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Job rejection: “never got through”

(Back in February 2019)

I applied for a job in October at an environmental research center at UNC Chapel Hill. One of those jobs through a university application system where you get the feeling you’re tossing your information into a black hole.

But for a wonder, this black hole chucked something back out, because they actually did respond, within like a week, and wanted an interview. Now, I had to travel 2 hours to get there for the interview, and they were “unable” to provide compensation — and there’s nothing I hate so much as putting time and energy into other people, all at their whim, knowing by that same whim they can choose someone else.

However, I went for the interview, it went really well, and so I wasn’t as gloomy coming out as in.

Then they told me, it’s going to be a while until we get back to you.

I sent them a follow-up email thanks; they answered, okay, okay, but you know what, it’s going to be a while! But with an assurance I’d hear back.

The supposed start date for the job was December 1. But they implied during the interview that this was flexible, because they didn’t even except to have made the final decision by then. So December rolled around, and I didn’t worry I still hadn’t heard. Then it was Christmas soon enough, so I still didn’t worry. They had to do all these background checks on applicants.

But on the other side of the New Year, it suddenly seemed a lot less likely they would still be selecting their pick. I thought, maybe they they just canceled the job altogether? I mean, they told me multiple times in the interview that I’d hear back eventually, even with a delay, and then in an email they again reiterated: “We will be sure to let you know as soon as a final decision has been made.”

I emailed them today, finally, in February, and lo and behold: “it appears the reply we sent you never got through.”

Wait – are they serious? Or is that a straight-up lie? How does an email reply never go through, unless you just never wrote the email or never bothered to press send?

People are honestly so annoying. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

How does it make me feel? Like I don’t want to try to do anything.

 

 

More wildflowers in the Piedmont

A continuation from this post.

First, I found this really nice website that has pictures of flowers. I was able to identify some that weren’t in my book using it.

Partridge pea — this made me really excited. It’s a very beautiful yellow flower, and it has taken over the area where the yellow whorled-leaf coreopsis was earlier blooming. It was so pretty and so profuse that I feared it was invasive; and also it wasn’t in my book. But then I found it online. It is native to this area.

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partridge pea

Asiastic dayflower — from the name, you can kind of tell this flower is really from Asia. So it’s not native. It was nestled in with the partridge pea. The flower blooms for one single day. I didn’t know I was looking at something so fleeting until later. It was not in my book, but it only has two blue petals atop a yellow fuzz, so it was easy to search for.

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I found this string of light purple flowers … and they kind of look like the ‘everlasting pea’, but I don’t think that’s actually it. I saw them two days ago, nestled in among the partridge pea; and today it’s gone!

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Same with these small white flowers spreading out of a bell shape: so pretty, but I’m not sure what they’re called either.

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A cautious online presence for a PhD student?

When I was a Ph.D. student, I got “the talk” quite often from family members, telling me that my online presence was going to be “problematic”. Not because there were pictures of me doing drugs or anything. But because I was writing an opinion column for the Daily Tar Heel (the nation’s finest university paper), and apparently I was saying things I ought not to say. What will my fellow grad students, professors, future employers think if they see some of those articles, I was cautioned?

So I held back a little bit — just a very tiny little, mind you. I thought: as soon as I’m done with school, and I don’t have to worry about what the department chair thinks of me, then I can be totally uncensored. As soon as I don’t have to worry whether if something I wrote online affects whether my dissertation is accepted, whether I get a slot speaking at a conference.

But … that’s not the case! Because as soon as you get your degree, then you want a job … if you’re worried about how your online presence affects your dissertation, then won’t you worry about the impact on your job search? And once you have a job … maybe you’ll eventually want a better job. And on and on. At each stage, there will be people evaluating you and snooping around your online life. When I was in the PhD bubble, I seemed to think that if I could just finish up, I’d be free from all such concerns. But no … they stick around indefinitely. So are you going to stay quiet about things you care about forever? What if other people can learn by the things you write about, or identify with the same experiences? Especially if those experiences have to do with racism or injustice of some type … or just how to navigate a difficult process … are you really going to keep all that bottled up inside you because you fear what future employers and your PhD committee will think? Cause if that’s the case, you’re have to keep it bottled up forever — or at least until retirement — although I’m sure in retirement we can find yet someone else whose disapproval censors what we write online.

Also, as far as I know, those Daily Tar Heel articles never became an issue for anything I ever applied to. I even have some of my favorites posted on this website, and I never ever during a job application process had a lot of people clicking on those links (WordPress tells me if people do). Even if you went onto the page with all my articles on the Daily Tar Heel website … see, I wrote 24 articles in total and a lot of them were very trusting and humble and begging. You’d have to go through all of them to find the angry, vindictive one, and a busy hiring manager doesn’t have time for that.

Also, at this point, I have even more writings online! I have this website and blog; then I have the articles I wrote for WIRED magazine; plus the articles I wrote for the Daily Tar Heel, plus other miscellaneous webpages about this and that and the other. Buried in all this, you’d really need to search to sensitive topics I’ve written about. Most people don’t have time to do that, and I guess they see the nice surface veneer of everything, and would never think anything else is lurking underneath!

So the doomsday predictions never came true. And just to be clear — I was definitely not throwing around racial slurs or anything disgusting in what I was writing about. I was mostly writing about Islamaphobia. And people told me that would cause a problem. Well, you know what? My soul might have died and the respect I have for myself would have died had I not written those things. I’m not saying I was 100% right in everything I wrote. In some cases, I realize that I even think a little differently now. But the idea of having censored myself for fear of what future employers or my PhD colleagues would have thought — it just smacks too much of mercenarial overtones and lack of integrity.

Also, and here I rest my case: Once upon a time a woman at UNC Chapel Hill was enrolled in the Ph.D. program for epidemiology. While writing her dissertation or something, she took a short absence and went on the Bachelor TV show as a contestant! Like, she was wearing pretty and skimpy dresses, and talking about her boyfriend and dating status, in front of the entire nation. She got lots and lots of press. But now she has graduated and is a professor at Duke and has published tons of epidemiological articles and shows up in videos saying very complicated epidemiological things. So if she could go on the Bachelor as a PhD student and still pull through, why should the rest of us be worried?

 

Should you take time off after your PhD?

I took time off after my PhD, and here’s my thoughts on the matter:

1. I was very tired after my PhD concluded. I really wanted to rest. And this felt like a more important consideration than needing to find a job right away for the sake of being able to have a ready, assured answer when people asked, “so … what are you going to do next?”

2. People say that you can’t have gaps in your employment/educational history … but people parroting the conventional wisdom are often wrong, so this seemed pretty safe to ignore. (Except more on this below, avoid this if possible.)

3. I did not want to go into academia (still don’t) so for my personal circumstances, I didn’t need to get on the post-doc job search interview campaign.

4. I could move back in with my parents. The whole “take time off” thing sort of hinges on being able to live rent-free somewhere, I’m afraid. I really am so grateful that I could do that.

5. I got on Obamacare for health insurance. When your income is 0 (or fine, I had the PhD stipend from the first half of the year, but still), then Obamacare is free — at least, here in North Carolina, and as long as you get a Gold Plan. If you have lots of serious health problems, the Gold Plan might not cut it. The next step up, the Silver Plan, would have cost me maybe around a hundred dollars or more a month, I don’t quite remember. Also, I’m not entirely sure, but possibly the prices go up as you get older (Shouldn’t that be illegal?) So yes, this whole take-time-off experiment of mine also hinged on being relatively healthy. And hopefully on not getting in a car wreck or anything like that.

So, since I had the optimal circumstances, I decided that I would indeed take time off. I didn’t want to run around with my head cut off trying desperately to find a job, any job. I luckily was able to delay that stage by a few months (unfortunately, it eventually found me). And I guess I should also add, I applied to about 30 jobs during the last year of my PhD and the summer after. If I’d gotten any of them, I would have taken them. But the point is, I didn’t get any of them, and also, I didn’t really apply for all that many. It was not a super serious job search that demanded I find a job. I was more or less fine not having found a job.

But … I did realize that it wasn’t an option to do absolutely nothing. Also, I didn’t want to do nothing. I wanted, since nothing else was in the offing, to run my Animations with Kids program. I wanted very, very desperately to do it in Sweden, but everyone knows how that turned out. But as long as I was living rent free in rural North Carolina, I could just do it here! So I did. I worked with 170 kids and they made seven animated films about science, and it was great. It was nice, because programs like this usually are exclusive to big cities with the resources, or rich schools. But this was all in rural North Carolina with many poorer neighborhoods among the school catchment areas. It was really, truly doing something that wouldn’t have been done otherwise, and that is a super-great way to take time off after your PhD. See, you’re doing a fun project … and it’s not full time, it’s all very flexible, so you still get to rest … but it still is a lot of work and it is something definite that you’re doing, so now you can write about it on your resume and you don’t have that pesky unemployment gap everyone is always howling about.

Exploitative western scientists in foreign countries

I am still trying to get the last chapter of my PhD published, two years after graduating, and I have no idea if this is an average or super-long delay.

I like the paper, though, at least the form it’s finally taking. It’s about the marshes in southern Iraq. Back in 2003, these marshes were in the news a lot connected to the invasion of Iraq by the US. There’s a lot of ethnic cleansing-related destruction of these marshes, and when the Iraqi government fell in 2003, they were able to be studied again in full force.

At least some foreign scientists went to Iraq. I don’t know the backstory, but a professor named Curtis Richardson at Duke University was one of them. Duke University is right here in North Carolina. I followed their studies of the marshes as far back as 2006, I think, which was when they were publishing all their papers, and I always thought — oh, wow, North Carolina got in on the act all the way in Iraq.

And when I became a PhD student, with a focus on water resources and wetlands in Iraq, I ended up reading these research papers written by Richardson. One of them was published in Science, which along with Nature, is the most prestigious science journal out there (they also have the most original name!)

But I really think there is something icky and wrong about this whole process. For example, Curtis Richardson had co-authors on these papers — in particular, someone named Najah Hussain, a researcher in Iraq. I don’t understand why Najah Hussain was not the lead author on these papers — why was it Richardson? Like, did the lead name have to be a western scientist, otherwise Science and all the other journals wouldn’t have bothered? Or maybe the name didn’t have to be a western name, but the scientist had to be at a western institution, like Duke University, and not at the University of Basra in Iraq (where Najah Hussain worked).

Between me and you, there’s nothing all that much new in the papers that Richardson took lead authorship for. They pretty much just summarized the history of the marshes, and then looked at how the marshes had recovered after the war (which really is just a matter of looking at satellite images). I can go back and check the careful notes I took about these papers, but there was really nothing groundbreaking in them. But still, Richardson got to swoop in and take the lead authorship for them.

Well, that’s great, he got tons of citations and prestige from his work. But, is this not entirely one of those smoke and mirrors exercise? What did Richardson really do? Now, 17 years later, it’s still the scientists in Iraq who are focused on this issue, while Richardson has moved on to other prestigious works. Did he really help them in anyway? And if he did help, then that’s that — he helped. So why was he the lead author? (Not to mention all the media interviews and conference speeches he probably got to give about it, too).

It’s not all that different from Trump and his billions, that do or don’t exist, and the whole applause for success based on really on nothing at all. Is there any real good that a lot of these western scientists do when they go to foreign countries, and if there is, is the praise and prestige they get in proportion to what they actually do? I’m sure that sometimes it is — but I think way more often, these scientists are puffed up for very little at all.

Which just goes to show scientists, for all they often try to pretend to be loftier and above the illogical impulses of the lower-class, non-scientist masses, are just the same as everyone else.

 

Linda Holeman

Very early this year, before coronovirus upended things and before the Black Lives Matter protests, one of the big pieces of news and talk was that book, American Dirt. I know, seems forever ago! Hardly a blip now!

American Dirt was disliked for the way the White author had portrayed the Mexican characters, and I think even more so for the fact this book was elevated so much by the publishers and bookworld, above books written on the same topic by authors of Mexican origin.

There’s another book I want to challenge here on similar grounds: A book called The Moonlit Cage by Linda Holeman. This has been bothering me in the background for a year or two, since I came across it on Amazon. Now, I have not read this book. But in it, a young Muslim woman in Afghanistan is saved from oppression by a White British guy (eww) who is apparently the first man to show her kindness. Now, I am totally sure that it is possible to not know any nice men in a meaningful way if all you know are Muslim men; but — this is so obviously written by a White person, is it not? Her little fairytale dream of a sweet, lovely Muslim girl being saved a big, strong, handsome White man, that’s all it really is. In reality, do British do any saving, or are they more likely to be going around destroying? It’s completely racist, is it not? Why did she not write a book where all the White men were the mean ones, that’s completely in the realm of possibility, too. But no, it had to be the White man who did the saving.

And what really made me mad is this book has tons of good reviews, and apparently this author has sold millions of books. There you can see how public opinion is reinforced, and how worldviews are formed. It’s just so gross.

Applying for a job and interviewing at SESYNC

(Back in spring 2019)

“Well, it was nice to meet you!”

So said a man as my Skype interview with him and his colleagues was wrapping up. He hadn’t otherwise said much of anything the whole time, he’d just sat there while the lady beside him ran the show.

But at the very end, he told me, “well! It was really nice to meet you.”

You might think that boded well, but it had a certain finality to it. Like he was only telling me that because he didn’t expect to ever see me again. Shortly before those last words, towards the end of the interview, I saw the man and woman exchange a look – I guess I lost the job somewhere around there, though I’m not sure what I said or did. And when the man damned me with his praise at the finish, it pretty much confirmed for me that it was over.

Indeed, I was right. They sent me a cute little email, “We have chosen to move forward with another candidate for this highly competitive position. We wish you the best of luck and hope you will consider applying for positions in the future.”

This job was at a place called SESYNC, which is a fancy research center at the University of Maryland. It was for a science communication position. And I had read the job description very carefully, and I noticed that communication requested was geared towards communication between scientists, or communication with policy-makers. Knowing that, I told myself, okay, don’t mention your great love of communication geared for the public at your interview!

Lo and behold, during the interview, I got caught up in my enthusiasm, forgot myself, and blurted out my clandestine feelings to my interviewers. Maybe that was around when they exchanged glances and my fate was sealed.

Three weeks (yes, just three!) after I was rejected, they advertised for the exact same job. I wondered what happened, and in my shamelessness, I emailed the main woman running the show to ask her if she thought I could reapply. After all, they said, “we hope you will consider applying in the future …” But no, the professor knocked me out cold: “I do not recommend you re-apply to this position.” Then apparently forgot to erase the final sentence of her copied-and-pasted response by finishing off with “Please consider SESYNC in the future for research and career opportunities.”

Wildflowers in the Piedmont

I have such a nice book: A field guide to wildflowers of the Eastern United States by Tom Gold Knight. I think I bought it in the mountains somewhere, at one of the pretty gift stores they have at the national or state park rest stops.

But sadly, even though I’ve been looking hard, I haven’t found a lot of the flowers, even this spring and summer when quarantine gave extra time for just that. There’s so many flowers, and I would like to find them all. I think sometimes I come across a flower that’s in the book, either it’s actually not in the book at all, or I just can’t find it.

So when I actually identify something with surety, it’s exciting:

1. Whorled-leaf coreopsis. This one was very exciting. It’s a very new flower for me.

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2. Wild quinine — another new flower, and very exciting. They are all along the roadside since the end of June.

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3. A type of daisy called Daisy fleabane. This little patch is now faded (about a month after the picture). This daisy is not the ‘real’ daisy we all know of. This one has feathery, thin petals, but a lot of them.

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4. Also, the more regular type of daisy — Ox-eye daisy. With the thick, fat petals. It’s nice to know the real name, but of course, every one knows what a daisy is.

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5. Spotted knapweed — this was a nice find — on the roadside — it’s like purple fuzz — but I didn’t get a clear picture.

6. Queen Anne’s Lace and Black-eyes Susans — everyone knows these, too. They are all over the banks of one of the roads we drive on. And they are on some roadside slopes we can walk to.

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I think this bundle of Queen Anne’s lace was just waking up that morning.

7. Hop clovers — tiny tiny yellow flowers matted into the grass

8. Canada goldenrod — these have just started blooming now in July. They’re feathery and yellow. Also a new flower for me.

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Well, this is not a lot of flowers at all. And I’ve gone tramping in the forest, and looking among thickets and everything. Where am I to find the dozens other flowers in my book?

I’ve found some unknowns:

Like this purple flower. It’s so nice. But since it’s not in my book, does that mean it’s something invasive?

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A lot of the unknowns are purple. There’s this star-like flower: (update! I found out this is the Carolina horse nettle, and it’s native to this area)

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And finally, this flower that looks like a purple Medusa’s head. I found something similar in my book called a Heal-All, but I’m not convinced that’s really it.

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I also found this really pretty leaf. I thought it might be ginger. But then I didn’t see any ‘brown jugs’ under the leaf.

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So you have an interview with Descartes Labs?

I wrote all the following in fall 2018 (?) right after my final interview. But I couldn’t post any of these job search posts until the sensitivity of the matter had receded somewhat. Descartes Lab is some sort of company that uses GIS and maps to solve problems for other businesses. If I remember correctly.

******

They are very exclusive. So be on your best behavior when you deal with them.

I sent my resume in and heard back the very next day that they wanted an interview. But they have a four-step interview process.

Step 1

First, they assign you to a thirty minute phone interview to their general, first-pass hiring scout, to see if you make the lowest cut. I honestly don’t really see the point, looking back. Pretty much, they were just going back over your resume, which they’ve already seen. Mine didn’t take the full thirty minutes allotted, maybe 23 minutes.

Step 2

If you impress that person enough – and I don’t see how you couldn’t, given they’ve already selected you to speak with them based on your resume – you then move on to a full hour phone interview. You’re supposed to hear back within a week if you will proceed. But I didn’t hear back for like two weeks, so then I emailed them. “Oh, we’re a little delayed because we have so many applicants!” I finally heard after one more week.

The second phone interview is with a Descartes employee who is working at a job similar to what you’re interviewing for. I was interviewing to be a satellite data analyst, so that’s what the guy I talked to did all day.

To set up this interview, a whole other “human resources” person starts emailing you, separate from the human resources person who handled your first interview. Is all that personnel really necessary? Seems like overkill.

I thought my hour-long interview went really well. It actually only lasted for 50 minutes or so, and it seemed to go fast. First, we spent about 10 minutes – yet again! – talking about my resume. Okay…

Then, he asked me what they referred to as “high-level reasoning questions and problem solving.” Except they weren’t all that high-level, and as it so happened, the first set of questions were directly related to my Ph.D. research. The second set of questions was directly related to my master’s research. I thought I had it all in the bag.

The Ph.D.-related questions were about satellites and water. The question was: if you’re trying to study lakes and dams in a cloudy area, where the lakes will often be hidden from satellites, what can you do? The answer is: use radar satellites. At first, my brain felt a little stunned at the sheer audacity of being asked a question and having to answer on demand, but then it came to me … after all, my second Ph.D. paper was literally based around those techniques!

There was a follow-up question that revolved around … what if you also have discharge gauges upstream and downstream of the dam, how would you use those? Well, in my Ph.D. work, I also mixed discharge data with data gathered from satellites, so my mind is used to thinking along those lines. I thought I gave a decent answer.

The master’s-related questions had to do with: what if an insurance company asks you to create a map of which properties in a city are most likely to be flooded. And they want you to figure it out based on areas that flooded in the past. Well, it struck me all of a sudden you’d want to use a spatial correlation. Yes, indeed, that was what my master’s work was about. My interviewer, at this point, while I enthusiastically waxed on and on about spatial correlations and autocorrelations and digital elevation maps, went a little silent. Did I say something wrong? I have no idea. All I know is that he had the sound of a bratty frat guy, and my conclusion was that he was miffed that a woman was answering the questions correctly. Like, how dare you? I like that conclusion better than me having said something wrong.

Any case, he got over that tongue-tied stage and ended the interview with a lot of “great, great,” “awesome,” etc etc, and then his final overture was to tell me how at the Santa Fe office, they get free and amazing lunches cooked in the company kitchen every single day! Yes, honey, your tech-bro-ness is showing.

And that was that. Like a week later, I got a super-prissy email from them, and this was the subject line:

“Thanks for your interest in Descartes Labs, Mejs”

That pretty much said it all. First of all, when you’re rejecting me, be kind enough not to appropriate my name into your fake-chummy email subject. Second, they decided to tell me in the email that “we’d like to keep your resume on file as our team continues to grow.” Oh, if I stacked up the number of times they told me they would “keep my resume on file,” the stack would reach the moon. First of all, honey, I only made it to stage 2 of your 4 interview stages. Do you really expect me to believe that you’re going to leave my resume on file or ever consider it again, stacked against all the people who made it to stage 3 and stage 4? No, I don’t believe it!

Which brings me now to …

Step 3

In a hypothetical stage 3, you have to take a test online to show you know the Python programming language really well. Well, at least I don’t have to study up and refresh myself now!

Step 4 –

You’re finally considered illustrious enough to merit an on-site interview. They fly you out to Santa Fe, I suppose, and I daresay you’ll get to try to their “oh my God, it’s so good” tech-bro free lunches while you’re there.

Remove landsat 7 black stripes from QGIS

I figured this out on my own!

This is a manual solution.

So first, you have a raster file as follows: (in my case, I downloaded it from Google Earth Engine).

landsat black stripes
This particular image is from August 26, 2003. Can you guess where?

Those black stripes are from when the satellite that took the picture of this place (Landsat #7) broke. It broke four years after it was launched. Poor thing. And yet it is still up there in the heavens, orbiting Earth, and faithfully taking images of us from above. It’s been over 20 years now!

And you can see that most of the image is okay, just the black stripes are no good. And actually, the further out you get to the edges of the image, even the colored pixels have faulty distortions in them.

Any case, though, I wanna get rid of the black stripes so the image can look a little prettier.

First, click on the Identify tool in the QGIS tool bar (circle 1). Once you’ve clicked on the Identify tool, you can click anywhere on the image, and it will tell you what value the pixel you’re clicking on has. So click on the black stripes (zoom in so you click exactly on the stripe) — this is circle 2 — and then you will see in a left-hand pane what the value is (circle 3). As you can see, for the black stripes, the values are coded as nan. NAN stands for “not a number”, scientists and computer people always use very technical terms, you see.

landsat black stripes 2

Well, since the black stripes are coded as “nan”, we should be able to easily isolate them, and get rid of them! And it was easy, once you find out how, and this is how to do it:

Go to the menu bar >> click the “Raster” pull-down menu >> click “Extraction” >> click “Clipper”.

You’ll get this nice pop-up box. And there’s four easy steps to getting it to do what you want:

landsat black stripes 3

Step 1: use the pull-down arrow to pick the correct raster file with black stripes that you’re trying to fix.

Step 2: When it gets fixed, it’s going to create a whole new file with the corrections. So give a name to this new file.

Step 3: Click the box next to “No data value”. And then I’m not entirely sure what the story of the “0” is next to that — you can choose any number. I left it at 0.

Step 4: Last step, it won’t let you press “ok” unless you first specify what section of the image you want fixed. You can very easily zoom your image behind the pop-up box the way you want it, and then just click and create the reddish box. And that will be the “extent”. The coordinates in the x and y boxes will populate automatically.

Then you press okay!

And, gentle folk, you see the result. The new raster file that’s created will automatically pop up, and look! White stripes instead of black. Except they’re not really white. They’re transparent. Which means you can add another image underneath to fill in, or do whatever you want to soften the look of the stripes.

landsat black stripes 4

Ta-da! The end.