Archive for February, 2010

Am I forever doomed to having odd neighbors?  Is everyone’s situation like this?

When I first moved to Seattle, I lived in an apartment complex in temporary housing.  I was on the bottom floor and the neighbors would make all sorts of loud banging noises at night.  I have no idea what they were doing, but it was annoying.

I moved complexes, and last year I complained that these ones would play all sorts of loud music at inopportune times.  I couldn’t figure out what they were doing but it was annoying.  Eventually, they moved away.

And who takes their place?  A new guy whom I shall refer to as Sir Snores-a-lot.  This guy’s bedroom is right beneath mine and he snores so loud at night that I can hear him.  And he keeps me awake.  And it drives me nuts.  And it’s every night!  Not only that, but the other day/night at 5:15 in the morning, he had an alarm clock going off with an irritating “beep-beep-beep” for 15 minutes!  How could he not hear it?  Was the sound of his snoring drowning it out?


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Today, after what I think is a 3-month hiatus, I returned to the gym.  I can’t remember the last time I went but I think it was in early December.  I haven’t gone because I’ve been quite busy, what with relationships and travel and whatnot.  But the primary reason I haven’t gone is because my hip has been quite sore and slow to recover.  It still hurts quite a bit to rotate it in certain directions.  However, there are other movements that definitely feel better than before.  But I figured it was time to start my physical therapy.

I went there, got changed, and stepped onto the scales.  I was pleased to see that I have not gained any weight in the past 3 months.  I am within my target range (I fluctuate in a 5 pound range) so that was good.  I was somewhat concerned that I my lethargy was taking a measurable toll.

Next, I got onto the elliptical machines (look it up if you don’t know what they are).  These machines are better for me than treadmills.  The motion is not natural but these are far easier on my joints than running.  Basically, I have accepted that I will be a runner, not that I ever was except for a couple of summers.  The impact on my hip joint and lack of cartilage there causes too much discomfort.  But the smoother ellipticals are pretty nice for me.  The only thing that hurts is the extended motion, which is natural for my recovery.  I did 20 minutes of those plus 5 minutes of cool down.  In the end, I was all sweaty.

Next up I went to the rowing machines.  I knew that prior to my hiatus from working out, I couldn’t do these as well as I used to.  These machines are the things where you do kind of a rowing motion.  My goal is to do 2000 m in 10 minutes.  Last April, after a number of sessions of trying to do it, I succeeded.  You really have to keep a motor going, though.  It’s tiring.  But as I moved to sit ups last summer, I returned to the rowing machine and tried doing it again, and I couldn’t.  I could do it in maybe 11 – 11 1/2 minutes (or even 12?) minutes.  Today, it took me 11.5.  That means that I am 15% slower than my record from back in spring 2009.  My goal is to get back to 2000 m in 10 minutes.  I ended up taking a 2 minute break and doing 2000 m again.  It took me 12 minutes.  Obviously the first time was not a fluke.

Next, I did some exercises that the physical therapist gave me last year.  At this point, my legs were tired.  These involve working the muscles of your posterior.  Tomorrow, I will find that I have sore muscles in my gluteals, abductors and gracilis.  In fact, I am feeling it now.  The gluteals are the sides of your buttocks, while the other two I mention are the upper inner thigh muscles and upper hamstrings (the ones that go into your buttocks).  I did one set of exercises rather than two because that’s all I could do.  While I was doing them, my legs were shaking and I said to myself “Okay, I’m out of condition.  Let’s build on that rather than push it.”

I left the gym all tired and sweaty, but I was doing stuff for about an hour or so.  We shall see how I feel tomorrow.

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A close call for an accident

The other day, I was coming home from Seattle and nearly had a collision mere seconds away from where I live.  I’m not sure how it could have been avoided.  Thankfully, nothing happened.  But it was close.

I live down a street that is a two-lane, each way, divided highway.  And at certain times of the day, it can get to be extremely busy.  When I turn off to go to my place, it is at an uncontrolled intersection.  There is a turning lane and if there is a bunch of traffic coming in the opposite direction, I have to wait a long time before I can turn.  So, there’s basically five lanes but one is the turning lane that only is there for a short time otherwise there is a median.

Sometimes, the traffic in the other way backs up quite far all the way past me where I am waiting.  When that happens, drivers are frequently courteous enough to see that I am waiting and will allow me to space to pass through and exit up the small street to where my apartment complex is.  Being from Winnipeg, at first this behavior was unfamiliar to me because in Winnipeg, a driver will see that and will deliberate inch forward such that you cannot turn even though he cannot go forward either.  Winnipeggers reading this will confirm this.

Anyhow, I was coming home from Seattle and waiting to drive into my small side street when I got stuck in one of those familiar having-to-wait-for-traffic-to-clear incidents.  But as I was waiting, a curious thing happened; a car travelling in the median lane stopped and was allowing me to pass through so I could go on my merry way.  The one problem was that this car was not in a good position to do this.  Traffic had not backed up all the way, so he was basically holding up traffic.  I began to feel the psychological pressure of not wanting to waste his time.  What do I do?  Just stand there?  He’s letting me in so shouldn’t I take advantage of his generosity?

The thing is that he was in a truck, which blocked my field of vision (I’m in a Toyota Corolla).  I could see that he was waiting but I couldn’t see the other lane.  This driver might be a nice driver, but who’s to say that the drivers in the curb lane would similarly be so nice about things?  The risk I saw was that while I would have time to go in front of this guy, I wouldn’t have the sight lines to see who was coming in the other lane.  Since traffic was not backed up, they still had a clear path to go and wouldn’t have cause to slow down and let another car through.

I sighed.  Well, I guess I should go.  I creeped forward into the other street and tried to peer forward but couldn’t.  The sight lines were blocked.  I decided that if I were going to go, I would have to go quick.  I accelerated and just as I did, I had to slam on the brakes!  Just as I had feared, another car was traveling in the other direction!  Had I decided to quickly go all the way through there would have been a collision.  We both kind of looked at each other, but what could I say?  I went first, he went behind me and 15 seconds later I pulled into my parking spot at home.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay to be the nice guy when it doesn’t make sense to do so.

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Funny stuff

From xkcd:

Devotion to Duty

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Olympic hockey

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that I was gearing up for watching hockey in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  I must confess that I haven’t been following the Olympics that closely.  Every day I do go to Yahoo.ca and check the medal count.  But in all honesty, I haven’t been tracking them that closely.  I figure why bother following the sports if I will never be able to compete anyhow?  That’s not the real reason, the real reason is that I have been too lazy to keep track and I have kept myself busy with other activities.

Except for hockey.

I have tracked the men’s hockey pretty closely.  I watched the Canada/Switzerland game last Thursday where Canada beat them 3-2 in a shoot out.  That was a great game to watch, I got really into it and cheered out loud, involuntarily, when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal against the Swiss netminder, whoever he was.

I missed the Canada/US game (which Canada lost 5-3) and the Germany game (which Canada won 8-2).  However, I did catch the last half of the Canada/Russia game (which Canada won 7-3).  One thing is for sure, I will not be missing the Canada/US gold medal game in a couple of days.  I absolutely plan to watch that and sink into a deep depression and not go into work for 10 days if Canada loses.  It will be a sad, sad time if that actually occurs.  We might even call it our own Pearl Harbor Day.

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You know you want to…

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Super cool stuff in science

As I said in my previous post, I went to a conference in San Francisco last week.  At these conferences, the way it usually works is that the first night, you all hang out at a bar, sponsored by a company (and get free food). The second night, there is an event or a night out, and you get free food.  There is free food in the morning and at lunch for the entire conference.  Only on the last day when the conference ends is there no more free food.

This year’s night out was at the Exploratorium museum in San Fran.  This place is so awesome.  Like, unbelievably awesome.  It has all sorts of cool science things and experiments that it explains right there for everyone to see.  It is so neat!

In this post, I will give you an example and I hope to give you more in future posts.  So let me give you one.  They had a little station set up where they had a bunch of copper tubes wrapped in a circular pattern, looking a lot like a coil.  This copper tube coil thingie had water going through it.  The demo station said to put your hand on the copper tubes.  I did so and almost immediately said "Ah!" and pulled away in pain.  "WTF?  Why would they say that?"  The tubes felt hot and prickly to my touch.

But they weren’t actually hot.  What it actually was, was a copper tube with warmer-than-warm (but not not) water flowing through it, and in-between those warm tubes were another set of tubes with cold water flowing through it.  So, it went hot-cold-hot-cold-hot-cold, etc.  But if you put your fingers individually on the hot ones, it didn’t really feel very hot at all.  It was just warm.

Here’s what happens – when you put your hands onto the pipes of interspersing hot and cold water, even though the water isn’t hot the sensation tricks your brain.  It isn’t used to feeling the rapid change in temperature and so it interprets the distinction in sensation as being painful.  Well, my brain was completely tricked because I totally felt the pain.  But putting your fingers on the water one at a time was easily tolerable.  Only by putting them on at the same time was I to experience the painful sensation.

That was so awesome.  Seriously.

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A curious coincidence

Last week, I was off at a conference in San Francisco, California.  One of my
former friends from Microsoft now lives down there and we had earlier made
tentative plans to perhaps sync up and do something while I was down there.  I
did the conference from Tuesday – Thursday, worked Friday from the Microsoft
campus in Silicon Valley, and then my girlfriend flew down on that Friday
evening and two of us hung out over the course of the weekend.

Now, I phoned up my friend on the Saturday and he informed me that he was
moving apartments that day and so we might not be able to do anything that
afternoon, but that I should call him up later.  Well, my g/f and I saw a bunch
of sites in San Francisco including Lombard street (the world’s crookedest
street – after Wall Street), Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.  All in all, we both
really enjoyed SF.  My point is that I was busy hanging out with someone else so
not meeting up with my friend was not a big deal.  We hung out late and got
something to eat (my g/f and I) and in the end, I didn’t call up my friend.  We
were both tired and cold.  SF is colder at night than Seattle is (or at least,
it was on Saturday).

The next morning, we were walking down the street to the BART station (Bay
Area Rapid Transit… light rail).  We walked out of the hotel and turned left to
walk down the street.  At literally the first street corner, who should I run
into?  My friend!  The one who I figured I wasn’t going to see at all!

We didn’t plan this.  The fact is we walked out of our hotel at a random
time.  He walked out of a restaurant with a friend of his at a random time.  Had
either of us made plans either way that changed our timing two minutes in either
direction, we would have missed each other.  But yet, there we were!  It turns
out that he only lived a couple of blocks away and had just had breakfast.  But
I figured it was a curious coincidence that we just so happened to run into each
other at that time of day at that place.

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Saw this and laughed.  Completely representative of real life.


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Fascinating meeting today

Today, I came in late to a meeting (late because I was in another meeting with another guy).  The meeting was supposed to be four people, but only two were there. I came in as the third person and the other two were having a discussion.

A pseudo-argument was more like it.  I decided to watch from the sidelines (ie, from my seat at the table) and observe the body language.  They were talking about scheduling about a particular feature.  Both of them are Program Managers; one is the Release Manager and the other is the Senior PM for another branch of the division that I am in.

The topic of discussion was how they were choosing to track something.  I decided to kick back and observe body language, and what I saw was interesting.  One guy adopted a defensive position, the other an aggressive position.  If you were just listening to the words, you may have been deceived into thinking that both were circling the wagons and defending themselves aggressively.  That was not the case.  Here’s why:

  1. At one point, one PM said to the other “Well, if you want to take on the risk of managing this feature, feel free and I will back off and you can do it all.”  The other said “I think that’s an overreaction to the issue at hand here.”  This looks like both are on equal footing, but where they?
  2. One PM was sitting forward, leaning over the table.  His arms were folded on the table and he had his weight on them.  This looks like a position of confidence – that of leaning forward.  However, his arms were kind of tucked under him so he was kind of “protecting” himself.  And with his left hand, he was clutching his right elbow.  Because of the angle I was at, I could see this.  Had he had his arms oriented the other way (ie, right arm clutching left elbow) I would not have seen it.  This position, one arm clutching the other and arms kind of protecting the body, this suggests defensiveness or pacifying behavior.

    He also had his legs tucked under his chair.  Having your legs tucked under the chair is not confident behavior.  It usually suggests a defensive posture.  Combining all of these together, this guy, while sounding confident, felt defensive and had the need to defend his position and protect himself.

  3. The other guy, by contrast, adopted an aggressive position.  When he said the phrase “if you want to take on the risk of managing this feature” he adopted a classic aggressive posture.
    • Even though he was across the table from me, he was leaning back in his chair and he had his legs extended in front of him.  When you stretch out your legs like this, and lean back, you are claiming more physical territory.  It suggests both confidence and in this case, aggression.  By leaning back, you are not in a defensive position at all since you are not at all ready.  If you’re not ready, you are confident you won’t be attacked.
    • He had his arms extended fully outwards, one on the chair to his left and one on the chair to his right.  This is a double signal.  Like the above, his arms claiming a chair on either side of him is claiming more physical territory.  This also exposes the rib cage.  We keep our arms by our sides when we are trying to protect ourselves.  We expose them when we feel confident.
    • And when he said that statement, he half pointed with his fingers.  Finger pointing is one of the most accusatory gestures in western culture.  He also had his palms facing downwards.  Palms down is classic behavior signaling confidence.

I found this interchange to be absolutely fascinating.  And I was proud of myself for picking up on it all.  In the end, things appeared to get resolved and the meeting ended, but watching the dynamic was an interesting experience for me.

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Well, it’s almost here – the 2010 Olympics.  I remember back in 2003 when the Olympics were announced and I thought to myself “Man, that’s a long ways away.  It’ll never get here.”  And yet, they open tomorrow.

I thought I would never attend the Olympics, living in Manitoba and all.  But here I am, living in Seattle, and the Olympics are just a two hour drive away!  What excuses could I possibly have for not attending?

Well, for one, I have to work.  Not all of us have holidays every day like a Canadian politician.  Secondly, I can watch everything on TV.  Third, the events I would like to go to are the men’s hockey events where Canada is playing.

Canada has a sketchy history at the Olympics.  We are a powerhouse country for sure, but we don’t win gold.  We last won a gold medal in hockey in 1952.  Then, for the next 46 years, professional NHL players could not compete in the Olympics and we always got our posteriors handed to us.  Then, in 1998, for the first time in forever, the NHL would shut down for 3 weeks and allow NHL players to compete.  “At last!” came the cry all across Canada.  “We will win gold for sure!”  Unfortunately, while Canada dominated at first, they lost to the Dominator (Dominik Hasek) and the Czech Republic in the semi-finals and then lost to whoever it was and finished out of the medal rounds.  Out of the medals!  With our best players!  WTF?  I remember that year, it sent shockwaves throughout the country.  For us, we had reached what could have been the lowest point in our nation’s history.  You could almost call it La Dépression Grande.  I don’t mean to get dramatic (but I will), but this was the country’s greatest crisis since the 1995 Quebec referendum.

Four years passed.  Wayne Gretzky had retired 3 years earlier, and I was traveling around the world and was in Australia at the time.  The Olympics were in Salt Lake City, Utah.  But this time around, things were different.  Super Mario was playing; Joe Sakic was a scoring machine and Martin Brodeur (the greatest goalie playing today) was the great wall of… uh, Canada.  We won gold against the Americans!  Right in their own back yard!  Of course, I was celebrating in Sydney but it still counts.  Oh, glorious days.  The country figured it was unstoppable.

And it was.  Until 2006.  Oddly enough, even though I was back in Manitoba at the time I didn’t follow these Olympics nearly as closely.  Not sure what I was thinking, but Canada lost in the qualifying rounds to Russia.  Russia?  WTF?  Canada lost to Russia?  Russia has had a crappy hockey team ever since the fall of the Soviet Union.  I mean, that’s like Microsoft being afraid of IBM.  Sure, if this were the 1970’s it might be an issue but not today. 

That brings us to 2010.  8 years since our last victory.  We lost the World Junior’s to the United States this year, but really, hockey is our game (eat it, Frank).  And the tournament is in our own back yard, which should give us plenty of opportunity to cheat.  I shall be following this tournament with great interest and with any “luck”, the Canadians will bring back the gold and shall give the country 4 years of bragging rights.

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Want to know a good way of knowing who will win an upcoming sporting event?  It’s actually pretty easy – find out who I am pulling for and pick the opposing team.  This has a reliability of about 90%.

  • The last four Superbowls, I have been pulling for Seattle, New England, Arizona, and Indianapolis.  All four of those teams have lost.
  • The last three Grey Cups, I have been pulling for Winnipeg, Montreal, and Saskatchewan.  All three of those teams lost.
  • The last four Stanley Cups that I cared about, I was pulling for Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Pittsburgh (2008).  Both of them lost but there is one exception – Pittsburgh won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

Using this criteria, you’d be 11/12.  Not a bad winning percentage, I’d say.

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My standard browser is Firefox to surf the web is Firefox.  People who know I work at Microsoft are frequently surprised at that.  They say “Really?  Shouldn’t you be using Internet Explorer?”  The idea is that I should be supporting my own companies’ products.

Well, I do.  I use Windows 7.  I use Microsoft Office.  I use Bing.  I use Windows Live Spaces (where you are reading this blog).  But I only use Internet Explorer because I have to at work for some applications.  So why don’t I use Internet Explorer?  Here’s why:

  1. I dislike the User Interface for browsing

    The browsing buttons in IE are located in inconvenient locations.  In Firefox, the Forward, Back, Refresh, Stop and Home buttons are all conveniently located next to each other in the top left-hand corner.  In IE, the Forward and Back buttons are on the left hand side of the address bar, while Refresh and Stop buttons are on the right hand side.  The Home button is beneath that.

    It’s annoying to have to hunt for them.  Advantage: Firefox.

  2. I dislike the User Interface for tabs

    In Firefox, each tab has a little X on it so I can close the tab.  In Internet Explorer, they have the little X on the tabs, but the tab has to be active.  In other words, you have to click on the tab in order to have the X appear so you can close it.  Firefox doesn’t require this.  Advantage: Firefox.

  3. I dislike the User Interface for shortcuts

    In Firefox, if you press Ctrl + K, it takes you to the search bar that is built into the browser.  If you press Ctrl + L, it takes you to the address bar where you can type in a new web page and browse to it.

    It used to be this way in Internet Explorer 7, but not in 8.  They changed it.  In IE, you have to press Ctrl + E to get to the search bar (which is annoying because other browsers have settled on Ctrl + K), and to go to a new window, you have to press Ctrl + O.  And when you do that, it brings up the “Open” window, it does not go to the address bar.  I hate how it doesn’t go to the address bar and brings up the “Open” dialog.  It’s such an ugly interface and I think it’s ridiculous.  I want to go to the address bar and type stuff in, I don’t want to bring up another popup window.

    Advantage: Firefox.

  4. Internet Explorer is less stable

    This is something that is very consistent.  The tabs crash in Internet Explorer all the time.  We were told that when something crashed in IE, only that tab would crash and not the entire browser.  Well, that’s wrong.  When a tab crashes, the entire browser does.

    In Firefox, it does the same thing, but it crashes less.  Like, way less.  I would estimate that the crash ratio is at least 4:1 on the wrong side for IE.

    Advantage: Firefox.

  5. Internet Explorer is cluttered

    I like Firefox’s simple menu options.  There is a menu bar, my Favorites beneath that, and then the tabs.  Internet Explorer has my Favorites, the tabs, and then another title bar (Command Bar) to the right of that.  I don’t like how my Favorites bar has the <star> Favorites thing always on there.  It steals screen real estate.

    The Command bar is annoying.  Yes, I can turn it off… but then how do I view the Menu bar?  Oh, I just right click the menu bar and turn them off.  But it begs the question – if Firefox has it the way I like by default, why not just use Firefox?

    Advantage: Firefox.

So that’s my beef with Internet Explorer.  I don’t think it’s a superior browser at all, in fact, I think it is quite a bit worse.  The only good thing about it is that most websites that use complex features like Flash and that sort of thing support it, whereas Firefox is less.  IE gets the advantage there, but most sites I visit, it doesn’t matter.  I will be retaining Firefox as my standard browser.

But I won’t use Google Chrome (unlike some people I know).

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Today, I had a meeting at work.  It was a small meeting, only four people attended including myself.

The problem with this meeting is that sometimes, I have to invite people with strong personalities.  And sure enough, inevitably, these personalities take over the meeting.  We got there and I had stuff to address, and two other people were working on their laptops, not very engaged in the meeting.  That was frustrating because I needed their input.  Then, when they finally started to engage in the meeting, they started talking about other things and got into a heated argument.  My meeting was being sidetracked.

I figured I could either interrupt them and bring them back to the meeting or could I wait until they finished and then get going again.  Interrupting them, I reasoned, would be a temporary measure and they would either ignore me and my protests, or they would refocus and then start the other discussion again 30 seconds later.  I thought that both outcomes were an equally likely possibility.  I decided to wait until they finished.

While I was sitting there, waiting, I mad my arms kind of folded on the table in front of my laptop.  I had my index and middle fingers kind of interlaced with each other.  That suggests a pacification behavior for non-verbal communication, ie, body language, and it suggests that I was uncomfortable with the situation.  Well, I was.  They were wasting my time in the meeting and getting us off-track.  And there wasn’t a lot I could do about it other than to wait and for them to finish up.  I thought that it was very rude but the problem is that at Microsoft this type of behavior is far from unusual.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen all the time when the same people come to certain meetings.  One guy is always late, or another guy doesn’t read specs, and so forth.

So there I was, shooting off non-verbal languages that I didn’t like the situation.  But at the same time, I knew exactly what I was doing… and I still did it anyway.  I thought to myself “This is pacifying behavior, but I don’t care and I am going to continue.”  <sigh>  And it will probably happen again.  The last time I was aware of my body language, I was in a meeting (with another one of these same guys involved) and I had my hand on my head, signifying not boredom but frustration.  And I knew exactly what I was doing, and still continued to do it.

<sigh, again>

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Michael Ignatieff is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the political party that prior to 2006 considered themselves as having a divine right to govern.  Earlier last month, I read the following story:

OTTAWA – Michael Ignatieff says a Liberal government would pour money into child care and early-childhood education, no matter how massive the federal deficit may be.

The Liberal leader says giving kids an equal start in life would be his top social priority should he become prime minister.

He’s not putting a price tag on the promise but insists he’ll find the money somehow.

Ignatieff says concern about the deficit – expected to top $55 billion this fiscal year – can’t be allowed to stand in the way of efforts to achieve social justice.

He says investing in kids is a "game changer" that will secure the country’s economic and social health in the long term.

Is he serious about this?  That no matter what the cost, the government ought to pump as much money as possible into social programs?  While I agree that investment in a country’s future employees is important, Ignatieff’s proposals are unworkable.  Leveling the playing field requires massive transfers of wealth on scale that would drive up the deficit so high as to completely swoon Canada’s national debt.  Children come from varieties of different backgrounds with varieties of different advantages.  Some come from good homes, others do not.  The ones that don’t come from good homes would need to have those home backgrounds stabilized. We already know that kids that come from wealthier homes to better in school, etc, as a general principle.  Does Ignatieff plan on equalizing the entire population of Canada?

Ignatieff should know better, this is merely political grandstanding in an attempt to look good to certain proportions of the voting population.  If he were in power, his stance would change and would be more in balance than reality.  This wishful thinking would disappear and he would mumble nothing more than “We need to balance competing priorities with fiscal responsibility…”

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