TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The truth is, California doesn’t have a water problem. We all do.

By Steven Johnson in Matter

2. Uber isn’t selling rides. It’s selling data.

By Ron Hirson in Forbes

3. A blind scientist wants to reinvent how the vision-impaired ‘watch’ movies.

By Chris Colin in California Sunday

4. Cute little details may make an app “delightful,” but they’re crowding out thoughtful design.

By John Pavlus in Co.Design

5. These giant robot traffic signals/red-light cameras are actually making the streets of Kinshasa safer.

By Mark Hay in Good

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Skype Can Now Live-Translate Even More Languages

Skype Translator

The Skype team takes two more whacks at the Tower of Babel

The latest release of Skype Translator, Microsoft’s live-translation service, can now translate spoken conversations in Mandarin and Italian. The update doubles the program’s spoken languages since December, when the service first launched with service in English and Spanish.

Mandarin, in particular, posed a knotty challenge for the team. “With approximately 10,000 characters and multiple tones, this is one of the most difficult languages for a native English speaker to master,” wrote Microsoft’s Yasmin Khan in an announcement of the update.

English speakers who want to bypass Mandarin and Italian lessons can download a preview version of Skype Translator for free.

The program itself is still in training mode, but breakthroughs in machine learning have dramatically improved its conversation skills in recent years. It’s a learning curve Microsoft’s professional translators have witnessed first hand.

“There were things not translated,” said one translator in an early demonstration of the program for TIME, “but now he’s a teenager and knows a lot of words.”

Read More: Microsoft Is Getting Close to Perfecting a Universal Communicator

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 8

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Mountaintop removal coal mining has made the air and water in Appalachia carcinogenic.

By Jeff Biggers in Al Jazeera America

2. Police officers are far more likely to commit intimate partner violence.

By Leigh Goodmark in Fusion

3. Why the “Internet of Things” might mean the end of privacy.

By Danny Bradbury in the Guardian

4. Don’t worry. If we wipe out all of the planet’s crops, we have a backup plan.

By Chris Mooney in the Washington Post

5. Here’s how a slum in Ghana’s capital is preparing young women for careers.

By Thomas Page at CNN Voices

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Gadgets

Amazon Just Gave You One More Reason to Stay in Bed

Amazon's Echo smart speaker can now control your lights

Ever been too lazy to get out of bed and switch off your lights? Amazon’s Echo smart speaker might be for you.

Amazon announced Wednesday you can now use the Siri-like speaker to control the lights and switches in your house.

“You can now use Echo to switch on the lamp before getting out of bed, turn on the fan or heater while reading in your favorite chair, or dim the lights from the couch to watch a movie — all without lifting a finger… or even raising your voice,” reads Amazon’s release.

Echo can be linked up to your lights and switches through smart home products by two supported brands: WeMo and Hue. Supported devices include WeMo’s Switch, Insight Switch and Light Switch, and Hue’s A19, Lux, BR30, Bloom and LightStrip, according to Amazon.

Echo, which was released last November to invite-only customers, can already answer commands and questions like “play music by Bruno Mars” or “will it rain?” thanks to a Wi-Fi connection. The new light switch control is just one of many new features Amazon has added to the device since its release: It has also learned how to use Pandora, list sports scores and report on traffic conditions.

Read next: Amazon Just Unveiled the Future of Shopping and It’s Awesome

TIME career

These Uncommon Habits Will Help You Work Smarter

Getty Images

Make time for mania

Answer by Nicolas Cole on Quora.

I’m going to list a few of my uncommon work habits:

1. Prep Before Bed

I know that whatever I focus on right before I go to sleep, I’m going to be thinking about as soon as I wake up—usually.

To make the most of my morning, I make sure to prep myself the night before. As soon as I wake up, I know where I’m going to start, I know what project I’m diving into, I know which problem I’m going to be tackling first. If you can set these firmly in your mind before you go to bed, you’ll wake up with far more energy and drive to tackle them—because they’ve been marinating in your subconscious.

2. The Coffee Game

Whenever I have to get a lot done, and I mean a LOT, I reward myself with coffee. Coffee coffee coffee. But only if I can move with the momentum.

For example, I might start with a small cup right as I’m sitting down to work, but I will only allow myself refills as long as I feel I am making steady progress. By gamifying my love for coffee, I’m motivating myself to work harder and more efficiently in a desire to drink more coffee. And of course, the more coffee I drink, the more focused I become. More focus, more productivity.

This might be less of a work habit and more of an addiction but it works well for me.

3. Make Time For Mania

You aren’t going to be able to do multiple big projects back to back to back. You’re just not. It’s one thing to demand 7 hours of focus on the same project, but the difficulty usually arises when you have to go in and out of different problems, different projects, different clients, etc.

Make time between each project to clear your head—in my case, I thoroughly enjoy running around my apartment debating (sometimes with myself) the ramifications for having pancakes for dinner for the third night in a row. I often times get my roommates involved, encouraging them to debate me on the topic (as loudly as possible). Maybe we decide to make fruit smoothies. Maybe it’s snowing outside and snowballs must be thrown at the window. I don’t know. Just go do something random and pointless and fun and I promise you when you sit back down at your desk you’ll feel like you gave yourself a nice break and it’s time to get back to work.

4. Tell Yourself You Have Way More Time Than You Actually Do

There have been many times when I’ve been so busy I didn’t have a free hour to call my own, and I felt like I was on vacation. And there have been times when I haven’t really been all that busy and I’ve felt like I was being enlisted in the coal mines and I wouldn’t see my family for the next 20 years.

It’s all state of mind.

The more you tell yourself “I’m so busy, I don’t have any time,” the more you trap yourself in that mindset. Conversely, the more you tell yourself “Sure, I can make time for that,” the more time you actually have. And if you feel like you have no time, you get stressed and your work suffers and/or takes longer.

Trust me, you always have more time than you think you have. The hard part is remembering that.

5. Work Smarter By Hiring Smarter

I feel like this is the most obvious one, but one that is often forgotten. If you want to get something done faster or better, then ENLIST THE HELP OF SOMEONE BETTER THAN YOU.

If it takes you 3 hours to do X, and you value your time at $Y, then find someone who can do X in less than 3 hours at a $Y rate below yours.

The single best way to work smarter instead of harder is to value your time and delegate/outsource anything and everything that you don’t absolutely have to do yourself, that can be done by someone else—especially someone better at it than you.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some uncommon ways to work smarter instead of harder?

More from Quora:

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Rwanda

Inside the Tech Revolution That Could Be Rwanda’s Future

Rwanda hopes a technological revolution will help transform it into a middle-income country

Correction appended: April 10, 2015.

Twenty-one years ago Tuesday, a genocide began in Rwanda that would claim as many as 1 million lives over the next 100 days. Today, the small East African nation has progressed remarkably from a history plagued with corruption, ethnic divisions and underdevelopment.

Under President Paul Kagame, who some credit for helping end the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has taken a number of steps to turn itself around. Provincial boundaries were redrawn, infrastructure was strengthened, a transitional justice system convicted the worst Génocidaires — even a new flag was unveiled to promote national unity and reconciliation. While some accuse Kagame of using his country’s history as a means of controlling its modern politics, there’s no doubting his country’s economic success.

But as Rwanda heals its past, the nation is also forging ahead — aggressively. A government initiative is underway to expand technology and connectivity, with the goal of transforming the agrarian economy into a highly digitized, middle-income country by 2020. With its population projected to reach 16 million by 2020, from 8 million in 2000, the country is looking beyond state funds and international aid to develop its economy: “While both of these must contribute, the backbone of the process should be a middle class of Rwandan entrepreneurs,” according the plan, called Vision 2020.

Vision 2020 is bold, but it’s working. And many outside Africa — and inside — are marveling at how an economy long-dominated by subsistence farming is becoming a high-tech hub — and one of the 20 fastest-growing countries in the world.

The Rwandan five hundred francs bill features students on laptops, representing the one laptop a child movement.
Cassandra GiraldoThe Rwandan five hundred francs bill features students on laptops, representing the one laptop a child movement.

“It’s apparent if you walk around [the capital city, Kigali]. They have currency with kids on their laptops. Everyone has a cell phone, and these cell phone companies have their advertisements painted all over the country, even if you drive into the rural parks,” says New York-based photographer Cassandra Giraldo, who took the images in this story during her February trip to Rwanda under the International Women’s Media Foundation’s African Great Lakes Reporting Fellowship. “It’s a very different narrative that we don’t see coming out of East Africa or Africa as a continent.”

The rapid adoption of mobile technology in particular has been vital in paving the way for a new generation of Rwandan entrepreneurs. In the early 2000s, Rwanda’s government kicked off Vision 2020 by linking the country to an international network of undersea cables and global wireless networks. The use of mobile phones has skyrocketed in Rwanda since then, so much that Nsengimana even launched the country’s first high-speed 4G LTE network last November:

One such entrepreneur working to drive Rwandan progress is social entrepreneur Aphrodice Mutagana. Mutagana, 30, is the founder of FOYO, a mobile pharmaceutical directory that provides education to Africans relating to medicine, including dosage information, drug-food interactions and side effects. Mutagana’s interest in healthcare has also led him to launch the Incike Initiative, a mobile crowdfunding app that raises funds for elderly survivors of the genocide, some of whom are the only remaining members of their families.

Last year, Mutagana raised 1.7 million Rwandan francs ($2,500), an amount he hopes to top in this year’s campaign, which launched this week and is timed to coincide with the national commemoration of the genocide from April to July. “We decided to dream big,” Mutagana says. “Technology is affecting everything, and now you can contribute in ways you didn’t have 20 years ago.”

Aphrodice Mutangana, 30, working at the kLab co-working space in Kigali.
Cassandra GiraldoAphrodice Mutangana, 30, working at the kLab co-working space in Kigali.

Like many Rwandan entrepreneurs, Mutagana frequently works at kLab, an open space for IT entrepreneurs to collaborate. kLab, which stands for “knowledge lab,” is designed to help students, new graduates and other innovators to turn their ideas into viable business models under experienced mentors and tech workshops. Other co-working spaces, like “The Office“, have given other entrepreneurs the tools to launch their ideas, including Clarisse Iribagiza, 26, CEO of software development company HeHe Labs.

With HeHe Labs, which was started in 2010 after development in an MIT-run startup incubator, Igibagiza offers a Code Club fellowship to recently graduated high school students, who serve as leaders and mentors in schools around Kigali. Her interest in inspiring Rwanda’s youth has also led her to actively encourage young girls to consider careers in technology, including having partnered with Nike to design the mobile software Girl Hub, which allows girls to use their mobile phones to provide feedback to weekly radio shows. “We want to create homegrown solutions and to focus on the now,” says Iribagiza.

Cassandra GiraldoHeHe Ltd. coding fellows Honoré Yves, 18, left and Yannick Kabayiza, 18, right at after school program at S.O.S. Kagugu Tecnhical High School.

As entrepreneurships emerge in Rwanda, the push for greater technological growth has also enticed multinational businesses, investors and institutions to establish a foothold in the country. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, opened a Rwandan campus in 2012 to attract students interested in the country’s efforts to boost its tech sector. Smaller companies like laptop and smartphone maker Gira ICT have partnered with manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, HP and Lenovo to offer customers a monthly payment system to boost affordability. Meanwhile, Rwandan partnerships with Microsoft and Intel have launched a number of educational initiatives in Rwandan schools to ensure a new generation is equipped with the skills to continue the technology initiative.

Still, some companies and investors treat Rwanda with caution. A high cost of credit has led to businesses paying upwards of 20% of interest on their loans to banks, despite the ease with which many entrepreneurs describe launching their companies. Additionally, some see Rwanda’s steady GDP growth — about 8% last year — as being possible only due to the country’s historic poverty. In fact, Rwanda is still classified as low-income country with a ways to go until it reaches a middle-class designation, according to the World Bank.

But in a small landlocked country lacking in natural resources, technology is one of the few domestic resources that Rwanda may be able to mobilize in order to decrease its high dependency on foreign aid. Even more visible changes may lay ahead with the last stage of Vision 2020, which uses the new infrastructure and technology to improve education, communities and the private sector.

“Not only are they reducing the cost of making technology accessible, they’re also creating jobs,” says IDC Sub-Saharan Africa analyst Mark Walker, who is based in South Africa. “Rwanda is neither mineral-rich nor oil-rich, and to that end, technology is a great enabler.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified who was responsible for launching the Vision 2020 program. It was initiated by the Rwandan government.

Inventing Rwanda
Cassandra GiraldoThe land of a thousand hills. Rwanda is attempting to turn an agrarian society into a knowledge-based economy and instilling a sense of national identity and unity in Rwandans.
TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to give up the uniquely American institution of the network anchorman.

By Frank Rich in New York magazine

2. On Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, her “spiritual endowment” endures.

By Wynton Marsalis in Time

3. How to save crowdfunding from scammers and flakes.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. Here’s how Putin could lose power.

By Amanda Taub in Vox

5. What if the secret to racial harmony is more uplifting internet videos?

By Katie Jacobs at Penn State News

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

This New Battery Could Charge Your Phone in 60 Seconds

Tops of batteries, close-up
Getty Images

But researchers will have to figure out how to double the voltage to match the performance of lithium batteries

Stanford University researchers have developed an ultra-fast charging aluminum battery that they’ve hailed as a cheaper, safer alternative to the current batch of lithium batteries that power most mobile devices.

Researchers at Stanford University say they achieved “unprecedented charging times” with the aluminum prototype, which they said had the potential to recharge a smartphone in as little as 60 seconds. The battery used more pliable material that could bend into different shapes and withstand up to 7,500 recharge cycles, a more than seven-fold increase over lithium batteries.

But the researchers cautioned that the technology was still in its infancy, and for all of its advantages the current battery still emitted only half the voltage of a typical lithium battery.

“Otherwise, our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life,” said Stanford chemist Hongjie Dai in a public announcement of his research, which was published in the April 6 issue of Nature. “I see this as a new battery in its early days,” he added. “It’s quite exciting.”

TIME Startups

Here’s the Major Downside of So Many $1-Billion ‘Unicorn’ Startups

Getty Images

Billion-dollar startups aren't rare. They're practically a dime a dozen these day—and that's not an entirely good thing

We live in a magical age of unicorns, those pre-IPO tech startups valued at $1 billion or more. And unlike the dot-com bubble, most of these startups are for real. They are companies whose services–like Uber, Spotify or Pinterest–we use every day. You could even say we consumers are the ones that are helping these unicorns to fly.

There is only one problem: Most of us consumers, as individual investors, are being shut out of the party.

These days, you hear a lot of people in the tech-investing world talk about how this is not 1999. The red ink has been washed away by the black at the strongest startups. A confluence of new technologies–the cloud, social networks, smartphones–are creating the mega-brands of the future. As one CEO memorably put it, “It’s the biggest wave of innovation in the history of the world.”

This is more or less true, but another big difference between today’s tech market and the tech market of 1999 is often overlooked: During the dot-com bubble–when most of the IPOs were pipe dreams waiting to crash–individual investors were able to buy their shares freely. Today, by contrast, most of the investments in the hottest tech startups are happening behind the velvet ropes of private financing.

US securities laws set up last century ensured that only accredited investors—currently, people earning at least $200,000 a year or with a net worth of more than $1 million—could buy stocks in private offerings. Those laws were intended to protect smaller investments from the risks of traditional private investments, and they worked for a long time. But recent changes, such as the JOBS Act, allowed private companies to more easily avoid IPOs if they so desired. And most of them have so desired.

The result is that tech companies that would have been open to ownership by everyday people in earlier decades are now open only to the elite. Hedge funds and other institutional investors jockey for access to occasional venture rounds rather than the daily battle of public markets. Corporate insiders have greater control in setting valuations, while executives escape the scrutiny of quarterly disclosures.

And so, unsurprisingly, the tech IPO has become as rare as, well, a unicorn. According to Renaissance Capital, 35% of the companies that went public in 2011 were technology startups. By last year, only 20% of the 273 IPOs were in the tech industry, and most were in the enterprise space rather than the brand names consumers knew. In the first quarter of 2015, only four tech companies went public. And none of them were exactly unicorns.

Three of those four tech IPOs have a history of losses–cloud-storage company Box, online-ad platform MaxPoint Interactive, and domain registrar GoDaddy. Only Inovalon, which runs cloud services for health-care companies, went public with a profit. In the wake of the recession, it was all but impossible for companies to go public with a history of losses but that changed starting last year, when according to Renaissance, 64% of large tech IPOs debuted with net losses, the highest ratio since 2000.

The companies that are choosing to go public aren’t the cream of the crop. Box may have a bright future, but like GoDaddy it went public at the behest of its investors and did so only after months of delays. Box also priced its IPO below its last private round, following late 2014 IPOs like New Relic and Hortonworks that took so-called “haircuts.”

Which brings up another reason for other companies to avoid IPOs–why do it when you can get better valuations in illiquid private markets? True, liquidation preferences and other private perks justify some of that premium, but private valuations are often more art than science.

The pace of tech IPOs are likely to pick up, but few of the candidates in the current pipeline are the highly coveted unicorns. Next week, Chinese e-commerce platform Wowo is expected to raise $45 million. Craft marketplace Etsy is also hoping to raise $250 million in the coming weeks. And mobile software Good Technology aims to list soon as well. All three have steady histories of net losses.

When it comes to the companies with the brightest futures, they are conspicuously absent from the pipeline. Long before the term “unicorn” became popular, CB Insights compiled a list of hot startups expected to go public in 2014. A year later, their list of hot startups expected to go public in 2015 looked suspiciously similar. And now that we’re into the second quarter, there’s little sign that many of them are planning to go public.

Ride-sharing giant Uber, lodging disruptor Airbnb, online-storage pioneer Dropbox, social-ephemeralist Snapchat, social-pin star Pinterest, music-streaming king Spotify, mobile-payments upstart Square–all have been sought after and well funded in private rounds. All have intimate connections to consumers, and would be broke without them. All couldn’t care less, it seems, when it comes to sharing their success with those consumers.

Maybe that’s why they’re called unicorns. Not because billion-dollar startups are rare–they’re practically a dime a dozen these days–but because, for most investors, they might as well be myths frolicking on the far end some of some rainbow.

Read next: Why This Apple Watch Rival Is Very Important

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A new program will recruit and train inspiring leaders to be principals at high-poverty schools. No education background required.

By Catherine Candisky in the Columbus Dispatch

2. Even with rising prosperity, seventy percent of deaths in Sri Lanka are from preventable diseases. It’s time for a new kind of care.

By Sandya Salgado at the World Bank

3. To protect ourselves from bioweapons, we may have to reinvent science itself.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

4. In Europe today, Russia is demonstrating its mastery of hybrid warfare. The U.S. and NATO are far behind.

By Nadia Schadlow in War on the Rocks

5. Encryption might not matter to most Americans, but it is a crucial tool for reporting the news.

By Kelly J. O’Brien in Columbia Journalism Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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