TIME legal

Doom Creator Accused of Stealing Virtual Reality Tech, Taking It to Oculus

Oculus VR

ZeniMax claims id Software co-founder John Carmack pilfered virtual reality tech when he quit to join Oculus VR last year, though both Carmack and Oculus are flatly denying the charges.

Well this sounds ugly, and bound to get uglier: John Carmack, the fellow gamers know best for helping birth Doom, and who left id Software last year to take a job as chief technology officer with Oculus Rift headset designer Oculus VR (who were in turn recently snatched up by Facebook for a cool $2 billion), has been accused by his former employer, ZeniMax, of purloining virtual reality secrets the games publisher claims belong to it, not Oculus VR.

ZeniMax Media, which also owns Bethesda Game Studios (The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3) and Arkane Studios (Dishonored) claims that Carmack was involved in “extensive VR research and development” during his tenure at ZeniMax, according to the Wall Street Journal. That, says ZeniMax, gives it dibs on “key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift,” and thus the right to seek compensation.

According to the Journal, ZeniMax is staking its case on allegations that Carmack was in touch with Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey before leaving ZeniMax, that Carmack received a prototype headset from Luckey, and that he made innovations to the headset, which he then demoed during a convention.

“ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others,” writes ZeniMax in a press statement (via Engadget). “ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings.”

The statement continues:

The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax’s legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval. Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax’s technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests.

Oculus’s response? Balderdash: “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” an Oculus VR representative told the Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

And Carmack himself has weighed in on Twitter:

That’s all we know so far, which is to say that it’s best to stay off the playing field just now in terms rallying for one side or another, since the only folks who know who’s telling (or twisting) the truth are John Carmack, ZeniMax and Oculus VR.

TIME Software

Google’s Docs and Sheets Apps Available for Free Download

Productivity apps Docs and Sheets, Google’s free answer to the Microsoft Office suite, are now available for download for iOS and Android mobile devices, the company announced yesterday.

Google Docs

The apps allow you to create new documents and spreadsheets, and edit those you’ve already created and stored on the web via Google Drive. Both offer collaboration features, auto-save, an offline mode and other basic features you’ll need to make quick changes to docs on the fly.

Over the last year, we’ve seen a proliferation of Word and Excel-like productivity apps made available on mobile devices. Microsoft recently made its Office suite available for iPad users, though a $69.99 per year subscription to Office 365 is required for making edits. Apple’s iWork for iCloud apps such as Pages and Numbers are free for those who purchase a new iOS device, but us owners of older Apple devices still need to pay $9.99 per app. Google’s mobile productivity suite is, thus far, the only one that’s truly free for all.

You can find the news apps available on the Apple App Store for iOS (Sheets) (Docs) and on Google Play for Android devices (Sheets) (Docs). A mobile version of PowerPoint clone Google Slides is “coming soon.”

For more on choosing the right office productivity suite, check out this side-by-side-by-side Google Docs, iWork for iCloud and Microsoft Office comparison.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Technologizer

Sony to Open 350 Shops Inside Best Buy Stores, Emphasizing 4K TV

A "Sony Experience at Best Buy" store-within-the-store
A "Sony Experience at Best Buy" store-within-the-store Sony

Still in turnaround mode, the Japanese manufacturer is raising its profile at the last national big-box electronics retailer

Starting in mid-May, about a third of Best Buy stores in the U.S. will be reconfiguring their home entertainment departments to make away for a new feature: “The Sony Experience at Best Buy.” It’s the latest instance of the electronics chain introducing a flashy store-within-the-store dedicated to one brand–something it did last year with both Samsung mobile gadgets and PCs running Microsoft’s Windows.

The Sony Experience will stock a variety of Sony products: TVs at various price points, audio equipment such as sound bars, and the PlayStation 4. But the emphasis will be on 4K–the technology that’s the next step in image quality beyond HD–with Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs and camcorders on display, and demos comparing the sharper 4K picture against mere 1080p HD.

The approximately 350 Sony Experience shops will be 400 square-foot spaces along the back of Best Buy stores. They’ll be staffed by Best Buy “blue shirt” employees who have undergone training by Sony. “Best Buy has just been a wall of TVs,” says Margaret Kairis, VP of consumer sales operations for Sony. “It’s going beyond that now.”

This expansion comes a couple of months after Sony announced that it was shuttering two-thirds of its own 31 standalone U.S. stores, and represents the flipside of its earlier strategy of operating its own retail locations. Instead of trying to get consumers to come to its stores, Sony will redouble its merchandising efforts at the country’s one remaining national big-box chain focused on consumer electronics.

Sony is still in the process of turning itself around after years of difficult times for its core businesses, including TVs. You can get a hint of why raising its profile at Best Buy might be a good move for the company in the photo at the top of this story: Other TV brands are all crammed together, while Sony gets a roomy, inviting space of its own where dedicated sales staffers will show how the company’s products all work together.

For Sony, one of the key challenges of the retail market is convincing consumers that a Sony TV built with Sony technologies such as a Triluminos display is worth more than the cheapest TVs on the store floor, such as those from Best Buy’s house brand, Insignia. Better still if a shopper decides to invest in the future of TV by purchasing a higher-profit 4K model right now, even though 4K content is still scarce. This could help.

Windows Store at Best Buy
The Windows Store at Best Buy Microsoft

Best Buy’s ongoing reorganization around brands began a few years ago when it carved off space for Apple products; so far, its most ambitious expression is the Windows Store, which launched last year in 600 Best Buy locations. Replacing the old-school Best Buy PC section altogether, some of those stores-within-the-store are almost six times as large as the Sony Experience areas, and they’ve even got nicer flooring than the rest of the store.

Like Sony, Best Buy is in the midst of its own turnaround attempt. Part of the problem: to put it politely, shopping at its stores hasn’t normally been a scintillating experience. But as long as you can figure out where to find the stuff you want–not all Sony products will be in the Sony Experience area, for instance–the brand-boutique approach feels like a meaningful move in the right direction.

UPDATE: The Sony Experience boutiques are going to have some company. Samsung announced today that it’s opening 500 similar Samsung Entertainment Experience areas, also focusing on 4K TV, in Best Buy stores.

TIME technology

Rand Paul Eyes Silicon Valley

Senate Leaders Speak To Press After Weekly Policy Luncheon
U.S. Senator Rand Paul on March 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C. T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images

The Kentucky Senator and likely 2016 presidential candidate is trying to woo the California enclave and larger tech community as a constituency for the Republican Party and for his possible White House run

Rand Paul has taken two trips to Silicon Valley in the last two years, and the potential Republican presidential contender is talking the techie talk in an attempt to woo the startup community into the arms of the Republican Party—and his own likely 2016 presidential campaign.

In a recent interview with Fortune, Paul said the GOP shouldn’t write off the California enclave as Democratic territory. “I see almost unlimited potential for us in Silicon Valley,” Paul said. “Many more of them are libertarian-leaning Republicans than they are Democrats, and they may not know it yet.”

And Hillary Clinton might not be Silicon Valley’s ideal 2016 candidate, Paul said. “I see Hillary Clinton as an old-world model, in the sense that she’s a pro-surveillance-state, pro-war Democrat,” Paul said. “I could see that if you had a Republican that’s a little more reluctant for war, more protective of privacy, that you could have a complete transformation, where people completely switch places.”

Paul also speculated about how he would make bitcoin a viable currency. “If I were setting it up, I’d make it exchangeable for stock,” he said. “And then it’d have real value. And I’d have it pegged, and I’d have a basket of 10 big retailers.”

TIME wireless carriers

T-Mobile’s Plan to Blow Up the Wireless Industry Is Starting to Work

T-Mobile’s crazy plan to upend the cell phone carrier model is starting to pay off. The fourth-place carrier added 1.3 million monthly customers in the first quarter of 2014, according to its quarterly earnings report. That was more than AT&T and Verizon combined (Sprint lost subscribers during the quarter).

The T-Mobile turnaround is thanks to its “Un-carrier” initiative, which has seen the company eliminate long-held traditions of the wireless industry, such as two-year contracts, high international data fees and automatic overage charges. T-Mobile has even gone so far as to pay customers up to $650 in cash and store credit to jump ship from a competing carrier.

Together, these moves are helping the company grow its customer base. “A year ago I promised that we would bring change to what I called this arrogant U.S. wireless industry,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in an earnings statement. “We are delivering on that promise and our results reflect the growing customer revolution that we’ve ignited.”

Though the “Un-carrier” model is boosting users, it’s not helping profits. The company posted a loss of $151 million for the quarter, down from $107 million profit in the first quarter of 2013. That translates to a loss of 19 cents per share, much worse than analysts’ estimates of a 10-cents-per-share loss. Revenues for the quarter were $6.88 billion, slightly off from estimates of $6.92 billion.

Underwhelming financials haven’t hurt T-Mobile’s stock, though, which jumped nearly 9% in early morning trading following the earnings release. The company’s shares have nearly doubled in value in the past year. For now, subscriber growth is all T-Mobile needs to please Wall Street, and the company is bullish on its ability to recruit new customers going forward. T-Mobile boosted the high-end of its guidance on projected monthly customer additions for the year from 3 million to 3.3 million.

Of course, T-Mobile’s radical new model might itself be disrupted if Sprint successfully buys the company out. The nation’s third-largest telco is reportedly talking to banks in preparation for a takeover bid.

TIME Innovation

This Billboard Sucks Pollution from the Sky and Returns Purified Air


Imagine air-purifying billboards going up any time you had a sufficiently large construction zone -- a step that became part and parcel of the preparation process.

Remember the billboard that turned air into drinkable water? The one located in Lima, Peru that produced around 26 gallons of water from nothing more than humidity, a basic filtration system and gravity?

Its creators, the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC), are back with an encore idea that sounds just as clever. This one involves a slightly different sort of billboard — also located in Lima — that sucks pollution from the sky and returns purified air to the surrounding areas. Not just trace amounts of air, like those claimed by conventional room-based HEPA air purifiers, either, but 100,000 cubic meters of urban air per day. That’s over 3.5 million cubic feet, which UTEC says is equivalent to the work of 1,200 mature trees. That’s a lot of air. Furthermore, UTEC claims the billboard is “totally effective in removing [the] dust, metal and stone particles” that contaminate air spaces around construction zones, and which can lead to life-threatening health problems, from respiratory issues to cancer.

How do you quantify air purification? That’s the trick. The water-producing billboard drew attention because it worked in directly quantifiable terms. Lima, which has nearly 9 million inhabitants, is a coastal desert — it sees almost no annual rainfall. But since it sits along the southern Pacific Ocean, the city tends to be very humid, thus innovative water extraction solutions make sense. And you can see, touch and drink water. You can measure it. When you’re collecting it in a giant vat, you wind up with visible results, like “2,500 gallons of water in three months.” People could drop by the billboard with buckets, turn on a faucet and collect those gallons.

When it comes to air, purification claims are harder to verify: You’re talking about a mixture of gases — mostly nitrogen and oxygen — that you can’t see or touch or encapsulate in the same ready way you can water.

Before we get into the “how” behind UTEC’s idea, let’s talk about pollution in Lima, because it’s as extreme as the city’s water issues. According to the World Meteorological Association (in September 2012), Lima has the highest air pollution levels in all of South America, most of it related to transportation and factories, according to the head of the country’s national weather service. What’s more, the hills surrounding the city act as a natural barrier, preventing that polluted air from circulating. Recent reports indicate air pollution in Lima is on the decline, but even with an over 50 percent decrease in air pollution over the past decade, the city’s pollution levels are triple the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.

Enter the Barranco section of Lima, the city’s art district. UTEC’s billboard sits at the intersection of Bajada Armendáriz and Paseo de la República — currently near a construction zone (UTEC says the construction industry is booming in Peru, with zones “in almost every block”).

Here’s how it works: UTEC says it’s employing basic thermodynamic principles — that is, principles related to shifts in temperature, pressure and vacuum — to combine incoming air with water in a mechanism that balances their internal heat. That transaction results in the pollutants (dust, small particles of metal, germs and bacteria) hanging back in the water, effectively scrubbed from the air. UTEC says it keeps metrics on the actual amounts, and measures them daily: it told me that between March 24-30, 49,800 people benefitted from 489,000 cubic meters of purified air, and that its billboard managed to eliminate 99 percent of the airborne bacteria from that total.

The university describes all of this as “a highly efficient continuous process, with very low energy consumption” — just 2.5 kilowatts (2,500 watts) of electricity per hour, or roughly what an emergency generator might consume powering your bare essentials in a small home. UTEC says the billboard’s benefits extend to a radius of five city blocks, benefitting both residents and construction workers, and that the water used by the billboard is fully recyclable. The university adds that it’s using the extracted materials as an opportunity to analyze the residual pollutants, presumably to get a better read on pollutant specifics with an eye toward building even more thorough billboards down the road.

As with the water-producing billboard, the air-purification system is being promoted with the help of ad agency FCB Mayo (formerly Mayo DraftFCB). UTEC’s director of promotion, Jessica Rúas, says the university’s goal in working with the agency was “to demonstrate that engineering is behind everything,” and that the air-purifying billboard is “closely aligned with the university’s mission of educating creative engineers who are sensitive to social needs and have extensive scientific knowledge that enables them to become researchers and find solutions to society’s problems.”

Assuming the billboard works as well and broadly as claimed, which is to say sufficiently well to protect workers as well as residents in areas where pollutants are especially hazardous, imagine these billboards going up any time you had a sufficiently large construction zone — a step that just became synonymous with a construction company’s preparation process.

I just finished building a home myself in a booming residential association — I now live across the street from several homes that are all going up simultaneously and in various stages of completion. I have no idea what kinds of things I (and my wife, and my 21-month-old son) might be unwittingly breathing as I stroll through the neighborhood in the evenings after supper, but I’d love to think something like UTEC’s idea might make the air cleaner (or even post-construction, targeting excess pollen, say, or ozone), to say nothing of the more critical benefits it might provide in urban zones with epically dirty construction projects.

TIME Technologizer

A Short History of BASIC, as Told in Animated GIFs

Seven moments in the life of a great programming language

On Tuesday, we published my piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of BASIC, the programming language — created by John Kemeny and Tom Kurtz at Dartmouth College — that played an enormous role in creating the whole concept of personal computing. Today is the actual anniversary, commemorating the day when BASIC programs first successfully ran on a GE computer system at Dartmouth College.

One of the reasons I had fun working on the article was that it provided an excuse to use a bunch of versions of BASIC — both ones I once loved, such as TRS-80 Level II, and some I’d spent little or no time in, like the one for the Commodore 64.

I did so using a bevy of emulators on my MacBook Air. And I used a neat program called Camtasia and some post-processing in Photoshop to create animated GIFs capturing what I saw as I loaded some significant BASIC programs, listed the code and then ran it.

Here are the seven GIFs I whipped up.

Dartmouth BASIC
An early Dartmouth BASIC program, performing a simple math exercise, as run on a simulator of the college’s time-sharing system. The DTSS’s Teletypes used yellow paper–and printed far more slowly than this recreationHarry McCracken / TIME

This very early Apple II clone of Atari’s Breakout–later known as Brick Out and Little Brick Out–was written by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak himself, in Integer BASIC, which he also wroteHarry McCracken / TIME


Commodore 64
This one-line Commodore 64 program, which prints a never-ending, maze-like pattern, inspired an entire book of essays in 2012Harry McCracken / TIME


Munchkin Attack
David Plotkin’s Munchkin Attack, an Atari game published as a type-in in SoftSide magazine in 1982, may remind you of a more famous arcade game. Being written in interpreted BASIC, it can just barely manage to move two on-screen characters at onceHarry McCracken / TIME


Leo Christopherson’s TRS-80 masterwork Android Nim (1978). Trust me: These graphics were amazing for the timeHarry McCracken / TIME


DONKEY.BAS shipped with the original IBM PC in 1981. The most notable thing about it is its co-author, a fellow by the name of Bill Gates


Small Basic
Microsoft’s modern BASIC for beginners, Small Basic, proving that it can run an admirable version of Tetris

This isn’t a complete history of BASIC: For instance, I didn’t create an animated screen shot for Altair BASIC, one of the most important BASICs of them all. (Hey, it was both the first one for microcomputers and the first Microsoft product.) But the next time a major anniversary in the world of software happens, maybe I’ll try to tell its story in GIFs, and only GIFs.

TIME FindTheBest

Did the Internet Just Make the World Smarter?

It’s easy to hate on the Internet. We used to read books. Today, we read Twitter feeds. Before the web, we used our time wisely. Today, we waste time constantly. Twenty years ago, we had thoughtful, in-person conversations, focusing for hours on a single, worthy topic. Today, we fire off nasty, anonymous YouTube comments, laced with sarcasm and typed from the lonely sanctums of our bedrooms, dorms and cubicles. We have, you might say, gotten lazier, meaner and dumber.

Or have we? We set out to compare Internet growth around the world with changes in student test scores. Specifically, we used The World Bank’s 2012 Internet penetration figures (the latest available) and test results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in our analysis.

Would the Internet’s myriad cat gifs, message boards, and viral videos dull students’ minds, or enhance their logical reasoning and critical thinking skills?

We’ll take a quick look at Internet penetration figures by country from 2000 to 2012. Then we’ll find out whether students’ test scores have improved (or declined) over the same period. Finally, we’ll see what kind of conclusions we can draw.

The following chart compares the percentage of Internet users per country, both in 2000 and 2012. (Note that we limited our sample to the 30 countries where we had full data for both Internet use and test scores.)

Back in 2000, Norway had the greatest proportion of Internet users, at 52%. Meanwhile, Russia had the lowest percentage, at only 2%. In 2012, Iceland led the pack with 96%, while Mexico placed last, at 38%. Note that the chart is ordered from left to right by the percentage increase in Internet penetration* from 2000 to 2012. In other words, Russia (far left) saw the greatest percentage increase in Internet users, while Canada (far right) saw the least.

*Further note: “percentage increase” is calculated by the proportional rise, not by absolute percentage points. So a rise from 25% to 50% is counted as a 100% increase in penetration for our purposes.

Now, let’s look at how each country’s test scores improved (or declined) over the same period. Specifically, we are looking at the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which measures 15-year-old students’ knowledge and skills in three key areas: reading, mathematics, and science. (Note that the countries appear in the same order as the chart above.)

We see the most significant improvements from Brazil, Latvia, Poland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Germany and Liechtenstein. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia actually show sizable declines.

More intriguingly, however, we see that nearly all the big gains occurred on the left side of the chart—that is, those countries with Internet penetration under 20% in 2000, but between 50% and 80% in 2012. Conversely, for countries that already had a sizable Internet user base in 2000, test scores remained level or declined.

Here’s what we get when we plot these two figures:

With a correlation of 0.41, we can safely say that the relationship between PISA score improvement and Internet growth is moderately strong. Big increases in Internet access tended to go hand-in-hand with better scores on the international test. Perhaps the web hasn’t been such a bad innovation after all.

Before we get too excited, however, we should be clear that correlation does not equal causation. While access to the Internet has potentially contributed to better test scores in many countries (perhaps through better access to information, more self-learning, and more ways to connect with classmates), there are several other factors at play, from changes in wealth to improved education systems to other forms of technology outside of the Internet.

And even if we stick to the hypothesis—that more Internet means better test scores—we should note that the hypothesis fails rather obviously among the world’s most plugged-in nations. Yes, the jump from 10% Internet penetration to 50% seems to lead to smarter students, but from 50% to 90%, test scores leveled off or got worse. Even with all those hilarious cat gifs, it appears the Internet might sometimes be too much of a good thing.

Here, for your reference, are the raw PISA scores (out of 600) and Internet penetration:

(Internet usage aside, test score bragging rights belong to Japan, Finland and Liechtenstein, the three highest scoring countries in 2012’s exam. Greece, Mexico and Brazil round out the list as the lowest scoring countries. Better luck in 2015.)

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

TIME apps

Snapchat Adds Text and Live Video Chat Messaging Features

The makers behind Snapchat have announced two new features in a new tool called 'Chat,' which they hope will give the app more of a "presence" in conversations by allowing users to send text messages and conduct live video chats with friends

Snapchat launched new features on Thursday that will allow users to send text messages and video chat live with friends.

“Until today, we felt that Snapchat was missing an important part of conversation: presence,” Snapchat said on its blog.

The new tool, appropriately called “Chat,” aims to make the app a crucial part of phone-based conversations. Snapchat conversations will now go beyond sending quick photo and video exchanges with friends. Users will now be able to swipe right on a friends name to open a text-based chat screen. Snapchat will alert you when your friends are online, active and giving you “full attention.”

When both people in a chat are present, users can also share live video streams. Those streams be one sided or both users can choose to video chat. Take your finger off the screen, and your side of the video conversation is done.

In true Snapchat ephemeral form, once users leave the conversation, all text and video footage disappears, leaving no log behind. However, Snapchat points out that users only have to tap the screen to take a screenshot of the conversation.

Snapchat’s launched its last major new feature, Stories, in October. Stories are a way for users to share their Snapchats with all their followers as opposed to sending them to select friends.

Snapchat users could previously send short text messages in a workaround that involved placing their hand in front of their camera lens, taking a photo and adding text to the blank image.

TIME Video Games

The Best Minecraft Homage to BioShock Infinite Yet

If you stepped through a tear in space-time (like BioShock Infinite's Booker), you'd probably find a version of Mojang's game dubbed Homagecraft.


Minecraft renditions of BioShock Infinite‘s cloud-cruisin’ Columbia are a dime a dozen nowadays, but I’ve never seen one as embellished as this. Just look at the colors in that skybox, at the arcing sky rails, at the towering statuary, and at all the fussy little details like flower boxes beneath windows — and those windows with their exquisite tracery, and the way the designers used subtly different colors to block-texture the buildings and walkways.

Then check out the green vistas way way down below. You’re not supposed to be able to see all that, what with Columbia being a cloud-hidden city and all, but it works here. In fact it’s all the more impressive knowing this block-homage to Irrational Games’ metaphysical opus actually lives up in the air, somewhere.

That somewhere would be The VoxelBox, a free-build, creativity-focused community with its own Minecraft texture and mod packs whose members attempt to craft ridiculously ornate homages to various worlds — or entirely new ones from scratch. The community’s server doesn’t support survival or PvP play, and the FAQ notesthere are only very rarely any monsters, and it’s nearly impossible to die.” Which explains how you wind up with the bandwidth to create something as ambitious as this.

You can see all of the images stacked on imgur here.


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