Issue 69 - Hoax-Slayer Newsletter
Issue 69: February, 2007
This month in Hoax-Slayer:
Hoax-Slayer is a Free Monthly Web-Based Newsletter brought
to you by Brett Christensen
The Hoax-Slayer Newsletter keeps you informed about the latest email hoaxes and current Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also features
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An Elephant or The Moon - Dumbest Quiz Show Contestant Hoax
We humans love to laugh at apparent displays of stupidity by others, which may explain why the fake "news" story included below has circulated so widely. The article has been posted to numerous forums and blogs and is also traversing cyberspace in the form of an email forward.
The story claims that, when she appeared on the quiz show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire", Kathy Evans of Idaho "set a new standard for stupidity" when she could not answer a question that asked her to identify the largest item from a list comprising an elephant, the moon and a peanut. According to the message, despite using all of her "lifelines", Kathy ultimately "went with her gut" and locked in "Elephant" as her final answer.
However, the incident described never happened. The article originates
from BSNews.org, a satirical website that features fake news items on a variety of subjects. Within their original context, it should be clear to even gullible readers that the articles are satirical in nature and are not intended to be taken seriously. Even the name of the site (BS News) should alert astute visitors to its true nature. Moreover, the site includes the following disclaimer
on its "About" page:
DISCLAIMER: BSNews.org, and all it's contents, fall under the category of Satire and Parody. Don't take any of this bull[****] seriously, ok? In other words, NONE OF THIS IS REAL! Understand? Good.
However, the article was apparently lifted from its original setting and began circulating as a supposedly legitimate news item, thereby fooling many recipients into believing its claims. The original version claimed that the host slapped "Kathy's" face after the show and she was subsequently hospitalized "in critical condition" after being beaten by angry audience members. The version currently circulating omits these details, possibly because they are so far-fetched that they would likely "give the game away".
The photograph included with the message is a doctored adaptation of a legitimate screenshot
from the UK version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". The real question asked for another name for the "trachea" and had nothing to do with elephants or the moon. And the contestant's name is Fiona Wheeler, not "Kathy Evans" as claimed in the message. What's more, far from being stupid, Fiona answered the question correctly and won £32,000.
It is not uncommon for satirical "news" items to break out of the confines of their original settings and circulate via other means, fooling gullible recipients as they travel. A 2004 "news" article from another satirical news site falsely reported the demise of American Idol contestant William Hung
. Another fake news item describes proposed legislation
intended to provide work-place benefits for "the millions of Americans who lack any real skills or ambition".
It is always wise to check the validity of any apparent news items that arrive via email or are posted to blogs and forums. If information in such items is genuine, it will usually be featured on legitimate news outlets such as online news websites and will not be hard to verify.
Idiotic ‘Millionaire’ Contestant Makes Worst Use Of Lifelines Ever
Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
About BSNews Organization
William Hung Is Not Dead
Americans With No Abilities Act Hoax
An example of the hoax email:
Subject: FW: How NOT to be a millionaire
NEW YORK – Idaho resident Kathy Evans brought humiliation to her friends and family Tuesday when she set a new standard for stupidity with her appearance on the popular TV show, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."
It seems that Evans, a 32-year-old wife and mother of two, got stuck on the first question, and proceeded to make what fans of the show are dubbing "the absolute worst use of lifelines ever."
After being introduced to the show's host Meredith Vieira, Evans assured her that she was ready to play, whereupon she was posed with an extremely easy $100 question. The question was:
"Which of the following is the largest?"
A) A Peanut
B) An Elephant
C) The Moon
D) Hey, who you calling large?
Immediately Mrs. Evans was struck with an all consuming panic as she realized that this was a question to which she did not readily know the answer.
"Hmm, oh boy, that's a toughie," said Evans, as Vieira did her level best to hide her disbelief and disgust. "I mean, I'm sure I've heard of some of these things before, but I have no idea how large they would be."
Evans made the decision to use the first of her three lifelines, the 50/50. Answers A and D were removed, leaving her to decide which was bigger, an elephant or the moon. However, faced with an incredibly easy question, Evans still remained unsure.
"Oh! It removed the two I was leaning towards!" exclaimed Evans. "Darn. I think I better phone a friend."
Using the second of her two lifelines on the first question, Mrs. Evans asked to be connected with her friend Betsy, who is an office assistant.
"Hi Betsy! How are you? This is Kathy! I'm on TV!" said Evans, wasting the first seven seconds of her call. "Ok, I got an important question. Which of the following is the largest? B, an elephant, or C, the moon. 15 seconds hun."
Betsy quickly replied that the answer was C, the moon. Evans proceeded to argue with her friend for the remaining ten seconds.
"Come on Betsy, are you sure?" said Evans. "How sure are you? Puh, that can't be it."
To everyone's astonishment, the moronic Evans declined to take her friend's advice and pick 'The Moon.'
"I just don't know if I can trust Betsy. She's not all that bright. So I think I'd like to ask the audience," said Evans.
Asked to vote on the correct answer, the audience returned 98% in favor of answer C, 'The Moon.' Having used up all her lifelines, Evans then made the dumbest choice of her life.
"Wow, seems like everybody is against what I'm thinking," said the too-stupid-to-live Evans. "But you know, sometimes you just got to go with your gut. So, let's see. For which is larger, an elephant or the moon, I'm going to have to go with B, an elephant. Final answer."
Evans sat before the dumbfounded audience, the only one waiting with bated breath, and was told that she was wrong, and that the answer was in fact, C, 'The Moon.'
Mat Company's Rude Response to US Soldier in Iraq
The email exchange included in the below email forward actually did take place. When Sgt. Jason Hess of the US Army's 1st Cavalry Division emailed a question to Discount-Mats.com asking if the company shipped to APO (military) addresses, he received a surprisingly rude reply. The staff member who answered the soldier's question bluntly stated that the company "would NEVER ship to Iraq". The reply finished off by suggesting that if Sgt. Hess was "sensible" he and his men should pull out of the Iraq war.
After Hess shared the exchange with friends, it soon began circulating rapidly via email, forums and blogs and was then picked up by talkback radio and news outlets. Not surprisingly, the issue created outrage among military supporters.
However, it seems that the opinions expressed in the reply were those of a particular staff member and certainly did not reflect company policy. In fact, the person responsible has now been fired because of the incident. Discount-Mats.com has been inundated with emails and calls, and has placed the following statement
on its website:
Due to the recent actions of a member within our company, we have been experiencing many difficulties. We have been bombarded by emails and phone calls literally within 12 hours of the event occurring, which sent us in a state of complete shock.
Our technical difficulties were experienced due to severe e-mail and phone call overload.
As a company, we would like to say that it is against company policy to treat anyone disrespectfully, and we condemn any such behavior. The member who was responsible for stating their personal opinion in a disrespectful manner is no longer associated and no longer working with Discount-Mats.com
The members within our company strongly disagreed with the views and actions of this member, and once again, his personal opinion does not reflect the opinions of the company.
We, as a company, are sorry for the events that took place and we do not condone un-professional, rude behavior from any members within our company.
The continuing war in Iraq is a contentious issue and is polarizing communities. Emotions run high on both sides of the debate. It seems that this staff member let his strongly held personal beliefs overshadow professional courtesy and common sense. While he certainly has a right to his opinions on the Iraq war, his angst is misdirected. Regardless of their position on Iraq, many would argue that a soldier, even a sergeant, is simply obeying orders from above and is in no position to pull his troops out of Iraq or anywhere else. Opposition to the war is better directed at the politicians who instigated it rather than individual soldiers. Moreover, a reply to a customer's simple enquiry is hardly an appropriate vehicle for airing personal opinions, especially on emotive issues such as the war in Iraq. It is not only very unprofessional, but also liable to cause trouble for the sender, as I'm sure this individual has now realized.
That said, we all make mistakes, and being tactless and unprofessional is not a crime. The staff member responsible has lost his job, a high price to pay for his indiscretion and, possibly, a lesson well learned. And while the company must take responsibility for the conduct of its staff, it has already taken action to address the issue and certainly should not be further vilified over what is after all a comparatively minor incident.
E-mail to soldier spurs outrage
Web Retailer Apologizes After Employee's Anti-War Comment Stirs Controversy
Wisconsin retailer criticized for anti-war e-mail
An example of the email:
A soldier based in Iraq got this response when inquiring as to whether or not the company ships overseas. He wanted to get the troops better gear to sleep on.
To Whom it may concern:
Do you ship to APO addresses?
I'm in the 1st Cavalry Division stationed in Iraq and we are trying to order some mats but we are looking for who ships to APO first.
Subject: Re: Feedback: from discount-mats.com
We do not ship to APO addresses, and even if we did, we would NEVER ship to Iraq.
If you were sensible, you and your troops would pull out of Iraq.
HM Revenue & Customs Tax Refund Phishing Scam
Some UK Residents have been receiving emails that claim to be from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The emails, which have seemingly legitimate HMRC logos and formatting, claim that the recipient can apply for a tax refund by clicking an included link. However, the messages are not from HMRC and are in fact the first part of a typical phishing scam.
Clicking the link in the scam messages will open a bogus website that asks the user to provide bank account details. The fake site has been created to closely resemble the real HMRC website in order to fool victims into parting with their personal information. The site informs victims that they need to provide banking details so that the tax refund can be transferred directly into their account. However, there is
no refund. Any details entered into the bogus web form can be harvested by the criminals operating the scam and used for fraud and identity theft.
HMRC has published information
about this and other scams on its website.
A very similar tax refund scam was targeting Canadian residents
in December 2006 and January 2007. Other tax refund scam messages have been directed against US residents
and claimed to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Any email that claims to be from a tax department and asks you to click a link and provide personal information should be treated with caution. No legitimate government tax office is likely to provide tax refund information via an unsolicited email, nor would they ask recipients to follow a link and provide financial information.
Scammers use a large array of ruses designed to trick recipients into surrendering personal information. If you receive an unsolicited email from a government department, bank or other institution that asks you to click an included hyperlink and provide sensitive personal information, then you should view the message with the utmost suspicion. If you have any doubts at all about the veracity of the email, contact the institution directly to check before clicking links in the message or supplying information.
Known spoofs and phishing attempts
Department of Finance Phishing Scam
IRS Refund Scam Email
Fraudsters target late returns
An example of the scam email:
Subject: HM Revenue & Customs - Notification
Please Note: After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of £170
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days in order to process it.
A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.
To access the form for your tax refund,click here [Link Removed]
Registry Mechanic - Clean and Optimize Your Windows Registry
The Windows Registry is one of the most important components of your computer's operating system. The registry is a vast central database that is used to store a great deal of critical information about installed applications, hardware settings, user preferences and a lot more.
When you make Control Panel changes, alter system policies, adjust file associations, or tweak user settings, information about your changes is likely to be stored in the Windows Registry. Also, when you install or uninstall software or add hardware devices, the registry will usually be modified during the process. The registry's job is to store this very complex and varied array of data in one place so that it can be readily accessed by your computer system as required. Thus, the Windows Registry is vital for the efficient operation of your computer.
Unfortunately, the very complexity of the registry means that it tends to develop errors and inconsistencies and become more and more bloated over time. Remnants can be left in the registry when you uninstall software. Spyware or other malicious programs may insert entries into your registry without your knowledge. Unused drivers may add unnecessary clutter to the registry.
Registry problems can lead to system crashes, sudden freezes, and sluggish performance. A poorly maintained registry can severely degrade the overall performance of your computer. Thus, keeping your registry clean and efficient should be an important aspect of your regular computer maintenance schedule.
Thankfully, there is a terrific program available that can make the job of maintaining your registry very simple. The award-winning Registry Mechanic from PC Tools cleans and optimizes your registry with just a few mouse clicks. Registry Mechanic repairs invalid registry entries, removes orphaned references, scans for invalid program shortcuts and optimizes the registry by compacting wasted space. For added safety, the program makes back-ups of any registry changes just in case problems occur.
An outstanding feature of this program is that it is very easy to use, even for those new to computing. Like other PC Tools software, Registry Mechanic has an elegant and intuitive user interface and clear and comprehensive help files.
I regularly use Registry Mechanic on my system and have found that it is very stable software, and does a superlative job of maintaining my registry in optimal condition. I view Registry Mechanic as a vital addition to my collection of computer maintenance and security tools and I am proud to be an affiliate for this product.
If your goal is to proactively avoid computer problems and keep your Windows system running at peak efficiency, then I highly recommend that you purchase and regularly use Registry Mechanic.
As noted above, I am an affiliate for Registry Mechanic. For more information, please refer to my Affiliate Marketing Policy
Townsville Flood Photograph Hoax
The image included below, which is circulating via email, supposedly shows severe tidal flooding along a seaside street in Townsville, Queensland. The image shows "The Strand", an area of the city very popular with both tourists and locals, apparently awash with sea water.
However, the picture is a hoax. It was created with image manipulation software using a genuine photograph of the flood-free Strand as a base. According to an article
in the Townsville Bulletin, the image was created by Townsville man, Kevin Fawcett. He used a photograph he took from his balcony at the Aquarius On The Beach apartments. After Mr Fawcett created the fake image, he emailed it to a few friends as a joke. However, one or more of the recipients must have forwarded the image to others and it was soon hitting inboxes around the world.
Some Townsville residents have been contacted by overseas family and friends who were concerned for their safety after seeing the hoax photograph. Tourism Queensland has also been forced to reassure travel agents and tourist operators that the image does not show a real event. And Aquarius on the Beach staff have fielded calls about the picture from as far away as London. North Queensland was
experiencing heavy rain and some flooding around the time that the image began circulating, and this probably added credence to the hoax
Kevin Fawcett apparently had no idea that his creation would travel so widely and fool so many people and he had no malicious intent. The image
, titled "High Tide at Aquarius" and other artwork by Mr Fawcett
are featured on the devaintART website.
Flood hoax frenzy
High Tide at Aquarius
An example of the hoax email:
Subject: Flooding on The Strand
Amazing Tree Photos - Fantastic Tree Trunk Shapes
These photographs of trees that have grown into wonderful shapes and patterns are circulating via email and have also been posted to various blogs and online forums. The photographs are genuine and do depict real living trees.
According to a history of the trees
on the Bonfante Gardens website, these botanical wonders were grown over a number of years by a Californian farmer named Axel Erlandson. The history notes:
This botanical adventure began in Hilmar, California in the 1920's when Axel Erlandson..., a farmer by trade, observed the natural grafting of two Sycamores. His first major project consisted of fusing four Sycamore saplings into a cupola that he named the "Four-Legged Giant." Using intricate grafting techniques, Erlandson wove his wonders with threads of living wood. Straight tree trunks became complex and compound designs in shapes like hearts, lightning bolts, basket weaves and rings.
Erlandson developed his tree creations for over 40 years. During the 1940's and 50's, the trees were often featured in Ripley's "Believe-It-or-Not," "Life" magazine, and other publications. After he died in 1964, his 74 tree creations had no one to look after them and some began to die. During the 1970's, however, a man named Mark Primack and others did their best to save the remaining trees. Then, in 1984, Michael Bonfante bought the trees for Bonfante Gardens
, a horticulture theme park located in Gilroy, California. After careful preparation, 29 of the trees were relocated to the theme park in November 1985. All 29 of the trees survived the relocation. Today, 19 of the trees are on public display throughout the theme park.
Although the photographs are genuine, there is a minor inaccuracy in the description that accompanies them. The trees were moved to Gilroy in 1985, not 1999 as stated in the message.
It would have been a terrible shame if these trees had died due to lack of care and attention. Thankfully, due to the efforts of Michael Bonfante, Mark Primack and others, Erlandson's famous "circus trees" are still alive and well and located in a safe environment where they can be viewed by a whole new generation of tree lovers.
Bonfante Gardens Family Theme Park -- Home of the Circus Trees™!
Bonfante Gardens Family Theme Park
VIA Online: Out on a Limb
An example of the email:
Subject: Fw: Amazing Tree Growth
These trees were grown in Santa Cruz, CA the year unknown, but the man that grew them never told any one how he did it.
Then in around 1999 the owner of Nob Hill foods in Gilroy, CA moved them to his park in Gilroy and they are doing well.
UK National Lottery Scams
A favourite trick of lottery scammers is to try to add a patina of legitimacy to their fraudulent activities by naming genuine organizations in their scam messages. For example, they may claim in their scam messages that a high profile company such as Microsoft, Coca Cola, or Honda has sponsored the prize on offer. Of course, these supposed endorsements are used without the permission or knowledge of the named companies. Unfortunately, such fake endorsements are often enough to convince gullible recipients that the "lottery prize" is genuine.
A common and effective deployment of this method is to claim that the "Winning Notification" email is from a genuine lottery organization. Often, the scammers will use the same, or a very similar, name to that of a real lottery. Even if the recipient is at first a little leery, he or she may be convinced that the claims in the scam email are genuine after conducting a web search on the name of the lottery and discovering the legitimate lottery website. The genuine lottery website is likely to be professionally presented and may even be operated by an official government organization. The potential victim may erroneously believe that, by independently searching for and discovering the genuine website, he or she has effectively confirmed the information in the message. Thus, the illusion of legitimacy that the scammers try to create is significantly enhanced and another innocent Internet user may be victimized.
One real lottery that is almost continually targeted by lottery scammers is The National Lottery in the UK. There are dozens of variations of these scam messages, all claiming that the recipient has won money in the UK National Lottery. As discussed above, people who come across the real National Lottery
website may be convinced that the scam message they received is genuine. Those with prior knowledge of the National Lottery may also be more likely to fall for the scam. The National Lottery Commission in the UK has posted a warning
about these scams on its website.
The aim of these scam emails is generally to persuade the victim that it is necessary to pay upfront fees before the "winnings" can be released. In reality, there are
no winnings and any fees that victims part with go directly into the pocket of the criminals running the scam. Also, over the course of their correspondence with a victim, the scammers may accumulate a significant amount of the victim's personal information. The scammers may eventually accumulate enough information to steal the victim's identity.
Typically, lottery scam messages claim that your name or email address has been "randomly selected" to win. However, legitimate lotteries do not operate in this way. In almost all cases, you can only win if you have actually bought a ticket. Even free, advertising supported, lottery systems will generally require you to register and specifically enter a draw.
In short, do not trust any
unsolicited email that claims that you have been randomly selected to win a large sum of money, even if the lottery named in the message is real.
Home | The National Lottery
National Lottery - Lottery Scams
Email Lottery Scams - International Lottery Scam Information
An example of one of these scam emails:
GOVERNMENT ACCREDITED LICENSED!!!
The National Lottery
We happily announce to you the draw (1117) of the UK NATIONAL
LOTTERY,online Sweepstakes International program held on Monday,18th
december,2006 in London, UNITED-KINGDOM. You have therefore
been approved to claim a total sum of£558,077( FIVE
HUNDRED AND FIFTY EIGHT THOUSAND, SEVENTY SEVEN POUNDS STERLINGS)
incash,credited to file ktu/9023118308/03. This is from a total cash
prize of £ 3. 4 Million pounds, shared amongst the first Four (4) lucky
winners in this category.
All participants for this online version were selected randomly from
World Wide Web sites through computer draw system and extracted from
over 100,000 unions, associations, and corporate bodies that are listed
online. To begin your claims,attached here is the claim Verification form,
which you are expected to fill and submit back to your fiduciary agent
immediately via e-mail.
Hope to have informed you correctly.
MR petterson walker
REFERENCE NUMBER: UK/9420X2/68
COMPANY NAME: ..
INDICATE PREFERRED MODE OF PRIZE COLLECTION:
Congratulations once again from all members and staff of this program.
Thank you for being part of our promotional lottery programs.
Richard .K. Lloyd.
Online coordinator for UK NATIONAL LOTTERY
Ransomware Holds Your Files Hostage
Imagine that one morning you go to your computer to start work only to find that all of your important files have been locked and you cannot access them. You then receive a message via email or a Windows PopUp that instructs you to send money or buy specified products in return for a password to unlock your files. In some cases, the message warns that files will be periodically deleted until such time as the hijacker's demands are met. In other words, your files are being held hostage and will only be released "alive" if you pay the ransom.
This scenario may sound a little far-fetched, but several such attacks were reported during 2006. Computer users may become victim to one of these attacks after they inadvertently install a trojan horse program from a seemingly innocent website or by opening an email attachment. Once executed, the malicious program, dubbed "ransomware", may trap files inside a folder that can only be accessed by entering a password held by the scammer.
Once such trojan, called Archiveus
, locked the "My Documents" folder on the infected computer behind a 30 digit password. Victims were instructed to buy drugs from an online pharmaceutical website to retrieve the password. Computer security experts soon uncovered the password from within the malicious code and published it online so that victims could unlock files without complying with the scammer's requests. Another ransomware trojan, called CryZip
imprisoned files in a password protected zip file and demanded payment of $300 for their release. The victim was presented with step-by-step instructions detailing how to start an eGold account on line and deposit the ransom. Yet another version, known as Ransom.A
, warned victims that a file on the infected computer would be deleted every thirty minutes unless $10.99 was wired to the scammers in exchange for an unlock code. In fact, Ransom.A was not programmed to delete any files at all. It was purely a bluff intended to panic victims into sending the money quickly.
So far, ransomware has been relatively unsophisticated and fairly easy to thwart. However, computer experts warn that future attacks could use much more secure encryption techniques to lock up victim's files. And the frequency of such attacks is likely to rise. According to a report
by Kaspersky Lab, "holding user data hostage is one of the most dangerous and rapidly evolving types of cyber crime".
These ransomware attacks are yet another reason to keep regular backups of all important files. Up-to-date backups are likely to emasculate even technically sophisticated ransomware attacks. If backups are available, a potential ransomware victim has no need to panic or comply with the scammer's demands. He or she can take the necessary steps to cleanse the infected computer of the ransomware and then restore any lost files from backup copies.
And, of course, users can protect themselves from being infected in the first place by ensuring that their operating system and other software has the latest security updates and using up-to-date antivirus software, spyware scanners, and an Internet firewall.
Léman Lake Switzerland Ice Storm Photographs
Fabulous photographs that depict an "ice storm" at a Swiss lake have been circulating via email since 2005. They are a popular topic for blog and forum posts. The photographs also circulate as a PowerPoint presentation.
The photographs are genuine. At Lake Léman
(Lake Geneva) in January 2005, very cold conditions combined with strong winds resulted in the ice-encrusted landscape shown in the photographs. Temperatures were so cold that wind-generated spray from the lake froze on the surface of anything it touched.
Another series of photographs showing alternate views of the same event can be viewed in an online photo gallery
by Jean-Pierre Scherrer of Geneva, Switzerland. Scherrer notes:
After a conjunction of intense cold (-8 to -12 degrees Centigrade), plus very strong winds, blowing at over 100 kmh (70 mph), the waves got so harsh that they passed over the dikes and the droplets immediatly froze everything they touched !
Although the photographs are authentic, some versions of the accompanying text misidentify the geographic location where they were taken. Various false locations have been listed including another Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, and other waterways in the United States, Canada and Europe. The above version of the message correctly identifies
the location as Versoix at Switzerland's Lake Léman.
on Photosite.pl shows the Versoix jetty featured in one of the ice-storm images in warmer weather.
Lake Geneva and La Côte
Ice Storm over Geneva
Lake Geneva Photo Gallery : Lake geneva shoreline in versoix
Versoix - walk
An example of the email:
Now this is an ice storm.
This incredible spectacle you are about to see, takes place in Versoix , a town close to Geneva City, Switzerland.
The water in the background is the Léman Lake.
Hoax-Slayer Humour: 12 Step Recovery Program For Web Addicts
- I will have a cup of coffee in the morning and read my PAPER newspaper like I used to, before the Web.
- I will eat breakfast with a knife and fork and not with one hand typing.
- I will get dressed before noon.
- I will make an attempt to clean the house, wash clothes, and plan dinner before even thinking of the Web.
- I will sit down and write a letter to those unfortunate few friends and family that are Web-deprived.
- I will call someone on the phone who I cannot contact via the Web.
- I will read a book... if I still remember how.
- I will listen to those around me about their needs and stop telling them to turn the TV down so I can hear the music on the Web.
- I will not be tempted during TV commercials to check for email.
- I will try and get out of the house at least once a week, if it is necessary or not.
- I will remember that my bank is not forgiving if I forget to balance my checkbook because I was too busy on the Web.
- Last, but not least, I will remember that I must go to bed sometime... and the Web will always be there tomorrow!
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©Brett M. Christensen, 2008