Ghif or Jif? How to Pronounce the .gif Extension

it's a GifIt all started off in the PreCambrian. This was long before the Internet. But there was this company that would do your taxes, H&R Block.

They had this big mainframe computer that was mainly only used during business hours. Being bean-counters, they wondered if they could monetize the thing during off-hours. Somebody came up with the idea of letting folks log into their computer over a modem, and the whole thing took off.

The service was called CompuServ. For an hourly rate, you could get an email address that looked like: 1235123.122245. It could only communicate with other folks on CompuServ. But that’s OK because there really wasn’t any other civilian use of email going on at the time.

And there were forums, like bulletin boards, where folks could carry on cyber-conversations. And you could upload and download files at 1200 bits per second!

Now imagine that somehow you had a digitized photo or maybe a ray-traced image that you’d been working on for weeks. Obviously you wanted to share it with all your friends on CompuServ. But as a TIFF file it was like over 1000 kilobites! So huge! It’ll take over 33 minutes to upload that file! And you’re being charged in 1 minute increments (if I recall correctly…).

So Steve Wilhite created an image file format that was 8 bits deep, so it only had 256 colors per picture, and those bits were compressed by LZW encoding. Now that same image, well an image very similar to that same image, but with fewer colors, could be uploaded in maybe only 3 minutes! Fantastic, huh? Compared to the other way it uploaded in a jiffy! Or in a jif! That’s why .gif is pronounced like jif.

But then along came the big bad Internet. Suddenly Unisys says, “Hey, we own the rights to LZW encoding and you all owe us Meeelions of dollars!” They were playing hardball. And that’s when .gif started being pronounced with a hard G, as in the first sound of “gouge”.

No really. On CompuServ the correct way to pronounce it is with the soft G. On the hard Internet, where fast is taken for granted, you have to use the hard G. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The brouhaha is over. Unless you’re still time-sharing with that dial-up modem, use the hard G.

I love solving problems.


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What I Learned from 2014

Place Settings

Or at least, 3 movies that I watched in 2014. Honestly, this is all that I’ve got for the whole year.

In Your Eyes was written by Joss Whedon in 1992, but filmed in 2014. He paid for it, but other folks directed. A guy in New Mexico and a gal in New Hampshire find out that they can see thru each other’s eyes, and hear with each other’s ears, etc. It’s a romantic comedy drama thing. It’s the characters that make it work. I didn’t like the ending. Or rather, what happens within 24 hours after the ending. Everybody is going to jail….

Forev, is a romantic comedy. These two neighbors who don’t really know each other just decide to get married to each other one day. I like it a lot. It’s the characters that make it work. They seem like folks I know, and the actors look like folks that I know. Like real people. It gets a little loopy as it goes on, which is fine. But once again, I wonder about what happens after the ending.

Frequencies takes place in an alternative reality where folks have a measurable “luck” coefficient. This one gal is off the scale at 178, while this guy is at minus 7. Romantic comedy full of philosophical pokes. Also, the first 20 minutes is told from her point of view, the 2nd from his, then there’s a few minutes where it’s shared, then the last 20 from somebody else’s. It’s fun, and keeps you thinking. And the acting is good in that you can just watch people’s faces and figure out what’s going on for them. And I didn’t mind what happens after the ending. But the kid versions of the characters look nothing like the grown up versions.

Maybe in 2015 we’ll get a new Lost Skeleton walking among us.

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Lullaby Needs Your Cash!

Right now Lullaby Baxter is trying to crowd source her new album (L’HEURE DE L’ÉTOILE) on IndieGoGo.

If you give her money, not only will you get the MP3’s from the new album, but she will put things into your mind telepathically. They are good things. You will want them to be put into your mind.

I went with the Gershwin package.

You know you won’t regret it.

It’s at:

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Hidden Wind Up Camera Bird Chronicle

   +     =  3

Several years ago Amazon suggested that I buy a book called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I obediently ordered it. Put it on the shelf, for years. Somewhere else along the way,  Amazon suggested that I buy a book called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So I bought a duplicate copy, and put it on a different shelf.

After getting married, I moved all my stuff into a new home. I sorted through my possessions, placing them alphabetically around the rooms, and discovered my duplicitousness.  For years, standing side-by-side, my two copies of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle beckoned me. But I was too busy.

Eventually the shame of wastefulness, and boredom and curiosity, forced me to read one of the books.

It’s full of stories, with lots of foreshadowing, and lots of other stuff. It asks you to try to put the pieces together. Some pieces don’t fit the way you want them to. And then it all comes together and…it works. It was 600 pages of pretty awesome.

The author is Japanese. He’s supposed to be pretty Westernly inclined. I wish that I were well-read enough to know. Previously the most Japanesie novel I’d ever read was Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which is obviously a US book based on a certain style of Japanese novel. Which is kind of cool because everything is a direct reflection of everything else. So that sort of prepared me.

In If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, there’s a chapter from a Japanese book. It involves a groom accidentally having sex with his mother-in-law.  As if that were a likely possibility. But in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle something similar happens sort of. So is that a trope of Japanese novels, or as a Westernly-influenced person, was he paying homage to Italo Calvino? I don’t know. Can you advise me?

I could try to tell you what it’s about, but it wouldn’t end up giving you the right idea. It’s a bit of that realistic magic stuff that was coming out of Latin America a few decades ago. And it’s historical. I never realized how ignorant I was of Japan before WWII. They were dealing with the Soviets before we were! Talk about a Cold War. But that’s not really what it’s about.

Supposedly the English translation is missing a bit from the last third of the original book. I’m figuring that the translator wasn’t trying to re-translate Western influences back into English, but what do I know?

I only read one of my copies of the books. I’m not certain that the other one contains all the same stories. I’ll check and let you know.

Soon after, I picked up another book from off my shelf. It was Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic. And it’s got some magical not-quite-realism going on too. But the two books feel and read completely differently.

They’re both 1st person narratives. But the Japanese book digresses into several other narrators. They all share a similar style, but the point of views change enough that you actually feel like you’re in different people’s heads

In the Serbian book there is only one narrator. And he’s incessant like a train. Almost obnoxious. The writing style, if not the rest of it, seriously resembles Kafka. But nobody wants to use that phrase any more.

I picked the book from a list of novels with untrustworthy narrators.  In this case, it’s not so much that the narrator is lying (as in for instance Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff where the narrator is not willing to look at her own culpability) as that he’s just prejudiced against the truth.

And there’s a lot of symbolism. And I can only guess at any of its meanings. But that just happens to work really fine. I find significant meaning in these symbols that I can’t claim to actually understand, and it works for me.

In the Japanese novel, I struggled to make sense of it, but it seemed like I would definitely find the right answer. In the Serbian one, I wasn’t so sure along the way. But by the ending it all paid off.

Two completely different novels using the same tools in totally different ways, to unique effect for each. Not at all alike while you’re experiencing them. But in hindsight, they’re exactly the same.

Or, at least, that’s what I brought to the table.

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Paul Williams 1, Harry Nilsson 0++?

It’s called Paul Williams Still Alive. It’s by the director of Vegas Vacation. And apparently he’s done lots of commercials. Or so he says.

Do you remember Paul Williams? Because he was in like everything back in the 70’s and 80’s and so on. He wrote the best Carpenters songs. And the best Muppet Movie songs. And so much more. He was all over the Love Boat, and Merv, and Johnnie, and I don’t know where else. He played Miguelito Loveless Jr. in the Wild Wild West Revisited TV Movie which ended with a bang. And, of course, he played Virgil in Battle For The Planet of the Apes which started with an implied bang.

Honestly, despite the Planet of the Apes cred, Paul Williams is not my biggest hero. But he was the biggest hero of the director of this film. And the director and I seem to have a lot of other things in common. Although, for the record, I never directed a Vacation sequel. Yet.

So this guy, the director, tracks down his childhood hero, whom he thinks is dead. And he finds out that not only is he alive, but he actually survived. So he asks his hero, “Can I make a movie about you?” And Mr. Paul Williams is too nice a guy to tell him No. Now, occasionally as the movie progresses, he does get around to telling him “now leave” and maybe “I wouldn’t want my daughter to see this”.

Paul Williams should be my hero. He should be yours as well. He was one of those poor unfortunate people who suddenly got everything they wanted and more. And then things got really out of control. And even though he was really nice about it, to his credit, he still made some terrible mistakes. And instead of letting them all destroy him, he went past them, got over them, got back to being the nice person that he always was.

You should see this movie.

His story is like a happy version of Harry Nilsson’s.

Paul Williams Still Alive would make a great double feature with  Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?, but Paul’s movie should come second. Because it’s a happier ending, and because it’s really a deeper story about what is wrong and what is right and how you make up from past mistakes.

Nowhere in the movie do they mention Harry. I wonder why. He was an LA staple. They must have known each other.

So I spent 20 hours listening to the new Harry Nilsson The RCA Albums Collection. It’s like 17  CDs. And it just keeps getting cheaper. It’s all of his famous albums, plus out-takes. I was driving on interstates at the time. It made the miles go by really fast. My trip broke into two pieces, just after finishing Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, which is the good voice years, and then the Pussy Cats and onward sessions. Which are the bad voice years.  I have never been so engulfed in Harry goodness.

The melodies are more varied in the early years, but the words are so much better later. And his voice only really sounded bad on Pussy Cats. Although some of the outtakes show him struggling to make the notes, which was a problem his friend Ringo often had.

Everything is equalized out very nicely. It doesn’t hurt to listen any more. Some of the outtakes are unnecessary, but then again if you’ve heard You’re Breakin’ My Heart, then you know how dirty Harry can be. Taken as a whole, his work is much more scatological for me now than they were when I was a teenager. Does that mean I’m wiser or just more experienced, or more cynical?

I actually caught a few jokes this time that I never caught before. The line “you’re so vain” from “Black Sails in the Sunset” (Sandman?) isn’t just a joke on Carly Simon, it’s also a joke on “vein”, which is what makes up the treasure map. Silly me for all these years!

Anyway, if your Harry collection isn’t complete but you want it to be, then buy this set. If you’ve already bought everything singly, then buy it anyway because it sounds good and comes in a relatively compact box with all the album art intact.

Paul Williams outlives Harry Nilsson. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

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Viva Vivobarefoot!

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Vivobarefoot Shoes are the cat’s meow!

I’ve owned several pair now. They’re expensive, so I try to find them on sale. Any time that I walk any distance, I find myself saying to myself: “Wow, my feet sure do feel good!” This happens several times a day.

So I talked my wife into trying some. Now you have to understand, she has her own set of very particular requirements. So I really wasn’t expecting her to love the shoes as much as me. Every time she wears them now, she keeps saying: “Wow, my feet sure do feel good!” And I really don’t think that she’s mocking me.

Sure, some of them look a little goofy. And you seriously need to work up to wearing them all day. At first, them seem to offer zero support. But after a while… Smiles, everyone, smiles!

For all but the really hard trails, these are my go-to shoes for hiking. Yes, shoes, not boots for hiking. Crazy isn’t it? But , wow, my feet sure do feel good!


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Priming the Intuition Pumps

footprints in the snowI had an interesting experience when I read Daniel C. Dennetts’ book Consciousness Explained. I couldn’t figure out what it was talking about. I’d read a chapter, and have no idea what he was getting at. Mainly, it seemed to me, he was explaining what consciousness wasn’t. And he just wasn’t putting the pieces together for me. I had a similar problem with most of Joseph Campbell’s books, except for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which seemed pretty straightforward even for me.

And then, well after I’d finished reading it, something wonderful happened. All of a sudden I understood what he was talking about. Other people talking about consciousness, it just automatically fell into Dennett’s framework for me. Even Freud, whom I’d completely given up on ever making sense of. It’s like it took a while for my subconscious to put it all together for me. And now it’s just obvious.

So, when I saw that Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking was coming out, I was interested. It’s sort of a Dennett reader, summing up most of his life’s work in a way that even non-philosophers can understand. He actually tested each chapter on undergraduates, to make sure that his writing was intelligible, and actually conveyed the ideas he was trying to express.

I’m not quite finished with it yet. And once again, I’m not quite getting what he’s saying, or rather how it all hangs together. But I think I see where he’s going with it. And it all seems to make sense. Maybe once my subconscious finishes chewing on it I’ll be really satisfied.

As it is, I’m just happy to read a really well-written philosophy book. Each chapter is as brief as possible, giving you bites small enough to swallow, yet still fleshed-out enough to stretch your mental belly. It seems more humorous than his other stuff.

I have one bone of contention. For most of my life, I’ve suspected that I’m what Dennett calls a zimbo. That is, a person that doesn’t really think, that only thinks that he thinks, when really he’s just acting like he’s thinking. Dennett seems to be saying that such things cannot exist. But I really think that’s me. I used to think that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. But now it doesn’t officially exist as a diagnosis any more. So I cannot exist that way either. So maybe if Dennett’s right, I really don’t exist.

Oh bother, said Pooh.

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John Dies Full of Spiders

Squirmy WreathWhile my wife was away one recent week, I started watching all the scary movies that she doesn’t like to see. I gave up on Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. It just didn’t grab me like I’d hoped.
I almost gave up on The Cabin In The Woods just before it became Joss-like. But then it was OK. I mean, the ending was really worth it.

What stuck with me, though, was John Dies At The End. First of all, it’s from the director that did the Phantasm series of films. And he also did Bubba Ho-Tep, which is all kinds of awesome. So I came aboard with expectations. And somewhere I’d heard about it being “mind-blowing”.

It was so awesome, I watched it twice. The story is all-over-the-place, but in a good way. The main characters are portrayed so well. This movie is a gem.

Somewhere I’d read that Coscarelli needed more money to make the ending that he really wanted. But I couldn’t see what could possibly be missing. It all worked for me. So I started getting curious. Since the movie was based on the book, what was in the book that didn’t make it into the movie?

So the book, John Dies at the End, is also all kinds of crazy wonderful. It’s written by this guy named David Wong. It’s about this guy named David Wong. And his friend John Cheese. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

The movie really does a fine job of representing the contents of the book. The book is full of like 5 main vignettes, and the movie has like 3 of them. But the beginning 7/8’s of one vignette is spliced onto the ending 6/7’s of another one. So you’re really getting most of the book. Just missing a few of the characters. And a couple of set-pieces that would have required some serious CGI.

So the movie really pulls off the whole book. And the book, as books are wont, is really so much more than any movie could ever be. They’re both so great. It’s really nice to see these things come together.

And while the book is not the highest literary achievement of the decade, it’s pretty well written. There’s lots of good stuff in it. It feels smart, but in a good way.

And it has a recent sequel called: This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It. Which is also a swell read. The first book has a humorous tone throughout, even during the spooky bits. The middle 2/5’s of the second book has a lot less humor, from what I can tell. It seems pretty dismal there for a while, but in a really entertaining way. And then at the end it all comes together and is both smart and funny again.

The Spiders book seems to be a metaphor for America some dozen years after 9/11. Which makes me wonder if John Dies is about the immediate effects of 9/11. And I can see it. And I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch. But I don’t think it’s important to enjoying or even understanding the books.

I really don’t see how they can make the 2nd book into a movie. But I bet people said that about the first one, till Coscarelli got involved. So I can’t wait till Bubba Nosferatu is finished, so they can start making the Spiders film.

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Long Strange Complicated Dream I

Big House in the RainWe’d just driven off the ferry. Some off-the-map place in Alaska, I think. The faded red truck was big, with a front seat wide enough to fit all four of us with plenty of room to spare. The tires were as tall as my waist, and the bed was twelve feet long with a wooden box framed with two by twelve wood rails along all four sides which had once been painted yellow. It was an old truck because the cab was rounded.

I was walking beside the slowly moving truck on the driver’s side, on the inside of the curve. The road was narrow, and I was helping guide around big holes. Another guy was walking on the passenger side, on the outside, guiding against the drop off. On my side, the road had been cut out from the mountainside, so a geologic wall raised up from my left. It was made of rotten rock, black and oily. I crushed a skull-sized piece in my hand like Styrofoam and then tried to wipe the mess off of my palm.

We came around a turn to the left, and down the hill was Main Street. It looked like some western town from a John Wayne movie: rutted dirt road, wooden sidewalks; but it ran downhill and green pine trees were creeping up from behind the buildings. All the windows were boarded up from the inside.

In the back of the truck the fifteen barrels tied up with yellow nylon rope clanked together when we hit the bumps.

At the bottom of the road on the left was the bank building with painted gold lettering pealing off the glass windows of the front doors. Past the bank, the road turned right, and crossed an ancient wooden bridge that creaked as we slowly drove over it. Orange warning cones were set up on the far side of the bridge. An overweight cop wearing something like a surgical mask over his mouth and nose motioned for folks to keep moving.

Beyond the bridge, one road ran left and right. Another ran forward and opened up into two lanes with a park between them, large ante-bellum houses on either side. We turned left, and the road kept getting worse, with bigger potholes and more rocks and boulders on the sides and sometimes in the middle. It went from downward-sloping muddy ruts to cracked stones, and we parked the truck with its radiator face to face with an eight-foot round granite boulder. It was parked on a 30-degree incline. Past the boulder, a wide shallow stream wrapped entirely around this dead-end turn-off.

We walked back up the road. Getting to the bridge, the cop had been replaced by two guys wearing yellow rubber fire-fighter suits.

Farther up the road, was a huge lodge. Long ago it must have been wonderful, but time and weather had broken it down. The paint was peeling off in three-inch-wide white strips from the wooden siding. It was a gigantic building, but at the far end parts of the outside walls were gone, revealing the skeleton framework. It started raining hard, cold pellets of sleet. We went inside.

There was a fire in a makeshift fireplace in the middle of the room. It was some sort of tavern. People with lined faces and long beards sat around small round wooden tables. Smoke floated all around. Everyone was talking but it wasn’t loud because the room was so large and the ceiling so high. Rain was leaking in from the roof.

I must have got drunk because things start getting hazy here. The other three went off to do business. My eye caught a gal. She was so beautiful. Somehow, I don’t remember how, I started talking with her. I recall her face lit from below by the candle in the round red jar with white plastic lace stretched around it. Perfect and flickering. We kept talking.

Music was coming from someplace: acoustic guitar, banjo, and upright bass. A little girl, maybe 8 years old, with long straight blond hair was laughing next to the grey-haired banjo player. There were strings of lights surrounded by corrugated paper tubes with watercolor paintings on them, swaying to the music and to the wind and to the rain.

The woman I was talking to was famous,  a movie star.  But she couldn’t take the pressure of fame, and had moved up here at least a year ago. An interesting story: as a child she’d been badly burned in a fire. Her face had to be recreated surgically. Completely. That was why it was so perfect. I remember dancing and kissing and laughing so warmly and deeply…. I was in awe and I was in love immediately.

There was a fight. I think that one of my buddies started it. This big guy pushed the movie star over backwards in her chair at the same time that he knocked over the table. Cigarette butts went flying in slow motion, and a splatter of candle wax landed next to my face. I guess that I got knocked over in my chair too. Tiny drops of wax burned on my cheek, but water drops hit there too. He was hitting me in the face, and then one of my buddies was slapping me awake.

We were in a hurry, running back down the muddy road. If we didn’t stop them, all was lost. At the bridge now the two folks were wearing aluminized containment suits. I couldn’t see their eyes through the thick glass faceplates, but the raindrops made their shiny suits glisten even more in the moonlight that was breaking through the clouds. Yellow warning tapes were hung across the bridge, like crepe paper strung for a party.

At the bottom of the road, the truck was ruined. The bed was at a 45-degree angle to the cab. The barrels were on their sides on the ground, split open, their contents washed down the creek. We were all pissed-off and disgusted, though I honestly don’t know why. What had we been carrying in those barrels?

But the malefactors hadn’t gone. They crept up behind us and started beating us up again. Somehow we drove them off, or ran away. There wasn’t any place left to go but back to the lodge. We started slogging up the deeply rutted road again.

At the bridge the guards were now wearing armor like the storm troopers in Star Wars, but instead of white it was colored black. There were three of them. There were shiny triangular metal barricades blocking the bridge. They made us hurry past.

I knew something was wrong before we came around the last bend. Everything was lit up with orange light. I started running. Most of the lodge was in engulfed in flames. I ran in looking for the movie star. Despite being drenched by the cold rain, I was suddenly hot, dry, and sober. Running through the big smoke-filled room, I found her crouched over the little blond haired girl.

The little girl was trapped under a fallen, blackened, smoking rafter. Around us people were running every which way. There was shouting. I saw faces illuminated by fire, faces with beards, flashes of faces shouting, lit by fire and with blood. In all of this, the rafter moved easily as I lifted it.

I picked the girl up, and we ran through the building, deeper into the building, into the rotten sections that were just skeletons. The fire hadn’t come here because the wood was long soaked with water. I lay the girl down, and realized that she was badly burned, her face and arms blistery and red. The movie star started wailing, and hugged the girl into her arms.

I don’t remember any more after that.


The space shuttle floated above the ocean-wrapped earth, it’s payload doors wide open. I had the feeling that we’d just come from there, and were heading elsewhere. I was reclining in a clear vinyl balloon chair. All the controls were mounted on clear acetate panels

An alarm sounded, and I moved my hand, accidentally touching some translucent button. A hissing sound started and after a few moments stopped. I’d vented some atmosphere. “Oh no,” I said to the fellow beside me, “There’s no telling how far off course that’ll take us.” I looked around to take in the full view of this transparent travel device. We were sitting at the bottom of a great Ziploc baggie in outer space. The crevices of the sandwich pleats let the two of us sit side by side.

It wasn’t too long before we saw the rock. It wasn’t very big, and sort of craggy. The landscape rolled faster underneath as our orbit got closer and closer. The thrusters automatically fired to make us land. Of course we missed the touchdown point. I got out onto a red bluff like something from a Road Runner cartoon. My vinyl spacesuit got warm, foggy, and humid as I followed the ledges around. I finally found our landing pad. There were two pair of four long horizontal yellow tanks with red lettering that I didn’t understand. And a trail led between them, which I followed.

It turned to the right, soon to the left. Slowly the rock changed from red sandstone to black rotten stuff that crushed beneath my feet. I took off my clear vinyl helmet and stuffed it into my back pocket. The trail turned to the left, and down the road below was a western town. Walking down to the bottom of the road, I found a boarded-up bank to my left. Going further, there was a wooden bridge with a dozen rectangular yellow and black biohazard signs on wanker-jawed posts all around, like thorns. A road went left and right, and ahead a park separated two lanes.

I turned right, and eventually made my way up the dirt road to the lodge. The first floor was full of blackened round wooden tables, but no people. On the second floor, far down the hall I found their room.

The movie star was wearing a sun-dress with just two strings going over her shoulders, nothing on her arms. She acknowledged my presence by pursing her lips, pouting, and tipping her head to the side ever so slightly. The little girl had grown up now, was maybe 20. She stood next to the movie star, on the right, intent on the older woman’s left arm. In her left hand the little girl, whose face looked like melted wax from the fire, held a straight razor, but it was shaped like a scimitar, with a broadly curved blade.

She was making very fine cuts into the movie star’s skin. The blood beaded up like a string of red yarn. With her right hand, the little girl wiped the strings away. As I got closer, I perceived the lines of scars on the movie star’s face, forehead, cheeks, and chin. Tight, precise designs, ritual scarification. Some geometric, some wavier. They went down her throat, spread from shoulder to shoulder and lower. Her right arm was covered with a mosaic of fine scars. Her legs were like corduroy.

The little girl looked up from her work and smiled as she recognized me. Her teeth were all filed into sharp points.

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Shhh! Don’t let this get out.

Snowden/Manning 2016

I know that I’m going to get into trouble for this. In fact, I can hear them knocking on my door now.

I should have remembered to go to Iceland first. Or maybe South America. Or at least Milwaukee.

You can now buy this Snowden/Manning 2016 t-shirt for only a few bucks. Hurry before they take it down! Tell all your friends! Don’t keep it a secret!

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