www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Exploiting Opportunities

The following is from an email I wrote to someone who asked if I was going to be presenting at the EduTech conference in Brisbane this year. As you can see, my answer is no, but I think what’s important is my reason for saying no. If you’re planning to present at EduTech, I hope you consider the effect of saying yes.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of EduTech, mainly because I really don’t like their policy of non-payment for Australian speakers. I find it quite insulting that they are willing to pour outrageous amounts of money into getting overseas speakers but are not willing to pay anything for local speakers. I think they need to approach this with greater equity and offer ALL their speakers some form of payment, even if the locals just get a token amount. As I’ve no doubt pointed out before, this is a (very) commercial event run for profit by a professional conference-running company, and yet they expect the vast majority of what they are offering to their customers (at a significant price) to be provided to them for free.

On http://www.edutech.net.au/apply_speaker.html it clearly states that “in the vast majority of cases, we do not pay speakers”. Obviously that blanket statement is not true, as they pay many of their “big name” overseas speakers. What they mean to say is that they don’t pay local speakers because they feel they can get away with that. They also make the very generous point on that page that they “don’t charge speakers to speak”. Woop-de-do, EduTech.

While I’d be very happy to present something, on principle I’m not really willing to be exploited by the EduTech organisers who expect that all Australian presenters should be willing to present for them for free. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’d love to see all Aussie presenters just say no to EduTech but it probably won’t happen.

There are many many great things I’m happy to give my time freely to… helping other teachers, sharing resources, giving time and energy at the grassroots level. But I’m not ok with helping EduTech carry on their culture of exploitation of Australian presenters just so they can make more money.

Featured image: CC BY-SA www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Lipstick on a Pig

I was looking at school websites tonight trying to find some information I needed and I stumbled across a school that I won’t name, but on the front page of their website they had these two rather ironic images on display in a slider…

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I’m fairly sure that neither of these images qualifies for the claim they make of “Best Practices in Education” or “Advanced Learning Environment”.

Is it that schools simply don’t get what those terms mean? Or are they just marketing to parents who don’t understand what those terms mean? I’m not sure, but I do know that images like these completely devalue any real sense of best practise or advanced learning environments because the school clearly doesn’t know what those terms actually mean.

A school is not innovative or modern or advanced or “best practice” because it says so in their marketing brochures. It needs to actually BE those things it claims to be.

Adding phrases like that to images like this is simply just putting lipstick on a pig.

bicycle

A Bicycle for the Mind

I’ve been doing some work recently with a school that’s using iPads with their kids, and was asked to give a talk on the topic “The place of iPads in teaching and learning”. This post is just a bit of thinking out loud about that question.

Let me start by saying that I think the iPad is an amazing piece of technology. I dispute the common claim about iPads just being “consumption devices”. That’s a load of nonsense. Used wisely, iPads open up incredible opportunities for creativity. This point was driven home during my recent 365 project, The Daily Create, where I made a creative “thing” every day during 2014. Although this project wasn’t specifically based on using an iPad, the truth is that at least 80% of what I came up with over the course of the year was made on an iPad. Whether it was photo editing, making graphics, editing movies, composing music, building animations and 3D objects, or even just writing, the iPad was a perfectly credible tool for creation. And of course the actual management of the Daily Create project via a blog was mostly also all done on the iPad. So I know that the iPad can help people do amazing things.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s not also a great consumption device. For reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcasts or music, browsing the web, playing games and so on, the iPad is a convenient, intuitive easy-to-use device that, for the most part, “just works”.

So yes, I like the iPad. But just because you can do certain things on a device does not necessarily mean it’s the best device to be doing them on. So the iPad, as a tool, needs to be kept in that perspective. While it’s capable of most things, it’s great at some and not so good at others.

For example, I’m typing this post on a Chromebook. Why not an iPad? Well, as much as I like iPads, I prefer the writing and editing experience on a device with a real keyboard. I like the extra screen area, the ergonomics of sitting it comfortably on my lap, and having a physical non-modal keyboard.  Could I type a piece of writing like this on an iPad? Sure I could (and have), but if given a choice I prefer to pick the tool that works best for me for that given task.

This is one of the reasons my school has gone down the path of having a combination of both iPads and Chromebooks. There are times when one is simply a better option than the other. They both have such unique strengths, and to exclusively choose one over the other tends to just highlights the weaknesses of each. That said, if you only have a choice of one or the other, either will be perfectly fine.

So back to the original question… “what is the place of iPads in teaching and learning?” It’s a loaded question really, because it begs the bigger question, “what is the place of technology in general in teaching and learning”. And to take it a step further, I think you should probably be asking the much bigger question “what is the point of teaching and learning anyway?” Thinking about the place that a particular technology might have in the teaching and learning process first requires you to think about what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.

Figuring out the place of iPads in teaching and learning should be pretty obvious once you know what you want teaching and learning to look like to start with. If you’re clear on the big idea of why, then seeing how is easy. You simply ask yourself whether this technology is helping you get closer to your goal or not. If it is, it has a place. It it doesn’t, then maybe not.

The school that asked me this question seems to have a pretty clear educational direction for what they are trying to achieve, and how they believe the teaching and learning process should look.

For a start, they want their learning to be transdisciplinary. The transdisciplinary model for teaching and learning is highly inquiry based and values collaboration, teamwork, curiosity and interconnectedness. It’s more than just thinking about a topic from different perspectives (that’s multidisciplinary) or by thinking about a topic by combining different subjects together like maths and science (that’s interdisciplinary). The idea of making the learning transdisciplinary involves bringing together multiple subject areas in such a way that the learning transcends the curriculum and becomes more than just the sum of its parts. If you’re a PYP school this should all sound quite familiar as it forms the foundation of that program. By taking a transdisciplinary approach the aim is to bring a more authentic, open-ended, personalised, contextual learning experience to each student.

Threaded through this core model for learning is a highly inquiry-based approach, a strong belief in differentiation according to student needs, flexible learning paths, and a fundamental goal for students to build their own learning through a Constructivist approach.

Would an iPad help support that kind of learning? Yeah, I think it would.

Steve Jobs once described computers as a “bicycle for the mind”, a metaphor borrowed from a study on locomotive efficiency in animals. Apparently for humans, walking is incredibly inefficient. Other animals can travel much further with far less energy. Steve observed how humbling it was for humans to be placed so far down the efficiency scale compared to other animals. However, he observed, if you allow a human to use a bicycle they become the animal with the most efficient form of locomotion of all. The larger point is that the right tool can make a big difference to what we are capable of.

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Being given an opportunity to learn on your own terms, in ways that make sense to you, about things that interest you the most, forms the foundation of great learning. But without an effective tool to help, you’ll be like a human without a bicycle. You’ll probably get there, but it will take so much more work than it should.

So all of that pondering just leads me to my main idea, that giving a student an iPad (or any other piece of technology that helps them think more efficiently) can be a powerful thing. I think we intuitively know that, but it sometimes helps to step back and think about why we know it. And I think the “bicycle for the mind” idea is a pretty decent metaphor for why technology in the classroom can help support the kind of learning that we want. It can helps reduce the friction in curiosity, wonder, creativity and inquiry, and makes that process more efficient.

On the most basic level, having a device in the hands of a student that places them one click away of the sum of all human knowledge is in itself a pretty amazing advantage. (and one that no generation before them has ever had, by the way). We talk a lot about these devices helping students “connect, collaborate and communicate” so the simple idea of just being able to “look stuff up on the Internet” may not sound very impressive. But even though this might not be the wow factor that makes these devices “revolutionary and magical”, it’s still a pretty useful thing! To be able to look up a word, find a definition, peruse a map, verify a fact, ask a question or see a picture of something – instantly – is amazing. Don’t underestimate the power of that!

If you’re running a classroom based on an inquiry model, the iPad truly can act as that “bicycle for the mind” machine that helps a curious kid instantly connect to any fact or statistic they need to keep inquiring. iPads are transdisciplinary in the sense that they don’t silo information into arbitrary subjects. A query is a query. Curiosity does not have to limit itself to whether something is “science” or “maths” or “art”. Picking up an iPad and asking “OK Google, what type of lettuce is used in a Caesar salad?” and finding out that it is Romaine lettuce, and then wondering why it was named Caesar salad, or where it was invented, or whether it’s less fattening than a regular salad, or how you make a crouton, or the million and one other questions that might spring to mind as your questions cascade from one to the next… that’s just one small reason why technology makes sense in an inquiry based classroom.

Of course it’s much more than that though. You can wonder something, learn about it, and respond to it by making something with that information. It can be the tool by which a student can respond to their own curiosity. An iPad is amazing because it is a not one thing. It’s a notebook, a camera, a recording studio, a stopwatch, an atlas, a sketchbook, an editing suite, a music synthesizer, an artroom. It lets you compose, create and explore ideas. It’s screen instantly changes to become whatever tool you need it to be. There is really nothing else like it in that respect.

Using an iPad you can publish a short story, compose a soundtrack or produce a film clip. You can build a 3D model of a house, record a timelapse of a science experiment, or add augmented reality to a poster. There are literally millions of apps in the App Store so whatever you might want to do, you can almost guarantee “there’s an app for that”.

Finally the iPad is an incredible tool for communicating and collaborating, from having access to email, to messaging, to videoconferencing, to cloud computing. The world truly can be your oyster. You can collaborate with amazing cloud-based tools that let students form crosscultural, transdisciplinary teams to work on projects that are authentic, meaningful and real.

Of course, in reality none of this is terribly new. In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published a paper titled “20 Things to do with a Computer” in which their key assertion was that computers are capable of doing so much more if we allow them to be used creatively, and that the real reason to introduce computers into schools is to empower students. If a computer (or an iPad) is not being used to give agency to student learning then we have missed the whole point of having them.

Introducing computers (or iPads) into classrooms is not about better forms of testing students or NAPLAN preparation or math drills. It’s not about data management, not about saving money, not about impressing parents and not about keeping up with the school down the road. It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen.

Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money. Providing technology to students gives them an opportunity to do not just the same old things they’ve always done, except now with a shiny new tool… No. we now have an incredible opportunity to do entirely new things that were never possible before, using an amazing array of digital tools designed to create, and reinventing the way the way we think about teaching and learning.

Giving students iPads and not making fundamental shifts in how we teach and learn would be like giving them that bicycle for their minds, but then expecting them to push it and walk along beside it.If they are to get the true potential from that bicycle you need to let them get on it, get the wind in their face and ride the damn thing.

Featured image “Speedy Bike” by Till Krech via Flickr. CC BY.

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Paid in Full

I haven’t seen an actual paper credit card statement for a long time because I’ve banked electronically for years, but I switched banks recently and they just sent me my first credit card statement on this new account.

I was really pleased to see a prominent section on the statement (mandated by government legislation) pointing out just how long this bill will take to pay off if I were only to pay the minimum amount. I think this is a great thing for developing financial literacy, as I’m always shocked at just how little some people know about money, especially credit, and how little they understand its impact.

On my credit card’s closing balance of $1898.20, it tells me that even if I spent nothing more on the card, and just paid the minimum required amount each month until it was paid off, it would take me 18 YEARS 6 MONTHS, and would accrue $4,348.57 in interest!

I hope we are teaching this stuff to kids at school, so they don’t fall into the “free money” thinking that so many adults I know still have.

My grandmother used to say “if you can’t afford to pay cash, you can’t afford it.” I think the more modern equivalent is “if you can’t afford to pay your credit card bill in full each month, you can’t afford it”

And yes, I always pay my credit card bill in full each month!

The Sunset Storm, Brisbane, Australia

Watch Me Drive

There is an advertisement on TV at the moment for an Australian car insurance company that encourages drivers to download an app to their phone to find out who is “Australia’s Best Driver“.  Here’s the ad…

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When you download and install the app it starts by asking you a few questions…  your name, gender, email address, home address, etc. Then it keeps track of your driving using GPS location, timestamps, speed tracking, etc for at least the next 300km. In fact, it even defaults to an autostart mode so that you don’t have to remember to turn it on. Every so often it will check in with you to make sure that you are in fact the driver of the trips it’s been tracking. Then it scores your driving style in an attempt to find out who is the best driver in Australia.

Think about it. As well as knowing exactly who you are, it knows how fast you’re driving, when you’re driving, where you’ve been, who was driving and how long for, and even what your phone was doing as you drove. And remember, it just starts tracking automatically every time you drive. Without you even needing to turn it on.

Over time, the data will show whether you speed or not, whether you drive long distances without taking a break, whether you accelerate and brake erratically, what times of day you drive, and of course whether you’re using your phone as you drive. This is not just Big Data.  This is highly personalised data about you as an individual.

But it’s just a game right? You’re encouraged to compete with your friends via social media, so that lots of people are playing the game with you, all submitting the intimate details of their driving history as well. Let’s see who’s the best driver. Plus you can earn badges. Yay! Badges! That’s what it’s about right?

I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily give all this data to an insurance company. I mean they say it’s to make you a safer driver. Yeah, sure, that’s totally the reason. Until you apply for insurance one day and you find they know a little bit more about your driving habits than you might’ve thought and your insurance premium reflects that knowledge. If you’re a good driver, maybe you’ll pay less for you insurance. And maybe you won’t. I know which one I’m betting on.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good driver, but even with the promise of a big cash prize, to voluntarily hand over that much personal driving history data to an insurance company seems absolutely crazy to me.

Thanks AAMI, but I’ll leave this little adventure to Neil, Gaz and Loretta Jones.

Featured CC BY-NC Image “The Sunset Storm, Brisbane Australia“, by Ben Ashmole on Flickr

ilovetoshare

Lessons in Creative Commons, Part 2

Here’s the follow-up from my last post about the copyright claim that YouTube made on a video I made using a Creative Commons soundtrack. You can read the previous post for the start of the story if you’re interested.

Since then, I’ve had conversations with several people about the issue. One was Jeff Price, the CEO of Audiam. Audiam was listed by YouTube as the entity responsible for policing the claim. Audiam is a service that musicians can use to track the use of their music in YouTube, although I think they also monitor Spotify and a few other streaming services as well. Basically, when a musician signs up to use Audiam’s services they upload a sample of their music which gets passed on to YouTube and fingerprinted. Fingerprinting is a process whereby the track can be compared against existing tracks to see if it matches, thereby identifying the copyright status of the music. If a match is made, YouTube flags it as a copyright violation and that was the problem I was having. It’s all done algorithmically of course, there are no actual people involved in the process, and in principle it’s a great idea.

My contention was that the track in question was a Creative Commons licensed track and therefore had been incorrectly identified by the system, so I appealed the infringement claim by YouTube/Audiam.

I had a few back and forth exchanges with Jeff Price about the problem. While we probably didn’t quite see eye to eye on everything, overall I thought it was a productive conversation. I was impressed and thankful that Jeff took the time to engage in the debate with me, although in the end, I didn’t feel that anything was really resolved. Basically, Jeff insisted that if I wanted to track to be released from the copyright claim I had to contact the musician and get them to ask Audiam to exempt my use of it. My argument was that a Creative Commons license was designed to avoid the need to do this and that it already grants that permission in advance. Jeff didn’t contradict me on this point, he just insisted that I either buy a license or get an exemption.

The most informative exchange I had was with the actual musician who created the piece, a guy called Enrique Molano. It took a bit of online detective work to find out who was responsible for the track but I eventually connected with Enrique through LinkedIn, where I discussed the issue with him. And that’s where it got interesting…

So here’s the lesson part of the story.

Enrique replied, very nicely, with a link to a support thread from Jamendo that contained the following information…

(No Derivatives is) the most misunderstood paragraph of the CC license. People think that as long as they don’t cut or trim the music, they can use it for their videos, but this is not true. Music with ND attribute is for listening only. You can make unlimited copies of it on various mediums, include it in playlists and compilations, embed it on websites, use it as music on hold or business background music, but you can’t use it as soundtrack for videos, games, audiobooks, presentations, etc. As the legal code says:

“(you can) make such modifications as are technically necessary
to exercise the rights in other media and formats, but otherwise
you have no rights to make Adaptations.”

People often argue that using an unaltered song as a soundtrack to a video does not make the video a derivative work, because the song itself is not recast or transformed in any way. That’s where “Don’t build upon this work” takes place. Coupling the music with additional content such as images, audio, or motion picture, is considered “building upon”. The legal code is very explicit about it:

“For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work,
performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in
timed-relation with a moving image (“synching”) will be considered
an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.”

Thus, as far as No Derivatives licenses are concerned, videos that use an ND-licensed song violate the terms of the license.

Say what?! I use Creative Commons a lot, and this is certainly not what I’ve been led to believe. I’m guessing that many of you may have also been under the same misconception. I’ve always understood that the No Derivs component of a Creative Commons license means that you can’t remix, change or edit the music, but I never realised that limitation extended to using the track, unchanged, as a soundtrack. But apparently this IS the case. Using a CC license with an ND property means you are NOT allowed to build upon the work, including using it as a soundtrack to a video.

The fact is, putting a CC BY-ND-NC license on a piece of work is just about as restrictive as leaving a full Copyright license on it. You still can’t really use it for anything without permission or paying.

While I feel a bit foolish not knowing about this detail of the ND license, I’m apparently not the only one. In his email to me, Enrique said “Sorry about the inconvenience. We’ve got about 200 claims from Audiam, apparently all of them under the same confusion.”  I don’t like being wrong but I am glad that this little journey taught me some things that I didn’t know. Engaging in the conversation with Jeff Price was interesting and useful (although we could have avoided a lot of our back and forth had he simply pointed out that an ND track can’t be used as a soundtrack under the terms of the CC license). I’m thankful that Enrique eventually pointed it out, and that caused me to delve into a whole lot more background reading about Creative Commons, including re-reading the actual legal code in these licenses. I also learned there are significant wording changes between CC v3.0 and CC v4.0.

But at the end of it all, I learned the bottom line. If you want to use Creative Commons music with an intention of including it in a video, even if you don’t modify or remix the actual music track itself, DON’T use a license that includes the ND property.

If you produce content and your intention is to share it, and if you want to provide others with the necessary permissions to build upon your work, stick to one of the “Culturally Free” licenses, either CC BY, or CC BY-SA.  Even a well intentioned use of No Derivs (or even Non Commercial) just causes a whole lot of headaches for those who want to legitimately build upon your work.

Featured image “I love to share” from  Creative Commons HQ on Flickr

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Lessons in Creative Commons

A few weeks ago Linda and I got home from a short holiday in Bali. We had a great time, and managed to collect a few snippets of video along the way using a GoPro camera. A few days after I got home I managed to stitch a few clips together into a little video summary of the holiday using my own footage and some Creative Commons music that I sourced from Jamendo, one of of my favourite sources for CC-licensed music. I used a happy little track called “8_Happiness AC2” by an artist called “Music for your Media“. The track was licensed under a CC BY-ND-NC licence – meaning that if I attribute the artist (I did), don’t modify the music (I didn’t), and not make money from its use (I’m not), I was welcome to use it. That’s the nice thing about Creative Commons licensing; the terms and conditions of use are clear, explicit and fairly unambiguous.

Or so I thought.

After I edited the video – all 2 minutes and 52 seconds of it – it was published to YouTube. The next day I received a notification from YouTube saying that the sound track used on the video was a copyright violation, and that it contained “Disputed Third Party Matched Content”. In other words, someone was claiming that I’d used the music without the correct permissions from the copyright owner.

I don’t believe that it is “Disputed third party matched content”. I sourced the music track as a Creative Commons media asset, which was clearly indicated in the download link on the Jamendo site, as shown here…

download_happiness

“Free and legal for personal use” seems pretty unambiguous to me.

The Jamendo website also has a nice simple explanation of Creative Commons files on its FAQ page…

“Jamendo can be free and legal thanks to Creative Commons licenses. They grant the right to download and share music for free and legally. Artists choose to use these licenses, and to use Jamendo as a means to share and promote their music.”

“Creative Commons are licenses that enable musicians to give away their music for free while protecting their rights. They are easy to use and compatible with internet standards, and allow rights holders to authorize (or not) certain uses of their music, such as commercial uses and derived works.”

There was a link in my YouTube Video Manager dashboard to dispute the claim, so of course I disputed it. I provided the links to the site that I got the file from, pointed out it was a CC track, and assumed that would be the end of it.

Then today I got another notification from YouTube that my dispute had been rejected and that the original claim of using Disputed third party matched content would be upheld.

dispute_rejected

As a longstanding supporter of Creative Commons, I was pretty pissed off that the “copyright holder”, a label called Audiam, was jerking me around like this.  The track I used was clearly a Creative Commons track and my use of it was clearly within the requirements of the BY-NC-ND license. I have my own suspicions about why they are making this claim, but I’ll save the theories for now.  I don’t know what deal Music for your Media may have done with Audiam, but I do know that the file I sourced was issued under a clearly defined, non-revocable CC license.

Feeling very annoyed, I decided to appeal the ruling because in this instance I’m convinced I am right. Although it would be trivially simple to just substitute another piece of copyright free music from the YouTube media library and be done with it, it’s the principle that matters here.

preface

So I clicked the link to appeal the dispute and provided the following information to YouTube…

Thanks for looking into this alleged infringement and making a ruling but NO, I cannot agree with this ruling. I know it would be far simpler to just remove the video from YouTube or to replace the soundtrack with a different piece of music, but there is a principle at stake here. I believe that your ruling is incorrect and I’d like to dispute it further. Despite the risk I take in having you find against my use of the music again, I know that I am in the right and I want to defend my use of Creative Commons licensed material.

The piece of music in question, “Music for your Media – Happiness is Here” was sourced under a Creative Commons license from Jamendo, one of the Internet’s major sources of Creative Commons music.

The link at which I retrieved the MP3 file was this page… https://www.jamendo.com/en/track/1147331/8-happiness-ac2

When clicking the Download button on that page the license terms of the music are displayed as Creative Commons BY-NC-ND

Use of the track is clearly summarised on the download dialog as follows…

Some Rights Reserved – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND
You can copy, distribute, advertise and play this track as long as you:
Give credit to the artist
Don’t alter, transform or build upon this album
Don’t use this album for commercial purposes

I have not violated any of those terms. The music is credited in the closing credits of the video, I have not altered or remixed the track. I have not used it for commercial purposes, it’s simply a personal video about a holiday I took in Bali. (non commercial even includes the fact that YouTube ads are turned off for this video)

I am a longtime user and contributor of Creative Commons material. I am well aware of how CC licensing works and it seems very clear to me that this work was released under a Creative Commons license, and that my use of it was well within the requirements of that license.

I should also point out that CC licenses are not revocable. As stated on the Creative Commons wiki FAQ, “CC licenses are not revocable. Once something has been published under a CC license, licensees may continue using it according to the license terms for the duration of applicable copyright and similar rights. As a licensor, you may stop distributing under the CC license at any time, but anyone who has access to a copy of the material may continue to redistribute it under the CC license terms.”

So even if Audiam, the label claiming ownership of the music, has changed their mind about the licensing of this track, this does not affect my use of it.

To sum up, I have sourced this track legally and through legitimate means. I have completely complied with the terms of this non-revocable CC license. A CC licence is a pre-granting of permission to use a media asset. I do not need to contact the copyright owner to seek permission because that permission has already been granted.

I fail to see how this could possibly be seen as a copyright infringement, and I hope that common sense and a more complete application of the principles of Creative Commons prevails.

I await your response.

Let’s see what happens. I’ve heard of people making these spurious copyright claims before but this is the first time it’s happened to me. The reason is generally that if they win they get the right to place their ads on my video and earn money from them. Most people don’t bother fighting it because it’s simply too much work to appeal, it runs the risk of getting a copyright strike against your YouTube account if you lose, and it’s just far easier to roll over and give in.

Not me, not this time. There is an important principle of freedom at stake here and that’s worth fighting for. I’ll let you know what happens.

Featured CC Image by Kev-shine on Flickr