A Hole in the LMS

hole-in-the-LMSDoes your LMS have a hole?  It’s not a leak.  It’s a necessary feature.

In our online class at Royal Roads University this week, Learning Management Systems are under the microscope.  To the question about a favourite LMS, I’m going to say “Any LMS + Open Web”.  Below is what I posted in the closed Moodle forum.

“Learning Management Systems may be unavoidable in institutions, but inevitable does not mean a single story.   I strongly favor the practice of linking outside the LMS for features that are richer than the LMS can provide.  Anything I put into the LMS effectively dies when access is closed, if it isn’t erased outright by the Admin.  But if we discuss a burning issue on my blog, I can keep the conversation for future reference years from now.  And if you or I link it on Facebook, others outside the class can join in giving us an even richer diversity of perspectives.  So I’m going to practice what I preach and copy this to my blog.   For the sake of click-analytics that affect your grade, do comment here of course, but come over to www.wayupnorth.ca/blog and paste your response into a comment there too.  I’d love to have you disagree with me or take the vision farther than I could have imagined it.”

Besides blog discussions, we could talk about preserving images on Flickr, audio recordings on SoundCloud, videos on YouTube, etc.  I’m conflating sharing with preservation.  Those are sharing services, of course, not reliable cloud storage, but for the purpose of escaping from a mandatory LMS, they illustrate my point.

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I stepped aside from my struggles with the incredible amount of homework taking six graduate course credits in six weeks entails long enough to look at what I was learning about research.  I’ve a long way to go yet, but here’s a partial list:

  • Theoretical frameworks are hard work, but not guesswork.
  • The difference between a bibliography annotation and a research summary is more than just a word count.
  • Academic critique is not the same as negative criticism.
  • Google Scholar knows where full text articles hide when the university library doesn’t.
  • Reference lists provide more than just APA compliance.

I have discovered that locating sources from the reference list helps me discover practical applications for research findings.  The cognitive load theory research by Wong, Leahy, Marcus, & Sweller (2012) led me to Sweller’s 1994 work on cognitive load theory, a substantial read during which I accomplished very little writing, but a lot to think about that begins to converge with my teaching practice.  Sweller’s “schema”, his word for algorithms or methods we retrieve from long-term memory to solve problems without having to analyze or figure them out from scratch (my interpretation, not paraphrase), require very little working memory, and storing these schema in long-term memory, he claims, is the goal of learning (1994).  This seemed a bit simplistic and behaviourist; “but it was 1994” I typed in a PDF comment.  Then I discovered his “goal-free problems” (Sweller, 1994, p. 301) example where the teacher removes the goal of finding a specific angle in a trigonometry problem and asks students instead to find the value of as many angles as they can.  By removing the specific goal, the students are freed from the cognitive load of determining “the” intermediate steps and, solving what they can, inductively formulate the schema (Sweller, 1994; Sweller, Ayres, & Kalyuga, 2011).  I have more reading to do, but this promises to transform my developmental math instruction.


Sweller, J. (1994). Cognitive load theory, learning difficulty, and instructional design. Learning and Instruction, 4(4), 295–312. http://doi.org/10.1016/0959-4752(94)90003-5

Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive Load Theory. Springer Science & Business Media. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=sSAwbd8qOAAC

Wong, A., Leahy, W., Marcus, N., & Sweller, J. (2012). Cognitive load theory, the transient information effect and e-learning. Learning and Instruction, 22(6), 449–457. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2012.05.004



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The Price of Open

Early in our LRNT 502 Introduction to Research course we received an invitation to visit Academia.edu.  My first impression was not a positive one.  Faced with a login screen, I signed in with my Google account and immediately began receiving unsolicited email.  I searched for reviews and found negative comments on an otherwise positive review (Academia.edu reviews – legit or scam?, 2015) about the service’s practice of data gathering on members, even suggesting that it might be illegal (Jason, 2015; Charles, 2015). Further searches for information on the service identified no more spam issues however, and I realize that the two negative comments posted on the same date may not reflect independent opinions or reliable information.

The remaining information I found focused on the issue discussed in Wecker’s (2014) review about takedown notices from journals objecting to copyrighted materials being posted for free distribution.  While I strongly agree with Stephen Downes that publicly funded research should be open (2016), I also agree with Banchetti’s (2012) comments “Copyright is copyright” and “Publishing is a business” (n.p.) arguing that authors must respect the terms of copyright agreements they sign with a journal. Ever the champion of open access, even Downes recognizes that someone must pay, and argues that open educational resources (OER) require a sustainability model if they are to replace a paid publication and distribution system (2006).  Academia.edu’s data mining still seems invasive (I now have an unsolicited follower), but that may be one sustainability model showing the price of open.



Academia.edu Reviews – Legit or Scam? (2015). Retrieved August 7, 2016, from http://www.reviewopedia.com/academia-edu-reviews

Banchetti, M. (2012). Re: Should you share your research on academia.edu? [Blog comment] Retrieved August 7, 2016 from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/345-should-you-share-your-research-on-academia-edu

Charles, G. (2015, November 13). Re: Academia.edu reviews – Legit or scam? [Blog comment]. Retrieved August 7, 2016 from http://www.reviewopedia.com/academia-edu-reviews

Downes, S. (2006). Models for sustainable 0pen educational resources. Retrieved August 7, 2016, from http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/view/object/?id=dfac7874-dbe9-40f9-8f06-3212ef05ddf8

Downes, S. (2016, June 17). Canada’s new plan on open government 2016-2018. Retrieved from http://www.downes.ca/post/65460

Jason. (2015, November 13). Re: Academia.edu reviews – Legit or scam? [Blog comment]. Retrieved August 7, 2016 from http://www.reviewopedia.com/academia-edu-reviews

Wecker, M. (2014). Should you share your research on Academia.edu? Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/345-should-you-share-your-research-on-academia-edu



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Knowing the Author

They asked, “How do you feel about research now?”
I answered cheekily, “I’m open to offers of a cease-fire.”

That was a week ago after a brilliantly executed research panel discussion at Royal Roads University.  Today I discovered that the latest required reading list begins with a research article by Bozkurt et al. (2015).  Aras Bozkurt is a familiar name from Rhizomatic Learning, Dave Cormier’s 2014 MOOC that evolved into a community (Bell, Mackness, & Funes, 2016), even a community of practice (Wenger, 1998), and continues today as an active Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhizo15/).  Aras intrigued us with his social network analysis (SNA) during the 2015 iteration of the MOOC and gave this Hangouts on air presentation (also preserved in Vialogues).  Who knew quantitative data could be so engaging?

Having a connection with the researcher/author gave me fresh perspective as I approached the 34-page “Trends in Distance Education Research” (Bozkurt et al., 2015). This meta-analysis of 861 research articles published 2009 to 2013 in seven distance education (DE) journals presents a comprehensive picture of current DE research and provides direction for future research. Content analysis of the texts identified current keywords, research fields, theoretical frameworks, research designs, subjects, and methods, confirming that case studies yielding qualitative data followed by surveys yielding quantitative data are the two methods most often employed in DE research.  This finding either suggests preferred methods, or indicates opportunities for more creative approaches. For researchers looking to fill identified gaps in DE research areas (e.g. K-12), the appendices of most frequently cited authors and works provides a gold mine of foundational sources.  That the seven most cited works (Table 10) date prior to 2000 supports the authors’ argument that DE research looks forward by looking back.  Drawing on earlier similar studies (Berge & Mrozowski, 2001; Zawacki-Richter, 2009) they also trace an increasing degree of research collaboration as evidenced by the decreasing percentage of single-author articles, but surprisingly promote collaboration in terms of more frequent citations rather than quality of research.  In a possibly trivial finding, but interesting to me, the authors draw attention to inconsistencies in citation that hinder accurate content analysis.  Proper citation to avoid plagiarism and to help readers locate our sources is emphasized in our university courses, but this was a new insight for me.

I am not sure if connection with the author, content of the article, or an increasing skill at reading scholarly literature contributed most to my ability to engage with this article.  I  have moved from avoidance to acceptance of the idea of research.  I am past cease-fire, possibly at a peace treaty, but not yet at the place of full-on friendship.


Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24(0). http://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Berge, Z. L., & Mrozowski, S. (2001). Review of research in distance education, 1990 to 1999. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(3), 5–19. http://doi.org/10.1080/08923640109527090

Bozkurt, A., Akgun-Ozbek, E., Yilmazel, S., Erdogdu, E., Ucar, H., Guler, E., … Aydin, C. H. (2015). Trends in distance education research: A content analysis of journals 2009-2013. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(1), 330–363. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1953

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from https://books-google-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=heBZpgYUKdAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=Communities+of+practice:+learning,+meaning,+and+identity&ots=keraYsdu2f&sig=-uHzQiYW17uGvBbzlG8FVpSaCJY

Zawacki-Richter, O. (2009). Research areas in distance education: A Delphi study. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/674

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Place for My Voice

Two-weeks of face-to-face classes (residency) in my Graduate Diploma in Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads have ended.  A year of online challenges begins. One of my challenges is reading scholarly research journal articles.  The dry objectivity of academic writing seems to squeeze out any soul or human interest, yet reading megabytes of artiasleep at computercles and eventually contributing significant soulless studies of my own is an inescapable element of this academic journey I have undertaken.  I am learning to read abstracts and conclusions and scan the rest of the article to see if it answers any burning questions from the current assignment.  Is it: holistic or reductionist; numbers, narratives, or both; talking to people or combing through text; fixing a problem or solving a puzzle; answering questions or creating questions?  This literature encounter of the mind-numbing kind should become less tedious as I learn to engage with burning questions of my own.

One assigned reading made me slow down and read with interest. Heide Estes (2012) writes about the scholar’s voice finding a more natural tone in scholarly blogs, presenting arguments for the importance of narrative in scholarly literature in a blogging voice, while suggesting that the scholar’s own blog is the place for narrative and voice.  Interesting juxtaposition.  Estes’ quote from Scott Slovak resonates with me; “Storytelling, combined with clear exposition, produces the most engaging and trenchant scholarly discourse” (2008, as cited in Estes, 2012).  She also refers to Natalia Cecire’s blog post about academia’s reluctance to show possible flaws in public, “we have a culture of making it look easy, and of concealing as much as possible ‘the raw material of poetry in all its rawness'” (2011).  I know academic writing is a language I must acquire to study and communicate at this level, but these scholars offer blogs as a place for exactly the rawness and storytelling I miss.  Here it’s safe to poke a pin into pompousness’s balloon.



Cecire, N. (2011). How Public Like a Frog: On Academic Blogging. Retrieved from http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/how-public-frog-academic-blogging

Estes, H. (2012). Blogging and Academic Identity. Literature Compass, 9(12), 974–982. http://doi.org/10.1111/lic3.12017

Slovic, S. (2008). Going away to think: Engagement, retreat, and ecocritical responsibility. In Placing the academy: Essays on landscape, work, and identity (pp. 217–232). Logan, Utah: University of Nevada Press. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=usupress_pubs#page=227

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Terminology and Meaning II – What you’re saying is not what I’m feeling

In my previous blog post I introduced the new-to-me culture of inquiry called phenomenology.  As I grappled with the concepts of phenomenological research, I reflected on the results and especially the limits of experiencing with my own consciousness, the lived experience of a person from a disadvantaged minority.   It would deepen my understanding of colonization, and probably alter my classroom practice, if I could “gain direct knowledge of the feelings and images of” an Aboriginal Canadian (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 96).  But is it even possible to “get behind the most elementary experiences” of Aboriginal life that I as a white Canadian am able to observe, and “look at their inner structure and how the mind makes [the experiences] what they are” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 97)?  As I reflected on how to structure such an inquiry, I remembered the book, Black Like Me. John Griffin, a white Texan, medically darkened his skin and lived for several weeks as a black man in the American South of the 1950’s (Griffin & Bonazzi, 2010).  I wondered if this extreme example could illuminate phenomenological inquiry.

Phenomenologogy requires highly subjective data, especially if society’s accepted description is unsatisfactory (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998).  When I speak of “the problem” of racism as a social issue, my mind holds nothing comparable to the experience of those subjected to racism. Griffin began his experiment “in a spirit of scientific detachment” but the experiences of racism and hatred he encountered became “such a profound personal experience, it haunted even my dreams” (Bonazzi, 1997, p. 103). That certainly meets the criteria of subjective data.  But that was not Griffin’s first experience with the world of the disadvantaged.  When a World War II injury left him blind, being the intellectual he was, he documented, and contested the boundaries of the world of the blind until his eyesight mysteriously returned ten years later (Kleege, 2007).  In her journal article, “The Strange Life and Times of John Howard Griffin” Georgina Kleege questions, “in what ways—if at all—did his experience of blindness lead him to write Black Like Me?” (2007, p. 103).  Near the end of his life, Griffin moved into the cell of his late friend Thomas Merton to write Merton’s biography (Griffin, 2010).  In the forward, Robert Bonazzi writes, ” As with all his encounters, Griffin approached the world of Thomas Merton by immersing his own being entirely in its reality…experience was not deformed by intellectual concepts or by the prejudices of ego.” (Griffin, 2010, p. x)  This is as close to the textbook definition of phenomenological technique as I could hope to find.  Although I recognize there are less extreme techniques for exploring experience, Griffin’s practice of entering and returning from the world of the subject he studied has framed my initial understanding of the limits of Phenomenology.

Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Bonazzi, R. (1997). Man in the Mirror : John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Wings Press.
Griffin, J. H. (2010). Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton. San Antonio, TX, USA: Wings Press. Retrieved July 12, 2016 from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10459068
Griffin, J. H., & Bonazzi, R. (2010). Black Like Me (50th Anniversary ed. edition). New York: Signet.
Kleege, G. (2007). The Strange Life and Times of John Howard Griffin. Raritan, 26(4), 96–112.  Retrieved July 12, 2016 from https://ezproxy.royalroads.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=25122623


If you want a less academic treatment of John Griffin, I recommend this article from the non-peer reviewed Smithsonian Magazine:

Watson, B. (2011, October). Black Like Me, 50 Years Later. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/black-like-me-50-years-later-74543463/
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Terminology and Meaning – What you heard wasn’t what I was saying

Learning new vocabulary must be part of beginning any new discipline.  It enables a way of speaking to colleagues with precision about ideas and concepts.  In my Introduction to Research course from Royal Roads University I’m finding terms that at first glance seem familiar, but then discover that by adding an “ism” or “ology” suffix or by combining it with another familiar word, it has become the label for a whole new *world of meaning, only peripherally related to my previous understanding of the common meaning of that word.

“Pragmatism” still means doing whatever works but as a research position, the scope of “whatever” is limited to the choice of research methods (Johnson & Christensen, 2014).  Place “research” behind the noun “action” and suddenly you are talking about self-determination, empowerment, and participation in system change (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998), very little of which the uninitiated could extrapolate from the words “action research”.

Another such term is “phenomenology”.  The dictionary’s simple definition of phenomenon fits my common understanding of the word I use for UFO sightings or religious ecstasies.  The popular definition however, is inadequate for understanding the research philosophy of phenomenology. The dictionary also lists a “Full Definition of PHENOMENON:” which gets closer to the heart of phenomenology, “an object or aspect known through the senses rather than by thought or intuition” (retrieved July 13, 2016 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenomenon) .

I usually prefer logical explanation over feeling, (feel free to apply a gender-stereotype label) but phenomenology with its emphasis on experiencing first hand instead of accepting society’s normal categorization of a phenomenon (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998) seemed so far out there I was drawn into trying to understand it.  In a future blog post I will enlist the concept of racism to scratch more deeply into the surface of this unusual philosophy of research.


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Definition of PHENOMENON. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenomenon
Johnson, R. B., & Christensen, L. (2014). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.


*In a non-academic moment I speculate that the masses where language evolved apparently had no need to speak of such esoteric matters.  When academics began pushing the boundaries of thought, having no ready vocabulary to express themselves, they appropriated common words and repurposed them.  In some sense they were the early adopters of the web.2.0 mantra, “reuse, remix, and redistribute”.

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Back to School

I was tempted to call this “What Was I Thinking: Part II”.
I’ve enrolled in grad school – well, a 1-year graduate diploma program actually.

Royal Roads University has a flexible admissions policy that let me squeak into their blended Graduate Diploma in Learning and Technology  program even though don’t have an undergrad degree.  The two-week residency portion starts July 18.
Victoria, British Columbia here I come!

Hatley Castle front entrance Aug 2006

Royal Roads University, Hatley Castle – By en:User:Merrykisses (Uploaded to en: October 9 2006) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The rest of the year-long program is online. Niggling at the back of my mind is the fact that DipLAT is the first year of a Masters program, but we’ll see how the first year goes before entertaining any grandiose thoughts. Now I’ll find out if all that stuff I listed as experience and qualifications on my resume will actually cut the mustard when it comes to learning how to do Academic writing and research. Already I’m looking back at all the missed opportunities to blog or post or comment on my Rhizomatic Learning Network because I told myself I was too busy to write well.  That practice would have been so valuable had I engaged each time I had the urge to participate.

Obviously I’m going to have to learn a more formal way of expressing myself. I’m writing this BEFORE tackling the course blogging assignment, so it’s my one last chance at being as deliberately off-the cuff and informal as possible for me – and reference absolutely no sources.

My first two courses are learning theory and intro to research. It’s the research I dread – always avoided it where possible in the past (because lazy).  I keep telling myself to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride – you’ll learn citation and reading soulless research papers as you go. But sometimes I’m not listening.  So far the online pre-residency portion of the program has me both hopeful and fearful. It’s tremendously interesting, but I’m nowhere nearly as articulate as some of the more experienced members of my cohort. It will take some effort at self-awareness not to mask my insecurity with comedy. Caught myself at it earlier this week in the chat on a live introductory session – was getting great responses from the instructor – but deliberately backed off when I realized it was mainly superficial. (Sigh), so much to learn besides course content.

I may be tapping into the Rhizo community when I’m feeling particularly lost – even though I can’t see when I’ll have time to lurk there very much for the next 15 months.

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Adaptive Challenges

I keep promising myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow. “

I suspect blogging for me must be something like dieting or giving up smoking or maybe meditating is for some people. Or like any of the  other good things we want to do but dread the effort. Forgive me #DigiWriMo for I have transgressed. It has been four days since my last blog post.

Cynefin Framework as of 1st June 2014

By Snowded (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0

Today, no, tonight the idea of complexity is on my mind. This morning Bonnie Stewart spoke to a group of educators at our college. She asked what problems we encounter as educators living in an age of abundance. A number of people spoke up stating various things they encountered. Bonnie then went on to point out that each of the problems we mentioned are complex problems, not merely simple, or even complicated.
She reviewed the Cynefin framework with us, showing there needs to be a different approach to solving problems in the different domains. Bonnie then introduced what was a new concept to me, Heifetz’s technical problems versus adaptive challenges. This suddenly made a lot of sense, confirmed some vague ideas that were rattling around in my mind. I suddenly realized how will this fit with a rather complex issue I am facing as a member of a board of an organization in which I serve. It was born home to me how easy and tempting it is, and how unproductive it is, to treat adaptive challenges as though they were merely technical problems – as though they could be solved by authority or by an expert.  It helped me to realize, being someone who likes to play it rather safe, that the radical, outside the box solution our board was taking was not only the correct, but the necessary process in this case.

I also realized that we often look for technical solutions to complex issues like unemployment.
Provide more training programs.
Provide more focused training programs.
Provide more intense training programs.
Provide more personal development training programs.

I’m just wrapping up a seven week employment training program. The course materials are excellent. They focus on personal development. They focus on essential skills. They use sector-specific content. The course participants are having a great time, but their focus is on gaining a credential that will be the magic ticket on their resume. They have been conditioned to view unemployment as a technical problem. Taking a course is viewed as one of the solutions that can be applied to that problem.

I took this framework to our board. Tomorrow I think I will take it to my class.
Let’s see what they think about changing values beliefs roles and relationships. Is it somebody else’s duty to value my beliefs to except my values?
See what they think about people who have the problem working to solve it. How much are we depending on someone else to open the way to employment for us?
How patient are they willing to be with taking a long time to experiment, to use trial and error. Will they feel frustrated and give up if they don’t get a job after taking this course?

Dictated to Google Doc on iPhone – minimal editing for links (and a little bit more, but not much)

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Pithy Gems and Lousy Weather

Before I get to complaining and excuses, let me plug a G. K. Chesterton novel I hadn’t discovered before.  Gems like, “…our democracy has only one great flaw; it is not democratic.” and “As mistaken lovers might watch the inevitable sunset of first love, these men watched the sunset of their first hatred.” challenge my own attempts at pithy statements. (Ok maybe those aren’t exactly spectacular, but I’m only starting the book. Besides, I like them.)

It’s knowing these treasures exist that makes any book by Chesterton, which the first few lines will tell you is no penny thriller or pulp sci-fi, worth the concentration required to harvest his ideas. They’re deep. Thoroughly probed in all their obscure nooks. You may not agree with all his conclusions. But the journey is filled with rewards for the effort.  

Oh yes, my new-found treasure is The Ball and the Cross. Public domain. I got my copy from Free-eBooks.net. But I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t also on Gutenberg.org. Have I recently sung the praises of reading on the tiny screen? Jim’s Reason # 38 why eBooks are better than paper: you never lose the page when you fall asleep reading. 

My goal of dictating a mostly unedited post daily for November’s #DigiWriMo ran off the rails early. Until it dissappears, one doesn’t realize how valuable or scarce private time with WiFi can be. It’s just not possible to even HAVE deeper thinking, never mind articulating it carefully when surrounded by people who have their own agenda for you. Add the fatigue of weather-related travel delays and poor connectivity for voice recognition and you’ll understand why I’m pecking this out at forty thousand feet enroute to Saskatoon, a day late to my meetings and two days behind my writing ambitions. 

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