The Mac Lab

Archive for May, 2010

Pixar Parallels (Week 35)

by on May.30, 2010, under Blog

julia_wolfie_smWith only weeks to go before the film is released, the audio mixers at Skywalker Sound combine dialog, music, and sound effects. Every nuance is adjusted and readjusted. After a four-year production process, it can be hard to let go of Woody, Lotso, Buzz, and the rest of the characters. “We don’t ever finish a film,” Unkrich says. “I could keep on making it better. We’re just forced to release it.”
Wired Magazine article: How Pixar Works

When reading that article, I was struck by the parallels between Pixar’s process and our own. In that paragraph alone, consider…

We have only weeks to go before you’re released. Some of you have learned to sweat every nuance, adjusting and readjusting elements of your projects. For a few of you, it has been (or will be) a four-year process and I have to admit that it’s often hard to let go of some of you characters. And, as you well know, we could always keep on making our art better but we face the same looming presence as Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich: Deadlines.

Elsewhere in the article…

Pixar has made nine films, and every one has been a smashing success.

I’ve overseen nine years in the Mac Lab (counting that first half-year) and each has seen it’s share of smashing student successes. Don’t get me wrong; we have a long way to go in order to even begin to approach Pixar’s consistent excellence. I don’t deny that I’ve also presided over an abundance of mediocrity in those same nine years, but there’s no denying that each annual installment of The New and Improved Mac Lab™ has featured an ever-growing number of examples of unprecedented student achievement.

As a result, the studio has built a team of moviemakers who know and trust one another in ways unimaginable on most sets.

The question I’m asked most often by other educators is: How do you do it? They want to know how I’m able to motivate kids to produce work that’s so technically and artistically proficient. The answer, that others have such a hard time understanding, is that I don’t do it, the kids do. The way I see it, my primary job is to create the environment — to establish the culture — in which collaborative creative excellence can and will flourish. I may set the bar high, but the kids do all the jumping (with veterans usually leading the way). I just apply a nudge now and then to keep the crew heading in the right direction.

Which explains how they can handle the constant critiques that are at the heart of Pixar’s relentless process. …they ruthlessly “shred” each frame.

At the last Platt College Advisory Board meeting, the industry experts were unanimous in encouraging Platt’s instructors to be honest (and brutal when necessary) when critiquing student work. I imagine most of you would agree that my critiques can be brutally honest. Those critiques, however, have played their part in helping to establish you as the premiere high school new media artists in the area. And that’s the primary reason a private college asked a simple high school teacher to sit on their advisory board four years ago.

It’s important that nobody gets mad at you for screwing up. We know that screwups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible.

This one applies to me more than the kids. Sure, they make mistakes (and experience their inevitable consequences) but the monumental screwups are all mine. After all, when I make bad decisions, they often affect over 200 students. This year’s monumentally huge screwup involved granting creative freedom far earlier in the year than ever before. While some students flourished, others floundered. For some in the latter group, none of my subsequent interventions served to resuscitate those flatliners. A major long-term screwup on my part! But as I’ve written

There’s a bittersweet feeling in approaching the end of a school year. Before celebrating the successes, I’m always lashed with regrets. Wondering what I could have done differently. Wondering why I failed yet again to reach that ever-present cluster of flatliners. Wondering why… Then before the flogging kicks into high gear (I have years of practice and sometimes get carried away), I glance at the Wall of Fame™ and know that the victories outweighed the defeats.

Ain’t that the truth! And oh, the plans I’ve already made for next year. It’s going to be epic! 😛

••••• ••••• ••••• ••••• •••••

A Tip o’ the Hat: Thanks to Julia Henderson for this week’s featured image. Julia’s work already has a Disneyesque quality. Next year she’ll follow (and help to craft) a customized curriculum designed to further develop and sharpen her already considerable talents. One day we’ll say: We knew her before she became a famous illustrator.

You’re Going to be in Another Book: Besides the recently released Paint the World with Light, Jeff Witchel, Adobe Illustrator and InDesign Certified Instructor (and all around great guy), informed me that he’s included the following acknowledgment at the beginning of his forthcoming InDesign Tips book:

A very special thank you to computer graphics teacher Mike Skocko and his amazingly talented students at Valhalla High School in El Cajon, California. Keep asking those great question that have led to some of my favorite tips.

I’ll let you know once it’s published. And sign up for Jeff’s Tip of the Day!

Final Exam: Begin collecting your 10 (or more) best projects for the final. Ask at least three others if your examples are ready for prime time (or if they can be improved). Hint: They can and should be improved. The projects you pick will represent your year’s growth as an artist, so choose wisely.

I’m still waiting on a definitive answer on the best method to proceed using InDesign (and how to include video). For now, focus on putting your best work forward and don’t worry about InDesign.

Countdown: 12 work days (plus two Mac Lab Saturday Schools, June 5 and 12) until finals begin on June 17. (The day before Toy Story 3 is released!)

Tomorrow: Initial instructions regarding the written component.

0602: The written component of the final exam. Grammar and spelling count. Please take the time to write coherently. Use TextEdit to draft your initial comments (it’s in Applications). Do not indent. Do not use italics. Do not change fonts. Do not change the size of the font. Do not change the color of the font. Do not format your text at all. Just type, using two returns for paragraph breaks. You’ll copy and paste this into InDesign in a few days.

Title: This is important and we’ll cover it again in the InDesign tutorials. Everyone’s title needs to follow the same format. The titles will be used by InDesign to generate the table of contents so it’s important that you title yours exactly as follows:

Period Last Name First Name

A student named Sally Jones in 2nd period would title her chapter: 02 Jones Sally

Save your TextEdit file the same way: 02 Jones Sally.rtf (yes, we’re using caps and spaces).

Additional Instructions: Watch this video to get started. Get it? Good. Now watch this video.

Familiar Links: Elements and Principles and Color Theory. (Alternate links: E & P | CT)

Today: You’ve got a sub today so be good (or you’ll pay the price). Almost forgot… I’ve got one final question for you.

0603: The bad news is that I’m not sure if we’ll get a new roll of paper for our Epson 9880 until the fall. The good news? I’ve got a new printer lined up for the Mac Lab. A true technological breakthrough! See it here. On a far more serious note, if you won’t wear a seat belt for yourself, how about doing it for the ones who love you? Click.

Countdown: 10 work days (plus two Mac Lab Saturday Schools, June 5 and 12) until finals begin on June 17. I better stop writing and let you get to work now.

0604: Students often ask why I don’t create art. Truth is, there’s a part of me that wants to spend hours and hours lost in the creative process. But I’ve chosen to become a teacher and this is my passion now. Sure, I take photographs and have linked to four pages of my shots in Inspiration ( 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 ). The blog is my (somewhat) creative writing outlet but I try to share my ideas with you. What ideas? Last week I shared the Star Trek Rule of Thirds Concept with you. Will it ever see the light of day? Well, I spent about four hours capturing 150 frames of the first eight minutes of the movie and here’s the initial test.

Good or bad, that test was the result of frame by frame examination of the movie. Oh, some of the tricks the special effects artists used! You can’t see what they’re doing at full-speed. I’ll have to share some of these in the future.

Special Thanks: The Canel family stepped up to help the Mac Lab once again by donating $200 via the Foundation so we can begin printing again. (The paper will arrive today or Monday.) Qualcomm will once again match the donation bringing the Canel’s total contribution to $2,900!

Tomorrow: Mac Lab Saturday School™ will end at 11:00 tomorrow as my daughter will be performing with other Hillsdale students at the House of Blues downtown at 12:30. I will arrive around 5:30 if you want to get an early start on the day. The final MLSS™ will be next Saturday. The last one is always a zoo with 68 students showing in ’08 and 65 in ’09. Details here.

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To Boldly Go (Week 34)

by on May.24, 2010, under Blog

diana_sofya_smAll inquirers had the naïveté and some had the boldness of amateurs.
Daniel J. Boorstin / The Discoverers

If I were to call you an amateur, would you be offended? In our society, being labeled an amateur isn’t a typically considered to be a compliment. Think about it. We don’t usually say: She’s an amateur. The phrase is usually tinged with shades of contempt: She’s only an amateur or She’s just an amateur. I was so conditioned to this association that Mr. Boorstin’s words caught me completely off-guard when I first read them twenty-some years ago on page 636 of that amazing book. As an amateur (and a naïve one at that) investigating the nature of what seems to be, I took those words to heart.

Diana and Sofya, I say you’re both amateurs! Diana, you checked out a camera and along with your sister, Sofya, managed to capture this image. I say you were just lucky. You were lucky to be together. You were lucky that Sofya found the dandelion. You were lucky the background so complimented the Sofya’s complexion. (And I mean that literally. Think Color Theory.) You were lucky to capture the moment in focus with the macro lens. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

And I’m lucky to have the both of you as students.

When it comes to digital arts and all the new frontiers we’re discovering in the Mac Lab, we’re all amateurs! Myself included. And it’s lucky for you that I’m naïve enough to believe you’re all able to produce professional quality projects… if you’re willing to read, listen, and try and try and try.

You see, when we both do our job, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You really do produce professional quality projects.

Look around the room. Look at these posters. Look in the Galleries. No question about it, Mac Lab students are some of the best high school artists in the world! Are you one of those not yet featured? There’s still time. Use this week to create and perfect your own masterpiece.

Cue the theme music and boldly go where no Mac Lab artist has gone before.

••••• ••••• ••••• ••••• •••••

Lest you think me hurtful in calling Diana lucky, a guy named Louis Pasteur got lucky too. When challenged, he simply said: Chance favors the prepared mind.

So true.

0525: Since we’re on a Star Trek theme, I figure it’s time to lay this one on the table. You see, I had this idea… Is it good? Bad? Stupid? Fantastic? Only one way to know for sure and that’s to act on it. (In all honesty, I suspect it will be a monumentally great way to drive home the concept of the Rule of Thirds for students next year.)

In the credit where credit is due category, it was Diana I again who motivated me to act with this wonderful example. That example, btw, will lead to another teachable moment in tomorrow’s update.

Stay tuned. 😛

Congrats: Michael W won a copy of Photoshop CS5 for his submission to Week 1 of 5 Weeks of 5. It’s not too late to try your hand at the competition!

0526: Please watch this video (starring another of Diana’s creations) prior to getting on with today’s project.

0527: I’ve been researching how we’ll create our iBook for the final. The process is pretty straight forward but you’ll have to follow instructions. Think you can do that? Sure you can! 3 then Me will be in hyperdrive. We’ll begin next Tuesday. (Tutorials coming.)

Good News: Our iBook will be a landmark creation.

Bad News: Our iBook will resemble a 20th century relic.

Why would I say such a thing?! Well, it’s kinda hard to ignore what happened yesterday…

NOTE: Do NOT go to to see more videos.

The magazine is freakin’ awesome. The future of publishing has arrived… Only it’s not in time to save our initial offering from looking like it was made with two sticks and a rock. On the bright side, we will be going where no high school class has gone before. Our final exam will be presented on the iPad. And it will be sooooo easy to produce! You have nothing to fear. (Except, perhaps, a lack of content… If that’s the case, you better get creating!)

When, you ask, will we be able to follow in Wired’s footsteps? Read:

And this reality is sooner than you think. During summer 2010, watch for new publishing technology on Adobe Labs that helps publishers to transform InDesign CS5 layouts into compelling applications like the WIRED Reader. (via)

Looks like just one more way the Mac Lab is going to rock next year!

••••• ••••• ••••• ••••• •••••

Warning: Heading in early to register CS5 on all computers in the Mac Lab. Because I’ve been up since 1:40, I’m going to guess that it’s probably a really good idea to stay on task today.

Sleep-deprived teacher + misbehaving students = Danger, Will Robinson! 😉

0528: Mac Lab photographers, there’s an Old School Photo Challenge up on Kelby’s site. Since you’ve all grown up in the digital age, I’m not sure if you’ll get it but it is for a good cause. If your folks like photography, show them the link and dare them to try it. If they want to donate to the orphanage, here’s where that happens.

CS5 Central: Learned any new skills lately?

International Update: The United Republic of Tanzania is country number 152 to visit the Mac Lab since April of last year. We also recently passed 100,000 visits from 5,000 cities around the world. Here’s a look. Note: It says 153 countries but one of them is called not set.

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More than a Feeling (Week 33)

by on May.17, 2010, under Blog

840_stars_smAlmost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel… the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
E.E. Cummings / A Poet’s Advice to Students

When we first started discussing the 840 idea (based on District 9), I could feel it was right. When admin balked at the dark nature of the original film, I wanted to point out what this poster was based on. But I didn’t. It didn’t feel right. 😉

Hey, I’ve been up front about trusting my feelings. I’ve got more to write about this (especially about the 840 team coming through in crunch time) but the District Art Show submission deadline is today and I’ve got a whole bunch of mounting to do right now so the rest will have to wait until tomorrow. Head to CS5 Central and learn some new skills today.

International Update: Someone from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan visited, making it the 151st country to visit the blog since April of ’09.

0519: Polish your work. Take it the last 10%! Now where have I heard that before? (Required reading.) Do you understand? If you won’t take my word, try this.

840 Update: The poster is getting closer to being a keeper. Here’s the latest version.

District Art Show: All weekend at Parkway Plaza. Awards Ceremony at 5:30 on Friday. Come cheer on your classmates and their entries: Zack Tatar, Diana I, Christian Lim and Philip Behnam, Julia H, Christopher Canel (02), and Paul B (02). Many other worthy pieces could have easily been entered if we weren’t limited to eight submissions.

0520: James Wirig delivered for Vocal Music in record time and I began printing this poster a few minutes ago (one for the wall and one for James). Then the unthinkable happened. Well, to be honest it’s not actually unthinkable because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Anyway, when the printer began making its I’m all finished with this print sounds way too soon, I knew something was wrong. The flashing light by the display said it all: Out of Paper.

Coincidentally, a similar message is flashing on our class budget: Out of Money. Heading upstairs to find a solution.

It pays to have fans in high places! Admin is working on the purchase. Also, if you haven’t been keeping up with the Jobs Page, the district has commissioned Mac Lab artists to design the publicity for yet another major project (iParent).

Yet Another Job: Hillsdale/Valhalla joint Pops Concert. Details on Jobs Page.

District Art Show Winners: Congratulations to all of our entrants! Christian Lim and Philip Behnam 3rd Place Experimental Photography, Julia H 2nd Place Advanced Commercial Digital Illustration, Christopher Canel 1st Place Experimental Photography, and Paul B (02) 1st Place and Honorable Mention Beginning Commercial Digital Illustration.

Amazing Internet Connection: Here’s what just arrived in the email:

Browsing on the internet, looking for suitable pictures or paintings of snakes, I stumbled upon the picture of the slithering snake on your website. I am a Dutch PhD student at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, about to have my dissertation printed by a printing company, and as you may have guessed, a would like to use this picture on the cover of the book. The thesis is a commentary on a poem by the Greek poet Nicander of Colophon, and as the poem deals with snakes, this picture would be most suitable.

Would you be so kind to let me know where you found this picture or do you know which artist made the piece? If I could get permission this would be great. Of course a copy of the book would be sent to the artist as a token of my gratitude.

I put out the word to Chelsea (the artist) via Facebook. (And almost immediately connected.)

0521: The District Art Show opens today at 4:00 in Parkway Plaza. It’s in the center of the mall. You can’t miss it. The awards ceremony is at 5:30. Come see the show and cheer your classmates.

Reminder: Mac Lab Saturday School™ is tomorrow. As always, I’ll arrive by 6:15. Show up early to claim “your” computer.

Hot Off the Press: Paint the World with Light is now on sale. I’ve ordered a copy if you want to see what it looks like before you buy. (I’ll let you know when it arrives.) Here’s a preview if you’re curious.

The Blog’s Reach: We’re approaching a few milestones but in just the last 30 days we’ve had almost 40,000 page views from visitors living in 104 countries and 47 states (plus the District of Columbia). In California alone, we’ve had hits from folks in 92 cities. (Someone from Point Reyes Station spent 35 minutes wandering around.) In the United Kingdom, 34 cities. (Someone from Beaconsfield hit 23 pages.) There’s no doubt that others are interested in your artistry.

Who knows? Maybe your work, like Chelsea B’s, will end up on the cover of a scholarly publication too. Her artwork was sent to the publisher in the Netherlands this morning.

Simply amazing.

0522: Speaking of amazing, at the conclusion of last night’s District Art Show Awards Ceremony, the Superintendent surprised everyone when he announced an unexpected final award. After praising all the entrants he singled out one work for the Superintendent’s Choice. Not only did he love Christopher Canel’s 1st Place work, he purchased a copy for the district offices and an additional copy for himself, which he wants Christopher to sign. His appreciation for the work was genuine and heartfelt. Quite the honor, Christopher. Congrats!

I’m equally proud of all of you who showed up to accept your awards and to support your classmates. You’re a classy crew! It was a wonderful night for Mac Lab artists.

Oh, and I’m not sure what else was on the Supe’s purchase list but he did ask me about Paul’s 1st Place piece. As he wrote Paul’s name down, I think I heard him say something about it heading to the district offices as well.

If you haven’t seen the show, it runs through Sunday at Parkway Plaza. There’s some terrific work from other schools as well. Definitely worth the trip.

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Treasures and Maps (Week 32)

by on May.10, 2010, under Blog

paul_b_greeble_smWe’re making treasures
They’re making maps
Skocko / Dream

The story behind that quote is NOT required reading but it is proof that dreams can be a creative conduit, so long as one pays attention to the details and captures the essence before the inspiration fades in memory.

Treasures and Maps. Think about the variety of interpretations one might arrive at while pondering those metaphors. When applied to the Mac Lab, the treasures might easily be the wonderfully creative artwork (Paul B) many of you are producing. As for the maps, the they in they’re might refer to search engines and random links others have generated that drive traffic to our little site. From the email I get, it’s certain that many people consider your work something to be treasured. The following is from a Senior Adobe Education rep:

Wow! Wow! And WOW!!! These are stunning!

I’m sooooooooo impressed with the quality of this work I’m going to share them with members of the Adobe Education team. Now I FOR SURE want to do an Adobe Showcase on your students.

I pointed him at these posters, btw. Just in case you weren’t aware, kids in the Mac Lab produce work that just doesn’t happen in most high schools. We’re making treasures in here. And it looks like Adobe is going to add a new map sometime next year when they roll in with their camera crew to record a your story.

Time is short. Make the most of what’s left in this school year to create a few more treasures of your own.

Tutorial Update: Four new Photoshop videos in CS5 Central. (Trust me, you’ll want to see these.)

0511: Last week I noticed that Google Analytics wasn’t counting any full-width pages. Not one. Turns out I’d put Google’s script in the wrong place on the template. I experimented over the weekend and discovered a few other D’oh! problems and I think I’ve finally got it dialed in because for the first time the Google stats match the WordPress stats (which had never happened before).

So what? you might say. Well, now I have two independent sources informing me of how many (or how few) of you are navigating to specific pages. And the two sources agree: Many of you are skipping the tutorials.

Hey, I want you to have time to work but you’ve still got things to learn along the way. Head over to CS5 Central and learn a few new techniques today.

0512: Three new Photoshop videos (PS 101) via CS5 Central.  Basic, but I bet most of you don’t know everything that’s in ’em. 😉

Congrats! Corey S won GUSHD’s Got Plans? poster design competition. A slightly modified version of this poster will be distributed to every classroom in every school in the district. Smaller versions will be sent to every family too. Thanks to Venetia, Philip, and James for their entries as well.

District 840: A mammoth last minute push saved the day. This poster will be plastered all over the school for STAR testing. The (nearly) 6′ tall version currently on display upstairs will be revised as there is room for improvement. (Hey, it’s going to remain on display for the next year. Don’t you want to make the tweaks we all agree will improve the final result?)

Thanks to Christopher Canel, Kyle Wheaton, Philip Behnam, Zack Tatar, and Fadi George (on Pen Tool) for their terrific work on District 840!

Palm Café: The big cheese from Food Services will be coming out to review redesigns for the District’s menu very soon. Details on Jobs Page.

0513: Read this post. I’m serious, read it.

Good News: We get to enter 12 items in the District Art Show this year!

Bad News: Submissions are due Monday.

I was told the good and bad news yesterday after school. Lucky you read this post so you’ll understand that I’ll expect you to polish your best work for submission. I’ll be printing and mounting all day Monday so work like the dickens today, tomorrow and over the weekend if you want to be chosen. (You can download trial versions of the software.)

Disclaimer: I don’t like being judge and jury but there’s really no other way to do it. I’m going to pick the 12 best pieces, period. If you think you have something wonderful, show me… after you’ve asked three others.

In Other News: Adobe just launched a new ad campaign:


You guys know how excited I am about CS5 and how much I love using Adobe’s products, but dang, if any of you drew such a pitiful heart, I’d send you straight back to the computer to fix it. (Just in case Adobe does fix this — and I sincerely hope they do because this is embarrassingly bad — here’s a screenshot of the page they just uploaded.)

0514: Since we’re in STAR testing mode and none of you were here yesterday, please read the 0513 update (and do what it says).

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Explore Your (Creative) World (Week 31)

by on May.03, 2010, under Blog

fadi_g_ed_smCreate, don’t steal.
Photoshop Cafe Motto

I want you to get right to it today so I’ll keep it short and sweet. There are 25 new Mac Lab Tutorials™ in CS5 Central. I’ll be recording more tutorials daily as I sift through piles of information and try to boil it down to understandable chunks for you to digest. Watch this video (and follow the instructions) to understand how best to get started.

International Update: The Principality of Andorra is our 149th nation on the visitor roll call. We also passed 400,000 page views over the weekend.

Thanks! To Fadi for this week’s featured image and for the inspiration for Mac Lab Tutorial™ #26. 😉

New Commercial: Steven Moyer and Christian Lim just finished this rockin’ ad for Livespeakr.

0504: Finish viewing the new CS5 Central tutorials as explained in this video. Today there are a few new Illustrator videos to watch as well. Woe to the student who works in sRGB!

Warning: Stats don’t lie. Very few of you worked along with all of the videos yesterday. They are required viewing and I expect you to follow the instructions. Your browser’s history tells the true story (as will will your workflow). Resistance is futile! Refusal is costly (MLSS™).

Don’t Ask: If you want to know why I’m wearing shorts, limping, and moaning, find Content Aware Fill (Into) in the Photoshop tutorials. (No fair making fun of the old guy!)

0505: Happy Cinco de Mayo! Let’s celebrate with 5 new Illustrator video tuts. You know how to find ’em, right? Hint: The search always begins here.

Student Blogs: Fadi George has his own tutorials too. Definitely worth a look! Also, Nikki Goodrich has joined the ranks of student bloggers. She says she’ll post more when Matt stops hogging the computer at home. 😉

Progress Reports: Friday is the day. Use the clipboard to record the grade you believe you’ve earned at this point in the semester. Write it in the SG column (SG = Student Grades). We’re using the same rubric we’ve been using since day one:

Rubric: The Competition | No Online Grades | Project-Based LearningSelf-Assessment/3 then Me | Participation | Plus or Minus 600 | 10 Point Rubric | Follow Instructions (5) | Are You Kidding Me? (0) | The Bare Minimum (1) | No Second Effort (2) | You Gave it Your All (3) | Great, but… (4) | Wall of Fame (5) | Total A = 9 or 10, B=8, C=7, D=6, F=5 or less | Important Reminder |

0506: Thanks for all the kind wishes yesterday (and cupcakes and brownies). In return, I made some new Photoshop and Illustrator CS5 videos… Just for you. 😉

Google Analytics Test: I’m getting no info from deep-nested full-width pages. To help track the problem, please click this link.

0507: Seven new Illustrator tutorials to put things in perspective. After one week, CS5 Central has over 50 tutorials.

International Update: 150 Countries! Someone from the city of Abidjan in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire spent almost 10 minutes here yesterday. I wonder what he or she thought about our little 21st century edu-experiment.

Reminder: No Mac Lab Saturday School™ tomorrow. The next one is May 22.

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Learn it all.