Welcome to the ASSAP paranormal blog! Though this blog is aimed at anyone interested in the paranormal, it will be of particular interest to the paranormal research community. Updated frequently, but not regularly (don't expect something new every day!), it covers any paranormal topic, as well as highlighting recent changes to the ASSAP website. You may not notice it but this site changes on an almost daily basis.
Whenever new information becomes available on a subject ASSAP covers, it is added to the relevant pages of the website straight away. So, just because you've read a page, don't assume it will still be exactly the same when you next look. That way the ASSAP website remains an up to date research resource.
The photo (above right, pic by Val Hope) is the ASSAP blogger himself, out looking for anomalies wherever they are to be found, so that you can read about them here.
Important note: If anything in this blog does not make sense, try following the links in text! If it still doesn't make sense, that's probably my fault ...
Previous blog pages ... (including ghosts, UFOs, poltergeists, flying rods, miracles, orbs, hypnotic regression, big cats, vampires, near sleep experiences, premonitions, shadow ghosts, paranormal photos, auras, river monsters and dozens of other subjects)
ASSAP @ 30: A series of posts summarising what we have learned through thirty years of ASSAP, whose anniversary was 10 June. See here!
29 June: Paranormal is against the laws of science!
It is often said that the paranormal is against the laws of science. I have no problem with that statement. However, I have seen it used as an argument against the existence of the paranormal! This makes no sense to me.
Science is our closest model (or theory) of how nature works. But it is a model, not the reality itself. And it is a provisional model at that, always open to change as new evidence emerges. So, for instance, Newton's description of gravity works pretty well for predicting things like the motion of the planets. However, there are tiny but obvious discrepancies in its predictions, like the anomalous advance of the perihelion of Mercury. This was eventuallly explained by the general Theory of Relativity, which is a much more accurate description of gravity. However relativity will, in turn, one day be replaced by an even more accurate theory of gravity. That is the way science works, always producing a better description of the observed universe. We can never have a completely accurate model of the universe, only ever a provisional one.
Now suppose someone came up with an easily repeatable experiment that demonstrated beyond doubt that telepathy existed. It would mean that our existing theories of science would need to be adjusted to take this evidence into account. As a result we would have a more accurate model of nature. Scientific theories rise and fall entirely according go the evidence. If there is sound evidence that the paranormal exists then it is the scientific theories that are wrong, not the evidence.
So we cannot dismiss the paranormal on the basis that it defies science. If we can account for the results of paranormal experiments or observations using existing science, that's fine. It means that the evidence is not good enough to show that the paranormal exists. But if the evidence simply cannot be explained by existing scientific theories, it means they are wrong.
27 June: Doppelganger mystery solved!
Once again I noticed a ghostly menacing dark figure standing behind me, reflected in the glass of a door I was facing! As previously reported (see here and here), this repeating phenomenon only happens if I'm not expecting it, making it impossible to prepare for! I have nicknamed the phenomenon my 'doppelganger' for reasons explained in the links just given.
Anyway, once I realized that the 'doppelganger' was once more visible, I had the presence of mind not to move my head. In this way I could ensure that the dark object remained steadily visible, which it did. It was an 'amorphous black triangle' in my peripheral vision, as I've described before.
This time, instead of looking round, which always causes the phenomenon to vanish, I looked down. This meant that I got a view of the reflection in my central vision. And what did I see? My own hand, that's what! It did indeed resemble a dark triangle against a bright background but, nevertheless, how could I ever have thought it was a figure standing behind me? The clue is that I always saw the 'doppelganger' in my peripheral vision and always reflected. This meant that it was exceptionally difficult to judge its real distance or size. Instead of the nearby hand-sized object that it really was, I saw a more distant, and by implication much larger, dark object 'standing' behind me!
There are important lessons to be learnt here. For instance, suppose I only ever had this experience once. I could have perfectly reasonably reported it as a shadow ghost standing menacingly behind me. But because I had the same experience repeatedly, at the same location, I was able to build up a more and more detailed picture until I finally worked out what was actually going on. By contrast, in most ghost sighting cases, individual witnesses rarely see the same apparition repeatedly in the same location. And even if they do, then, as in my case, they are almost never expecting it!
It makes you wonder how many one-off sightings of ghosts could be readily explained by xenonormal causes if only they were repeated (and people were ready for them). Instead, as so often in life, first impressions dominate. Few witnesses stray from their original impression that they've definitely seen a ghost even when, as in my case, it is quite obvious they have not!
25 June: But that isn't what happened!
Do you remember the precise circumstances in which you took a photo several weeks ago? I'll admit that I don't remember such things and that's despite the fact that photography is a hobby of mine and I like to take special care over my snaps.
Take the photo here (right), for instance. It shows vegetation but it is blurred. However the shutter speed was 1/250s, it was daylight and with a focal length of 32mm it is difficult to see how focusing could be a problem. So why is it blurred?
The answer is that it was taken through the window of a moving vehicle. Not only does that produce motion blurring but reflections and dirt on the window can soften the image. But what if the photographer insists that the photo was not taken in a vehicle of any sort?
This is a variation on the 'it wasn't there when I took the photo' type of event (see here). However, instead of failing to notice an object that really was present, the photographer forgets how the photo was taken. I have come across several cases where photos were clearly taken through a window but the photographer insists they were not. I've also come across photos obviously taken from moving vehicles where, again, the photographer insists they were not. The real problem arises when the effects are subtle and it is NOT obvious that the photographer has mis-remembered.
We tend to think of photographs as accurate records of an event, independent of witness testimony with all its failings. But sometimes the circumstances of how a photo was taken are vital to analyzing it. And so we are back to relying on witness testimony once again! In such cases, I usually go with what the photo shows, rather than what the witness recalls. Photos are not infallible but they are a lot more accurate than human memory.
21 June: I really don't know what I saw!
As I passed a van parked alongside the pavement I noticed, in my peripheral vision, a figure in the passenger seat. I turned around as I passed by, to get a better look.
As the van was parked facing the same direction that I was walking, I could not see if there was anyone, or anything, in the seat until I drew alongside the side window. So I really had no idea what I would see as I turned back to look into the windscreen. And what I saw was an ordinary human being! OK, it COULD have been a ghost but I had no reason to suppose it was. If you're not a regular reader then all this is probably not making much sense so I'll explain why this was a surprise.
What I was EXPECTING to see was a coat, or some other inanimate object, in the passenger seat. In other words, I was expecting that it was a misperception, rather than a real life person. I've had many such experiences before (such as here). I considered a misperception likely because, in my experience, people do not often sit in parked vans by the side of a street around here.
My point is that, while a lot of stuff in peripheral vision is misperception, it is not always wrong. And here's the problem - our brains always tell us that whatever we are seeing is right, whether it really is or not! And when it comes to peripheral vision, it is wrong quite often, but not always. There's no consistent way of determining what is misperception and what is not. Only by actively investigating the circumstances are we likely to find the correct answer. Simply remembering what you saw is never enough, unfortunately!
As an investigator, you should treat any observation made with peripheral vision only with the the strictest caution. There is a significant likelihood that it is wrong! It is your job to investigate such observations, on site, to see if misperception, a strong possibility in all such cases, could be responsible.
20 June: I only see ghosts when I don't expect them!
I had the 'doppelganger experience' again the other day (see here). I became aware of a shadowy figure behind me, reflected in a window. As I looked directly towards the 'figure', it vanished. On this particular occasion, I was able to recall the experience in more detail than previously. So here are some new details.
Firstly, the 'figure' was actually a rather amorphous shape, best described as a black triangle! The only reason it 'felt' like a person, despite the shape, was the way it behaved, apparently appearing behind me on a path, as you might expect a person to do. The second interesting point was that the figure was apparently about a metre behind where my reflection appeared. I had previously thought I was catching a reflection of my own body but now it seems not. So I would more properly call the phenomenon a shadow ghost rather than doppelganger.
OK, it's not really a doppelganger or a shadow ghost - it is definitely a peripheral vision misperception (which are typically monochrome with an ill-defined shape). Unusually, it's reasonably easy to reproduce this shadow ghost - provided I forget it's happened before, that is! It only reappears when I have forgotten to expect it. If I actively look for the shadow, nothing appears!
This is typical of ghosts which seldom, if ever, appear if you actively seek them out. As I've mentioned before, the best ghostly experiences on vigils tend to happen during breaks or when you are setting up or packing away. In other words, when you are not actively looking for ghosts! This is, perhaps, what you might expect, given that most ghost sightings turn out, on investigation, to be misperception. I've had repeat misperception before and noticed the same effect (see here) - that it only reappears when you've stopped expecting it.
That ghosts seldom, if ever, appear if you actively seek them out, is another one of those curious facts about ghosts that is quite widely known but seldom discussed. Like haunting hot spots, I suspect the reason it is not talked about is that it does not obviously support the assumption that ghosts are spirits. If only people would drop such unsupported assumptions they would find there is so much interesting stuff to find out about ghosts.
18 June: Is anecdotal evidence ever good enough?
Reports of the paranormal are often referred to disparagingly as 'only anecdotal'. Does this entitle us to dismiss all such evidence as worthless? Definitely not!
The vast majority of paranormal reports involve experiences that leave no physical trace or record. And even where they do leave a 'trace' there is seldom, if ever, any evidence that the paranormal produced it. For instance, if a witness sees an object moving on its own, all you have afterwards is an object in a different place to where it started. There is no evidence, other than witness testimony, to say it wasn't moved in a normal way.
My point is that the vast majority of paranormal reports are, in essence, accounts of a personal experience. Even where machines are involved, such as in EVP, all you have is a recording which could have been created in a completely mundane way. It is only the circumstances of the recording that might suggest it is paranormal. It is the person assessing the recording who decides whether such a recording is paranormal or not. For instance, one person may hear a clear voice in an EVP recording while someone else hears only noise. So, once again, it comes back to the paranormal being an account of a personal experience.
Thus, to me at least, paranormal reports are all about personal experience. And, until we have machines that can read people's thoughts, our only access to personal experience is the anecdote. In these circumstances, I think it is fair to accept anecdotal evidence for paranormal reports.
BUT ... this does not mean we should accept all paranormal reports at face value. We know that witness testimony is unreliable so all such evidence needs to be weighted according to a number of factors. These would include the following:
- only first hand testimony is acceptable as evidence
- the older an experience, the less reliable we should consider recollections
- appropriate techniques, like cognitive interviewing, must be used to gather recollections
- corroborative evidence, like other witness reports or instrumental recordings, adds weight to any anecdotal account
So a single report by one person of a rectangular UFO seen briefly would have low weighting compared to a ghostly figure seen at the same place by multiple, independent witnesses on different occasions. The last example would be reasonable evidence that there is 'something' making people see a figure at a particular location. It would not be enough evidence to demonstrate that the 'something' was paranormal - it could be misperception, for instance.
If used carefully, anecdotal evidence is perfectly reasonable for studying paranormal experience. Unfortunately, such evidence has got a bad reputation because many people extrapolate far beyond the available evidence. For instance, there is a compelling case to be made that people see ghosts (defined as figures that 'should not be there') from carefully collected anecdotal evidence. But there is no strong case to be made for the idea that ghosts are spirits from the same body of evidence. In many cases, these experiences are caused by misperception or hallucination. And yet, many ghost researchers use assumption-led techniques despite there being little evidence to back up such assumptions. This has the effect of devaluing the original anecdotal evidence, which is why it ends up being widely dismissed!
Anecdotal evidence is the only way we currently have to record spontaneous paranormal experiences. We should be concentrating on developing better techniques to gather this important data as accurately as possible. We should also be using xenonormal studies to filter out the evidence which has mundane causes. If used carefully, without extrapolating too much, anecdotal evidence is indeed good enough to study paranormal experiences.
14 June: How do you know what to believe about the paranormal?
Technobabble is everywhere in paranormal research. When people quote you a reading from EMF meter, for instance, what can you really make of it? And how does it relate to the paranormal?
Unfortunately, the signs are not good that technicalities are being dealt with well in paranormal research. Take paranormal photos, for instance. If you search the web you can easily find technical analyses of anomalous photos. In some cases they are being used to show that the photo is inexplicable, in others that there is a natural explanation. But how can you tell if the technicalities are actually correct?
I once wrote in this blog that the first line in a book explaining how to analyze a paranormal photo should read "First learn the technical aspects of photography." Unfortunately, there is no short cut around that task. I have often read analyses of photos which explained why it had a natural cause. While I could agree there was a natural explanation, I found myself disagreeing profoundly with the reasons given!
Given such examples, I find it difficult to trust technical explanations offered in paranormal research in fields where I have little or no expertise. Of course, this problem is not confined to the paranormal. There are many websites offering differing technical explanations of 'normal' phenomena. Which ones, if any, are we to trust?
The best advice I can offer is to do your own background research. Don't rely on just one source of information but compare it with others to see if there is any kind on consensus. I think the problem may be particularly profound in paranormal research because researchers are often using instruments they are unfamiliar with, to investigate the paranormal. What, for instance, is an 'unusual' reading on an EMF meter? In such cases, it is well worth finding out more about the technicalities of the equipment being used from non-paranormal sources. It may be hard work but there is no short cut if you want to be sure the information you are reading is reliable. Once again, no one ever said paranormal research was easy!
12 June: Do I have a doppelganger?
I suddenly felt uneasy! The reason was a menacing dark figure standing just behind me. I could see them in my peripheral vision reflected in the frosted glass of the door I was closing. I looked up to view the reflection more directly, without turning round. I guess my instinct was not to alert the figure to the fact I'd spotted it! The figure was ME, reflected in the glass!
So, why did I not realise the reflection was me? I think it is a question of knowing my position in space. I felt I was in one place whereas the reflected figure, albeit only when viewed in peripheral vision, appeared to be a little behind. It was most likely a combined misperception and out of the body experience (OBE). Once I could see the reflection in the glass clearly, all sense of another figure being present vanished abruptly - there was just me!
I've had this experience several times at the same door. I know what it is now so I don't feel uneasy any more. But I'm surprised that the perception persists. I believe it happens every time I've consciously forgotten about the previous experience (being a question of forgetting, this is difficult to verify). This is typical of how misperceptions work. This probably shows that the misperception element is stronger than the OBE one. Interestingly, I've never had this experience at night because the reflection cannot be seen then!
Would someone else standing in the same position have the same experience? Maybe, but it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't. I do seem to notice misperception a lot more than most people. Though I've had this experience several times over many months, I certainly never had it before I first began regularly noticing misperceptions. If someone else DID have the experience they could interpret as a doppelganger - a ghost of themselves! They would notice a figure behind them, look up and see only their own reflection. Or they might just think it is a 'run of the mill' ghost. Either way, it felt eerie to me so I guess it would other people too!
Incidentally, even if I don't have a doppelganger, I do have a double! I was stopped once on the street by someone who said I was the spitting image of his son! On a later occasion I saw the son and the resemblance was certainly uncanny. The experience gave me an odd feeling as, no doubt, it did him.
PS: ASSAP was 31 years old two days ago!
8 June: How do you know a witness report is credible?
'Looking along the street, I saw a car go by. The driver briefly glanced in my direction.'
'Looking along the street, I saw a car go by. I suddenly realised, to my horror, that there was no one driving it!'
Which of those two statements would you regard as more credible? Most people would plump for the first. Suppose both statements were made by the same person. If so, on hearing the second statement would you start to doubt the first? Most people would probably not. That's because the first statement describes a mundane experience that we all know is highly likely to be true. So the difference is due to what is allegedly witnessed, rather than the overall credibility of the witness themselves.
In reality, given that we ALL misperceive ALL the time, the first statement is just as likely to be accurate as the second. Many people will no doubt argue with that. But the fact is that much of what you THINK you see every day is wrong! Objects seen in peripheral vision or only glanced briefly or seen in difficult viewing conditions are likely not to be what you think they are. But because we misperceive these things as mundane objects we have no reason to doubt them.
Now consider the first 'credible' statement above. Maybe the witness never saw the driver at all but only a reflection on the windscreen. It is overwhelmingly likely that there WAS a driver in the car (though there are now driverless cars around but they are extremely rare), it does not follow that the witness actually saw them as they claim. Similarly, in the second 'incredible' statement, the witness may have been prevented from seeing a driver, who WAS present, by a reflection on the windscreen.
So what's my point? Firstly, that just because someone reports something mundane, it does not follow that their report is accurate. And, secondly, just because they report something extraordinary, it does not follow that their report is inaccurate.
People often discuss witness credibility in terms of their job, education, health and similar factors. In reality, though these factors may have a bearing, even the most apparently credible witness misperceives. And it is not only extraordinary stuff that they misperceive.
So can we assess witness credibility in a realistic way? Apart from the more obvious conditions that might hamper a witness's ability to report accurately, I think we must treat all people as more or less equally liable to misperceive. More importantly, we must treat the 'normal' bits in a witness statement with as much caution as the extraordinary bits. While this is counter-intuitive, the science suggests it is realistic. Sometimes the extraordinary nature of a report relies on the witness contrasting it with the ordinary stuff apparently seen at the same time. But perhaps both were products of misperception! Or neither! No one ever said this subject was easy!
7 June: Who's there?
When I heard the sound I was puzzled. The noise resembled someone fiddling with a door handle. The door itself was locked, I was alone and certainly not expecting anyone! So who was there? I went to look at the door but there was clearly no one there! Could it be a ghost?
I looked around for other possible sources of the noise. It turned out to be coming from outside. There was a delivery van in the street and the driver was sorting out packages in the back, which is what produced the noise. Once I could SEE what was producing the noise, it no longer sounded like someone fiddling with a door handle! This demonstrates how input from one sense can interact with another to help our brains interpret what is being seen or heard.
Without the visual input, the noise continued to sound like a door handle. This was probably because it was coming from the same general direction as the door. It was a clear case of aural misperception. My brain had decided to interpret an unknown noise in terms of a familiar one. Though they resembled each other, they were clearly different. The unfamiliar sound from outside was substituted with a familiar one from a nearby object in the same general direction from my position. It is important to note that the door was not in direct line of sight when I first heard the sound. Thus my ability to locate the source of the sound was diminished.
This kind of aural misperception may be more common than is generally thought. A frequent report from hauntings is of doors apparently being opened or closed or door handles manipulated. They are usually not in the direct sight of the witness, or it is too dark to see them. The door may be examined later and found to be apparently untouched, in its original position. But what if these sounds are NOT the door being touched or manipulated at all? They could be another, unfamiliar, sound originating from the same general direction, as in the example here. The witness may insist that they KNOW the sound of the door being opened but that does not alter the fact that it could be misperception. Indeed, the very familiarity of a particular noise makes it more likely to be the subject of just such a misperception!
Of course, if a witness observes a door to open, or a handle turned, when hearing the sound then that's different (though even in such cases their may be other explanations than ghosts - see here). But in many cases there is only the SOUND of the door being manipulated. Aural misperception is clearly a strong possibility that needs to be eliminated in such cases.
1 June: Why you should never say 'hello' in an empty building!
'Hello', I called quizzically. I was alone in an empty building and had just heard a sound I didn't recognise. 'Oh no!' I suddenly realized I'd become one of those people I had mocked for decades!
When you are watching a horror movie there is often a scene where a character enters a supposedly empty building alone. They hear a noise and call out 'hello'. What follows is highly predictable! And yet, having mocked these hapless characters for so long, I found myself following their perilous script. The reason is simple. Just as the victim in the movie has no idea they are in a film, nor had I any reason to expect there to be a monster around. And, thankfully, there wasn't!
For most of the time our lives follow the predictable pattern. So when something unusual happens, we are often completely unprepared. For instance, suppose you see a ghost in the street, what should you do? Ideally, try to photograph it, using the mobile phone you're probably carrying, try to memorize the scene, look for other possible witnesses, take notes of exactly what happened and so on. The chances are you'll do none of these things. We humans are not great at reacting to unexpected situations! It's why witnesses to apparently paranormal events hardly ever remember, or far better record, enough useful information to tell if it really was inexplicable.
Will I now stop mocking the 'hello' characters in horror movies, even though they are behaving as any normal person might? No!
|For a review of paranormal research in the noughties, see here.
Last month's (May) website figures are an average of 11739 hits per day. Though significantly down on the previous month's 13727 daily average, it is considerably up on May 2011's average of 8369!
Previous blog pages ...
- May 2012 (including lenticular cloud, ghost encounter, ghost train, weird stuff in a tree, van Gogh, resolution)
- Apr 2012 (including naturalists and ghosts, odd feelings during OBE, wrong kind of sound, voice from nowhere)
- Mar 2012 (including jogging and ghosts, misty ghosts, image noise, full spectrum photography, EVP of machines)
- Feb 2012 (including ghost car, analyzing anomalous photos, ghost at rock concert, OBEs and motion sickness)
- Jan 2012 (including stopping flying rods, photographing fairies, time warp, a ghost tie, ghostly fingers, New Year UFOs)
- Dec 2011 (including missing time, improving ghost vigils, anomalous photos, ghostly faces, seeing fiction)
- Nov 2011 (including OBE video games, EVP and VLF, whatshisname, paranormal misconceptions, invisible ghosts)
- Oct 2011 (including smartphone ghosts, similacrum, smell of ghosts, morphing UFOs, slowing time)
- Sep 2011 (including tidy ghost, MADS, transparent ghost, big announcement, ghost fox, not alone)
- Aug 2011 (including cold spots, spectral hound, triangular UFO, ghost photos, rushing air and being dragged)
- July 2011 (including Hilary Evans, Harry Potter, witness investment, bias in paranormal research, TV detectives)
- June 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, detecting lies, hyper-vigilence, strange thunder)
- May 2011 (including ASSAP @ 30, lone shoes, flying rods, bias, early memories, strange floating object)
- Apr 2011 (including royal wedding, mirror touch synaesthesia, sleep disorders, new ghost sighting)
- Mar 2011 (including roof heron, Atlantis, first time witnesses, comparing film to digital paranormal photos)
- Feb 2011 (including predicting the future, ghost bird, time slip, weird floor, what do we really know about paranormal)
- Jan 2011 (including the ghost hunting boom, orange UFO, EVP experiment, extreme normality)
- Dec 2010 (including microsleeps and road ghosts, shadow ghost in snow, lack of ghosts in photos, anthropomorphism)
- Nov 2010 (including EMF meters, auras, evidence for precognition, sensitisation, the ghost hunting boom)
- Oct 2010 (including black orbs, UnConvention, mirror visions, levitation, flying rods and orbs)
- Sep 2010 (including a ring tone from the roof, shadow ghost video, time slip explanation, daylight orb video)
- Aug 2010 (including Parisian UFO, sense of presence, SLI, consulting experts, misperception)
- Jul 2010 (including Sherlock Holmes as a paranormal investigator, haunting sounds, what ARE hallucinations)
- Jun 2010 (including the Loch Ness Monster, gorilla video, getting ghost stories the wrong way round)
- May 2010 (including ball lightning, Wem ghost photo, waking up twice, eyewitnesses, Robin Hood)
- Apr 2010 (including causes of road ghosts, new orb evidence, bird UFOs, UFO photo, not quite seeing is believing)
- Mar 2010 (including experiencing hypnagogia, consciousness, belief, prolonged misperception, doppelganger)
- Feb 2010 (including visual continuity errors - AKA ghosts, near sleep experiences on trains, spontaneous OOBEs)
- Jan 2010 (including intelligent oil, SLI, inducing OOBEs, orange UFOs, the bleak midwinter)
- Dec 2009 (including review of research in the noughties, pretty orbs, imperceptions, river monster)
- Nov 2009 (including EVP without a recorder, demons and entities, why only some people see ghosts)
- Oct 2009 (including grey ghost, near sleep experiences, a triangular UFO and seeing David Beckham)
- Sep 2009 (including latent memory, Tufted Puffin, Bermuda Triangle and garden poltergeist)
- Aug 2009 (including official UFO files, partial ghosts, flying rods and miracles)
- Jul 2009 (including garden poltergeist, big cat video, orbs and hypnotic regression)
- Jun 2009 (including thoughts from nowhere, shadow ghosts, premonitions and metallic UFO)
- May 2009 (including analysing paranormal photos, making ghosts and ghost lore)
- Apr 2009 (including phantom bird, choice blindness and grass that gets up and walks away)
- Mar 2009 (including deja vu, ghostly mists, weird UFO photo, white ghosts and naked eye orbs)
- Feb 2009 (including hidden memories, coincidences, auras and window UFOs)
- Jan 2009 (including animals sensing ghosts, vampires, flying rod season and a haunted path)
- Dec 2008
- Nov 2008
- Oct 2008
- Sep 2008
- Aug 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- May 2008
- April 2008
- March 2008
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- December 2007
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- October 2007
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© Maurice Townsend 2012