Sunday, 30 December 2012

planning for the future.

Byebye 2012. Don't let the door smack your ass as you leave.

A few days ago, Jim Bliss posted  a video on facebook. This is an assessment of where we are and where we're going by a guy called Nate Hagens. (It's probably why Nina Hagen came to mind!)

More and more informed opinion is coming to the conclusion that we're in for a rough ride. Instead of vague predictions, Nate actually included a timescale.

Since 2008, the government has stepped in to keep growth going for just a little longer. That growth is not more materiƩl or energy or real wealth. It's debt. Borrowing from the future.

Hagens made the point that, in effect, the US is now a "socialist" country. Not in the sense of the workers owning the means of production or anything progressive like that, but really, the governmment IS the economy.

It could never last of course. Build as elaborate a castle as you like. Without foundations it's bound to fall. The quantitive easing and bailouts bought a couple of years, but increasingly, people in a position to understand what's going on are warning that the buffers are looming. Hagens claimed that we have perhaps five years, but probably less, before the shit really does hit the fan.

This, by the way, is not a party political thing. The economic, growth based system we use to order our affairs doesn't really work anymore. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you're up to your neck in debt, it's hard to be happy.

So our problems are a miniature mirror of those of our society in general. This is not coincidental. If others have less money to spend, those that provide goods and services in exchange for that money will get less.

The solution. or at least one of the available solutions to those problems is the same for us in miniature too.

Simplify. Move to a smaller, more sustainable mode of living. Prioritise for a debt free, less materialistic lifestyle.

It also has to be said, I am unspeakably proud of my wife. She's the one with the courage and foresight to have put us on this path. left to myself, I'd have stuck my head in the sand and done nothing until the bailiffs and locksmiths arrived to take possession of the house.

"You don't need these weights around you. Let them go. Let them fall."


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Friday, 28 December 2012


Nina Hagen popped into my mind this evening. I have one of her albums somewhere. It's not something I listen to often, I must admit, but still, I found myself wondering if she was still alive. I was conflating her with Ari Up, the former vocalist with UK punk band, The Slits.

So off I went to Wikipedia, and I learned that Nina, apart from being a dissident in her own right, was the step-daughter of a West German socialist, Wolf Bierman, who moved to East Germany, but became disillusioned, became a dissenter and had his citizenship renounced while performing at a concert in Cologne, West Germany.

Nina, already a presence in the Art world of East Germany, asked to join her step-father, claiming that he was her biological father. She threatened to become a cause celebre. Her request was quickly granted.

Anyway, Bierman made an album on a smuggled tape recorder that was critical of the "communist" regime. He called it "ChauseestraƟe 131", his address at the time, openly mocking the Stasi.

I looked for this address in Google Earth, but was sent on a wild goose chase to some geometric, communist era housing blocks. Many of them looked like letters.

Hmmm. Letters. It's been a while since I did any of that kind of stuff, yet from there, it was easy to find a geoglyph. It looks like it's in the font known as "magnetic" and could be either a lower case "e" or a lower case "a".

Take your pick...

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Monday, 24 December 2012


I just watched one of those TED talks by a guy called Frank Warren.

Frank has a website called PostSecret. I think it's well worth a link on my sidebar.

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Sunday, 23 December 2012


There's a famous thought experiment about ethics. In that experiment, an out of control trolley is hurtling along a railway track, and is certain to kill the five railway workers ahead unless something is done to affect things. People are asked whether it would be right to push a person off a bridge in front of the trolley, killing that person but stopping it from killing the five workers.

If you've not encountered this before, perhaps you're considering the ethics of it right now.

On a pragmatic, utilitarian level, it makes sense to push the person off the bridge, killing the one to save the five. But few people are comfortable with this. And this is a human truth that persists regardless of culture. When asked the same question, using canoes and crocodiles, Amazonian tribespeople give the same answers. Another variation is that of a surgeon, who needs five organs to save five people's lives. A healthy person happens to come into the hospital, and it is realised that he is a match. Should the surgeon kill the healthy person, take his organs, and save the five sick people's lives? Again, you're almost certainly going to say no, despite it being in one sense, the greater good.

And so, once again to guns.

Let's just suppose that as chance would have it, there is a spate of spree killings. In two weeks, no fewer than six different gunmen go on the rampage, and in each case, kill between 20 and 30 young children in various schools across the length and breadth of America.

The outrage is immense. The extremist rantings of the gun lobby count for nothing against the demand that Something is Done, and finally, strict controls are brought in against the ownership of certain kinds of weapon.

And because of this, the massacres almost completely stop happening. (You, dear right wing reader, may choose to argue otherwise, but this is a thought experiment, remember)

Over ten years, thousands of children who would otherwise have been shot dead, survive unscathed.

So the obvious question is "should we in some way hope for or encourage such a spate of school shootings, so that such positive change occurs?"

Or is it better that these massacres occur over a couple of years, rather than a couple of weeks, but then keep happening?

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Saturday, 15 December 2012


Place your bets.

Guess the date of the next US high school massacre. Just to the nearest month will be fine.

As a tie-breaker, how many children will be shot dead?

The winner will recieve a bottle of tizer and a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

No I'm not serious.

Yes it's plausible. Do-able. If I was to do such a crass thing, a person betting some time in the first 6 months of 2013 would have a pretty good chance of winning. A tie-break guess of 20 wouldn't be so far fetched either.

And you know what? It won't make a blind bit of difference. The same old arguments will be trotted out.

A guy went crazy in a Chinese school too. With a knife. He injured a whole load of people.

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

And so it starts...

Bren started it. I came into the living room to find her going through the books on the bookshelf. And so it is that we've started the process of stripping things down. Most of the stuff is to be sold. Even if we don't get much for individual books, it will all add up.

So far about 2/3 of the books are in the "sell" pile. A handful are for the bin, either because of their condition, or because nobody could possibly want them. We have an introduction to Windows ME, for example. Bin it.

There's a couple of nice box sets that might bring in a few bob. And each of us have things that we really don't want to part with.

We're tending to put the paperbacks into the "Sell" pile, as they can easily be replaced. I'm tending to keep the non fiction stuff but the sci-fi and fantasy are generally going. It just ain't my thing so much any more.

Right. Enough blogging. There is work to be done.

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Band of Gold

It is quite plain and unadorned. Yet it is precious to me.

One habit I have is to slide my open hand over the gear lever when I'm driving, causing the ring on my finger to click as it contacts the knob. I miss it when it's not there. It's just not as satisfying somehow.

Anyway, the trim 36 year old cyclist that married Brenda has somehow been morphed into a sedentary, rather flabby, 44 year old, and the ring that used to fit the finger is now tight. So I sometimes wear it on my little finger instead, where it hangs loosely,  and sometimes falls off. Clearly I need to put on more weight so that it fits snugly on my pinky.

And so it was that one evening last week, I looked down at my hand, and noticed that the ring was no longer on my finger. Yet I had no recollection of it slipping off.

I'd put fuel in the car at a petrol station, 10 miles away that afternoon. Could it have fallen off there? I'd been to buy a couple of things from the new shops in New Brighton. Home Bargains, and Morrisons. Had it somehow slipped off while I'd been perusing the baked beans?

By the time I noticed, it was pretty late. Far too late to go to these places to ask. I decided that if it didn't turn up early next day, I'd phone them and ask if a plain gold wedding ring had been handed in. In the meantime, I checked the various plugholes it could have been in, and looked all over my desk and the floor beneath.

Then, next day, as I was about to put an empty carrier bag into a bag full of carrier bags, I noticed a gleam. And there it was, nestling in the bottom corner. Phew.

Don't misunderstand me by the way. If I had really lost it, I'd have felt absolutely awful about it. It's a symbol of the most important relationship in my life, and is really irreplaceable.

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I dig it!

I've just found that the eviction notice for the allotment has been rescinded.

I got shouted at for working the plot when it's really in Alex's name, but it's not going to be taken from us any time soon.


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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What to say? It's definately happening.

Today we chose a static caravan on a caravan park in Meols. The difficult task of informing Lisa has been done. There were tears from all of us, but she'd sort of seen it coming, although she hoped it wouldn't. Same as me and Bren. She has the option of coming with us, but she'd only have a tiny space. Her eldest brother has a spare room in his flat. She will probably move in with him, at least in the short term. She's almost 23 years old. We couldn't have made this decision 5 years ago.

This is a serious downsize. We're going to have to part with a lot of things we no longer have room for. Most of what we get rid of, we hope to sell, to raise a bit of money. The stuff we can't or won't part with will have to fit into a 37" x 12" box. (if " is feet and not inches!)

We're trying to put a brave face on this. There's nothing wrong with a fresh start. We have accumulated much clutter, and the house is a source of stress, with it's holes and damp and broken windows and rotten woodwork.

We've done some sums. If we manage to get £70,000 for our house, we can clear all our debts, and knock over £300 a month off our monthly living expenses.

The market value for houses in our street is about £105,000. We reckon that if a builder were to buy it, he or she would have to spend perhaps £20,000 to bring it up to a reasonable standard. They would want to clear a profit on top of that of course. So that £70,000, which is far below market value, may be as much as we can hope to get.

The caravan will have a telephone, and therefore broadband. That's important to me. It has an open aspect, and will get sunshine, when there is sunshine to be had, for pretty much the whole day. That's important to Bren.

I just want to cry, and I can't. Not properly.

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Level 4 living

We currently live in a fairly large house. It's an old semi detatched, over 100 years old. The ceilings are high. We have 4 bedrooms and an attic that's a 5th. We used to sleep in the attic until a few months ago. But just two and a half people live here. Myself and Bren, and Lisa, who's only here about half the time. We also have a lot of junk stuff. Mementoes and memories. Books. Craft materials. Computer bits and bobs. Rooms full of things we keep just in case.

Don't get me wrong here. It's no palace. We're on the second lowest tier for council tax, and we're in very much an urban area. Our street is fairly quiet, but there are places a stone's throw away that are pretty rough.

I've had the title of this post in my head today. You see, Bren went out this morning to view a property, and she seems set on moving. We've been running to stand still for years, and everything we do has somehow never got us to a point where we could breathe, knowing our income was going to exceed our outgoings. And we're not extravagent. We haven't had a holiday for years, apart from a weekend in a caravan two years ago, and Christmas in a converted barn, courtesy of my brother in law about 3 or 4 years ago. We never go out. We do our best to keep costs down. Yet it's not enough. The tide of debt has crept, slowly, but inexorably further up. Bren, who didn't think she had the mental strength to work full time, was forced to try something to bring in money. First she spent 3 years at university. That brought in a certain amount of cash that she now officially owes to the student loan company, but which she'll almost certainly never pay anything towards. £15,000 a year? Or whatever the threshhold is? That's just unimaginable to us. We've got by on pretty much half that for a decade now. Somehow.

Level 1 living is under a bridge.
Level 2 gets you a tent.
Level 3 is a caravan.
Level 4 is a static caravan.
Level 5 is a council flat.
Level 6 is a terraced house.
Level 7 is a semi detatched like what we live in now.
Level 98 is a chateau.
Level 99 is a palace.

Static caravans are things that people who can't afford a proper holiday use. That's not to say a good time can't be had, but if you're affluent, you're going to stay in a hotel or some kind of self catering arrangement with 4 solid walls, a masonry chimney, and no wheels whatsoever.

Yet that's what we're going to go and live in. Bren has decided. She doesn't want to. She bought this place as both a home, and as an investment. Her previous husband's death meant the life insurance paid off the mortgage, and for a while, it was all she had.

A part of me feels like I've dragged her down with me. That if she'd never met me, she wouldn't now be having to make this choice.

The stress of it all has been taking it's toll. Both of us worry about each other's mental health. If selling up and moving to something cheaper frees up enough to pay off our debts, and reduce our overheads, it will be surely better than struggling to maintain what we have.

It's going to mean changes.

For one thing, Lisa might not be coming with us. There isn't much room, and she has a lot of clothes. Bren has spoken to Alex, her eldest son, who has a flat near here. He used to live there with Mike, his brother, but Mike now lives with his girlfriend, so Alex has a room free. He and Lisa get on well, and he's happy to have her move in with him. Lisa also has a boyfriend over in Liverpool. She spends a lot of time over there with him, so she may choose to move in with him. She's 22 now, nearly 23, and is generally pretty streetwise.

We will not be able to cram the contents of a large house into a static caravan. We plan to go do car boot sales etc. This will make the move easier, and also might free up some funds.

Then what? We're going to get well below market value for the house, because of it's condition. I have no idea about the figures involved. When the dust has settled, we may find ourselves with £20,000 in the bank.

Some years ago, we remortgaged, and we would have to pay that back, since we're not moving to another property. That's about £15,000 I think. We're locked into a lease on a shop for another two and a half years. That's another £16,000 we will have to find over the next couple of years, plus rates and electricity etc, but it should bring in some income, either in it's present incarnation, or in some other way. Then there's the caravan itself. The second hand one that Bren saw and liked is for sale at around £25,000. It should be cheaper to heat and power than our house, and the site fees include water and rates. Telephone access is not as straightforward as it is here, and so neither will internet access be.

And generally, we will have to get used to living with less space. We're supposed to vacate the site for a month every year, to comply with some regulation or other, but the site operators, nudge nudge, wink wink, don't spend a lot of time checking.

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Friday, 7 December 2012

The Flicks

I've been to see films from time to time. The last film I went to see on the big screen was probably Moulin Rouge. Actually, no. That was the second to last. The last was the movie version of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And before that? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in a now-demolished cinema in King Street, Wallasey.

That's about one in five years or so.

My mum used to take us to the Theatre Clwyd when I was a little boy, to see plays and films from time to time. We saw a play called Buzz Buzz, Critch Critch, of which I can recall nothing except the title, and the fact that one of the leading actors also appeared in the television programme, Z Cars.

We saw Willy Wonka. That's what I remember. But we also went to see other things too. In those days, the film would often be split into two. you'd get the first half of the film, and there would be an interval, then a short film, then another interval,. then the rest of the film. I have wispy memories of Laurel and Hardy. Also pretty much the last Buster Keaton film.

But over the last few months, a couple of things have piqued my interest, and I hope to go see a couple of films over the next few months.

The first is the Life of Pi. I've "read" this several times as an audiobook. It's a fabulous and nuanced tale. It's also a story that would lend itself well to the kind of abridgement that is necessary to transform book to film.

Here's the trailer:

Secondly, I saw a trailer for a film, and was so impressed that I bought the book. the book turned out to be a really good story, and now I want to see the film that inspired me to read the book upon which it's based.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Skeptical of kettles

Those pesky goddamned commie scientists have been at it again.

The latest idea is that if you pass an electric current through a metal coil, you produce resistance, and therefore, heat is generated. They reckon that such technology is causing the water in my kettle to heat up.

Well I'm not having it, do you hear?

First of all, it might be quite nice if the water in my kettle is warmer.

In any case, I have serious doubts about the science. Lots of electrical engineers and quantum physicists signed a petition on the internet debunking the myth of electric making kettles boil. Clearly there is no consensus on the issue.

And frankly, even if there is a connection, well there's no conclusive proof that it's human activity that's responsible. The kettle is by a window, so it could be sunlight that's making it warmer. Or some other factor we don't know about yet.

And here's the clincher.

Back in 1503,. people had kettles, which sometimes boiled. Yet there was no electricity. So the idea that it's electricity that's causing kettles to boil is just clearly ludicrous.

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December is the cruelest month

The Place: Here

The Time: Now

I keep trying to blog, but I somehow can't.

I am 44 years old. I will shortly be 45. I am 5 feet and 8 inches tall. Perhaps five feet and nine inches when I wake up. I weigh somehwere between 13.5 and 14 stone.

From about 16 to getting on towards 30, I was a skinny runt of about nine and a half stone. Somehow, over the last 20 years, I've got to be twenty years older. It's not been altogether a bad thing. People have far more respect for me now that I'm an adult. Far more than they ever had for me as a child.

Seasons pass, Months pass. Weeks pass. The beginning of december vibe is as low as it gets.

We probably have the worst of it in front of us. The shortest day, though just minutes shorter, is weeks away. Come January, when you get the worst weather, you at least know that you're heading for spring. No wonder we put the two biggest festivals at this time of year.

Financially, things might counteract each other. The drop off in earnings I always get in these pre-christmas weeks should hopefully be offset by an increase in earnings from the shop.

The Shop is failing to thrive.

We've always struggled to keep our heads above the shit. Always. When I was younger I would sometimes skive, but I've been a fully paid up member of the working class for the last decade or so. No matter how hard we try, we never ever can relax in the knowledge that our income covers our overheads.

Right now, I'm quite optimistic about how things are going for my driving school. Here's why.

A couple of months ago, I established a really good working relationship with a Woman who is in a relationship with a web wiz. We established a sort of barter arrangement, where I would work for a reduced price, in exchange for a professional and fully SEO'd website.

Thanks again to Jim Bliss at this point, who offered to do this sort of stuff, pretty much for free. I don't think I really appreciated what WordPress was capable of at the time, or realy understand what Jim was offering.

But ther cheap lessons are being given, and the site is up and running, and appearing in the listings without me spending £££££££ on advertising. I'm on the top page for many sensible search enquiries, and once Christmas is out of the way, I reckon I will be getting rather busy. While the next few slack weeks go by, hopefully, the shop wil become busy with Christmas shoppers.

The shop.

The shop was many things. It was a way of my restless, creative, pragmatic wife to try to bring in more money. Bren wasn't some wide eyed newbie. She spent a lot of time working out how it was all going to happen. She researched the local economy. She prepared several different plans - an optimistic plan, a middle plan, and a pessimistic plan. She did everything she could have to maximise her chance of getting things off the geound.

It's never ever thrived. Things may change over the next month, but hand crafted local goods are a luxury at a time when such things should be becoming the norm. But so far, something that should have taken a weight from my shoulders has instead just vastly increased the weight on Bren's.

I'm happy to acquiesce in terms of what we do in life. My needs are very simple. I resent the work involved in relocation but I'll  make a nest in any old tree.

She's pretty much decided that we're going to sell up and move to something smaller/cheaper. The house needs a huge amunt of work doing on it, which we can't afford. Some builder will get it at a knock down price, and we will free up some assets, and move to some form of living with lower running costs.

Our options include living on a barge or narrowboat, living in a mobile home or static caravan, moving to a smaller property in a worse neighbourhood.

I hope I can earn enough for us not to have to move.

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Monday, 3 December 2012

Indecision day down at the allotment

As previosuly mentioned, my plot should have been inspected on 27th November, following which, a decision would have been made about whether I would be allowed to keep the plot.

I still await notification.

I am in limbo. Is this some sort of test? Are they watching to see whether I continue to work the plot, while awaiting a decision? Has it just been overlooked? Has a decision been made but somehow not been transmitted?

I just don't know.

As it happens, such considerations seem to be shrinking in the face of bigger things. We may be about to lose our home.

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Whoops there goes another rubber tree plant

Things are afoot in Azerbaijan. Big things.

Like the Middle Eastern States, Azerbaijan sits on a wealth of mineral resources, and there are people that want to turn those resources into dreams. The city of dreams. The emerald city almost. The Wizard of Az.

Well, they're going to build some artificial islands, and put some mega-tall sky-scrapers on them if the hype is to be believed.

Here's what the area looks like now.

Well OK. It doesn't look like much right now, but then, much of Dubai was just dirt a generation ago.

Here's how they reckon it will look.

8 Square miles of real estate, split over 40 islands. The viewpoint of this picture is from the top of what they're adventurously calling "Azerbaijan Tower", which is going to be as tall as the Burj Khalifa if you were to stick the Post Office tower on top of it.

When I come across stuff like this, I look for a date. If it was proposed before 2008, I tend to think it's just a castle in the air, and that the global financial meltdown will have changed the economic footing for it. But this is all recent.

When we think of Azerbaijan at all, I suppose it tends to be as something of a backwater. Azerbaijanian people, to the uninformed (like me) are sort of like Arabs, but a bit like Russian peasants or something. Just another anonymous mid-asian former soviet colony that's gone muslim since the collapse of the USSR.

But they've got... High hopes.

This proposal has some high powered backing from China amongst other places, and is symbolic of how global power is shifting from the West to the East. Who knows? It may even get built.

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Sunday, 2 December 2012

personal theology

not sure that theology is the right word  but anyway. Here's an attempt to set myself, not against infinty, but against an infinite number of infinities...

I don't know about God. I sort of believe in science. At least some of Science says that new universes are being created all the time. Being 3 dimensional beings, trapped in the universe we happened to be born into, we can only look beyond it using maths and physics, rather than theology, but at least some of the clever mathermatical brains out there reckon that there is not just a universe, but a multiverse.

According to them, new universes are popping up all the time.

And so, at some point, an identical universe to this one will occur. In fact, given time, an infinite number of universes identical to this one will occur.

So at some point, a universe identical to this one will occur, that will share an identical history, right down to the decay of individual atomic particles.

It's going to take a fuck of a long time, but I won't be around for the intervening period, so won't really care too much.

It does of course raise questions about the definition of "self".

I'm absolutely certain that out of the 7 billion human beings on this planet, there will be at least several that are very close to me in terms of how they look at the world, but they are not me.

Yet I am not me either. My interests and outlook are not the same now as they used to be when I was younger. I have memories, but I cannot say for sure how true they are. I've also lost continuity. Whenever on the odd occasion I've undergone a general anaesthetic, I've gone to a level far deeper than sleep, yet woken up still "me" what ever that may be.

I suppose I might also be wrong, but my absurd idea has as much merit as any Holy Book.
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Friday, 30 November 2012

From Amsterdam to Betelgeuse

I somehow ended up with a dutch audiobook version of Douglas Adams' classic sci fi story, The Hitch-hiker's guide to the Galaxy. I go through periods where I will have my ipod connected to the car's hifi, and it popped up on shuffle the other day.

Familiarity with the story, and the distinctive names of the characters made it possible to actually follow what was going on, at least some of the time. I seem to remember that linguists consider the Dutch and English languages to be close cousins, which also helps.

But it was an interesting experience, and one that allowed me to interact with the story in an unusual way. It made me think.

Still, like the cartoon at the top of this post, much of it was "blah blah blah blah blah blah Arthur blah blah blah blah Zaphod blah blah blah", mixed with semi garbled familiar words and phrases, like "teleporten" for example.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

just a couple of interesting things...

First of all, a lake. Here it is.

So it's a fairly circular lake, with a canal flowing into it from the south. Historical imagary goes back to 1998. If I'd posted an image from 1980, you'd have seen a shallow, freshwater lake, a pretty uniform 10 feet in depth, popular with water sports enthusiasts. It's now 200 feet deep in places, and is saline. And the change happened almost overnight. There be minerals down there you see. Oil for one, and salt for another. And back in 1981, drillers on a barge inserted a 14 inch drill into the lake bed, and drilled into a salt mine. With erosion, and the solubility of salt, that 14 inch hole rapidly expanded, and the lake emptied itself into the mine. A massive vortex formed on the lake, and sucked down boats and barges, and a lot of the shores of the lake went too. The canal, which had been an outflow, now became an inflow, and formed a 150 foot high waterfall. The biggest ever in Louisiana. Compressed air blew out of the mine shafts, followed by geysers of water. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but the mine was a write off, and the lake's ecosystem has been permanently altered by the new deeper lakebed terrain, and by the now saline water. This salinity comes not from the salt mine, but from the canal, which is natuarally salty.

Secondly, an airport.

This is Paro airport, in Bhutan. It's 7,300 feet above sea level, and surrounded by mountains that are well over 10,000 feet tall. You're looking more or less to the north here, but the terrain makes it almost impossible to get in that way, so planes have to head straight for the mountain, do a tight turn, and a dog-leg, and finally land southwards, all without the aid of the kind of electronic aids you get at modern Western airports. Aparently there are only 8 pilots in the world certified to land there.

I've tried landing on it in Google Earth, but so far haven't quite managed it.

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Decision day at the allotment

It's now the wee small hours of the 27th of November, 2012. It's my younger sister's 43'rd birthday. Happy Birthday Kate. She's just given birth to a baby girl. She thought she might die in childbirth, as both pregnancies have had complications. Fortunately, mother and baby are both doing well. She won't be having any more.

It's also the date of my allotment inspection. I've put in  quite a lot of work over the last few weeks to get the plot looking something like it should.

Have I done enough? I don't know. It's certainly improved. I could have done more to get the plot looking neat, but that would have entailed spending money, and without any security of tenure, I wasn't prepared to go that far. Requests for paving and tarpaulins and the like on freecycle generated zero response this time. I shall be putting a final couple of hours in when I get up early, later today.

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Sunday, 25 November 2012

n l p

I have an ambiguous relationship with the arcane arts of NLP and hypnosis and all that.

The ambiguety comes from the fact that I don't fully understand it all.

On one hand, it seems to be a load of bollocks. On the other, it undeniably works.

I was watching Derren Brown convince some guy he was in a zombie infested prison a couple of weeks ago. The performance ended with the protagonist walking off the compound with the girl he'd rescued. Brown had used his skills to bring out particular character traits in this guy. More tangibly, as they left the set, a phone, left on a nearby table, rang. The guy picked it up, and moments later, collapsed into a deep sleep, presumably triggered by a word or noise or whatever, implanted previously by Derren.

And of course, it was all captured on video. All? Perhaps he'd interviewed 10,000 people before finding someone malleable enough.

Similarly, Paul McKenna convinced Richard Hammond (He's not a real hanster) that he didn't have a clue how to drive a car, apparently by attaching cars to something  Richard Hammond found confusing. Hammond, intent on explaining the workings of the latest Alfa Romeo, became totally bewildered. Presumably McKenna didn't go through 10,000 Top Gear presenters before he found one malleable enough, so there must be something in it.

Having the ability to manipulate how people feel and think is a natural extension of my current role. Most people fail their test, not because they can't drive properly, but because they're shitting themselves.

So I'm seriously considering doing whatever it takes to become a qualified hypnotherapist.

a) It would really enhance my role as someone who gets people through the stress of a driving test. Driving instructor and hypnotherapist. They're a natural fit really, and to some extent, I'm already doing it.
b) If I get fed up of teaching people to drive, I can get them to pack up smoking instead. It's a living, and potentially a decent living.

Yet it doesn't st comfortably with my pragmatic mind. I don't fully believe in it. 30 months ago, I went to see a hypnotherapist to give up smoking. It went thus:

1 hour - her telling me about how it was dead easy to give up, and that the NRT industry was milking smokers for billions of pounds each year (aided abnd abbetted by the NHS and Government) by getting them to believe it was impossible without their help., her telling me that my desire to smoke wasn't bad or unnatural. And that before I could have a craving, I had to have a thought. Thought being, Cigarette.

She was spot on. Thinking about it now, I have no emotional or intellectual connection to smoking. Even after a few drinks. But these last two paragraphs being next to each other doesn't mean one followed the other.

See, the second bit went on for about half an hour. I lay back in a seriously comfortable leather chair, and donned headphones. Through the phones came a relaxing soup of nondescript piano music, while hypno-lady droned on about how I would wake up to be a non smoker. She's warned me that I might fall asleep, and that this wouldnt matter. In fact I found it impossible to switch off. Her intonations involved a terminal, nasal drawl that I kept wanting to burst into laughter at. A bar of light eminating from the venetian blinds impinged on my awareness. And so. I was aware. I suppose I'd expected to feel sort of stoned or something, but I didn't feel anything.

Finally, she charged me £150. I gave her the money and left, expecting to find I no longer had any desire to smoke. Minutes later, I found that I did. I gave up anyway, because I'd spent a shitload of money on giving up. And I stayed gived up until the money I'd saved by not smoking equalled the money I'd paid to stop.

Some time later, I just stopped. Pretty much, just like that.

So I'd assumed the hypno stuff began with the chair and the headphones, but in a sense, it began on an intellectual level. That's the bit that did it for me. So was that the "real" bit? while I was off my guard or something?

So the whole damn thing is pretty confusing. I bought an expensive book called "Tranceformations" but struggled to get into it. To become a qualified NLP practitioner may cost over £1,000. It could truly make me as a successful instructor. I wish I could switch off my cynicism towards it.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Graziosa revisited.

The first blog post here at The Whole Damn World was posted on August 19th, 2008. This blog is now 4 years, 3 months, and 2 days old.

That first post just said hello. It explained that I was using google earth quite a lot, and that I was making a blog to share the interesting things I found. Since then, it's broadened out into my general, life blog, sharing the good times and bad, whatever comes along. Still, it's always had, and probably always will have, a focus on the world as seen through this remarkable bit of software. Now, as then, there can be few clearer signs that we're living in an age of marvels than being able to zoom in, in 3 dimensions, on pretty much any point on the planet, and close enough to see, in some places at least, what colour hair someone has.

But you also get, free of charge, a flight simulator that allows you to pilot a plane over that generated landscape. The regular reader is aware of course that my efforts to get to grips with this have also been a sporadic but fairly frequent subject of my posts.

My second ever post dealt with attempting to take off from an island airport, to fly around that island, and to land on the same runway. On that occasion, I crashed. Would I be any better now?

Well I do have a little more knowledge now. For example, at the end of the runway is a number. This marks the bearing (he\ding? - bear with sore head) of the runway. For Graziosa, one end has a bearing of 09, the other has a bearing of 27.  The runway at Liverpool Airport has exactly the same orientation. I thought they should add up to 36, but Manchester Airport's twin parallel runways each have 05 and 23 as their numbers, so I'm barking up the wrong tree a little on this. Still, as the picture below shows, when in flight, you get numbers on the HUD that correspond to that heading.

This time round, I have video capturing software, so if you have 6 minutes and 38 seconds to spare, you can watch it. I've even set it to music. It turns out that I have several tunes of exactly the right length. The love scene from Zabriskie point was as boring as the video, so I went for a bit of classical instead.

As you can see, I managed to land on the runway, although it was a little bouncy. The runway is somewhat obscured by clouds, although the clouds themselves are  a clue to it's whereabouts. Still, a straighter approach would have been better.

Being competent at something doesn't mean never making a mistake. It means when you do make a mistake, you know how to get back in control.

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The island that isn't.

Now and again, Google Earth related stories occur in the mainstream  media. Sometimes, I'll take the time to post here about them.

Today, there's an article on the BBC's Website about an island that's listed on various maps and charts, and also on google maps/ google earth, but at that location, there is only salt water, to a depth of over a kilometre. The BBC even included a graphic that showed the wrong bit of ocean along with the caption,

"Sandy Island can be seen as the shaded area due west of New Caledonia"

So there's a nice irony there. In attempting to show where something isn't, they've shown the wrong place.

Sandy Island isn't over 200 miles to the west of where the picture above thinks it isn't.

And here it isn't.

According to GE, there's a big hole in the world at this point although I had my mouse hovering over the location when I took this snapshot, and it reckons that the ground is 2 feet above seal level, rather than 4,500 feet below sea level. So it looks like some hasty revisionism is going on here.

There is an earlier, historical image, dating from early in 2009.

And it's still not an island, sandy or otherwise. Just clouds and ocean.

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Update: There's been some revising going on on the BBC's page too. They now have updated their photograph to show where the island actually isn't insead of where nobody thought it wasn't.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Moore's Law

I just found an old newspaper page in a drawer. It's dated Saturday July 10, 1999, and features an advert for refurbished  and new PC's.

A top of the range refurbished model would cost you £381.60. It was a Dell P200 with 32Mb RAM, a 1.2Gb Hard Drive and a 36x CD rom player. It also came with a 14" CRT monitor, a sound card, and speakers.

But if you had the money, you could go for a brand new system.

£1,118.00 would get you a new non branded PC featuring an Intel PIII  500Mhz processor, 128Mb or RAM, a masive 10.2Gb Hard Drive, a 3.5" floppy drive,  a 16Mb graphics card, a soundblaster live sound card, a tower case, creative speakers and sub woofer, a 5x speed DVD player, a keyboard and a mouse.

No monitor is mentioned.

So 13 years ago, that's what you could get if you really pushed your budget. It's about then that I got my first PC I think. A 300Mhz system that was overclocked to 375Mhz.

According to Moore's Law, speed doubles every 18 months. By Jan 2000, a decent system would have a 1Ghz processor. By June 2001, a 2Ghz processort. By Jan 2003, a 4 Ghz processor.

What seems to have happened is that raw processor speed just wont go that much quicker than that, and what's happened since is the deveopment of multi-core systems. CPU speed multiplied by number of cores = faster still. My main PC, which I had made about 4 years ago, is based around a dual core 2.8Ghz processor. I spent about £300, but gave the guys that built my system, a hard drive, monitor, operating system disk, and half decent sound card, which allowed them to spend the money on a fast CPU, plenty of DDR2 RAM, and a fairly good graphics card. It's still a pretty quick system, and can handle most modern applications.

Still, improvements keep on coming. My mate Dave has a system that has a similar processor to mine, but it also has 4 hefty SSD hard drives. With no spin up time, it boots up like a greased weasel. The main logjam now is his hard drive controller, and the width of his internet pipe.

So it looks like Moore's Law will continue to apply for a little while yet,  but just like everything else, it's going to be subject to the laws of diminishing returns.

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Thursday, 15 November 2012


My younger (42 years old) sister gave birth to her second, and presumably last human being on 14th November 2012.

I'm a multiple uncle. I am not a father. I don't expect to ever be a father. I'm in a monogamous relationship with  a post menopausal woman.

Monogamous. Gamous. Gamete.

We're biologically hardwired to have intercourse. Our social structures are geared up to encouraging the biological imperative, from anto abortion/anti-contraception strictires to working families tax credit.

But we're also creatures of intellect. Another dialogue is possible.

I enjoy sex, but I think 7 billion humans beings is probably more than enough, at least until we work out how to make things work on/in other planets/solar sytems.

When I was younger, I worked in a creche. I was good at establishing a relationship with children. I did it for several years. So I did my fatherhood by proxy. In retrospect, I think I was motivated by a refusal to grow up more than by a desire to propagate my genes.

Today, I work in a vocation that has a pastoral element. I am fulfilled.

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Tea with artists and intellectuals...

For the past few months, me and Bren have been attending a dinner party on the first friday of each month. Our hosts are a couple who have been part of the local art scene for a long time, and the invite is really extended to me because I'm married to a woman who's an artist and the proprieter of a shop that sells stuff that's been hand made by local craftspeople and artists.

Those present vary only slightly, and include an author, an accomplished photographer, and a variety of other friends and acquaintences of our hosts.

The Author, Michael Carson, told us of some work he was doing in West Kirby, to get a monument erected in the library. The momument honoured a man called Edmund Morel, and Michael told us a bit about his history and deeds.

I was fascinated, so I looked into things in a bit more detail and contacted Dorian Cope. Dorian has a radical history blog, On This Deity, that commemorates a whole load of unsung heroes and I thought Mr Morel would be an ideal addition to her blog. She agreed, but asked me to write something. This wasn't really what I'd expected, but I rolled up my sleeves and spent a good few hours researching and writing an essay.

The date I chose to assign was the day Morel died, as so many of the on this deity entries are, and so it was that Dorian contacted me this evening to tell me that my essay would be going up on the 12th November. And so it has.

So thank you very much to Michael Carson, for bringing Morel to my attention. Thank you too, to Dorian herself, for suggesting that I actually write this, rather than just leave it to her. I found that I enjoyed doing it, and I'm proud to see something I've written published in such a place as On This Deity.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Another bump

I got hit today. Just a minor bump. At a roundabout. It's the 4th time I've been rear ended and it's starting to get rather old.

It doesn't appear to have done any damage but I still have to get the car checked out as there could be deformation of the chassis that isn't visible from the outside.

It was 6 in the evening, and the roads were very busy. My pupil had struggled with roundabouts on the previous lesson. I'd intended to concentrate on roundabouts for this lesson, but he did his theory test yesterday, and passed it, so our lesson plan became Drive to my house, book test using house wifi, do whatever with remaining time.

As we got to the B and Q roundabout, a major motorway intersection roundabout on the outskirts of Wallasey, we were in the left hand lane. In the right hand lane there was a Transit van. The driver of the van found a safe gap and went.

Experienced drivers realise that in this situation, the vehicle moving away on the right makes a shield. If anyone is coming from the right, they will smack into the van, not into us. But my pupil, being a learner had not this skill. The guy behind us, meanwhile, had a clear view of what was coming from the right, since he had no van next to him. He started going, presumably while still looking right.

My pupil now had a view to the right, and as it was clear, he started getting ready to go. At that moment though, there was a now familiar bump, and it quickly became apparent that we'd been hit from behind. I got out and had a quick look, but it didn't look like there was much to see at the back of my car. I got back in, tok control, and moved the car onto the verge at the side of the road, expecting the guy in the car behind to do the same thing. He didn't. He drove alongside us, gesturing to say he was going off somewhere or other and away he went. I took his registration details as he went, and committed them to memory.

We were now parked in a difficult and potentially dangerous position. I swapped us around, and eventually found a gap in the traffic and drove on. There was no sign of the car that hit us. I drove to my house, and booked a test for my pupil, and while I was online I emailed Merseyside Police givng details of what had happened. I also checked the lights at the back of the car. They all work. There is no obvious damage, at least not by the light of a streetlamp.

All rather unfortunate of course. I had to report it to the police because it will cost me money to have the car checked for damage. The guy just wanted to get out of the way, but he shouldn't have left the scene without exchanging details.

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So what happened? Well the next morning, I had a look at the car in daylight, and there wasn't so much as a scratch on it. I had no sign of any injury. As far as I knew, neither did my pupil. I had to go see the police but I didn't really want to see things taken any further. The policeman I spoke to was also disinclined to pursue things as there was neither damage nor injury. So that's it. Nothing more to add. Move on folks, nothing to see, etc.

Elite: Dangerous

In these days of multi-core processors and 1024Mb dedicated graphics cards, it would be easy to look with some distain on the games I used to play way back when having a computer in the home started to take off.

There was an awful lot of dross out there. We knew no better of course, but we'd happily play derivative clones of a few basic concepts. When Elite came out, it was totally unlike anything else that had gone before. I'd have killed to have owned a BBC B computer just so I could play it. Eventually, it came out on the ZX spectrum, which is what I had, and I was able to finally play it to my heart's content. I still occasionally fire up the old Cobra MkIII as the original game is now abandonware, and is relatively easy to find online.

There are also more modern versions of the same game, that use fancy graphics and what have you, while staying fairly close to the spirit and feel of the original.

When 16 bit computer systems came out, a sequel, "Frontier" was developed. When I got an Amiga back in the early 1990's, I made sure I got this too, and I spent many happy hours doing boring repetitive trade runs and building up to a fully kitted out, and near as damn it unhurtable Panther Clipper.

Frontier is also now available as shareware.

There was a half arsed Elite 3 as well, but I never really took to that somehow.

Anyway, David Braben, who with Ian Bell, wrote the original game, is trying to get a massive multiplayer all singing all dancing modern version up and running using crowdsourced funds to get it off the ground.

I'm sorely tempted to pledge £20

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Saturday, 3 November 2012

A pithy aphorism

"The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise"

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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A stay of execution

I recieved an e-mail from the council's allotment officer today.

She told me that she wasn't prepared to transfer the plot from my stepson to me becuase we're not really related.

This was really missing the point. I sent a message back explaining that I was happy for the plot to stay in my stepson's name, but that I was appealing agaisnt the eviction order in the light of the work I've put in over the last few weeks.

Almost straight away, I got the following e-mail back.

Hi Mr Sharp
When a notice to quit goes out it should be permanent – I can not understand why after 2 ½ years of none working on the plot you now are going to do something on it?  Why wait until you received the dirty plot notice and four weeks after the notice to quit you now want to make a difference.  I will put the notice on hold for 4 more weeks as you request but you should adhere to the tenants agreement and keep it 75% cultivated.  I will revisit on 27.11.12 and expect to see a marked improvement otherwise the notice to quit will stand.

So it's now in my own hands. If I want to keep it, I need to sort it, and I have 4 weeks to make it into a cultivated plot. This is challenging because there's not much that can be planted at this time of year. Still, I can weed the weeds, and put membrane down over the beds so that they will be weed free come spring.

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Monday, 29 October 2012

Roadkill on the information superhighway

We've lost something. In gaining everything, we've lost something.

I once had a radio cassette player that had shortwave. With careful manipulation of the frequency, I could tune in to hissy semi-garbled transmissions from Russia or Brazil or Tunisia.

20 years ago, I was a part of a pub quiz league. It was a social event that brought teams together.

15 years ago, as I prepared to leave my flat in Birkenhead for another in Moreton, I spent an evening phoning random phone numbers in the USA. First on the East coast, then as it got later, on the west coast.

Many people just put the phone down, but I had some really interesting conversations.

I'm talking to someone in Bend, Oregon, or Rochester, NY? Same old. Did it yesterday too.

These days, the winner of the quiz is as likely to be the person who's best at sneaking google into the arena.

Now if I want to hear radio from Australia or Cambodia, I can just go online and find it. That which was once stumbled upon and listened to with fascination has become prosaic.

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Thursday, 25 October 2012

"Socialism would never work because of human nature"

On the face of it, this oft repeated maxim does make sense of sorts. All it takes is one greedy bugger, and everybody is no longer equal after all.

But try to apply it to the socialist things that nations do, and see if it fits?

Nationalisation of the railways could never work, because of human nature.

The National Health Service could never work because of human nature.

A minimum wage could never work because of human nature.

These statements are borked, aren't they? They make no sense.

But let's look at the opposite.

Opening up the raliways to the free market means the ruthless and greedy take over.

Ditto Healthcare. And I suppose a case could be made for the abolition of a minimum wage putting the weakest at the mercy of the most psychotic.

Just a thought.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

write this down so dont forget

A couple of things have come together.

Here's the first.

the second is a backgammon tournament that breaks a huge amount of new ground. I'm involved. I'm a pioneer, exploring the possibilities. In terms of the video, I'm an extrovert. Along with another player, we're driving the game We're stretching the envelope. But in this case, we're also being the most creative. We're opposed to each other, philosophically, politically, methodologically. Yet we've developed a mutual respect for each other.

Anyway, perhaps we can help each other in real life.

So this is a not to myself. find out more about the other guy. See if we can do stuff for each other in real life.

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Sunday, October 4th, 1992

Bet you couldn't say what you were doing then, but I can.

I had a job as a postman at the time, but I was on holiday. The day after, I should have been back in work, but I ended up having an extra day off.

I was in Amsterdam, or just leaving it anyway after a week spent doing what young people do when they go to Amsterdam. I was twenty three years old. I don't remember if it was the first time I went or the second or third or what, but I do remember this:

By the time it happened, I was out of the city. Probably heading for Zeebrugge or Ostende, or possibly on a coach on the way to Calais. There used to be a service called the Midnight Express that did day trips from Manchester to the Dam.. I wasn't flying home that's for sure. I was taking the ferry. But it made a convenient excuse for not going in the next day.

It would have been on the coach or ferry or at the ferry terminal that I became aware that something had gone on. I heard no bang. I saw no smoke. Yet I couldn't help be thankful that whatever had happened didn't involve me.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

4k and allotment update.

Somewhere between Wallasey and Glossop, I went through the 4,000 mile mark in my car.

This 1000 mile segment was done at an average of 50.4 mpg and an average speed of 20 mph.

I recieved a reply to my email about being evicted.

It said the allotment officer is on leave this week so they will let me know next week.

hmph. I have no choice really but to carry on working to get the plot into shape.

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Felix Baumgartner's jump as seen on Google Earth

Felix was dragged to earth by the weight of his own testicles as one person memorably wrote.

Hw jumped from a height of 128,100 feet. That's 39,045 metres. That's about 24 miles straight down. It would take me half an hour to drive it horizontally, even if I was going quite quickly. He reached the ground 9 minutes later.

Anyway, here's what 39,045 metres above Roswell, New Mexico looks like on Google Earth when you look straight down.

 And here's what it looks like when you look northwards.

To put it another way, here's what 24 miles looks like on the ground.

It's like falling from Swindon to Oxford.

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Monday, 15 October 2012

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: Tory plans to issue benefits as smart cards. 
The majority of the skilled workers still held aloof from these
processions, although their haggard faces bore involuntary testimony
to their sufferings.  Although privation reigned supreme in their
desolate homes, where there was often neither food nor light nor fire,
they were too `proud' to parade their misery before each other or the
world.  They secretly sold or pawned their clothing and their
furniture and lived in semi-starvation on the proceeds, and on credit,
but they would not beg.  Many of them even echoed the sentiments of
those who had written to the papers, and with a strange lack of
class-sympathy blamed those who took part in the processions.  They
said it was that sort of thing that drove the `better class' away,
injured the town, and caused all the poverty and unemployment.
However, some of them accepted charity in other ways; district
visitors distributed tickets for coal and groceries.  Not that that
sort of thing made much difference; there was usually a great deal of
fuss and advice, many quotations of Scripture, and very little
groceries.  And even what there was generally went to the
least-deserving people, because the only way to obtain any of this
sort of `charity' is by hypocritically pretending to be religious: and
the greater the hypocrite, the greater the quantity of coal and
groceries.  These `charitable' people went into the wretched homes of
the poor and - in effect - said: `Abandon every particle of self-
respect: cringe and fawn: come to church: bow down and grovel to us,
and in return we'll give you a ticket that you can take to a certain
shop and exchange for a shillingsworth of groceries.  And, if you're
very servile and humble we may give you another one next week.'

They never gave the `case' the money.  The ticket system serves three
purposes.  It prevents the `case' abusing the `charity' by spending
the money on drink.  It advertises the benevolence of the donors: and
it enables the grocer - who is usually a member of the church - to get
rid of any stale or damaged stock he may have on hand.

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