Sunday, August 26, 2007

Boston Attractions - Cheap Thrills

While Boston accommodation for cheap might be a problem, there are many Boston attractions for free or at least tourist sites that fit a budget traveler:

Outdoor attractions
Naturally, many outdoor attractions are for free. The ones listed here are either well-recommended (in tourist books, in general); or ones I happened to have visited. There are probably many more.

First of all, there are two trails that could be followed in the city, for free, and show you some of the most important historical landmarks. The first is the Freedom Trail, with events and sites from the colonial period and the War of Independence. Another is the Black Heritage Trail. Both will not only show you the history they discuss, but take you to interesting points in town.
If that is not enough, you have the parks, Boston Common and the Boston Gardens are free of charge, just as the Esplanade (where you can see the Boston Pops stage) and many other gardens are out these, full of ducks.

One of the nicest strolls we have made was down the docks and the piers – from the south all the way to North End. Oh, yes. North End. A great place to stroll outdoors, enjoy the architecture and the flair. Don’t go (only) on the main streets (or those from the Freedom Trail) and everything will be also cheap. Other neighbourhoods, like South Bay or the Chinatown are also worth strolling.

There are some cheap things that could be fun – the Duck Tours seemed to us like a combination of a tourist trap and a nightmare (the weather was cold and going in a Duck seemed a bad idea); but don’t mix up the ducks with the swans in Boston Public Gardens, which are fun (in the summer and late spring only).

USS Constitution is a free open air museum, in a naval base. Interesting and worth visiting. It is the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy. The “Old Ironside” was never defeated in Battle because of its legendary ability to repel any shot fired.

Another touristy outdoor attraction for free is the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Naturally, as a marketplace, the whole idea is that you buy stuff, but there are always street shows and interesting things without it. And there are several decent eateries, despite the touristy location.
Outside the Aquarium, which is for a fee, you can find a seal pool.

Massachusetts Historical Society
Charlestown Navy Yard – including the USS Constitution
Gardner Museum – if your name is Isabella. See here:

Free on certain days:
Harvard University Art Museums - Saturday 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.; everyday after 4:30 p.m.; everyday for under 18s.
Institute of Contemporary Art - FREE for all from 5 to 9 pm every Thursday for Target Free Thursday Nights; FREE for families (up to 2 adults accompanied by children 12 and under) on the last Saturday of each month
Museum of Fine Arts - Citizens Bank Foundation Wednesday Nights at the MFA: No general admission fee required. Every Wed, 4–9:45 pm. Voluntary donations welcome. Special exhibitions ticketed separately.

Children’s Museum: Target $1 Friday Nights are offered every Friday from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
I would definitely go to see the Science Museum; in the science museum, you’ve got also some small sections that are free (including a petting zoo)

Various Rainy Day Options (besides museums):

  • Go to the Boston Public Library – except for being the oldest in the United States, it is interesting, has limited (I think 15 minutes) free Internet time and well, you can always read a book
  • Harvard and MIT – Cambridge is ugly, but the Harvard buildings are interesting; and MIT has the most interesting public building in Boston – the Ghery building (Senta Center) is as crazy from the inside as it from the outside.
  • Interesting window shopping: the Coply Square Mall; the Koo de Kir (65 Chestnut Street); The nearby Holiday designer shop (53 Charles Street Boston, MA 02114 )
  • Visit the JFK library
  • Visit the Mary Baker Eddy Library

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Boston Accommodation

Boston Accommodation – Where to Sleep in Boston for Cheap (Homeless Shelters not Included)

If you’re staying in Boston on a budget, you have several options, but you have to remember that it is real estate prices that make Boston so expensive (restaurants or shop, as well as some of the attractions, have to pay the rent, right?).

There are some ways around the expensive hotel prices in Boston, assuming you don’t know anyone in Boston who would take you in (thank you tmarmoret!!!). The first might be to join an apartment exchange program (like this, this or this). The way it works was featured in a pretty bad Cameron Diaz/Kate Winslet movie I’ve seen on a plane, The Holiday, but it doesn’t have to work like that. It could be actually good. You might find a cheap – perhaps even free – host in Boston that way. There is also the CouchSurfing organization, where people register themselves to accommodate or meet others. Another option for budget accommodation in Boston would be to look up – through Craigslist for example – for people willing to rent their apartments when they are on vacation; for example (given the number of universities in Boston, Cambridge and the vicinity) students on one of their winter, summer or spring break. Bed and Breakfasts are also usually more affordable than hotels, although in the case of Boston, you can’t be sure…

For those of you who cannot sleep at someone else’s house, I can recommend the Marriott Residence Inn, a cheaper version of Marriott, which is suitable to host a relatively large party for affordable prices, something that could be a solution for those visiting Boston with kids or as students. The Residence Inn is also very close to MIT and Harvard.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

History Channel, again, manages to ruin a perfectly good movie

In the past several posts I have lamented the style of the style of the documentaries shown on the History Channel. I said that they tend to over-dramatise their statements and movies, as if a good historical documentary will not do without their dramatizations and acting out. I said that they tend to use bombastic titles, a perfectly legitimate device to lure people to watch a film, only that after a while you get the point.

The series “Lost Worlds” provides another good example. Prima facie a very good series, which attempts to find, through computer technology and experts’ interview, how would cities or projects, that do not exist, look today.

The episode “Hitler’s Supercity” does exactly that with the Nazi vision of Germania, a fascist model city Hitler has intended to build over Berlin. These were not just vague plans – Hitler and his architect/Minister of Armament Albert Speer, have actually began testing ground for the megalomaniac project. “Hitler’s Supercity” is a great episode in that sense: the researchers have managed to find very knowledgeable experts, the computer simulation is amazing and as someone who lives in Berlin and knows quite a bit about the subject, the choice of places to shoot was not mundane. Excellent film, I would have wished to say, but unfortunately, the problems with this historical documentary start here: some Germans have decided to be interviewed in English; those who haven’t, have been punished by the history channel – voiceover (because our viewers are not intelligent enough to hear foreign languages and read subtitles, despite the fact that they watch a documentary about a very specific episode in Nazi Germany’s history). Voiceovers are quite popular, and I wouldn’t have been so raged if it was the dignified type of voiceover you hear all over good documentaries: neutral tone and accent.

Not for the History Channel fellows. They have to dramatise, even if there is no drama. And what’s better than insulting a few kraut historians who have done the unforgivable mistake of interviewing in their own mother-tongue? Right, the voiceover artist (listed as Corey Lawson) does a bad imitation of a German Akzent. Something you would have expected to hear in a Monty Python sketch, not in a serious documentary. Shame on the History Channel, for treating people who were willing to grant an interview like that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What has Happened to Open Cola?

Open Cola was apparently all the rage just several years ago - a company selling colas and not only that, but also provide, in an open source mode - cola formula (see a recipe later), which they claim is identical to the Coca Cola formula - in order to pass a message regarding open source and copyleft.

This social experiment is very interesting, but the results are not entirely clear. There is great interest in OpenCola all of a sudden (through ocial Networking), but the site, which you'd expect would become a major hit, vanished any traces of cola (or open source) activism from its sites, and it sells "premium bedding". The company was in fact sold in 2003 by its founders to Open Text Corporation.

Several names come up as associated with the Cola recipe. The first is Cory Doctorow, a web-activist, journalist and proponent of open source and copyleft ideas. The second name that comes up is Laird Brown, a business consultant. The third is Amanda Foubister, who is listed as a stunt double. She is in fact credited with the original recipe.

The recipe goes like this:

Open Souce Cola Formula
Making soft drinks is not for the faint of heart, nor the dirty of finger. It is a solemn enterprise not to be entered into lightly, as with marriage or buying used farm machinery.

With any food-prep, failure to observe basic hygienic principles, follow directions, and exercise common sense can have grave consequences. OpenCola assumes no liability for any problems that arise out of the use of this document. Proceed at your own risk. No one's putting a gun to your head, so don't bother if you can't boil water.

Improper use of cola might result in blunt trauma, puncture wounds, physical illness, mental illness, caffeine dependency, dental necrosis, acid reflux, death, devastation, and random tax audits. Or it might not.

A list of warnings has been provided below. We did not include them for our health â€" we included them for yours. Read them. Know them. Follow them. Tattoo them to your backside.

Just in case you have any doubt: following the directions below may be hazardous to your health and property. You assume any and all risk arising from the manufacture and consumption of cola.

An important note: this is not the recipe for "OpenCola" - that is, the canned beverage from OpenCola that you may have received at a trade show, or other venue or outlet. Making canned cola requires millions of dollars in abstruse gear and manufacturing gizmos. It's easier to make nerve gas than manufacture cola. This is a kitchen-sink recipe that you can make all on your own. It is our kitchen-sink recipe. We figured it out somewhere between coding the COLA SDK and debugging the Linux build of the clerver.

Anyway, we've tried to be nice about the disclaimer. If it's not good enough for you, here's what our lawyers have to say about the whole shootin' match.

By copying and/or distributing the Program, you hereby agree to the following:

Indemnity: You shall indemnify, defend, and hold harmless OpenCola, its affiliates, directors, officers, and employees from and against any third-party claim, demand, cause of action, debt, liability, cost or expense (including, but not limited to, reasonable attorneys' fees) arising out of your use of the Recipe, or any derivative thereof, including, but not limited to, any claims arising from your distribution of soft drink based on the Recipe or any derivatives thereof.

International: OpenCola makes no representation that the Recipe, or any soft drink based on the Recipe or any derivatives thereof, may be appropriate for use in locations outside of the United States or Canada, and accessing them from any location where their use is illegal is prohibited. If you choose to access this Recipe from any location outside of the United States or Canada, you do so at your own risk, and are responsible for compliance with all local laws.
OpenCola soda is distributed under the terms of the General Public License (GPL), a copy of which is appended to the bottom of this document. Please check out Richard Stallman's Free Software Foundation. He wrote the GPL and has plenty of interesting documentation on the site.
Version History:

Added sterner caffeine warnings, link to Material Safety Data Sheet â€" thanks to Tom Swulius. Added contributors section.

Fixed Amanda's email address

Even more disclaimer, this time to differentiate this recipe from the stuff in the cans.

Fixed typos. Made disclaimer scarier. Removed snotty references to Americans.

Contained hereunder is a HOW-TO for brewing up kitchen-sink OpenCola. Amazingly enough, every soft-drink vendor we spoke to acted like the preparation of cola was some kind of deep, dark trade-seekrutâ"¢. With much reverse-engineering and creative shopping, the research kitchens at OpenCola have coopered together the following makefile for brewing up The Black Waters of Corporate Imperialismâ"¢ in the privacy of your own home.

The basis for the whole thing is the 7X, Top-Seekrutâ"¢ formula. Our sources tell us that 7X is the internal Coca-Cola codename for their syrup. You'll note that the 7X formula contains eight ingredients: still more evidence of the deviousness of the Soda Gnomes.

As it turns out, mixing up a batch of cola's pretty easy. Finding the ingredients is damned hard. Most of this file is about finding and handling ingredients so as to produce a tasty bevvy without blowing up your kitchen, melting your flesh off your bones, or poisoning yourself. As with all undertakings of great moment, read and understand the instructions before attempting to commit cola on your own. Pay special attention to the "Warnings" section.

This recipe is licensed under the GNU General Public license. It is "Open Source" Cola, or, if you prefer, "Free" Cola. That means you're free to use this recipe to make your own cola, or to make derivative colas. If you distribute derivative colas, you're expected to send email to the recipe's author, Amanda Foubister ( with your updates. In the future, we expect to have a CVS server up to handle additions, bug-reports, etc.
The Formula
7X (Top SeekrutTM) flavoring formula:

3.50 ml orange oil
1.00 ml lemon oil
1.00 ml nutmeg oil
1.25 ml cassia oil
0.25 ml coriander oil
0.25 ml neroli oil
2.75 ml lime oil
0.25 ml lavender oil
10.0 g gum arabic
3.00 ml water
OpenCola syrup:

2.00 tsp. 7X formula
3.50 tsp. 75% phosphoric acid or citric acid
2.28 l water
2.36 kg plain granulated white table sugar
0.50 tsp. caffeine (optional)
30.0 ml caramel color

7X Flavoring
Mix oils together in a cup. Add gum arabic, mix with a spoon. Add water and mix well. I used my trusty Braun mixer for this step, mixing for 4-5 minutes. You can also transfer to a blender for this step. Can be kept in a sealed glass jar in the fridge or at room temperature.

Please note that this mixture will separate. The Gum Arabic is essential to this part of the recipe, as you are mixing oil and water.

In a one gallon container (I used the Rubbermaid Servin' Saver Dry Food Keeper, 1.3 US Gal/4.92 l), take 5 mls of the 7X formula, add the 75% phosphoric or citric acid. Add the water, then the sugar. While mixing, add the caffeine, if desired. Make sure the caffeine is completely dissolved. Then add the caramel color. Mix thoroughly.

To finish drink, take one part syrup and add 5 parts carbonated water.
Scavenging and Handling Ingredients
7X flavor:

Measurement: I used a dropper purchased at a Shoppers Drug Mart (normally used to measure infant portions of medicine, I believe).

Oils: Oils can cause skin irritation. Wear latex food-prep or surgical gloves. If oils come in contact with skin, wash with soap and water.

I purchased all oils from health food stores and the herbalist store, Thuna's (see notes on gum arabic).

Everything could have come from the herbalist's. Try for 100 percent pure, undiluted oils. I used oils from the following companies:

* CK Solutions, Ft. Wayne, IN 46825
* Aura Cacia Oils, Weaverville, CA 96093
* Aromaforce Essential Oils
* Frontier Natural Flavors,
* Karooch, Peterborough, ONT K9J 7Y8

When I purchased the oils, I specifically asked whether they were food grade or not. All persons said that they were, one person said she used them internally all the time.

Neroli is a very expensive item, be prepared (US$48.52 for 5.00 ml).

All others were a more reasonable price (US$2-9.30).

Gum Arabic: It is very important that you get only food-grade Gum Arabic. There is also an art-grade, which is readily available at art supply stores â€" never use art-grade Gum Arabic! Art-grade Gum Arabic is toxic. It will make you ill. You'll be sad. We'll be sad.

I found food-grade Gum Arabic at an herbalist store in Toronto called Thuna's (416) 461-8191. I purchased 112g for US$12.46, which will make more than 11 batches of flavoring formula.

Water: good old tap water will do, if you trust your tap. I used spring water.

75% Phosphoric Acid: Due to its acidity, this product is corrosive to the eyes and skin. Handle with gloved hands, and use extreme caution. If comes in contact with the eyes or skin, immediately flush with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Get medical attention. Rinse any spills on clothing or other surfaces thoroughly. Store in a secure area. Do not store more than 50.0 ml.

Try finding phosphoric acid at a compounding pharmacy in your area. There are pharmacies that still mix their own individual compounds and still stock phosphoric acid.

Citric acid: Very easy to find. I found mine at a Shoppers Drug Mart (Rougier Pharma Inc, Quebec, Canada J7J 1P3). Says right on the label, "For the preparation of acidulous drinks and effervescing draughts, and preservation of jams and jellies." According to the Coke history book, citric acid was used first in the formula, but they now use the phosphoric.

Sugar: Basic granulated white table sugar found everywhere. Buy from a bulk store to save some money.

Caffeine: It's best not to store caffeine in any amount. Caffeine can kill people in relatively small doses. The median lethal dose for an adult human is around 10 grams, or approximately one third of an ounce. You can find out more by reading the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for caffeine at Don't yeild to the temptation to create a "Super-Joltâ"¢," adding tons and tons of the white stuff to your cola, our you'll be in a world of hurt. If stored, store in a secure area away from children. Toxic by inhalation and ingestion: If inhaled, remove to fresh air, If ingested, call a physician. Possible teratogen and mutagen. If product comes in contact with the eyes, flush with plenty of water. There is some great information on caffeine and it's over-consumption at

Caffeine is completely optional. I used part of a caffeine pill (MVP,, ground up in a pestle with a mortar. According to information on the pill bottle and on the Web site, the pills are 100% caffeine. As an extra safety precaution, I strained all of the syrup through a 4-ply of cheesecloth, in case any of the caffeine wasn't dissolved.

Caramel color: I found mine at a bakery supply store (World of Cake Decorating, 1766 Weston Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 416-247-4935). I was originally told to use double strength caramel color, but couldn't find it anywhere (retail or wholesale). It really only adds color, so it makes it a bit paler than we are used to coming out of a can or bottle. No other difference that we could discern during our taste-testing.

Soda Water: I purchased a soda charger and CO2 cartridges at Nikolaou's (629 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 416-504-6411) to deliver the soda charge needed to make the cola fizzy. At testing, no one was impressed. What worked best was adding canned sodium-free (very important!) soda water to the syrup.

If you would like to make soda water yourself as well, here is a recipe from a great Web site on beverages (

Soda: Carbonated Water

* 5 U.S. gallons of water
* 1.5 cups sugar (or sugar syrup)
* 1 teaspoon dry bread yeast (rehydrated)

I fill each bottle 2/3 full, screw on the top, and leave for one or two weeks. Each weekend I measure and add the syrup to a few bottles, top them off with water and stick them in the fridge.

This is a very quick operation. I had experimented with adding dry sugar, but this caused an excessive amount of foaming.

These are all associated with each of their ingredients, but they're repeated here just to make sure. We're not making this stuff up. Cola is a harsh mistress, and she is quick to anger. Heed the warnings below or proceed into certain peril.

Oils: Can cause skin irritation. If oils come in contact with skin, wash with soap and water.

Gum Arabic: It is very important that you get only food-grade Gum Arabic. There is also an art-grade, which is readily available at art supply stores â€" never use art-grade Gum Arabic! Art grade Gum Arabic is toxic. It will make you ill. You'll be sad. We'll be sad.

75% Phosphoric Acid: Due to its acidity, this product is corrosive to the eyes and skin. Handle with gloved hands, and use extreme caution. If comes in contact with the eyes or skin, immediately flush with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Get medical attention. Rinse any spills on clothing or other surfaces thoroughly. Store in a secure area. Do not store more than 50.0 ml.

Caffeine: It's best not to store caffeine in any amount. Caffeine can kill people in relatively small doses. The median lethal dose for an adult human is around 10 grams, or approximately one third of an ounce. You can find out more by reading the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for caffeine at Don't yield to the temptation to create a “Super-Joltâ"¢â€ adding tons and tons of the white stuff to you cola, our you'll be in a world of hurt. If stored, store in a secure area away from children. Toxic by inhalation and ingestion: If inhaled, remove to fresh air. If ingested, call a physician. Possible teratogen and mutagen. If product comes in contact with the eyes, flush with plenty of water. There is some great information on caffeine and it's over-consumption at
Thanks, Acknowledgements and Afterward:

The 7X that I experimented with comes from the great Coke history book, For God, Country, & Coca-Cola, by Mark Pendergrast, Basic Books, 1993, 2000, ISBN 0-465-05468-4. I know, I know. I list 8 oils, not 7. It notes in the book that many believe lavender to be part of the 7X formula, so I tried it. We liked it in testing.

Special thanks to Pharmacist David at the IDA (Queen West near Jameson, Toronto) for advice on phosphoric acid and chemistry.

Thanks to Barb Holland and Rose Murray from Foodland Ontario for advice on various ingredients and general soda making.

The following people have contributed refinements to the formula. Thanks to:
Cory Doctorow (
Tom Swulius (


Version 2, June 1991

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Between the Lines of "The World at War"

ITV’s monumental documentary series about the Second World War, The World at War, is now available on DVD (now is relative, in fact it has been available for some time now).

ITV produced “The World at War” between 1968 and 1972, with a record investment for that time. It has 26 episodes, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier and magnificently edited. It strikes so, especially in lieu of originality of depth in some contemporary documentaries, most evidently by the History Channel (and sometimes also Discovery), who seem to think that sticking “Hitler” to the title of any film only marginally dealing with Nazi Germany (“Unsolved History: Hitler and the Spear of Destiny”), or that we need actors who’d reenact historical scenes for us (“Gestapo” series by History Channel).

Unlike these two examples, The World at War is a crisp, never-outdated, product. I could only think of another historical documentary, which might be better, which is “The People’s Century”, with its researchers locating the “simple” people recorded in historical reels. However, The World at War, without intending to, is also a very interesting sociological document into power relations in Britain (or in Europe in general), both at the time of its production, as well as in the times it refer to.

An example could be given using the fourth episode, “Alone: The Battle of Britain”, which describes the situation in Britain between May 1940 and May 1941, and the Blitzkrieg ran against the British. The episode is – as always in this series – excellent, and depicts both the perspective of those bombed as well as that of those who fought or were in political decision making points.

However, because the episode, after all, deals with the ordeal of the “rear front”, the civilians, the choice of interviewees is even more interesting. In politics, one will not be surprised to hear that most of those who were in charge at the time were “Lord” something or another; or just someone with a very fine accent. The social class of the pilots depicted in the documentary reels is also rather obvious: most seem like the stereotype of the higher class officer-pilot, including those survivors who talk in cameo.

The ones peculiarly absent from an episode dealing with the British civilian population, are those 51% of the population that have carried the weight, just as well as – if not in some cases – more than the other 49%. The producers have even rounded up a group of Londoners who’d tell about life under the threat of Blitz. Although women are shown in the group, the editor gave only one description by a woman, a very brief sentence where she complains about the lack of personal hygiene they had to endure. Other women are also seen – both in historical reels (where it seems that most if not many Londoners at the time were women), and in the interview sequence, but are not heard; are spoken of (an assistant to Churchill tells of a visit the PM made to the rubble that had been a house in London, telling the women that “we” shall overcome; with them answering him that it is *them* who are now looking for their remaining property in the rubble, not him).

This is of course not (entirely) the producers’ fault. First of all, it is possible that it was not the editor who chose not to put them in, but the women themselves, who would not speak openly about the period; because of social conventions or any other reason. The fact that reels love to depict women as victims in order to extort sympathy is also not new. However, it is interesting how we can learn some additional things, between the lines, from this fine documentary.

Monday, August 06, 2007

5 More "Most Exquisitely Sad Songs in the Whole World"

Spinner published, some time ago, a list of the "The 25 Most Exquisitely Sad Songs in the Whole World". I agree with some of their choices. The River or Eleanor Rigby make me cry; others sort of leave me cold, or at least wouldn't be on my top 25 saddest songs. It's OK, as Spinner got a very long list of comments by others, recommending their own stuff ("the saddest song is by Elvis..."); Here are my five additions, you may disagree, as most seem to:

1. Neil Young - Let's start with the usual elvisian complaint: how come there are no Neil Young songs there? He has several candidates for sure: Ohio ("what if you knew her, and found her dead on the ground?"); A Man Needs a Maid (well, because of the helplessness here), Old Man. The list could go on. But one would really make you cringe: The Needle and the Damage Done.

2. Leonard Cohen - Another great source for sad songs ("dance me to the end of love", with the chilling cancer-ward video-clip), but here I am torn between two songs: "The Partisan" (which was not really written by Cohen, but is so sad when he does it) and "Who by Fire".

3. If we stay at "horrible reasons to die", Billy Holiday has another one, with Strange Fruit:

4. And being a bereaved mother of a dead soldier is no picknick either, as Kate Bush's Army Dreamers can tell:

5. The last one might be considered by some a tad dramatic: Nick Cave's "Where the Wild Roses Grow". Nick Cave's fans would probably claim (rightly so) that I've chosen Cave's least sad song; and some of his less "commercial" songs (he doesn't sing them with any blondes) are much better. But just like the Holocaust, drugs or lynch death, this is also the story of death by humans:

And there are some runner-ups, of course:

* Terry Jacks' Seasons in the Sun (a bit melodramatic but works). What's interesting is that the original lyrics by Jacques Brel (yes, the song is from French, just like the Partisan) were considered "too sad" and therefore the song did not suceed with them (see on Wikipedia).

* James Taylor's Fire and Rain

* You'll have to take my word that Joni Mitchell's "Songs for Aging Children" is very sad, and especially if you watch it as part of "Alice's Restaurant", a film I should actually write something about.

* My Name is Luca, by Suzanne Vega, is about an abused child. No one seems to care.

* Another sad child abuse song (or at least this is what it sounds to me) is the Crush Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm"

* Cat in the Cradle, Cat Steven's masterpiece about another dysfunctional family

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