Nintendo all grown up?

Japan’s Nintendo built its reputation on cheery games for children. But seeking a bigger chunk of the adult market, the purveyors of the Mario Bros. series and Pokemon are adding zombies, strippers and gunmen to the menu, the Wall Street Journal reports. It’s a shift in resources that carries some risk. The keep-it-clean approach has made Nintendo one of the few good guys in an industry criticized for violence, the Journal notes. And that has translated into big bucks. “In his 21-year life as a game character, Super Mario has grossed more money globally — $7 billion in software sales — than the combined take of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson at box offices around the world.” But times change. Fearing erosion in market share thanks to Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo over the next two months will spend $140 million to market videogames to American teens and 20-somethings, including promotions in nightclubs and tie-ins with brewer Heineken NV and others. New games will be edgier, sexier and more violent.

Wascally Waksal

Though not strictly a science story, the Wall Street Journal has a devastating profile this morning of Sam Waksal, founder of ImClone. It’s a warning not only for directors of technology-based companies, but for investors and the media, who can be charmed by one person with a winning personality and a compelling story (in this case a promising cancer-fighting molecule). Terrific digging by reporter Geeta Anand reveals a string of research jobs from which Waksal was ousted for misleading and sometimes falsified results. Do yourself a favor and read this one through to the end. Suddenly Martha Stewart’s alleged insider trading of ImClone stock seems like the least of anyone’s worries about Waksal.

Device gives smart bombs a headache

Plans for GPS-guided bombs to do much of the heavy lifting in a U.S. war on Iraq could be seriously hampered by a $40 device available over the Internet. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, so-called global positioning system “jammers” can interrupt the system’s satellite signal. “At the Paris Air Show in 1999, a Russian company called Aviaconversia demonstrated a 4-watt GPS jammer, weighing about 19 pounds, capable of denying GPS reception for more than 100 miles,” the paper says. “While we do not know the extent of our vulnerability, there is evidence to suggest that GPS jamming can significantly inhibit precision targeting,” says Rep. Joseph Pitts (R., Penn.), co-chairman of Congress’ Electronic Warfare Working Group. So far the only known fix is to boost the GPS signal strength. But without new satellites in place, there’s only so far that approach can go.

Ultra-thin Law & Order in your future

Because the idiot box at chez Science Blog is slowly dying (and was never DVD-compatible in the first place) we’ve been pricing new sets for the last couple months. Conclusion: Flat-panel, plasma televisions are the coolest and costliest around. The models on display at Fry’s, BestBuy and elsewhere tend to be around four-inches thick, between 36- and 42-inches wide diagonally, and possessing the sleek proportions of a movie screen. Price? Try a cool $13,000. If forking over a down payment on a home just to watch reruns of Law & Order makes you blanch — but something deep inside still insists on the latest tech gadgetry — sit tight, says the Wall Street Journal. Prices on plasma screen TVs are dropping fast, as manufacturers like Sharp, Matsushita Electric Industrial and Samsung are flooding the market with their products, and even dowdy old Sears Roebuck has plans to start carrying the machines. Now granted, they’ll still set you back plenty. But sets that once cost better than $10,000 will soon be available for less than half that, the Journal says. And if previous color television pricing is any indication, the technology may be within reach of underpaid columnists by the end of the decade.

Powell to Congress: UUNET could shut down

FCC Chairman Michael Powell sent a good strong scare into lawmakers Tuesday when he testified that WorldCom might be able to shut down its UUNET subsidiary’s Internet backbone without government approval. UUNET is a major component on the Internet, and its loss could potentially have devastating effects, particularly on corporate and government clients.

“Mr. Powell said he was confident in the long-term health of the telecom industry,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “But in the short term, ‘there are question marks’ about whether the FCC can order a bankrupt company’s Internet subsidiary to keep its backbone operational. ‘I could hypothesize that (the company) would refuse to comply.'”

After Powell’s shake-em-up, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, said he would introduce legislation to clarify the agency’s authority over Internet-backbone companies like UUNET. The Journal notes that the panel reacted positively to Powell’s request for Congress to strengthen the FCC’s jurisdiction over telecom companies that file for bankruptcy protection, to ensure it can stop them from shutting down essential services.

The soul of a new server

Intel this week launches the Itanium 2 server processor. The company is betting big that it can convince companies which build servers to use the new chip as ubiquitously as PC makers now employ its lower-end CPUs. But the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports Intel has its work cut out. By Intel’s own admission, most corporate clients are already plenty happy with the oomph their existing 32-bit processors provide. And for folks that need supercomputer-level power, clustering many weaker, but far cheaper chips may provide an appealing cost-benefit ratio. Yes, there is that segment — which in revenue terms is substantial — willing to pay a premium for 64-bit processors. But in that arena Intel will compete with entrenched products from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun. Finally, if and when all those dragons are slain, pokey old Advanced Micro Devices is coming round the bend with a new line of “Hammer” chips that feature both 32- and 64-bit capability. Five years from now it’ll be a kick to read a “The Soul of a New Machine“-style chronicle of how Intel handles the coming slugfest.