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Life and Death

Depending on your perspective death is either an “awfully big adventure” ( or a slow, inevitable decline of all physical processes ( What is fascinating however, and the primary point of this column today, is that the moment of death is far from final ( Part of us reach the end in different ways ( and our entirety may, perhaps, live on in different ways (

Life, it seems, cannot truly exist without us also considering its absence; which brings all sorts of questions to mind such as what’s the best place to die? ( Religion, of course, has always stepped in where death is concerned and used the lack of factual data to assert itself with some authority ( not least because its assertions become the ultimate test of faith which is what religion is designed to promote in the first place.

Science has used the incidence of the Near Death Experience (NDE) -, to take a different view ( The Near Death Experience itself is characterized by a change in emotional and psychological functionality that advanced meditation techniques can, apparently, replicate:

Science also views death as a non-final event ( particularly where consciousness is concerned. The idea behind this is as profoundly simple as its mechanics are complex. What we are (and maybe who we are) is energy. One of the fundamental tenets of the physics that run this universe is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed and it’s known as the law of conservation of energy ( As energy cannot be destroyed its dissolution from our form (and state) to an alternative one must also mean that we somehow become something different (, somewhere else (

Death preoccupies us because we have no definitive answers ( which creates uncertainty that generates fear, which then needs to somehow be dealt with. Some neuroscientists believe that the brain we have is integral to the consciousness we experience ( much like water ‘experiences’ itself differently when it is in a glass.

Neuroscience however is evolving all the time ( and the views it holds are also evolving as a result (

At the tail end of the last century, the late Tom Wolfe ( posed some very interesting questions regarding not just neuroscience and the brain but also the soul and death (

As we study quantum mechanics at a deeper and deeper level we become aware that consciousness cannot really be removed from the universe and still have a universe to speak of ( If there is no ‘death’ as biocentrism posits ( the implications are fairly profound.

Maybe we do live in a Matrix ( or a Player One world ( and everything is a simulation ( Regardless, however, the point is that if there is a ‘death’ even an impermanent one, for us as we are there is no re-spawn ( This makes every moment, every experience, every choice, every relationship we form a conscious, intentional one that can transform our present.

I know you plan ahead. There is coffee and donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake so there is only one thing left for me to say: have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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Anyone who’s ever watched a John Grisham-based ( movie or watched “The Good Wife” ( knows that “relevance” ( is an objection brought up to ascertain whether a legal argument adds value to the particulars of a case being examined or is being presented purely as a distraction.

It is, essentially, an ontological ( approach to argumentation that seeks to establish a higher truth through a classical logic ( process. The idea is that we establish beyond reasonable doubt the truth value of a particular truth or falsehood so it can be considered in relation to the case being examined.

We are fascinated by legal thrillers precisely because we sense the potential of the rigorous examination of language, evidence and the interrelational play of all this to establish a reality that we can all agree with. In that sense contradictory arguments are regarded as being false ( and the Newtonian world of classical mechanics ( with its implied determinism ( briefly reasserts itself.

We like this. It appeals to our native sense of order ( It affirms for us that we have nothing to fear because as long as we exercise our cognition and apply logic, contradictions are eliminated and uncertainty is banished. Unfortunately it is not quite like this.

The physical world is not quite as deterministic as we’d like it to be ( and values such as “True” and “False” may be only a subset of a greater, more complex reality ( that only now do we begin to contemplate.

Why now, you may ask?

Because it is only now that we have the means to better understand the true magnitude of the sentence “The world is complex.” Complexity ( however surfaces everywhere. When we reduce everything to data we can capture we realize that everything is a system ( and some systems present an inherent level of difficulty that our current technology is not able to solve ( Surprisingly, it becomes obvious, our brains can.

But that is just the problem. By relying on perception we walk a tightrope between truth and lies, reality and delusion, the real and the fabricated ( In this brave new world that is emerging logic is relevant ( and the view we have of the world is truly about to change (

When complexity is the norm ( the tools we use to tackle it, reduce it into simpler truths and tasks we can grasp and tackle action that delivers the outcomes we seek requires a new set of modalities (

Our brains are very old but that doesn’t mean that they are not capable. This world, with all its complexity, is our construct. It is our world. We each have a right to be in it. We are key to its evolution and direction. We are responsible for the future we are heading towards. More than that, because the universe is not deterministic the unknown future we head towards is not there to be ‘discovered’ by us, but a place to be determined reached by a direction we set here and now through our choices and actions.

No one likes responsibility. It’s a lot of hard work. It raises the possibility that we might fail. It increases the fear of what we may encounter as we do what is being asked of us to do. Yet here we are. In the 21st century we can no longer pass that responsibility to institutions, countries, religions and all their schemas and expect that we shall be satisfied as individuals or that the future we shall reach will be the one we seek.

The time to step up, in any way or form we can, is now.

I know you’ve taken full responsibility of your actions this week while shopping which is why I am certain that your coffee pot is not empty and that at least some form of donut, croissant, cookies or chocolate cake is within easy reach. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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Your Best

I had my moment of self-questioning quite early on in my online life ( and that allowed me the luxury to focus on what is truly important as opposed on what others thought I should be doing. Since then I have frequently had emails from people wanting to know how to be successful. Before I get to the answer I invariably give it’s important to define what exactly we mean by “success”.

Such is our desire to “succeed” that Google search reveals no fewer than 38 TED Talks ( tagged with “success”. They range from talks on personal finance (because making money is, I guess, one definition of success) to how to deal with discomfort, increase your luck and learn to love yourself as you are.

Instead of grappling with the definition of success business magazines try to understand what it is that successful people actually think success is ( hoping that all this self-reported analysis ( will lead to insights that the rest of us can apply (

Psychologists talk about the drive to succeed ( and seek to understand why it happens at all ( and, inevitably, when we ask the question why one person is successful when another one isn’t motivation comes into the picture:

What is fascinating is that “success” by whatever definition you decide to apply, is within the grasp of every person on the planet. Success is a cultural construct ( which logically means that within each culture, at a personal level, each person should be able to succeed and when not succeeding for specific reasons they should be able to adjust their goals which means that success, again, should come within their grasp:

This is not, however, what happens. Instead of being a stimulus to motivation and an inspiration to identity, success appears to have become a perception-driven yardstick which we use to socially (and psychologically) elevate ourselves and denigrate others or worse, negatively distort the value of our own efforts and undermine our chances of happiness (

What we are not always told, what is never made explicit because it requires fundamental, inner change, is that the targets and goals we set (the tactics we use) only take us where we need them to when our northern star works and our compass is set right: Values (, identity (, who we are ( and then who we strive to become (which determines what we strive for ( only make sense when these fundamentals have been put in place.

Without them we find ourselves in the interesting situation of forgetting that success is an ever-evolving, continuous journey ( We are trapped then re-enacting Sisyphus’ struggles ( where we put in a lot of effort to little effect, reliving days over and over again without them leading anywhere until our best is no longer “good enough” and we are done.

I know you’re far from done. Coffee aplenty lies ahead of your day and a variety of croissants, cookies, donuts and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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What makes us good? ( The subtext, each time we ask the question, is that we also want to know what it is that makes us bad? ( Which then brings us squarely into the thorny subject of morality ( and the question of how should we lead our lives (

And just like that, in such a short opening paragraph, we have one of the most enduring questions ( of our age or, most probably, of any age ( not just from a materialistic point of view ( but also a psychological one (

Being good seems to be part of our inevitable evolution towards a more civilized society ( and a re-examination of our past is an inevitable part of gaining perspective ( Manav Ratti explores a lot of this in a brief talk on how to be a better version of yourself:

In “The Sniper Mind” ( an indirect argument is made that being “better” is the direct result of the effort involved in becoming more self-aware and directly responsible for our actions ( When everything is a matter of the triple motive-access-opportunity (, when it is conditions that create responses that govern behavior which is interpreted as emotion, we could argue that ‘evil’ is mostly a matter of circumstances and perspective with the odd exception of pathologies which are also circumstances in themselves:

None of this helps us get closer to the answer to the burning question of how we should live our lives ( We have some ideas of course ( and technology itself is helping us through connectivity and the sharing of more philosophical approaches (

Robert Waldinger suggests that happiness and satisfaction are points which, should we aim for them, can provide a good sense of direction ( Maybe at the end of life we have the answer we most needed while living it (

The world is not fixed. It is changing at a pace that could even be impossible to truly keep track of ( W. H. Auden ( in his poem “Law Like Love” accurately depicts the chain of associations that creates emergent phenomena and the apparent irrationality of our connection with them (

In an ideal world this column would provide a definitive answer. Point the way at the very least and help dissolve some of the doubts we have as we go through life. In a way this is exactly what “three Rules for Living in the 21st Century” ( is designed to do. But that isn’t enough. Each of us is a universe in flux. The world is a construct made out of our interactions and while the underlying raw material is (most probably) independent of us our different perceptions, motives and desires create arcs whose intersection structures our reality.

Complexity is the sense that we can’t understand something because it is not obvious to us. We may never satisfactorily answer the “why” of our life but the “how” stands a much better chance of being defined if we do what is hard for us to do: be openly social, be open to new ideas and suggestions, try to evolve, try to improve, seek the help of others and offer our help in return. This may sound idyllic but in truth it is what our brains have been designed to do in order to help us survive long term. “Live long and prosper” ( and, in order to be happier, do the hard things.

I know, you’ve done what’s right. Your coffee pot is brimming and your sweet tray is overflowing with donuts and cookies, croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.
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The beginning of the week found me in Milan where I was guest speaker at SMXL 2018 ( The event, like any other of its kind brought different people from different parts of the world together, united by their need to learn something new and understand something better about the world. Outwardly we were there seeking knowledge but it was in the discussions, talks and connections, later that the real magic of the conference actually took place. (

We need each other ( not least because being with other people makes us happy ( We need other people because our biological and cognitive health depends on it ( We know well that being alone is bad for us and loneliness is actually harmful ( And we also know that our brain uses the social connection to recalibrate itself (

Yet these things which we feel as humans are not human-specific. The social connection cuts across species. A blind, traumatized elephant coming out of the woods to listen to a man playing the piano ( exhibits the same seam of feelings that Joseph Merrick ( more popularly known as the “Elephant Man” (

The desire to connect and communicate is felt across all animals, human and non-human ( and it, apparently doesn’t discriminate when it comes to species ( even if some species exhibit genetic traits that predispose them to seek a connection with particular animals (

The suggestion here is that all living things are connected ( that the connection is based upon emotional bonds ( and that these bonds answer a primal need that brings other species into our extended family ( The impact of those bonds is far more reaching than we usually imagine (

In considering these connections we seek to understand not just other species and how they are similar to us ( but also ourselves and how we are different from them ( There is a certain degree of hubris ( in this search. We want to either uncover that we are, somehow, ‘special’ upon this world ( – a role which, incidentally, only becomes possible if we learn to cooperate with each other, forging stronger and better connections within our species, or that we are essentially all the same, differentiated by biology (

Either way we want to feel justified in our behavioral choices towards species other than our own and want to have some logical justification to buttress our emotional response to them. Both attitudes are biased and, mostly, driven by our own needs and wants. We use our language to determine animal intelligence ( and anthropomorphize animals in order for us to empathize with them (

Empathy is key to understanding other species and animals other than human exhibit it also:

But that is not the end of the story. In seeking connections all animals answer a deeper need for validation and meaning, safety and a greater sense of belonging. In seeking differentiation from non-human animals we distance ourselves from primal drives ( and the implication that we are powerless to control them.

We are conflicted. We want to prove to ourselves that either we are above the animals we share this planet with or that we are worthy of their love and devotion. At no point do we make the effort necessary to balance with this with greater responsibility. The sense that we are only part of the expression of something greater of which animals are also a part of. Consciousness and intelligence may be emergent properties of matter ( but their existence may point to fundamentals we’ve missed and it is, maybe, in these fundamentals that we will find the universal truths we seek.

Coffee and donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake are emergent properties of each Sunday Read, allowing you to enjoy it better, understand it more deeply and think thoughts of your own about it. I know you’ve done what’s required. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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Coping Strategies

When a professor of computer science says you should quit social media and focus on something deep ( you realize that the problem of our age is a challenge of plenty. Surrounded by information that flies in from everywhere, all the time we struggle to filter what’s relevant, what should be priority and what we should be paying attention to. (

The argument, of course, is facile. The problem is not information any more than the incredible improvements in food production methods have us eating all the time. The problem is one of skills and to continue with my analogy of eating, when all we could produce were turnips we perhaps didn’t need complex nutritional guides or specific strategies to help us choose what we should eat. Similarly in the age of an information glut focusing is a skillset we need to develop.

There are relatively simple technical skills we can develop, little ‘tricks’ if you like which teach us how to better direct our attention. The things we direct our attention to become focal in our cognitive plane and what becomes focal to us, begins to really matter.

Focus, attention and mental discipline is, of course, what I spent three years researching and writing about ( and what became evident, in that long process, was just how untrained our brain is ( and how, in order to actually deal with the complexities we face today we need to train ourselves to use it differently (

The problem of focusing our mental resources has reached such proportions in our age that we often resort to medication to help us ( Yet, the brain itself is more than capable of actually dealing with all the distractions and learning new ways of focusing even when it is surrounded by a lot of environmental stimuli. (

While stress and a wandering mind can, and do, weaken our ability to focus (, it doesn’t mean we are without resources ( or means through which we can actually become better versions of ourselves (

There are two things that pop to the surface when we consider this line of thought. First, distractions have real consequences ( Second we fully understand that in order to cope with a rapidly evolving environment, we need to evolve in turn. Distractions are not going to go away ( Nor are they going to be any less demanding on our time.

We live in an age where the noise of information flows around us has reached a crescendo that makes every other time in history pale by comparison and we are not even at the peak yet. Noise is potential signal. All it needs is the right context. ( Context is provided by the circumstances we are in and our intent in those circumstances. Intent defines relative importance and relative importance provides focus. (

Left alone. Without any goals, without any way of actually finding true meaning in what we do we, all, devolve to the lowest state of stable energy construct our brains and bodies can manage. We amount to nothing and everything is beyond us. In that respect we are no different to any other energy form in the universe that’s governed by the inescapable law of entropy. (

Hope, to work, requires attention:

It actually requires work. Work requires effort. Effort demands prioritization. Prioritization needs focus.

Here’s a truth: the world is not too much for us. It never has been. We are more capable than ever and more capable than we ever think we can be. But in order for anything to happen at all; in order for us to get the positive outcomes we seek, we have to apply ourselves. Feel the discomfort of the effort required and learn to adapt, changing, learning, evolving, improving.

It’s not an easy life. But life has never been about easy and the past is truly rosy because we see only the outcomes achieved and not the effort required to make them happen. The thought reversed, shows that the future, uncertain and full of pitfalls as it may be, is also full of potential and ours to reach out and grasp.

I know that your focus did not wane and despite the hectic week you’ve been through coffee and donuts, cookies, croissants and chocolate cake were not missed from your shopping list. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

The devastating last four lines of Yeats’ ( mind-staggering metaphysically-rooted poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death ( Show exactly why Aristotle’s thinking on the relationship between Poetry and History ( relegated the latter ( as inferior to the former. (

The question about meaning hides a deeper one for purpose ( which is initiated by a mostly unasked one that goes something like this: “If the universe is governed by processes that started long before we appeared and will go on after we are gone, why does it need us?” There are two distinct ways we can approach this argument and each is deeply revealing in itself.

The first suggests that science, with the expansion of knowledge it has afforded us, has also revealed our existence to be the result of a statistical accident and relegated our role to a small participatory and arguably inconsequential act ( in a timescale that is too long for us to matter in. ( The second, predictably perhaps, takes the opposite view ( suggesting that despite our awareness of the statistical improbability of our existence ( or maybe even because of it we matter to the extent that we create the reality we see ( The universe without us, in other words, would behave differently:

This latter theory suggests that we’re deeply integrated in its fabric at a level so fundamental that we have a hard time dealing with ( and that without us, the universe as we know it may just cease to exist: If the brain hallucinates our reality ( and we kinda all agree upon that hallucination ( and science tells us that the brain is needed to make reality happen ( then our search for meaning may have no further to go than this. (

There is a caveat to all this and it is an important one: if we are meant to be here. If our existence is both necessary and a catalyst to so many other things that happen in the cosmos then life is more than Eleanor Roosevelt’s ( admonition to gather experiences ( It has to be intentional in the way that the experiences we gather and the direction we set is one of an ever increasing scale of complexity in a personal development arc that takes us towards an apogee ( before entropy ( takes its course.

In the simplest possible terms we need to take full responsibility for our life, its development, the impact of our actions and the effect of our passage through the world. Such highly intentional living in the broader context of a person’s lifetime goes beyond the situational performance ( and casts life and living, the person and consciousness as part of something much bigger than us. An experiment whose molecules are made up of us: too many to count individually, too individual not to count collectively.

I know the universe has led you down the right path. You now have coffee and croissants, cookies and donuts, chocolate cake and ice cream. The world, momentarily, is as it should be. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.
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Switched on

I was working late last night, despite it being Saturday, and I had my last cup of coffee at 11.30pm. I went to bed around 3.30am so this morning had I not had some coffee I’d right now be staring at the screen and rubbing sleep from my eyes instead of writing.

Coffee (or rather caffeine) is the world’s most popular and widely used psychoactive drug ( Psychoactive drugs don’t just affect our state of alertness, they also change how our brain works, the mood we are in and how our body reacts to a host of other stimuli and processes ( Caffeine is, of course, addictive ( At the same time it holds the promise of enhancing the way we function in the physical as well as mental plane (

Coffee, of course, has other, deeper meaning for us at a cultural level ( Because we drink so much of it we pay special attention to its preparation ( and have made it part of the daily ritual that kickstarts our life ( It is however its more hidden effects that are of importance to us (

Humans have used (and continue to use) a wide variety of stimulants ( Bob Marley sang about the first cup of coffee ( and Gordon Lightfoot about the second one ( and in a case Mike & the Mechanics ( talked about another cup of coffee ( and in a case of things escalating quickly we Ella May Morse ( telling us that the number to beat now may be 40 (

All this should make you realize that if nothing else we do take our coffee drinking seriously. Seriously enough, maybe, to feel it is an integral part of how we work and even dream ( Caffeine, of course, affects our brain ( The moment the brain is affected its function is changed and our sense of reality changes with it. Even Johnny Cash ( has a song about it (

Between 1987 and 1993 in the UK there was the craze for the Gold Blend Couple ( as a coffee ad became the perfect example of serialized advertising ( and led to the writing of a hit book (

All of this points to something way deeper and even more serious: our drive to reach the next level of our physical and mental performance ( We know, somehow, that what we have, subject to the everyday laws of physics, is somehow never quite enough for what we want to do, what we want to achieve, how we want to think (

We are constantly caught in a process that has us reaching for the stars, craning at the very edge of our every capability and looking to somehow squeeze the last amp of power out of our mental, emotional and physical being. If that is not, somehow, the best definition of living I am not sure what else might be. And, well, it all seems to start, each day with a cup of coffee or, I suppose, for those who might still prefer tea, a jolt of caffeine (

Now, I know that you guys are all about living life on the edge which is why coffee is priority in your weekly shopping and the hunt for something sweet is always successful. So you now have within easy reach a pot of freshly brewed joe ( And, of course, the necessary accompaniment by way of donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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Of all the significant impact Frank Herbert’s Dune ( has had on popular culture the “Litany Against Fear” ( has, most probably, been most notable. From a neuropsychological perspective “fear ( is an emotional response induced by a perceived threat, which causes a change in brain and organ function, as well as in behavior.” (

It’s so far-reaching in its neural, psychological, emotional and physical effects that it became one of the key responses that “The Sniper Mind” ( shows how to overcome. I’ve written about the effects of fear before ( and I have also shown how it is linked to our sense of trust ( and the way we go about forming our own identity (

Inevitably, when something has such profound effect upon us it is going to be used to control us by leveraging our response to ‘guide us’ as a social corpus to some kind of visceral response where we will be willing to trade what we are asking for, for fear to go away ( It is a predictable perhaps part of human economic behavior where someone exploits known vulnerabilities for specific self-gains:

As you’d expect of something that so deeply affects us there are considerable resources devoted to finding ways to overcome it ranging from inspirational Tim Ferris talks ( to ways that you can overcome your fears ( and learn to “embrace the suck” ( to my own curation of some of the best snippets from “The Sniper Mind” (

Fear’s deep neurobiological connection ( marks it as a primal response which means that it has fundamental ways of bypassing our higher brain functions and ‘guide’ our responses in quite literally, visceral ways:

The brain is a predictive machine ( Its primary function is to enable us to understand “what happens next” in order to increase our odds of survival and in doing so it engages in all sorts of complex behaviors: ( that are not always obvious to us:

The complexities of connecting ( sharing and becoming ( inevitably generate their own uncertainties in a world that is inherently uncertain: Fear is then a natural response. But one which, like all of our natural responses, when left unmanaged makes us work against our own best interests.

When that happens fear controls us. Facing our fears ( is the first step towards taking back control (, reducing uncertainty ( and making the kind of decisions that actually move us towards the future we want to live in and not that dictated by kneejerk actions, ours and those of others.

We can live in a better world. One where many of the problems we’re currently facing are eliminated. But that requires us to behave differently, be different. Be better than we currently are.

I know that you’ve been staring down your fear of facing Sunday without coffee and have overcome the uncertainty engendered by what would happen if you didn’t have donuts, cookies, croissants and chocolate cake to fall back on. So, have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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I frequently write about the way we are all connected ( and how everything we do has repercussions that are beyond the ones we can see ( Technology plays a key part in this of course ( because from a practical point of view it is instrumental in driving change forward. But the way we actually think about things ( is just as important.

Thoughts guide our understanding and help us connect different aspects of our activity ( In a way this is how we learn to predict the future ( but it also helps us understand the present better:

All of this is more than of purely academic interest. When we are analytical we begin to better understand primary principles and how they connect ( We can’t of course discuss this at any meaningful level without bringing into it semantic morphology ( and the way relational values change depending upon the context of the connection itself.

Making sense of the world requires making sense, first of our sense-making approach to it: I know that intuitively you understand this (, particularly if you’ve been active in search or marketing for some time, primarily because there, the methodology has been highly structured for some time now:

Those of you who have been following my writing and, by association, the gradual evolution of my own thinking, already know that I am a firm believer in skill transfer from one domain to another and the benefits that this produces: Patterns overlay everything. Understanding those patterns provides us with insights we can use to unlock specific knowledge verticals that might otherwise have remained hidden from us.

This is not how we tend to operate, unfortunately. Usually, in our search for easy answers, we look for more linear approaches: The fact that these do not work shows just how deep-rooted, persistent and complex the underlying problems are. It also convincingly proves that simple solutions cannot successfully tackle complex problems regardless of how many resources we throw at them.

Search (again) showcases some of this ( but lately it is in the successful applications of real-world problems that we see the most hope: When we begin to treat complex issues ( with the seriousness they deserve ( we also begin to accept that simplistic solutions ( don’t work and we need to rethink our approach (

The world is changing rapidly ( Perhaps faster than we can comfortably accommodate change in our thinking ( Nevertheless as we move forward we understand that our world is not going to suddenly, somehow, become simpler. The choice we have is to plod on, ignoring what’s required of us or develop the cognitive skillset required ( to help us make better sense of it all: (

I know that the complexity of shopping for the week hasn’t been sufficient to distract you from what you need to do. So right now your pot of coffee is overflowing and you have an ample supply of donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake at hand. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.
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