Friday, April 29, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Days 3-4 -- If We’re Counting

Thought with yesterday’s anniversary post I’d combine a couple of days’ worth of base-touching regarding how things are going in Monaco this week -- days 3 and 4 here (out of 11, if we’re counting).

In truth, the two days weren’t all that different from one another, as both once again saw me spending most of my waking hours over at the Sporting Club at the EPT Grand Final helping cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event.

On Thursday the tournament played out Day 1b, which was énorme with 912 players coming out for that flight alone. The 1,261-player total for the event well exceeds the 993 who played it last year, and marks the second-biggest field in the six-year history of the FPS.

They ended up seating folks all over the place in a few different locations, which meant a lot of steps for your humble scribbler (and scrambler). We added still more to our total when going for a jaunt over the border to Nice for dinner at the same Vietnamese restaurant we enjoyed going to a year ago.

I wrote a post here then titled “Monaco is a Maze” describing the walk to the restaurant and featuring a picture of the steep stairwell going up about five flights to get to that eating establishment. Well, this year that stairwell was blocked, which meant a long, winding trek and a lot of uphill to get there this time, then we found a slightly shorter path involving a couple of mysterious elevators that helped get us back. (Over 16,000 steps that day, if we’re counting)

That night ended with one of those silly moments only those who do a lot of this tournament reporting thing find fun. Having literally eyeballed a player’s stack for no more than one-third of a second before the chips got dumped into a bag, I ventured a guess to my blogging partner-in-crime Nick they totaled 263,000 and turned out to have guessed the amount exactly. This story I then repeated at least a half-dozen times before leaving as joking self-promotion of extraordinary powers of perception.

Friday saw the bubble burst, as pictured above -- can you spot me in the crowd? (click to embiggen) -- after which the big field got carved all of the way down to 60 players. Again, it was mostly business as usual, reporting-wise, with Nick and I surviving the day in good shape and enjoying a surprisingly early finish as staff decided to cut things short by a level.

Poker-wise, it was interesting to see the Brazilian Leonardo Pires enter the day as the chip leader, more than double his stack during the first two hours to sit with over 700,000 when no one else had half that, then in a little over two hours more get knocked out with a min-cash. Pires was the same fella who led several days in a row at the PCA this year before going out in 13th.

I’ve actually already slept a couple of hours tonight (and yes, I’m counting), and so am gonna try not to distract myself looking at score updates from Game 6 of Hornets-Heat and go back to sleep right now. I mean all these mouton aren’t going to count themselves.

Photo: courtesy Neil Stoddart/PokerStars blog.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Decade of Hard-Boiled Poker

Ten years of blogging?! What kind of applesauce is that?

It’s true. Ten years ago today, inspired by other poker bloggers, some podcasts, and a love of poker and writing, I decided on a whim to begin this blog. No shinola.

I write today from the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. I suppose ten years ago I could have imagined coming here for some other reason, perhaps. Vera Valmore and I did spend a whole year in France once before, during which we loved visiting Nice. But I couldn’t have then pictured a scenario where I’d be here writing about poker.

Nor would I have imagined going other places to do the same, as I’ve done a lot over recent years. And all because of this here blog. Amid my other posts on Hard-Boiled Poker, I’ve been submitting dispatches from tournaments all over the globe, including from Las Vegas, Ukraine, Peru, Morocco, Atlantic City, Uruguay, Macau, Pennsylvania, France, Connecticut, Florida, Spain, Niagara Falls, Chile, Canada, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Bahamas, Monaco, Brazil, Ireland, and even my home state of North Carolina (at Cherokee).

Such “Travel Reports” have been just part of the story, of course, among the 2,750 posts (including this one) that have appeared here. For the first five years (up through Black Friday), a lot of the focus was on my own low-limit poker adventures, mostly online. Other topics -- film, literature, music, television, politics, law, business, history, science, math, philosophy, psychology, and (more recently) life on a farm -- have been the focus of all of this relentless scribbling, too, with all of them somehow having something to do with poker the blog's leitmotiv, poker.

It was around Black Friday most of the other poker blogs all started going away. Their fading began a couple of years before, really, mostly in direct correlation to the rise of Twitter. I got my @hardboiledpoker account in 2009, and it was then most of the seats at the blogging tables began emptying in earnest. Still a few of us grinding along, though, for some reason finding it necessary to communicate in chunks lasting more than a sentence or two at at time.

The blog started as a hobby, then quickly became an unexpected entry into a large, fun, exciting community of others also enthusiastic about poker -- and about writing and reading about poker. Then came other opportunities and eventually a second, unexpected career for me, a life twist I described several years ago in a post called “Detour.”

The title of that post was an homage to the 1945 hard-boiled film starring Tom Neal as a down-on-his-luck hitchhiker. Neal’s character takes an unforeseen turn in that story, as did my own. I certainly didn’t see such a change coming ten years ago, back when I invented this “Short-Stacked Shamus” character and borrowed Neal’s image to use as a kind of avatar for it.

A “shamus” is a detective. And his being “short-stacked” suggests a down-on-his-luck context for his sleuthing, as though his situation mirrors in some way the desperate one Neal’s character (who becomes kind of a detective) endures in the film.

None of that really describes me or the adventure on which this blog has carried me. No, I’ve run especially well here, and it’s all thanks to those of you who have stopped by now and then or perhaps even more consistently. Friendly and generous responses kept me writing in the beginning. Continued good feedback kept me going in the middle. And the knowledge that some are still coming around even ten years on has kept me at it still today.

Thanks to everyone for making all of this traveling around -- both out into the world and the inner traveling that necessarily happens with every post -- so enjoyable for me. No shinola.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 2 -- Step by Step

Was a long one at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo today helping over the first Day 1 flight of the France Poker Series Main Event. Basically a noon-to-midnight workday this time, as it will similarly be for the next few days for your humble scribbler.

The poker went about as expected, with a big turnout of 349 entries -- well over the number who played Day 1a of this same event a year ago, which suggests tomorrow’s second and last Day 1 flight will be fairly massive. They managed to play down to just 91 tonight, although I expect tomorrow we’ll see the Day 1b field end with more than twice that still with chips.

Lots of steps today registered on the FitBit -- something like 14,000, I think, just about all taken going back and forth between the media room and the main tournament area. Started to flag near the end after having had only four or so hours’ sleep last night, but made it through more or less in one piece.

At least I didn’t start out the day playing a set of tennis as did my blogging colleagues, Stephen and Howard. They bought a pass to play over at the nearby Monte Carlo Country Club, something I believe they’ve done before in past years, and after playing happened to see none other than Novak Djokovic, currently the top-ranked men’s tennis player in the world (by a lot), working out on a nearby court. No shinola!

Not too much to report otherwise so I’m gonna cut it short and try to get some more rest tonight. Am a little tempted to stay up late for the Hornets-Heat Game 5 (which starts at 2 a.m. here, but I imagine I wouldn’t last very long even if I stayed up late enough for the tip.

Better to rest up for another day full of steps tomorrow. Meanwhile, check the PokerStars blog for all the scoop on what happened today both in the FPS Monaco and the second day of the 10K Single Re-Entry High Roller.

Photo: courtesy Jules Pochy/PokerStars blog.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Day 1 -- Early Fireworks and a Side of lasagnaaammm

After sleeping a solid 12 hours -- from before midnight to almost noon -- your humble scribbler had more or less gotten his body clock in order here in Monaco and was ready for the first day of action at the European Poker Tour Grand Final at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo.

Thankfully today’s Day 1 of the €10,000 Single Re-Entry High Roller event wasn’t scheduled to start until 6 p.m., which gave me a chance to get a few things done and relax some more during the afternoon before heading over. The tournament drew a bigger field than I think was expected, with nearly 180 entries on the first day (and late registration open a couple of levels into tomorrow’s Day 2).

Aside from reuniting with several good friends and colleagues with whom I get to work at each of these EPTs, there were a couple of other highlights during the day.

One was an unexpected fireworks show happening out over the Mediterranean late in the evening -- loud, bright, and majestic. Our work area has a few large windows looking out over the sea, each framing a nice view of the show. (That’s a shot by Rene Villi of the PokerStars blog up above, taken from the outside.)

The other came via Marc Convey, my longtime blogging partner with whom I’ve been working on events for something like eight years now. Knowing how I enjoy the personality of the Italian player Mustapha Kanit, a.k.a. “lasagnaaammm,” Convey -- without my knowing it -- got Mustapha to deliver a personal update of his chip count for me:

Gonna cut it off there and hit the hay now, as I’m looking at a much shorter night’s sleep tonight before getting back at it tomorrow starting at noon. I’ll Moving over to help cover the France Poker Series Monaco Main Event, where the field will be considerably bigger. Meanwhile you can check the PokerStars blog to see what happened during today’s action.

Photo: courtesy René Velli/PokerStars blog.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Travel Report: EPT12 Grand Final, Arrival -- From Green to Blue

Bonjour mes amis. I am writing late on a Monday night from a hotel in Monaco, having arrived here earlier today. It’s my home-away-from-home for the next couple of weeks as I’ll be helping with the reporting from the European Poker Tour’s final stop of Season 12.

Took the red-eye to London, then had another two-hour hop down to Nice. Both flights were fine, with the first half of the transatlantic one occupied by dinner and a viewing of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Had seen it long ago, of course, but this time through watched with a much more thorough understanding of the different conspiracies Stone weaves together to create his narrative. Also knew practically all of the bit players introduced throughout the story -- i.e., the historical versions, I mean -- and so was even aware of embellishments and omissions here and there.

The all-encompassing monologue delivered by Donald Sutherland’s “Mr. X” (based on L. Fletcher Prouty) is the great highlight, of course, signaling a recognition, I think, that the scope of the mystery is ultimately too great for any single person to be capable of tackling alone. In other words, a conspiracy of investigators (which now would have to involve members of several different generations) would have to come together in order to unravel fully a conspiracy that resulted in JFK’s killing.

A shuttle carried me from Nice to Monaco, one I shared with Jason Mercier and Natasha Barbour, both here to play, of course. Talked playoffs with Mercier a bit, as he’s a Heat fan and I’m for the Hornets, although I’m not too enthusiastic about Charlotte’s chances against Miami.

Took it easy during the afternoon, then met up with several of the fellas for a delicious dinner at an Italian place called Risotrante Mazzo located not too far from where we’re staying. For an appetizer had insalata tiepida di polpo, that is, a salad with potatoes and octopus that was mouthwateringly flavorful. Then it was pizza for the main course, the tartufo featuring truffle and potato slices with rocket salad on top, also delicious.

Expect to have a few more nice meals along the way here, although there will be the occasional 20-euro cheeseburger thrown in as well.

Weather here is comparable to back home -- blue skies, sunny, and a light wind making it very spring-like. The deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea out back (see above) contrasts sharply with the green on the farm, though, which I’m already missing as Vera sends me another picture of Sammy, Maggie, and our yearling, Ruby (a.k.a., the “Roobster”).

It’ll be a late start tomorrow as the first big event, the €10,000 Single Re-Entry High Roller, doesn’t get going until 6 p.m. local time. You can follow reports over on the PokerStars blog.

Gonna try while here to provide some brief reports on the blog each night after things conclude. Have a big day, in terms of the history of Hard-Boiled Poker, coming up this Thursday, though, where I may have to write about something else, too. Any guesses what that might be?

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Poker vs. Chess in Russia

Interesting item from yesterday’s Chicago Tribune regarding the rise of online poker in Russia over recent years, one point of which is to suggest how poker has now more or less overtaken chess as the national game, at least in the view of certain observers.

The article’s title, “Online poker’s killing the Russian chess star,” kind of awkwardly reprises that of the Buggles’ prescient 1980 pop hit “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the effort to do so probably misplacing the article’s emphasis somewhat.

The article does include some generalized nostalgia about the Soviet era’s chess “celebrities” -- people like Mikhail Botvinnik, Garry Kasparov, and Anatoly Karpov (none of whom is actually named in the article). And it does remark on the growth of online poker in Russia, citing figures such as the fact that 16% of Russians in 2013 played poker (up from 11% two years before) and that Russians account for 8.4% of all players on online sites.

But it doesn’t really provide a convincing causal link between the fall of chess and rise of poker. That’s not to say there isn’t a link, but the article doesn’t dig too deeply and thus doesn’t really show how poker “killed” (or is “killing”) chess.

In fact, interestingly, the real emphasis of the article has to do with current legislative efforts in Russia to legalize online poker, which as happened many times over here in the U.S. has led to studies about potential revenue and debates about whether the game’s skill component sufficiently distinguishes it from other forms of gambling.

I say the link between the decline of chess and the ascent of poker isn’t so obviously established in the article, but there is one interesting connection described. Speaking of possible federal regulation of online poker, it sounds like some of the potential revenue would be earmarked to help reinvigorate chess among the country’s population.

“In a nod to sensitivities about the decline of chess,” writes the author, “the government plans to use the tax proceeds that result to fund the National Chess Federation, so that it can foster passion for the game once more.”

In any event, it sounds like the status quo isn’t going to hold much longer in Russia as far as online poker is concerned. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next. And whether or not the government’s next move helps online poker continue to grow in popularity (and chess, too, I suppose). Or, as happened in the U.S., it has the effect of checkmating it away.

Photos: “Chess,” Tame M. CC BY 2.0; “Poker XII,” Bastian Greshake. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Today

In a bit of a funk at the moment, not the good kind. Very similar to the one I was in back in January after David Bowie’s passing. Like you, I first started seeing the tweets about Prince earlier today, and after a few uncertain minutes saw it confirmed that he’d passed away at 57.

Like Bowie, Prince was one of those genre-blending artists that managed to capture just about all of us at some point or another. And in a similar fashion, once he did capture us we were destined to remain under his spell thereafter.

1999 would have been the first Prince record I heard, way back in 1982 when 1999 was the hard-to-imagine distant future. Soon after that I’d collected the earlier LPs, with Dirty Mind always getting the most plays, a record I once wrote about over on 33 and 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute.

Then came Purple Rain. Kind of like what happened a dozen years ago when everyone suddenly was playing poker, everyone suddenly liked Prince. It is simply a perfect pop/rock record, already cinematic in scope even without the accompanying film. I think at one time or another each of the nine tracks has had a turn standing out as a “favorite” for me on that particular disc, and each for different reasons.

Was writing recently about old concerts I’d seen, and in fact among those I did happen to see Prince and the Revolution during the Purple Rain tour in November 1984. I remember the white “cloud” guitar with the handle and (of course) his culminating a solo once with a stream of something flying out the top and out over the crowd as though it were a sexual climax. (There are certain things you just don’t forget.)

Vera Valmore happened to have seen Prince at that same show -- or one of them, anyway, during the three-performance run in Greensboro -- back before she and I had ever met. We were just talking about that concert last weekend when in Asheville, in fact.

During that conversation I mentioned how I probably wouldn’t be able to find online any audio files of those shows as I had with the Springsteen one from ’85. If you’ve ever looked for Prince stuff online or on YouTube, you’ve discovered it to be relatively scarce thanks to his considerable efforts to protect his product -- to have some measure of control over his art and how it was made available and received.

An exception is this performance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame from 2004, where Prince joined Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison’s son Dhani in a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the performance occasioned by Harrison’s induction. Prince takes over the song’s latter half, and you gotta love his wry whaddya-think-of-that look near the end after his preeminence has been well established.

Stuck close with Prince all of the way through the mid-’90s where (as with Bowie) I lost the thread for a while before picking it back up again more recently (with Musicology and 3121). Then went back even before the beginning for those ultra-funky, impossible-to-sit-still-through Loring Park Sessions 1977, recorded just a year out of high school.

As with Bowie, Prince has had a permanent spot for me in the ongoing life soundtrack, and will continue to do so. Many will spend the next few days describing his combining and reimagining rock, pop, jazz, fusion, funk, R&B, and other styles, as well as other elements of his many cultural contributions. I think the thing we connected with most, though, is the effort and production of a genuine artist, someone who (relentlessly) created and inspired.

And as a result added considerably to this thing called life, helping many to get through it.

Photo: “Prince playing MadCat, Coachella 2008,” Scott Penner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Now That’s a Lot of Cabbage

Something recently reminded me of that specialized “hard-boiled” lingo one finds in novels by writers like Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and others. I think it must have been a delayed echo from that Robyn Hitchcock show I was writing about a couple of days ago, specifically his tune “Raymond Chandler Evening” I’ve continue to hum all week.

I was going back through some posts on the blog recently -- just cleaning up some dead links here and there. Ended up lingering for a while, reading several including a few early ones where I tried (somewhat vainly) to write using that “hard-boiled” patois.

That didn’t last very long (thankfully), although a few phrases and words have stuck over the years, including using “cabbage” to refer to money. It wasn’t my normal voice, of course, and while my detective novel Same Difference has a few hard-boiled elements (including style-wise), I didn’t go for the lingo so much there, either, finding it hard enough to tell a story without giving myself that additional challenge.

I’ve toyed with another novel idea, a story set in the late 1920s, actually, where it would be not inappropriate to include characters sounding like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. So ripe for parody, that. Can only really be done with tongue partially in cheek.

Probably wouldn’t have made it to one year on here writing about poker had I tried to keep up that applesauce. Let alone ten, a milestone that’s coming up in just over a week. (No shinola.)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

GPL Moves Into Third Week

Was busy for much of yesterday although by late afternoon I was able to switch on the Global Poker League and watch the 6-max matches go by.

They’ve now introduced webcams for those (a couple of players at a time) as well as some “postgame” interviews with players, all of which adds considerably to what would otherwise be a fairly dry watch of an online sit-n-go. I also feel like there’s something genuinely interesting -- and perhaps even unique -- when it comes to the players’ attempts at analyzing hands on the fly.

I’ve never much gotten into watching the single-player streams on Twitch in which a player tries to do what he or she can to engage an audience, and perhaps offer some strategy advice along the way. Many of those often seem to be “about” cheering for a player to go deeper in a tournament or build a stack on a cash table, which can be interesting if you care about the player but otherwise is not terribly compelling.

Meanwhile on the GPL streams players are perhaps in a bit more vulnerable position when it comes to offering on-the-fly analysis. For one thing, viewers can see everyone’s hole cards (whereas the player obviously cannot), a big distinction from the Twitch streams in which those watching can only see the channel host’s cards. Thus we hear the player talking through decisions knowing whether or not his or her reads of others’ ranges are accurate, which in turn gives us a better idea how such decision-making works (or doesn’t).

I think also there’s much less of an “us-versus-them” feel to the GPL streams as opposed to other poker streams on Twitch. Sure, we might well have a rooting interest, and curiosity about outcomes and who wins and who loses also obviously motivates a person to watch. But I’m finding my attention shifting a lot as I follow the different players’ thoughts about the hands their playing, occasionally expressed by multiple players within the same hand.

The last couple of matches today (involving the “Americas Conference”) were fun, too, thanks in part to Tyler Kenney (Bryn’s brother) and Felipe “Mojave” Ramos both getting to heads-up and splitting the victories.

Both players were “wild cards” added to their respective teams (the New York Rounders for Kenney and the São Paulo Metropolitans for Ramos), and both were clearly very excited to do well in their GPL debuts. They both tended toward the “fit-or-fold” style of play (as noted by commentator Sam Grafton along the way), which I think many of us who consider ourselves recreational players also often employ, adding perhaps another layer of interest to following their progress.

The excitement level varies quite a bit, of course, with these GPL shows, and I’ll admit during certain stretches finding myself wandering away when it fails to engage. But I do think there’s something genuinely different about the shows compared to other poker TV, and so for now -- while the novelty remains fresh, anyway -- I’m continuing to dial them up.

Image: Global Poker League.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Robyn Hitchcock at the Grey Eagle

Took a nice, leisurely trip up to Asheville this past weekend with Vera Valmore, kind of a mini-vacation inspired by Robyn Hitchcock -- a longtime fave of mine -- having come to play a gig at the Grey Eagle on Saturday.

Hitchcock is someone I’ve been listening to for more than three decades, which means I started picking up his records not that long after he started making them. I wore out the Soft Boys albums, his solo LPs, and those he made fronting the Egyptians, picking up and studying just about everything right through the ’90s and after. And I have continued checking in on the more recent stuff as well, including his latest, The Man Upstairs, released a couple of summers ago.

I saw him play a couple of times way back when -- once during late ’80s, then another time around ’91 -- and in fact I even dragged Vera to the second of those shows. Since then he’s slowed down somewhat, having evolved from a loud, electrified rocker with psychedelic tendencies into a softer, acoustic-based act that strikes newcomers as a kind of weird neo-folk, although the inspired, surreal lyricism remains the most conspicuous common thread tying together the different eras.

Seeing him again kind of paralleled the experience I was describing last week when I located and listened to a boot of a Bruce Springsteen show I’d attended over thirty years ago. I say that because of the uncanny deja-voodoo I experienced as Hitchcock happened to play some of the same songs I’d heard him perform before all those years ago.

One I know he played at the earlier shows was the meditative “Raymond Chandler Evening,” a kind of homage to the hard-boiled writer filled with dark, gritty imagery that contrasts with the sweet arpeggios carrying its catchy melody. (Was delighted when he tossed in an extra verse I’d never heard before, introducing another crime scene into the proceedings.) He followed that Saturday with another one from the same 1986 album Element of Light -- “Bass” -- a song I’m also pretty sure he played when back when I last saw him.

Vera and I had to laugh when he began “Bass.” Earlier in the evening we’d enjoyed a very fun dinner with our poker-playing friends PokerGrump and CardGrrl, and Vera and I both happened to have ordered bass for our entrees. I joked then Hitchcock had a song by that name, though I doubted he’d play it... and then he did.

Someone’s already uploaded that particular track to YouTube, if you’re curious. In fact, I'm noticing other songs from the show on there, too, and have linked to each from the titles in this post. During one of Hitchcock’s many extemporaneous acts of word association used to introduce songs (a signature trait), he joked about skipping ahead in the YouTube video, fully conscious of the fact that many artists’ performances get instantly memorialized in this way.

Hitchcock actually split the bill with the comedian, Eugene Mirman. Hitchcock came on first, playing about 10 or 11 songs, with other highlights including “I'm Only You” and the Dylan cover “Not Dark Yet” with which he opened.

After that Mirman made us laugh for about 45 minutes, then the pair both carried on a suitably absurd conversation onstage for a while before Hitchcock closed the night with “My Wife and My Dead Wife” (another ’80s-era track I’d seen him play in the past). A great time, start to finish.

My only bit of chronicling during the show was to snap that poor-looking pic up above, one showing Hitchcock squinting out into the crowd in a fashion that seems to suit the photo’s lack of clarity. As I was telling PokerGrump and Cardgrrl after our dinner, I’ve lately found myself actively opposing the whole take-a-picture-of-everything urge that so often possesses us these days. (Not to mention the subsequent feeling of being obliged to broadcast those pictures via one’s preferred form of social media.)

I guess I archive plenty enough here on the blog, although that exercise is a little different. Here I force myself to translate experience into words, that act alone being enough to make whatever it is much more memorable than tends to happen when snapping a pic or shooting a short vid.

The whole weekend was like that, really, spent mostly unplugged -- like Hitchcock.

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