Answering my readers’ questions

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Everyone gather ’round. It’s that time again! It’s time for me to answer my readers’ questions!

And by that, I mean, it’s time for me to see what strings of words people have typed into Google that brought them to my blog. Then I look through the search keywords that are (more-or-less) well-formed questions and answer them as best I can. It’s the least I could do, since they took the time to visit my site with these questions on their mind.

“Why can’t the space shuttle leave conventionally from an airport?” (July 26)

Mostly because it’s not an airplane. Those booster rockets that the space shuttle normally uses for take-off are not decorative.

“If I fired a laser beam at my hand would it come out the other side?” (Aug 4)

Yes.

“How to castle in chess with friends?” (July 31, Aug 7, 14, 17)

Begin a chess game with a friend, castle normally.

“How do you move your king and castle at the same time?” (July 26)

You probably meant “How do you move your king and your rook at the same time?”

“Rook” is the name for the pieces that start at the corners of the board.

In chess, “castle” is a verb. It’s the verb that means to move your rook and king at the same time, two spaces toward each other, provided that the intervening spaces are not occupied and that neither the king nor rook has been moved before in the match (and that you’re not trying to castle out of check).

“Cheat on MCAT tips?” (Aug 1) / “How to cheat the MCAT?” (July 30)

Are you really asking me to help you to cheat on the MCAT? Get out.

“Has anyone ever cheated on MCAT before?” (July 28)

No. No one in the history of mankind. No one whose motives were so pure as to aspire to medical school has ever even considered cheating to attain such a goal.

“Grammar is one of the greatest joys in life, don’t you find?” (Aug 8)

Actually, now that you mention it, grammar is the greatest joy in life.

“How do you pronounce ‘couche tard’?” (Aug 18)

“Couch” (like the synonym for sofa)

“Tard” (like the second syllable of “retard”)

“How to avoid getting your bike stolen [in] Montréal?” (Aug 25)

Sell bike, and buy Bixi pass with the proceeds.

“How to get your thesis bound at McGill” (July 27)

You gotta do it yourself, I’m afraid. You can get Acco-Press binders at the bookstore.

“How to take someones fortune?” (Aug 21)

Twitter-stalking.

“I bought wrong grammar?” (Aug 10)

You sure did.

“I might have strep throat I don’t got insurance?” (Aug 7)

That’s quite the predicament! Are you a Canadian citizen?

“Is there a Montréal métro pass for mature students?” (Aug 19)

Nope. No such thing. Once you’re 25, you pay full price, whether you’re a full-time student or not.

“What happens after you accept a TA-ship offer?” (Aug 4)

Heh … Do you really want to know?

“What is giving you the most problems with Microsoft Word?” (July 26)

Thank you for asking! Mostly crashing, interface glitches and the fact that there’s no separation between content, formatting, comments and meta-data.

“Where can i get hasperat?” (July 28)

Bajor, if you want it authentic.

But if you would make the brine for a really strong hasperat—I mean eye watering, tongue searing strong—you’d make an old man very happy.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2084,
    title = {Answering my readers’ questions},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-08-26,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/26/answering-my-readers-questions/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Answering my readers’ questions" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 26 Aug 2011. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/26/answering-my-readers-questions/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Aug 26). Answering my readers’ questions [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/26/answering-my-readers-questions/


How to tell someone’s fortune

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I have to admit, I can’t take full credit for this idea. Steps 1–3 were Pickles’ idea. This technique will only work if you have a smartphone and you take public transit regularly.

  1. Sign up for a Twitter account and a Google+ account.
  2. Next time your bus or métro is late, open Twitter and Google+ on your smartphone and search under “nearby” for tweets and posts that make reference to the bus or métro stop where you are. (A Twitter user’s first instinct, when his or her bus or métro is late, is to tweet about it.)
  3. When you’ve found a recent tweet about your particular public transit problem, try to identify who it is that wrote it. Often you can do this from the person’s profile photo and by seeing who is fiddling with a smartphone.
  4. Read back on that person’s tweets and try to infer 5 or 6 minor but specific details about that person’s life that couldn’t be guessed from the person’s appearance. Memorise these.
  5. Look for one major thing, like a fight with a family member or an assignment at work or school, that is recent enough to not have been resolved yet. Try to guess what it is that the person would like to hear about that.
  6. Approach.
  7. Ask to see the person’s palm, or the pattern of coffee grinds in the bottom of her cup, or (my personal favourite) grab the person’s earlobe, and say, “Your pagh is strong, my child.”
  8. Use the minor details that you have gleaned from his or her Twitter or Google+ feed to gain the person’s trust. (E.g. “Your roommate—she doesn’t do the dishes very regularly, does she?” or “Did you just get a promotion at work?”)
  9. Act surprised about something, and then play “hard to get.” (E.g. “Oh! Isn’t that something!” / “What?” / “I don’t know if I should tell you. It’s about [major detail from step 5].”)
  10. Let the person offer you money. Begrudgingly accept.
  11. Tell the person what he or she wants to hear. (“Your brother puts up a tough exterior, but deep down he forgives you.”)
  12. Cackle, disappear in a puff of smoke.

If any of you actually has an opportunity to try this, let me know how it works out.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2069,
    title = {How to tell someone’s fortune},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-08-13,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/13/how-to-tell-someones-fortune/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How to tell someone’s fortune" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 13 Aug 2011. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/13/how-to-tell-someones-fortune/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Aug 13). How to tell someone’s fortune [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/13/how-to-tell-someones-fortune/


I’ve noticed a trend in the news from Montréal this week

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I've noticed a trend in Montréal this week

I've noticed a trend in Montréal this week

I have noticed a trend in the news regarding Montréal, where I live.

  • Monday: A 25-tonne concrete beam crashed from the roof of a tunnel on the Ville-Marie expressway.
  • Tuesday: A giant pothole, at least 1.5 m deep and 4.5 m wide opened up on Ontario Street. According to CBC, “The city says the ground gave away beneath the asphalt, causing the hole to appear.”
  • Wednesday: A bus got stuck in an entirely different giant pothole in Montréal East.

Do they really expect us to believe that holes in the ground are just opening up by themselves all over Montréal?

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I think it’s safe to assume at this point that this is the work of a super-villain. I’m thinking it’s either the bad guy from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Stabber?) or the one from the end of the Incredibles (the Underminer?). They both used an underground drilly machine to move around, as I recall.

 

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2035,
    title = {I’ve noticed a trend in the news from Montréal this week},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-08-3,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/03/ive-noticed-a-trend-in-the-news-from-montreal-this-week/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "I’ve noticed a trend in the news from Montréal this week" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 03 Aug 2011. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/03/ive-noticed-a-trend-in-the-news-from-montreal-this-week/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Aug 03). I’ve noticed a trend in the news from Montréal this week [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/08/03/ive-noticed-a-trend-in-the-news-from-montreal-this-week/


New Bixi station at station Snowdon

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New Bixi Station

New Bixi Station

I remember remarking to a number of friends last summer that the only thing keeping me from getting a Bixi key was the fact that there were no Bixi stations anywhere near me.

I checked. A couple times.

I really wanted the whole Bixi thing to work out for me.

I used to love riding my bike when I was in high school (until my bike was stolen, that is). It was perfect for getting around in Stratford. I could be anywhere in the city within a half hour. The fact that my high school bike was stolen is probably what’s kept me from getting a bike here. If I couldn’t even prevent a bike from being stolen in Stratford (pop. 30,000), what chance do I have living in Montréal (pop. 3 million). I didn’t really want to have to worry about locking my bike up, and dealing with it when the weather’s bad. I mean, I live on the 4th floor of a building with no elevator. I don’t want to have to haul my bike up all those stairs. Not even once.

My last bicycle

My last bicycle

That said, I do like bikes as a mode of transportation. When I lived in China I had a great bike. It was gigantic. I could see over everyone’s head.

I like the exercise and the convenience. I like that parking a bike is easier than parking a car.

Having a bixi pass is even better than owning a bike. It’s $80 for the year, and you get as much use of the bikes as you like, for 45 mins at a time. I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my bike. I don’t have to worry about maintaining a bike. I don’t even have to think about what kind of bike I want.

At long last, last week, they installed a Bixi station across the street from me. The only thing that was keeping me from getting a Bixi pass was the lack of Bixi stations near me, and that is no longer an issue. So I ordered a Bixi key. I’ll have to get a helmet now.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1821,
    title = {New Bixi station at station Snowdon},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-05-25,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/25/new-bixi-station-at-station-snowdon/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "New Bixi station at station Snowdon" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 May 2011. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/25/new-bixi-station-at-station-snowdon/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, May 25). New Bixi station at station Snowdon [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/05/25/new-bixi-station-at-station-snowdon/


Solar sail

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Okay, I’ve got a question for anyone who’s studied more physics than I have. I’m going to expose my woeful ignorance of modern physics. (I’m a medical ethicist MA student who did philosophy/pharmacology and toxicology for his undergrad, after all.)

Periodically, I see an article or a sci-fi programme on space flight that discusses the possibility of using a solar sail to power the movement of a space ship. Cool idea.

As best I can put it together, the idea is as follows:

  • The sun shines its photons out in all directions.
  • The photons hit the sail, imparting their momentum to the sail, pushing the space ship.
  • The space ship flies away from the sun, pushed by the photons from the sun.

I Googled solar sails and found the Wikipedia article on radiation pressure, and apparently it’s a measurable thing that a certain amount of pressure is placed on a surface that is in contact with a certain amount of radiation.

It sounds pretty neat, but here’s the thing I never understood. Probably because I only ever took first-year physics in my undergrad. If I’ve messed something up here, let me know.

  • The momentum (p, a vector quantity) of an object is the product of its mass (m, a scalar) and its velocity (v, a vector that is, of course, a scalar multiple of p), or p = mv
  • For an elastic collision, the vector sum of the initial momenta is equal to the vector sum of the final momenta, or p1 + p2 = p1′ + p2′ (where p1 is the initial momentum of the first object, p1′ is the final momentum of the first object, etc.).
  • As I recall, the mass of a photon is 0 kg. That’s not just because of rounding—photons are entirely massless.
  • So the mass of object 1, the photon, is 0 kg. The velocity of object 1 is c [away from the sun]. (When you write “c” in physics, it means “the speed of light.”)
  • Let’s take the mass of the space ship to be m2 and the initial velocity to be 0 m/s [away from the sun], assuming it starts at rest, relative to the sun.
  • Plug this all into the formula for an elastic collision:
  • m1 v1 + m2 v2 = m1 v1′ + m2 v2′
  • (0 kg) (c) + m2 (0 m/s) = (0 kg) v1′ + m2 v2′
  • 0 kg m/s = m2 v2′
  • v2′ = 0 m/s [away from the sun]

So, the final velocity of the space ship is still 0 m/s [away from the sun].

I really don’t get it.

No matter how many massless photons you shoot at a solar sail, you will never impart any momentum to the space ship, because a photon can’t have any momentum, because photons are massless.

I have a hard time believing that no one has thought of this before. Is there anyone out there who is better at physics than I am who can explain to me why solar sails work?

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1621,
    title = {Solar sail},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-04-12,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/12/solar-sail/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Solar sail" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 12 Apr 2011. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/12/solar-sail/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Apr 12). Solar sail [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/04/12/solar-sail/


Why not volunteers [sic]?

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"Why not volunteers?"

"Why not volunteers?"

As an MA student in bioethics, I am very interested in the advertisements on the Métro for participation in phase I drug studies.

And that’s not just because they were very tempting back when I had no job and no prospects at the end of the school year in April.

I have found the evolution of this particular advertisement to be very notable indeed. A few months ago, when I first noticed it, it went something like this:

“Up to $4000 for healthy men, 18–45 / A clinical trial? Why not!”

It would run in English first, then in French, and in the version that they were running a few months ago, there was no translation problem.

Now, it is the same message, except instead of “A clinical trial? Why not!” it says, “Why not volunteers [sic]?”

English mistranslation aside, the emphasis of the message has changed. At first, the tone was more on the “Why not?”—it was more like the advertisers were saying, “Yeah, we know it’s a clinical trial, but let’s throw caution to the wind! What could go wrong?”

Now, the emphasis has changed. It’s like the advertisers are now trying to go for more of the “It’s for a good cause” feel. “Volunteer. Why wouldn’t you? It’s so that these kind people can develop drugs that will help all of us.”

“Why not volunteers?”

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2010-836,
    title = {Why not volunteers [sic]?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2010-08-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/08/06/why-not-volunteers-sic/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Why not volunteers [sic]?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 Aug 2010. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/08/06/why-not-volunteers-sic/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2010, Aug 06). Why not volunteers [sic]? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/08/06/why-not-volunteers-sic/


Jewish General Hospital

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Which one would you have gone to?

Which one would you have gone to?

Here’s a nifty home experiment that you can do without a grown-up! Try a Google Maps search for “Jewish General Hospital, Montréal.” You’ll get two results. Try to guess which one is the real Jewish General hospital. I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the one labelled “A. Jewish General Hospital.” The real one is clear on the other side of the city, and kind of near my home.

So this morning I had an appointment with the ethicist at the Jewish General Hospital. I looked up the location of the hospital, and when I got the Google Maps result, I thought that there were maybe two “Jewish General Hospitals”—one that was the Jewish General simpliciter, and one that was the Sir Mortimer Jewish General. Since no one had ever mentioned to me that I was going to Sir Mortimer Hospital, I figured that I should go to the other one.

A 35-minute Métro ride and a 5-minute bus ride later, I was at the hospital right on time, at 9 o’clock sharp. I was at the Notre-Dame hospital. It turns out that the first address that’s given as a result in that Google Maps search is actually a completely different hospital that doesn’t have “Jewish” in its name at all. Quelle surprise.

I called everyone that I could think of who was in Montréal, but no one was picking up at 9h on a lundi. I thought about hailing a taxi, but then I remembered that I didn’t have any money. I walked back to the Sherbrooke Métro and called Info Santé. For those of you in Ontario, it’s the Québec equivalent of TeleHealth. She was able to tell me where the Jewish General Hospital was. I found a map of the city in the Métro and looked for a hospital on Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catharine, and the nearest Métro stop.

Turns out there are two hospitals on that street, Sainte-Justine and Jewish General. I went to the wrong one first. Fortunately, they weren’t too far apart.

I arrived a bit over an hour late, and missed the appointment. I was still able to talk to the ethicist afterward, explain what happened, and attend another meeting, but it was a less-than-promising start to today.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2010-651,
    title = {Jewish General Hospital},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2010-02-23,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/02/23/jewish-general-hospital/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Jewish General Hospital" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 23 Feb 2010. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/02/23/jewish-general-hospital/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2010, Feb 23). Jewish General Hospital [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/02/23/jewish-general-hospital/


At least I have a name for it now

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The very hour that I submitted my last essay for last semester, I felt a tickly feeling at the back of my throat. My neck stiffened. A headache descended upon me, and my body more-or-less collapsed. I think it was the stress from the previous semester that finally got to me.

After New Year’s Eve, though, I thought I was getting better, but then immediately after class on Tuesday, I started to have a relapse. The headache and sore throat came back with a vengeance, complete with dizziness, neck pain, dry itchy eyes, and swelling at the back of my throat. They were the same symptoms I had back at my parents’ place that I thought had gone away, but much worse than they ever were there. So this morning, I went to the McGill walk-in clinic before it opened, so that I would get a spot, hopefully before class started at 10h.

I’m really quite happy about the timing of the way things turned out. I arrived at 7h45. The clinic opened at 9h. I was 10th in line, so I was processed and saw a nurse by 9h30. She ordered some blood work and a throat swab, which was done by 9h55, just before my class started. The Biomedical Ethics Unit building is literally across the street from Student Health Services, so I got there on time. (I really didn’t want to miss the first class.)

I was given an appointment with a doctor who would interpret the lab results at 11h, so I told my prof, and snuck out of class at five minutes to. I arrived at the clinic at the very moment that the doctor was calling my name in the reception room. She told me that I have Mono (good grief!) and that I have a lot of the Mono. I might also have strep throat, but the throat swab results won’t be ready until tomorrow. I also have a follow-up appointment for next Wednesday. Anyway, the appointment lasted 10 mins, and I was back in my seat by 11h15. The seminar had taken a break and so I didn’t miss very much at all.

But now I think my body is just screwing with me, because after all that, I got home and started to feel better immediately. I haven’t taken any pain-killers all day, and yet I have no headache. I stand up, but I don’t get dizzy. I can concentrate, and I can even swallow like a normal person now. I feel fine.

What this means for me practically is that I can’t go swimming, probably for a week or two, while I’m still infectious. It also means I can’t drink for about a month, and I have to take it easy, physically. The doctor says my liver is sitting about a centimetre below my ribcage, and it usually doesn’t like to live there, because it could get poked by something and start bleeding internally, and it’s having a hard enough time fighting off all the Monos as it is, so I can’t play football or rugby.

I blame the Métro for this. I think that’s where it came from. Too much touching of hand-rails, and I admit that my hand-washing is not always up to code. I’ll let you know whether or not I have strep throat. If I do, it means antibiotics for me!

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2010-604,
    title = {At least I have a name for it now},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2010-01-7,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/01/07/at-least-i-have-a-name-for-it-now/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "At least I have a name for it now" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 07 Jan 2010. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/01/07/at-least-i-have-a-name-for-it-now/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2010, Jan 07). At least I have a name for it now [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2010/01/07/at-least-i-have-a-name-for-it-now/


Tip for surviving a series of major life crises #3

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Take public transportation.

If you’re feeling down, you just might run into a group of people whose infectious happiness is just what you need to beat your feeling of melancholy. And if the people you run into are more depressed, unhappy, angry and ugly than you, you can think about how lucky you are not to be one of them.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2009-537,
    title = {Tip for surviving a series of major life crises #3},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2009-12-19,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2009/12/19/tip-for-surviving-a-series-of-major-life-crises-3/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Tip for surviving a series of major life crises #3" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 19 Dec 2009. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2009/12/19/tip-for-surviving-a-series-of-major-life-crises-3/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2009, Dec 19). Tip for surviving a series of major life crises #3 [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2009/12/19/tip-for-surviving-a-series-of-major-life-crises-3/


Don’t lose your head

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A decapitated stick figure at Atwater Station

A decapitated stick figure at Atwater Station

“I ain’t got no body to call my own.” Heh. Decapitation jokes. Anyway, I saw this at Atwater Station, and thought it was funny.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2009-395,
    title = {Don’t lose your head},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2009-09-8,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2009/09/08/dont-lose-your-head/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Don’t lose your head" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 08 Sep 2009. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2009/09/08/dont-lose-your-head/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2009, Sep 08). Don’t lose your head [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2009/09/08/dont-lose-your-head/


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