TIME Video Games

Microsoft Challenged the Whole World to a Solitaire Tournament

PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier—Getty Images/PhotoAlto Woman playing solitaire, cropped view of hands and cards

To celebrate the Windows game's 25th birthday

Microsoft has challenged the world to a Solitaire tournament that will pit the company’s strongest players against the game’s biggest fans.

The tournament will launch on June 5 to mark the 25th anniversary of the game, which has long remained a permanent fixture of the Windows operating system.

The battle begins with an internal match among Microsoft’s employees. The winners will then lead a worldwide match against the general public, or as Microsoft put it in an official post: “you’ll be challenged to bring your best to defeat our best.”

TIME Google

Google Has a Crazy Fun Job Opening on its Doodle Team

Google's Doodle team is looking for a new member

Ever notice those whimsical designs on Google’s homepage that commemorate a holiday, person, or historical anniversary?

The search giant is looking to hire a new person to create them, according to a new job listing for what’s known as a
Doodler.” This person will “have the world’s best platform to showcase your stylistic skills, as well as your sense of humor, love of all things historical and imaginative artistry,” the listing says.

It may seem like a silly job. But only candidates with serious “doodle” chops need apply. Google is looking for candidates with a degree or equivalent experience in fine arts, skills in two or more disciplines like graphic design and 3D modeling, and a strong portfolio of past work across various media.

The first Google Doodle appeared in August 1998, when Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went away to Burning Man, a music and art festival in Nevada, and wanted to tell users they’d be away for a few days – just in case something happened. Since then, the company has gone on to feature Doodles for all major holidays, as well as many other occasions in between. Some of the notable people Doodles have celebrated include Andy Warhol, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jules Verne.

A few designs have also drawn criticism (or rather, the choice of what to doodle and what not too). For example, Google got some grief for skipping doodles for Memorial Day and Veterans Day in 2007. It also received criticism for commemorating activist Cesar Chavez instead of Easter in 2013.

For the past few years, Google [fortune-stock symbol=”GOOG”] has also held its Doodle 4 Google contest, giving the chance to children in K-12 around the country to compete for various prizes. One lucky winner has his or her design featured on Google’s homepage.

TIME xiaomi

China’s Would-be Apple Killer is Starting U.S. Sales

Lei Jun, Chairman and CEO of Xiaomi Technology and Chairman of Kingsoft Corp., attends the 121st anniversary of Wuhan University in Wuhan city, central China's Hubei province on Nov. 29, 2014.
Sun Xinming—Imaginechina/AP Lei Jun, Chairman and CEO of Xiaomi Technology and Chairman of Kingsoft Corp., attends the 121st anniversary of Wuhan University in Wuhan city, central China's Hubei province on Nov. 29, 2014.

Will the Chinese manufacturer find success on Apple's home turf?

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has quickly become a major force in Asia. Now it’s making a push into the U.S. and Europe, signaling its big ambitions.

Xiaomi is about to open an online store for the American and European markets. For now, the retail sites are a test bed that offers only four electronic accessories for sale. But the move hints at the company’s bigger ambitions to challenge Apple on its home turf and many of its other key markets.

Xiaomi’s initial products for sale are a $15 fitness tracker, a pair of $80 headphones, a $10 USB power pack for charging mobile devices, and a bigger model for $14. The online stores will open on Monday at 10 p.m. ET in the US, and 1 p.m. CET the next day in the U.K., France, and Germany.

The company first announced in February that it would open its first US sales and that it would only include a few accessories. It’s previously sold some products in the U.K., like the Mi-2 phone.

Founded in 2010, Xiaomi quickly rose in popularity in Asia with its affordable smartphones and other consumer electronics, and became the largest smartphone vendor in China in 2014, according to IDC. Xiaomi sold more than 61 million smartphones in total that year.

In its latest round of venture capital funding, the company was valued at $46 billion.

Xiaomi’s foray into the U.S. market will be watched closely. While the U.S. is the world’s largest smartphone market, sales are largely made through telecom carriers. Therefore, any company that wants to capture a major slice of the market will have to work closely with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Xiaomi would also have to take on market leader Apple [fortune-stock symbol=”AAPL”], which has traditionally stayed away from selling low-end products like those sold by its Chinese rival. Xiaomi’s also been criticized for copying much of Apple’s product designs.

Xiaomi’s test run with its online stores will serve as a barometer for its ability to move into selling devices.

TIME Companies

Windows 10 Won’t Really Be Free For Pirates

A man buys a pirated copy of Microsoft's
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images A man buys a pirated copy of Microsoft's operation system Windows Vista from a stall at a shopping mall in Jakarta, 30 January 2007.

Microsoft walks back a previous suggestion that pirates could upgrade for free

Microsoft will not give pirates a free pass to Windows 10 this summer, clarifying in a new statement that unlicensed users could either pay for a valid version of the software or live with a permanent stamp of inauthenticity on their desktops.

“When we can’t verify that Windows is properly installed, licensed, and not tampered with, we create a desktop watermark to notify the user,” Microsoft vice president Terry Myserson wrote in an official blog post.

The statement appeared to walk back a suggestion several months earlier that “non-genuine” users would qualify for the free upgrade. Instead, Microsoft will attempt to flip pirates into paying customers with an “attractive Windows 10 upgrade offers.”

In other words, Windows users? Pay up.

TIME Video Games

5 Reasons People Love The Witcher So Much

Wondering why a game called The Witcher keeps popping up in your social media?

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt arrives Tuesday, like a meteor heralding an extinction level event masquerading as a gritty Slavic myth-o-rama. The doomed: all sandbox fantasy roleplaying games prior, forced to measure up and found wanting.

Polish developer CD Projekt Red’s tale of a cat-eyed, glam-haired, drug-elevated monster slayer, once as obscure as Bethesda’s hence primetime-friendly The Elder Scrolls series, now separates money from pockets with ease. Preorders for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are past one million, the studio reported last week. That’s more than half as many total copies sold of 2011’s The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, itself both a critical and commercial triumph.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt thus looks poised to shatter its predecessor’s numbers, buttressed this time by PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions launching simultaneously (The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was for PC and Xbox 360 only).

So what is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? Only the biggest open-world roleplaying game of the year, one of the most critically acclaimed in years, and the final act of a trilogy that since the first act arrived in October 2007, has been as keen to upend morally simplistic, male-angled fantasy tropes as that other epic fiction franchise everyone raves about.

If you’re newcomer-curious, here’s a quick review of why people love The Witcher so much.

It’s based on sophisticated fantasy writing

Thank Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski for the Witcher-verse and its guttural, morally ambivalent, antihero. Sapkowski, whose first books appeared in the early 1990s and weren’t translated into English until the late 2000s, placed his protagonist Geralt of Rivia in a mimetic fantasy world with enough socio-economic nuance to ground a political science dissertation. Here be racism, sexism, classism, economic inequality and injustice, wrapped in a bleak, often cynical worldview informed by a nation with a history of repeated occupation and counter-occupation by larger, historically thuggish rival powers.

Your mileage will definitely vary

The original game offered three possible endings, and not just superficial codas where one or the other cutscene plays before the credits roll. Pivotal decisions in The Witcher could upend the narrative course, determining who lived and died, and dictating who might ally with or turn against you when crucial battles arrived.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, though still restricting players to progressive level-like areas, further developed that organic storytelling formula, boasting 16 possible endings with so much interactive nuance to its narrative pathing that multiple play-throughs could feel like completely different games.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which shifts the series to freeform exploration, expands its possible outcome tally to a whopping 36, and the developers claim those windups are born of organic pivot points along the way that add up to hundreds of narrative permutations (that, in a game where a single pass takes upwards of 50 hours).

The fights are way better than most

All roleplaying games are really elaborate fighting games, so the clicky-tappy things you wind up doing over and over–in some cases for hundreds of hours–has to be both novel and progressive. Studio CD Projekt Red’s approach has been both in each of The Witcher games, progressing from a clever rhythm-focused keyboard/mouse model in the original, to deep toolboxes of offensive and defensive maneuvers augmented by secondary tricks and talent trees that unlock ever more nuanced abilities.

The world looks and feels like nothing else in fantasy gaming

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy games are more graphically inventive (they’re certainly more gonzo!), sure, but in a crowded field that’s been tediously riffing on Tolkien for decades, The Witcher games feel like idiosyncratic curios. Inspired by Slavic mythology, its bosky dells, ruin-flanked hills and patchwork fields sound paradoxically elegiac notes, juxtaposing heart-stopping sunsets filtered through wind-whipped trees with war-wracked, blood blackened fields of corpses, sometimes piled like cordwood. And instead of squaring off with trolls, orcs, goblins, dragons and multicolored blobs of dungeon-delving goo, you’re up against folkish, far weirder-sounding Eastern European creatures like striga, necrophages, bruxa and vodyanoi, as well as warped takes on traditional fiends, e.g. noonwraiths, alghouls and dagon worshippers.

But the most marvelous monsters in the game aren’t mythic at all

As I put it when reviewing the original game eight years ago: “For all the wonderfully ‘un-Tolkien-y’ alghouls and echinops and graveirs and bloedzuigers you’ll grapple with, the most hideous monsters in the game aren’t the ones with six or a dozen consonants crowding a single vowel, but other humans, like you.”

TIME the big picture

How Maker Faires Are Inspiring Young ‘Makers’ All Over the World

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO—AFP/Getty Images A boy plays a keyboard to control robot guitarist "Mach", a member of a robot rock band "Z-Machines", during the two day art and technology event "Maker Faire Tokyo" at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo on November 3, 2013.

Young children and their parents flock to Maker's Faires to get hands-on tech time

One of the truly bright lights in tech education is the Maker Faire. The granddaddy of the Maker Faires celebrated its tenth anniversary this weekend at the San Mateo, California Events Center, drawing around 150,000 kids and their parents who went to explore the world of making things.

The show itself has a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) emphasis, and all types of tech-related projects were being showcased at the event. The founder of the Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty, says the goal of the show is to create a world of makers. In fact, the vision of the maker movement is to inspire people to become makers instead of just consumers of things. Maker Media, the folks behind the Maker Faire, sponsored more than 130 events all over the world in 2014. Its executives say they will sponsor more than 200 events this year, with the addition of Maker Faire’s school program, which means more events at high schools around the country.

While en route to the event, I spoke with Demaris Brooks-Immel and her son Sam, who were also on their way to the Maker Faire. She told me that Sam looks forward to the Maker Faire every year, and he asked that next year they spend two whole days at the show. Demaris said that her son is a tinkerer at heart, and his school in San Jose — Booksin Elementary — has a special Create and Innovate program that highlights various maker projects during the school year.

One of the first things you will notice when attending a Maker Faire is the awe in the eyes of the kids who attend as they excitedly go from one booth to another checking out the various projects or demos on hand. There were dozens of areas where kids could sit down and help with building robots, make motor driven cars or even learn how to solder inside a special tent where skilled adults introduced kids to using soldering tools for use in all types of electronics projects.

One of the sponsors of the show is Atmel, which makes micro controllers that populate most of the Arduino boards used in various maker projects. Arduino makes various electronics kits letting users build a wide array of electronic devices, such as mini robots, drones and other products. At the Atmel booth, I spoke with Amtel Senior Manager Bob Martin and asked him why the company is so committed to the Maker Movement. He told me that once the Arduino community started using their micro controllers in their boards, he convinced top management to “put significant resources behind this movement and to support projects that will make life easier for people.”

Intel is another big sponsor of Maker Faire. Its CEO, Brian Krzanich, is a huge supporter of the Maker Faire, and Intel’s large booth had many hands-on demos and projects for kids to work with to learn more about the micro processors that have driven the tech revolution.

Another important group at the show was LittleBits Education. Its goal is to fuel students’ creativity; they have 6,000 educators, 1,500 schools and 375 universities in 70 countries helping kids develop design skills, creative confidence and technology fluency with LittleBits. Facebook and Google also had booths at the show, showing they too are committed to tech education.

While most of the kids at the event were boys, there were a lot of girls there as well, and the Maker Faire had kits designed for helping girls get interested in tech and making things. One company at the event was Roominate Toys, whose line of products are designed to get girls interested in all types of tech and design projects. I am also a big fan of the Golidblox line of products for girls and have bought many for my granddaughters in the past.

After last year’s Maker Faire, I wrote a piece for TIME on why the Maker Movement is important to America’s future. The Maker Faires’ goal of helping people become makers has driven a high interest and demand for these shows. But I also mentioned a concern I had about the lack of diversity I saw at the Faire. Like last year’s show, I saw very few African American or Hispanic families at this year’s event. This is still a concern, as I know the Maker Movement and Maker Faire is very inclusive and wants everyone to participate.

After my TIME column last year, the Maker Faire’s Dougherty called me and told me that the lack of a diverse representation at the Faire is a huge concern for him. In fact, he told me that he personally sponsors a summer camp for Hispanic girls in the Santa Rosa, California area where he lives. He and others in the movement have been pushing STEM programs and trying to get more local sponsorships in areas where kids of all backgrounds could connect with the Maker Movement.

Over the last year, the issue of diversity in tech has risen to the forefront thanks to people like Cheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and the Women in Tech Summits. And many African American and Hispanic leaders have come to Silicon Valley to speak with top leaders to make them more aware of the lack of diversity in tech companies.

I truly hope the world of tech becomes more inclusive. However, I think that it starts at the youth level, and things like the Maker Faire and the various STEM programs being employed in schools across the world needs to accelerate. Initiatives like them need stronger backing from corporations and educators who can help get more kids of all backgrounds interested in tech and equipped with the kind of skills that will be necessary to compete in the job markets of the future. Only then will the maker movement and the tech market in general really live up to their potential.


TIME Gadgets

The Apple Watch Will Whine If You Do This

Apple Watch iPhone Smart Leashing
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.

A new feature will reportedly help you out in a jam

Apple might have come up with a way to end iPhone separation anxiety.

An upcoming Apple Watch feature will reportedly be able to give “a tap or a light notice” if the user accidentally leaves behind the linked-up iPhone, 9to5Mac reported on Monday, citing an unnamed source familiar with Apple Watch development. It’s an optional reminder that could arise through Apple’s version of Find My iPhone for the Apple Watch, known internally as “Smart Leashing,” according to the source.

The features, however, are reportedly farther off than others in development, as the wireless technology might require a next-generation Apple Watch.


TIME legal

Why New Jersey Doesn’t Let You Pump Your Own Gas

California Gas Prices Fall 9.6 Cents In One Week
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A gasoline pump rests in the tank of a car on June 12, 2012 in San Anselmo, California.

The ban dates back to 1949

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Oregon are considering bills that would finally give drivers in those states the option to pump their own gas. But why was that practice banned in the first place?

Let’s start with the case in New Jersey. The Garden State’s ban on self-service gas stations, which are allowed in 48 states, began in 1949 when the New Jersey Legislature passed the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act. That law, enacted over concerns about the safety of consumers pumping petroleum themselves, was later followed by many other states. However, almost every state has since overturned their self-serve bans.

Some contend the New Jersey law was rooted in corruption, not safety concerns. There are also worries that young, inexperienced drivers run into trouble when visiting neighboring states and forced to pump their own gas for the first time (that was an issue for the author of this story when he drove in Pennsylvania as a teenager).

In both states, advocates say gasoline could be several cents cheaper if stations weren’t required to pay staff to pump gas. But thousands of jobs are also at stake if the practice ends.

That could all change now that lawmakers in New Jersey said Monday they intend to introduce legislation that would give drivers the option of self or full service at gasoline stations. That proposal comes about a month after a measure would allow drivers in rural parts of Oregon to serve themselves.

In some ways, these potential law changes could be a sign of the times. Roughly a year ago, a survey found that while Oregonians are almost evenly divided on self-service gas, voters under the age of 45 are strongly in favor of controlling the pump.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME apps

Slack is Starting a Podcast for Some Reason

The office chat platform just launched its first episode

How does a hot Silicon Valley company with a fast-growing valuation make the most of its ever-growing momentum? How about by starting a podcast?

That’s the latest move by Slack, the office chat platform headed by Flickr cofounder Stewart Butterfield that recently raised $160 million in its latest venture capital funding, for a valuation of $2.8 billion. The first episode of the Slack Variety Pack podcast hit SoundCloud Monday morning in a debut that would seem to fit well in the platform’s own “#random” channel.

The company describes the podcast as covering “work, life, and everything in between.” And, the initial episode lives up to that somewhat nebulous billing with segments ranging from a relatively light-hearted explainer on quantum physics to another, called “Open Letter to Grandparents,” that features youngsters explaining why they don’t reply to their grandparents’ e-mails.

Fast Company interviewed Slack’s chief marketing officer, Bill Macaitis, about the new podcast:

“The idea is to present ‘stories about work and life, told in a very human voice,’ explains Bill Macaitis, Slack’s CMO. ‘Funny, inspirational, serious, innovative. It was something we hadn’t seen a lot of podcasts doing.’

As Fast Company notes, the firm has previously sponsored podcasts such as 99% Invisible, StartUp and Reply All. For this endeavor, though, Slack partnered with production company Pacific Content to produce the show, which will initially have a dozen episodes no longer than 30 minutes each.

Slack has grown rapidly since launching publicly in February 2014, with Butterfield saying earlier this year that the service was racking up 10,000 new users each week. Slack currently claims roughly 750,000 daily active users and the company has raised a total of $320 million in venture capital, including $120 million in October that came just six months before the more recent $160 million funding round.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME innovations

This May Be the Future of Solar Power

New panels could have a 34% energy conversion rate

A company in Sweden is claiming to have designed a system that can convert 34% of sunlight into solar energy, potentially changing the future of solar power.

Ripasso, the company behind the development, is currently testing the product in South Africa’s Kalahari desert. The 34% power conversion is around double that of normal solar panels, reports The Guardian.

Though the product is new, the idea is actually pretty old. The Guardian notes the idea for the technology was actually developed in the 1800s by a Scottish engineer and clergyman.

This article was originally posted on Fortune.com.

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