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Thoughts about "guys"

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We need to talk about the word “guys” and whether or not it means people. Well, to be accurate, whether or not it means people to all the people who hear it. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t. Not to all of them. Maybe it does to you. I used to think it did to me. But now I’m not so sure it ever did. And for sure, there exist some people to whom it doesn’t. Take a look at this really non-scientific poll in which only “hey guys” was actually considered gender neutral: . There’s a whole section of the #include<C++> resources about the word “guys”. 

But let’s rewind for a minute. If you’re a man, you may not have noticed, but in North American and English-speaking European cultures, two things are true, to the vast majority of people:

  • Men means people
  • People means men

As a woman, this is something I have come to learn. Men are people. Women are a special case. People often doesn’t include women. If you think that’s ridiculous, please react to this sentence:

On average, people have slightly less than one ovary
This is an adaptation of a sentence I heard to explain why average is not always a useful measure of a data set. I first heard it as “slightly less than one testicle.” When I told it to someone else, I substituted a feminine anatomical feature, and to my surprise, the man I told it to reacted very angrily. Since then, I’ve tried both versions of the sentence on various people, men and women (I haven’t tried it on the few nonbinary people I’ve met.) When you say testicle, everyone laughs. When you say ovary, women pause for a moment and then laugh. Some men laugh but most get angry. Why? Because people in general don’t have ovaries. Only women have ovaries, and when most people say people, they really mean men, who generally speaking are ovary-free. So this sentence includes a reminder that “the word people includes women and there are as many of us as there are of you.” Which upsets many men. And while they can’t explain their anger, it’s real. It’s actually a little scary.

Yeah but, come on, I can’t possibly mean that, right? I mean it’s 2018. How can “people” possibly mean men? Take a look at these quotes from reputable medical sites:

The American Heart Association says “People at high risk of heart attack should take a daily low-dose of aspirin (if told to by their healthcare provider)” and that “heart attack survivors regularly take low-dose aspirin.”
The Mayo Clinic says, to a nongendered “you”, “If you've had a heart attack or stroke, your doctor will likely recommend you take a daily aspirin unless you have a serious allergy or history of bleeding. If you have a high risk of having a first heart attack, your doctor will likely recommend aspirin after weighing the risks and benefits.”

But it turns out, as WebMD says, “when it came to preventing a first heart attack, different trials got different results. Why? Studies that looked predominantly at men found that aspirin helped. Trials that looked predominantly at women found no effect.” Yet the general-purpose medical web sites are still advocating that “people” should do something that in fact is only helpful for men, rather than for people.

You can see the same thing in almost any store: razors and women’s razors, lego and girl’s lego, hammers and women’s hammers, even laxatives and women’s laxatives. The default person is a man. Women are a special case and are not always included in the general “people.”

Or take a look at these headline examples from a blog entry I recommend reading in its entirety:

  • ...there are so few able-bodied young adults around. They have all gone off to work or look for work, leaving behind the old, the disabled, the women and the children.   [so women are not able bodied young adults?]
  • A 45-year old man has been charged with assaulting his next-door neighbour’s wife   [doesn't she live next-door too?]

So, if people means men, then even if guys also means people, it still means men. So we can argue whether “guys” is or isn’t gender neutral, but for an awful lot of both men and women, “people” isn’t even gender neutral. I think it’s fair to say, though, that guys is even less gender neutral than people.

The key is this: you might mean to include women when you say guys. And most of the room might hear it as including women, too. But some of them will not. And you can’t tell who feels that way. So eliminating “guys” from your vocabulary will improve the experience of listening to you for some people.

How can you do it? What can you say instead? Well in a lot of cases, you can just drop it. For sentences like “What do you guys think?” “What I’m here to show you guys today is” and the like, you can just use “you.” Sometimes you might want “all of you”. “Some guys think” can become “some people think” or get more specific – “some developers think”, “some managers think”, “some customers think” – you’re not only eliminating an irritant from your talk, but you’re being more precise and conveying more information. And you’re avoiding “people” which, as I’ve shown above, isn’t actually gender neutral to most of those who hear it.

If you’re talking in the singular, this becomes even more important. “Some guy asked for this feature so it got added” or “you know somewhere the guy who wrote this is thinking” or “I need a guy from your group to take the lead on this” is just always wrong. Yet the more you say “guys” to mean “bunch of people of whatever gender, I don’t care about gender”, the more you will say “guy” to mean just one person, and those who hear you will hear gender. Instead, you can’t go wrong with “someone”, or again being more specific – the developer who wrote this, for example.

The hard part isn’t figuring out how to reword the sentence to avoid the word guy or guys. The hard part is breaking the habit. I’m working on it, because I think it’s worthwhile. I encourage you to work on it too. Chances are, no-one will ever notice. That’s the thing about politeness and taking the time to be sure you’re not bumping someone with your elbow. No-one ever got off a plane and tweeted how great it was that the person next to them kept their elbows to themselves, or smelled ok, or was quiet. But it’s still worth taking the effort to be the great seatmate, and in the same spirit it’s worth taking the time to change your speech patterns a tiny bit so that some of your listeners don’t feel excluded.


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93 days ago
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The Self-Made Myth

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It’s always baffled me how so many successful, usually white, usually male, individuals claim that they alone were close to solely responsible for their success, discounting or ignoring so many factors that contributed to that success.

One factor that’s so often discounted is simply the fact that it’s easier to take risks if you’ll still have a safe place to sleep and something to eat if that risk turns to failure. Another is knowing that you have the skills or qualifications to get another job. Yet another is having a lighter skin color. Another is having a manner of speaking that’s accepted. The list of other overlooked “advantages” is far longer than most “self-made” men will ever consider. And I’ve certainly had more than a few of those usually discounted or overlooked advantages.

Then, there’s luck. Now, it is true that people who work and try harder do have more “luck” than those who don’t, but in all the fields in which I’ve worked, I can name a number of people who had more talent and who worked harder that others who were more successful, largely because the successful ones were in the right place at the right time.

Obviously, it’s not all luck. I do work hard. I’ve averaged writing 2 ½ books a year for more than twenty straight years, and I’ve visited almost forty percent of the B&N bookstores in the U.S. over the past 20 years, as well as hundreds of other bookstores, not to mention the time and effort spent on the website and other activities, but there are other authors who worked that hard as well, and not sold as well as I have, and there are some who haven’t worked as hard as I have who’ve sold a great deal more.

I was a marginally successful short story writer – very marginal – until Ben Bova wrote me a critical rejection letter. He didn’t have to write it. I was fortunate that he did, because his suggestion that I should write novels was absolutely accurate. I was also fortunate that David Hartwell read all the major SF magazines, because when I submitted my first novel to him, he recalled my name from the few ANALOG stories I’d written, and that meant that he turned to reading my manuscript before those of totally unknown writers. Now he bought the book because it was good enough to publish, but I’m sure there were others good enough to publish that probably didn’t get bought for various reasons. I was also fortunate that David prompted me to do to my first SF convention, because the experience at that particular convention prompted me to write The Magic of Recluce, which I never would have considered, at least not until later, and Tor published that book with a Darrell Sweet cover just a year after The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, which had a Sweet cover, and the fact that The Magic of Recluce also had a Darrell Sweet cover and was released so soon after The Eye of the World certainly had to have helped enormously in launching my fantasy career.

Whether you call it luck or good fortune, it’s still a factor, and while I’m exceedingly happy that those events worked out that way, I’m also very well aware that they might not have… and that I could still be struggling to write short fiction while mired in a 60-80 hour a week high stress job in Washington, D.C. All of which is why I’m extremely skeptical of anyone who touts themselves as self-made. There are doubtless a handful of such individuals, but far, far fewer than most of those who claim such a title will ever understand.

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899 days ago
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Race, Policing and the Voice of the NFL Player

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What does “Black Lives Matter” mean?


I am a football player, but I am not just sticking to sports. The events of recent weeks in America should force all of us to have difficult conversations in our locker rooms, in our homes and in our workplace about the root causes of violence, hatred and racism in our country. We have an obligation as professional athletes who give back so much to our communities to educate ourselves and be part of these important discussions.

The narrative created by people who do not understand it would lead you to believe that Black Lives Matter is a radical, police-hating mob. Not only is that viewpoint wildly incorrect, but it also oversimplifies and trivializes the real prejudices that black people endure at the hands of some police officers. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not saying that the lives of black people matter more than the lives of others, it’s saying our lives matter EQUALLY to everyone else and when they are taken unjustly, we expect justice. That is part of the movement’s stated mission, “…working vigorously for freedom and justice for black people and by extension all people.”

People of color are getting killed at the hands of cops at an alarming rate, with no equal justice. According to the Washington Post, 50 unarmed black Americans have been shot to death by police since 2015, accounting for 39 percent of all fatal shootings of unarmed Americans. An unarmed black person is five times more likely to be shot to death by police than an unarmed white person. Body cams, cell phones and surveillance footage have shown us horrifying images, and some still deny what they see before their very eyes.

Let’s be clear. Black people have never been fully treated as equals in this country: Not 397 years ago (1619), when slaves were first brought to this continent to be free labor; not 153 years ago (1863), when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves from bondage; and not a mere 51 years ago (1965) when the racist Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation were finally ended. In fact, part of the history of policing includes special patrol units, put together to hunt for runaway slaves.

As recently as the 1960s, black people in some states were being attacked and sometimes killed because they wanted to vote and have the same basic rights as everyone else. Imagine that for a moment: Blacks have only been allowed to be fully integrated for the same amount of time that Chris Rock, Dr. Dre and David Spade have been alive. 

Now flash forward to 2016, during a time when you have some people given national platforms to say that black people need to stop making excuses, and “move on!” and categorically deny that racism even exists. How could there not still be racism and underlying prejudices? As Americans we should seriously examine how slavery and segregation have taken a toll on us, both black and white. In the scheme of human history, it has been blink of time since slavery ended and all citizens were declared “free and equal.”

Despite all the evidence in plain sight, some still justify these murders. They say the officers “panicked” or the “suspect made a sudden movement” or worse, the victim “got what he deserved” because at some point in their lives they made a mistake. Why is it whenever a black man is killed by the cops, networks and mainstream media hurriedly check their backgrounds, skimming through Facebook pages and court records to provide a character portrait, as if the findings mean that their murder is justifiable? Let us once and for all accept basic humanity and declare that this is wrong.

Another justification or explanation we hear is “What about black on black crime?” as if we are blind or not upset by the fact that our communities are being ripped apart by violence. This viewpoint is wrong because we know, we see and we hurt as a result of the violence in certain parts of the country, and that needs to be addressed. We have a huge problem with the murder rate in certain areas of the country that we need to get fixed. It’s terrible that so many young men growing up in underserved areas engage in behavior so detrimental to themselves and their peers. It’s something that needs changing, and sadly is largely a byproduct of much of what I’ve talked about in this article.

Wanting police officers who break the law, exhibit racism or use excessive force to be punished is not being ‘anti-cop.’ Everyone has to be accountable.

That being said, police take an oath to “protect and serve” the community and should not be compared to criminals, gang members or even everyday civilians. When your job is to uphold the law you are entrusted with power over other people and if you abuse that power, you must be held accountable. 

Wanting police officers who break the law, exhibit racism or use excessive force on civilians to be punished is NOT being “anti-cop.” Our nation is filled with exemplary men and women who risk their lives every day for us. I respect them, I celebrate them and I am grateful for the ways they sacrifice to preserve justice. Violence against police is not the answer and it is something I DO NOT condone, nor should anyone. I have friends and family members who are cops and are great human beings. But right now, at this pivotal moment in time, we need the great men and women in blue who keep our cities safe to break the silence among them and speak out against those who have a different agenda. Everyone has to be held accountable.

I alone don’t have all the answers, but it’s very clear from the state we are in right now that things must change. All the citizens of this country have a right to be treated equally and to feel safe, and if those rights are infringed upon any of us, all of us are affected. All of our lives should matter, but right now that is not the case for the black ones, and we should all feel compelled to change that.

Duane Brown was a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2008. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was All-Pro in 2012.

* * *

My Home


As I look at my wife’s growing belly that is the safe haven for our next child, I am at a loss for words at this beautiful life created. No one but God can manage such a job, and there is no substitute for the Creator of life. I look at the news and see stories of death. A life destroyed in my hometown. A job that should be reserved for God’s appointed angel, and yet man has killed his brother again.

Man killing man is a tale as old as time. One might think that we would have figured out how to stop pointless bloodshed by now. It’s 2016, and the tale continues. One would think that we’d learn by now how to live in peace. One would think that we are smart enough creatures to move past racial prejudices and discriminations, but it is apparent that we have not.

The tragic death of Alton Sterling has led me to remember events of my past while growing up in Baton Rouge, my home. It is who I am and part of what shaped me into who I am today. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against. I’ve experienced several encounters with police officers that left me wondering how such a person wears a badge. I’ve also been pulled over and there was no prejudice against me. I could speak to those experiences, but what good would it do? The point is that some individuals who are sworn to protect and serve have shed unjustifiable blood.

There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. It appears that some police are afraid of black people, whether it’s from their own prejudices or ill-conceived stereotypes. In turn, folks in the black community are afraid of police for the same reasons, as well as incidents such as those in Louisiana and Minnesota. Time and time again, this fear of one another has proven to escalate routine encounters into deadly ones.

Let me be clear, not all police officers are racist, but it is alarming that these events continue to pop up all over our nation. Our system is broken, and it’s time for change. Positive, peaceful and systematic change and NOT the disgusting vigilante actions we saw in Texas that took the lives of innocent officers working during a peaceful protest.

To see this country, especially my home state of Louisiana, in such turmoil is sickening.

I’ve pondered many times on how to find a solution to this problem, as well as other problems humanity faces: homelessness, starvation, disease. Almost always, I’m left feeling hopeless and that peace is an insurmountable feat, because there always will be those few who send us back to square one.

We continue to repeat history, and the violence has to stop. It’s overwhelming. I am heartbroken and moved to tears over the events of this past week, this past year. To see this country, especially my home state of Louisiana, in such turmoil is sickening.

I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with an answer only to realize that it is too big a problem for one man to solve. We must come together to find a solution and to overcome these injustices. I can’t imagine what the families of the deceased are going through, but I pray they find the same comfort in Jesus that I do. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

My only hope is in Jesus, the Savior of the world. I have faith in the will of God. I have learned that in times like these God can do amazing things. We just have to believe that He is capable. I pray that He enters our hearts and teaches us how to love one another. Through His faithfulness I pray that He sends us the answer that we’ve been looking for.

Eric Reid, a native of Baton Rouge, was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after his rookie season.

Questions or comments? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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919 days ago
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Thoughts on privilege

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The first rule of Privilege Club is: You do not know you’re a member of Privilege Club.

The second rule of Privilege Club is: Even if you know you’re a member of Privilege Club, you don’t know how far your membership goes.

The third rule of Privilege Club is: The second rule of Privilege Club applies even if you try to take it into consideration.

The fourth rule of Privilege Club is: You do not talk about Privilege Club, except to deny its existence.

Just what we need: more proclamations from a straight white man

This is my third attempt at writing this post. The reasons I’ve found it hard to write are the same reasons I think it’s important for me to write it. Its purpose is mostly to help me organize (and record) my own thoughts; a secondary purpose is to effectively raise my hand and say “I believe privilege exists” to punctuate the silence from many privileged people. I believe that the more people who openly acknowledge privilege, the easier it will be to defeat, and this post is just one way of acknowledging it.

I recognize that there’s a risk that this post will come across as mansplaining privilege. “Listen dear, I know you think you know about privilege, what with being sexually harassed, talked over in meetings, received less recognition and compensation for your work and so on – but hush now: man talking. Let me tell you what privilege really is.” Recognizing the danger isn’t the same as avoiding it, and I may fall into the pit anyway. Please call me on it if I do.

How does privilege affect me?

I’m a straight, white, cis-gendered, married, middle-class Christian male living in the UK. I could go on with things that have given me advantages, but that’s probably enough to start with.

That means:

  • I can sit here thinking about privilege instead of working a second job or trying to find a job. If I lose my current job, I can be reasonably confident of finding another one before I go hungry.
  • There’s a referendum tomorrow: I can vote freely, and I’m confident the vote won’t be rigged.
  • I can write this post and be pretty confident I won’t be abused for it. (When I messed up an earlier post in a few ways, I was called on it by a writer I admire. It stung, but the criticism was all measured, polite, and useful. No threats, nothing ad hominem. Compare that with the comments on the average feminist article…)
  • I can walk across the local park to the shops without being fear of sexual harassment. (If I walk across at 10pm and there’s a group of teenagers hanging around, I get nervous. I don’t know how rational that is though.)
  • I can show affection to my wife in public and not receive abuse.
  • I can practise my religion without persecution. (I’ve received more abusive comments from other Christians for things like my stance on homosexuality than I’ve received about my other religious beliefs.)
  • Although I tend to talk quite a lot in meetings, I’ve rarely been cricitized for it. I suspect a woman talking the same amount would be seen as “overly opinionated” or somesuch.
  • I’ve never been denied service for how I look. Compare this with the #AirBnbWhileBlack situation which originally prompted this post, and which horrified me when I heard about it. It horrified and surprised me due to rule two.
  • If someone buys me a drink, I’m happy for them to bring it to the table, without worrying about whether or not it’s spiked.

Now none of this is what I might have termed “privilege” a couple of years ago. It’s just “normal life, the way it should be” – because everyone is equal, right? I would have used the word “privilege” for things like blatant nepotism, or inheriting millions. (The deposit my parents gave me for my first house? No, not privilege, of course not. Being lucky to have hard-working, generous parents? Sure, I can acknowledge that – but calling it privilege would break rule one.)

Living in different worlds

I’m not hopelessly naive – I haven’t just woken up and discovered that sexism, racism and homophobia exist. But I’ve become more aware of the extent of them, and how they can make it feel like you and I may be living in entirely different worlds. We could walk down the same street, minutes apart, and experience very different journeys – not just tinkering round the edges, but aspects that change the decisions we make, the state in which we arrive at our destination, our outlook for the rest of the day, and so on.

That’s an easy idea to shrug off, and I suspect I’d have dismissed it at least partially a while ago. No-one could have proved it to me, in that I can’t live in someone else’s skin. Sure, you could have shown me a video of the two experiences, but that’s not the same as feeling it, and living it – not just for five minutes, but for a lifetime. So instead of looking for proof, I go by what others say about how they find the world around them, basically – and it feels like reading books like Everyday Sexism has opened my eyes, at least partially. (Girls Will Be Girls helped a lot here too, particularly descriptions of structure vs agency.)

I still have to fight myself on this – privilege is apparently really hard to shake off. It’s so easy to fall into Privilege Denying Dude mode, fundamentally assuming that the world really does work the same way for everyone, and that those unfortunate people that bad things just seem to happen to would be so much happier if they’d just make better life choices. It would be lovely to think I always catch myself before going into that mode these days, but it seems unlikely… and how could I know?

Aside: eyes wide (?) open

This morning I read a wonderful piece called “10 ways to be a better male feminist” by Aaminah Khan. It includes this wonderful line:

And once you start doing this, you can’t just stop, because even if you want to, you won’t be able to shut your eyes to reality once you’ve had them opened.

For a couple of months now, I’ve been realizing that being a feminist isn’t making me happy. I didn’t really expect it to, but when I first ordered a few books a couple of years ago, I don’t think I’d expected how sad and angry I might become… and yes, that’s obviously within the privileged position of only having to learn about the injustices rather than live them. No sympathy requested or expected. The only way I expect to become less sad or angry about this is for the world to change.

Debatable privilege

There’s one aspect of privilege which isn’t directly related to my gender, race, sexuality or anything like that – but more my experience.

For those coming to this post from a non-software-engineering background, I’m a micro-celebrity on a Q&A site called Stack Overflow. People ask questions about how to solve programming problems, and other people provide answers – I mostly provide answers, and I’m pretty good at it. This in turn has led to me speaking at quite a few conferences. It’s fun, and the attendees seem to enjoy my talks.

Now, when a conference opens its Call for Speakers, the organizers often email me directly to ask me if I’d like to speak. Sometimes they’ll put me in the agenda before we’ve even worked out what I’m going to talk about, let alone written a full abstract.

Is that privilege? Most of the other speakers will have had to find topics which are new and cool, hone abstracts, carefully craft bios to sound impressive but not arrogant… all work I haven’t had to do. I’ve taken a shortcut. Does it count as “not privilege” due to “earning” the shortcut with previous talks and Stack Overflow answers? I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I feel guilty about it; usually I don’t.

Conclusion (aka darn it, this time I’m going to hit “post”)

I don’t want to come across as wearing too much of a hair shirt. I didn’t “opt” to be in a privileged position, and I don’t feel guilty for being a man, or being white. (And no-one is asking me to feel guilty for that, either.) But there’s no excuse for not recognizing the privileges which give me unfair advantages every day. I hope that busting the rules of Privilege Club is the first step in dismantling it entirely. I hope I’m able to help open my sons’ eyes to privilege earlier than I opened mine. I hope there’ll be less and less to open our eyes to over time.

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941 days ago
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Stop saying learning to code is easy.

WoC in Tech Stock Photos used under CC

I saw this tweet after the Apple WWDC keynote and had thought the same thing. Hang on, programming is hard. Rewarding, sure. Interesting, totally. But "easy" sets folks up for failure and a lifetime of self-doubt.

When we tell folks - kids or otherwise - that programming is easy, what will they think when it gets difficult? And it will get difficult. That's where people find themselves saying "well, I guess I'm not wired for coding. It's just not for me."

Now, to be clear, that may be the case. I'm arguing that if we as an industry go around telling everyone that "coding is easy" we are just prepping folks for self-exclusion, rather than enabling a growing and inclusive community. That's the goal right? Let's get more folks into computers, but let's set their expectations.

Here, I'll try to level set. Hey you! People learning to code!

  • Programming is hard.
  • It's complicated.
  • It's exhausting.
  • It's exasperating.
  • Some things will totally make sense to you and some won't. I'm looking at you, RegEx.
  • The documentation usually sucks.
  • Sometimes computers are stupid and crash.


  • You'll meet amazing people who will mentor you.
  • You'll feel powerful and create things you never thought possible.
  • You'll better understand the tech world around you.
  • You'll try new tools and build your own personal toolkit.
  • Sometimes you'll just wake up with the answer.
  • You'll start to "see" how systems fit together.
  • Over the years you'll learn about the history of computers and how we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

It's rewarding. It's empowering. It's worthwhile.

And you can do it. Stick with it. Join positive communities. Read code. Watch videos about code.

Try new languages! Maybe the language you learned first isn't the "programming language of your soul."

Learning to programming is NOT easy but it's totally possible. You can do it.

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Sponsor: Big thanks to Redgate for sponsoring the feed this week. How do you find & fix your slowest .NET code? Boost the performance of your .NET application with ANTS Performance Profiler. Find your bottleneck fast with performance data for code & queries. Try it free!

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946 days ago
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'Is that a rift in space-time, daddy, or just a cloud?'

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Australian storm-chasing photographer Nick Moir threw the kids in the car and tore off to catch this shot of squall line hitting Sydney

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1537 days ago
Turns out it's from my wife's work carpark.
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