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Chilly dip

Having flooded my camera while diving, I thought I’d try it again. And what could possibly go wrong when you go diving in sub-zero temperatures?

It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Someone mentioned on Thursday that they were diving on the Saturday, if anyone else fancied a dip. Ok, so it’s January and has been freezing all week. How hard could it be? Pretty frosty, as it happens.

I’d been diving back in mid December and the air temperature then was a bit lower – it was -3 in the car park and our wet kit kept freezing to the bench. The water was surprisingly warm – 7 to 8 degrees. This time the car park was a bit warmer at around zero, but the water had dropped to 5 to 6 degrees. It made a difference.

For a start, the camera battery kept fading.  I’d take three or four shots and get a low battery warning. Turn the camera off for a few minutes, then back on and I’d get another few shots before it complained again. The camera wasn’t the only one complaining. When I got in, the water creeping into my neoprene hood was painful. All the shock of a brain freeze without the fun of a Cornetto. We all got very cold hands despite thick gloves – so cold that my fingers felt like they were burning. It was difficult to work the controls on the flash and camera because my fingers were numb. On the plus side, the cold had taken most of the algae out of the water and the lack of other divers meant there wasn’t the usual stirred-up silt. I’ve dived here before when you could barely see your mask. This was good conditions for UK diving, with visibility of perhaps 15 meters.

On a murky day

The fish were as frisky as ever. Odd when you think that their bodies must be at, or close to, water temperature. We were diving in fresh water in a flooded quarry, and it had been stocked with fish probably when it first opened. The trout are now big and partly tame. They get fed so often by divers with little bags of fishfood that they approach any diver on the chance of a meal. We found one old trout that was blind – it swam slowly along the bottom and didn’t recoil at movement. In fact it bumped into my dive buddy. There are usually sturgeon, but they’d gone off somewhere to be replaced by some large carp. The fish hang around in a shallow part of the site, so they are striped with bands of sunlight refracted into rainbows.

The good news though is that the camera didn’t flood. I was worried that the O ring seal might have been damaged by the screw that was stuck against it and caused the previous flood. It looked OK, but there’s only one way to find out.

Blind trout

I was also trying-out a new way to reduce the backscatter in my pictures. My camera is a digital compact, so it has a small built-in flash. There is a big diffuser panel to soften the light, but it’s close to the lens axis so lights up all the silt in the water. The way to reduce this is to use an external flash on an arm, so the light beam is off the lens axis. But I need the internal flash to trigger the external one. I’d tried reducing the power of the internal flash to its minimum but it still made every shot a snow scene. So I bought some adhesive plastic mirror film and stuck a piece to the back of the diffuser. So the internal flash is blocked from lighting the subject, but still triggers the sensor on the external flash. Did it work? Yes, once I’d moved the external flash forwards enough that the sensor that controls its light output couldn’t see the reflection in the diffuser. I got my best photos to date, in terms of clarity and lack of silt.

The diving itself was … an experience. It was the coldest water I’ve been in, to date. But all my kit worked, my body core stayed warm and we had a couple of nice dives. I’m not sure what I could do to make the camera warmer – there’s very little free space in the housing that could fit a hand-warmer. I’m not sure I want to chance getting iron oxide dust inside the camera, either. Perhaps I could warm-up the camera itself before I put it in the housing? That’s probably a better idea. I could even get the camera warm, but make sure that battery was hot. As it was I just swapped for a fresh battery between dives. Oh what fun we have trying to keep cameras working in the cold.

We had a great day though, and I got some good pictures. It has to be the most fun you can have in a rubber suit.

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Après moi, le déluge

Unlike King Louis though, I do care about what happens next. The story starts with me arriving at the end of the queue to get into a diving site. The camera and housing were in a tool tray on the passenger seat. I poured myself a hot drink from the flask and began to assemble the camera into its underwater housing. Then the queue started moving. So I dumped the camera into the tray, threw the tea out of the window and made my way in.

The usual business then ensued with getting scuba gear assembled, getting my drysuit on and sorting out what we were doing and who we were doing it with. I threw the camera into the housing and pressed the rear door closed. It was a little more resistant than normal, but the O ring seal is always a bit tight. And off we went diving.

I was trying-out something new with the camera and its external flashgun, to try and eliminate backscatter from silt in the water. This mean that, as soon as I was back from the dive I had a look at the screen on the back of the camera to review the pictures I’d taken. And then noticed there were beads of water on the inside of the housing. And then noticed there was a puddle of water in the bottom of the housing. It didn’t dry up, even with the names I was calling it. (This level of invective will usually scorch paper)

So out of the housing came the camera and out of the camera came its battery. The camera was wrapped in my towel with the battery door open. Luckily we were diving in fresh water, so there was a chance the camera might survive once it dried-out.

At the end of the day I got home and put the camera on a radiator to dry. I then had a good look at the housing. Trapped in the groove that the O ring seals into was a tiny black machine screw – the kind that holds cameras together. It was small enough to allow the housing to close, but large enough to cause a leak. It was a small leak: the housing took on perhaps an eggcup full of water after 45 minutes under three times normal atmospheric pressure. It did the fateful job of killing my camera, though.

The screw was trapped here, by the hinge

A quick check showed that the camera wasn’t completely dead, but it was badly injured. It would power-up enough to extend the lens, but the rear screen wouldn’t work and neither would the zoom controls. So, big decision – do I wait and see if the camera will revive, or buy a replacement if I can find one cheap enough? The check also found the source of the screw. There were actually two missing; one from either side of the tripod socket. Perhaps what I should do in future is give the camera a good shake before I put it in the housing, or at least check the O ring seal all the way round.

This is the screw, compared with an SD card for size

I’ve also got yet another dead copy of this camera that could be an organ donor. This was my first copy of this camera, and died with a common fault when an internal screw came loose. If the drowned camera doesn’t revive I might try swapping-in some components from the donor. Not that I have any way of telling which parts might have broken, but I can have a go and see what happens. Curiously, the loose internal screws that killed the first camera are different to the one jammed in the housing, so it’s not a repeat of the first problem.

Drying…

But… repair or replace? I have one working copy of this camera and it would be useful to have two. The whole reason I had two was for just this situation. So off to eBay I shall go. The Canon G9 fetches a wide range of prices, but scruffy ones that lack a charger or case can be quite reasonable. The drowned camera shows no signs of getting better so I’ll leave it on the radiator, but replace it is. Lo and behold, eBay spits out a very reasonably priced and tidy G9 with the original camera case. So we’re back up and running. The next thing, of course, will be to dive the housing to see if I’ve fixed the leak. What I’ll do is put the dead camera in it to stop it being too buoyant. I’ll pack the housing with tissues, which will be a good indicator of leakiness or success. Sounds like a plan.

This is also why I dive with a camera that is good, but not expensive. I may have had a bad day, but my broken camera was replaced for less than my buddy spent on one of his new fins. (He bought two obviously, or he’d swim in circles). The joy of cheap – the G9 is not the very best camera, but I can buy replacements at a reasonable cost, so I don’t mind putting them into situations where they might break.

Let’s call this gaining experience.

Pentax SV

The Pentax SV was launched in 1963 along with a range of Super Takumar lenses. It brought the heady technology of an automatic aperture and a self timer. The automatic aperture is a little metal plate in the throat of the lens mount that pushes a pin on the back of the lens to close the aperture down as the picture was taken. This eliminated having to focus with closed-down aperture, or to remember to use some form of pre-set mechanism. But it had no built-in light meter, and may have been the last model in the range to lack one. Even so, it was used by the Beatles in the Hard Day’s Night film. Now that’s a product endorsement.

In groovy hipster guise with a wrist strap

There was an update to the camera in 1964 to work with the new Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, as it protruded back into the mirror box and needed more clearance. The revised camera has an orange R on the rewind knob. My camera lacks this, so is a 1963 model. Speaking of which, the SV had a fold-out winding handle to rewind the film, which was not a common feature at the time. Nor was the single-stroke film wind-on lever, instead of a knob. The Pentax SV introduced what became the default layout for 35mm SLRs.

Dwarfed by the lens. You can see that the R is not orange. The red dot means the shutter is cocked.

It also has one rare feature in having a T position amongst the shutter speeds. This opens the shutter on the first press of the shutter and keeps it open until the button is pressed again. It’s useful for long exposures as you don’t need a locking cable release or to sit and hold the cable release down. I admit to only ever using the T setting once, on a different camera, to try some star photography. The feature worked but my pictures were rubbish.

Connections for both flash and bulb.

It has one old-fashioned feature in the release catch to open the back. This is a catch on the side of the camera. The Spotmatic, which came later, had the now-standard method of pulling up the rewind crank.

Look, no meter!

The other thing you’ll notice is the flash hot shoe. Or rather, its absence. The shoe is a separate item that clips onto the viewfinder eyepiece. Since I have far better cameras to use with flash, I leave it off to avoid losing it.

So there you are: good, solid, unpretentious and with a huge range of lenses. Works just like a modern camera, as it set the design for them. It’s up there with the Praktica as a post-apocalyptic snapper that will probably outlive the cockroaches.

Taking me up the alley

I live near York, or perhaps we should call it Old York or York Original? Anyway, it’s a medieval city that, due to arguments over ownership, kept its stone walls and gates instead of using them as building materials. Quick diversion – local humour: ‘welcome to York where the roads are gates, the gates are bars and the bars are pubs’. And it was the latter that drew me here on this day: we were taking part in a pub crawl. In particular, we were crawling the pubs using York’s alleys and passageways, collectively known as snickelways, a combination of three Yorkshire words: snicket, ginnel and alleyway. Take a camera, I thought, it will look interesting and what could possibly go wrong?

Nine pubs, for a start. Better plan to imbibe just a half in each one unless I fancied sleeping in one of those alleys. Pickled in a snickel. Not as cute as it sounds.

Thankfully nobody coming the other way

And which camera? Do I go splashproof or widest-angle lens? Or just something small and light? I could really do with a wide-angle lens in the tight passages and my digital compacts stop at a 35mm equivalent (54 degrees). I could take an SLR with my 15mm lens but do I want to carry it? How about my Espio, as it has a 28mm lens? I could load it with some Delta 3200 and develop that in 510 Pyro. The Espio recognises DX coding for ISO up to 3200, so that works. And of course I’ll throw my Canon digital compact in the bag for colour shots and the ability to stretch my ISO if needed. The die is cast.

Now, as we all know, in theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice the difference between theory and practice is greater than theory predicts. (Try saying that at the end of the pub crawl). So how did I get on?

Well, the first thing was that I’d not shot the Espio for a while but I had been using the Canon digital compact. So each time I went to use the Espio I held it out in front of me and looked at the back. Then I did a puzzled face, as there was no screen on the camera. I was definitely right to bring a compact rather than an SLR though, as speed of use and ease of carry were important. There was even space in my small bag for a bottle of water, to drink between beers to be sure I could find my bus home later.

Diving up the back passages was by far the best way to get between pubs. York gets busy on a Saturday night, even when it’s raining. But most people stay on the main streets, so slipping down a snicket was like a private bypass. Some of the back ways were no more than shoulder width, which would have been interesting if anyone had come the other way. Our host and guide produces the definitive map to all the pubs (128 so far) and he had produced the route and plan for this event. It couldn’t have been easier, which is just as well when there are a dozen of us, with a bit of a glow on and distracted by the sights or lost in chat and not paying attention. Herding cats is easier, as you can use gaffer tape.

Gritty

The camera /film /developer combination was not that good, though. It looks like the Espio was underexposing the film. Where the lighting was even, the film had plenty of detail amongst the grain. The shots taken in the dark though, where the lighting was uneven, had featureless shadows. Perhaps it’s the film – I know the camera was working ok from previous shots. The development should have been ok – I was using 510-Pyro and it has worked well for everything else. My money is on the camera doing a bad job of metering when there are a few bright lights and a lot of dark space. The Canon G9 though, worked just fine. It’s a good workhorse. But I think the Espio could be leaving me. It’s not that compact and my Olympus XA seems to do a better job of metering. Film is getting expensive, so I need to use cameras that handle it well. Perhaps I’ll give the Espio a last chance to do what it was really meant for, and shoot some colour negative film with fill-in flash.

The irregulars

On the other hand, the negatives look better than the scans. I’m sure I have one of those slide copier things somewhere around. It’s a lens in a tube with a slide and negative mount on the end. Mount it on the camera and you have a device for making 1:1 copies. If I can find it I will have a go at making digital photo copies of the negs to see if the problem is with my (old) film scanner.

Anyway – much fun was had. And a sorry – I just enjoyed the silly innuendos. And in this context, even innuendo sounds like an innuendo.

New year

The changing of the year is upon us. 2023 looms. It feels odd even thinking it – I remember at school working out how old I would be in 2000. Both the year and my years seemed impossible numbers. And yet I can remember sitting at work as midnight approached and the year clicked over to 2000. I had a letter of resignation in my pocket. I was responsible for the computer systems, and if the Millennium Bug did bite, it was my fault. But the work worked and I continued to work. And now it will be 2023.

What shall I do with my new year then?

I have an opportunity to do some more diving in warm water with smiley fish. The shed is now a useable space, so I have somewhere I can set up my lightbox and film scanner. I have a box of film I can shoot. I have a C41 developer kit. The world is, if not my oyster, my whelk.

Make the best of it, as we all end up as pavement

Anyway, enough wittering. We have two days left of ’22. Time to make some plans. See you next year.

Christmas

Hurrah! Another year and still here. Have I done anything good or memorable photographically? I loved diving in the Red Sea. I enjoyed treasure hunts to make pictures on a given subject. I met some heroes and saw some interesting stuff at the NEC show. I sold a load of unused cameras. I bought a very good camera. I did some things I’ve never done before.

Have I had a good year? Yes, both in photography and in real life. I’ve been retired from full-time work for a year now and don’t miss it a bit. There does come a time when it’s good to go, if you can. I’ve adjusted to much less money but much more time more easily than I thought. I did wonder if I would miss the status and excitement of my work, particularly as I’ve taken a little part-time job as a complete minion. Not a bit, though. These days, when stuff breaks, it’s not my problem. And as Douglas Adams said, that confers invisibility. It’s not that I don’t care, just that I don’t have to. I really don’t mean to be smug, though. I’m grateful.

But Christmas looms and family and friends are visiting. I hope you too can enjoy the season and other people.

Time for a knees-up

Cheers.

Oh, and a PS. Who said wishes never start to come true? And from Pentax too – I’m delighted.

More cheers.

Flipping pictures

Not as a pejorative, but actually turning the picture upside-down. Have you ever tried it?

Some work better than others. Reflections in water can be good. In fact they were my first attempts. We’ve all done the picture of something reflected in still water to give the mirror-image effect. But if you crop the picture to only the reflection you get a wavy version of reality. This may not be ‘true’ but it does cause you to think about what you are looking at. It may actually be more true to reality, as well.

I don’t do this often, but I do like the effect. We had a session at the photo club where we each submitted a few pictures and all had a go at editing each others. We then compared and discussed the results. One picture I had a go at was a beach scene with a long sweeping area of water reflecting the sky and some distant people. I admit to cropping it to the reflection and inverting it. The reflection was fairly smooth, so it took a while for anyone to see what I had done. They didn’t like it, of course.

I also put one of my ‘reflective’ pictures into a competition. Again, the judge didn’t like it because they couldn’t see what it was. At least it was sharp, though.

Also, if you shoot more abstract pictures, they can be any way up that looks best.

Removing the normal visual clues leaves the shapes and tones, which is what attracted me in the first place.

So, enjoy. Just as there is no right way to take a photograph, there is no right way up. Take a look at the odd-looking shot here to see another example.

Foul weather

Why did the chicken go out in the rain?

Ok, get your breath back. Do you ever take pictures in bad weather? And not just moist, but bracing?

Some of the late-model film SLRs had pretty good weather sealing, as do quite a few dSLRs. I still can’t bring myself to just let a camera get wet though. Not unless it was meant to.

Other than accidents, my first attempt to use a camera in heavy rain was at a car rally. This is where recognisable road cars hurtle round gravel tracks through forests. Great fun for anyone who likes to combine pebble-dashing with deafness and the chance of being run over. The event started well, and then it rained. I was using an old film SLR. I did my best to shelter the camera inside my jacket between sessions as the cars came through, but taking pictures meant holding the camera to my eye. It got pretty wet. The camera and lens went in the airing cupboard for a week when I got home and seemed to recover.

Lombard Rally

What I lacked at the time (besides sense and a mortgage) was any means of keeping the rain off the camera. I have since invested, ooh, pounds, in a rain cover. It’s basically a camera condom. You could do the same with a bin bag and some tape. The key thing, I have learned, is to put a filter on the lens. This means you can use a microfiber cloth to wipe the rain droplets off without worrying about scratching the lens itself. A deep lens hood is also good. To shelter it better when I’m using the camera I wear a wide-brimmed hat – basically a hands-free umbrella.

The other option I have is to use a compact camera that is either meant to be waterproof or can be put in a housing. The microfiber cloth is again your friend to keep the lens clear. I did pick up a tip from Maria Munn to wipe the lens port with bit of (ocean-friendly) detergent, to stop water beading-up on the glass. Another good reason to use a clear filter on the lens, if you don’t have a housing for the camera. If it was really pouring down I would definitely use a waterproof camera. This means using a compact, which could restrict the lens options or quality. I’m lucky in that my main underwater camera is a Canon G9, so it’s as capable as my older dSLR.

The other good feature of a truly waterproof camera is that it’s also proof against dust and sand. Although, when I did go out on a windswept beach to photograph seals, I had to use a conventional SLR to be able to use my long lenses.

Something you are going to need in the wet is a dry bag to keep your stuff in. I’ve already described my favourite make. Just remember to dry your hands before you open the bag, or there’s no point to it. For places where it’s not raining but you can’t put a bag down – wind-blown sand, for example – I have a clever Lowepro Slingshot rucksack. It has a single shoulder strap and can be slid round to rest horizontally across your belly. The top side of the bag unzips, so you get a shelf to swap lenses on. It’s also pretty good in crowded places that you can put the bag in front of you and avoid battering people.

Cold weather can also be a problem. If the batteries get cold, the camera can fade away. Manual cameras can also drag the shutter or even stop as their lubricants get stiffer. I have seen, but never used, a dummy battery pack with an extension lead. This puts the actual battery inside your jacket but does mean that the camera is tethered to you. For manual cameras I have seen, but again not used, a heat-pack taped to the camera back. One of my old Pentax film cameras has a sleepy shutter when it gets cold. Now that I know about it I use a different camera when it’s icy.

Italian Alps
Sneaking across the border

I have used a manual film SLR in a blizzard, but it was kept inside a down jacket and briefly removed to grab some shots. Not ideal, as I really didn’t want to slip and fall with it on my chest. It was the only way to keep it warm(ish) and dry(ish) though.

The thing to watch out for in the cold though, is coming indoors again. Your cold camera, lenses, cards and film will all get condensation forming on them. Put the whole lot into one or more plastic bags, seal them shut and let the kit warm up in the bags. The condensation will form on the outside of the bag rather than the kit. You should also take care if you are going out into the cold several times. What you don’t want is to come in, get a bit of condensation in or on the camera, and then go out again and have it freeze. You may be better leaving the camera (in a poly bag) in the cold and bringing just the batteries, cards etc into the warm.

I’ve rarely had the pleasure of taking photographs in hot places. I did, when much younger, spend a couple of weeks back-packing in the Middle East. Shade temperatures got up to around 45C. I admit to taking no special precautions for my camera other than not leaving it out in the sun. This last summer in the UK got to 40 degrees, so I’ll probably get the chance to try cooking a camera again.

The actual border

Have fun, but take care.

A sketch pad

This idea came from Grant Scott and Neale James, and it’s to treat your camera as a sketch pad rather than every shot being a finished and polished masterpiece. This means that photos become captured ideas for future development or (the shame!) simply a record of who you were with and where you were.

This is easy with digital but was harder and more expensive when I used film exclusively. With the marginal cost of a digital picture being effectively zero, why not grab pictures of things that are interesting or have possibility? It can also be an informal record of where you were or what you were doing. If your camera can also capture the location of a picture, you have the easiest method for grabbing something interesting and then finding your way back to the place at a better time or in better light.

This field gets grazing light in the morning

I think this also fits with the idea of journaling. This is keeping a written (and doodled) record of your thoughts and ideas. Ade of the Sunny 16 podcast is doing this. Even I do it. I carry a little notebook that fits in my pocket and one of those little space pens. I’ve also got my favourite little snapshot camera that isn’t much bigger than the notebook. This goes in the pocket or the bag and is part of the leaving the house checklist (keys, wallet, phone, poo bags for dog, camera). The notebook captures stuff for later – ideas, plans, books to read, films to see, even ideas for pictures. The little camera grabs things as they happen – sunrise, newts on the path, details of cameras to use in this blog. The notebook jottings get reviewed and either moved to a collection (books to read), turned into something useful (ideas to try) or deleted (jobs done). Same with the camera – the pictures get moved to the filing system so that I can find them again or deleted if they were a temporary record.

Yes, the notebook is covered with duct tape. Because, well, duct tape.

The benefits are in peace of mind. I forget less, like ideas or references. I remember more, like things that caught my attention. There is another benefit in having the recording tools with you. It’s less stressful than seeing something and having nothing to save it on or with. Turning these things into a habit means that I’ve always got them with me, so I use them.

I was curious about the way the houses appeared to stack

An aside – I’ve also got a notebook for the house. It has a plan with measurements of every room, how much paint or wallpaper it took and the names of the paint. It gets updated when we move and is most excellent for decorating, redecorating or choosing furniture that fits </smug>.

I know a mobile phone can do these tricks, challenging the need to carry a separate notebook or camera. I do find though that the pictures on my phone rarely make the jump to my main picture files so I lose track of what I’ve got. I also find it easier to make notes on paper than in a phone, because I doodle shapes with the words. Or maybe I’m a dinosaur and still can’t work my own TV. Taking written notes does mean though that I can use Easy Script shorthand for speed, compactness and a basic level of privacy.

I need to go back and get a better look

Anyhow, it’s the idea I recommend, not the method. Capturing notes, thoughts and pictures as they arise so that you can reflect on them later is useful. It also breaks the psychological bond that everything you do must be at least good, if not perfect. Unfinished means still flexible and capable of development.

The difference

What one thing made the biggest difference to your photography?

For me it was a bit of critical feedback. Someone was looking at my images and said “pictures without people in are boring”. After the initial sting (the feeling of pride leaving the body), I realised it summarised what I liked most to take pictures of: people doing things. It was liberating. I didn’t have to take pictures of places to record that I’d been there. I didn’t have to take pictures of objects to show that I’d seen them. My loose definition of ‘people doing stuff’ could cover sport, family and friends. I still do the equivalent of landscape and wildlife photography when I’m diving, but I seem to be the only diver in my group who regularly photographs other divers.

I can’t think of any piece of equipment that has made a large difference. Any improvements have been incremental. There was never any feeling that this thing, whatever it was, had lifted the veil and changed my life. Saying that, there was a touch of that feeling when I bought my first camera. This was the first camera that was mine, as opposed to borrowing the family snapper. I could do with it what I wanted and because I paid for my own film and development, there was no guilt in shooting things that were “without merit”. That was a liberating step.

Once apon a time, this was the British Microsoft

I could say that getting an underwater camera made a big difference, but that too was incremental. I started with barely-capable splashproof kit and progressed to using an SLR in a flexible housing (a plastic bag). None of it was revelatory, as I gradually worked my way towards what I wanted to be able to do. If I could send my present setup back in time to beginner me, that would be a huge improvement. But what I use now didn’t exist then, and the path that led me from there to here taught me a lot along the way. And actually, I had to develop my diving skills as well. There would be no point giving my scuba-diving camera to my snorkelling protege, as it is meant to be used differently.

So it feels like my path from there to here in photography has been one of small steps and minor improvements. Except that here is a long way from there. I can look back and be amazed at the differences, but none of the steps felt large, or even planned. I am aware that I hosed the world with my camera when I first started. Everything felt new and I took pictures of things to see what they would look like in a picture, or to see if I could even get a picture. So along the way I have accumulated a vast record of boring pictures that capture an event as a bystander would see it, with no interpretation or art. The liberation for me was the comment I got as feedback, that freed me to ignore the things I didn’t feel engaged with.

It’s like books: I used to feel a duty to finish what I started. Then I found that there were lots of books in the world and I could neither read them all or be interested in them all. And some books were not well-written. This meant I could stop reading a book that didn’t engage me or at least teach me. (An aside – I keep a list of books I’d like to read so that I can raid bookshops and libraries with purpose and method. But serendipity needs to be in the mix too.)

So gaining a sense of what was valuable to me (or rather, having it pointed-out by helpful criticism) was the thing that made the biggest difference. What about you?

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