a blog on tech, politics, life and zombies


The Inability to Relax

I’ve found myself almost wholly unable to relax this vacation, so far. It has nothing to do with the vacation itself. Though there have been two days of somewhat stressful, unfamiliar drives, those didn’t stress me overly much, in retrospect. There’s just a kind of base level, inescapable stress right now.

I know they say you should stay away from work email over vacation, but I found myself getting nervous about what was waiting for me. I usually find it eases my mind to check work email a bit over the weekends or breaks. Nothing huge, I check it on my phone. I have it on a separate app which is under no circumstances allowed to send me any kind of notifications. My boss has my personal email if there’s something somewhat urgent, and my cell phone number in an absolute emergency. And she’s good about knowing what’s what.

So I’ve been checking and there’s been nothing urgent. Couple little things, and some people seem to not be getting my out of office email, but as far as I can tell that’s not my fault. 

So why can’t I shake this base stress level? Do I need some kind of detox, to remember that the office will likely not burn down around me? That the few projects I left unfinished are in no way urgent? I spent the first few days in one of, arguably, the most beautiful places in the world, marvelling at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. And yes, I checked work email from my balcony, watching the sunrise over the Rockies, and felt good about it. But since then it’s all weighed on me. Am I spending too much money? Is work okay? Is there work or other such things I should be doing, instead of sitting back and zoning out with a book, or Hearthstone, or WoW? Hell, even this is a bit of a concession to the part of me that says I should be productive (blogging being more productive, I suppose).

I used to be so good at this. Now I just worry a lot. Not sure what the key is. I started working on the WoW/gaming blog I’ve been planning on setting up forever, just to feel productive. 

Anyway, practice makes perfect, right?


Hotel Coffee and the Sunrise

The nice thing about coming west is you wake up earlier. I’m used to Eastern time, where it’s about 10am as I write this. I’d be finishing my first cup of coffee now in the office and likely would’ve just finished reviewing the weekend’s emails.

Instead, I’m sitting on a hotel balcony, cheap hotel coffee (which is surprisingly okay) steaming in the cold air. I checked work emails to feel important, if I’m honest with you, and there wasn’t much. Replied to what I could to show dedication and initiative (doing it clearly on vacation) and then texted my mother to show her the view. Periscoped it too just for kicks. Someone kept asking me to say something, which was a bit odd.

From here I can see the sun rising over the mountains, warming them, that bit of steam like substance forming a haze over some areas. I’m cold as I write this but it’s worth it for the view. Absolutely.

Colorado is amazing so far though. Denver is this city full of culture, growing rapidly, with a wide cross section of people. It still feels oddly half-populated though compared to Toronto. My brother-in-law took us around to several hot spots on Saturday and it was incredibly easy to get a seat, wave down a friendly bartender. Each spot had a massive selection of beer and cocktails, many of them local. And amazing food. One of the best burgers I’ve ever had, period. 

But Vail…I kept telling Klutzy it feels like something out of DisneyWorld, which to me is one of the highest compliments I can pass on. Storybook almost, with its German-inspired ski town feel. Hundreds of neat little shops. Surprisingly delicious pizza (which I may raid for breakfast after this). We went up the mountain today, the air so thin that even a short walk winded me. But the view was worth it. Absolutely.

Even driving here was amazing. A bit hair-raising, yes, down mountain roads in an unfamiliar, older beast of a car, generously loaned by my brother-in-law. But gorgeous. Driving by these little pieces of civilization carved out of rock and stone, at the foot of these behemoths of land. Old mining towns, the structures still there, clinging to life. I wanted to stop and look at things approximately 4000 times.

I’ll close this out now because my ass is getting numb from propping my laptop up on my legs in a weird position. And the sun has nearly risen. But dear God, is this place magical.


Falling Out of Love With Travel and Patton Oswalt

Today was a bit of a tough travel day. Normally I love travel and airports. Any excuse to visit them, to see people arriving from various places in the world, families reuniting, etc. It warms my heart. Today was tough though. 

I was up late packing (entirely my own fault) and we had an early flight, which means our alarm was set for 4:45. I managed to misset it, but I woke up anyway, because nerves. Made it to the airport in good time, but feeling terrible. Something about waking up early always messes with my body, not just from a fatigue but from a stomach sort of thing. I spent most of the walk through security and customs just hating myself. You actually clear US customs in Toronto, as they have a post there. It’s weird. 

My body ached, I was lugging luggage (ha) and a little warm because I decided to dress to impress rather than dress for comfort. I love the idea of being the guy traveling in a blazer with a pocket square but to be honest I kinda wished I’d worn sweats by the time we got through security.

Everything took much longer than I expected, which meant I barely had time to scarf down a terrible breakfast (seriously, YYZ, be better) before we had to board for our flight like half an hour early (cause apparently no one else can follow Porter’s example and board like 10 minutes before).

BUT I did see Patton Oswalt there, famous comedian and actor. Saw him in security and later he was eating breakfast at the same shitty place we did. I didn’t say anything or really acknowledge him other than to quietly nudge Klutzy and then explain who he was and why it was a big deal. 

I do wonder if I’m falling out of love with travel a bit. I used to love airplanes and flying for the novelty, but I worry a bit that eventually I’m going to admit it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable.

But, then I look out my window to the right and see a brand new city, state and time zone I’ve never been in, and think okay, it’s still pretty fucking cool.

Plus I mean I saw Patton Oswalt.

Now I have to stop writing because we’re in the emergency exit row and my tray table doesn’t really come all the way over and I’m leaning slightly forward to type this and ow.

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Learning to Lose

I never played competitive sports when I was a kid. Not really. I did some track and cross country and a bit of soccer when I was really young, but I never felt like I even had a shot of winning those. Never did team sports or anything really. Always hated them. But I've started to wonder if I missed out on something there.

So I'm a big fan of the game Hearthstone, by Blizzard. For those who may not be familiar, it's a card game much like Magic the Gathering, involving playing minions and spells to deplete the opponents health or kill his minions. Whoever gets the other player to zero health first wins. It's a fun game with lots of strategy and pretty animations, and Klutzy and I are both big fans of it.

But I do have trouble with it sometimes. Because, to be frank, I'm not that good. I mean I'm better than a lot of folks, sure, but I lose far more than I'd like. And that gets to me a bit. After 2 or 3 losses in a row I start to get angry at myself. Never really at them, always at myself. I curse myself out. I remember the guy on the Hearthstone subreddit who said I sucked when I posted about some difficulties I was having. I think of all the people who say they have no problem getting higher in the ladder system than I do. Who say the deck I'm playing is great and they're winning all the time with it.

It's funny because it hits me most when I'm doing something that matters, where the loss has a consequence. Hearthstone has a ranked system where for each win you go up a rank, for each loss you go down a rank. Each rank has a few stars or levels in it. So as I right this I'm at Rank 16 with 2 stars. The number of stars required to advance changes from level to level. Your rank is cut in half at the end of every month, and you get some rewards based on the highest rank you achieved that month (regardless of if you dropped back a few ranks).

So playing ranked is stressful, but rewarding to me. I had set a goal for myself of rank 16 this month and when I got there I'm almost scared to play again. Even though I now am guaranteed the rewards for rank 16, it would still feel bad for me to drop to 17.

It's funny to contrast my reactions to Klutzy's. I often avoid ranked, playing unranked modes (which don't offer the same rewards) to unwind. She plays ranked most of the time, since in ranked you tend to be better matched with an opponent (as the matching algorithm takes into account both your ranks, whereas in unranked mode it's more random). And really why not? You might as well play it and have a chance at gaining a rank and therefore more rewards at the end of the season. And for her the losses  aren't particularly punishing. She shrugs them off as bad luck, bad card draw, a better player, or what have you.

I'm not good at that same shrug off. I can do it once or twice but then I start to get angry. I start to wonder what's wrong with me, why I can't make this great deck work. And I extrapolate it. My failure in Hearthstone means clearly I'm not intelligent. This is why I didn't get into grad school, why I've had trouble finding a new job, also why I'm overweight (somehow). It all ties together, and the guy on the other end is sitting there, of course, savouring his victory and laughing at my idiocy.

I've wondered if this difficulty has something to do with a lack of team sports in my youth. If I never learned to lose well. I've started to remind myself that, going into ranked, no matter what, is good for me. A loss teaches me how to lose. A win is, well, a win. But it's definitely been tough. But it's growth, and that's a good thing. It's funny, the avenues we can find for growth, if we look for them.


The Lure of the Simple Life

I’m writing this from a small patio of a wine and coffee shop in Jordan Village, near Niagara Falls, ON (and posting it much later). My wife is asleep in the hotel room next door (because I woke her early to get breakfast) and I’m seriously debating if I need something alcoholic.
I think I do. Be right back.
Okay, alcohol acquired. A nice chardonnay. 
I’ve thought a lot lately about achievement. If I took the wrong road in life, if I should’ve worked on my math, gone in to business school, been some kind of banker or something. I’d love to tell you I’ve followed my passion, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t passionate about HR, but it’s been so difficult to find a job, that I feel like I’m years behind many of my university and high school friends, in terms of where I’d like to be in my career. Some of that is my own fault, for being comfortable where I was and not, perhaps, applying more far and wide and working harder at finding a new job, but as I sit here, looking out at what I think is a Ferrari outside a nearby restaurant, I wonder a bit if I shouldn’t have made different choices. If I shouldn’t have pushed myself more. If I will ever get to the point of comfort with my job, my finances.
But at the same time I wonder if I really want that. Ferraris are a lot of work. They involve a lot of time spent at the office, a lot of time spent in seminars and professional development, and a lot of money spent developing yourself. Maybe I’m buying into a narrative that folks with a lot of money work hard for it, I’m not sure. Is the Investment Banker’s job harder than mine, or does it just require more training up front? Assuming the former, is it worth the long hours? The pressure? 
I’ve often yearned for the idea of working fewer hours. Working a 4 day week, for example, and wondered if I’d trade a fifth of my pay for that now. It’s not even something I could consider, financially, right now, but it’s a thought I’ve had.
We’ve spent the last couple days around Niagara, driving by farms and vineyards, and through small towns and shops. We point out houses we like, and wonder at the idea of eventually moving out here, growing grapes, making wine, and running an animal rescue. We started plotting out names for that eventual property and winery today.
It looks like a simple life, but it is deceptive. One of our favourite stories if of the winemaker who had to miss the birth of one of his children, since it was the only day he could press the Syrah. It seems simple and easy here, but I’m sure it’s not. It’s hard work, often physical, always emotional. I’m sure these little shops here don’t make much, and I’m sure a lot of these wineries operate on thin margins, or require huge up front investments, or extensive background knowledge. 
But the idea of something different, something simpler, speaks to me when I’m down here. I yearn to get away from the rush of downtown, from the pressure of my job. But I wonder what I’d sacrifice for that. WoW? Wine? Times like this, a Saturday where I can sit on a patio with a glass of wine and write? I want it all somehow, the simple life where I can drive the Ferrari.  I don’t know if it’s doable without some advance lottery numbers or severe mucking with the space time continuum. And I still can’t decide which way I’d rather lean, to have a more steady, restful life with fewer amenities, or a busier one with more, filled with rich food, good wine and fast cars.
Likely, like most people, I’ll end up charting a middle path, as I try to do with most of life. But places like Niagara, like Jordan Village, always leave me wondering about the simpler path, about something quieter. For now, I’m going to enjoy the quiet, close my laptop, and sip this very fine Chardonnay. 
And ogle the Ferrari a bit. I mean, I’m only human. 

Confidence and Telepathy

I cannot read minds.
This may sound like a relatively mundane revelation to you, but it was stunning to me, when I read it recently.
I’d heard it before, of course. I think my therapist or a friend said something similar to me, but I definitely needed a reminder. You see, I have confidence issues. Huge. Self-worth issues, what have you. Every time I do just about anything I’m mentally preparing the counter-argument to someone who thinks I should do things differently. Every time I take a few minutes off work to use the bathroom, on the walk back to the office I start mentally preparing how to defend my bathroom break to my boss. “Sorry boss, my stomach was bugging me,” stuff like that. Every time someone speed walks past me on the walk to the train (as many people do, because I’m short and have short legs and generally hate walking fast) I come up with something to say when they, of course, inevitably, shoot some smart comment at me for daring to walk slowly (I’ll note this has happened a stunning total of zero times). 
This was important though, because it reminded me that I cannot, in fact, know what people are thinking of me. In all likelihood the person speed walking past me hasn’t given me a second thought. Ditto for my boss when I’ve went to use the bathroom.
It’s the same thing in personal relationships though. I always worry that Klutzy is deftly not saying when she’s angry, and that of course I’m reading what she’s not saying correctly and she’s secretly hating me, despite the fact that our whole relationship is basically built on being honest and forthright with each other. It might take us a few minutes, but we always get there, and it’s never as bad as (or even what I) think it is.
Even with my friends I often worry about what they’re thinking, that they secretly hate me for x y z. It’s hard for me to remember that, if I were to reverse any situation, I wouldn’t hate my friends, or would forgive them, or what have you. I’m special, you see. I’m not worth that extra consideration. 
I’ve been trying to work on my confidence a lot, because it impacts everything. Trying to trust myself, and in turn work on trusting others. It’s not easy. But the silly revelation of the fact that I cannot read minds, that I cannot know what someone else is thinking, was huge for me. It’s important to remember you absolutely 100% cannot know what someone else is thinking, and most of the time, it’s important to trust them at their word. Cause in the end, really, what else can you do?
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I’ve made mistakes in my life. Personally, professionally, in all aspects. I make them…if not daily then likely weekly. A missed deadline, a misspoken word, anything and everything. 
I say this because I think we don’t say this enough. I think we curate our lives too carefully, on Twitter and on social media. I get a bit frustrated when people seem to be only sharing the positive things in their lives. Life is not all positives. If it is…well, then you’re very lucky, or you’re not doing too much. Or more likely you’re just not being honest, either in public or with yourself.
One of the difficult things for me is to admit to mistakes and to remember they aren’t the end of the world. I’ll never forget what a friend said to me once when I was worried sick about a mistake at work: “Did anyone die?”. We want to do the best at our work, absolutely, and in no way am I saying not to take mistakes seriously. But there is no point in beating yourself up over it. It happened, all you can do is learn from it. And guess what? You can be perfect, you can do everything right, and things can still slip through your fingers. It’s still possible to make a mistake, no matter how cautious you are, no matter how many precautions you take.
And someone will say that that’s terrible, and that something like 99% is not good enough, as a friend said his boss said to me. And…I’ll be honest, I don’t think that makes sense. We should all strive for 100% perfection, of course, but for it not to be good enough is just not realistic. 
I think it’s important to be honest about mistakes. To own up to them, and to share when we make them. I think it helps normalize it. I think to expect that perfection is unrealistic, and sets a dangerous standard.
So, I’ve fucked up, occasionally. I’ve caught a couple recently, despite my best efforts. I slightly hate to be that guy who always asks a question at the end of the blog post (cause I feel like it’s a bit of a blatant grab for comments) but I’ll ask this here, and feel free to tell me here, over email, or Twitter, or smoke signal, or telepathic emanation:
What was the last mistake you made?
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What You Carry With You

Scattered around this vacation house (which we will soon be leaving, sadly) are things about being inspired. It’s part of the name of the company we booked through, you see, so it’s everywhere (even in the WiFi password). But it’s made me think about how vacations can be inspiring. I always find I write more around vacation time. My drafts folder is filled with stuff from around BiSC and traveling. Something about getting away from my usual life seems to inspire me a bit, in more than a few ways.

And I think that’s good. Obviously. But I think you can pull different things from different places. This place has instilled in me a few things that I hope I can carry with me. It would be all too easy to just go back and slip into the usual routines. There’s a reason for that. Ruts are well-defined and comfortable. And I don’t have any dramatic changes in mind, to be clear. My New Year’s Resolutions are really more goals, and most of them aren’t SMART, in that they’re not whatever the fuck that acronym stands for (I know the M is measurable, the A is achievable, the T is time-sensitive, but I can’t remember the rest. Bad HR guy. Bad!). But I don’t think they always need to be. One of them, for example, was to be a better husband. I don’t think I’m a bad one now (nor would my wife call me one) but I will always, always strive to be better, because she deserves nothing less than every measure of my striving.

But I started writing this, sitting here on the porch, when it’s probably a little too cold to do so (but I’m doing it anyway cause it’s DEFINITELY too cold to do so at home now) because I wanted to think about what I wanted to carry with me from this place.

Activity. The notion that one should go out and do things. I’m not saying there won’t be WoW-filled weekends with the TV in the background and the cats cuddling up with us. But I’d like to find ways to get some more activity into my life. I do really want to find time to get better at golf come the warmer weather. There’s such a fun culture around it. Reading about golf reminds me of how I felt when I first started getting in to WoW, that I was on the cusp of this huge subculture of people who shared this hobby, that there was just so much to explore. Golf can take you to beautiful places, give you chances to bond with friends and family, and get you out and being more active. I’m not saying I’m going back to Boot Camp (that was fun, but not sustainable, I don’t think, for me) but I’m saying I’d like to go back to the gym and spend some time on the treadmill. I’d like to try and take the dog for longer walks on the weekends. I’d like to get back to yoga. I think trying to commit to any one activity hasn’t worked for me, but maybe I can look at doing something on a regular basis. That’s what I’ve seen here, people going and running around and doing things. And as much as it may go against my urge when resting (which is to just sleep and rest the day away), I think it would be good for me.

Kindness. It’s a cliche that the South is polite, and I’m sure part of what we’ve seen here has been simple resort politeness, but everyone here has been so incredibly nice. People say hello as you walk by and wish you Happy Holidays and whatnot. People are warm, and happy, and I’d like to try and carry some of that into my daily life. It’s too easy to just slide into grumpiness in my day to day life. I know there are times where I’m short with people because I didn’t sleep well, or I’m stressed about something, or something. I’m not saying I’m going to be perfect. But I’d like to try and carry some of that Southern hospitality into my life. 

Achievement. I’m not totally sure how to put this into words, as it’s a kind of nebulous notion I get from folks here, but it’s the idea of striving for better. Of working hard and playing hard. Of not being afraid to take a work call while on vacation, because it’s important and because one or two won’t break everything. It’s the idea of working a bit over vacation, because you take pride in your work and your work is important, regardless if you’re the President or a salesman. I think it’s also about taking pride in yourself, about dressing up nicely, about taking pride and care in your appearance, because you deserve that. Not because you should, not because you must, but because you choose to. I’m not saying be a workaholic wearing a suit all the time, but there’s a care you can take that won’t destroy your personal life and won’t break your bank.

So that’s what I’m carrying with me as I leave Georgia. Now, I must go get ready to leave, sadly. I will absolutely miss it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be back here, but damn am I glad I got the chance to come here.

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Thieves of Joy and Southern Hospitality

I’m writing this from the porch of a house on Sea Island, in Georgia (the US state, not the country). There’s beer beside me, my wife is napping a couple rooms over, and my in-laws are out of the house. I keep wanting to write. I find vacations always make me want to write, when I’m relaxed, taken away from my daily concerns, and have the time to really get into my own head. Anyone who knows me (or takes a look at this blog) can tell you I have introspection down to a science (if not a fetish) but vacation seems to allow me to order things better. To get a handle on them.

And this has been a lovely one so far. Everyone here, both my in-laws and the folks working the resort, have been incredibly welcoming and understanding, from the guy who helped me learn to shoot a rifle to the guy who lifted me off a horse when I found myself paralyzed getting off it. I don’t know if I’ll ever come back here after this (everything here is quite expensive, though you distinctly get what you pay for) but it’s been a wonderful experience so far.

Being here has challenged me a bit, however. I’m surrounded by people who, by most definitions, are more successful than I am. Now realistically my overall life success rate has gone up in the last few years. I’ve married the love of my life. I’ve bought a house I love. I have cats and a dog now. I have my health, and have even lost a bit of weight in the last few months (which I will likely gain back in this next week or so). In terms of successes, I’ve been knocking them off pretty well.

But I still sit here and feel jealous of people who have more. Who can afford to come here regularly, to spend weekends golfing at fabulous resorts. Who can buy their wives horseback riding lessons. I know I’m young still, and I have hopes that that success will come. One of my big debates is if it can come without losing all my free time, without sacrificing my marriage on the altar of the almighty dollar. The narrative we’ve been taught is that all great success comes with exceedingly hard, brutal, back-breaking, relationship-crushing hard work. I’m hoping, as with most things in my life, I can chart a middle path. 

Part of the problem is that that “success” is elusive. Is it a matter of staying late at my job every day and working weekends (considering my current employer doesn’t have any promotion to offer me)? Is it spending all my free time sending out resumes and going to networking events? Is it going back to school, improving my education? Or is it a matter of blind luck and some combination of the above? My suspicion, again, is that the middle path is the best one for me (hence why I just cleared my work inbox while on vacation). 

There’s a deeper issue here for me, though, which this vacation time has allowed me to uncover a bit. It’s the same reason I shy away from any political debates with my conservative in-laws, and why I hesitate to dive into any conversation. And it’s what makes me compare other lives to mine and feel lesser. It’s my continuing, and deep lack of self confidence.

I shy away from political debates because my self-confidence tells me my beliefs may not be right, because I think them, and what do I know? I don’t read the newspaper or books on economics enough. I don’t follow the news religiously, and I’m not rich or successful and clearly my thoughts would be different if they weren’t coloured by jealousy. It’s weirdly connected to the jealousy, I find. I get angry that I don’t feel good enough. I get angry that I don’t have all the answers, at myself for not being prepared for every debate. 

I’m losing the thread a bit here, but the point is that addressing that self-confidence likely needs to be a priority going forward. I can’t afford therapy, I don’t think, but perhaps I can work on it using the tools I was given by my last therapist, which amounts to better self-talk, to shutting down that voice that tells me I look fat, that I should know better, that my beliefs are not correct/worthwhile because I think them and they’re not backed up by 20 years of experience in the private sector. The lack of self-confidence leaves me vulnerable, and I think doesn’t do me service. 

In another blog, I think, I will go over how I plan to tackle that self-confidence. It might be a bit weird or unorthodox, but hopefully it might be helpful to someone. I mean, if there’s anyone else out there reading this who might have self-confidence issues occasionally.

I’m sure that’s not many of us, right?

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I Watched Them Pass Me By

I'm gonna start out by saying that if you've never gotten the kind of gadget lust that leads someone to upgrade to the latest and greatest every year, this post may not be for you. Please go ahead and read! But it may not make much sense.

Put simply, I've lost my gadget lust. Not entirely mind you. I watched the presentation today eagerly. I'm planning and hoping to get an iPhone Plus when my contract comes due in October, though I may have to wait a bit. And if someone handed my an Apple Watch I'd be over the moon.

But you know what? I've had the same iPhone for 3 years now, a 4S. Some folks who knew me a while back are shocked at that fact. I used to upgrade all the time. Usually by lining up on launch day. I had a ton of fun doing that. But now the gadget lust has kind of passed me by a bit. Oh, I won't pretend I didn't want a 5 or 5S when they came out. That I didn't try to justify needing a new one before the wedding because mine wouldn't last a day on battery alone. And sure, I picked up a new iPad Air to replace an iPad mini and now want the mini again (always want the one I don't have, you see). But even now I don't feel a great need to upgrade my phone. Sure, mine is older now, barely lasts a battery, and some apps crash it regularly (I'm looking at you, Instagram). But it works. I can charge it at work and carry a charging brick for when I'm out and about.

It's weird though, feeling that lust be gone. I watched the Watch presentation feeling like I was outside looking in. Sure, it looked cool. I'd use it and it'd be fun. It might even make me work out more. And when I have some disposable income and decide I need a new watch, I'll probably get one. But not right away. I won't be lining up or going into debt or anything for it.

The funny thing is, though, I don't begrudge those who do, who lust after these things, who replace them yearly. I really don't. I get it, and I still get a little huffy when someone makes fun of those folks. It's their thing. It's their fandom. Let them have it. It was mine once too, but no longer, really. I'm not sure when it changed. Maybe when I bought the house, or at least when it became this realistic idea in my head. But somewhere it kind of passed me by.

That said, I still have every intention of getting a new iPhone Plus when funds allow. And if I happen to win the lottery or get a higher paying new job soon, you bet your ass I'm buying an Apple Watch (and one for Anna too). And I'll still be thrilled as Hell when I open the new phone, and I'll still marvel at it for a year or so.


Until they release the new one, anyway.

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