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10 Not-So-Famous People We Lost in 2011

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It has been a solemn year for famous deaths, with tributes to those who achieved several decades of greatness (Dame Elizabeth Taylor), those who died before their time (Amy Winehouse), and even some who belong in both categories (Steve Jobs). Then there were those influential, inspiring, or simply fascinating people who were not nearly as famous, but should be saluted nonetheless for their great feats — from the founder of the Internet (no, really) to the mystery woman on one of the most famous album covers of the sixties.

1. Robert Ettinger: The Immortal Man

Presumably unlike everyone else on this list, Robert Ettinger might yet return. A physics teacher and science fiction writer, he believed that death is only for the unprepared. The father of the cryonics movement, his frozen, 92-year-old body is now stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen at a building outside Detroit, waiting for medical technology to restore him to good health. In 1962, Ettinger described the practical and moral aspects of deep-freezing the dead in the founding document of cryonics, The Prospect of Immortality. Later he founded the Cryonics Institute, which offers discount rates (starting at $28,000) for those who want to be preserved – one-fifth the price of his nearest competitor. It now houses 106 people and dozens of pets. Among the other bodies are Ettinger’s mother and his two wives. “If both of my wives are revived,” he admitted last year, “that will be a high class problem.”

2. Joanne Siegel: A Superman’s Best Girlfriend

Joanne Kovacs was the model for perhaps the most influential character in the history of superhero comics. We’re not talking Superman, of course, but his girlfriend, Lois Lane. Boys could be inspired by Superman’s physique and his sense of morality, but they could never expect to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Girls, however, could be (and were) inspired by Lois’s spirit, courage, and professional ambition in a world before Women’s Liberation. Kovacs, a Cleveland teenager who took up modelling to earn extra pocket money, was used as the model for Lois by two young artists, Joe Shuster and Larry Jerry Siegel. They quickly befriended Kovacs, who would also be the model for Lois’s feisty personality. Siegel married her in 1948, while Lois in the comics still wasn’t giving Clark Kent the time of day.

This year also saw the death of Stetson Kennedy, the social crusader who worked with Superman in his greatest victory: defeating the Ku Klux Klan.

3. John Cashin, Jr: Civil Rights Candidate

The death in March of Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice-presidential nominee from a major party (she was Democrat Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984), rightly won much coverage in March. That same week, fewer people noticed the passing of John L Cashin, Jr, another groundbreaker who tried – and failed – to win major public office. In 1970, Cashin, a dentist and civil rights leader, was the first African-American to run for governor of Alabama. He lost in a landslide to George C. Wallace, renowned for his tough anti-civil rights views. Though he won only 15 percent of the vote, Cashin’s political and legal work inspired many other African-Americans to run for higher office. Moreover, his efforts to forge an independent, non-segregationist Democratic party proved fruitful. Alabama, with a smaller black population than some of its neighboring states, soon had Dixie’s highest number of local African-American officials.

4. Paul Baran: Founding Father of the Internet

If there were a Mount Rushmore of Internet pioneers, Paul Baran would have to be on it. In the 1960s, the Polish-born scientist devised a technology known as packet-switching, which packaged data into discrete bundles called “message blocks.” His idea was to build the Arpanet, a distributed communications network, safe from attack or disruption in the event of nuclear exchange. He was so far ahead of his time that AT&T turned him down, insisting that the Arpanet was unworkable. The US military thought otherwise, however, using it as the forerunner of the Internet. Baran was too modest to claim credit for the Internet, which he compared to a cathedral:

“Over the course of several hundred years, new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations… Then comes along an historian who asks, ‘Well, who built the cathedral?’ Peter added some stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful, you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow on to previous work. Everything is tied to everything else.”

?

5. Suzie Rotolo: The Girl on Dylan’s Arm

Though it’s not as critically acclaimed as Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited or many other Bob Dylan albums, it’s probably his most famous album cover: Dylan walking in Greenwich Village with a girlfriend. While The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) had such reflective songs as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” the cover was a portrait of young love, with Dylan smiling downwards and his pretty girl, Suzie Rotolo, grinning brightly at the camera. Of course, it didn’t last, and she later became the muse for some of Dylan’s breakup songs — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “One Too Many Mornings," “Ballad of Plain D” — when she decided not to be, as she wrote later, “just this string on his guitar… just this chick.”


She avoided the spotlight, married someone else, and became a book artist. Her own view of that magical time? “All this indulgence of the sixties, ay-yi-yi, get over it. There will always be creative people who feel that they’re different and create a community of some kind. Whether it’s a physical neighborhood or an Internet neighborhood, in Bushwick or in Greenwich Village, it’s not over.”

6. Kate Swift: Gender Linguist

If you like hearing about flight attendants and actors (or both genders), you can probably thank editor Kate Swift. Before her, sexism was an everyday part of the English language. When Swift and Casey Miller were asked to copy-edit a sex education manual for junior high school students in 1970, they noticed a major problem. “We suddenly realized what was keeping his message — his good message — from getting across, and it hit us like a bombshell,” Swift said in 1994. “It was the pronouns. They were overwhelmingly masculine-gendered.” Swift and Miller wrote about this in essays (such as “Desexing the English Language,” which appeared in the first issue of Ms. in 1972) and two books: Words and Women: New Language in New Times and The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing. Though some of their ideas (“genkind” as a replacement for “mankind,” “tey” as a gender-neutral substitute for “he/she”) didn’t catch on, the books subtly changed the language, assuring that it now has a better gender balance.

7. Alan Haberman: Baron of the Barcodes

Though barcode technology was invented back in 1949, it did not become the standard until after Alan Haberman, chief executive of New England’s First National chain of grocery stores, headed a commission of retail executives in 1973. These execs discussed ways to make the retail experience easier, including the famously long check-out queues. After two years of meetings, the committee settled on the vertical bar format: the Universal Product Code (UPC) that appears on almost any product you buy. The first barcoded product was rung up by an optical scanner in 1974. Now, more than 10 billion bar codes are scanned worldwide each day.

8. Sybil Jason: South Africa’s own Shirley Temple

A few years ago, I wrote an article on movie star fan clubs and noted that, 70 years after her peak, Sybil Jason still had fans. I received a disappointed reply from Jason herself, not willing to be dismissed as a faded star. (We kept in touch after that, via email.) Not just a cute face, the South Africa-born Jason was a child prodigy who, at age five, could sing, dance, play piano and do uncanny celebrity impersonations. In the 1930s, she was signed by Warner Bros as their answer to 20th Century Fox’s biggest – and cutest – star, Shirley Temple. However, despite her flair for impersonations, her South African accent made her difficult to understand. She was later signed with 20th Century Fox as one of Shirley Temple’s co-stars. Jason returned to South Africa during World War II, but the two child stars remained friends for decades, well after their film careers were over. Though her films were mostly forgotten, Jason’s fan club was still active last year.

9. Del Connell: Unknown Comic Book Hero

Some comic book writers get no respect. You have probably heard of Stan Lee and Alan Moore, and if you haven’t heard of many others, at least their names are known (through the credits pages) to many comic book fans. But those who wrote comics in the so-called Golden Age and Silver Age, when comics could reliably sell a million or more copies, usually went uncredited, and didn’t even retain the copyright to their own work. Del Connell started as an artist on Disney animations in 1939, and moved to Dell Comics in 1954, where he churned out literally thousands of comics. He also created numerous characters, including Daisy Duck's nieces (April, May and June) and Supergoof, Goofy's superhero alter ego. His most famous creation, however, was the Space Family Robinson, first seen in the comics in 1962. Two years later, Irwin Allen transferred the characters to television in the popular series Lost in Space, but Connell (as usual) received no credit or royalties. When he finally received a lifetime achievement award this year at the San Diego Comic-Con, only a few people – those who knew his name – knew that the award was long overdue.

10. Vann Nath: Survivor (and Chronicler) of the Killing Fields

Vann Nath was one of only a handful of people to survive the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Seng torture camp, in which 14,000 died. A gifted artist, he recorded his year in Phnom Penh’s notorious Killing Fields in a series of dark and disturbing paintings (now hung from the walls in a genocide museum). Ironically, his artistic talent – depicting the horror of the regime – allowed him to be spared so that he could produce portraits of the notorious leader, Pol Pot. Last year, giving evidence before the UN war crimes tribunal, Nath added tearful words to his artistic depictions. “We were so hungry, we would eat insects that dropped from the ceiling,” he recalled. “We would quickly grab and eat them so we could avoid being seen by the guards. My suffering cannot be erased – the memories keep haunting me.” The torture had long-term effects on his health and frailty, possibly hastening his death at 66.

Bonus: Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen: Cult Figures

Though they have some degree of fame (at least compared to others on this list), I can’t resist adding some actors I enjoyed watching during my childhood. Fans of the classic Doctor Who series were in mourning in the early months of the 2011, which saw the passing of two English actors who — apart from those who played the Doctor himself — were perhaps the most important faces of the series.

Nicholas Courtney was the Brigadier, the Doctor’s longest-serving ally, a terribly British military officer who aided the hero against any number of alien threats. In this role (and a few others), Courtney appeared in the series over a period of 24 years.

In the 1970s, Elisabeth Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith, easily the Doctor’s most popular companion (back when the word “companion” seemed entirely innocent), a spirited journalist. She was so popular that, more than 30 years later, she was finally given her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which was still going strong when she died at age 65.

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Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
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XOXO: 20 Things You Might Not Know About Gossip Girl
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Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ten years ago, Gossip Girl became appointment television for America’s teenagers—and a guilty pleasure for millions more (whether they wanted to admit it or not). Like a new millennium version of Beverly Hills, 90210, the series—which was adapted from Cecily von Ziegesar’s book series of the same name—saw The O.C.’s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage trade in their west coast cool for New York City style as the show followed the lives of a group of friends (and sometimes enemies) navigating the elite world of prep schools and being fabulous on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In honor of the series’ tenth anniversary, here are 20 things you might not have known about Gossip Girl.

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LINDSAY LOHAN MOVIE.

Originally, the plan for adapting Gossip Girl wasn’t for a series at all. It was supposed to be a feature film, with Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino writing the script and Lindsay Lohan set to star as Blair Waldorf. When those plans fell through, the producers approached Josh Schwartz—who was just wrapping up work on The O.C.—about taking his talent for creating enviable high school worlds to New York City’s Upper East Side.

"The books are a soap opera, and TV makes a lot of sense," executive producer Leslie Morgenstein told Backstage of the decision to go the small-screen route. "When we made the list of writers who would be the best to adapt Gossip Girl for television, Josh was at the top of the list."

2. PENN BADGLEY INITIALLY TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF DAN HUMPHREY.

Barbara Nitke - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Though he was hardly a household name when Gossip Girl premiered, Penn Badgley had been acting for nearly a decade—and had a lot of experience working on first season TV shows that never took off—when he was offered the role of Brooklyn outsider Dan Humphrey, and his initial response was: thanks, but no thanks.

“The reason I turned it down initially was because I was just frustrated,” Badgley told Vulture in 2012. “I was frustrated and I was broke and I was depressed and I was like, ‘I cannot do that again. I can't.’ … Stephanie Savage, the creator [of Gossip Girl], she said to me, ‘I know you might not want to do this again, but just take a look at it.’ And I actually was like, ‘I appreciate so much that you thought of me. I just don't want to do this. Thank you for understanding that I wouldn't want to do this.’ And then they couldn't find anybody for it—which is weird, because a million people could play Dan Humphrey—and she came back around, I was about to get a job as a waiter, and I was like, ‘Okay.’”

3. ULTIMATELY, BADGLEY PROBABLY WISHES HE HAD FOLLOWED HIS INITIAL INSTINCT.

Badgley told Vulture that, “I wouldn't be here without Gossip Girl, so I will always be in debt and grateful. And I've said some sh*t that ... I don't regret it, but I'm just maybe too honest about it sometimes.”

But executive producer Joshua Safran had a different view on the situation. “Penn didn’t like being on Gossip Girl, but …. he was Dan,” Safran told Vanity Fair. “He may not have liked it, but [his character] was the closest to who he was.”

4. THE CREATORS GOT THE IDEA TO CAST BLAKE LIVELY FROM THE INTERNET.

According to Vanity Fair, when it came time to casting the show’s main roles, they cruised some of the online message boards related to the Gossip Girl book series to see which actors fans of the books were suggesting. One name they kept seeing for the role of Serena van der Woodsen: Blake Lively, who had starred in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. “We didn’t see a lot of other girls for Serena,” Schwartz said. “She has to be somebody that you believe would be sitting in the front row at Fashion Week eventually.”

5. LIKE BADGLEY, LIVELY WAS ON THE VERGE OF QUITTING ACTING.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

Like her onscreen (and eventually off-screen) love interest Penn Badgley, Blake Lively was also considering leaving Hollywood when Gossip Girl came calling, so she turned the producers down.

“I said, ‘No, I want to go to college. Thank you, though,’” Lively told Vanity Fair. “Then they said, ‘OK, you can go to Columbia [University] one day a week. After the first year [of the show], it’ll quiet down. Your life will go back to normal and you can start going to school. We can’t put it in writing, but we promise you can go.’ So that’s why I said, ‘OK. You know what? I’ll do this.’”

As for that going back to school and life going back to normal? “When they say, ‘We promise, but we can’t put it in writing,’ there’s a reason they can’t put it in writing,” she said.

6. LEIGHTON MEESTER DYED HER HAIR TO GET THE PART OF BLAIR.

Because Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen were both best friends and occasional enemies, it was important to the show’s creators that the characters did not look like the same person. That fact almost cost Leighton Meester the role of Blair.

“She came in and she was really funny, and really smart and played vulnerable,” Schwartz recalled of Meester’s audition. “But there was one problem: she was blonde. And Blake was blonde, obviously; Serena had to be blonde. So, [Leighton] went to the sink and dyed her hair. She wanted it.’” (Sounds like something Blair would do.)

7. THE NETWORK WORRIED THAT ED WESTWICK LOOKED LIKE A “SERIAL KILLER.”

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ed Westwick, who originally auditioned for the role of Nate Archibald but ended up playing bad boy Chuck Bass, almost didn’t land a role on the show at all. Though the show’s co-creators, Schwartz and Savage, loved the darker edge that Westwick brought to the group of friends, The CW worried “that he looked more like a serial killer than a romantic lead.”

“He's menacing and scary, but there's a twinkle in his eye,” casting director David Rapaport told BuzzFeed. “You want to hate him, but you would also probably sleep with him. He's one of those guys you hate for always getting away with things, but you also want to hang out with him and see what he's up to next. He's the guy that's going to give you a joint for the first time or get you drunk for the first time, so you know he's wrong for you, but he's fun.” Fans clearly agreed.

8. WESTWICK CHANNELED HIS INNER CARLTON BANKS TO PLAY CHUCK BASS.

In order to perfect his posh American accent, Westwick—who was born in London—looked to another iconic American television character for help: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro). “There’s a slight thing in Carlton Banks,” Westwick told Details Magazine in 2008, “that kind of über-preppy, that I did pick up on.”

9. GRETA GERWIG AUDITIONED FOR THE SHOW … IN OVERALLS.

In 2015, Golden Globe-nominated actress Greta Gerwig—who just wrote and directed Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan—talked to HuffPost Live about the mistakes she made early on in her career as an actress. “I have had moments when I was starting out when I was auditioning for things like Gossip Girl," she said. “And they would look at me like, 'Why are you wearing overalls to this audition?' And I'd be like, 'They said she was from a farm!' and they would be like, 'Well, this is Gossip Girl.’” (The role she was auditioning for, Eva Coupeau—a love interest for Chuck—eventually went to Clémence Poésy, who played Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter movies.

10. BLAIR WALDORF HAD TWO MOMS.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

In Gossip Girl’s pilot episode, Blair’s mom—popular women’s clothing designer Eleanor Waldorf—was played by Florencia Lozano. In episode two, and throughout the rest of the series, Eleanor was portrayed by Margaret Colin.

11. IT WAS ONE OF TELEVISION’S FIRST STREAMING SUCCESS STORIES.

Years before House of Cards changed the way we watch, and even define, “television,” Gossip Girl served as a sort of precursor to the streaming generation. While the show’s Nielsen ratings were mediocre, New York Magazine reported that, “New episodes routinely arrived at the No. 1 most-downloaded spot on iTunes, and then there were the hundreds of thousands who were downloading free week-old episodes on the CW's site. Even executives at Nielsen threw up their hands and admitted that Gossip Girl appeared to be speaking to an audience so young and tech-savvy they hadn't really figured it out just yet.” (Lost and The Office had followed similar tracks.)

12. THE SHOW WAS BANNED BY SOME NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS.

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

According to Vanity Fair, some of the elite New York City private schools that might have shared some similarities with the show’s fictional Constance Billard and St. Jude's banned their students from watching it. (Which, the outlet noted, “only served, in all likelihood, to make the students want to watch it more.”)

13. THE SERIES TURNED ITS CRITICISMS INTO A MARKETING CAMPAIGN.

Even by 2007’s standards, Gossip Girl—for a show about high schoolers on what was mainly known as a teen-friendly television network—seemed to relish in pushing the boundaries of what might be acceptable. It didn’t take long for parental advocacy groups like the Parent Television Council to take very public, and vocal, issue with the show's in-your-face sexuality. When it was criticized as being “mind-blowingly inappropriate” and “every parent’s nightmare,” the show turned those critiques into a marketing campaign to help promote viewership.

14. A WRITERS STRIKE HELPED THE SERIES GROW ITS VIEWERSHIP.

While the show struck a chord with certain audiences immediately upon its release, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike proved to be a boon to the series. “The CW, because they couldn’t just run repeats or game shows, [Gossip Girl is] all they had,” Schwartz told Vanity Fair. “They kept re-running the show during the strike so more and more people were watching.” Which led to even higher ratings when the show returned for a second season.

15. DESIGNERS WERE BEGGING TO SEE THEIR FASHIONS WORN ON THE SHOW.

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Just like New York City itself, the fashions in Gossip Girl essentially served as another character. According to a 2008 article in The New York Times, “Merchants, designers, and trend consultants say that Gossip Girl … is one of the biggest influences on how young women spend."

“When we came back with Season 2, so many designers were lining up and wanting to be a part of it,” the show’s costume designer Eric Daman told Vanity Fair. “They wanted their stuff on either Blake or Leighton.”

16. IT SPAWNED ITS OWN CLOTHING LINE.

To capitalize on the show’s influence in the fashion world, Daman and designer Christine Cybelle (a.k.a. Charlotte Russe) created a Gossip Girl-inspired clothing line.

17. KRISTEN BELL PLAYED AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE SERIES, BUT WAS NEVER CREDITED.

Though viewers had to watch all 121 episodes of Gossip Girl to learn the identity of the titular tattler, Kristen Bell provided the voice for “Gossip Girl” for all six seasons, without credit. And while she sort of hoped that the finale would have revealed that she was indeed “Gossip Girl” all along, that ending was not meant to be. “I’m sure that it would’ve been really cool had I got to play some vicious part and actually come out as Gossip Girl, but I think it was appropriate for one of the main cast members to have surfaced as Gossip Girl,” she told Perez Hilton.

Though she was a key part of the series, she didn’t learn GG’s true identity until the very end of the show—and she was surprised. “I don’t know that I ever forethought it being Dan,” she admitted. “That was a bit of a shocker!" (If it makes her feel any better, Badgley reportedly didn’t learn Gossip Girl’s identity until that scene was actually shot.)

18. JANUARY 26 IS "GOSSIP GIRL DAY" IN NEW YORK CITY.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

At least it was in 2012, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed January 26 “Gossip Girl Day” in celebration of the show’s 100th episode. “I don’t have a whole lot of time to follow what New York magazine has called ‘The Greatest Teen Drama of our time,’” Bloomberg said. “But I am interested in finding out who the real Gossip Girl is—Serena’s cousin, maybe? And I don’t see how Blair could marry Prince Lewis while she is clearly in love with Chuck, although she and Dan became pretty close when they interned at that fashion magazine. And I just wish that Nate and Vanessa had been able to work things out, I guess Nate was preoccupied with everything that was going on with his father and Jenny and, I mean, it was a tangled web, I guess Dan would have ended up making their relationship impossible anyway, but I’m just a casual fan.” 

Super-fans of the show can still take a Gossip Girl tour of New York City.

19. IVANKA TRUMP AND JARED KUSHNER MADE A CAMEO.

Over the full course of the series, plenty of familiar faces popped up, but two in particular seem kind of funny in retrospect: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner played themselves in a club scene. (Ivanka was apparently a huge fan of the series.) “They did it for the money,” a chuckling Schwartz told Vanity Fair.

20. IN AN ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE, SERENA IS A SERIAL KILLER.

In 2002, von Ziegesar published a bloody take on her famed book series with Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer, which she said she’d love to see adapted. "I took the original text of the first book and whenever I saw an opportunity, I layered in this story of Serena coming back from boarding school as this coldblooded psychopath, which, to me makes total sense,” von Ziegesar told Entertainment Weekly. “She’s sort of like the Ryan Gosling of Gossip Girl world. She has that deadpan style, doesn’t seem to have much personality, and she’s really gorgeous, but then underneath she has this kind of scary ability to kill people. So she’s murdered people up at boarding school. She’s always had this dark side and everyone is a little bit scared of her.”

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Natasha Zinko
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This Just In
This Jeans-Inside-Your-Jeans Look Will Cost You $695
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Natasha Zinko

Besides a few updates here and there, the classic style of denim blue jeans hasn’t changed much since the late 19th century. Now, a London-based fashion designer wants to disrupt the wardrobe staple. Their revolutionary new idea? A second waistband sewed on top of the first one.

According to Mashable, these high-waisted double jeans from Natasha Zinko are retailing for $695. Wearing the pants makes it look like you forgot you already had jeans on and put on a second pair on top of them. But buying two pairs of designer jeans to wear at once would probably be less expensive than owning this item. The double jeans are actually one garment, with the high-waisted inner pair stopping at the hips. Boasting seven pockets, they’re not entirely impractical, but having to undo two sets of buttons and zippers sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

Model wearing double jeans.
Natasha Zinko
There is a market for high-end blue jeans disguised as fashion crimes, as Nordstrom proved earlier this year with their $425 pants covered in fake dirt. The Natasha Zinko double jeans have already sold out on shopbop.com.

[h/t Mashable]

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