TIME Innovation

Skyscraper Game of Tetris Breaks World Record

Philadelphia Tech Buzz
In this April 5, 2014 file photo shown is the classic video game Tetris played on the 29-story Cira Centre in Philadelphia, April 5, 2014, using hundreds of LED lights embedded in its glass facade. Joseph Kaczmarek—AP

Dozens of Tetris enthusiasts played the supersized version in April using a joystick from about a mile away

(PHILADELPHIA) — All the pieces have fallen into place for the designer of a giant Tetris game.

Drexel University professor Frank Lee has earned the Guinness World Record for largest architectural video game display. Again.

Lee and two colleagues created a computer program to play the classic shape-fitting puzzle on two sides of a 29-story skyscraper in Philadelphia.

They used hundreds of lights embedded in the glass facades of the Cira (SEAR’-ah) Centre. All told, the “screens” totaled nearly 120,000 square feet (11,000 square meters).

Dozens of Tetris enthusiasts played the supersized version in April using a joystick from about a mile away.

The record announced Tuesday beat the previous one also set by Lee. Last year, he recreated the classic Atari game Pong on a single side of the same building.

TIME Computers

Samsung Chromebook 2 Review: Almost Worth the Price

Jared Newman for TIME

I really thought this would be the one.

When Samsung announced the Chromebook 2 a couple months ago, it seemed to be the mid-range device that we’d been missing since Samsung discontinued its Series 5 550 last year. The 13-inch version is currently the only Chromebook with a 1080p display, and it comes in a slick package that mimics Samsung’s most expensive Windows-based laptops. I was hoping these features would justify the $400 price tag.

After using Samsung’s 13-inch Chromebook 2 for several weeks, I’m conflicted. The Chromebook 2 is a solidly-built machine with an impressive balance of weight and battery life, but it also has a couple of problems that keep me from giving it a wholehearted recommendation.

Let’s start with the display. On paper, the 1920-by-1080 panel should be the Chromebook 2′s strongest selling point. Not only does it make everything sharper, it allows the taskbar and icons to be smaller, leaving more room on the screen for actual webpages.

But like so many other laptops that cut corners on price, the viewing angles on the Chromebook 2 are atrocious. As you shift your position, you have to constantly adjust the screen to avoid having the colors wash out. The screen looks especially bad when watching videos or looking at dark webpages. It’s by far the biggest problem with this laptop, and a huge letdown for what should be a killer feature.

One other minor complaint about the display: By default, the high pixel density made text a little small for my liking, and I have pretty good vision. Increasing page zoom to 125 percent in Chrome settings made things more readable; it should probably be set this way by default.

Aside from the display, the build quality of the Chromebook 2 is superb. The island-style keys have just the right amount of travel and snappiness, and the keyboard hardly flexes at all under heavy pressure.

Below the keyboard is a spacious trackpad that’s smooth to the touch. You can click on the trackpad almost all the way up to the top without having to apply too much pressure, and it supports two-finger scrolling and clicking. (You can also tap the trackpad instead of depressing it.) Overall, it’s fantastic.

The Chromebook 2 is fairly light for a 13-inch laptop, weighing in at 3.1 pounds. That’s 0.2 pounds lighter than Toshiba’s 13-inch Chromebook, though it’s the same weight as Asus’ 13-inch Chromebook that’s due out later this month. (Both of those laptops, however, have 1366-by-768 resolution displays.)

Jared Newman for TIME

Samsung’s Chromebook 2 is also one of the slimmest Chromebooks around, at 0.65 inches, and its bottom half has the same contoured edges found on Samsung’s Ativ Book laptops. Aesthetically, I’m not crazy about the “titan gray” finish–I’d prefer the white or black color options of the 11-inch model–and the faux-stitching makes less sense on a laptop cover than it does on Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

Unlike most other laptops, the Chromebook 2 uses an ARM-based octa-core Exynos processor, a lot like what you’d find in a high-end tablet. This allows it to run quietly with no fan, and despite the high-resolution display it still lasts for more than eight hours on a charge.

That processor does have a downside, in that it’s less powerful than your average laptop. Depending on your needs, this might not be a major issue. I generally didn’t have a problem scrolling through webpages, editing Google Docs or juggling a bunch of browser tabs. But I did notice occasional sluggishness when loading heavy pages and switching between tabs. Compared to Samsung’s original Exynos-based Chromebook, which had a slower processor and just 2 GB of RAM instead of 4 GB, the Chromebook 2 is still a big step up.

For connectivity, the Chromebook 2 has two USB ports–one on each side–along with HDMI output and a headphone jack. There’s also a microSD card slot, though I wish Samsung had included a full-sized SD slot instead. The speakers are loud and clear enough for video, but like most laptops, you won’t get much bass when listening to music.

If Samsung had only shipped a higher-quality display with the Chromebook 2, I could have fallen in love with this laptop. I’m a sucker for build quality, especially when it comes to the keyboard and trackpad, and I could have forgiven the middling performance, given that it’s still good enough for most basic web browsing. Chromebooks can’t do everything that a Windows laptop or MacBook can–you can’t install desktop software, which rules out programs like Office and iTunes–but the simplicity of a browser-based operating system has its own advantages. The Chromebook 2 could have been the perfect machine for users who want to spend a little more.

Instead, I’m wishing Samsung had tried just a little harder to make the ultimate mid-range Chromebook. This one is frustratingly close.

TIME Apple

Apple’s New iMac Is $200 Cheaper

Apple

The new all-in-one trims a few specs to hit $1,099 price tag

Apple just released a cheaper version of its iMac all-in-one computer, with a $1,099 price tag.

That’s $200 less than the previous baseline iMac, but it makes a couple of sacrifices to get there. The Intel Core i5 processor is a 1.4 GHz dual-core chip, compared to the 2.7 GHz quad-core chip in the $1,299 iMac, and it uses Intel HD 5000 graphics instead of Intel’s beefier Iris Pro integrated graphics. Storage space is also cut in half, from 1 TB to 500 GB.

A computer with those specs won’t be a gaming or graphic design powerhouse, but it should be good enough for everyday computing. If you’re keen on Apple’s software, build quality and design, but want to spend as little as possible, at least there’s an option for you now.

TIME Innovation

This Computer Wants To Teach Itself Everything About Anything

The more it learns, the better it gets at sifting the web for the content we've always wanted

The world’s most curious computer is now scanning millions of online books and images in an attempt to understand all of the web’s images the way a human might.

Computer scientists at the University of Washington say the new program, called Learn Everything About Anything, or LEVAN, could produce more intuitive responses to image searches. The program begins with a basic search term like “shrimp.” It searches for the word across millions of Google Books, taking note of every modifier, be it “boiled,” “fried” “steamed,” or “peppered.” Armed with a Bubba Gump-like knowledge of shrimp, it searches the web for shrimp pictures, grouping them by appearance under the categories it has just learned. The result? A visual grouping of pictures that’s a feast for the eyes.

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 1.43.02 PM
Source: LEVAN, University of Washington

The search results spare users from clicking through page after page of nearly identical looking pictures. And unlike current visual groupings, no human curator is needed. “The new program needs no human supervision, and thus can automatically learn the visual knowledge for any concept,” said research scientist Santosh Divvala.

There’s just one drawback — LEVAN has a lot to learn. It currently has the vocabulary of a toddler and takes upwards of 12 hours to learn broader terms, such as “angry.” As a result, researchers have invited the public to pitch their own one-word concepts to LEVAN, because evidently it takes a village to raise an artificially intelligent algorithm.

TIME Artificial Intelligence

Why I’m Not Impressed By the ‘Thinking’ Computer

Sorry brainiac, you're not fooling anyone
Sorry brainiac, you're not fooling anyone Laguna Design; Getty Images

A machine finally passes the legendary Turing test and convinces users they're communicating with a real person—but the achievement is less than it seems

Huge news for people raising 13-year-olds who can’t get enough of that particular hell. Now there’s a computer program that can simulate the experience too!

That’s the headline that has set the computer world buzzing, as word comes out of the Royal Society in London that for the first time, a computer has passed the legendary Turing test, which had stood unmet since 1950. Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing—who famously declared that if a computer were ever developed whose behavior was indistinguishable from a human’s, the machine must then be said to be capable of thought—the test required at least 33% of human subjects to be fooled into thinking they were conversing with a human during a keyboard exchange with a computer that lasted five minutes.

So one computer finally achieved that, posing as a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman who, like most kids, likes candy and hamburgers, and, like fewer kids, is the son of a gynecologist. That means he might have picked up a disproportionate amount of information about medical arcana or have other bits of knowledge more or less unique to him, but would otherwise be unremarkable. And that, in turn, pretty much describes the clumpy, uneven knowledge base of most kids—which was the whole idea. As Vladimir Veselov, “Eugene’s” developer explained, this allowed the program to “claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn’t know everything.”

But here’s the thing: the point of the Turing test is not so much to give the computer a pop quiz on medicine or current events, it’s to create a program that can follow the thread of a conversation in a believable way. And if you’ve chosen a 13-year-old as your model for that, you’ve set your bar pretty low. I’m raising a 13-year-old even as we speak, and I can tell you there is no age group on the planet as adept at the art of the unresponsive non-sequitur as hers. If I ask her if she’s done her home work, the answer could just as easily be “yes,” “no” or “tapioca.” If I ask what she wants for dinner she will hear that question—I’m sure she hears it—and then respond by complaining that her sister is annoying her. These are, you will note, technically answers. The fact that they are answers that have nothing to do with the question I asked seems not to be relevant to her.

Not that a computer modeled on my 11-year-old would be any more responsive—unless it was a computer built with eyes that could roll on cue whenever I say something the program considers embarrassing, which would be more or less all the time. And certainly, a 14-, 15- or 16-year-old computer program would be little better, since it wouldn’t be required to do much more than send out remote commands to slam doors and then sit in utter, world-weary silence no matter what you said to it.

So nice try, Turing guys. But if you really want a meaningful win, you’re going to have to aim a little further up the age spectrum. If you don’t believe me, ask my daughter. I predict her answer will be “purple.”

TIME viral

Watch Kids React in Utter Bemusement at the Sight of an Old Computer

"I don't get it, and I also don't get the 1970s"

+ READ ARTICLE

Kids these days are accustomed to smartphones and iPads and laptops they can tuck under their arms and tote around effortlessly. But show them a computer from the 1970s and they become much less tech savvy — and much more confused. Watch here as a group of young kids share their (totally hilarious) reactions to this seemingly ancient machine.

TIME Earnings

HP Will Cut Up to 16K More Jobs

Inside Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Indigo Commercial Printing Unit
An "HP" logo sits on display outside the Hewlett Packard Israel Ltd. production plant in Kiryat Gat, Israel, on Sept. 15, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

The new cuts bring the total job losses to 50,000 under CEO Meg Whitman's restructuring plan

Hewlett-Packard’s second-quarter earnings report sent shares down 2% Thursday, as revenue disappointed investors. The world’s largest personal computer maker also revealed in a SEC filing Thursday that it would cut an additional 11,000 to 16,000 jobs, bringing the total job cuts under CEO Meg Whitman’s restructuring plan to 50,000 since 2012.

The company posted earnings of 88 cents per share (excluding items) on revenue of $27.3 billion. Analysts had expected revenues of around $27.43 billion on the same per share earnings. Revenue was down more than 1% in Q2, marking the hardware maker’s 11th consecutive quarterly revenue decline.

HP shares continued to drop in after-hours trading as news of the job cuts from the company’s SEC filing became public.

TIME FindTheBest

Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 3 Updates That Matter and 3 That Don’t

SurfacePro3Primary_Web
Microsoft

According to Microsoft, The Surface Pro 3 is “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” Alright: let’s play along. Assuming the Surface 3’s closest competitor is a MacBook Air—and not an iPad—which of the updates matter, and which don’t?

3 Updates that Matter…

1. Display

The Surface 3’s display is both conventional and rebellious. Sensibly, Microsoft has abandoned its 16:9 aspect ratio for a more standard 3:2. While widescreen videos will no longer fill the whole space, this update will likely improve user experience for other applications, where users have come to expect portrait-friendly apps and more vertical space while in landscape mode.

Meanwhile, the increase in screen real estate (from 10.6 to 12 inches) is a defiant move. Given the success of 7- and 10-inch tablets, Microsoft is doubling-down on its “laptop-replacement” positioning, while keeping its distance from the iPad Mini (7.85 inches) and Kindle Fire HDX (8.9).

Finally, the Surface 3’s 216 PPI pixel density is far crisper than most entry-level laptops, including the MacBook Air. It’s nice to see that Microsoft has maintained its tablet-like screen sharpness even as it tries to conquer the laptop space. With all this in mind, the Surface 3’s screen is just flat-out better than the Air’s, and this will matter for undecided shoppers.

2. Weight and Thickness

During the announcement, Microsoft’s Panos Panay placed the Surface 3 (800 grams) on a scale next to the MacBook Air (1.3k grams). It was gimmicky (and maybe even a little unfair), but it proved a larger point: the Surface 3 is officially a light device, particularly as a laptop replacement.

The new Surface is also much thinner, dropping from over half an inch to 0.3 inches: right in line with the latest iPads. The comparison gets a bit murkier if you throw in the attachable keyboard (adding roughly 200 grams), but if nothing else, the Surface has shed its “bulky” reputation. That’s a big step in the right direction that should matter for consumers.

3. Hardware Design (Stylus and Kick-Stand)

It’s easy to poke fun at the stylus (didn’t everyone stop using these in 2005?) and complain about the kick-stand (it still doesn’t work in my lap), but with the Surface 3, Microsoft has forced the skeptics to take another look. The improved stylus has a premium build-quality and handy new features (ex: click the top to bring up a note taking app), while the kickstand can now be set at various levels. Six-foot-five customers around the globe can now prop up their Surfaces to an ideal viewing angle without lowering their chairs or raising their desks.

Regardless of your sentiments toward styli and kickstands, these are tangible (and well-executed!) features that will give potential MacBook Air customers a couple of reasons to think twice.

…and 3 that Don’t

1. Battery Life

With the Surface 3, Microsoft claims customers can squeeze out 9 hours of battery life, a small but respectable improvement over past models. The problem? The 13-inch MacBook Air holds an insurmountable lead, at 12 hours. Microsoft probably hopes that 9 hours will be “good enough,” but regardless, the masses will likely ignore the Surface’s improved battery life.

2. Technical Specifications

The Surface’s tech specs should matter, but won’t. For its Surface Pro line, Microsoft has championed performance, a tablet with the powerful internals of a laptop. Unfortunately, the two lower-end Surface 3s (price-wise, the most comparable to the MacBook Air) just aren’t that much more powerful than an entry-level laptop. Even if Microsoft can point to a few superior performance metrics in a spreadsheet, there’s not enough here to noticeably improve the user experience of the device.

3. Productivity (Apps and Ecosystem)

In positioning the Surface 3 as a laptop replacement, Microsoft has undercut its original argument: productivity. Back in early 2013, the Surface Pro was a productivity show horse next to the Office-less iPad, complete with keyboard attachments and powerful Office integration. Now? The Surface 3 is no more productive than its self-proclaimed rival, the MacBook Air, which can run all the same productivity apps (and more). Heck, even the iPad has Office now.

Yes, the Surface 3 has solid battery life, good tech specs, and top productivity features compared to other tablets. But Microsoft has picked a fight with laptops, and now, that’s all that matters.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Gadgets

Microsoft Finds Laptop-Tablet Balance with Surface Pro 3, but Windows Is Another Story

As Surface Pro 3 arrives, Windows becomes a lesser hybrid operating system

When Microsoft’s Panos Panay said on Tuesday that the Surface Pro 3 was three years in the making, I believed it.

This seems like the hybrid computer Microsoft has always wanted to build–one that’s thin and light enough to pass as a tablet but powerful enough to work like a laptop, and with a flexible enough design to blur the lines between device types. I’m already trying to figure out how to dump my Surface Pro 2 and upgrade to the Pro 3 when it arrives on June 20.

I only wish I was feeling more confident about Windows 8.1, the operating system that ships with the Surface Pro 3. More than ever, Windows 8.1 doesn’t feel like it’s meant for hybrid devices. Instead, the trend is toward accommodating tablets on one hand, and traditional laptops and desktops on the other, while the middle ground of devices like the Surface becomes muddled.

Much of this conflict stems from the “Windows 8.1 Update” that Microsoft shipped in April. To make the new Windows more accommodating to laptop and desktop users, Microsoft added new mouse-centric controls, such as the ability to close Windows Store apps with an “X” button on the top-right corner, and to launch these apps from the desktop taskbar.

If you’re using a regular laptop, these changes make sense. The classic Windows behavior is to switch between programs through the taskbar and click “X” to shut them down. In theory, extending those capabilities to Windows Store apps will help users feel more at home, so they can move beyond their stodgy old desktop software.

Unfortunately, this behavior is at odds with Microsoft’s original vision for Windows 8, in which you mainly use the new Start screen and recent apps bar to move between programs, and only fall back to the desktop for legacy software. If you actually use Windows 8.1 that way–as I do–and Windows Store apps are enabled on the taskbar, you pay the price for neglecting the desktop:

Microsoft

Having Windows Store apps on the taskbar only works if you’re actively closing things down when you’re finished. Otherwise, the clutter of unclosed apps accumulates when you stay away from the desktop for too long. That’s not how tablet usage is supposed to work; you should be able to just move between apps without thinking about whether they’re “open” or “closed.”

Windows 8.1 offers a half-baked solution: You can just disable Windows Store apps on the taskbar. But this in itself is a point of confusion for hybrid devices like the Surface Pro 3. Users now have to decide which type of behavior–actively closing windows on the desktop or staying within the modern interface–is the right one. As I’ve said before, it’s a cognitive burden that I’d rather not deal with.

And it’s only going to get worse. In April, Microsoft revealed that it will bring back a pop-up Start menu in Windows, and will also allow modern apps to run in windows mode on the desktop. This is great news for laptop and desktop users who don’t want to deal with an unfamiliar interface, but it presents even more confusion for hybrids like the Surface Pro 3. If you have a device that can function like either a laptop or a tablet, should you use the Start screen or the old-school Start menu? Should apps open in windows, or a tablet-friendly full-screen view? Microsoft could just let users decide, as it has done with the taskbar in Windows 8.1, but what happens if they want to switch back and forth between modes? Again, it’s more confusion, more complications.

There aren’t any easy answers here, but part of me hopes Microsoft will draw a clearer line between touch and non-touch versions of Windows. The desktop should still exist in both versions, if only as way to run programs that aren’t part of the Windows Store (including, for now, Microsoft Office). But the touch version of the desktop should make a greater effort to slim down, removing options and settings that are already available on the modern side. I wouldn’t even mind if Windows Explorer went away, provided there was a way to drag and drop files between Windows Store apps.

As we saw today, Microsoft clearly has a vision for hybrid hardware, and even presented software to match, including a touch-optimized version of Photoshop and a New York Times crossword app that works with pen input. All we need now is a better hybrid operating system to hold it all together.

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