Review: Mazda CX8 Asaki

The Mazda CX8 is their second largest offering, only surpassed by the slightly larger CX9. Featuring 7 seats, the CX8 offers transportation for your whole family with it’s seven seats, diesel-only 2.2L SkyActive Engine for great fuel economy and styling that’ll make you look back when walking away from it.

After spending a couple of weeks behind the wheel, it’s time to detail my thoughts and let you know if the marketing matches the reality in a full review.

DESIGN

People movers don’t have to be boring

The CX8 is a real stunner. It’s design represents where we are in current SUV design. Mazda doesn’t try to be too futuristic, just deliver an vehicle with a strong strong, capable presence, with it’s large front grill, flared guards and a decent gap between the tyre and fender, to let you know this could handle some off-road action should you require it to. Now lets talk about that stunning red colour, the paint department at Mazda really has outdone themselves.

This red is stunning, like turn your head stunning. When you stop for a second and look at all the other red cars on the road, this stands out as the most vibrant of them all, as if this came not from the production line, but from the custom paint booth of House of Kolor.

Exterior

The exterior body is smooth, as to be aerodynamically efficient to assist in the economy goals of the vehicle. While it doesn’t have the same slickness of the Mazda 6, for an SUV, it’s pretty good. It’s also fun to take a glance in your side mirrors from time to time to see the big hips in the rear vision, the last vehicle I noticed this on was the Mustang. It’s not a functional thing so much, but a vehicle’s design is often much about the way a car makes you feel and getting in and out of the CX8 for a couple of weeks, it makes you feel happy to be driving it.

There’s a nice combination of materials and finishes on the exterior that come together in a cohesive way to make it feel like a package developed from a single vision. While this should be the way all vehicles leave the factory, far too often we see pieces that don’t make sense together, thankfully design by committee isn’t on show here. The paint next to chrome finishes, accented by matte black plastic lips front and back, as well as wheel arch surrounds works for me, it’s a great looking vehicle.








Interior

When you jump inside, you’ll notice the car has a luxurious stitched leather interior and the chrome surrounds continue inside. While the exterior paint colour isn’t referenced inside, the interior offers a very comfortable experience for the driver and your passengers. The center consoles seem to be a constant source of discussion and like the Honda CRV, the CX8’s console between the front seats won’t be to everyone’s liking. It’s main function is to provide access to the shifter to control the 6-speed automatic gearbox, as well as the control surface for the infotainment center. The arm resets have an interesting open from the center hinge design, it’s different, but importantly it lets the USB cords run out the front to your devices easily.

Speaking of devices, with larger phone now being commonplace, I definitely wish the storage bay ahead of the shifter was larger to accommodate phones like my Huawei Mate 20 Pro. One touch I really enjoyed was the decision to delete the old cigarette lighter port from the driver. Smartly it’s now tucked away next to the front passenger’s right leg, so if they have a 12V to laptop charger to get work done on the road, it’s in the perfect spot.

The rear seats have the familiar 60/40 split and slide forward as well as fold down to provide easy access to the third row. There’s drink holders, speakers and cooling vents, so passengers in the rear aren’t second class citizens. If your SUV is full more often than not, it’s touches like this that’ll really make the difference. Whether its the kids getting in and out of the rear-most seats, or accessing a baby in a car seat, the rear doors open to our 85 degrees, making access easier than your standard vehicle.












TECHNOLOGY

The tech that has your back

A heads-up display enables you to keep your eyes on the road while getting an array of information required by the driver to get around safely. There’s speed, cruise control speed setting, navigation instructions as well as some very handy indicators connected to the blind spot system.

MZD Connect is still the infotainment system installed on this Mazda CX8. This system is the same interface that has been in Mazda vehicles since 2013. It features a small (by today’s standards) touchscreen, which is only touch-enabled when the vehicle is stopped. Mazda expects you’ll interact with it, via the control dial and buttons with your left hand.

As our vehicle had a construction date of May this year, it unfortunately didn’t have the recently announced Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. Like many, Mazda put up the white flag and accepted their fate that vehicle manufacturers can’t keep up with the pace of innovation in smartphones.

While some auto makers have run to support the mobile platforms, now required in the spec sheet for many potential buyers to even consider a vehicle, Mazda have moved slowly. Agreeing to include support for Android Auto and Apply CarPlay in vehicles made after a certain date, they do offer an upgrade path for existing owners, but they’ll charge you almost $500 for the privilege. Mazda really need to make this free, particularly if they want to retain customers when they buy their next vehicle.

The reason MZD connect is bad is its inability to leverage modern data sources for maps and navigation and the voice assistant used to interact with it, also not even close to today’s standard. The first time I tried to navigate home (keen to use the heads-up display), it wanted to drive me 14km through a 60km/hr zone, rather than what Google Maps did, which is to navigate me 2 blocks in the opposite direction to the freeway to get me home faster. Google provided live traffic data, while the car could not. For the rest of the trip I used Google Maps.

Another time I attempted to enter an address using voice. I couldn’t simply say ‘Navigate to Wodonga’, the voice assistant required information to be provided in an arbitrary sequence, one of the biggest advances we’ve made in recent years. There’s really no way to justify the requirement for a full address, rather than allowing drivers to navigate to a town or city.

The Maps themselves are generally terrible in terms of design with graphics appearing poor in quality, many curves rendering as angled lines and the colours are simply unappealing. The whole experience just had me wanting Android Auto with Google Maps or Waze.














One of the features I like most about driving new cars is the proximity unlock and walk away locking. This feels a little like magic (even if the technology is pretty simple) and is something I really miss when using a car that doesn’t have it. It’s definitely an example of a first world problem, but it’s like automatic headlights and wipers for me, we have the technology to help us securing a vehicle so lets use it. Thankfully the CX8’s works great and delivers that ‘my car knows who I am’ experience.

Reversing cameras are pretty much standard in new cars today, but how they’re implemented differs greatly between models and manufacturers. Mazda have opted for the simulated top-down view of your vehicle, providing a 360 look at the environment around you. The distance the cameras see is very short, something I hope gets improved in future models.

One of the nicer touches in Mazda’s implementation of the 360 View Monitor is the ability to get it when driving forward, as well as backwards, like when you’re pulling into your garage and need to ensure you don’t hit items in front, back have enough space behind to close the garage door. This works, but it did highlight an issue. The quality of the camera footage is pretty terrible, it lacks the required detail to accurately determine your proximity to items close to your car, which is essentially the whole point. Sure it’ll help you park between the white lines in a carpark, but using the cameras for much more than that was a stretch.

There’s plenty of other standard features when it comes to technology like push-button start,blind spot monitoring, driver attention alerts, emergency brake assist, forward collision warnings, cross traffic alerts when reversing, lane departure warning and a lane-keep assist system. These assist the driver and the driving experience to comfortable and safe.

The current state of vehicles, at least ones at this price point is that there’s a huge variance in their ability to use the cameras and sensors around the vehicle to keep you between the white lines on the road. Lane keeping assist for the most part means the system watches your trajectory and when you approach the line on either the left or right, it’ll help steer you away from that edge of the lane. This often has the effect of ping ponging you down the freeway and doesn’t let you ever relax. What the upper market vehicles are offering is lane centering. This tracks the two white lines that indicate the lane width, then measure the distance between the two lines and ensure your car follows an imaginary middle line. This gives the driver confidence they have plenty of room as cars and obstacles pass by on either side. As long as the system can have confidence about the line detection (or edge detection in the case of an unmarked edge), then it’ll keep you on track, as if the car was almost on rails.

Unfortunately the Mazda is definitely much more in the Ping Pong camp, than the on-rails camp. It’s a reflection of the technology and price point in 2018. What is almost certain is that lane keeping assists will be replaced by lane centering technology in the coming years, so if you plan on buying and keeping the CX8 for years to come, be aware, this tech will likely never arrive on your vehicle. It’s theoretically possible to upgrade these vehicles, especially given this one has the ability to connect to WiFi, but other than Tesla, software updates that modify elements the vehicle control system, are almost non-existent from automakers.

In term of audio, our top model included the Premium Bose 273 watt amplifier and 10 speakers, complete with bluetooth hands-free phone and music which I mostly used to control podcasts via the controls on the steering wheel. To be honest, even when streaming high-quality music on Spotify, I really wasn’t impressed by the audio quality inside the vehicle. Mazda have done a great job of deadening the sound inside which makes conversations easy, but I never found a configuration that’d sell vehicles.

PERFORMANCE

Diesel performance and economy

The CX8 is only available in diesel, a decision that clearly differentiates fit in the product portfolio, as compared to the CX5 or CX9. While I personally have never loved the sound of diesel engines, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised that this sounded the least diesel of any vehicle I’d driven. At one stage the more economical diesel fuel cost less than petrol, but currently it’s around 5-7c per litre more expensive than regular petrol, or on par with the cost of premium unleaded.

The 74L tank will deliver you around 800km of driving range. The rated consumption rate is 6L/100, while the best I could manage was 6.7L, but maybe I have a heavy foot. When you do put your foot down, I was impressed by the power available under your right foot. The 140kW 2.2L twin turbo charged engine powered the 1,957kg SUV with vigour. This power acceleration is important if you need to call on the performance to get you through an intersection, overtake or avoid a collision, you want immediate response and there was only the slightest hint of turbo lag.

The relatively high suspension means the vehicle is capable off-road, but that does compromise it’s handling through corners and round abouts. This softer sprung suspension and higher travel, allows the CX8 to suck up the bumps, delivering your family a very comfortable ride. The AWD version certainly feels capable, best expressed when the vehicle is off the black stuff, on gravel or dirt. The i-ACTIV AWD system helps to deliver the power and traction in a way that leaves the driver feeling in control, off-road or in the wet.

FEATURES

The details on what’s on offer here

 

In-Door pull up blinds

During my time in the CX8, we took the car for a weekend away and that meant taking our most precious cargo with us (our 8 month old daughter). With many twists and turns along the way, sunlight beaming in the windows is always something parents deal with. While aftermarket solutions exists, Mazda’s integrated window shades into the rear doors was very much appreciated. They retract into the body of the door and when in place, are held in place by hooks mounted along the top of the window frame. When not in place, these hooks aren’t exactly discreet, something I hope is minimised or completely hidden in future versions.

ISO fix mounts and covers

As a parent, you’re probably familiar with the fast mounting system for car seats known as ISOfix. In almost every new vehicle, this normally wouldn’t be a feature worth mentioning, however Mazda have a nice solution for hiding the gaps in the seat crated by the ISOfix points. Plastic covers that are easily removable solve this problem well and as car seats will likely only be part of your life for a portion of vehicle ownership, then this is well thought through, just don’t loose them.

Rear air conditioning controls

If you’re a passenger in the middle row, then you get creature comforts usually reserved for the driver and passenger. There’s not only rear air vents, but full AC climate control along with heated seats. If you’ve got passengers in the back, they’re really going to appreciate this one. If you plan on driving for Uber with a CX8, expect an extra start or 2 on your reviews.

7-seats / lots of space

The CX8 is a big car at 4,900mm in length, but with 7 seats taking up space you may expect there to be no boot space left. Actually what we find is there’s still plenty of room behind the 3rd row of seats for schoolbags, groceries or some mild Christmas shopping. If you’re heading off on a serious trip away with a pram and suit cases, then yes, folding down the last row of seats provides loads of space.

Should you need more than that, like say, buying a Christmas tree or a trip to Bunnings on the the weekend, then you’ll want to fold down the 2nd and 3rd rows to reveal a crazy level of cargo space. If you can’t fit it in there, then its a trailer job. This space is generally made available from the body shape, but also the decision to compromise on the size of the spare, opting for a space saver under the floor, rather than a full spare.

ISSUES

As good as it is, this car isn’t perfect

The single biggest issue with this vehicle is one Mazda is already well aware of, the terrible infotainment system with navigation that lacks live traffic data and can send you in the wrong direction. The resolution of adding Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to new vehicles should definitely fix this, but I’d absolutely make sure to confirm with the dealer your new car comes with it to avoid the crazy A$500 price to add it later.

One other frustration I found was the sun glasses holder in the roof. If you’re going to add one, something we can all admit is a handy feature, you’d better make sure it fits most sunglasses. Mine barely fit and they’re on the normal side of sizing. After rotating and rotating them, I managed to tetris them in, in a way that allowed the compartment to close, but it really wouldn’t have taken much testing to work out this was an issue and make the compartment bigger.

The next issue I have is with the heads-up display that projects on to the windscreen. This certainly isn’t restricted to the technology Mazda uses, but if you wear polarised sunglasses, then you will really struggle to see the display, even when set at maximum brightness. Given I, like many always drive with sunglasses (night excepted) this almost defeats the purpose of having the HUD at all. I hope there’s an alternative technology, or they could apply a tint to the windscreen in that area (laws may restrict their ability to do this), so the reflected information is readable under all conditions. I will say when going through a tunnel, it was perfect, so the issue seems stem from a lack of contrast between the display and the outside world.

That’s it, the list of complaints here is very short, overall it’s a great vehicle and Mazda have created something pretty special here, transporting large families in a stylish, modern, capable SUV.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

Available now, the Mazda CX-8 comes in both FWD and AWD variants, both with an automatic 2.2L Diesel engine. The car is available in a choice of 7 different colours with the feature Soul Red Crystal Metallic costs an additional $300.

The interior is available in black bloth or dark russet and white nappa leather. Our review unit had the dark russet which is almost a brown in direct sunlight. Personally I’d opt for the white of the straight black instead, but this is a very personal decision.

The Mazda CX8 starts at A$47,415 for the base FWD model and cloth seats. If you prefer a bit more luxury and want the stability and traction offered by AWD, the Asaki offers exactly that, complete with stitched leather seats for a few more dollars, you can add that gorgeous red paint. All up, the top of the line Asaki will set you back a reasonably steep A$66,900.

The good news is there’s a 3rd option, the Sport which offers many of the great features of the Asaki, like the AWD drive train, but saves on things like power tailgate and bose premium sound package. This comes in at just A$51,583, representing great value for money. An extra $15K for the top model is a really hard ask and one I’m not sure many will take up.

Compared to the CX-9, the CX-8 is only slightly smaller, but offers the same towing capacity, with better fuel economy (6.0L vs 8.8L/100km) of the larger 2.5L petrol turbo engine of it’s big brother. The front styling is a little different, but for the most part, these are very similar vehicles, with very similar prices (top model of the CX-9 is around A$1,290 more).

This makes the your choice between the two Mazda large SUVs on offer from Mazda one that’ll mostly be fought over the driver’s personal preference for diesel or petrol propulsion.

OVERALL

Final thoughts

The Mazda CX8 is a brilliant family SUV to get transport up to 5 people and 2 kids on daily commutes or long road trips. The power and economy available here, rarely go together, but Mazda have found a way to achieve both in a large package.

While slightly under the dimensions of the CX9, you will need to ensure your garage is clean to fit the CX8. If you can manage the price tag of the top model, you’ll be rewarded with some nice creature comforts and some great technology.

Make sure you request that your CX8 contains Android Auto and Apple CarPlay or just don’t buy it, MZD Connect really is that bad that you need options and these smartphone platforms offer the perfect solution.

This Brilliant Battersea Volunteer Spends Christmas Helping Abandoned Dogs

HuffPost: HumanKind brings you an advent calendar of kindness, celebrating good deeds and the people doing them, in order to inspire and bring hope this festive season. Find out more about the series, and uncover new stories daily here.

This will be the fifth Christmas Day that Angela Cox has spent with rescue animals – a ritual that has become a major part of her life. The Battersea volunteer, who doesn’t like to be sucked into the materialism of the festive season, instead spends the day surrounded by dogs in the animal shelter. After all, she says, “for the dogs there’s no distinction between Christmas and another day, they still need walking and human interaction”.

The 69-year-old from south west London will aim to be at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home for 11am, and will spend the rest of the day (until around 4pm) keeping the dogs company. There will be a Christmas lunch and decorations around the site. “It’s a really nice atmosphere,” says Angela. “Things are very social there, which is nice.”

[Read more: HuffPost’s kindness advent calendar will inspire you this Christmas – actor Michael Sheen explains why it’s so important]

Angela with one of the dogs at Battersea.

When Cox talks about her role, it’s clear that she takes it very seriously. Being a dog socialiser is a hands-on job and involves taking the dogs for walks and carrying out ‘kennel sessions’ where she teaches them things like how to sit, give paw and not jump up at people. This all helps in making them as ready as possible for their future homes.

She might also do some scent work with the dogs, which helps them de-stress. “Different dogs handle kennels in a variety of ways, so sometimes that can help calm them,” Cox says. Tubs of lavender and other relaxing herbs are dotted around the Battersea grounds for pooches to sniff. There are also larger tubs of bark and pebbles and textured bridges to help keep them as stimulated as possible.

The work of volunteers is a huge help for full-time staff at the shelter, who are then able to take leave and spend time with their families knowing Battersea’s furry residents are taken care of. On Christmas Day and Boxing Day combined, there will be around 50 volunteers working with the dogs and cats.

For Cox, giving back to the animals is the ultimate way to celebrate that time of year. “There’s a Christmas spirit at Battersea,” she says.

“We are, and it feels like, one big family. The one thing we all share is that we want to do something that is going to help the lovely animals that come through our care, so that they can come out the other side and find themselves nice adoptive homes. And that really pays dividends to me, which is why I’m happy to give my time.”

After her volunteer sessions with the dogs she always returns home to her beloved rescue cat – “it’s the best of both worlds.”

HumanKind is HuffPost’s celebration of kindness, featuring people who do incredible things for others or the planet – transforming lives through small but significant acts. Get involved by joining us on Facebook. You can also nominate those who deserve to be shouted about by filling in this form or emailing natasha.hinde@huffpost.com.

Sex Trafficking Victim Talks About Modern Slavery In London: ‘I Was Just A Normal Girl’

Frida Farrell hung up the phone to her boyfriend. It was a dry, summer’s evening in 2002 and the 23-year-old was planning to walk home from London’s Oxford Circus to her studio flat in Primrose Hill, a journey that would take about 40 minutes on foot.

As she stepped out of the H&M store where she had been shopping and started headed north, strolling past the BBC building on Langham Street, a man in a grey suit approached her.

The stranger asked her if she would be interested in coming to a model casting. An unusual approach for some, but Farrell, who is originally from Malmo in Sweden, had modelled as a teenager. Although she had moved to London to try and forge a new career – she was studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama – the offer piqued her interest.

“It wasn’t that weird to me,” Farrell, now 38 and a single mum, tells me over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, where she lives with her baby daughter. 

“He was just another photographer.”

Nevertheless, Farrell didn’t say yes immediately, instead taking his business card and agreeing to check his website when she got home.

After reviewing his site she decided it looked legitimate and would be a good way of potentially earning some money. She agreed to an audition the next day.

Arriving at the five-storey building on Harley Street, Farrell entered through a revolving glass door and made her way into a small lift at the end of the hallway to take her up five floors to the penthouse. Walking in to the flat she saw a female assistant, and tables full of coffee, tea and fruit. “All totally normal,” she says. “It’s not like there were dead bodies hanging on the outside or anything.”

After posing for a few enphotographs, she was sent away and told there would be a callback if the client was interested. About 24 hours later the photographer rang and asked her to return to the same address. He offered £7000 for half a day’s work – enough that Farrell could pay six months rent, but not an unprecedented amount in the world of commercial modelling.  

What happened next changed Farrell’s life forever, throwing her into an underground world of modern sex slavery, which has only grown in the 16 years since her imprisonment.

The estimated number of victims of trafficking and slavery in Britain has risen tenfold from 13,000 in 2013 to 136,000 in 2018. Last year, there were 5,145 cases reported in the UK – the highest on record.

Filled with confidence after scouting out the location the day before, Farrell returned to Harley Street at midday on the Friday for the arranged meeting. It was another warm day and she recalls she was wearing a long brown corduroy skirt and a T-shirt. “I was happy,” she says. That feeling wasn’t to last.

Walking back into the same, small apartment, five floors up, she was greeted by Peter*, the photographer who had spoken to her on the phone. But he was alone. As she stepped into the room, he turned and triple-locked the door behind her, pulling a long hunting knife out of his jacket as he did so. 

“You can barely comprehend what is happening, it’s like suddenly you’re in a movie or something,” she says. “Your whole body goes into shock. I got cold, I got sweaty, everything is moving in slow motion.”

You can barely comprehend what is happening, it’s like suddenly you’re in a movie or something..”

He said nothing so she asked to go to the toilet, hoping to use her mobile to call for help, but he took her bag and emptied her pockets before ushering her into the small bathroom. She stood on the toilet seat and tried to squeeze herself out of a laptop-sized window before remembering she was five floors off the ground and a fall would send her straight on to a concrete-paved garden.

“I was so quiet, barely breathing,” she says. “I’m not going to survive that fall and if I did I would break a lot of bones. What’s worse, the knife or the fall?”

Farrell decided to try and reason with her captor. “Instead of freaking out and screaming, I thought that’s not going to help so I was really calm,” she explained to him she had a stomach ache, hoping he would let her go. Instead he offered her a glass of milk from a fridge in the kitchen.

“He handed me the glass and I thought: I don’t want to drink it he has spiked it. I just looked at him and knew he had, and he knew that I knew, but I just thought I’m going to drink it. I don’t want to feel the knife, I’d rather just drink it.” 

She was then made to put on some used underwear, before she blacked out.

The next thing Farrell remembers is waking up in a different apartment. This location had no furniture – apart from a large bed – no kitchen counters, no doors, not even a lightbulb in the fridge. “There was nothing I could use to attack him,” she says. “You start thinking crazy things like I’ll stand behind the door with a chair like you see in old fashioned comedy movies.”

The new flat was underground, with only small, barred windows up to the street. She tried getting the attention of passers-by but to no avail. When night fell, the lack of lightbulbs meant she was plunged into darkness for hours.

Customers came and went but a heavy cocktail of drugs given to her by Peter meant Farrell was subdued and semi-conscious throughout most of the interactions. She estimates there were more than eight men, but less than 20 paid to have sex with her over the period of time she was kept captive. 

Farrell managed to escape around midnight on the fourth night of her ordeal, after Peter accidentally left the door unlocked while waiting for a customer to arrive.

“I heard him slam the door but not lock it,” she recalls. “I was worried he was playing a trick on me. I opened the door and looked, there was nobody.”

Cautiously creeping up the stairs Farrell noticed she was in the same building she’d arrived at on Friday afternoon, having been moved to the basement flat instead. She ran for the revolving door, fearful of being seen, and didn’t stop running through the streets until she was almost a mile south near Bond Street tube station. She went to a friend’s house where she stayed for days. 

Eventually, Farrell decided to move away from London. Fearful her captors knew where she lived, she felt uneasy living her life. “I used to love going out with friends, drinking wine, going to jazz bars, but it was hard for me to fit in now. What if they saw me and tried to take me away?”

Farrell, who has now produced a film ‘Selling Isobel’ about her experience, says she struggled to come to terms with what had happened over the following decade, carrying guilt and shame about putting herself into that situation. 

“Modern slavery happens all the time,” she says. “If I say ‘sex slavery victim’ to you – you have an image in your head. But any woman or any girl could be kidnapped and put into this situation. Anyone is for sale, you’re just a body.

“They don’t care where you’re from or what you look like. I was just a normal girl, I was like anyone else in my class. It happened to me because I was walking home that night,” she says.

If you suspect someone is a victim of modern slavery you can report them either on the ‘Unseen’ government app or it is free to call the Modern Slavery Helpline (0800 0121 700). 

Amazon offering free gift wrapping on select items this Christmas

Many of us will buy presents for loved ones online this year. If you’re online shopping includes Amazon.com.au, then you’ll want to check if that gift is eligible for free gift wrapping.

While the act of giving and receiving presents is presents is certainly the fun part, wrapping them is most definitely not. 

To see if the items you’ve selected can be gift wrapped for free, just enter the code ‘GIFTWRAP18’ into the ‘Redeem a gift card or promotion code’ section and click apply. 

At the time of writing there’s currently around 100 items that are, mostly presents for the little ones, but it’s pretty great to see this offer available to all Amazon customers, not just Prime subscribers. 

While this doesn’t require Amazon Prime, it just so happens that the items on the list are all Amazon Prime items, meaning members get free delivery, as well as the free wrapping. 

While we’re talking Christmas shopping, if you haven’t yet seen our 2018 Christmas Gift Guide, then make sure you check it out, there’s plenty of ideas, when buying technology for different people in your life. 

You can see the full list at Amazon.com.au 

Awaken offers meditations focused on healing from systems of oppression

A mindful, contemplative approach to internalized racism and sexism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of dismantling systems of oppression, Awaken founder and CEO Ravi Mishra says. That’s the entire point of Awaken, a mindfulness and meditation app specifically geared toward helping people cope with the harsh realities of today’s society.

Awaken got its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Mishra told TechCrunch. The election surfaced these “larger questions that have to do with race, gender, sexuality and power, and how they live inside of us.”

Through Awaken, Mishra hopes to offer mindfulness and meditation practices that help cultivate stability within marginalized communities. These contemplative practices center around sitting with certain questions and identity construction. Awaken’s founding teachers are Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Sensei Greg Snyder — three leaders focused on the intersection of mindfulness and social change.

Similar to meditation app Headspace, which is valued at $320 million, Awaken has a freemium plan in place. For full access to content, Awaken charges $8.99 a month. While Awaken does seek to make money, Mishra says he’s not doing it for profit. Instead, the plan is to use all the money Awaken makes for activist work.

“We’re currently running at a loss and figuring out how to break even,” he told me. “The hope and idea is once we are fully profitable, we’ll move that into activist work.”

Awaken has plans to close a round of funding from mission-aligned angel investors early next year.

Why you need a supercomputer to build a house

When the hell did building a house become so complicated?

Don’t let the folks on HGTV fool you. The process of building a home nowadays is incredibly painful. Just applying for the necessary permits can be a soul-crushing undertaking that’ll have you running around the city, filling out useless forms, and waiting in motionless lines under fluorescent lights at City Hall wondering whether you should have just moved back in with your parents.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

And to actually get approval for those permits, your future home will have to satisfy a set of conditions that is a factorial of complex and conflicting federal, state and city building codes, separate sets of fire and energy requirements, and quasi-legal construction standards set by various independent agencies.

It wasn’t always this hard – remember when you’d hear people say “my grandparents built this house with their bare hands?” These proliferating rules have been among the main causes of the rapidly rising cost of housing in America and other developed nations. The good news is that a new generation of startups is identifying and simplifying these thickets of rules, and the future of housing may be determined as much by machine learning as woodworking.

When directions become deterrents

Photo by Bill Oxford via Getty Images

Cities once solely created the building codes that dictate the requirements for almost every aspect of a building’s design, and they structured those guidelines based on local terrain, climates and risks. Over time, townships, states, federally-recognized organizations and independent groups that sprouted from the insurance industry further created their own “model” building codes.

The complexity starts here. The federal codes and independent agency standards are optional for states, who have their own codes which are optional for cities, who have their own codes that are often inconsistent with the state’s and are optional for individual townships. Thus, local building codes are these ever-changing and constantly-swelling mutant books made up of whichever aspects of these different codes local governments choose to mix together. For instance, New York City’s building code is made up of five sections, 76 chapters and 35 appendices, alongside a separate set of 67 updates (The 2014 edition is available as a book for $155, and it makes a great gift for someone you never want to talk to again).

In short: what a shit show.

Because of the hyper-localized and overlapping nature of building codes, a home in one location can be subject to a completely different set of requirements than one elsewhere. So it’s really freaking difficult to even understand what you’re allowed to build, the conditions you need to satisfy, and how to best meet those conditions.

There are certain levels of complexity in housing codes that are hard to avoid. The structural integrity of a home is dependent on everything from walls to erosion and wind-flow. There are countless types of material and technology used in buildings, all of which are constantly evolving.

Thus, each thousand-page codebook from the various federal, state, city, township and independent agencies – all dictating interconnecting, location and structure-dependent needs – lead to an incredibly expansive decision tree that requires an endless set of simulations to fully understand all the options you have to reach compliance, and their respective cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

So homebuilders are often forced to turn to costly consultants or settle on designs that satisfy code but aren’t cost-efficient. And if construction issues cause you to fall short of the outcomes you expected, you could face hefty fines, delays or gigantic cost overruns from redesigns and rebuilds. All these costs flow through the lifecycle of a building, ultimately impacting affordability and access for homeowners and renters.

Startups are helping people crack the code

Photo by Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch via Getty Images

Strap on your hard hat – there may be hope for your dream home after all.

The friction, inefficiencies, and pure agony caused by our increasingly convoluted building codes have given rise to a growing set of companies that are helping people make sense of the home-building process by incorporating regulations directly into their software.

Using machine learning, their platforms run advanced scenario-analysis around interweaving building codes and inter-dependent structural variables, allowing users to create compliant designs and regulatory-informed decisions without having to ever encounter the regulations themselves.

For example, the prefab housing startup Cover is helping people figure out what kind of backyard homes they can design and build on their properties based on local zoning and permitting regulations.

Some startups are trying to provide similar services to developers of larger scale buildings as well. Just this past week, I covered the seed round for a startup called Cove.Tool, which analyzes local building energy codes – based on location and project-level characteristics specified by the developer – and spits out the most cost-effective and energy-efficient resource mix that can be built to hit local energy requirements.

And startups aren’t just simplifying the regulatory pains of the housing process through building codes. Envelope is helping developers make sense of our equally tortuous zoning codes, while Cover and companies like Camino are helping steer home and business-owners through arduous and analog permitting processes.

Look, I’m not saying codes are bad. In fact, I think building codes are good and necessary – no one wants to live in a home that might cave in on itself the next time it snows. But I still can’t help but ask myself why the hell does it take AI to figure out how to build a house? Why do we have building codes that take a supercomputer to figure out?

Ultimately, it would probably help to have more standardized building codes that we actually clean-up from time-to-time. More regional standardization would greatly reduce the number of conditional branches that exist. And if there was one set of accepted overarching codes that could still set precise requirements for all components of a building, there would still only be one path of regulations to follow, greatly reducing the knowledge and analysis necessary to efficiently build a home.

But housing’s inherent ties to geography make standardization unlikely. Each region has different land conditions, climates, priorities and political motivations that cause governments to want their own set of rules.

Instead, governments seem to be fine with sidestepping the issues caused by hyper-regional building codes and leaving it up to startups to help people wade through the ridiculousness that paves the home-building process, in the same way Concur aids employee with infuriating corporate expensing policies.

For now, we can count on startups that are unlocking value and making housing more accessible, simpler and cheaper just by making the rules easier to understand. And maybe one day my grandkids can tell their friends how their grandpa built his house with his own supercomputer.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

Shoppers Drug Mart Gets License To Sell Medical Marijuana Online

TORONTO — Shoppers Drug Mart has been granted a licence to sell medical marijuana online.

Health Canada’s list of authorized cannabis sellers and producers has been updated to reflect that the pharmacy can sell dried and fresh cannabis, as well as plants, seeds and oil.

A website has been set up by the company, which says that patients “with a valid medical document will soon be able to purchase a wide selection of medical cannabis products” from Shoppers.

A spokeswoman for Shoppers’ parent company Loblaw Companies Ltd. says it’s too soon to say when people will be able to start making orders.

Granted producer license already

She says the company is still working through a “technical issue” with Health Canada.

The company was granted a medical marijuana producer licence in September, after initially applying in October 2016.

Shoppers has said that it has no interest in producing medical cannabis, but the licence is required in order to sell the product to patients.

Under the current Health Canada regulations for medical pot, the only legal distribution method is by mail order from licensed producers direct to patients.

Also on HuffPost:

Britain’s Youth Will Never Forgive Us Over Brexit, Lord Heseltine Warns

Lord Heseltine has warned politicians over their approach to Brexit.

Former deputy prime minister Lord Michael Heseltine will warn politicians that Britain’s youth will “never forgive us” unless they are offered the chance to reverse Brexit.

The Tory veteran, 85, will address a rally calling for a second referendum ahead of Tuesday’s crunch Commons vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

He will claim that the Government appears to have “lost control” and there were signs that MPs were prepared to take action to “assert the authority” of Parliament.

Highlighting a generational split in the result of the 2016 referendum, he will say “those of a certain age who voted 70:30 to leave” are “rapidly being replaced by a younger generation who voted 70:30 to stay”.

At the rally in London’s ExCel centre, which will also be addressed by politicians including Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, Tory former ministers Anna Soubry and Philip Lee and celebrities including Charles Dance and Jason Isaacs, Lord Heseltine will claim that those campaigning for a second vote are “British patriots” who are “proud of our Commonwealth and empire”.

The event, organised by the Best for Britain and People’s Vote campaigns, will feature politicians from the Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Plaid Cymru.

Heseltine will hit out at Brexiteers who have called pro-EU politicians “traitors”, saying: “May our opponents never be forgiven for their allegations that it is us who are letting Britain down.”

He will say: “Let us make our position clear. We are the British patriots.

“We want a Britain at the heart of Europe because we want the voice of Britain, the tolerance of Britain, the culture of Britain, at the heart of Europe. We are proud of our Commonwealth and empire. Our voice is their voice in Europe.

“It is the Brexiteers who seek to belittle us, to undermine our influence, to slam windows, to close doors with the suggestion that our membership of the European community blunts our influence.”

In comments echoing a youthful William Hague’s address to the Tory conference in 1977, when he told his ageing audience “half of you won’t be here in 30 or 40 years’ time” as he discussed the future, Heseltine is expected to add: “Let me repeat his warning. Let me paraphrase his words. ‘I certainly won’t be here.’ But neither will my generation.

“Those of a certain age who voted 70:30 to leave is rapidly being replaced by a younger generation who voted 70:30 to stay. The parents, the grandparent will have gone. The younger generation, they will be here. They will be here.

“They will never forgive us if we now exclude them from the corridors of European power. Offered a seat in an anteroom as others decide behind closed doors. Invited to submit their views in writing so others may decide behind closed doors.

“Trying to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the United Kingdom in competition with a European Union six times our size offering bigger, better deals behind closed doors.”

“No-one can predict the events of next week,” Hestletine will add, according to a transcript of his speech given to media. “Every news bulletin, every headline, every leak tells us of a Government that has lost control. These are the first promising signs that a growing number of members of the House of Commons are prepared to assert the authority and sovereignty of that place.

“Our country’s future depends on their judgment and will. They must act in the national interest. Their conclusions must be put back to the people for their endorsement.”

Man, 47, Arrested After Alleged Kidnap Attempt Of Girl, 6, At Christmas Fair

The alleged kidnapping attempt happened near Egham's High Street, police said.

A man has been arrested after allegedly attempting to kidnap a six-year-old girl at a Christmas fair in Egham, Surrey.

The man is suspected of trying to grab the young girl on Egham High Street at around 12.40pm Saturday, after trying to lure her with toys and sweets.

A 47-year-old man from Egham is currently in custody, Surrey Police said.

An investigation is currently under way, and police have called for anyone who witnessed the incident, or who has any other information, to come forward.

Dominic Raab Criticised For Foodbank Appeal After ‘Cash Flow’ Comments

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has been criticised for appealing for donations to his local foodbank – after previously describing those in need of emergency supplies as merely suffering “cash flow problems”.

Raab, who left government amid the backlash to Theresa May’s Brexit deal last month, recently shared his support for a Trussell Trust donations appeal on social media.

In a tweet, Raab wrote: “Thank you to Tesco in Molesey and the Trussell Trust for partnering to encourage customers to generously provide food collections for families in our community, who are struggling at this time of year.”

But his championing of the charity appeared to contrast sharply with his previous comments about those who attend foodbanks.

During a March 2017 debate on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, Raab told a stunned audience he had studied data which suggested those receiving food parcels were bad at managing money.

“The typical user of a food bank is not someone who’s languishing in poverty, it’s someone who has a cashflow problem episodically,” he said.

Raab’s historic comments were highlighted by Derbyshire in a tweet shared hundreds of times on Saturday.

Latest statistics from the Trussell Trust show 28% of those referred to its foodbanks cite “low income” as the cause of their hardship, while debt accounts for 8% of referrals.

But benefit delays and benefit changes were the reason citied for a combined 40% referrals, the same statistics show.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told May this week that soaring foodbank use, predicted to reach record highs this year, should not see the facilities used for publicity purposes.

“I’d just gently say to her and the members behind her. Foodbanks are not just a photo opportunity for Conservative MPs,” he said.

May responded: “We now see wages growing faster than they have for nearly a decade. We see employment at record levels, but what the right honourable gentlemen wants to do, he talks about scrapping Universal Credit.”