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Principia Procrastinia
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in fhtagn's LiveJournal:

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Thursday, March 12th, 2015
4:52 pm
Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
9:00 pm
Work Atmosphere
We use thermos flasks a great deal at work - we could spend £250 on a single, fragile glass vacuum dewar or we could buy ten moderately priced camping thermos flasks - the extra efficiency in liquid nitrogen is not worth the outlay. But I digress. The latest batch are platic-coated metal, and the top/cap/mug bits are also in use in the lab.

I left one of the mugs at the back of my hood last week, where I'd been using it to hold a dry-ice/acetone both to cool a reaction. Yesterday, I noticed that it had changed colour and gone ... reddish. It turns out that the atmosphere in my hood is sufficiently caustic that it had not only eaten away all the coating, but was merrily chewing away at the steel as well, rusting it to hell.

I'm torn between (a) I work with really cool shit! and (b) I breathe this every day.
Saturday, October 5th, 2013
8:24 pm
Musings on the abuse of power
So, superheroes.

I've had a few thoughts about them of late. weebleflip and I watched Painkiller Jane recently. It's a very, very low budget film which is effectively a superheroine origin story. As a film, it's a wee bit crap. As a feature-length pilot for a pretty damned decent TV series, it was promising, and indeed had all the hallmarks right down to the type and application of the special effects. It also had the suave, morally ambiguous love interest, the mute kid who knows the city's tunnels like the back of his hand, the wise-cracking street doc, the contacts inside the military and more, including a really fun bad-guy. So, having watched it, I hit Wikipedia and read more.

As it turns out, it was tangentially (only one name remains 50% the same) based on a comic series of the same name. And, having made the film, they did indeed make a TV series. It sank without trace, in large part I suspect because it too only retained the obligatory 50% of one name. Yep, they came up with a third origin story, a new set of enemies and weirdness and got rid of the whole cast of supporting characters. I really hate it when they do that.

All of which brings me to what I've actually been irritated about. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Excuse me whilst I spit. Firstly, they ressurect a character purely for a spin-off. I dislike that at the best of times. In this case, however, they bring back the chap whose shittily managed death was the laughingly bad catalyst for bringing together a bunch of misfits, only two of whom actually regarded him as any different from the rest of the faceless mooks around themselves, in order to get them all in one place to watch the deus ex machina end of the film. That adds insult to injury.

The real problem, however, is that the character in question was an evil piece of shit. Really. Watch "Thor". Watch "Iron Man". Actually, watch anything in which he appears. The man has the air of Nuremburg about him at the best of times, serving a potent authority secure in the knowledge that this makes him right and that any harm others suffer along the way is entirely justified. He's not even an hard man making hard decisions, beloved as Holywood is of that particular theme, but a minion with an obsequious air of humility, following orders. He's a posterchild for the banality of evil and now he's the one around whom they chose to build a series? I really do not understand his inexplicable popularity, but I am disturbed by it.
Sunday, May 26th, 2013
2:23 pm
If you book them, they will come.
I have luggage once more! This is a good thing.
3:02 am
My first impressions of Québec City (after a night's sleep) are chiefly that it is very cold and very wet. I say that as a Scot currently living in Manchester. Very cold. Very wet. Probably unfair of me, I know, but bloody hell was today unpleasant. We did the walk to the conference centre today to make sure we could find it and work out how long it would take us for when things kick off tomorrow. In doing so, we discovered one of the important things which, in hindsight, should have been obvious and another which is just annoying as an outsider.

The first thing is that we didn't extrapolate all that we should have done from the fact that the conference centre overlooks Québec's Old Quarter. Québec's historical walled bit is, as was so often the case, built on the side of a soding great hill. The conference centre overlooks it, literally. Well, it would were the Hilton not blocking the view. Out hotel, on the other hand, is marginally above the floodplain of a small river. Forty minutes is a long time to walk uphill, and a knee-and-hip-and-calf buggering trip back down again afterwards. The second bit is that as a Brit, you immediately notice that Québecois roads are extremely wide. It takes a little longer to notice that the city blocks are actually really rather small. The net effect is that you spend an awful lot of time crossing the road in a country with bloody anti-Jay walking laws. When you're squinting into the lashing rain, waiting for permission to cross, the annoyance factor is significant. There's also the odd thing in that the time allocated to cross a road seems to be utterly arbitrary. You press a button (or wave your fingers under a sensor which provides no feedback at all) and wait for the orange hand to turn to a white cartoon man walking and a countdown of the number of seconds remaining. These have thus far ranged from eighteen seconds to sixty five seconds for not appreciably different widths of road, and there seems to be little rhyme or reason about it.

Still no luggage, as it happens.

Right, film reviews. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a film along the lines of Van Helsing in terms of plot and special effects. The major difference is that this one makes Van Helsing look restrained and understated. Here we have witchhunters with weaponry a mere hundred or more years in advance of their surroundings (and they get points for joking about this themselves in the film), obeying laws of physics perhaps better described as vague guidelines. Well, maybe they're self-regulating? It works for banks, after all. Yeah. This movie is silly. The silliness gets interupted at a few moments by monologues to advance the plot, but it usually picks up again rather swiftly, and we go back to silly fantasy violence. Yes, lots of gory, over-the-top, utterly ridiculous but rather fun fantasy violence. This film is, in general, best described as the film equivalent of good eighties metal, daft and aware of it, but having to much fun with the codpieces and the screaming solos to care. There are a couple of dodgy bits (The diabetes thing was, well, just out of place. Easily ignored.) of which the only really irritating one was the cheerful restatement of the old Hollywood (and everyone else's, especially White Wolf) favourite device that evil people are ugly and marked by their sins, whereas good people are beautiful and sexy and, and that you can tell good from evil by examining the teeth. So, in conclusion, this film is much like a firework display set to Alice Cooper. Sure, it's over soon and doesn't contain anything you've not seen or heard before, but you had a great time and it entertained.

9 is a very short title. It's an animated film about ... about some tiny golem puppets, animated in a post-apocalyptic world, trying to save it. The woo-woo is strong in this plot, with a huge chunk of mysticism and "science is soulless and destructive, exept when it's really simple because then it's innovation bringing joy and wonder and light", but frankly compared to a lot of the drek out there, it's not that bad. The real joy is the art direction. The designs, the way scenes are framed, the style ... the whole film is utterly beautiful. Probably also terrifying to small kids, by the way, because it's also extremely creepily done. The baddies are to the lead characters (sack-cloth puppets, essentially) what the Cenobites are to humans, and to be honest pretty unpleasant (in an oddly beautiful, if grotesque, way) to humans too. They do their job very well. I can't really summarise the plot (unlike H&G:WH, there is actual plot) without spoiling it, but this film I really do recommend highly. If you can, watch it.

Ech. Right. t'other two can follow later. I'm knackered.
Saturday, May 25th, 2013
5:23 pm
Travel narrows the mind wonderfully
Wow, an LJ post. Work has sent me to Québec City, and here I have arrived. My luggage remains in boody Heathrow, however. The trip out was, on the whole, a farce. We arrived at the airport only for my travelling companion to realise that he had left all his plastic money at home, with no time to go back and get it. Cue a mad plan to get a colleague to come to the airport and get his keys to then pick it up and send it over with our boss, coming later. That done, our flight was then delayed for two hours. Oh, and BA couldn't check us in for our connection, but could check our baggage through.

Upon *eventually* arriving in Heathrow, we rushed to the Air Canada desk just as our flight rose into the sky. The extremely helpful gentleman at the desk did get us onto another flight, at least, and one which was actually slightly better for our connections, in fact. Cue a wait, a flight (delayed by an hour), and arriving in Toronto to wait by a carousel for far too long, conscious that our stop-over time had been rather eaten into, and then a long chat with yet another Air Canada chappy about our luggage. This took still more time, during which our flight started boarding.

We ran. We ran and reached yet another bloody security checkin which ground to a halt as there was only one lane operating and of the two people ahead of us, one was arguing that the half-blender with explosed blades was perfectly acceptable to take onto the flight and the other was insisting the the bottles of cologne in his hand luggage weren't actually liquid. Naturally, our gate was at the far end of the concourse. As the last call echo'd, we got through and, beltless and with utied shoelaces, ran again and further. We did make it, but I can't imagine we were popular with the rest of the passengers.

We eventually arrived in Québec City, and the bloke there was very friendly and helpful about making sure our bags reach the hotel when eventually they arrive. In general, in fact, the Air Canada staff were great. Unlike the Air Canada inflight food and coffee, alas, but you can't have everything.

We're here, the hotel has a salt-water swimming pool (why the hell salt-water?) and WiFi and the bed 0is comfortable. Expect more to follow, reviewing the films I watched en route (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, 9,The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Last Action Hero. (Fun, Beautiful, Shite and Fun, in order.)
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
10:43 am
Henley's Formulas(sic) for Home and Workshop
One of my most recent acquisitions is Henley's Formulas(sic) for Home and Workshop, a book which may essentially be described as a recipe book for everything you might ever need living in an isolated community in a post-industrial society. Specifically, it assumes that you can in fact acquire all those useful chemicals which used to be stocked everywhere (various acids and refined elements, that sort of thing) but are now much harder to acquire because in general governments are both fearful of their populations and regard them as incompetent children.

Anyway, the book has recipes for everything. Everything. A quick flick through finds: "To make a transparent cement for glass", seven different recipes for "Pastes for paperhangers", seventeen different elemental compositions for metals suitable for "physical and optical intstruments, metallic mirrors, telescopes, etc", six chewing gum recipes, instructions on how to rivet china, many, many toothpaste and toothpowder recipes, dozens of inks, instructions on how to apply lettering to many surfaces, recipes and instructions for etching upon different metals and glass, as well as electroplating, how to make your own tin-foil (with admonitions that lead-free foil is not to be used to wrap chocolate), multiple recipes for photographic papers and their developing solutions, soap recipes, a range of explosives and their formulation (including cordite), quite a lot on solders and soldering, and of course how to make artificial stone of various types. Everything. Allow me to provide some examples.

A simple chemical refrigerant which is efficient and at the same time low in cost is the following:
Prepare a ten percent dilution of sulphuric acid in water. Place this in a wooden tub or stone jug and allow to cool. Add a handful of Glauber's salts for each quart of solution. The temperature will drop sharply, and the cooler the solution is to start with the lower the resulting temperature will be. Under good conditions a test tube of water may be frozen by placing it in the mixture.

To Take Boiling Lead in the Mouth
The metal used, while not unlike lead in appearance, is not the ordinary metal, but is really an alloy composed of the following substances:
Bismuth ..... 8 parts
Lead ...... 5 parts
Tin ........2 parts

To prepare it, first melt the lead in a crucible, then add the bismuth and finally the tin and stir well together with a piece of tobacco pipe stem. This "fusibile metal" will melt in boiling water, and a teaspoon cast from the alloy will melt if very hot water be poured into it. If the water be not quite boiling, as is pretty sure the be the case if tea from a teapot is used, in all probability the heat will be insufficient to melt the spoon. But by melting the alloy and adding to it a small quantitiy of quicksilver a compound will be produced, which, though solid at the ordinary temperature, will melt in water very much below the boiling point.

Fulminating Power - I
Niter, 3 parts; carbonate of potash (dry), 2 parts; flowers of sulphur, 1part; reduce them separately to a fine powder, before mixing them. A little of this compound (20 to 30 grains), slowly heated on a shovel over the fire, first fuses and becomes brown, and then explodes with a deafening report.

There are many things to love about the book. The fact that is consistently uses the subjunctive, for instance, or that despite being an American product it spells Sulphur correctly and does not resort to an F. There's also something charmingly entertaining about a magic trick which involves polluting a friend's drink with heavy metals - one of the other recipes for something similar also made use of Cadmium. The quantity of Fulminating Powder above, recommended to be heated upon a shovel (and therefore at arms length as opposed to merely upon a knife blade as is often the case, is between a sixteenth and a twenty fifth of an ounce. Clearly a perfectly safe mixture. It also neglects to note that the mixture will also detonate upon sufficient grinding.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012
12:03 am
Well, lists of links and commentary are almost as good as opinion and life-stories, right?
For many years now the ultimate question has, contrary to Adams, been known: What is beer? Curiously, it falls to an American marketing campaign to tell us.

I have recently upgraded my mobile phone. Well, what I actually did was dither about between my two choices (The HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S II) and then eventually click on box to get them to send me the latter. The HTC One X is, without doubt, a ridiculous powerhouse of a device, and a very cunningly designed one. It is also, without doubt, exactly the sort of direction I'd rather phones stopped taking - as with the iPhone, there are essentially no user servicable parts. Storage is capped at the default 32GB, and the battery can't be changed. Sure, it's a better OS and a more interesting toy than the iPhone, but that sort of bollocks should be discouraged. Not, really, that I think that my decision will have any real weight on its own, but hopefully enough people with manage to resist the lure of simple/shiny in favour of real ownership of their phones and utility. That said, I can see why teenagers might be lured, hormones in hand as it were, to the iPhone.

On the rather different subject of the British in Wartime(tm), I recently came across a review of war-story too unbelievable to publish but which nevertheless filled the brains of Brits young and old - The Falklands Conflict. As our reviewer takes great pains to point out, the mere fact that this tripe actually happened is no reason for such stupendously unbelievable codswallop to allowed into print.

Continuing the theme of distances being a long way, we must consider that to define out end-points for a journey we either require a useful coordinate system for referring to the surface of what might charitably be called a deformed oblate sphere, or named destinations. The Atlas of True Names attempts to make this timeless by listing locations not by their mundane, workaday labels but by their eternal essences. Specifically, it lists places not by their modern handles, but by what those noms de guerre mean. Some of the results are really rather lovely.
Monday, March 26th, 2012
3:09 pm
Yep, our glorious leaders are stupid as well as corrupt
In a recent report on the use of iPads by MPs (see the BBC here), the conclusion was that this had saved "several thousand pounds" because "they could circulate information electronically rather than in hard copy." These are the MPs who already have an allowance of five computers, but are incapable of circulating files electronically.

From this, we can conclude several things.
(a) Our MPs are too thick to use email or indeed any other method of file transfer, and that no server exists for efficient file transfer within government, unless they interact with it via an inefficient touch screen interface. Keyboards are complex and scary unless virtual.
(b) Our MPs use staggering quantities of paper needlessly or are extraordinary liars. I can't find the length of the trial period, but assuming the 16 MPs over 6 months and that thousands in this case is £1500 ... a ream of paper costs, at retail prices, £5. We shall assume that at the very least the person in charge of office supplies is not a blithering idiot and they are not purchasing them at retail prices, but that gives us a lower limit. That's a minimum of 18.75 reams of 500 sheets of paper per MP purely for internal communication.
(c) When presented with expense accounts and little to no accountability, people will spend money on toys at every opportunity.
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011
8:14 pm
Important Life Lessons
Well, another day, another flat story. Today, I woke to no hot water. A plumber was dispatched after I called the agents after a fair while of banging my head against it trying to work out what was wrong. It turned out there were two problems - the first and most serious was that the pressure in the system was too low and so it wouldn't turn on. The second was that, um, it couldn't anyway because a box had nudged up against the boiler power switch. On the plus side, I do at least know where the switch is.

In the course of trying to find out why the pressure had dropped, it was discovered that one of the valves wasn't. Luckily they had a replacement and fitted it swiftly. Of course, as luck would have it, in the course of this something happened which buggered the pressure gauge. I now have a working boiler, but no idea whether or not it's going to send the flat sky high (Well, I'm assured that they tested the pressure release valve and so the worst that could happen is a passerby outside being hit by a spray of superheated water). Luckily, this is enough of a fault that it looks like that agency won't learn about the misplaced box.

On a completely different topic, I received a fantastically passive-aggressive email from Facebook today:
Hi [Redacted],
Here's some activity you may have missed on Facebook.
2 notifications

[Redacted], [Redacted],1st_law , and 4 other friends have posted statuses, photos and more on Facebook.
You have missed some popular stories:
[Redacted] commented on [Redacted]'s status.

This was immediately followed by a big button (have I mentioned recently how people and entities which use HTML email should be publicly dismembered as an example to others?) entitled, "Go to Facebook"! Shortly thereafter was the lovely sentence, "You are only receiving important updates and summary emails instead of individual notification emails. You can turn individual email notifications back on at any time." It cannot have escaped your attention that not only was no important information (or indeed any real information at all) given, but there is no way to know if anything to which they have referred was important at all. [Redacted] the third, being as it was my elder brother, is pretty much guaranteed to be absolute twaddle for a start, almost certainly wittering about hair-dressing. On top of that, at no point was anything actually summarised at all in any way. Finally, the fact that I turned off email notifications was supposed to be a subtle hint that I didn't want to receive email notifications and not, as Facebook has interpreted it, an invitation to send me fucking email notifi-fucking-cations! (See, I'm being positive about it!)[1] Really, it's enough to make you appeciate that this bloke and his campaign, Europe vs Facebook are engaged in public service.

[1]I do like being able to make puns like that. Thankfully even more than I dislike the puns themselves.
Tuesday, October 18th, 2011
10:52 pm
Moss Side is really quite lovely ...
Ooh, time for a real post for once. I write this sitting on one of my arm chairs, carefully sandwiched between a coffee-table and the top of a dining-room table lying on its side whilst leaning on my sofa bed. You can, more or less, step over them to move between the entry hall in the kitchen but it involves a certain degree of stretching from myself so I suspect anyone any shorter would be out of luck. The rest of my furniture is either disassembled in the hall and main bedroom, or stacked carefully in the second bedroom. My books are currently taking up the bulk of the main bedroom's floor. This somewhat precarious situation is the result of rather a lot of work humphing boxes around and I fully expect more will be required.

You might think, from the above, that I am about to move house, but you would be wrong. I have just moved, and now reside in Manchester, home of ... well, thus far I'd say rain, Thai food and red brick buildings with delusions of stonework ancestry, though the emphasis is largely on the rain. The reason for the move is that I'm about to start working for a nice chap at the University, dwarfishly delving too deeply into the secrets of the universe and keeping my fingers crossed that any Balrog we meet shows interesting reaction characteristics.

The reason for the distinctly bloody awkward arrangement of everything inside the new flat is that we discovered upon arrival that a few things had not been done. Firstly, the previous tenant (and by extension the letting agency) had not cleaned the place properly. Secondly, they had sealed the place night and tight and turned off the heating completely. It turns out that the second, coupled to the first, results in mould on such infrequent features as doors, window-frames and skirtingboards, as well as thickly festooning the uneven surface of bathroom wallpaper. The kitchen, in contrast, was merely greasy (and still is to a certain extent, I need to have another bash at it with more surfactants later), and by greasy I mean that there was a millimetre layer of caked grease sunken into the kitchen tiles and grouting and there is now, elbow-grease later, merely a slight trace of grease. Soon it too will be eradicated, going the way of the dodo, good etiquette and governmental science research funding.

Anyway, the net result is that the removal men (Tenniswoods, a Newcastle based company, who were phenomenally efficient, helpful and well organised - bloody brilliant in fact) were instructed to put everything which would fit in one room, thus allowing the rest to be systematically cleaned. The living room and kitchen were first (the kitchen is a work in progress, but it's now got clean work surfaces and cupboards, so is usable as a base of operations) and swiftly populated.

My work for today (other than cancelling my benefits which was smooth and easy save for one lass who might have made life more difficult by trying to be less helpful but I doubt she could have been much worse) consisted of going to the letting agents with a list of faults and problems, as well as photos. The agent, slightly defensively, insisted that they weren't on the inventory but agreed to send a contractor around to assess things. He showed up 15 minutes later, fixed a few small things, slapped some fungicide on the mildew which had resisted our scrubbings and bleachings, and then summoned her. Ten minutes after she'd arrived, we were making arrangements to have the blinds ripped out and replaced, paint patched and fixed in some spots and the whole of the bathroom steam cleaned, the wallpaper removed, the plaster treated with fungicide and fungicidal paints and the bathroom cabinet replaced completely. I wish it hadn't needed to be done, but I will say that once the problems were identified, there was scarce time to blink before things started happening to fix them.

Either way, that ate the morning rather. The afternoon has been spent humphing things backwards and forwards to systematically totally empty the main bedroom (which will be my library) and clean it, let it dry, clean it again and once more dry. From there, the boxes have been being moved around and sorted, most of them ending up in the proto-library. Of course, what's needed now is to get everything out of the next bedroom and into other places so that I can clean *it*. Then I can reassemble my bed and sort my clothing out. With luck and effort, I may have my bed to sleep in tomorrow night, though I'm not counting on it. Once that is done, I can worry about minor matters like bookshelves and computers and wondering where the hell, if at all, I'll be able to reassemble my wardrobe.

On the plus side, just around the corner from my new place is a fantastic pub. It has Addlestones and Timmy Taylor on tap, serves Prosecco by the glass (thus making my mother extremely happy), does not have piped in music or TVs anywhere to be seen, and serves bloody fantastic (albeit not cheap) food. The furniture is all old wood, and there are bookshelves dotted about the place - as well as the standard pictures of prettiness on the walls, they're decorated with prints of old (pre-seventies) adverts. In short, my kind of pub. As well as that little bit of gastronomic beauty, the road end has a Tesco Metro (suitable for not running out of milk and bread) and then a mile of restaurants of every size, shape and variety. The other road end is the bus stop for the service which runs straight to the University for a £7 weekly ticket and there are cycle-lanes so I don't need the bus which can only help my health - my location in Newcastle was ill-suited to safe cycling and so I didn’t at all for ages. A few metres further takes you to a bank and a post-office - frankly the only way the location could be improved is to have a cider orchard backing onto my carpark.
Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
11:49 am
Fragments and shards
Oh, so many partial posts in various stages of composition. To slowly clear the backlog a bit, have some linkSpam of things which interested as amused.

The first link, and one I'd like to highlight a bit, is called Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things. It's a gentle and funny response to some of the more racist they-don't-look-like-us crap we see such a lot of today, and it has a few entries to appeal to the geek in us all: here, here and here.

* Some high school students find a novel way of singing Hallelujah and hitting the high notes.
* Everyone and his wife has, by now, seen the Old Spice Man and the various follow-ups. My favourite, though, has to be the the Sesame Street version. Moo.
* For the final video in the list, I offer you the recording of the last duel in France.
* Everyone has heard of Portal. Everyone with taste has heard of Rogue (though they all play NetHack and ADoM instead). How many people would be mad enough to try to make an ACSII version of Portal?
* Courtesy of NASA, this is what a volcano and its shockwave look like from space.
* For all those Doctor Who fans who really love time-bending cross-overs, I give you, The Ten Doctors.
* I have actually held a copy of The Young Man's Book of Amusement and would dearly love to do so again. Absolutely beautiful, in the same way that the fizzing of a madman's mind as he stares into a volcano and realises that he can show them all is beautiful, and about as dangerous and destructive. This, my friends, is what children's science books should be all about.
* The Chin is an actor both known and loved, and has carved out a comfortable niche for himself. Here we see what would happen if he made a move into the prepackaged food industry.
* There are those would claim that Latin is a dead language. The existence of Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis would suggest otherwise. It also begs the question of why exactly Vatican officials needed to be able to discuss contemporary politics in Latin.
Monday, October 18th, 2010
4:28 pm
I have discovered a new depth of frustration and fury. Here's how you attain it. First, you realise that something someone else has made as a curiousity might be useful to you in making some other, truly bizarre and otherwise unattainable curiousity. Then you spend a month painstakingly learning to make all the required bits and pieces, pufifying them and gradually acquiring sufficient quantities to react them on. You then set up the reaction and, after a few days stirring, show by NMR that you have in fact created something wholly new and likely interesting. You carefully extract this miracle substance, getting a lovely, rich amber solution which almost seems to glow with an inner light. You remove the solvent and then, just as you raise it to your eyes to see it naked and clean ...


I am displeased.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
3:20 pm
Hello there, Latin speakers. Or readers. Or, you know, anyone with more experience at it than myself. I was recently asked to translate, for amusement's sake, the motto of the company Bungie: Non facete nobis calcitrare vestrum perinaeum.

Now, as written perinaeum is a bit of a problem because according the the reference I found, it's a post-classical term borrowed pretty much directly from the Greek by medics and meaning (as does perineum in modern English) the area between the genitals and the anus. Frankly, a rather odd choice. As for the rest, as written there seems to be a missing verb (to be) and I make it, "It is not funny/witty for us to kick your crotch-area." with a bit of hand-waving. I am told by the internet (and Bungie's website specifically) that it means, "Don't Make Us Kick Your Ass(sic)". My question is this: As I understand it, the plural imperative form of facere is facite, which at least fixes the verb problem, though it then disagrees with the number of the arses to be kicked. Is this difference a result of language shift over time (I'm using a classical dictionary), or did they really just (apparently) use an online dictionary, mis-copy the words across and end up stuck with it?

And, finally, how would you construct the damned sentence? In English there are a half-dozen different ways of phrasing that, and we don't have to worry about different cases for direct and indirect objects.
Saturday, July 31st, 2010
1:56 pm
Na na na na na na na na na na na na ...
Faretheewell, Adelaide, and hello to you, Melbourne.

Well, actually I suppose I should mutter a bit more about Adelaide first. I killed a few hours between the conference ending and my flight across country by visiting the zoo. First zoo I’ve ever visited (to the best of my knowledge – I suppose I might have been to one as a small child) but I thought that, well, I wasn’t likely to get too many other opportunities to see the Antipodean fauna. Naturally, the first animals I saw through the gates were, in order, a North African Pygmy Hippo, some Oriental Otters of some variety, two Giant Pandas and a rather energetic Red Panda. Truly is Australia a diverse and special land. The Red Panda was very odd to see - it had long legs, and so looked a little like Doctor Moreau had stuck a cats legs onto a badger’s body. It was also impressively dextrous as it climbed things, and possessed the curious knack (shared by all the other animals at the zoo) of looking away from the camera *just* as I pressed the capture button.

Anyway, where was I? Right, zoo. The local wildlife, including birds, were really rather fascinatingly odd. I think the rodent-alikes were the ones I liked most, which I suppose isn’t surprising given my fondness for rodents. In at least one of the aviary enclosures, there were several Long-nosed Potoroo running about which, given that I’d just seen them in the nocturnal animals building, came as a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, I got a much closer look in the aviary, given the daylight and the fact that one decided to cross the path as I walked along it, passing my boot by mere inches. The other major highlight would have to have been the feeding of the Sumatran Tiger. ‘Twas only a few, mostly meat-stripped ribs, which I suspect was to prevent the general public from seeing nature’s teeth and claws in too red a state, but they were added in to the enclosure such that to get at them the tiger had to be within a metre of the glass. Those creatures are *huge*. The head was massive, with pale eyes with a disturbing habit of focusing quite clearly on the distracting monkeys interrupting its midday snack. As for the rest of it, you could have trivially fit the whole of my body into its torso (and isn’t that a comfortable image) even before those terrifyingly muscled legs and menacing paws were invoked. Magnificent creature, and a great display of visible power. He had it; we did not, and we were grateful for the armoured glass.

Right, on to Melbourne. Aside from the oh-so-helpful advice of my taxi driver last night, my native guide (hereafter NG) (regrettably not actually guiding save from afar as a result of injury) had a more sensible list of suggestions for things to do and places to see. My B&B is sufficiently close to the centre of the city that after getting a tram into town (more on them in a bit), I was able to comfortably walk back in the evening along the edges of several rather nice parks which I intend to explore more fully later.

Anyway, thus far the city has favourably impressed me. It doesn’t have the overall squat feel that Adelaide had, which is I think due more to the larger city blocks than the hideous skyscrapers[1]. Each block is shot through with narrow little alleys (laneways, apparently), all lined with shops and restaurants so the closer feel of European cities is retained despite the unnaturally broad major streets. Seriously, if you really need six-lane roads as the major routes around your central shopping district, something has gone wrong. The sheer number of restaurant is terrifying, as is their variety – within a five minute walk of Flinder Street Station there are probably far more than a dozen sushi places, ranging from full and formal dining rooms to takeaways doing a brisk passing trade. There are also fish and chip shops and creperies rubbing shoulders with Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, and I even saw a shop selling nothing but churros. You’d think that as a result Melburnians would all be spherical, but the average body shape over here seems to be better weighted, as it were. There’s still the full range of shapes and figures, but the distribution tail doesn’t stretch nearly as far or enthusiastically into the obese end of the spectrum.

I mostly spent my time today wandering about largely aimlessly, finding out where places were and getting a rough feel for layout and direction. I did, however, make one visit to a landmark based on the suggestion of my NG – the State Library. It’s beautiful. Firstly, the building itself has a massive dome arching over the central reading room, which is apparently as wide as it is high. It’s four stories high. As a result, the simple white walls and roof, and the dome’s enormous windows, make the room bright and airy whilst still wholly enclosed and a thing in itself. There’s nothing fancy in the room, aside from some inscriptions around the lowest floor walls, with the only decorations being the bookshelves, the starburst of the reading tables and lecturns, and the clear triangles and chevrons of the windows themselves. It’s a very nice example of doing something simply and properly, such that function is optimised and done beautifully too.

Aside from the building’s own value, the contents are also impressive. I skipped the exhibition on the history of Shopping in Melbourne, but the display about books themselves (including a large number of very old manuscripts and early printed books) and their social history was great. The other two exhibitions were an history of Victoria and a collection of art from the region over the centuries – both of them. The tricky bit, following the stories, is that Victoria is the name of the region, so chosen to butter up the reigning monarch when applying for independent colonial status. It does, alas, mean that the adjective Victorian has two distinct but ambiguous meanings in a lot of the text. The art display was unexceptional – some good, some bad – but the history of the area was very well done. One of the things which intrigued me about it at first was that it was advertised by a picture a rough looking helm. When I inquired about entry at the desk, the very first thing I was told was how to get to see Ned Kelly’s armour, with it being patently clear that at no point did the woman pointing the way consider that I might have no idea whatsoever who he was. It’s a sad thing to say, but my first thought on reading the historical records and seeing the armour in the flesh for the first time was that I could almost hear Black Sabbath beginning to play in the background.

Oh, and did you know that one of the names which served for a time for the colony was Batmania? What, prey tell, would you call someone from Batmania? Alas, they settled for Melbourne to butter up the then Prime Minister (two points are not a trend), or the history of Detective Comics might have been very different.

Edward VII was, as far as I know, a monarch who did very little. As such, I’m rather curious as to why there are large and prominent statues of him in both Adelaide and Melbourne. Did he have some colonial association with them? The statue in Adelaide is, by the by, the fancier if smaller of the two.

[1] I’m afraid that this is very nearly a tautology in my books – skyscrapers rarely have any redeeming visual features, being mostly blocks with blocks on. At least a crude steel viewing platform on a tower of girders has honesty on its side.
Monday, July 26th, 2010
10:52 pm
Terror Australis
Well, that was a more unpleasant experience than it strictly had to be. My usual nervousness over talks aside (and the traditional realisations that I’d forgotten at least one point on every slide ignored as well, of course), I still ended up horribly hoarse over the course of the talk. The silence when the floor was opened for questions was deafening. The chair filled the gap manfully, but I fluffed answering one of the simpler ones. Well, fluffed answering it fully anyway, which is almost worse. Nevertheless, it was the lack of interest which was the real killer. Thus far I’ve spotted two other presentations which weren’t on transition metal or f-block chemistry, and of those I missed one due to a combination of a rambling speaker, an incompetent chair and my own poor decision in sitting somewhere from where I couldn’t politely and quietly escape. When you consider that it’s a five day conference with four simultaneous streams, that doesn’t really look like good odds.

Oh well. At least it’s over now.

I have, on the other hand, discovered yet more in the eternal quest for bandwidth. My hotel does offer free WiFi access. This is of course only in the hotel lobby, and following their odd model is for 30 minutes or 8MB, once per day. Thankfully I have two WiFi enabled devices, but it’s still a pain. There are also two desktop computers set up in the lobby which allow coin-operated access for something like 2AUD for 20 minutes which is better than the short-term WiFi rates at least. The conference centre is even odder – they’ll sell you WiFi access in hourly blocks, charged at 10AUD per hour, or 24AUD for 24 hours, but with no bandwidth caps. Well, I presume not. When I inquired if there were bandwith caps, the lady in the foyer informed me that I could get a decent wireless signal sitting out on the steps, but that it was otherwise limited to the conference halls. At that point I made a polite goodbye and left.
Sunday, July 25th, 2010
9:46 pm
Terra Australis
Well, I'm in Australia at long last, and thankfully so is my luggage. It's twenty past eight on Saturday evening, British Time, and ten to five in the morning on Sunday, Aussie time. I'm wide awake and have an headache. In part, this is my fault. I should have crawled out of bed after my intended short sleep on Saturday, and gone for a wander and a meal. As it was, nearly 40 hours of more or less continuous consciousness got the better of me and wild horses could not have pulled me out of the sheets.

The travel was, for the most part, uneventful. My final plane was delayed by an hour, but other than extra boredom that had no real repercussions. My route went via Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, and I was actually quite well impressed by both the airports. Dubai's is, as you might expect, a living testament to conspicuous consumption. It's also quite pretty, albeit in a slightly gaudy and ostentatious way, and very well signposted, spacious and clean. There's also free WiFi everywhere, and charging stations for mobiles and laptops (though I wasn't there long enough to take advantage of one). I only saw one gate of Kuala Lumpur, but it was likewise about as nice as an airport can get. There was also free WiFi there, though capped at 2 hours of use which is not unreasonable. Melbourne and Adelaide airports reminded me of nothing so much as Port Elizabeth or Edinburgh airports - small, functional and unlikely to ever win any awards. There was WiFi at Melbourne, but at extortionate rates. Not, however, as extortionate as the rates at this hotel.

I caught a few films on the journey - given how long it took it'd have been almost impossible not to. The first, and worst, was Clash of the Titans, supposedly a remake of the Harryhausen original. It ... um ... look, just don't watch it. No acting, no plot, no mythological sense, ugly special effects and dickhead characters, not to mention a climax with a really shite deus ex machina - I really cannot find a thing to recommend about it.

The second was Daybreakers, a dark future film where Vampires have taken over the World, or at least America (the traditional proxy). It's crap. The acting is variable, ranging from merely wooden to purest ham, with some incompetence along the way. The key assumptions are bloody awful, the final twist is unbelievable and improbable (of the "if it were true, then the timeline would have diverged even before the beginning of the film" level) and the jumping around from scene to scene to advance what they jokingly thought was a plot uneven and irritating.

Thankfully, things got better after that. How to train your Dragon was great. It was pretty, had a light and light-hearted plot, and likable characters - it even managed to have no villain and still work. True, the supporting cast are basically two-dimensional, but they're also all quite different from each other. It's not a complicated film, but it was *fun*, and the only flaw I can really find is that it was Dreamworks and so used their weird facial animations.

After that was Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes. Enjoyable twaddle, really. The feel is very true to the original short stories, if with less scientific rigour, and the interplay between Holmes and Watson was nicely done. Some of the directorial choices were a little odd (Holmes pre-narrating his battles, for instance), and there were some other strange bits (why was the giant French?) but basicly a solid and entertaining, if silly, film.

Oh, and last was Tim Burton'sAlice in Wonderland which was ... adequate. Pretty enough, in Burton's own exaggerated manner, but I don't really think it actually added anything much to the world of Alice. I did like the Jabberwocky though.

With the films, the headache (which thankfully passed somewhere over the Levant) and general inability to concentrate, I only actually read two new books on the way out: The Fuller Memorandum by Charlie Stross, and A Wizard Squared K.E. Mills. The former, book three in the Laundry series, is a welcome addition to it, and was a very pleasant read. It stands above The Jennifer Morgue, and whilst not quite making it to the lofty heights that Atrocity Archive managed in terms of sheer innovation, it is better constructed. The various elements lead more cleanly to the climax, and the final twist (such as it is, it's not really a twist so much as the culmination of a series of simple errors) is far more satisfying than that of TJM. The plot can be regarded as a continuation of Concrete Cows, and a short summary might be, "An important document goes missing, Angleton does likewise, the Russians are acting particularly oddly and a Doomsday cult is being stupid - Bob gets caught in the fallout of all of them." My only real niggles with the book are (a) the proselytising about the damned iPhone and (b) the repeated jibes against the Tories. Point A irritates mainly because, having used one, I found it to be crap, so it feels like a lie. Yes, yes, tastes differ, but as a technical device it was bloody awful and that was my complaint, not the interface. Point B just felt off because, frankly, Bob Howard's politics as seen in the books can be summed up as, "Bloody ignorant bureaucrats, leave me alone!" and with nothing at actually point him at any political ideology, the digs seemed far more to be authorial jabs than character comments and so felt out of place. On the other hand, those are comparatively small niggles.

A Wizard Squared is likewise book three of a series and likewise an improvement on book two. The ending felt a bit rushed in execution, but the leadup was solid. I did feel the obligatory lets-add-shades-of-grey-to-the-hero was unnecessary, and slightly ham-handed, however. The story plays with multiple realities, secret agencies and their political masters and of course the little people caught in the middle. A bit like the above, really, but lighter in tone and less mathematically framed. The plot is very simple, "Gerald's evil twin et cetera", but the working around it is fun and adds a bit of depth to otherwise simplistic secondary characters. The will-they, won't-they relationships get a bit more examined, but go nowhere, because they're all plonkers. That's a flaw of the genre, alas, but one I hope they do get over soon.

My first impressions of Adelaide were that it looked a lot like PE. The vegetation has the same thin leaves and slightly grey colour I associate with a waxy cuticle and adaptation for dry conditions, and the buildings are all generic colonial brick. Travelling a bit through the city dispelled that impression a bit though. PE has some nice bits of architecture spread about the place; Adelaide is perhaps the ugliest city I've ever seen. Certainly the parts of it I've seen are anyway. Everything is tan, grey or beige, blocky and squat. The city does't rise from the hills so much as hunker down among them like an orc staring out looking for a traveller to brutalise. We'll see how my feelings change through the week.

My hotel, the Mercure Grosvenor, has failed to win me over as well. It's fine in appearance, assuming the only colour you know or like is beige, and the room whilst small is comfortable and actually well equipped. The two points where it has failed me, however, are internet and noise. The hotel has both wireless access and an ethernet cable sticking into the rooms. The sums it charges for access are ... impressive. For wireless access, there are three possible tarifs: 30minutes/100MB for AUD5; 60 minutes/200MB for AUD10 or 24 hours/300MB for AUD27.50. The wired access charges are actually worse: 2 hours/30MB for 10AUD and 24 hours/100MB for AUD27.50. It beggars belief, it really does. Hopefully I'll be able to find somewhere sensible to get access elsewhere because this is just daft. As for the noise, well, there was one detail they chose not to publicise and one I feel quite important. This is the fact that the hotel backs onto a nightclub. One which only shut up about half an hour ago at 6AM. My room, as you might guess, is at the back of the hotel. Even taking my jetlag into account, this did not make for an restful night and I am somewhat unimpressed.

Right, time for breakfast and then some exploration. I'm writing this offline and it'll get posted (perhaps with some additions), when I get some more and hopefully more affordable internet access later one.

Part 2:
Well, I doubt I’ll be having the full breakfast again at AUD25 a pop. The selection is quite good, but not nearly that good. First time I've ever seen an automatic pancake machine too, though I didn't try it. The bacon was odd, in that it was sweet. Not with a sweet glaze, but actually sweet in itself, and not at all salty or smoky. I'm not sure, really, that it hits the bacon spot as far as I'm concerned. I can also confirm that what in the UK is known as an Americano is here called a Long Black, and what we in the UK call filter coffee is here called Not On The Menu.

Part 3:
Well, a few hours walk around has confirmed a few things and changed my mind on others. Seen in moderate sunlight and not under the influence of incredible fatigue, the city isn't quite as ugly as I'd thought. That said, the central business district isn't exactly a beauty queen either. There are some quite nice stone buildings in a variety of stones but they're generally surrounded by really rather ugly buildings and, yes, they're all squat. The resemblance to PE has in fact been reinforced - plane trees, eucalyptus and strelizias all add up to an remarkably South African feel. This is further enhanced by the fact that the traffic lights follow the South African form, whereby a green man for a pedestrian crossing indicates only that the traffic perpendicular to the crossing has stopped, and you still need to dodge the drivers turning into the road from your direction of travel. This wouldn't be too bad, were it not that the time they allow for the crossing is only sufficient if you get halfway and then teleport the rest. I no longer feel quite so irked by the nightclub - it turns out that nearly the whole of the damned street behind North Terrace (and all the hotels the conference had deals with are on the same street) is comprised of bars, night clubs, strip clubs and combinations of the above. Some of them were still going when I wandered along at eight thirty this morning. I don't think I'd have the stamina for that these days. This being a mostly nonresidential area does mean that finding a supermarket to pick up some essentials was harder than it should have been. I did find one eventually, but even it was more of a large corner shop than what I'd think of as a supermarket, despite what it called itself.

There's a rather pretty park at the end of the road with an unpronounceable name, which again was like a brief trip home: the grass and flowers are all unnaturally green compared to the surroundings and there're hidden irrigation systems everywhere. I'm not sure if that's due to lack of rain, or the fact that like all of PE, it's growing in sand rather than soil. The birdsong all morning was strange. It's not because I could actually name any of the birds I hear in Britain, and certainly couldn't tell you what any of them actually sound like. Nevertheless, all the birdcalls were foreign, and as a result, odd. Looking up after hearing a particularly jarring sound in the park, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very brightly coloured parrot of some kind. On the other hand, all the ducks in the pond just went quack - I wonder if they're native or imports.

I saw several cosplayers around the town, and also banners advertising a computer games and anime convention, held in the selfsame place the ICCC will be occurring, but ending today. I do wonder how much overlap there will be, and what strange artefacts and leftovers there will be for visiting academics to trip over and boggle at.
Thursday, June 17th, 2010
1:17 pm
Why I Didn't Like My iPhone, by fhtagn, aged well and best stored in a cool, dry place
I've got a new toy. It's an HTC Desire, and I ended up with it after trying out an iPhone, returning it and telling my original service provider to go stuff themselves. Having shop-monkeys insist that the Sale of Goods Act doesn't apply to them (it does) and that there's nothing they can do (there is) is not fun. I strongly suspect that this is a direct result of the shops being, in fact, a separate business entity from the service provider whose name they bear. As such, they can rely on ignorance of the law, laziness and fear of dispute escalation to make most people shut up and go away. Anyone who doesn't, they can bump up the chain to someone else and voila, not their problem any more. Either way, I got it sorted out, though it took far, far longer than it should have. Long story short: Orange Shop employees were deceitful, unpleasant and rude; Orange Customer Service people, in the call centres, were polite and helpful. Orange, either way, no longer has my custom.

Returning to our original narrative and it's purpose - I was unhappy with my iPhone. I am now very happy with my Desire, though there are some niggles which I'll get to shortly. Likewise, there are some things which I really liked about the iPhone. Well, one thing. The interface was fantastic. It was easy to use, intuitive and uncomplicated.

The Desire's interface, and indeed whole set up, is not uncomplicated. In a few cases, it's quite fiddly. It took me longer to get the hang of it (albeit probably a difference of 5 minutes as opposed to 1), because there are so many more options at any given point. To me, this is actually an advantage. Now that I've got it set up, it feels far more like my phone rather than merely a phone. It does things the way I want them done, which is to say actually fairly minimalist. The real killer for the iPhone, for me, was when I plugged it in to my laptop and it started charging. Charging, and nothing else. You see, you need extra software (iTunes) to copy the default stuff across. And extra 3rd party software just to access the file system. And extra software depending on which App you have installed to copy across relevent stuff for that. The iPhone, in my eyes and hand, suddenly became a pretty, shiny, brightly coloured light flashing paperweight. It wasn't mine, it was Apple's and they were graciously allowing me the use of it, provided I didn't do anything they didn't want me to do.

The Desire, when I plugged it in, popped up a menu with options like "Charge only", "HTCSync" "Internet Sharing" and "Disk Drive". It charges on all of them, and I've no desire to keep my Outhouse calendar corresponding to my phone calendar, but I appreciate that others might. Selecting Disk Drive means that the phone functions like a USB drive, strangely enough. Want to listen to music - copy it to the MP3 directory. Want to read documents - copy them to the Docs folder. Want to copy anything else you might conceivably want for whatever software it runs for you, just copy it all across. Oh, and should you want to write your own software, or use software that didn't come through the Android store, you just uncheck a box in the settings menu. I believe Apple require a fee and special developer's software (or that you jailbreak your phone) for the same. Essentially, the Desire feels like a small and powerful computer with a sightly idiosyncratic OS, whilst the iPhone feels like a small and pretty gameconsole - excellent for gaming, but only if you want to be stuck only with Nintendo games. The Desire is a phone for, well, people born in the latter third of the twentieth century who are comparatively well educated and computer literate. The iPhone, on the other hand, you could give to your aged granny and, assuming her eyes can cope with the small screen, she'll be up and away in no time.

As I said, the Desire is not without niggles. Firstly, there's no default access to the filesystem from the phone itself. Secondly, the default task manager analogue, for killing unwanted applications from memory, is needlessly fiddly to use. Thirdly, the actual phone part of the system is the least intuitive system of all to use. It took me three or four goes to work out what bits do which things, which whilst not actually that bad in the grand scheme of things is a bit poor for a device which is, after all, a phone. Fourthly, the volume buttons are about where I normally rest my finger when holding a phone to make a call. Yes, that's rather personal and also easy to fix, but hey, it's a niggle. Finally, Stanza is iPhone only. This means that reading eBooks on t'Desire requires that they be .txt, .rtf. .doc or .ePub. On the plus side, .ePub is just a form of XHTML, which means that *everything* converts trivially to it. Somewhat depressingly, Stanza is abandonware these days so not only am I unlikely to get it for the Desire, but it's likely to become incompatible with future iPhones as well.

And, since nothing about a smartphone would be complete without a list of apps (God I hate that fucking term - what's wrong with application, or software, or even fucking Programme?) and widgets I find helpful:
*Wordplayer - an ebook reader which conveniently syncs well with Calibre, my eBook converter of choice.
*Easy Notes - A simple text editor, and where my shopping lists live.
*Advanced Task Killer - A task-manager alike, and much faster and easier to use than the built in one.
*NetCounter - It just records and reports your bandwidth use, which is generally handy to know, especially if you're on one of the more restrictive contracts.
*ASTRO - Access to the file system and the ability to read certain common file formats.
*GPS Status - This gives you very simple data from your GPS receiver and compass, including orientation, Latitude and Longitude, instantaneous speed, acceleration and height above sea level. All very simple stuff, and really you should be able to get this sort of thing by default.
*MapDroyd - I've not actually played around with this much, but my initial diggings have been favourable. Unlike the default Maps app (which runs off Googlemaps), this one allows you to download vector-based maps and use them offline. I suspect it'll be phenomenally useful when travelling.

Widgets (Both are preinstalled, so just need activation):
*Power Control - this one's great. It just adds a bar of 5 buttons allowing you to turn on or off WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, AutoSync for various applications and screen brightness.
*Airplane - A one-button widget for turning Flight mode on and off.

The default Music and News widgets are also quite useful, News in particular. It's actually easier to scan the BBC news site for stories with it than to visit the site on my 'puter because it doesn't hide them away in subpages. Yes, I probably miss a few, but I still actually see more, I find, because the layout is so much cleaner.

Editted: To fix some spelling mistakes which have been staring aggressively at me for a while now and which have now paid the price for their brazen defiance.
Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
1:17 pm
And now, more book reviews. Be warned, only two are positive reviews.

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Monday, January 11th, 2010
12:51 pm
As some of you might know, I've started learning a little Latin on the side. I think that this is primarily because I'm a glutton for punishment, but I suppose that my fondness for structured communication and Ars Magica have their part to play. I've been working my way through a few beginners guides in parallel, though the one I've found most useful so far is the Cambridge Latin Course. I wish to hell the structure of my French and Spanish classes had been like this - The introduction to the third person singular first and then slowly adding in the other persons and plurals makes so much sense as you plow through it.

Nevertheless, I have some confusion. Help me Obi Wan LJFlist, you're my only hope.
Pretty much the first two sentences you encounter are "Caecillius est in horto" and "Caecillius est dominus". Firstly, by my understanding, horto is in either the dative or ablative case. Dative makes no sense and my understanding of the ablative of place doesn't make that seem right either. What's going on?

Secondly, both Caecillius and Dominus are apparently in the nominative. When we learn that Grumio is a cook, we are told, "Grumio est coquus", and the same applies there. Whilst it's true that the meaning is largely retained by swapping the order of the nouns, that seems an odd distinction to make. Is that it?
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