Technology’s Subliminal Mission

NASA Valkyrie

I was just thinking…

How easily we’ve accepted artificial intelligence, how cozy we are when we’re introduced.   Recently NASA delivered Valkyrie, its humanoid R5 robot to Northeastern University and M.I.T.  where the response was exciting but quaint, like a family reunion.

We were interested, but not awed.  In an earlier era, we would have gawked at his size and the audacity of his mission, to land on Mars!

For the next two years, as scientists and engineers prepare him for his long journey, we’ll go about our business of texting, emailing and being slightly annoyed with our technology.  Meanwhile, Valkyrie’s cognitive intelligence will be developed.  He’ll be given the ability to reason, to build and to understand logical assertions taken from his sensory perceptions and to use that information to solve simple and complex problems.

We’ll be momentarily fascinated and encouraged by reports.  But we’re not going to ask ethical questions.  We’re not going to wonder if we might’ve gotten a bit ahead of ourselves, that maybe we’ve placed the cart before the horse.  In fact, our quick success at artificial intelligence hasn’t required us to question organic intelligence.   We haven’t paused to understand the universe, or our place in it.   Not all of us are smart enough to create a virtual galaxy, to write code or to even understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

We don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg and we’ve resolved ourselves to possibly never knowing the answer. We don’t know, nor do we truly care how the internet or our cellphone work, we simply need them to work.  We entrust it with our most important information, from bank accounts to telephone numbers, those things once stored in our heads.

Artificial intelligence seems a good name, as the imperfect create perfection.  There’s a possibility that we’ll get it right, because sprinkling bits and bytes of humanity doesn’t seem too far off, besides we’ve managed pretty well by not knowing things.

But these are extraordinary times!  The stars seem to have aligned themselves and mankind’s journey seems to be destined for greatness.  Once again genius has arrived, as if there’s an honored time and place, some synergy to when great minds are born.  It’s not likely that great minds would be understood by the general population; the Newtons and the DaVincis would have been lost to prosperity, had their peers been unable to understand their ideas.  Up until now, it’s been organic intelligence that’s changed humanity, propelling us forward across oceans and into space.

As if technology had been placed into our sleeping psyches, allowing us to make use of mathematical equations and scientific knowledge via smart technology.  Giving us a chance to experience space, black holes and zero gravity, without having to touch them.

And by training Valkyrie for a mission to Mars, we might be in training to become our better selves.

I was just thinking…  What were you doing?

 

 

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How Technology Stacks Up

1 tech typewriter

Lately, technology has been a stark reminder of time.

I’ve come to realize it’s not that life whizzes by too quickly or that time ticks too slowly.  The truth is, time just passes without any change in pace whatsoever.  How we manage it determines how we view it, like looking through a glass of water.

Yesterday, I climbed the attic steps and discovered my old smelly typewriter, I smiled. How long had it been since I’d replaced it with the newer technology, an odorless plastic keyboard that didn’t need ribbon.  I miss that, as I miss my daughter’s hair ribbons now.

I stopped writing when she was born, because I imagined time wouldn’t wait up, or slow down for me to fully experience motherhood. I decided it would be well worth it, to feel my kids sneaking up on me.  They’d struggle to contain happy giggles, as they slipped and slid across our wooden floors in stocking feet, determined to catch me off guard in a loving surprise.  All of the carefree giddiness of childhood, set free from curled lips before the age of teen modesty!

I relished the thought that they would reach from behind and cover my eyes with their little round hands.  And more than anything, I wanted my response to be simply happy.  Expressed by my feigned surprise and their squeals of delight at having surprised me.  Of course they hadn’t, but what did that matter?

Later, in their rooms by the night light, I’d read someone else’s words to them and miss my own.  And I never thought to shut the book too soon, or to shut them out.  It was important for them know I would be there when they woke up, available to them.  Unabashed and unafraid because they understood my love and the difference between their “mommy” and its homonym, the word “mummy”.

Now, the house is quiet.  And as I look around the attic, I’m noticing how much of my life has become obsolete, like the outdated technology that’s stacked high.  And not in any particular order, not like our chronological lives.

I’m reminded of the passage of time, I see it in my typewriter to my computer to my laptop to tablet…

Well, at least I’m writing again.   There’s no need to worry that I’ll be interrupted by the sound of little feet scurrying across the floor, or round hands cupped over my eyes.   There’ll be no crying, no “boo-boos” and no childish quarrels or metaphorical fences for me to mend.

It’s time to plant new seeds and to insert dangling modifiers; to write down adjectives that will never completely describe the taste of water, or how technology faded away and re-invented itself.   Me too.

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Filed under Creativity, technology

Technology’s Turn to Play

Turnable 5

Everything is ripe for innovation.  Even those things that were innovated before can now, due to technology be improved upon and have little sensors embedded to generate data and that is our reality.

Somewhere from gramophones to turntables the technology went into a spiral, but even then the horn was replaced by external speakers that went wireless, and a needle still needs to intermittently be replaced, but pretty much the general design is still there.  Going round in circles, and it makes you wonder if the ecosystem that music created, that basic hand cranked record playing machine hasn’t created a sluggish evolution.  That is the music that becomes popular changes the technology that we use to play, and how we listen to the media.  And then it’s all back to what it was, a little bit like musical chairs.

And now it’s all changing again as streaming music lulls us into a false sense of security, away from change that is coming.

Music!  That one word implies so much, it’s cultural and music tells a story, our history.  The human experience in a universal language that most of us can’t speak, because we can’t play the instrument, but we hear it, we listen to the strings quiver, the wails and the horns and we know, we all know classical to work songs, to spiritual hymns to blues, to marching bands to jazz to big bands and ballads to rock-n-roll, rhythm & blues, disco and rap.  We listen in concert halls, auditoriums, dance halls, night clubs, and jazz clubs and in what the French referred to as music libraries- discotheques and inside the four walls of our homes.

The stories sometimes have crossover appeal and even the misquoted linger, because their elemental truth touches us, like the first line of William Congreve’s play: “Music has charms to sooth a savage breast”.

It’s not just technology that’s changing, we’re changing.  Our styles, which is what’s pleasing to us, mostly secular and without tradition aren’t established by laws and policy, but somehow we hear what we like. Music is played and we like it, before we know what we like.    It can be music from a television commercial, theme music or a movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey still delights generations and still plays nicely on vinyl.

In 1948, Columbia records used microgrooves to store sounds and set the tone, literally when every other company followed and we’ve been going round ever since.   Every few decades innovation visits, once it brought with it tape and little plastic wheels, cassettes to 8-tracks to CDs and streaming, and I’m reminded of my Bang-Olufsen linear tracking turntable, but eventually I returned to my Marantz.

Technology sometimes has that affect… Going around in circles and replicable.

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Technology Sees Political Disruption

Eyeglasses

Political disruption!   This election season seems quite different from previous Presidential campaigns and it’s not just because its a Leap Year.

Similar to the phenomenon of “Innovative Disruption”, a term coined by Clayton M. Christensen 1995; it’s a changing of the guard.  An abrupt move away from long standing established markets by new ways of marketing and new network markets.

But it’s also about voters in a digital world, their data collected and stored is failing to tell their story.  When did Americans begin to feel left out, pulled in and tossed about, every which way but loose?

I’m not sure, but I think I became a little less passionate about politics in 2008, during that historical election when a woman and an African-American ran for the most powerful office in the world.  Back then, news outlets hand pumped information via their own agendas and grew with advertising dollars.

It was then that I noticed my rose colored glasses weren’t tinted, they were tainted.   And in true visionary fashion, I’ve been squinting in the dark ever since.

So, as this political season started out in mass confusion, that is too many candidates, I shrugged and thought, who cares?   Hell, we’ve been buying technology in beta format for years.  Troubleshooting, hacking and fervently downloading bug fixes and we’ve become accustomed to incomplete software and swiped malware into our homes.

It stands within reason, that we’d accept candidates who are trending on social media platforms, as if “Likes” and “Follows” gauged the qualification of a U.S. Presidential candidate.  As if streaming live video and on-demand news would expose a candidates’ flaws like pixels in the image.   And without our having noticed, the political arena became ripe for disruption, like a cracked system failing its citizenry.

But, what would happen if we sat this election out?   If being weary kept us off the battle field?  What would happen to the gains we’ve made?  Even now, as we revisit Roe versus Wade for the umpteenth time and protestors scream at Planned Parenthood sites… under scrutiny still, after so many years… really?

How slow do we go before we realize we’re going backwards?

Voting, it seems is becoming another chore, and a rather huge inconvenience.  Cynicism has weighed heavily, like an anchor and keeping dreams afloat a little longer by faith isn’t sustainable. Truth is, technology doesn’t even care.   Like everything else, politics is ripe for change.

Off in the distant horizon of what was once a prairie, the American flag is waving…  hello or good-bye?  The digital world doesn’t need daydreamers, it demands visionaries.  Be that!

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Filed under Gender Equality, Google Glass, Politics

Tech Enlightened

$ Lightbulb

Progress! By definition, smart technology implies intelligence and enlightenment.  Used responsibly, it improves life on a global scale and it begs the question, what happens when a lightbulb is unscrewed?

Once upon a time, people worried that electricity would leak from an empty socket.   And we can understand how they might’ve reached that conclusion, it seems reasonable.

Most great technology that improves life also has the potential to be harmful. There’s a dark side that if left unmonitored could present a real danger. From x-rays to Big Data, we’ve become increasingly powerful and vulnerable all at once.

Technology has become incredibly small, invisible to most microscopes and yet, quantifiably humongous. Usurping our lives but also improving it, making everything we do in real-time tangible and with results that can be analyzed, understood and used for good.

And all the while, our footprints can be tracked, stacked and gathered.  How we do what we do, when we do it, where we’re doing it, analyzed and visualized.  The right questions asked, the algorithm applied and the data collected.

Smart cities that measure pot holes and compute their own capacity-duress until repair, can schedule that pavement crew and reroute traffic, anticipate patterns and give curbside bus arrival updates, all in real-time.   Smart cars can intuitively not start when their drivers are inebriated, and likewise won’t start when they’re not road worthy, offering alternate modes of transportation, in some Uber- Lyft social good package, for free!

Smart  smart technology won’t lie, won’t hide, but what if it could be programmed to monitor the good it does?   Like fear is good.

Being cautious doesn’t mean we won’t proceed, just that we’re mindful in its use, the way we might lean over a window sill; seeing so much and yet careful not to fall out.  we can have the great technology and maintain a survival technique, the flight and fight adrenaline that propels us into action, not darkness.

In a digital world that’s spinning incredibly fast, having a sense of fear might preserve a culture.   Might remind us that we’re a learned society, one that has long been enlightened and free of walls.

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Filed under Big Data, innovation, tech, technology

Women & Technology Again

$ 0 Talk radio

It’s no longer the Golden Age of radio in America and finally girls will have more than a cracked fairy tale to be her moral guide.

All around her are images of womanhood, independent and clear.   Live-streaming, in movies and in newspapers, women are being positively depicted, and a young girl sees herself, without feeling uncomfortable in her skin.  Successful women like Hillary Clinton, Mae C. Jemison, Sara Blakely and Oprah Winfrey smile from the covers of glossy magazines.

The narrative has changed, she can do both- be a mother and have a career.  There’s no sky and no limit to her dreams; from pink sneakers to blue high heels, she can perform!   Hopefully she’ll think outside the gender box, because there’s no social corset and hairpins to keep her tied down, unless she wants to wear them.   Now, metaphorically and literally, she can breathe.

Technology has made life better for all, by freeing her from domestic drudgery to a life of luxury– washing machines and egg beaters gave the gift of time, to read books and to learn.  Because we always knew she could code, given the opportunity to learn code.

The apron has been spun around and the letter “S” reveals two things, one it always was a cape and two, it’s washable.   She has choices!  And while there’s much to get excited about, there’s still a wall to overcome.  Gender orientation is such a huge part of society’s psyche, that it’s not easily cast aside.  And maybe that’s why it continues to be practiced in maternity wards across the country, where the gender color-code begins, when our babies are separated by little blue bands for boys and a little pink bands for girls.   Shouldn’t we start out with the same, equally?

Instead, adults complete the gender code cycle, by unwittingly buying into the color system, toys that should be tools of development create subtle pigeon-holes.  We as a society still respond when we see a little boy playing with Barbie dolls, because we ourselves have been raised to adhere to the gender color code.   And so the stage is set and the cycle continues, gender orientation is passed awkwardly along from one generation to the next.

But things are changing, I did see a little boy playing with a pink truck.  And on Dacia Street a little girl was busy fixing the wheel of her baby carriage, her hands were dirty with axle grease.  I smiled, this is the stuff of her fairy tales.

And hopefully, babies will eventually all be allowed to grow up according to what’s in their heads, and not by what’s inside their diapers.

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Filed under Coding, Gender, Gender Equality, Girls

Technology Requires Creativity

#innovation Invention

Ever wonder if people gathered around cave paintings of elk, and appreciated the lightness of the artist’s brushstroke?

Um, no.  Me either, most likely, people stared at the painting and devised a thought, how to get the elk.  Survival in those times of darkness, fueled by fear and hunger, required creative imagination, a thought.   What to use and how to make a tool, the precursor of our modern technology.

From sharpened flint stones to steel to the Digital Age; the spark of an idea fed our ancestors, sheltered them and eventually helped us to defy the laws of gravity.

The really great technology creates an entire ecosystem, like bees pollinate flowers.  One thing leads to another, to another…  from transportation to education to healthcare.  And just as the flower needs that honey bee, inventive technology needs creativity.

Without creativity there would be no inventions, and without innovation our inventions would become stale and cracked.   Like rubber, first used for automobile tires, until innovation came along and used it for a sneaker.  That got us up and running; jogging for a healthy heart, which led to better health awareness, which led to a fitness economy that continues to boom.  Why else are we wearing Fitbits?

There are a lot of people in this world who are extremely good at inventing things, call them scientists. But that doesn’t make them good at identifying alternative uses for their inventions. People who are good at designing mechanical things, call them engineers aren’t necessarily good at marketing their designs.   But a graphic artist helps and just like that, so on and so forth, one person to another to another, and social media helps.

Sometimes we’ll see a line of people standing in a museum, staring at a painting.  I wonder if they see technology?

Art calls on our imagination, we become transfixed.  Studying the way light dances across the canvas, a thin line made from a sable hair paint brush.   Still art, the artist’s own tools in shadow, her palette held at an angle… A heavy dotted pink chrysanthemum and her perspective of a bumblebee’s wings moving, barely there…

I wonder…  without art where would we be?

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Filed under Creativity, Fitbit, Healthcare, technology

Wintry Tech Warrior

# Snow plow

Storm’s coming.    Which makes me think, it’s rather disheartening that in all of our meandering and staring out at the snow storms, why hasn’t anyone realized the vast potential in a snow crop?  Not to play in, but as water, tomorrow’s cash cow?   Surely, with all of our tech wizardry, there’s a snow innovation that encompasses sustainable, potable water?

I’m only asking, because winter in New England means paying attention to weather reports like other people watch the stock market.

It means being prepared at a moment’s notice to heed a weather alert, and most importantly to respect Mother Nature.  Because with all the discussions of global warming and green house effects, winter in New England still carries one helluva wallop!

If it doesn’t happen this week, then it happens the next, or the next.  The threat lingers into early Spring, and even then, there’s always the memory of such a snowstorm.  The kind of snowstorm that lasts for days and days, that cripples a city, closes her highways and shuts down its airports.  Travel isn’t simply dangerous, it’s damn near impossible.  From zero visibility and impassable roads, high winds and treacherous conditions, only a few special people venture outdoors to make a difference, we call them “Snow Warriors”.

Snow Warriors are folks who brave the elements of a winter storm, who work late into the night, overnight and into the wee hours of the morning, running on little sleep and the fumes of a hot coffee thermos; it’s their sheer determination of will that moves the proverbial mountain, also known as white gold, snow.

The Snow Warriors aren’t like the general populace, that is they don’t fear the snow, they love it!   But not the love of a child at play making snow angels and snowmen.  Their love is of having been put to the task, the purpose and desire to do their job and to do it well.  To make the roads safe for the rest of us, we passengers who travel and depend on the transportation of goods.  Hopefully it’s all over quickly, but snowflakes that fall listlessly sometimes seem endless.

To the person seated behind the steering wheel, it’s war.  Their snowplow mounted truck, excavator or a loader is the weapon that pushes and shoves, breaks down and must be repaired in unfathomable conditions of cold wet steel and bolts that must be sheered off.  All while the snow continues to pile in.

From the warmth of our homes we watch, sip hot cups of tea and complain.  As the snow continues to falls and we wonder how we’ll ever get to work and kids smile, hopeful for a Snow Day.  The snow warriors keep on pushing and shoving and piling the snow, be it light and fluffy or wet and heavy, pushing.  It never melts quick enough, and decisions of how to treat the road beneath their wheels, full salt on the asphalt surface or a mix of yesterday’s sand.  It depends on what Mother Nature plans to release next, those freezing temperatures that often follow snow.

The Snow Warrior mostly goes unnoticed, yet their job is crucial to keeping the highways opened, the streets clear and the roadways safe for emergency vehicles, because heart attacks do happen and life sustaining ambulances and paths are needed to our doors.

It’s an arduous task, this pushing of snow into huge mounds.  Surviving on catnaps, their eyes red from the white glisten of falling snow.

It goes on for hours; hours and hours of pushing and moving the swirling and drifting snow.   And the Snow Warrior’s concentration, just like his/her will stays focused to combat the white barrage of snow, and to not become mesmerized by the loveliness of crystal snowflakes that enthrall children and skiers alike.  But the endless clearing of parking lots, walkways, sidewalks and miles and miles of roadways is the Snow Warriors domain and the snow, an unwelcome intruder. He’s someone’s father, husband, uncle, brother and she’s a sister, a mother, a wife and someone waits at home, hoping for their safe return.

They’re risking their own safety to protect ours. And yet, they mostly go unknown and without thanks.  This storm, like all of the previous storms finds the Snow Warrior ready and plow-mounted forever forward, making their way so we can make our way, after the storm passes.  So, I’m giving thanks to the many men and women who fight snow and thinking…

Why hasn’t anyone realized the vast potential in Winter’s snow crop, as tomorrow’s cash cow?   With all of our tech wizardry, where’s our snow innovation when it comes to potable water?

 

 

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Filed under innovation, Snow

Notes From Analog to Digital

From Analog with Love

As this year comes to an end, I’m a bit emotional.  It’s an end to an era.   My elderly mother has become that lady we use to laugh about and I’ve grown old.

My journey is very different from how it began.   And like most people, I’ve never benefitted from a personal roadmap or a handbook.  Sometimes the experiences have dove-tailed nicely into place, as if by destiny and other times, nothing seemed to work.   But we’re still here.

Each struggle– yours, mine and hers– has had it’s own purpose.  We’ve compensated for our weaknesses by making athletes into heroes and found motivation reading stories about a little train that could.   And during sleep we’ve gained some of our greatest insights into this life, lessons only a sub-conscious mind could learn, like forgiveness, forgetfulness and the art of moving on.

Our dreams were useful tools that helped us endure and combat injustices in daylight.  But the truth is, our world has been diced and sliced into so many pieces, that few get a fair deal.  And global issues, like climate change really will require us all to make a difference.   Adults much more than our children…

Which is interesting, because as adults we are often expected to do the right thing, but without added incentive.  Even in America, where the stalwart of childhood is a reward/punishment culture, where every child on the soccer team receives an award for participation, but no reward is given to the parent that nurtured and fed the talent.

And rewards grow more elusive as we enter adulthood, with few exceptions outside academia or military service.   I wonder why?

With so many adults on FaceBook, Twitter and Snapchat, each pining for attention and seeking acceptance.   Social media indicates that there’s a need, and why wouldn’t there be?  Having been raised in the reward/punishment system, it seems rather logical and a bit unnatural if we weren’t busy trying to be seen.

If we use trophies and medals to foster good behavior, why do we stop using that form of motivation? Particularly as we grow older?

Why shouldn’t we want to read our name in the newspaper, or on social media?  An obituary isn’t a true blue ribbon.  What if we learnt early in life, that pro-creation isn’t an achievement and staying out of jail isn’t an accomplishment?  What if there were small awards for those behaviors?  Would we as a people do better at life?

Me?  I’m mostly self-taught.   I used a length of chain link fence to learn how to ride a two wheel bicycle.  I paddled a row boat into the middle of a lake, and jumped into dark waters to learn how to swim.  During winter break, I shoveled snow in the schoolyard so I could play basketball, because I wasn’t allowed inside the school gym with the boys.  And my high school guidance counselor instructed me to drop out of school and have babies, I went to the public library instead and taught myself telephony, electric code and telecommunications, all marketable trade skills.

I’ve used  pulse technology and rotary telephones; spoken with operators of switch controlled, data entry, card punched computers and watched the first manned trip to the moon– all feats of analog technology.   But earlier this month, the SpaceX program sent a rocket ship into space, it returned and landed vertically, so it can be used again… that’s a digital feat!

Aiming a little higher.  In a digital world, there ought to be social media awards, ones that make us as individuals aim a little higher.  Who knows, maybe that will help us save our planet.

I’m willing.  I wouldn’t mind a little plastic trophy to put on my bric-a-brac shelf.   Besides Heaven seems a long way off and I’m not particularly sure that’s where I’m headed, once I leave here.   Besides, there’s still time for me to do some good.

Happy New Year 2016 !   Notes from analog to digital, an Honor Roll of the greatest use of technology.

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Filed under Life, NewYear2016, Uncategorized

Technology Can’t Follow Back

1 thought cloud

How can the very thing that makes you happy, also make you sad?

Social media is such a part of our daily lives, that it’s hard to imagine waking up and not accessing FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.

Even romantic vacation spots aren’t immune, finger swipes to the right and broken hearts to the left.    We love social media and the way it makes us feel connected.  As if we’re part of something.

There’s a very real possibility that we’re no longer who we were when we created our profile pages.   Jobs change, references change and yes, the world changed.   The fact that I followed you on Twitter, is not actionable, neither is it legal or binding.

In fact it’s deniable.  Truth is you don’t know me from Eve and I don’t know you from Adam.  But it feels as if I do and I like that, because we’re social beings.

Once again I’m reminded how technology works, free of emotions.  That’s us, and its no surprise that even here in cyberspace, people are lonely.   Technology, you see will never love us back…

I’m only thinking like this now, because it’s the eve of what would’ve been my friend’s 58th birthday.  She told me that she was quite through with love, no matter with whom.   She announced that no lover was worth the diets, the clothes or the time.

She was plumper since her divorce, maybe anger masked her depression and covered her with the warm embrace of her own flesh.  She popped a bottle of champagne open and chuckled.  Yes, she insisted, she was done with the notion of falling in love.

We toasted her newfound independence, but I was filled with sadness.   She reassured me that she was fine, patted me on my hand and refilled our glasses.  Chin up and jovial about the whole thing.

L…O…V…E…   Whether we admit it or not, we all want to love and be loved.   We humans require it from birth into adulthood. Just like a plant needs sunshine, our development depends on how much love we’ve been given in our childhood, and then into adulthood. And while physical love is important, it is not as developmentally important as emotional love. Because sometimes you can be in love with someone, and still be very lonely.   My friend was like that…

It’s been said, that a body that is not at ease will become diseased, and so it was with my friend.   Five years later, when she was to turn 63 years old, she succumbed to a very curable cancer.

From her death bed she smiled at me, asked for paper and penned an apology for having refused treatment.

Ironically, her decision to not love someone else had somehow interrupted the flow of loving herself.    Her life…  or maybe it was simply a case of disuse or maybe she had forgotten how to love.

Technology can’t follow back but I can…

Nowadays, I find myself liking more people on FaceBook and it’s easy to follow on Twitter.

Life is for the living; it’s meant to be shared.    While technology has made the world incredibly small, it’s still a lot of people to meet.  We can’t go backwards, but going forward lets get LinkedIn.

For my friend…  love trumps hate every time.

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Filed under #Lovetrumpshate, Uncategorized