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My Experiments With Sous Vide

So, lately I've been trying to eat a little healthier, and one of the steps I've taken has been to cut seriously down on processed foods. Not that I'm going to go all Jamie Oliver or anything -- that man is a serious douchebag whose appalling food snobbery is only matched by his blatant ignorance on how people who aren't wealthy professional cooks live -- but there's nothing wrong with being a little more conscious of what you eat
So yes; more fruits and vegetables, more lean meats and fish, less sausage and pasta, that sort of thing.

Problem with it is that the processed foods are usually cheaper, quicker and easier to prepare. And really, quite often you just don't have the energy (or necessarily the skill...) to stand in the kitchen for ages and watch the food like a hawk to make certain that it doesn't go all burned and ruined.

It's a well-known fact that slow cooking usually gives you a better result, but who has the time to slow cook in this speed-obsessed day and age?

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a couple of people I know, and we broached on the subject of cooking; how it's hard to find the time/energy to cook decent meals from scratch. And one of them asked us if we'd ever tried sous vide.

No, we answered, we really hadn't. Wasn't that some ultra-fancy thing that professional chefs did that took five years and fifty thousand dollars in fancy equipment?

And so he explained the process a little: "Sous vide" is French and means "under vaccum." It's actually simpler than the fancy name suggests -- basically it involves sealing the ingredients in a plastic bag or canning jar, and then placing the bag/jar in a hot (but not boiling or scalding) water bath, and keeping the water at a steady temperature. It's like extreme slow cooking.

Yes, it takes a long time for it to get done... but the beauty of sous vide is that you don't have to watch your food like the above-mentioned hawk. You can leave it alone in the kitchen for hours, and because the temperature is low enough and kept regulated, it won't over-cook.

And so, as my friend explained, while the cooking took several hours, the neat thing was that you could use sous vide to cook your meal overnight while sleeping... then it's quick work to take it out of its bag and heat it up when dinnertime comes, and the food is cooked to perfection without the traditional "burned on the outside, raw on the inside" that you get with faster-and-hotter cooking. It was at this point he started to wax lyrical about the perfectly done, tender meats that he got this way, and we basically said "okay, okay, we get it, thank you!"

But he had managed to awaken my curiosity, so the next day I looked up "sous vide" online. I found out a lot of interesting things here; among other things that you really didn't need a lot of expensive equipment... well, the expensive equipment probably makes for better bragging rights, but still. I checked out equipments of various price ranges and types -- go for a water oven or an immersive circulator? Or just try the old "beer cooler" trick with a beer cooler and a thermometer?

In the end, I decided to try it. I found an immersive circulator named Sansaire, which was said to be a good sous vide machine and which happened to be on sale for relatively cheap at a store not too far away from me. So, this Monday, I brought home a brand new Sansaire circulator, some plastic freezer bags, and (because they had bragged that really cheap meant got tender and juicy when sous vide-cooked), some of the cheapest chicken filets I could find to start experimenting on.

There were a few hiccups at the start (one batch of chicken fillets got ruined because I hadn't vaccuum-packed the bag well enough, for instance), but when I got the hang of it things really started going well: Chicken filet, sous-vided on 65 degrees Celcius for approximately four hours before seared quickly in a hot skillet for that nice golden brown look -- I have never had a juicier chicken than that.

Already then I could safely say "Goodbye, barbecued chicken from the store! And for that matter, goodbye to all other ways of trying to do chicken from scratch!" This was so much better, and if I can get the seasoning just right (I tried with some marinade, which worked well!) it'll be perfect.

I tried out other things as well, with various success. Potato strips, vaccum-packed with olive oil, was pretty nice... though next time I'll drop the garlic powder. Beef striploin (again, bought the cheapest ones, five hours at fifty-four degrees) wasn't quite as good as the chicken, but still more than adequate: Nice and tender and juicy; it barely needed a knife. My attempts at doing creme brulet was pretty much a fiasco, though; I think that was a little too ambitious and I need to get more acquainted with the technique.

All in all, I was getting familiar with sous vide, and decided that now was the time to try out a slightly bigger thing -- Beef shank. To be cooked sloooowly, over 24 hours. (Everybody says 48-hour lamb shank is the ultimate sous vide experience, but I basically thought, let's build up to that via the beef.)

And despite a minor hiccup about twelve hours in -- this was when I realized that for long periods of sous-viding, you really should double-bag the meat, because the bags might start leaking -- the end result was nice. Tender meat and nicely juicy, it didn't seem to have taken too much damage from the brief water exposure, and I ended up having a very nice meal.

So yeah -- all in all, I think I'm onto a good thing here! Has sous vide changed my life? No, but it has certainly given me a new appreciation for chicken filet.And given that I already liked chicken filet, that can only be a good thing.

I'll be experimenting more with it in the future and see what I might end up with.


Celestia the Sorceress

Thought you might like to see a picture of another one of my RPG characters, Celestia the Sorceress:

And yes, she is named for Princess Celestia. It was a bit of a joke from my side, since my GM has not seen My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and isn't likely to either --  she never watched the "toy commercial cartoons" as a child and said that she accepted the cartoon was probably good, but if she watched it, it would just ruin her memories of playing with the toys.

When I was to introduce a new character, I was stuck on what to call said character -- then the name "Celestia" fell into my head and I thought, well, why not?

Celestia, then, is not my main character, but she turned out to be fun to play -- and can be summed up in one sentence: She is almost as cool as she thinks she is.

"Community" VS "Coupling"

I've been binge-watching Community lately, and it's essentially because of Rick and Morty.

Y'see, for some time now, it seemed like all the websites and online communities I visited were obsessed with Rick and Morty; references to the show was everywhere and people were constantly singing its praises. I wasn't too convinced it was for me; I'd caught Rick and Morty's guest appearance on that Simpsons couch gag and hadn't been terribly impressed. It had some good ideas but the art style was terrible and I didn't like the pacing; the entire thing just dragged too much and Rick very quickly got on my nerves.

But, far be it from me to judge an entire show solely based on a non-canon appearance on another show whose best days is behind it. Besides, I'd initially written off Adventure Time because I hated that art style too, and when I actually tried to sit down and watch that show it turned out I quite liked it. So I eventually decided that Rick and Morty at least deserved that I gave it a chance, and so I checked out a few episodes. And... well... I wasn't terribly impressed. It had some good ideas but the art style was terrible and I didn't like the pacing; the entire thing just dragged too much and if I'd thought Rick had got on my nerves for a cameo appearance that was nothing compared to 22 minutes of him.

Now, I can see why other people, with different senses of humor, would like this. It's a very "geeky" show with a lot of weird and thought-out sci-fi, and some very impressive creativity. I suspect if I'd actually liked Rick and Morty as characters, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But this brings us to Community. While ultimately I did not like Rick and Morty, it had enough interesting ideas and enough potential that I became interested in checking out if it creator had done other things. As the show was credited as the brainchild of one Dan Harmon (who based on Internet article seems like a... deeply troubled, but very creative, individual), who had also had his hand in a lot of other TV shows, I decided to check out one of them. And the choice fell on Community.

For those not in the know, Community is an ensemble-cast sitcom about the misadventures of a study group at a community college. The show frequently plays with the expectations and tropes of the format, includes a ton of genre parodies and gleefully points out its own absurdities. It has some nice dialogue and some really creative moments, as well as an above-average willingness to experiment and subvert genres.

As I watched those first episodes, I had this weird feeling that this show reminded me of something else. And I don't mean all the parodies; there was something about the set-up and the execution of the show itself that just felt very familiar. It took about half the first season, but then I figured out just what Community reminded me of: It really, really reminded me of Coupling -- the quirky dialogue style, the experimentation with the format, the weirdly optimistic cynicism. Even some of the character types were similar.

That's not to say that Community was an American version of Coupling (they already tried producing an American version of Coupling, which was universally-panned), it just seemed more like a spiritual successor... with a few notable differences.

Community is not primarily, or even secondarily, about romantic entanglements -- and is better off for it. There's much less overt sexism and the comedy does not lean on offensive gender stereotypes: there's a total lack of "I'm a man, I can't help myself" rants, and the women of the show are not by default snooty, passive-agressive or marriage-obsessed. But perhaps the big difference is that the characters of Community are likeable, where the characters of Coupling were not.

And this last part is interesting to me, because the characters of Community are clearly just as terrible people overall as the characters of Coupling -- if not more so. They certainly have a lot more atrocious acts to their names (though to be fair, they've had more episodes -- 110 episodes of Community to 28 episodes of Coupling). So why, I asked myself, did I end up liking the characters of Community, while the Coupling crowd just made me want to smack them?

Quite frankly, I think it has to do with the fact that Community acknowledges that its characters are horrible people.

Compare Britta from Community to Susan from Coupling -- both of them are shallow and self-obsessed and don't really treat their friends with respect. Susan seems to have nothing but disdain for people who aren't her (especially if they're male), and Britta is a failed activist who rants, insults people and thinks she knows better than everyone else. And yet Susan in her series is met by nothing but approval and adoration and comments about what a good person she is (probably doesn't help that she's based on the show's produced and the writer's wife) -- while Britta in hers gets mockery, angry rebuttals and it even becomes a running gag that the othes use the expression "to Britta something up" as a euphemism for screwing up majorly. Any negative traits Susan possesses are excused with "she's a woman, she's supposed to be like that" while Britta, when displaying her negative traits, is often told "you're horrible."

I couldn't stand Susan, but I have a lot of sympathy for Britta.

And that's the difference. Coupling presents a group of terrible people, and then pretends that they are normal, decent, well-adjusted, even admirable. It shoves their horribleness under the rog and tries to explain away the problem by insisting that there is no problem; this is just natural behavior for men/women. (It's why the characters Jeff and Jane -- and to a lesser extent Jeff's replacement Oliver -- were the only characters on that show I didn't absolutely hate after a while; the writer actually seemed to realize that their personality problems were problems.)

Community, but contrast, present a group of terrible people (with the possible exception of Troy, who seems to be the sweetest and least malicious of the group) and then showcases their terribleness, pointing out that this sort of behavior isn't okay, letting them all feel the consequences of their terrible acts... and then shows that despite all this they still have good in them; for all their self-centeredness and spite, they are capable of compassion, kindness and even selflessness. It shows that even terrible people can still be decent human beings. The characters are aware of their flaws and try to overcome them. Often they fail, but sometimes they succeed.

Moral of the story: In order to overcome a problem, you need to be aware that there is a problem to begin with. Coupling refuses to acknowledge its problems and as a result is basically going to be stuck in the same rut, incapable of growth or change. Community knows it has problems, and at least occasionally tries to work on these problems, and thus it actually has a chance to grow and change for the better.

That's why Community, in my eyes, is the superior show. (And I'm going to refrain from drawing parallels to Steven Moffat and Dan Harmon; that'd just be crude.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens today. I hadn't originally planned to; I've mentioned before that I'm not exactly a Star Wars fan. But, well, I'd received a movie theater gift certificate for Christmas, and The Force Awakens was playing at a convenient time, and long story short, I decided to give it a shot.

What did I think? Well... actually, it was pretty good. I'm not about to start jumping up and down and squeeing about how awesome it was or anything, but... well,  let me put it this way: I stupidly went to a 3D showing of the movie without realizing it was a 3D showing and not realizing I should have bought a pair of those annoying 3D glasses until the movie began and the pre-movie text told me to put said glasses on. The result was that I watched the entire movie with weird blurs and doublings of images -- and still, I managed to follow the movie perfectly and for the two hours and fifteen minutes it lasted, my attention only drifted twice.

For Star Wars this is phenomenal -- compare The Phantom Menace, where my attention could barely stay on the movie whenever Jar-Jar Binks wasn't on screen (I still hold he was the only thing about that movie that was at least mildly entertaining), or even the original trilogy, where I stayed mildly engaged but would often glance at the time to see how much longer the movie was.

So what made this movie more engaging for me? Frankly, I think it was the acting. All in all, one thing taken with another, this is the best acted Star Wars movie I've seen. All the performances are solid and believable, which wasn't always the case for the original trilogy... and people actually act like people instead of wooden planks. which definitely wasn't the case for the prequel trilogy.

Plus, hey, Harrison Ford  -- the best actor from the original trilogy, bar none -- is back as Han Solo, and he's still got the acting skills! In a smart move from the moviemakers, he's got a substantial role in this movie, easily the biggest role of the returning characters. Only Chewbacca, his constant companion, gets anywhere near as much screen-time, and the two kinda serve as a link between the "old guard" and the new characters.

Carrie Fisher, whose performance didn't really wow me in the originals, has seriously improved her game here and delivers a great performance as General Leia (I actually think Han and Leia have better chemistry in this movie than in the original trilogy). And even if Luke Skywalker is only in the movie for, like, twenty seconds and has no dialogue, we know from other projects that Mark Hamill is a much better actor now than he was back in the 'eighties.

As for the of the new characters:

To take up the mantle from the original two-guys-and-a-girl trio of Luke, Han and Leia, we now get Poe, Finn and Rey as the new guard. Okay, Poe is basically a glorified cameo in this movie; he kicks off the plot but afterwards spends most of the movie off-screen and for a long time presumed dead... but likely he'll have more of a role in following movies.

For this movie the real protagonists are Finn and Rey. They're the ones who go through the most development and seems to be on the biggest journey. A little simplified we could say that Rey's story is the most plot-centric one; since she is clearly going to become a Jedi and is the one who finally goes off to find Luke Skywalker, she is the character with the Big Destiny and I'll be very disappointed if she does not turn out to be the main hero of the planned trilogy. However, Finn is the one who goes through the biggest (and I'd argue most interesting) personal journey -- he goes from a semi-nameless Stormtrooper, to deflects ranks when he realizes he doesn't want to kill innocent people, to basically a scared kid on the run who just wants to stay alive, to a genuine heroic figure who risks his life for those he cares about. His main struggle in the movie is between his desire to Do The Right Thing and his deside to not be killed, thank you very much.

The Force Awakens is really the story of these two characters, the same way the original trilogy was Luke's story, and the interplay between the two is great, with solid performances by Daisy Ridley and  John Boyega.

For much of the movie, Han Solo serves as the third member of the trio -- with Chewbacca and BB-8 rounding out the main cast as the token wookie and token droid. And this turns out to make for a really great character dynamic that sort of echoes, but does not copy, the engaging dynamic we found in the original trio and which was missing from the prequels because the main characters were all either extremely uninteresting, extremely unlikeable or extremely Jar-Jar Binks.

Here, we get Han as the slightly grouchy and cynical older guy who treats the other two with something approaching fatherly concern, Finn as the youngster just out and discovering the big world, and Rey as the in-between; more wordly than Finn but less experienced than Han. It works very well -- remains to see how/if Poe will fill out the role in the trio in the upcoming movies.

Also, special mention must go to BB-8, the new droid on the block. Cute, cuddly and very much a scene-stealer, he's clearly the R2-D2 for the new generation. The moments he shares with C-3PO just underlines this; they have a very similar dynamic even if 3PO seems more patient with BB-8, who in return doesn't seem to snark at the golden droid the way R2 does. In fact... in the two scenes that all three droids share together, BB-8 comes across as the youngest sibling who looks up to his two older brothers, and how they both accomplished so much before he was even born... okay, built. It's adorable.

So yeah. Great characters, great interplay between characters both old and new, and this is he biggest strength of the movie: It has heart. You really care about the protagonists.

The plot, however... isn't all that. Basically, it's a rehash of A New Hope; not scene-by-scene but the stories are more similar than they're different. The bad guys want a droid carrying important information, the heroes have to take said droid to the Rebels/Resistance, and afterwards play crucial roles in blowing up the bad guys' Big Bad New Weapon. And it seems like old Jedi Masters just give up and move to desolate faraway places whenever things go bad, because Luke's done that just like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. And there's still no such thing as a safety rail. Lots of other similarities, but we've gone waaaay past homage here and gone straigh onto re-treading.  I'd have liked to see more originality here, because the movie is definitely at its best when it introduces new things to complement the old, rather than re-introducing old things in shiny new clothes and special effects.

Still... there's a hope (pun not really intended, but what the hey) that the next film will dare to go off in new directions. We'll just have to wait and see.


Christmas Song: There's A Promise

And just as promised, here is the annual Christmas song! I've recorded it in my subpar a capella style again; this time it's from Jim Henson's masterpiece Fraggle Rock, from the sole Christmas episode the show made. The song is more about solstice than Christmas, but it's really nice, and it was fun to sing.

And of course, here are the lyrics:

There's a rhythm
There's a rising
There's a dream of green that needs to wake
A password
And a promise
That the Earth will never ever break
It's coming
Feel it humming
In the heart we share with rock and sky
So raise your voices high

(Deep beneath the stone)
(Seeds begin to grow)
(Sun shines through the rain)
(We will live again)

PS: Sarah, I might be on late tomorrow.


Christmas Cats

The annual Christmas song will hopefully be up tomorrow -- in the meanime, here are this year's gift drawings. Last year's theme was dragons, so this year's theme: Cats!

Asian Golden Cat

Bay Cat





Pargay Cat


Nosk Skogkatt (Norwegian Forest Cat)

Somali Cat

Tabby Cat


The Princes and Princesses of Kandrazaal!

Here -- these are the fifteen Dragon Princes and Princesses. With the exeption of Zelen (more on that below), they are all here presented in their "birth" forms; since all dragons are shapeshifters they have a variety of looks and appearances.

The Dragon Princes and Princesses function not only as Royalty, but as the dragons' police and law enforcers. They have the power to apprehend, prosecute and pass sentences over other dragons who break the laws of Kandrazaal -- a big responsibility that even the silliest of them take seriously.

As for a quick Who's Who:

Front row, left to right: Lintila, Nilus (brown hair and tail), Reet, Reneth (in Reet's arms), Lynn, Darak, Shayna and Rashak.
Middle row, left to right: Verena (green dress), Zelen (blue skin) and Elya (orange shirt).
Back row, left to right: Obayana and Aldor (red beard) -- with Ruzika on Obayana's shoulders, and Kiriani on Aldor's shoulders.

And from oldest to youngest:

Lintila: Oldest of the siblings and potential Heir to the Throne if the King ever dies or steps down. Theoretically she has a certain authority over the others, but she seldom uses it unless she has to, preferring to let them do their own thing. Laid-back and generally reasonable, but has low tolerance for bigots and bullies.

Aldor: Without question the biggest and strongest of the siblings -- only Obayana even comes close. He's very gentle, though, perhaps the most soft-hearted of the siblings as well. Aldor is a Prince of simple tastes; good food, good drink and a nice campfire to tell stories around.

Rashak: A bit of a loner without much patience for other people.It seems like he's annoyed by everything and everyone, and he's not shy about letting them know exactly what's wrong with them.  

Verena: Despite being the biggest of the Princesses, Verena doesn't really call a lot of attention to herself. She is quiet and unassuming, and prefers smaller gatherings of three or four people to larger crowds. She is very perceptive, though, and she has a strange ability to know exactly what the truth is, so when she does speak it's wise to listen.

Reneth: Reneth is both sweet, feminine and cuddly -- and a total hardcase. She's just as likely to give someone a warm hug as she is to threaten to knock them senseless.

Obayana: Loud, boisterous and fun. Obayana is almost as big and strong as Aldor, and much more excuberant and physical. It's impossible to bring him down; he never gives up and keeps on laughing and joking even when everything is at its bleakest.

Reet: She's a bit of a flirt and very touchy-feely -- sometimes she can appear as a little vain and she can be extremely silly. She is, however, very sweet and charming, and she has a knack for getting along with people.

Zelen: Zelen was actually born "Zel," a boy, but always felt like she was supposed to be a girl. Eager to get away from her male body, she mastered the dragon shapeshifting abilities at an early age, and ever since she learned how to take on female forms she never looked back. Zelen is the best shapeshifter of the siblings and can take on any form; she's also a good actor and can play any role you give her.

Elya: Quick-witted, artistic and a little temperamental, Elya would probably be happier dedicating herself completely to her hobby of drawing and painting than performing her Royal duties as a Princess.

Lynn: Lynn is an alchemist, tinkerer and inventor, which she tries to combine with her job as law enforcer. She has been known to cause an explosion or two, but a number of smaller invensions have been successes.

Darak: If any of the Dragon Royals is a Detective, it's Darak. He's got an incredible gift for spotting what others don't, and draw the conclusions that escape others. And if his deductive skills don't get results, his stubborn persistence often does.

Shayna: The only Sea Elf of the siblings, and without any doubt the laziest. For a very long time she was the youngest of them, and  even now she's got a great ability for shirking work and letting her older siblings do the heavy lifting while she takes as much "light" work as she can. Her favorite thing to do is sleep.

Nilus: The oldest of the "young generation," Nilus is more cautious and hesitant than his siblings, not at all understanding how the dragon and Royal heritage seems to come so easy to them all, while he struggles with self-esteem issues and doubts of whether he's good enough.  Quite uniquely for a young dragon, he's a bit of a coward and would rather avoid anything dangerous.

Ruzika: The second youngest, and possibly the spunkiest, of the siblings, Ruzika is Nilus's total opposite: She's not afraid of anything and will leap into any situation without thinking because she's convinced that she can handle anything. She's a bit of a goofball and she loves to talk, to anyone and about anything.

Kiriani. Kiriani is, at least for now, the youngest Princess. She's generally sweet-natured but can be a bit of a drama queen.

Duck on Vacation

Now that winter's here, at least here in the North, the migratory birds have all flewn off to warmer climates. This one decided to send us a postcard, with the text "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here."

...I think he just wanted to gloat.


Top Five Fantasy Stock Ideas I'll Never Use

Guess what? I'm doing... Another Top Five list!

This time it's about fantasy stock plots/tropes that I've grown tired of. Now, in and of themselves, none of these are bad persay -- there have been many good stories where one or more of them played an important part. But they have been terribly over-used, and seeing them in a story now kinda fills me with an "oh no, not again" dread. These are the type of ideas that writers grab when they can't think of anything else; sometimes the result is something quite enjoyable while other times... it isn't.

In my writings, I'm hoping to avoid these things, so I'm making a promise to myself not to use any of these -- unless, and this is important, unless I find some twist on it that makes it more interesting.

So here's the...



Time travel is one of the stockiest of stock plots; just about every franchise features at least one instance of it, and a few, like Doctor Who and Back To The Future, are built up around it. (Sarah claims that there are also a whole slew of time travel romance novels out there, though I will admit I've never read any.) I suppose it's an easy way to get a "fish out of water" scenario, if it's either someone from modern times going to the past or the future, or someone from the past/future coming to our time...

But really, usually the plot is either "we're stuck in the past and can't get home" or "we go back to the past to fix our mistakes." It's not that either of these things can't be done well, and there have been good stories with both premises, but, well, it's so seldom that I see time travel used creatively in a story. It tends to be kind of the same thing over and over again. The protagonists either end up shaping history, or changing history, and they meet historical people who are either exactly as you think, or totally different... it's all been done.

(By the way, since it now is 2015, am I really the only one heartily sick of all the skits where Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown arrive in the "future" and are really disappointed at the lack of hoverboards and flying cars?)


Stock horror plot: Someone or something calls forth the characters' worst nightmares or greatest fears -- either physically bringing them into the real world or (if the wtiter is a little more psychological) just makes the characters think the nightmares have become real. Expect scary monsters, at least one monstrous clown, some kind of seclusion/loneliness thing, loss of power, rejection, total failure, that sort of thing.

These sort of things are just trite. It's always the same; the comic relief character has some suitably humorous or absurd fear, like killer clowns or talking breadsticks, or being naked in public, while the smart guy is afraid of becoming stupid, the heroic character is afraid of failure, and everyone falls prey to their own fears until one character -- usually the hero -- stands up to the fears, which breaks the spell or at least leads to the breaking of the spell, in an exceptionally ham-fisted moral about facing your fears. It's not that this is a bad moral (and it can lead to good stories; the Over The Garden Wall series was pretty much built around the concept of facing your fears, to very good effect), but this kind of delivery is just lazy and clunky. Often the story tries to use the fears as a character study thing, but having each character's fears say something about them... but usually the so-called "character study" is shallow and not very interesting. The goofy, joking character has silly nightmares? The tough guy is afraid of something seemingly small and harmless? The hero is afraid of letting everyone down? Yeeeeah, really ground-breaking stuff there.


I may have mentioned my dislike of this once or twice. The story ends with the protagonist waking up, and wouldn't you know it, it was all a dream! Or, for an extra twist, wait, there is some hint here that it wasn't a dream after all! I can count the number of stories that were better for such a revelation on one hand -- usually, the revelation is a cheap cop-out; the status quo is changed, but whew, it was just a dream.

It's a lot more tolerable if the story is clearly set up as a dream from the start, but still, most of these "dream" stories don't really take much advantage of it being a dream; either they end up as parodies of another story just with the familiar characters in the main roles (double bonus if it's the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, one of the worst "it was all a dream" endings to ever have been inserted to a story, or Alice In Wonderland, the original "it was all a dream" story) or they become vaguely dull nightmare stories.

But there's one twist and variant to this trope that's been done more often in recent years, and one that I absolutely detest: The opposite version. A character of an established fantastic franchise wakes up and finds out the entire life we've seen them lead was a dream or a delusional fantasy, they live in a totally mundane world and magic and monsters does not exist. Sometimes said character is depicted as institutionalized, with doctors and psychiatrists (and possibly mundane versions of their normal friends) try to convince them that their entire life was just a fantasy. Sometimes the character forgets the "fantastic" life and goes up into the mundane one while the audience is supposed to scream "what is going on?!"

But -- surprise!! It's the mundane life that's the dream/delusion! Some evil villain is tryng to trick the hero into believing s/he was never a hero at all, but some detail or contradiction clues our hero in to the diabolical plot, and at the end of the story, the hero is back in their regular fantastic life... but if the scriptwriters feel especially clever they might include a twist at the end that hints that maybe the mundane life was the real one after all and the hero has gone back to dreaming. No thanks.

You know this one. The hero has an evil twin, or an evil clone, or an evil counterpart. Or there's a parallel universe where all the heroes are in fact evil (and posibly the villains are all good), and either one or more heroes accidentally enter the world where they're evil, or an evil version of a hero ends up in our world, or they swap places, leading to lots of mistaken identities and good guys convicted of crimes they did not commit, and so on and so forth.

For some reason, everyone but me seems to love this trope. In every franchise, the most popular villain alays seems to be the "evil counterpart." Maybe they find the "hero versus himself/his dark side" idea intriguing, or maybe they just get a kick out of seeing heroes act like villains for a while. I don't know. But I'll admit, I find these to be, well, kind of dull. It feels cheap to just take a character, duplicate him/her, and then make the duplicate evil. It's very seldom that the evil duplicate is a very interesting character in his/her own right anyway; the only real interest lies in the contrast with the "good" hero and the similarities.

It's not that I'm fundamentally against twins, dopplegangers or alternate universes, but you can use all of these without the tired "evil twin" trope.


Yep, this is the big one. Why did the villain want to kill the hero? Why is the hero the only one who can set something right? Why, there was a prophecy!

You might have caught on to my distaste for "Chosen One" stories; I find them lazy and often annoyingly elitist. This person is More Important Than Everyone Else, not out of any personal merits or actions, but simply Because Destiny Says So. The prophecy tends to be the author's attempt at showing that Something Big is going on and Fate and Destiny are Involved To Such A Degree That The Text Begins Capitalizing Every Word. It seldom works; and in some cases it just gets really bad, when the prophecy is pretty much introduced out of nowhere -- or, like in the awful movie Oz The Great And Powerful, is only there as an excuse for everyone to fawn over how special the protagonist is, and the prophecy itself is never even mentioned in any detail beyond "it says he will fix everything."

I once said, years ago, that I would like a story where the ancient prophecy turns out to be just a bunch of lies, but I've changed my mind about that: Now I just don't like prophecies at all. They're lazy, they're trite, and frankly, every single way of trying to subvert or twist them has been done a million times. Hah, the villain fulfilled the prophecy by trying to avoid it -- that one's been around since the old Greek tragedies. The prophecy didn't mean quite what you thought it meant, that's almost required as a twist. The prophecy wasn't actually true, but ends up fulfilled almost as an afterthought and only in a kindasorta way? Tolken used that one, as have several others.

Let's just skip the entire prophecy thing. Make the hero earn his important status for once, don't just have him as important Because Prophecy.

Well, this is it. The home stretch.

No matter how this ends up, Pratchett -- we've had a good run, and I wouldn't have missed a single moment of it.

Chapter SixteenCollapse )
Chapter SeventeenCollapse )
Chapter EighteenCollapse )
Chapter NineteenCollapse )
EpilogueCollapse )
Sum-up and ReviewCollapse )

Well... we're back with more Discworld, more Tiffany Aching, more Nac Mac Feegle and more... just more. Let's jump right in!

Chapter ElevenCollapse )
Chapter TwelveCollapse )
Chapter ThirteenCollapse )
Chapter FourteenCollapse )
Chapter FifteenCollapse )

Hello and welcome back to a new batch of chapters from Terry Pratchett's final Discworld book! It got off to a promising start, and I'm eager to continue, so let's just continue, shall we? Today we'll be reading chapters six through ten, so...

Back onto the Star Turtle we go!!

Chapter SixCollapse )
Chapter SevenCollapse )
Chapter EightCollapse )
Chapter NineCollapse )
Chapter TenCollapse )

Here we go. The book is ready, and so am I.

The Shepherd's Crown is the 41st Discworld novel... but not the 41st Discworld book. If we include books like the four Science of Discworld books, the two children's books Where's My Cow? and The World of Poo, and the short stories/writings all collected in A Blink of the Screen, the number of Discworld books is probably more like "somewhere between forty and fifty." I'm not 100% sure, but I think that would make the Discworld series the longest fantasy series ever, at least that was written by one single person. Or if not, it's at least up there. There have been series with more books, but they have usually been shorter and/or been written by more people.

It's also the sixth YA Discworld book, the fifth book in the Tiffany Aching series, and the eleventh book about the Discworld Witches and their undisputed not-a-leader-honestly, Granny Weatherwax. Twelfth if you include the The Sea And The Little Fishes story as a separate book.

But however else you want to put it, this is the last one.

Let's just start with the cover:

Now that's a nice cover. It's done, of course, by our old friend Paul Kidby, and while this probably isn't his best cover ever (The one for Night Watch beats most of them) it looks great. It's Tiffany Aching, as we've come to know her -- but no longer the little girl she was in the beginning; she's definitely an adult woman now. If I'm to guess, she's probably in her early twenties here, given that she was seventeen in the previous book, and there tends to pass a few years between books.

But she hasn't changed more than we've come to know her; she still wears pale green, and she's still accompanied by the irrepressible Nac Mac Feegle -- the main source of wild rowdiness and comedy relief of the books. Imagine a race of hard-drinking, violent Smurfs, who will fight anything bigger than them, steal anything that's not nailed down (and if it is nailed down, they'll steal the nails) and speak in Scottish accent. While Tiffany is the unquestioned central character in the book and the Nac Mac Feegle are usually there more for comedy relief than anything, they add a lot of energy and fun to the books.

There's also a white cat, probably Granny Weatherwax's cat "You" (as in "Stop that, You," or "Get down from there, You,"), which was given to her by Tiffany a few books back.

Let's open the book and see what waits us inside!
PrologueCollapse )
Chapter OneCollapse )
Chapter TwoCollapse )
Chapter ThreeCollapse )
Chapter FourCollapse )
Chapter FiveCollapse )

Next post up soon....


Wow... I've neglected this journal for some time. I don't really have an excuse for it, except there's been so many other things to do lately, and, well, long story short, I forgot.

Now, I have for a couple of months been meaning to do a reaction review here of Ryk E. Spoor's novel Polychrome, which is all about my favorite character from the Oz books, Polychrome the Rainbow's Daughter. If you remember my drawing of my eleven favorite Oz characters, Spoor commented on its DeviantArt page, we got to exchanging a few comments about the development of Polychrome from book to book (she is probably the one Oz character who changes and develops the most, even if she remains fundamentally the same), and he mentioned that he had this novel coming out. I decided that I would check it out when it came out, and a couple of months ago I found that it was indeed on sale from Amazon.

So I bought the e-book and was about to read it when I thought: Wait! This novel feels like one I could have a Reaction Review to! I should do the same as I did for Peter Pan's Neverworld and read it little by little, and write down my thoughts as I read!

Problem with that was that I was in the middle of preparations for the summer LARP, and all sorts of other things were happening, so I put it off for a week, and then for another week, and... you get the picture.

And now, here I am with a Reaction Review at last... but, as you might have guessed from the title it's not for Polychrome.

Now, I will get to Polychrome later on, but I'm sure the Rainbow's Daughter (and her author) will forgive me for the delay when I say that the book I'm reaction-reviewing is Terry Pratchett's last-ever Discworld novel. The fifth and final Tiffany Aching book.

Now, for the last few Pratchett books, ever since Nation, really, I've bought the digital-download audiobooks rather than the print books; I really like audiobooks, and Stephen Briggs's magnificent vocal performance fits Pratchett like a glove. Plus, we know that Pratchett's last few books were written through dictation and speech-to-text programs, and this resulted in an altered writing style; less polished an more rambly, and just a lot more suited to be heard rather than read.

I was fully intending to buy the audiobook for Shepherd's Crown too... but wouldn't you know it, the ruddy thing hasn't been made available for my country yet. Or rather, the full, unabridged Stephen Briggs version hasn't -- it's possible to get the abridged Tony Robinson version. But though Tony Robinson is a great actor and I thoroughly enjoyed him as Baldrick in Blackadder and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Maid Marian and her Merry Men (watch that show! It's like a kids' version of Blackadder and a magnificent spoof of the Robin Hood mythos!), I don't really like abridged audiobooks. You get the basic story, but so much nuance, humor and character is lost  when you cut out all the "unnecessary" parts. And Pratchett's work is so much about the nuance, humor and character.

So I had three options:

1: Get the abridged version anyway and at least get the story. (Could do, but would I want my first impression of the story to be a version with more than a third cut out?)
2: Wait until I could get the Stephen Briggs version, in some way. (But who knows when that could be; could be only a few days, could be ages! Could I stand the wait?!)
3: Buy the e-book version and read it as a text.

As you see, I went for option number 3.

And then it struck me: This book is special. It's the last ever trip to the Discworld, at least with Terry Pratchett as our guide. His daughter Rhianna, now the keeper of the world and its inhabitants has said there won't be any more books -- adaptations and supplementary material, yes, and there's that Ankh-Morpork City Watch TV series I keep hearing about, which I'll certainly follow with interest (CSI in the Discworld!), but this will be the final time we have a new, full and complete Discworld book. It deserves a bit of extra attention.

So I'll be doing a reaction-review to it. Same format as before; one chapter at a time, five chapters per post. I expect this will be a lot more positive than my review for Neverworld, though... hoo boy, that book was a mess.

The Shepherd's Crown is nineteen chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. So what I'll do is divide the review into four posts, five chapters for each... well, prologue plus five chapters in the first post, then five chapters each for the second and third post, and the fourth and final will have four chapters, an epilogue and a final review. That sound good? Okay.

Once more, then, onto the Disc, onto the back of Great A'Tuin the Star Turtle... once more to the Ramtops and to the witches.

And of course, this won't be a real goodbye. Because, to paraphrase A. A. Milne, the Discworld will always be there... and anybody who is Friendly with Witches, Wizards, Dwarfs, Trolls, Goblins, Nac MacFeegles, and Corporal Nobby Nobbs, can find it.

Iiiit's May the 17th again!

Happy Norway's Constitution Day, everyone! Let's celebrate with hot dogs and ice cream, and of course a song!

This year, I present my interpretation of Gilbert O'Sullivan's classic song Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day, once again trying my hand at recording an a capella song. Okay, it has nothing to do with Norway or constitutions, and it doesn't sound anywhere near as good as when Gilbert O'Sllivan sings it, but in my humble opinion it's not bad for something put together in what was probably six or seven hours (I worked on it a few hours last night, and a couple hours before I posted it, hence the "probably")... and besides, it was fun to dol

And here are the lyrics, if y'all want to sing along with me. I've made a couple of very minor changes to the original lyrics (I swapped out two words or something) just because I wanted it to rhyme a little better -- plus I repeat the final chorus because it just sounds like the sort of chorus that should be repeated -- but the credit for writing this glorious piece of vaguely surreal nonsense belongs to Mr. O' Sullivan.

I want to tell you
(I might as well do),
About a girl I met back in May;
Her name is Rita,
And you should meet her
When she goes "Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka-day!"

She's got a brother,
Like any other,
Who got his nose caught inside a gate.
And when they freed him,
it so relieved him
He just went "Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka-date!"

You wouldn't think to look at me that I was strong,
But underneath it all I really am!
And just to prove it: Why, only the other day,
I picked a needle up with one hand!

Now, up in Bradford,
A chap named Radford,
While taking part in a local play --
Was intercepted
And then suspected
Of going "Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka-day!"

(Hey-hey hey!)

Who's that lady I saw you with?
It was not your wife.
It looked to me, suspiciously,
Like someone I have never seen before in my life!


It's not surprising when you come to think of it,
Just what it is that makes people swear...
You only have to sing the wrong bleepin' thing,
And there'll be bleeping ev'ry-bleepin'-where!


Now if you love me,
You're not above me,
And if you don't, well, what can I say?
Except we'll see when
You come to tea, then
You can go "Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka-day!"

Now if you love me,
You're not above me,
And if you don't, well, what can I say?
Except we'll see when
You come to tea, then
You can go "Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka --
Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka --
Wakka day!

And the Turtle Moves On...

You probably already heard it, but one of my favorite authors, Sir Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld, passed away this week.  I usually don't use this blog for death announcements, certainly not for people I never actually met, but some people are just special, and... well, his death was announced at his Twitter account, in typical Terry Pratchett fashion:


Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

The End.

You just can't put it any better than that. See you later, Great A'Tuin.

...and just because it wouldn't be a proper tribute to Terry Pratchett if it didn't end on something silly, here is my drawing of Nobby Nobbs in civilian clothes:


You know what I'm really starting to get sick of? Nostalgia.

And I don't just mean the fact that Hollywood as of late have made it their goal to bring back and milk all franchises for what they're worth (though perhaps the number of reboots and re-hashings are a bit high), but the unavoidable whining that comes from online fans with each and every one. Especially if the reboot tries to do something different -- know that new Ghostbusters movie they're making, with four women as the ghostbusting team instead of the traditional four men? Hooooooo boy, has there ever been a lot of whining about that. Even before the movie has started filming, old fans are crying their eyes out (and spouting some rather misogynistic drek in the process) because oh no, their childhoods have been ruined! RUINED I TELLS YA!

You might have seen this meme-riffic poster making its rounds around the Internet:

Seriously. These people actually thought that "Stop making it about you when it's really all about MEEEEEEEEE" was a good argument.

Let me just get one thing straight. Your childhoods are not ruined. Quite apart from the fact that if Ghostbusters was the only thing worthwhile about your childhood then said childhood must have been quite a hellish time and I'm really sorry for you...the female Ghostbusters haven't gone back in time to retroactively make it so that your precious childhood never included the original. Nor, to my knowledge, is Sony Pictures planning to recall all the existing DVDs and videos of the original movies and cartoons and change them George Lucas style so that the old guys are no longer there. So for fuck's sake, stop whining so fucking much every time someone tries something new.

It's not just Ghostbusters either. You can't go anywhere on the net, or hear about anything new or innovative in the entertainment industry, be it the umpteenth sequel to an old franchise or something new altogether, without a whole bunch of people complaining that this isn't what they had in their childhoods and the new things suck and by the way THEIR CHILDHOODS ARE RUINED because the Ninja Turtles have noses in the newest Michael Bay movie or whatever. And let's not get into how whenever new kids' stuff comes out there's an outbreak of people complaining that kids' entertainment today SUCKS, not like it was when they were kids when everything was good and awesome and brilliant.

Thing is, though? Most of the time it wasn't. Most of the time it was about the same level of quality as today, it was just you who had yet to develop proper critical thinking because you were a child and would accept any rubbish you were offered as long as it seemed fun or cool enough. And now you're remebering it all in a rose-tinted cloud of nostalgia, the same cloud that makes you genuinely think that everything was so much better before.

I don't buy that it was better before. And I've re-seen a lot of the kids' entertainment I used to be obsessed with as a kid -- some of it, like for example Fraggle Rock, still holds up, while a lot of it doesn't. I mean, really, nostalgia is the only reason why some of these shows are still remembered fondly at all.

But let's say someone got the idea to reboot Fraggle Rock (they've been talking about a movie for ages, and there's the CGI Doozers series, which really isn't anywhere near as good even if it does try) and change it up completely, would I then go online and scream about my ruined childhood? No, because my childhood was so much more than TV programs... and besides, even if the reboot should happen to be terrible, then the old show will still be there.

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, especially if it grounds you too much to the past and stops you from accepting or trying out new things. It's one thing to honor the classics of the past, but don't get so caught up in them that you can't see the value of the things that are happening now.

(PS: A team of female Ghostbusters is a great idea, even if I'm not a huge fan of the original movies... frankly I thought the cartoon was better.)

Good Morning, Doctor Harvey

Sometimes a song gets stuck in my head and I can't remember the lyrics. The only cure then is to find a copy of the song, play it and write the lyrics down as it plays. Well, the song is still stuck in my head, but at least now I'm spared the frustration of not knowing what the words are.

This song is from the 90s cartoon, The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper, which was loosely based on the 1995 movie Casper, and is one of the best incarnations of Casper the Friendly Ghost ever to grace the small screen. For one thing, while it was sloppily animated, it completely avoided the saccharine overtones usually associated with the character; the stories and dialogue were surprisingly solid, the voices were good, there was some really fun meta-humor and even Casper had a bit more of an edge to him without ever losing the fundamental "friendly ghost" aspect.

The ones who stole the show were of course Casper's uncles, the Ghostly Trio.

And the first I even saw of the show was the skit/song "Good Morning, Dr. Harvey," in which Casper tries to talk to his shrink. This song got stuck in my head, so I finally wrote it down, and I thought that I might as well post it here. So, here it is:

Good morning, Doctor Harvey.
My uncles say "go haunt!"
No matter how I tell them
Just what I really want.

He says that he's too friendly
To play the ghostly scene!

Please, Doctor Harvey,
Just tell them what I mean!

Casper, my patient, I've heard your complaint:
Your uncles want to make you into something you ain't!
Your ego's off-center, your id is unglued --
You're ghostologically un-booed!

I'm un-booed?!

You're becoming un-booed 'cause your id is unglued,
You're ghostologically un-booed!

Please help me, Doctor Harvey,
I wish that you would show
The healthy mental outlook
A friendly ghost should know!

He says that he's just friendly,
But we think that he's sick!

Please, Doctor Harvey,
Just tell me something quick!

Casper, my patient, the answer is clear:
Just listen to your uncles and you'll start your career!

Just come with us ghosting!

And then you'll be fine!

You're driving me out of my mind!

Out of his mind, out of his mind, he's out of his mind.
'Cause he won't go and scare the fleshies blind!

Hey, listen, Doctor Harvey,
My uncles aren't my friends!
They only wanna use me
For their own ghostly ends!
Hey, don't you wanna cure me?
Or do I smell a rat?
Please, Doctor Harvey,
Just tell me where you're at!

Casper, my patient, you've seen through my schemes:
To turn you to a haunter is my fondest of dreams!

You're not Doctor Harvey!

Well, how did you guess?

You're Stretch in Doctor Harvey's dress!

How'd he guess?!

I guess I,
Confess I,
Wore his dress,
Just to drive you to your ghostly best!

I know I'll never please them!
I shouldn't even try!
Doctor Harvey, how do I get by?!

Don't call Doctor Harvey!
The doctor's not in!
You can dump your therapist,
But not your own kin!
You're stuck with us, Casper,
On this we're agreed:
Haunt, or a doctor's what you'll need!

If you want to check out the show... well, you could do a lot worse. Okay, seeya!

Hobbit Chat

I finally saw the last Hobbit movie, after having put it off for some time because several people I know had told me it wasn't very impressive. But, I did see it yesterday, and today I had a chat with sarahcoldheart about it.

A few spoilers in the following conversation, plus a not-too-meticulous going through of plot points, but it sums up my feelings about the movie pretty well:

<@Roo> Oh, and I saw the third Hobbit movie yesterday.
<@SarahC```> How was it? I didn't watch it! But you can spoil me if you wish since I know people are to die.
<@Roo> It was better than I thought it would be, actually. I'd read so many people complaining about it, and saying it was all a three-hour battle sequence and stuff, so I wasn't expecting it to be very good. Maybe that was why I liked it. ^_^
<@Roo> Still... the dragon gets killed ten minutes into the movie! In fact, he dies before the title card!
<@Roo> It was like "well, that was a big waste."
<@Roo>And yes, Smaug's demise was an anticlimax in the book as well, but this was pretty much just calling attention to what big an anticlimax he was.
<@SarahC```> Oh, he dies, so what happens at the other part of the movie?
<@Roo> It's the battle of the five armies, mainly.
<@SarahC```> ohhh
<@Roo> The Laketown people show up and want payment for the dragon burning their houses, since Thorin promised recompensation and all, but Thorin is all "No, this is MY treasure!"
<@Roo> And then the wood elves show up and ally with the humans, and then Billy Conolly shows up in the lead of a huge dwarf army and tells everyone to bugger off, and then Gandalf shows up and says "you cheeseheads, orcs are gonna attack, why are you fighting in between yourselves?".
<@Roo> Basically everybody wants the treasure.
<@SarahC```> Ah such gold fever.
<@Roo> Yes, and Bilbo tries to avoid war by giving Thranduril the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip. Like, "you get the stone, we get some treasure." But Thorin gets really mad, calls Bilbo a traitor and tries to kill him, but Bofur helps him escape.
<@Roo> (I like Bofur. ^_^)
<@Roo> Anyway, that's when the orcs attack and there's a huge battle, and Thorin hallucinates drowning in gold, which makes him change his mind and go "We gotta help the others against the orcs, yo!"
<@Roo> I may or may not have made up the "yo" part.
<@SarahC```> Geeee. So and thus they die like that?
<@Roo> Yes. Thorin kills the chief orc guy, but dies himself, living just long enough to make up with Bilbo. And Kili saves Tauriel's life but dies himself, and she cries.
<@Roo> And Fili kinda just... dies. The rest of the dwarves live, though.
<@SarahC```> Oh wow ok.
<@Roo> And then Bilbo goes home. Though not until Gandalf says "dude, I KNOW you have a magic ring."
<@SarahC```> I see... and thus LOTR
<@Roo> Yes.
<@Roo> Did you ever read the book?
<@SarahC```> Noooooo
<@Roo> Well, the movie pads it out a LOT. I'm still not sure it wouldn't have been better off as just two movies. There's too much padding and the battle scenes go on like forever. The book's three hundred-something pages, as compared to LOTR which is a thousand pages... so you don't get anywhere near the amount of plot.
<@SarahC```> So I've heard. But ok then! So that is what had happened.
<@Roo> Well, the movies have one huge advantage: There are actually a couple of female characters in it. ^_^
<@Roo> In the book there's NO women. Not a single one. Bilbo's mother is mentioned once, and that's it.
<@SarahC```> That much I know! But alright, so you enjoyed the movie then?
<@SarahC```> Like yay?
<@Roo> Well, more yay than nay.
<@SarahC```> That's good then.

So there you have it! The movie was decent, though I feel that I've sort of had my fill of New Zealand-Middle Earth now. Six movies is enough. (Actually, it's probably one too many, given that a lot of fans and even Peter Jackson himself have shown clear signs of Tolkien-fatigue.) It doesn't help that the movies have cranked up the "epic drama" a little too much; I noticed it especially in the last two Hobbit movies that Mr. Jackson maaaaaaaaay have taken the epic drama a little too far.

(To illustrate: The LOTR trilogy presented a world I could believe in; I could buy that people lived there, you know? People who walked those impressive halls every day and didn't give it a second thought because they were so used to them; there was room for normal life there. For the Hobbit movies this world was swapped out with one that just functioned to look as epic, dramatic and cool on the screen as possible, but which I couldn't buy people living their daily lives in. From the goblin caves to the Elf-king's hall, to Laketown; they looked like dramatic sets, not like someone's homes.)

Now I think I just want to go back to stories that are slightly less epically dramatic for a while.


Christmas... Dragons?

Since the annual Christmas song came in November this year, I thought I'd instead give you...


Just a quick warning...

While most of this blog is pretty family-friendly (apart from the occasional bad word), there are a few posts with more adult content, most notably erotic fanfiction and nude drawings.

However, any adult content will always be behind LJ-cuts, and equipped with warnings of its adult nature. In other words, it should be easy to avoid adult content if you don't want to see it -- so don't blame me if you ignore the warnings.

Thanks for your attention!

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