Week 4 pick-em update: And we slowly start to fade

As expected from my last update, Weeks 3 and 4 led to a bit of fading away from a splintering .810 picking average through the first two weeks of the season. In my challenge to pick the winner of every major college football game, I now stand at a combined 204-60 record, which translates into a .773 picking average so far.

For reference, here's the publicly viewable copy of the spreadsheet with my picks, and here's the spreadsheet where you can go ahead and...pick all the rest of the games this year, if you want, I guess.

My picking percentage hasn't dipped as far as I thought it would by this point. I lost almost 4 percentage points, but standing at this number after four weeks is pretty solid. We're now at the point in the season, though, where I'm rooting against some of my own picks -- as a couple of examples, I want Tennessee to lose to Georgia so Florida can still be in the SEC East race, and I want Louisville to beat Clemson because the Lamar Jackson Experience is really fun to watch.

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Apple's AirPods may quietly be the best "truly wireless" Bluetooth earbud option on the market

Apple's AirPods may quietly be the best "truly wireless" Bluetooth earbud option on the market

Apple announced their AirPods a couple weeks ago during their iPhone / Apple Watch event, and the launch of these new headphones comes along with more controversy than normal, even in the context of past polarizing product releases from the company.

The main reason around the controversy is that the AirPods are being closely associated with the removal of the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Something is changing / going away, so people are having the knee-jerk reaction of being mad about it. It doesn't seem like there's any going back from here, though -- Apple won't be able to re-introduce the headphone jack for next year's presumably enormous release of the 10th anniversary iPhone, and two straight generations without a headphone jack for the most popular smartphone in the world is probably enough to kill that little thing for good. In 2-3 years, the frustrations around the loss of the headphone jack will likely be forgotten, and in 5-7 years, we'll be laughing at the days we walked around with our head attached to our pants pocket.

All of this is not the point of my article here, though. On their own merits, Apple's AirPods are extremely impressive (on paper) compared to existing and upcoming competition. "On paper" is the only way to make comparisons to the competition so far, seeing as how these things haven't been released yet. But if you search for early reviews of the new headphones, you'll find that most early reviewers are finding them to be more than acceptable in terms of sound quality as well.

Taking a quick look at Apple's competitors reveals a fairly straightforward conclusion that the AirPods offer some of the best performance specs on the market, at a $169 price that is objectively low compared to similar products. To make this comparison, a few points have to be assumed:

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Tennessee Hate Week is almost over, so better late than never

We are almost through the week known to Florida Gators fans as Tennessee Hate Week, so it's time to post a piece of Tennessee-hating lore that has become a favorite amongst many fanbases that dislike the Volunteers. It is one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos. I should have posted this on Monday, but with UT Hate Week almost coming to an end, it's better late than never.

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The first two weeks of the college football season are always relatively predictable

I'm faring surprisingly well through my first two weeks of picking winners for every major college football game this year. Here's a publicly viewable spreadsheet with my most up-to-date results. And remember, here's the link to get this spreadsheet for yourself if you want to do this at home for any crazy reason. 

So far, I have a 111-26 record with my predictions. That's pretty good I think! I'm 21-7 in the SEC, 23-5 in the ACC, 24-3 in the Big Ten, 18-5 in the Pac 12, and 15-4 in the Big 12. I'm 10-2 in the general interest column.

My record in the bigger games suggests that my current .810 picking percentage won't hold up. I'm especially nervous about UCLA, who I have finishing 10-2, and who currently look a bit like trash. We'll see how it goes, though. I'm going to try to update this chart every two weeks, so here are a few of the big games I'm looking out for in Weeks 3 and 4.

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Head North - "God, Bring It Back"

Head North - "God, Bring It Back"

Head North released a new song called "God (Bring It Back)," which is from their new album and first full-length, The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World. The record is not coming out on Bad Timing Records (we released their Bloodlines EP and co-released a split with them and Microwave), but I'm blogging about this song because I really like it and I think this band is very dope.

There are a lot of layers on this track; Brent's vocals are a bit distorted and they compete for your attention with really great-sounding percussion. An acoustic guitar sets the melody early on, and overall I think this song is a fair amount more melodic than their work on Bloodlines. It's really wild to see their jump from that EP to this first full-length, and I'm looking forward to seeing how people react to the new stuff.

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Predicting every major college football game in 2016

Predicting every major college football game in 2016

As I wrote just yesterday, I've been impatiently awaiting the beginning of this year's college football season. This impatience can lead a person to do crazy things! I decided to while away my time by creating an annoyingly large spreadsheet. My passion for well-crafted spreadsheets is something I should blog about sometime ... and maybe see a therapist about as well.

When the Associated Press released its pre-season Top 25 rankings a couple weeks back, I started to think about what process I would go through if I was an AP voter. It was interesting me to think about how I'd project the season as a whole -- not really a pre-season Top 25, but a projection of the season's final Top 25 poll. So I built a way to do this.

The spreadsheet contains fields to predict the win-loss outcome of every game that will be played by a Power 5 conference team this season, plus a few teams outside the power conferences which are expected to be good or which are of general interest to the average college football fan. As I plugged in my W-L projections for each game, the spreadsheet compiles records for each team, sorted by which division of which conference they're in. It becomes clear which teams I project to win their divisions, then I just predicted the outcome of the conference title games. 

After you factor in the conference title game results, it becomes relatively easy to piece together a projected final Top 25 -- final as of the conference championship game week, before bowl season starts. There's only a small leap from there to plugging in your College Football Playoff participants and projecting your eventual national champion. I had Alabama winning -- it'll be so nice to see a non-traditional power take home the hardware!!

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College football withdrawals are almost gone

College football withdrawals are almost gone

At this time, in just three days, I'll be sitting in a bar (probably Mother's) in Gainesville, watching Tennessee and Appalachian State kick off the 2016 college football season, and I will be grinning like an idiot. But three days in August is the equivalent of two weeks in a normal month.

August is objectively the worst month for college football withdrawals, so I'm glad this trash is almost over with. The NBA Finals are done and there are no cool holidays in August. Even with the Olympics this year, and even with a super-fun long weekend in San Francisco, it seemed to drag on and on for me. June and July are the summer months that suffer least from these withdrawals; spring practice is well in the rear-view mirror, out of the part of your mind that causes you to check message boards weekly for recruiting news, and you're so excited for the beginning of summer and the Fourth of July and such that your brain isn't yet hung up on depth charts, kickoff times, Playoff projects, pre-season all-conference and the like.

But in August? Once fall camp starts around the first week of the month, there's a slow, daily trickle of not-particularly-noteworthy news to keep you tuning in each day, hoping for a drip of something good to satiate your college football thirst for the week. Mostly, though, you're just trying to avoid ACL tears.

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Just read: 'Batman: Birth of the Demon' Trilogy

Just read: 'Batman: Birth of the Demon' Trilogy

This portion of the trusty Batman reading list is extremely hard to place when it comes to the chronology of the Dark Knight's career. It's arguable that I read it too early, and I probably did -- but of all the mistakes I could make, this one doesn't seem to be damaging in any way. Birth of the Demon is a collection of the Demon trilogy: Son of the DemonBride of the Demon and Birth of the Demon. To put it as simply as possible, these stories provide an introduction to Ra's al Ghul and his daughter, Talia al Ghul; not only to we get to know them as characters, but we get Ra's' proper origin story as well.

That quick explanation is hardly enough to describe these stories, though. While far from my favorite Batman tales so far, this trilogy is exceptionally written and drawn, and the three stories told within this trade paperback each function as well on their own as they do together. Son of the Demon sees Batman / Bruce Wayne already extremely familiar with Talia; you're going to have to read this one with the mindset that these two characters are very friendly, although you may not have seen Talia at all yet.

Batman and Talia are in enough of a relationship for her to know his true identity, and for Ra's al Ghul, described even here as a dangerous enemy of Batman's, to know it as well. During this story, Talia and Batman get "married" and Talia becomes pregnant with a child. Meanwhile, Batman and Ra's al Ghul team up to destroy a common enemy. There are a couple of weird plot points in this one, but the action sequences are great and, most importantly, you get a strong feeling for the time/place/era/feel of these stories. It's pretty important to read this before Birth of the Demon for purposes of getting into the mindset that book is told in, though I would argue that Birth is the only part of this trilogy to be truly essential in the Batman chronology. You're introduced to the Lazarus Pit, a gaping hole in the ground filled with bad-smelling chemicals, which is the mechanism by which Ra's keeps himself youngish and effectively immortal.

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Five months into Blue Apron

Five months into Blue Apron

Katie and I signed up for Blue Apron in February, when it was cold as heck toward the "end" of winter in Brooklyn and we got tired of the pretty limited produce supply at our local spots. You can only make chili so many times before you become annoyed by the lack of ready-to-eat avocados.

Blue Apron costs $60 per week, and for that price you get three meals big enough to feed two people. So, $30 per person, for three dinners. More physically, what you get for that price is a large box delivered to your door that contains all the ingredients you're going to be putting too much salt on that week (seriously, if you used as much salt as Blue Apron tells you to use, you'd mainly be eating salt). It also comes with directions for each recipe printed out on a piece of paper, and two ice packs which you now have to be annoyed about throwing away every 7 days.

This is a great deal for us. Sometimes I think it's an unfathomably good deal and I have to remind myself that it isn't this good of a deal for everyone. Most Blue Apron ingredients are organic or locally grown, and that stuff costs a lot of money in New York City. It's especially difficult to find decently priced organic beef, chicken and pork where we live, and fish is also quite expensive here. The regularity with which a Blue Apron meal contains some type of meat or fish is very high; at least two of the three meals will normally have a meat/fish component unless Katie has selected all-veggie options for us (we do this every few weeks). Being forced to eat three dinners at home also obviously cuts down on the likelihood that you'll get lazy and either order Seamless or eat out, which saves some cash.

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Just read: 'Robin Year One' & 'Batgirl Year One'

Just read: 'Robin Year One' & 'Batgirl Year One'

We're not getting too far off the beaten path here, by any means -- I may have just read a few Star Wars books, but I'm super excited to continue on the Batman path I've laid out. The most recent trade paperback I picked up was a combined volume of Robin: Year One & Batgirl: Year One; the two stories together made for the longest trade I've read so far (though it's still not going to compare to the Knightfall trilogy when I get there!).

These two collections, which outline the beginnings of their respective characters, are both wonderfully put together and a blast to read through. The characters are tied together by nature, perhaps Batman's two closest allies finding their way into the service of the Dark Knight, and the combined book treats it just right. Robin's story is farther along than Batgirl's by the time these volumes start; we saw him meet Batman and join forces with him for the first time in Dark Victory, then saw him earn his stripes a bit more in The Gauntlet. So Dick Grayson's Year One story is really all about him settling into his role as Batman's crime-fighting partner and balancing that with a normal life -- we see him in school, talking to girls, etc. It's real easy to otherwise forget that he's a teenager.

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Just read: Marvel's 'Star Wars' & 'Darth Vader'

Just read: Marvel's 'Star Wars' & 'Darth Vader'

Over the past few months, I've started chronicling my foray into comic books by blogging about the Batman trade paperbacks I've been reading. In an effort to keep myself from blowing through my Batman list too fast, though, I branched out and picked up a few other titles as a breather between Batstories. 

I picked up the first two volumes of Marvel's Star Wars title -- Skywalker Strikes and Showdown on Smuggler's Moon -- in addition to the first two volumes of their Darth Vader title -- VADER and Shadows & Secrets. Additionally, I bought Vader Down, which is a crossover event between these two titles and fits nicely at the end of each of the first two volumes. In total, these five trade paperbacks comprise about 15 issues from each of the runs.  

The decision to pick these up wasn't as easy as it might seem for a big fan of the movies. I love Star Wars more than just about every other media property, and I felt myself really, really taking a liking to comic books as well -- I've yet to be disappointed by any of the Batman volumes I've read, and I've been enjoying those much more than I anticipated -- but the Star Wars books seemed super iffy to me. Obviously, Marvel's got as good a track record as any other publisher, but the idea of putting the ginormousness of Star Wars onto a colored-and-inked page seemed potentially underwhelming (for reference, I've never read any of Marvel's past Star Wars work). I equate Star Wars with grandiose shots of star destroyers rumbling overhead, and just as much with booming soundtracks that make your seat shake. In fact, I just bought tickets to see a marathon of the original trilogy in a huge, fancy theatre mainly in search of the loudest viewing experience possible.

On top of that, how would an artist depict a Han Solo smirk or Princess Leia scowl or Luke Skywalker shoulder shrug the way we'd seen Ford, Fisher and Hamill do it on the big screen? And how would the writers be able to come up with novel storylines that take place between the lines of the existing films and other canon publications? All in all, it seemed like a tall order and I wasn't sure any comic book would be able to live up to the huge expectations I will forever place on any official piece of Star Wars-related media.

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Mid-Year Albums of the Year

Mid-Year Albums of the Year

On Friday, Jason and I published a new episode of Encore during which we delved into our top albums of 2016 so far. Here's a link to that episode, and my mid-year list is below.

  1. Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost
  2. Pinegrove - Cardinal
  3. PUP - The Dream Is Over
  4. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
  5. The Hotelier - Goodness
  6. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day
  7. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
  8. JANK - Awkward Pop Songs

I really, really love the first five albums here and I'm sure they will be around the top of my EOTY list when 2016 is over with. My sixth, seventh and eighth selections don't inspire the same passion, but I enjoyed them enough to rank them. Thinking through this list, I realized I haven't listened to many albums this year overall -- probably only to about 20 or so, at least enough to consider them for a list like this. 

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Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Committing This to Memory

Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Committing This to Memory

I saw Motion City Soundtrack play a show for the final time on June 16.

Motion City was never my favorite band, but they were consistently amongst the groups I listened to most often in high school and throughout my first couple years of college. They have at least three albums (I Am The MovieCommit This To MemoryMy Dinosaur Life) out of their six studio releases that I would place in my own library of personal classics, and another record (Even If It Kills Me) that stands as an underrated off-course maneuver during a time when pop-punk bands were zig-zagging all over the place; it's interesting as a time capsule of post-radio/post-MTV era pop-punk and an even more interesting LP to revisit.

All this to say, the "death" of Motion City Soundtrack seems like it should really bother me. They were meaningful to me and released multiple albums that are securely lodged in the way I will retrospectively identify myself, from a musical vantage point, as a young adult. Yet their breakup doesn't bother me much, which I am somewhat surprised to realize. I got semi-emotional for a moment during "Make Out Kids" at their show, and I got shivers during the end of "Let's Get Fucked Up and Die" like any normal person would, but other than that, I was totally fine. I didn't "prepare" for my farewell to the band in advance and I didn't mourn losing them as I took the train home. 

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Just read: Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Just read: Tina Fey's 'Bossypants'

Bossypants is the third audiobook I've listened to (following Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance and B.J. Novak's One More Thing), following the theme of listening to funny people read their books to me. Tina Fey is very good at this, better than Novak and at least as good as Ansari (who I thought was really, really good at it). 

Fey's book is a more traditional autobiography (albeit an extremely sharp, witty and overall hilarious one), telling her story from growing up in Pennsylvania to getting her start in improv at the Second City in Chicago to her early days at Saturday Night Live ("Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity") and finally her success with 30 Rock. She is extremely humble and honest throughout the book, discussing low points with transparency and letting readers in on intimate moments through her life. Equally as intriguing are the sometimes silly, yet thematically revealing, chapters on family, work/life balance (or lack thereof, when you're in charge of a whole TV show), and mundane things like driving across Pennsylvania for the holidays with your parents or in-laws.

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Just read: Chuck Klosterman's 'I Wear The Black Hat'

Just read: Chuck Klosterman's 'I Wear The Black Hat'

This statement may be extremely obvious, but also the most accurate, summation of Chuck Klosterman's I Wear The Black Hat: It's a book that's written by Chuck Klosterman. So if you've read his work previously, you know what you're going to get. This is the first Klosterman book I've read, but I've ingested enough of his writing in other formats to have an idea of what I was diving into. 

I Wear The Black Hat is a collection of essays / rants / ramblings with a general backdrop of villainy, and exploring how we observe and remember villains. Klosterman uses this curtain of villainy to generally write about totally unrelated topics from one chapter to another, and frequently jumps around semi-unrelated ideas within single essays. Featured characters include Kanye, LeBron, Darth Vader, Perez Hilton, Kim Dotcom, Batman, this guy, O.J. Simpson (who is dissected alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and many more (including Hitler, who Klosterman acknowledges is included in the book mostly out of obligation). 

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Just read: B.J. Novak's 'One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories'

Just read: B.J. Novak's 'One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories'

B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is the second title in my recent Audible quest of listening to books written by funny people, read by the funny people who wrote them. One More Thing is a collection of short stories (64 of them, to be exact) from Novak, who is best known for his writing and his portrayal of the character Ryan on The Office. This is Novak's first book, and it balances the expected humor with occasional, surprisingly cutting pieces of insight and depth. 

The average running length of each story is probably somewhere between three and five pages (tough to fully gauge when you're listening, but I can guess); some are extremely short, while there are a few that run quite long. The lengthier stories are amongst his best work here, and they're peppered in throughout so if you're reading the book in order, there's plenty of variation from story to story in terms of length, seriousness and tone. Here's one of my favorite stories on the way shorter side of things, presented in full, below:

The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day
I was sad that summer was over. But I was happy that it was over for my enemies, too.

This quick turn of phrase manifests itself often through Novak's short stories. One semi-frequent trick of his is putting a new spin on old fables, like in the story that opens the book ("The Rematch"), which sees the hare absolutely obliterating the tortoise after training for months to beat him in a rematch. "Slow and steady wins the race, 'til truth and talent claim their place," he writes.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Long Halloween,' 'Batman: Dark Victory' & related stories

Just read: 'Batman: The Long Halloween,' 'Batman: Dark Victory' & related stories

This is why I wanted to start reading comic books. The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are widely regarded as two of the best Batman collections ever -- the former is considered by some to be the finest story you can buy in trade paperback format, and the latter is generally a consensus top-10-ish choice -- and I knew this going into these stories. But, given that I haven't been reading comics for very long at all, I wasn't sure if I'd grasp the gravity of these titles on first reading. I figured that maybe I'd enjoy them, but come to appreciate them more after reading several more Batman books down the road.

I'm sure this is true; I'm sure I'll love The Long Halloween and Dark Victory even more when I read them over and over in the future. Because I'm already very sure that I'm going to keep these books for an extremely long time. Right after I watched Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I had a relatively recurring itch to start reading Batman comics again; I wasn't sure why that happened, but after reading these two books, I understand it now. I was looking for Batman stories that would satisfy me in the same way Christopher Nolan's trilogy of movies did. Nolan puts you in the world of Batman in a way no other filmmaker ever has; you're not just rooting for the hero, but you're in the shoes of all his supporting characters, too. From Alfred to Lucius Fox to all the enemies Batman faces, to Catwoman, Ra's and Talia Al Ghul and Bane, the Dark Knight films leave everyone from the most casual to the most diehard Batman fans happy in the story they just experienced. 

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Just read: Aziz Ansari's 'Modern Romance'

Just read: Aziz Ansari's 'Modern Romance'

Well, I'm putting this under my "just read" moniker but... I have to admit that I didn't actually read this book. Aziz Ansari read it to me and I listened. A while ago, I realized that I stopped listening to books on Audible (after having gone through a few late last year) and that I'd amassed something like nine credits without paying attention. So I canceled my subscription and used up all my credits on one specific type of book:

  1. Aziz Ansari - Modern Romance (read by Aziz Ansari)
  2. Tina Fey - Bossypants (read by Tina Fey)
  3. Neil Patrick Harris - Choose Your Own Autobiography (read by Neil Patrick Harris)
  4. B.J. Novak - One More Thing (read by B.J. Novak)
  5. Nick Offerman - Paddle Your Own Canoe (read by Nick Offerman)
  6. Nick Offerman - Gumption (read by Nick Offerman)
  7. Amy Poehler - Yes Please (read by Amy Poehler)
  8. Rainn Wilson - Bassoon King (read by Rainn Wilson)

I theorized that listening to books by funny people, read by those funny people, would be not just funny, but funnier than reading their books on the printed page in my own little voice in the back of my head. So far, this idea has a perfect, 100 percent hit rate (currently one book in). Listening to Aziz Ansari read Modern Romance was enjoyable and funny, as expected -- and beyond the surface level enjoyment, hearing an author read their own work lets you notice emphases, pauses, etc., where the author wants you to notice them, which affects the way you digest their work (in a positive way, IMO). 

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A Day To Remember - "Bad Vibrations"

A Day To Remember - "Bad Vibrations"

A Day To Remember released a new song today, "Bad Vibrations," the title track from their new album, which drops on August 19. This band has been pretty interesting to cover over the past six years: Their last LP release in 2013 was marred by all the lawsuits that were going on with Victory Records, and they still managed a career-high debut sales week of 93,000 copies amidst all that. Pretty impressive considering there was almost no proper lead-up to that album.

I'm not saying that ADTR is a terrific band, but I do feel there aren't many groups that are as consistently good at doing their thing. They occupy a specific space, and are one of the only bands in that space -- whatever space is defined by radio-rock-ish songs that include Actual Screaming. They aren't quite friendly enough for the pop charts, but each album has enough pop-rock on it to deliver a successful alt-rock or heavy-rock radio hit or two, and each release has seen them explore more extreme ends of their poppy and heavy sides. When they get heavy, like they do on "Bad Vibrations," it's usually balanced out by going really, really poppy on another song. I wonder if this new album will continue that formula. 

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Just read - Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hell's Angels'

Just read - Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hell's Angels'

After enjoying both The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was very excited to dig into another book by Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels. Thompson was embedded with a gang of motorcycle outlaws called the Hells Angels in/around Oakland for over a year, and this book tells his stories with the Angels and sees him commenting on their wild popularity in the mid-'60s.  

Perhaps it's the more straightforward tone or the mostly/totally nonfiction-ness of Hell's Angels, but this book was much harder for me to get through than the previously mentioned ones. It felt poorly paced by comparison, and sometimes dry despite a pretty interesting subject matter. You can tell that Thompson didn't have his full voice about him yet, but unlike The Rum Diary, where that was easily masked by a decent fictional narrative, Hell's Angels doesn't keep your attention as efficiently.  

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