Video Infographic, 3D

Air Traffic Control company NATS visualizes data from flights over 24 hours. A moving camera path brings out the data’s 3D structure. Gorgeous work. Curious circuits pumping people of the world around. I’d never heard of a Heathrow holding stack! Imagine when we have one of these for the brain..

“A few highlights include the North Atlantic tracks that connect Europe with North America, the airways that run up the spine of the UK, the holding stacks at London’s capacity stretched airports and the military manoeuvres off Anglesey in Wales.”

via Visually

air traffic over europe NATS, infographic, earth

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Maps of Ideas

mapping ideas quid neuroscience arxiv snapshot, mapping ideas, neuroscience, arxiv, quid, amy robinson, map ideas, graph ideas, mapping ideas

A universe.

We live in one. Your mind is one.

Human beings, besides generating things like science and technology and businesses, generate ideas. Thoughts. Sometimes thoughts lead to action. Life happens or rather is made by he who lives it.

I’ve been pondering: how could we explore being human from a perspective of ideas over time? Say, my personal ideas over time. A dynamic network, the questions, concepts and values that fuel who I am. Creativities and habits; discoveries and experiences.

If you were to document things you think are important or things you are curious about or wonder, what might you have after a month? A year? Eight years?

That’s how long I’ve been doing this. I’ve amassed 30 Moleskine notebooks, 3.5G or 756 voice memos, 6,000 Tweets and gigs of autotune on t-payne (don’t judge).

How could you map ideas? Here was my first attempt from 2012, delivered for Quantified Self at Stanford.

I spent hundreds of hours figuring out how to map 6 months of ideas in the form of emails to self. A collaboration built through an amazing community of Gephi devs.

Others are making strides in this arena. Watch the below TEDTalk about mapping ideas from the top 25% of TEDxTalks. From transcripts to a network you can interact with and explore. Beautiful. And insightful. How could these ideas apply to the ideas of an individual over time?

How do the things I’m interested in evolve? What new things have I learned and how have they made their way into the projects I create or things I do or learn in the future? When do ideas change how I think? After I learn something that changes how I think, it can be difficult if not impossible to retain how I thought before I realized it. Particularly over years. These deep ideas fascinate me.

So I’m exploring them. Publicly. And I’m going to make all of my personal data public someday. Still working up the nerve to put up my browsing history. The short term will see transcripts of voice memos and handwriting. We may need to create new language processing algorithms for stream of consciousness.

Publicly. If you think this is interesting, contact me and think about it with me. I’m using Quid and learning principles of graph theory, community detection, python, JSON, dealing with audio transcription, and most interestingly figuring out how to build a network/networks out of ideas.

Challenging. Exciting. Neural avalanche inducing.

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BRAIN Initiative: Thoughts on Interim Report to the NIH

neurons reconstructed in eyewire, connectome

We stand on the verge of a great journey into the unknown—the interior terrain of thinking, feeling, perceiving, learning, deciding, and acting to achieve our goals—that lives within the human brain. These capacities are the essence of our minds and the aspects of being human that matter most to us. Remarkably, these powerful yet exquisitely nuanced capacities emerge from electrical and chemical interactions among roughly 100 billion nerve cells and glial cells that compose our brains. All human brains share basic anatomical circuits and synaptic interactions, but the precise pattern of connections and interactions are highly variable from person to person—and therein lies the source of the remarkable variation we see in human behavior, from the breathtaking dance of a ballerina, to the elegant craftsmanship of a master carpenter, to the shrewd judgment of an expert trader. Our brains make us who we are, enabling us to perceive beauty, teach our children, remember loved ones, react against injustice, learn from history, and imagine a different future.

Preamble, The Goals of the BRAIN Initiative

Today is my one year anniversary at MIT. I’ve grown as a person and learned more than I ever imagined. To celebrate, I read a 50+ page NIH report, which was surprisingly awe inspiring. Here are my thoughts.

On Sept 16, 2013, an advisory committee of prominent neuroscientists presented a report to the NIH Director outlining the goals and objectives of the BRAIN Initiative for FY 2014.

Before we proceed, Iet’s back up. My greatest passion in life is understanding consciousness; understanding how the brain yields a thinking, feeling human being. That’s why I’m at Seung Lab working on EyeWire, attempting to catalyze exponential progress advancing neuroscience from the unknown into the understood. How exciting, how chill-inducing to read that the greatest minds on minds of our generation are teaming up and calling for unprecedented action in this direction, progress backed with investment and goals for disruptive, interdisciplinary collaboration that “reconceives what it means to be an experimental neuroscientist.” (13)

The report outlines several themes and high-priority research areas for 2014:

  1. Generate a Census of Cell Types
  2. Create Structural Maps of the Brain
  3. Develop New Large-Scale Network Recording Capabilities
  4. Develop A Suite of Tools for Circuit Manipulation
  5. Link Neuronal Activity to Behavior
  6. Integrate Theory, Modeling, Statistics, and Computation with Experimentation
  7. Delineate Mechanisms Underlying Human Imaging Technologies
  8. Create Mechanisms to Enable Collection of Human Data
  9. Disseminate Knowledge and Training

I am particularly excited about, well, all of these but for the interest of time I’ll hone it down. First, let’s reflect on the fact that we don’t even know how many types of cells there are in our own heads..and how quickly that’s changing. A catalog of cell types would provide a framework for existing research and a foundation for future experiments. Like everything in this report, it’s extremely exciting.

Second. Create a structural map of the brain. The report calls for a movement “towards [mapping] a full connectome.” Oh yes. There are many layers of functional circuits in the brain, all of which are important to our broader understanding. Special emphasis is given to integrating scales in both time and space and creating platforms that “enable understanding of the relation between neural structure and function.” The report calls for “faster, less expensive, and scalable approaches” that will reveal how how neural dynamics relate to complex behavior. Crowd-sourcing is specifically mentioned in this section, which needless to say amps me up.

neuron branches, eyewire,

I’ll skip now to numbers 5 and 6, which read as a call for revolutionary cross-boundary collaboration among researchers to create integrative tools for creating enriched, multidimensional datasets that, for example, might integrate molecular, functional and connectomic information. The report indicates a preferences for involvement from fields outside neuroscience such as computer science, statistics, engineering, physics and theory (and even calls for new theoretical tools and techniques — a “brain based theory of higher functions is notably lacking.” hello, opportunity).

This is not the time to play is safe.

I love this. Neuroscience is due a bit of disruption; we need to bring in minds from different fields — fields that the authors of this report may not have even considered, such as design. I think crucial components will be identifying and communicating neuroscience’s biggest accomplishments, current state of knowledge and present/future hurdles to communities of talented individuals and organizations, many of which may be outside academia, who will develop and test innovative solutions to them. We may use tools like Kaggle or host Hackathons, challenging a burgeoning global developer community to create software that will help solve neuroscience’s biggest difficulties. I’ve come to realize that while techniques do cost a considerable amount of time, it seems that software and big data analysis are what’s really needed to increase technolgical and analytical throughput by 100-1000x, as the report calls for. One infamous case of analytic delay is that of Earl Miller’s Lab at MIT. The team spent 2 weeks collecting functional activity data and 2 years analyzing it. Damn. We need tools, better AI and brave collaborations on all neruoscientific fronts. This is one area I’m particularly interested in catalyzing.

Another interesting component of this research is an open call to create a neuroscience data reservoir where researchers can store and one day maybe even crowd-source analysis of their research findings, specifically image data. Seung Lab (my lab) has an interest in this, so stay tuned.

synapse in eyewire

A final point of interest is #9, the dissemination of knowledge and training. In the context of citizen science, which will likely play an increasingly important role in neuroscientific progress, we need to share best practices and methods through which labs can involve the general public in the scientific method. We are actively working on such toolkits and events. Ping me if you are interested in collaborating on this or any other area.

Finally, going back to the big picture (my favorite), I’d like to point out that the report specifically calls for research “composed with a specific eye toward eventual impact for humans” and that “encourages changes in the culture of neuroscience.”

The challenge is to map the circuits of the brain, measure the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within those circuits, and understand how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities.

Our ultimate goal is to understand our own brains.. to understand the circuits and patterns of neural activity that give rise to mental experience and behavior.

It’s a wonderful time to be alive. I’m honored to have the opportunity to play a leading role in the future of neuroscience through EyeWire and specifically Seung Lab at MIT.

for science eyewire black on yellow, for science, eyewire, brain, design

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#HowILostMyGoPro and an open challenge to find it

Once upon a time there was a daring kayaker. She paddled the western waters of Outer Brewster Island, a beautiful rocky outcrop and the last bit of land before open Atlantic Ocean. She rode tidal rapids and took in the surreal landscape. Then she rounded the pointe. While exploring a cove on the eastern tip, a swell caught her broadside, capsizing the kayak and leaving a bobbing chick in the water for a couple fishermen to rescue.

amyleerobinson rescued by fishermen, gopro, wipeout, gopro wipeout

gopro on my head wipeoutThat happened to me on 30 June, 2013. I had a GoPro strapped to my forehead, which was taking an image every 2 seconds. It survived the capsizing but was knocked from my head in a big wave tumble, which you can see in the video below. The GoPro rests in the sea somewhere off the tip southeast cove of Outer Brewster Island National Park.

Here is a wipeout vid and a challenge should you choose to accept it:


42°20’34.9″N   70°52’27.83″W

X marks the spot:

x marks the spot gopro treasure hunt amy robinson
Reward: Beer, DInner and Glory

This is in fact more than a mission. It’s an open call adventure. I’m pleased to announce a new side project. In the works is a portal for GoPro owners to connect and explore together. Imagine if you knew everyone in your city with a GoPro. Imagine if during vacations you could team up with locals or other for adventures. Work hard; play hard. Stay tuned and in the mean time let’s find this camera!

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What’s the best thing you’ve spent money on?

on Quora (hint: @TEDTalks)

Answer by Amy Robinson:


I spent every penny I had (and then some) getting to a TED Conference when I was 24. It changed my life.

I was organizing a TEDx in Huntsville, Alabama, where I'm from, when I learned that in order to have more than 100 people at your event you have to go to TED. Like, go to TED. Real people actually do that and you can too.

At the time I was working in environmental management and bartending on the side i.e. not your typical millionaire attendee. It was April, my TEDx was slated for November and TEDGlobal was happening in early June. TED Registration was closed so even if I could have afforded it, I couldn't  apply.

Then came Tod, a now close friend and mentor at TEDxAtlanta who I reached out to for advice. We talked extensively and he convinced me that I should do everything in my power to go. He wrote letters to TED on my behalf and landed a nonprofit rate (yes it exists; you can only use it once in your life). I spent everything in my savings to buy that ticket. I had to fly standby because I couldn't afford a real flight.

I don't really know how to explain it..the sheer joy, inspiration and openness of ideas that is TED. Big ideas from the stage coupled with extraordinary audience members is the perfect storm with which to disrupt yourself. Conversations blew my mind. I talked with executives, researchers, explorers, entrepreneurs..I met people from all walks of life from all over the world, something I had not much been exposed to while growing up in Alabama.

TED audience members are all people who go to great lengths and expense to immerse themselves in Ideas Worth Spreading. I was nervous and intimidated but I forced myself to suck it up and walk up to strangers and ask them things like "What talks inspired you most?" In part because one of the first interactions I had at TED was with a stranger who walked up, said hello then asked point blank "so what inspires you?" So..that can happen. It helped me realize I can catalyze amazing, thoughtful conversations by asking intimate, important questions. TED was the perfect environment for it. I learned never to be intimidated and to just relax and talk about ideas that matter. The editor of WIRED and Shell's Sustainability Director are all people, too, and if you just ask interesting questions with an open mind, they might surprise you with perspectives you never even imagined.

I realized how little I knew about the world and how much, even in my state of perpetual optimism, I had underestimated the infinite opportunities in it. TED connected me with ideas and people that have helped shape who I am today. Involvement in TED and my expansion into TEDx has heavily influenced how I organize projects and even got me into crowd sourcing, which I now do for MIT. It is my duty to use my time here on Earth to make it a better place and TED has played an instrumental role in shaping how I take action along those ideas.

Now, three years later, I am Creative Director of EyeWire, a game to map the brain at Sebastian Seung's Lab. I met Sebastian at TED. I started the TEDx Global Music Project — it was catalyzed in part by TED. I cannot quantify the multitude of things that this engagement has brought to my life.  I've kept going to TED and expanded to TEDMED and many TEDxes.

I wrote this story out because TED can be anything. I followed my passion for ideas and caliber conversations and I invested everything so that I could take action – it started because I wanted to put on a big TEDx event. You can find your TED (and it may be cheaper!) and when you do, I hope you have someone like my friend Tod to tell you to throw caution to the wind go for it. And if you don't, I will be that person for you. My email is If you ever need encouragement to be brave, drop me a line.

You must take risks. I overdrafted my bank account while at TED (ahh FML but it was worth every penny I didn't have). My parents had to wire money over because I didn't even have a credit card. That's the TED attendee story you don't hear! Money is a means to experience. I don't buy prada bags. I buy plane tickets. It's true. Put your pocketbook where your heart is — better, where your head is. Invest in your passion. I use my money, limited as it may be, to facilitate action, interaction, collaboration, side projects and I rarely live a day without experiencing awe at just how much my life has changed since I signed away my savings to attend a dreamy conference in England..

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Quantified Curiosity 2.0

ideas, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy RobinsonBack in September I gave a talk at Stanford for Quantified Self titled Quantified Curiosity (summarized in this post, which includes slides and a links to videos refrenced in the talk). Below, check out the video complete with a text transcript.

Before you watch it, think about this. Who are you? Seriously, how do you answer that question? Does who you are change over time? How? Why? When? What if you could explore these questions empirically, with data that correlates with significant events in your life, data that collectively integrates to tell a story of who you are? This is what I begin to explore with Quantified Curiosity, a network exploration into the ideas that fuel me. As of March 2013, I’ve connected with a couple academic and corporate network powerhouses to this concept a few orders of magnitude higher and deeper. More on that soon.

Over the coming months, stay tuned for the evolution of questions, new visualizations, and curiosity progress reports. A goal of this side project is to create a platform that allows anyone to explore and graph his or her ideas over time. Here’s to tackling fundamental questions! Ping me if you are interested in brainstorming. Now, on with the evolution of ideas!

Transcript with slide selections:

Quantified Curiosity brainbow Amy RobinsonI am obsessed with thinking about thinking.

My name is Amy Robinson and I am here to share Quantified Curiosity.

I am very curious how the ideas that I encounter and the new things that I discover integrate and infuse to form who I am and who I will become.

A stranger at a TED Conference once walked up to me and said “Hi Amy, What inspires you?” Besides actually making me think about what inspires me, it made me think about how the things that inspire me change over time. I am not a constant, I am very dynamic; however, it’s hard to remember how I change and to keep it in perspective.

Those 5 seconds consequently have mattered much more than just 5 seconds and I wonder if the same is true for ideas. So I’ve been tracking them.

How? I email myself “interestingness.” So when I look at say an article or write notes or watch a cool video; anything that makes me think “hm, that’s interesting,” I email it to myself. For this talk I’ve compiled 6 months of this data into..a pretty big spreadsheet and some beautiful network visualizations.

Each line is an idea, an entry, and the data has attributes like a date, a link, an ngram (which is the subject and body text of the email), it’s tagged with topics and it’s also given an interestingness ranking of 1 being low and 5 being high.

ideas, Gephi, "Quantified Curiosity" Amy RobinsonSix months worth of data came to 770 unique entries – or ideas – in 772 different topics. Once this data was organized into a spreadsheet I was able to analyze it and look at it in a completely new way.

This is a weighted graph  [below] of the most important topics of all topics that were used at least 40 times and weighted either 4, the green bar for “important,” or 5, the blue bar for “most important,” they show up on this graph. You can see based on the importance that the most prevalent topics vary. For example, the green bar most important is “journal,” which is peer reviewed literature, not my personal notes, followed by biology and neuro. Whereas if you look at the blue bar “notes,” my personal notes, come up first.

"Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson

photosofnotes, photos, notes, tumblr, amy robinson, quantified curiosity,You can also look at most important entries over time [graph below]. The most important entries  tend to occur in clusters. I wonder do these clusters actually correspond to something? There’s a huge cluster in February, 14 items in 3 days. They actually correspond to my starting a new side project, photos of notes, it’s a tumblr blog where I just publish photos of my notes. In that case, yes, that cluster was something real. And I wondered, is this true for the other clusters?

quantified curiosity, QS, quantified self,

Turns out, yes. In March there’s another one where 21 items occur in a period of 21 days. It corresponds to something kind of goofy that I do — lifebonus emails. I send these out now quite periodically to my friends saying, ya know, share something beautiful, inspiring, intelligent or entertaining that you’ve discovered in the past week and they get a hypothetical lifebonus. It’s goofy, it’s fun, it rocks the inbox but again the data actually corresponds to my doing something new.

How else can we actually explore this?

We were able to formulate these ideas into Gephi, a free network graphing program. The way this works: the circles are called nodes and they correspond to topics that are tagged with ideas. The size of the nodes indicate how many times they were used in tandem with other nodes. The edges – the lines between them – are the actual ideas that are co-tagged with the two different topics.

ideas, graph, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, "Quantified Self", nodes, edges

ideas, graph, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, "Quantified Self", nodes, edgesYou can run statistics in Gephi to modularize communities so based on how connected groups of nodes are relative to the overall connectivity of the whole graph and see distinct communities. For example, the blue down at the bottom is science and science-related tags. The purple is work slash health — I work[ed] in health; you can probably actually infer that by looking at the graph. The red section is TED and TED-related tags, including TEDx and video. And then the green section is “self” and there were come cool things in there like playful, curious, ideas and Quora that popped up really close to me. But this is messy. It’s hard to see 10,500 edges so what you can do is you can actually isolate individual topics.

ideas, graph, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, "Quantified Self"

The yellow dot here is the tag “ideas” within all my ideas data. You can see the little green dot sort of off to the side. It exhibits what’s called a high “betweenness centrality.” In social network graphs that represent people, those nodes that have a high betweenness centrality are the ones that bridge gaps between distinct communities. They’re interdisciplinary in a way and it made me wonder, could the same be true for ideas? Those “in between” ideas, and how can I decipher this information?

ideas, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, "Quantified Self", beautifulWe can look at the graph of “beautiful” for an example. You see there’s a purple dot right in the middle. That’s “tech” and when I actually looked at these tags, there’s a series of beautiful, scientific, technological videos, that I’ve actually compiled on my blog [here!] if you’re curious to see them. You can also zoom in on this red section that were closely tagged with “beautiful” — so “TED”, “TEDx”, “side project”, I guess it’s a good sign that the things I do for free in my spare time incite a sense of awe and beauty. “Video” was the largest in that cluster.

ideas, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, "Quantified Self", video

When I actually look at the graph of “video,” it made me wonder how we could take this information and make it interactive. Imagine you were panning through this on a computer and rather than just looking at nodes, you could actually look at the content relative to where they’re tagged and other things

Here is the tag for “self.” A lot of this was intuitive — “TED,” “science,” — I’m geeky, I love TED. But one dot that very much surprised me, closely related to me — the green dot of Quora, Quora the social Q&A network.

ideas, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson

ideas, Gephi, Quora, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, "Quantified Self"This [left] is a graph of Quora. It’s highly infused with all the different communities of my ideas.

These are beautiful graphs; they’re elegant and nice to look at but what do they mean? What can you actually learn from exploring ideas in this type of way?

It puts them into context. By being able to see my ideas and see how they’re connected to each other, I’m able to think about myself in new ways. I’m able to see, rather than just the fact that I started a new blog or I sent out a lifebonus email to friends, I can see how that evolve and where it came about. Based on the features of these graphs, I can actually understand more about where my ideas come from and how they change over time. And there’s a lot that can be done in Gephi that I haven’t even gotten to yet.

Really, like that one line at TED, those 5 seconds carried a much greater weight than just 5 seconds. I think the same can be true of ideas. How do I remember what was new to me four years ago? How do I understand how the ideas that i encounter today are influencing me as a function of time? And I really wonder how I can discover more ways to think about myself and how I can explore how my mind looks relative to other people’s. I wonder if there are hidden patterns inside of this.

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I think that there are answers, or can be. I’m very curious to understand who I am and how I exist. Consciousness is my greatest curiosity and in the end I’ve learned that we need to think socially about how to better think about thinking. This was a momentous task to put all this  together and it can certainly be done more efficiently. Remember, you are extraordinary. Your mind is exquisite. You, the things that you think about and the things that are important to you, create who you are and who you will become. So imagine how you might answer the question “what inspires you?” if you had a quantified mind in your cognitive toolkit.

Thank you.

ideas, Gephi, "network visualization" "Quantified Curiosity" Amy Robinson, Quora, beautiful, video, self, quantified mind

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Find Meaning, Not Escape

waiting for a sign by workisnotajobA dear friend wrote me the following poem the day after we had a long philosophical mind to mind conversation. It makes me happy that someone thinks of me this way and reminds me to continue to aspire toward one of my own goals, which is to be the kind of person I’d like to meet. I think of it with an imaginary scenario: if I could meet myself on the street as a stranger and shake my own hand and magically know everything about myself, I would want to think “wow, you are a wonderful human being.” The poem below tells me that I’m headed in the right direction 🙂

A truly noble person with endless motivation;

Adventurous, full of wonderment, and destined to be great.

Greatness not only through her unnerving, endless determination,

But also through more subtle, less obvious traits:

For through her love and kindness she brings forth elation,

Inspiring those off path to find meaning, not escape…

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If you sort iPhone photos by size, which images come out on top?

I just got back from a post-TED trip to San Francisco. After importing my SF shots and sorting by size to pull out videos (for a coming-soon time lapse project), I noticed an interesting trend in my photos: the largest ones are taken outside.

Here are the 10 largest pics, ranging from 4.6 MB (green, center) to 3.2 MB (face of curiosity, bottom). Average size images range from 2-2.6 MB. What attributes describe the outliers? Nature. And a bit of art. Try this and share your mobile pics hungriest for data!

San Francisco Street Art The Face of Curiosity, Legion of Honor, San Francisco, Presidio, art Legion of Honor, SF, Linkin Park,
China Beach, San Francisco, waves IMG_1628
Presidio, Path, Sea, Forest, Green, San Francisco,

Presidio Path San Francisco Forest
Presidio Path, SF, Forest
Presidio Path San Francisco Forest

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WolframAlpha’s New Facebook Graph.

Facebook Word Graph WolframAlpha

WolframAlpha just released a new Facebook graph feature. The image above was generated based on word frequency of my status updates. TEDster much? TEDx, ideas, happy, new are my most popular words. Awesome (is also one of them).

The report gives stats such as your top commenters, interaction maps, most liked photo of yours, most commented on photo, where your friends live etc.

Check it out here.

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Be More Epic

be more epicFriends, we live in a fucking amazing world. Turn on the news and you might never realize it; however, there is a cure for the pessimism. It’s called content curation. Much in the same way that BrainPickings curates the web’s interestingness and I Fucking Love Science + It’s Okay To Be Smart make science awesome and accessible to everyone, I’ve launched a new experiment in collaborative epicness called Be More Epic.

This new Facebook Page is curated by a small group of people whose minds I love. The guidelines are simple: share whatever strikes you as epic.

On this page you will find an integration of epicness from the world’s best and most obscure sources. We primarily share from RedBull, National Geographic, GoPro and other rad media powerhouses. You’ll also find crazy pics and videos of shit you never knew existed, such as thisthis and this.

Like the page and share what strikes you as epic on our wall. If you’re interested in contributing to curation, message me.

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