My Richard Branson Interview Cover Story

Richard Branson Interview by Shana Ting Lipton


Back in February, I had the ‘lightning strikes’ chance to interview Richard Branson for a second time. I first met with him on-board Virgin America at the time of the then-new airline’s inaugural LA/New York flight. This go around,  on the precipice of his Virgin Galactic commercial launches, I chatted with him for a cover story for Delta Airlines’ Sky Magazine’s April 2014 issue, which is now out… Check it out below…

Richard Branson has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he carries it as if it’s draped casually over one shoulder—befitting a man whose workday is punctuated by tennis and kite surfing on Necker, his private Caribbean island. And he will temporarily shrug off that weight when he and his children, Holly and Sam, are thrust into zero gravity at the edge of space during the inaugural launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo this year—making them the first private space-bound passengers in history.

After a series of delays, the press-fueled pressure is on. Such are the unpleasant side effects of trying to conquer this world and the next—from climate change to banking monopolies. “The program has taken longer than we’d expected,” the Virgin Group CEO admits dryly, “but it is rocket science, and rocket science, as we’ve discovered, is difficult.” It’s a challenge Branson is happy to take on—even for a mere 30 seconds of bobbing around in 4.5 g loads—as the long-term ramifications are vast.

Clearly, others are willing to do whatever it takes to hitch the ultimate ride as well—wheelchair-confined physicist Stephen Hawking chief among them. “[The space flight] is going to be challenging for him and for the people who go up with him,” says Branson. Environmental scientist and author James Lovelock will face his own set of hurdles going into space at 95. “He’s keeping himself as fit as he can to make sure he can enjoy it.” The list of luminaries who’ve paid the extravagant $250,000 ticket price for a chance to follow in Branson’s free-floating footsteps reads like the table of contents of an issue of Vanity Fair, which has added to the media scrutiny.

The British entrepreneur dismisses the notion that Virgin Galactic’s flights will merely be joy rides for billionaires, citing the history of the first transatlantic flights. “It cost the equivalent of $250,000 in the 1920s to fly across the Atlantic,” he says, “It was those people who could afford it who were the pioneers and enabled hundreds of millions of people to fly across the Atlantic in the years since.” The roughly 800 individuals who have bought Virgin Galactic tickets so far, concedes Branson, are “all wealthy people, but without them our program would never have gotten off the ground.” Besides which, he is already brainstorming a way in which thousands of everyday people, “cleaners, dustbin drivers, coal miners or whatever, will have a chance to go to space.” The modest goal: “to democratize space travel.”

For decades, space tourism has been positioned as the next big thing in travel—from journeys to the moon to space station hotels. Although Branson doesn’t yet have any plans to launch a trendy five star in the stars, Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his team, certainly looks the part. And that’s not all: “We will be building a very sexy spaceport hotel in New Mexico next to our spaceport,” Branson divulges.

In the meantime,  a bit closer to home, Virgin will launch…
Read My Full Richard Branson Article on Delta Airlines’ Sky Magazine Website

Is the Web Still World Wide or Just a Local Loop?

Mahir ("I Kiss You") the Turkish weblebrity from Web 2.0

Photo: Mahir (“I Kiss You”) the Turkish weblebrity from Web 2.0

I recently read a Wired article about Tim Berners-Lee, a.k.a. the WWW’s Daddy in which he said “I want a web that’s open, works internationally, works as well as possible and is not nation-based.”

He was largely talking about the balkanization of the web  in places like Iran – who have their own versions of it (intranets). So I probably shouldn’t take his quote out of context. But, I couldn’t help but see it as a stand-alone mandate to return to a borderless web.

I don’t want to sound like a cantankerous old Web 2.0 relic, but I miss the days when the web was indeed worldwide, when serendipity reigned and when, if you later happened upon something related to something you had been researching, it represented a sort of magic – rather than yet another search engine privacy incursion masked as user-friendly customization.

This was a web of Mahirs — genuine fluke sensations that represented the people’s will and a true sense of zeitgeist (not Google Zeitgeist). The aforementioned meme (which took place before the general public was calling them memes) bridged cultures worldwide: a Turkish man calling out into the void and the world listening. Could a Mahir situation take place on today’s web with its regionalized sub-divisions and digital borders? I think not.

But the search engines call this progress: they’re fine-tuning responses so you don’t just get ‘everything on the web,’ but rather what you’re seeking  in your region or country. That assumes that you want to live in Main Street WWW. I personally do not.

Of course, as one friend of mine who works for a major Valley company points out, you do have choices. You don’t have to be relegated to the top three Big Boy search engines. There are services like Duck Duck Go, which offer searhc sans those pesky jurisdictional velvet ropes. But, let’s be honest, these often humble enterprises are otherwise lacking in features that we have come to appreciate and expect from biggies like Google, Bing and Yahoo!

At best, the worldwide web is a placeless place of virtually infinite options and possibilities; at worst, it’s a cyber-ghetto. My plea is not for the big search engines to completely go back in time and return absolutely to the borderless period circa Web 2.0.  But, I’d love to have options — the option to occasionally conduct Old School searches that do actually span the globe (which so far hasn’t been offered by these search engines — at least not in an overt and easily accessible way). Other times, geotargeting will certainly be useful.

If this return to a sophisticated international web is not possible, might I suggest that a name change is in order? Instead of the world wide web; it should more appropriately be re-christened the (rather dumpy and low-rent sounding) localized loop.

Breaking the Cycle

mayan calendar

There’s a line of thinking in the world of self-help that we constantly face the same issues throughout our lives but that they are cloaked by the faces of different people or different situations at different times.

The most obvious of these situations is someone who perpetually chooses abusive partners who have a way at eroding their self-esteem. A simple pattern exists there: new partner, same issue. Then there’s the person who frequently moves to a new town hoping to ‘start fresh’ only to find him or herself falling prey to the same travails that plagued them in their previous locale.

Perhaps the core repeatable issue is a childhood one, or if you’re inclined to think more spiritually, its origins are in the vast realm of past lives. The thorn in continues to relodge itself in yoru side so  you can behave differently once and for all.

We’ve all heard the Albert Einstein quote ad nauseum to the point at which it’s become a cliché, but like it’s subject, it bears repeating (for insanity’s sake): ”Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The idea of such unending cycles is scary enough but what of the moment when one such cycle actually does ultimately come to an end? There’s something equally terrifying about such a quantum leap into the unknown. It’s like being on a hamster wheel and knowing which (albeit repetitive and tiresome) actions to take and then suddenly having no wheel and having to start anew.

What this state feels like — and I can only say so having recently experienced the stark realisation that I was in it — is something akin to looking in the mirror and beholding a stranger’s face. In certain facets of my life I quite simply don’t recognise myself anymore. I feel like a completely different person. Whether these are the passages of age (as described by pop psychology scribe Gail Sheehy in her books) or something far more profound is debatable. Certainly there’s something to that old saying that had you flashed forward as a teenager to where you are today, you’d probably loathe yourself.

As an aside, the subconscious mind has a way of storing memory and feeling in a visual location (we’ve all heard this from memory and mind experts like Derren Brown). If you start to notice where you’re holding such sentiments in a given period in your life it’s fascinating and tells a whole story of its own. 

My ‘locations’ are usually transitional ones: a tunnel near my old flat or more recently I’ve seen the gates of my old university from the inside. Perhaps this connects to what I was saying about personal cycles before. I rarely see myself in a start point coming out of the proverbial tunnel. There’s something comfortably stagnant about the remaining in a transitional holding pattern.

And so, the release from this holding pattern presents an uncomfortable space, however one that I believe is necessary for growth. The cage door opens and we find we’ve become quite comfortable in the cage. We’re meant to fly the coop but to where. I think this sensation is perhaps best cinematically described in the last scene in The Graduate when Benjamin and Elaine have caused major upheaval in the church and find themselves sitting on the back of the bus, on the road to… ?

In the case of that 1967 classic which in so many ways embodied a building feeling of dissatisfaction in the ’60s, the ‘what now’ was about to be transformed into an affirmative statement with an exclamation mark. Here’s to such future personal and societal revolutions!