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Category Archives: Relationships

Second Life: conference, land sale

I’m happy to say that I’ll be volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference again this year. It takes place from March 9-12 in SL and OpenGrid and everyone is welcome to attend, no charge. Some of the sessions are also streamed live and recorded to watch later.

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And that’s where I come in. Last year I volunteered as a greeter and a mentor: before the event I helped presenters get set up with the technology they needed, I served as on-site tech support during their events, and for a few hours, I stood at a landing point and welcomed attendees. Those weren’t the best assignments for someone who is terribly shy around strangers. Interactions are easier in a virtual world but I still get tongue-tied (finger-tied?) and uncomfortable.

So, this year I volunteered to be part of the streaming team. Not only is there less personal interaction, but I get to have the fun of working the camera and producing video content from the conference. Yesterday I attended a training meeting with other members of the streaming team and I’m excited by the possibility of creating professional grade recordings of an SL live event. I’m looking forward to learning more and playing with the tools in my spare time.

I haven’t been in SL much at all lately, which leads me to my next topic: my parcel on the Heterocera Atoll mainland. If any of you are looking for a quiet, low-lag place to drop a skybox or build on the uneven terrain, ping me (in SL as Kay Jiersen or with that same name – no spaces – at gmail). I’ve already abandoned a couple sections of my land, but I plan to give up another 3000 m² and limit myself to the land allowance on my premium accounts. The region I’m in is almost empty, just two long-term SL residents and abandoned land.  I’d happily chop off a section for one of my blog readers and sell it for L$ pocket change rather than abandoning it to be wasteland. In a perfect world, Linden Lab would say, “Oh, Kay! We’d really prefer you to just keep the land, because you landscape it nicely and don’t run idiotic scripts or put up ban lines, so we’ll waive your tier!”, but let’s not talk crazy.

Yesterday I was discussing my SL land with a new companion. I told him that honestly, part of the difficulty in downsizing is getting rid of things that belonged to Jakob that are rezzed on the parcel: bouquets of flowers, wind chimes, a lotus pond. “Take photos of them, then return them,” was his practical response. “Either way, it’s all just pixels.” True, but that doesn’t make it much easier.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Learning, Relationships

 

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Jakob died yesterday

Jakob had been back in the hospital for a couple weeks following another collapse, but he had been doing better and there was hope that he could move to a nursing home. So, I wasn’t prepared when I got a Facebook message from his sister yesterday. She told me that he had gotten much worse, unable to eat, speak, or recognize people. The hospital gave him morphine for pain and called her, saying they thought the end was near. He died in his sleep before she could get there.

I’ve been anticipating this day for the past year, since he was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer that had already metastasized to his brain, and I’m glad he’s at peace. That didn’t stop me from curling in a ball and wailing as my husband hugged me in silent comfort. I said a few words to his sister in broken German and I’ll write her a proper condolence note today. Poor woman… she is overwhelmed and dreads the tasks of burying her brother and cleaning out his home. I feel terrible that I just mailed Christmas cards to her house for her and for him.

Me? I’m blogging because I am too heartbroken to go to sleep. This is my eulogy for him.

Talking at Armenelos

Today, December 10th — as it’s just past midnight — is the 3rd anniversary of the day I met Jakob Aulder in Second Life and we were inseparable from that first encounter. He was a difficult man to get to know. His profile warned off questions about Real Life and for the first year whenever I asked one, he’d reply with, “Does it matter?” When I said, “No, but I’m curious,” he would insist that he wasn’t interesting to talk about, because he already knew about himself. Stubborn, that one.

Jakob never learned how to use most features of the SL viewer, he hated exploring unless I scouted places first and teleported him, and he had only two outfits in SL: a pirate costume and swim trunks. He loathed dress codes and thought they were ludicrous in a virtual world. So, every day, he was my pirate. I’d dress as a wench or captain now and then to make him laugh. No matter how often I changed clothes or switched between avatars, he was constant.

GSI - browsing

He was bull-headed and grumpy, but he was unconditionally loving, too. He helped me through some difficult times with his simple, no-nonsense coaching. We both altered our sleep schedules so we could chat twice a day, every day: on his lunch break and before he went to bed. We watched Formula 1 races together, sitting on a couch in SL while each watching television in our RL homes. He directed me through German exercises via Skype and I read him a couple of German books, chapter by chapter, in recorded MP3s. Though he was already very ill when we spent two weeks together in Bavaria this spring, and the visit was terribly hard, I’m grateful we got to have it.

Quiet morning

We joked about his awful taste in music, but he was an ardent supporter of a few talented independent female artists. He was mad about Vienna Teng and Rachel Sage, trying to see them perform whenever they appeared within driving distance of his home in Germany. He liked when I sang for him.

The man behind the avatar was 64 years old, but the nearly two decades between our ages rarely felt like a gap. He was an artist, a pacifist, and an atheist who appreciated Buddhist philosophy, though he will be buried in a Christian cemetery near his father. His last RL partner passed away a few years ago and he is survived by no children.

Armenelos ocean view

Jakob had a standard SL account, so I suppose it will sit there until the Lindens archive it for inactivity. How long does that take nowadays? A year or more? I suppose his sister will archive his Facebook account but I’m sure he didn’t leave her his SL login. So he will remain, offline in my Friends list, until the Lindens take him away forever. I’m sure I’ll cry again then, too.

Sweet dreams, Jakob. May you be in a place with great wine and Asian food, cheesy music, and a TV channel with round-the-clock soccer and auto racing. I hope you knew you were loved until the end, no matter what. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Relationships

 

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A reborn SL noob after 10 years

I spent a couple hours in Second Life last night, for the first time since August (and, to be fair, I hadn’t explored outside my SL home for several months before that). In the interim my desktop computer died, so I had to do a clean install of Firestorm with no cache and no preset preferences.  After months of playing an MMORPG, my fingers were trained to move around the environment using the WASD keys. This often resulted in my avatar exclaiming “ssd” or “wwwdd” in local chat.

It was not an easy experience. I didn’t stay at my home long. I’ve wanted to replace my skybox for a couple of years — it’s old technology now, crude and strangely sized — but Jakob objected. It’s highly unlikely he will sign on again as his illness progresses, yet I couldn’t bring myself to start deleting. I checked my land. 86 objects owned by his avatar, including numerous bouquets of flowers intended as gifts but not transferred, just placed around the space we shared. What can I do about those now? I wish I could communicate with him and ask for his password, to properly archive his account, but his sister says he has forgotten his passwords and how to use technology.

surrealaxing

Quickly, I switched from my Kay avatar to my original avi. She’s the inside part of me, more sweet and gentle, more readily emotional; she’s like younger me behind the facade. It was easier for me to tolerate the sadness and loneliness in her body than Kay’s, where I feel more need for composure and restraint.

I visited locations from the Destination Guide and was struck both by the beauty and detail of some areas and the Duplo-like blunt ugliness of others. Second Life at its best is a glorious virtual world where resident creators have pushed the technology and often found ways to make amazing things despite it. At its worst? Well, it’s as good a place to learn about 3D building and virtual coding as Minecraft and I have nostalgic affection for blocky builds with freebie textures. With a small handful of skills and no cash, anyone can start turning imagination into digital reality. That’s marvelous even when the results are unsophisticated. I admire both hyperrealistic and surreal environments in SL, so I wandered from sim to sim. Usually I was one of very few avatars there, as I avoided clubs and adult areas. I’m open to meeting people again, but those aren’t the places I want to be now.

If Jakob is not returning, I need to downsize my SL land holding (the tier is too expensive to pay alone) and I’d like to start splitting my evening online time between gaming and the virtual world again. I suppose it will depend on how my mourning progresses and if I can find a community, or at least a friend or two, with whom I want to spend my SL time.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Embodied Experience, Relationships

 

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I’m still alive, really

I’ve been neglecting this blog terribly. The good news is that it’s because I’ve been busy. My broken leg is doing pretty well, so I’ve gone back to normal activities plus writing. I still read tech blogs and websites, but honestly, research for my novel has taken most of my free reading time. I share interesting finds on Twitter when I can, even if I don’t have time to add commentary or flesh out a post for the blog.

NaNoWriMo starts Sunday and I’m using the event as motivation to get my fingers moving on my novel. I’ve been doing lots of research, plot and character development, and thinking. It’s time for me to churn out some scenes and chapters, even if the first draft is awful and full of holes. Though I consider myself a NaNoWriMo participant, I’ll be out of town for a few days next week and doubt I’ll meet the 50,000 word count goal by the end of the month. I’ll try!

Things are not going well for Jakob. I found out from his sister that he’s not online because he has forgotten his passwords and how to use his devices. Cancer in the brain will do that, it seems. He has stopped chemotherapy and gone back to smoking, though the cancer has spread to his lungs, and his sister is making plans for his end-of-life care. I haven’t signed in to Second Life in weeks because it hurts to go to the land we shared there, but I’m starting to feel the urge to go online and purge it all. I’ve been worried or mourning for 11 months and it’s exhausting; I want a fresh start soon. Is that cold? It’s not that I don’t care about him — I do — but he hasn’t been able to communicate since August and there’s nothing I can do but send him snail mail now and then. I may try splitting my evenings between SL and the MMORPG I’ve been playing, to ease myself back in.

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I’m still playing ArcheAge and my main avatar has reached the maximum level of 55. There is freedom in that: I don’t have to worry about dying anymore because I can’t lose XP. I have fair gear for someone who doesn’t plan to spend an arm and leg on an MMORPG; the gap between what I have now and the next level is crazy. It’s not rare for a single endgame gear piece to cost the equivalent of $100-200… and that’s with a 7-piece armor set, weapon, shield, bow, and instrument. In the most bizarre twist, I’m now an officer in my guild although I rarely talk or do anything with other guild members. Heh. They seem to be nice people, but I don’t want to spend my time doing virtual farming and fishing when I could be learning boss, dungeon, and PvP strategies.

Another post when I have something to contribute to general Internet discussion, which could be tomorrow, could be in a couple weeks. I’m still here. Have a fun Halloween!

 

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Personal stuff spread across worlds

Swimming through the galaxy

The photo above is one of my avatars in the MMORPG ArcheAge. She’s not a rocketeer; I had her swimming in the ocean at night and noticed that if I angled my camera below her, the effect was interesting. Things are kind of nutty in that game right now. The company that runs it is doing some server balancing, consolidating servers that don’t have many players, allowing players a one-time free transfer to a high population server, and opening a “Fresh Start” server, where everyone has to start from level one again. My avatars are all on a server that will merge with another next month. At the same time that people are figuring out what to do, there are three special events underway — a daily anniversary event, a festival event that can be done three times each day, and a daily dragon event that takes place Thursday-Sunday. To get the best rewards, you need to participate frequently (and some of them are definitely worth it). Add those into the daily raids and dungeons that many players run to get materials for endgame gear, plus farming/fishing/trade/piracy or whatever people do to earn ingame money, and it’s fairly chaotic. I’m hoping to get a cloak and weapon from two of the events, but I resent having to arrange my schedule around a game.

Things are more difficult in the real world, though. Jakob is still in the hospital. I need to write to his sister for an update. The last time I heard from her, he wasn’t able to eat or breathe on his own, but he was demanding to be allowed to go home anyway. Meanwhile, I just started physical therapy, overdoing it so badly on the first day that I can barely lift my leg. Whoops. My knee makes a terrible crunching and grinding noise when I bend and straighten it, probably a sign of the arthritis my surgeon told me to expect. I’ll confess to some feelings of disappointment during the past week. Now that I don’t have to use a wheelchair all the time, I can get in and out of the house by myself, I can drive, and I can take my dog for short, slow walks. Woo! But there are so many things I still can’t do because “walking” requires both of my hands. I still need to use my wheelchair for cooking, for example, because I can’t carry a pot two steps from the stove to the sink if I’m standing. It’s summer and I’d like to go to the beach or go kayaking; those are still impossible while I need to use a walker. Today I simply want to stop at a store to pick up three items, but I have no way to carry them. I’m trying to be upbeat and keep doing more of what I can, even as the little frustrations nip at my ankles.

So, back to the virtual world, where I can run, dance, fly, walk, swim, and ride. I rarely sign on to Second Life, but this week I loaned part of my land to one of my husband’s friends for the Twisted hunt that starts next month. (Have you ever done the Twisted hunts? They’re diabolical.)  It made me think about the future. I own a big, quiet parcel of mainland space in SL. Jakob used to pay for half of it, but he stopped when he got sick. I can’t justify the monthly tier payment for such a big place, no matter how much I like it. I’ll need to get rid of part of it or come up with a money-making use for the space. It’s unfortunate, because a lot of the mainland is empty — including large areas near my parcel — and I try to keep my land neat and without ban lines. Jakob gets upset when I talk about getting rid of some land, so I’m in a very awkward limbo: I don’t want to upset him by downsizing, but the alternative is that I wait like a vulture for him to be gone.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Gaming, Relationships, Side Topics

 

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Roundup: Anomaly, al-Asaad, Ashley Madison, Project Sansar, and a personal update

I have a bunch of small commentaries floating around in my brain and one massive post underway, so I think it’s time for a roundup. First though, a film. Anomaly takes place in the 1960s and is hard to explain. There’s a near-miss comet, an astronaut, a scientist, and the women they love. The pace drags a bit at times, but it’s very well made for a Kickstarter-financed independent project and it’s also a selection in the Sploid Short Film Festival.

 

Khaled al-Asaad

If you know the names of any archaeologists, I suggest that al-Asaad should top the list above grave robbers like Indiana Jones and Howard Carter (no matter how much we enjoy what they gave us, both fictional and real). In the American educational system, archaeology is a subset of anthropology; my university anthro department had an annual dig in the Middle East, a number of projects in the US, and a staff that was 40% archaeologists. I can understand the dedication it must take to work for a lifetime on discovering and protecting our shared cultural heritage. I can’t begin to fathom the resolve, courage, and selflessness Dr. al-Asaad showed in refusing to reveal the location of artifacts to criminal savages.

Ashley Madison hack

Is anyone else feeling ambivalent about this? I’ve seen vicious comment threads on articles about the hack and there certainly isn’t a consensus of opinion. Personally, I think it’s awful that private information is being revealed by the hackers. Infidelity can be devastating, but isn’t that an issue for the people involved and not the whole Internet? Ashley Madison is vile for a number of reasons, yet I can’t fault them for making money off an existing market; if you spent time on any Internet dating sites — as I did off and on in the late ’90s and early ’00s — you know that married people looking for a fling on the side can be found anywhere. AM grouped them together, tossed in some fake profiles to make the site more appealing, and made as much cash as possible off of it. I hope the company is sued into oblivion for their lax security and for the lie about completely deleting users who paid for that service, which allegedly inspired the hackers.

But on the other hand, the data-loving nerd in me is hungry for the details coming out about how many idiots used their work and government email addresses to register on the site, and sure, part of me wants to pump my fist when yet another “voice of morality” is revealed to be lying, cheating scum.  When private celebrity photos were leaked, I chose to look away. I won’t ignore the news stories that come out of this hack, but I won’t be combing the data for the names of friends, relatives, or colleagues, as I know some people are doing. That’s not my business. Some tips for anyone it may benefit: if you’re doing something on the Internet that you don’t want revealed, for heaven’s sake, use a throwaway email address! Buy a reloadable Visa gift card at a drug store if a credit card is required, and register with a fake name, address, and phone number. Use Tor or a heavily secured browser, lock your smartphone or get a burner phone, and don’t forget to turn off automatic backups. And, maybe you shouldn’t trust a company with a business model based on lying.

Linden Lab and Project Sansar

Someone sent me a note asking my opinion on Project Sansar and I really don’t have much to offer. I haven’t written much about Second Life or the next Linden Lab project in months. With my vacation and then accident, plus Jakob’s illness, I simply haven’t been spending much time in SL. My enthusiasm is currently ebbing, but I’ve had an SL avatar for 10 years now and know that cycles of excitement and boredom are normal for me. I’m sure the next time I go back in-world and explore, I’ll be struck by the creativity and beauty again. That said, there are SL bloggers who are covering the topic to death and back. I won’t be one of the early invitees to try Sansar as I’m neither a creator nor have I sought out a relationship with the Lindens, but I’ll be excited to see what’s there once I can have a look.

Personal stuff

Jakob is conscious and talking after a blood sugar crisis sent him to the hospital over a week ago. However, the doctor says that cancer is now active and growing in his stomach, brain, and liver. He is fighting pneumonia and cannot swallow solid food yet. Since Jakob doesn’t know or acknowledge that he still has cancer, he is demanding to go home (no way) and making life hell for his sister, the only person who visits or helps him. This is something I know well from the two weeks I spent with him in May: his illness has stripped away most of his kindness and intellect, leaving a selfish, arrogant, paranoid man. Those qualities were always part of him but now they are prominent. Even though this is not his fault, it’s a huge challenge to sustain empathy when he’s being an asshole. I’ll admit that I’m relieved he isn’t well enough to read or write yet, but I feel for his sister. Her latest text to me was anguished both from concern about his health and hurt from his behavior toward her. It’s possible to care about him and also want to tell him to get stuffed.

As for me, I took my dog for a short walk today! I’ve been cleared to put 25% of normal weight on the leg that had a tibial plateau fracture, which means that I wear a thigh-to-ankle hinged brace and I lean heavily on my walker whenever I step on that side. It’s slow and very tiring, but I know I need to rebuild my stamina. Of course, my wheelchair is still a necessary tool for longer travels or when I need to use my hands. I start physical therapy next week.

 

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Startup culture: everything old is new again

I might have additional posts inspired by the New York Times Magazine article “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem”, but here’s the first. The article is a lengthy piece and not very skimmable, but you might want to take the time to read it.

Isn’t it a hoot when young people think they’re the first who ever had a thought or experience, in the entire history of humanity? I don’t want to bash author Yiren Lu, because she seems like a thoughtful and intelligent person, but similar articles could have been found in WIRED or Fast Company in the 1990s when I was her age. Back in those days, younger people worked on the whiz-bang front end applications — we called it the World Wide Web — while the older engineers focused on infrastructure, networking, and hardware at more established companies. Twenty years ago the exciting place to be was in website development. Now it’s apps. Either way, that’s where the excitement and opportunity is likely to be for younger, less experienced techies.

Side note: Couldn’t the artist have included a female figure in any of the four illustrations accompanying the piece? It’s that sort of thing that subconsciously indicates women are not part of tech culture. It’s no surprise that many of the comments assumed the author was male despite her photo appearing at the end of the article.

My first job in the Internet industry began 20 years ago this month. It was a startup. I interviewed for an administrative position, heard the partners talking about the need for a production manager, taught myself HTML that night, and went on to take the better job instead. It was a bold and stupid move but so things were in the early days of the Web. After a year and a half, I jumped to a job at Huge Internet Corporation, which later acquired the startup anyway. I’ve done contract work for other startups through the years.

Startups can be exciting, especially if they’re lavishly funded. When they’re not? Well, I remember rushing my boss’s personal check to the bank to cover payroll for the week, more than once. I remember months of fighting to get payment I was owed. At one job, I was always first to the office in the morning, which made the day our power was cut off even more exciting. Being young and at a startup is like tightrope walking without a net. There is an adrenaline rush and sometimes the risk can bring great reward, but that wasn’t my experience. In the first couple years I held three jobs simultaneously to pay my rent: a day job at a tech company, retail sales on evenings and weekends, and freelancing in between.

For me, it was much more fun to be at a young company: Huge Internet Corporation in the early days. We still had startup culture, enthusiasm galore, and a sense that we were doing something new, revolutionary, and important. Because the company had existed for a while, however, there wasn’t as much risk and there was better infrastructure. I worked ridiculous hours and there was plenty of grumbling and stress, but my first few year there were the best work period of my life so far. And yes, we had Nerf guns then too, and we shot each other as we dodged between the cubicles. We pranked each other mercilessly. We had Quake tournaments after hours. Most of us were young and single; our social lives tended to mesh with our work lives. Alcohol played a role in that culture, sometimes in the office or at informal parties in the parking lot. We had decent salaries and stock options; a good day on Wall Street could create waves of 28 year old millionaires and a bad day could bring tears.

Ms. Lu might not realize this yet, but companies age too. The culture changes as layers of management and oversight come in and as a maturing workforce changes their priorities to include on-site daycare, parental leave, and better retirement savings plans. Public companies have more paperwork; some of the blame for my burn out at Huge Internet Company can be dumped at the feet of Sarbanes-Oxley. The mandatory documentation, diversity committee review of new hires, accessibility review of every project, and on and on… it adds up, even when the intent is to change things for the better. Throw in some bad reviews from the tech press — oh how we used to fear Walt Mossberg! — and product management starts to get gun shy. Progress slows. Innovation is stifled.

Internet companies are still figuring out viable maturity curves. Some settle into their strengths and stop trying to compete with nimble startups. Some reorganize to make room for established business and creativity, as Google seems to be doing with its recent creation of parent company Alphabet, Inc. Some use size to keep their position while building side products in an attempt to future-proof the business (Amazon, Facebook). Some die. In the case of Huge Internet Corporation, management made some bad decisions, our business model shifted too slowly, and our core technology was outdated by the time it was released. The company still exists but in very different form.

However, when I look though my LinkedIn contacts to see where my former HIC colleagues are working today, I see quite an assortment, not only the “old guard” trying to trudge through the last decades of their careers at stable, long-lived companies. Those I was closest to are between the ages of 40 and 55 now. Many of them have C-level or Vice President titles at startups or smaller companies, or they are VPs or Directors at larger ones. A few started their own companies or became consultants. Others bailed out of the industry altogether to pursue new passions, from nursing to documentary film making to landscape architecture. They scattered across the country and a surprising cluster of them ended up in London. Generalizing about the whole group, just as generalizing about the younger wave of tech workers, misses all the interesting paths that don’t fit the desired narrative.

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A short personal note. Some of you who have been reading this blog for a while know about my dear friend Jakob and I wanted to pass along an update. He and I haven’t been spending much time together since I broke my leg — neither of us has much to say, as we’re both housebound and unwell — but we still have a short online visit every day. Lately he’s been active and optimistic, cleaning his house and planning an October trip with his sister.

Unfortunately, he’s now back in the hospital. He had chemotherapy (he has stage IV stomach cancer) last Thursday and was groggy in the days that followed. By Sunday he wasn’t online. Yesterday his sister gave me the news that he was admitted to the hospital with a blood sugar level of 1300. Jakob is an insulin-dependent type 1 diabetic and when he is weak and confused from chemo, he forgets to do blood sugar checks. Since high or low blood sugar make him even more confused, that begins a spiral that he can’t control. I saw this a couple times when we took a vacation together in May. I’m translating from messages his sister sends me in German from her smartphone, but from what I can patch together, he’s reliant on machines right now. He didn’t recognize her and she says his eyes didn’t focus. Meanwhile, she says that his cancer is still spreading. The doctors are not offering her much hope at this point.

It drives me crazy that Jakob doesn’t understand the situation with his illness, and because of the language gap it is still unclear whether his doctors are actively withholding the information or if he’s refusing to hear it. He assures me that his cancer is gone and that the chemo will keep it that way. Of course that’s not true; I knew in May that another tumor had been found in his brain and that the therapy is destroying his liver and other organs. He’s made amazing recoveries before though, so I’m not rushing to say the end is near this time. We shall see.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2015 in Culture, Relationships

 

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