Tag Archives: video

Seeing the world through square images and Instagram filters

When I started my InstaMA project I genuinely had no idea how time-consuming – and valuable – it would be to truly immerse myself in its community. Or that I would be dreaming in square images – every content opportunity was viewed through an Instagram filter and a square frame. It took over. But after three months the pilot is over, I can take my foot off the gas, reflect a little and take stock of what I’ve learned.

My own personal use of Instagram is merely to keep a record of my top memories and best photographic endeavors and I rarely venture into content beyond that posted by my friends and family. Conducting an Instagram pilot on The Open University’s account made me look at things in a much broader way (and if you need a reminder of exactly what I’m doing, see here) and I’ve enjoyed the experience.

Share the love

Lurking is all well and good but getting stuck into Instagram is the best way to engage with people and increase your following. I immersed myself in the OU community and it was great – not only helping me to come up with content ideas, create and share content, but also chatting to students and sharing in their success – or in their low moments. A comment from your university when you’ve reached the peak of procrastination is a pretty good motivator. I now ‘know’ some of the OU’s followers, I see and talk to them regularly via Instagram and feel much more able to ask things of them, because I’m giving back (like chatting to Chloe which is using Instagram to drive traffic to her blog and build her business). And when I say I, I mean the OU, of course.

What this pilot has uncovered is that Instagram is far less broadcast than I realised and there’s real value in chatting to your audience. I have to confess, when the pilot started I was seeing everything as a potential Instagram post, I was even dreaming in square images! But I’ve learned – and am still learning – a lot.

Instagram success is not instant: invest serious time into monitoring

Newsflash: engaging with your community WILL eat up a lot of time. What I thought would be a few-times-a-week monitoring task turned into a nightly one – there were so many #openuniversity postings that in order to keep on top of them, I had to like and respond to comments daily. I also found it tricky to keep on top of conversations unless I responded as soon as someone commented and a notification popped up on my phone. If I ignored the notification, the chances are I’d never have found the comment again – this is one of the downsides of Instagram, so I did feel a bit like a slave to it, and to my phone, during the pilot.

I naively thought I’d be able to carve up tasks throughout the week and, like a good little postgraduate student, be methodical, practical and organised throughout this pilot. Not so. I’d hoped to be able to follow the timetable below, but I couldn’t keep on top of the replying to comments and liking photos if I didn’t do it nightly; it just got too much.

Monday Monitoring Monitor relevant hashtags and like and comment as appropriate
Tuesday Talking Comment on relevant posts, respond to comments
Wednesday Wisdom Research
Thursday Thinking Develop new content ideas
Friday Review Weekly review of stats – likes, comments, increase in followers, what worked well, what didn’t
Saturday Business as usual
Sunday Stats Note weekly stats and increases

There is much less tagging of accounts on Instagram than use of hashtags. For example, @theopenuniversity was tagged a miniscule number of times compared to the number of #openuniversity posts. My tactic was simple: to engage with anyone who commented on an OU post, and to follow the hashtag #openuniversity, liking and commenting on those posts. And I hunted around for other hashtags used by Instagrammers and dipped in and out of them too: #openuni #oustudent #ou and our graduation hashtag #ou_ceremonies.

This took time. At the start of the pilot there had been 17,557 mentions of #openuniversity and at the time of writing this post there are 20,514. That’s 3,000 uses of that hashtag over a three month period, so approximately 1,000 per month, 250 per week, 35 a day. Now 35 doesn’t sound much but if you let that monitoring slip by a couple of days you have 100 posts to flick through, like and comment on.

Community engagement takes a lot of time, and just as much time is needed creating your posts. But after a three-month pilot (which was meant to be one month, then two) it’s clear there is always more to be done. I’d committed myself to posting at least once per day, but it’s easily to let things slide and find yourself scrabbling around for content. On some days, something was better than nothing but this won’t be the approach going forwards.

#CreateYourOwnHashtags

I introduced some new hashtags: #ouselfie and #ouacademic. The first was to encourage members of our community to take photos of themselves and post them. Students were already doing this but I wanted to students to engage and offer to share some of them. The second was to try and engage academics and, for those active on Instagram, to share their content which always seems more genuine when coming from a personal account. Despite promoting this on the OU’s intranet site, engagement from academics directly via Instagram was relatively low with just two or three academics contributing fairly regularly. I did however, get suggestions for content and submissions via email, including some nice shots of campus.

photoShare the love wider: third-party content

A great way to show off your community and reward its members, is to share their content. There are various ways you can do this, including apps like Repost but I find them clunky. I simply took a screen shot of the photo I wanted to share, cropped it, and then posted it directly (no reposting per say) – but first I asked permission to share it via the OU account. No one ever said no, which was great, and I always tagged them in the photo and thanked them for letting me share it. Doing it this way also allowed me to add my own filters to their photos or, in once case, blur out a cat’s ID tag in which its owner’s mobile number could be read. On the whole, most of the third-party shared posts got better engagement than our own – how else would we be able to delve inside our students’ lives in such a genuine way, see them studying in their bedrooms, their kitchens, with their pets on their laps and while entertaining children. They were authentic. To a lesser extent I also shared some academic’s photos directly via Instagram.

Instagram doesn’t have to be lonely

The intention was, as part of this pilot, to collaborate with partner organisations and undertake some kind of takeover. This didn’t come off, mostly due to lack of time, but we did join forces with the OU Library. They were thinking of starting their own Instagram account to run alongside their already successful Twitter and Facebook accounts, promoting library resources and actively engaging with students. Unsure how time-consuming it would be to take on Instagram, our pilot served as theirs – how would the library get on providing us with regular content without the pressure to update their own channel? And how would we, owners of the corporate social media channels, get on posting daily?

The library provided some content for us to post, including a ‘shelfie’, a video flipping through the pages of a George Orwell original, and a series of photos from the OU’s digital archive which I posted out each Thursday for #ThrowbackThursday, including hashtags #oulibrary and #oudigitalarchive – these hashtags were agreed with the library and while they don’t have their own account on Instagram they do have their own community through the hashtag.

I also conducted this pilot almost entirely alone (well, I have an MA to finish, my colleagues don’t) but it’s always good to get feedback from colleagues and help creating content if you can. I thought it would be easy to tackle this alone and well, really, more hands on deck would probably have had a greater impact.

maggieIf you ask a question do you think you’ll get more comments?

Yes. Yes, you will. Any content I posted which included a question got much better engagement overall. For example, weekly content posted for #ThrowbackThursday got decent engagement in terms of likes but minimal comments. On the photo of Margaret Thatcher (right), taken in 1973, I asked ‘What were you doing in 1973?) which got a lot more comments – most saying they had yet to be born, or my favourite, “I was but a twinkle in my father’s winkle.” In essence, ask a question and you will get answers.

Have a sense of humour

Tone of voice in important and I set this up from the start – our tone on Instagram is professional but informal and with a sense of humour. We wanted to come across as friendly, chatty and approachable. When one curly-haired graduand posted a picture on graduation day complaining that the OU doesn’t provide mortarboards (not part of the OU’s formal dress) I responded with ‘Because we don’t want to ruin those lovely curls.”

fridayprocrastDon’t be afraid to go for the easy wins

Once you know your audience, tap into their weak spots. And what I mean by this is post content you know they’ll like. It’s an easy win. I know firsthand (because I am one) the life of a distance learning student means  studying all hours. So our post which simply said ‘Hands up who’s studying on a Friday night’ (posted on a Friday night, no less) got massive engagement.

I see lots of post by students of their study spaces and procrastination concerns, including posting to Instagram, so I posted an image which said ‘Get off Instagram, you’re supposed to be studying’ which got massive engagement as I’d caught lots of students red-
handed and it had made them chuckle. Also, knowing when key dates or deadlines are coming up and offering up a snippet of motivation can help spur people on.

refelctionAdd an incentive

Students love sharing their experiences, advice and tips but you may need to tease it out a little. I tried this in a few ways – one asking a direct question ‘How do you juggle study’ with a juggler pic, which posted to gain some quotes for some new marketing material on how students fit studies around their other activities. I also ran a competition to support marketing’s New Year ‘reflections campaign’ asking students and grads to reflect on what they thought of the OU before they started studying compared to how they feel about it now. And I offered up three £20 Amazon vouchers for three ‘winners’. This post gained 120+ comments, more than double that of any other post we’ve posted to date. What it didn’t do is gain us many more followers.

Reward loyalty

It’s easy to find out which followers engage most frequently with your content, and I did this using our social media monitoring/scheduling tool Social Sign In. Reward them. Talk to them, like their photos, share their photos, and give them an occasional shout out. Oh, and follow them back!

If you build it… they still might not come

If you’re starting an Instagram account or dusting off an old one, you’ll need to tell people. You can’t expect them to know you’re there. After a good three weeks of posting decent content on Instagram after the launch of our pilot, I started telling people in the following ways:

  • Pilot mentioned in weekly cross-department editorial meetings (spread the word, contribute etc)
  • Series of three once-weekly articles posted on intranet (to increase staff and academic engagement – definite peak in followers around these times)
  • Mentioned in November and December editions of eNewsletter, sent to 400,000 students and alumni (slight rise in followers after each, although CTA was low down the newsletter)
  • Promoted via other social media channels, namely Facebook and Twitter on several occasions, including pointing to an Instagram Story when covering Harrogate Degree Ceremony.
  • Going forwards the Instagram handle will be included in publications like the 2017 Graduate Directory (printed).

What’s next?

You know when I said I could take my foot off the gas a bit now the pilot has ended back up the top of this post? It was a complete lie. What the above has illustrated is there is still a huge amount to be done, and this will be highlighted in a report to my line manager. There are still things I want to try but haven’t got round to, like animation (check out Rachel Ryle’s legendary work), and clearly defined branding for this channel (check out Matt Crump and Sara Tasker) as well as a channel strategy going forwards which aligns with university and communications unit objectives whilst also engaging with our community and continuing to grow our followers. Oh, and the rest of this MA to complete. Eek!

Cor blimey, that’s a long post. Huge congrats if you made it to the end. If I don’t write all this stuff down, I’m afraid it’ll float clean out of my head. What’s next? Well, if you can bare to read more I’ll be writing about mobile phones, health and safety and why salsa dancing could be the key to keeping mobile journalists fit and healthy. Oh, and some academic stuff too, of course.

 

 

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The Tate Modern and some accidental inspiration: visual storytelling

A few weeks back, I made an impromptu visit to the Tate Modern in London. It was a pre-Christmas trip and nothing at all to do with my MA in Online Journalism. But…

This picture, or should I say artwork, made me start thinking about Instagram. That’ll be the squares, although technically speaking, I think these are rectangles. The artist, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 to 2015) created this in 1952, entitled it Mediterranimg_4281ee and was about experimenting with colour and overlapping (what’s hard to see from the image is that some of those blocks of colour are raised slightly, they’re not all flat). Anyway, I continued around the Tate Modern with a different viewpoint after seeing this.

Let me explain… while working on my Instagram pilot I’ve been doing lots of research, about composition, photography, short form video etc… and the Tate Modern made me think specifically about presentation, or visual storytelling if you want a more online journalism-y phrase. I’m not a massive fan of art, in all honesty, but what the Tate showed me is that a sometimes average set of photographs can be made to look exceptional by the way they’re presented. And this is very much the case for Instagram – the apps, filters and cropping tools now available to us can help us turn an average photo into a good one. And the very nature of Instagram and its predominantly square photos show it’s a great presentational tool in its own right, Instagram offers a basic set of tools to help you display your photos and videos in the best way.

The images below, for example, are essentially repeats of a single image – what makes this interesting is the presentation on a stark white background, and the way they’re positioned.

img_4277img_4276

Adding movement

I really loved the media section of the gallery, for obvious reasons, but some of the things I saw resonated with my MA, like this quote from @SamAMcGuire about the images you share, how you see them, and what influencers helped shape that view.

Simg_4289am’s quote is captured (right) as a still image but it was just one in a series of quotes displayed as videos which gave much more impact… it would have been easy to glance at a quote wall and walk on by but with the text rolling in as part of a video wall it meant people were stopping, watching and therefore reading. And apologies for the wobbliness of this video – I was conscious I needed to capture something quickly before another gallery visitor walked into my shot.

This is definitely something that I think works really well with video content that doesn’t necessarily start out life as a video – adding movement can sometimes turn the average into something much more engaging and I’ve been experimenting with this on Instagram too, using tools like Hyperlapse, Boomerang and Spark Post to create gifs.

Examples I’ve used as part of my Instagram project include turning festive study images into a gif, turning a queue of PhD induction students into a hyperlapse video, creating movement on a static Halloween pumpkin image by turning it into a gif and, of course, we jumped on the mannequin challenge and creating videos featuring people who don’t move. This is also something used as part of a campaign we ran on Twitter – creating a simple video with rolling text using the Spark Post app to create individual slides and then editing them together using iMovie, all done on an iPhone 6. Simples.

Visualising the story

In short, this trip to the Tate reminded me that video can be used in some really clever and less obvious ways and contributes to the “renegotiating what is conventional and normal in the everyday practices of journalism” as stated by Mattheson (2004). And that presentational skills (visual storytelling) can enhance stories – something that’s all the more important in the digital age and is amplified by mojo (mobile journalism) expert Robb Montgomery in this interview.

Below are a couple of my Tate videos… firstly, TVs playing old movies and news clips which were positioned on the floor. This wouldn’t have worked as an image because you need to see the movement to understand what this artefact is.

Secondly, is a robot thingy (forgive me for my lack of artistic appreciation, I take in the work I like but confess to not reading the who and why information at the side of each one.) This would have worked as an image because it looks cool but the lights are the moving element of this video and it’s a shame not to waste them. There are periods of no flashing lights on this robot so I used the Boomerang app to create a repeating motion. Unlike a traditional gif, which replays a video start to finish, start to finish, start to finish, the Boomerang app plays a video start to finish then plays it finish to start before going back to start to finish, kind of like a rewinding video.

Now, the image below should also have been a video… not because there are moving elements necessarily, but because of the audio. This ‘tower’ for want of a better word is made up of radios and mobile phones and is quite noisy – this image doesn’t capture the sound which is what makes this piece stand out above its size.

img_4291

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Covering an event via Instagram Stories: lessons learned, pros and cons

nancy

The lovely Nancy graduating with Ted Puff, her 40-year-old bear and study companion.

Since Instagram Stories was announced in August this year, I’ve seen lots of people and brands using it in different ways. For individuals – and apologies if this offends – it’s mostly poor content nicely hidden away from their main profile so you can dip out as quickly as you dipped in. For brands, however, some are using it well – like National Geographic, for example – and I can see some value. If in doubt, test it out…

On Friday 18th November I headed north to Harrogate International Centre to cover The Open University’s degree ceremony (one of many ceremonies in many locations across the calendar year) to test Instagram Stories out. This is what I learned:

Plan ahead (and even if you do, you won’t account for everything)

gary

Quick video with Sir Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire. Despite the bad lighting and gloomy backdrop, he gave some uplifting advice: never give up

The last (and first) time we used Instagram Stories on the university’s corporate account was a takeover by one of our academics waiting for news of the ExoMars landing at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany: all very exciting. As a non-Instagrammer I’d given Dr Manish Patel a brief tutorial beforehand, having experimented with Instagram Stories on my personal account that week. But I missed stuff. It wasn’t until after the ExoMars landing that a Google search uncovered features that I’d missed – the ability to load any photo or video taken within 24 hours from your phone; the ability to apply a limited range of filters; the ability to use the Boomerang and Hyperlapse apps, the ability to colour block the screen, create speech bubbles or utilise the whole colour wheel. So before you go to an event, do your research and test the features out (I also have a test account where no one, especially me, minds if I post rubbish). With that said, I still missed stuff: the 15 second cap on video clips which I needed to find workarounds for (see below).

I’d also planned time in to capture specific content: two short video interviews with our newest honorary graduates, Mike Tomlinson and Sir Gary Verity. With just five minutes allocated to speak to both of them, (2.5 minutes each. Yes, I can do the maths) this left little time to think about composition and lighting. The room we were in had terrible lighting which turned my interviewee’s faces red and was a pretty uninspiring backdrop, so we worked with what we’d got. I say we, and that takes me onto my next point…

Safety in numbers

I attended this event with a colleague who was a great help. For some of the video interviews, we teamed up – one of us focusing on sound and composition, the other on asking the questions. She also captured extra content for me, like student’s top tips (note: pulling in ‘community content’ goes down a treat), while I was busy composing social media posts and publishing them. She was able to do this on her phone, airdrop the content to me and I added to Instagram Stories. She was also able to quickly note down (she’d sensibly bought a clipboard and pen with her) names, qualifications and relevant social media handles while I was chatting to people, which made the whole thing more efficient. It also allowed us to capture content from multiple locations at the same time – either splitting up to do an interview each or both capturing hyperlapse videos from different areas/angles of the venue to see which worked best, i.e while the graduates were queuing to get into the auditorium.

Take the right kit

In theory, all you need is a smartphone and the Instagram app but covering events via social media sucks the life out of your battery and mine was very close to dead before the event had ended. If possible, take a spare phone or load up with battery packs. And if you think a spare phone sounds excessive, it’s not. Towards the end of the event my iPhone developed a kind of tartan cross-cross of white lines across the screen and, while operable, made posting very tricky. I did have a spare phone on me but hadn’t loaded the social media profiles I needed onto it and didn’t have the right passwords. Doh. So always have a plan B!

I also took a Rode lapel mic with me for the video interviews, not wanting to compromise on sound in a busy venue. And check for wifi – my work phone doesn’t have a SIM so without wifi there’s no content. A tripod might come in handy and so would a selfie light (I had one on me and was kicking myself that I forgot to use it in the dimly lit interview room).

Don’t capture content live in Instagram Stories

harrogate

Stunning Harrogate skyline taken from my hotel window. I’d like to thank the filters on the Camera+ app for helping me hide the reflection off the glass.

I didn’t do anything live on IS (i.e capture photos in the app) because, for some parts of the day, I had one opportunity to capture content and wanted the chance to tweak it using other photographic filters or editing tools before publishing. For example, the honorary graduates spoke for longer than 15 seconds (and I hadn’t realised video clips are capped at 15 seconds and just cut off anything after that) so I edited the clips down before posting. I was able to trim from either end of the clip but not from the middle as the editing tools I have on my phone do not cater for vertical video – this was definitely an issue but with the 15 second limit now known, this is something I can manage next time. There are only around five filters on IS too, and they’re a bit weak, so if you want to tinker further, it’s easier to do this outside of the app.

There is always more you can do

I could have captured so much more. I had a seat in the auditorium for the actual degree ceremony but was too far back to capture anything meaningful. Mike Tomlinson’s speech was emotional and I was just too far away to capture it in anything other than the written word (for Twitter, not for IS) and an image would have added so much more. I’m a great believer in the more you do stuff, the better you get, so if there’s a next time I will be more prepared and experienced.

Here are some pros and cons of using Instagram Stories to capture an event:

Pros

  • shoes

    Sparkly shoe awesomeness. Layout courtesy of the InstaFrame+ app

    It was pretty easy to load content and, at times, it was fun to use portrait shots when I’m so used to landscape. This worked well for profile shots, particularly those where I wanted to feature shoes (I’m a sucker for a graduate in sparkly heels) and meant I kept a fairly reasonable style throughout.

  • I was easily able to use Hyperlapse and Boomerang features and incorporate them into my story, as well as text overlay and filters (although the choice of filters is tiny and barely noticeable) and I kept the style very simple, using hand-drawn symbols on the lighter content (i.e shoe shots!)
  • The ability to swipe down and load in photos that are already on my phone (taken within the last 24 hours) proved incredibly handy and means you can pre-prepare some photos and videos that you can drop in throughout the day. With much more time than I had, you could actually create some nice visuals to drop in and gain the benefit of other apps before pulling them into Instagram Stories. It also gives you the opportunity to clean up duff photos. For example, my first shot of the day was a scenic one of the Harrogate skyline that morning, taken from the window of my hotel room. Pulling the picture into the Camera+ app allowed me to tinker with filters and effects to remove (or at least make less obvious) the unavoidable glare from the glass of the window pane.

Cons

  • Not that I’m a huge believer in cross-posting but capturing content for Instagram Stories makes it difficult to utilise  it on other channels because of its vertical nature. I can easily share the vertical stuff on the main Instagram page, and the square crop gives me a chance to tidy it up a bit, but I can’t post the vertical stuff on Twitter or Facebook because it would look terrible, especially if viewed on a mobile. I purposely captured video clips in vertical for IS which meant a) not using them on other channels or b) shooting identical footage again but with the phone turned to landscape. Neither is ideal but I hadn’t pre-empted this so by default chose option a).
  • It’s sometimes hard to give full context on IS. There’s little room for text and if you put too much text the viewer wouldn’t be able to read it before it flashed onto the next image. So while our new honorary graduates both have impressive backgrounds and public reputations, they’re not household names or faces and I didn’t have the space available to include a brief bio. Yes, I can do this via a regular Instagram posts and refer to my Instagram Story but will the viewer necessarily connect with both and join the dots?
  • It takes time. The content I posted wasn’t as slick as I’d have liked and the time went quickly. With tiny slots for interviews and a lot going on on the day, there wasn’t a massive amount of time to polish content before posting; the whole process while not super difficult, did take time, particularly when trying to monitor a hashtag on Twitter and create a few posts for Facebook at the same time. Concentrating on three channels was do-able but tricky and I’m not sure Instagram would be the main focus ordinarily, most likely to come in third against the other two channels just mentioned. Because this was an IS test, I put it first but content for the other two channels definitely suffered. With that said, I was able to tell a story across a whole day without cluttering up a feed.
  • I can’t find anything that says I’m wrong but you can’t view stats for your stories once they’re no longer live, so that’s a 24-hour window. I have no idea how my IS performed because I had a long journey home, collapsed into bed and my stats were gone in the morning. Grrr.

Notes for next time

I failed (meaning forgot) to post on Facebook and Twitter to say ‘hey, head over to Instagram to follow our degree ceremony story’. I don’t know if people jump channels just like that (I know I don’t) but I should have posted something to test it out. One for next time.

I need to experiment with vertical layouts – sometimes it would have been nice to pull in a couple of shots edited together in a collage but I wasn’t sure how to do this using Layouts to display properly on Instagram Stories. One for my test page…

Check the stats BEFORE the 24 hours are up. I’m still hoping I might be wrong on this one…

What do you make of Instagram Stories and do you have any tips?

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A ‘Quik’ reminder about the importance of science

I went to Glasgow Science Museum yesterday to catch up with former BBC weather forecaster, Heather ‘the weather’ Reid. I spent the whole day there, captured some footage and did some experimenting in my down time. Editing vids on my phone is a god way to kill time waiting for a late plane home.

Things I focussed on:

Packing light

The aim was to take as little as possible. I ditched a larger tripod in favour of a mini Joby one (which I didn’t use in the end, I went for handheld). I packed spare battery charger packs (paranoid about losing power, but I only used one), a lapel mic and extension cable (lapel mic is essential anyway but the museum was very noisy so I still got background stuff. The extension cable means people aren’t tethered to your mobile phone so much and can get a bit more distance during interviews), and two mobiles – my 16 GB iPhone 5S which is my regular phone and a 64GB iPhone 6S which I used for video and photography. Oh, and an iPad Mini for checking emails and doing some ‘other’ work while I was there. I prefer a bigger screen for typing.

Throw in a notepad, purse and a few girly essentials and I was good to go.

Below is an interactive list of most of the kit I carry with me, including prices and links.

Editing and apps

This time I had a play with the Quik app. This allows you to pull in clips and images, trim them, reorder them, add music and text, and then finish with a cool effect or style which you can customise to an extent. The effects are great and look really professional but it often does some strange things to your clips and images, for example, the images I use at the end of the video are a bit jittery and I can’t do much about it (other than not use them). Trying another effect would stop this but is likely to do something strange to another part of the video so a bit of trial and error is required.

What I learned

A few things… that you can travel light and capture and publish some awesome stuff on your phone. That wondering around shooting video, even on a phone, requires a bit of confidence. I got stared at a bit. And I avoided capturing people in my clips (save for the two speedy bikers in the time-lapse bridge clip) as most of them were children and I didn’t want to mess around getting permissions and signing forms. You also need decent wifi to be able to publish even little videos to social platforms. Perhaps I need to look into carrying a mobile internet hot spot-type thing?

One of the downsides of all this is that, a day later, I still feel a bit dizzy. I spent most of the morning walking around, and then all afternoon looking down at my mobile phone. Add two flights in the same day and it seems to have offset my natural equilibrium and I feel a bit seasick today. Wonder if that happens to anyone else?

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