The President’s … Splat!

Blue Skies Magazine issue #42 "The President's ... Splat!" by Moe Viletto |

Online Reprint

Originally printed in issue #42 (Apr 2013) of Blue Skies Magazine.

In 1999 I received a call from a friend of mine, Kinny Gibson. If you saw Kinny in person you would swear that he is Chuck Norris. In fact, he was one of Chuck’s primary stunt doubles, and one of only two people in the world to fly the original rocket belt, the precursor to the modern day Red Bull model. He also had hot air balloons which is how I met him. Before he learned to sew I would do his repairs as well as custom work on high-fall stuntman Dar Robinson’s air bag, the largest bag in the world. High fallers were hitting air bags at speeds of 80 mph and I knew some day someone would land without a parachute. Jumpers using huge inflatable balloon suits were falling at 80 mph back in the 1980s. Chuck was producing a CBS Sunday night movie of the week called “The President’s Man” and it had a skydiving and BASE jumping scene in it. Kinny was an avid skydiver but not a BASE jumper. He would do the aircraft jumps and I would do the building jump … if it was doable … You never know what Hollywood might want you to do.

Kinny sent me a story board of the opening scene stunt. Chuck (the President’s number-one man) is to rescue the President’s wife, who is being held hostage on the top floor of a condo. He exits the bomb bay of a stealth bomber, (yeah right) tracks a bit, and opens his chute. Maneuvering toward the building, he lands on the roof and cuts the main canopy away. After tying off with a rappelling rope he leaps from the roof and pendulum swings through the glass window of the top floor. A fight scene takes place and of course Chuck kicks butt. Next he straps a harness on to Mrs. Pres and clips her to him, face to face. He turns and runs out the broken window he previously entered, deploys his reserve, flies out over the ocean and drops her to the awaiting Navy SEALs below. And of course he then flies off into the sunset … Ooookay Hollyweird!

I couldn’t make any promises until I did a recon of the building, which was on South Padre Island in Texas. I was told it was the tallest building there, a 300-foot tall condo not far from the Gulf Coast. When I arrived at the site, looked up and realized not only was it not 300 feet, the wind was crankin’ too—just like I thought it would be. The building was surrounded by sand, concrete, and parched grass, and was so close to the water, so there would be a significant temperature difference. All these things meant there would always be some sort of wind—nighttime excluded—whether it be true wind or convection heating and cooling. The landing area was the best thing going here so far; it was mostly sand and dry grass with a small gully that had some occasional scrub and thorn bushes here and there. The director asked me what I thought of the landing area. Scratching my chin and hesitating I said, “I’m very concerned that I might get a boo boo if I land in a thorn bush.” And then I burst out laughing. The sand was so soft, should I take the mighty whipper, all they’d have to do would be to cover me up in my own crater.

A laser measurement from the top floor showed 252 feet, which meant I could freefall it and keep things a bit simpler. The open window I would be exiting was relatively narrow at 36 inches, but plenty high. I leaned back on the glass and placed my right heel against the window’s base in order to heel and toe off my running distance to the opposite wall where I would start my run. Now that I had all the measurements I could go back to my shop and make a mock window to pace off my starting point for the running exit. The director wanted me to run—and that made me happy, seeing as how I wanted to open as far away from the building as possible.

With the jump site logistics covered, who would be jumping with me as Mrs. Pres? A running exit face to face with a blow-up doll dressed in wardrobe and a wig. I could tie her arms around my neck and have her connected to me at the waist. Hmmm … Deja vu…No, it’s not what you are thinking. I have done a few stunts that required a dummy (other than me of course) and blow-up dolls seem to work the best for low-speed jumps. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have made BASE jumps with a 60-pound dummy before and it was no fun. Besides, it was a male dummy.

Back in my shop, I constructed a mock window and stepped off my exact running distance in order to practice. My very close friend Jan Davis had just died BASE jumping El Capitan on my birthday, so before I started my run I would dedicate this jump to her, wish her well, and tell her that I miss her and love her.

My pre-jump mantra and prep went something like this: Dummy secure. Pilot chute and bridle clear. Line up on starting point mark. Balance. Breathe. Send my love to Jan. Start my run. Push off with right foot on very edge. Fall, pitch, risers, correct heading if need be, toggles, flare.

I practiced for a week. Probably a hundred times at least. The timing of my run was critical as I wanted my right foot to be pushing off exactly on the edge. Tripping on the dummy’s feet or stutter stepping the run could be fatal.

Feeling one-hundred percent about my practice and preparations, I was off to Texas to perform the stunt. Upon arrival, Hollywood threw a wrench in my gears. The building was the same but they wanted me to jump from a different room. I needed to regroup so I had the construction crew build a mock window frame while I went up to the new room to step off my running distance. Then I could set up in the parking lot and practice the timing of my run.

When I arrived at the room there was no one there. I approached the window, turned 180 degrees and moved back to lean on the glass and place my foot at the base in order to step off the distance to the opposite wall where I would start my run.

I started to lean back against the window and damn near fell out! The glass had already been removed. When I felt no window on my butt, I gasped and went spread eagle with my arms and caught myself on the window frame. Heart racing, I pulled myself back in. The President’s man just about ate it. I was pissed and shaking like a leaf. I had coordinated stunts involving removed glass before and always hired someone to stand guard, in addition to a big yellow “X” over the open window. A window without glass looks just like the one next to it: Clear! The stunt coordinator on this shoot was out joy riding in the helicopter and hadn’t put anyone in charge of the open window.

Back in the parking lot, I set up the mock window and backed up against it to pace off my run starting point. To think that just a few minutes ago with a different outcome, I might not be here right now. So to lighten things up a bit I leaned back and fake fell out the mock window doing a back roll onto the asphalt, all the while laughing. After a few dozen practice runs I felt ready. But the wind was not.

I set up two wind indicators. One was parallel to the building near the water with no obstructions, showing me the clean and true air. The other was set up directly in front of launch about 100 feet from the base of the building. The true wind was a quartering tail wind from the right rear. The wind sock in front of the building was the exact opposite. The quartering tail wind blowing around the building was being sucked back toward the face, due to the Venturi effect, which meant jumping into a 10-15 mph head wind would be pretty risky…I mean stupid.

I sent a production assistant out to get me several bags of popped popcorn and a few cans of shaving cream. While he was gone I watched the wind patterns in the dry grass from the exit point. Next I went to the landing zone and observed the tall dry grass blowing in the wind. I noticed a fine line where the movement of the grass mellowed out. The PA returned with my shopping list and met me at the exit point. Having tied myself safely to the building, I squirted shaving cream out the window to monitor the winds next to the building. I then wrapped up a handful of popcorn in a paper towel, shot a little shaving cream in there and threw it out the window as hard as I could. When the paper towel opened and dispersed the popcorn an interesting thing was revealed. After doing this over and over I noticed that when the true wind was stronger, it would create a void in front of the building with nearly zero wind. With a good high-energy running exit, I would be opening right on the sheer line where the gusty wind met the calmer eddy. If I had a 180-degree off-heading opening facing the building I should be able to back up or turn away since I would be in the void or hollow spot. It was a go!

Adorned with a Chuck Norris beard and wig, I blew a few extra puffs of air into my favorite blow-up doll, thinking she could second as an excellent air bag if my canopy didn’t open. I would be holding my pilot chute in my right hand which I would let trail slightly behind me to give me adequate clearance as I passed through the window frame. I made masking tape donuts and stuck them on my right arm from wrist to shoulder and then stuck the bridle to them. This would keep track of my excess bridle as I ran.

Time to jump. Filming would be done from a helicopter hovering far enough away that it would have no effect on the winds. I peeked out the window to my right and watched for the wind to pick up. What? This seemed so out of place. This was not an antenna where you wanted the wind honking at your back, it’s a fucking building! I had a few hundred building jumps and never jumped in this much wind. But I chucked enough popcorn out there to feel confident that I could safely pull it off.

The windsock got stiff and so did I. I waddled to my start point with Mrs. Pres staring me in the face, mouth agape. “Cameras rolling…speed…ACTION!” spouted the director. I went through my mantra and started to run. I had a super aggressive launch and threw the pilot chute after one second waiting for the familiar sound of “rip…whack,” which is the Velcro shrivel flap tearing the container open and then the canopy whacking open. While the “rip” part sounded familiar, the “whack” part was late. I looked up at what looked like an unsymmetrical bow tie, on heading at least…then it stalled and partially collapsed, re-inflated, and stalled again and mushed around.

I released the brakes and it dove forward and finally pressurized. I was definitely in the convergence zone. At about 75’ I got lift and went up 20 or 30 feet, drifting to the right with no forward progress, then hovering for a couple seconds and descending back left and doing a PLF down near some small scrub. What a ride! That was the crappiest BASE opening I had ever had. The director ran over as I was gathering up my gear and said, “That was great! Are you all right?” I raised up my thumb to show him an embedded briar and said, “I told you I was concerned about this happening!” We had a good laugh and watched the video to make sure we got the shot. We did. Although I could have definitely made another one. That’s why I always have a backup thumb!

Moe Viletto

Regular Contributor

Moe Viletto is the owner of Tailored For Survival, a specialty sewing and design company for life-support systems. He bought a parachute after his first jump in 1971, started to pioneer BASE equipment and jumping in the early 1980s, and has been working in the parachute industry full-time ever since. Catch his stories on Skydive Radio at

Living the Dream on a Budget

Reader Roger Guia sent us a letter asking how in the world skydivers balance family and financial responsibility with the ridiculously expensive sport of skydiving:

So here I am, sitting outside on a beautiful day reading the latest issue of Blue Skies Magazine. Reading about of what it seems to be the life of a lot of wonderful people that has become part of the skydive community around the world. It really inspires me a lot every time I read it. And every time I read a new article there is only one thing that comes to my mind:

How can everybody in this community afford to be a skydiver?  

And I’m not talking about the rich and privilege people that can buy a state-of-the-art rig. I’m talking about regular people like me. With regular jobs and family, (responsibilities).

Coincidentally, Melanie Curtis turned in her column the next month (issue #42) addressing this very question.

If you find yourself in this type of skydiving financial bind, go through the following questions to help clarify your unique situation. With clarity, we can consciously determine what action is best for us each to take, and ultimately feel good in our choice, no matter what it looks like.

  1. How much joy will I get from the jumps I want to pay for?
  2. How much stress will I experience shelling out the cash for those jumps?
  3. Will the joy I get from those jumps be greater than the stress from the financial output?
    • If yes, go for it. Doing what we love brings good juju into our brain, body, and being. Feel the flow, use it to kick a** at work and make the money you need to keep jumping the way you want.
    • If no, consider what possible opportunities you can create to improve your financial standing so you can fit the amount of jumping you really want into your life. Answer the following question and do your own brainstorming:
      • What can you do right now to improve your financial standing so you can do the jumping you want to do? Work more shifts? Pack parachutes one day a weekend? Sell some stuff out of your closet? Work out a deal with the DZ to get discounted jumps in exchange for giving back, organizing, or whatever? Something else?

If you’re not sure what to do, consider this thought: “I am choosing my current financial approach.”

This might sound like BS, but think about it…no matter what is happening, we choose to spend our money the way we spend it based on what’s important to us. Maybe you’re keeping your family fed. Maybe you’re keeping your credit card balance low. Theoretically, we could rack up the charges, buy 20 jumps a weekend without a care in the world, we could file for bankruptcy in a few years, or whatever else…but we’re not doing that.

It’s easy to get caught up feeling stuck in our financial situation, but when we step back and really look at our actions, it’s easy to see that we’re choosing based on our own financial value system. And that’s GREAT. We’re choosing to be in the world with a certain level of financial responsibility, and can always go to sleep at night feeling good about that even if it means we’re not jumping as much as we’d ideally like to be…for now.

So how do you afford skydiving with a family, responsibilities, and all of life’s other demands?

So long, issue 42, and thanks for all the fish

Don’t panic, the April 2013 issue of Blue Skies Mag is shipping out into the galaxy now – if you are a current subscriber, that is. If you are not current and like what you see, go to to renew or sign up right this very second. You can start a subscription with any back issue you like, just specify that in the ‘notes’ section of your order.

If you do not have your April issue by May 1, please drop me* a line,

If you’re wondering when your subscription expires, it is printed right on your address label. We’ll also email you before you expire and if that bounces, you’ll get a postcard in the mail.

So just what is in this little bundle of joy? This:

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On the Cover
Blannie Wagner is opening a new kind of air sports center and Robin Kellam photographs his lovely wife. Presumably. Maybe she’s his sister. Doubtful. Almost certainly a marital team.

Blue Skies Magazine issue #42 * April 2013 * Cover photo by Robin Kellam

issue #42 * April 2013 * Cover photo by Robin Kellam

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Headsup with a misprint. Awesome. 
My letter to you had an error – our combined May/June issue will hit your mailbox mid-MAY, not mid April. Sorry about that.

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Where You Need to Be

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Skydiving Word of the Month: Hangar

Is: hangar
Noun A large building with extensive floor area, typically for housing aircraft.
Synonym shed

hangar not hanger

Skydive Spaceland’s hangar, which you could not fit in a closet.

Is not: hanger
Noun A person who hangs something: “a wallpaper hanger”. A shaped piece of wood, plastic, or metal with a hook at the top, from which clothes may be hung.
Synonyms hook – peg

hanger not hangar

A clothes hanger, which you could not fit an airplane or packers into.

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We Froze Our Buns Off | by Wendy Faulkner

The best skydiving song in existence starts at around 1:00.

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Digital Altimeters for Students | by Nils Kløcker Predstrup

Skydive Voss gave their students the choice of digital-display altimeters or analog displays. The results will shock you if you are the same kind of person who ever muttered, “Round is sound,” back in the day. Read the full article: Digital Altimeters for Students.

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Nitro Guy | Interview by Abbie Mashaal, Story by Faith Hewitt-Treadwell

Meet Nick Rugai, creator of the Widow Maker, Rigor Mortis XXX, and Δ-9 Banshee.

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Tales from the Pond | by Jeannie Anderson
The story of a swoop gone bad.

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Centerfold | by Bruno Bokken
>Big-way formation over the X-Mas Boogie at Skydive Empuriabrava, Spain.

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Turning Points: Funny Stomach Feelings | by Kurt Gaebel, NSL
First dates, job interviews, dentist’s offices, and skydiving competitions all produce funny feelings in the tummy. Champions don’t not get them, they just know what to do with them.

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Dirtside Dreamin’ | by the F*ckin’ Pilot
A fairy tale by your favorite diver driver (whom we misidentified as Skydive Dubai’s newest chief pilot, oops! He’s just a regular lowly pilot.), Dean “Princess” Ricci.

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Cha-Ching! | by Melanie Curtis
How do you make room in the budget to skydive as much as you want to?

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The President’s…Splat! | by Moe Viletto
Just what went into filming this scene?

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That’s it! Let me know what you think of it, please., or use any of the handy forms under the Subscribers tab.

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*Yes I know the email is from, but that’s because if you’re a subscriber, you probably have exchanged an email with her at some point. Less likely to get marked as spam that way. Also, she’s busy with this little bundle:

The newest BSM staff member.

The newest BSM staff member.

Digital Altimeters for Students

This article appeared in the April 2013 issue of Blue Skies Mag and is reprinted here in its entirety.

Digital Altimeters for Students
By Nils Kløcker Predstrup

Until now students have generally been using analog altimeters in the first jump course. In the meantime, digital altimeters have gotten more and more popular among experienced skydivers.

During the 2012 season at Skydive Voss in Norway, we introduced digital altimeters to our AFF students. The experiment was initiated on request from the head instructor (HI) Espen Høst, and executed with approval from the Norwegian air-sports federation’s (NLF) experimental department. Although the operation is run according to Norwegian regulations and the majority of the instructors are NLF members, the instructors working at the AFF school also include members of other organizations such as the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) and Australian Parachute Federation (APF). The instruments we have been testing are the visual digital-display VISO and the audible OPTIMA manufactured by Larsen & Brusgaard.

The question is: Why should students only use analog visual altimeters when other, more advanced, and more accurate instruments are the standard for experienced skydivers? The arguments against are often grounded in assumptions rather than actual experience and so this experiment was initiated to cast light on the pros and cons of using digital instruments for students.

The study included all 126 of our new AFF students at Skydive Voss. During the ground school, students were introduced to the VISO (digital visual altimeter) and to the OPTIMA (audible altimeter). The students were made aware of the fact that they were participating in an experiment. At the same time, ALTITRACKs (an analog-display visual altimeter manufactured by Larsen & Brusgaard) were introduced to see if the analog face was intuitively preferred by some of the students. The students were given the option of choosing an analog-display visual altimeter if they so desired. Three of the 126 students used the ALTITRACK/OPTIMA combination: one had previous experience in paragliding, one was an old-time skydiver refreshing after many years not jumping, and the last was a glider pilot—so they chose what they were used to. Although a few more students ended up using a combination of ALTITRACK and OPTIMA, none of our first-time students chose the analog display before the digital.

The students were briefed to use the VISO as their means of altitude awareness in freefall and above 900’under canopy. Below 900’ the audible OPTIMA would become the primary altimeter and the VISO should then be used only if the student felt the need to visually check or confirm the altitude. This was taught in order to promote full visual focus on the actual surroundings and other traffic.

Under canopy the OPTIMA would be set to beep first at 900’ indicating the altitude where the student should start the landing pattern, leave the holding area, and come on to the downwind leg. The second beep from the OPTIMA would be set to 600’ to indicate the altitude where they should turn 90 degrees and come on to the base leg. Between 600-300’ the OPTIMA would be set to sound a sequence of 10 beeps guiding the student toward and onto final approach. The last beep at 300’ would indicate that the student should initiate no more turns, and should prepare for landing.

The freefall alarm on the OPTIMA was set to beep at 2,800’ so the students would not hear it before they were trained to open at 5,500’. So the student would still need to remember to stay actively altitude aware in freefall.

During ground training the students used the replay mode on the VISO to practice freefall maneuvers for the first jump in real time and at the same time to familiarize themselves with the instrument. The OPTIMA was introduced and explained during the canopy landing pattern module. We briefed the students to use the audible as their primary altimeter on the landing pattern under 900’ to allow full visual focus on the actual surrounding terrain and landing area as well as possible canopy traffic and other obstacles. Emphasis was made on “No turns! Only small corrections to avoid obstacles.” after the last beep at 300’.

Digital Altimeters for Students by Nils Predstrup | April 2013 Blue Skies Magazine | Photo by Delphine Huet

Digital Altimeters for Students by Nils Predstrup | April 2013 Blue Skies Magazine | Photo by Delphine Huet

After passing AFF level 7 the students answered five questions regarding their experiences with the instruments. The questions were:

1. Did you at any point have problems reading the altitude on the VISO in freefall or under canopy?

Three students noted that they had to look an extra time at the instrument in freefall to be sure of the altitude. None of the cases required interference from the instructor.

2. Do you have any positive or negative experiences using the VISO?

All of the students answered positively on this question, including the ones who answered less than positively on the first question.

3. Did you hear the OPTIMA beep under canopy on all your jumps?

All students except one answered yes to this question. The one student who did not hear the beeps on one particular jump noted that she was very stressed out at that particular time and therefore did not hear the beeps.

4: Was the OPTIMA helpful to you on your landing pattern at 900’, 600’, and 300’?

One student answered no. He explained that he had previous jump experience and had the habit of looking at a visual altimeter. An additional note was given by this student stating that it was very nice to have accurate, easy to read altitude at all times.

One other student answered both yes and no. He explained that when he initially had set up wrong on his 900’ point and had to adjust during the rest of the landing pattern, he found the beeps confusing in that particular situation. All other answers to this question indicated the students found the OPTIMA to be helpful.

5. Did you look at the VISO during your landing pattern under 900’ or was it enough to listen to the beeps and only use the OPTIMA?

Sixty-nine percent answered that they used the VISO in addition to the OPTIMA on every jump; 14 percent answered that they only used the OPTIMA under 900’; 17 percent answered that they used the VISO in addition to the OPTIMA on some of the jumps only.

The students’ answers to question 5 indicate that, especially in windy conditions and if for some other reason the navigation into landing got more challenging, the students liked to use the VISO as well. Also, a tendency for many of the students to rely only on the OPTIMA under 900’ seems to be present as they gain trust in the beeping sequence after a few jumps.

It is interesting to report that some of the AFF-certified graduates experimented themselves with using the analog altimeter instead of the VISO during their solo consolidation jumps. This was mostly due to that fact they were sharing equipment with other students and sometimes availability of VISO instruments was limited. They mentioned that they did not have any trouble with them in freefall or under canopy but some were dissatisfied with the precision and preferred digital over analog displays.

Instructor Observations in Freefall

Initially we were using wrist mounts for the VISO but we changed to the glove mount because it allows flexibility in the wrist for better angling without having to bend the elbow. In Norway it is mandatory for students to wear gloves so it made sense to use this option and it worked really well for us. One student did start the pull sequence at 6,500’ after reading the “6” as a “5.” This happened when we still were using the wrist mount and the mistake was due to looking at the instrument at a very shallow angle. This incident was one of the main reasons we changed from the wrist mount to the glove mount.

There were a few students initiating the pull sequence a bit high, at 5,900’ instead of waiting for 5,500’ on the first jump. But after informing subsequent students about this possible mistake during the initial instrument briefing, the tendency was eliminated. (Note: Because of elevated terrain around the DZ we have students lock on at 6,000’ and pull at 5,500’.)

Other than those few isolated cases we did not experience any problems with the usage of the digital display; the students were generally very altitude aware throughout the test period.

In those cases when the student lost altitude awareness because they simply forgot to actually check the instrument, reminding the student to check their instrument resulted in the student promptly regaining altitude awareness.

In the test period we experienced some very extreme conditions: -30C (-22F) in altitude and a humidity level that caused full-face helmets to fog up extensively, but still in those conditions the VISO worked as normal.

Instructor Observations under Canopy

Since we started using the VISO and the OPTIMA instead of analog altimeters we have seen a tremendous improvement in our students’ canopy control skills. In Voss we don’t use radios for our students, so to see the students fly an easily recognizable and “by the book” landing pattern, all by themselves right from the beginning, has been a delightful experience and a big improvement. This is the most significant difference we as instructors witnessed when using the new instruments, and in my opinion in itself is reason enough to give the students these instruments.

It is comforting as an instructor to know that when you ask the student to fly the standard landing pattern, you can also give them the tools to actually execute the task and decide when they are at a given altitude under 900,’ which can be very difficult with only an analog altimeter. Also the fact that we have not seen a single student doing a low turn since we introduced the new instruments is a valuable result.

We believe the learning curve is faster with digital versus analog displays. Students can say with precision what altitude they were at a specific moment of their landing pattern—and therefore accept instruction because of the obvious evidence (versus showing approximately where they think the needle on their analog altimeter was). They have a more accurate perception of the actual experience and therefore more accurate debrief.

Precautions and Procedures

The digital instruments function only with battery power and this needs to be taken into consideration to make sure battery power is sufficient at all times. However the VISO and OPTIMA batteries are marketed as being able to last for approximately 1,000 jumps on one battery set. At Skydive Voss we have a procedure of changing every battery in every unit at the beginning of every jumping year.

The VISO will shut itself off after 14 hours (as the CYPRES AAD does) so we build in a procedure of activating the instruments every morning before jumping. Also it is possible to change between feet or meter display, and altitude or speed in the display so the instructors (and students) need to be familiar with the features and ensure it is in the desired mode.

The OPTIMA will sound a sequence of beeps on climb in the plane at 1,000’ to let the user know that it is on and will sound according to settings on the way down, so we have a procedure of detaching the seatbelt and making eye contact with the student who confirms that the unit has beeped.

The manufacturer informs us that if someone is using polarized glasses it may interfere with the clear viewing of the display on the VISO. However we have not experienced this.

If the DZ is located near mountains the students need to be made aware of the fact that the instruments function on air pressure and will not show accurate altitude over the ground if flying over elevated terrain (same for analog).

Conclusion: Digital altimeters can be used for students with great success. We see no particular reason to use only analog altimeters for students.

About the author: Nils Kløcker Predstrup is from Copenhagen, Denmark, now living in Voss, Norway. He started skydiving in 1997, has more than 10,000 jumps, and is a 5-time world freestyle gold medalist (2001-2005).

April Deadline March 1

It is that time again. Seems like this happens every month. Odd. The deadline to get your stuff in our April issue is March 1. This issue should mail just before April 1 and everyone should have it by April 15 at the latest.

Email me your story ideas, photos, letter to the editor, news tips, gossip, accomplishments, events, and press releases – Photos go to

As always, you do not need to be Stephen King or Norman Kent or Felix Baumgartner to submit your stuff to us – although I won’t lie, those guys are definitely getting published. We look for all different viewpoints, opinions, news, and eyes.

Happy submitting!

Some helpful links