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Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
2:46 pm - Moving...
So I'm experimenting with trying to blog again. Here's a new, slightly-more-grown-up blog.

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Sunday, December 9th, 2007
7:06 pm - Youtube, Politics, Immigration
So, I still don't know who I want to vote for when the primary rolls around, but I'm starting to feel like I should have some more informed opinions. If you haven't yet seen You Tube's YouChoose site, you should.

Anyway, I'm still poking around, but I find myself again leaning toward Bill Richardson's camp. Of the candidates I've watched on immigration, he's the only one to appropriately reframe the issue.

Every time the democrats say "border security" or "secure our borders", they're reinforcing the message that A) we're under threat from immigrants B) the threat we're under is a security threat and C) we can secure our borders.


Regardless of how you feel about immigration, anyone who's remotely informed understands that it is an economic issue. Border security does have an effect of course — it increases the number of deaths at the borders and it likely increases profits for coyotes (who may in fact be bad people). The one effect it certainly does not have is to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants coming into our country.

Richardson reframes the issue, calls the media on their racist crap, and suggests that if we want to reduce the number of immigrants, we need to start talking with other countries about job creation (i.e. we need to address the economic imbalance that leads immigrants to come here).

So here's a question: does Richardson have a chance? Are there reasons not like him as a third option (so far I'm inclined not to like Hillary because she's not a good enough orator and not to like Obama because he seems a little fluffy to me as of yet).

On a semi-related note, if you haven't seen this calculation, you should -- it's a simple bit of analysis quantifying just how much of a jerk you have to be to oppose immigration to the U.S.

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Thursday, November 15th, 2007
12:52 pm - Daughter
As of 9:40 11/13, I am now the father of a 6lb 7oz baby girl.

Mom&baby are well.

If you wanted pictures and didn't get an e-mail, ping me and I'll send you a link to see the darling girl. Otherwise, suffice it to say words are useless--I am just very, very happy.

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Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
3:44 pm - Language Log
Well... nothing to make my day like having a question of mine written up on language log. Hah! I am no longer just an armchair linguist. I am now an armchair linguist sending questions to real linguists who write about them in their armchair capactiy on the web!

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Monday, October 1st, 2007
10:37 pm - HP Repair
So recently a student knocked my laptop off a table (not really the student's fault; I'd put it on the edge of the table stupidly). Anyway, the result was that the little plastic latch that locks the battery into the case broke. I sent the laptop into HP -- it has a warranty, albeit not for accidental damage.

Anyway, I have good news and bad.

The good news is that HP said the damage was covered by my warranty. Hurrah!

The bad news, or rather, the odd news, is that instead of just fixing the little plastic doohicky, HP replaced my entire laptop case, as well as my motherboard, hard drive, and fan. Note that none of these other parts were reported as broken (one of the USB ports in the motherboard was fried due to a little accident I had with a power adapter for an external USB case, but I didn't report that to HP and they make no note of having noticed it).

They didn't ask or tell me about any of these repairs, since it was under warranty (I imagine one reason they didn't bother categorizing this as "accidental damage" is that the cost of talking to me on the phone and potentially arguing me would have been relatively high, though of course I wouldn't have really argued the accidental point since the machine was, well, accidentally dropped). I just got a notice that the laptop had shipped back to me and when it arrived there was a little checklist sheet which showed me what had been repaired.

Now I'd been warned that I'd better back up my hard drive, and so I'd made a copy of my /home/ directory for good measure, thinking it was rather insane to do so given that the problem was with the battery latch doohicky and not the hard drive. But I hadn't expected to need to use the back up. Now I wish I'd just taken the hard drive out of my laptop before sending it in -- I mean, it's a pain in the ass to reinstall my operating system, damn it, and there was absolutely no reason for them to stick a new hard drive into my machine.

Also, since they replaced my case, my lovely tux sticker is now gone forever.

None of this is unreasonable, and I got out of the whole deal for $0 when it could have cost me several hundred, so on the whole I'm quite happy. But it strikes me that we live in a peculiar world where it is more cost effective for HP to replace several multi-hundred dollar parts than to just fix one piece of plastic. Oh well.

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Saturday, August 25th, 2007
8:52 pm - Personality tests are fun
Click to view my Personality Profile page

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Sunday, August 19th, 2007
10:21 am - Real Estate Sites
One of the things K & I do periodically is look at houses -- one of these days we'll have to buy one. I'm relatively convinced that using a realtor is stupid. They cost about 6% of the cost of a house, which means that to be cost effective, they have to save you at least that % on a sale. I'm plenty nervous about how well I "know the market", but 6% translates to ~$15-25k -- I think after looking at houses for a long time I could spot a good price within that window. i.e. I think a realtor is a waste of money.

I'm not the only person to think this, which leads me to wonder: where are the good "for sale by owner" websites? I've started looking for them, but most of what I find is terrible web design. I've found pages where ads covered up pictures (because the pictures weren't automatically resized to fit in the webpage), pages that showed me homes nowhere near the zipcode I searched, and a number of pages that asked sellers to pay large amounts for listings (~$300), which resulted in paltry numbers of listings.

Craigslist is among the best sites to look for real estate, capitalizing on its general popularity, but it's not a real estate site so it doesn't have any of the extras to compete with better real estate sites that provide nice maps, multiple photos, etc.

So, my question is, has anyone found a for-sale-by-owner site that is adequately web 2.0 to compete with the better real estate companies? If not, what accounts for the gap?

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Thursday, August 9th, 2007
6:31 pm - Turns out Macs are just computers
I grew up a mac person and was a loyal mac user up through OS 8.6. Around that time, I discovered emacs and from there I was turned onto free software. It's been a number of years now I've been using linux and dealing with the various frustrations of computers -- unsupported drivers, the occasional obnoxious bug, software that doesn't quite do what I wish it did.

For much of this time, I have to admit there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind: maybe OSX, with its undergirding of BSD and its shiny exterior, is actually the ideal. Maybe I was making a sacrifice using linux all this time. (Note: I've also been exposed to Windows through work, but it never occurred to me that I was missing out on anything by not using Windows).

Anyway, a week ago or so, I got my new Macbook, which came with my new job (okay, so it's not exactly mine). I've been acclimating to the machine, and there are a number of things I like -- both from the geek and nongeek sides. On the nongeek side, the Mac clearly has all the things right that linux has finally gotten right in the last few years -- wireless just works without any of the complexity of windows, for instance, and the basic desktop is quite decent to use. Some of the usability quirks of the old system -- such as throwing disks in the trash to eject them -- have been smoothed over. On the geek side, the bsd underlying the system means that emacs is installed by default (it actually isn't in ubuntu, sadly enough) and I could use ssh from the get-go and edit a .profile to configure my commandline properly.

That said, the Mac is far from paradise. Here are some of my observations. These are minor pet peeves really -- but linux users make lists of these pet peeves every time a new distro release comes around. It is very comforting to know that a similar list exists for our competitors.

After a few years in the linux world -- which follows the windows paradigm of using underlined "mnemonics" to let you access controls and menus -- I find it intensely annoying not being able to explore programs from the keyboard. Of course, once I learn the Mac control sequences, I can avoid this, but still -- every time I open a new program, I have to use the mouse to explore what functionalities are under the menu system.

I've read that Mac usability people say that in tests people are far faster with a mouse than with a keyboard -- even "power users" who believe they are faster on the keyboard. I believe this may be the case -- and that would justify the Mac's design, for a desktop. But I highly doubt that anyone is faster with a trackpad than they are with a keyboard -- good god, I'm growing to hate that thing. I also sorely miss the scrolling built into my regular laptop's trackpad -- between the lack of a scroll mechanism on the laptop and the lack of PageUp and PageDown buttons, I find it very difficult to read on the Mac.

Confusing design...
Although I have to hand it to Apple for making programs that have a great look-and-feel to them, they are not without their annoyances. I couldn't figure out for the life of me how to do basic fades in garageband. I finally learned that there's an arrow button that brings up a very nice interface for changing the volume over the course of a track. That was great -- but there was no way for me to discover the functionality of the arrow button -- no tooltip, no equivalent in the menu, no label. I had to read the documentation -- always a bad sign.

It reminds me a bit of when I first got my ipod and couldn't figure out for the life of me how to turn it on. Hit the play button? What?

I've found countless instances of things like this -- once I learn where to press, I'm okay -- but there's no way for me to predict how I will do something until I read it somewhere. The menu systems and text on the screen on so pared down I can't read my way through to learn how to use things -- that's the cost of gloss I guess.

Little Things
Here are some of the surprising annoyances that came from the Mac -- annoyances that have their parallels in the linux world for sure, but that make me think that maybe Macs aren't so perfect after all.

  1. I couldn't get my shared printer to work using the Mac dialogs. Luckily, I know enough to know that Mac runs cups under the hood -- using the cups web interface (identical to that in Ubuntu), I was able to get my shared printing working, but it wasn't something that would have worked smoothly for a nongeek. I also quickly found a website that didn't work properly with safari (I couldn't manage to log into my sourceforge wiki for some reason). I installed firefox and that solved the problem.
  2. I couldn't copy my music from my ipod to my computer. I ended up logging into my linux computer (which had copied the music from the ipod) and scp'ing my music over to the Mac. How's that for strange -- linux seems to support the ipod better than Mac.
  3. At one point I ended up with firefox refusing to quit and couldn't remember how to force quit. Needless to say, this isn't obvious from the interface (it's a magic key combo if I recall correctly). When I went to log out, nothing happened for quite a while, leading me to try shutting down several more times. Finally, a dialog popped up and told me that firefox refused to quit and would I like to kill it. This is a classic experience--the "hang", the lack of feedback--but it was very surprising to see it on a Mac given the great usability I've been led to expect from them.

Big Things
A final thing -- when I opened up Garageband recently, it asked if I'd like to learn about updates. "Of course!", I thought. It brought me to a webpage that gave me the opportunity to spend $79 upgrading. WTF!?! And here, of course, I learned how used I am to free software. I got in it for the freedom, of course, but I've come out of it being a monumental cheapskate. I just can't quite stomach the idea of paying for software, and the idea that I would have to pay to get improvements (rather than just clicking "Upgrade") is really astonishing.

So in the end, I'm very happy to be back on my linux laptop. I'm excited that linux is getting better and better and competing with OSX. For any mac users out there -- there is one good side effect of my experiments with the Mac: I now have instructions for installing my lovely recipe software on OSX. It's not exactly easy, but so it goes...

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Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
6:18 am - Graduation
So the seniors graduate tonight. I've taught this class Spanish since their tenth grade (the year I entered the school) so I feel a special attachment to them. This class also includes some of the students who have most surprised me (pleasantly) with their growth.

Last night was Senior Night, a graduation eve shindig in which the students roast the teachers, the teachers roast the students, and in between there are moments of immense sentimentality (such as when the seniors open letters they wrote to themselves in the 7th grade) and a couple of faculty speeches. This year, the kids picked me to speak, which really kind of made my year.

It was my first chance to write a graduation speech. I thought for a while about what advice I'd want to give -- I decided that rather than advise them on how to choose the right path and do great things with their lives, I'd try to focus on what I always have considered the most important intellectual value: how not to be bored.

In the students' making-fun-of-teachers skit, they also made fun of the fact that they've found my livejournal (among other things). So, it seems only right to include the speech here.

Relevant context: our school brings in one speaker for Juniors&Seniors each week. Speakers can talk about anything from patent law to hip hop. Also, our school has an "essential question" that supposedly informs the curriculum each year. Every year, the rising senior class is responsible for choosing the question (actually, they choose 2 questions and then the school votes on which one wins, but that's a technicality. This year's essential question was "how is it relevant?".

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Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
6:40 am - Song-A-Week Project Week 34: A little thing

The Song-A-Week Project continues with week 34: A little thing.

34. A Little Thing
This song came out of the structure of a joke. In specific, my friend Ryan was telling me about a friend of his who always tells jokes in which you claim to love (A) and then suggest you'd like to just change a few things about (A) to make it really awesome, until you've changed enough attributes that the original claim that you love (A) is ridiculous. For example:

I love rocky
Rocky is a great movie.
Only, I just wish instead of being set in Philadelphia, it was set in North Carolina. That would have been great.
And maybe instead of Rocky being a boxer, he could have been a pitcher, that would have been totally awesome.
And instead of meeting a shy girl that he fell in love with, he could have met a really sexy woman who would teach him all the secrets of baseball, and also like, sleep with the catcher and stuff.
And maybe instead of Sylvester Stalone, Rocky could have been played by Kevin Costner.

So anyway, I saw this structure and I thought: that there is a kind of sappy country song. So what I've written is a classic country song — one of the classic scenarios — only, in keeping with the structure of the joke, I haven't done the set up in the first verse, which means that the situation of the speaker takes a few verses to figure out.

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Thursday, March 29th, 2007
4:19 pm - Song-A-Week Project Week 33: Nothing that I can do (except for loving you)
The Song-A-Week Project continues with week 33. This week is Katharine's singing debut!
33. Nothing That I Can Do
I wrote this song because I wanted to write something really simple sounding, with a clear, simple, singable melody. Once I came up with the refrain (Nothing that I can do... except for loving you), the song called out for silly verses about domestic incompetence. Anyway, what resulted is a bit syrupy and a bit stereotypical... when I sang it for K, she insisted that she should really be the one to sing about cooking blunders and stuff since it was more verosimile that way (though I've set the smoke detector off plenty of times myself)... anyway, if you think this is sweet, that's good. If you find it a bit too much like a sitcom, well then, I apologize.

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Saturday, March 17th, 2007
3:41 pm - Song-A-Week Project Week 32: Astronaut
The Song-A-Week Project continues with week 32
32. Astronaut
I'm not sure how I came up with the idea for this song — the first lines I had written were the anti-inspirational chorus—"for most of us the stakes are lower than we know." I worked from that line to fill out a brief pop song about how we matter less than we like to think (we being the speaker, I guess, tempted—ironically enough—to generalize to an all-inclusive first-person plural).

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Sunday, March 11th, 2007
8:22 pm - Song-A-Week Project Songs 27-31
I'm back after a long hiatus without any songs. I finally got some recording done this weekend. This is the first recording I've done since we moved at the end of January. It's good to be back recording songs again — the project felt like it had fallen through for a bit there — but I had to resort to some unusual writing to get the songs this time... I have 4 mini-songs (about ads) and one song whose lyrics are mostly stolen from John Donne.
27-30 The Advertising Songs
I decided to write a series of songs that attempt to (taken together) capture the experience of watching ads. Like the ads they are about, the songs are short and not complicated. Note that these are not jingles per se but songs about ads. Still, these songs are something more like direct comedy than what I usually write, but they helped me get over the halfway-hump in the song-a-week project (and make up the missed month of February...).
27. Advertising Song 1 - But You
28. Advertising Song 2 - Look At That
29. Advertising Song 3 - Our Commodity
30. Advertising Song 4 - Isnt This Lovely
31. Stay O Sweet
This song is inspired by a John Donne poem about not wanting to get out of bed. I added a chorus that is distinctly modern (it starts "rush hour waits for you", so it's pretty obvious when we're in the by-me part and not in the by-Donne part).

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Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
6:21 pm - Song-A-Week Project - up to week 26
The Song-A-Week Project is now up to 26 songs -- half way. I'm finally putting pointers here to the mp3s for the songs, which have been on the internet archive for about a week. The songs were recorded at various times over the last 2 months and didn't make it to the internet for one reason or another.

Due to laziness, I've just included links to the mp3s. If you'd like to download ogg vorbis files or lossless flacs instead, you can find them at the Song-A-Week Project internet archive page

22. Running November 17th

This is my song about runners. In particular, it talks about young women running around Cambridge.

23. Extradiagetical December 3rd

This song is about sound tracks. My goal was to write a song using the word "extradiagetical". Needless to say, it became a rather sincere love song (of the break-up variety). The song is a narration of life as a movie sound guy might live it.

25. These Walls Are Thin January 7

This is my semi-autobiographical song about my downstairs neighbor. I try never to write as therapy, but this song was oddly therapeutic to write. It's a blues and like all blues it adds a certain ironic distance to its subject matter -- in this case, the awful situation of living above an awful, abusive person. (Actually, I may not believe she's awful — I'm not entirely sure I can believe people are awful — at any rate, as the song says, I think we all could use some mercy).

26. This is it January 15th

This is another existential love song. The trick of this song was to start with the utterly sketchy boy-singer line "We better make love" and to try, through the course of the song, to make that song at once sincere and not obnoxiously-sketchy-soul-man sincere. You be the judge of whether I succeeded.

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Wednesday, January 17th, 2007
10:45 pm - Half Way

Just a note to say I'm half way to my 52-songs. The goal is 52 songs by ~June 1 -- that puts me a good month behind or so. Nonetheless, 26 songs isn't so bad. I am further behind than that with posting of course -- but I just finished getting the songs onto my hard drive, so hopefully it won't be long at all before I upload them to the internets.

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Friday, December 22nd, 2006
6:09 am - What makes it all worth it...
I just got the following e-mail.
It is your program that has me in Linux on my main computer, and it is
you I want to thank. I was a die hard never give up Windows (my family
works for Microsoft so I have to be loyal, even if it has to crash every
ten minutes) kind of girl.
My husband is... the developer of multiple open
source Linux software. For years he has tried to get me on Linux and I
refused. Then after one huge melt down of windows, I was on the verge
of tears and in a split second I said install Linux, and he had it
I was planning on just reinstalling windows and all my software the
next day but then your gourmet recipe program caught my eye. I started
messing around with it, pulling on every whistle and bell. Almost every
time I thought it should have this feature or that feature I would find
it already programmed in.
I just wanted to say thanks, if it hadn't been your program I would
be right now pulling out my hair with another crash. It was your program
that convinced me to give Linux a try.
I doubt you wanted to hear the ramblings of a converted Microsoft
fan, but thank you so much for making such a useful and intuitive
program. Your program is the best recipe program I have ever used in my
years of collecting recipes in my computer. It even allowed me to
transfer all the recipes easily from Windows programs.

Well that definitely felt good to read. Makes all that silly work I put into Gourmet feel that much more worth it.

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Wednesday, December 20th, 2006
11:07 pm - Song-A-Week Project Week 24: First Christmas Alone
So I'm further behind on posting songs than on recording for what it's worth. I had some editing problems with my last few songs which has delayed my posting them (though I assure you songs 22 & 23 have been written & recorded). Nonetheless, I thought I'd better post this song since, being a Christmas song, it has a shelf life of only 5 days (of course you can get it out again next year after Thanksgiving)

In case you're wondering if this song is biographical -- no, it's not -- I'm actually going to be seeing both K & my families this Christmas.

First Christmas Alone (mp3)
First Christmas Alone (ogg)
First Christmas Alone (flac)

I'm also posting the song to soundclick if you would like to read the lyrics or if you prefer to listen to it through a slick flash interface here: First Christmas Alone, Song-A-Week Project

As always, the Song-A-Week Project is hosted on the internet archive and all songs are licensed as creative commons non-commercial share-alike.

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Sunday, November 12th, 2006
2:32 pm - Rage against the filemaker system...
I've blogged the crap that is our assessment system before and I'll do my best to refrain this year. This year I actually made head-way in learning how to use the import/export feature built-into our filemaker system to get the data out as a CSV file (and, more importantly, to get it back in as a CSV file). This substantially sped up data entry and I marked it as a great victory in the epic tale of me-vs.-the-piece-of-crap. Most importantly, with my new know-how I can show the powers-that-be how to import things like attendance data from their excel spreadsheets, which will save untold teacher-hours of data-entry (and keep untold numbers of teacher-created errors from going home in the progress reports).

Also, I had new evidence that the system was in fact designed by a nimwit -- I got to see the underlying data structure and, friends, it is scary. (details in lj-cut below)

So, until moments ago, I was thinking that this year marked a net victory in the battle of me against insanity.

But then, just a moment ago, the filemaker-program-from-hell decided to segfault on me, which led to me discovering a new WTF: this fine little application, which uses a file-based DB, apparently only commits changes to the database (i.e. to the file) when you quit. Meaning that all the work I'd done today was erased when the application segfaulted (well -- that was my experience; it would be more accurate to say none of the work I had done today was ever saved -- nor could I have saved it, as there is no "save" button since I'm supposed to be imagining I'm interacting with a database rather than writing-to-a-file anyway).

Of course, you can't blame them, can you? I mean, every programmer knows that if you write your program well enough, it can't possibly segfault (bugs? what's a bug? power failures? we can't be blamed for power failures...), so it's perfectly safe to count on saving all your data when the user quits at the end of a session.

So I'll be typing the rest of my comments into another program and then copying them into filemaker, now that I've learned my lesson.
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Sunday, November 5th, 2006
10:47 pm - Song-A-Week Project Week 21: Hay que huir
Song-A-Week Project week 21 is my first Spanish-Language song, and my first song arguably influenced by the curriculum I'm in the midst of teaching.

We're in the midst of a "travel" unit in which we make all the students plan a potential trip abroad. So I've been thinking a lot about travel.

This song begins with a reference to the opening of Neruda's "Walking Around" -- "Sucede que me canso de ser hombre". It seems appropriate for me to reference a poem with an English title, since I'm crossing languages myself with this tune. Anyway, the song is about the need to get away... but it looks at it from a darker, more pensive angle than the typical American "get-me-to-Spanish-speaking-land" song.

As always, the song is available in multiple formats:
Hay que huir mp3 ogg flac

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Saturday, November 4th, 2006
2:34 pm - Song-A-Week Project Weeks 18,19,20: So Sad, Moonscape, Read Every Night
Here, at long last, are Song-a-week Project Weeks 18,19,20: So Sad, Moonscape, and Read Every Night

18: So sad October 9th A blues about how sometimes everyday stuff can seem really sad. This song sports my lovely keyboard with some organ to back up the usual harp and guitar.
Download as: ogg mp3 flac or Soundclick page with lyrics and streaming audio

19: Moonscape October 15th-ish
This is a song about Roethke's paintings. In particular, it's a song about some monochrome grey paintings he did ~1970 shortly before his suicide. The basic idea I got from K -- it's the idea that those canvasses are a kind of eerie echo of the images of the moonlanding that were on TV throughout 1969, hence the first line -- "1969, your color TV turned black-and-white."
Download as: mp3 ogg flac or Soundclick page with lyrics and streaming audio

20: Read every night October 23rd
This is a song about a romance of taste, and about the way falling for someone gets entangled with falling for what they read and listen to. For me, this is the quintessential teen love song (everything the characters read and listen to is stuff I was exposed to first in high school...). For me, the real point of the song is to get at that intense sense of newness that teenage romance has (or should have), and to focus on the intellectual side of it, because god knows the other side has been done to death.

If the recording sounds like it has too much reverb, just take that as extra romance. I believe this may be the first time anyone has sung "lately I've been into the metaphysical poets" with such an air of sappiness... this song also has a country-song style super-saccharine twist in the last verse, which is my attempt to end it (truth be told, I still don't feel this song is finished, but so it goes with a song-a-week project).

Download as: mp3 ogg flac or Soundclick page with lyrics and streaming audio

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