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Books read this month
The Hot Kid:
First book in series with "In Honey's Room": Sort of a western
set in Dust Bowl Oklahoma and Kansas City, about outlaws like
Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger, and marshalls like Matt Dillon.
Leonard knows how to write terse plot filled crime fiction.

Pandora's Planet
Science Fiction epic, could have stood some editing, but quite impressive in parts, if you like spies, alien subterfuge, really bad aliens ready to attack, and stuff like that.  About 700 pages...
by Elmore Leonard







by Peter F. Hamilton

   Nov. 1
       

  I've decided to keep my book comments right with the books read, as in the example above.  I finished that book between 2:30 and 4:30 this morning.  Being an uneasy sleeper and not watching TV are the two things that help me to read a book a week or so.  Some books are better suited to falling back asleep than The Hot Kid...
    Right now plenty of other things are happening to keep me busy--practice for music at the Folk Festival, and a number of other things that have happened probably in the same order every year--the wheel of time.
    I took some pots in for a customer that assembles gift baskets using some of my pottery and her ingenuity for a charity auction that happens at this time every year.  Then the leaves tend to be falling now, so after dropping off the pots for her, I filled the van with garbage bags of leaves from a place that expects us annually, to use in our garden.
   Then I went to the library, which happens nearly weekly--only the names change--not the quantity of books (or hopefully quality).  I did notice they've set aside a small section for graphic novels, which are essentially books of drawn cartoons, which appeal to both less able readers and more artistic types (depending on the quality of the work involved).

Nov. 2
    Continuing the deja vu department, today I spent about 4 hours picking and packing pots for the Folk Festival this weekend.  I've done quite a few of these Fall Folk Festivals now, not to mention many craft fairs in general, so I'm feeling caught in a time loop.
    The Festival, put on by what's mostly a group of contra dancers, has grown to epic proportions, filling up to 8 stages for two days.  Yet the Folklore Society only has about 70 dues paid members (part of why they're frequently asking for volunteers for the event).  After attending for the first time about 7 years ago, I volunteered the next year as a room emcee, a fairly thankless job, mostly unnecessary as most of us folkies can handle introducing our selves...  Since taking over their web page, I decided photographing the festival was a valuable volunteer job, so I've been doing that for a few years now, in addition to hours spent modifying the related webpages for months before and after the Festival happens.  With such a small group as the core, there's a good chance of burnout of the individuals most responsible, but hopefully the whole event is positive enough to keep people working for it...  There is very much a feeling of Brigadoon about it, rising timelessly for one night per year (rather than per century).

Nov. 3
    The Folk Festival is always a bit overwhelming, like the circus, only 8 rings or more (counting the many musical jams and workshops that happen during the festival)...  I'm pretty sure I go to more of the performances, however briefly, than anyone else, in my efforts to take photos for the website.  I'm able to get a sense of each musician in a soundbite fashion.  Many I wish I could sit through their whole performance, but I keep driving on relentlessly in my self appointed task...  Because there are lots of other choices, audiences vote with their feet, and your hope as a performer is to have more listening at the end than at the beginning.  For the Sondahl and Hawkins program, it stayed about 2/3 full throughout.  I think I tried to keep the songs coming steadily with only brief comments between to keep the crowd into it, which they mostly were.  

Nov. 4
     The Folk Festival completed, with jammers to the end.  I took over 300 photos, which will require a lot of time to sort, identify, and edit, before putting a lot of them on the Folklore Society webpage.  I think I'll leave it till tomorrow.  Having attended a lot of jams myself (although totally foregoing it this weekend), I feel like I saw a hundred people I knew and have played music with this weekend.  This is by far the largest social group I have, but musicians often are only connected by their music, so I appreciated the brief conversations I enjoyed with many of them.  Although the Spokane area isn't known for any particular style of music, this festival shows the strength of acoustic music available, in a wide variety of styles.  
    The last performer even played the oud,  which is like a fretless guitar with 11 strings, making it not much like a guitar at all.  That was the first time I'd heard an oud in person.  There was an Asian whistle that seemed to have 3 stems coming out of a gourd resonator as well, with fingering on all three flute parts.  One of the jammers had invented a deluxe washtub bass with a special neck and resonating chambers added to the metal washtub also.   Overall, although tiring,  was a great heyday.

 Nov. 5
    My mother in law, whose 90th birthday will be tomorrow, is approaching death.  She's lived with us for the last few years, and has dementia, to the point of not knowing most of us most of the time.  She entered hospice care during the time last month when I was gone to Europe.  So a lot of our lives right now are doing things related to this fact.
    We're figuring a lot of family will be showing up, so I've been working on making more usable living space.  The house we bought this summer came with a strong smell, including cigarette smoke, so I took the first steps towards improving that by removing the carpeting today.  One bedroom had hardwood flooring underneath, the rest just particle board underlayment.  We're not starting any major renovations, but may move in enough furniture to make it usable.
    This building was a summer cabin, although I was assured when we bought it that it could be used year round.  The water system featured a couple faucets out front, one of which I found had hot water, which is unusual. Now I think it was to drain the hot water tank, as there is a turnoff inside for it.  When I tried turning it off, it also shut off water to the shower...  Then there's the kitchen sink, whose one handle spigot is apparently blocked, since neither hot nor cold will come out of it.  So there are a lot of handyperson chores there for me for this week.

 Nov. 6
Someone wrote today asking about a tool on my tips page called a hydrometer, which as I describe it is a stick with numbers on the side and a weight on the bottom.  Here's what I told her:  
A hydrometer is just for standardizing the thickness of glaze from one batch to the next.
You need a sieve and something to mix the glaze with, such as the Kitchenmajig at the top of the tips page.  You add water to the glaze in a plastic bucket, until it's about the consistency of half and half.  Then you put it through the glaze sieve several times--80 mesh is the size of the screen.  A suspension agent like Epsom salts (recipe on the tips page) helps prevent settling, but glazes must be stirred frequently when using. 
These instructions are for making glaze for dipping.  It's basically the same if you're brushing it on, only you need to apply about 3 even coats when brushing.  
She wrote back:
how do I know what the hydrometer should read in the very first batch?
Only by trial and error, or preferably some experience working with glazes.   Glazes vary in their effective thicknesses. A transparent matte glaze may be very thin.  Opaque gloss glazes have to be fairly thick to cover the clay. 
Generally the thicker the glaze, the better, but if it's too thick, the glaze will tend to craze (crackle) because it won't fit the clay under it, and it will tend to crack off or pinhole on drying, which may also translate into baldspots or  pinholes on the final pot (this gives you a clue, if you have a thick batch of glaze, to try it on a pot and see if it pinholes, or crazes.  Too thick gloss glaze will also tend to run off the pot.  When you have the thickness of glaze that works the best, that's when to use the hydrometer, so you can repeat it with the next batch (by starting with it too thick, and adding water till the hydrometer reading is correct.)

    Meanwhile, back at the pottery, I glazed a couple kilnloads of mostly test clays today.  When I mix glazes, I mostly don't use the hydrometer anymore, trusting in experience to tell me if the glaze is the right thickness.  
    This afternoon I dug a bushel of carrots for the food bank.  We still have a lot of carrots in the ground...

Nov. 7
    This was another throwing day--I was using up the 50 pound boxes of test clays.  It's likely I'll be going with Seamix, but if another is cheaper and as good...
    My mother in law is more comatose.   She's lived with us for about 8 years, and mostly near us for over 20 years.
    It rained on and off today.  I worked in the afternoon on removing tack strips and staples from the floor where I removed some carpeting the other day.  Tack strips are poky on both sides, hard to handle without getting poked...   I'd like to get the floor cleared so we could bring in some furniture and make it a usable space as relatives show up whenever the funeral is.
    I finished putting up the photos from the Folk Festival yesterday.  The link is here, look on the left index pane.

Nov. 8
   Many of the test clays came out looking pretty good, and feeling smoother than my current clay.  The real surprise was how some of my glazes, particularly blue crystalline, look on it.  The color of a clay is like the color of the background in painting--it affects how bright the colors are.  The best example lay people might be aware of are velvet paintings of Elvis or dogs playing cards, painted on a black background.  Well, it might not be the best, as they tend to use very opaque florescent colors, but the idea is that a dark background will affect the overall colors and tone of the piece.
    Before the firings that I opened today, I mixed a new batch of crystalline glaze, so that's another variable, although I did have some goblets in the firing with the new batch of glaze but with the old clay that still looked similar to the old crystalline glaze.
    I guess I should back up again and say that the crystalline glaze varies greatly no matter what, which is part of its charm, since the type of firing I do can lead to boringly predictable results.

    So I took a picture of the new batch of glaze on 3 different clays, and as I took it the cat jumped up on the table to see what was going on, and I left the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the background since I hadn't put them in the cookie jar at the right yet, and even though digital cameras are pretty bad at shades of blue, so you can't tell there's much difference, take my word for it--there is some, and while I think it's an improvement, there will no doubt be customers wanting to match their previous pots, but then, that's the cost of progress...  
    The cat doesn't eat cookies, but will harangue for tuna.
    My mother-in-law continues the long day's journey into night...
    
    Nov. 9
    I'm still using up test clays, and I fired another bisque today.  I haven't learned the shortcomings of the new clay yet, so I'm optimistic.  I'm pretty sure there's no ideal clay.  Porcelain should qualify as the purest clay, but it's hard to work with, being unplastic (not easily stretched in throwing without cracking), and likely to crack in drying and have handles crack off.  Any clay without sand or grog will have some of these attributes.  The shapes I chose to test the clay (mug, large pitcher, extra large bowl, and pie plate) tend to have some issues, so if they work well on the tests that's good.  I like the smoothness of most of the new clays, but expect there are tradeoffs in how the wares come out, which may not show up till I'm using them in production. But so far they mostly look like improvements to Columbia White, my old standby.
    Then I had to drive to Coeur D'Alene for a meeting on the Christmas sale coming up in 3 weeks.  There's another meeting next week.  I don't like meetings, but these do help hold us together as a potter's group, which is of more value than the sale itself.
    In the afternoon I vacuumed our spare cottage, anticipating use when my wife's relatives arrive for Birdine's funeral, which is still in fluxy planning stages, especially since she's still alive.  It's possible that I may make her crematory urn and/or casket, and headstone.

   
Nov. 10
    It rained a lot early today, which is always good in this dry climate.  
    I finally got over the putting it off issues, and made both a roundish urn, and started a pine casket today.  In making either of these ourselves we're bucking the funeral industry, although apparently there is a trend among baby boomers towards more earthy do-it-yourself funerals.  
    I cleaned up a lot of pots today, and glazed a couple kilnloads, then forgot to set the timer on the kiln, so it shut off before even getting turned up all the way...  Other things on my mind, I guess...  It's back on track now, anyway.

 Nov. 11

    My mother in law, Birdine Samuelson died last night in her sleep, at  around 2:30 a.m. last night. I started working on her casket yesterday, but we had a friend come to visit, so it wasn't ready for her.  So from 2:30 onwards I worked on adding the trim and handles to the casket.  As her family worked through the many decisions related to her funeral, I worked on the casket, and finished the funeral urn.  It was finally decided to cremate her, and this casket, which only a half dozen people outside of our family have seen, will bear her into the crematorium.
    We will bury her ashes at 11 a.m. on Friday at Good Hope Lutheran Church cemetary in Gifford, Idaho.  On Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Spokane there will be a memorial service.
    She  lived with us for the last 7 years, and in the same town as us for over 10 years before that.  Despite a steady decline into dementia, she maintained a cheerful personality that often captivated the people that encountered her.  Although these last years have been a burden for us, they have been one we've gladly borne.

Nov.12
    Relatives start arriving tomorrow for the funeral, so I continued pottery work today (as I probably will till Friday).  A couple weeks ago I gave up making chicken cooker pots (large bowl with a tube sticking up in the middle resembling an angel food cake pan, except closed at the bottom in the tube part), because so many had flaws it was highly unprofitable to make them.  When I switched to the new clay, I thought I'd make one styled after the chip and dips I make, since they come out much more reliably.  The sample one turned out, so now I'm approaching it scientifically, making 10 of them, so I can see what percentage make it through without flaws.  I also made small covered jars and platters today, unloaded two glaze kilns and loaded two bisques.  The bisques are being candled (slowly heated), to get them thoroughly dry, for firing tomorrow, since I'm rushing the urn through which I started on Saturday.
    Then in the afternoon I worked on getting some plumbing fixed in advance of our company coming.  One house we bought had very funky plumbing, including many of the faucets having hot and cold sides reversed, and even some of the faucets mounted backwards so you have to turn them the reverse of how you expect to turn them.  Then the shower off the master bedroom, in a tiny bathroom, didn't work at all, and it turned out the original owners never used that shower in the 30 years they owned the house (there is another shower and a bathtub).  So I installed a shower curtain and fixed the cold faucet in the sink that wasn't working...
    It rained and blew hard all day today, first growing colder through the day, then warmer as the wind switched to the south.  When the wind blows so strong all day, I'm reminded of the part of Through the Looking Glass where Alice and the Red Queen have to run as fast as they can to stay in one place.  However, in this instance,  it's the wind that does the running and we stand in the same place, but it seems wholly different from the still days we've been having (on the night Birdine died there was a candle burning out on the porch that lasted the night).

Nov. 13
    With a few relatives arrival today, I made a turkey dinner this evening, including apple and pumpkin pie (from Halloween jackolanterns), cranberries from our Alaska relatives, and pototoes, corn, and carrots from our garden.  I guess we sort of jumped the gun on Thanksgiving. There's talk with our other local relatives that we could have prime rib for Thanksgiving instead...  I lettered the headstone today, and did the first firing on the funeral urn.  


Nov. 14

    Food is on my mind a lot, with 4 extra relatives to feed currently.  It was my mother-in-law that taught me to make Swedish Tea Ring , so I made one of those this morning, which I tend to make about weekly anyway.  Actually I made it by proxy, since a visiting in-law wanted to learn to make bread, so he did the hands on part and I gave him my vague directions ("keep throwing in flour till it's not sticky"). My in-laws always tended to have boxes of apples sitting in their garage in the fall (as we do also), and Birdine would often bake cored Golden Delicious apples with raisins filling the hole, and served with cream.  So I made that tonight for dessert.  (You bake them at 350 until they turn mushy--about a half hour).

Nov. 15-16
   

The urn is a new shape.  The grave marker dates from my daughter's death (about 10 years ago)--I made two, and have kept the second blank one for such an occasion.  I installed it with some concrete mix after the service today, buried so the top is almost flush with the grass.  My daughter is buried a couple spaces down from her grandmother.

Nov. 17
Today was a rather bizarre mixture.  The first half was spent with a memorial service to Birdine.  Then my skiing son had been scheduled to do ski tricks as part of a group at a downtown Spokane convention center snow show, so most of the extended family went from the quiet church to the loud raucous ski show.  Then a few of us finished the day watching a louder rockier ski movie, which was part of the ski show.
I guess that's how life goes on sometimes...

 Nov. 18
    We've had an inch of rain in the last day, and it's turning to snow flurries with colder weather expected the next few days.  There was one Thanksgiving where cold hit so fast and hard that our brake discs were frozen stiff and we couldn't drive over the river to Grandma's house until it was yanked loose with a luckier pickup truck.  
    I skipped church today, but at the church in Spokane my guitar playing at yesterday's service led the preacher to talk about how my instrumental playing evoked the words of the hymn, which was "I know that my redeemer lives."  That's pretty good, since I don't usually remember the words while I'm playing the tune...

Nov. 19
    The last relatives left today, thus reducing the population pressure locally considerably.  At the peak, we had seven extras to provide for.
    I glazed a kiln load this morning, but the middle of my day got taken up with a semi-annual visit to the dentist, so there's still no routine to fall back upon.  While I was gone I got an order for some plates and an inquiry about making some mugs styled after some favored originals.   This last part is the least favorite kind of orders I might take--they have their ideas, and I have mine, and the two seldom meet.
 Some of the pots I glazed today were the chicken cookers, made with new clay, which all made it successfully through the bisque firing, so I'm more optimistic that I can produce them effectively.  Still, the proof is in the glaze fire.

Nov. 20
    Five of the chicken cookers came out of the glaze today.  None of them had a problem where the parts joined.  Two of them had cracks on the outer rim.  Usually those cracks result from the rim being too dry when the pot is turned over for footing, which is avoidable, so I'm hoping that won't be a common defect.  I fired two more kiln loads today, and threw about 70 pots as well, so I'm back to production.  Orders and sales come now in irregular spurts--on Monday there were lots of sales, whereas the weekend was quite slow.
    This is the first night it might drop below 20 (-6C), so I moved in a few boxes of apples that were in an outside refrigerator.  The Millpond has been skimming over with ice, but a cold spell like this may mostly cover it in the next few days.  We got an inch of rain last weekend, which would have contributed to the ski mountains opening if it were cooler.  

Nov. 21
    The morning was spent dealing with the pots from yesterday, plus glazing and loading a kiln load of pots.
    I had two things on the agenda this afternoon--putting up the holiday lights, and making an apple pie for Thanksgiving.  It morphed into major cooking.  To put up the holiday lights, I took down the cornstalks and pumpkin autumn display (the pumpkin was pretty frozen).  Then, with Thanksgiving staring me in the face, I decided to cook the pumpkin and make a pumpkin custard, in addition to the pie I'm bringing to the in-laws tomorrow.  So I thawed the pumpkin by the woodstove while putting up the strings of lights.  Then I got started with apples.  I wanted to dry some apples over the kiln that's firing, so I peeled and sliced a bunch of yellow delicious for that (yellow delicious tend to dry well without turning brown).   Then I remembered we were out of applesauce, so I cut up a bunch of brand x apples and steamed them to soften them.  Finally I got to making the apple pie, and baked it and the pumpkin at the same time.
    So I hope the Americans that read this are drooling enough to tackle their Thanksgiving Dinner...  And the foreigners can feel free to eat as well...

Nov. 23
    Thanksgiving was food and football, and so was today, for that matter.
    The Sandpoint bank called me a week or two ago, saying they wanted local businesses to help decorate the bank for the holidays.  Since most publicity is good, I agreed, even though it's 35 miles to Sandpoint, and with winter weather it's not likely to draw customers here.   I had the idea to make something local and holiday-like--a large bowl filled with a mountain of popcorn with some skiers made of spice drops skiing on it.  Unfortunately my execution of the idea made it look like a bowl of popcorn with some spice drops in it, so I canceled on that idea and have been eating popcorn and spice drops ever since.  Instead it was a boring table with a sampling of pots and an info sheet, but the bank seemed happy with it.
    While there I saw an eagle circling above the downtown, and on the long bridge approaching, there is a post with an osprey's nest which is occupied apparently by cormorants.  There were also white geese in the bay close to town, which I thought might be snow geese, but my son says they stay around all summer, so they're probably farm geese let loose...

Nov. 24
    California quail
Around 40 quail came in our yard this afternoon, and hunkered down in our raspberry patch.  Their little eyes are glowing from the flash--it was so gloomy and overcast that the flash was required.  You can see that as striking as their plumage is, it does break up into camoflage if the head is turned away.  The same is true with ring necked pheasants...  I imagine the little black plume is to help them figure out which way to go (forwards)....

Nov. 25
    Some family members and I went to see  the "Enchanted" movie today.  We only go to a couple movies per year in the theater, and fortunately this one was worth the drive...  You can
at the same time be the child that enjoyed Cinderella and a cynical adult that laughs at such silly entertainment (which is indeed a deft tightrope to walk).  Similar movies that succeeded that way were George of the Jungle and The Princess Bride.
    The plot is about a fairy tale princess banished by a wicked queen- mother- to- be- in- law,  to the Real New York, who marvels at things like indoor plumbing.  When she asks, where does the water come from that makes the shower, a small person behind me said, "From the sewer."  (I imagine that the child may have figured out they both travel through pipes in the ground--but really Spokane's water isn't that bad).  I was busy laughing throughout the movie, but also enjoying the way the super perky princess (Amy Adams) pulled off her regal role.
    The only thing about the movie that bothered me was one of the first lines of the lawyer in the movie contained a glaring grammatical error, along the lines of "for my girlfriend and I" (which at least when you remove the "girlfriend" becomes glaring).  I frequently write bad grammar into my songs, to establish their folky credentials, but one would hope that a lawyer character would do better.

Nov. 26
    We've been having this spate of subfreezing weather--today was the warmest as it approached the thawing mark.  Since the forecast tonight is for significant snow, I thought I'd try to dig some more carrots.  But the cold has frozen the ground, and with it most of the carrots.  It's a good thing there's a large bag of them in the root cellar.  It shows how unusual this cold spell has been--usually we get snow with the first cold, which blankets the ground and prevents the frost from going deep.
    Since my plans (and carrots) were dashed, I decided to walk around the mill pond.   It's never the same pond. Although the lake is mostly unfrozen, the mill pond is more shallow and calm, and has about two inches of clear ice on it, enough that I could walk along the edge with only occasional cracking noises, so that's what I did.   When the water is high, you can't walk the shoreline, but now I could walk it, but the ice was much smoother, and it was great to see the patterns and natural things under the ice
(no pics--I wasn't planning the walk) .  I noticed a new muskrat or beaver hut, and when I soon thereafter saw a muskrat swimming under the ice, it became clear it was a muskrat hut.  (This begs the question, how do muskrats and beavers get along, given they eat the same saplings...)
    When I was in  my teens in Iowa, the best natural thing around was the Skunk River, that was a block from my house.  I would walk the dog there every day after school, and when the river froze over, if there were no snow cover, it would also be clear ice, which I would ice skate on.  I could see fish swimming under me as I skated.  As I thought of that while walking on the mill pond ice, I was startled by a fish darting under me, so it was an apt remembrance.

Nov. 27
    We got our first 3 inches of snow, so in spite of global warming, winter is still happening on schedule here this year.  But there goes the clear ice for this year...  The last leaves of autumn are secured as well.  By spring I'll be ready to rake them.
    I don't pretend to understand politics, but I was glancing at the local city council minutes for October and this jumped out at me:

"Councilman Clary noted that Senate Bill #1123 was poorly written, specifically referencing Reserve officers.  Councilwoman Tschida moved to incorporate Senate Bill #1123 into the Police procedure manual, seconded by Councilman Clary and a roll call vote was taken.  Council members Ventress, Clary, Tschida and Erickson all voting aye. "

    I guess I better watch out for those reserve officers...

   Nov. 28

    I spent the morning making pots, and the afternoon packing them, without actually packing any.  The big pottery show this weekend requires putting special price labels on all the pots, so I made up the list of pots on the computer, and will spend tomorrow afternoon labeling and putting them in boxes.  With luck the work will be worth it.  

    The weather is wimping out on us, (a storm was greatly downgraded supposed to arrive this evening), but my son will start skiing tomorrow as the first area ski mountains open.  And then daily after that, whenever Schweitzer opens.  I've decided against a season pass this year, but I expect to ski 4-6 times anyway.

    One of our young cats visited the vet today, a result of a gash at the base of his tail, presumably made fighting another cat (besides our other two, which coexist pretty well).   It's on antibiotics, which may or may not aid its healing.  One of our cars went to the auto mechanic today, for a fluttering alternator light.  No antibiotics, but the recommendation was to keep driving till it stays on solid...  If I didn't have the money to use these professionals, neither of those visits would have been made, and the outcome would have been about the same...  Fortunately the mechanic only charged for switching the snow tires on for me, which WILL hopefully make a difference when the snows get serious...

Nov. 29

    The pottery sale this weekend grew out of both the desire to have a successful pottery sale and a successful party.  When the group started a few years ago, we tried to have both party and sale, but not concurrently, and it was pretty much a flop.  But the current combination has done well, so I think we're all looking forward to the next two days, in spite of the many tasks we're all doing.  I avoid parties like the plague, except if I can play music at them, which is the case here...

Nov. 30

At the pottery sale today, just before it started, I called home to get the schedule for entertainment, since I'm supposed to be in charge of it, and had forgotten to bring the list.  My wife read me the schedule, then pointed out I'd scheduled a group to play from 8-9 pm, whereas the event ends at 8.  This was not good.  Fortunately I remembered where I left the group's contact info, and called them and arranged for them to play on Saturday morning.   I don't think my gifts lie in the scheduling area...

    It's hard to imagine why musicians would come to play for this, since they're mostly just background music, but some very talented musicians have agreed, and even returned for one or more years.  I was talking with several of them, and the conversation turned a bit to how we're all sort of drifting in our lives, except for our love of music, to which we all heartily agreed.  Like them, I played for an hour, plus a few harmonica, tin whistle, and guitar sessions in the basement, and I was happy if the music was played well, whether or not anyone seemed to be listening.  After all, most of the time, I'm practicing it at home, where I know no one is listening...

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