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  • Eurhythmics -- Love is a Stranger
  • Lana Del Rey -- Born To Die
  • Lana Del Rey -- Videogames
  • Kylie Minogue -- Can't Get You Outta My Head
  • Public Service Broadcasting -- The War Room EP -- If War Should Come, London Can Take it, Spitfire, Dig for Victory, Waltz for George
  • Florence and the Machine -- Dog Days
  • PJ Harvey -- Dress
  • Emili Sande -- Next to Me
  • Goldfrapp -- White Horse


Aug. 21st, 2012 12:52 am
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People say that the Soviet Union was strange for its obsession with tractors and combine harvesters, that there was something bathetic about elevating agricultural machinery to the pinacle of civilization.

It's harvest right now.

You usually see the dust first, rising behind a treeline. Then you round a corner and see one of these massive machines working boustrophedon as Greek was written.

Setting aside the kings, there are folk who'll praise Locke or Hobbs, or Newton or Gallileo, or Caxton or Watt, or Shakespeare or Moliere for civilization.

But I reckon no one has done as much to civilize man as folk like Jethro Tull or Fritz Haber; people who tinker with tractor PTOs and patent better three-point linkages. I think it's beyond reasonable argument that the tractor engine is the pinacle of engineering.

These days I'm getting quite tired of arguments about politics and modern technology. I am passionate about aspects of both, but that doesn't mean that they're particularly important.

I've never been sure that agriculture was a particularly good idea. Whether it was or not, the loop between agricultre and nomadism has considerable hysteresis, and we are agrarians. One of the hysterical aspects is population size. There are more people than any other single species of vertebrate. Another element is fixed Nitrogen. More Nitrogen, -- the primary rate-limiting nutrient of plant life, -- is fixed anually by the Haber process than by the entire biosphere.

There was an awful lot written about the West country by people who went there on holidays, and at its best it touches on the mysteries and pain of living, but tends to make a poor geography lesson or almanac.

People often put industry and agriculture in opposition, but industry is an palliative and analgesic to the worst effects of agriculture, to its dehumanising and hegemonic pressures, while never claiming to treat the underlying disease.

Let's not kid ourselves that if we were hungry we wouldn't be looking at ducks in the park or rabbits in the field as tonights dinner; that we wouldn't be idolising at every slaughter and fighting over every berry and fruit if our bellies were empty. We can all claim to be self-realised and in harmony and all the while connected by an umbilical to pea-harvesters and silage clamps. In the background to almost any magnanamous act, every act of charitable giving and compassion, is a combine harvester.

If food grows very poorly next year we will strangle animals and steal bread.

L and I watched hedgehogs in the garden last night, mating and searching for food. This morning the bus hit a woodpigeon, which flew on but sounded mortally wounded. On the way home, a moorhen was recovering a single chick, a black ball or uncontrolled fluff, which had separated from its parent in the wake of a passing coxless rowing boat. As they swam back, chirping insistantly to each other, they were separated by another college boat. The parent swam away in three or four powerful strokes, but the chick was narrowly missed and tossed aside. In the end they reached the protection of the willow on the far bank. Swans were cast every which-way, but swans can handle the world themselves.

As we spread across the land it is irritating to see our river so pointlessly used for so imperilling a sport. All animals are heterotrophs and eating is such a part of us, reflected in the structures of our body, -- we're crossed right through by eating -- that I think food is almost a sacrament, and that admits acts which would otherwise be barbarity. I find it hard to believe that, for me, that could be countermanded by anything of the mind.

nn all


Aug. 13th, 2012 08:35 pm
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One of the things I find hardest about history is to understand that at any particular point in the past, the future was unknown. But things make a lot more sense if I can manage it. It's similar to the difference between drama and sport.
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Folk use an odd kind of language on Pinterest. They put a picture on their stream-thing and say "Would be great for a wedding" or "Would make a good DIY project" or "An interesting fall color combination". It's weirdly non-specific, all those "a"'s and "an"'s. Whose? Why? In what circumstances?

It's as if the people of Pinterest are in underbutlers and dressers in uncertain correspondence with an unseen heavenly utopia which they're not sure really exists.

It reminds me in an odd way of television adverts where they say that far too much. A to B: "You know that cleaning product you were recommended by that guy at that party?".


Aug. 6th, 2012 11:52 pm
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O Corby -- fate hath forsaken thee! 
Tear a-twain thy Kettering bus-link
and smother thy cube. 

The gods have forsaken thee and thou
art unborn! 
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Maybe the least interesting poll ever posted on Dreamwidth, :-). Bear with me, m'dears!

Poll #11330 O, India...
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 6

...what has become of you?

View Answers

poor synchrony on establishing grid interconnects
1 (16.7%)

tuned-circuit resonance
1 (16.7%)

near-simultaneous loss of generating sets
1 (16.7%)

hacking of embedded controllers at inverter stations at DC grid interconnects
1 (16.7%)

almost disjoint subgrids leading to emergent large scale effects
1 (16.7%)

excessive load at large consumers
0 (0.0%)

supply/demand mismanagement / poor frequency control
1 (16.7%)

grid faults (loss of oil, cracked insulators, flashover at substations, etc)
1 (16.7%)

high-capacity unathorized grid interconnects
0 (0.0%)

bad firmware / incompetent staff performing power-transfer management at DC-interconnects
0 (0.0%)

phase imbalance / asymmetric faults
1 (16.7%)

failed frequency-managed load shedding at large consumers (coldstores etc)
1 (16.7%)

economists (power trading, enron, etc)
2 (33.3%)

politicians (intrigues, separatism, etc)
2 (33.3%)

klingons on the starboard bow
4 (66.7%)

holdthesky: (Default)
Depressing that the media need a drug story so bad that they'll leap on an interpretation of half a sentence uttered by a man in the midst of a defeat about someone who tested negative for drugs and spend many minutes on the national news about it.

I don't blame the coach guy for saying it. I guess he was being honest about what he was wondering: that's up to him and whether it's reasonable in a kind of Bayesian sense doesn't really matter (and I don't know) because it's understandable why he thought and said it, and it makes sense to stand. He's clearly no monster himself. People have often said ungracious things in defeat, even coaches, and voicing an opinion which you honestly hold can often be a bad or inappropriate idea, but I think it's probably quite low down in the list of life's misdemeanors.

The poor girl has just swum the races of her life and it's being soured. I'm happy to congratulate her on her work, and maybe I'll be disappointed, but it's stupid to turn ourselves into the kind of societies which prepuncture all our balloons for the anxious fear, -- on the sight of their taught skin, -- that they might one day accidentally pop and so spread misery in the world.

Yet again, the news agenda even of "quality" outlets (which presumably saw a narrative here and ran with it) is making the world a worse place by taking the understandable acts of people in the midst of being alive and searching for a map, no matter how tentative, onto the Rolling News Big Book Of How Things Might Become Awful. If there is insufficient news today it would be better that journalists put on a little light music than go around miserablising our country.
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The architects and Engineering companies which designed and built the Olympic Stadiums and Olympic Park for the London 2012 Olympic games aren't (other than a couple) allowed to trumpet this to potential clients because they haven't paid the relevant moolah to the blazer brigade to be an Olympic sponsor. Here is a list of those companies compiled by Peter Murray. I've done my best to find their websites:

I have no connections to any of these companies, just a dislike of cartels. I tell a lie, I once went in a building made by Arup and it was a bit smelly but I don't think that was their fault.

(Thanks to duckduckgo for their zeroclick feature with !g and !w as a backup, this post would have taken ages to write if I'd been a google or bing user. "Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands" considerably more searchable than "And Architecture". Original list seen on a photo of a t-shirt pinned by Charles Elliot on Pinterest from dezeen.com. Hyperlinking my fault. I'll do my best to make corrections).

CC0, love is sharing.


Jul. 23rd, 2012 02:12 am
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On the train back from Kings Cross last night, I was struck again by the endlessness of the suburbs. Not even London proper, garden cities, consumed villages, planned towns -- that great disenfranchised pergatory. You can't write about suburbia or draw it, it evokes memories and feelings in those who have already choked in its embrace, but that is all.

But I'm convinced that there is something that needs to be said. I find it so frustrating that I can't find a way to express it.


Utility Pole

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I'm naturally wary of cartels, particularly in food.

The abolition of cartels and fixed pricing are probably one of the reasons that England has a unique record in terms of freedom from famine, maybe in the whole world. I wish people would sing more about this kind of thing than the bombastic rubbish which the patriotic Cameroonies ply us with.

But I'm also an advocate of producer rights. That's a hard circle to square, again one we can be proud England has struggled with.

I was wondering about a few ideas.

One is the ability for producers or cartels of producers or producer-dominated quango board to set a maximum price for retail sales of a product. It's a producer's natural tendency to seek the highest price of their product at their farm/factory gate, but the maximum retail price could also be a valuable object to sell, ancillary to the product. Presumably an organisation which sought to profiteer would pay a premium for a higher maximum retail price, meaning that the profiteering would extend at least to the producer? Genuine pile high and sell cheap outfits would accept a lower MRP and so be able to buy the raw product more cheaply (a lower MRP having a lower value to the intermediaries than a higher one and so a lower price). It should encourage disintermediation and leaner intermediaries. But my brain is too muddled to work this through, how the various folk would act. It seems far too bizarre for me to think through: it probably has a fatal flaw!

The thing I like about it is that it allows prices to rise during shortage and people to shift from meat to grain1 and generally avoids consumer shafting typical of cartels. I wonder if someone's studied "producer set maximum retail prices"?

1. I was thinking the other day about what would happen if the crops failed in the west because you have this problem that food is so fundamental that demand is relatively inelastic. If prices need, in a strong sense, to decrease consumption to lower demand then you worry that there would need to be a collapse in almost all other parts of the economy (people shedding spending there first) before they'd be prepared to eat less: either folk would react quickly enough (including shedding debt and obligations) and so have nothing but food but live or they would die clutching iPads in their hands: neither of which are attractive. Prices would presumably suddenly rise massively non-linearly until they exceeded the cost of all other spending and then start acting linearly again to supply and demand. The big buffer it seems, to me, is meat animal food (which is mainly grain). If grain becomes less available, then meat becomes more expensive more quickly and people switch to grain and in the short term more meat becomes available as farmers slaughter early. In an omnivore agricultural system, there's always the prospect of a switch to the more efficient herbivorous system in times of shortage.
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In the late eighties my school friends and I went on a cultural exchange to the USSR. Part of this was a three our long organ recital in Smolensk Cathedral. Us fourteen year olds were well aware of our representative status and were all well behaved, imitating reserves demonstrated by PoWs in "the cooler" in PoW camps. We would survive the trial with our heads held high and show the damn Ruskies what we were made of.

This being way back in the mists of time, and not having had too rarified an education, this music was all ski sunday to me. Now Smolensk cathedral is a high Orthodox kind of place, a bit like a pop-up illuminated manuscript, all gold leaf and lanky folk drawn in rectangular inserts near candles. I remember, to pass the time, imagining people slaloming around the candlesticks and binging on cowbells.

I have never really been interested in skiing, but Ski Sunday was actually quite listenable to, and it kind of resembled modern experimental music if you ignored the visuals. I used to put it on and read a book. Someone should do a score: one of those modern folk who invent notation. Here's how it sounded.

  • Introduction was that kind of pop-Bach jazz theme.
  • A middle aged man in a very bulky jacket said "Welcome to [somewhere you've never heard of]". These places always had wonderful names. Things like (these are made up) Øeglestad, Valerain, St Crecy's, Mont Kröglestein, La-mal du midi (cradle of The Angevin kings and Franz Kramer's famous La Coupe de Répend hat-trick in the early 1970s). Importantly this is about all he said and then shut up. There were no skiing Alan Shearers or Gary Linekers waffling away for hours on end.
  • Then there was the sound of an electronic thing like the pips but oddly more insistent and raspy: like the pips on twenty a day. Pip, pip, pip, Peep.
  • Then there was a lot of swooshing. The swooshing would come in waves (as swooshing should), it sounded a like the sea, but had an attack and decay envelope more like traffic. It was the noise that waves would make on a busy day were waves to have motorways.
  • Odd choirs of people would sing Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy, impossibly quickly and bang on cow bells.
  • About half way around the guy at the start would say "it's good" or "a tentative start" (and nothing else)
  • More swooshing, oying, cowbells.
  • A final, more expansive woosh and polite but enthusiastic applause.
  • The whole movement would repeat a dozen times with subtle development and variations.
  • The introduction guy would say "next week we'll be in ... [somewhere equally exotic]".
  • A recapitulation of the introductory theme to close.

Television was as bizarre when I was a kid as it is now, but didn't seem quite as willfully psychotic, more bumblingly deranged.
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Last night I went up to run a bath and started the water running and put the blue bubbles in and when I looked around there was a little spider (Pholcus sp) in the froth, I think it was a baby P. Phalangioides. It was horribly encumbered and looked dead: its legs were clumped together and against its body in a diamond shape. I was stupid because I usually check, but I wasn't thinking.

Anyway, I scooped the thing out with a bit of froth and put it on the white tile shelf under the triptych vanity mirror. I know from surprises in the past that sometimes all that these motes need is a bit of drying out time. So I got a bit of loo roll, and divided away the froth not under the chap and then tried to wick the water out from closer to the body. The spider was still completely inert.

After a few accidental upskittlings that I thought would do for him, I managed to blow his body up enough to quickly skit some loo-roll under his body. SLS is nasty stuff, whatever the packaging says, and I thought that spiders had trachaeal systems like insects that mean they could easily drown or by poisoned by even a narrow covering of foamy bath stuff. Turns out I was wrong, Pholcus spp have bookungs but, anyway, drying out asap seemed in order.

Once all the water was plausibly soaked up on the body the spider was still inert. So I was thinking of giving up at this point, but then I realised that the spiders legs were probably still all bound together by surface tension, making it unable to move. Now this was a bit worrying because I know spider knees are incredibly delicate, biologically. If you think how prone to injury and easy to permanently damage human knees are, think of the thing shrunk down to the size of a spider with thread-like legs and eight times as many joints.

I thought there wasn't much to be lost at this point, but I discovered another problem I'd not anticipated: it's hard to tell which order the legs should go in. I don't have a microscope in the bathroom (not surprisingly), so I did my best, but all the time was thinking of the massive lateral and otherwise inappropriate forces I must be putting on the spider's joints. In the end, I got the legs on the right side and separate but not necessarily in the right order and in a broad arch shape at its two joints. The body was still plonked on the tile. There were only seven legs.

So at this point, there was not much to do, but I blew on it a little part as a provocation I guess. Anyway, the front legs start wiggling and at first I thought it was with my breath, but in the end I was pretty sure it was moving by internal means, but the movement was intermittent, limited to two legs and convulsive. At this point it's kind of depressing because it looks like it's just death throes. So I go to finish off the bath temperature. The tiles have a translucent surface and it's hard from the bath to see where the surface is and a couple of times I thought the body suspended in the air, in the manner of a living spider, only to find it plonked on the deck.

But the third time, I find the body is actually a few millimetres above the glass of the tile. It looked kind of hopeful at this point because it was either a cruel trick of dying or an act of volition. Then, to my amazement, the spider started stamping on the tile with each of its legs in turn. I suppose it served some purpose for the spider. This was all pretty exciting. It's didn't seem to be losing any hemolymph (to the extent you can tell for such small a beast!). Maybe they are better at losing limbs than us bigger animals.

The spider started moving off but at each cycle in its gait it fell plonk onto the tile again, presumably due to the amputated leg (rhs, one from the front). The thing depressingly struggled slowly across the tiles each time crashing to the ground.

But then, amazingly, it discovered some gait which meant it stayed aloft, initially only judderingly, but increasingly with dexterity. Anyway, the spider sat on a bottle of bathroom stuff, and I left it to it. A few minutes later, the spider had gone, off on its way to do whatever seven-legged spiders do.

I'm posting this because I want to encourage people to try if they are inclined, not to be downhearted by fantasies of futility.


Jul. 17th, 2012 10:06 pm
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Just raising the signal of Waterstone's excellent new coinage

Vote for what we should call the massive international sporting event we can't say the name of:

a) Seb Coes Big Sports Day
b) Lord Voldesport (it which cannot be named) (winner)
c) The TfL overcapacity Test
d) Fifty Shades of Games
e) Henry

holdthesky: (Default)
On the basis of this video for "Hello" and remembering the "Stay" video all these years after, I'd be interested in seeing Shakespear's Sisters' all female version of Macbeth, were such a thing to exist. Which it should: that's why I should be a millionaire D'Oyly Carte type. (I'd settle for them doing Hamlet).


Jul. 11th, 2012 09:22 pm
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(via MBM)
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I was outraged when I discovered what was going on ... I am terribly sorry for the failings at the firm ... it falls short of the standards ... I was personally outraged ... I'ts not acceptable ... Cheerio, I'm off to The Cotswolds

I've had trouble sleeping recently, so I've been watching a fair amount of BBC Parliament (because it's usually the best thing on, not because it's soporific, though The House Of Lords is pretty boring!).

One of the things that I've realised is that the committee system of calling folk to account doesn't seem to be working.

There was an interesting piece on The Record Bites by a chap on the Treasury Select Committee where he was talking about the dual role of select committees, (can't remember his name, ginger hair, a bit van Gough-ey): the first is a forensic and investigatory role, where they try to find out what went on, and the second is a role of holding to account where MPs forcefully put the concerns of the electorate to the person before them.

It seems to me that these two aspects are getting in the way of each other. The first certainly seems valuable and, if the latter is valuable, I think it would be better to separate them (as kind of medieval stocks for plutocrats, I'm not so sure it is, but as they seem to face few other sanctions in their charmed lives of crime, I'd be loathe to abandon it).

For example, it's clear that all these Chairmen and other cream have had training at Emote, Fobbing and Fobbing or similar high-class spiv finishing schools. You'd be much more likely to find out what's going on if you called up random people from the marzipan layer, ideally ones with nothing to lose from spilling the beans: people on the out, with an axe to grind, or have been emotionally unbalanced by the affairs. That would stand a much better chance of splitting the rotten fruit in two. I believe that parliament has in its power the ability to call up whoever it wants, so that should be do-able.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be fair for these people to be faced by parliaments bruisers whether incisive hard-hitters or fools like the MP for Dover (I forget his name, acts like Alan B'Stard on the Charity Commission Select Committee). An investigation like that would need to be carried out with a more measured tone, I think.

When that's done you could have the pointy-stick committee call up the people at the top to shout at them, if you must.

The first committee needs sensible people on it and it's not entirely clear to me where you find those amongst MPs. Not that there aren't many sensible folk across all parties in parliament but that it's hard to appoint them in terms which would keep out the few overwhelming fools (who are often just new MPs who haven't got a grip yet, so it's not their fault, but if you shake their legs they do jingle for a few years, it seems). Judges would be a disaster because judges, while also being sensible folk on the whole (though there are also exceptions), foolishly tend to associate with lawyers. Bishops would probably do a pretty good job, I think, but there aren't that many to go around. You'd need to extend it to include other faiths, n'all, n'none, somehow. I don't think you can (or should: definitely shouldn't, in fact) make it explicitly religious, but if someone could draw up some secular parameters which encompass folk like bishops, that would probably be the kind of folk you'd be after. The Lords might do quite a good job, actually. We just need a way of keeping them awake for long enough. But I'm not really satisfied by any of these suggestions. What do these Investigative Magistrate johnny's in Europe do?

The other thing which really needs sorting, I think, is the idea of sub judice: that gordian knot needs to be cut by someone with some courage, someone with an assistant who's prepared to navigate the fog and sherry fumes of those wallowing in sentimental invocation of parliamentary tradition, and other canards.

Anyway that's my 2p! :-)
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So, I was reading this BBC article about the OraQuick home-test HIV kit.

I thought the statistics were very unclear, and that handing these kits out without more careful thought in the accompanying literature is liable to cause a lot of harm and distress to people.

The manufacturer claims that the test is 99% accurate in the case of a false-positive, and 92% in the case of a false negative. I'm sure they're honest folk.

On the face of it, that sounds very reassuring, but look at it like this.

I guess there are about 150,000 people with HIV in the UK out of a population of 60m (say). If everyone were to test (without any prior bias with respect to their status) then 1% of the non-infected population, about 600,000 people, would get a false positive diagnosis. Now, it's estimated that 20% of the HIV-positive population don't know that they're infected, and that means about 14,000 people would potentially learn of a positive status with this kit.

If you are someone with a positive test result, you could be one of the 14,000 who are HIV positive, or one of the 600,000 who false positives. Not everyone will take the test but the proportions will stay the same if there's no testing bias.

In other words, if you get a positive test with this case, there's around a 2% chance you are HIV positive, 98% of positive tests will be false alarms.

Even more sadly, I suspect this kit will be widely used in the wake of sexual assault or reckless sexual encounters to provide reassurance and I'm not sure that something for which 98% of alarms are false will really help.

There will be election bias which will level those percentages a little (people who are HIV positive will more likely seek the test) but I find it hard to believe it will help much and when you're relying on "priors" so much you're really doing little other than testing peoples fears.

I hope that this test doesn't cause too much unnecessary distress.

OS Advice

Jun. 30th, 2012 02:16 pm
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At home we only have one proper computer, a 2009-ish desktop Intel Mac with 2GB. I've been impressed with the hardware, particularly the screen.

Mac OS X is a bit pants, though. It is full of arbitrary buy-barriers and is infuriatingly inscrutable when it comes to issues, and incompatibilities that won't be fixed because Apple would rather that you...: it's like buying a 1990s-style-shareware operating system.

So I installed Linux on it, and other than the disaster of Gnome 3, Unity, etc, and all the unnecessary desktop innovation and social fartery, which I eventually found a way around, it's been doing me well.

If I want to do anything interesting or constructive or creative, I use Linux on the Mac and if I'm paying the gas bill, or going to my bank, or writing a letter, or downloading an MP3 from Amazon, or whatever, I use Mac OS X. You have to do that because usually Linux isn't supported by external folk. My bank, for example, refuse to guarantee loses incurred as a result of fraud while using an OS other than Windows or Mac. I'm sure that it's safer for me to use Linux, but I'm insured if I take the more dangerous option, so I do that.

The problem is that I am using Mac OS X 10.5. Lots of folk are giving up on 10.5 support. If I'm going to continue down the path of supporting Mac OS X, I'll need to shell out for 10.6 and 10.7 eventually, making it cost about £60 quid.

As what I'm using Mac OS X for is "I'm a PC" stuff, that's usually much better supported in Windows and it only costs £100 or so. It seems like in practice you can hang on to a MS OS for longer than a Mac, too, and sometimes skip a release, so it might be lower cost in the end.

If I were buying a machine now, I'd get a dual boot Windows and Linux machine. But this computer is fine and actually quite nice. As I understand it, you can install Windows on a Mac. Is that right? Does that still work? It would be fun to triple boot, I guess, because I'm supposing you can't remove Mac OS X from a Mac, or that it would be inadvisable to do so because of firmware update type stuff?

My main priority would be to minimise the amount of money I spend on computers (which have been generally sufficient to satisfy my requirements for about ten years now), or operating systems (ditto, though they do seem to be regressing). Though that might mean I spend now to get off the Apple treadmill. I don't want to shell out a hundred quid keeping the Mac going if I soon switch to a PC. What do folk think?


Jun. 25th, 2012 11:37 pm
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Rainbow Dash automaton(sfw). Seriously wow. Yes, the pony is mahogany, too, coated in enamel paint.
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