Tag Archives: olympics

Avaragado’s 2016 predictions

Hello again. Pull up a pixel. Dismantle that podcast. Relax your weary mince pie repository. Pay heed, oh gentle reader, for Avaragado has rattled his brain to wiggle out the earwax of foretelling and is pleased to interpret the oily runes ambiguously below.

Those of you familiar with this annual nonsense will spot a new category. I’ve retired Celebrity Deathwatch as the predictions started to come true and, quite frankly, The Medusa Touch still gives me the shivers (WHIP PAN to polystyrene rubble falling onto gurning worshippers). In its place, You’re Celebrity Fired.

Here they all are. Perhaps the rain will have stopped by this time next year. Perhaps.

News

  1. In the thrilling Euro referendum that I hope to god happens in 2016 so we don’t have to suffer another whole year of it, the tedious British public votes 53% to 47% (±1%) to remain in the EU.
  2. Bacon-worrier David Cameron resigns as prime minister.
  3. Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election.
  4. 2016 is the warmest year globally on record.
  5. The Bank of England leaves interest rates at 0.5% all year.
  6. The price of oil doesn’t go above $50 a barrel all year.

Sport

  1. In the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Team GB win 20±2 gold medals in total.
  2. In the Euro 2016 football championships, England finish in the top 4.
  3. Oxford win the men’s University Boat Race.
  4. HRH Prince Ali Al Hussein is elected the next president of FIFA.
  5. Wales win the Rugby Union Six Nations.
  6. Europe retain the Ryder Cup.

Science and technology

  1. The iPhone 7 (pedants: or whatever Apple calls the next major iPhone revision) has no 3.5mm headphone jack.
  2. Apple releases a Mac with an A-branded (ARM, not Intel) processor.
  3. Google buys Signal.
  4. A major security breach at the NHS leaks hundreds of thousands of patient details.
  5. Physicists confirm the first evidence for gravitational waves.
  6. An out-of-control drone causes a major incident (eg a collision with an aircraft).

Entertainment

  1. To save money, the BBC decides to close BBC Four.
  2. Peter Capaldi announces he is to leave Doctor Who.
  3. Oscar for Best Picture: The Revenant.
  4. Oscar for Best Director: Ridley Scott, The Martian.
  5. Oscar for Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl.
  6. Oscar for Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room.

You’re celebrity fired

  1. Piers Morgan leaves Good Morning Britain.
  2. Marissa Meyer leaves Yahoo.
  3. Louis van Gaal leaves Manchester United.
  4. Chris Evans (not that one) leaves the role of Editor of the Daily Telegraph.
  5. Philip Hammond leaves the role of Foreign Secretary.
  6. Sir Lord Alan Sugar leaves The Apprentice.

And that, my friends, is that. I wonder if I’ll post anything else on this blog before next year’s results?

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Avaragado’s 2012 predictions – results

As usual the cider-enhanced Chris Walsh has cast a rheumy eye over the predictions I made a year ago and awarded the marks as he saw fit. Adjudications and correct answers in square brackets.

News

  1. It will be announced that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. [1pt]
  2. Ed Miliband will be replaced as leader of the Labour party. [0pt]
  3. The US presidential election will be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama will be re-elected. [1pt]
  4. At least one country will leave the euro. [0pt]
  5. Boris Johnson will be re-elected as Mayor of London. [1pt]
  6. There will be an earthquake in the UK of magnitude 4.0 or above on the Richter scale. (I’m only using this scale as it’s the one used on the Wikipedia page for UK earthquakes.) [0pt]

[Score: 3/6]

Sport

  1. Great Britain & Northern Ireland will win 21 gold medals at the Summer Olympics, and over 50 medals in total. [1pt: GB&NI won 29 gold and 65 in total]
  2. Great Britain & Northern Ireland will top the medal table at the Paralympics. [0pt: third, after China and Russia]
  3. Spain will win the Euro 2012 football tournament. [1pt]
  4. The United States will regain golf’s Ryder Cup. [0pt: Europe won in a very close finish]
  5. Jensen Button will regain the Formula One championship. [0pt: Sebastian Vettel]
  6. Manchester City will win the English Premier League. [1pt: with a last-minute goal on the last day of the season]

[Score: 3/6]

Science and technology

  1. Having miraculously survived 2011, Steve Ballmer will definitely be fired as Microsoft CEO. [0pt: still there!]
  2. CERN will announce the official discovery of the Higgs boson. [0.999pt, rounded up to 1pt]
  3. Apple will launch a TV. [0pt]
  4. At least one of the co-CEOs of RIM will be fired, and the company will be bought. [0pt: Jim Balsillie resigned but was not fired, and RIM wasn’t bought]
  5. The next version of the iPhone will include an NFC chip. [0pt: rumoured for the 5S]
  6. Amazon will release a free version of the Kindle. [0pt: but Chris wishes they would, as he sat on his and broke it]

[Score: 1/6]

Entertainment

  1. The 2012 season of X Factor in the UK will be the last. [0pt: nothing announced – time will tell!]
  2. In Doctor Who, the replacement for the Ponds will not be from Earth. [0pt: nothing to suggest she’s not from earth – time will tell!]
  3. Best Actress Oscar: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. [1pt]
  4. Best Actor Oscar: Jean Dujardin, The Artist. [1pt]
  5. Best Picture Oscar: The Artist. [1pt]
  6. CNN will fire Piers Morgan. [0pt: although competing petitions to deport/refuse repatriation suggest nobody wants him]

[Score: 3/6]

Celebrity Deathwatch

  1. Former anthropology student, US evangelist Billy Graham. [alive!]
  2. Former ophthalmology student, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. [alive!]
  3. Former chemistry student, Baroness Thatcher. [alive!]
  4. Former naval cadet, Prince Philip. [alive!]
  5. Former Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali. [alive!]
  6. Former Hitler Youth, Pope Benedict XVI. [alive!]

[Score: 0/6]

[Total score: 10/30]

Not as good as last year. I suspect I was a year early on most of the science and technology predictions. And my celebrity deathwatch category maintains its staggering 100% failure record.

Stay tuned for Avaragado’s 2013 predictions…

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A government in three acts

The three-act structure is a staple of the movie business. Look behind most popular movies and this structure reveals itself: beginning, middle, end. Or setup, confrontation, resolution.

In act one, we meet the protagonist and other major characters and the nature of the plot is revealed to us. The end of act one sets the story moving properly. Think Elliott meeting ET, or Dorothy landing in Oz.

Act two is about confrontation. The protagonist experiences setbacks and danger. The stakes rise. Things are tried, which fail. But there is forward motion: ET builds his machine from a Speak’n’Spell and starts to form a psychic link to Elliott. Dorothy meets new tin, fur and straw-based companions and skips towards the Emerald City and the wizard.

At the end of act two all seems lost. ET is captured and dies. The wizard turns out to be a man behind a curtain. And here, as at the end of act one, the story turns again. ET is resurrected. There is a way for Dorothy to get home.

Act three takes us from there to the final fade to black. ET escapes with Elliott and his mates, and is picked up by those who left him behind. Dorothy clicks her heels together and repeats “there’s no place like home” and wakes up in black-and-white Kansas.

It’s not just movies that have three acts of one form or another. Books often do. Lives do. Blog posts like this do (welcome to the end of act one). And so do governments.

The current government’s first act ended at about the time Nick Clegg abandoned the pledge not to raise tuition fees. Regardless of the merits or not of the final legislation, the story changed at that point. The honeymoon was over, if you like, and the mid-term blues set in: the act two confrontations of unpopular austerity policies, of riots, and disruption.

I haven’t mentioned one aspect of the theoretical second act: you’ll often find another pivoting point somewhere in the middle of the film, where something happens to raise the stakes or change the game. This helps to avoid the all-too-common second-act lull (second acts tend to be the longest). In ET, the midpoint is where we realise that ET and Elliott are linked — that wonderful sequence cutting between a schoolroom frog dissection and ET watching TV with a beer or two.

We’ve reached the midpoint of the government’s three acts about now. We’re about half-way through the five-year term, there’s just been a cabinet reshuffle, and we’ve had the massive mood-changers of the Olympics and Paralympics.

How these affect the story remains to be seen. It’s especially hard to judge whether London 2012 — in all its aspects — will have a lasting effect. As someone who attended both the Olympics and Paralympics as a spectator, I can only say that I came away with a huge sense of pride at all the achievements — in organisation, in delivery, in service, in sport. We can do better than we think. We have done better.

Do we want to return to the old ways?  To the petty bunfights and playground games of parliament? Will the rest of the second act of this government squander this midpoint twist with the reshuffle’s apparent lurch to the right? And then more cuts: slicing away the remaining safety nets, selling off chunks of the NHS, condemning another generation of schoolchildren to endless educational dogmatic tinkering.

Sadly, this seems inevitable.

But at some point, act three arrives. Something happens to allow the escape to the UFO, or the return to Kansas. The beauty of the three-act structure is that the acts can be as long or as short as they need to be. The “midpoint” needn’t be dead-centre. The act two twist can be right before the end of the movie.

So when does Nick Clegg return to Brussels?

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Embracing the obsessives

Broadly, a subject has three types of audience: uninterested, interested, and obsessive. There are probably nuances here and Gartner would undoubtedly conjure up a four-quadrant chart and charge you several grand for it, but humans like things in threes so that’s where I’m going.

Each of us occupies one of these roles for a subject (the role might change over time). I count hate as interested: you have an opinion. I’m uninterested in Eastenders; I’m interested in X Factor (I want to kill it with fire); I’m obsessed with the Olympics.

Where this gets interesting is how these partitions are considered by content producers.

In almost all cases, newspapers and TV news programmes aim at the interested, ignoring obsessives and uninteresteds.

Consider TV news coverage of football. It assumes you follow the game — it never explains offside, or the league format (unless it changes), so it’s not for the uninterested. It doesn’t have three people arguing over the merits of a free kick, so it’s not obsessive either.

It’s similar with economics: if you don’t understand what GDP actually means (as opposed to the acronym’s expansion), you’re out of luck. But I bet economists regularly scream “it’s not as simple as that!” at the screen. The uninterested and the obsessive aren’t the targets.

The exceptions in news programming seem to be with science and to a lesser extent technology. With coverage of space exploration and physics, the target seems to be the uninterested almost exclusively. Mars is described as the fourth rock from the sun, cold, etc, almost every time, and Higgs is “the so-called God particle”.

Imagine if BBC News said: “Today in the Premier League, which is the richest and most important football league in England, the Liverpool FC club, which plays at a large stadium called Anfield…”

Producers might argue their coverage is as deep as the audience’s knowledge, and the audience knows more about football than about Mars. True, up to a point: but I think the audience knows far less about economics (and politics) than correspondents assume.

With science, it seems the interested and obsessive audiences are deliberately left adrift. The recent coverage of Neil Armstrong’s death was mostly lightweight, and the BBC’s online obituary leads with this excruciating paragraph:

In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon and arguably the most famous man in the Universe.

As Wikipedia would say: citation needed.

Even a specialist, nominally interested-aimed show like Horizon often fails: there’s too much enforced drama, and the target appears to be someone who progressed only recently from uninterested. I can’t help but think this reflects the status of the production team.

The obsessive science audience is today not considered at all on TV, with the possible exception of The Sky At Night. I think this is very much down to its longevity and to Patrick Moore, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, once he leaves us, the show is quietly shelved as “coming to a natural end”.

Earlier in the year Professor Brian Cox gave a televised lecture on quantum theory. At last, I thought: targeting the high-end interested and the obsessive. And yet, amidst the actual science, there had to be celebrity involvement — Jonathan Ross doing maths, etc. I can picture the production meetings, where confused barely interested TV bods desperately tried to drag the target towards them.

A journalist I follow on Twitter was nevertheless confused by the lack of footage of Cox silhouetted by sunsets and wondered in a tweet whether he had now jumped the shark. I gave her the 140-character version of this post. She didn’t reply.

Irritatingly TV can cater for obsessives. The Big Brother auxiliary shows (such as Big Brother’s Little Brother and its Desmondesque successor on Channel 5) and similar spin-offs are targeted at hard-core fans. And for this year’s Olympics the BBC provided, for no additional cost, up to twenty-four channels of uninterrupted sport. If you wanted fencing prelims, you could watch them (and you still can, until January). BBC1 and BBC3 dipped around, catering for the interested with blanket coverage. (The uninterested had the even-numbered channels.)

The medium that has embraced the obsessives like no other is the internet, of course. (There are obsessive magazines too, like Maximum Carp and Carpology and so on, but the net out-obsesses these comfortably.)

Which brings me back to to Mars.

The seven minutes of terror before Curiosity’s touchdown were just before 6.30am UK time. The interested might’ve watched BBC News in the hope of some coverage. I’m an obsessive and watched NASA TV online, which showed the action from the control room live. Even this, annoyingly, cut away later to clumsy interviews, when all I wanted to do was listen to the mission control loop. (That was available on the net, Roger told me later. He’s a hardcore obsessive.)

But NASA’s usually great at cultivating obsessives. I can watch and listen in to Curiosity briefings and teleconferences live, uninterrupted by a journalist talking over the science. The Curiosity team also took part in a Reddit AMA that produced a bunch of intelligent, occasionally high-end obsessive questions.

Does it matter that mainstream TV doesn’t cater for science obsessives? I don’t know. I’d like to think it matters. The BBC argues that BBC1 and BBC2 have a general remit, and then dedicates sixteen days of BBC1 6am-1am to sport for the Olympics. Is it too much to ask for an hour of proper, obsessive science a week? A month?

But then, I’d probably have read it on the internet already.

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Avaragado’s 2012 predictions

Now spelunked into the Brechtian caverns of history: the year of the Arab Spring, the deaths of several prominent nutjobs, the end of the Screws, the looting of cheap sportswear, the Royal Day Off, the Occupy tent sale, and, of course, what is believed to be Sir Paul McCartney’s 49th or 50th marriage; estimates vary. And what will 2012 bring forth? Here’s your exclusive guide.

News

  1. It will be announced that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant.
  2. Ed Miliband will be replaced as leader of the Labour party.
  3. The US presidential election will be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama will be re-elected.
  4. At least one country will leave the euro.
  5. Boris Johnson will be re-elected as Mayor of London.
  6. There will be an earthquake in the UK of magnitude 4.0 or above on the Richter scale. (I’m only using this scale as it’s the one used on the Wikipedia page for UK earthquakes.)

Sport

  1. Great Britain & Northern Ireland will win 21 gold medals at the Summer Olympics, and over 50 medals in total.
  2. Great Britain & Northern Ireland will top the medal table at the Paralympics.
  3. Spain will win the Euro 2012 football tournament.
  4. The United States will regain golf’s Ryder Cup.
  5. Jensen Button will regain the Formula One championship.
  6. Manchester City will win the English Premier League.

Science and technology

  1. Having miraculously survived 2011, Steve Ballmer will definitely be fired as Microsoft CEO.
  2. CERN will announce the official discovery of the Higgs boson.
  3. Apple will launch a TV.
  4. At least one of the co-CEOs of RIM will be fired, and the company will be bought.
  5. The next version of the iPhone will include an NFC chip.
  6. Amazon will release a free version of the Kindle.

Entertainment

  1. The 2012 season of X Factor in the UK will be the last.
  2. In Doctor Who, the replacement for the Ponds will not be from Earth.
  3. Best Actress Oscar: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady.
  4. Best Actor Oscar: Jean Dujardin, The Artist.
  5. Best Picture Oscar: The Artist.
  6. CNN will fire Piers Morgan.

Celebrity Deathwatch

  1. Former anthropology student, US evangelist Billy Graham.
  2. Former ophthalmology student, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
  3. Former chemistry student, Baroness Thatcher.
  4. Former naval cadet, Prince Philip.
  5. Former Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali.
  6. Former Hitler Youth, Pope Benedict XVI.

I look forward to your company next New Year’s Eve when all shall be judged.

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Wherein Avaragado pontificates about that logo

It’s received wisdom for UI design and many other disciplines: listen to your users but ignore what they say. People sometimes misunderstand this and come over all uppity, thinking it means “pretend to listen, but take no notice”. Ironically, by doing so they are themselves listening but ignoring, which I’ve just suggested is a good thing, but here it’s wrong, I tell you, wrong.

What’s the correct interpretation? That people are experts at telling you what they like or (more often) dislike, or wish they could or could not do, but useless at deciding what to do about it. They’re great at problems, but meh with the answers.

Oh, they’ll give you answers, answers by the bucketload. But following Sturgeon’s law, you can chuck at least 90% of them away without thinking. In fact, save the thinking and bin the lot. For a discipline like UI design, the suggested solutions tend to be unworkable, unusable, inappropriate, inadvisable, and other negative nancy words. To quote a certain forthright African, we’re outnumbered by morons. (By “morons” I do of course mean “well-intentioned individuals without sufficient domain expertise to judge the most appropriate solution”.)

But this post isn’t about UI design. It’s about the new London 2012 logo.

Who knew so many people cared about design? Or, at least, cared about £400,000-worth of design. On the one hand, I’m glad. On the other hand, it’s a shame that the logo is disliked so much, since it’s going to be in all our faces for the next five years (unless the organisers cave and change it). I’m not as vehemently negative about it as many people, but for the avoidance of doubt, I don’t like it either.

However, the armies of amateurs now rushing to produce their ten-second replacement logos are proving the “listen but ignore” mantra beyond all doubt. Because their “better” ideas aren’t.

It starts and ends with the client’s brief.

If I might go all horn-rimmed on yo’ asses for a moment, the client decides what message it wants the brand to convey. It sets the tone. It rules in and rules out. The agency sets its finest minds/interns on the project, presents some ideas (often two reasonable proposals plus a joke one that the client can reject out of hand to feel in control), and then they iterate until all parties are so fed up with the entire process that the client decides to go with whatever’s on the table when the deadline bangs on the door.

For London 2012, what was LOCOG’s brief to the agency, Wolff Olins? That’s key to this whole saga. I don’t know, but we can reverse-engineer it from the web site, the launch event, and so on. LOCOG wanted something bold not bland; representing more than just the few short weeks of the Olympic (and Paralympic) games themselves; representing more than just London; to be dynamic, modern, flexible and inspirational. Phrases like “everyone’s 2012”, “a Games for the next generation”, “reaching out and engaging young people”, and so on, abound in the press materials. And here’s something: “It’s not a logo, it’s a brand that will take us forward for the next five years” (Seb Coe). And this, from the BBC News web site: “It is a deliberate change from previous Olympic logos, which often feature an image from the city”.

And here’s something I don’t believe anyone has picked up on yet, from the London 2012 blog:

We have built a brand identity which has over 40,000 elements, which will evolve over the coming months and years in many smart ways … It’s not about the shape. It’s not about the colours. It’s about what we can do with it – there is a lot more to see, and you’ll see it soon.

When you look at the chosen logo, and compare it with the suggested replacements, you have to measure them all against the client’s brief. How well do they rate? It’s not just the aesthetic qualities, or lack thereof. Because if the client asks for something bold and you give them something bland, you haven’t done your job.

Let’s measure the chosen logo against the (apparent) brief.

  • Bold not bland: It’s definitely that. It’s amazingly daring for an Olympic logo; the only ones that come close are the psychedelic Mexico 1968 and Munich 1972 logos. In contrast, all logos since 1972 have been hewn from very similar rock. The London 2012 logo immediately stands out from these.
  • Not just the games: Absolutely. Notice how the logo does not say “sport” at all. The Olympic rings can be substituted with all manner of other logos (or no logo at all). The Paralympics to be held in London just a few weeks after the Olympics uses the same brand – here’s the 2012 Paralympics logo, with the Paralympics symbol in place of the Olympic rings. I can see events across the country piggybacking on this brand – I imagine LOCOG saying, “give us a tenner and a packet of crisps and you can shove your logo in”, that sort of thing.
  • More than just London: Again, absolutely. There’s no cliched London skyline, which makes the logo usable – possibly in altered form – across the country. Don’t forget that many Olympic events will take place outside of London (sailing in Weymouth, football all over the place).
  • Dynamic: Yes, though this is always hand-wavy. You can make anything dynamic by making it jiggle. Here the idea seems to be that the logo can break apart and reform, change colour, and so on. It always seems a good idea originally, but I’m sceptical that this is something we’ll see a lot of in practice; time will tell.
  • Modern: Hmm. Everything is a product of its time; nothing dates quite so fast as the future. To me and people of my advanced years, the logo is retro: 80s style, 80s colours. It has been compared to the Tiswas logo. Here I think they’re gambling, and I have a vision of a grown-up desperately trying to be hip wiv da kidz innit.
  • Flexible: Yes, it’s certainly that. Perhaps too flexible: all you need is the right colour combinations and a couple of jagged edges and you’ve got a cast-iron knock-off. See also ‘dynamic’: there’s so much you could do with this brand that you might end up doing very little to avoid diluting it too much.
  • Inspirational: Nope, sorry. It doesn’t inspire me. Well, it’s inspired me to write this long piece, but I’m doing so on my backside in front of Big Brother. I’m not sure that’s the inspirational effect they’re aiming for.

Measured against what I believe to be the brief, the logo holds up pretty well. Aesthetically, of course, I don’t think it works. But that’s a different matter (although valid).

How about the alternative logos that people have been creating? How do they measure up to the client’s brief? The BBC News web site lets you vote for your favourite 2012 logo from a small selection of reader submissions, plus the LOCOG-approved logo. Here’s what I think about them (you’ll have to look at the page, I’m not reproducing them all here):

  • Reader logo 1: Nice trick: “2012don” reading as “London”. If LOCOG wanted bland, they’d have chosen something like this. It’s not dynamic or flexible, nor is it inspirational. It’s all about London. Apart from the trick it’s just meh.
  • Reader logo 2: It’s the Union Flag in flames, by the look of it. Cheesy, nationalistic, boring. They’d never have picked this.
  • Reader logo 3: Breaks the Olympic rings (I don’t believe the IOC would allow this today, though they have done so in the past) and reminds me of the current Sky One/Two/Three logos. The lack of a nice arc for the ‘l’ of ‘london’ ruins the effect. But again, pretty bland and undynamic, just a bit of a trick (finding letters in the rings). Again, it’s all about London.
  • Reader logo 4: This kind of idea is the safe choice. But LOCOG didn’t want anything sporty. This logo fails miserably on that score. Again, another trick (finding a runner from the digits in 2012).
  • Reader logo 5: It’s a logo for a radio station. Next!
  • Reader logo 6: Clearly infringes Transport for London’s roundel logo, and thus is lawyer fodder. Screams London, but that’s not what LOCOG wants the logo to do (can you imagine that logo adorning Anfield for an Olympic football match?). Apart from that, wow, how bland can you get?

None of those logos fulfils the brief as well as the chosen logo does. (Predictably, Reader logo 1 is the most popular with voters, with Reader logo 3 in second place. People love a nice trick in a logo.)

What happens next? For what it’s worth, I think the (ugh) “brand attributes” are all desirable ones; but I don’t much like the end result, along with the vast majority of the public it seems.

LOCOG can either stand its ground or cave in. They’ll be nervous since they’re already under fire for budget escalations and everyone’s worried the Olympics are going to turn into Wembley times ten. They’ll hope that the fuss will die down, the brand and the logo will begin to seep into people’s brains, and the much-promised dynamic, flexible etc nature will start to win people over.

But I find it hard to believe that they’ll be able to ignore such a hugely negative reaction – if they listen to the people, they have to act.

Just as long as they ignore what the people are saying.

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London

At 12.49pm today I was sitting in my car, listening to the radio, as IOC president Jacques Rogge made the announcement.

To say I was surprised is one hell of an understatement. I’ve spent the afternoon shaking my head in disbelief.

Like losing on penalties to the Germans, it was inevitable that Paris would get the Olympics. London was destined to be runner-up, plucky losers, etc.

But not this time. God, I hope we don’t cock it up.

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