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Zeke Piestrup

Apocalypse Later: Rapping With Zeke Piestrup About Harold Camping

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Zeke Piestrup

Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World is a documentary about apocalypticism. The film focuses on Harold Camping, a Christian radio host who predicted that Judgment Day would occur on May 21, 2011, and that the world would end on October 21, 2011. It includes lengthy interviews with Camping both before and after the predicted dates. Here's the trailer:

This documentary is a stunning piece of work, in part because it takes the subject completely seriously. This is about trying to understand where Camping was coming from (specifically what his basis was for those hyper-specific predictions) and examining the history of similar apocalyptic predictions. What is it about humans that makes us believe that apocalypse is always right around the corner?

As the film discusses through interviews with Biblical scholars, we are as convinced today that the end is nigh as we were two thousand years ago. It is curious, and fascinating, that pretty much every human generation is convinced that, as Camping insisted, "It is going to happen!" And when it doesn't, subsequent generations find new reasons to believe the same thing.

Apocalypse Later's director, Zeke Piestrup, had exclusive access to Camping during the days leading up to May 21, 2011. Piestrup was hired by Camping's Family Radio group to produce a series of daily YouTube videos counting down to the end. In the course of making these videos, Piestrup sat with Camping and his associates for a long series of interviews. Here's an example of one of those countdown videos:

When the apocalypse failed to occur, this of course left Piestrup with a wealth of material for a feature documentary. (He also interviewed Biblical scholars later, who are the intellectual pillars of the film.) Piestrup interviewed Camping one last time, a year after his failed prediction. That interview is the emotional heart of the filmit's where we learn what happens when an apocalypticist learns that he was wrong. That interview alone is worth the price of admission.

I interviewed Piestrup via email over the last few weeks, talking about the film and its origins. Here's our conversation.

How The End Began

Higgins: Tell me about the first time you met Harold Camping.

Piestrup: It was at the end of his Thursday morning Bible Study taping. The show had wrapped. I remember immediately how kind, genuine, and patient he was with everyone (the Bible Study show had a studio audience). How big his smile was. I'm not sure Harold heard 80% of what was said to him. Harold's hearing was pretty bad at that point. But, he always tried. And so he was able to infer what was said by catching a few words and truly being there.

Prof. Bart D. Ehrman, UNC Department of Religious Studies. Photo by Zeke Piestrup.

Higgins: About that Thursday morning Bible Study tapinggive me more context on why you were there. I can see a bunch of potential reasons somebody might attend, from simple religious interest, to positive interest in Camping as a person, through to some kind of outsider perspective on trying to understand who this potentially-kooky Camping guy was. I know there is rarely a single reason anyone does anything, but in general, what brought you to show up at Camping's taping?

Piestrup: I'm a nonbeliever, dude. But, down with Jesus. I'm also down with Jacques Tati, Lenny Bruce, and Harry Nilsson.

In 2001 I was living in New York City. Planes flew into buildings a few miles down the street from my apartment. I did not know why. So, yeah, I started reading. And I have not stopped. First the newspaper, then I moved on to actual books.

In 2002 my parents gifted me a Teaching Company DVD course. I chose Bart Ehrman's Introduction to the New Testament. I now have two bookshelves filled with stuff on early Christianity, the historical Jesus, apocalypticism, etc. The general thought of the crowd was whatever happened 2000+ years ago, we really could not know. Well, there's a lot that we can know. Basically, I got addicted to historythat's all this stuff is.

"Skiing is My Religion"

Higgins: What's your background with church(es)? (I realize this is an enormously broad question.)

Piestrup: I had always had an up-and-down relationship with Him. I grew up in Big Bear, a very religious town, so in my youth I went to church with friends or my Grandma from time-to-time. But then came love for the NFL, so I put Him on the back burner. In college, I developed a more combative view towards Christianity ("Why are they shoving this down my throat! Church and State, yo!" type of immature reactionism).

A point that I differ greatly from my great Pop: He gets visibly angry when talking to folks with whom he disagrees. In general, mad dads ain't comfortable to be around.

I think the world we live in is the result of the ingredients we threw into the oven. Here's the cake that came out. To be mad at the cake makes no sense. I am not an activist. I don't think big change is coming. And if you get angry, they win twice.

From 2001-2010, the more I read, the less angry I became about Christianity. I've also done way too much yoga at this point. Role of the observer, know what I'm sayin'? So, I would smoke joints in the parking lot and go to church. Church is awesome. The parking is free, there's some great choirs, and the people are super nice to you. They're just so happy you're there. And in So-Cal, I was able to see Chuck Smith before he passed, I saw the Blind Boys of Alabama sing in the Crystal Cathedral (before it went bankrupt). But, I still haven't made it to TBN in Costa Mesa (although I have applied for numerous jobs there), or the First AME Church (a historic black church in LA).

Smoking weed, going to church, readin' books, and headin' off to Mammoth when the storms hit.

Skiing is my religion. The drive to Mammoth from LA is 5 hours. The first exit beyond the big bad city is appropriately called Dawn Road. And that's when the religious radio starts for me. If you're averse to this type of entertainment, best not to go to Mammoth with me. You're gonna get four hours of this stuff. When you hit the Ridgecrest area, that's when Family Radio comes in. And it was on one of these trips to Mammoth that I first heard Harold Camping. He had the most peaceful baritone. I get the same feelings listening to Harold that I do Vin Scully. It's comforting.

I had been a fan of Harold's for years when I heard him say May 21, 2011 would be Judgment Day. I knew immediately that I had to be there.

One of Family Radio's Judgment Day billboards in Oakland, CA. Photo by Zeke Piestrup.

Higgins: So how did the YouTube videos start?

Piestrup: I pitched Family Radio on doing daily videos counting down the last days on YouTube. I went up in mid-April [2011] to demonstrate. They dug what I produced, and hired me in early May. 14 straight days of 19-hour days. It was madness. My girlfriend at the time, Bailey Damast, is an editor like me. We somehow managed to live through those hours and the non-Rapture, and remain a couple.

The gig itself was AWESOME. Family Radio told me I would be there as long as Harold wanted me there. We hit it off. Every day he would show up for his Open Forum radio show a half hour early, and we would chat about whatever was on my mind.

So even though we're producing these videos for YouTube, my mind is on the film. I'm gathering as much footage as possible, interviews that I knew would not be in the YouTube vids (like with his daughter Sue). The thought for me was always Mark 9:1 to May 21.

Harold Camping interviewed at his home in May 2012. Photo by Zeke Piestrup.

Higgins: What has the aftermath been like?

Piestrup: People despise Harold. And to me, the anger felt towards Harold does not justify the crime. 40% of Americans think Jesus is coming back before 2050. Did Harold do that? We U.S. Americans don't like to examine fully the apocalyptic fervor in this country. When someone like Harold pops up, we'll write it off as another example of the Millerites.

The Millerites are a sign post, they're like Pearsonville (on the way to Mammoth), the hub cap capital of the world. A distraction. We're going to Mammoth here.

We will repeat the events of May 21, 2011. Folks don't want to come to terms with the fact that this goes back to the origins of Christianity. That Jesus, as portrayed in Mark's Gospel, makes many predictions about the end coming in the lifetime of his followers (Mark 9:1, Mark 13:30). That Paul, the greatest Apostle, thought the end was so near that folks should not bother getting married (1 Cor 7: 8-9; 32-34). That John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus, was proclaiming an apocalyptic message. Jesus' ministry was fully apocalyptic. Those who preceded him (John the Baptist) and came after him (Paul) believed the end was upon them. It would be rather improbable if the middle (Jesus) thought differently. Yo John, I'm not down with your message, but baptize me anyway??

The excitement that Harold tapped into is the same excitement that birthed a new world religion. That's how far back this goes. And you wanna hate on Harold? His crime is the same as the supposed crime-less.

A Family Radio listener meets Harold Camping. Photo by Zeke Piestrup.

Lastly, when I say I'm down with Jesus, I also believe that Jesus is down with me. Whatever life we lead, would you not want people to remember you for what you actually taught and believed? That's what the intellectual ballers of SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) are doing. And that's what I try to do with my work.

It has been noted that Christianity was not the religion of Jesus, it's a religion about Jesus. Like Hollywood's "based on a true story." Well, when He started walkin' on water, we should have detected that perhaps we've jumped the shark.

And who was Jesus? See Albert Schweitzer then and Dale Allison today. We certainly know a lot more. And the most probable answer (since history is really about probabilities): He was a Jewish apocalypticist proclaiming the imminent arrival of the physical Kingdom of God here on earth. When? Within the lifetime of His listeners. Amen.

Where to Watch the Film

Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World is available on video-on-demand now, on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, you name it. (If you're not an iTunes person, there are a bunch of links on the film's site to all the streaming sites below the trailer; it's coming to Hulu this month as well.)

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Amazon
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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
May 28, 2017
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Amazon

As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting! 

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Fitbit Flex 2, Black (US Version) for $59.95 (list price $99.95)

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Fritesla 20000mah Power Bank 4USB Portable Charger for Smartphones (Green) for $24.99 (list price $100.00)

KITCHEN

Moscow Mule Hammered Copper 18 Ounce Drinking Mug, Set of 4 for $21.48 (list price $40.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

Imarku Pro Kitchen 8 inch Chef's Knife High Carbon Stainless Steel Sharp Knives Ergonomic Equipment for $29.99 (list price $99.99)

Lodge L9OG3 Cast Iron Round Griddle, Pre-Seasoned, 10.5-inch for $16.19 (list price $24.00)

Cuisinart CSBP-100 3-in-1 Stuffed Burger Press for $11.47 (list price $14.99)

Wilton Nonstick 6-Cavity Donut Pan for $8.15 (list price $9.99)

Cuisinart Set of 3 Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers, CTG-00-3MS for $11.21 (list price $22.00)

BLACK+DECKER GD2011B Family Sized Electric Griddle, 20 x 11-Inch, Black for $16.57 (list price $39.99)

Circulon Sunrise Whistling Teakettles, 1.5-Quart, Black for $19.99 (list price $40.00)

Rachael Ray Cucina Hard Porcelain Enamel Nonstick Covered Round Casserole, 4.5-Quart, Agave Blue for $27.69 (list price $100.00)

VonShef 7- Egg Electric Cooker Stainless Steel with Poacher & Steamer Attachment for $19.94 (list price $34.99)

The Original GORILLA GRIP (TM) Set of 3 Non-Slip Reversible Cutting Boards, BPA Free, FDA Approved Materials (Set of 3 Boards: Green) for $19.99 (list price $39.99)

Presto 04820 PopLite Hot Air Popper for $17.55 (list price $29.99)

Contigo AUTOSEAL Transit Stainless Steel Travel Mug, 16 oz, Polar White with Grayed Jade Lid Accent for $15.55 (list price $24.99)

AUTOSPOUT Straw Ashland, 24oz, Monaco for $8.49 (list price $12.99)

HOME

URPOWER 2nd Version Essential Oil Diffuser, 100ml Aroma Essential Oil Cool Mist Humidifier with Adjustable Mist Mode,Waterless Auto Shut-off and 7 Color LED Lights Changing for Home Office Baby for $15.95 (list price $39.99)

Radha Beauty Aromatherapy Top 6 Essential Oils 100% Pure & Therapeutic grade - Basic Sampler Gift Set & Premium Kit - 6/10 Ml (Lavender, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Orange, Peppermint) for $14.95 (list price $79.99)

Sherpa Throw Blanket Lt Grey 50x60 Reversible Fuzzy Microfiber All Season Blanket for Bed or Couch by Bedsure for $23.99 (list price $59.99)

Hoover Vacuum Cleaner WindTunnel 3 High Performance Pet Bagless Corded Upright Vacuum UH72630PC for $139.51 (list price $189.99)

LANGRIA Shredded Memory Foam Pillow Firm for Optimal Orthopedic Support, Removable Washable Bamboo Cover Hypoallergenic Anti-Bacterial CertiPUR-US Certification,Queen Size for $12.99 (list price $59.99)

Downy Unstopables In-Wash Scent Booster Beads - FRESH, 26.5 oz. for $10.97 (list price $15.99)

Aszaro Cedar Balls, Cedar Cubes & Cedar Sachets 40 pc Combo Pack | 20 Natural Cedar Wood Balls, 20 Blocks & 5 Bonus Sachets | Ward Off Moths, Mildew And Mustiness For Easy Garment Care for $17.97 (list price $25.99)

Garment Steamer, Holan Portable Handheld Clothes Steamer, Fast Heat-up and 200ml Capacity Fabric Steamer with Two Brushes Perfect for Home and Travel for $17.99 (list price $39.90)

Monkey Hook Picture Hanger Home and Office Pack, 30 pc set for $11.25 (list price $19.75)

Queen Size SafeRest Premium Hypoallergenic Waterproof Mattress Protector - Vinyl Free for $29.95 (list price $95.98)

LUCID Premium Hypoallergenic 100% Waterproof Mattress Protector - 15 Year Warranty - Vinyl Free - Queen for $19.99 (list price $40.00)

HANSLIN Desk Top Swivel Alarm Clock for $23.75 (list price $29.99)

WBM Himalayan Glow 1002 Hand Carved Natural Salt Lamp with Genuine Neem Wood Base/Bulb and Dimmer Control, Crystal, Amber, 8 - 9-Inch, 8 - 11 lb for $30.98 (list price $39.95)

 

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

BS-MALL Makeup Brushes Premium Makeup Brush Set Synthetic Kabuki Cosmetics Foundation Blending Blush Eyeliner Face Powder Brush Makeup Brush Kit (10pcs, Golden Black) for $9.99 (list price $39.99)

Nerdwax Stop Slipping Glasses as Seen on Shark Tank for $10.99 (list price $14.99)

Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrip Teeth Whitening Kit, Glamorous White, 14 Treatments - Packaging May Vary for $34.69 (list price $44.99)

Gillette Fusion Manual Men’s Razor Blade Refills, 12 Count, Mens Razors / Blades for $33.97 (list price $47.99)

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45, 3 Fl. Oz., Pack Of 2 for $11.24 (list price $14.99)

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 30, 5 Oz. for $7.47 (list price $10.99)

Thinksport Kid's Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+, 3oz for $10.87 (list price $11.99)

Colgate MaxFresh Wisp Disposable Travel Toothbrush, Peppermint - 24 Count for $3.41 (list price $7.99)

100% Pure Australian Tea Tree Essential Oil with 45% Terpinen-4-ol, 1 fl. oz. A Known Solution to Help in Fighting Acne, Toenail Fungus, Dandruff, Yeast Infections, Cold Sores.. for $10.95 (list price $65.00)

American Crew Forming Cream, 3 Ounce for $7.95 (list price $9.67)

Aquasentials Mesh Pouf Bath Sponge (8 Pack) for $8.49 (list price $12.99)

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Facial Cleanser With Salicylic Acid, 6 Fl. Oz. for $6.50 (list price $10.69)

Edge Shave Gel for Men Sensitive Skin - 7 Ounce (Pack of 6) for $17.82 (list price $26.99)

NIVEA Men Platinum Protect 3-in-1 Body Wash 16.9 Fluid Ounce for $3.11 (list price $4.99)

Gillette Fusion ProGlide Manual Men's Razor Blade Refills, 4 Count, Mens Razors / Blades for $13.22 (list price $18.03)

Radha Beauty Rosehip Oil 4 oz - 100% Pure Cold Pressed Certified Organic for $13.95 (list price $49.99)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

SwissGear 1900 Scansmart TSA Laptop Backpack - Black for $54.99 (list price $130.00)

Cardinal by TOPS Products OneStep Printable Table of Contents and Index Dividers, 52-Tab, Numbered, Multi-Color (60990) for $7.15 (list price $11.51)

Chartpak Self-Adhesive Vinyl Capital Letters, 6 Inches High, Black, 38 per Pack (01184) for $16.65 (list price $21.99)

Fineliner Color Pen Set,0.38mm Colored Fine Line Point,Assorted Colors,10-Count for $6.58 (list price $9.99)

uni-ball 207 Impact Gel Pens, Bold Point (1.0mm), Blue, 12 Count for $20.00 (list price $26.46)

Elmer's Liquid School Glue, Washable, 1 Gallon, 1 Count for $14.08 (list price $20.49)

Westcott Jumbo Circles Template (T-826) for $4.31 (list price $7.00)

Amzdeal Magnifier Eye Glasseses Eye Loupe For Reading Drawing Making handicrafts Repairing for $11.89 (list price $39.99)

OUTDOORS, GARDEN, AND SPORTS

Coleman 12 oz. Enamel Mug for $3.49 (list price $8.98)

Igloo 5 Gallon Seat Top Beverage Jug with spigot for $22.99 (list price $39.99)

Mountainsmith Pinnacle Single Trekking Poles, Evergreen for $12.91 (list price $19.95)

Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle (24-Ounce) (White) for $7.99 (list price $11.99)

ALPS Mountaineering Crescent Lake 0-Degree Sleeping Bag (Regular) for $43.19 (list price $53.99)

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OUTERDO Monocular Dual Focus Telescope Camping Wildlife Hunting Surveillance Sporting Events Traveling Scope Waterproof Optics Zoom Bright and Clear with 10 Magnification 16x52 for $12.99 (list price $18.89)

TaylorMade 2016 Tour Preferred Golf Balls (1 Dozen) for $27.99 (list price $39.00)

VicTsing 50ft Expanding Hose, Strongest Expandable Garden Hose with Double Latex Core, Solid Brass Connector and Extra Strength Fabric for Car Garden Hose Nozzle for $34.99 (list price $39.99)

Insulated Picnic Basket - Lunch Tote Cooler Backpack w/ Flatware Two Place Setting (Black & Red) for $25.99 (list price $31.04)

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Lightning Nuggets Inc 0-47815-14175-7 12-Count Firestarters for $5.54 (list price $12.99)

Imarku BBQ Grill & Baking Mats, Durable , Heat Resistant, Set of 10 Non-Stick Grilling Accessories for $23.99 (list price $49.99)

TOOLS

TIWIN LED Light Bulbs 100 watt equivalent (11W),Soft White (2700K), General Purpose A19 LED Bulbs,E26 Base ,UL Listed, Pack of 6 for $19.99 (list price $23.99)

Kidde FA110 Multi Purpose Fire Extinguisher 1A10BC, 1 Pack for $19.98 (list price $42.99)

Sugru Moldable Glue - Black & White (Pack of 8) for $14.80 (list price $21.25)

5 Pack Ipow LED Battery-powered Wireless Night Light Stick Tap Touch Lamp Stick-on Push Light for Closets, Cabinets, Counters, or Utility Rooms,Cordless Touch Light,Batteris Not Included for $9.97 (list price $11.99)

Dimmable LED Desk Lamp, 4 Lighting Modes(Studying, Reading, Relaxing, Sleeping), 5 Level Dimming, 1 Hour Auto Timer, Touch Sensitive Control, Modern, - Piano Black for $29.97 (list price $109.00)

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GlowBowl A-00452-01 Motion Activated Toilet Nightlight for $10.40 (list price $24.99)

Mothers 07240 California Gold Clay Bar System for $14.24 (list price $15.37)

J5 Tactical V1-Pro Flashlight The Original 300 Lumen Ultra Bright, LED 3 Mode Flashlight for $12.95 (list price $29.95)

Oria Precision Screwdriver Set, 60 in 1 Magnetic Driver Kit with 54 Bits, Professional Electronics Repair Tool Kit for iPhone/ Cell Phone/ iPad/ Tablet/ PC/ MacBook and Other Electronics for $13.99 (list price $26.99)

SE MH1047L Illuminated Multi-Power LED Head Magnifier for $8.94 (list price $15.44)

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