Q&A with Nvidia CEO: Jen-Hsun Huang on visual computing, tension with Intel, and product bugs

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of Nvidia, started his graphics chip company in 1993 and is now the last man standing. Back then, no one could have predicted that PCs and game machines would spawn the powerful visual computing we have today. In a speech in San Jose, Calif., Huang talked about how video games and movie special effects are only the tip of the iceberg for visual computing, which encompasses everything from digital art to medical imaging. Huang is celebrating the growth of this ecosystem this week with his own new visual computing conference, dubbed Nvision 08. But it’s a turbulent time for Nvidia as the company struggles against competitors and its own product bugs. After his speech, Huang took questions on a wide range of topics at a press conference. I’ve blended questions from the general press Q&A with my own one-on-one questions in this edited transcript.

An interview with energy expert Chris Nelder on peak oil and cleantech opportunities

While covering cleantech on VentureBeat, we write often about individual technologies, but rarely about the driving forces behind the market. Global warming is an oft-cited reason for developing renewable energy, but there’s also peak oil — the idea that some day we will hit the maximum possible production of oil, and that supplies will thereafter decrease as the world’s reservoirs diminish. Author Chris Nelder has been writing on the subject for years, and believes that we may have already hit peak oil. The book he co-wrote with Brian Hicks, Profit from the Peak, is ostensibly written for investors, but spends much of its time exhaustively arguing for peak oil, with much of its first half reading like a condensed form of years of studies on industry blog The Oil Drum, the source of much of the in-depth material on the subject.

Q&A with Paul Sams, Blizzard Entertainment's chief operating officer, on post-merger life

Paul Sams is the chief operating officer of Blizzard Entertainment. The Irvine, Calif.-based company is a division of Activision Blizzard, the newly created gaming powerhouse created from the $18 billion merger of Activision and Vivendi Games. Sams is one of the top executives responsible for making sure that Blizzard keeps pumping out hits like “World of Warcraft,” which has 10-million-plus paying subscribers.

Q&A: an interview with Sega's Simon Jeffery on monkeying around with iPhone games and the Wii

Simon Jeffery is the president of Sega of America. He joined the U.S. arm of the Japanese publisher, famous for games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, in 2005 to recruit U.S. and European game developers to work with Sega on both original games and to Westernize its portfolio. Before joining Sega, Jeffery was the president of LucasArts from 2000 to 2003. We spoke about how the Japanese company is doing at its “Westernization” strategy and its moves into new areas such as iPhone games and the Nintendo Wii.

A Q&A that is 25 years late: David Scott Lewis, the mystery hacker who inspired the film "War Games"

“War Games” was the seminal geek hacker movie that inspired many a young cyber sleuth when it debuted in 1983. The movie told the story of how a kid found a back door into a military computer and accidentally set off a nuclear confrontation and launched the careers of actors Ally Sheedy and Mathew Broderick. Twenty five years later, the movie is still credited for creating the public’s impression of the life of hackers. David Scott Lewis, the one-time hacker who was the model for Broderick’s David Lightman character, spoke about the movie on stage on Saturday at the Defcon conference. I first met Lewis in 1994 when one of his friends described him as a “walking encyclopedia.” Now 50, he’s a clean-tech executive living in China and just starting writing the Zero Day Defense blog. I caught up with him again in front of the faux Trevi fountain at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas under a cheerful but fake blue sky.

Q&A: A chat with Black Hat/Defcon organizer Jeff "The Dark Tangent" Moss

Jeff “The Dark Tangent” Moss is the founder of the Black Hat and Defcon security conferences which just concluded in Las Vegas. Moss ran an early social network for computer and phone hackers out of Canada and he founded Defcon (named after “defense condition 1” for imminent war in the hacker film “War Games”) as a gathering for hackers in 1993. He started Black Hat in 1997 as an education and research-oriented show for security professionals and law enforcement. Still a security consultant, Moss works in Seattle and tests computer systems for vulnerabilities. In 2005, he sold Black Hat to CMP Media for an estimated $14 million. But Defcon, the cash-only show for the masses of hackers now in its 16th year, is still Dark Tangent’s baby. I caught up with him while he was playing with a homemade toy gun made of PVC pipe that shoots marshmallows.

Black Hat: An interview with Dan Kaminsky, the DNS dude who saved the Internet

Dan Kaminsky showed up at the Black Hat conference in a Pac-Man T-shirt and jeans. But he was the man of the hour at a presentation yesterday that held 1,000 people spellbound during his ninth talk in 10 years. The 29-year-old self-described DNS guy talked about the flaw he discovered earlier this year and managed to keep secret as security researchers prepared a patch for it, thereby allowing the Internet to avoid a train wreck. Kaminsky covered a lot of ground about how he discovered the flaw in the Internet’s Domain Name Server infrastructure for keeping the addresses of web sites and how it can be tricked into sending users to fake web sites. He was about to collapse with relief and take a nap. But I caught him for an interview.

Q&A: Microsoft game exec John Schappert talks about Xbox Live, Netflix deal, and Blu-ray

John Schappert is the corporate vice president who runs pieces of Microsoft’s game business such as its Xbox Live online gaming service. One of the new front men for Microsoft’s game efforts, Schappert is a seasoned game developer who started Tiburon Entertainment, which Electronic Arts bought in 1998. He left his job as the No. 2 executive at EA’s game studios to take the Microsoft position. I caught up with him after he took the stage at the recent E3 game show.

Q&A: Sony's new worldwide game studio chief recalls the humble underdog years

Earlier this year, SHU YOSHIDA became president of Sony’s worldwide game development studios. He is a natural to lead that job since he ran the U.S. game studios before taking the worldwide job and was among the original Sony staff who helped get the PlayStation off the ground in the early 1990s. Ever since, he has been involved in making games for Sony. We caught up with Yoshida at the recent E3 conference in Los Angeles. He praised his rivals and talked about how Sony is an underdog again.

Nintendo sales chief Cammie Dunaway on the quest for a broader game market

Hardcore gamers threw a fit when Nintendo didn’t talk much about hardcore games at its E3 press conference in Los Angeles. But the company has bigger fish to fry, as its choice of executives suggests. Cammie Dunaway joined Nintendo of America in November 2007 as executive vice president of sales and marketing. She led off the Nintendo press conference at E3 with a chat about breaking her wrist while snowboarding and a demo of the Shaun White snowboarding game for the Nintendo Wii coming from Ubisoft. Before joining Nintendo, she was chief marketing officer for Yahoo. Here’s an interview with Dunaway from the recent E3 show.

E3 perspective: Q&A with Chairman Strauss Zelnick on the future of Take-Two Interactive

Strauss Zelnick is chairman of Take-Two Interactive, the hottest video game company on the planet thanks to its popular Grand Theft Auto IV, which sold more than 6 million copies in the first week alone. He is CEO of entertainment investment company ZelnickMedia and was previously CEO of music and entertainment company BMG Entertainment (now Sony BMG). Prior to joining BMG in 1994, he was CEO of video game developer Crystal Dynamics and president of 20th Century Fox. Take-Two had a warm reception to new titles at E3 such as “Borderlands” and is basking in the glory of GTA IV and last year’s sleeper hit, “BioShock,” which was my favorite game last year. But the company has been under the microscope since Electronic Arts made a hostile $2 billion takeover offer. EA extended its offer today and Take-Two promptly rejected it. Zelnick talks about being the manager of rock stars, such as the Rockstar Games team that made GTA IV.

E3 perspective: An interview with John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts

John Riccitiello has been driving a lot of change at Electronic Arts. He was president and chief operating officer of the big independent video game publisher from 1997 to 2004. Then he left to co-found Elevation Partners. He engineered a deal to invest $400 million in acquiring a majority stake in the game development firms, BioWare and Pandemic. While he was gone, EA suffered lackluster financial performance and its games were often mocked as dull and uninspired. Riccitiello rejoined EA as CEO in May 2007, and reorganized EA so that it could operate its game studios as a bunch of city-states. EA acquired BioWare/Pandemic for $800 million. The aim is to get the game maker out of its funk and to produce original content that hardcore gamers won’t sneer at and nongamers will try out. EA’s games are indeed looking better; I put three of them on my list of the top 10 games of E3. But it may be some time before anyone can declare that Riccitiello has engineered a turnaround.

Interview: Gameloft gung ho about iPhone gaming

PARIS—The largest mobile game publisher in the world, Gameloft, has a line-up of six games ready for today’s launch of Apple’s new App Store, which coincides with the release of the new 3G iPhones. Gonzague de Vallois, senior vice president of publishing at Gameloft, overseas all development at the company across all gaming platforms. In addition to showing VentureBeat playable versions of Gameloft’s launch titles, de Vallois took some time to discuss what impact Apple’s new iPhone will have on the mobile gaming industry as well as the portable gaming industry in this exclusive interview.

Interview with Vinod Dham, father of the Pentium, on a life in technology and venture investing

Vinod Dham has lived the quintessential Silicon Valley rags to riches immigrant story. Born in Pune, India, he came to the U.S. in 1975 as an engineering student with just $8 in his pocket. He became a chip engineer and helped invent Intel’s first flash memory chip.  He went on to manage Intel’s microprocessor projects, including the breakaway Pentium chip that debuted in 1993 and cemented the company’s position as the world’s biggest chip maker. He handled the bad press on the Pentium’s bug and later joined Intel rivals NexGen and Advanced Micro Devices. He became the CEO of Silicon Spice, which he sold to Broadcom for $1.2 billion in 2000. Then he became a venture capitalist, first at NewPath Ventures and now at NEA-IndoUS Ventures, where his aim is to give something back to his native India.

Q&A with Insomniac Games chief Ted Price on cloning the golden goose

Ted Price is one of the stalwarts of video game development. He founded Insomniac Games as an independent video game development studio in 1994. Since then, the company has sold more than 28.5 million video games. The president and chief executive of Burbank, Calif.-based Insomniac is perhaps the biggest die-hard PlayStation developer outside of Sony. Even as many other studios go cross-platform, Price’s studio has made games exclusively for the PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. Its big hits include “Spyro the Dragon,” “Ratchet & Clank,” and “Resistance: Fall of Man.” The latter was a key launch title that got the PS 3 off the ground in the fall of 2006 and squared off against Microsoft’s big title,”Gears of War” for the Xbox 360. Price also served the industry as chairman of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, which gives out the equivalent of the Oscars of the game industry. The company recently decided to open its first satellite studio in Raleigh, N.C. and is working on Resistance 2 for release this fall. Opening that studio is no light matter, since the company cares about its small-company culture and has been named three years running as one of the “Best Small Companies to Work for in America” by the Society for Human Resources Management and the Great Places to Work Institute.

Interview with Robbie Bach, part 3, on Windows Mobile

Robbie Bach has to put on a happy face when he talks about all of his children. Of all of the businesses in his Entertainment & Devices group at Microsoft, Windows Mobile is one of the toughest businesses to run. It has more than 20 million units in the marketplace, but it’s up against competitors such as Apple, Nokia, and pretty soon Google. This is the third and final edited transcript of a recent gathering between Bach and a small group of reporters in San Francisco.

Interview with Microsoft's Robbie Bach, part 2, on Xbox 360

The biggest business in Robbie Bach’s Entertainment & Devices Group at Microsoft is the Xbox 360 video game business. After many years of losses, the game business is poised to turn a profit, as is the E&D group itself, for the fiscal year ending June 30. Of course, one of the reasons is that the one-time $1.15 billion write-off to repair defective Xbox 360s was included in last year’s fiscal results. In spite of that debacle, Bach is more excited about this business than ever. He actually believes it’s possible for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to succeed in the games business in spite of the serious competition because of the broadening of the game market. This is the second edited transcript of an interview Bach did with a small group of reporters in San Francisco.

Interview with Microsoft's Robbie Bach, part 1, on Zune

Robbie Bach is the president of the multibillion-dollar Entertainment & Devices Group at Microsoft. The group is closing in on a big fiscal year end on June 30. The company has projected that the group will be profitable this year for the first time since its inception in 2005. One of the products that isn’t profitable yet is the Zune media player. A challenger to Apple’s iPod, the Zune is so far a quixotic attempt to unseat Apple in making cool music devices that capture the buzz among consumers.The Zune is just one of many products within Bach’s domain, where the common theme is “connected entertainment.” VentureBeat was part of a small group of reporters that recently got to quiz Bach about all of his businesses, from Zune to the Xbox 360. This edited transcript is the first of several parts and focuses just on the Zune business.

An interview with EA Maxis' Lucy Bradshaw on the making of Spore

Electronic Arts game designer Will Wright may come up with the billion-dollar game ideas that get him on the cover of Wired magazine. But Lucy Bradshaw is the one that turns those ideas into bestsellers. The vice president in charge of production at Electronic Arts’ Maxis studio in Emeryville, Calif., Bradshaw runs the team for Wright’s latest brainstorm, “Spore.” It is one of the most anticipated games of all time, and Bradshaw heads the 80-person team cranking the video game out for its Sept. 7 launch. The game is a year late, but Bradshaw says the team has now had the time to polish the game play and execute on all of the grand ideas for sharing content via YouTube, email and other means. No stranger to the big time, Bradshaw spearheaded the production of “The Sims 2,” produced “SimCity 4,” and played a big role in the development of “The Sims,” which along with its offspring has sold more than 100 million units. Bradshaw joined EA in 1997 after stints at Activision and LucasArts. Now she and Wright are teamed up again on EA’s biggest game.

Cisco's VP of green engineering on data center efficiency, virtualization, and startup opportunities

Even more than other industries, the tech world is unforgiving to large companies that can’t respond to external change. To keep up to date, Cisco last year revamped the Cisco Development Organization, a group tasked with innovation, making a number of key hires and and giving it greater leeway to act within Cisco. One of the hires was Paul Marcoux, a former American Power Conversion exec and founding member of The Green Grid, a non-profit group advancing efficiency issues in data centers and enterprise computing. Marcoux was tapped to be vice president of green engineering, getting Cisco up to speed with both environmental issues and efficiency. I spoke with Marcoux a few weeks ago, both to get an idea of how Cisco will update its routers, switches, servers and other equipment, and to hear his take on the problems that data centers face, as well as the opportunities startups have to make a difference (not to mention a profit). VB: How competitive are Cisco’s products right now, when it comes to efficiency and the broader issue of climate change? Quite frankly, I would say Cisco is even with the curve. We’re not ahead or behind. The development of green processes within companies is really something that a lot of the major corporations in our industry embraced no more than 18-24 months ago. You can jump across the pond and look at European companies, some of whom embraced climate change as long as 15 years ago and baked it into the culture. It will become part of our DNA also. VB: What will Cisco do to make itself a leader? As it stands, our high-end products are actually robust and efficient. But the real impact, on a global level, will come from our ability to effect meaningful change on our lower-end products, and that’s where you’ll see very rapid changes. The goal is to develop intelligence into our power supplies. If you have a virtualized process in the data center, and you need to access more capacity, today you go to a rack and grab another server. In the very near future, it’ll be entire racks. It won’t be 3,000 watts, it’ll be 30,000 watts. The management for that power is what we’re looking to develop, and for other people to develop. VB: You spend a lot of time talking to data center managers and technical executives. What are you hearing? They’re overwhelmed and frightened. A lot of their solutions, they feel, are only based around technology, around boxes. But some of the more advanced chief technology and chief information officers understand that it’s more than just boxes. They get that, but they need to acquire a solid understanding of hardware and software and a good understanding of power, cooling and networking. Sadly, a lot of these elements don’t exist in their bag of tricks. One of the important things we need to understand going into the 21st century is that most data centers are operating on a design that was started in the 60s and 70s. And organizationally, they’re not set up for meaningful change. VB: What are they looking for? They’re looking for methodologies to reduce expense, reduce risk, and also do it with a smaller footprint on the environment. The real issue is that within the last five years, the cost of electricity grew by 30 percent. Within the next 2-3 years, it will grow another 30 percent, and by 2020 it will be around 2.5-5 times what it is today. The cost of energy will be one of the gating factors of success in a data center. How you manage that success will clearly rely on your ability to install sensors and real-time monitoring systems, and how you handle all these as a system. VB: What do you typically find yourself recommending to data centers? If the focus is immediate power reduction, the first step is to enable energy saving features in your servers. The second is to take a look at virtualization. A big problem is that most people don’t fully understand virtualization. The industry forgot the other side of virtualizing, which is in the facility. So when they virtualize, they can drive energy consumption below the facility design limits. When you do that, your cooling systems become unstable and can crash, and so can your power systems. This is not well understood in the industry. The reason a lot of virtualization practices never show up as savings is because the facilities department, which is not part of IT, will do what they think is right: Install processes on their cooling system that add an artificial load in direct proportion to the load you saved in the virtualization process. The device they install is called a hot-gas bypass. They take the output of the cooling system and pipe it into the input. So it keeps the chillers operational. VB: That’s funny, in a sad way. And nobody realizes what’s going on? Most companies now, when they employ these solutions, aren’t metering and managing them. They have one electrical meter sitting on the side of the building somewhere. So they can’t tell what’s going on.

A Q&A with Mark Jacobs, EA's chief warrior on Warhammer Online

“It’s time to go to war.” That’s how Mark Jacobs opened a recent meeting with analysts at Electronic Arts as he talked about his new online game, “Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.” Jacobs started Mythic Entertainment 13 years ago to make online games. He has done 15 such games since founding the company. In 2001, the company launched “Dark Age of Camelot,” which introduced “realm versus realm” combat among thousands of players. Electronic Arts bought his Fairfax, Va., company in 2006. Now, as general manager of EA Mythic, his team of 200 developers is finishing WAR, which is based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy role-playing-game franchise. That game will be EA’s biggest challenge to Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft,” which has more than 10 million subscribers worldwide. The online version of Warhammer, Jacobs says, is all about going to war, both in the virtual sense, and in the real sense of competing with World of Warcraft.

John Antal on making a video game, novel and history book all at once

Cross-media content is the wave of the future, and John Antal shows what’s possible when you think beyond just one medium. He is a retired colonel who spent 30 years in the U.S. Army. He is also the chief of staff and military and historical director at Gearbox Software, the maker of the “Brothers in Arms” video games being published by UbiSoft. The latest edition is “Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway,” which Antal turned into both a historical novel and history book all at the same time he was helping create the game. I caught up with him while he was smoking a cigar at the recent UbiSoft video game showcase in San Francisco. The game and books debut in August.

Can Facebook stand tall against Big Brother?"

As social networks like Facebook try to expand into China, they will face the same decisions as Google and Yahoo before them — do they let the government access their data or do they refuse and risk being banned? Facebook will most certainly be leaned upon by governments, because of its profligate data on users.