The Return of the Gadget Lab Podcast

Game|Life Podcast: Baker’s Back to Talk Star Citizen

Game|Life Podcast: Baker’s Back to Talk Star Citizen

How This $7,000 E-Bike’s GPS Tech Thwarted a Thief

Only hours after Bill Kiriakis became the proud owner of a brand-new and very expensive e-bike, it was stolen. But while most bike theft stories end in tears, this one ends with a laugh—thanks in large part to the cutting-edge theft deterrent technology built into the bike.

The bike in question is far from ordinary. It’s a Swiss-made Stromer ST2 E-Bike. Kiriakis was one of the first to own an ST2 in the United States, and he’d been waiting months to get it. He commutes daily into the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco from Mill Valley across the Golden Gate Bridge, a 90-minute ride each way. Three hours in the saddle every day takes its toll, and while bikes with electric motors like the Stromer don’t totally remove the pedaling from the equation, they do help riders go further and faster with less effort.

Last Tuesday, Kiriakis picked up the bike from The New Wheel, a shop in San Francisco that specializes in electrics. With his brand new, nearly $7,000 ST2 affixed to his car’s bike rack and secured with a cable lock, Kiriakis drove to his office and parked out front. When he returned to his car a few hours later, he found the cable lock cut and the ST2 missing.

So brief was Kiriakis’ time with the bike that he hadn’t gotten a chance to “set it up”—a process that involves pairing the bike with Stromer’s mobile app and activating the bike’s GPS-locating and theft-mode capabilities. Had the bike been fully set up, chances are this theft would’ve been thwarted before the thief could ride more than a few feet. The ST2’s on-board system includes a feature that locks the bike’s back wheel as soon as your phone leaves the bike’s immediate location. If a would-be thief attempts to pedal it away, the bike automatically launches into Theft Mode. The lights flash, and you can spot the bike on a map using GPS. Theft Mode can also be launched remotely, via the mobile app. But Kiriakis hadn’t turned any of this stuff on.

“I thought, ‘Now I’ve got to go through the motions of calling the cops and creating a report because that’s what you have to do,'” he says. “In the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to find this bike.”

Kiriakis called The New Wheel to ensure he had the correct serial number. Karen Wiener, who co-owns the shop with her partner Brett Thurber, had the idea to call Stromer. The hope was that they’d somehow be able to use the bike’s GPS capabilities to locate it.

Bill Kiriakis with his new bike outside of The New Wheel in Bernal Heights. Bill Kiriakis with his new bike outside of The New Wheel in Bernal Heights. The New WheelIt worked. Stromer manager of operations Oliver Dine pinpointed the bike’s location in the UN Plaza in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Unsurprising, as this part of town is where many a stolen bicycle ends up.

The police were alerted and searched the area. Because Dine had given them a precise location, the search area was narrowed. Still, it wasn’t until the ST2’s “Theft Mode” was activated that things came to a head. On an ST2, “Theft Mode” locks the back wheel, rendering the bike completely inert and unrideable. The lights begin to flash and the word THEFT is displayed on the bike’s built-in LED screen.

The search party picked up the location near 8th and Market streets. There, the police found a man burdened with a shiny new ST2 with flashing lights that was refusing to move. They promptly apprehended the man, took the bike to the police station and called Kiriakis to deliver the news.

Then man claimed to have purchased the bike on the street from someone else for $100—whether or not that’s true will get sorted out by the justice system.

In what is likely the oddest praise Stromer’s heard to date, the man with the stolen bike said it was an impressive ride. Apparently, despite the whole arrest business, he’d had a grand time on the ST2. The man told the arresting officers that this was one of the coolest bikes he had ever ridden.

“I couldn’t believe it, but it was confirmed by the police,” says Brent Meyers, a national sales manager for Stromer.

Peter Nicholson, another Stromer spokesperson, heard the same report. “He was kind of running his mouth about how much fun he had on the bike.”

Just shy of two hours after Bill Kiriakis had originally discovered the bike was missing, he was reunited with it at the police station. “The thing that I got out of it was that the tech really worked, which is cool,” Kiriakis said.

The 10 Coolest Cars at the New York Auto Show

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1 / 10

Looking to take a chunk out of Porsche's 911 sales, McLaren gives us the 570S: a toned down take on its 650S that can still hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and top out at 204 mph. Starting price for the brand's first sports car---rather than supercar---is $213,000.

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2 / 10

The Civic is the kind of average vehicle gobs of people buy because it's affordable, reliable, and inoffensive. But at this year's show, Honda proved it can still excite. This coupe concept, in nuclear-ooze green, is a hint at styling for the tenth-gen Civic, and that's made us very excited. Honda

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3 / 10

Smart's tactic for the new generation of the Fortwo was to leave the basic form alone and add improvements wherever possible. The result is a tighter turning radius (22.8 feet), an updated face, and a double-clutch auto transmission to replace the one that made changing gears feel like being inside a martini shaker. Smart Car

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4 / 10

Porsche took a break from cranking out SUVs to drop the most powerful Boxster ever. With 375 hp and strict weight-cutting (no A/C or radio included), it'll run 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Starts for $82,000.

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5 / 10

Bentley's been quiet about technical details for its EXP 10 Speed 6 concept, but the specs don't matter. What's important here is that this svelte, low, two-seater is meant to show us "the potential Bentley of sports cars"---meaning the British brand may have some very fun ideas in the works. Bentley

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6 / 10

We don't have all the details on the all-new CT6, Cadillac's new range-topper, but we do know it'll come with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 good for 400 horsepower and two 10-inch screens inside.


7 / 10

Aston Martin justifies the Vulcan's $2.3 million price tag by building just two dozen of them. Also, the fact that it's made of carbon fiber and is packing a 7.0-liter V12 mounted just behind the front axle that drives the rear wheels.

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8 / 10

In its continuing Odyssey to resurrect Lincoln, Ford announced this week it's bringing back the Continental. The car---technically a concept---doesn't stand out (except to a peeved Bentley designer), but we welcome the idea of fresh blood with a respected name.

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9 / 10

The 2016 XF isn't a radical departure from outgoing model, but it is much improved. Lighter, faster, more efficient, and more comfortable, it's the second car built on Jaguar's aluminum-intensive architecture.

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10 / 10

Packed with a new racing engine, a massive rear wing, and enough aerodynamic features to keep wind tunnel testers busy for years, the STI Performance Concept shows what Subaru could do for its performance division.

Empirical Zeal Has A New Home

pirate ship Yarr. Image: Andrew Smith (Flickr / Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tech Time Warp of the Week: When Czech Nuns Loved IBM OS/2

Ever wondered what nuns do when no one’s looking?

Well, if you trust this classic commercial from IBM (see above), they spend their off hours reading WIRED and coveting the latest computer operating systems.

In the commercial— which aired in the U.S., but takes place in the Czech Republic, just because there are nuns there—one nun says she’s having a hard time getting her hands on an operating system called “Chicago,” which keeps being delayed. But another nun has a better suggestion. “That new OS/2 Warp from IBM sounds pretty hot,” she says. Hot meant it offers true multitasking and easy access to the internet.

The whole thing is really just IBM trying to stick it to Microsoft. Microsoft’s Windows 95 was originally codenamed “Chicago.” It was scheduled for released in 1993, but didn’t arrive until 1995. Meanwhile, IBM offered a competing operating system called OS/2, after breaking off its partnership with Microsoft, and in 1994, IBM released a new version called OS/2 Warp, launching an ad campaign that tried to capitalize on the Chicago’s delays. It was a (semi-)amusing campaign. But OS/2 still flopped. In a big way.

The Break-up

OS/2 started out as a joint venture between IBM and Microsoft. They had a working partnership that dated back to 1980, when IBM contracted Microsoft to provide an operating system for its burgeoning PC line. Microsoft, in turn, licensed an operating system called PC-DOS, which became the foundation of MS-DOS.

But by 1985, MS-DOS was looking a bit long in the tooth. It couldn’t take full advantage of more powerful hardware, it didn’t have a graphical interface, and like the nun said, it couldn’t do true multitasking. Microsoft had already released the first version of Windows that year, but it’s important to understand that in those days Windows wasn’t an operating system. It was a graphical environment that ran atop MS-DOS. And it sucked. So IBM and Microsoft began a collaboration to create the operating system of the future.

When the first version of the OS/2 shipped in 1987, the two companies were still chummy as could be. “I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time,” Bill Gates wrote in the introduction to OS/2 Programmer’s Guide that year.

But though OS/2 struggled to find a foothold in the market when it was released in 1987, Harry McCracken explains in his history of the operating system for Time . It was buggy and hard to use, and it only ran on high-end equipment.

Meanwhile, Microsoft kept working on Windows alongside OS/2. In 1990, it released Windows 3.0, the first widely successful version of the platform. It provided a graphical experience, not unlike what you’d find on OS/2 or on a Mac, but ran on much cheaper hardware. Then, that year, Microsoft ended its relationship with IBM and OS/2.

Warp Speed

Although demand for Windows outpaced that of OS/2 over the next few years, OS/2 kept improving. It quickly garnered a reputation as a powerful and secure operating system that almost never crashed. So when Windows Chicago fell behind, IBM recognized its chance to catch-up. It rebranded OS/2 as “Warp” and launched an expensive ad campaign—including that nun commercial—dedicated to convincing the world that it was time to switch to OS/2. One forward thinking ad featured a woman accessing her e-mail wirelessly from her laptop in the jungle, and another just tried to make it look like something typical office workers might use.

But it wasn’t enough. Just before Windows 95 was released, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner admitted to the New York Times that the company had already lost the consumer desktop wars and would be focusing on large corporate customers.

Then another Times reporter quoted IBM’s OS/2 evangelist Dave Barnes saying that he was going to install Windows 95 on his home computers. McCracken points out that Gerstner later revealed in his memoir Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? that he had already given up on OS/2 by the time Warp was actually released.

Needless to say, Warp never displace Windows as the reining champion of desktop operating systems.

Tech Dies Hard

Though forgotten, OS/2 never really went away. It wasn’t the breakout success on desktops that IBM had hoped for, but thanks to its security and stability it did find a niche on specialized hardware, such as ATMs. You can think of it as one of the first operating systems for the Internet of Things. And because it’s so expensive and difficult for these customers to migrate all their applications and data to a new platform, many are still using OS/2 to this day.

McCracken reports that as of 2012 the software was still running the New York City’s metro card reader system, Safeway’s checkout systems and even a few ATMs. That means that many of us are still using OS/2 every single day without realizing it. Although IBM stopped supporting the software in 2006, a company called Serenity Systems has stepped in to support a new version of the platform called eComStation.

And some of OS/2’s DNA survives in another unexpected place. Microsoft turned its version of OS/2 into Windows NT, an operating system that was originally designed for workstations and servers. But Windows NT went on to become the foundation of Microsoft’s desktop operating systems as well, including Windows XP, Windows 8 and, yes, Windows 10. Good technology often lives longer than you think.

Final Fantasy Fan Covers Are Getting Ridiculously Elaborate

Final Fantasy Fan Covers Are Getting Ridiculously Elaborate

Breaking Bad Meets Where’s Waldo? in a Pop Culture Art Show

Back in 2010, Spoke Art founder Ken Harman curated a pop-up art show inspired by the work of director Wes Anderson, at a now-defunct gallery space in San Francisco. It wasn’t his job; it was just something fun he wanted to do.

Five years later, that show, “Bad Dads,” has blossomed into an annual event hosted at Spoke. Wes Anderson himself even commissioned one of its contributors, Richard Pellegrino, to create a sketch that would appear in The Grand Budapest Hotel. (The original, “Two Lesbians Masturbating,” appeared at last fall’s show.)

Another wildly popular artist involved in the “Bad Dads” exhibitions since the beginning is Max Dalton. The Buenos Aires-based illustrator’s work has been featured in many other pop-culture group exhibitions at Spoke and elsewhere, including the cover designs for Matt Zoller Seitz’s compendium The Wes Anderson Collection and supplement The Grand Budapest Hotel. But since Dalton is based in Argentina, pulling off a solo show in SF wasn’t easy.

Until now. “On A Mission From God,” Dalton’s first solo exhibition in the United States, opens at Spoke tomorrow. According to Harman, the show will include “about 50 limited-edition prints, and a handful of really cool toys.” Among those prints are some from Dalton’s “Greatest Moments In Film” series, which feature sparse character sketches beneath scraps of dialogue from E.T., The Big Lebowski, Jaws, and Pulp Fiction. There are also some of his intricately detailed scenes, like the Hill Valley town square from Back To The Future Part II or a Where’s Waldo?-inspired print with locations and characters from Breaking Bad. And then there are the completist works, like his previous prints cataloging entire casts of Star Wars or cross-section views of central locations in Wes Anderson films. For the new show, he created prints of famous couples throughout cinema history and a collection of notable Seinfeld quotes. “I guess my favorite these days is Seinfeld’s Quotes About Nothing,” says Dalton. “I watch [the show] over again at least once a year and it never gets old.”

As for the even more limited toys, they include custom View-Masters (styled as “View-Max-Sters”) with spindles of Dalton’s work on seminal science-fiction films, what the artist calls a “fully playable Groundhog Day board game,” and a Billy Murray fridge magnet set with interchangeable limbs, allowing folks to “put Groundhog Day Murray’s head on top of a Ghostbusters torso with Steve Zissou arms.” Those come from Dalton’s fascination with collectible items in his workspace. “My studio looks like a big cabinet of curiosities, with a pile of different objects,” he says. “Why not create more objects and contribute to my obsession?”

This Week’s Best TV: The Rock Will Catfish Your Ass!

This week’s best TV owes a lot to three primary factors: April Fools’ Day, Will Ferrell, and The Rock. We’re not surprised. That triple threat can always be counted on to deliver surprising, possibly uncomfortable, but always reliable laughs. James Corden also made waves in his second week hosting The Late Late Show through a combination of Best Use of Mariah Carey in a Bit and some hijinks from Katie Couric. And don’t even get us started on the genius of Rihanna—just not for the reasons you might think. It was a highly silly week in the late night lineup, and without keeping you in further suspense, here are top segments you should still be talking, and laughing, about.

Saturday Night Live—Disney Movie (Above)

With the recent rash of Disney animated movies being brought to life in live action—Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan—The Rock’s Bambi reboot suddenly feels weirdly possible.

The Late Late Show with James Corden—Mariah Carpool Karaoke

Again, this is the Best Use of Mariah Carey in a Bit ever. Give us some sugar, Mimi.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—Jimmy Sings ‘Barbara Ann’ with Five Wax Jimmys

Really easily the scariest thing Jimmy Fallon has ever done.

Conan—Don’t Ask Will Ferrell About Professor Feathers

God, Conan! You just had to make it weird, didn’t you?!

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—The Special Network

Turns out our feelings about Fox News can really best be translated in this series of Lauren Conrad GIFs. Yep! Consider those our Fox News stages of grief.

Saturday Night Live—WWE Promo

If you grew up watching professional wrestling with your dad (holla!) or even if you didn’t, watching Taran Killam get his Mean Gene Okerlund on while having a bleached-blonde Rock reveal how he “Catfish’d” his Wrestlemania opponent is hilarious. High five to the writers for keeping this sketch building to the end, and to The Rock for going all in—as usual. (And we couldn’t just fill this space with videos of The Rock’s hosting gig on SNL, but if you want high levels of really funny uncomfortable, don’t miss the “Dinner Date” sketch. Outstanding stuff.)

The Late Late Show with James Corden—Will Ferrell Sings the Star Trek Theme

While Kevin Hart has spent the Get Hard press tour further charming America with his cute face and infectious loud-mouth sense of humor, Will Ferrell has been on a tear of surreal performance art. There was the Little Debbie outing on The Tonight Show, the appearance alongside Professor Don Feathers on Conan, and here he is with James Corden eerily singing the Star Trek theme song. Yes, Will Ferrell, call out to us with your siren song!

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—Alan Cumming Talked Helen Mirren Into Loving Crocs

We had to watch this like three times: Once to hear Alan Cumming just talk, twice to understand what he was saying, and a third time to actually process the story. So worth it every time. And you know what they say: It’s better to be judged by Helen Mirren than never to have been judged at all.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—Wait, Whose Side Are We On Again?: Jason Jones’s Departure

With the impending exit of Jon Stewart from the Daily desk, it seemed inevitable that at least one staff correspondent would see this as an appropriate time to pack up their desk as well. It seems the first to follow Stewart out is Jason Jones, who has been with the program for 10 years and served as the show’s actual foreign correspondent on many occasions. Thanks for the memories, Jason. We wish you well.

Saturday Night LiveSNL Host Michael Keaton Gets Robbed in His Promos With Cecily Strong

Is it too late to give out two Oscars for best leading actor?! Michael Keaton, the One True Batman, is hosting SNL this weekend, and this promo has us so excited for how game the resurging star will be for weird sketches. How much money says there will be a sketch with persistent jazz drumming? Or does anyone even want to take that bet?

April Fools’ Day Bonus Track: Jimmy Kimmel Live—Rihanna Pranks Jimmy Kimmel

So, if owing Rihanna money is all it takes to get her to show up at someone’s house … anyone want to help start a rumor that WIRED is indebted to RiRi for, like, a billion dollars? We’ll inform the security guard and everything.

April Fools’ Day Bonus Track: The Late Late Show with James Corden—Katie Couric Pranks James Corden

James Corden needs to send Katie Couric flowers for this excellent viral boost to his brand-spanking-new show. Ms. Couric: Well played.

Nikon’s New Mirrorless Has a Great New Look, Selfie Options

Nikon’s 1 J series of interchangeable-lens cameras has always been sort of an odd duck. Not a bad duck, just an odd one.

They’re smaller than most mirrorless cameras, their continuous-shooting speeds are incredibly peppy, and they have crazy-fast autofocus systems. However, their physical controls are kept to a minimum for such a capable camera, they use MicroSD cards due to their small size, and the 1-inch-type sensor—the same size as the sensor found in Sony’s RX series of pocket cameras—is small for an interchangeable-lens camera.

So all the J series cameras so far have had split personalities. The compact platform is made for easy, casual shooting, but it’s priced to compete with large-sensored, control-heavy mirrorless cameras.

With the latest iteration, Nikon has broken that pattern. At first glance, the Nikon 1 J5 looks like it has the right balance of size, controls, and price.

It also rocks a great new look. The 20-megapixel J5 has a nice little handgrip and a textured front panel which give it a subdued throwback aesthetic. More physical controls are in the mix, including a mode dial that gives you quick access to manual shooting modes, and a Function button on the front to help you jump directly to your presets. The 3-inch touchscreen on the back of the camera is adjustable and can flip up to face forward, meaning that Nikon has acknowledged the selfie craze.

The new J5 also retains the series’ strengths. It’s still small, roughly matching the size and weight of its predecessor. It still shoots incredibly fast, with a continuous-shooting mode that rattles off 20 shots per second with autofocus enabled or 60 shots per second without it. It comes packed with Wi-Fi features, NFC pairing, and a video mode that does 1080p at 60fps and 4K at 15fps. But yes, it still has that MicroSD card slot.

If you add all that up, you basically have a swappable-lens version of the Sony RX100 Mark 2—without the RX series’ wide aperture, but at a comparable price. Slated to ship at the end of April, the Nikon 1 J5 will cost $500 with a pedestrian 10-30mm/F3.5-F5.6 kit lens (27-81mm in 35mm equivalent, due to the J series’ whopping 2.7X crop factor). If you want to match the RX series’ wide-aperture prowess, there’s a 50mm equivalent F1.8 lens available separately for $190.

How Many Cars Have the Fast and Furious Movies Destroyed?

When The Fast And The Furious debuted in 2001, it was Hollywood’s attempt to capitalize on the underground street racing scene. That subculture petered out after a few years, leaving the film franchise in jeopardy—but with director Justin Lin at the helm, the series evolved into something no one expected: ensemble heist flicks that are a pulpy mashup of Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job, with increasingly outlandish stunt work that left no exotic car unsmashed. The recipe turned F&F into a legitimate box-office juggernaut, with Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 both breaking $200 million in domestic gross. With Furious 7 hitting theaters today, we broke down the numbers to see how the series transitioned from 10-second drag races to impossible half-hour airplane runway chases.

The Fast And The Furious (2001)

Worldwide box-office gross (millions, not adjusted for inflation): $207.3

Races: 7, including an impromptu race between Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and a cocky Ferrari owner

Police vehicles damaged: 1

Vehicles flipped: 4, including 2 motorbikes

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 5

Approximate # of guns: 8 (not including the SWAT that features too many agents to identify)

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? Yes, Dom’s (Vin Diesel) beloved car gets t-boned after the final drag race.

Castmembers without a driver’s license before filming: 2 (Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster)

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Worldwide box-office gross: $236.4

Races: 2

Police vehicles damaged: 24, mostly thanks to the final street pursuit.

Vehicles flipped: 2, including an actual stunt accident left in the final film.

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 0

Approximate # of guns: 12 (not including the customs raid scene)

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? No, since it’s the only film without Dom.

Times Roman (Tyrese Gibson) is caught attempting to steal a cigar cutter: 2

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Worldwide box-office gross: $158.5

Races: 6, including Vin Diesel’s cameo to close the film

Police vehicles damaged: 0

Vehicles flipped: 3

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 1

Approximate # of guns: 2 (this is more a fish-out-of-water racing film than an action/crime movie)

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? No

Films in which the character Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) appears: 7 (including the Vin Diesel-directed short “Los Bandoleros,” flashbacks in Furious 7, and Justin Lin’s breakthrough film Better Luck Tomorrow)

Fast & Furious (2009)

Worldwide box-office gross: $363.2

Races: 1

Police vehicles damaged: 0

Vehicles flipped: 7, including the gas tanker in the opening sequence and Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) car in a flashback

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 1

Approximate # of guns: 30 (not including the failed sting against Braga)

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? Yes, totaled.

Core actors returning: 4. This is the first film featuring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez in the same film since the original (though Letty only appears in the opening sequences).

Fast Five (2011)

Worldwide box-office gross: $626.1

Races: 3, including an implied race that wins a car and a 4-way cop car drag race

Police vehicles damaged: 24, including 2 motorbikes

Vehicles flipped: 9, including a prisoner transport bus

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 3

Approximate # of guns: At least 155, complicated by all the military police extras

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? Yes, by an armored car driven by Luke Hobbs (The Rock).

Bank vaults towed down city streets by cars: 2

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Worldwide box-office gross: $788.7

Races: 1

Police vehicles damaged: 8

Vehicles flipped: 20, including Letty in flashback again, a car specially designed to flip other vehicles, and the post-credits scene from Tokyo Drift.

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 14, including Dom leaping from his car to save Letty in mid-air.

Approximate # of guns: At least 151, including a tank.

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? Yes—Dom drives one off a bridge in order to save Letty.

Distance traveled by the plane in the final runway stunt: 27.86 miles—longer than any runway in the world.

Furious 7 (2015)

Worldwide box-office gross: TBD

Races: 3, including partial races seen at Race Wars

Police vehicles damaged: 3

Vehicles flipped: 15

Times someone jumps onto/off of a vehicle: 4 (not including the cars dropped out of a plane, because that’s cheating)

Approximate # of guns: At least 91.

Is a Dodger Charger damaged? Yes—and once again, multiple versions of Dom’s car were built for the shoot.

Gratuitous ass shots: 13, none of which focus on a glistening Luke Hobbs.

MLB Is Supercharging Its Stats System With Radar and AI

MLB Is Supercharging Its Stats System With Radar and AI

ap_mlb_1_ff Chris Philpot

We Put a Trio of iOS Flash Drives to the Test

Instant-syncing between devices is the new norm. Apple, Google, and Microsoft all promise us a world where our files can exist simultaneously on our phones, our tablets, on the cloud, and on our primary computers.

While photo syncing is often easy to set up, the experience isn’t always seamless for larger files like documents and long videos. We still have to occasionally resort to workarounds like sending a file to Dropbox, then switching machines and downloading it. Or, heaven forbid, emailing files to ourselves.

Physical transfer devices are still necessary sometimes, and they’re handy. For some time now, Android users have had access to physical solutions like dual-USB flash drives—small, dongle-like devices with both a standard USB connector for your computer and a micro-USB port for your mobile. They let you load up files onto the flash drive from your computer, then plug the drive into your Android phone and transfer the files over.

Since these devices use micro-USB, iPhone and iPad users were left out in the cold until just recently. Now, at least three companies offer flash drives equipped with iOS-friendly Lightning connectors.

We looked at three of these new dual-standard USB flash drives from Leef, SanDisk, and Hyper. Each are offered in various capacities between 8GB and 128GB. Each requires its own companion app from the App Store to get full mobile functionality—without the apps, they act like conventional USB flash drives.

Because the three products all work the same way, I was able to judge each one by the same criteria: price, the ease of use afforded by the physical design of the hardware, and the versatility and quality of the iOS apps. I also found that a couple of the devices offered more features than I expected. Here are the results.

Leef iBridge

The half-ounce Leef iBridge ($60-$400, 16GB-128GB, RATING:8) is U-shaped. One end is short and has a Lightning connector that slips easily into iPhones and iPads, even ones with thick, protective cases. The other end is longer and terminates with a USB 2.0 plug. Both of these connectors are exposed, and the device comes with a connector cover that transforms the little hook-shaped thing into something resembling a carabiner.

The iBridge iOS app launches automatically when the Lightning connector is inserted to your mobile. The app’s interface has a handful of intuitively titled functions separated into three sections: Transfer Files, Content Viewer, and iBridge Camera. The last one lets you take photos which are then saved directly to the iBridge’s memory, bypassing storage on the iOS device. This feature is unique to the iBridge, and not found in the other apps I tested. It’s handy, but not built for spontaneity since you need to have the iBridge attached and you must proactively open its app to access this camera function.

The iBridge will, on command, back up your camera roll and move files off your iOS phone or tablet. And you can do the reverse, loading files—videos, photos, music, or docs from your computer—onto your mobile. The iBridge doesn’t have a function for backing up your contacts, something that was found on the other two devices I tested.

You can also just keep your media stored on the iBridge and view it on your phone or tablet. I loaded the iBridge with some videos and played them without a hiccup. Any video, audio or document format supported by the iPhone or iPad can be played from the iBridge. The drive does drain a little bit of power from the mobile device, but only when the drive is in use. So you can leave it plugged in if you want. And when it’s plugged in, it curves neatly around the back of the device where it stays out of the way.

iXpand SanDisk

SanDisk iXpand

The SanDisk iXpand ($60-$200, 16GB-128GB. RATING: 7) is a one-ounce, handsomely designed device about the size of a Tic Tac box. It comes with a clear plastic cap to cover the USB connector, something that’s too easily misplaced. The Lightning connector is on the top, unfortunately attached to an inch-long stiff cable that just bends slightly upwards. This makes attaching it to an iPhone and iPad awkward at best.

Unlike the iBridge, the iXpand is armed with a rechargeable 3.7v lithium-ion battery inside, which recharges automatically when the iXpand is inserted into the computer’s USB port. A small LED on the unit’s side indicates battery strength, and it lights up when syncing or streaming is in progress. The benefit of the drive’s battery is that no juice is sucked out of the phone or tablet.

The iXpand Sync app loads as soon as the drive is inserted in the lightning port. The app has a drop-down menu that also includes handy icons showing remaining battery life, and remaining space on both the iOS device and the drive. The “Camera Sync” function swiftly copies all your iPhone’s photos to the iXpand drive. It’s intelligent enough to copy over only the shots taken since the last sync. You then have the option to delete the images on the phone to free up more storage memory. There’s also an option to backup your contacts, which are saved in the vcard format. With a little fuss, vcard files can be imported into your computer’s address book program.

Playing videos and music stored on the flash drive worked seamlessly. The files played as perfectly as the ones already saved on the mobile. Any file format for videos, music, images, and documents native to iOS open instantly directly from the drive. Transferring files in either direction requires just a few taps to select the file(s) and the intended new location. A built-in encryption tool, SanDisk SecureAccess lets you password-protect files on the drive. The encrypted files can be transferred to a Mac or PC, but viewing them requires the free SanDisk app, where the files are decrypted.

Bottom line on this one: Even though the iXpand’s Lightning cable is a tad clumsy to use, its intelligent software more than compensates for its external shortcomings.

Hyper-iStick_v2 Sanho Corporation

Hyper iStick Pro

The black or white plastic hardware of Sanho Corporation’s Hyper iStick Pro ($80-$350, 8GB-128GB RATING: 5) surpasses the other dual-device flash drives in the simplicity of its design and use. The one-and-a-half-inch case has a slider button on top. Depending on which way you push it, the USB or lightning connector pops out from either end. But like the proverbial cow that kicks over the good pail of milk, the iStick’s thick body makes it nearly impossible to insert the Lightning plug into iPhones and iPads with thick cases.

The iStick handles the same functions as the other flash drives—backing up contacts, transferring photos, and moving files in either direction. But it’s hobbled by perfunctory software. The basic file transfer process initially requires some confusing trial and error. Backed-up contacts are saved in a proprietary format which cannot be read if transferred to your computer. Restoration is accomplished only with the iStick app. Incremental additions or deletions of contacts are not supported; instead, duplicate full backups are created. When transferring photos, the thumbnails on the iStick are identified only with generic alphanumeric names, not images, which subtracts any efficiency.

At least streaming media from the iStick is flawless. Like the other drives, the iStick handles any video, audio, image or document format iOS can handle. In fact, streaming is the easiest, most intuitive function of the iStick. However, be warned: as long as the iStick is connected to your iPhone or iPad, it is drawing on the mobile device’s battery power, no matter if the drive is in use or not.

Sanho’s iStick is the U.S. licensed version of the Gmobi iStick from the Taiwanese PQI Group. Support for the software is redirected to the China-based Gopod Group. Actually getting any support other than a user manual download is an exercise in frustration. This product is an example of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

Our Pick

The convenient iBridge Camera function alone sends the Leef iBridge to the head of the class. The accompanying iOS app has a short learning curve, and the hardware is well-engineered. Competitively priced and featuring an excellent out-of-the-box experience, this the best dual flash drive of the lot.

CRISPR toolbox more versatile: Highly efficient new cas9 identified for in vivo genome editing

A collaborative study between researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Institutes of Health (NIH-NCBI) has identified a highly efficient Cas9 nuclease that overcomes one of the primary challenges to in vivo genome editing. This finding, published in Nature, is expected to help make the CRISPR toolbox accessible for in vivo experimental and therapeutic applications.

Originally discovered in bacteria, the CRISPR-Cas9 system enables the cutting of DNA as a defense mechanism against viral infection. Although numerous microbial species possess this system, the Cas9 enzyme from Streptococcus pyogenes (SpCas9) was the first to be engineered for altering the DNA of higher organisms, and has since emerged as the basis for a series of highly versatile genome modification technologies.

In order to perturb genes in adult animals, key components of the CRISPR-Cas9 system must be introduced into cells using delivery vehicles known as vectors. Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is considered one of the most promising candidate vectors, as it is not known to cause human disease and has already gained clinical regulatory approval in Europe. However, the small cargo capacity of AAV makes it challenging to package both the SpCas9 enzyme and the other components required for gene editing into a single viral particle.

The Cas9 nuclease from the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (SaCas9), presented in this new work, is 25% smaller than SpCas9, offering a solution to the AAV packaging problem.

The Broad/MIT team, led by Feng Zhang, core member of the Broad Institute and investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, along with collaborators at MIT, led by MIT Institute Professor Phillip Sharp, and the NCBI led by Eugene Koonin, set out to identify smaller Cas9 enzymes that could replicate the efficiency of the current SpCas9 system, while allowing packaging into delivery vehicles such as AAV. The researchers began by using comparative genomics to analyze Cas9s from more than 600 different types of bacteria, selecting six smaller enzymes for further study.

"Sifting through the 600 or so available Cas9 sequences, we identified a group of small variants in which the enzymatic domains were intact whereas the non-enzymatic portion was substantially truncated," said Eugene Koonin, senior investigator with the NCBI and a contributing author of the study. "Luckily, one of these smaller Cas9 proteins turned out to be suitable for the development of the methodology described in this paper. We are now actively exploring the diversity of Cas9 proteins and their relatives in the hope to find new varieties that could potentially lead to even more powerful tools."

After rigorous testing, only the Cas9 from S. aureus demonstrated DNA cutting efficiency comparable to that of SpCas9 in mammalian cells. The team then used a method known as BLESS, previously developed by Nicola Crosetto of the Karolinska Institute and Ivan Dikic at the Goethe University Medical School, to determine the presence of unintended "off-targets" across the entire genomic space. Again, SaCas9 and SpCas9 demonstrated comparable DNA targeting accuracy.

The team demonstrated the power of in vivo gene editing with AAV/SaCas9-mediated targeting of PCSK9, a promising drug target. The loss of PCSK9 in humans has been associated with the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower levels of LDL cholesterol. In a mouse model, the team observed almost complete depletion of PCKS9 in the blood one week after administration of AAV/SaCas9 and a 40% decrease in total cholesterol. The mice showed no overt signs of inflammation or immune response.

"While we have chosen a therapeutically relevant target, PCSK9, in this proof-of-principle study, the greater goal here is the development of a versatile and efficient system that expands our ability to edit genomes in vivo," said Fei Ann Ran, co-first author of the study, along with Le Cong and Winston Yan.

More broadly, SaCas9 is expected improve scientists' ability to screen for the effects of mutations and better understand gene function using animal models. In the future, it may also be engineered to allow the targeted control of gene expression, which can be employed to expand our understanding of transcriptional and epigenetic regulation in the cell.

The next step, says senior author Feng Zhang, is to compare and contrast the two Cas9s in the hope of recognizing ways to further optimize the system.

"This study highlights the power of using comparative genome analysis to expand the CRISPR-Cas9 toolbox," said Zhang. "Our long-term goal is to develop CRISPR as a therapeutic platform. This new Cas9 provides a scaffold to expand our Cas9 repertoire, and help us create better models of disease, identify mechanisms, and develop new treatments."

Microsoft: An Open Source Windows Is ‘Definitely Possible’

Mark Russinovich Mark Russinovich. Mike Kane/WIRED

Microsoft’s software empire rests on Windows, the computer operating system that runs so many of the world’s desktop PCs, laptops, phones, and servers. Along with the Office franchise, it generates the majority of the company’s revenues. But one day, the company could “open source” the code that underpins the OS—giving it away for free. So says Mark Russinovich, one of the company’s top engineers.

“It’s definitely possible,” Russinovich says. “It’s a new Microsoft.”

Russinovich is sitting in front of several hundred people who spend their days running thousands of computers. He helped build Windows, and he carries one of the most respected titles at the world’s largest software company: Microsoft Technical Fellow. But here, on stage at a conference in Silicon Valley, he’s perched in front of an audience whose relationship with Microsoft is, at best, complicated.

So many Microsoft customers now rely on open source code. That means Microsoft must embrace it too.

The conference is called ChefCon. Chef is a tool that helps tech geeks setup and operate the many machines needed to drive a website, smartphone app, or some other piece of business software. It’s an open source tool, which means it’s typically used alongside other open source software. When Russinovich asks how many in the audience use nothing but Windows to run their machines, one guy raises his hand—one guy out of several hundred. Mostly, they run the open source Linux operating system.

But this is what Russinovich expects. “That’s the reality we live in today,” he says. The tech world has changed in enormous ways. So many companies—so many Microsoft customers—are now relying on open source code. And that means Microsoft must embrace it too. As Russinovich points out, the company now allows Linux on its Azure cloud computing service, a way of renting computers over the internet, and today, Linux is running on at least 20 percent of those computers.

It’s quite a change for Microsoft, so long the bete noir of the open source community. But as Russinovich explains, it’s a necessary change. And given how popular Linux has become, Microsoft could go even further, not only allowing open source software on its cloud services, but actually turning Windows into open source software. “Every conversation you can imagine about what should we do with our software—open versus not-open versus services—has happened,” he says.

Certainly, Microsoft won’t open source the thing tomorrow—if ever. Windows is still such a big part of the Microsoft revenue stream. And as Russinovich says, open sourcing such a complex piece of code isn’t easy. “If you open source something but it comes with a build system that takes rocket scientists and three months to set up, what’s the point?” he asks. But Microsoft is already giving away one version of Windows for free (though not sharing the underlying code). And it has already open sourced other important pieces of its software empire. If nothing else, his very public comments show—in stark fashion—how much the tech world has evolved. And how much Microsoft has evolved.

Open Source Means More Than Free

The future of tech lies not with for-pay software of the kind traditionally offered by Microsoft. Linux has moved into the massive computing centers that power the internet, and open source OSes such as Google Android are running so many of the world’s mobile phones, tablets, and other devices. The future, even for Microsoft, lies in selling other stuff, including cloud computing services such Microsoft Azure and all sorts of other apps and services that run atop the world’s operating systems.

If Microsoft does open source Windows, the operating system can still be a money maker in its own right.

In open sourcing Windows, Microsoft could expand the use of its OS. Open code is easier to test, easier to shape, easier to build into something else. And if the OS is more widely used, that means a bigger audience for the Microsoft applications that run on Windows.

Earlier this year, Microsoft open sourced a tool called .NET, a popular way of building online applications, and the hope is that this will expand the tool’s reach. Outside coders are even working to move the tool onto Linux machines and Apple Macs. In the end, Russinovich says, this will help Microsoft sell other stuff. “It’s an enabling technology that can get people started on other Microsoft solutions,” he says of .NET. “It lifts them up and makes them available for our other offerings, where otherwise they might not be. If they’re using Linux technologies that we can’t play with, they can’t be a customer of ours.”

What’s more, if Microsoft open sources Windows, the operating system can still be a money maker in its own right. Windows code would be freely available, but so many of the world’s businesses would still need a vendor who can package, distribute, and update the OS. That’s the way Linux works. And Android too. Open source is a complicated thing. It’s not as simple as free versus not-free. When code is open sourced, shared with the world at large, the results are myriad.

‘A History to Work Past’

As Russinovich leaves the stage, I chat with Phil Dibowitz, a Facebook engineer who was part of the same panel discussion. Facebook is a company that pushes open source in extreme ways—it even open sources its hardware—and Dibowitz is pleasantly surprised with Microsoft’s willingness to discuss the rise of open source (given the way the company actively sought to suppress open source software in the past). And he sees this as an undeniable sign that Microsoft is evolving. “This wouldn’t have happened two years ago,” he says.

Adam Jacobs, the chief technology officer of the company behind Chef, sees this in much the same way, saying it’s particularly telling that Russinovich made his case at a conference grounded in the world of Linux and its predecessor, UNIX. Russinovich himself will tell you he’s here for a very pointed reason. He wants the open source world to know that Microsoft now operates in new ways, that its not the company it was. “We’ve got a history to work past,” he says. “We’re out there beating the drums as much as we can.”

Microsoft’s path to this point in long and winding. And for years, people questioned whether the company would really change its ways. But now, people like Dibowitz and Jacobs have dropped so much of their skepticism. And at least on some level, the larger tech community is warming up to the company. No one in the crowd was a heavy Windows user. But when the idea of an open source Windows popped up, they cheered. And loud.