Back in the day, we all had to access the Internet through our telephone landlines.

GIF from America Online.


But soon, thanks to a new project from Google, you might find yourself accessing the Internet with the help of a ... balloon?

It's called Project Loon and it began on New Zealand's South Island in 2013 as an attempt to bring network connectivity to farmers in isolated areas where physical wires were difficult or too costly to install, or were just too remote for consistent reception.

Here's a look at the earlier phases of the project that used remote-controlled balloons (like weather balloons, not the birthday kind) in place of traditional landlines or satellites to broadcast LTE cellular service (that's the same kind of signal that pings your cellphone and lets you play Farmville on the road):

After success from the experiments in New Zealand, Sri Lanka is slated to be the first country to offer balloon-based Internet access to everyone.

In late July 2015, the Sri Lankan government signed an agreement with Google to bring broadband Internet access to all 21 million people on the island — a significant step up from the estimated 2.8 million mobile connections and 606,000 landlines currently available.

"The entire Sri Lankan island — every village from Dondra to Point Pedro — will be covered with affordable high speed Internet using Google Loon's balloon technology," IT and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said in an interview with the India Times. The Sri Lankan government will monitor and regulate the balloons just like any other utility, allowing local Internet service providers to purchase access for their subscribers.

Not bad for 13 polyethylene balloons floating above the Indian Ocean.

Image from "The Wizard of Oz."

Project Loon essentially uses weather balloons as satellites. The balloons broadcast 3G network access from the stratosphere (fancy!) to remote locations that otherwise can't get coverage.

We've all experienced those annoying Internet dead zones where signals are blocked by geographic features or where you're just so isolated that it's not practical to build a tower or install wires. Unfortunately, that's still how it is for people in large parts of the world.

Google describes Project Loon as "a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters."

Each balloon spends 100 days at a time floating in the stratosphere (about 12 miles up from the surface of the Earth, which is way higher than your next cross-country flight) and can provide LTE service to an area about 25 miles in diameter. And don't worry — they fly 'em back home when those 100 days are up, so there's no balloon-waste killing the environment.

Basically it's a giant, remote-controlled, windsurfing drone-modem. You know, in case "Internet-balloon" didn't sound weird enough.

GIF from the Webby Awards.

Regular Internet access is still only available to about a third of the world's population, but experiments like Project Loon are helping to connect people across the globe.

The Internet is so embedded in most of our lives that it's difficult to imagine a world without it — and yet, that's how two-thirds of the world lives each and every day. You know those computer kiosks at your local library? (You have been to your local library, yes?) In some countries, that's one of the only places people can get online. And there are countries where you can't even do that.

So instead of worrying about your 18-second page load times and how annoying it is when Netflix takes 20 seconds to buffer, think about all the information you can find online with just a tap of your finger. That resource is only going to get richer as we include more people in it.

In conclusion, balloons are awesome. Say it with me:


GIF from MC Webmasta.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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