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Jaden Smith Believes A Real Place Like Wakanda Secretly Exists

Just like Black Panther, Jaden Smith doesn’t freeze.

But he does pause. Especially after I asked him about the various conspiracy theories he follows ― and there are several. Which one, I wondered, should people be most aware of?

The actor/rapper/humanitarian took a second to think about his answer. There’s the theory about the illuminati, which he talks about on his album “Syre.” There’s the theory about chemtrails, which he’s tweeted about. 

“OK, OK, all right,” he said, “I will keep it real broad and simple, real broad and simple.”

“The technology that we’re currently at is not the maximum of the human capability,” he began, “and that there are places in the world where their technology supersedes what we see here on a daily basis. It’s made by humans, and it should be acknowledged, and it should be looked at because it could heal a lot of problems.”

“You mean like a real-world Wakanda?” I asked

“Yeah,” he said, ”type shit.”

Smith didn’t reveal a location. But that was fine by me. My mind was spinning from the rest of our conversation.

The actor sat down with me to talk about his new movie, “Skate Kitchen,” a film about a group of female skaters in New York City. But this is Jaden Smith we’re talking about. He’s not just an actor. According to him, he’s not even human

So we didn’t just talk about “Skate Kitchen.” We talked about everything: his music, time travel, whether hot dogs are sandwiches, whether Batman is a superhero, the final scene of “Inception,” Barack Obama’s thoughts on aliens, vampires, his congressional aspirations and Carlton from “Fresh Prince.”

Literally, everything. 

Theo Wargo via Getty Images
Jaden Smith here to bless us with wisdom.

You’re in “Skate Kitchen.” You have a new album. You’re going on tour with J. Cole. Have you figured out time travel, or how are you doing all of this?

I figured out how to time travel in the future of my life, and my future self came back and told me that, so not yet, but I just try to do as much as possible. This is my full-time job. That’s the only way I can do it.

If you could time travel, where would you go?

Man, I think I’d be too scared to use a time machine. But if I could time travel, I would go back and change [the] “Star Wars” [line] back to “Luke, I am your father” again. Because it was it before and somehow changed, because someone went back in time and changed it.

And then I would go back in time and change it again, because it just bothers me. I wake up and I cry sometimes. I just want to change that.

Do you know who Rey’s parents are in “Star Wars”?

I have no idea. Who do you think?

I think it’s got to be someone important.

Are there theories?

I’m all about the theories, man.

What’s your favorite theory?

She’s related to Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Oh, OK. Yeah, that would be crazy.

Yeah, it’d be sick. Is a hot dog a sandwich?

Yeah. It is a form of sandwich. There’s bread. It’s a step before a sandwich. You cut the back and squeeze it down, it becomes a thin sandwich. And I think… is a burger a sandwich? Yes. Therefore a hot dog can be argued to not be a sandwich, because it’s one piece of bread. But if it just gets that separation and that squeeze, then it becomes a sandwich.

So … it’s a sandwich? 

It is. It is.

You’ve said before that you were only able to talk to Jackie Chan and your dad [Will Smith] on movie sets. How was “Skate Kitchen” different, now that you have people your own age?

Best thing. So much fun. That’s why we’re still friends. That’s why we still hang out to this day, because we have each other, and we’re really catching a vibe all together.

Is Batman a superhero? 

Batman is a superhero because, even though he has no technical powers, he’s still super-trained, you know? It’s like the same thing can be argued about Iron Man, you know? His suit, but he is still trained in all these different ways, so, yeah, Batman and Iron Man are both superheroes. 

You have a song “Icon.” What’s most iconic about “Skate Kitchen”?

I think, just, the girls. All of them. Just the story. I think they’re the icons of the movie. They deserve all the credit.

Do you think Leonardo DiCaprio was asleep or awake at the end of inception?

Dude, your questions are genius.


Was he in inception still or not? That’s such a good question, bro! Um, he wasn’t. He wasn’t. He wasn’t. It was over. It was over. Or he was? Do you think he was still there?

Well, I think the top was going to fall. They didn’t even have the top not falling in the original script.

I think he was there just for the sake of his kids. I hope he was there. That’s such a crazy thought, though. Taking me back, bro. Really took me back.

In your new movie, Camille [Rachelle Vinberg] hides skateboarding from her mom. Why do you think that’s important to the story, and do you ever relate to that?

Parents need to know that kids hide things from them. Even though they do know that, because they were all kids. But sometimes it’s like, kids hide a lot of things. But it’s like… skating. It’s almost like hiding being gay or something, that, like, in this day and age, in this time, you shouldn’t have to do that. Especially from your parents. So I think it gives perspective for people. Like, damn, that’s so sad to have to hide that from your mom when really you should be focusing on spending time and being together.

What was it like when you asked President Obama about aliens?

That was the best moment of my life, honestly. I had to do it for all of us alien conspiracy theorists around the world. Just, somebody has to do it. I was actually brought up [in conversation] by like a huge lawyer trying to disclose extraterrestrials in Canada to a senator. They brought [my interaction with Obama] up to prove the fact that UFOs are becoming a mainstream topic, even though that’s the last thing they needed to prove it. But I had to, and he pretty much gave me everything I needed to know. I’d love to ask him again, now that his office rules are probably different, but pretty much he said …

First off, I didn’t ask him.


Let me clarify the story for everybody. I never asked Obama about aliens ever in my life. What happened was, I was about to ask him, and then my dad says, “I’m going to make this go smooth. Don’t say anything, Jaden. Sir, Mr. President, my son Jaden has a question for you.” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. President Obama asked me, “You want to know about the aliens?”

First off, I never asked President Obama about extraterrestrials or about the existence of extraterrestrial life on Planet Earth or the government being in communication with them. I never asked any of those questions. I never hinted at those questions. I never said that I had a question for him later that was going to be a weird question. The first thing out of [his mouth] ― I could’ve wanted to asked about the huge presidential private plane. I could’ve wanted to ask about, like, underground tunnels. I could’ve wanted to ask about the pyramids or something ― he immediately was like, “You want to know about the aliens?”

That’s a major. Not even a red flag. That’s a good flag. That’s a major, like, win. That’s already one win, you know what I’m saying? It’s already one win. Then he says, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence of extraterrestrials.” That’s another win. “But if there was a time in a debriefing where I needed to be let known any type of information or if there needed to be a meeting, it would’ve or has happened in this room.”

Wow, what happened next?

I don’t know what happened. I blacked out. I forget.

When are we getting the vampire album?

Vampire album? Please remind me of what I once said.

I think it was on “Big Boy’s Neighborhood,” you talked about making an album about vampires.

OK, that will come soon because I’m obsessed with vampires. I never haven’t been. I never won’t be, so the vampire-fully-inspired album will be coming soon. I mean, the whole flying thing is kind of like I’m a lost boy. I’m a lost boy flying, some vampire. I haven’t introduced that side of lost boy yet. One day I’ll make a “Lost Boy” video that’s just all about vampires.


Yeah, real lost boy shit.

On your album, you talk about needing to be in the Senate. Do you really want to be in the Senate?

No, I don’t want to be in the Senate. But I just want more. I have another line in one of my new songs that’s unreleased, and it says, “Some on the first name basis. I try to put myself in the Senate ’til I realized they was all racist.”…

My main thing is I don’t ever want to be in the Senate, but I want to feel like I’m represented in the Senate. That’s the play on words in that song, and that’s more so what I was just trying to say.

What’s your Patronus?

Um … dragon! Yeah, fucking dragon.

Definitely. That’s mine, too.

Yeah, dragon. Same.

Either a dragon or a Gordita from Taco Bell.

Yeah, totally. Yeah, fact.

You once said in an interview with GQ you’d be gone in 10 years and just randomly show up like Banksy and do art installations or make some kind of social impact. That was three years ago. Do we really only have seven years left of Jaden?

[At age] 27? Yeah, that sounds right. That sounds pretty accurate, bro. I feel like I’m kind of spot on with some stuff. Yeah, in seven years you will see me less frequently.


Yes, for sure, for sure. I have bigger plans, and being in the public eye at all times will be a distraction from those plans, and it won’t allow for the plans to be taken seriously.

Before you go then, what’s the meaning of life?

To be happy. To be happy. To find happiness and to help other people find the same thing. I haven’t found happiness, but that is the goal. Long-lasting happiness. Not just like happiness for a second, not just going to the club and having fun. It’s about long-lasting, dragged-out, extended happiness.

What’s one question you hate being asked and one you wish you were asked more?

I hate being asked where my dad is, as if I would drop the pinpoint on the exact longitude and latitude of the address of my father currently. I always tell people just, like, the wrong side of the world. The wrong hemisphere, that’s where my dad is. They’re like, “Oh, where’s your dad?” I’m like, “Dubai!” Anywhere else. Anywhere that’s 100 million miles away from where he actually is.

A question that I would like to be asked more is, “Who were the artists that inspired ‘Syre: The Electric Album’?” That’s a question I would like to be asked.

Who were the artists that inspired “Syre: The Electric Album”?

[Laughs] Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

Since you brought up your dad, have you seen the pic of him turning into Uncle Phil?

I haven’t seen that specific one, but I see him in real life all the time. I didn’t know that Carlton called Uncle Phil in the “Fresh Prince” ― he called him Big Man. He’d say, “Aw, hey, Big Guy. Big Guy. Big Guy.” And that’s what I call my dad. I call him Big Guy.

It comes up all the time ― people suggesting you be in a “Fresh Prince” reboot. What do you think about that?

No one really wants to see that. [Laughs] And if they did, I would. But they don’t. And as much as they convince themselves, people make it very clear they want it and then counterculture makes it clear that they don’t. So the only thing I would fathom thinking about doing is playing the voice of a character in an animated “Fresh Prince” series, and then one day in my life I will re-create an episode of the “Fresh Prince” just on my own. Just a one-off for fun.

But you think your dad is becoming Uncle Phil?

I’m like the new Carlton.

Wakanda forever.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Anthony Bourdain’s last interview: Trump, Weinstein and travel

The chef and TV presenter talked about revolution, parenting, abuse and Trump voters in what is believed to be the last interview before his death

Anthony Bordains final interview has shed light on the chefs thoughts on travel, culture and politics. The piece, which surfaced on independent publication Popula on Sunday, includes Bourdains takes on Bill Clintons behaviour in office, Obamas performance as US president and his own daydreams about the demise of Harvey Weinstein (Bourdains partner, Asia Argento, was one of the first to accuse the former movie mogul of rape).

But Bourdain also spoke about other things, such as the joy that comes from friendship, and how to think about parenting. Here are some of the highlights:

On travel

I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes because thats the most important part of travel.

On talking to strangers

You go to a place like Beirut and you find yourself talking to a Muslim woman. If youre a journalist tasked with an agenda, you know, youre there to report a story, and you come right out with it. Youre going right into some very difficult areas. Whereas I have the luxury, Im there to eat! Presumably. Im there to eat, and Im asking very simple questions.

What makes you happy? What do you like to eat, where do you like to go to get a few drinks; you know? What do you miss about the place when you go away? And I find, again and again, just by spending the time, by asking very simple questions, people have said the most astonishing things to me. Often things that would be very uncomfortable for them outside of that casual context.

On property

I know very much what wont make me happy. The perfect car will not make me happy. The perfect house will probably make me sad, and terrified

Im a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year. Because Ive also found you might have to make that decision you cant always make that decision for yourself.

On luxury

My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; its a story you cant tell. Its a story you almost by definition, cant share. Ive learned in real time to look at those things and realise: I just had a really good moment.

On cycles of abuse

You know a lot of the chefs, all of the really bastard chefs, most the really oppressive ones, the old school ones, were abused children, were abused by their parents, were abused and neglected, physically, mentally, in every possible way, and then became just like their abuser, and would perpetuate the system.

A lot of chefs never really understood, or understood only really belatedly; theyd been powerless for much of their careers. I dont know. For most of my career, chefs were creatures without power. To talk about power imbalance, is in retrospect, there was one. But I think we all saw ourselves at outcasts, as weak, except in our little bubble in the kitchen.

On Trump voters

The contempt and the ridicule which has been heaped on places like West Virginia, which is the heart, demographically, of enemy territory, as far as New York liberals like us are concerned This is something we fucked up in the sixties. We were fighting against cops and construction workers cops and construction workers were exactly who we fucking needed! They were the first to die, in Vietnam. We werent gonna!

On Trump

Somebody at the White House press briefing has to sacrifice their job and say: You utter piece of shit! Do you really expect us to swallow that steaming load of horseshit? How do you live with yourself? You should be ashamed. Give me one guy to throw themselves on a fire like that, lose access, lose the gig at the White House, for that infinitely repeatable meme. Give me that. Just give me that. Someone to stand up.

On not being an artist

From the very beginning Ive always and only made the television I wanted to make, and as soon as I could I told whoever was involved to go fuck themselves, and somehow landed on my feet someplace else, with somebody who was willing to indulge me in even grander fashion. So I havent had to deal with the grim reality of well, you either do the Best Burgers in America show, or you have no work at all! I havent had to live with that. I havent had to be particularly nice to people I dont like. Ever.

On revolution

We cannot choose the leaders of our revolutions, theyre all deeply flawed and they will all all revolutions will be corrupted

The minute everybody in the room agrees with you, youre in a bad place, so Im a big believer in change just for its own sake, just to show that you can change, to move forward incrementally, but aint nobody gonna make everything better. Whoever has the intestinal fortitude or the megalomaniac instincts sufficient to lead any kind of a revolution will inevitably disappoint horribly.

The best revolutionaries of course are martyrs who died before they could turn into disgusting, self-serving, corrupt pieces of shit. As they all do.

On parenting

Asia [Argento] said this to me: children create themselves independently of us. All you can do is show, like in my case, my daughter feels loved. She knows shes loved. She has good self-esteem. Very important. And good martial arts skills. So she knows she can take any boy in her age group. Thats all I can do as a father I cant pick her music, her boyfriends, whatever, however shes going to turn out. I can give her these basic things.

On the imagined death of Harvey Weinstein

My theory of how he goes is uh, hes brushing his teeth in a bathroom, hes naked in his famous bathrobe, which is flapping open, hes holding his cell phone in one hand because you never know who on the Weinstein board has betrayed him recently, and hes brushing his teeth he suddenly gets a massive fucking stroke he stumbles backwards into the bathtub, where he finds himself um, with his robe open feet sticking out of the tub, and in his last moments of consciousness as he scrolls through his contacts list trying to figure out who he can call, who will actually answer the phone.

And he dies that way, knowing that no one will help him and that he is not looking his finest at time of death.

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Dont fear the big company kill zones

Do you worry about the so-called “kill zones” of big tech companies? The Economist thinks you should. The theory basically suggests that if your product or service is anyway threatening or accretive to one of these incumbents,  they will either force-buy your company or clone it and destroy your market.

Any entrepreneur that believes this should probably pack up now before it’s too late —  if it’s not a “kill-shot,” it will be some other perceived death-knell that ruins your company.

Starting a company has never been easier. But growing a sustainable business is still difficult  —  as it should be. If you build something customers will pay for ,  you’re going to attract competition from copycats and incumbents. Consider it another type of validation, like product-market fit: competitors think we’re right.

Welcome to being an entrepreneur  —  you are going to be constantly battling  –  lack of cash, lack of customers, aggressive competition, better-funded competitors, underperforming staff, slow-moving sales cycle, or some other as-yet-unknown. The list of pitfalls is long. But enough willpower and perseverance — “blood, sweat and tears” —  will get you to the other side. Eventually. Remember  –  the product of an overnight success is years of hard work.

If this is sounds too daunting  –  don’t do it!

If you enter a market large enough, with deep pocketed and dominant incumbents, you have your work cut out for you. Maybe a nice UI and faster workflow attracted customers and some early adopters  – but guess what  – they are copyable features. Features alone are rarely enough to win a defensible market position.

Try to ignore advice that says you should focus on building the best product as your differentiator — this does not set you up with the highest chance of success. Instead, focus on finding and serving a targeted segment of customers, with a unique set of needs, and tailor your product and service experience specifically for them.

It’s easy for features to be copied  –  but you can’t be both custom and generic at the same time. Custom is a great approach that new entrants can take to get a toehold in a larger market with larger players that must be generic (i.e. Salesforce is a generic CRM, but there are lots of vertical CRMs that successfully compete  — Wise Agent for realtors, Lead Heroes for health insurance).

Presenting a Total Addressable Market (TAM) is the bane of potentially good startups that have been schooled in “anything less than a billion-dollar opportunity isn’t interesting.” Maybe we should reframe it as Potentially Ownable Market (POM). What are the details you can build in the beginning — where your tailored approach gives you instant leadership?

Project management for chefs

Let’s use project management as an example. Maybe a new entrant starts as an app for restaurants, which helps chefs build new menus. Each task list is a “recipe,” each recipe has “ingredients,” with amounts and timing, kitchen location, suppliers, alternatives and “garnishes and sauces.” The app integrates with the stock system and POS, and helps chefs predict inventory needs and staffing based on recipe times/complexity.

The founder has looked around and this is the only project management app that focuses on chefs, giving him an instant potentially ownable market. The business might be able to thrive in this segment alone and become the dominant player with its own kill zone.

Maybe this is the first step; the company gets profitable early growth and becomes sustainable, which funds development to grow the business into other vertical and complementary areas. Over time the business will grow into a large TAM  —  a far better approach than starting off in a large market with clear winners already.

Avoid the battle entirely by creating your own category.

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My Netflix Had No Chill

Let me tell you a story:

A girl comes home after a long day. She sets her things down, throws her hair up and changes into comfy clothes in record time. Breathing a deep sigh of relief from taking off that chest cage called bra and changing out of those feet shackles called heels, she grabs her laptop and flips it open. The screen illuminates, showing the last webpage she visited: Netflix.

The familiar words appear on the screen.

Playback Timed Out. 

Her muscle memory kicks in and she hits ‘refresh’ as the episode she fell asleep on continues, right where she left off.

This is how she spends her evening. Maybe she eats, maybe she showers, maybe she talks to some people. But at any given moment, and especially in bed getting ready to fall asleep, she is watching Netflix.

The end.

Now, let me tell you a secret:

That girl was me.

For months, that girl was me. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly wasn’t ALL loser. I had a social life, I had friends, I even had a boyfriend.

But when people asked what my “hobbies” were, I had to lie by deflection. I said things like, “Oh, I enjoy reading. I write sometimes. I love the outdoors!” Because I certainly couldn’t tell them, “I literally spend all of my free time watching The Office on Netflix.”

Here’s the thing: Netflix was my escape from life, from stress, from feelings and from people. I used the shows I watched on Netflix to keep fear and depression at bay. If I was watching Netflix, nothing could hurt me.

I know that sounds extreme because it was extreme. Netflix was my therapy, my shield, my safety. I couldn’t even go in the kitchen to make food without bringing Netflix with me to play in the background while I cooked.

That was my reality. But it wasn’t that I was a lazy bum without anything better to do. It was that at the root of my incessant Netflix binge, something was terribly wrong. Something was awry in my heart, and it caused fear and depression to hover over me like an individualized dark rain cloud, and Netflix was my perpetual umbrella.

Then, something happened.

The Lord got a hold of me. I found myself at a place where everything I held dearest was slipping through my fingers: my future, my plans, my pride, my love. For a long time, I knew I needed to turn back to Him and finally listen to His voice. He had been whispering into my soul, like a parent whispers too closely in a child’s ear when chastising at a dinner table, and the whisper makes them flinch and squirm because it tickles, but not in a funny way. I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves, He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12.

In my life, I had stopped seeking God. I chased feelings and intuitions instead of prayerfully asking the Lord for guidance and peace. I listened to my own overly emotional and foolish heart over listening to the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit. In no uncertain terms, I was running. I had found what I thought I wanted, and I didn’t want to hear what God had to say, for fear it would contradict my desires.

And on the surface of it all, I Netflixed the days away. While my heart was wasting in torture and turmoil, I naively believed the longer I watched Netflix, the longer I could put off the change I knew needed to happen.

Thankfully, Jesus came to my rescue. He opened my eyes and sweetly allowed me to see the damage I had been doing to my heart and mind by putting Him off. In that moment, I made a decision to change my attitude, my habits and my heart. I desperately needed Jesus back in my everyday life. Nothing was right without Him being at the center of my affections, without Him being my greatest love. I chose that day to allow Him access to my rusted heart.

As a result, I gladly gave Him the attention I once rendered to Netflix. I used that time instead to seek Him diligently. My desire became to know Him intimately and to grow my love for Him unlike ever before. Now, almost three months later, I can humbly say that God is my greatest love, and my desire is for Him.

Maybe for you it’s not Netflix. Maybe it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Maybe your job is your shield, or your husband is your escape. Maybe a hobby, an addiction or a toxic relationship is causing your growing separation from the Lord. In any case, I want to challenge you to look inside your heart. Ask yourself honestly if you’re running to anything before running to God for guidance, safety and peace. Is anything besides Jesus taking the first place in your heart?

If so, be encouraged. Just as you are sick of running and hiding behind something or someone, Jesus is just as eager and ready to receive you with open bear hugs. Matthew 7:7 tells us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (NIV) It is a breath of fresh air knowing that as we seek Him, we find Him. He doesn’t hide Himself from us, rather, He pulls us out of our deep ruts (which we often create ourselves), and places us right next to Him with nothing but love in His heart and tenderness in His eyes.

A version of this piece originally appeared on
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Do You See Giants?

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California sushi restaurant manager resigns after video of a maggot found in lemon wedge goes viral

A disgusted restaurant customer’s video of a maggot inside a lemon wedge went viral, forcing the manager to resign.

Steven Maurizzio visited Blue Nami sushi restaurant in Roseville, Calif., last month. However, when the food arrived, so did an unwanted visitor.

“They served my friend rotten food with actual maggots living inside it. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard horror stories of his place but it was my first run in personally. And my last,” Maurizzio wrote on his Facebook video, which shows a maggot crawling out of a lemon wedge.

WARNING: This video contains graphic language


A woman can be heard in the background of the video, which has pulled in over 1 million views, saying, “What the hell? Oh my god, I’m literally never eating here again.”

People who watched the video were quick to respond with outrage.

“That’s so disgusting,” Jericha Sheppard commented on the video.

“Omfg DISGUSTIIIIIIIING! Report report!!!!!,” Lauren Lyons exclaimed.


However, one person pointed out that no maggots were found in any of the fish that was served at the restaurant. It was only in a lemon slice that was served with the water.

The Sacramento Bee reported that the manager of the Roseville location resigned after the video started going viral and the new manager, Steve Lui, told the publication that he and his staff have been double-checking all food items in the kitchen to ensure they are not contaminated.

 “When we cut (the lemon), it was okay,” Lui told the Bee. “It’s our fault for not seeing it when it went out to the table, and then they took the video.”


The manager of Produce Express, who Blue Nami has been using since it opened in 2007, claimed the lemon did not come from their facility.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I have never come across insects inside of our lemons,” said Produce Express general manager Jim Boyce to The Press Tribune. “We have never had one report of lemons being infested with maggots or worms. We are USDA-certified and have passed all of our health inspections.”

Alexandra Deabler is a Lifestyle writer and editor for Fox News.

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Dying young in Stockton – Englands most unequal town

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Media caption‘Seeing my kids cry, that’s horrible’

The life expectancy gap between rich and poor people in England has been widening for nearly two decades.

The rich stay healthy longer. The poor die younger.

That bleak assessment is based on national data.

Stockton-on-Tees is the town with England’s biggest gap in healthy and unhealthy life expectancy, according to Public Health England, and resident Rob Hill, who is only 46, is getting ready for his death.

A lifetime of cigarettes and poor food have taken their toll and Rob has numerous health problems including emphysema, lymphedema and type 2 diabetes.

Image caption Rob Hill

Two years ago he was given six months to live. Rob’s on borrowed time.

‘I’ve made a few bad choices,” he told Panorama.

“Smoking – worst choice I could have ever made in my life.”

He’ll leave behind a partner and eight children – the youngest of whom play with him while he’s hooked up to a machine that helps him breathe.

‘Seeing my kids cry, that’s horrible. It’s not nice. Seeing them sitting there crying and listening to my children turn around and say ‘my dad is going to die soon and I am not going to have him any more’.”

An unequal town

Rob lives in a divided town.

In Stockton-on-Tees, those living in the wealthier areas can expect to live as much as 18 years longer than those in the more deprived parts of the town.

It reflects a national problem.

Nationally, on average, a boy born in one of the most affluent areas of England will outlive one born in one of the poorest parts by 8.4 years.

Image caption Dr David Hodges is a local GP in Stockton.

Dr David Hodges is a GP in the centre of Stockton, where the life expectancy for a man is 64. That’s the same as Ethiopia.

“It’s a disgrace. We need to be fixing this. People have the right to get to retirement age healthy. I will accept chronic illnesses, starting in your 60s, I don’t accept as a society that we should be expecting people to be unwell in their 40s.”

Sorry, your browser cannot display this map

If you cannot view the life expectancy by neighbourhood figures, click to launch the interactive content.

The reasons for the health inequality gap are complicated.

Prof Clare Bambra, from Newcastle University, led a five-year study into health inequality in Stockton. She says there are many factors, but the main one is income.

“The poor are dying younger because they have less money in order to live a healthy life. They have more pressures on them, they have more insecurity and they have less control over their life.”

Nationally, the government says it is committed to tackling health inequality and that it is taking action to help people live longer and healthier lives.

Image caption Reporter Richard Bilton walking through a graveyard in Stockton.

In Stockton, health teams, the council and schools are all trying to make a difference.

Bernie Rizzi-Allan is the head of St Bede’s Catholic Academy, which serves one of the town’s most deprived areas. Results have improved since they introduced health therapies and counselling to help the children.

“People’s health should not be defined by their social class,” she said. “It can change, and it will change. Our children have got just as much of an innate ability, potential and talent. If we don’t recognise that, we’re losing this resource. The country is losing so much potential.”

But a walk around the cemetery shows the scale of the challenge, with gravestone after gravestone commemorating lives that ended too soon.

Image caption Alison Crake, undertaker in Stockton

Local undertaker Alison Crake said: “You look, and you see somebody’s age and you think that that’s far too young. It goes beyond the initial grief of losing somebody you love and who is a key part of your family, because it reaches out into all the years that follow.”

Back in the Hardwick area of Stockton, Rob is planning his funeral. He wants a short service to help his children deal with his death.

But health inequality is brutal. Harvey is Rob’s eight-year-old son.

‘When dad comes into the kitchen, I just see him coughing all the time. And then I just end up going away. I don’t stay in the kitchen. I don’t know, like no-one ever knows when he’s going to be gone. No one does, not even the doctor.’

Panorama: Get Rich or Die Young is on BBC One at 20:30 BST on Monday 30 July and available afterwards on iPlayer.

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19 Home Hacks Youll Actually Use

No matter what your living situation, there’s always something that can be done to make life there a little easier.

But let’s be honest.


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Restaurant faces backlash after shaming teen who paid bill with quarters

A restaurant was slammed on Facebook after commenting on a teen who paid his bill mostly with quarters.

Beer 88 in Lynchburg, Va., posted a photo on a now-deleted Facebook page, with the caption “’How NOT to pay at a restaurant,’” along with the hashtags “we are beer 88 not a coinstar,” and “no home training.”


The joking Facebook post did not go over well with Beer 88’s audience, sparking major backlash against the restaurant with customers – especially Cohen Naulty, the 17-year-old who had paid his $45 restaurant bill and left a $10 tip with a $20 bill, and quarters.

“It’s just U.S. currency,” Naulty told ABC News affiliate WSET in Lynchburg. “I’m allowed to use it. It’s not Illegal. I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Naulty told the outlet he was at the restaurant because he wanted to take the tips he earned as a server at Country Kitchen and treat his friends to a meal. His friends were just as surprised as he was to learn their payment method had been put up on Facebook.

“We couldn’t believe they posted it on Facebook,” one of his friends said to WSET.

Beer 88 responded to the criticism with a statement, which has also been removed, ABC News reported:

“In response to our earlier post, it was posted as a joke, intended as a joke and should be taken as a joke,” Beer 88 wrote on its Facebook page. “It was posted as a light-hearted way of saying that something like this can be annoying to people that work in the restaurant/retail industry. In no way did we publicly shame ANYONE for paying OR tipping. We try to keep our page funny and relatable. And had no idea that this would be offensive to anyone.”

However, Naulty and his family did not find the post funny.

“They said we didn’t have any home training,” said another one of Naulty’s friends to WSET. “That was dirty. That was one their hashtags was #nohometraining.”

“If anybody met Cohen, they know it couldn’t be farthest things from the truth,” Kim Naulty, Cohen’s mother, told WSET. “And, you know, he’s a good kid.”

Beer 88 owner Yao Liu told WSET she has been receiving many threats since the post went up and that she apologizes for the post.

“On that part, yes, I do apologize,” Liu told WSET.


Liu and several customers feel the post has been blown out of proportion. One patron said she hoped the issue resolves itself because the restaurant owners are “friendly people.”

“People kind of hopped on the hate train,” Beer 88 supporter Carol Henning told KSET, “which seems to be happening these days.”

Beer 88 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I love paying for people’s meals even if I have to scrape together my last quarters to do so.”

– Cohen Naulty

Though Naulty told WSET he did not think he would return to the restaurant, he said the incident has made him want to create something positive.

“I love paying for people’s meals even if I have to scrape together my last quarters to do so. This whole thing made me realize how much I love doing this and why…,” Naulty wrote on a Facebook page called “The Quarter Boy.”

Naulty has started a fundraiser campaign aimed at treating someone “once a week” to a free meal.

“We will post videos so that you can see too how big a change just a little ‘change’ can make,” Naulty wrote of his new initiative.

Alexandra Deabler is a Lifestyle writer and editor for Fox News.

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“Shes in the Restroom & Shes Screaming”: Husband Rushes into Chick-fil-A Bathroom to Deliver His Baby Girl

Chick-fil-A has long been known for its acts of kindness towards strangers and people in need. From feeding the homeless to opening their doors to be used for church service, the fast-food chain has continued to show Christ-like values in some of the most incredible ways.

But few acts can compare to what they did for Robert and Maggie Griffin last week when they opened their closed doors so that a baby could be delivered inside.

“Last night I delivered our baby girl IN THE BATHROOM AT A CHICK-FIL-A!”, wrote the excited father on Facebook.


After loading up the car the night before in preparation for delivery at the hospital, they went to meet a friend at Chick-fil-A to drop off their daughters.

But when Maggie went into labor in the parking lot, their plans changed quickly.

“By the time we got to the restaurant, Maggie was in active labor and said she REALLY had to go to the bathroom,” wrote Robert. “But it was after 10pm [sic] and Chick-Fil-A was closed.”

Thankfully, after they banged on the glass, the kind-hearted staff opened their doors to let Maggie in.

Robert quickly loaded their kids into their friend’s car and headed to the restroom to help his wife.

“The manager said ‘she’s in the restroom and she’s screaming,’” shared Robert. “So there we were… wife and I [sic] in a tiny stall in the bathroom, and I could see the top of our little girls head crowning as Maggie was straddling the toilet.”

He told her, “Sweetie, we are gonna have to do this right here, right now.”

After asking the manager to call 911 and bring over some towels, the brave father started to deliver the baby–but he quickly ran into an alarming problem:

“When she got to the shoulders, I realized the [umbilical cord] was wrapped around her neck TWICE. Didn’t want to alert my wife, so just told her try to relax for a minute and I was somehow able to unwrap the [cord] from the baby’s neck. With two more strong pushes, and using my shirt for a towel, out came Gracelyn Mae Violet Griffin.”



An emergency crew arrived about 15 minutes later.

In the meantime, the Chick-fil-A staff continued to heat up towels in the kitchen to keep the baby warm.


“We were also on speaker phone relaying vitals to the first responders who were on their way,” said Robert. “For all the chaos, we all did amazing. Cut the [cord] while still in the bathroom, kept Gracie stable and mom calm, and it all worked out….not as planned, but everyone’s healthy.”


“Her birth certificate reads ‘Born in Chick-Fil-A’ and the hospital had me sign the birth certificate as the attending physician,” he continued. 👊 I think it’s pretty ironic that a proud conservative, Christian family would have a baby in a Chick-Fil-A, and wrapped in a Trump 2020 T-shirt! BOOM #maga #mywifesthebest #chickfila #texas🇺🇸#chickfilababy

Congrats to the Griffins on their precious baby Gracelyn, and cheers to the Chick-fil-A employees who helped make her delivery as smooth as possible!

If this story warmed your heart too, be sure to SHARE it with your friends on Facebook! 

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Mom Forgets Purse at Chick-fil-A. When They FedEx It Back, She’s Stunned by What’s Inside!

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Inside X, the Moonshot Factory Racing to Build the Next Google

At 6:40 in the morning, a klaxon horn sounds three times. “Gas!” a man in a hard hat and fluorescent vest yells out. There’s a hissing noise, and the helium starts flowing. From the tanks stacked like cordwood on a nearby truck, the gas moves through a series of hoses until it’s 55 feet up, then through a copper pipe and into the top of a plastic tube that hangs down to the ground, like a shed snake skin held up for inspection.

It’s a Wednesday in late June in Winnemucca, a solitary mining town in northern Nevada that has avoided oblivion by straddling the I-80 freeway. Along with two Basque restaurants, the Buckaroo Hall of Fame, and a giant W carved into the side of a hill, Winnemucca is the test site for Project Loon, a grandiose scheme launched in 2011 to bring the internet to huge swaths of the planet where sparse population and challenging geography make the usual networks of cell towers a nonstarter. Instead of building and maintaining earthbound structures with a range of a just few miles, Loon plans to fly packs of antenna-outfitted balloons 60,000 feet above the ground, each one spreading the gospel of connectivity over nearly 2,000 square miles.

Sitting in northern Nevada, Winnemucca is not home to much. But it’s exactly where you want to be if you’re figuring out how to put enormous, internet-beaming balloons 60,000 feet in the air.

Damien Maloney

Loon is testing in Winnemucca because the skies are mostly empty and there’s an airport for when the higher-ups want to come in by private plane straight from Palo Alto, just a short flight away. Today, the team is testing a new iteration of its communications system, which could support 10 times as many users as its current setup.

Half an hour later, the balloon is ready to go, held in place by a red horizontal bar and protected from the wind by walls on three sides. At the command of an engineer wielding a blocky yellow remote control, this structure, known as Big Bird, rotates 90 degrees to the left. Like Rafiki holding up newborn Simba in the opening scene of The Lion King, the various arms of the crane complex push the balloon up and out. As it takes on the weight of its payload—a triangular assortment of solar panels, antennas, and varied electronics—it freezes for just a moment. Then it’s up and away with the wind, climbing 1,000 feet a minute.

As far as routines go, it’s spectacular. “Never gets old,” Nick Kohli says. “Ne-ver gets old.”

When Kohli joined the nascent effort that was Project Loon in 2012, his job was to run around the world finding and collecting downed balloons from the Mojave Desert, rural Brazil, the coast of New Zealand. Loon was part of Google X, the arm of the search company that fostered audacious projects applying emerging technologies to stubborn problems in novel ways. One such project was self-driving cars. (In 2015, when Google restructured, creating its parent company Alphabet, Google X was renamed X.)

Kohli—not your usual Googler—is oddly qualified to survive the apocalypse. He didn’t get the grades for med school, so he trained as an emergency room technician—a background which, combined with his pilot’s license and eight years of search-and-rescue operations in the Sierra Nevada, made him just what Loon was looking for. This practical skill set and eye for operations makes him one of the many new kinds of people X needs to fulfill its mission: expanding Alphabet’s reach beyond the computer in your lap and the phone in your pocket.

With Alphabet’s help and resources, Kohli (who now runs flight operations) has seen Loon evolve past watching balloons fly hundreds of miles off course, to the point where a launch like today’s is nothing special. It’s just another step toward delivering the complex system Loon envisions in the future.

Today, X is marking a major step forward in that mission by announcing that Loon is “graduating”—becoming a stand-alone company under the Alphabet umbrella. Along with Wing, another X effort that delivers goods with autonomous drones, Loon will start building out staff and putting together its own HR and public relations teams. Its leaders will get CEO titles, and its employees will get an unspecified stake in their company’s success. Generating revenue and profit will matter just as much as changing the world.

Loon and Wing are not the first projects to get their diplomas from X (and, yes, employees get actual diplomas). Verily, a life sciences outfit with plans to monitor glucose levels with contact lenses, made the leap in 2015. And lo, the self-driving effort made the leap in December 2016, taking on the name Waymo. Cybersecurity project Chronicle ascended to autonomy in January.

The dual graduation of Loon and Wing—both big, ambitious, projects—marks a watershed for X and perhaps the moment when the secretive research and design division starts to make good on its mission. For the technological giant that has made its billions in advertising, X isn’t a junk drawer for unusual projects that don’t fit elsewhere in the corporate structure. It’s a focused attempt to find a formula for turning out revolutionary products that don’t just sit on a screen but interact with the physical world. By launching Loon and Wing into the world, X will soon discover whether it can effectively hatch new Googles—and put Alphabet at the head of industries that don’t yet exist.

But Alphabet’s attempt to birth the next generation of moonshot companies raises two questions. Can this behemoth grow exponentially? And do we want it to?

The Loon lab in X’s Mountain View headquarters is piled with the results of generations of falls and spills. Loon is based on a simple idea—replace ground-based cell towers with high-flying balloons—which concealed a beguiling series of technical problems. In 2013, after a year of work, the balloons still had a nasty habit of popping or falling to earth after a few days. (They carried parachutes to soften the blow to their electronics payloads, and the team would warn air traffic control of their descent). Before setups like the one dubbed Big Bird, when the launch process resembled a gang of kids trying to will a kite to take off, a puff of wind could derail the whole thing.

Now, a custom-designed “mother of all crates” keeps the system safe during shipping. Key components ride in a silver box made of metalized styrofoam that reflects sunshine and holds in warmth. An 80-foot-long flatbed scanner examines swaths of polyethylene for the microscopic defects that can reduce a balloon’s survival at 60,000 feet from months to days. Mapping software tracks the floaters across continents and oceans, using machine learning to identify the wind currents they can ride to wherever they need to be. With all these tools, the Loon team is learning: The company can launch a balloon every half hour and keep them in the air for six months or more.

In Loon’s Balloon Forensics Lab, Pam Desrochers uses an 80-foot-long flatbed scanner to examine swaths of polyethylene for microscopic defects and signs of wear after flight.

Damien Maloney
The forensics team uses polarized lenses to spot the sort of flaws that can reduce a balloon’s survival at 60,000 feet from months to days.
Damien Maloney

This is the sort of development X allows for. For six years, Loon’s engineers and designers and balloon recovery operatives haven’t had to worry about funding or revenue streams or hiring HR people or who’s running their PR strategy. They’ve had access to Google’s machine learning expertise and to X’s “design kitchen,” a 20,000-square-foot workshop for prototyping any mechanical device they could think of. They haven’t needed a detailed business plan, let alone revenue or profits. They’ve been allowed to fail over and over, each time learning a little bit more.

X chief Astro Teller pitches X as a place for making the world better, but he doesn’t hide the benefits for Alphabet, including new revenue streams, strategic advantages, and recruiting value. And while he won’t reveal the moonshot factory’s employee count or operating budget, he makes clear that no matter how much money you might think X spends, it’s piddling compared to the value of what it creates.

X chief Astro Teller defines moonshots as ideas that try to solve huge problems by presenting radical solutions and deploying breakthrough technology.
Damien Maloney

All across X, teams pursuing an extravagant array of moonshots are finding their own ways to fail, with similar protected status. Ideas are welcome as long as they involve new ways to solve thorny problems. They come from all over. Some surge from the brains of employees. Others come from Teller or Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. X employees plow through academic papers and stack up frequent-flier miles attending conferences, looking for the seeds of projects they could grow into something real. One unnamed project came from a researcher’s NPR interview: Someone at X was listening and asked her to come in for a chat.

Wherever they come from, most ideas stop first at the Rapid Evaluation Team. This small group meets a couple of times a week, not to advocate ideas but to shoot them down. “The first thing we’re asking is: Is this idea achievable with technology that will be available in the near term, and is it addressing the right part of a real problem?” says Phil Watson, who leads the team. Breaking the laws of physics means no dice. “You’d be amazed at how many kinds of perpetual motion machines have been proposed,” he says.

These meetings combine the unfettered thinking of a smoke-filled dorm room with the brutalizing rigor of a dissertation defense. The team has considered generating energy from avalanches (unfeasible), putting a copper ring around the North Pole to make electricity from Earth’s magnetic field (too expensive), and building offshore ports to simplify shipping logistics (a regulatory nightmare). They once debated working on an invisibility device. The tech seemed doable. “We kept saying, we should do it because it’s awesome—no, we can’t do it, because it’s going to cause more trouble, and it doesn’t solve any real problems,” Watson says. “It certainly would make criminals much more effective.”

The ideas that make it through this first evaluation are whisked to the Foundry, where whoever’s leading the fledgling project works through questions about the operations of the business they might create, something engineers aren’t always eager to do. This stage is led by Obi Felten, who came to X in 2012 after years of launching Google products in Europe.

In her first meeting with Teller, Felten learned about all the secret stuff X was cooking up, including internet balloons and delivery drones. And she started asking the kinds of questions you get from someone who launches products. What’s the legality of flying balloons into a different nation's airspace? Are there privacy concerns? Will you work with the phone companies or compete with them? “Astro looked at me and said, ‘Oh, no one’s really thinking about any of these problems. It’s all engineers and scientists, and we’re just thinking about how to make the balloons fly.’”

Any idea that makes it past the rigor of the Rapid Evaluation Team next heads to the Foundry, led by Obi Felten. There, whoever is in charge of the fledgling project works through questions about the operations of the business they might create, something engineers aren’t always eager to do.

Damien Maloney

The Foundry uses this intense interrogation to root out the things that could kill a project down the line, before X has poured in piles of money and time. Take Foghorn, X’s effort to create a carbon-neutral fuel from seawater. The tech was amazing and the problem was huge, but two years in, the team realized they had no viable way to compete with gasoline on cost—and were reliant on technology that was closer to research than development. X killed Foghorn, gave everyone on the team a bonus, and let them find new projects to push. Ideally, the Foundry makes sure that the right projects get killed, as quickly as possible.

This is based on a simple premise: The sooner you can kill one idea, the faster you can devote time and money to the next one. Trying to change the world and make enormous new companies means shunning the traditional signs of progress. Uncovering the things mostly likely to doom whatever you’re doing is the only way to achieve success. Because once it’s good and dead, you can go back to the well for the next thing—the thing that might be the moonshot that lands.

Any project hoping to qualify as X-worthy must fall in the middle of a three-circle Venn diagram. It must involve solving a huge problem. It must present a radical solution. And it must deploy breakthrough technology.

That definition, which X uses to separate the delivery drones from the invisibility cloaks, didn’t exist in 2010, when X first took shape. The effort started with an experiment: Larry Page asked a Stanford computer science professor, Sebastian Thrun, to build him a self-driving car. At the time, Thrun knew as much about the technology as anyone: He had led Stanford’s winning bid in the 2005 Darpa Grand Challenge, a 132-mile race for fully autonomous vehicles across the Mojave Desert outside Primm, Nevada. When Darpa held another race in 2007, the Urban Challenge, the agency thickened the plot by making the vehicles navigate a mock city, where they had to follow traffic laws, navigate intersections, and park. Stanford came in second (Carnegie Mellon won), and Thrun, who was already doing work with Google, came to the company full-time, helping develop Street View.

The Darpa Challenges had proven that cars could drive themselves, but the feds weren’t holding any more races. American automakers were focused on surviving an economic collapse, not developing tech that could devastate their businesses. Google was a software company, but it had mountains of cash, and it was clear that bringing this idea to market had the potential to save lives, generate fresh revenue streams, and extend Google’s reach into one of the few places where looking at your phone is not cool.

So Thrun quietly hired a team, passing over the established academics who led the field in favor of a younger crew, many of them Darpa Challenge veterans, with less ingrained ideas about what was impossible. (They included Anthony Levandowski, who eventually found himself at the center of a bruising lawsuit with Uber, which the companies settled in February.) Page set his own challenge for the team, selecting 1,000 miles of California roads he wanted the cars to navigate on their own. Thrun’s squad called it the Larry 1,000, and they pulled it off in a conventional-wisdom-busting 18 months.

This move into the physical world was fresh ground for Google, whose taste for projects outside its core business had yielded Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Books—cool stuff, but still software. And the sight of Toyota Priuses chauffeuring themselves around the streets of Mountain View inspired possibilities, including more projects that didn’t consist solely of 0s and 1s.

But self-driving cars had fallen in Google’s lap. Finding other similarly hard, complex, worthwhile problems would require some infrastructure. Page made Thrun the company’s first “director of other,” in charge of doing all the stuff that didn’t line up with what investors expected from Google. Because Thrun was focused on the self-driving team (and after 2012, on his online education startup, Udacity), his codirector, Astro Teller, took the helm of a ship whose purpose and direction remained nebulous.

In an early conversation with Page, Teller tried to hash it out. “I was asking, ‘Are we an incubator?’” Teller says, sitting back in a chair with his trademark rollerskate-clad feet kicked out in front of him. Not exactly. They weren’t a research center, either. They were creating new businesses, but that didn’t convey the right scope.

Finally, Teller reached for an unexpected word. “Are we taking moonshots?” he asked Page. “That’s what you’re doing,” Page replied.

Creating a research division to build groundbreaking products is a mainstay of companies whose worth is tied to their ability to innovate. The tradition goes back at least to Bell Labs, founded in 1925 by AT&T and Western Electric. Made up of many of the smartest scientists in the country, Bell Labs is known for creating the transistor, the building block of modern electronics. It also helped develop the first lasers and, courtesy of mathematician Claude Shannon, launched the field of information theory, which created a mathematical framework for understanding how information is transmitted and processed. Along with eight Nobel prizes and three Turing Awards, the lab produced the Unix operating system and the coding language C++.

This breadth was key to Bell Labs’ success. There was no way to know what the next breakthrough would look like, so there was no point in demanding a detailed plan of action. Its leaders were fine with “an indistinctness about goals,” Jon Gertner writes in The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. “The Bell Labs employees would be investigating anything remotely related to human communications, whether it be conducted through wires or radio or recorded sound or visual images.”

Yet Bell labs functioned within some parameters. Its most valuable tool was basic research: Bell’s scientists spent years probing the fundamentals of chemistry, physics, metallurgy, magnetism, and more in their search for discoveries that could be monetized. And while “human communications” is a broad mandate, their work didn’t venture far outside what could conceivably improve AT&T’s business, which was telephones.

Silicon Valley got its first great innovation lab with Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, whose researchers stood out not for their scientific breakthroughs but their ability to take existing technology and adapt it for new aims that had never been considered. PARC created the laser printer and Ethernet in the 1970s and early ’80s and laid the foundation for modern computing by leading the transition from time-shared monsters that fed on punch cards to distributed, interactive machines—aka personal computers.

But in Silicon Valley, it’s best remembered for Xerox’s failure to capitalize on that work. The lab pioneered graphical user interfaces—think icons on a screen manipulated by a mouse—but it took Steve Jobs to bring them to the masses. Xerox’s bosses didn’t pooh-pooh the tech, they just didn’t see how it concerned them, says Henry Chesbrough, who studies corporate innovation at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley: “Xerox was looking for things that fit the copier and printer business model.”

By giving its denizens a near-limitless mandate and maybe not quite so limitless funding, X thinks it can create products and services that previous labs might never have discovered—or might have cast aside. It doesn’t do basic research, relying instead on other institutions (mostly governmental and academic) to create tools whose uses it can imagine. It doesn’t rely on having the smartest people in the world within its walls and is happy to scout for promising ideas and lure them inside. And, most important, it’s charged with expanding the scope of Alphabet’s business, not improving what’s already there. For all those Nobel prizes, Bell Labs was valuable to its owners because it made phone calls better and cheaper. Xerox’s shareholders appreciated PARC because it earned them billions of dollars with the laser printer.

X isn’t making these mistakes, because its job isn’t to make search better. It’s to ensure that the mother ship, Alphabet, never has to stop expanding.

In that way, X’s project hasn’t been to pioneer self-driving cars or launch internet-slinging balloons or envision autonomous drones; the real purpose has been to build a division capable of engineering such businesses. Its fetishization of failure and its love for ideas that make everyone look up, even if only to shoot them down, are all in service of this single goal: If you’re not failing constantly and even foolishly, you’re not pushing hard enough.

That’s great for Alphabet and for people who like the idea of self-driving cars (especially those who can’t drive) or tracking their health with non-invasive wearables or basking in the light of the internet in the dark corners of the world or getting their cheeseburgers and toothpaste without contributing to traffic and planet-choking emissions.

But Alphabet, through Google, already has tremendous influence over our lives: how we talk to each other, where we get our news, when we leave the house to beat traffic. For most people, it’s a worthy tradeoff for free email, detailed maps, and free access to nearly unlimited information. X seeks to multiply that influence by moving it beyond the virtual realm. Critics already call Google a monopoly. Now imagine its dominion extending into our cars, into the food we eat and the goods we order, into our physical well-being—into how we connect to the internet at all. Google today wields heavy influence over the parts of our lives embedded in our phones. Are we ready to let it in everywhere else?

André Prager walks into the room pushing a cart piled with what looks like garbage. It’s mostly cut-up pieces of cardboard, with a few bags of plastic odds and ends mixed in. Wearing a T-shirt that reads “I Void Warranties,” Prager used to work on engines for Porsche. In his spare time, he has made a jet-powered chain saw and a turbocharged Vespa. Now he’s a mechanical engineer on Wing, X’s drone delivery project. This is his cart of failures.

Charged with building a delivery system that would make getting packages via drone as simple as possible, Wing mechanical engineers André Prager (left) and Trevor Shannon did away with as many moving parts as possible. “We measure our success by how unimpressed people are” with the final product, Prager says.

Damien Maloney

Not long after Wing started up in 2012, the team realized that landing drones on the ground meant wasting energy on power-hungry vertical flight. Instead, they decided the aircraft would hover and lower its package to the ground—somehow.

The team’s first attempt was a bobbin-based system, where the package would be attached to a cord that would unspool from the drone. “It sounded like a great idea, because it was so simple,” Prager says. It quickly proved a complicated mess: Winding the things properly was a pain. Every package needed its own system, since the cord came off with the package, hardly an elegant customer experience.

They tried less complex mechanical systems modeled on clicky pens and cabinet doors. (Prager shows me one prototype off his cart, a square of cardboard with a broken pen, a thumbtack, and a straw taped to it.) Nothing quite worked—packages wouldn’t always unhook, or the hook would release then reattach, or something would break. “Then we said, What if we could do it without any moving parts?” says Trevor Shannon, another mechanical engineer, video-conferencing in from Australia, where Wing tests.

As the Wing team burned through prototypes, they relied on simple materials like cardboard and thumbtacks to test out new ideas.
Damien Maloney
Thanks to designs like these, Wing is ready to launch as its own company and try drone deliveries for real.
Damien Maloney

That thought led them to their current design, which is about the size and shape of a fingerling potato with an indentation that hooks onto the package. It’s easy to attach by hand, and when the payload hits the ground, the weight of the hook naturally pulls it off. An “underbite” stops it reattaching itself. Prager doesn’t mind its humble style. “We measure our success by how unimpressed people are when they see it,” he says.

The goal of Wing is to make it easier for people to get stuff, without all the wasted time and carbon emissions that come with moving things around in cars and vans. Since 2014, Wing has been running pilot programs around Australia, first in Queensland, then in Canberra, the capital. It started offering drone deliveries to ranchers in remote areas (lots of those Down Under) and is now preparing to start flights in the suburbs closer to the city. It’s delivering small packages that customers can order from Chemist Warehouse (Australia’s Walgreens) and Guzman Y Gomez (Australia’s Chipotle).

The real hurdle to doing that at scale, though, isn’t the delivery system, nor is it the technology: Batteries and aeronautic controls have made enough progress in recent years to float an armada of drone delivery companies. The problem is how to do this safely, especially in crowded, tightly controlled airspace over the US and Europe.

So in 2015, the team started building an unmanned air traffic management system that would connect all its aircraft and give each drone its own defined corridor to take it from origin to destination. “We’re trying to build the delivery trucks and the roads to drive on,” says Adam Woodworth, who will take on the title of CTO when Wing moves out of X. The hard part of this isn’t just developing a system that tracks aircraft, it’s getting everyone in the sky to run the same sort of system. Wing is working with the FAA and has made parts of its system open source, so others can make interoperable systems.

Now that Wing is leaving X and becoming its own company, its leaders—CTO Adam Woodworth (left) and CEO James Burgess—have to face the reality of a world where failure usually just means failure.
Damien Maloney

The funny thing about this problem is that it’s not the sort of thing X is built to solve. It doesn’t take engineering or prototyping or off-the-wall brainstorming. It takes careful relationship building and close conversations with regulators and competitors—entities for which success means getting something right the first time. And if Wing can’t make that work, its long-term survival is in doubt.

That marks a change the new company will have to embrace, as will Loon: Graduation from X means a different relationship with failure. These are becoming companies that are supposed to succeed in the conventional sense, by offering real services and bringing in real customers for real money.

Loon has flown more than 18 million miles. It has provided internet to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and Peru after devastating floods. Now it has to do something harder. “It’s time to leave the nest,” says Alastair Westgarth, a telecom industry veteran who came to X a year and a half ago and who will become Loon’s CEO. It’ll be his job to nail down agreements with service providers around the world, working his balloons into their networks and keeping their customers connected. It’s important to stay audacious, Westgarth says, to keep pushing on innovation. “But by the same token, you don’t want to take existential risks.”

Loon’s CEO will be Alastair Westgarth, a telecom industry veteran who’ll be tasked with nailing down agreements with service providers around the world, working his balloons into their networks and keeping their customers connected.

Damien Maloney

Out in the real world, failure is just failure. And slowly, the balance shifts from a death wish to a survival instinct.

X will keep an eye on the fledgling Loon and Wing as they try to make it for real, but it will soon turn its attention to finding new moonshots to take their place. It will be years before internet balloons and delivery drones either dominate the skies or crash to earth. Years the Rapid Evaluation Team and the Foundry may well spend spitting out untold numbers of failures and biting into a potential success or two. It will be far longer before we have answers about what X’s failing and tinkering and refining and launching means for the rest of us.

But back in Winnemucca, the launched balloon is climbing steadily. It’s headed into the desert and will spend a night in the area before moving on toward Denver, then Nebraska. Nick Kohli tells me that three balloons that launched from its site in Puerto Rico a few months ago are in the area.1 My eyes flit back and forth in vain until Kohli directs my gaze and I spot the tiniest and whitest of tiny white dots bobbing silently along, 62,500 feet above my head. That’s about .005 percent of the way to the Moon, which, all things considered, isn’t that far at all.

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1Story updated at 11:50 ET on Wednesday July 11 to correctly note when the overhead balloons were launched from Puerto Rico.

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EU fines Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer $130M for online price fixing

The European Union’s antitrust authorities have issued a series of penalties, fining consumer electronics companies Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer more than €110 million (~$130M) in four separate decisions for imposing fixed or minimum resale prices on their online retailers in breach of EU competition rules.

It says the four companies engaged in so-called “fixed or minimum resale price maintenance (RPM)” by restricting the ability of their online retailers to set their own retail prices for widely used consumer electronics products — such as kitchen appliances, notebooks and hi-fi products.

Asus has been hit with the largest fine (63.5M), followed by Philips (29.8M). The other two fines were 10.1M for Pioneer, and 7.7M for Denon & Marantz.

The Commission found the manufacturers put pressure on ecommerce outlets who offered their products at low prices, writing: “If those retailers did not follow the prices requested by manufacturers, they faced threats or sanctions such as blocking of supplies. Many, including the biggest online retailers, use pricing algorithms which automatically adapt retail prices to those of competitors. In this way, the pricing restrictions imposed on low pricing online retailers typically had a broader impact on overall online prices for the respective consumer electronics products.”

It also notes that use of “sophisticated monitoring tools” by the manufacturers allowed them to “effectively track resale price setting in the distribution network and to intervene swiftly in case of price decreases”.

“The price interventions limited effective price competition between retailers and led to higher prices with an immediate effect on consumers,” it added.

In particular, Asus, was found to have monitored the resale price of retailers for certain computer hardware and electronics products such as notebooks and displays — and to have done so in two EU Member States (Germany and France), between 2011 and 2014.

While Denon & Marantz was found to have engaged in “resale price maintenance” with respect to audio and video consumer products such as headphones and speakers of the brands Denon, Marantz and Boston Acoustics in Germany and the Netherlands between 2011 and 2015.

Philips was found to have done the same in France between the end of 2011 and 2013 — but for a range of consumer electronics products, including kitchen appliances, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners, home cinema and home video systems, electric toothbrushes, hair driers and trimmers.

In Pioneer’s case, the resale price maintenance covered products including home theatre devices, iPod speakers, speaker sets and hi-fi products.

The Commission said the company also limited the ability of its retailers to sell-cross border to EU consumers in other Member States in order to sustain different resale prices in different Member States, for example by blocking orders of retailers who sold cross-border. Its conduct lasted from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2013 and concerned 12 countries (Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway).

In all four cases, the Commission said the level of fines were reduced — 50% in the case of Pioneer; and 40% for each of the others — due to the companies’ co-operation with its investigations, specifying that they had provided evidence with “significant added value” and had “expressly acknowledg[ed] the facts and the infringements of EU antitrust rules”.

Commenting in a statement, commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who heads up the bloc’s competition policy, said: The online commerce market is growing rapidly and is now worth over 500 billion euros in Europe every year. More than half of Europeans now shop online. As a result of the actions taken by these four companies, millions of European consumers faced higher prices for kitchen appliances, hair dryers, notebook computers, headphones and many other products. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. Our decisions today show that EU competition rules serve to protect consumers where companies stand in the way of more price competition and better choice.”

We’ve reached out to all the companies for comment.

The fines follow the Commission’s ecommerce sector inquiry, which reported in May 2017, and showed that resale-price related restrictions are by far the most widespread restrictions of competition in ecommerce markets, making competition enforcement in this area a priority — as part of the EC’s wider Digital Single Market strategy.

The Commission further notes that the sector inquiry shed light on the increased use of automatic software applied by retailers for price monitoring and price setting.

Separate investigations were launched in February 2017 and June 2017 to assess if certain online sales practices are preventing, in breach of EU antitrust rules, consumers from enjoying cross-border choice and from being able to buy products and services online at competitive prices. The Commission adds that those investigations are ongoing.

Commenting on today’s EC decision, a spokesman for Philips told us: “Since the start of the EC investigation in late 2013, which Philips reported in its Annual Reports, the company has fully cooperated with the EC. Philips initiated an internal investigation and addressed the matter in 2014.”

“It is good that we can now leave this case behind us, and focus on the positive impact that our products and solutions can have on people,” he added. “Let me please stress that Philips attaches prime importance to full compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. Being a responsible company, everyone in Philips is expected to always act with integrity. Philips rigorously enforces compliance of its General Business Principles throughout the company. Philips has a zero tolerance policy towards non-compliance in relation to breaches of its General Business Principles.”

Anticipating the decision of the EC, he said the company had already recognized a 30M provision in its Q2 2018.

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