Fishy Art as Therapy

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Still toppling over occasionally because my inner ears have been stuffed with fast-setting concrete, and wheezing like a steam-powered thresher, I went today with my partner, Eunie, for my first job interview since the ’60s. I’d say that my new boss was already predisposed to give me a go, so it was all very cordial and agreeable. I’m now, probationally at least, the (some kind of) Editor of Niugini Blue  and Our Way  magazines. Those outside PNG won’t recognise these titles, but here “in country” they are top-drawer reading material.

I’ve got until the end of the year to prove myself a wunderkind  who will be indispensable and therefore worthy of further consideration. It’s a great opportunity and it helps to replace some of the money that we’ve lost from churches who, for one reason or another, have decided that we’re no longer suitable candidates for financial support. My new employer understands that I will keep my position (mostly hiding in the IT dungeon) at PBT as well as taking on the editorship of the two magazines. I’m going to be a very busy boy, indeed. Stay tuned.

When I got home, I collapsed in a deep stupor for a few hours. I then awoke at about 15:30 and was horrified that I’d not yet written anything to satisfy my compulsion to glorify myself on your computer screen daily. Having no other ideas, I fell back on my favourite disguise – MadDog the Artist.

My three great (okay, only ) ambitions in life were to be (1) an actor, (2) a musician and/or (3) an artist. I’ve failed miserably at all of them, not that it bothers me much. As for the acting, I simply never got a break. I know I could be a movie star, if I could just manage to get discovered. As for two and three, I’m simply too bone lazy to practice enough to gain the skills. I peck at the guitar and keyboard and I sketch stuff which is immediately fed to the office shredder. In short, I’m a dilettante.

So, I ran through my Big Pile of Images looking for pixels to massage. Being temporarily more brain damaged than usual, I hope your expectations of me will not be too high.

This one I call Falling Angels:

You’ve seen it here before is a less jazzy form.

Here’s a couple of different treatments of everybody’s favourite fish, Nemo the Clown Anemonefish, or as he is known to his intimate friends, Amphiprion percula:

The one above has simply been brutally massaged by Noise Ninja Pro, which if nudged in the right direction, can produce some nice artsy effects.

Here I gave the same image a severe beating with the Photoshop Watercolour filter. The effects probably won’t be too noticeable at the thumbnail resolution, so indulge me by clicking to enlarge:

This has always been one of my favourite images. I snapped it many years ago with my first underwater camera, a giant film rig which nearly drowned me on several occasions.

Warming to my work at hand, I found another of my favourites, a very pretty Spincheek Anemonefish known as Premnas biaculeatus  to fellow fish freaks:

I gave it a thorough thrashing with the Photoshop Poster Edges filter.

Here’s another Spinecheek which I smoothed and polished with Noise Ninja Pro:

And here is the same image treated with the Poster Edges filter:
I like the “cartoon” effect of the Poster Edges filter.

Here’s another one Poster Edged – three pretty yellow Anthea of some kind. I think that this was my best effort of the couple of hours I spent waiting to fall unconscious once again:

The more I look at that one, the better I like it. I remember being affected the same way by Elke Sommer.

Well, I think I have a couple of minutes to go before I fall out of my chair. Incidentally, I’m posting this from my house, so my war on TELIKOM must be going well while I convalesce. It’s another happy little Clown Anemonefish, Nemo’s brother-in-law, Fredrick:

Freddy also got the Photoshop Watercolour treatment. It seems to agree with him.

And now, forgive me while I pass out.

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Heart of the Hunter – Part 1

Posted in Under the Sea on November 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m fairly frantically trying to balance my work between herding a bunch of ornery computers, writing an article for Niugini Blue,  and doing my daily posts on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  There’s just no help for it. I’ve got to combine some tasks to serve dual purposes or sink into the dreaded black hole of “missed deadline” which means embarrassment and lost of precious moolah. So, I’m killing two of the three birds with one bullet (which is my not so clever way of slipping into the subject matter) by giving you a preview of the images that I’m submitting and a taste of the text. This literary snake-oil will be delivered to you in two or three parts.

My Gradpa taught me to hunt. Marksmanship was first on the list of essential skills, so, back when ammo was dirt cheap, I fired thousands of rounds at teeny-weeny targets until I was up to Granddad’s standards, which were pretty high. All this practice served me well when I went for Army training, as I qualified Expert on every weapon with which I was trained (and a few that I wasn’t supposed to be using).

Grandpa also schooled me in the psychology of the hunt, with which I became obsessed. Unfortunately, this involved a lot of blood loss, mostly to the critters at which I was shooting. I never thought much about it at the time. It was just hunting – everybody did it. Eunie and I survived a whole summer in Montana on the huge jackrabbits that I shot (she bagged a few – she is also an excellent marksman).

Anyway, not to get carried away, I had a few bad experiences with beautiful creatures whose designated bullets had not landed precisely. They tell tales about animals screaming when horribly wounded. I’m here to tell you that it can happen. It’s something that you don’t want to hear. So, I left the killing behind, cold turkey, as it were, but the other, less bloody psychological elements of the hunt have never left me.

What to do? Shoot them with a camera, of course! I didn’t dream this up. I remember when I was a kid seeing newsreels of big game hunters who had sickened of the killing and were mounting expensive cameras with huge telephoto lenses on rifle stocks. They were making a pretty drastic statement at a time when most people were fairly blasé about the whole matter of hunting. I admired these people.

No, I’m not going to unload the whole article on you here. It will run upwards of 1,600 words and I don’t expect anybody to read a post that long. So, let me get to my most recent ‘kills’. It’s illegal in most civilised places now to kill a hawk, but it’s there’s no problem with bagging a Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco)  with your camera:

Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco)This is by far the best shot that I’ve done of this species. You’ve seen many Hawkfish here before (use the search box), but this is the one, of this species, that will define my best work, at least until I get better gear.

Moving from the sublime to the clownish, this little fellow (or lady – who knows) is a Spotted Sand Diver (Trichonotus setiger):

Spotted Sand Diver (Trichonotus setiger)They are fiendishly difficult to photograph, because they do exactly what the name implies. One second it’s there on your screen, the next instant it’s dived head-first into the sand, leaving only a puff of pale powder drifting along in the current. I was trying very hard to get a black background in this shot, but I could not get low enough. If I had, you could better see the long, slender filaments extending from its dorsal fin.

Somebody out there is thinking, “Enough with the Spinecheeks, already!”, but I’m not giving up until I’ve done it perfectly. So here’s yet another  Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)I’m getting close to what I want. If you click to enlarge you can probably make out some scales and you should definitely be able to see the lateral line.

Here’s one that you have seen here only once before. This is a much better shot of the Redfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus):

Redfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus)I’d call this thing absurdly beautiful. That doesn’t mean a lot, since the ocean is chock full of absurdly beautiful things.

I’m not much of a sportsman when hunting with my camera. Sitting ducks are also on the list of endangered beasties. Nudibranchs are ridiculously easy to shoot. The don’t move very fast, maybe a metre a day. All you have to do is find them. That’s the crunch. It’s a treat to find such a nice specimen of a fairly common nudi, (Phyllidia coelestis):

Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis)Well, that’s enough for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more of the grisly trophies of my weekly ritual slaughter of the innocents of the sea.

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If Only You Knew How We BBQ

Posted in Humor, PNG Culture, Under the Sea on October 28th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today’s video clip is a bit of PNG Culture. Since images shout, while words simply whine, I’ll take you directly to The Essential PNG Barbie Preparation Technique:

The process is conceptually simple. One wants to remove any noxious substances from the barbie without destroying the delicate balance of organochemistry that provides the characteristic flavours.

One must first use a sturdy spatula, of a type that I have only seen in Australia and PNG, to de-crudify the barbie. Incidentally, these heavy spatulas double as a venerable weapon. De-crudifying consists of selectively scraping from the barbie bird poo, leaves, toasted geckos, the occasional huge beetle and any other items not deemed to be contributory to the proper seasoning. The scraping may take a while. It usually requires a couple of assistants to . . . er . . . assist  the decision process. Fights have been known to break out.

Next, having first assured that there is a roaring fire, one must use copious amounts of water (sea water, if you’re lucky enough to be close to the beach) to wash off most of the unwanted substances loosened by the scraping. A thorough washing is in order, along with further scraping to further refine the qualities of the cooking surface. This process involves much steam and hot water often erupting in unanticipated ways. Accidental scaldings are displayed as badges of honour.

Finally, and this is the critical stage, more water is applied while simultaneously brooming it off the barbie with a huge broomy sort of tool made of the spines of coconut leaves. The brooms themselves have a story worth a post. They take a long time to make and seem unnecessarily spindly and ineffective to a foreigner. However, just try to get your cleaning lady to use a fancy factory made broom. She will not touch it. It is an affront to her skill and makes a mockery of her trade. The coconut pangel  broom is clearly superior in her mind.

So, having cleaned the barbie, what shall we eat? Well, I can guarantee you it won’t be any of these:

Vagabond Butterflyfish (Chaetodon vagabundus)

That’s the Vagabond Butterflyfish (Chaetodon vagabundus). Don’t ask me why it’s called a vagabond. Sounds a little overly poetic to me.

Let’s have yet another look at an old friend the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

I seem to be embarking on a new career to get the perfect specimen shot of this critter. I’m not going to stop until we can see its scales, which are very fine. Close, but no turkey.

Here’s another one that is a little less common, the Orange Anemonefish (Amphiprion sandaracinos):

Orange Anemonefish (Amphiprion sandaracinos)

I’d say more about the Orange Anemonefish, but I’d have to make it up. No, wait. I do know that it favours a certain species of anemone called Merten’s Carpet Sea Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii)  which is what you see in the image above.

Finally, here is a teaser for a post to come in a few days. Our dear old friend (not that  old) Trevor Hattersly is about to succumb to marital bliss with his beautiful bride-to-be Karen Simmons. Tuesday night we had a little stag party (no girls popping out of cakes) at the Madang Club. I was suckered into a game of pool the rules of which were so arcane that I hadn’t figured them out until I’d lost all of my pocket money – about K50, to be exact.

Here’s Trevor lining up for a shot:

Trevor Hattersley lining up for a shot

I know  what he’s thinking. “I’m going to take all  of Messersmith’s money!”

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Ooooo, Yummy Tube Worms for Breakfast

Posted in Under the Sea on October 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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I woke up feeling faintly queasy this morning. Maybe a little too much partying yesterday? Who knows; there are so many bugs here that you could get sick every day of your life with a different one – no repeats! I’ll play the trickster this morning and offer you a breakfast of Tube Worms, specifically, Sabellastarte sanctijosephi: Tube Worm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)I don’t know if it is named after St. Joseph (surely there is more than one St. Joseph – hmmm . . . seems there might be five  others) or some person whose surname was Saintjoseph.

Here’s another shot showing the beautiful double-bowl shape of these critters:

Tube Worm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)All of these images have excellent detail. Click to enlarge so that you can see the fine, featheryness of the ‘arms’.

Here is another example:

Tube Worm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)They are filter feeders, grabbing tasty bits from the water and conducting them down the pipe. In the shot above you can clearly see the tube in which the animal lives. Only the feathery feeding apparatus is exposed. If in the least disturbed, the feathers disappear into the tube faster than you can see.

Premnas biaculeatus,  the Spinecheek Anemonefish is getting to be a regular sight here:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)That’s because I’m seeking to capture the definitive specimen shot of this beauty. My theory is that, if I take enough pictures of it, eventually I will have taken the most perfect image of it ever captured. This asssumes, of course, that I’m going to live long enough to manage that trick.

Okay, one more shot for today. This is another frame of a series of a ship coming in to Astrolabe Bay  in the morning sun. I showed you a gloomy image from the series yesterday. Here’s a slightly less gloomy shot:

Sunrise and ShipThe ship look so insignificant on the vast sea. That’s what I was going for in this shot. It’s welcomed safely into port by the rays of the morning sun.

Hmmm . . . waxing rather too poetic this morning.

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Our Reefs – Our Life – for Our Way

Posted in Opinions, Under the Sea on October 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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I just submitted an article to Our Way,  the in-flight magazine of Airlines PNG with the title Our Reefs – Our Life.  It addresses the issue of “The Other Carbon Dioxide Problem” that is gradually sneaking into the news. Today, I’ll give you a (very) condensed version of the article and show you the fifteen images that go with it. Sorry if it seems a little disjointed. I just jerked out whole sections of text to make it short enough for a readable post. The original ran about 1,600 words.  [please read the UPDATE at the end of the post]

Covering more than 5.4 million square kilometres of the Southwest Pacific, one percent of the Earth‘s surface, the Coral Triangle extends from Indonesia in the west to the Solomon Islands in the east and the Philippines in the north. It contains more than 3,000 species of fish. More than 600 species of reef-building coral, seventy-five percent of all coral species on Earth, abide here.

The hottest debate involves the complex issue of the Carbon Cycle. Carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. This happens as rain falls through the atmosphere. You can perform a simple experiment in your kitchen to understand why this is important. Fill a glass half full of water and add a few spoons of vinegar. Vinegar is acidic. It will be your substitute for the carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean water. Drop a small sea shell into the glass. When you come back in a few hours you will see bubbles forming on the sea shell and rising to the surface of the water. These bubbles are carbon dioxide.

The animal that once inhabited the sea shell worked very hard to build its house by extracting carbon from the sea water to form calcium carbonate, one of the primary structural materials of the ocean. If you had put the sea shell in plain water, nothing would have happened. However, because the water is acidic, it is reversing the building process by pulling the carbon away from the calcium carbonate, combining it once again with oxygen, and releasing it again into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Research has disclosed that in the past 250 years the oceans have absorbed about 530 billion tonnes of excess carbon dioxide, triggering a thirty percent increase in ocean acidity.

The acidity of the oceans remained relatively constant over the last 20 million years. Projections now indicate that ocean acidity will double by the year 2100. Go back to your kitchen and try that little experiment again using twice as much vinegar.

A healthy ocean takes huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the air and puts it safely on the bottom. As free-swimming creatures die, their remains, containing carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, sink to the depths and are effectively removed from the cycle until tectonic movements subduct them under plates and spew them out of volcanoes again as fresh carbon dioxide. This recycling of carbon takes hundreds of millions of years.

The other important carbon sequestration action of the ocean occurs when creatures use carbon as one of the primary building materials of coral reefs. The effect is the same. Carbon dioxide is removed from our atmosphere and put somewhere more useful and less harmful. An ocean that is too acidic not only cannot play its role in the Carbon Cycle by putting carbon in a safe place, but instead releases yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because of the release of the gas as you saw in the experiment.

A more immediate danger is that the very ability of sea life to reproduce and grow properly is seriously impaired by the increased acidity. Researchers are now finding many more examples of the ways in which ocean life will be stunted and diminished by the increased acidity. Doomsayers predict dead oceans. Dead oceans mean a dead planet.

Atmospheric contamination by the effects of man’s continuing efforts to consume the entire planet are global, but here in Madang, as in countless other places around the world, our life-giving reefs are threatened by local sources of poison. Even as you read this, a debate rages in Madang between the conservation-minded and commercial interests, in the form of a mining company, concerning the relative safety of dumping tailings into Astrolabe Bay, our cradle of life.

The mining company reports that the depth at which the massive quantities of intensely poisonous heavy metals and other noxious substances are dumped is safe because it is below the layer at which surface waters and deep waters mix. Other reports say the opposite. The point is that the killing substances are going into the ocean. It matters little, over the long term, how deep.

To this writer, the debate itself seems insane. The idea of dumping any poisons anywhere into the oceans that sustain life on our planet seems to be madness and those desiring to do it in the name of profit and those governments allowing it need to be called upon to explain and justify such action. UPDATE: Recent reports on safe submarine tailings disposals and the specific plans for this case seem to me to support the position that there will be no significant environmental damage. Not being a scientist, I can only accept that the current plan is acceptable, considering and balancing the desparate need for development.

As individuals, we concern ourselves with our own futures and those of our children, their children, and future generations. Corporations and, apparently, governments have little concern for the distant future. Can we trust those whose primary concern is the presentation of the next annual report at a stockholders’ meeting or the next governmental election to have the future of our grandchildren at the top of their agendas? Let them prove to us that they are trustworthy.

History shows us clearly that we have the power, as collectives of like-minded and concerned individuals utilising the tools of our democracy in a peacefull manner, to force sweeping changes of policy. Does the name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ring a bell? We can take back control of our future.

Do we care enough? Are we brave enough to do so?

Well, that’s about half of what I wrote. You’ve seen many of these images already on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.

UPDATE: My good friend Kyle Harris emailed me in time to keep me from making a fool of myself. I’ll have to do a bit of rewriting before the article is published. The oceans are not, in any way acidic, nor are they likely to be in the near future. On the scale that science uses (the pH scale), where water is neutral, the oceans are alkaline, not acidic. I know this, of course, but my article, as written, makes a dog’s breakfast of it. I should be saying that the ocean is becomming more acidic in the sense that it is less alkaline – it’s moving towards neutral. Since ocean life is used to the alkalinity, the move towards neutral (less alkaline – more acidic) requires that they adapt or die. If the move is too fast, then adaptiation is not possible – there’s just not enough time. I also need to make it clear that the vinegar demonstration is completely unscientific – it’s just a trick. Kyle mentioned studies that indicate that the oceans will not likely reach neutral (pH 7) and move onto the acidic side of the pH scale until about 2200. You’ll have to wait longer than that to see seashells bubbling carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Though I have no defense, and Kyle is absolutely right, I’ll mention that I just Googled “more acidic” and ocean and got 56.000 hits. Aparantly I’m not the only one using the term.

This teaches me a lesson. When I’m dealing with a complex subject, oversimplification is worse that not saying anythign at all. Thanks, Kyle.

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More Canon G10 Underwater Goodness

Posted in Under the Sea on July 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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You wouldn’t think that something called a Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)  could be very pretty. You might be wrong:

Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)

I shot the one above inside the reef at the west end of Pig Island.  I’m not completely sure of the identification, because there are several that have similar characteristics.

Many of the marine worms are quite beautiful. Have a look at these Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):

Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus)

I showed some Sea Squirts the other day. Here is another shot of Didemnum molle:

Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)

This is yet another kind of Sea Squirt (Phallusia julinea):

Sea Squirt (Phallusia julinea)

There are so many species of Sea Squirts around this area that I think one could write a book about them. I doubt if it would make any best-seller lists, though. No money there.

I do love patterns. This Coral (Favites sp.)  is one of my favourites:

Coral (Favites sp.)

You have also seen a lot lately of the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

The Spinecheek is an easy target for the Canon. It stays close to its anemone and will actually hold still for as much as a half-second, a rare thing for an anemonefish to do. They are among the most nervous and paranoid of fishes. When I’m shooting them, I sometimes imagine Woody Allen dialogue escaping from their tiny, toothy mouths.

The Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is another fishy friend that is easy to shoot:

Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)

Usually the problem with the Lizardfishes is that it’s a bit difficult to see them in the first place. You have to find one before you can take its photo. What usually happens is that I don’t see it until I’m close enough to make it move. Then, since they are so quick, it’s difficult to see where it went.

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Underwater Eye Candy – the Canon G10 Again

Posted in Under the Sea on July 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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The fun just keeps on rolling with the new Canon G10 and it’s buddy, the WP-DC28 underwater housing. Certain types of shots seem to come out better, and I’m at a loss to find a technical explanation. All I can say is, “It just works.”

Here’s an example:

Sea Squirts (Oxycorynia fascicularis)

The above are a kind of Sea Squirt, specifically, Oxycorynia fascicularis,  as if you care. I’m sure that somebody cares, but he or she is probably not reading this. In the past, when I’d try photographing these, the green sea squirts would come out very flat looking and lifeless and no amount of post-processing with Photoshop would revive them. Now they seem more lifelike. I’ve had this same problem with certain flowers which are very monochromatic – one colour, and very saturated. The only thing that I can imagine is that the G10 has more dynamic range for each colour in the middle range of luminosity.

This starfish (Fromia milleporella)  is a good example:

Starfish (Fromia milleporella)

The gradations in the red shade spectrum are much more discernible than I’ve been able to get before.

Okay, enough technobabble. It’s probably just magic, anyway. Here is another example. The polyps on this solitary coral (Heliofungia actiniformis)  are much clearer and more three dimensional than I’ve been able to achieve before:

Solitary coral polyps (Heliofungia actiniformis)

Clicking any of the above will give more detail. I wish I could provide higher resolution shots for you to view. My standard size is 1600 pixels maximum dimension, but when I have to compress the files to get them down to around 200K a lot of detail is swallowed up by the JPG compression, so the enlarged versions don’t look nearly as good as my originals. If you ever want high-res versions, just email me and I’ll put them up or make them available to you.  Maybe someday, I’ll start a high-res page where I can put my best shots.

This is an example of a shot where no amount of camera foolery will improve the view:

Decorated Goby [possible] (Istigobius decoratus)

It is, I think, a Decorated Goby (Istigobius decoratus).  There are more Goby species than just about any other fish. My book only has about 200, a fraction of the total number. You can’t do anything to make it more visible because it’s supposed to be nearly invisible.  Taking shots of highly camouflaged critters is always a losing proposition.

Getting back to easy, reliable shots, the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)  never disappoints:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)

The shot above, taken with flash, required almost no post-processing. It was a little on the green side, so I corrected for that and cleaned up the backscatter from the flash. Other than that, it is pretty much the way in came from the camera.

This shot of a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  on the attack is a different story:

Clark's Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)

The water was full of particulate matter, which I had to clean up. It was also very aqua coloured instead of blue. That’s probably a problem with white balance. Since I’m shooting in the RAW mode, I don’t have any. That’s why it’s a problem. In this case, there was quite a bit of work to do on the colours. You can see some fakey traces of it in the fins of the fish.

It’s not perfect, but It makes me grin anyway.

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