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SPOILER ALERT: Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight talks to THR about the season-ender’s casualties and plot twists on the Starz series.

It didn’t look good for the rebellion going in to Friday’s season finale of Starz’s Spartacus: Vengeance. Trapped on Vesuvius and surrounded by Roman soldiers, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) would have to once again do something no one expected in order to get his band of rebel slaves off the mountain.

Surrounded by Glaber’s (Craig Parker) men waiting at the foot of the mountain with just the one path leading up and down, Spartacus found inspiration in his former lover Mira’s (Katrina Law) death and led the group down by vines. The surprise attack would give the rebels the advantage and ultimately Spartacus would get his revenge on the man who ordered his wife to her death. But, the win wouldn’t come without casualties for characters whom the show’s viewers have become very attached to.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with series creator Steven S. DeKnight about the decisions he and his team made for the finale episode.

The Hollywood Reporter: There was a huge and bloody shift for Lucretia, but was it really a big change?

Steven S. DeKnight: Once you go back with Lucretia you’ll realize, ‘Oh, she was actually insane the whole time. She never really recovered.”

THR: Lucretia was marked for death once before. When did you decide this was how she’d ultimately go out?
DeKnight: I had originally planned that she was going to die with Batiatus at the end of Season 1. [Executive producer] Rob Tapert passed along the message from Starz that they were very interested in bringing Lucy back. And I loved Lucy; I loved her performance. But I was adamant, “No, she has to die.” And then the next day I called up Rob and said, “I had a thought this morning in the shower of a cool thing to do with Lucy next season.” And it was all based on that she wanted the baby and how it would end. So before we started the season, that’s the reason I brought her back to end it just like that. Because I had this image in my head of revealing why she wanted the baby. Because I think a lot of people have obviously picked up on she’s very obsessed with Olivia’s baby. But most people think she’s going to take the baby and run away with it, which she kind of does. But in her mind, she’s fulfilling what she’s always wanted. And what her husband always wanted, which I found operatic and grand and twisted. And I’m still shocked that Starz actually let me do that.

THR: Why did you choose to kill off Mira the way you did and with so little fanfare?

DeKnight: It was the one death I think we probably talked about the most, because we went back and forth. I love the character. I love what Katrina did with the character. People always ask me, why do you kill people? And it’s mostly due to story and then the other part of it is looking forward to the next season and the dynamics and how everything fits together. With killing her off you know we wanted to make a statement at the beginning of the episode that all bets were off and anybody could get it. And sometimes that people die and you don’t get a magnificent final death scene with your last words. Sometimes, you just get it. And it’s violent and horrible. And I also really needed an emotional connection for Spartacus throughout this. An emotional loss that led him to the idea of how to get off the mountain. So, they’re out of firewood and the rock is too hard to bury the body and he has to wrap her in these vines. And that’s what leads him to the idea of creating these vine ropes to get off the mountain.

STORY: Starz to Launch Second ‘Spartacus’ Facebook Game, Sampling Opportunities for Show

THR: Mira gets killed on the finale and, for a lack of a better word, dumped by Spartacus on the last episode. Don’t you think fans will feel like she got a raw deal?

DeKnight: Yeah, she got a raw deal all around. I mean she fell for a man that will never be able to give his heart. On the plus side, she went from basically a third level sex slave into a very powerful woman. And I just hope people don’t get the wrong impression that, oh, I’m going to build up a powerful woman and then kill her — not at all my intention. It was purely a product of the story and where we’re headed with the story.

THR: Speaking of raw deals, Glaber pretty much sent Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay) to his sure death. Why would he go on such a suicide mission?

DeKnight: You know what I love about Ashur, and I try to do this with all the villains, but Ashur especially. Ashur thinks he’s the hero. He doesn’t think he’s a villain at all really. And I’ve had many conversations with Nick about this. And I think it’s one of the keys to the Ashur character. Is that he continually thinks he’s in the right no matter what he does. He honestly believes he’s in the right, which is why his ending kind of surprises him — that he got screwed this way. It’s funny because how Ashur dies I had planned towards the end of Season 1. I’d figured that out. And I remember I had bumped into Nick and Lesley-Ann Brandt, who at the time was playing Naevia. And I excitedly told them how Ashur was going to finally meet his demise. And, of course, Lesley-Ann Brandt thought it was a fantastic idea and Nick was like “What? What are you talking about?” And then of course Lesley-Ann Brandt wasn’t available due to scheduling problems. So we had to recast to Cynthia Addai-Robinson — who I think when you get to that final moment with her and Ashur will be the moment that the audience can really get behind Naevia and see her transformation from the broken shattered woman she was into something powerful and deadly.

THR: After all that Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) has survived, the Egyptian was finally the one to do him in. Can you talk about your thought process on Oenomaus’ death?

DeKnight: Historically, Oenomaus was the first one to fall out of Spartacus’ people by some accounts at the battle of Vesuvius. So, we do try to stay historically adjacent as I like to call it. We always knew that Oenomaus would die at Vesuvius. And I wanted that moment to have a little more emotional resonance. Because I wanted to build to Oenomaus finally forgiving Gannicus with his last dying words. And to get the sense of loss through Gannicus. Loss, but also having that burden lifted from his conscious that his brother forgave him for what he did.

And I’m sure I’ll also get many angry emails about killing Oenomaus. I’ve read a lot of comments recently after Episode 9 about people asking ‘This Egyptian character, how could he beat Oenomaus who’s supposed to be the greatest ever? And I have to keep reminding people that way back in Season 1 in Episode 5 he tells Crixus and Spartacus when they’re going to fight Theokoles that his day is past. He’s a great trainer and he is a great fighter, but he is at the end of that line. He’s not the great warrior he once was. He can still fight like hell. And that’s why we created this Egyptian character. We wanted an unstoppable character that never says anything that’s just a force of nature. My ultimate plan was that it would take Gannicus and Oenomaus both to stop this guy and one ends up sacrificing his life.

THR: While there are a lot of loose ends tied up in this finale, there’s also a sense of impermanence about the victory. Is that how you set it up?

DeKnight: That’s another thing that I love about the show and something I’ve really tried to do since the beginning. When we get to the season ending I like an ending — not a cliffhanger — especially considering how long you have to wait before the next season. I don’t want to do a cliffhanger and have everybody wait nine months to see what happened. It kind of deflates it. So, I like to put an exclamation point on the endings, but still have that feel that more is coming, which we did at the end of season one. And, of course, at the end of this season.

THR: What’s the final moral message on the idea of vengeance after this season?

DeKnight: When I suggested the subtitle of Vengeance — and doing each season with a different subtitle has proven to be my best worst idea because I love the concept, but getting everybody to agree on the subtitle is just a monstrous task. And we went round and round about Vengeance. There was a faction among Starz — and the executive producers and I agree with them — that vengeance is not a heroic ideal. It’s a dark very treacherous path.

For me that is exactly what I wanted, practically everybody this season has an axe to grind with someone. And I also wanted that idea, that when you get to the end and you look back, that Spartacus really slowly moves away from the concept of vengeance and starts to put the group ahead of his own passions. Of his own thirst to kill Glaber, which you especially see in Episode 8 where he decides instead of killing Ilithyia or making an attempt on Glaber’s life instead he’s going to trade her for the weapons they need to continue their fight. So yeah, vengeance ultimately is very empty once you have it. And next season one of the things we’re going to be talking about is Spartacus has killed Glaber. He’s killed Batiatus. The two people really responsible for his wife’s death but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. Once you exact that vengeance it is a hollow feeling.

Dead stars ‘to guide spacecraft’

Posted by arnon_k On March - 31 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Spacecraft could one day navigate through the cosmos using a particular type of dead star as a kind of GPS.

German scientists are developing a technique that allows for very precise positioning anywhere in space by picking up X-ray signals from pulsars.

These dense, burnt-out stars rotate rapidly, sweeping their emission across the cosmos at rates that are so stable they rival atomic clock performance.

This timing property is perfect for interstellar navigation, says the team.

If a spacecraft carried the means to detect the pulses, it could compare their arrival times with those predicted at a reference location. This would enable the craft to determine its position to an accuracy of just five kilometres anywhere in the galaxy.

“The principle is so simple that it will definitely have applications,” said Prof Werner Becker from the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching.

“These pulsars are everywhere in the Universe and their flashing is so predictable that it makes such an approach really straightforward,” he told BBC News.

Prof Becker has been describing his team’s research here at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

The proposed technique is very similar to that employed in the popular Global Positioning System, which broadcasts timing signals to the user from a constellation of satellites in orbit.

But GPS only works on, or just above, the Earth so it has no use beyond our planet.

Currently, mission controllers wanting to work out the position of their spacecraft deep in the Solar System will study the differences in time radio communications take to travel to and from the satellite. It is a complex process and requires several antennas dotted across the Earth.

It is also a technique that is far from precise, and the errors increase the further away the probe moves.

For the most distant spacecraft still in operation – Nasa’s Voyager satellites, which are now approaching the very edge of the Solar System, some 18 billion km away – the errors associated with their positions are on the order of several hundred km.

Even for a probe at the reasonably short separation of Mars, the positioning uncertainty can be about 10km.

It is unlikely though that navigation by pulsar beacon will find immediate use.

The telescope hardware for detecting X-rays in space has traditionally been bulky and heavy.

Engineers will need to miniaturise the technology to make a practical pulsar navigation unit.

“It becomes possible with the development of lightweight X-ray mirrors,” said Prof Becker.

“These are on the way for the next generation of X-ray telescopes. Current mirrors have a 100 times more weight and would be completely unusable.

“In 15-20 years, the new mirrors will be standard and our device will be ready to be built.”

The scientist believes his navigation solution will certainly find use on Solar System probes, providing autonomous navigation for interplanetary missions and perhaps for future manned ventures to Mars where high performance systems will be an absolute requirement for safety reasons.

But he also likes the idea of humanity one day pushing out across interstellar space.

“You know for GPS that if you go to another country, you have to buy the maps for your device. Well, we were joking with our students in Garching about selling maps for different galaxies for ships like Enterprise [on Star Trek].”

How the ‘Crackberry’ makers lost their way

Posted by arnon_k On March - 31 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

New York (CNN) – When I interviewed Research in Motion founder Mike Lazaridis two years ago at the launch of the Blackberry Torch, he was convinced the product would revive Blackberry’s fortunes because, “People don’t want to carry around two devices, they just want to carry one.”

He was right about that, but wrong about the device people wanted.

Thursday RIM announced a 23% drop in sales in the fourth quarter. A recent Nielsen survey found only 5% of U.S. consumers buying a new smart phone chose a Blackberry. It is a spectacular fall from grace for a company that pioneered push email and made their devices so indispensible they were nicknamed ‘Crackberrys.’

What happened?

For one thing, competition. Workers who were issued Blackberry devices back in 2003-2005 didn’t just use them for work, they used them all the time and it didn’t take long for the likes of Apple and Google to catch on. By 2007 both companies hit the market with phones that could not only deliver email and web access on the go, but had cool designs and access to app stores – something Blackberry did not.

But it wasn’t the competition that ultimately killed RIM’s edge. The company suffered from “founder syndrome.” Mike Lazaridis and co-CEO Jim Balsillie created a brilliant product, but there were ultimately engineers that were blind to changes that were taking place.

In 2005, I went to Waterloo, Ontario to interview both men. In lab coats and sanitized shoe booties, we toured the facilities and talked a lot about security and I.T. departments – not very much the user experience. It is something I have thought about often as I watched RIM’s stock and market share plummet.

It is often said that Steve Jobs was one of the few founders who was able to cannibalize his own products over and over. Maybe it was Apple’s near death experience that enabled him to do that. Is this finally RIM’s “a-ha” moment? Maybe.

New CEO Thorsten Heins, who seemed in denial himself two months ago, has now announced a management shake-up, said he is open to selling or licensing part of the business. He vowed the company will turn its main focus back to the corporate market. As one analyst told me, “it was the first RIM conference call in a long time where I didn’t roll my eyes.”

It may be too little, too late. Many of my friends and colleagues have gotten their I.T. departments to support their iPhones or Android phones. I can’t see them turning back. And let’s not even mention tablets, which RIM has to practically give away to attract customers.

But RIM still had $4 billion in revenue. Their brand, though hurt, still carries weight – especially in developing countries. And Matt Thornton, Avian Research in Boston says that if they do decide to license their operating system, and pare back from the hardware business, they have a shot.

“It will be a smaller company, but the gross margins on software companies can be 70-80% versus hardware companies which are closer to 40%,” he said. Who might partner with Blackberry in a licensing deal? Thornton thinks Samsung would make an interesting alliance.

Any Blackberry fans out there with advice for Thorsten Heins? He’s gonna need it.

PM: Wage hike for workers necessary

Posted by arnon_k On March - 31 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

The government’s policy to raise daily minimum wage of workers to 300 baht is aimed at improving living standard of labourers, as living cost is increasing, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on Saturday.

The new daily minimum wage will take effect tomorrow, April 1, in the seven provinces of Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Pathum Thani and Phuket. Other provinces will follow later.

On her weekly “PM Yingluck Meets the People” talk show on NBT, Ms Yingluck said the government realises that the wage hike would affect production cost of manufacturers, but the impact would be minimal.

Most large plants have already paid daily wage for workers at a higher rate when compared with the new minimum wage. For the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) thatwould to be affected by this policy, the government will come up with proper measures to help ease their hardship, she added.

“According to the past statistics, the daily minimum wage of workers has never been raised for several years, while the cost of living has been always increasing.

“If the workers’ wage is not raised, they would not be able to survive. In fact, the increase in the daily minimum wage is not too high as criticised”, said Ms Yingluck.

The premier said she had instructed the ministers of labour and industry to oversee and provide needed assistance for the SMEs, affected by the wage hike policy.