TIME technology

6 Unexpectedly Absorbing Games to Play on Your Phone While Ignoring Your Family This Holiday Season

Using phone
Getty Images

Kidding! Don’t ignore your family. Unless your family is awful. In which case, enjoy these distractions

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

The realities of distance have long dictated that my time spent among family is somewhat limited to a couple weeks in total each year. My people of origin all live in South Florida, while I am in Boston, and although my in-laws in upstate New York are closer, they’re still far enough away, and everyone involved is so busy, that visits are special occasions and not predictable occurrences.

I miss them, enormously, all the time. Because of this, it’s actually pretty rare that I ignore anyone when we’re visiting, given that I treasure and cherish every moment with my beloved family.

But, you know, even I have my limits.

Sometimes, surrounded by people who love you, or at least people to whom you are related, you just want to put your head down and do something, anything other than listen to your cousin talk about her wedding plans for an hour, or your aunt ranting on with her offensive politics from 1953, or have to answer intrusive questions about your professional/marital/reproductive prospects. Sometimes you want to put on some headphones and just ignore everyone just for a bit. I am here for you. It’s OK.

(My husband writes about video games for a living, and when I told him about my “ignoring your family” angle, he called me a cynical jerk. That’s probably a fair assessment. But I thought it was funny.)

Monument Valley (iOS, Android)

I first saw Monument Valley at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year, and I was mesmerized. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when it received a bunch of positive attention right away, and went on to win a 2014 Apple Design Award.

Monument Valley follows Princess Ida on a journey through meticulously designed environments, in which the architecture hides puzzle solutions in optical illusions that borrow liberally from the work of M.C. Escher. In each chapter, you help Ida on her travels by pressing switches and rotating pathways and staircases to create a path for her to follow, and the solutions are elegant and often surprising.

Beautifully surreal, slow-paced, simple to learn and with a soundtrack like aural Valium, it’s an easy game to get lost in. Happily, new chapters are now available.

Device 6 (iOS)

Device 6 is similarly lauded and similarly surreal, but in some very different ways. A sort of hybrid visual novella and game, Device 6 tells the story of a woman called Anna, who wakes up in a castle on a mysterious island with no recollection of how she got there.

Device 6 dispenses with typical running/jumping game mechanics in favor of a more intuitive approach in which the text itself is the playing field. You read it as much as you play it, and the puzzles give the distinct feeling that you’re a detective collecting and analyzing clues to a much bigger mystery, rather than simply looking for the right random solution. And it is stylish as fuck, with a swingy midcentury vibe that somehow underscores how freaking creepy it can occasionally get.

Also, the sound design on Device 6 is mind-rendingly brilliant.

Sometimes You Die (iOS)

Oh, what’s that? You’re a total freakbrain nerdo who’s captivated by the more meta-level questions of What Is A Game and What Is Fun and Why Does Anything Exist Anyway? ME TOO. This is a thing you will like!

Sometimes You Die has been a bit of a surprise hit this year, given that it is actually a minimalist question with no answer, given game form. Typically, “dying” in a game is a momentary setback, but in Sometimes You Die, death is a necessary part of success, as you must litter the screen with your corpses to carve a path to follow from level to level. (Your corpses are just little black blocks so this is less gory than it might sound.)

What you wind up with is an existential query into the nature of play that also manages to be fun and surprisingly difficult to put down.

Tengami (iOS)

First off, Tengami is beautiful. Taking its design from traditional Japanese arts and crafts, you guide a character through a pop-up book world in which you flip pages and slide tabs to discover hidden passages and other secrets.

This is a contemplative puzzle-solving experience that is more style than substance, so if you’re looking for a deeply compelling narrative, you’re better off with other games on this list. But as a chill, low-thinking break from holiday madness, it certainly does the job. And not only is Tengami pretty to look at, the soundtrack is gorgeous as well.

The Last Door (iOS, Android)

Moving from really relaxing to really really really not, The Last Door is a retro-styled old school point-and-click horror game that is legitimately terrifying. I still hold a special place in my heart for 8-bit games, but even I was surprised by how frightening this game could be, given that the graphics are limited to a heap of loosely arranged pixel chunks. It really makes the point that, in the right hands, lifelike visuals aren’t necessary to sustain an atmosphere of terror.

Set in England of 1891, you play as Jeremiah Devitt, who is investigating the suicide of an old friend, and as he digs up his past, things take an otherworldly, almost Lovecraftian turn. The Last Door owes a significant debt to adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s, and it manages to feel both nostalgic and new at the same time. You explore locations looking for items and clues at your own pace, and solve puzzles to move the plot forward.

Also, The Last Door uses an episodic format, so new pieces of the story are still being made.

A Dark Room (iOS)

A Dark Room has no graphics at all. It is a game that uses only text to tell its story; even the pseudo-graphical “map” you use to explore beyond your campsite is drawn with letters and punctuation marks describing the landscape, ASCII-style. It has no sound design. In the way of traditional resource-management games, it consists of tapping things on your screen to get other things, but it evolves into a role-playing game as well before long in which you’re battling enemies and exploring spooky caves, crumbling houses and abandoned mines.

All this you get to imagine in your head, because like I said: no graphics. Add a dark, convoluted story that is somehow all the more compelling for the lack of concrete details it provides, and you’ve got a minimalist masterpiece.

It is also weirdly addictive. The first time I played A Dark Room months ago, I suddenly realized I’d been sitting on the couch for three hours amassing wood and meat for I don’t even remember what. It seemed very important at the time.

There is also a prequel, The Ensign, that has recently come to the App Store. Enjoy both, and forget your family is even in the room with you.

Lesley Kinzel is Deputy Editor at xoJane.com.

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.

MONEY Tech

8 Free Apps Guaranteed to Make You More Productive

chickens in a coop. one has a pile of eggs underneath it
Gandee Vasan—Getty Images

Looking for a quicker way to burn through your to-do list? Try these tools to amp up your efficiency.

I feel fortunate to be in my thirties. In my opinion, it’s the sweet spot for all things related to technology. I’m old enough to remember life before computers took over entirely. Yet, I’m young enough to quickly adapt and learn new things that make my life happier and more productive. No matter your age, however, you could be using your computer (and time) more effectively and efficiently.

Here are some free applications you can download today to do just that.

1. Inbox Tamer

There’s no greater distraction than those little email notifications popping up at the bottom of your screen. I used to waste a lot of time checking email whenever I’d get anything new. Eventually, I tried closing the application entirely, only to find I’d forget to check and miss important messages. Well, now there’s Inbox Pause, which delays the notifications so they won’t interrupt your workflow.

2. Social Director

There are a lot of tools out there to block social media and other programs while you work, butCold Turkey happens to be free. You can even customize the settings to block certain pages during certain activities through specific groupings. There are upgraded versions with scheduling capabilities, the power to identify certain users (for parents), etc. — but the basic version gets the job done.

3. Blue Light Blocker

I downloaded f.lux just last month, and I already see it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The software makes the colors on your screen adapt to the time of day. If it’s late and nearing bedtime, it’ll filter out the blue light, which can disrupt sleep patterns, and replace it with an amber glow. You can customize how little or much you want your display to shift, but I’m already falling asleep much faster after firing off articles before my head hits the pillow.

4. Message Wrangler

If you use Gmail, Boomerang is your new best friend. It lets you draft messages now and schedule to send later. It reminds you if you don’t hear back on that important email you sent last week. And it even lets you clear out your inbox — and mind — temporarily and return the messages when you’re ready to read them.

5. Time Tracker

Do you know how you’re spending your time on the computer? RescueTime can make it a lot easier to track. The Lite version (it’s free) enables you to record your time on websites and in different applications and set goals for yourself. The application also provides you with a weekly email report of your progress (or lack thereof).

6. Program Launcher

Have you ever wanted to open your programs with just a few keystrokes? Launchy lets you do just that. You’ll forget about your menu, the icons cluttering your desktop, and even your file manager with this smart application. With over 120K users, I’d say it’s working well for the masses.

7. Image Manipulator

Can’t afford the leading image manipulation software? Try GIMP for your photo retouching needs. You can paint, add text, create layers, rotate, scale, and much more. This application will save you time on creating images for your presentations and give you some powerful tools for personal use as well.

8. Password Keeper

Over time, all those passwords can get quite hard generate and remember. And keeping them in a book next to your laptop isn’t exactly convenient — or safe. Enter LastPass — the last password you’ll need to remember. The application manages all your login information for different sites and autofills for you. You can even streamline your online shopping experience by setting up secure payment accounts. Best of all, LastPass helps create unique passwords that follow the best security practices.

Read more articles from Wise Bread:

10 Critical Steps to Protect Your Data in the Cloud

10 Self-Improvement Apps to Make You Smarter, Stronger, and Happier

10 Ways You’re Wasting Time Without Realizing It

 

 

TIME Gaming

Blood-Sucking Video Game Pulled From Kickstarter

The game would have extracted blood when you lose a point

A video game that sucks players’ blood has been pulled from Kickstarter for unspecified reasons.

“Blood Sport” is a project designed to “raise the stakes” of gaming, so that whenever a player gets hit in the video game, they lose blood in real life. Instead of the normal “rumble” that indicates an avatar has suffered a blow, Blood Sport players would be hooked up intravenously to their consul, so that blood could be taken out of their arteries.

“All we’re doing is hacking a pre-existing blood collection machine to take your gaming experience to the next level,” the creators wrote on their Kickstarter page. The technology is equipped with a feature that determines how much blood a player can lose without passing out.

The gaming technology could be used to stage “blood donation gaming events,” they said.

The Kickstarter was suspended Monday, for unspecified reasons. It had already raised almost $4,000 of its $250,000 goal.

MONEY Tech

Why the War Between Apple and Android is Over

A visitor looks at Apple's website on the new Samsung Galaxy Note 4, in a Samsung pop-up shop in Soho in New York.
Richard Levine—Alamy

This is Tim Cook's Apple now—and Cook vehemently disdains litigation.

I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.

– Steve Jobs

You’ve undoubtedly heard this infamous quote by now from the late Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.8503% co-founder, which was included in his official biography that was published shortly after his death in 2011. Steve Jobs’ loathing for Google GOOGLE INC. GOOG -0.3696% Android was perfectly captured in this quote.

Over the years, this “thermonuclear war” has raged on, with Apple primarily targeting rival Android OEMs as opposed to Google itself. Naturally, the highest profile case was against Samsung, but Apple has also conducted its patent warfare through The Rockstar Consortium, a joint venture owned by 5 prominent tech companies. Apple and Microsoft are two of the main backers.

Rockstar was the entity that outbid Google in the 2011 auction to acquire Nortel’s massive patent portfolio, winning out with a $4.5 billion offer. Apple put up $2.6 billion of that total, presumably making it the majority owner of Rockstar.

That portfolio included important intellectual property surrounding Wi-Fi networking and cellular connectivity, among many other areas related to mobile technology. Rockstar proceeded to sue Google and numerous Android OEMs like Samsung and HTC with said patents a little over a year ago.

Well, Rockstar and Google just settled their differences, which could signal that Apple’s “thermonuclear war” is over.

War changes

No dollar terms for the settlement were disclosed, but the bigger story here is an underlying strategic shift for Apple. Cisco CISCO SYSTEMS INC. CSCO 0.2566% was also on the receiving end of patent litigation, and similarly just announced a settlement with Rockstar that will result in a $188 million pre-tax charge.

The patent wars have raged on for years, with little effect on the underlying competitive dynamics of the smartphone industry. From a financial perspective, litigation is unlikely to be worth the trouble, and it now seems that Rockstar’s shareholders (the 5 tech companies) are wary of the distraction and want to exit the consortium. Chances are that Rockstar will never come out ahead compared to the $4.5 billion it paid.

Apple also settled its litigation with Motorola Mobility earlier this year, while the handset maker was still officially under Google’s multi-colored flag (Lenovo’s acquisition of Motorola closed in October). At the time, Apple and Google said they would work together in advocating for patent reform. In August, Apple and Samsung settled all of their outstanding patent disputes outside of the U.S. as well. Neither of these settlements includes any cross-licensing agreements.

Why the sudden change of iHeart?

A changing of the guard

There are a handful reasons why Apple’s war on Android would never bear fruit and why it may be giving up.

Apple’s primary goal was never to make money from these patent suits (it makes plenty of money as it is). It was trying to block popular Android devices from the market. But the underlying strategy of trying to preclude Android devices from the market was inherently doomed, considering the open-source nature of the platform and the sheer number of OEMs making Android devices.

Perhaps most importantly, the strategy was implemented under Steve Jobs. As you can see from the quote above, he had rather strong feelings on the matter. So strong, in fact, that they weren’t pragmatic. Not only would spending Apple’s $40 billion in cash (at the time) be an obvious breach of fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, but the company would have no chance of succeeding at keeping Android off the market. Naturally, Jobs was probably just being a little melodramatic.

But this is Tim Cook’s Apple now, which is very different than Steve Jobs’ Apple in more ways than one. Specifically, Cook vehemently disdains litigation. Here’s Cook on the Q2 2012 earnings conference call, less than a year after becoming CEO:

I’ve always hated litigation and I continue to hate it. We just want people to invent their own stuff. So if we could get some kind of arrangement where we could be assured that’s the case in a fair settlement on the stuff that’s occurred, I would highly prefer to settle versus battle. But the key thing is that it’s very important that Apple not become the developer for the world. We need people to invent their own stuff.

Philosophically, Apple just doesn’t want its rivals to continue copying its hardware and software designs. Legally, the company has limited options on how to stop it, particularly as it’s become painfully obvious that patent suits aren’t effective. That’s especially true for a Chinese competitor like Xiaomi, which mostly operates outside the jurisdiction of U.S. patent courts while China is notorious for weak intellectual property rights.

Fighting words

Without a doubt, Apple is just as upset about Xiaomi’s copying ways as it is about Samsung’s copying ways. Design chief Jony Ive has spoken twice in recent months regarding the Chinese smartphone maker. Here’s Ive at a Vanity Fair conference in October:

I’ll stand a little bit harsh. I don’t see it as flattery. When you’re doing something for the first time, you don’t know it’s going to work. You spend seven or eight years working on something, and then it’s copied. I have to be honest, the first thing I can think, all those weekends that I could have at home with my family but didn’t. I think it’s theft, and it’s lazy.

Ive’s comments at London’s Design Museum last week echo the same notion:

We may seem a little testy when things we have been working on for eight years are copied in six months – but it wasn’t inevitable that it was going to work. It’s not copying; it’s theft. They stole our time, time we could have had with our families. I actually feel quite strongly about it. It’s funny – I was talking to somebody and they said do you think when somebody copies what you do it’s flattering? No.

Naturally, Xiaomi adamantly denies the allegations. You be the judge.

The market will work itself out

By his own admission, Ive is not a shrewd businessman; Ive is a designer and he’s justifiably angry. However, the fact still stands that Apple has little effective recourse to stop companies like Xiaomi or Samsung.

It turns out that the solution is just as easily captured in another Steve Jobs quote. Apple’s most viable strategy in beating Android is simply to compete as aggressively as it can by creating the best products. In 2010, Jobs said, “And if we succeed, they’ll buy them. And if we don’t, they won’t. And it’ll all work itself out.”

TIME Video Games

Top 10 Video Games of 2014

From Mario Kart 8 to Dark Souls II, these are the best video games of the year.

  • 10. Velocity 2X

    Velocity 2X
    FuturLab

    A shoot-em-up meets a platforming game meets a stopwatch with a stick, Velocity 2X thrills and punishes and ultimately delights. Want to zip a spaceship through vertical obstacle-riddled levels that require precision execution of unique button sequences? Fold those split-second demands into a sidescrolling maze of daises, chutes and teleportation portals? Alternate between both in levels that unfurl like nested lines of code, shifting from one to the other like a crazy interstellar duathlon? Then play Velocity 2K.

  • 9. Sunset Overdrive

    Sunset Overdrive
    Insomniac Games

    Sunset Overdrive taps the same screwball vein as developer Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series, only with a grownup twist. Imagine a punk quasi-parkour game by way of a zany skateboarding simulation by way of a metropolis-sized circus playground that wants you to know it knows it’s a nerd-power fantasy. Think Tony Hawk meets Sam Raimi crossed with Sid Vicious multiplied by pinball.

     

  • 8. Shovel Knight

    Shovel Knight
    Yacht Club Games

    The best NES game you never played sporting glorious high-definition pixel-block levels and incredible chiptunes and superlative platform-bounding gameplay. Shovel Knight is something like a crowdfunded miracle, the new archetype in gaming (or any other creative medium) for what letting developers who know exactly what they’re doing actually do it, unencumbered.

  • 7. Monument Valley

    Monument Valley
    Ustwo

    Making the impossible possible, Monument Valley celebrates non-Euclidean geometry, beautifully bizarre architecture and the art of silent storytelling. Combine royalty with optical trickery, trajectory-fiddling with bonsai pruning, aesthetic contemplation with tactile interaction and you wind up with something like designer ustwo’s delightful, enigmatic puzzler.

  • 6. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
    Interactive Entertainment/Warner Bros

    In Shadow of Mordor, developer Monolith fashions a Middle-earth playground that finally works. You play as Talion, an undead Gondorian ranger merged with a wraith-like entity and endowed with supernatural abilities. The game’s unusually clever and hierarchically organized enemy orcs as well as Batman Arkham series-inspired combat dovetail brilliantly, producing something that shines with or without the Tolkien license.

  • 5. Mario Kart 8

    Mario Kart 8
    Nintendo

    A carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. This is the best of all Nintendo’s Mario Karts to date: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and something you’ll be playing for a very long time.

  • 4. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

    Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
    Blizzard Entertainment

    Part of the allure of Blizzard rolling its bejeweled carriage through the hoof-tramped mud of a played-out genre (collectible card games) is the Blizzard name. But that names signifies scrupulous playtesting and elaborate design values, all of which converge here to make Hearthstone the quickest, slickest, goofiest, most lavish online CCG around.

     

  • 3. Dark Souls II

    Dark Souls II
    From Software

    A game that celebrates the notion of death as strategic outlook, Dark Souls II is less an improvement on its predecessors than a superlative alternate take. It rejiggers its rules in ways that echo through its combat subsystems, revitalizing the approaches you can take as you hew to its otherwise familiar approach-study-fight-die-repeat formula.

  • 2. Alien: Isolation

    Alien: Isolation
    The Creative Assembly

    You, a derelict space station, platoons of deranged androids and one relentless, homicidal, agile, terrifyingly perceptive xenomorph. Creative Assembly’s hulking orbital haunted house may be the most frightening game of hide-and-seek ever made. It’s also a stunning homage to Alien film artists H.R. Giger and Ron Cobb’s conceptual work, a chance to inhabit and scrutinize the world they and director Ridley Scott created in 1979 as if it in fact existed.

  • 1. 80 Days

    80 Days inkle

    80 Days is less about gameplay subversion than stylish, thoughtful immersion, employing a beloved genre–interactive fiction–to set you loose in a reimagined, politically contemplative rendering of Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. Here be mechanical golems, underseas trains and steam-powered creatures as you traverse a game world (designed by a British-Indian woman) that doubles as trenchant commentary on the nature of colonialism.

TIME psychology

Here’s How to Know Who Your Real Friends Are

Fackbook Acquires WhatsApp For $16 Billion
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Look at your phone texting and calling patterns. Scientists are realizing they give powerful insights about relationships.

Via Sciencemag.org:

Just by analyzing the calling patterns, the researchers could accurately label two people as friends or nonfriends more than 95% of the time. But the results, published online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mobile phone data were better at predicting friendship than the subjects themselves. Thirty-two pairs of subjects switched from calling each other acquaintances to friends in the traditionally gathered survey data. These are most likely new relationships that formed during the course of the study, say the researchers, and they left a clear signal in the mobile phone data. Friends call each other far more often than acquaintances do when they are off-campus and during weekends. The pattern is so distinct that the researchers spotted budding friendships in the phone data months before the people themselves called themselves friends.

There’s another great article in the WSJ by Robert Lee Hotz about how scientists are using phone data to study our behavior — and learning more than they ever thought they could:

…at MIT, scientists who tracked student cellphones during the latest presidential election were able to deduce that two people were talking about politics, even though the researchers didn’t know the content of the conversation. By analyzing changes in movement and communication patterns, researchers could also detect flu symptoms before the students themselves realized they were getting sick.

“Phones can know,” said Dr. Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, who helped pioneer the research. “People can get this god’s-eye view of human behavior.”

Of course, companies are very interested in this data:

Cellphone providers are openly exploring other possibilities. By mining their calling records for social relationships among customers, several European telephone companies discovered that people were five times more likely to switch carriers if a friend had already switched, said Mr. Eagle, who works with the firms. The companies now selectively target people for special advertising based on friendships with people who dropped the service.

And some of the results are downright unnerving:

After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people’s movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone’s future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.

The pattern held true whether people stayed close to home or traveled widely, and wasn’t affected by the phone user’s age or gender.

A few other interesting tidbits:

  1. Overall, our phones make us happier. (There’s even an app for that.)
  2. They may be making us more selfish, however. Our phones can fulfill our need for human contact, making us less inclined to go out of our way to help others.
  3. These devices can distract us so much we don’t notice the world around us — even if it contains unicycling clowns. (To be fair, people may actually like us better when we are distracted during a conversation.)
  4. We’ve become so addicted to our phones that two-thirds of users report hearing “phantom ringing.”
  5. We rely so much on these devices that a third of people under 30 can’t remember their home phone numbers — if they have one at all.
  6. 5% of relationships were ended by text message. People even get divorced via text. (iPhone users are more promiscuous, by the way.)
  7. By stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, text messaging might be simulating autism.
  8. That said, text message reminders have effectively encouraged saving, reduced smoking and increased voting.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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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.

MONEY Tech

Best Buy Is Finally Making a Comeback

Best Buy employee with box
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company appears to have found an in-store strategy.

On Thursday, Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 0.6535% delighted fans and investors by reporting a blowout fiscal third quarter. The results, reported before the bell, were non-GAAP diluted EPS at $0.32 per share versus analyst expectations of $0.25 per share. And while total revenue growth was still sluggish at 0.6% over last year’s quarter, that figure also beat analyst expectations by coming in at $9.38 billion versus $9.11 billion.

More importantly, the company appears to have found an in-store strategy. Domestic comparable sales increased 2.4% ex reclassifications, signaling it’s finding a way to use its stores as an advantage against online retailers. And speaking of online retailers, Best Buy increased its domestic online revenue an outstanding 21.6% over the same quarter a year ago. Although online is still a small portion of the total revenue haul, it is encouraging to see Best Buy growing this segment instead of conceding this channel to other retailers.

Great quarter, but is it sustainable?

Over the last five years, Best Buy has had a tough time. The company found itself a victim of the macroeconomic environment and suffered during the recession. However, unlike other retailers, the company never recovered post-recession. The chart below will give you proper context of Best Buy’s struggles versus the greater S&P 500.

1ff8df8a4fc27e17a11ac44fe57ee35a

Two issues for Best Buy

The company faces two problems: aggressive pricing competition and the discretionary nature of their products. Due to Best Buy’s large store footprint (read: costs), the company would find itself losing a pricing war to online retailers — mostly Amazon.com. The trend of shoppers coming into Best Buy stores to test products then buy them from online retailers was so prevalent it inspired its own name: showrooming. CEO Hubert Joly has instituted price-matching strategies and improvements to counteract this trend and it appears to be paying off.

The second issue is the discretionary nature of Best Buy’s products. Unlike a grocer or a discount retailer like Target, consumers generally can postpone electronics purchases until they are more comfortable about the overall economy and their personal finance situation. And although the recession is over, wage growth is still harder to come by. Many were left scarred by the recession and have closed their pocketbooks. In addition, the recession has been tough for technology savvy millennials that are a natural fit for Best Buy’s brand.

Are better times ahead?

However, more recently, price drops in oil and slowing healthcare inflation have given many Americans a stealth pay increase. The consumer confidence index is sharply up and generally portends more discretionary spending, which is good news for Best Buy going into its seasonally heavy fourth fiscal quarter.

There’s been a host of positive economic news — GDP grew at a 3.5%-plus annualized rate the past two quarters, there have been nine straight months of 200,000 jobs created, and an unemployment rate below 6% — that will eventually lead to more discretionary spending. And when that happens, a leaner, better-ran Best Buy will be in a position to benefit from it.

TIME Business

Execs Like Emil Michael Don’t Hate Women—They’re Terrified of Them

Emil Michael senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc. stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco on July 29, 2014.
Emil Michael senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc. stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco on July 29, 2014. Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Laura Kipnis is the author of Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation.

Uber mensches they are not—they're simply scared, and women should not contribute to their power

In Neil LaBute’s coruscating black comedy In the Company of Men, two reptilian male executives concoct a scheme to deceive and emotionally humiliate a vulnerable deaf secretary who works at the branch office they’ve been temporarily assigned to. The plan is to shower her with attention, get her to fall in love with both of them, then simultaneously drop her. Why? Because they can. Because they’re angry at women. Because they think women have power over them.

Over the last few days we witnessed a scenario that could have been authored by LaBute, our bard of misogyny, play out in real life, a terrific satire about corporate America, sexual swaggering and contemporary masculine angst, improvised by a couple of executives at Uber. Yes, in case you haven’t heard, another male in a position of power has created another dungstorm by making ill-considered remarks in a public setting; the usual swell of public indignation has ensued.

“His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals,” tweeted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, about Emil Michael, his senior vice president of business. Kalanick was referring to threats Michael issued at a dinner attended by a number of prominent journalists, involving a harebrained plan to do opposition research aimed at Uber-critical journalists. He was going to dig up dirt on their personal lives, their families, and give the media a taste of its own medicine. Michael later said he thought the dinner was off the record, and that he was just venting, not serious.

Why am I so much less outraged than everyone seems to be about the story? To begin with, who ever thought such guys were role models for enlightened masculinity anyway? Social responsibility? Come on. New corporations and start-ups come and go these days in a flurry of mergers, acquisitions and rebranding, in it for a quick payday. They owe no one anything—not in their eyes, anyway. The Great Recession was brought to us by just such swashbucklers, who still believe they earn their unconscionable incomes by taking insane risks with other people’s money and turning the economy into a casino. Ever since Reagan, corporate America’s indifference to any value other than profits has been writ large in their refusal to pay their fair share of taxes. They’re not role models for anyone other than pirates.

The mistake is to regard Uber and its execs are though they’re the exception to something. Indifference to customers? Sounds like the airlines. Silicon Valley corporate greed? It pales compared to Wall Street corporate greed. Misogynist mud-throwing aimed at a threatening woman? Consider the ongoing and deeply ugly Republican war on Hillary Clinton.

In this case it was one woman in particular— Sarah Lacy, editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily—who was the special target of Michael’s animus. Lacy has repeatedly taken Uber to task for what she calls the company’s outrageous sexism, including CEO Kalanick’s boasts that he gets so much “tail” since starting Uber that the company should really be called “Boober.”

Her response to hearing about Michael’s dinner-party threats, Lacy has recently written, was a shocked sense of her own vulnerability, and fears for her children’s well-being. She imagined them at home in their kitten and dinosaur pajamas and felt terror.

The pajamas are a nice touch (heartstrings tugged!). But what Lacy neglects to say is that she has these guys running scared. They’re afraid of her. Lacy should be taking a victory lap. Her opponents are acting like “scared little girls” in the current idiom—they’re simply masking it behind a lot of macho posturing. Which is exactly what most macho posturing generally comes down to: fear of one sort or another. And pathos. And, vulnerability, real or imaginary. We have a habit of forgetting that.

Let me say something else that might be controversial. I’m rather intrigued by Kalanick’s references to how much sex he’s getting just because he’s Uber’s CEO. Here’s another hard truth of the sort that Neil LaBute is so good at exposing: As much as some women protest the kind of misogynist culture that Uber apparently exemplifies, there are plenty of other women who eroticize male power and wish to bask in its aura, even when it comes packaged in buffoonish and objectionable forms. This is a contradiction worth examining. Women, too, play a contributing role in upholding the conditions that also abject us, something we’re in the habit of forgetting.

Memo to the “tail” of which Kalanick speaks: Ladies! You can do better.

For my part, I’d far rather hear what guys like Michael say when behind closed doors than carefully burnished platitudes from some PR firm. When people go off-message, or mistakenly think they’re off the record, or un-mic’ed (don’t forget Mitt Romney uttered the fatal “47%” line when he thought he was among friends), what you usually hear is what they actually think, as opposed to what they think they’re supposed to say. The only thing that was outrageous about this latest episode was getting socked in the face with a few unvarnished truths.

Laura Kipnis’s new book, Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation, is out this week.

 

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 Tech

Frozen’s Anna and Elsa ‘Let It Code’ to Close the Tech Gender Gap

Code.org's tutorial with Anna and Elsa from Disney's Frozen Code.org

Code.org rolled out a coding tutorial featuring the princesses for its December 'Hour of Code' event

This year, Code.org is working to get more young girls involved in computer science with the help of Anna and Elsa from Frozen. The nonprofit, which is backed by tech giants like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, is using the popular Disney heroines to launch its second annual “Hour of Code” event to encourage teachers to teach coding in the classrooms and expose a more diverse set of students to computer science.

Computer programming is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country: By 2020, U.S. universities won’t be able to fill even a third of the country’s projected 1.4 million computing positions with qualified graduates. But less than 18% of computer science degrees are awarded to female students, and only 20% of all software developers in the U.S. are women — even though women make up 56% of the labor force.

Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org, thinks the problem is that women aren’t introduced to coding until high school or college. By then, they are often deterred by the prevalent notion that men are more adept at or interested in computer science than women.”The only way to change that is to get girls involved at a younger age. By the time they’re in high school, they have stereotypes telling them whether they can or should get involved in computer programming,” he says. “When they’re eight-years-old they have absolutely no conception of who could or should be coding.”

MORE: Cracking the Girl Code: How to End the Tech Gender Gap

What better way to get girls as young as five into coding than using two of the world’s most popular children’s characters? “You’d think we’d be the ones approaching Disney, but Disney approached us and said we really want to work with you. It’s one of the best calls we could have possibly received,” says Partovi. “Girls love Anna and Elsa, and especially young girls who don’t think of themselves as potentially being software engineers or getting involved with computer programming. This is a great way to bring it to the mainstream.”

And it’s a perfect pairing for Disney: Parents embraced Frozen last year as a movie that prioritizes sisterhood and female empowerment over beauty or romance. If Anna and Elsa are independent princesses, it’s only fitting that they know how to code too.

Disney Frozen Elsa tutorial Code.org

Code.org — along with several other initiatives launched in the past few years, like Google’s MadeWithCode, Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code — has pushed to find ways to close the tech gender gap for young students. Part of that effort included the first “Hour of Code” last year, a week in which teachers could use Code.org resources or their own lesson plans to expose their students to coding. The step is crucial considering that nine out of 10 American schools currently do not offer computer science classes.

MORE: Imagine if Half of All Tech Inventions and Start-Ups Came From Women

So far 47 million students have tried the “Hour of Code” since last year, thanks in part to a tutorial that featured the Rovio’s popular Angry Birds characters. Code.org’s larger teaching platform called Code Studio is also now used in 50,000 classrooms. And almost half those students are girls. “We’ve had at least 20 million girls do the hour of code, and on our online tutorials, we have at least 40% participation by women, which is double the 20% that the tech industry sees,” says Partovi. “It’s because we’re starting younger before they encounter toxic stereotypes.”

Hopefully Anna and Elsa will attract even more girls. The new introductory computer programming tutorial allows kids to create code that instructs the princesses to draw snowflakes and ice fractals. Plus, kids learn basic logic and geometry skills along the way. Code.org hopes that the new game-like tutorial (see the screenshot below) will draw over 100 million students this year between Dec. 8 and Dec. 14.

TIME society

Mattel Apologizes for Making Barbie Look Incompetent in Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer

Barbie

The sexist picture book has been slammed online

One of Barbie’s future careers should be in damage control.

Mattel and Random House found themselves at the center of an online firestorm this week when the Internet lampooned a book called Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer. A more accurate title would be Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer… If the Boys Do All the Work For Me.

Although Amazon lists the book as being published in July 2013, VP of Barbie’s Global Brand Marketing Lori Pantel told TIME that it came was published in 2010 and that “since that time we have reworked our Barbie books.”

On Monday, comedian Pamela Ribbon found the book at a friends house and ripped it to shreds on her blog, inspiring major backlash.

So what did the Twitterverse get in a tizzy about? Although the book’s title would indicate that its fights stereotypes against the tech industry’s gender gap, readers only need only get it to the second page to find out that Barbie is completely incompetent. While she’s capable of conceptualizing a game about a cute robot puppy (gender cliche, but we were ready to go with it — who doesn’t like robot puppies?), Barbie needs boys to actually do the computer programing for her. When Skipper asks if she can see the program, “Barbie says, laughing, ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!'” Silly Skipper and your high expectations!

The rest of the book involves Barbie crashing her computer (duh), passing a virus to Skipper (a pillow fight ensues… I mean, really), ignoring her female computer teacher’s advice on how to fix the virus (because if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that ladies should not be trusted with such things), and finally letting brogrammers come to her rescue. While Steve and Brian seem like nice enough guys, they don’t even teach Barbie what to do on her hot pink laptop.

“The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” says Pantel. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

In case they were in need of inspiration, people have been tweeting funny rewrites of the text so that it actually empowers women.

Barbie has been derided for a lot of things — her anatomically impossible figure, for example — but her career goals seemed on track if not admirable. She has been to space and business school But success involves more than just dressing the part. If you pair a doll with a hot pink laptop, she better know how to use it.

Maybe we should all just stick to GoldieBlox, a toy that teaches and encourages girls to do engineering themselves.

Read next: Watch Little Kids React to a Realistic-Looking Barbie Alternative

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