Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Feast of Fun in Cape Town

Whale watching, spring flowers and summer before the stampede - by Nick van der Leek

Look, those sea animals that are the size of 10 African elephants are already swimming around the peninsula in September, but September is tricky to visit the Cape. September is rife with sharp teethed cold fronts. If you’re coming from across the Vaal, you’re less likely to be dodging wet weather in October, and you’ll have all that beautiful scenery to yourself before the matrics and the summer hordes start migrating from November onwards.

Even the locals venture onto the beaches for the first glimpses of summer weather in October. I visited during a tiny weather window squeezed between 3 nasty cold fronts, [the last cold front wrecked a Turkish ship on Dolphin Beach]. On the first day I saw 3 whales, and a whale calf, in Kalk Bay. You can hire a boat to get even closer, but by law you’re not allowed closer than 300 metres. Those who do venture closer need special permits.

While we were out there in our inflatable a Southern Right whale launched itself almost completely out of the water – a behaviour known as breaching – which involves making huge explosions of white water. The loud THWACK seemed to echo across the whole of False Bay. According to the experts, breaching can be heard up to a kilometre away. Which is perhaps the point. The whale that breached perhaps a dozen times in a row, sometimes twirling its huge body in the air before landing, was perhaps signalling its annoyance and attempting to frighten us away. It may also be announcing to other whales: “I’m here.”

Since we couldn’t get any closer than 300 metres, I pulled on my wetsuit, and swam in the dark green Great White infested waters of False Bay. The Southern Right Whale was clearly observing me, its pyramid head encrusted with large white callosities. These greyish-white calloused patches inhabited by whale lice are distinctive on each whale, which is the equivalent of fingerprints on human beings. The whale maintained a ‘safe’ distance between itself and me; not allowing me to get closer than around 250 – 300 metres, something that surprised me. Clearly they are quite shy and sensitive creatures, despite their size.

On Boyes Drive, which is a scenic road suspended high above Kalk Bay, I met a young shark spotter, Ethel Tshandu, who watches the whales and warns of sharks. I asked her whether she enjoys her job as a lonely lookout. “It’s nice getting to know nature,” she smiles. “This is their place; their home. Ethel points to a strange oblong speck far out in False Bay. It resembles a burnt piece of toast. “That’s Seal Island; it’s the MacDonald’s for the sharks.” I ask her if there’s ever been an attack on her watch?

“No attacks since I’ve been here. I see them though, and if they come close to the beach I call it in.” She offers me her binoculars, pointing me to a whale and her calf. I see the shiny black flippers of a whale moving between spinning, sparkling foam.
“Sharks aren’t as bad as everyone thinks,” she says. “We go into their territory. If someone came into your yard, how would you feel?” I have a strange feeling that Ethel may be protecting the sharks from people, not the other way round. Below us, surfers cover a wide swathe of white Muizenberg swell, rising like music notes on liquid paper.

The coast along Bloubergstrand and Table View is the flip side to the charm and laid back vibe of Kalk Bay. Here there’s the huge monolithic backdrop of Table Mountain, a steady flow of tankers and ships, and Robben Island across the Bay, sometimes seeming a short swim away, but in fact at its closest it’s about 7km through cold water and strong currents. It’s almost always windy on this side of the peninsula, but ideal for the extreme sport known as Kiteboarding. You can buy Kiteboarding equipment at Liquid Force, on the corner of Blouberg Road and Marina Drive.

For an experience of the Peninsula that’s off the beaten track head to the West Coast National park. You’ll need to drive 100km out on the R27. The turn off is about 40km before Langebaan. Here we found more whales drifting in the swells, and beautiful swathes of flowery vegetation, known as fynbos. One of the reasons the Cape is one of the world’s richest floral kingdoms is due to it surviving the most recent Ice Age, and thus many older plant species survived until the present time.

The azure lagoon in the West Coast National park, about 10 kilometres beyond the entrance, has the soft seaside tones – greens, yellows and blues – of the Caribbean. There are also beautiful roads for cycling, trails for mountain biking, as well as the Strandveld Hiking Trail
For me, the Cape Town that’s worth seeing is away from the thunderous stampede, places like Kalk Bay’s Kalkies [try their Calamari] and the experience of being out in False Bay with just the sound of the huge black tail of one of the world’s largest creatures, parting the waters, for company. That’s real R&R.

To visit the whales up close contact Chad at CKAT Coastal Adventures: 072 147 2555 or visit

For Kiteboarding gear contact Jarrod at Liquid Force: 021 556 8172 or visit
For information on the West Coast National Park visit: the flowers join in the spring

A young Brad Pitt in Dallas

SHOOT: "Don't worry, we won't get in trouble."

US vs British Intelligence on Iran - US says 'no threat'/British spies say 'threat is real'

“We will never bargain about our sovereign rights,” Mr Salehi said. “If we have the right to enrich uranium ... convert uranium ... have fuel fabrication ... design reactors and manufacture reactors, we will do them and will not freeze them.”

SHOOT: Iran is the only theocracy in the world. A theocracy is a country ruled by men of faith, rather than politicians. As such, the leadership are slippery, and otherwise hard to predict. probably more so than your average politician.
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Britain’s intelligence services say that Iran has been secretly designing a nuclear warhead “since late 2004 or early 2005”, an assessment that suggests
Tehran has embarked on the final steps towards acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

As world powers prepare to confront Iran on Thursday on its nuclear ambitions, the Financial Times has learnt that the UK now judges that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, ordered the resumption of the country’s weapons programme four years ago.

Iran is already under pressure after the revelation last week that it has been building an undeclared site to enrich uranium.

By contrast, US intelligence services remain firm in their conclusion that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted weapons design work in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort as of 2007.

Britain has always privately expressed scepticism about the US assessment on Iran but is only now firmly asserting that the weapons programme restarted in 2004-05.

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Swine flu death toll rises to 83 in South Africa, infection rate 4th highest in the world

by Nick van der Leek

While South Africa's official pandemic website was last updated more than a week ago, the death toll has jumped from 59 t0 83 in recent days, putting South Africa's fatality figure in the world's top 10.

The incidence rate per 100 000 is 23.41 for South Africa is the fourth highest in the world, behind Macau [46.89], Hong Kong [34.98] and Brunei [28.71] and ahead of Australia [17.0] . The world's average is currently 0.6.

Of the top five territories, three - the United States, Mexico and India - show disturbing increasing trends in transmission, both on a widespread national basis and on a regional basis.

Brazil leads the world with swine flu fatalities at 1,112, while the world total is currently at 4,755. These numbers are generally assumed to be much higher.

More:Uganda: Swine Flu Paralyses Bushenyi Schools

Which South African cities offer the highest salaries?

"Data processors in the Free State, for example, attracted the highest average salary of R8 237, yet its highest offered salary of R11 643 falls way short of Pretoria's top salary of R16 271. The East Rand pays the lowest average salary for data processors, paying only R5 700 on average," said Steadman.

SHOOT: Johannesburg North and Pretoria seem to be your best bets, although the Free State provides an occasional exception. Cape Town isn'tmentioned at all - must be somewhere in the middle.
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"Overall, it appears employers are still willing to pay for top talent. However, the discrepancy in salaries paid to top staff and entry level positions is significant," the survey report stated.

Office administration staff in Johannesburg North, for example, can attract a lucrative monthly salary of R19 000 (the highest salary earned across all regions), yet - on average - office administrators in this region will earn R7 234.

This put Johannesburg North in ninth position, behind Johannesburg Central with an average salary of R8 504 (and a top figure of R13 480), Eastern Cape with an average salary of R8 172, Pretoria with R8 150

The Free State came last in this category when ranked on average salaries, yet top earners in the region commanded the second highest salary at R15 000 (on par with the East Rand and KwaZulu-Natal).

The Free State and Mpumalanga regions generally ranked at the bottom of the salary scale, with some notable exceptions.

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13 things that do not make sense

SHOOT: Life is a mystery; the greatest mystery never told.
Have a look at 'Dark Matter'. No one knows what it is. It's a fundamental hole in our understanding of the universe. The universe is not only more unfathomable than we imagine, but more unfathomable than we can imagine.
The Hubble Deep Field. These distant galaxies are racing away from us far faster than theory predicts (Image: NASA)

1 The placebo effect

We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body's biochemistry. "The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction," he says.

2 The horizon problem

OUR universe appears to be unfathomably uniform. Look across space from one edge of the visible universe to the other, and you'll see that the microwave background radiation filling the cosmos is at the same temperature everywhere. That may not seem surprising until you consider that the two edges are nearly 28 billion light years apart and our universe is only 14 billion years old.

3 Ultra-energetic cosmic rays

In theory, they can only have come from within our galaxy, avoiding an energy-sapping journey across the cosmos. However, astronomers can find no source for these cosmic rays in our galaxy. So what is going on?

Continue reading page

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Human females no different to birds and fish when it comes to 'mate-poaching' The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase.

SHOOT: Fascinating article. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister a few years ago.
Me: How come you are ALWAYS in a relationship?
Candice: How come you're NEVER in one?

Burkley and Parker speculate that single women may be more drawn to attached men because they've already been "pre-screened" by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity.

Burkely said that similar mate-poaching strategies have been reported in birds and fish. But previous studies of people had only asked whether participants found other potential partners attractive, so she designed hers to specifically probe whether participants would pursue a relationship.

"The next question is why," says Burkley. So in further studies, she plans to further explore women's motives for pursuing "taken" partners. Apart from the explanation of "pre-screening", another possibility, she says, is that in US society, women are socialised to be competitive, so they derive self-esteem by mate poaching from rival women.

Men were keenest on pursuing new mates, but weren't bothered whether their target was already attached or not.
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In China, battle lines against piracy are being drawn, although they're a 'blurry'

SHOOT: Good luck with that.
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In mid-September the China Internet Video Anti-Piracy Alliance, a group comprising both big Chinese internet portals and foreign rights-owners, including the Motion Picture Association of America, announced a broad legal attack. It said that it had begun collecting evidence against more than 1,000 suspected violators of intellectual property and would start filing lawsuits, with the first target being 503 videos found on Youku, an increasingly popular website, that the alliance claims are pirated. Youku has counter-sued for defamation.

The legal assault constitutes an attempt to separate Chinese companies that produce their own content or pay Western ones for imported material, and then charge users from those that often lift it. The division is not entirely clean. Sohu, a leading member of the new alliance, produces its own games and entertainment gossip, which are the mainstays of its business. But it also permits its users to upload files, which can include pirated material.
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Photography for your matric farewell [JOHANNESBURG]

SHOOT: Matric farewells are expensive. The hair, the dress, the limo. It's a special time, and a stressful time - but why go to all the trouble and not record these special times? You want a photographer you can be comfortable with, who has a good eye and a good feel for this fairy tale event. Contact me - Nick - for further information at 072 97 33 929 or email me at You can browse through my albums at the link below or find me on Facebook.

You've arranged your dress, what about a photographer?  Have a look through my albums [search Nick van der Leek on Facebook] and you'll see I specialise in beautiful, natural photos.  Get quality at a reasonable price.
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Banks still to face the bite of reality Within the banking systems, the IMF estimates that losses will total $2,800bn alone and that banks have so far recognised only $1,300bn of those losses. “US domiciled banks have recognised about 60 per cent of anticipated writedowns, while euro area and UK domiciled banks have recognised about 40 per cent,” the report said.

SHOOT: Seems the banks are in denial. You deny what is on the balance sheets, claim bumper 'profits', and use these ill-gotten gains to further distort your balance sheets. I have said before that I predict a downward slope in a series of steps, as reality takes successive bites out of a market that periodically makes concessions to reality.
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Banks round the world have still to reveal about half of their likely losses resulting from the financial and economic crisis, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, warning that there was still a “significant” risk of another downward lurch in the global recession.

The IMF described credit risks as remaining “elevated” even though financial conditions have improved significantly since spring.

It said these risks, alongside weakened banks, were likely to depress the availability of new credit and damp the global economic recovery unless significant additional capital was raised to improve the health and lending capability of banking systems.

In its twice-yearly Global Financial Stability Report, published on Wednesday in Istanbul, the IMF, estimated the ultimate losses in the financial system would total $3,400bn between 2007 and 2010, an improvement from the $4,000bn estimate it published in April.

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Samoan Tsunami wipes out town, washes dozens out to sea

"There are a considerable number of people who've been swept out to sea and are unaccounted for," English said. "We don't have information about the full impact and we do have some real concern that over the next 12 hours the picture could look worse rather than better."

Residents in both Samoa and American Samoa reported being shaken awake by the quake, which lasted two to three minutes and was centered about 20 miles (32 kilometers) below the ocean floor. It was followed by at least three large aftershocks of at least 5.6 magnitude.

New Zealander Graeme Ansell said the beach village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was leveled.

"It was very quick. The whole village has been wiped out," Ansell told New Zealand's National Radio from a hill near Samoa's capital, Apia. "There's not a building standing. We've all clambered up hills, and one of our party has a broken leg. There will be people in a great lot of need 'round here."

SHOOT: One minute you're sleeping, the next your village is washed away and you're swept out to sea.
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An abandoned vehicle is shown shortly after a tsunami warning was issued in

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – A powerful Pacific Ocean earthquake spawned towering tsunami waves that swept ashore on Samoa and American Samoa, flooding and flattening villages, killing at least 39 people and leaving dozens missing.

Cars and people were swept out to sea by the fast-churning water as survivors fled to higher ground, where they remained huddled hours after the quake struck early Tuesday. Signs of devastation were everywhere, with a giant boat washed ashore lying on the edge of a highway and floodwaters swallowing up cars and homes.

Four tsunami waves 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) high roared ashore soon afterward, reaching up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) inland, Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the National Park of American Samoa, was quoted as saying by a parks service spokeswoman.

"I don't think anybody is going to be spared in this disaster," said acting American Samoa Gov. Faoa A. Sunia.

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What happens after the Facebook Fan Page, Twitter accounts and Blog?

“One of their biggest fears was that customers would abandon their site in favor of one that was more socially engaging.”
Clearly we can expect to see adoption rates continue to rise, but what happens after the Facebook (Facebook) Fan Page, Twitter (Twitter) accounts, and blogs are created still remains somewhat of a mystery.

SHOOT: You need two things to win in the social media wars: community and content. The subtext to both of these are local and hyperlocal perspectives [relevance] and continuity. There is so much ADD noise out there, if you're providing a safe, sane, navigable space then you'll have sustained, and useful exchanges.
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social media
According to eMarketer, a combined 99% of surveyed online retailers currently employ (86%) or plan to employ (13%) Facebook Fan Pages.
Similar stats hold true for Twitter too. 65% are already all a-Twitter, with 26% planning to get in on the action as well. If the survey results are to be trusted, nearly all online retailers will have Facebook Fan Pages, and 91% will be using Twitter for status updates by the year 2011.

Data from the “Community and Social Media Study” was gathered between August and September of this year, and shows that retail respondents are also favorable to creating and managing their own blogs, but they’re not as keen to adopt the longer form outlet as readily as they are Facebook or Twitter. In fact, at first glance, it might be a little surprising to find that only 55% of those surveyed have blogs now, but 65% and 86% have Twitter accounts or Fan Pages respectively.

social media marketing
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It's cool by the Pool - right? [COLUMN + AUDIO]

Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?

More's the pity that the science fiction in Star Trek is so far from present day reality. It is fascinating to see how easily, in the Star Trek scenario at any rate, officers are swapped and exchanged simply based on their usefulness or training. There are no hearings or debates - if someone is found to be emotionally compromised, or less skilled than another, they are replaced without discussion, without paperwork.

You might think that this could be unfair. On the contrary, it is based on everyone knowing that they serve the greater good. Something sorely lacking on this planet. Here, the service is to The Great Me.

As for logic, here on earth, it's an irritant rather than an integral part of a truly altruistic pursuit of advancing our knowledge and thereby, our common prospects, our common destiny.

Spock: [after Kirk offers surrender terms to Nero] Captain, what are you doing?
Kirk: Showing them compassion. It may be the only way to earn peace with Romulus. It's logic, Spock, I thought you'd like that.
Spock: No, not really. Not this time.

Logic, as we know, is corrupted, and in very few instances, improved upon, even strengthened by emotions.
We live in a world, however, where emotions and impulse reign supreme, and logic powers our computers, our tools. As such, logic becomes enslaved to emotions. Think of a college student searching for porn. And we know that for the majority of the period that the internet has existed, it has served baser instincts as a primary function. There is a price to pay for this.

Because the logical question that should be asked by each of us, at any time of time, during any season, is simply this: What is the best use of my time right now? It's a logical question that deserves a logical answer. But how many of us are capable of giving one?
There is a place for logic, particularly when our lives are clouded by consumer driven passions, by manifest addictions.
But if logic is a cure to our mental malaise, what lies beyond that?

Burly Cadet #1: Hey
farmboy. Maybe you can't count. But there are four of us and one of you.
Kirk: So get some more guys and then it'll be an even fight.

The answer is that you have to believe that every scenario has an upside.

Kirk: "I don't believe in no win scenarios."

The trick is to believe in a winning scenario without losing touch with reality, without having the cord of logic that anchors us to reason, severed, by unfounded optimism. If you can do that you can be the captain of your own enterprise.

South Africa's Cullinan mine digs up a monster diamond

SHOOT: ANOTHER monster, to be accurate. And around the big 500 carat diamond were other 100+ carat diamonds.
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In this photo supplied by Petra Diamonds CEO Johan Dippenaar, holds the 507.55

Mining group Petra Diamonds has discovered a 507.55 carat white diamond at South Africa's Cullinan mine, one of the largest high-quality rough diamonds ever found, the firm said on Tuesday.

"This spectacular gemstone was recovered on Thursday 24 September and is currently with experts for analysis," said a statement released by the London-listed company which operates mainly in Africa.

Initial examinations of the diamond which weighs just over 100 grams (3.5 ounces), have shown it to be of exceptional colour and clarity.

The precious stone was found alongside three other special white gems of similar colour and clarity, a large diamond of 168.00 carats and two other stones of 58.50 and 53.30 carats.

In May 2008, the mine produced a sparkling 101.27 carat diamond, roughly the size of a ping-pong ball.

The Cullinan Diamond Mine is the third richest diamond producing mine in South Africa.

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"Unemployment hurts normal workers who do not have the golden parachutes the folks at the top have."

Use of food stamps jumped 13 percent last year to nearly 9.8 million U.S. households, led by Louisiana, Maine and Kentucky. The increase was most evident in households with two or more workers, highlighting the impact of the recession on both working families and unemployed single people.

SHOOT: Many in the middle class are feeling like they are being booted out, hence becoming the 'former' middle class. It's a terrible prospect, believe me.
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AP - HOLD FOR RELEASE 12:01 A.M. EDT; graphic shows percentage of households that use food stamps, by city ...

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The recession has hit middle-income and poor families hardest, widening the economic gap between the richest and poorest Americans as rippling job layoffs ravaged household budgets.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans -- those making more than $138,000 each year -- earned 11.4 times the roughly $12,000 made by those living near or below the poverty line in 2008, according to newly released census figures. That ratio was an increase from 11.2 in 2007 and the previous high of 11.22 in 2003.

Household income declined across all groups, but at sharper percentage levels for middle-income and poor Americans. Median income fell last year from $52,163 to $50,303, wiping out a decade's worth of gains to hit the lowest level since 1997.

Poverty jumped sharply to 13.2 percent, an 11-year high.

"Unemployment hurts normal workers who do not have the golden parachutes the folks at the top have."
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Johannesburg, September 29th, 2009:- The untimely death of Patrick Swayze has strengthened the resolve of many to continue the fight against cancer, and for Nu Metro Cinemas this means an inspired Girls’ Night Out with the theme 'Dirty Dancing' in honour of Swayze’s brave battle with the disease.

To assist the Cancer Association of South Africa in its work, Nu Metro will donate all proceeds to the association. “We salute the brave fight that Patrick fought as a cancer survivor. He reminds us all of the need to educate the public of the importance of early cancer detection and treatment, which is vital to prevent unnecessary deaths from this disease”, says Lucy Balona, CANSA’s Head of Marketing and Communication.

By taking part in the Girls’ Night Out, ladies can assist CANSA to continue to provide essential services to meet the needs of individuals and families facing one of the most difficult experiences of their lives.

Girls' Night Out (ladies only) will take place at Nu Metro Bedfordview, Canal Walk, Clearwater Mall, Loch Logan, Menlyn Park, Montecasino, Mountain Mill, N1 City, The Pavilion, Riverside, The Glen, V&A Waterfront and Walmer Park at 8:00pm on Thursday, 8 October. Mark Harris, Nu Metro Cinemas Content and Marketing Head, confirmed that all proceeds will be donated to CANSA.

10 ways to improve the user experience on your websites Users really do judge a book by its cover… or rather, a website by its design. Elements such as layout, consistency, typography, color and style all affect how users perceive your website and what kind of image you project. Your website should project not only a good image but also the right one for your audience.

SHOOT: What's interesting from this annalysis is that online advertising is usually ignored. Ads that look like content will get people looking and clicking. This doesn't have to be an abuse of trust - if you're promoting something you truly believe is worth promoting, it remains 'genuine' content, and it generates revenue.

1. Form Labels Work Best Above The Field


2. Users Focus On Faces

eye tracking
eye tracking

3. Quality Of Design Is An Indicator Of Credibility

  • Stanford-Makovsy Web Credibility Study 2002: Investigating What Makes Web Sites Credible Today
  • What Makes A Web Site Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study
  • Fever

    4. Most Users Do Not Scroll

    Jakob Nielsen’s study on how much users scroll (in Prioritizing Web Usability) revealed that only 23% of visitors scroll on their first visit to a website.

    5. Blue Is The Best Color For Links


    6. The Ideal Search Box Is 27-Characters Wide

    Google search
    Apple search

    7. White Space Improves Comprehension

    The Netsetter

    8. Effective User Testing Doesn’t Have To Be Extensive

    User tests

    9. Informative Product Pages Help You Stand Out

    iPod marketing page

    10. Most Users Are Blind To Advertising

    That said, ads that look like content will get people looking and clicking. This may generate more ad revenue but comes at the cost of your users’ trust, as they click on things they thought were genuine content.
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