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2013 in review

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 810 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 14 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Could Benghazi Attack Sink Obama Election Victory?

In Uncategorized on October 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm

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What A Twit!

In media, Uncategorized on October 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm

The political gaffes they wish they hadn’t tweeted…

Story by: Michael Kaedig

Twitter is fast becoming the most dangerous vehicle for political ammunition. Delivering an immediate kidney punch in just 140 characters, it’s hardly surprising that raging passions and immediate access to a smartphone have created a surge in PR disasters from hot-headed politicians who have tweeted then deleted. As David Cameron famously said “Too many tweets makes a twat.” Isn’t that the truth?

Valerie Trierweiler: Catfight 

François Hollande

François Hollande (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most recently in the news for having affairs with  Socialist president (and then husband of Segolene Royal), Francois  Hollande, as well as the married Conservative politician Patrick Devedjian at the same time, Miss Trierweiler created a stir back in June after sending a Twitter message encouraging voters to support  Segolene Royal’s rival in the parliamentary elections. Miaow!

Jack Welch: Cooking Lessons

Former G.E. boss tweeted “Unbelievable jobs numbers … these Chicago guys will do anything … can’t debate so change numbers,” in response to Preisdent Obama’s announcement during the debate that the September jobs rate stood at 7.8%.  His incredulity was in part because the new numbers brought the unemployment down to below 8% for the first time in the past four years. When grilled by Anderson Cooper, Welch remained unapologetic for his remarks despite admitting that he had no real evidence for his accusations.  Welch now says he should have added a question mark to the tweet, to show he was questioning rather than accusing the Obama administration of outright fraud.

Dorries vs Mensch

Twitter 6x6

After Ms Dorries accused Mrs Mensch of unprofessionalism during the Murdoch trial, in which she left early to pick up her child from school, of  “putting her own ambitions first” and of being “devoid of principle”, fellow Conservative MP Mensch responded with the following tweet:

 “Waking up to find self on the Nadine Dorries naughty step, which is a pity as I spend my entire life worrying about what she thinks (ahem).”

A Weiner For All Seasons

The career of Democratic US Congressman Anthony Weiner was effectively over after he tweeted a sexual photo of himself  to a young supporter. Weinergate proved that if you’ve got skin in the game, you should be mindful how you play it. Embarrassing stuff.

Newsmax.com: Jack Welch: Obama Cooking the Books on Jobs

 Other related articles

Down And Out In London

In Uncategorized on October 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm
LG office passes out groceries with Second Har...

LG office passes out groceries with Second Harvest Food Bank – Dec. 06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Have you got any identification?” a smiling elderly woman asks, her eyebrows crinkling upwards as she continues to question the toothless,

bemused Arab man, who seemingly oblivious to the question, repeats his name and address over and over again.

Another volunteer from the Mission comes over to help, he speaks a little more forcefully, “Identification. Your passport?”

His efforts are met with a quizzical look from the man, who furrows his brows in confusion then repeats his name again. The tattooed volunteer throws his arms up in the air in an exasperated gesture of defiance before muttering under his breath, “I just don’t know why they keep doing this.” The subject of his frustration being either a case worker, or a social worker; in any case, he was referring to ‘the man’ rather than the man before him.

Sucking on a tea soaked bourbon biscuit whilst waiting for the Food Bank pick up, I remembered the confusion of moving to another country and the awful silences when I was pressed for an answer in the gaps between sentences of people jabbering at me with an alien tongue. I studied the man before showing him my own passport in the hope that a visual aid would help to trigger his understanding. His eyes brightened. A flash of light!

“Paszport”  he articulated slowly, as the Mission workers smiled and heaved a sigh of relief, only to realise that their sentiments were a little premature. “I lost my passport.”

Closed and Open Spaces

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm
Story by: Roane Swindon 

Carlton Centre

One cannot truly love Johannesburg if one does not embrace its contradictions.

And the city is indeed full of them. In one day, you could witness the extreme wealth of Sandton City and its patrons juxtaposed alongside the wan, thin faces of beggars at almost every street corner. You can see the race to get to work every week day, and compare it to leisurely weekends at the mall or playing soccer in the park. You can experience it at an entertainment event, where Steve Hofmeyr and Gumboot dancers show off their respective yet very different talents in the same arena.

But for me, Johannesburg’s closed and open spaces are the most alluring contradictions. The city is filled with venues and places of interest to cater to all tastes, and its outdoor arenas are something to take pride in. The city has also just received the 2012 Arbor Award for its green spaces.

It would be impossible to list the spaces of the city because of the sheer number of them. The city is also so close to other closed and open spaces that they are almost incorporated into the city’s wider expanse. I speak of Hartbeespoort Dam and the Cradle of Humankind, which are about an hour away, yet complete any true discovery of Johannesburg. Even the capital, Pretoria can be included in the itinerary.

Maropeng Cradle of Humankind

My favourite closed spaces in the city consist mostly of creative arenas, such as the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Joburg Theatre, the Victory Theatre, and even the AFDA campus in Auckland Park. I have not been to the art gallery in some time, but it has always been one of my favourite Joburg spots. The Victory Theatre is one of the city’s oldest heritage theatres, and its unique interior boasts one of the most intimate settings. Joburg Theatre is a complete contrast to the Victory: its interiors are more spacious, more opulent and modern, but every space is unique.

The 50-storey Carleton Centre is the place to go if you want a bird’s eye view of the city. It has been the tallest building in Africa for 39 years, and though it has lost some of its glamour, the sight from the top is truly something to behold.

If you like shopping, Montecasino is a great entertainment destination. The exterior resembles an ancient Tuscan city, and as you walk through the passages of the casino complex you are greeted by the streets of a little town in Italy, complete with a vintage Fiat covered with parking tickets, strings of laundry suspended overhead, and a painted sky – you lose time in the centre.

However, you cannot have closed spaces without open spaces, and most places make use of both of these aspects. Montecasino, for example, has an amazing bird and reptile garden just outside its doors, while a courtyard is host to events such as the SA Tattoo and international tennis. The Johannesburg Art Gallery is also such a space, as it displays its art in alternately quiet and internal spaces, and out in the open where the art is meant to weather the Joburg thunderstorms.

The best open spaces in the city are its parks. The city was awarded with the coveted National 2012 Arbor City, which is a symbol of the city’s commitment to greening and green spaces. One of my favourite parks in the city is Zoo Lake, which is just across the road from the Johannesburg Zoo. If I have nothing better to do, there is almost nothing I enjoy more than taking a paddle boat out to the centre of the lake to feed bread to the swarms of geese that surround you.

Zoo Lake

One of my most recent visits that has made it to my list of favourites is the Harties Aerial Cableway at Hartbeespoort Dam. The cableway has been in disrepair for several years, but I was completely unaware that it even existed until I met my husband. It has been restored with the help of a reputable Swiss company, and is now of the top quality in the world. The cableway is also the longest in Africa, and a picnic at the top, overlooking the expanse of the Hartbeespoort Dam, which was completed in 1925, is the order of the day.

One can see that Johannesburg is a city of delights, and its spaces will open your heart and make you love its contradictions.

Why I love Julian Castro

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2012 at 9:58 am

 

If  the energy and dynamism of Castro’s speech at the Texas DNC wasn’t enough to have you infused with pro-Democrat elation, I’d have to say you were made of stone. Even at the tender age of 37 (and looking at least a decade younger), this guy is one slick politician. He is the first Latino mayor elected in San Antonio, winning a staggering 82% of the vote during his 2011 re-election campaign; in giving the keynote address at

 

English: Cropped picture of Julian Castro at a...

English: Cropped picture of Julian Castro at a UTSA event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

the Democratic National Convention, he became the first ever Hispanic to deliver a keynote address at the convention.

 

And boy, what a speech! His origin story is touching: he spoke of his Mexican grandmother, who was a Mexican orphan who emigrated to the US in 1920 and later worked as a cleaner to fund his father’s education. He also spoke of his charismatic twin brother, Joaquin Castro, who is to run for Texas’s 20th District Seat. With a gleaming smile, slicked back hair, and shining youthful exuberance, it’s hard not to make the comparison between Castro and a certain young senator who just happened to do pretty well…

 

Julian Castro’s powerful yet subtle condemnation of Romney as out of touch with average Americans was perfectly crafted and executed, and his personal warmth came through in a way that Romney/Ryan have never quite managed to affect. I, for one, am really excited to see where he will go next – how delicious would it be to taunt those Republican ‘Obama=Socialist’ haters with Castro on the VP ticket. Obama/Castro 2016!

 

 

Assange Overheard

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

 

English: Julian Assange, photo ("sunny co...

English: Julian Assange, photo (“sunny country background”http://web.archive.org/web/20060712184552/http://iq.org/index.html) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

How long can Assange hunker down in the safe haven of the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge? Recently he predicted it could take up to one year for him to be able to leave. He has certainly got lawyers scrambling to get a grip on the case, and on him! During a mobile phone conversation I overheard on a train to London on Friday night, a lawyer working on the Assange case complained that “Julian isn’t answering his emails”, and sighed with exasperation (about his legal aid team?) “I said I’d help, but they are all away at the moment”. She finished the conversation on a note of resignation “I just don’t know what to suggest”. Just how long Julian will be able to avoid extradition, at this point, is anybody’s guess…

 

 

Gun Violence, Media and Politics

In media, Uncategorized on July 27, 2012 at 2:39 pm
Federally-supported gun violence intervention ...

Federally-supported gun violence intervention program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since the Colorado massacre, debate has been raging in the media over America’s gun laws.  Republican pundits such as Bill O’Reilly and Greg Gutfeld have referenced similar cases of shootings in countries not traditionally associated with  gun violence,  like the horrific rampage in a Norwegian summer camp  in 2011, to make the case that the issue is the psychological profile of the individuals committing the crimes, and not America’s gun laws which need to be reviewed.

Certainly, in the case of  Jared Loughner who killed six bystanders and shot thirteen others, including US representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona last year, fellow classmates had expressed concern over his psychological state.

With the scandal over 28 year old George Zimmerman’s shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin having only just disappeared from the media spotlight, to claim that other countries suffer from as much gun violence if not more seems besides the point.  The CDC US crime survey taken in 2005 puts the total firearm related death rate in the US at 10.27 per 100,000 population. This is somewhere in-between Mexico and the Philippines, but significantly higher than Argentina. According to these statistics, the US homicide rate is only slightly lower than that of Zimbabwe.

List of countries by firearm-related death rate

This is a historical list of countries by firearm-related death-rate per 100,000 population in one year.

Country Total firearm-related death rate Homicides Suicides Unintentional deaths Year Sources and notes
 South Africa 74.57 74.57 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Colombia 51.77 51.77 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 El Salvador 50.36 50.36 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Jamaica 47.44 47.44 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Honduras 46.70 46.70 NA NA 2007 OAS 2011[2]
 Guatemala 38.52 38.52 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Swaziland 37.16 37.16 NA NA 2004 UNODC 2006[2]
 Brazil 14.15 10.58 0.73 0.28 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Panama 12.92 12.92 NA NA 2010 OAS 2011[2]
 Estonia 12.74 8.07 3.13 0.93 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Mexico 12.07 9.88 0.91 1.27 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 United States 10.27 4.14 5.71 0.23 2004-2006 CDC[4]
 Philippines 9.46 9.46 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Argentina 9.19 2.11 3.05 0.32 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Paraguay 7.35 7.35 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Nicaragua 7.14 7.14 NA NA 2007 OAS 2011[2]
 Finland 6.86 0.86 5.78 0.12 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Northern Ireland 6.82 5.24 1.34 0.12 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Switzerland 6.4 0.58 5.61 0.13 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 France 6.35 0.44 5.14 0.11 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Canada 4.78 0.76 3.72 0.22 1992 Krug 1998[3]
 Zimbabwe 4.75 4.75 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Austria 4.56 0.42 4.06 0.05 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Norway 4.39 0.3 3.95 0.12 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Portugal 3.72 1.28 1.28 0.21 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Belgium 3.48 0.6 2.56 0.06 1990 Krug 1998[3]
 Costa Rica 3.32 3.32 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Uruguay 3.24 3.24 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Slovenia 3.07 0.35 2.51 0.2 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Barbados 3 3 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Israel 3 0.72 1.84 0.13 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Italy 2.95 1.66 1.11 0.11 1992 Krug 1998[3]
 Australia 2.94 0.44 2.35 0.11 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 New Zealand 2.66 0.17 2.14 0.09 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Denmark 2.6 0.23 2.25 0.04 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Azerbaijan 2.38 1.47 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Sweden 2.36 0.18 2.09 0.03 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Slovakia 2.17 2.17 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Peru 1.87 1.87 NA NA 2009 OAS 2011[2]
 Czech Republic 1.77 1.77 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Germany 1.57 0.22 1.17 0.04 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Greece 1.5 0.59 0.84 0.04 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Republic of Macedonia 1.28 1.28 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Kuwait 1.25 0.36 0.06 0 1995 Krug 1998[3]
 Hungary 1.21 0.23 0.88 0.09 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Ireland 1.21 0.03 0.94 0.11 1991 Krug 1998[3]
 Latvia 1.2 1.2 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 India 0.93 0.93 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Spain 0.9 0.21 0.43 0.25 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Bulgaria 0.77 0.77 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Netherlands 0.7 0.36 0.31 0.01 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Scotland 0.58 0.19 0.33 0.02 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Moldova 0.47 0.47 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Lithuania 0.46 0.46 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 England/ Wales 0.46 0.07 0.33 0.01 2002 Krug 1998[3]
 Taiwan 0.42 0.13 0.12 0.11 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Belarus 0.38 0.38 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Ukraine 0.35 0.35 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 Poland 0.29 0.29 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
 Singapore 0.24 0.07 0.17 0 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Hong Kong 0.19 0.12 0.07 0 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Mauritius 0.19 0 0.09 0.09 1993 Krug 1998[3]
 Qatar 0.18 0.18 NA NA 2000 UNODC 2000[1]
 South Korea 0.13 0.04 0.02 0.05 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Japan 0.07 0.02 0.04 0 1994 Krug 1998[3]
 Chile 0.06 0.06 NA NA 2002 UNODC 2002[5]
Source: Wikipedia.org

Protecting Second Amendment rights is a hot-button issue for most Americans, but the fact is the misuse of firearms is a cultural problem. US citizens were appalled when then senator Obama commented in 2008:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” Obama said. “And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” .

Perhaps it’s time to consider, was he really so wrong? A couple of days ago, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises and a chill went down my spine as Ann Hathaway’s character commented to Batman during an action scene “I know how you feel about using guns, but…”. It may only be a Hollywood movie, but guns are as characteristically American as apple pie. It’s figuring out how to manage them that presents the hardest task.

67 Minutes for International Mandela Day

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm
English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...

English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo dates from 1937. http://www.anc.org.za/people/mandela/index.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Story by: Roane Swindon

South Africa’s largest icon recently celebrated his 94th birthday, and his nation marked International Mandela Day by giving 67 minutes of their time to a charitable act. The 67 minutes are a symbol for the time former SA president Nelson Mandela spent fighting for the freedom of the people of the country.

I can say 67 minutes a year is not enough to make a real difference, and a lot of South African companies acknowledged this fact by investing and promising much more time and money to a good cause. As an example, popular radio station Jacaranda 94.2 adopted a school for the entire year.

However, many South Africans made an effort to do something on the day, and for many, it’s the only charity work they’ll do for the entire year. Driving back from my hour and a half service with my team from work, we discussed the fact that 67 minutes was not long enough and it was also not acceptable to do something good for only a single day in the year.

The problem for many South Africans, though, is that they have good intentions, but are not eager to commit to a charitable project, especially in the face of the seeming futility of helping out. People got caught up in the spirit of Madiba Day, especially after massive companies promised huge donations that really make a difference.

The problem for the normal man on the street though is that small offerings for charity feel like a drop in the ocean for most of us. It is disheartening to see the rampant homelessness amongst the population, and we are faced with poverty on a daily basis. Add to this the fact that the government is seen to be squandering taxpayers’ money at the expense of “generational fun days” and paying for the medical costs of former political cadres convicted of fraudulent activities, and the average South African is completely downcast.

So what is the solution for the average human being trying to make a difference to the lives of those around them amidst the political posturing that goes on around them?

It’s easy, in my opinion. Spend 67 minutes of your year on a charitable act, but whatever you do, treat your fellow human being with respect and courtesy every day. Smile when you say thank you to the lady packing your grocery bag or to the hawker offering you goods, even if you’re saying no to him. Stand aside to let someone past you first, ask the security guard how they are, and give away your last sandwich to the beggar standing on the corner – yes, even if he’ll possibly throw it down on the floor.

All in all, you might spend five minutes of your day being nice to those around you, and in the end you’ll be spending almost 2,000 minutes making a small difference. It might only be a drop in the ocean, but the smallest drop can create a ripple.

10 ways to speak like a native English speaker

In stuff, Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Some students never learn! Do you ever feel disheartened by your slow progress with learning English? Perhaps you feel ‘stuck’ at a certain level, as though you’ve reached a plateau? Actually, this is a common misconception students often voice. In the initial stages of language learning, you may feel that you are making rapid progress, as you continue to learn you will be honing the knowledge you have already gained, working on your accent, and acquiring new vocabulary, idiomatic English phrases and phrasalverbs. Even if you’re relatively fluent, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re speaking accurately. Perhaps you need to work on improving your pronunciation? Above all, it’s important to stay focused and motivated – don’t get complacent!

English Language Camp 2008 SMK Taman Rinting 2...

English Language Camp 2008 SMK Taman Rinting 2 #224 (Photo credit: Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso))

1) Be aware of your teacher’s accent

It sounds obvious, but often students don’t realise they are taking on the traits of their language teacher. Often students who have had North American teachers will develop an approximation of a  North American accent, in addition to using North American English (quite different to British English).  Within any country there will be variations on accent and dialect, depending on where you come from.  A Scottish teacher could have ESL students who will sound very different from students being taught by a teacher from Wales. Find out where your teacher is from and expose yourself to native English speakers from other areas of the UK to familiarise yourself with the different accents and UK dialects.

2) Work, work, work on your pronunciation

Get a phoneme chart and learn them! It really is on of the most useful things you can do to improve your pronunciation. Record your spoken English on your phone, or your computer and play it back to identify continued mistakes in your pronunciation which you can work to iron out.

3) Use, but don’t overuse, phrasal verbs and idioms

Yes, phrasal verbs and idioms are great. Idiomatic English is fun and easy to remember because it is very visual. Generally, students tackle these at a higher level because they are difficult to incorporate into everyday spoken English in a natural way. Used effectively, they can impress people; used ineffectively, they can highlight that you are foreign.

Student teacher in China teaching children Eng...

Student teacher in China teaching children English. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) Review basic structures from time to time

Even if you think you have the present perfect down, you can still benefit from going back to the basics from time to time and just checking that you have been using the structures correctly. I’ve had students who took a look at exercises on the Conditionals and were astonished to discover that they had been misusing the Third Conditional for 4 years! Occasionally looking back at old grammar books or doing some exercises online should help you to pick up on any mistakes you have been making.

5) Keep building your core vocabulary

Keep a glossary of new words, and carry a notepad around with you to jot down new lexical items as you travel around. If you make a ‘mental note’, the chances are you will have forgotten what the word is by the time you get home.

6) Socialise

There is no better way to learn a language that fully immersing yourself in the culture. Socialising with native English speakers will give to an opportunity to learn idiomatic English in a natural environment, and to speak outside of the classroom. It will also give you an insight into British culture, traditions, and English people, helping you to think English!

7) Utilise every situation to maximise your education

Whether it’s a trip to the seaside, a visit to the dentist, or a date with a hot girl/boy, each situation is a chance for you to learn English in a new context. This should help you to build your vocabulary and to continue to improve.

Student preparing for exams

Student preparing for exams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8) Work on your mistakes

Once your aware that you make repeated mistakes in a particular area – for example,  misusing prepositions of time, articles, or mixing up the tenses – you can work to improve this. Take a look at some exercises to clarify the rules, then utilise the correct form in your spoken English. Unlearning bad habits is one of the most difficult things to do; however, it’s difficult but NOT impossible, and with hard work and attention to detail you can get past your mistakes.

 9) Avoid over-monitoring your speech

Worrying about what you’re going to say next is a huge barrier to fluency in English. Be careful, think before you speak, but don’t freeze up completely if you can’t work out how to use a particular tense. Just find a different way to say what you want to say. Above all, don’t worry! Making mistakes is part of the learning process and most people will be kind, helpful and understanding. They will appreciate that you are trying to communicate in English.

USFK Good Neighbor English Camp students visit...

USFK Good Neighbor English Camp students visit USAG-Humphreys (Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys)

10) Stay confident and motivated

Setting goals for yourself and being clear in what you want to achieve is probably the best way to stay motivated. But, try not to set unrealistic targets for yourself as this could lead you to become disheartened if you feel you haven’t achieved everything you set out to do. Most people seriously underestimate their linguistic abilities and sound much more natural and clear than they imagine. Be confident, enjoy studying and speaking English, and you’ll be amazed at your progress. Good luck!