Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick


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** This book may be available from your local library. Check it out! 

At first glance, an outsider to the world of video games might see little relation between a major motion picture and a video games. They seem to be different genres, different worlds, even when movies crossover to become games and games crossover and are developed into movies -- often badly. The action, the interactivity, the immersion of video games can make their stories seem unlike a standard narrative program. Surely, due to the player’s control of characters, video games can’t be written in the same way as a television script. While that might be true in some regards, when you go deeper into the creation of story that drives the final narrative, there are more similarities between writing for film and video games than you might imagine. These similarities also mean that many similar challenges exist for these writers regardless of their genre.

Writer Evan Skolnik is an international speaker and educator who conducts workshops on storytelling techniques and has worked on large scale video game projects such as Star Wars 1313, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 and Spiderman 3.

The first half of Video Game Storytelling would be familiar to anyone who has ever taken a film writing course. It discusses the “three act structure”, “The Hero’s Journey” and the Monomyth that are the basis for many of our most classic books and films like Star Wars and Alien. Skolnick uses these well-known films to illustrate various writing concepts but then expands his examples with examples from well-known video games and how they also use these same techniques. These games include the Bioshock series, Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid. Thankfully, just as with movies, many scenes and playthroughs of these games are easily available via YouTube. This allows the reader to familiarize themselves with games they may have never played and fully understand the lessons Skolnick references.

While there is a good deal of video game examples spread throughout this first half, I found myself wishing for even more examples of how the traditional writing and storytelling rules applied to video games.
The second half of Video Game Storytelling details the many disciplines involved in creating a video game and how each of these affects -- and is affected by -- the narrative tools he has illustrated in the first half. For incipient video game developers this is where they will find the “meat” of the book and the majority of the author’s expertise. The information found in the first half might be found in any good book on screenwriting, but the detailed breakdown of all the video game development disciplines, their challenges and their relationship to the narrative of any video game should probably be required reading for anyone considering a career in video game design and development.

In the “In the Trenches” section, Skolnik details the responsibilities of each important discipline including Game Character Development, Level and Mission Development, Environments, Audio and several others. He also details how a video game writer needs to work with each of these disciplines in order to create a well-balanced, successful, and most importantly playable video game.

Throughout Video Game Storytelling you will see and hear a complaint common to any collaborative writing and creative enterprise -- the lack of inclusion, if not outright respect, for the creator of the narrative of a game. There are several common mistakes in dealing with a writer, whether in traditional media such as television or film or the relative younger video game industry. Skolnick lays out the biggest mistakes creative teams can make with their narrative experts i.e. writers. These mistakes can range from not hiring a writer at all for your game to hiring a writer but then not giving them the power and support to defend the narrative from the competing demands of all the disciplines mentioned above. Too often writers are given all the responsibility for the narrative, but very little power to defend that narrative. This can often translate into taking much of the blame for a less-than-successful game, even when many of the narrative decisions were taken out of their control.

Skolnik’s best advice when hiring a video game writer can be summed up as -- hire as early as possible in the development process, integrate them fully and equally with all the other disciplines and teams, listen to their guidance about the narrative. A game developer is paying their writer for their experience, advice, and knowledge. They should then take it. Too often, though, that is not the case. The writer -- and the narrative -- get shunted aside by cool gaming mechanics, great explosions and intricate AI characters.

One of the main reasons I requested a review copy of the book from Blogging for Books is so I could better familiarize myself with game development and be able to discuss it more intelligently with my high school aged son, who is looking at a career somewhere in the game development industry. As I read the book, I found myself reading him some of the stories and ideas out loud and also encouraging him several times to read the book as soon as I had completed it. I think there is a great deal of knowledge to be gained from both sections of the book. The “Basic Training” section gives an excellent introduction into the world of the Three-Act Structure and the second half applies that knowledge in very concrete ways specific to video game development. It is a great starting point for learning about an industry -- video gaming -- that is rapidly becoming a huge entertainment industry on the level of traditional television or film.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Products: Smartphone Covers made from some of my favorite photos

I have started working with RedBubble to create some products from my personal photographs. I take a ton of photos nearly everywhere I go an some of them make excellent covers for smartphones. You can also get Mugs, Photographic prints, Cards, Mugs and more with these same photos

Click below to check out the entire series. I add new photos nearly every day! . -- Douglas

Products: Smartphone Covers made from some of my favorite photos

See my current collection of smartphone cases for iPhone and Samsung phones.

See my entire collection of products

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

On My iPhone/Android…Plague - The Network - social network via information infection

Plague - The Network 
 
 
I have been playing around with Plague over the past free weeks and it is an interesting concept for social media. There are no follower lists or other ways to subscribe, only a simple up-swipe or down-swipe to either spread the "infection" or skip it and stop the propagation of the info, photo, link, whatever. You can also comment on various "cards", which can lead to some interesting conversations. I am not sure if Plague has the ability to scale to millions of users or withstand the trolls that eventually find every new service, but I am enjoying it for the time being nevertheless.
 
Plague screen 1
 
From the iTunes App Store...

Plague is an essentially different way to spread information.
The idea for Plague is to create a perfect medium for spreading information as wide as it deserves to be spread, without any boundaries.
Plague works like a virus. When you spread information, it goes to the users who are closest to you physically. The infected users can spread information exponentially further or they can resist the epidemic by keeping the information to themselves.
Everyone has a fair and equal chance to be heard by the whole network right from the start - there is no friending or following on Plague. If your information is interesting to people, it can eventually spread to the entire world.

Previously in "On my iPhone/Android…":

"On my iPhone…" is a new series from TechnologyIQ, sharing real world examples of how I use my iPhone, interesting apps and more

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

On My iPhone/Android…TuneIn Radio - Listen to the world’s largest collection of sports, news, music and talk radio.

TuneIn Radio - - Listen to the world’s largest collection of sports, news, music and talk radio.
 
 On My iPhone/Android…TuneIn Radio - Listen to the world’s largest collection of sports, news, music and talk radio.
 
 
Sometimes we may want, or need, to listen to local terrestrial radio, even with all the Internet streaming options for music and such. TuneIn turns in your device into a world wide radio receiver, allowing you to bring your favorite stations -- even those from your old hometown -- right to you no matter where you are. My wife still listens to a lot of radio and this app, along with her iPad lets her have her music in her offices (she teaches at several universities) and on the go. If you still have a love to traditional radio, this is one of the easiest ways to get your fix.
 
On My iPhone/Android…TuneIn Radio - Listen to the world’s largest collection of sports, news, music and talk radio.
 
From the iTunes App Store...

Listen to the world’s largest collection of sports, news, music and talk radio.

TuneIn has over 100,000 real radio stations and more than four million podcasts from all over the world. Discover, follow and listen to what’s most important to you on your iPhone, iPad or iPod, all for free. This is real radio.

With TuneIn:
-Listen to over 100,000 real radio stations from around the world, including sports, news, talk and music.
-See what’s playing live on your personalized home feed.
-Find and follow your favorite stations, shows and podcasts to see their updates in your feed.

Follow college sports on TuneIn with live play-by-play coverage from 85 Division 1 teams. Listen to the remainder of the football season leading up to the playoffs with coverage of top-ranked Alabama, Oregon, Auburn, Florida State and more. College basketball is also underway, and you can listen to teams like Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin and Duke right on your smartphone or tablet. Listen on TuneIn and turn the game up!

Read More

 

Previously in "On my iPhone/Android…":

"On my iPhone…" is a new series from TechnologyIQ, sharing real world examples of how I use my iPhone, interesting apps and more

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Noted: New Fonts: The Simplest Way to Upgrade Your Work Communication via The Muse

New Fonts: The Simplest Way to Upgrade Your Work Communication via The Muse

The Simplest Way to Upgrade Your Work Communication via The Muse

We’ve talked before about keeping the font on your resume, cover letter, and other business documents and communications simple and professional.

But sometimes, to stand out a little more, we want to step away from the Times New Roman. And if you’re not a designer or expert in typography, it can be hard to know how to step out of your font comfort zone—without ending up with a document that’s hard to read or looks way too gaudy.

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Noted: Using Midi And Magnets To Produce Tones With Tines via HackADay

Using Midi And Magnets To Produce Tones With Tines via HackADay

Using Midi And Magnets To Produce Tones With Tines via HackADay

Normally you’d expect the sound of a pipe organ to come from something gigantic. [Matthew Steinke] managed to squeeze all of that rich melodic depth into an acoustic device the size of a toaster (YouTube link) which uses electromagnetism to create its familiar sound.

[Matthew ’s] instrument has a series of thin vertical tines, each coupled with a small MIDI controlled electromagnet. As the magnet pulses with modulation at a specific frequency, the pull and release of the tine causes it to resonate continuously with a particular tone. The Tine Organ is capable of producing 20 chromatic notes in full polyphony starting in middle C and can be used as an attachment to a standard keyboard or a synthesizer app on a smart phone. The classic style body of the instrument is made out of mahogany and babinga and houses the soundboard as well as the mini microcontroller responsible for receiving the MIDI and regulating the software oscillators sending voltage to the magnets.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Noted: Dictate Any Command to You Mac with Automator via Lifehacker

Dictate Any Command to You Mac with Automator via Lifehacker

Dictate Any Command to You Mac with Automator via Lifehacker

Mac: One of the lesser known features in Yosemite is a new Dictation Command option in Automator. As MacWorld points out, this means you can set up a command to launch any Automator action you want, including launching apps, ejecting disks, and more.

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"Noted" items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.  

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Noted: Google releases set of beautiful, freely usable icons via Boing Boing

Google releases set of beautiful, freely usable icons via Boing Boing

Google releases set of beautiful, freely usable icons via Boing Boing

They're licensed CC-BY-SA and designed for use in mobile apps and other interactive stuff -- there's 750 in all! It's part of Google's Material Design project.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Noted: Announcing Flickr for iPad via Flickr

Announcing Flickr for iPad via Flickr

Announcing Flickr for iPad via Flickr

Today, we’re extremely excited to announce Flickr for iPad. We’ve heard you loud and clear asking for an official app on Apple’s beautiful, large retina display, which makes it easy and enjoyable to access, organize and share your stunning photos from anywhere. The new Flickr for iPad app will be available globally in eleven languages.

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"Noted" items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.  

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Free Gulf Fritillary Butterfly Computer and Smartphone Wallpapers for November 2014

Here is a selection of free wallpapers for your computer desktop or smartphone. Click to load full-sized image, then right-click and select Save Image As… to download them to your own computer. On your smartphone, click the image to see the full-sized image, tap and hold, then select Save to Camera Roll. You can then attach the wallpapers using your phone’s preferences.

Desktop

 

iPad | iPhone


Enjoy this photo? Consider a donation via PayPal to support further photos, demos, videos, and podcasts.
 

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Noted: Royal Society journal archive made permanently free to access via BoingBoing

Royal Society journal archive made permanently free to access via BoingBoing

The Royal Society has today announced that its world-famous historical journal archive – which includes the first ever peer-reviewed scientific journal – has been made permanently free to access online.
Around 60,000 historical scientific papers are accessible via a fully searchable online archive, with papers published more than 70 years ago now becoming freely available.

The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific publisher, with the first edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society appearing in 1665. Henry Oldenburg – Secretary of the Royal Society and first Editor of the publication – ensured that it was “licensed by the council of the society, being first reviewed by some of the members of the same”, thus making it the first ever peer-reviewed journal.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Noted: Google's Chromecast Can Now Beam Art And Your Photos To Your TV via ReadWrite

Like many ChromeCast users, I've been waiting for this backdrop feature since I first connected it to my TV. I've had a variety of applications that allowed me to put photos on my television using ChromeCast but this direct integration is so much better.  I look forward to many other Backdrop features in the future.  I love using my television as a passive information device whenever possible. -- Douglas


Google's Chromecast Can Now Beam Art And Your Photos To Your TV via ReadWrite

If you're concerned about Google neglecting Chromecast lately, take heart: The tech giant has not forsaken the $35 TV stick. On the contrary, this week the company finally delivered on Backdrop, a new feature it first promised at the Google I/O developer conference last June. 

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Noted: Finding Starter Projects: Free Software for Making via Make

Finding Starter Projects: Free Software for Making via Make

Finding Starter Projects: Free Software for Making via Make

Learners and teachers have so many free options at their fingertips, we find that fewer are buying the higher-priced software. Just like with all kinds of making, with software these days you can do a lot with a little. Years ago, the costs of new software, especially those used by creative professionals, were prohibitive to schools. Administrators favored programs that kids would encounter in office settings, but we all know that the workplace of the future is a makerspace! The field of what’s available can be intimidating to navigate, however. Who doesn’t download with trepidation? We thought we should share our Maker teachers’ go-to apps.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Noted: An App That Draws Impressively Accurate Floor Plans In Minutes via Arch Daily

An App That Draws Impressively Accurate Floor Plans In Minutes via Arch Daily

An App That Draws Impressively Accurate Floor Plans In Minutes via Arch Daily

RoomScan is an app for iOS which draws floor plans in minutes – touching your device to a wall is the only input required. Using the iPhone’s internal sensors, RoomScan recognises a sequence of flat vertical surfaces, measuring the distance in between and creating impressively accurate plans. When you come to a door, you just tap the phone to the door frame and continue. Claiming that measurements are accurate to the nearest 10cm (or 6 inches), this app – the basic features of which are available for free - is not only great fun to play with, but also considerably useful in every day situations.

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"Noted" items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.  

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Noted: Google Revives My Maps So You Can Create and Share Custom Maps via Lifehacker

Google Revives My Maps So You Can Create and Share Custom Maps via Lifehacker

Google Revives My Maps So You Can Create and Share Custom Maps via Lifehacker

Today, Google unleashed a new, overhauled version of its well-loved (and little known) custom maps tool, called My Maps. It's pretty powerful and cool.

With it, you can create a trip itinerary, note hotspots in any location, and otherwise personalize Google Maps.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Noted: Panda Is a News Feed that Keeps You Inspired and Informed via Lifehacker

Panda Is a News Feed that Keeps You Inspired and Informed via Lifehacker

Panda Is a News Feed that Keeps You Inspired and Informed via Lifehacker

Web/Chrome: Panda combines top-rated stories from sites like Hacker News and Product Hunt with imagery from Dribble and Behance to keep you informed as well as inspired to make awesome things (or at least look at cool images.) You can even replace Chrome's new tab page with it, so every tab keeps you informed and motivated.

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Noted: A Mapping App That Searches Along Your Route To Plan Exciting (Or Efficient) Trips via Fast Company

A Mapping App That Searches Along Your Route To Plan Exciting (Or Efficient) Trips via Fast Company

A Mapping App That Searches Along Your Route To Plan Exciting (Or Efficient) Trips via Fast Company

With so many geolocation and mapping apps packed onto our mobile devices, it’s always bothered me that there’s no easy way to find a place I’d like to stop while I’m on my way to someplace else.

Say I use Google Maps to give me driving directions from New York City to Boston. Since I want to use my time efficiently, I know I’d like to make the quickest stop possible at my bank along my route, minimizing the distance I am put out of my way. Google Maps or Yelp or any number of apps can suggest branches of my bank that are nearest to my current location, and they can suggest branches that are nearest to any particular town or destination I input, but neither are smart enough to suggest convenient branches for me to stop as mapped along my entire route.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Noted: Cardboard Dinosaur Costume via Make

Cardboard Dinosaur Costume via Make

Cardboard Dinosaur Costume via Make

Tanaka Satoshi created this ferocious and fully articulated dinosaur costume from cardboard.

(The original article is in Japanese, but Google Translate does a decent job on it.)

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LinkedIn misses entire point of iOS 8 Widgets in new release of app

Apple's iOS 8 comes with a new feature, Widgets, that allows apps to present up-to-date information on the Today section of the iOS Notifications pull down. For me, this improves the usefulness of the Today pane dramatically and I am eagerly awaiting more apps adding functionality to that area.

Today I noticed that the latest LinkedIn app update adds an iOS 8 Widget. "Cool," I thought. "I'll add that." This is what I got, thought.

Linkedin widget

Uh, really? No! This is NOT what I expect in a useful iOS8 Widget. I want information, at a glance, not simply a button to run the app. They have missed the entire point of iOS8 Widgets from the very start. In fact, this is exactly the opposite of what an iOS 8 widget should be.

Linkedin, how about you show me the actual data I want to see here instead of just a button to your app. Cheesy, and useless, and it shows a certain cluelessness about iOS. Please fix this now. Oh, and any other app developers thinking of doing this? Learn from LinkedIn's mistake. Provide information not buttons.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Noted: Google Voice Integration Finally Arrives in Hangouts via Lifehacker

Google Voice Integration Finally Arrives in Hangouts via Lifehacker

Google Voice Integration Finally Arrives in Hangouts via Lifehacker

Google Voice integration with Hangouts is rolling out to some users right now. Yes, this is real. Though, for the moment, the rollout seems incomplete.

As Android Police points out, some users have confirmed Google Voice integration is active in Hangouts. There are still some kinks to iron out (Android Police speculates that some features still need to be rolled out as part of Google's typical "Update Wednesday"), but the promise to send and receive SMS and voicemail seems to be finally coming true.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Noted: Pinterest Chrome extension brings inspiration to freshly-opened tabs via Engadget

Pinterest Chrome extension brings inspiration to freshly-opened tabs via Engadget

Pinterest Chrome extension brings inspiration to freshly-opened tabs via Engadget
When you open a new tab in Google's Chrome browser, you're greeted with a search box, rows of recently-visited sites and a tucked-in menu for individual apps. It's really not very inspiring, is it? Pinterest doesn't think so, and thanks to an internal make-a-thon, there's a new Chrome extension that aims to remedy the gray box blues.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Noted: Lenka for iOS creates stunning black and white images via TUAW

Lenka for iOS creates stunning black and white images via TUAW

Lenka for iOS creates stunning black and white images via TUAW

Lenka (US$2.99) is a simple app to help you create dramatic black and white images. The app was developed by famed photographer Kevin Abosch and it's starkly simple. To begin with, you frame your photo, which is visible in black and white in real time on your iPhone. There are only a couple of options: regular or high contrast. You can change the format from rectangular to square, and then you can start firing away. The only available editing tools allow rotation and cropping.

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Noted: WunderStation iPad app: Nirvana for weather geeks via TUAW

WunderStation iPad app: Nirvana for weather geeks via TUAW

WunderStation iPad app: Nirvana for weather geeks via TUAW

Weather Underground runs what it calls the PWS (Personal Weather Station) network, a mesh of over 37,000 individually-owned weather stations that send live weather info to the company as often as every 2.5 seconds. If you live near a PWS, you can be guaranteed that you're going to get forecasts from Weather Underground that better represent the actual microclimates in your area thanks to the company's analysis of the PWS data. Well, now there's a way for weather geeks to really dig into that data visually. The free WunderStation iPad app offers an variety of ways to slice and dice local weather information.

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"Noted" items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.  

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Free Mourning Dove Computer and Smartphone Wallpapers for September 2014

Here is a selection of free wallpapers for your computer desktop or smartphone. Click to load full-sized image, then right-click and select Save Image As… to download them to your own computer. On your smartphone, click the image to see the full-sized image, tap and hold, then select Save to Camera Roll. You can then attach the wallpapers using your phone’s preferences.

Desktop

 

iPad | iPhone

Previous garden wallpapers:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Noted: Check out Nav Camera if you need precise location info for photos and video via TUAW

Check out Nav Camera if you need precise location info for photos and video via TUAW

Check out Nav Camera if you need precise location info for photos and video via TUAW

Nav Camera (US$3.99) is an innovative app that uses navigation, augmented reality and display overlays to tell you where you are, your altitude, the direction you are facing and more. The information appears on your image in real time and it's possible to save it all to your photo library.

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Noted: Internet Archive uploads more than 14 million public domain images to Flickr via Boing Boing

Internet Archive uploads more than 14 million public domain images to Flickr via Boing Boing

Internet Archive uploads more than 14 million public domain images to Flickr via Boing Boing

Kalev Leetaru programatically recovered all the images that were discarded by the OCR program that digitizes the millions of public domain books scanned by the Archive; these were cropped, cleaned up, and uploaded to Flickr with the text that appears before and after them, and links to see their whole scanned page.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Noted: Pixlr releases a powerful free desktop photo editor for Mac via TUAW

Pixlr releases a powerful free desktop photo editor for Mac via TUAW

Pixlr releases a powerful free desktop photo editor for Mac via TUAW

Pixlr by Autodesk has built its reputation on providing high-powered photo editing online for free. While it offers advanced tools for a small yearly cost -- US$2 a month or $15 a year -- the basic online editor provides plenty of power for your average editing needs. Now the service is offering up a desktop app for Mac and, yes, it's free too.

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Noted: Bioshock now available for the iPhone and iPad via TUAW

Bioshock now available for the iPhone and iPad via TUAW

Bioshock now available for the iPhone and iPad via TUAW

Ready to explore Rapture and fight Big Daddy on your iOS device? Then we have some good news for you as 2K Games has finished its port of Bioshock, and the the popular first person shooter is now available for the iPhone and iPad.

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"Noted" items are particularly good finds from my daily reading which I share via all my social media accounts.  

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