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Of Daylight and Darkness   Leave a comment

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Here in the United States, we’ve pulled the plug on Daylight Savings Time. Oh, we’ll get it back come March, but for now, we’re darkening the evenings and lighting up the mornings just a tad. Some of us head off to work in darkness and come home when the lights come on. There seems to be something wrong with lights out at 4:30 in the afternoon. Sunlight, that is.

There are plenty of stories and studies about how harmful this rearranging of the clock can be. Circadian rhythms lose their beat. People become grouchy from the loss of an hour. Productivity slacks off at work. Accidents increase. And so on. Can’t argue with it, really. Losing that hour’s sleep in spring means I’ll have one less hour to hide under the covers and face reality. But then again, it’s so wonderful to have that extra hour once a year. It’s almost a free invitation to sleep in or stay out a bit longer than you normally would’ve.

We’ve tinkered with the time since DST was enacted in this country in 1918, just over 100 years ago. During World War II we had it year-round to make better use of sunlight. In 1975 DST was enacted in January. I remember that because I was a school kid catching the bus in the dark. Weird. And recently we’ve expanded DST to begin the last weekend in March and end the first weekend in November.

As for me, I enjoy the longer summer days. That sun comes up plenty early for me at 5:30 am and sticks around until 8:30 – in New York. Some parts of the US get even more. If the sun came up at 4:30 and set at 7:30, without DST, I’d feel cheated somehow. The last thing I want to do is get up that early and not be able to enjoy the pleasant rays of light hone I come home from work. Of course, there are plenty of people, like farmers and early shift workers who’d enjoy the sun rising that early.

The sun’s rays reach us for longer periods of time because the the tilt of the earth’s axis. It’s just the way our planet is positioned as it travels around the sun. But if one lives at the equator, days are fairly equal all year around. At the poles, it’s all or nothing.

It’s been deliberated that DST should end, but I can’t see that ever happening. Too many of us enjoy the long summer days, even if there’s the inconvenience of losing an hour’s sleep once a year. It might take a couple of days to adjust, but at least it happens over a weekend when most of us can sleep.

All I know is when DST goes back to Eastern Standard Time, I’m a little sad, because it means the nights are creeping closer and the daylight is drawing thin. Sunlight’s a precious gem, to be appreciated when it’s given, for when it’s gone, it’s dark out there, folks! But once December 21 hits, it’s all uphill from there.

In the meantime, appreciate the moon. It shines its highest and brightest in winter. There’s nothing so glorious as to see it glisten on the snow. Or lighten the nighttime skies in the Caribbean, where one might be taking a vacation to skip out on winter.

Posted November 3, 2019 by seleneymoon in Seasons, The Sun

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New York Comic Con 2019!   Leave a comment

IMG_1913Me, having a Mary Tyler Moore moment at the entrance of NYCC 19

So yeah, I went to another New York Comic Con this year. As usual, it was quite the spectacle of costumes, chaos and crowds. I tried going on a Friday this year instead of a Saturday, naively thinking it’d be less attended. It wasn’t. Sheer ridiculousness. But in a good way. Was a bit different this year, though, because I came without my son. He recently joined the Navy, passed boot camp and all that. Missed him, but made him feel a bit less left out by purchasing three “The Walking Dead” graphic novels for his enjoyment. Needless to say, the sting of not being able to attend was lessened a tad.

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Horrible backwards selfie, but who cares? I’m in!

I’m always a bit nervous before I enter NYCC. Will my badge show up as validated? Will I be mistaken for a Changeling and morph into something regrettable? Will my ticket fall out of my bag onto the sidewalk and be snatched up by Sephiroth? But make it through I do, in one piece, despite shuffling through the enormous wedge of humanity struggling to slip through the main gate entrance booths.

Shortly after I arrived, I met up with my friends Arwen and Aragorn. We toured the Jacob Javitz center in search of Funko Pop versions of themselves.

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A royal pair and their handler

I felt kind of important shuffling around with Arwen and Aragorn. Every five seconds they’d be politely pulled over and asked if their photos could be taken. And they graciously obliged.

We went downstairs in the Artist’s Alley, usually less crowded and filled with amazing art from artists whose illustrations fill the pages of famous graphic novels and classic comics. But not today. We gave up after about twenty minutes, quite unable to even get close to any tables to admire their work, except for a female artist whose name I neglected to remember. Her gig was propaganda posters using classic Star Wars characters – you know, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and their ilk. Very nearly purchased one but couldn’t see myself shambling through the crowds carrying one of her pieces without it getting destroyed, even if it was in a carrier.

But I love graphic novels. That’s my thing. I head over to the area where they’re all situated. I can’t seem to find my old pals from Man Vs. Rock, mainly because it’s so crowded and they aren’t in their usual place (sorry guys! I promise to find you next year!), but I do find Oliver Mertz from First Law of Mad ScienceThe same thing happened last year with him – it was so unimaginably crowded last year that I missed his booth. So I made up for it by buying everything up that I didn’t get to do last year. The artist and partner in this venture was also in attendance, Michael S. Bracco.

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Oliver Mertz, new father and proud purveyor of his work

I wind up buying several back issues to catch me up on this wonderful series. I also add to it a T-shirt that reads, “Don’t blame me, I’m the writer.” I’ve already worn it a bunch of times.

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Somewhere in the massive crowds, I spot Dark Horse Publications. OH MY GOD, DO I SEE …NO…IT CAN’T BE…IS IT?

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The comic that guided me through my twenties

There’s a huge banner with one of my all-time favorite comic characters, The Flaming Carrot. I rush up to a booth attendant, pointing to the banner. “Where is that book?” I spurt out, heart all aflutter. He points to a bookcase across the way and I rush for it. I hold it in my hands, turning the pages slowly. All the wonderful memories of this lovingly stupid but heroically brave carrot come racing back. As I pay for it, the booth attendant says, “Yeah, you just missed him by about ten minutes. Bob’s a great guy.  He would’ve autographed it for you.” Oh don’t tell me that. Gosh, I feel a bit disappointed but heartwarmed because this treasure from my twenties rests in the back of my backpack. I later devour it on the train.

I also pick up a couple of copies of Paper Girls, a wonderful series about twelve-year-old paper delivery girls in 1988 who get caught up in a time warp of sorts – two warring factions from the future show up the day after Halloween just as the girls are delivering their papers. I heard it’s now going to become a television series. Can’t wait!

But what’s a Comic Con without costumes? Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of great shots to share this year, mainly because I was struggling to get around. But I did take a couple.

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Kaonashi, AKA No-Face, chronicled on phone by fan

If you haven’t seen the rather creepy Japanese animated film, Spirited Away, well, perhaps you should…or shouldn’t…based on this image and extremely well executed costume. Kaonashi is bound to create nightmares.

And what’s a Comic Con without a swarm of Spidey?

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Web of intrigue? Or a bunch of people without imaginations or resources?

I must admit I was a bit disappointed this year. There wasn’t any real banging exhibitions that’d capture my imagination. In 2017, there was a terrific curated exhibition for Star Wars (and I blogged about it). Also, The Tick and his vehicle came that year, plus so much other things to see. But this year? Sure, there’s the usual video game corrals with the million mile line. And the authors who charge $100 for an autograph. There are panels that are quite public and others that you can’t get into because the line is from here to Texas. But it’s so crowded and there didn’t seem to be any visitor-friendly exhibitions for the past two years. There’s a lot to take in, and I’m glad the event is so successful. I do support it, but maybe next year I’m going to try for a Thursday, which seems to be the slowest of all. They were practically begging people to buy tickets for that day, although a friend of mine who went said it was kind of busy.

After hours of barely managing to see all that we came to see, Arwen and Aragorn were getting mighty hot wandering around in those heavy robes, and my back began to kill me after toting around fifty pounds of graphic novels. We struggled to find the exit, although we kept stumbling into loads of entrances. Along the way, we ran into literally dozens of Spidermen/people, who gathered together for a show of kinship. 

Finally, just before the event ended, we called it a day. I had a great time as usual, although this blog can’t even begin to touch upon all that I experienced. The photos don’t do it justice either, but if I wrote about every single thing, including the overpriced food and standing in enormous lines for the toilet, this blog would never end.

So I leave you to enjoy what little I’ve written, and hope to bring you much more next year!

1967 – The Year of Sacrifices for Space   Leave a comment

 

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Apollo 1 Crew – Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee – via NASA

Space is an unforgiving place. It shows no mercy to those who venture to its infinite realm. It is a vacuum, cold and dark, punctuated by points of lights from stars and planets. Exposure to radiation from the sun and galactic cosmic sources causes significant risk of contracting cancer. Your body reacts differently to an environment without gravity. Fluids move towards the head. Mineral loss to the bones occurs. Medicines work differently. And you’d better get along with your crewmates, because you’re going to be together in a cramped space with little privacy. And the further one travels from the Earth, the longer it takes for a signal to reach the spacecraft. Connecting with loved ones becomes more challenging.

There’s also a very real chance of becoming marooned or worse, die.

Yet the prospect of traveling to worlds unknown seems a risk worth taking. The ultimate dare. It’s how discoveries are made. For all of humankind’s history, people have ventured beyond their horizons to discover new ones. If there’s money to be made, so the better. Since most of the Earth’s been explored, it’s natural to want to see what else is out there.

Sometimes, though, the whole point is to do what no one else has done. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we chose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Anyone who ventures outside of our Earth’s atmosphere subjects themselves to violent forces to escape the Earth’s gravity. Take, for example, the Saturn V rocket. To get there, one has to sit atop a rocket with 7.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

The Saturn V was the rocket used to send Apollo 1 on its mission to test the capabilities the Apollo command and service module, necessary to send man to the moon.

On January 27, 1967, during a launch rehearsal test, its crew – Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – experienced difficulties communicating with the Operations and Checkout Building and the Complex 34 Blockhouse control room. Grissom’s microphone was stuck open, causing him to say, “How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between two or three buildings?”

Shortly thereafter, as the astronauts were going through their checklist, one of the astronauts, thought to be Grissom, discovered a fire in the cabin. Within moments, it consumed the cabin. The men had been unable to unlatch its door, although it seems they attempted to. Five minutes passed before pad workers were able to open the hatch. Grissom and White were found out of their seats, while Chaffee remained strapped to his seat, as procedure dictated. Nylon had melted from their spacesuits. It took ninety minutes to free them from the capsule.

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The Charred Remains of the Apollo 1 Capsule – NASA image, Public Domain, 1967

Because of this disaster, changes were made to the entry hatch, enabling those inside to easily exit the vehicle, instead of relying on those outside to free the crew.

Over in the Soviet Union, Colonel Vladimir Komorov prepared for Soyuz 1. He, along with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and Alexei Leonov, the first man who accomplished extravehicular activity (EVA), made up the Soyuz team. On this particular mission, Gagarin was Komorov’s backup.

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Colonel Vladimir Komorov and Soyuz 1 (Image – NASA)

It has been said that there were issues with the construction of the spacecraft Komorov was to fly, and that a memo had been sent by Gagarin to Leonid Brezhnev detailing numerous engineering and technical deficiencies. But given the secrecy of the time, reliable information is difficult to come by, and it’s not certain such a memo was either sent or exists. It has also been said that on the day Komorov prepared to command the inaugural flight of the Soyuz program, Gagarin showed up at the launch site, insisting on taking Komorov’s place. The two were very close friends, and he worried about Komorov’s flight into space. But Gagarin was a national treasure. He would’ve never been given permission to substitute for his friend.

So on April 23, 1967, Komorov launched into space from Baikonor Cosmodrome to orbit the Earth. Once in orbit, one of the solar panels failed to fully open, thereby compromising the ability to generate the electricity needed in the cabin. The automatic stabilization system failed as well as the orientation detectors. By orbit 13, it was decided to abort the mission.

It wasn’t until the 19th orbit that Komorov gained the ability to properly orient his space vehicle towards the sun and managed to fire the retrorockets. He entered the Earth’s atmosphere safely and deployed the drogue parachute (a smaller parachute designed to slow the rapid pace of reentry), followed by the main chute. For some reason, the main chute failed to deploy. Komorov then manually activated the reserve main chute, only for it to become tangled with the drogue chute. He plummeted towards the Earth at 40 miles/second, until he crashed in Orenburg Oblast, in southeastern Russia.

His descent module immediately burst into flames and so hot was the fire, its metal shell melted. Rescuers threw dirt on it to extinguish the flames. Afterwards, there was little left of the entry vehicle. After the rescuers extinguished the fire, Komorov was discovered strapped inside, his burned body reduced to a horrible mass of blackened remains. It was determined he died of blunt force injuries.

NASA released the following statement:

“We are very saddened by the loss of Col. Komarov. We feel comradeship for this test pilot because we have met several of his fellow cosmonauts and we know that we are all involved in a pioneering flight effort that is not without hazard. We particularly want to express our deep sense of sympathy to Mrs. Komarov, their children and his fellow cosmonauts.”

Colonel Vladimir Komarov died on April 24, 1967. He was mourned as a national hero. And because of his death, critical technical changes were made to future Soyuz missions to ensure the safety of their crews.

 

 

 

 

 

Moonstruck   Leave a comment

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The Moon, as photographed by Louis Daguerre, 1839

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been moonstruck since childhood. That’s when my parents dragged me out of bed on one sultry July evening. Mom opened the bedroom door, shook me and said, “Wake up! You have to see this!” Grumpily, I dragged my sleepy self down the hall and into the living room, where my parents, grandparents, sister and brother sat, glued to the TV. My seven-year-old self stared at the screen, impatient. After a few moments, Neil Armstrong hopped out of the LM and into history, followed shortly thereafter by Buzz Aldrin.

The whole concept seemed so wild to me. That giant Saturn rocket shooting them into space. Three men jammed into what seemed not much larger than a Volkswagen Beetle. Being able to see and hear them from an ever increasing distance. And then, the landing. Walter Cronkite’s gushing on air wasn’t much different from everyone in my house. Or the world, for that matter.

I didn’t really think about all the technology, or the training, or the money, or even the space race that evening. Other NASA missions came and went, and my family followed them all. But somehow, this one stood out from the rest. Three guys achieved something no one else has ever done then and since (although that will change shortly).

All I knew was that I wanted to be an astronaut. Desperately.

As the years went by, I shifted my interests to astronomy and learning the constellations, and the shifting planets in the nighttime sky, plus the occasional comet and meteor showers. I never did well in math, so I gave up my dream of becoming an astronomer. But my love for the offworld never faded, and I kept my sweet spot for the moon.

There’s nothing more entrancing than watching the glow of a full moon on a white blanket of snow, as the whitened trees glisten from its brightness. Or how a summer night feels so romantic with the moon sailing over the ocean. How welcoming the moon can be when it peeps out from a clearing sky, or transform into a mysterious red when it eclipses. Or blots out the sun and turns black.

Lots of sci-fi novels and movies use the moon as a backdrop or a plot device. It has religious significance for many. One can be mooned, have a moonface, or eat a moon pie, or wear a moonstone. Or be like Cher and Nicholas Cage and be moonstruck.

If you’re lucky and under the right conditions, you can catch the new moon in the old moon’s arms, or the old moon’s arm around the new moon. That means right before and after a new moon, there’s a thin ribbon of light, the slenderest of crescents, holding the dark side. Through a telescope or good binoculars, you can make out some details of the dark side too. This phase doesn’t last long, as it’s right before sunrise or just after sunset, and the moon is very close to the sun in the sky and very near the horizon.

If you catch it just at the right time, you can see an occultation, or the moon appearing to hide a star or planet. It’s literally now you see it, now you don’t. The moon slides in front of a celestial body, for a matter of minutes or hours. Then the celestial body magically reappears. It’s fascinating to watch.

During daylight, a moonrise might seem as if it’s almost see-through and blue. Spotting a full moon rising from a mountaintop is downright spectacular. You’ll never see something so big in your entire life. Or catching it rising over the ocean – the glow on the horizon, then a tiny, shy peep, as it creeps higher into the sky, a ribbon of light shimmering over the ocean’s surface, until, for a moment, the entire orb appears to be balancing on the horizon itself. Way cool!

I’ve already spent much of last and this week reliving the moon landing and the entire NASA early space mission by watching programs on PBS, or reading articles, or posts on my Twitter feed. I still marvel at this accomplishment.

But most importantly, I remember how unifying this singular moment was for our planet. How we all came together to marvel at such an achievement. It was an accomplished started out of competition and ended in peace. We need, not only as a nation, but as ambassadors of this legacy, to remember what good can come of scientific achievements, and to put aside all that makes us angry and frustrated, in order to move forward to use our discoveries to better the fates of all humankind.

 

My Summer Reads   Leave a comment

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Since I write speculative science fiction with strong female protagonists, I’d thought I’d spend this summer reading female sci-fi writers writing books with strong female protagonists. You know, to see how they do it. Maybe I can pick up a few tips here and there.

So what’s in the pile?

All of Elizabeth Moon’s “Vatta’s War” series. I accidentally picked up the fourth book in the series, “Command Decision,” not realizing it was a later entry in the storyline when I bought it. I read it anyway. Sure, I didn’t get some references but it didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve got four other titles to read so I know what’s going on. Then after that, Ms. Moon added “Vatta’s Peace” to the collection. I’m looking forward to adding that to the list as well.

Last winter, as I sat on the examination table waiting for my doctor to see me, I occupied myself by reading “Command Decision.” The doctor walked in and noticed the book. He immediately pulled it from my hands and said, “This series IS AMAZING! So what did you think of the others?” That’s when I admitted I hadn’t read them. He then goes on telling me the plot lines, characters’ foibles and a few spoilers. While I enjoyed his hearty endorsement of the series, I fortunately forgot most of what he said. I’d love to find out for myself what dangerous situations Kylara Vatta has to dig her way through.

Octavia E. Butler, “Parable of the Sower,” “Parable of the Talents,” and “Kindred.” Oh, wowThis writer has me gobsmacked. No wonder she was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and two-time winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Not only is her prose wonderful, her stories will leave you on the edge of your seat. One can never be certain about anything in her worlds. Twists aplenty. Beloved characters die. In her worlds, nothing is certain except uncertainty.

I read “Parable of the Sower” first. Butler predicted the present measles epidemic when it was written in 1993. In “Parable of the Talents,” she predicts a Trump-like character who runs and wins the office of president, and the ensuing rise of racism and rabid Christians  wreaking havoc on an already fragile America.

Butler’s foresight all those years ago gave me chills. I’ve actually put sticky notes in the pages where her words ring close to true. But my favorite is the sayings she created in the books, and one in particular:

“All that you change, changes you.”

Right now I’ve begun “Kindred.” I’ve only read the first chapter and the range of detail and emotions she conveys has me hooked.

My sister teaches college. Her school offers a course on Octavia E. Butler’s literature. I only wish I lived nearby. I’d audit the class!

Happy Summer Reading, Folks!

 

 

 

 

On The Cusp Of Summer   Leave a comment

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The Earth captured at summer solstice, 2017 – Credit: Japan Meteorological Agency’s Himawari-8 satellite

Ah, summer. Leisurely days spent sipping ice tea by the pool or barbecue. Or maybe a vacation on a beach or lake? Or a trip overseas? There’s just something about this favorite season of everyone’s that brings smiles and thoughts of relaxing the sultry days away, maybe indulging too much ice cream and gazing at fireworks.

Summer almost seems like a reward for shivering in winter, raking all those autumn leaves and pulling the enthusiastically growing spring weeds from all those places they shouldn’t be growing. It’s the glamour girl of the seasons, letting down its long, luxurious hair to blow in the west wind, shining brightly in the glittering sun.

But really, summer is just a spot on the Earth’s orbit that means that one of its poles has reached its maximum tilt towards the sun, and from an observer’s viewpoint, the sun has reached its highest point in the sky. And during the northern hemisphere’s summer, anyone south of the equator is entering winter. Or, if you’re at the equator, there’s hardly any shift in time or seasons.

The summer solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere anytime between June 20-22. It’s a quirk of the calendar, not of the Earth. If one also notices the time of sunrise and sunset, you’ll see that sunrise times seem stuck in place for a few days, but the sunset times grow later. The sun in the sky appears to be at the same place for a short while. That’s known as an analemma. Click on the link for a previous blog post that nicely explains what it is.

Skygazers are rewarded with lots of wonderful constellations during the summer. Facing south, both Scorpius and Sagittarius dominate the sky. There’s the Perseid meteor showers from August 8-13. The Summer Triangle too – consisting of three brilliant stars: Deneb in Cygnus, Altair in Aquila and Vega in Lyra. The Milky Way shines brightly above around midnight, and Aquila and Cygnus are poised within it.

While haze might make some nights a bit challenging for observing the sky, viewers should take every opportunity to turn off the porch light and look up. Those stars won’t be hanging around forever. They’re busy marching on to the next season, which is autumn, and in the northern hemisphere it occurs on September 23. So put down your smartphone, turn off the TV and get outside!

 

 

 

Local Aliens   Leave a comment

Alien Fest - Mispelled sign

Humans Escape, Aliens Esape…Got It?

Tomorrow is the umpteenth Pine Bush UFO Fair, located in the northern edge of Orange County, New York. It’s a town that seemed to be plagued (or blessed) by an unusual amount of UFOs in the mid 1980s into the 1990s, although they’ve been spotted forever. Although I’m going to miss it this year (and I’m upset about that!), thousands will descend upon the place, seeking out stories from locals who’ve witnessed all sorts of strange happenings. There’s also a cosplay contest, live music, lectures from UFOlogists, authors and more.

What I like about this festival is it celebrates the incredible and unbelievable. I don’t doubt for one moment that the townsfolk have seen something, even aliens. But many others are skeptics, wondering what in the universe do all these aliens crave here? The Shawangunk Mountains? Horse farms? Corn fields? The Cup and Saucer Diner‘s coffee?

Who really cares.

What’s great is every nerd from miles around descends upon this quaint village and supports all the businesses, buys books from local authors, listens to good music played on Main Street and eats in its restaurants. And so should you.

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Yours truly with a tribble and some like-minded folk

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House Guests

Alien Fest - Green Kiddies

Local Aliens

Alien Fest - T-Shirts for Sale

Neat Merch!

These days, reality is so hard on us humans. Every day we’re battered by news headlines that grow worse by the minute. When’s the last time you glanced at the paper or news app and didn’t cringe? So in a way, discovering that aliens are snooping through our hills kind of seems normal. I mean, it’s pretty hard to digest what’s happening to the United States these days, so why should the possibility of E.T. looking for a decent phone connection be out of the ordinary?

So if you find yourself driving on NY State Road 17 West, go on Exit 119 and head north on Route 302 until you hit Pine Bush. Even if you can’t make the festival, you never know what awaits you on your way there.

Or watches.

Just look out for those flying boomerangs at night. From what I hear, they’re pretty amazing.

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