When Apple Pulls the Plug on the Tech Your Company Runs On

Travis Jeffery is a software developer who’s been using a database system called FoundationDB for a project at his startup. Earlier this week, he noticed that the software had been pulled from the web. He soon received a terse email confirming that the software had been taken down intentionally, but little else. “We have made the decision to evolve our company mission,” it read. “And as of today, we will no longer offer downloads.”

Hours later, TechCrunch reported that FoundationDB had been acquired by Apple. Neither company has responded to our request for confirmation, and FoundationDB hasn’t updated its Twitter account since Monday. The only public acknowledgement the company has made of any changes came is a notice posted to the company’s support site featuring the same text that Jeffery received by email. He still hasn’t heard anything else from the company.

FoundationDB’s apparent shutdown won’t ruin Jeffrey or his company. Other FoundationDB users might not be so lucky, however, if support for the technology really is being tanked. Sure, they can still use the copies of FoundationDB they’ve already downloaded and installed. But there won’t be a company providing support, updating the database to work with newer operating systems, or providing security patches.

FoundationDB’s story isn’t a new one. Instead, it’s yet another a cautionary tale about putting too much faith in unproven companies offering proprietary software that could go away at any time—especially when a behemoth like Apple swoops in to buy it up. Often, such acquisitions are purely to hire new talent or integrate a startup’s technology into a new or existing product. In FoundationDB’s case, it’s unlikely that Apple wants to get into the business of selling enterprise database software.

That leaves companies that depended on that software out of luck. And when startups suffer, so does innovation.

No Foundation

Like other NoSQL databases, FoundationDB offered a way to build databases that spanned hundreds or thousands of different servers, often housed in geographically distant data centers. That’s fine for many applications, such as messaging. It’s not a big deal if the occasional message accidentally gets delivered twice, especially if it’s only apparent for less than a second. But for other applications, such as financial systems, any discrepancy is a huge problem. You just can’t debit a customers bank account twice for the same transaction. FoundationDB promised a way to provide scalability without sacrificing performance — a truly rare combination of features.

It’s not clear why Apple would have acquired the company, but there are several possibilities. It might want to use FoundationDB’s technology to power its own web infrastructure, which ranges from iCloud to the AppStore to its mobile advertising service. Or it could just be acquiring the company in order to have its employees build new infrastructure for Apple to use internally. Or, perhaps, it’s both.

Had FoundationDB been open source, the community could have picked up where the parent company left off.

In the meantime, nothing is certain for FoundationDB’s existing customers. It’s conceivable that it could become part of the company’s developer tool offerings, or be open sourced at a later date. But in all likelihood the project is dead.

We’ve seen a number of similar situations in recent years. For example, cloud storage company Nirvanix which provided storage services for IBM’s cloud service, shut down in 2013, giving customers just two weeks to migrate their data.

Open Source’s Saving Grace

Former FoundationDB users will now have to choose between either continuing to use a piece of software that won’t be supported and won’t receive any security updates, and migrating to a new database. That won’t necessarily be easy since there are so few databases that work like FoundationDB. Had FoundationDB been open source, the community could have picked up where the parent company left off. There are examples of this happening elsewhere.

For example, a company called Couchio (later called CouchOne) was founded in 2009 to provide support for the open source database Apache CouchDB. In 2011, the company merged with Membase, another open source database company. The new company called itself Couchbase, and set to work created a new database that combined elements of both projects. A few months later, Couchbase announced that it would stop contributing to the original CouchDB project altogether.

Had CouchDB been a proprietary product, that would have been the end of it. Developers and companies who used CouchDB to power their software would have no choice but to either use an unsupported piece of software or migrate to the new Couchbase database. But since CouchDB was open source, other developers were able to continue its development.

There’s no guarantee that FoundationDB ever would have had the level of community involvement to make that happen, but by developing its product as a primarily closed-source system, it never even had the chance to build an outside community of developers to maintain it.

Regardless, Apple and FoundationDB could have handled the acquisition with more grace. Even though Jeffery’s company wasn’t using FoundationDB for anything critical, having to replace the system is still a pain. “We’re excited for them, and as users of Apple products, we look forward to seeing how Apple makes use of their technology and talent,” Jeffery says. “That said, we would have appreciated some more notice.”

Jeffery might not be bitter, but any users who were more invested in FoundationDB are probably feeling less forgiving right about now.

Top Gear Shouldn’t Go on Without Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson seen leaving his West London home on March 16, 2015 in London, England. Jeremy Clarkson seen leaving his West London home on March 16, 2015 in London, England. Neil Mockford/Alex Huckle/GC Images

After 22 seasons at the helm of Top Gear , the BBC has decided not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract. Effectively fired because of a “fracas” between himself and a producer—he screamed at a member of his staff for half an hour and then punched him because there was no hot food available—Clarkson’s departure leaves a void at the top of one of the world’s most watched television programs.

The BBC is looking for a replacement and to renew the show for 2016, which won’t be easy. “This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise,” BBC Director-General Tony Hall said in a statement. It’s not clear if Clarkson’s co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, who weren’t involved in the melee, will be back next season.

This is the part where we’d usually suggest replacements for Clarkson. Folks like Sabine Schmitz, racer and television presenter for the German version of Top Gear, or BBC presenter Chris Evans, a huge car nut and experienced television personality. Or even Clarkson frenemy Piers Morgan, the former tabloid editor turned failed CNN host.

Instead, here’s our suggestion for the BBC: let Top Gear end.

Yes, it generates millions of dollars in revenue and is one of the prize programs on the Beeb. But Jeremy Clarkson is—or rather, wasTop Gear. In 1988, he joined the original show (which debuted in 1977). He oversaw its relaunch in 2002 with his childhood friend Andy Wilman as executive producer. He didn’t create the idea of a car show called Top Gear, but everything it is and has been for the last decade is directly attributable to him. His talent made the whole Top Gear world revolve around him. His irreverent wit, obnoxiousness, politically incorrect boarding school humor, and conservative viewpoints gained him a massive and adoring audience—plus an army of haters.

Top Gear without Clarkson, as talented as his two co-presenters are, is a bit like Van Halen without David Lee Roth. Or Roger Waters calling himself Pink Floyd. It’s just not the same, and to pretend it is is an insult to the fans.

Richard Hammond and James May, the other two Top Gear presenters, are wonderful entertainers. But, like all great ensemble casts, the three of them are immeasurably better together. Take any one of them away and the whole will be worse. May is the mature and pedantic car expert. Hammond is the excitable little brother, eager to impress. Clarkson is crotchety smart-aleck who delights in pushing others’ buttons. He is the one who drives the plot of the show, and the glue that held it all together.

Any one of the three could host their own show (and frequently do), but together they are a once-in-a-lifetime entertainment masterpiece. They seem to agree: In an interview with SkyNews, May said “the three of us as a package works for very complicated reasons that a lot of people don’t fully understand.” Hammond tweeted Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We’re all three of us idiots in our different ways but it’s been an incredible ride together.”

I am a massive Top Gear fan. I’ve seen every episode, and am now much more interested in whatever Clarkson (and, I suspect, Hammond and May) do next than in some relaunched Top Gear with new presenters. Make no mistake: The BBC did the right thing in letting Clarkson go. He physically attacked a producer, and being kicked off his television home for nearly three-decades, is a just punishment. Especially since this is a last straw situation: Clarkson’s come close to being sacked before, thanks to a long list of questionable moves, ranging from on air racial slurs to last year’s did-they-or-didn’t-they instigation of Argentine veterans of the Falklands war.

Nonetheless, the man is a massive talent with a huge following, and he will find a home somewhere. Perhaps it’ll be on BBC-competitor ITV or—and my gut tells me this is the best option for all involved—he might end up with a huge deal on Netflix. Either way, the biggest loser in all of this isn’t Clarkson or the BBC or even the Top Gear brand.

It’s the fans. And that’s always the way these things go, isn’t it?

Bacteria can use magnetic particles to create a 'natural battery'

New research shows bacteria can use tiny magnetic particles to effectively create a 'natural battery.' According to work published in journal Science on 27 March, the bacteria can load electrons onto and discharge electrons from microscopic particles of magnetite. This discovery holds out the potential of using this mechanism to help clean up environmental pollution, and other bioengineering applications.

According to study leader Dr James Byrne (Tübingen): "The geochemistry is interesting in itself, but there are also potentially useful implications which may derive form this work. The flow of electrons is critical to the existence of all life and the fact that magnetite can be considered to be redox active opens up the possibility of bacteria being able to exist or survive in environments where other redox active compounds are in short supply in comparison to magnetite. In our study we only looked at iron metabolizing bacteria, but we speculate that it might be possible for other non-iron metabolizing organisms to use magnetite as a battery as well -- or if they can be made to use it, through genetic engineering. But this is something that we do not know yet."

Researchers from the University of Tübingen, the University of Manchester, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA, incubated the soil and water dwelling purple bacteria Rhodopseudomonas palustris with magnetite and controlled the amount of light the cultures were exposed to. Using magnetic, chemical and mineralogical analytical methods, the team showed that in light conditions which replicated the day-time, phototrophic iron-oxidizing bacteria removed electrons from the magnetite, thereby discharging it. During the night-time conditions, the iron-reducing bacteria took over and were able to dump electrons back onto the magnetite and recharge it for the following cycle.

This oxidation/reduction mechanism was repeated over several cycles, meaning that the battery was used over repeated day-night cycles. Whilst this work has been on iron-metabolizing bacteria, it is thought that in the environment the potential for magnetite to act as a battery could extend to many other types of bacteria which do normally not require iron to grow, e.g. fermenters.

Co-author, Andreas Kappler (Tübingen), who is also secretary of the European Association of Geochemistry, said: "This may have some interesting geochemical applications. There has been considerable recent work on using magnetite to clean up toxic metals. For example, magnetite can reduce the toxic form of chromium, chromium VI, to the less toxic chromium (III), which can then be incorporated into a magnetite crystal. The fact that this magnetite may then be exposed to these reducing bacteria could potentially enhance its remediation capacity. But we are still at an early stage of understanding the bioengineering implications of this discovery."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Association of Geochemistry . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

The Germanwings Investigation So Far Is Hardly Conclusive

A Germanwings plane takes off at the airport in Duesseldorf, Wednesday March 25, 2015. the day after a Germanwings aircraft crashed in France on the way from Barcelona, Spain, to Duesseldorf, Germany, killing 150 people. A Germanwings plane takes off at the airport in Duesseldorf, Wednesday March 25, 2015. the day after a Germanwings aircraft crashed in France on the way from Barcelona, Spain, to Duesseldorf, Germany, killing 150 people. Frank Augstein/AP

The news coming today from French prosecutor Brice Robin regarding Monday’s crash of Germanwings Flight 9295 is shocking, but on what is it based? Surely Mr. Robin knows something he’s not sharing with the rest of us, or how could he possibly come to the conclusion that “the co-pilot wanted to destroy the aircraft”? And yet that is what he is saying based on facts that still suggest other possibilities.

The evidence so far shows first officer Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the plane to a lower altitude. We know also that the plane wound up crashing into a mountain. The question Mr. Robin has not answered is how he knows the co-pilot had that end in mind.

Christine Negroni


Christine Negroni is an aviation journalist and safety specialist who is writing a book on aviation mysteries to be published by Penguin in 2016. This story first appeared on her blog.

We know the plane was commanded down to a lower altitude after reaching 38,000 feet. We do not yet know why.

We know the Captain, identified in web postings as Patrick Sonderheimer, left the cockpit and was unable to get back in. We do not know that he that he tried to enter using the door passcode or that the door was blocked beyond the normal locking function. All we know is that the cockpit voice recorder shows he tried to enter by knocking.

There may be reasons for trying to enter by knocking, including confusion or distraction due to alarm.

We know that the first officer Lubitz failed to heed the knocks on the door. We do not know if this was deliberate. We know Lubitz was breathing. Both his inappropriate action in not heeding the knocking on the door and his breathing is consistent with deliberate action OR incapacitation.

We know the plane descended. We do not know if this was via programming the plane to descend or flight by hand by the first officer. A conscious and lucid pilot does not fly a plane into a mountain unless it is deliberate. An addled or unconscious pilot does not see or recognize the threat of a mountain and does. Either one of those options is possible, but the evidence presented so far does not allow conclusions.

Finally, unlike in the United States and other countries, the French judicial authorities are in charge of cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders, which then makes them available to the air safety agency the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses. There’s a reason for this increased oversight: In the crash of an Airbus A-320 in 1988, BEA was suspected of tampering with FDR data.

As a consequence, air accidents in France are seen through the prism of criminality. In other countries seasoned air safety investigators understand there is a multitude of factors that contribute to a disaster and will wait to have all the evidence before drawing conclusions.

This is the only way I can understand how the Marseilles French prosecutor made the tremendous leap of logic in concluding that the first officer “wanted” to crash the plane killing all 150 onboard.

The evidence so far shows Lubitz deliberately flew ​the plane to a lower altitude and a crash resulted. The question not answered in anything I’ve heard or seen is whether he intended for that to happen. This is not a subtle quibble. It makes a monumental difference in what really happened to Germanwings Flight 9295.

The Internet of Making Things

iot_wrench_660 The IP torque wrench. Courtesy of Plex Systems

Smart, Internet-connected “things” are showing up everywhere, changing our interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and nearly every aspect of the physical world. Internet of Things (IoT) discussions often center on the home, where your refrigerator communicates with your phone reminding you to buy milk when the carton is nearly – but not completely – empty; and your sneakers tell your watch how many calories you’ve burned in your morning workout.

While these applications are interesting and exciting, there is even more potential in the factory of the (very near) future. I like to call the emerging connections between machines, tools, materials, people and systems on the shop floor the Internet of Making Things.

Today’s factory bears little resemblance to the stereotypical image of manufacturing. Long gone are the days of repetitious assembly lines where workers create part after identical part. Today’s modern manufacturing facility is a hub of technology, full of sensors, electronic controls, and automated equipment, all interconnected to drive efficiency, quality and flexibility that are vital to a company’s success.

Productivity in American factories continues to rise, as plants produce more and more with ever increasing efficiency and quality. Connected tools and machines are a key aspect of these gains. Take the IP (Internet Protocol) torque wrench (shown above) in the assembly of a complex part, for example. When connected to the cloud, the IP torque wrench captures the torque applied to a specific part, the specific wrench that was used, when that wrench was last calibrated and the employee who used it. If that wrench was faulty in some way, the cloud can identity every part affected, eliminating costly downtime.

Automation and the connected factory are able to produce a wider variety of products and product variations in smaller quantities more quickly, answering the market’s increasing demand for customized products. The old-style “economies of scale” that powered mass-produced consumer goods are being replaced by fast, efficient and flexible connected machines that follow the exact requirements for each product at each moment of its production.

Flexible machines and programmable controllers have been around for years. What’s new is the adoption of sensors and connected devices, combined with the interconnectedness of cloud computing that increasingly coordinates information and activities to take full advantage of what these machines, and the knowledge workers who run them, can do.

The Internet of Making Things is still in its infancy. Wearable technologies have the potential to further connect people with plant information, better integrating into this connected world to further improve safety, efficiency and quality.

Within and beyond the four walls of the production facility, the shift to cloud-based software systems allows employees, suppliers and customers worldwide to view the status of an order, work-in-progress, inventory, equipment availability, and much more. In the not-too-distant future, visibility won’t stop when the product leaves the plant. Smart products will not only interact with the customer in new ways but will also be able to stay in contact with the producer for better long-term performance and support. Already available in some cars, On-Star equipped vehicle owners can get e-mails or text messages alerting them to otherwise unseen issues like tire wear, needed service based on mileage or time, or factory recommended recalls.

Connected smart technology in the Internet of Making Things brings the processes and the products together into a new ecosystem for added customer value.

Jason Prater is Vice President of Development for Plex Systems.

An Android Keyboard for People Too Lazy to Type LOL

kk. kk. Lazyboard

When it comes to text-based communication tools, we’re experiencing a kind of Cambrian Explosion. Emoji has long gone mainstream, leading to a wave of niche Ikea emoticons and Saturday Night Live pictograms. Even this week’s New Yorker is a riff on emoji.

Amidst all this frivolous growth, it’s a welcome relief to find an app that gives you a shorthand to say what you really need to say—which, if we’re being honest, is oftentimes no more than: “kk,” or “damn.” That’s the premise of Lazyboard, an Android keyboard extension that lets you swiftly get one-tap access to all the lazy text lexicon you’re already relying on anyway.

device-2015-03-23-222839_framed Lazyboard

“I realized that on an off day, I type ‘k,’ ‘kk,’ ‘hmm’ and ‘lol’ more than anything else,” says developer Prem Adithya. “I also saw that these words were used in politely turning down an annoying conversation—or a conversation that I didn’t want to have with an annoying person. So then I thought, ‘Hey, what if there was a keyboard with just the essential words required to reply to people quickly?’” That became Lazyboard, a suite of canned replies such as “no,” “yeah,” “oh,” “haha,” and “cool.” The app also has a palette of sorta-kaomojis and this guy: ツ.

Adithya’s timing is hot, and not just because we’ve grown accustomed to speaking in a pictoral slang. If wrist-worn communication devices like the Apple Watch are going to be useful smartphone substitutes, they’re going to need to supply users with an easy way to stay in touch. So far, a lot of Apple’s context-sensitive predictive text offerings haven’t gotten much better than the painfully pre-packaged “On my way!” or “Talk later?” This is effectively the uncanny valley of automated texting, and no one wants to be there.

“Kk” and “cool” may be universal, but Lazyboard will soon become even more personal: Adithya is busy working on Lazyboard Pro, which will let users customize and program their own shortcuts.

Amazon’s New Unlimited Cloud Storage Is Absurdly Cheap

The steady march towards cheaper cloud storage has just turned into a sprint. Rather than being merely competitive with leaders like Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud, Amazon has decided to undercut their pricing by more than half. In some cases, much, much more.

Amazon’s Unlimited Everything plan means that you now can stash all of your digital stuff in your own private Amazon cloud locker for $60 per year. That’s compared to the $100 per year that individual Dropbox users pay for a plan capped at 1TB (there’s also a $15 per month unlimited plan for business accounts), $120 per year for 1TB on Google Drive, and $240 for the same amount on iCloud. Throw in Amazon’s three-month free trial offer—and consider that truly unlimited plans aren’t even an option for individual users on most rival services—and the unprecedented value of Amazon’s Unlimited Everything Plan comes more into focus.

For those who don’t need an all-you-can-store solution, Amazon has also introduced an Unlimited Photos Plan, which for $12 per year lands you, well, unlimited photo storage, as well as 5GB of space for other file types. Amazon had previously offered a 5GB per month plan for free; it’s not clear whether those customers will be transitioned over to the paid photo-friendly plan, or will be upgraded to Unlimited Photos. We’ve reached out to Amazon for clarification. (Update: Amazon has confirmed to WIRED that Amazon Prime members will continue to receive unlimited photo sharing and 5GB for free, while non-Prime members will need to choose one of the two new paid plans).

It’s hard to stress just how much these new offerings—particularly the Unlimited Everything plan—disrupt the current state of the cloud storage pricing structure. It also seems unlikely that Amazon’s competition will be able to match the pricing, or even come close. Amazon’s in a unique position, in that it’s the dominant cloud services provider. No one else comes particularly close; according to a recent study from Synergy Research Group last, the company has a remarkable 27 percent market share in the space. That’s roughly three times more than Microsoft, its closest competitor.

While most of Amazon’s customers are businesses with large, complex infrastructural needs, the company is able to leverage its massive scale to drive down consumer-facing pricing. The payoffs seem clear enough; the more people are locked into Amazon’s cloud, the more likely they’ll be to buy Amazon’s digital video and music offerings, or even a Kindle Fire tablet. Apple’s system is arguably driven by its App Store, and Google’s by its ubiquity. Amazon appears to be banking on its servers.

Despite the gaudy pricing, there are still reasons you may not want to enlist in Unlimited Everything, or Unlimited Photos. Amazon caps file uploads to 2GB apiece, which means you won’t be able to store movies or other large files there. Its user interface, like most of Amazon, can feel sloppy and unintuitive. “Unlimited” has a nice sound to it, but the majority of users currently don’t have much need for more than 1TB, if that. And perhaps most importantly, if you’re already deeply invested an an alternative provider—be it Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, or other—all those savings still might not be worth the hassle of switching.

Still, strictly in terms of price it’s an inarguably great deal. And even if you don’t bite, it should hopefully at least drive unlimited prices down across the entire industry.

Bored on Your Commute? Try These Mobile Brain-Twisters

Bored on Your Commute? Try These Mobile Brain-Twisters

gl_puzzle_1_ff_merg Peden + Munk

Cape Watch: It’s Marvel’s World, We Just Buy Tickets To It

What’s that, you say? You’d like a week filled with rumors about Marvel properties, whether they’re actual Marvel movies, Fox’s X-Men series or Sony’s Spider-Man reboot? Well, step right up, dear reader, because that’s exactly what we have in store of you this time around. Take a powder, DC fans, because the highlights of this week’s superhero movie news are coming to you directly from the metaphorical House of Ideas.

MEH IDEA: Spider-Man Will Still Be White, Because Institutionalized Racism (Or, Nostalgia! Yeah, That’s What We Meant)

Despite the fandom pulling for Miles Morales becoming the next big screen Spider-Man now that the character’s getting a second movie reboot, it’s beginning to look a lot like we’ll get our third Peter Parker. Not only has Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada stated “Peter Parker” is the key to getting Spider-Man right, but Marvel has apparently auditioned Weeds’ Mateus Ward for the role. If only Marvel and Sony can be persuaded to retell Peter Parker’s origin again, just to restart everything on the right foot…

Why this is villainy: There’s definitely an argument to be made for audiences having had their chance to embrace Peter Parker by now. Does that mean that using Miles Morales might have resulted in a more successful franchise for Sony? Not necessarily, but wouldn’t it have been nice to have seen that for ourselves?

SUPER IDEA: Meet Lex Luthor

Yesterday morning director Zack Snyder celebrated the fact that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was just one year away from release by letting the world see what Jesse Eisenberg looks like as Lex Luthor. As you might expect, the answer was “Like Jesse Eisenberg, but with less hair.” Snyder promised that this Lex is “not like any of the Lexes you’ve seen,” adding that he is “disarming and he’s not fake. He says what he believes and he says what’s on his mind.”

Why this is super: OK, so the visual isn’t that much of a surprise—look, it’s Mark Zuckerberg but he’s bald!—but Eisenberg remains a great choice to play Superman’s most famous villain, especially if he can make Luthor as oddly charming and sociopathic as he’s managed to make previous characters. Only one year to go!

SUPER IDEA: Marvel Has Second Thoughts About Those Ant-Man Changes

An interesting rumor appeared online via BadassDigest this week suggesting that, during shooting and especially during reshoots, Ant-Man reverted to “a place closer to where [Edgar] Wright had it” before he left the project. The explanation given was that Marvel wasn’t convinced by Wright’s desire to have the hero be an immoral jerk, but the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has convinced them otherwise. If only they could’ve come to that realization before Wright left the movie. (No offense, replacement director Peyton Reed.)

Why this is super: The rumor as stated is somewhat confusing (doesn’t Iron Man prove that Marvel’s always been OK with jerky heroes?), but if the changes to the movie mean that the finished Ant-Man will have more personality than was visible in that first trailer, it can only be an upgrade.

SUPER IDEA: It’s Now Official: Joss Whedon Was Doing the Work of Two Men

The worst-kept secret in the business is finally out, with it now all-but-official that Joe and Anthony Russo will be directing the next couple of Avengers movies for Marvel. Both Avengers: Infinity War—Part 1 and Avengers: Infinity War—Part 2 are expected to be part of one mammoth shoot beginning next year, meaning that Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and company will have to maintain their superhero physiques for some time yet. Captain America: Civil War (also directed by the Russos) starts production in a couple of weeks.

Why this is super: The Russos did great with last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and clearly Marvel is convinced they’ve got what it takes to push the studio’s output to the next level. There are two particular bonuses to be found here beyond “Hey, the Russos get to make an Avengers movie for real!” Firstly, Joss Whedon will have some free time to go off and do his own thing again, and secondly, if the Russos are busy doing Marvel stuff for the next two or three years, maybe that means their controversial Ghostbusters movie might be delayed.

SUPER IDEA: Marvel Has Cast Captain Marvel and Is Keeping Her Identity Under Wraps (Maybe)

According to Latino-Review, Marvel has already cast the role of Carol Danvers ahead of the character making a cameo appearance in this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, which itself comes three years ahead of her own solo Captain Marvel movie. Is Marvel really that organized? Potentially—especially when she could also pop up in both Avengers: Infinity War or Captain America: Civil War before then. Of course, even Latino-Review’s own Umberto Gonzalez warns to take this information with a grain of salt, so we might just have to wait until Avengers: Age of Ultron hits threatens to know for sure. (For what it’s worth, Kelly Sue DeConnick has already denied another part of the report that she was in the running for the screenplay.)

Why this is super: If nothing else, kudos to Marvel for excellent planning if this does turn out to legit.

SUPER IDEA, MAYBE?: The Old Order Changeth (Back) for Fox’s X-Men

If you thought that things were going to calm down in terms of time-hopping big-screen mutant superheroes following X-Men: Days of Future Past, think again. Umberto Gonzalez has even more rumors up his sleeve, claiming that next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse will feature cameos from Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, as well as the debut of Channing Tatum’s Gambit. The day after that rumor spread, director Bryan Singer himself announced newbie Lana Condor was joining Apocalypse as Jubilation Lee. It might be good to get some more new blood in the movie, considering that Jennifer Lawrence has let it slip that she’s done with the franchise after this next movie. Recasting will be a breeze, however; her character is supposed to be able to look like other people, after all.

Why this is confusing: Look, to be honest we’re not fans of Berry’s Storm, nor, really, are we that eager to see Jackman’s Wolverine again any time soon. However, we were equally cynical about all of Days of Future Past, and that turned out to be great. Plus, you know, there’s every possibility that Channing Tatum will be a lot of fun as Gambit, so let’s just file this under “Ambivalent” for now, why don’t we?

Longer-Lasting Batteries Are Almost Here (Really!)

The most important spec on any portable gadget—phone, tablet, laptop, watch—isn’t processor speed or a pixel-packed display. It’s how long you can use it before it becomes a blank brick in need of an outlet. And while the next big battery-life breakthrough may still be a few years away, recent advances are bringing us oh-so-close to giving our gear more of what it needs most of all: time.

Let’s acknowledge that, yes, there’s chatter of a new miracle battery every few years if not months, and nothing ever seems to come of it. That silence doesn’t always equate to failure, though, according to the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research’s Jeff Chamberlain.

“We hear about a new battery announcement every month, or every couple of weeks; the problem is solved, the next generation is here. And then years go by,” Chamberlain tells WIRED. And the problem isn’t always the battery itself, but how hard batteries are to manufacture, he says.

Help, however, really is coming. In some ways it’s already here.

Work With What You’ve Got

The basic lithium ion battery that we use today hasn’t changed dramatically since Sony first started selling them to consumers in 1991. Economies of scale and various tweaks along the way have helped improve efficiency about 10 percent a year, says Chamberlain, but that still makes lithium ion a relative tortoise in a world more accustomed to progress in Moore’s Law-style leaps. It’s no wonder we’re all hungry for a major breakthrough.

That could come one of two ways. The first is what produces all of those flashy headlines that never seem to amount to much: Figure out what what kind of chemistry comes after the tech we’ve been using for decades. That’s the moonshot, the flash fix that will make today’s batteries seem downright Neanderthalic. The more realistic goal though, at least in the near term? Make the most of what you’ve got. And what we’ve got is lithium ion.

It’s not impossible to imagine a lithium ion that doubles the performance of what we use today.

The most recent example of creative ways around lithium ion’s limitations came from a perhaps unlikely source: Apple’s new MacBook, announced earlier this month. The entry-level laptop features a unique battery design that uses “terraced” battery cells to stuff every available centimeter of a device with power. It doesn’t make batteries any more efficient or any safer, but it does give Apple the ability to squeeze as much juice into any device as is physically possible.

It’s an important development both because it doesn’t require lithium ion technology itself to advance to reap benefits, and because it can be applied to devices of any size and shape. The smaller the device—a phone, a watch—the more crucial it becomes to use all available space.

There are other ample opportunities in the lithium ion space. Because so much money is tied into the industry—annual sales are in the tens of billions—the work going on in most labs is understandably secretive. But Chamberlain points to potential in everything from a better coating process to experimenting with changes in the electrolyte, anode, cathode, and beyond. It’s not impossible to imagine a lithium ion that doubles the performance of what we use today.

And if you look further down the horizon, to the point where we’ve moved past lithium ion altogether? The possibilities are even more impressive.

A Solid Lead

There are plenty of cutting-edge battery types to choose from. Multivalents promise increased electrical current in the same density, while rechargeable flow batteries have much longer life spans than their lithium ion counterparts. Batteries with gelatinous electrolytes could generate higher voltage. But the next-generation tech that’s caught the most attention recently, thanks to a hefty investment by Dyson, is solid state.

Dyson, famous for its vacuums but producer of a wide array of products that would benefit from a longer-lasting, faster-recharging battery, recently pumped $15 million into a company called Sakti3, one of several labs looking into the potential of solid state electrolyte batteries. As the name suggests, these differ from traditional lithium ion batteries by using solid electrodes and electrolytes instead of liquid. The net result? A battery that can pack in more energy while also presenting less of a safety risk by doing away with the flammable liquid electrolytes used today.

The applications of solid state batteries are also myriad, according to Chamberlain. A cordless vacuum, sure, but you could also conceivable squeeze one into something as small as a smartphone or as big as a car.

Sakti3, like all private battery researchers, hasn’t provided much detail about its process, but does claim to have already generated twice the energy density of the most advanced lithium ion battery on the market today. The real question is whether they can produce that affordably and at scale; even with the Dyson infusion, the company’s commercialization timeline is still a matter of years, not months.

And that’s the catch. It’s likely—in fact, almost inevitable—that Sakti3 will fall into the same pattern that so many battery headline-grabbers have before. Quick burst of hope, just as quickly forgotten.

What that doesn’t mean, though, is that progress has disappeared with it. Work continues on solid state, and on myriad other research into new materials that could give us five times what we’re used to, both by Chamberlain’s team at the Argonne National Laboratory and in privately labs around the world. What battery research is lacking isn’t potential. It’s patience.

Big Vulnerability in Hotel Wi-Fi Router Puts Guests at Risk

Guests at hundreds of hotels around the world are susceptible to serious hacks because of routers that many hotel chains depend on for their Wi-Fi networks. Researchers have discovered a vulnerability in the systems, which would allow an attacker to distribute malware to guests, monitor and record data sent over the network, and even possibly gain access to the hotel’s reservation and keycard systems.

The security hole involves an authentication vulnerability in the firmware of several models of InnGate routers made by ANTlabs, a Singapore firm whose products are installed in hotels in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

The vulnerability, which was discovered by the security firm Cylance, gives attackers direct access to the root file system of the ANTlabs devices and would allow them to copy configuration and other files from the devices’ file system or, more significantly, write any other file to them, including ones that could be used to infect the computers of Wi-Fi users.

The researchers found 277 of the devices in 29 countries that are accessible over the internet, though there may be many others that they weren’t able to uncover over the internet because they’re protected behind a firewall. Devices behind a firewall, however, would still presumably be vulnerable to the same malicious activity by anyone who gets on the hotel’s network.

Of the 277 vulnerable devices accessible over the internet, the researchers found more than 100 of them were at locations in the US. But they also found 35 vulnerable systems in Singapore, 16 in the UK, and 11 in the United Arab Emirates.

The vulnerable systems were found primarily at hotel chains, but the researchers also found some convention centers with internet-accessible vulnerable routers. They also found that a top data center company uses an InnGate device to manage guest Wi-Fi at several of its locations in the Asia Pacific.

The InnGate devices function as a gateway for hotels and convention centers to provide guests with internet access. But Justin Clarke, a researcher with Cylance’s new SPEAR (Sophisticated Penetration Exploitation and Research) team, says the devices are often also connected to a hotel’s property management system, the core software that runs reservation systems and maintains data profiles about guests. Clarke says they found a number of hotels where the InnGate was configured to communicate with a PMS. This presents additional security risks in itself, allowing an attacker to potentially identify guests and upcoming guests at a hotel and learn their room number. But PMSes are often, in turn, integrated with a hotel’s phone system, point-of-sale system for processing credit card transactions, and the electronic keycard system that controls access to guest rooms. This would potentially give an attacker a gateway to access and exploit these systems as well.

“In cases where an InnGate device stores credentials to the PMS [property management system], an attacker could potentially gain full access to the PMS itself,” the researchers write in a blog post published today, which they shared with WIRED in advance.

The property management systems that were used in the vulnerable hotels Cylance examined include ones made by Micros Fidelio, FCS, Galaxy, and Prologic.

Oracle purchased Micros Fidelio last year and now markets its PMS as the Opera Property Management System. According to Oracle’s web site, the Opera PMS “provides all the tools a hotel staff needs for doing their day-to-day jobs—handling reservations, checking guests in and out, assigning rooms and managing room inventory, accommodating the needs of in-house guests, and handling accounting and billing.” But, the site notes, the system also includes interfaces to connect the PMS to “hundreds of third-party hospitality systems” including telephone and electronic switching and key lock systems.

Gaining access to a guest room through a compromised key lock system wouldn’t just be of interest to thieves. One of the most famous cases involving the subversion of a hotel’s electronic key system resulted in the assassination of a high-ranking Hamas official in a Dubai hotel in 2011. In that case the assassins, believed to be Israeli Mossad agents, reprogrammed the electronic lock on their victim’s hotel room door to gain entry while he was out of the room and lie in wait for him to return. It’s not known exactly how the attackers compromised that key system.

How the Hotel Vuln Works

The vulnerability lies in an unauthenticated rsync daemon used by the ANTlabs devices. The Rsync daemon is a tool often used to backup systems since it can be set up to automatically copy files or new parts of files from one location to another. Although the daemon can be password-protected, the ANTlabs device that uses it requires no authentication.

As a result, once an attacker has connected to the rsync daemon, “they are then able to read and write to the file system of the Linux based operating system without restriction,” the researchers write in their blog post. “Given the level of access that this vulnerability offers to attackers, there is seemingly no limit to what they could do… Once full file system access is obtained, the endpoint is at the mercy of the attacker.”

The vulnerability requires little sophistication to exploit at its most basic level to infect users with malware or sniff unencrypted traffic. But “a slightly more sophisticated attacker,” they note, “could use a tool such as SSLStrip in order to attempt to downgrade the transport layer encryption in order to increase the amount of plaintext credentials gathered.”

Clarke discovered the vulnerable systems by accident one night. While taking a break from another project he was working on, he glanced at the results of an internet-wide scan his company had conducted using a new script to look for rsync routers. Among the IP addresses the scan uncovered was one pointing to an ANTlabs device. Curious about what it was, Clarke ran a command to see if he could view the file directory and discovered that he could access the entire file system and write to it. A subsequent scan of the internet uncovered more than 100 other ANTLabs systems, all similarly open and vulnerable.

His team eventually uncovered vulnerable systems at hotels belonging to eight of the world’s top 10 hotel chains. Cylance won’t name the companies, but many lists ranking the world’s top hotel chains can be found online and generally include the following: Intercontinental Hotel Group, Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham Hotel Group, Choice Hotel International, Accor, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Best Western, Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels, and Home Inns, an economy chain based in China.

“Eight of those 10, we have verified that at least one of their hotels is running a vulnerable device that we were able to validate this vulnerability on the internet,” says Clarke, though he notes they found no instance where every hotel in a chain was vulnerable and accessible via the internet. He assumes this means that hotel chains generally use different network router brands at each of their hotel sites or that they have them configured securely in some cases behind a firewall, making them invisible to an internet scan.

The discovery of the vulnerable systems was particularly interesting to them in light of an active hotel hacking campaign uncovered last year by researchers at Kaspersky Lab. In that campaign, which Kaspersky dubbed DarkHotel, the attackers conducted a surgical strike against specific guests staying at five-star hotels in Asia and the US by subverting the guest Wi-Fi system.

When victims attempted to connect to the Wi-Fi network, they got a pop-up alert telling them their Adobe Flash player needed an update, and offering them a file to download that contained malicious code. Kaspersky never learned how the attackers got onto the hotel servers to serve up their malware. Although they appeared to have ongoing persistent access to the networks—the attacks would occur in spurts with the attackers gaining access to install their malware on a network at a particular time, then erasing all evidence and leaving after the targeted victims had been hit—there were no signs of a backdoor found on the hotel networks that would have given them ongoing access.

The Cylance researchers don’t know if the hotels targeted in the DarkHotel attack are the same ones they found using vulnerable InnGate systems, but the vulnerability they uncovered could be used to conduct this kind of attack.

The researchers have contacted a number of the hotels they were able to identify as using a vulnerable InnGate device, and also reported their findings to ANTlabs and the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team. ANTlabs has produced a patch, which it is releasing today in conjunction with an alert about the vulnerability being issued by US-CERT.

The Deep Interdisciplinarity of Everything Around Us

Well, it’s time to say goodbye. I’ve been privileged to be writing the Social Dimension blog for Wired for over three years now but it is drawing to a close. Over the course of this blog’s run, I’ve tried to highlight the deep interdisciplinary connections all around us, often using mathematical ideas to stitch together different domains, from science to popular culture. Inspired by Christian Jarrett, whose blog is also ending, I’ve been going through the blog’s archives. So I wanted to wrap up with a selection of some of my favorite things that I’ve had the pleasure to write about and share with you, my readers, grouped into a couple of emergent themes:

For one, I’ve combined the humanities with mathematics in a huge number of ways. I’ve calculated the inbreeding of superheroes and Greek gods. I’ve written about the mathematics of LEGO, Spider-Man’s taste in applied mathematics textbooks, and a Twitter account I created that creates one’s own vanity scientific eponyms. And here’s some data analysis about television shows.

I like long-term thinking a lot, especially related to long data , and have looked at information that shows whales living a long time (and their relationship to technological change) as well as historical data on Jewish expulsions. And don’t forget thinking about Asimov’s psychohistory, the long-term reading of a single publication, or that one billion seconds is between 31 and 32 years.

Of course, on more scientific topics, I explored how to evolve an equation for the constant of the universe and new ways to measure science.

And I also made a tiny algorithm that mimics snowfall.

For more, please feel free to browse the archives.

Anyway, it’s been incredible having the chance to examine such a wide-ranging approach to the world’s complexity through science and mathematics. Thank you to all of my long-time readers; it’s been a great ride.

If you are interested in keeping track of what I’m writing elsewhere online and offline, follow me on Twitter. I’m currently working on my next book, this one is about how our technology is becoming just too complicated. And please consider signing up for my newsletter.

See everyone out on the Internet.

The Galaxy S6 Edge Is Totally Beautiful—And Pointless

On Wednesday morning, Samsung’s two new phones arrived at my desk. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are two of the most anticipated, most important devices of the year. They represent an entirely new design direction from Samsung, with glass and carefully machined aluminum where there was once dimpled plastic that looked a lot like a Band-Aid. They’re Samsung’s attempt to keep up with the iPhone, which has entered the big-phone market with no subtlety and lots of success. They’re almost certainly going to be enormously popular.

The two S6 models go on sale on April 10th, and they’ll be available on all four major carriers in the US—and many more besides. Off-contract pricing isn’t available yet, but a 32GB version of the S6 will cost you $22.84 per month over two years on AT&T’s Next upgrade plan. That’s slightly under $550 in all. The Edge, at $27.17 per month, works out to about $100 more over the course of your contract.

I’ve only had a day to spend with the devices, and a full review is coming soon, but there are a couple of things that are already obvious. Some are small: the fingerprint reader is a pain to set up but now works incredibly well. Others are much bigger, like the ability to delete almost any app, even the pre-installed bloatware. But the most surprising thing I’ve found so far is that the beautiful sloped-screen Galaxy S6 Edge is entirely pointless. It’s the first phone I can think of that is a fashion play through and through—no one will ever buy this device because it does something special. It doesn’t.

On one hand, that’s great! Samsung is latching on to the idea that fashion can drive technology, and that looks and emotion do matter. But I can’t help but also see this as Samsung giving up on what could have been a great idea. When it announced the Galaxy Note Edge in September, it was a wild and new kind of smartphone. It was a Galaxy Note, except that on the right side where there was once bezel, there was now more screen. A sloping, thin panel that fell off the side and wrapped around the edge, entirely separate from the flat display on the top of the phone. It looked strange, and it felt a little lopsided in your hand, but it was just cool as all hell.

The best part, though, was that Samsung had dreamed up some clever functionality for the Edge’s, er, edge. It became the home for a lot of the phone’s buttons and settings; instead of the shutter button obscuring your subject in the camera app, it was set off to the bottom. It could act as a quick launcher for your most-used apps, or a ticker for notifications or news. There were omnipresent controls in games, and easy access to notebooks you were using. It took some time to learn the workflow, but it was really useful when it worked.

The implementations were somewhat scattershot, and the whole idea needed some refinement and testing from Samsung and its developers, but the sliver of screen on the side seemed to be a cool new place to display ancillary information or offer simple actions without getting in the way of what you’re doing on the big screen. Developers seemed tentatively on board, too, especially with music apps. Having your controls on the side, no matter what app you’re in, is awesome. The Edge’s edge was a bit of a gimmick, but it had real potential.

The S6 Edge is a dramatic step backwards in this department. It doesn’t have two screens, or cool new ideas about smartphone interaction. It’s just curved. It has exactly two functional differences from the regular S6: You can access your favorite contacts with a swipe in from the right side when you’re on the home screen, and when you set the phone on a table it can light up notifications or a clock you’ll be able to read with your head on a pillow. Both features would be welcome on the regular S6, and neither comes close to justifying the price increase for the S6 Edge. (There’s a third feature, a notification light for when the phone is face down, but since people only put their phones face down to not be distracted by them, that light is unhelpful and thus doesn’t count.)

Galaxy S6 Edge corner Samsung

The Edge does look better this time: since it curves on both sides, it feels more symmetrical and less like a chipped tooth. Mostly, it looks just like the S6, which is itself a marvelous object. They both feel incredibly luxe and carefully designed, in a way no Samsung device ever has before. The Edge is even a little cooler, all thanks to the infinity-pool sloping screen.

The aesthetic appeal is a huge part of the point, which is new territory for Samsung. It’s charging more for the Edge, and marketing it as the higher-end device. It’s like buying the Apple Watch Edition: It doesn’t do anything beyond the base model, but it’ll be worth the money to some people because of how it looks and the air of exclusivity it communicates.

That’s fine, but it’s also a missed opportunity for Samsung to keep trying to reinvent how we use our smartphones. The Note is forever a niche device, the Note Edge even more so—a phone that big just won’t appeal to everyone. But the Galaxy S is Samsung’s flagship line, the one you see in the hands of every kind of person around the world. The S6 Edge could have brought the edge idea and functionality to more people, which would have in turn helped get developers on board, but instead it ensured that only a few people will ever try this different kind of smartphone. All the promise of functionality, all the funny little edge-screen games and utilities I hoped people would build, just don’t seem to be part of the plan anymore. The Edge is all about aesthetics, about Samsung showing it can make beautiful, unique devices with the best of ‘em. It’s a single screen, curved twice. That’s hard work, and I’m impressed Samsung pulled it off. I’m just not going to buy it.

Of course, Samsung’s rumored to already be on to the next thing — flexible, foldable smartphones. Things might get crazy after all.

Twitter’s Periscope App Lets You Livestream Your World

Periscopes Kayvon Beykpour, CEO & Co-Founder and Joe Bernstein, Co-Founder, photographed at their headquaters in San Francisco, CA, on March 25th, 2015. Periscopes Kayvon Beykpour, CEO & Co-Founder and Joe Bernstein, Co-Founder, photographed at their headquaters in San Francisco, CA, on March 25th, 2015. Christie Hemm Klok/WIRED

On Monday morning, I watched the Today Show. Not on TV, though, and not standing and screaming alongside middle-aged Texans in the vicious cold outside the show’s Rockefeller Center digs. My view was from the middle of the set, between two hulking broadcast cameras, as the three anchors wrapped up a segment. I don’t remember what they were talking about, only that as soon as they threw to commercial, I was suddenly walking up to Al Roker, the show’s anchor and weatherman and all-around hilariously weird dude. Just as he bent over to grab something from underneath the set’s table, a voice I couldn’t see said, “hey Al, say hi to Periscope.”

Roker looked directly at me, and smiled. “Heyyy, Periscope. How ya doing, Periscope?”

In a week of beta-testing Periscope, the live-streaming app that Twitter bought for a reported $100 million early this year and is officially launching today, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things. I’ve watched astronaut Chris Hadfield’s feet as he lay on the beach in Playa del Carmen. (He has a weird big toe.) I’ve gotten a tour of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s operating room. I’ve watched venture capitalist Megan Quinn wander around Croatia and attempt to pronounce the name of its capital, Zagreb. I’ve seen Tim Ferriss, he of the four-hour workweek and various other crazy self-hacks, show off his screwed-up shoulder, then go through the long regimen he’s using to help it heal. I’ve lounged inside the pit of an orchestra as a french horn tooted away. And I’ve absorbed hours of mundanity—the walking down the street, the dogs, the out-the-window shots of bridges and buildings—from the odd mix of Twitter employees, journalists, and celebrities (Tyra Banks!) allowed into the beta.

Like any good citizen of an app designed to stream quick and simple moments in our lives, I’ve also turned my phone’s rear camera into a window to my world. I walked upstream through the throngs of people heading to work in downtown New York City. I asked for commiseration as I walked the two blocks and six flights of stairs that I trekked back and forth, from my apartment to the car, as my girlfriend and I prepared to move out of New York City. I watched a delightfully gruff old man fix a pair of shoes, and a couple of strangers watched with me.

Periscope is consensual voyeurism. That’s not a new idea—millions use Twitch to watch other people play videogames, while YouTube, UStream, and a dozen others have tried to make businesses out of live-streaming video—but it feels like the right platform and the right time. We all have smartphones now, with good cameras and fast LTE connections. And we’re desperate for more unmediated access to the people we care about.

Any doubts about the demand for something like Periscope can be answered by looking at Meerkat, a live-streaming app that has, in the weeks since it launched, shown its users how cool it can be when people invite you into brief, almost always totally unstaged and unmediated moments in their lives. That’s what Periscope promises, too, plus the ability to put the viewer in the director’s chair and actually participate in the stream. It’s more immediate than Twitter, Instagram, even Snapchat. It’s life, right now, through anyone’s eyes I choose. It’s intoxicating.

Watch this

The idea for Periscope began in the summer of 2013, as Kayvon Beykpour was planning a trip to Istanbul. He’d quit his job at the education-tech giant Blackboard, which had acquired his startup more than four years earlier, and decided to travel the world.

Just before Beykpour left, however, protests broke out in Taksim Square—near the hotel he was scheduled to check into—and quickly turned from peaceful to violent. He dove into TV news and Twitter, trying to figure out if it was safe for him to go to Istanbul. But all he got were the craziest images, the most dramatic stories, not the answer to his real question: what’s actually going on outside my hotel? Is it safe? There are probably thousands of people with smartphones and high-speed connections in Taksim Square right now, he figured. Why couldn’t he see what they were seeing in real time?

He eventually made it to Istanbul, and came back with an idea. He and co-founder Joe Bernstein began to build the app that would become Periscope. After experimenting with a prototype that involved dropping a pin on a map and hoping someone replied with photos, the pair settled on creating a live-streaming app that would let you broadcast what you were seeing to anyone in the world, in real time.

Cooking lessons, live on Periscope Cooking lessons, live on Periscope The mechanics of Periscope are really simple: tap a button, and start streaming whatever your camera lens sees. Anyone who follows you gets a notification to tune in, and they can watch in the app or any web browser. Some streamers are silent, others prefer to narrate the action. Some streams are selfies, which makes onlookers feel like they’re in a Baby Bjorn attached to the broadcaster’s chest, watching them talk down into the camera.

If that sounds a lot like Meerkat, that’s because it is, with a few key differences. Meerkat becomes useless as soon as a broadcast ends; there are no profiles, no timeline, no nothing outside of what’s live at this moment. Periscope is a much more complete experience. It’s better-looking, for one, with a super-clean interface, the Facebook to Meerkat’s flashing-neon MySpace. When you open up Periscope, you immediately see a grid of live broadcasts from people you’re following, and people Periscope thinks you might like to follow. Below the grid is a timeline of past broadcasts; one big advantage for Periscope over Meerkat is that it lets you save a stream when you’re finished if you want, so people can view it later. User profiles don’t really exist right now, but Beykpour says you’ll be able to see a running timeline of anyone’s broadcasts. He keeps using Beyonce as an example, like: how cool will it be to go back through and see all of Beyonce’s spontaneous streams and behind-the-scenes footage?

As you’re watching someone stream, you can leave comments, which the Broadcaster (in Periscope parlance) can see and respond to. This, Beykpour says, is the app’s real secret sauce. “The magic moment of Periscope is not when you see video for the first time,” he says. “Because you’ve experienced that before, whether it’s YouTube or another live broadcasting tool. The magic moment for Periscope is when you as viewer say something and you end up influencing the broadcast.” With most streaming apps, from Meerkat to Livestream, there’s a long gap between when something is captured and when it actually appears on your screen. It makes for awkward, asynchronous interactions, because one of you is way behind. Meerkat’s commenting feature is crushed by that latency, which never goes below about ten seconds and often goes much higher; Periscope worked to get streaming latency down to as little as two seconds, which means you really can converse with the broadcaster in real time.

That interaction isn’t just limited to text. If you like a Periscope broadcast, you don’t drop a solitary fav or thumbs-up. You mete out your approval with hearts, and you can do it over and over and over. And over. In one five-minute broadcast, I got 34 hearts from one person. (I love you too, whoever you are.) A performance from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at Twitter’s offices received a constant stream of different-colored hearts on the bottom-right side of the screen throughout the whole performance. It’s a clever way to approximate cheering someone on, saying “you’re doing great!” while they perform.

“The hearts were born out of an observation that being on stage is just really hard,” Beykpour says. “It’s anxiety-inducing.” There’s a dopamine hit that comes from seeing the hearts on the screen as you broadcast, enticing you to keep going or do it again.

Periscope is all about the love: hearts are the service’s most visible number, measuring not just how many people like your broadcasts but how violently they like them. There’s even a list of the “Most Loved” users. #1 in the beta-tester group? Ryan Goodman, a design exec at Twitter. Mark Cuban, Tony Hawk, and Felicia Day are all in the top ten.

Coming to you live

Beykpour says he had no interest in selling Periscope when it started, or even as talks began with Twitter. But the union actually makes perfect sense. Twitter’s always been about immediacy, and Periscope removes even the tiny frictions found in character limits and empty text boxes. You don’t need to explain it, or capture it—just let people see what you’re seeing.

Starting a broadcast takes no time at all Starting a broadcast takes no time at allBeykpour assures me that Periscope is an independent entity within Twitter. It has its own team, its own app, even its own offices. The app does have some connection to its new parent, suggesting people for you to follow and (once it’s officially live) automatically tweeting to your followers whenever you start a stream. Then, whenever someone you follow starts broadcasting, you get a notification that they’re live. When you’re watching a broadcast, you can also quickly invite a few or all of your followers to watch with you; it’s the digital version of “get over here, you gotta see this!” There will be nice-looking Twitter cards for live broadcasts, too—being part of the Flock does have its perks.

Oddly, though, Periscope has fewer ties to Twitter than its main competitor. Before Twitter shut down its API access, Meerkat snagged huge growth by aping your entire network, following everyone in Meerkat you’ve followed on Twitter. Beykpour says Periscope intentionally doesn’t do that. “The visibility that you get is significant, but at the risk of being downright spammy,” he says. Push notifications are the whole reason an app like Periscope or Meerkat can work—they solve the synchronicity problem that killed apps like Justin.tv, because now I know immediately when you’re broadcasting—but if they’re not “a good push notification citizen,” Beykpour says, people will just turn them off. He’s not wrong: a lot of Meerkat users have already complained about its incredible notification spam. Periscope does have a bit of the same problem right now, though. I only follow a couple dozen people, and my phone’s already dinging constantly with that weird Periscope-y chirp.

Meerkat’s growth is hard to ignore: it was the darling of this year’s SXSW conference, and has raised $12 million to do exactly what Beykpour wants. Hell, their names even evoke the same thing: something sticking its funny-looking head up, looking around to see what’s going on. Periscope is in most ways a better app, but it does feel a bit a bit like déjà vu.

Late last week, for instance, I watched Jimmy Fallon rehearse his Tonight Show monologue. I was a little late to the party: by the time I got a Meerkat notification on my phone and started watching, Fallon was already in full swing. He was talking about Kevin Pillar, the Toronto Blue Jays outfielder who apparently sneezed so hard he strained a muscle and couldn’t play. “When asked about the injury,” Fallon said, “he hiccuped and passed away.” I laughed, the audience laughed. The joke worked. And he’d say it again later, this time in a suit and in front of a big blue curtain, on the show.

I get a heads up from Meerkat about Fallon’s monologue rehearsal almost every day now, because that’s what he uses. And I tap it, because I want to watch it regardless of Fallon’s chosen app. Meerkat’s already caught on with some important people, and Periscope isn’t so obviously better that it will destroy the competition on impact. Especially not when the the competition has a slight head start. For now, having both Periscope and Meerkat on your phone is easy enough, and as people continue to learn about live-streaming in general, each probably benefits from the other. But eventually, as the apps try to build larger and more exclusive social networks, it’s hard to imagine two live-streaming apps both winning out. Beykpour wasn’t first, but he thinks Periscope can be the last one standing.

He’s got time to figure it out. There’s a lot left to be perfected with the Periscope experience. The app has some basic content controls—you can block users, or report broadcasts for abuse—but it’s going to be an uphill battle to police live broadcasts that evaporate. And, at some point, it’s going to have to figure out how to make money. Beykpour says that’s the furthest thing from his mind right now, but it can’t be long before we’re watching sponsored stream of someone eating Taco Bell, right?

Well, at least—oh, hang on, sorry. This guy is singing in the subway station—he’s amazing, you gotta see this. I’ll be live in two seconds.

Facebook’s Big Challenge to Make VR a Social Experience

Mark Zuckerberg talks about virtual reality while delivering the keynote address during the Facebook F8 Developer Conference, March 25, 2015, in San Francisco. Mark Zuckerberg talks about virtual reality while delivering the keynote address during the Facebook F8 Developer Conference, March 25, 2015, in San Francisco. Eric Risberg/AP

Suddenly, you’re on the roof of a skyscraper, looking down on the city below. The roof is tiny and you’re close to the edge and a sense of vertigo sets in. You feel the need to step back before you fall.

But the edge isn’t really there. You’re really at Facebook’s annual developer conference, and there’s an Oculus headset strapped to your face. The city and its skyscraper are part of an Oculus virtual reality demo that Facebook is sharing with conference attendees this week at Fort Mason Center on San Francisco Bay.

Yes, it’s an impressive experience. You do feel like you’re atop a skyscraper in a city not all that different from New York. When my colleague Jessi Hempel entered the same virtual world yesterday morning, she stepped off the skyscraper, knowing that she was really standing in a tiny room at the back of an old maritime warehouse. But when she stepped, she still panicked—“I freaked out,” she says—and stepped back.

But there’s another thing you notice while standing atop that virtual skyscraper. As you look down, you realize you can’t see your own feet. You’re completely disembodied. An Oculus employee is in there with you, in the (real) room. But you can’t see them. And you feel rather uneasy about talking to them.

This is the gap Mark Zuckerberg must bridge in combining Facebook with virtual reality, now that his company owns the startup that built the Oculus headset. Facebook’s official mission is to make the world a more open and connected place. And Zuckerberg says the Oculus is integral to this mission. But the VR of today is rather closed and it disconnects us in many ways—ways that few other technologies have before. Sure, a smartphone has a way of disconnecting us, too. But it doesn’t cover our eyes.

Stepping Stone to Virtual Reality

On Wednesday, during his conference keynote, Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook is now testing a kind of 360-degree video that can put you inside recreations of real places, in much the same way the Oculus demo puts you inside wholly imagined places. At first, these “spherical videos” will show up in your Facebook News Feed. You’ll be able to “move through” these videos by tilting your smartphone to and fro. But the plan is to eventually push these videos onto headsets like the Oculus.

Zuckerberg says his smartphone videos are a stepping stone to the world of VR. The implication is that we’ll eventually spend our days watching not just good old-fashioned internet videos, but completely “immersive” videos streamed through something like the Oculus. But that’s an enormous leap to make. It’s one thing to open a video on your phone. It’s quite another to strap some goggles onto your head.

Yes, the Oculus—and the Samsung Gear VR, where Facebook is already demoing its 360-degree videos—provide a far more nuanced experience than their non-immersive video counterparts. Undoubtably, an enormous number of people will use these headsets for games. And down the road, they’ll use them to watch 360-degree video, real footage from sporting events or museums or, yes, sky scrapers. But you wonder how often people will wholly separate from the real world in order to enter a new one. And if they do embrace this as an everyday activity, you wonder if that’s a good thing—if it’s really a social thing.

Total Disconnect

Mike Deerkoski strapped on a Samsung Gear VR to see the “spherical video” of Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, and he was impressed. “You feel like you’re there,” says Deerkoski, a technical advisor at a San Francisco startup called Depict. But he hesitates when asked how much time he’s likely to spend with something like this on his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s a good question.”

Another attendee, Hulker Heschberger, points out that 3-D movies—the theater variety—have never really succeeded because of the headwear problem. “It’s artificial,” he says. And Deerskoski says that although he doesn’t necessarily like the idea of goggles on his head, he does like the idea of viewing a 360-degree video on his smartphone, moving it around in front of him to explore the image.

Like so many others, Brian Blau, an analyst with research firm Gartner, who worked in VR for years, sees the enormous potential in head hardware like the Oculus. “How compelling is it going to be to sit beside your favorite movie star or get in a race car with your favorite Nascar driver?” he says. But he too wonders how much this will really bring us together. Down the road, we’ll have a completely immersive way of communicating with people across the globe, but maybe something simpler is the better option—or at least the typical option. “Zuckerberg has said that VR is the most social thing,” Blau explains. “But in fact, it’s not.”

Social Separation

Today, Facebook is about so easily sharing what you have with others. But as it stands, VR is about big companies sharing what they have with the masses. Individuals can’t build games. They can’t afford the 3-D cameras needed to take 360-degree videos. And when individuals strap on the goggles, they’re separated from those in their online social network (let alone the people standing beside them)—not drawn closer to them.

What we need is something that lets you seamlessly move between those two worlds. And the answer may lie in the Samsung Gear VR, which is really just a phone with some extra stuff attached to it. In theory, this kind of thing can give us Facebook, but then let us move easily into the world of VR whenever it makes sense.

The trouble is that when you strap on the headset, it still takes you so far out of the real world—something you may not want to do that often. But as Herschberger says, this kind of hardware will evolve. It will shrink down to something tiny, something that will fit on a pair of ordinary glasses that don’t completely separate us from this world, something like, well, Google Glass.

Of course, people don’t necessarily like that idea either. Virtual reality is here. But there’s so much to sort out.

Adventure Time Minifigs Are the Best Legos You’ll Never Buy

In the world of collectible toys, perhaps none takes as many forms as the venerable Lego minifigure. There are close to 4,000 distinct varieties, and the company has licensed so many pop-culture properties that The Lego Movie needed a scene set in a meeting hall to cram in as many cameo appearances as it could.

But last year, the Simpsons minifigure series famously paired standard-issue bodies with non-standard-issue heads to add more realism to the denizens of Springfield. That move created an opening that Chris Malec didn’t hesitate to jump through. Malec, an artist based in Buckinghamshire, England, has borrowed that technique to create a range of custom minifigs from another fanciful animated series: Adventure Time.

The Land of Ooo, as navigated by Jake the dog and Finn the human, is an otherworldly playground of never-ending surreal adventures; in other words, it’s perfectly suited to the imaginative creativity of building with Lego. Kaleidoscopic colors and a vaguely medieval fantasy setting—with a cavalcade of extraordinarily weird characters in tow—makes Adventure Time a potent pipe dream for future Lego endeavors.

Malec has worked on other Adventure Time-related projects before; his series of Batman crossover figures featured Ice King as Mr. Freeze, Gunter as The Penguin, and BMO as Alfred. But this project ventures much farther—he’s working on designs for 16 minifigs, the same number that Lego initially created for that Simpsons set. As of now, he’s created Finn (with four of the swords he uses throughout the series), Magic Man (a recurring villain voiced by Tom Kenny), Party Pat (voiced by Andy Samberg), four-faced deity Grob Gob Glob Grod, two Earls of Lemongrab, and a Banana Guard.

For superfans, there’s even Farmworld Finn from the Season Five premiere episode “Finn The Human,” which depicts an alternate timeline where The Lich “never even existed.” Obviously, there are some glaring oversights—two Lemongrab figures but no Jake?—but Malec says he’s hard at work on finishing up the rest of his designs, which will include Marceline, Princess Bubblegum, Flame Princess, Ice King, BMO, The Lich, and Hunson Abadeer. In the meantime, take a look at the gorgeous renderings of what he’s completed so far.