I’ve Got This Down to a Science

I felt like a million bucks walking into the Koch Institute Auditorium.

Okay, that’s a big fat fib.

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I did not feel like a million bucks, I felt like a million bucks couldn’t make a dent toward improving my current status.

I was more water-logged than the Cutty Sark’s figurehead: hair plastered to my skull, rainwater sluicing down my pants and overflowing from my squeaky shoes, and mascara tracking soil-black furrows in all directions away from my eyes. I was in need of some serious respackling.

This was a result of my rain-battered, late afternoon mile-long walk from my hotel to my daughter’s university campus where I’d been invited to attend a lecture given by one of the esteemed faculty members before “Parent’s Weekend” the following day. (Full story here.)

I slogged to the lady’s room and wrung out my clothing, paper towel dried my hair, and attempted to scrape off the black grout that now epoxyed itself to my skin. Waterproof Wonderful, my Aunt Fanny. I left the bathroom looking like I’d been camping in a nearby peat bog for the last three weeks. I snatched up my name tag and dashed into the lecture hall to locate a seat near the back. And in the dark. And under a tarp if I could find one.

The invite stated the program was to begin at 4 pm. But what actually started was the wine and hors d’oeuvres party. This meant I’d get to watch other people—other people who were dry—enjoy themselves with the first rate food and the five star confidence that they’d not scare the bejeebies out of the other lecture guests during the meet and greet. No, it was best I stayed put.

And did for the next hour.

I dripped a melancholic puddle beneath my chair, forming a large enough pool to gather the attention of one of the catering staff, who kindly brought me two cocktail napkins. It had the about the same effect as trying to cap the eruption of Old Faithful with nothing more than a Tupperware lid.

But it was the thought that counted.

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The well fed and lubricated crowd filed into the lecture hall and the Chancellor took to the podium. She thanked us for coming, and then launched into a long-winded, rhapsodic introduction for the professor we had gathered to hear. The man sat looking sheepish as the Chancellor gushed with exuberance over the prof’s accomplishments.

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I prickled. No human being alive could have done this much in three lifetimes let alone two thirds of one. The man introduced and moving toward the podium had a name akin to that of a James Bond villain—Vladimir Bulović. I felt he should have been wearing a cape.

The lecture’s title? Why the Future Will Be Measured in Nanometers.

A plethora of questions buzzed through my head: What is a nanometer? Did anyone bring an extra calculator? And will I be seen if I crawl on all fours toward the exit and swim home in the direction of a clean, dry bed?

Professor Bulović spoke in a torrent of rushing words—and Russian words—or maybe it just sounded foreign because it was all diodes this and photovoltaics that. Yep, total Greek.

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So I stopped listening and started reading. The slides from the power point presentation were filled with words and symbols, and thank god occasionally moving pictures. Those I could follow.

The snippets of video showed objects that all fell under the umbrella of ‘nanoparticles.’ Quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, icosahedral twins and triplets and the rest of their unpronounceable family members. And soon I was enlightened with what this man, his team, and the monumentally small world of nanotechnology had been beavering away with in laboratories across the world.

For your mind-blowing pleasure, here are a few of science and technology’s newest projects Professor Blofeld–er, Bulović discussed:

LiquiGlide – A freaky non stick coating that can be applied to food packaging to eliminate waste. In this particular instance: ketchup. Click and be amazed.

Transparent Polymer Solar Cells – Windows that clearly harvest energy from the sun.

The Flexible Light Bulb – What if the light bulb of the future wasn’t a light bulb at all?

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Cancer detection – with magnetic nanoparticles.

Flexible solar panels – printable too!

Eyeglasses that can recharge your hearing aid while you’re wearing both.

Nanoparticles that clean oil spills via magnets – You’re welcome Exxon Mobile.

Water filtration—or desalination. Here we have folks working to make a filter device that allows a glass of seawater to become drinkable water after a few minutes of hand pumping. I think some hand shaking is in order.

Reengineered cement that will reduce carbon emissions. Now that’s a solid idea.

Better lighting with quantum dots. As far as I can see, this is some brilliant science.

Yep, hearing this lecture had been one tiny head explosion after another.

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So even though I traveled what felt like a million miles to get there, and even though much of the lecture was a million light years beyond my ken, and it was clear that folks had spent millions of dollars on research and development, I now just want to say, Thanks a million. The future looks wonderfully exciting, Professor Bulović—although it’s a little hard to see.



Our free calendar goes to the lovely Linnet Moss. Kindly contact Robin with your address so that he can post your 12 month doodle diary. (info@robingott.com)

Congratulations, Linnet!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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78 thoughts on “I’ve Got This Down to a Science

  1. Great article, Shelley! Once I attended a post-graduate symposium all in Deutsch. I understood probably 1 out of 50 words. It was a lecture on philosophy of Hegel and as I furiously scribbled down words a panel of Hegel scholars professed, I realized my enthusiasm outdid my smarts. I was out of my element, out of my comfort zone. BUT at least I was dry 😉

    • Cindy, I can’t tell you how much I admire your enthusiasm. It’s an awful feeling to yearn for something that is quite out one’s reach, but I think the yearning is the thing that helps us achieve an unhuman-like stretch, and I don’t think real success can feel quite as good without that bit present.
      Gut gemacht! 😛

  2. Oh poor you – puddles under the chair!! I couldn’t watch the first videos, I kind of hoped that helpful server might have bought you a drink and something tasty to nibble along with her two serviettes.

    I don’t know if that is because I’m out of the US or if it really is an incorrect URL – the site came up but the videos wouldn’t play. I watched Professor Yang Yang and the other smiling professionals and then ran out of time. So many exciting possibilities – it gives you hope doesn’t it! Some I knew of, some I didn’t – that first one for the ketchup bottles for instance.

    • Oh, Pauline, I hope you get to see the ketchup bottle video – it was probably one I was most impressed with.
      I went back and rechecked all the links and they’re working from all my home computers – both PC and Mac. You can also try this link: http://liquiglide.com/
      I hope it’ll work. I’m waiting excitedly for the technology to be employed in my everyday goods.
      Regardless, it does send a thousand shivers up and down my spine to think about how many clever people are at work problem solving and exploring possibility.

  3. My brain just started leaking out of my ears and I am as dry as a bone. The delightful brain explosion cartoon from Mr G says it all. There’s some amazeballs worthwhile nano stuff going on there Mrs P! Cancer detection, water filtration? Fantastic, And how excellent that the lovely Linnet won the calendar. 😁

    • Yet more proof that you are one of the hippest and coolest women I’ve come to “virtually” know. I had no idea that someone as far away and just a teensy bit removed from the teen scene as you would know and correctly employ the word AMAZEBALLS. I hear my daughter say that all the time. And although we share very few words in common, this is one I’ve heard her use and I love it. You’re so in vogue, Cheergerm.
      Glad you enjoyed some of the science.
      (and kinda even more flattered that you read to the bottom of the page!)

      • Oh yes, the ‘young folk’ and I are like, on the same page. (I give you a mental picture of said ‘young folk’ running away from a 40 something who used one of their words…) I have teenage nieces, I like to annoy them by using their words…that’s sick, hey? (Another teenage vernacular meaning radical and totally cool.) that may just be an Aussie one?

    • Oh, how I love Welsh. Please translate! I’m thinking it says something like, “good grief,” or “just give up already,” or maybe, “when are you going to learn??” Close? 😛
      One of my favorite spots to visit in Wales is the village of Portmeirion. And once when I was wandering about, I stopped in a gift shop and heard two of the shopkeepers having a conversation (in Welsh). I must have stayed there staring at the same shelf for about 15 minutes because it was so intriguing to listen to. I know they thought I was spying on them–which I was–but only because I was captivated with the lilt.
      So memorable.
      And warm, nearly holiday hugs from me too, David! xxooxx

  4. Wow Shelley this is fascinating stuff! For someone who’s spent their life with a fairly hefty ‘arts’ bias that final film introducing nanotechnology is mindblowing! Art and science are not that far apart after all! Thanks for an entertaining and really interesting post – I’m going to explore further 🙂 🙂

    • I know, right,?? Oh, if I could come back and have another crack at life, Jane, I’d keep my fingers crossed that I could find my way into a life of science and discovery. Okay, and music–I couldn’t give that up, but still, science is just so unbelievably cool.
      And I’d have to come back with an extra brain shoved into my skull, but I would happily deal with the discomfort.

      • I think it’s such a shame that in my day at school science was so boring, or rather badly taught! It is obviously an amazingly creative pursuit! I’m with you on the second brain approach – could have one like a hard drive for storing information and the other for finding creative connections within it all! 🙂

    • I’m so glad you saw that one. It’s one of the things I love most about Rob’s cartoons–that there’s oftentimes humor beneath the humor. His sketches are on par with how Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney films are made today. Base humor for the General Joe and then double entendre for the adults forced to sit through two hours of cartoons.

  5. This is why I have so much trouble writing science fiction. Every time I hear a cool new science thing that I want to create a story around, I get so wrapped up in learning that cool new science thing that I completely forget what the story was supposed to be!

    • Hahaha! That’s really sad–and funny, NJ, but mostly frustrating I’d imagine. I have a similar problem with my historical fiction. It takes FOREVER to write them. So many sources, so much inaccuracy. But I think the historical fiction might be a little easier to fudge facts with than science fiction. I cannot watch science fiction films with my “science fact only” daughter. She’ll throw popcorn at the screen and shout, “THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN.” She has no imagination. As a child, when play acting, she was always Laura Ingalls Wilder and never a Disney princess. Her thought was that you had to teach the younger ones the real world and not a pretend one. *sigh*
      But new science is a lovely rabbit hole to get lost down, isn’t it?

  6. Woo hoo! I am thrilled to be the calendar winner! As for the lecture, I have to say that it could have been worse. When my Mom came to the “parents’ day” at my college, she hit her head on an antiquated, spiky toilet roll holder (!) in the women’s restroom. A blanket of blood covered her face, and in her new guise as “Carrie,” she scared the dickens out of the next lady to come in the restroom. In the emergency room, they shaved her head (!) in order to stitch her up. And worst of all, there was no wine.

    • Oh, Linnet! How awful for your poor mom. That must have been dreadful. Any chance the university wanted to make it up to you all by offering a ‘mea culpa scholarship’?
      And I really do think there should be a choice of pain relievers in the ER. “Ma’am, you can have a couple of Percocet every 8 hours, or one glass of Shiraz every two. Your choice.”
      And congratulations on the calendar! Hope you glance at it fondly this year. 🙂

  7. Good morning my lady,

    “I left the bathroom looking like I’d been camping in a nearby peat bog for the last three weeks.”

    I believe that is one of the best lusciously descriptive quotes I’ve ever read anyone write about experiencing nature, purposely or for nay. This, Shelley, is how I can see myself after hours of duck hunting in the marsh blinds of the bay, after crossing and breaking through 3/4 of a mile of a thin ice covered bay of muck, rocks, waves, sleet, twelve foot grasses mired with spider webs, bird nests and a field of snakes… all just to get to my blind before 4 am to toss my decoys and hope for a few birds to land into my pond before sun rise.

    If at all, it’s worth the effort just to see the sun rise off the lake through any clouds or storms. Arriving home my girls often ask if I’ve been through some sort of battle to save humanity, with or without birds in hand.

    It has been too long and I miss it, but your simple quote brought back such a rush of wonderful memories. Don’t sweat the mascara drips… we use something similar to cover our face from the reflection of the sun for the birds. In all, I’ve been there too.

    Keep writing. I wish I could have been there with you. I bet that was an experience worth beyond any tuition one could ask for.

    Much respect,


    • Aw, shucks, buddy, thanks for that.
      And you have on many an occasion scared the bejeebies out of one of us when phoning from one of those marsh blinds to tell us of the beauty that you’re seeing only to announce, “Uh, oh, not good. I’m sinking.” *click*
      My children have erasable mental scars.
      Get on back out there. Go find your ducks. Nature’s calling.
      Teach those girls how to field dress, will ya?

      • Consider it my calling… my girls will not only share the love and ambition for the exploratory filed of Einstein and his unending world of thoughts, vehement care toward veterinarian care, the teachings of martial arts, true French and Pan-Asian culinary arts and clasical music… they too shall know how to field dress (with respect) any animal they take for harvest and will mind boggle any boy, man or person in their shared lives.

        They are strong and unwilling to give up. They will learn, lead, love and share, just as you. 🙂

        Carpe diem,

    • Oh, sometimes I find myself cradling my own head with the enormity of the language. I want so badly to understand the “magic” leaking out of those laboratories, but that would require a reboot of my hard drive and some seriously expensive new applications. Not sure much would stick, but I’m planning to memorize a few key phrases for upcoming holiday parties.

  8. Oh, Shelley! You’re blog is a tonic 🙂 I have never heard the word ‘respackle’ before, it’s now my challenge to try to use it correctly in conversation soon. (How did you get on with ‘thrawn’ by the way?)

    Robin’s cartoons were so funny – especially like the sheepish prof and the Greek-spouting prof.

    As for theinnovations described by the professor – awesome. The liui-glide and the solar collector windows – excellent. The cancer fighting nanoparticles -great. Funnily enough the husband, a sci-fi nerd was watching a re-run episode of Stargate Atlantis the other day – and lo! the story line concerned nanobots being injected into a leukaemia patient in order to cure her.

    Also ben watching on the good old BBC an excellent science documentary programme where an amiable professor has been explaining quantum mechanics/physics. In last edition, he seemed to have proved that nothing is real e.g. the moon only becomes real when you look at it. AND Einstein was wrong about some things, apparently.
    I too have an exploded head 🙂

    Thanks for making me smile whilst simultaneously educating me.

    • Anne! What a lovely thing to say. You are so kind.
      And I’m throwing thrawn in as often as possible, but folks here are giving me a two eyebrow quirk rather than my traditional one, which then has me adding, “It was a braw bricht moonlit nicht!”
      And then they politely excuse themselves to the restroom.
      Their loss.
      I love that you’re also seeing some of the new science employed in stories, although to be honest, sometimes the stories manufacture the science way before science does. I’ve come to understand that sci-fi writers’ tales, with their extraordinary ideas placed on paper, are sometimes places scientists go to fuel themselves with ideas for the future.
      And now I’d also love to know the name of the BBC documentary. Must see!

  9. I’m glad you sat through the whole thing even though you were dripping wet. Aren’t Mamas good sports? And what a wonderful list of helpful inventions, listed in a way even my brain could understand.

    • I’m so glad you said that–the part about finding the examples comprehensible. I was hoping to make them enticing enough to catch a reader’s attention without seeming overwhelming. What you find on the other side of the link, though, can be mindboggling. Putting all that in plainspeak requires someone with far more translation talent than I have. 🙂

  10. You would think the server could have at least given you a belt of Gallo and a Ritz. I can’t imagine sitting through such a presentation soaking wet. Heck I don’t know if I could handle it dry. You gave some great visuals. Peat bog camping as the Cutty Sark maiden. Is that with or without a tent? Actually some of those topics did sound interesting. So as always another fine post. Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re so right, Benson. I suppose I was grateful that the gifted cocktail napkins at least weren’t used ones. Nothing worse than being wet, cold and smelling of some smoked salmon palmier, right?
      I hope you have a chance to look at one or two links. I can only imagine there will be a few happy folks in the culinary world who will realize the value of the Liquiglide. Waste not, want not.

  11. I hope your daughter appreciated all you went through to be there. You’re a much better person that I am. I think I would have sloshed right out of there.

    • The funny thing, Glynis? I don’t even think she knows that I went. I think her mind was wholly overwhelmed with midterms. So I totally forgive her. And the bonus, is that now she’ll be even more amazed when I spew out all my nanotechnology knowledge. She may become suspicious.
      (I am so hopeful her nanotechnology knowledge is still on the newbie side)

  12. Fantastic read Shelley and well done for remembering ( let alone spelling) those mesmerising science letters that they make into words that sound so superb.
    I have been very busy of late so im sorry not to have dropped by for a couple of weeks. So i shall wish you a merry christmas and a happy new year to you and yours, just in case its 2015 before i get round again :-))

    • Thank you, thank you, Janice. It’s always so lovely to see your words. (And photographs!) And I agree. Science words are super impressive. My words are much plainer. Not a lot of pizazz and flash. But science … those folks think long and hard before making some of those bits up, don’t they?
      I wish you and yours a warm and Happy Christmas and the merriest of New Year’s celebrations. I hope they’re picture worthy!

  13. Shelley, like other readers I am overwhelmed by your delightful skill at using words like “peat moss” and “respackle” in the most creative of ways. 🙂 Don’t ever stop writing this blog, or I will be bereft. And thank you for that amazing video of the ketchup bottle. What has taken us this long to do this? It’s funny how the simple things are the ones that take forever to implement. And I’m glad you got to the lecture despite the elements…I always enjoy learning new things, even when I can feel my brain stretching into contorted shapes more pretzel-like than the acrobats of Cirque du Soleil. It’s good for me, I know it! Cheers to you, my friend.

    • Wow, Sue, what lovely, lovely words. And I’m not talking about peat moss or respackle. Your gracious comments are the stuff dreams are made of. Thank you.
      I’m so glad you liked the Liquiglide video. I nearly fell out of my chair when I first saw it. I am a penny pincher of the most detestable kind. My kids hate it, but oh my hallelujah can it be true? No more waste?? Thank you nanoscience.
      And I am all for brain stretching, because unlike some bits of us, no one is going to care if our grey matter doesn’t look as buoyant and bouncy as it did when we were in our twenties. 😛

  14. Anything science-y is in the realm of magic from my perspective. Long ago I stopped trying to understand it because I just looked like a neanderthal ooo’ing and awww’ing over the newest lastest and greatest. On most days, the concept of the internet makes my brain hurt.
    You have my deepest admiration for sitting through that lecture … wet or dry or otherwise. I wouldn’t have remembered a single word after “nano”.

    • Joanne, I feel exactly the same way. I love science, but drool is usually the result of my concentrating in a manner that helps me understand it.
      And here’s a secret — just between you and me — I can fly airplanes, but I’m absolutely positive that it’s magic that holds them up so I can steer them.

  15. Interesting “torrent of greek”! I can identify with the head explosions – I once worked with a group of chemists and biologists whose lectures were way over my head (and most of them were not fluent in English).

  16. well as good as your writing is, and as fun as it is too, rob’s “it’s the thought…” stole the show for me this time around. it hit me today, his drawings reflect your words like fun house mirrors. that’s great.

  17. Aw, those other folks at the party missed out on your splendid company! I would have sought you out in all your sogginess, thinking to myself, “Now this lady looks like she has some interesting stories to tell!” And I feel your pain regarding this lecture. I’m interested in astronomy and other fields of science, but my brain isn’t constructed to fathom in-depth explanations of this stuff. Just this past weekend I came across an article stating that we’re living in a simulated universe and math proves it. I tried to read the article, thinking maybe it was written in layman’s terms, and my brain just said, “Nope, nope, nope,” and promptly shut down. I may as well have been reading the back of a Lysol can. Sigh.

    • I SAW THAT SAME ARTICLE! (and had the same reaction.) Why can’t our brains wrap around this info??
      I always try to have at least one non-fiction and science bent book on my ‘currently reading list’ along with all my fiction sagas at any given time, and this month (cuz it’s a long and chewy read) the winner is The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku. Oh, my godfathers, Miranda. I’m lost. Struggling within a sea of words and concepts, studies and projections. I’m in awe that there are that many folks who are busily plugging away at uncovering this magic gray blob of brawn, but mine will never be used as a sample for anything apart from maybe a doorstop in the lab.
      Ah well, perhaps the next go around, right? (surely the fact that I keep saving spiders and putting them back outside has got to count toward some good karma, right?)

      • I’m quite certain that if karma exists, you’ve got a huge store of the good kind, my friend. 🙂 And I think I’ll have to give The Future of the Mind a pass. It sounds very interesting, but it also sounds like it would hurt my head. 😛

  18. (am-phib-ee-an-lee): TOADULLEE awph tawpick, but related. azz you know, m crichton has dabbled in nano-whatever for … what, three? books now. and … yesterday my work-mate had survived his House Closing. lotsa paperwerk. scribble, scribble. and what LEAPT OFF THE PAGE @ HIM was the year it’s paid off:
    Don’t most the science fixion mooveez ‘n books happen before then? we’ll be zotting off to wearever FTL or nearly so (faster dan duh lite switch); colonies on mars; all those people who today stare near-continually at their iPhones and devices will just have a blank stare, as their heads really will be IN THE CLOUD, etc. and there’ll be nano-nanu-nanu-morkiness everywhere. ‘cept nano won’t be the metric prefix, no, it’ll be smaller still, by, oh 10x(minus-3) @ least

    minor kwestyun: how does spraying ketchup with nano-thingamajiggies “eliminate waste”?

    • So yes, I figure the near future will simulate something along the lines of the Bruce Willis film Surrogates. We’ll all be in pods, and technology will be running the show. It’s both scary and exciting.

      And the coating simply allows all the product of whatevers in the tube or bottle to flow out easily, as we tend to throw a lot out simply because it’s stuck to the bottom of the container or tube. I’m fascinated.

  19. Wow, that’s quite a list. I’m going to come back after the holidays and indulge in all those links. Two cocktail napkins…oh dear I do feel your pain. I relied on buses all through college so remember well arriving to work or school in a rain-soaked condition. I loved those bathrooms with the heat dryers and had no problem bending in half so I could dry my hair. Cold, wet feet are the worst, though. Cold feet usually mean you are cold all over. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Yeah, I think the list is best enjoyed quietly tucked up into a couch with a warm cup of something followed by a stiff belt of something else to process all the progress. It’ll be worthy, Alys–even just a couple.
      Hope you’re surviving the next round of wet yourself. Sending you dry thoughts!

  20. “It’s the thought that counts” = best illustration EVER! Your nanoparticles mini-lecture had my own head exploding multiple times. We seem to be moving towards a future where we might be able to eat our light-bulbs and non-stick coat our houses! Or have I got that terribly muddled? Perhaps nanotechnology could also quick-dry you after your torrential experience? A private chat with Professor Blofeld seems in order….

    • I wanted to speak with him so badly after his lecture, but of course hearing the sound of repeated dripping made me think twice. I was in no shape to make anyone’s acquaintance, so I emailed him once I’d returned home and we struck up a nice conversation. SO MUCH EASIER TO UNDERSTAND VIA THE WRITTEN WORD! 😛
      Professor Bulović kindly offered up his lecture so that I could translate, condense and distribute The Gospel According to Science–or his more aptly titled talk, Why the Future Will Be Measured etc.
      So glad you liked that cartoon too. It’s a winner.

  21. I love nano-technology. All of this stuff looks super cool! (Especially the waste-free wrapping… I’ll have to appropriate that into my sci-fi universe, haha.)

    • I think it’s one of the things I love most about science fiction: the deep connection between scientists and writers–the imagination, and the question of who came first? It’s a genre where the chicken and the egg query is perfectly suited, isn’t it?
      Thanks for reading, Alex! It’s always lovely to see your words here. 🙂

      • Im sorry im so late reading! Bloglovin’ had me permanently staring at cinnamon rolls for about 4 days. (Not, sadly, a mere avalanche of cinnamony, gooey, delicious posts, but one featured post I couldnt even click on. The horror!)

    • I’m glad you did too, Carol, but if you feel like I do, all you need have happen is one or two blinks and you’re behind. Science is leaping forward at an exponential rate–so fast that I think many scientists are feeling that if they turn their backs on anything in the lab, the lab takes over. Scary. And exciting. A bit of a dichotomy.
      Happy Holidays!

  22. Having followed you back here after your visit to my site it was quite the introduction to your wonderful page. I think I’ve sat through a few lectures just like the one you describe in the wonderful post above, except I don’t think I gathered quite as much from mine as you did from yours. At any rate it was a wonderful introduction to your page, and I am certain I will have to be back here to find out what other wonderful things you have in store. So please keep up the wonderful writing, and have a great New Year.

    • Wow, so many lovely comments shoved into a couple of sentences. A perfect way to end the year. My humble thanks. I too look forward to enjoying more of your work, and wish you a 2015 filled with many a worthy post (to both write and read!) Cheers and Happy New Year.

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