. Airports that get 3 inches of snow per year probably won’t buy 100 pieces of snow-moving equipment. That means that if they ever do have a big storm, one that would only inconvenience another airport in a snowier clime, that airport might be closed for a significant period of time because they simply couldn’t keep the runway clear.

Some airports get lots of heavy, wet snow and need to use plows to remove it. Other airports get dry, blowing snow, and can use what are effectively giant spinning brooms to clear the way. If it’s rain turning to snow, airports will use dry chemicals and less liquid so it doesn’t all wash away, and vice versa.

“Big airports that get every conceivable type of precipitation—like Kennedy [Airport in New York City]—you’ll wind up with a little bit of all of that,” says Robert Junge, a former manager of airport operations at JFK. “You keep an arsenal on hand and take out of your toolbox the component pieces you need for that event.”

Airports work with the FAA, the ultimate controller of all the aircraft, to temporarily close runways so they can be plowed. At Kennedy, Junge says, it takes two liquid dispensing trucks with 75-foot-wide spray booms to cover each runway in liquid product ahead of a storm. Sometimes a third is added to ensure adequate overlap.

As the storm progresses, massive teams will head out to remove snow from all the primary airport areas like runways and taxiways. At Kennedy, Junge says, it takes six massive plow trucks 45 minutes, dispensing 17,000 gallons of liquid chemicals along the way at some $8 per gallon. Once that 45-minute sweep is finished, much of the time the crews need to head back to the beginning because of snow that accumulates while they were working on the rest of the airport.

Kennedy has 12 miles of very wide runway, plus 45 miles of taxiway and countless miles of vehicle service roads, ramp areas and more. It must all be plowed, inspected and kept safe. That doesn’t even count all the parking lots, roadways, terminal access and more on the civilian side.

Runways might be closed for 10 to 12 minutes while the trucks are out, and planes will shift to an alternate runway for takeoff and landing. Then they’ll switch, continually rotating planes and plows as long as they can keep up.

Airport operations supervisors will follow the crews, ensuring that the runway is safe for aircraft and that no parts of the truck were left on the runway, or that any landing lights are damaged. They’ll make sure that the appropriate amount of liquid product was applied—too much can make the surface slippery. Too little does the same.

They also use measurement devices to determine the coefficient of friction of a runway. With that data, teams can ensure that they are effectively clearing the pavement and that it’s safe for planes to operate.

If the weather gets bad enough, an airport might need to plow a single runway every 15 minutes, letting a few planes land in between passes. Eventually, the plows simply can’t keep up and the airport needs to be closed entirely.

“Today, it’s very rare that runways close,” says Junge. “The trick is to try to keep crews on the runways during the storm.” The crews rotate, getting on and off a runway in eight to 12 minutes, then on to the next one, and then back to the first.

“The goal is to keep the airport open, stay ahead of the storm, and stay as safe and efficient as you can.”

Your Definitive Binge Guide for the Friday the 13th Movies

Jason Voorhees in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. Jason Voorhees in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. courtesy Paramount Pictures

Last month we got a Friday the 13th, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by Valentine’s Day. Whatever. Now it’s March and this time around, Friday the 13th is about the same thing it’s been about since 1980: Jason Voorhees and his bloody reign of terror on Crystal Lake. But it all started in 1957, really, when Jason drowned in that lake thanks to a lazy lot of camp counselors more concerned with pre-marital sex than looking after their charges. The first mysterious killings came in 1958 and that’s when the locals started calling it Camp Blood, the place you went to but didn’t come back from, the place with the “Death Curse.” Tshh tshh tshh ha ha ha!

But what began as a cabin-in-the-woods slash fest evolved over the years into something much more unwieldy. Although Jason almost always ends up back home at (and sometimes literally in) Crystal Lake, he also takes trips to Manhattan, to hell, and eventually even to space. In Part VIII he appears as his inner child, and in Part IX his demonic consciousness goes body hopping between unsuspecting victims. Among the Four Horsemen of the super killer apocalypse—Leatherface, Michael, Freddy—Jason is by far the most flamboyantly un-killable. Seriously. The whole point of a super killer is that they themselves won’t die, but the number of times and over-the-top ways that Jason has been revived over the decades boggles the mind.

Jason is also the only explicitly supernatural of the four Big Bads, being revived from his grave by a strike of lightning in Part VI and entering un-dead territory. Considering he would go on to anchor 12 total movies over time (including nine sequels from the original, one spin-off in Freddy vs. Jason and a remake in 2009), it’s no wonder they made him extra fantastical. And Jason clearly ruled the 1980s, with eight installments coming to theaters between 1980 and 1989.

And remember when we mentioned pre-marital sex earlier? Yeah, there’s a whole lot of that throughout the Friday the 13th franchise. Right now you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, that’s what happens in slasher flicks,” but this series takes it to the next level, even making the R-rated moments a running joke by parts IX and X.

So how does one keep track of all the sex, slashing, and supernatural activity? With so many movies and only one Friday during which to truly celebrate them, we’d like to offer you a handy binge guide for all of your Friday the 13th viewing needs. (Most of the main franchise is playing on Epix today, by the way.) Here’s everything you need to know about all the movies, complete with kill counts, notes on the highest quality executions and, most importantly, Final Girl rankings.

Friday the 13th (1980)

The granddaddy of them all, as they say. The landmark debut of Friday the 13th was the first and last time the franchise used subtlety to affect scares, with as many murders happening off camera as they did on. Keep an eye out for a baby Kevin Bacon, the first appearance of Pamela Voorhees and use of the term “grass” when referring to marijuana.

Kill Count: 10*

Top Kills: Arrow through the throat and a clean decapitation via machete.

Final Girl: Strong, practical, realistic, and good fighting skills despite taking a heavy beating. She was a strong model for all eventual Girls to come and ranks overall at No. 2.

Setting: Camp Crystal Lake in Hope, New Jersey

Victims: Camp staff

Friday the 13th Part II

Five years after the massacre of the inaugural Friday the 13th people can’t seem to leave well enough alone. For Part II a bunch of soon-to-be counselors are set up across Crystal Lake at a camp training facility. But even though they aren’t at the Camp, this is still Jason’s lake and he will waste all those who trespass on it. Marijuana is now referred to as “dope.”

Kill Count: 8 (with one unconfirmed)

Top Kills: Machete to the face sending the victim careening down a staircase in his wheelchair. (See below.)

Final Girl: This one is tough. She’s more of a runner than a fighter, which isn’t a criticism, but at one point she gives away her position to Jason by urinating on the floor at the sight of a mouse. (Who loses their bladder over a rodent when the madman who just killed all your friends is now hunting you down?!) However, she does try to use a car, a chainsaw, and trick psychology to ward off Jason, so cleverness in crisis lifts this Final Girl all the way up to No. 3 in our power rankings.

Setting: Cabin facilities near Camp Crystal Lake

Victims: Camp staff in training

Friday the 13th Part III

The third Friday movie is the technological masterpiece of the series, sporting cutting edge 3-D technology and plenty of stunt camera angles to show it off. You can practically feel the yo-yo spinning into your face! And despite the fact that the hockey mask is iconic in the franchise, Part III is actually the first time Jason puts it on. It’s the first movie to transition out of the camp framework, and also kicks off a several movies long trend of Jason running after his victims—a departure from the standard walk-and-stalk hunting style. Part III is definitely one of our favorites of the series.

Kill Count: 10

Top Kills: The bisection in mid-handstand was the top Jason kill, but for sheer grit, the multiple deaths of Jason in the final act at the hands of our hero are all excellent.

Final Girl: Easily the best of the franchise. She’s got a strong survival instinct and channels her childhood PTSD into full-on ass-kicking abilities when necessary. She’s the best fighter of the Final Girls and ranks overall at No. 1.

Setting: Secluded cabin near Crystal Lake

Victims: Vacationing youth

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Part IV)

Part IV keeps the Friday mythology outside of camp grounds, continuing to focus instead on groups of sex-having, weed-smoking vacationers. It marks the first appearance of Tommy Jarvis (Cory Feldman), the franchise’s only recurring character in a lead role. There’s also an appearance by pre-Back to the Future Crispin Glover, and one of our favorite finales in the whole series.

Kill Count: 13

Top Kills: It happens fast, but the death-by-window-toss onto the top of a massive station wagon is one of our favorites from the entire series. The hacksaw-to-the-neck and in-shower face crush were also highlights. (See below.)

Final Girl: This girl puts herself in harm’s way to protect her family and demonstrates adequate fighting abilities, but is also really uninteresting. She gives Jason a good taunting, but when your much-younger brother has to save your life and do the killing for you, it totally drops your credibility. Final power ranking score is No. 9.

Setting: Secluded cabin near Crystal Lake

Victims: Vacationing youth and a neighboring family

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Part V)

When your franchise gets to five installments, you’ve got to start spicing it up if you want to keep people interested, and for A New Beginning that means a skyrocketing body count, the first appearance of drugs harder than weed, and the most gratuitous use of sex and female nudity to this point in the series. It also marks the first time the series leaves Camp Crystal Lake, transitioning to a sort of “halfway house” for troubled teens in the wilds of Pennsylvania. The use of a bulldozer as a self-defense weapon is also a franchise highlight.

Kill Count: 19*

Top Kills: New Beginning wasn’t our favorite movie for impressive kills, but if we had to choose, we’d go with the road flare to the mouth and the garden shears to the eyes.

Final Girl: She’s not the best fighter, and isn’t very smart, but demonstrates a keen awareness of her surroundings by making good use of deadly tools (e.g. a chainsaw) when it really counts. Good enough to earn her a power ranking of No. 6.

Setting: Pinehurst camp for rehabilitating youth in Pennsylvania

Victims: Troubled teens

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI

Jason Lives is the unveiling of supernatural Jason, having been slayed in the previous movie and put six feet underground. It’s also the final film featuring Tommy Jarvis, who was originally supposed to become the masked villain in Part VI, but demand forced production to keep with tradition and bring Voorhees back from the dead as the One True Jason. This installment also marked a tonal shift in the franchise, featuring a very Scream-like self-awareness of the genre and touches of the meta-humor Wes Craven’s future franchise would popularize. It makes a series that’s six parts deep feel refreshed and a little more fun. Thankfully, Jason doesn’t run anymore from Lives onward until the 2009 remake. That was too weird and unfair.

Kill Count: 17

Top Kills: The folding a man in half backwards like human origami and the excoriation using nothing but his iron fist are both top tier Jason strength moves.


Final Girl: We didn’t really love this girl. Her level of sass didn’t turn out to be commensurate with her survival instincts, and even a tremendous final kill can only earn her a ranking of No. 8.

Setting: Camp Forrest Green (formerly Camp Crystal Lake)

Victims: Camp staff

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

New Blood adds another stylistic twist to the Friday movies by adding a telekinetic protagonist who accidentally raises Jason from an underwater prison with the power of her mind. Part VII also marks the first appearance of Kane Hodder as Jason, who would go on to play the role through Jason X, by far the longest-serving Jason of the franchise.

Kill Count: 15

Top Kills: Jason’s first sleeping-bag-based kill and his dispatching of the movie’s resident bitchy girl by means of a hatchet-to-the-face/across-the-room throw combination are the standouts of Part VII.

Final Girl: Our girl in New Blood has the unfair advantage of telekinesis upping her Final Girl game, but we’re factoring it in anyway! Her ability to fight Jason with her mind, in addition to her dogged determination to help her mom, raise her power ranking to No. 4.

Setting: Crystal Lake

Victims: Vacationing youth, a mother and daughter with PTSD

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Once again, the power of electricity pulls Jason back from beyond, and this time he’s heading for a party boat! Part VIII is the low point of the franchise. One of the hallmarks of any Friday movie is that Jason’s victims are typically unlikable, but Manhattan is filled with more assholes than usual. The death count is pretty high and combined with the limited setting of a ferry vessel, that adds up to more tedium than normal. If you want to see people die by drowning in toxic waste and a few other standout kills, Part VIII will fill that void. Otherwise, this movie doesn’t need your undivided attention.

Kill Count: 19**

Top Kills: This one features two of Jason’s best finishing moves: shoving a hot rock through someone’s chest in a sauna and decapitation by a single punch.


Final Girl: This was our least favorite of all the Final Friday Girls. There were flashes of strength, but for the most part she was pretty meek and defenseless. We know it’s tough to summon courage in the face of a super killer, but someone has to be the cellar dweller, and it’s the star of Jason Takes Manhattan. Judges say No. 11.

Setting: Passenger ship, Manhattan

Victims: Graduating seniors on a field trip

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (Part IX)

Whereas Part IV advertised itself as The Final Chapter and then definitely broke that promise, Part IX was almost true when it called itself the The Final Friday, since it was the last one in the original series to be concerned with the earthly construct of Fridays. This is also the first movie to send an adequate amount of resources to fight Jason, which is to say there’s an entire battalion of federal agents with guns and explosives. Unable to be truly deterred, though, Jason finds a way and starts hopping from body to body until he can reunite his dark soul with a surviving member of the Voorhees bloodline to become whole again. Final Chapter sports the second highest death toll of the series, and one of our favorite characters in the form of a shotgun-toting diner waitress. There’s also a newscaster who says “83 confirmed murders” have been attributed to Jason up to this point in the series, but by our count he is at 117 (counting five referenced at the beginning of this movie).

Kill Count: 26***

Top Kills: The split-in-half during sex kill and the writhing, melt-y deterioration of a surrogate Jason into human soup take the cake amidst the staggering 26 deaths in Jason Goes To Hell.

Final Girl: We didn’t love this girl, but she wasn’t quite the worst, either. She needs to be saved kind of a lot, and you can only spend so much time reaching for an object trapped under a credenza before we just sort of want you to die. She did administer a crushing final blow, but her gentleman protector did most of the hard work for her. Survey says she can only reach No. 10 in the power rankings.

Setting: Crystal Lake

Victims: Town residents

Jason X

Movie number 10 gets bonus points for going full crazy. After being cryogenically frozen in a military lab— located at the government-run Camp Crystal Lake Research Facility—Jason is brought to life on the space ship Grendel in the 25th century. Jason X features such standout moments as the creation of “Uber Jason,” a cyborg hybrid of the killer; two sexy young campers in a hologram environment exclaiming “We love pre-marital sex!”; and this quote: “You’re lucky you weren’t alive during the Microsoft conflict. Hell, we were beating each other with our own severed limbs.” High fives all around if you can spot David Cronenberg amidst the madness.

Kill Count: 26**†††

Top Kills: Jason X was really strong in the kills department. First he dipped someone’s head in liquid nitrogen before shattering their face like glass. Then he impaled a man on a spiraling motor blade, causing their body to spin slowly downward. And then there was the time he beat someone trapped in a sleeping bag to death using another person trapped in their sleeping bag as the bludgeoning instrument. This was some of his most novel execution—even if they were just hologram people.


Final Girl: Not the most memorable character, but that was likely due more to writing than a poor Final Girl performance. Overall, she put in a solid showing as a military trained ass-kicker and, most importantly, never underestimated Jason’s killing abilities, attempting at every turn to emphasize the completeness of his evil nature. Results are in and she’s No. 5 on our list.

Setting: Research space shuttle Grendel, 25th century

Victims: Ship’s crew

Friday the 13th (2009)

In rebooting the Friday franchise, the brains behind the 2009 entry made a movie that looked more like Part III than the OG film from 1980. We’ve returned to Crystal Lake in New Jersey, but still not to Camp. Well, the camp is present in the film, but the victim pool certainly isn’t comprised of counselors in training. These are just some good old-fashioned teens who came to the woods to party and—you guessed it—have pre-marital sex! The time period is current (unlike the time The Texas Chainsaw Massacre got remade in 2003 and set back in the original 1973 timeline despite the fact that nothing felt like the 1970s at all), which is all to say that Jason has been lurking around Crystal Lake for about 30 years. It also means the timeline from Jason X hasn’t happened yet. He went into deep freeze in 2010 for that movie, so, chronologically, both Uber Jason in space and this Jason can still be the same person, which is fun to consider. The eleventh movie also has Jason running after his victims again, which just feels wrong. You get to walk and be un-killable or run and be mortal. Otherwise it’s just no fun.

Kill Count: 12

Top Kills: Increased realism from better special effects makes the deaths in this reboot harder to stomach. There was something about watching a girl being cooked over a fire in her own sleeping bag that was particularly savage.

Final Girl: The FG category had a twist this time around, with one character serving as a faux Final Girl before the real one emerged later and put a fantastic finishing move on her monstrous assailant. And lucky for us, both were pretty good, so we will combine them for our purposes here, and give a cumulative Final Girl power ranking of No. 7.

Setting: Crystal Lake

Victims: Vacationing youths

* Denotes number of kills not by a Voorhees

† Denotes number of hologram kills

This Sweet Music Maker Does Pretty Much Everything

Remember Bert from Mary Poppins? The fun-loving, rhyme-happy street musician who played solo but sounded like a big band ensemble, thanks to his full-body suit of instruments? He was a hit back then, but if he were around today, odds are his jerry-rigged contraption would be replaced with some slicker, smaller technology.

He might, in fact, be interested in an Artiphon Instrument 1. The device, which looks like a digitized guitar neck, can produce music that sounds like a guitar, or a violin, or a piano, or a drum machine…or a synthesizer, or a ukulele, and so on, all at once, thanks to a pressure-sensitive interface that can control software instruments via MIDI. It’s meant to be a new breed of expressive digital instrument.

Artiphon’s founder, Dr. Mike Butera, has a Ph.D. in sound studies and grew up playing the violin before picking up the guitar, the banjo, and pretty much anything else with strings. But even with all that classical training, Butera has a fairly unorthodox take on Artiphon. He sees it as “a new concept for musical instruments,” one that’s leveraging sensors and apps to “translate human intention into sound.”

Figuring out how to build the Artiphon took Butera way back in time. He’s not being hyperbolic when he says they looked at “a thousand years of human interface design.” In fact, it’s an understatement. Archaeologists recently found bone flutes in Germany that led to the new conclusion that the earliest known musical instruments date back some 42,000 years. But the basic concept of a musical instrument hasn’t changed much since then. “In the history of instruments they’re generally made to do one thing,” Butera says. “You sit down with a guitar, and it sounds like a guitar, and you play it like a guitar.”

The synthesizer changed all of that. Robert Moog started selling his electronic synthesizer in the early 1960s, giving musicians unprecedented flexibility in the sounds they created. (The Beatles were early adopters.) But, Butera says, most synthesizers are still controlled with traditional piano keys, and that puts a bottleneck on musical expression.

The idea with Artiphon is to give musicians (and would-be musicians) a piece of hardware that could be used in a number of different ways, and simulate a number of different instruments. It has twelve touch-sensitive pads, crossed with six “digital strings,” in addition to six physical buttons. You can play it like a synth, or strum it like a guitar, or tap out percussion like a drum machine. “It’s similar to the way that we think about our phones now,” Butera says. “They’re phones second, and primarily these devices that can be whatever you want it to be in that moment.” The accompanying app will let players quickly jump between instruments, or even combine two at once, creating a brand new kind of sonic flexibility.

After debuting at CES two years ago, the Artiphon Kickstarter finally launched last week, starting at $349 It reached its funding goal in just six hours. Butera admits that new digital instruments like Artiphone can face categorical problems, in that users tend to arrive with pre-conceived notions about whether they’re supposed to be a guitar, or a keyboard, or a grid controller. But as we already know, humans are remarkably adaptive to technology—especially when it is willing to adapt to them.

This Retro Electric Moped Is Taking Over Europe

A moped spews more filth into the atmosphere than an 8-cylinder SUV. You didn’t know that? You would if you’ve ever been trapped behind one at a red light. One study found that these tiny vehicles generate amounts of pollution “several orders of magnitude higher than the limit values admissible in Europe and the USA.” As the study authors put it, “Waiting behind a moped in traffic may, therefore, constitute a considerable health risk.” Not good.

To help rush-hour victims breathe easier, Dutch designer Ronald Meijs has created the Motorman, an electric “moped” that’s become the fashionable green machine for daily commuters throughout Europe. Motormans have been spotted on the cobbled streets of Amsterdam, Ibiza, Düsselforf, Maastricht, Zurich, and Brussels; enough E.U. cities to fill a Jason Bourne itinerary.

The Motorman may fit the legal definition of a moped, but it has no pedals. The drivetrain is fully electric. No human power required. Tech-wise, though, this is no Tesla. The 2kw engine won’t allow you to do burnouts or evade the polizia. There’s no iPhone charger, blind spot detection sensor, or autonomous driving mode. Not even a lousy cup holder for your macchiato.

What you will get, though, is brilliant industrial design. While other moped and scooter companies are striving to make all their models look like Tron light cycles, Mr. Meijs has gone full retro. The Motorman—with its balloon tires, low-slung gas tank, oversized headlight, and spring-mounted leather seat—looks like a cross between a Schwinn cruiser and a 1915 Harley-Davidson.

A student of American culture, Meijs admits he mined inspiration for the design from the early board track racers that zipped around motordromes at the beginning of the last century. “This isn’t some alien machine from space,” he explains. “The antique motorcycle shape is instantly recognizable.” He adds that while his stylish two-wheeler is intended to be environmentally friendly, customers are attracted as much to the classic lines of its beefy tube frame as the zero-emission technology. Maybe more. “People smile when they see the Motorman on the street,” says the Dutch designer. “They love it because it transports them back to a time when life was easier and less complicated.”

The ride isn’t bad either. At just 99 pounds (less than half the weight of a typical moped), the Motorman is easy to balance and maneuver through congested streets. “If you can ride a bike,” says Meijs. “You can ride a Motorman.”

According to Koen Boot, it’s actually easier than riding a bike. “The Motorman is effortless to steer and has a much smoother ride than a bicycle,” says the 25-year-old engineering student. “When you hit cruising speed, it feels like you’re floating on air.” He concedes that the design is a large part of the appeal. “People get so excited that they stop me on the road to take photographs. It’s has those classic Harley and Indian motorcycle lines, but it’s extremely minimalist. Look down, and all you see is a speedometer and two buttons—one for the light, one for the horn. Even the electric plug is concealed beneath the fuel tank.”

That “fuel tank” holds a lithium polymer battery, the ideal choice for light EVs because of its high power density rating. That translates to some respectable specs. Range: 43 miles. Top speed: 28 mph. Charging time: 6 hours. Not road trip numbers, but ideal for office drones who like the idea of lowering their carbon footprint without breaking a sweat. The Motorman is also maintenance-free and economical to operate: less than two cents per mile. That may help soften the blow of the sticker price: $5,158 for the base model (available in Jet Black or Ruby Red). This being Europe, tack on another 21 percent for the V.A.T. Options, like Bauhaus paint jobs, leather saddlebags and custom logos, will pad the bill further. Which only proves that not every Dutch treat is cheap.

The Motorman is currently available only in European Union countries (+Norway and Switzerland). It will be available in North America within a year.

Absurd Creature of the Week: The Spanish Fly Is Real, and It’s Ridiculously Dangerous

jj The Spanish fly won't get you horny, but it will get you dead. K. Hinze/Corbis

In 1869, a French military doctor got what we can confidently say was one of the stranger cases of his career. A group of soldiers were complaining of weakness, stomach problems, dry mouths, and aggressively persistent erections. The problem, it seemed, was that they’d been eating frogs that had themselves been eating the fabled Spanish fly.

In reality, it’s not a fly. It’s actually one of the 3,000 species of so-called blister beetles. And the bug’s defensive secretion, cantharidin, has been used as an “aphrodisiac” since ancient times. Yeah, it doesn’t actually work, unless your idea of sexy is dying a horrible death. Still, throughout history men often laced women’s drinks with it (alleged rapists like Bill Cosby still joke about it) or took it themselves.

Anger one of these insects and it’ll leak cantharidin right out of its leg joints. Do something dumb like touch it and that cantharidin will make your skin bubble up into nasty yellow blisters (or, like this poor bastard, you could slap one that’s landed on your neck). Do something even dumber like eat the stuff and it may be your last meal—it’s as powerful as cyanide and has no antidote. It strips away the lining of your stomach and you bleed internally. As your kidneys struggle to purge the cantharidin, it inflames your urinary tract, giving you what you think is an erection, but is actually just severe inflammation.

One particularly strange story of cantharidin poisoning comes from a fishing trip gone terribly awry. The fisherman, for whatever reason, had the idea that his prey would be attracted to cantharidin, so he mixed some of the stuff up with water in a bottle, using his thumb to plug the hole. Unfortunately, he just so happened to prick that same thumb, then suck on it. A half hour later, he started vomiting. Then came the diarrhea, which continued for the two days he delayed going to the hospital. Once there, weakness and a racing heart set it, and just five hours later, he perished.

It’s not just humans that fall victim to the blister beetle’s incredible toxicity. Horses in particular are highly susceptible to the toxin, according to entomologist Dan Marschalek of San Diego State University. “What will happen is that there are some species that feed on alfalfa, and they’ll get incorporated into the hay. And even if the beetles are dead, that toxin still remains within the dead body.” Horses gobble up the alfalfa and the hitchhiking beetles, begin bleeding internally, and drop dead. Cows and sheep seem to be less susceptible to the poison.

jj That’s cantharidin-packed blood leaking out of the Meloe campanicollis’ leg joint. And the red and blue on its back aren’t natural spots—they’re fingernail polish (the specimen was the subject of a marking study). Dan Marschalek

You’d think that with such a reputation surrounding blister beetles, the initiated would go out of their way to avoid cantharidin, and you’d certainly think that it has no place in medicine. But in fact physicians have used it for thousands of years—in varying degrees of ridiculousness. Not that I should have to tell you, but no, cantharidin won’t cure rabies as some ancients believed. It is, however, effective at treating warts and skin bumps manifested by the molluscum virus, and has long been used in modern medicine (when applied properly it apparently isn’t even all that painful). And, again, not that I should have to tell you, but our lawyers would probably appreciate it if I mentioned that under no circumstances should you self-medicate by rubbing a blister beetle on your warts.

You’re welcome, lawyers.

The Cold-Blooded Antics of the Baby Blister Beetle

Only male blister beetles synthesize cantharidin, but out of the kindness of their hearts, they’ll transfer some to the females when they come together to mate. This is known as a nuptial gift, and all kinds of insects do it, though it’s typically a nutritious package, not a weaponized one. The males of some species will transfer an energy-rich fluid, while others present the females with prey items. The most extreme nuptial gift of all, though, is when the male himself turns into the gift as the female simply devours him. So he does not live happily ever after. Or at all, for that matter.

OK, maybe male blister beetles aren’t transferring the cantharidin out of the kindness of their hearts. Like with species that exchange nutritious packages, this is a male’s strategy to ensure the survival of his offspring. “The female will use the cantharidin to coat the eggs,” says Marschalek, “so it’ll provide some protection for the eggs before they develop.” Thus can the male help ensure the survival of his young without having to directly care for the ingrates.

jj Epicauta pensylvanica, a species common in the eastern US. Some blister beetles mate by mounting, while others take this bum-to-bum approach. Dan Marschalek

Once the eggs hatch into tiny larvae, though, the young don’t need no help surviving. Their mother will have laid them at the base of a plant, and the clever little things make their way up the stem en masse and get into flowers. When a solitary species of bee lands, the tiny larvae swarm onto it. Somehow they can tell the difference between male and female bees, which is important considering they’re trying to hitch a ride back to a nest, which only females maintain. If they get a female, great—it’s straight to the nest. But if they get a male, they have to pray that he’s about to mate with a female. When that happens, the larvae swarm from him onto the female to get to the nest. There they’ll first devour her supply of pollen that she intended to save for her own kids. Once she lays her eggs, they’ll eat those too, and if those eggs manage to hatch into larvae, they’ll eat those too. Unfortunately for momma bee, they’re positively insatiable.

But there are a couple species of blister beetle whose larvae get even cleverer. When they climb up the plant they don’t look for flowers, but instead form into a squirming mass on the stem (see the BBC video on it below). “So there’ll be tens to hundreds of these small larvae in a ball, and so kind of visually that mimics a bee,” says Marschalek. “But they’re also producing some kind of chemical cue to attract the male bees, and so they’ll bring the bee in, they’ll grab onto it, and then do the transfer to a female while the bees are mating.” Then it’s off to the bee buffet.

Thus the wildly dangerous legend of the Spanish fly perpetuates itself. And again, please don’t eat them. There are plenty of pills for that sort of thing that almost never kill their users in excruciating ways.

Big thanks to MaLisa Spring for suggesting this week’s critter. You can browse the full Absurd Creature of the Week archive here. Know of an animal you want me to write about? Are you a scientist studying a bizarre creature? Email or ping me on Twitter at @mrMattSimon.

How One Man Invented the Console Adventure Game

Warren Robinett. Warren Robinett. Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

There’s this yellow guy who lives in a yellow castle, and he’s on a quest for a gleaming chalice. He’s a total square, and no one could argue he’s drawn with nuance or complexity. But his adventures represent a milestone in videogames. The yellow guy navigates complex mazes, hunting for objects that appear in random locations. He does battle with three dragons, each with distinctive personalities. He tracks down keys required to unlock impassable gates, all while dodging a thieving bat that’s itching to pilfer from him. The yellow guy can even uncover a hidden room that contains a secret message laid down by The Creator himself.

I am of course describing the epochal game Adventure that Warren Robinett created in 1979 for the Atari 2600 console. Robinett was 26 when he programmed the game, entirely by himself, on an HP 1611A microprocessor. It looks low-res and dated now, but Adventure was among the most ambitious and complex games of its day.

It also was incredibly influential. Robinett essentially created the console adventure game, and pioneered several videogame conventions that are now so common that we take them for granted. Robinett is not unlike the early filmmakers who hit upon techniques like the cut and close-up that would become the fundamental grammar of cinema. Adventure was made in the era of Space Invaders, when game worlds existed within a single screen. Robinett created the idea that a game could take place on a series of screens, each representing a discrete location. If you steered your avatar off the left side of the screen, it would reappear in the next room on the right side of the screen. “I didn’t set out to make the videogame world bigger than a screen, but I had to,” he tells me. It was part of the challenge he had set for himself, and he took great satisfaction in solving it.

Robinett explained how he made Adventure in a session at the Game Developers Conference. The game, he says, was inspired by a visit to Stanford Artificial Intelligence lab, where he spent several hours on a mainframe playing Colossal Cave Adventure by Willie Crowther and Don Woods. It was a pure text game (“YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK BUILDING.”) built around exploration and inventory management. Robinett resolved to adapt it to a console.

Making It Seemed Impossible

That seemed impossible on its face. The Atari 2600 was designed for graphics-intensive games like Missile Command and Asteroids. The controller was a directional joystick with a single button. “Also, Colossal Cave required hundreds of kilobytes of ROM,” Robinett says. “The Atari 2600 had 4K.” He would have to vastly condense and simplify the game.

The first step was translating the game from a purely text experience to a purely graphical one. Robinett cleverly reduced environments, characters, and objects to instantly recognizable, simple icons. Except for the deadly enemies. They look more like giant waterfowl than dragons. “I’ve become attached to my Duck Dragons,” he says. “If I ever do a sequel, it will be Return of the Duck Dragons.”

Robinett built subroutines into the characters that gave them distinctive behaviors. The subroutines continued even when characters were offscreen in one of the 30 different rooms. [Thirty different rooms! It boggled the minds of kids who got the game for Christmas in 1979.] The offscreen action made the game world feel even more like a real place, and all sorts of emergent situations arose from these subroutines. For instance, you could be devoured by a dragon and trapped in its stomach, only to see that thieving bat fly in, pick up that dragon, and flit around the game world with the two of you in tow. “That wasn’t intentional,” says Robinett. “It resulted from the fact that it was a true simulation.”

Beyond dealing with the constraints of the console, Robinett had to battle his bosses, who initially discouraged him from tackling so ambitious a project. But when they saw a working prototype, they pressed him to make it a tie-in for the upcoming Superman movie. He ignored their demands. “Sometimes you have to fight for your ideas,” he says.

Somehow, Robinett crammed the entire game into the constraints of an Atari cartridge. “I even had 15 bytes of RAM left over,” he says. “There was room to have three more dragons if I had chosen to do so, but it seemed to be working pretty well. I guess that’s what what you’d call game balancing nowadays.”

He Gave Us the First Easter Egg

Instead, Robinett used some of that space to build a secret room accessible only through an elaborate series of steps. The room contained the game’s only text CREATED BY WARREN ROBINETT. It is generally considered gaming’s first Easter egg. Robinett didn’t tell anyone about it, and left Atari soon after finishing Adventure. “I thought of it as a self-promotion maneuver,” Robinett tells me. “Also, I was pissed off. Adventure sold a million units at $25 apiece. Meanwhile, I got a $22K a year salary, no royalties, and they never even forwarded any fan mail to me.” (The Easter egg, by the way, was first discovered by a 15-year-old in Salt Lake City. His letter to Atari is priceless.)

Last week’s appearance at GDC was karmic payback for all the fan mail Robinett missed out on. His presentation was met with thunderous applause, and Robinett was mobbed by fans. A Google engineer peppered him with intricate questions about his code and his data structure, pulling up a video on his laptop to demonstrate a specific flicker effect he wanted to know more about. Robinett patiently explained the tech, pausing occasionally to shake hands and pose for photos. Then he autographed the grateful engineer’s printout of the disassembled code for the Duck Dragon sprite.

A graphics design lead at AMD gushed to Robinett about playing the game as an 8-year-old. He was too young to memorize the patterns of the maze, and terrified of being trapped by the dragons as he traversed it. “Adventure was the first survival horror game,” he said.

A computer engineer and professor from Brazil asked Robinett to autograph his copy of the book 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 , in which Adventure is the first entry. The fan thanked Robinett profusely as he clutched the book to his chest.

“Your game,” he said, “Is … everything to me.”

It’s all a bit surprising to Robinett, who left the game industry in the early 1980s, moved to North Carolina and has worked in other fields ever since. It’s only recently that he’s come to learn there is ongoing interest in his groundbreaking game.

“This is really gratifying,” he says Robinett. “I’m so glad it’s not forgotten.”

This Woman Wants to Take Common Folk to Space—In a Balloon

Jane Poynter has a mesmerizing way of describing what it will be like to be shuttled to the ends of the Earth in the souped-up space balloon being developed by her company, World View.

You’ll arrive at the launch site predawn, Poynter says, and step inside a comfortable capsule with a few other passengers. You’ll lift off the ground, and float upward for an hour and a half, gently rising at a speed of about 1,000 feet a minute. When you arrive at the top of the atmosphere, Poynter says, you’ll see “the most unbelievable panorama of stars” around you. The sun, rising up over the ground below you, will begin to creep over the horizon and light up the Earth below. You’ll hover in that place for about an hour before gliding back to the ground using a rectangular parachute called a parafoil.

Jane Poynter. Jane Poynter. World View EnterprisesOh, and there will be appetizers and booze. Mustn’t forget about the appetizers and booze.

Today, this vision is still the stuff of Poynter’s imagination, but recently, that vision moved a lot closer to reality when World View completed a flight that took its balloon 100,000 feet in the air, and safely landed it using a parafoil. Though parafoils have been used by the military to airdrop huge pieces of equipment, this was the first time one had ever successfully drifted down from 100,000 feet.

World View still has a long way to go before it can bring actual human beings this high. The test flight carried only research equipment, but its success suggests World View is steadily inching its way toward making a balloon ride to space possible.

“This means it works, which is pretty crucial,” Poynter says, laughing. “That was the big, risky part of the whole development. We still have some refinements to do on it, but we’ve at least proven that it’ll work, which is huge.”

The Race to Space

Of course, World View is far from alone in its mission to bring average people to space. Space tourism has become the obsession of some of the world’s most accomplished businessmen, from Elon Musk to Richard Branson. But while these players have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build their own spaceships, World View is taking a comparatively simple — and more affordable — approach. Poynter won’t say exactly how much the company has poured into developing its space balloon, but she predicts by the time it’s ready for launch as early as 2016, World View will have spent less than $100 million on development. That means tickets aboard a World View balloon—$75,000 each—will also cost less than half as much as a ticket on one of Virgin Galactic’s flights, she says.

“It’s all about making space as accessible as possible, so eventually, everyone can go if they so choose,” Poynter says.

From Biosphere to Balloons

World View is just the latest venture for Poynter and her husband, Taber MacCallum, who met in the early `90s as crewmembers in Biosphere 2, an experiment in which a group of researchers spent two years living inside a glass and steel structure to see whether they could live off the land within the enclosed dome. After leaving Biosphere, Poynter and MacCallum launched Paragon Space Development, a company that creates life support systems for organizations like NASA, with the eventual hope of supporting manned missions to Mars.

Last fall, however, Poynter and MacCallum announced they were stepping down from their role at Paragon to focus full time on World View, an idea that Poynter says MacCallum first proposed back in 2011. The pair had spent years talking to astronauts about their travels to space, Poynter says, and always heard it described as a life-changing experience. They decided they wanted to recreate that experience for other people, but the challenge was figuring out how. It wasn’t until MacCallum suggested using balloon technology, which had traditionally been used to carry equipment such as weather observation gear to near-space, that Poynter and MacCallum felt they had an idea that was actually achievable.

“If you’re not getting into developing a new rocket or designing a spacecraft, it doesn’t require completely new technology,” Poynter says. “It seemed like an incredibly accessible way to do it.”

Getting to Space Sooner

When it’s complete, World View’s balloon will consist of three parts: a helium balloon, not unlike the ones NASA has used for years to take payloads to space; a standard parafoil used by the military that World View has adapted to its own needs; and a capsule that borrows from existing spacecraft design. “We don’t have to invent technology,” Poynter says. “We’re just pushing the boundaries of how this technology is being used.”

All this means World View may be able to begin shuttling passengers to space sooner, and more affordably, than other players in this field. According to Poynter, tickets have already been selling.

In the meantime, World View has begun working with NASA on commercial applications for its technology. Just last weekend, World View completed its first major commercial mission, carrying research equipment built by university students to near space as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. The goal of this program is to let researchers take advantage of the growing number of commercial flight companies out there. World View’s balloon allows these researchers to test how their technology performs at a fraction of the cost of other types of technology.

“These devices can’t be tested on the ground, so getting them to those altitudes, above the majority of the atmosphere, you can see these instruments work in the vacuum of space,” says Ron Young, program manager for NASA Flight Opportunities. “These balloons are give us a huge advantage in terms of a gaining cost effective access to space-like environments.”

And for World View, this partnership means the company can begin bringing in revenue to fund more research and development for its space tourism business, which could take several more years to, quite literally, get off the ground. But when it does, Poynter says she’ll be first in line for the journey.

“I could give you all these high concept ideals about why we’re doing this,” Poynter says, “but at the end of the day, its because I want to go.”

Hey Twitter, Killing Anonymity’s a Dumb Way to Fight Trolls

Tor users started reporting last week that they are being prompted more frequently than ever for a phone number confirmation when creating a new Twitter account—or in some cases when using a long-standing account. This development is disastrous for the free speech the platform generally stands for, and will likely not curb the abuse for which it has come under fire. If this change was targeted at that harassment—addressing the leaked acknowledgment from CEO Dick Costolo that “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years”—it’s a dangerous example of the Politician’s Syllogism: we must do something; this is something; therefore, we must do this.

To be clear: Twitter has denied claims that it’s specifically singling out Tor users for phone number confirmation. Twitter says instead that spam-like behavior is being flagged for additional checks. And to a point, that’s probably true. But we’ve known since at least last November that the service could deploy mandatory phone number verification against accounts engaged in harassment. Tor use is likely one of many signals that are weighed when determining whether a sign-up is from a new, valid user, or whether it’s an account that will be used for spam or abuse.

Only Twitter can determine what these signals are and how they’re balanced; if the company considers Tor use a very strong indicator of bad behavior, then Tor users will be disproportionately targeted for measures like phone number checks.

Unfortunately, that undermines the anonymity of the people who need it most, without necessarily providing protection for targets of harassment.

Twitter users absolutely need to have more control over what messages they see and who may interact with them. But beyond that baseline, even well-intentioned solutions can cause harm if they’re informed by an inadequate understanding of how harassment works on the platform. Most visibly, Twitter briefly changed the behavior of the block feature in late 2013 to address what it perceived as a major problem: users were precluded from following or retweeting the accounts that blocked them, so it was easy to tell if you had been blocked.

This update was purportedly aimed at reducing offline retaliation for those blocks, but the backlash was swift. Users depended on blocks to stop some kinds of abusive behaviors that would be allowed under the new rules. Without an understanding of those abuse patterns, Twitter fell back to the familiar syllogism: here’s a problem; we must do something; this is something; we must do this.

The block behavior modification was reversed in mere hours, in large part because Twitter as a platform provided a megaphone to the people most affected by the change. Communities of women and people of color who are subjected to frequent abuse on the platform were able to take advantage of the medium to call on Twitter to #RestoreTheBlock, and get their voices heard.

Unfortunately, some voices can be so profoundly silenced by a pierced veil of anonymity that they won’t be around to protest unannounced updates. For instance, activists and journalists in countries where Twitter is forbidden use Tor to circumvent the censorship technology that blocks the site, and to do so without being traceable by the national internet service providers and phone network operators. Changes that make it harder to use Twitter and Tor in combination end up doing real harm to some of the speech that is most marginalized.

Asking these people to provide a phone number puts them at risk: in many places they will be forced to tie any phone number to a real-life identity. To pick just one example, a new law in Pakistan requires fingerprints from all cell phone users. Similar laws are common around the world, and obtaining a truly anonymous cell phone can be prohibitively difficult. Beyond that, a national phone provider could be pressed to provide details, say, of who is receiving Twitter confirmation texts.

Abuse on Twitter comes from accounts using real names, and from accounts using pseudonyms. It comes from accounts with massive follower bases, and from so-called “egg” accounts that are freshly made. It can come from a user with a handful of sock puppets, or a small army of one troll’s dedicated fans. Very few of these categories rely on Tor for their trolling, and they’re not likely to be affected. But other people that rely on strong anonymity will.

Twitter has to dedicate resources to learning how abuse works systemically on the platform and put powerful tools in the hands of users that need them. It needs to craft clearer terms of service and give the sense that it is enforcing them. These steps may be difficult, but they’re necessary. Cracking down on anonymity tools may seem like something to do, but Twitter—and the other online platforms we count on—need to do better than just doing something.

Apple’s Hugest Reveal This Week: Those Crazy New Batteries

The most exciting Apple announcement this week wasn’t a $10,000 smartwatch or a new, gold-colored MacBook. It was a battery technology that could have major implications for how long all future Apple products last between charges—including your next iPhone.

Apple’s battery breakthrough is already paying dividends in Apple’s super-slender MacBook. In order to achieve that 13.1 mm silhouette—and still deliver reasonable battery life while powering a 12-inch Retina display—the company’s engineers had to develop something entirely new. What they came up with is a terraced battery cell, a unique design that adds 35 percent more battery capacity than would otherwise be achievable.

“It might seem like a low level innovation, but it’s an incredibly clever design,” Jeff Chamberlain, executive director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, told WIRED. In fact, it’s a whole new way of thinking about batteries.

Rethinking the Battery

A typical lithium ion battery “pouch” type cell comprises layers of a thin sheet of aluminum or copper, coatings of a specialized material that can absorb lithium ions, and layers of plastic. Each of these layers is mere microns thick.

What Apple has figured out, according to a patent filed back in early 2012, is how to fit these stacked electrode sheets into any size cell they choose. These different-sized cells can then be stacked on top of one another, allowing its engineers to pack as much battery as possible into any given space.

In order to assemble the terraced battery cells in the MacBook, Apple says it used high speed cameras to take photos of the casing and the battery. This process documents the minute variations in each that occur during real-world production, so that Apple can fit the batteries inside each individual casing with an unprecedented degree of precision.

Apple also—according to what it said during its Monday keynote—tweaked the chemical formula inside the cells. That didn’t have any bearing on the unique battery shape, but by altering the composition, Apple could eke a little bit more efficiency over previous MacBook batteries.

Apple lists the MacBook has achieving up to nine hours of battery life. That may sounds relatively paltry—the 13-inch Air gets 12-hours of battery power—until you consider that it has to push power to a Retina display’s huge number of pixels. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina gets 10 hours of battery life, and the 15-inch model gets eight hours. In a form factor that’s 1.5 pounds lighter and .2 inches thinner (at its thickest point), the MacBook lasts comparably long. That’s impressive, even when you also consider its power-sipping Core M processor.

An Adaptable Innovation

What’s even more exciting, though, is that while the MacBook is the first consumer product to use this new battery technology, we’re sure to see it applied to other iDevices. Apple’s tick-tock upgrade cycle for the iPhone normally leaves minimal hardware changes for the “tock” models (the “S” versions, like the iPhone 4s and 5S). But with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’s contoured exterior, it’s not a stretch that this year’s S model could include the new battery tech. The beefed up battery design could also easily make its way into the iPad line, and into future MacBook Airs or MacBook Pros (both of which only saw minimal updates during Monday’s event).

Even if we don’t see this tech applied to new products immediately, we will undoubtedly see it at some point. iFixit’s Kyle Wiens says that one of the most important results of this battery innovation is its implications on product design across a whole range of devices.

“It frees the industrial designers to be able to design what they want, and then fit the battery in after the fact, rather than creating the design around the battery,” Wiens told WIRED. Until now, hardware designers have been a slave to the battery size required of a particular device, and forced to build a rectangle, or rounded rectangle, around that.

So, naturally, Apple engineered a new design that frees Jony Ive and team to let their imaginations run wild with possibilities. In addition to the rectangular layers we see in the MacBook, this terraced battery could also theoretically work in circular, triangular, and other shaped spaces. That’s not to say we’re ever going to see a trapezoidal iPad. But at the very least, it enables unconventional thought, like contouring the battery around the spot where the Macbook’s rubberized black feet attach to the notebook (which Apple did).

The redesigned battery also doesn’t sacrifice overall longevity; the new MacBook will survive around 1,000 charges, just like all other Apple laptops. The one caveat would be that this is a proprietary battery, so it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace yourself, should it wimp out before you’re ready to buy a new notebook. Then again, it’s not like Apple makes it easy to replace your battery anyway.

Eventually, some crazy new innovation in mobile energy storage will come along and end all our lithium ion woes. That could be a long way off, though. And the fact that Apple’s not content to sit around waiting for it could end up giving its devices—and you—more battery life relief than you could have imagined.

Psssst: Wanna Buy a Used Spy Website?

The names suggest a parade of a C-list websites. There was and, and But, these sad-sounding domains actually were artful creations of the National Security Agency: They were fronts for distributing and controlling government malware around the world.

Those domains and 109 others came to light last month as part of the “Equation Group” report from anti-virus vendor Kaspersky. Researchers at Kaspersky identified 300 such domains, and published 113 of them.

The NSA’s malware domains always have been a closely guarded secret—it’s the kind of direct, actionable information that can expose even old cyber espionage operations. Now the agency is in an awkward position: What should it do with these domains now that their covers have been blown? The domains were chosen to look legitimate, which means the US government is effectively cyber squatting on a sizable portfolio of names like and that are no longer useful for espionage, but potentially valuable for business.

What the Market Will Bear

How much would those domains be worth if the NSA liquidated them in a public auction, like any other disused government property? I gave the list to a veteran domain name broker, Sedo’s Dave Evanson, who’s been making deals since the domain-speculation salad days of the 1990s.

Evanson specializes in blue chip domains like, which he sold for a tidy $1.2 million last year, so at first glance he isn’t impressed with the NSA’s portfolio—the spy agency used a lot of fake download sites, ad networks, and notional technology blogs in its espionage. “Not going to have a lot of appeal to Joe or Mary Sixpack,” he grumbles.

But as he studies the list, he starts spotting domains with some resell potential., once used as an infection platform for NSA malware, might be worth something to a technology news outlet. “That name will most likely go for a few thousands dollars, and maybe as high as 10 or 15,” he says. The name, formerly a command-and-control server for the NSA’s most sophisticated known malware suite, EquationDrug, would make a good porn site today. “I would rather have been selling it 15 years ago than now. But it’s got value, maybe five to seven grand…, we sold that for 13 million.” also has curb appeal. As a dot-com with two short words and no hyphen, it has solid fundamentals. But his advice is that the NSA hold on to that one until it hears from a motivated buyer—perhaps a funeral home that specializes in unexpected deaths. He’s more excited about Evanson would shop that directly to companies that make screen savers, then sit back and watch the bidding war. “I would probably start in the $30,000 or $40,000 range,” he says.

In all, Evanson estimates the published Equation Group domains are worth between $175,000 to $200,000.

Bad Company

The NSA’s use of covert domain names puts it in some ignoble company. The Internet’s domain name system is littered with the detritus of past espionage, sabotage, and criminal hacking campaigns—some 2.2 million domains in all, according to OpenDNS, which maintains a comprehensive blacklist. In contrast, phishing sites, where attackers set up fake login pages for banks and other companies, account for just 4,200 domains.

The most visible activity is at the surface: malicious websites that serve attack code to victim’s browsers. But deeper down you find a much larger pool of domains that comprise the malware industry’s command-and-control infrastructure. When attack code gets onto your machine, for example, the first thing it’s likely to do is quietly “phone home” to one of those domains to report the new infection, and accept commands from the hacker.

Hackers employ varying strategies in choosing command-and-control domain names. Some malware, like the Conficker botnet and the CryptoLocker ransomware, used algorithmically generated gobbledygook domains like and That technique lacks grace, but allows the black hats to register hundreds or thousands of new domains every day automatically.

Intruders more concerned with stealth than growth—including the Chinese military and, we now know, the NSA—compete to register a smaller number of legitimate-looking domains. “If someone is doing any sort of security log monitoring or investigation, if it looks like a legitimate domain it’s probably not going to set off a lot of flares,” says Andrew Hay, director of security research at OpenDNS.

The NSA didn’t respond to an inquiry from WIRED about its plans for the domains. But it’s safe to say the agency hasn’t demonstrated any interest in monetizing its holdings. In fact, Kaspersky says that of the 300 registered domains it found, the registration on about two dozen had been allowed to lapse. Kaspersky grabbed those domains for itself and directed incoming traffic to its own servers, allowing it to build a map of infected computers trying to phone home to the NSA.

The NSA domains were registered through a GoDaddy service that enables anonymous registration, so a whois lookup doesn’t reveal the aliases or front-companies the agency uses. At least not yet. GoDaddy’s terms of service allow it to revoke the anonymity of anyone who uses it to “transmit viruses, Trojan Horses, access codes, backdoors, worms, timebombs” etc.

GoDaddy spokesman Nick Fuller says the company is conducting an investigation into the Equation Group. “We’ll circle back once the investigation is completed.”