Life’s Short, Wear Sunscreen

It all started about a two years ago.  I had a weird bump on my face.  It looked sort of like a pimple, but a very persistent one.  It lasted a couple months, and then went away into what looked like a raised, slightly-discolored scar.  Fred had been nagging me to go get it checked since he first saw it, but I sort of shrugged it off.

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This one just last year

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This one is from our honeymoon in 2014

Well three weeks ago I finally made a visit to the dermatologist.  Despite me not saying anything about that spot, the doctor saw it right away and wanted to do a biopsy.  He took a razor to my face right then and there and shaved a big chunk off.  Then he sent me home with a bandaid on my cheek.

A week later I got a call that the sample had tested positive as a Basal Cell Carcinoma, and they would have to do Mohs surgery on my face.  Basically they remove one layer of skin, about 2mm thick all around the spot, and then put it under a microscope.  They keep doing layer after layer until there is no more sign of cancer cells.

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I was super lucky that they only had to remove one layer.  It is bad enough as is!  I can’t imagine doing more.  After I was all clear they had a plastic surgeon come in and stitch me up.  They had to stitch quite a ways on either side of the circle in order to keep the skin from puckering.

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I’m currently on the mend.  Just like when I had a broken foot, dealing with the repetitive questions is the worst part.  I like that a lot of people have looked worried though, and asked me, “What did it look like?” or, “How do I know?”.  My answer is, if you’re worried, get it checked out.  I had no idea anything looked funny.

Currently in search of the perfect hat if anyone has suggestions.

And most of all, my message to you is ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN!

SVI Journal: Day 3, Punta Arenas, Vieques

I did manage to sleep past sunrise Monday morning, but the sun wasn’t very high before everyone on the boat started moving around looking for breakfast. I took a quick snorkel and found that a school of jacks was under the boat. Cade threw his line in the water and within minutes had reeled one in on his makeshift fishing pole, crafted from an old boat pole, two discarded battens, several hose clamps, and a lot of tape.

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The Sail Caribe captain on duty called us back about the dinghy and suggested we empty the water trap on the fuel filter. We did, and it started right up, so we told them all was good. Big mistake. Although it started after dumping the filter, it wouldn’t hold idle, and it made getting from the boat to shore for the rest of the week a giant headache. We’d have to rev it up to start it, then throttle down, pop it into gear, and then immediately rev it back up again. It was a process that required perfect timing or the engine would die and take ten minutes to start again. In retrospect, we really wish we’d insisted they fix or replace it that morning before we left the area.

The rest of the morning was pretty relaxing.

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Just after the first ferry showed up with El Conquistador visitors we realized we were on a mooring ball that said DIVE USE ONLY instead of DAY USE ONLY, which explained why there was a cattleboat full of people waiting to snorkel sitting and staring at us. We quickly moved balls and finalized our plans with Batubara and Chateau du Mer to head south to Vieques.

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We had a nice day of sailing between islands, and Mary while still anxious, seemed to be getting more used to the swells. She had no trouble prepping lunch while we were underway.

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Although we all left at different times, at one point we all ended up sailing together.

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Not that the teens remembered any of it. Once we hit the open water, they were passed out.

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We dropped anchor at Punta Arenas, and I put on a snorkel to “dive my anchor” for the first time. It’s a pointless activity in Galveston Bay since there’s zero visibility in our water.

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When I made it to the anchor, I found a small fish had already decided the dugout area under the plow would make a great new home. I hope he enjoyed it for the one night we were there.

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Mary and I kayaked to the beach, and while pretty, the sand was grainy and hard to walk on. There were also lots of spiny anemones along the water line, so we had to be very careful where we stepped.

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We ended up being the only three boats anchored in the area.

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When we got back we cleaned up and set out snack trays for the pirate party as our guests came dinking over with their eyepatches on.

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Andy and Jayne graciously donated a bottle of Ron Zacapa XO Solera Gran Reserva Especial for the party. I’m not much of a liquor drinker, but I don’t think I’ve ever had rum quite so good.

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It was a bit crowded to have 17 people aboard Caicu, but everyone had a great time. Then, as the sun went down the crews of Batubara and Chateau du Mer departed, so that we could cook dinner.

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The teens whipped up some spaghetti, and we all laid on the tramps looking up at the milky way. We saw two shooting stars that night before heading in to bed.

That’s when we discovered the air-conditioner had quit. The generator was running fine, but the air-conditioner was completely dead. We opened the salon settee to find that AC unit was half submerged in water.

Thankfully it was a cool, breezy night, so we opened the hatches and went to bed.

Port St. Joe: St Joseph Peninsula State Park

We had one Saturday scheduled in Florida, so we decided to spend it exploring St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is consistently rated one of the best beaches in not only Florida, but the nation. Much more sunscreen was applied.

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The park is at the end of the St. Joe peninsula and has the larger gulf waves lapping on the west side, and the calm clear waters of St Joseph Bay on the east. The drive from St Joe was around 35 minutes. According to their site, the state park boasts 9.5 miles of “snow-white” sand beaches and “aqua-blue” waters.

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Entry to the park was a mere $6 per vehicle, but there are no dogs allowed, so our new friend Turtle had to stay home and catch up on his reading.

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The park also has 119 campsites for those that want to hang out longer for some serious fishing, kayaking or SUP.

The gulf had more beach, bigger waves and got deep quickly, which made swimming much more fun that it was at Salinas Park. Everyone spent lots of time in the water, which was also more clear than the water at Salinas Park, but still not quite clear enough to get a good underwater selfie.

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As we sat and stared out into the blue, I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. I finally grabbed the camera and stared at a couple of holes in the sand for the better part of 5 minutes. Then I finally saw this little guy flicking sand around cleaning out his burrow.

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These things are called ghost crabs, and once I saw the first crab, I started noticing them all over the beach. They’re pretty shy, but if you sit quietly for a few minutes, they’ll pop up to say, hello.

After several hours of playing in the surf, we began digging around and playing in the sand. There is something about pointless, mindless physical labor that is so relaxing. So naturally after digging what was a pretty impressive sand hole, we decided to bury two people in it, and make them into mermaids.

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After quite a bit more goofing off we decided to wander over and check out the bay. The water on this side was shallow for hundreds of feet out and totally clear. However, if you plan to venture into it, I highly recommend wearing shoes of some sort because it was teaming with crabs and spiky anemones.

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After exploring the area, we grabbed an empty shell and walked back to our chairs. As we packed up the car, we got a surprise when a crab made an appearance from the “empty” shell, demanding we put him (or her) back into the bay. We set the crab free and headed back to Port St. Joe.

Port St. Joe: Salinas Park and Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach

Friday was our first beach day, and the decision was made to try out Salinas Park on Cape San Blas Road.

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Salinas Park caught our interest for several reasons:

1. It wasn’t too far from where we were staying in St. Joe.

2. It was free.

3. It’s dog friendly.

4. It’s where we were already scheduled to meet for Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach that evening.

The county park was established in 1991, and it has bathroom and picnic facilities, but we didn’t come across any showers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any showers, but if there are, we didn’t find them.

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When we arrived Friday morning, we basically had the beach to ourselves. The sand was white-ish, but the water stayed shallow for quite a ways out. We spent most of the day lying on the beach, applying and then re-applying sunscreen, but not much time in the water.

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We also discovered the hidden dark side of Florida beaches — the biting flies! They came and went throughout the day, but when they bite, it HURTS!

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After finishing the sandwiches we’d made for lunch and all of the drinks we packed in the cooler, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the cars. Kelly and the Broke-A-Toe crew had already unloaded the horses for our 4:30 p.m. ride on the beach, so we enjoyed some shade while they finished saddling up.

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We had wondered whether or not we needed to pack pants and shoes for the riding, but due to county regulations the horses can’t go faster than a walk on the beach, so it’s a nice slow ride, perfect for beginners or people wearing swimsuits and flip-flops.

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One very special thing about the Broke-A-Toe horses is that several of them are rescued horses and older horses, and all of them were extremely sweet, especially compared to some of the ornery horses I’ve known.

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After a quick horse-steering demonstration, we headed back down to the beach to discover a pod of dolphins was frolicking less than 100 yards offshore. It was magical. Even the horses were watching the dolphins, and as we rode down the beach, the dolphins swam with us. My only regret was that I had a wide-angle lens on the camera because I had been planning to shoot our horseback riding experience, not offshore marine mammals, so the dolphins just look like specs in the photos. I should have brought a zoom.

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Our ride guides not only made sure no horse poop was left on the beach, but they also proved to be great photographers.

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The ride back up the beach went a little quicker than the ride down because the horses knew there were hay bags waiting for them at the trailer, but the entire ride was very relaxed and enjoyable.

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This really made a great post-beach pre-dinner activity, and it added a little something special to our day. Of course, they can’t guarantee dolphin frolicking every ride.

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Cleaning up the beach in Galveston

The past few weeks have brought plenty of rain to the Houston area. I mean, I’m very glad we aren’t having another drought, but the rain and storms are getting a bit excessive. I wouldn’t mind a few weeks with no rain.

Saturday I was supposed to be riding my bicycle from Houston to La Grange for the first leg of the 2015 BP MS 150, but the fairgrounds in La Grange were flooded, so the first day of the event was canceled. Instead we headed to the boat where we spent Friday night rocking and rolling with lightning flashing all around us. These two were not happy with the situation.

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Eventually, the storm passed, we all lived, and Saturday was much nicer. We headed to Galveston Island State Park for the spring 2015 Adopt-a-Beach clean-up.

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While others in the group grabbed the large pieces of trash and walked on, Mary and I really focused on collecting all of the small plastic we could find. Turtles and birds often eat the colorful plastic that they mistake for fish or balloons and plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish. Mary found three balloons and patted herself on the back for saving three sea turtles. Of course, I pointed out that hypothetically the same sea turtle could have eaten all three balloons, and then she’d just have saved one turtle. She said saving the same turtle three times still counts as three saves.

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Sadly, I’ve never seen a sea turtle in the Galveston area, but supposedly we still have a few that come ashore to nest each year.

Representatives from Texas Parks & Wildlife were taking samples of the tiny fish in the surf. I was surprised how many they pulled in since you don’t ever notice those fish in the water while swimming.

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The planned picnic afterwards was a bit of a bust. Did I mention that we’ve had a lot of rain here?

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I know it wasn’t much, but hopefully those few hours we spent picking up trash made at least a little bit of an impact for the better.

Easter weekend at Laguna Harbor

Redfish Island, Double Bayou, Offats Bayou, Moody Gardens, Harborwalk … there’s only so many places to overnight on a sailboat that are just a day trip from our home port in Kemah, Texas. So when we heard about Laguna Harbor Marina in Port Bolivar last month, Mary was on the phone making reservations.

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It was much to our surprise that the developer of Laguna Harbor invited us to stay for free and help ourselves to any of the electric and water hookups available. Of course, what we didn’t realize at the time is that Laguna Harbor Marina isn’t finished yet.

“If you build it, they will come.” I’m sure that is what the original developers were thinking when they dug Laguna Harbor, installed the bulkheads, and built the first model home — just before Hurricane Ike wiped out the Bolivar Peninsula in 2008. However, Port Bolivar has now recovered and development of the area has once again commenced.

We left Watergate Yachting Center at 9:30 a.m. the morning of Good Friday, very excited to be making our first overnight trip of 2015 and even more excited to spend some time at a new destination. Prevailing southeast winds let us sail across upper Galveston Bay to the Houston Ship Channel, but then we ended up with wind right on the nose and motored the rest of the way. During the sail, gusty winds had us periodically surging up to 8 knots, which had Mary and Dixie both rather nervous.

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However, the motoring portion of the trip was a different story.

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It was a very quiet ride, but at least I had a little company from the passing ships.

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We passed the Texas City Dike right at 1:30 p.m. and for the first time turned east into the Intracoastal Waterway.

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We passed some interesting scenery and several fleets of shrimp boats.

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And then two miles in on the south side of the ICW, there it was, a small sign that said Laguna Harbor.

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We almost missed it on the first pass as it wasn’t on the Garmin charts. Our track showed us cruising right up onto the shore.

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The entire trip took 4.5 hours. It was very easy to find the heavy duty cleats and power stations in the southwest corner of the marina.

We got tied up and accepted a tour of the sales office from Casey, the realtor with Newcoast Properties who was on duty all weekend. It wasn’t long before the crew of a Catalina 30 named Quest had joined us, and we were all checking out the view of Port Bolivar from the very top of the sales office.

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To say Port Bolivar is still a bit rural would be an understatement. In fact, there were horses grazing less than 100 yards from where we were docked.

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The entire place is a strange mix of pre-hurricane structures and new development.

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There’s still a few “fixer-uppers” available if you want a good deal …

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We had hoped to visit the beach and the bird sanctuary, but it was a three-mile walk. Considering average walking pace is 4 mph, that was close to an hour of walking just to get to the beach, where we planned to take a walk on the beach, before we walked an hour back. We decided that maybe we should invest in folding bikes and take in the beach on a future trip.

Instead, Mary put on her cruising hat, and we headed over to La Playita, the only restaurant in the area, looking for some margaritas.

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We found some pretty good Mexican food with great service, but they only serve beer. (Hey, at least it wasn’t a dry town, and it’s not like I was going to pass up their fajita chicken burrito smothered in queso.)

After dinner we walked back to the marina where our neighbors kindly shared their homemade cheesecake with us as we watched the sun set.

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Saturday night the winds began gusting from the north at 35 – 40 mph. I didn’t sleep much as I kept getting up to check our fenders and lines. I was wishing we had some old car tires to hang along the side of Gimme Shelter. The wind was blowing so hard I’m not sure I could have slept even if we’d been tied up at our slip in Watergate.

I had planned to set up my tripod and shoot the lunar eclipse Saturday morning, but I poked my head out at 6:30 to find complete cloud cover, so I crashed back into bed and didn’t wake up until the dogs insisted they go for a walk about 10 a.m. We finally got out of bed and made some breakfast.

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Saturday was still too windy for kayaking, but we made the best of it by taking a walk around the area. While there is a large bird sanctuary in Port Bolivar, it doesn’t necessarily mean the birds stay inside of it.

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Grackles were everywhere doing their humpty dance, trying to get the attention of the ladies. We also ran across a bird we’d never seen before called the Long Billed Curlew. He seemed to be checking out some daisies.

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Of course, all the usual suspects were around. There was no shortage of seagulls, cormorants and sandpipers.

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I was also surprised to see quite a bit of prickly pear cactus in the area mixed in with the Texas wildflowers. It was covered in purple buds that were just about bloom.

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There was a little bit of beach along the ICW, and the water was clear enough to see the hermit crabs wandering around.

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We also stumbled across an egg just sitting on the beach. It almost seemed like a magic Easter egg put there just for us to find.

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But then we realized there was a chicken farm just the other side of the shrimp boats and seafood shack to the north of Laguna Harbor. Deductive reasoning led us to believe the gusting 40 mph north winds probably helped the egg migrate south to the beach that night.

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Walking around, you still found evidence of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ike, like this children’s wagon that had been completely covered over during the storm and is now eroding back out of the soil.

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By dinner time Saturday evening the winds had finally switched back around to the south and settled to a calm 5 – 10 mph. It made the perfect weather for trying out our new Magma grill.

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Yes, I was paranoid about dropping food in the water, so yes, I did accidentally drop a chicken breast overboard as I was taking them off the grill. I hope Neptune enjoys teriyaki. I poured out a little bit of beer for him to go with the chicken in hopes he’d give us good weather on the way home Sunday, which was probably sacrilege since Sunday was Easter, but let’s face it, it was a pagan holiday before it got converted to Easter, so it probably doesn’t matter.

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We had a very nice dinner in the cockpit, but I think I’m going to build us a new table that will actually fit two plates at the same time.

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I think I can safely speak for our two furry crew members when I say, they had a great time as well.

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There was plenty of space to explore on our walks, and they got to see horses and cows. Tex wasn’t thrilled with the cockle-burs in his fur, but Dixie had a good romp in her Easter sweater.

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We had the entire harbor to ourselves as the sun went down Saturday night. LH11

Rain was in the forecast Sunday, so we put on our foulies and got an early start back to Kemah at 8:30 a.m. We cautiously motored back to the Houston Ship Channel with only one barge and a shrimp boat in sight. It was an easy downwind sail all the way back, but due to the heavy mist and some occasional rain, we left the camera and our phones in the cabin. Unfortunately that means we have no evidence of the pod of dolphins doing crazy jumps out of the water on the bow wake of a passing cargo ship or the two dolphins that popped up and spouted right beside our cockpit, not once, but twice. They were so close we could have reached out and touched them.

By the time we turned west at the south cut the dogs were very unhappy with being wet and the rolling motion of the boat that came with the following seas. They were very ready to get off the boat when we finally pulled into our slip at 12:30 p.m.

All in all, it was a good trip despite the scary winds Friday night. We had no major boat issues, and the new winches worked great.

As it stands, Laguna Harbor is a great overnight spot if you’re planning to head offshore, and you can’t beat free. I’m sure we’ll be back. As they develop the marina I hope they’ll add things like bike or golf cart rentals, so that visiting boaters can explore more of the area.

Sea Pork

Have you ever been strolling the beach and suddenly said, “What the heck is THAT?”

During our Christmas trip to Florida, we made a stop at Bald Point State Park, and as we hiked up and down the beach, we came across this thing, and that is exactly what we said.

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We did all the usual scientific testing, you know, nudging it with our toes, poking it, nudging it again, and I think someone even sniffed it. We still had no idea until we spent an hour on Google.

The strange blobs all over the beach weren’t aliens, whale organs or any of the other interesting guesses our Facebook friends made. They’re called Tunicates, and they’re invertebrate marine filter feeders, more commonly known as sea squirts, sea pork, sea livers, or sea tulips.

Some tunicates, like the sea pineapple, are even edible. But would you eat this?

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These particular tunicates got the nickname sea pork because after death, the rubbery tunic bleaches to white resembling salt pork or fatback.

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So next time your friends say, “What the heck is that thing?”, you can tell them.