Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

  1. Penguins are my friends.


    They’re holding flippers!

  2. Spanish is much more useful than German. Visiting Teri at her Peace Corps assignment and traveling in Mexico during January and February 2017 happened at the best time, as it gave me the chance to learn the traveler’s Spanish that I’d need in Chile that same October. I used it to travel in Chile and Argentina in March and April 2018, and I just finished up 2.5 more weeks of travel in Patagonia in November 2018.
  3. The Bering Sea is my home in Alaska. Whether I’m on the Tiglax, in a skiff, or living on an island (St. George, Buldir, or St. Matthew), I’m comfortable.


    Driving a skiff in the waters around Attu, the end of the Aleutian Islands

  4. Wearing shorts, riding bikes, and eating fresh peaches across the country makes for a wonderful summer. After living on St. Matthew for a month, I traveled through Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin (bus ride), both peninsulas of Michigan, Texas, Wyoming, Utah (bus ride), Idaho, Montana, Washington, and California from mid July to late September.


    The delicious, delicious taste of summer

  5. Sometimes you unexpectedly meet someone who coaxes out the good cry you’ve apparently been needing. Have you ever pulled away from a week-long Wilderness First Responder course in tears, telling your passenger that you’d be stopping for ice cream before starting the drive back to Denver – and then proceeding to tell her things that your best friend only recently learned? And alternating between crying and laughing for the first hour of a drive? It was intense.
  6. Jason Isbell is incredible. Listening to the music of a talented artist while sitting with friends (one of whom has an amazing voice himself) in the coolness of a summer night on a grassy lawn at KettleHouse Amphitheater in Missoula, MT, gave me the chills. Isbell’s lyrics are beautiful, and here are a select couple:   From “Cover Me Up” – Home was a dream/One I’d never seen/Till you came along      From “Traveling Alone” – And I know every town worth passing through/
But what good does knowing do/ With no one to show it to
  7. I am not going to bike throughout an Alaskan winter. When it’s time to spend a winter here, I’m going to invest in one of those fancy 4-wheeled contraptions. After all, I’ve gone 11 years of being based in this state without one.
  8. This lifestyle is lonely. … but I love travel and have no skills or interest in jobs based in town.
  9. As long as Kirk Cousins plays for the Minnesota Vikings, they are my team. I started following the Washington Redskins while he played there, and now he’s sporting purple. As a fantastic person and former Spartan, he’s got my support more than anyone else in the NFL.



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bike sketch


The bicycle means different things to different people. For kids, it’s a stepping stone to a new form of play. For bike commuters, it’s a source of transportation. For professional cyclists, it’s a hobby and money maker. For the average American, I’m guessing it’s a form of exercise.

Then there’s someone like me who smiles at the memory of a good bike ride while dreaming of the next. I can wonder why on earth I’m crawling my way up a hill and then remember as I feel wind-induced tears of joy as I fly down the other side. I can yell at the headwind while wondering why I decided it was time for a ride and then breathe easily as I smile at my speed and ride a good tailwind home.

Unfortunately, scooping dog poop and carrying buckets of dog food and water has kicked up my carpal tunnel syndrome, which has led to wearing my wrist brace day and night. Currently when I bike, my hands do go numb, so today I looked up how cyclists deal with carpal tunnel. Just reading someone’s comment of “I do not wish to give up cycling because of it” put me on the verge of tears.

Even when I’m not certain, my bike Trekker just seems to know what I need and where to take me. For me, the bike provides mobility, freedom, thinking time, self-torture, exercise, and happiness – sometimes all in one ride.

When I climb on my bike these days, it’s often just to get around town; my bike is my car. Yet because biking is in my genes, I often find myself shouting, “Yay biking! I love biking!!!” (Seriously, I should have started the sticker company that makes these.)water bottle

Despite the wind, on Tuesday I needed to go for a real ride – not just running errands. My one errand included dropping off the rest of the brownies and blondies I’d baked the day before; they needed to get out of my cabin – hence the bike ride.

As I left campus and started up into the wind on Farmers Loop, I was in the middle of a pretty intense thinking session. Staying in town for this long has shown me that I am indeed a human who wants social contact. As happy as I am with opening my door to 60 puppies with wagging tails in the morning, I’ve realized I don’t want to spend my evenings alone in the cabin.

This led me to thinking about life and what I want out of it, and that’s less than a clear road to me… as in it’s the trail-less wilderness of Denali. After roaming around in my mind for awhile, I needed to get out. Instead of only dwelling on my thoughts, I started singing some of the sad songs that I find beautiful; instead of slowing down for puddles, I started riding full tilt through them, delighting in the rooster tail of water spraying my face, coat, and shoes. Before I knew it, I was having a blast racing my way downhill, riding a tailwind into the beginning of sunset. My biker’s high had been a little slow to arrive but had finally kicked in.

The only downside was that my feet had grown cold from the wet and wind, which made me decide to briefly stop in Barnes and Noble. Really it was part of Trekker’s plan all along, I think, as inside I found the remains of a free food event. I inquired as to what had happened and learned that the Alaska Writers Guild had just held their monthly meeting.

“Are you a writer? If you’ve written a sentence, you’re welcome to come talk about writing and get input,” said a middle-aged male member.

Hmmm. Am I a writer? That’s something I ponder now and then. Was this serendipitous meeting meant to be a kick in the pants for the future?

After chatting for a bit, I sat by the fire to warm my feet and jump on better internet to check for sub jobs. Since poor Fairbanks is desperate for substitute teachers, subbing is my new time filler and money maker. Being in charge of kids who just want to horse around while teachers are gone isn’t my ideal job, but it’s something that allows for a very flexible schedule and challenges me to work around people.

Since I’m so inexperienced and rather out of my element, I haven’t necessarily been excited about most potential jobs. However, this time was different, as there was a job in a computer class at a middle school. The appeal lay in the class note, which read, “Students are working on a world tour project where they need to do research and find 21 places around the world they would like to visit.” THAT I could try to keep kids focused on all day. Travel’s the greatest!

With the job impulsively in hand, I realized I needed to bike the rest of the way home and get to bed before a day of travel talk. Yes, I’d be the annoying sub with far too much enthusiasm for the topic, and it would be great.

On my way home I was all smiles as I enjoyed the tailwind and sunset. Trekker had done it again, given me just what I needed: a 26 mile ride, a brief visit with a running friend I bumped into (not described in this post), ideas for the future, and the chance for a Steph-geared subbing job. Yay! Biking!


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When you grow up in the suburbs of Detroit in the 90s, you grow up a Wings fan. How can you not?


Look at all those banners!

While there was never any uncertainty about my team, one drawing I made in 3rd grade cemented my favorite NHL athlete and hockey team in place. We were learning how to draw faces, and our teacher had pictures of Detroit Red Wing hockey players for us to use. I have no doubt that mine was terrible, but that didn’t stop me from sending Sergei Fedorov my drawing of his face.

When I received an envelope back from “him” in the mail, I was so excited that I saved it and the contents – a season schedule, a Joe Louis Arena fact sheet, and a “Red Wings history in Hockeytown” sheet – all the way until now. Red Wings mailIt didn’t matter that I didn’t get an autograph or any personal note; just the fact that I got mail from the Detroit Red Wings was thrilling.

Yzerman, Fedorov, Lidstrom, Shanahan, Osgood, McCarty, Draper, Konstantinov, and coach Scotty Bowman are a handful of names that will never be forgotten by Detroit. I grew up in the era of slugfests between the Wings and the Colorado Avalanche. I remember being stressed while watching many Stanley Cup playoff games and celebrating many victories. The image of octopi being flung onto the ice never gets old. If my memory serves me correctly, there was once a spring thunderstorm that took out power at our house and left the family listening to a game on a battery-powered radio.

Unfortunately my Wings experiences were limited to television and radio during my childhood. Because the team was so good, ticket prices were higher than my parents were willing to pay to take the family to a game at the fabled Joe Louis Arena.

When I heard that JLA would be hosting its final season in 2016-17, I knew I needed to go to a game. I let my Dad know that if I was in Michigan during hockey season, I’d be taking myself to a game. “Maybe Jeff and I will come along,” he said.

“Sure! I just know that I’m going,” I responded.


Because of that, my parents bought tickets to see the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Los Angeles Kings as a family Christmas gift. On December 15th, I finally saw my first live game. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out as hoped – nor did the season – but that didn’t stop me from wandering around and appreciating the history of Hockeytown. I can only imagine the ridiculous energy and craze of games in the 90s and 00s.

Yesterday The Joe hosted its last Wings game ever, and although I’m hardly part of Detroit these days, knowing that JLA’s run is over saddens me. I’m forever defending the city of Detroit, and The Joe housed some of the city’s most exciting moments.

So from The Pub in Fairbanks, where I’m wearing my Fedorov jersey as I drink to you: Thanks, Joe, for the memories of fights, losses, and victories.

It’s kind of like Detroit itself.


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Beautiful weather? Check. Bike? Check. Helmet? Check. Wallet, phone, water, and TP? Check. Destination? Unknown!

I unlocked the bike from the rack, then re-attached the lock to the rack since I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the bike alone during the day. With a quick glance at my watch to check the time – 11:30 – I was on my way. On my way up the silly hill that doesn’t look steep at all, but somehow becomes a slow 24 minute climb to the overlook of Kachemak Bay. As I inched my way up the hill on my borrowed mountain bike, I wondered why I do these things to myself.

Simple. When I get on a bike after a long period away from cycling, I turn into a 5-year-old. A visceral happiness radiates throughout my body as my hands grip the handlebars and I swing my leg over the frame. As I begin pedaling, my face automatically breaks into a glowing smile that goes along with my words of “Bike!!! I love biking. Biking, biking, biking!”

It’s the most natural reaction in the world to me, and I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. The same thing happened the 2 nights in August when I claimed the tent at Spike Camp. Having not stayed in a tent since April, just unzipping the tent fly triggered the same soul-deep joy. “Tent!!!” was all I said as I climbed inside and stretched out on the sleeping bag.

Little things that draw out such basic, yet deep, happiness shouldn’t be ignored; they need to be embraced whenever possible, whether anyone else “gets it” or not. They’re what form a world of intriguing individuals.

Being on the go with no set route or destination – another of my favorite pastimes – was another reason for today’s ride. I’d headed north up the Sterling Highway, but I didn’t know where I was heading or where I’d turn around. To some people, that equates to a recipe for getting lost; to me, that’s a recipe for a fun adventure.

As I approached one curve I saw a sign indicating that a left turn would put me on the Old Sterling Highway. I bet the Old will hit the main road again at some point, and I’ve never been on the old highway before! Decision made.

Making that turn paid off, as I traded the 55mph speed limit and “traffic” for a winding road through woods and marsh that took my mind to the roads near Wilderness State Park in the northwest corner of Michigan’s mitten. It was perfect. Yellow and orange leaves covered the trees alongside the road. Colors in the marshes ranged from green to yellow, red, rust, and burgundy. Houses were few and far between.

Anchor River

Anchor River

Eventually a downhill led me to a bridge over the Anchor River, where I realized I was on the outskirts of Anchor River State Recreation Area. With beach access just 1.3 miles down a road to my left, I knew it was time to go admire the mountains. Along the way I passed a campground that mentioned North America’s Most Westerly Highway Point. Being a bit of a sucker for finding geographical extremes, I knew that the bike had carried me where I needed to go.

The beach offered me everything I was looking for and more: relaxation, a beautiful view, a gorgeous collie-english setter puppy, and friendly conversation with a group of real cyclists who showed up not long after me. The only thing I could have asked for would have been an ice cream stand. Homer bike

Once it was time to leave, I headed up to the town of Anchor Point to find snacks. Having participated in PALM and DALMAC, organized bike rides across and up Michigan, many times, I felt right at home stopping in the local grocery store for Gatorade, a banana, and a granola bar. As odd as it sounds, I epitomized myself; I was a happy ginger on a bike checking out a little town that most people blaze right on through.most westerly

The ride home on the (new) Sterling Highway was fairly uneventful but was a continuation of the picturesque journey. The final 2-3 miles were the icing on the cake: racing down the hill I’d crawled up at the start of my ride. Tucked as close to the handlebars as I could get, I coasted most of the way home in probably the 35 mph range.

“There’s the cyclist? How was your ride?” Emily asked as I walked down the bunkhouse hall.

High on biking endorphins from my 34 mile ride, I responded, “That was the best thing I’ve done in my life!” While I’d walked out the door that morning unsure of what I’d see on my ride, I returned very pleased. It was a good reminder that if I just keep pedaling through life, I’ll get to where I’m supposed to be going.

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March Madness did something many of us Spartan fans are not used to this year. It took a sword and not only threatened our team, but it bled the team and all its fans like a stuck pig.

I was pulled along for the painful ride as I watched the MSU – Middle Tennessee State score teeter the wrong direction for the duration of the game. The whole time I was thinking the same as everyone else, “Okay, this basket will start the charge to fix things!” It never happened. By the time 5 minutes remained in the second half, I felt sick to my stomach, my nerves just not letting me be.

That’s not how Michigan State basketball works in March – especially not with this team. Yet it had happened, leaving me so dejected that I needed to stop at a gas station for a delicious Mexican popsicle as a pick-me-up on the drive home.

Before the Big Dance started I experienced the same anxiety while MSU played in the Big Ten Tournament. That weekend Kelsey and I were able to see the other tech (Andy) and PhD student (Thomas) from our summer 2014 season of black brant research. Since field crews virtually Never get to meet up again, Kels and I were excited for a reunion.

Thomas and Chris (another friend in Reno) headed west to our place south of Sacramento as Andy and his high school buddy Caleb headed east from Andy’s new work area near Napa Valley. That Friday evening we enjoyed delicious reindeer barley soup, rolls, brownies, beer, conversation, guitar playing, and laughter.

After a late morning we decided to pile into Kelsey’s minivan and drive to Santa Cruz, stopping at Big Basin Redwoods State Park along the way since Andy and Caleb had never seen such trees. We removed the last of Kelsey’s larger possessions to make room for seats for the 6 of us. My hiking boots and Thomas’ spotting scope were among the gear tossed in the back end. Being in a group of birders meant we had to be prepared.

Interactive map of places mentioned

(blue pins mark origin and destination, red circle marks rough location of interest)

As we drove toward the Bay area, Thomas and Chris were already chipping away at beating last year’s weekend bird list. Although I typically can’t watch basketball games and don’t like being attached to my phone, I was monitoring the score of the Michigan State-Maryland game from the front seat. The score was too close for me to be comfortable, and it was only after our lunch stop in San Jose that the game ended with Michigan State victorious, allowing me to announce, “Now it will be a good day,” as I relaxed.

Up we traveled through the cute village of Saratoga onto highway 9, which winds its way through trees as it climbs into the lush hills separating the Bay Area from Santa Cruz. With rain coming down and foggy gray skies, we weren’t hitting the weather for which we’d hoped, but the scene was still pretty.

Since the van sometimes has issues while climbing, Kelsey knew it might need a break to cool down. As Madeline began to struggle, Kelsey and I both decided it was time to pull over. Things were a little different this time, though. Once we stopped, we were immediately surrounded by smoke.

“What the …?” we all wondered as we jumped out.

“Your car is dripping fire!” shouted the woman in the car behind us.

WHAT? The 6 of us backed away from the van and looked underneath to see that, sure enough, flames were licking the pavement and a little pool of fire was burning somewhere near the back of the hood.

“Does anyone have a fire extinguisher?” we started asking down the chain of cars that was lining up behind the first car. No luck.smokeballAll we could do was watch from afar as the little flames grew to a small ball and then a larger fire that ate away at everything under the hood and spread to the front seat and ultimately the rest of the van. Within 5-10 minutes Madeline was fully engulfed in flames, our disbelief of the scene accentuated by the multiple small explosions that echoed through the rain and trees.

Those who had phones and enough cell reception worked on calling 911 to get emergency personnel on scene. Understandably Kelsey walked farther and farther away, holding her head and saying, “I don’t believe this.”I didn’t really know what to say and was torn between wanting to watch the movie-like scene and feeling awful for what Kelsey must have been feeling. With the rain coming down it didn’t take long for all of us to be pretty soaked. We were so distracted that it took me 5 minutes to realize that Caleb had no long sleeves and should have my extra shirt.

Fortunately no one was injured, and only material goods were lost. We were also blessed by the constant rain, seeing as we easily could have started a forest fire if the area had been dry like usual. As much as the situation “wasn’t ideal,” as a former field boss would say, everyone was safe.


Thomas and the remains

Anything that I’d had on my lap came out of the van with me, meaning I had a rain jacket, spare plaid shirt, and purse. Kelsey wasn’t so fortunate, so I became her secretary and chauffeur until she could procure a new phone and everything else that’s lost in a purse. Thomas lost his spotting scope. Chris lost his personal binoculars. My Michigan State hat hadn’t made it, nor had my rather nice new sunglasses or the hiking boots that I’d tossed in the van at the last minute.

Yet how did any of that really matter? As I stood absorbing the scene, I wondered how I could let my possessions enter my mind. Kelsey had just lost her van – essentially her version of my plane tickets + storage unit that let me live from job to job. She’d have to deal with insurance and then figure out how to cross the country (with all her possessions) to work in Maine for the summer. I didn’t know what to say. The success of my Spartans seemed an age away – and rather pointless.

Being 2 1/2 hours from home, we needed a means of transportation back to base. Ultimately Chris called us an UberSUV, a shiny black vehicle outfitted with mini water bottles and tissue, for the wet and dirty 6 of us to ride in to the San Jose Airport. From there Thomas drove us back in a rental minivan.

On the way home we were able to start cracking small jokes. “Watching a van go up in flames” and “sitting in the back of a police car” are now crossed off my bucket list. (We sat in the car while waiting for Uber.) Was it too soon to be driving a minivan? Kelsey laughed as she sighed, “I’m glad we drove 5 hours to watch my car burn. If it had to happen, I’m glad it was with you guys.”

I bought the consolation ice cream, and we made it home for a low key evening. In the end it’s not the sports teams we support or our possessions that matter, but both the good and bad events that make up the human experience. When plans go awry, the people around us and those we call “friends” provide more peace of mind than anything money can buy.


Group gift to Kelsey: peregrine falcon page from the Sibley’s guide – the object that managed to survive better than anything else in the fire


Caleb, Andy, me, Chris, Kelsey, and Thomas

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The more I think about it, the more I believe that adults don’t grow up; rather, adults make choices to leave behind the games and spontaneity of childhood and adolescence. In some instances it is necessary, but it seems to create a more predictable adulthood that can lack excitement.

Recently I’ve had a couple memorable moments where instead of making the logical decision and keeping life simple, I decided to follow an impulse. While the stories were in very different circumstances, both end results were the same: goofy grins and funny memories.


After finishing up my winter’s work near Sacramento, I stopped by Seattle (as I do) partially to visit Matt, one of my closest friends. He has access to some beautiful property near Snoqualmie Falls, so we camped for a night and went for some short hikes the following day.

One of our walks took us down by the river, which led me to immediately announce, “I want to jump in the river!”

Without a swimsuit, that seemed like a lost opportunity. The water just looked SOO refreshing, though, and so when Matt showed me the swimming hole, part of me knew I was doomed. The 2 of us sat on a rock in the river just off the bank, talking about whatever topics came to mind. A couple mergansers were having fun diving and floating in the river’s current; some people were starting a casual float down the river. The longer we sat there, the more I touched the water: first with my hands, then submerging my arms and exclaiming how cold it was. “What’s holding you back?” Matt asked.

What indeed. I’m not at all a fan of wearing wet clothes, so the prospect of hiking while drenched did not seem appealing. Although I have some smart genes, it took me awhile to realize something very obvious. There was no reason I couldn’t strip to my skivvies, which are essentially a swimsuit, and then put dry clothes back on top.

Decision made, I just had to get my boots and socks off. Being one who doesn’t test the waters and enter slowly, I stood with my hands ready to strip off my clothes, and before I could think about it any longer, I was free and fully jumping in extremely chilly water. Apparently the current was moving enough and the water cold enough that my eyes bugged out a bit, and I accepted Matt’s hand before I could get swept anywhere.

Yes, I was very cold, but I was also Alert and Living!

I spent a little time in the water before clambering back on top of the sunny rock. As I shivered in the warming sunshine, I couldn’t help but smile as I felt happy for taking advantage of life’s opportunities and my Finnish blood.


Snoqualmie Falls
(note, I swam below, not above the falls)

Every now and then I make visits to Fairbanks and temporarily re-join the community. This time around I just happened to catch the weekend for Puccini’s opera “Turandot.” Since a friend plays in the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra and there are few operas in the Bering Sea, I decided I should take advantage of a free ticket and pretend to be civilized for once. After a brief visit “home” (storage), I elected to shower rather than eat.


As I sat through Act I with friends Scott and Alesha, I realized that not eating beforehand had been a bad choice. While the music of the symphony, the power of the voices, and the acting on stage were entertaining; a hungry pit was growing in my stomach. Upon looking through the program during Intermission, I learned that this production featured not two, but rather three full acts. There was no way I was going to make it that long with such a rumbling stomach!

Fortunately I’d been joined by 2 equally hungry friends who are also pre-disposed to eating Pub nachos. Before Intermission I could finish, Alesha had called the UAF Pub to find out how difficult it might be to grab an order of nachos during the 2nd intermission. With only 15 minutes to work with, we knew our timing would be tight.

As the house lights rose at the end of the 2nd Act, the three of us were already moving toward the aisle. We ran through the doors, away from the Davis Concert Hall, along a sidewalk, down some stairs, and inside the lower level of the Wood Center. Scott and I flashed our IDs at the entrance as we reached the door and then made our way to the bar where, fortunately, there was no line. “1 large nachos!” I requested, as I pulled out my wallet to pay.

“It’ll be about 5 minutes,” came the reply.

nacho picnic

We could, and did, work with that. Forgoing any beer, we accepted our cardboard tray of nachos and returned to the grassy area near Turtle Sex Park to quickly scarf down our late dinner as we watched through the doors of the Great Hall for signs that the 2nd intermission was ending. Though slightly out of breath and hurriedly eating, we were all smiles and laughter. Seriously, who eats Pub nachos during intermission of a world famous opera?! We did somehow manage to consume all but the messy remaining chili bits before dashing inside and returning to our seats – even before the choir had fully returned to the stage. Victory was ours!


Satisfied opera goers

Would I have enjoyed the river without jumping in? Absolutely. Would I have made it through the opera without Pub nachos? Probably.

Yet without those unexpected occurrences, my smile wouldn’t have been quite as big.

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“Being Wrong”

My current read, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, is a little deeper than a laughter inducing-Bill Bryson book; as such, it requires reading in smaller doses and with an alert brain. Author Kathryn Schulz interestingly brings up how the word er meant “to move or go” in ancient Indo-European. The linguistic road led to er becoming the root for the Latin verb errare, which means to wander, go astray, or be wrong.

In her book Schulz sets out to explain why being wrong is actually a good thing. She discusses 2 classic wanderers of Western culture: the wandering Jew and the knight errant. The Jew is forced to roam the earth; the knight is on a quest driven by curiosity.

To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story. Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor, spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world? True, you might * get lost along the way, get stranded in a swamp, have a scare at the edge of a cliff; thieves might steal your gold, brigands might imprison you in a cave, sorcerers might turn you into a toad *  – but what of that? To fuck up is to find adventure […]

(insert this in place of quoted text for my version* discover a new country, get your car stuck in the mud and then get invited in a house for some tea before 2 Maori guys help you recover your car, jump cartoon-style and try to simultaneously backpedal and turn around mid-air because you nearly stepped on some snake in Australia; student loans might steal your money, fate might give you a town job that turns out to be an entertaining summer, interests might turn you into a seafarer *

Block quoted from Part 1: The Idea of Error, Chapter 2: Two Models of Wrongness in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

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