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20 Years of Kaedrin Weblog

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years (two decades!) since I started Kaedrin Weblog. I’ve already covered the history behind the site often enough, so I won’t bore you with repetition. I’ll bore you with something new and hopefully even more boring.

The first few years of the blog were filled with design changes, upgrades and the like, and I suppose I “found my voice” at some point, whatever that means. I eventually settled into a pretty comfortable 1-2 posts a week cadence and subject matter has shaken out a lot of random stuff. I’m mostly posting about books and movies these days, with the occasional foray into other topics.

Blogs themselves have gone through the whole lifecycle of technology, from a new and trendy form of self-expression and empowerment for the normals, to something that became almost universal and monetized and co-opted by professionals, to a steady decline. Looking back, I suspect the death of Google Reader was the biggest nail in the coffin. People don’t talk about it often these days, but Google’s ill-advised adventure in Social Media really hastened the demise of blogs and associated technologies like RSS. Not that blogs weren’t already in decline by then, but this was a big blow, and I think the internet landscape is worse off because of it.

Of course, blogs aren’t entirely dead, but this has never been a particularly popular blog. I like knowing some folks read it, but I like getting the practice in writing and it allows me to explore various things in a somewhat organized fashion. At this point, I’ve been writing this blog for almost half of my life (we’ll cross that threshold next year), so it’s become almost automatic.

One thing I noticed when transferring the blog to WordPress is that I have this Best Entries category that I haven’t added anything to in about a decade. I figure it’s time to recognize some of my favorite entries in that timeframe, so here’s a few entries worth checking out:

And that only brings me to the beginning of 2013. These trips down memory lane are fun, but it’s probably time to move onwards and upwards. Here’s to another 20 years of Kaedrin Weblog!

Link Dump

Just clearing the baffles before embarking on this year’s Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon with some interesting links from the internets:

  • 90 Branzinos Later: The Story Behind The Amazing Spider-Man’s Awkward Dinner – The amount of work that goes into a single shot of a bad movie is still pretty amazing (and far more impressive than most criticism of said bad movies, including mine).

    Consider the branzino. The Spider-Man scene originally called for Peter to be unnerved by the fish’s eye staring back up at him — something that’s not possible with the real-life dish, where the eyes melt in the oven. White found himself having to painstakingly remove one eye from each raw fish, then place it back in a roasted socket. The scene also needed one of Gwen’s little brothers to expertly debone the fish for Peter, a task that had to be as easy as possible for the child actor. White took a pair of scissors and made a few tiny, imperceptible cuts that allowed the kid to pull the bone out as if he were a Michelin-starred chef. He did this for every fish, for every take, alongside cooking the entrees for everyone else’s plate, as well. Sadly, neither moment made the final cut.

    To repeat, it’s not even in the film. Crazy. See also: The Problem Solving of Filmmaking (linked in the previous Link Dump)

  • The Day the World Didn’t End – You may have heard of the story about the Soviet officer who got a missile launch warning but basically saved the world by not acting on it; this is a more detailed account of that story, with context usually missing from the story.
  • How To Make the Perfect Burger – Pretty much the platonic ideal of a How To Basic video. Perfect amount of innocuous content before it gets… weird. Wait for it. (I hope you like pickles.)
  • The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge – An almost absurd story:

    Over the next four years, the law professor would be drawn into a “campaign of fraud, extortion, and false accusations,” as one of his lawyers would later say in legal proceedings. At one point, Hay’s family would be left suddenly homeless. At another, owing to what his lawyer has described as the “weaponiz[ation] of the university’s Title IX machinery against Hay,” he would find himself indefinitely suspended from his job. He would accrue over $300,000 in legal bills with no end to the litigation in sight. “Maria-Pia and Mischa want money,” Hay told me last summer, “but only for the sake of squeezing it out of people — it’s the exertion of power.”

  • Very specific ways I eat snacks – Relatable.
  • Yoba Skywalker Starwars goes to infinity and beyond | Monster Factory – You wouldn’t think that two dorks making a custom character in Star Trek online would be great, but then, you’d be wrong.
  • Steamed Hams But It’s Directed By Quentin Tarantino – Goes on longer than you’d expect; gotta respect the committment to the bit.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s Best Scene Has Almost No Words and Just Nine Shots – Speaking of Tarantino, this deep dive into the opening shots of Jackie Brown is very good.

And that’s all for now, stay tuned for some silent horror as the Six Weeks of Halloween kicks off next week!

Link Dump

The usual interesting links from the depths of ye olde internets:

  • Killer Rabbits in Medieval Manuscripts: Why So Many Drawings in the Margins Depict Bunnies Going Bad – Bored medieval monks in the process of copying manuscripts by hand would doodle in the margins as a way to escape the tedium. These drawings were generally goofy, and one of the things they engaged in… was evil bunny rabbits. It’s a humorous juxtaposition that has influenced more modern takes on sinister rabbits (like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or perhaps even, most recently, Us).
  • Hooking Up and Using the John: Why Do We Use So Many Euphemisms? – This exploration of euphemisms contains this gem about bears:

    …what makes us uncomfortable changes with time. Our ancient ancestors were so worried about bears, they didn’t even want to name them because they feared [the bears] might overhear and come after them. So they came up with this word — this is up in Northern Europe — bruin, meaning “the brown one” as a euphemism, and then bruin segued into bear. We know the euphemism, but we don’t know what word it replaced, so bear is the oldest-known euphemism.

    Bears were the first Voldemort.

  • Criterion’s Kindergarten Cop – April Fools’ Day jokes are mostly awful and unfunny, but a few years ago, the Criterion Collection hit the perfect note. On the other hand, I’d totally buy this if it was real.
  • The search for the saddest punt in the world – Ever want to spend an hour watching a statistical analysis of punting? Surprisingly interesting…
  • Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, and the Quest to Kill eBay – Steve Yegge’s story of how what started as Amazon Auctions evolved and morphed into something more useful over time. Glad to see Yegge writing stuff like this again, even if it’s still pretty rare these days…
  • Buran, the Soviet Space Shuttle – Convinced that the U.S. Space Shuttle couldn’t possibly be as poorly designed as it was, the Soviets assumed that there was some secret use-case that would totally redeem the program… so they build an exact replica of the Space Shuttle.
  • billy corgan rides a rollercoaster – Genius.

And that’s all for now.

Link Dump

The Six Weeks of Halloween is fast approaching, so here’s a final clearing of the baffles before we descend into horror:

  • The Gig Economy – At first I thought this was a non-fiction commentary on the gig economy, but it quickly becomes clear that this is not the case. It’s still a very interesting little piece of internets ephemera, well worth checking out. It actually reminded me of a modern, technology focused version of the opening of Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, in which a postal worker assigned to the dead letters office finds patterns in the lost letters. This story posits anonymous gig contracts online, and it turns out that there are patterns to be discovered in the nonsense. An interesting story and might even make good Hugo award fodder (it’s probably better than 99% of recent Hugo short stories).
  • Halloween 1978 (The Inside Story) – A Halloween documentary I hadn’t seen before? Ok, fine.
  • The Web Design Museum – A blast from the past. We’ve come a long way…
  • Survivorship bias – The notion that focusing on survivors of a given tragedy can distort conclusions; the military example is a good one:

    During World War II, the statistician Abraham Wald took survivorship bias into his calculations when considering how to minimize bomber losses to enemy fire. Researchers from the Center for Naval Analyses had conducted a study of the damage done to aircraft that had returned from missions, and had recommended that armor be added to the areas that showed the most damage. Wald noted that the study only considered the aircraft that had survived their missions—the bombers that had been shot down were not present for the damage assessment. The holes in the returning aircraft, then, represented areas where a bomber could take damage and still return home safely. Wald proposed that the Navy reinforce areas where the returning aircraft were unscathed, since those were the areas that, if hit, would cause the plane to be lost. His work is considered seminal in the then-fledgling discipline of operational research.

  • Fan Fiction Friday: Hogwarts and a Giant Squid in “First Encounter” – Warning, you probably don’t want to read this. More adventurous readers who are not scared of what the internet can throw at them probably don’t want to read this either. I didn’t particularly want to read it, but someone sent it to me and once I started, I couldn’t stop. I used to save all sorts of interesting links on del.icio.us and I had this tag called idontknowwhatthefuckisgoingonhere that I would use to categorize stuff like this. Unfortunately, I kinda do know what’s going on here, and it’s pretty gross.

That’s all for now. Stay frosty people, 6WH starts next Sunday.

Link Dump

I’m brewing beer today (something like this), so here are some linkies from the depths of ye olde internets:

  • The 10 Best Movies of 2017 – Christopher Orr’s list is nice and all, but this is worth reading for all his cheeky categorical awards later in the post. I will be shamelessly ripping some of them off for my Arbitrary Awards.
  • The Ten Best Films Of 2017, And Other Films – Glenn Kenny’s extended list always has stuff I’ve never heard of, but would probably like.
  • This Year, Make a Movie-Related New Year’s Resolution – Matt Singer makes a good point:

    Want to know why most New Year’s resolutions flame out by February? Because they’re always about doing things that suck. Losing weight, drinking less sugary soda, reading a bunch of books: All of these things are awful. Even painful! No wonder no one ever follows through.

    That’s why, every year, I make a New Year’s resolution about movies. In my experience, a person is much more likely to commit to self-improvement when self-improvement involves watching a lot of films.

    Except for the part about reading books. Anyway, one of his suggested resolutions is to watch 50 films made before 1950. Looking back at my viewing last year, I only had 5 (and 2 of those were movies I’d seen before). This seems like a decent idea. I should get on that.

  • Disney’s Fox Acquisition Likely Won’t See Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy Released – It turns out that the whole Fox rights aspect wasn’t really that big of a hurdle. It’s still George Lucas’ fault.

And that’s all for now…

Link Dump

As per usual, just some linkies I found interesting:

  • My IRB Nightmare – Scott Alexander got revved up and tried to do some formal research at his hospital. The resulting bureaucratic mess is a thing to behold…

    IRREGULARITY #1: Consent forms traditionally included the name of the study in big letters where the patient could see it before signing. Mine didn’t. Why not?

    Well, because in questionnaire-based psychological research, you never tell the patient what you’re looking for before they fill out the questionnaire. That’s like Methods 101. The name of my study was “Validity Of A Screening Instrument For Bipolar Disorder”. Tell the patient it’s a study about bipolar disorder, and the gig is up.

    The IRB listened patiently to my explanation, then told me that this was not a legitimate reason not to put the name of the study in big letters on the consent form. Putting the name of the study on the consent form was important. You know who else didn’t put the name of the study on his consent forms? Hitler.

    The ultimate point is worth considering as well:

    I sometimes worry that people misunderstand the case against bureaucracy. People imagine it’s Big Business complaining about the regulations preventing them from steamrolling over everyone else. That hasn’t been my experience. Big Business – heck, Big Anything – loves bureaucracy. They can hire a team of clerks and secretaries and middle managers to fill out all the necessary forms, and the rest of the company can be on their merry way. It’s everyone else who suffers. The amateurs, the entrepreneurs, the hobbyists, the people doing something as a labor of love. Wal-Mart is going to keep selling groceries no matter how much paperwork and inspections it takes; the poor immigrant family with the backyard vegetable garden might not.

    Well said.

  • Redditors design worst volume sliders possible – A little UX humor for you,

    though I bet somewhere, some bureaucracy is mandating the use of something like one of these for ridiculous reasons.

  • World’s Strongest Man — Full Day of Eating – Around 12,000 calories. This is almost a week’s worth of calories for me (or, uh, should be). The crazy thing is that he considers eating to be the hardest part of his training regimen, though it sounds like a constant, all day affair, so I could see that getting old.

    I imagine the Bodybuilder diet is different, since this guy is going for pure, functional strength rather than body sculpting

  • No, YOU spent Labor Day weekend putting Michael Meyers into the background of Activia commercials. Brilliant.
  • Stop Laughing At Old Movies, You $@%&ing Hipsters – I don’t get to a lot of repertory screenings, so this isn’t something I run into, but it does sound obnoxious.

    The audience at Hercules in the Haunted World thought the styrofoam boulders were hilarious. They cracked up the first time Park opened his mouth and baritone Kihun Yoon began to sing. Soon after, most people settled down. But a third of the house continued to treat Bava’s heartbreaking fantasy epic like a comedy. Guy gets boiled in lava? Hysterical! Lady gets her throat slashed? Priceless! People weren’t laughing because Mario Bava was funny. They were laughing because Mario Bava wanted them to feel. (No one seemed to care if composer Patrick Morganelli and his singers had their own feelings hurt.)

    The guy behind me munching Sour Patch Kids and wearing an ironic Hawaiian shirt kept up the chuckles for 91 minutes, long after I began to beseech Zeus to throw a non-styrofoam boulder at him. His stubborn laughter was an advertisement for his own superiority, like it’s heroic to refuse to be “suckered” by a fake rock that’s obviously fake. But there’s nothing triumphant about being too cool to dream.

    Seriously, why would someone like that go to a Mario Bava movie? I guess he found it funny, but it’s still obnoxious.

Oh man, the Six Weeks of Halloween is coming. Just two weeks. Gird your loins.

The Year in Books

So we have reached the one time of the year in which Astrology suddenly becomes palatable for everyone. As we’ve reached the end of our current calendar’s orbital period, we take stock of where we are and where we’re going. We come down from the holiday season, make resolutions, and promptly get to breaking them. I’m making light of this, but it’s a good thing to do from time to time, and completing another trip round the sun is as good a time as any. I don’t tend to talk about my more personal reflections here, but I do like to look back at the year that was in terms of books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen (movies will get their own, much more elaborate jamboree later in the month). I keep track of my book reading at Goodreads (we should be friends there!), and they have some neato statistical visualization tools which could really use an overhaul, but they’ll have to do and now that I have 6 years of data, it’s more useful than it used to be.

First up, total books read:

Overall Books Read in 2015

So I read 45 books in 2015, about on par with last year, but still not quite reaching the heights of 2012’s 50 books (my record in the current era). Same distortion as last year: I was following along with the Hugo awards this year, so the 45 includes some short fiction (but, I should add, not all of the ones I read, so maybe it’s a wash). Call it cheating if you like, but it actually made up a smaller piece of the pie than last year. We’ll get into this in more detail below, so let’s take a look at page numbers:

Number of Pages Read in 2015

Less than last year’s record breaking number, but far from my worst year and considering the inherent variability of page numbers, let’s just call this on par with last year or 2012. Anecdotal evidence indicates that I tend to read more page numbers when reading shorter books, while longer epics tend to slow me down. This year I had a lot of both. Sure, I had a bunch of novellas and novelettes, but I also read several 800+ page books. Let’s look closer:

2015 Summary

So the shortest book was a Hugo novelette that I was kinda meh about, whilst the honor of longest book went to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell clocking in at 1006 pages. Runner up appears to be Seveneves at a svelt 880 pages, followed by the most “popular” novel, A Game of Thrones at 835 pages. And I read a lot of other 500-800 page books, leading to a moderate average page count of 306, which is not quite as good as last year’s 322, but better than 2012’s 289. Interestingly, 2013’s average page count was 356, which is the highest of the current era; more evidence that longer books tend to slow me down.

Longest Book and Book Breakdown

And the breakdown remains similar, though simplified this year. No comic books or short stories included, and maybe a slight increase in terms of non-fiction, but still dominated by fiction.

Goodreads also provides a fancy gizmo that graphs publication dates, which now looks like this:

Books Read by Publication Date

The oldest book I read was 1961’s The Stainless Steel Rat, a short little SF con man turned spy novel. Not my favorite, but more interesting than a lot of Hugo related stuff I’ve been reading.

I declare this a good year of reading. I don’t plan any significant changes in my patterns this year, though I’m honestly still on the fence about participation in this year’s Hugo process. My current membership allows me to nominate, and two of my favorite authors released great stuff this year, so I’ll certainly submit a ballot, but I’m just not sure if I want to put up with all the manufactured controversy. Taking a quick look at the Sad Puppies crowdsourcing post, it looks like there will be a John C. Wright novel this year, which is not an exciting proposition. Dude is talented, but his style bounces right off me and while he sometimes has neat ideas, I rarely find them explored well. Plus, Wright is one of the more divisive members of the Puppy cohort, and I don’t want to deal with all that baggage. I guess we’ll have to see how this plays out. In the meantime, I’ll just keep poking at older SF since that seems to scratch the itch I have right now.

Referendum

Sometimes, when certain artists release a new work, a lot of the critical response seems to be more a referendum on the whole of their oeuvre than a straightforward review. I suppose this is something of a natural tendency, and I’m sure it happens often, but there are some artists for whom this approach seems to be the overwhelming default. This is probably best described by using some examples:

  • Wes Anderson – This post itself is mostly a reaction to all the reviews of Anderson’s latest effort, The Grand Budapest Hotel, all of which, without exception, devolve into a discussion of Anderson’s career and style and try to place this new film somewhere on that continuum. To be sure, Anderson does have a distinctive style, an almost defining sense of quirk, like it was built in a lab and weaponized. Weaponized quirk.
  • Pixar – I’ve mentioned this before in my review of Brave, but when there’s a new Pixar movie, people love to take that opportunity to do things like rank the Pixar films or ask trolling questions like “has Pixar jumped the shark?” and other such ponderances. Indeed, the recent announcement of two sequels, Cars 3 and Incredibles 2, has lit off the debate over whether or not Pixar is totally out of ideas (though plenty of excitement surrounds Brad Bird’s return from the realm of live action). I suppose you could argue that Pixar isn’t, in itself, an artist, but for whatever reason (perhaps John Lasseter’s heavy involvement does warrant such though) everyone treats the studio as one entity.
  • The Coen Brothers – Perhaps less so than the other two examples, but you still often see folks attempting to summarize or otherwise put the Coens in a box when talking about a new release. This is another situation where you often see people ranking all the Coens’ movies, usually on the occasion of a new release. In this case, even while the Coens’ often take far ranging ideas and mash them together, you also see people trying to genrefy their catalog into their more broadly comedic releases (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, etc…) or their more serious pieces (which, to be sure, often contain some form of their off-kilter humor, stuff like Fargo or No Country for Old Men).

So what is it about these filmmakers that seems to necessitate a referendum (or at least, a trip down through their filmography)? Well, all three kinda represent a singular vision. Wes Anderson did bring a certain brand of quirk to the screen in such a way that many have tried to imitate, and yet, I feel like no one has ever really come close to actually duplicating his vision. I feel like you could almost certainly pick out an Anderson picture without knowing ahead of time who made it. This is perhaps less so when you get to Pixar, but it still works – no one was making movies the way Pixar did (now that they’re sequelizing everything, I’m not as sure). And the Coens have some rather strange streaks that are almost impossible to imitate (though I suppose some of their films are more distinctive than others).

Next would be a relatively small filmography. When combined with a singular, distinctive style, you get something that screams to be listed and ranked. This, I think, is why you don’t always see a referendum on someone like Martin Scorsese. This is partly because Scorsese has been making movies for so long, partly because he has made a lot of disparate types of movies (I think he has a distinctive style, but he also isn’t afraid to tread new ground from time to time). Of course, with something like The Wolf Of Wall Street, there were a ton of comparisons to Goodfellas (and to a lesser extent, Casino), but that makes a certain sort of sense, as the three movies are basically exploring the same ideas and themes, from slightly different angles. If those were his only three movies, you better believe that his next movie would be used as a referendum on his whole career. As it is, the guy has so much stuff, including several absolute classics, that no one feels the need to do so.

Maybe all of this means nothing and I’m just reading too much into a few reviews (and it’s not like I read every review evar), but I think there’s something here. And there’s probably a bunch of other examples I haven’t really thought through yet (Tarantino? Aaron Sorkin?), but I’ll leave it at here for now. To be honest, I’m not even sure it matters that much, as the three examples above are all excellent in their own way…

The 2013 August Movie Season

August used to be a dumping ground for unwanted movies, but I feel like that’s changed in the past few years. This year is no exception, and there’s been a lot of small indie fare coming out all month. But this weekend is actually looking to be pretty amazing. Here’s what’s coming:

  • The World’s End – An unofficial sequel to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this movie reunites the creative trio behind those great movies: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. I’ve been avoiding specifics about the movie, but it looks to have something to do with a pub crawl and, uh, the end of the world. Or something. Early word seems good.
  • You’re Next – This movie played at Fantastic Fest in 2011 (the year I went), but the movie got picked up that very week, and the studio cancelled the second showing (the one I had penciled in). Word of mouth from the first screening was great, and the film won awards at the end of the fest, so it’s been a long two years of waiting for this one. On the outside, it looks like a typical “home invasion” movie, but I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun (or “fun”, as home invasion isn’t the most playful of subgenres).
  • The Spectacular Now – An indie film that’s been making the rounds for a while and is supposed to be expanding this weekend (though likely still fairly limited). It’s supposed to be a good coming of age story, which could be fun.
  • Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – I know nothing of this movie, except that it has buzz. What else do you need? It’s supposed to be hitting VOD this weekend.
  • Honorable Mention: Short Term 12 (doesn’t seem like my kinda thing, but it’s also got great buzz), Blue Jasmine (not a big Woody Allen fan, but he is usually at least interesting), The Grandmaster (Wong Kar Wai’s latest, only here in the HM section because it’s unlikely to be playing near me/you), and In a World… (which I think has been on VOD for a while now).

Obviously, I have no idea if any of these movies are actually good, but they all seem interesting, so let’s get on this stuff.

Trance

Danny Boyle’s new movie Trance is one of those reality-bending films that constantly has you wondering if what you’re seeing is real. It takes some deserved flak for being more concerned with plot machinations than characters, and boy does that plot go in some ludicrous directions, but if you’re the type of person who likes the tick-tock puzzles of movies like Inception or Timecrimes, I think you’ll enjoy it. And if you don’t, it would still probably fall under the not wholly depressing category of “Interesting Failure.” Personally, I’ve been in a bit of a lull when it comes to keeping up with new releases, so I found this one to be engaging and energizing in a way that most 2013 releases have failed to achieve (though, true, I have been woefully neglectful of a lot of movies I probably should have seen).

The movie opens with a bang, an art heist, complete with an “inside man” (Simon, played by James McAvoy) who manages to stash the stolen painting away from both the authorities and the criminals. Alas, it appears that during the heist, Simon gets a rather nasty bump on his head and claims amnesia. The criminals, lead by Franck (Vincent Cassel), attempt to extract the location of the stolen painting via some rather intense torture, but eventually decide that Simon’s amnesia is real. This leads them to consult a hypnotist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, who they think might be able to extract the location of the painting. But Elizabeth has ideas of her own, and you begin to wonder if she’s really uncovering lost information… or is she implanting information for her own purposes?

That’s a pretty raucous mashup of cliches going on right there. You’ve got the heist (of notoriously impossible to fence artwork no less), you’ve got amnesia, and you’ve got hypnotism, the latter of which drives you to constantly question what you’re seeing on screen (there’s more tropes to be had here, especially as the story starts to really twist and turn). It starts off plausible enough, saunters into ludicrous territory, which would be bad if it didn’t rocket past that phase and into some next-level bonkers stuff towards the end. As previously mentioned, the characters are rather thin here, and there’s not really enough there to provide the required weight to the plot, particularly when you reach the very end (there’s a relationship there that I think it’s hard to buy).

That being said, Danny Boyle’s propulsive, visually striking style certain keeps things moving at a fast, entertaining pace. So while the characters may not have been fleshed out as well as I’d like, I did find myself fully engaged at all times. While Boyle’s style doesn’t completely make up for ridiculous plot points or thin characters, it does elevate the film beyond simple schlock. The pounding soundtrack also works really well here. The performances are solid all around, but extra credit goes to Rosario Dawson’s fearless performance here. She’s channeling that sultry femme fatale archetype, but as it turns out, she might be the actual heroine of the story too, and she plays it well. Dawson has some nude scenes too, and not mere glimpses either. I suppose you could say that the nudity is integral to the plot, though it’s a pretty big leap. Not that I’m complaining.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it for what it was: an outlandish thriller with preposterous twists and turns that were nonetheless completely engaging and entertaining. I had a lot of fun with this, but then, I tend to enjoy these sorts of reality-bending puzzle movies. Fans of more character-based drama may come away unfulfilled, but I had a good time and it’s a film that’s stuck with me for a couple weeks now. ***