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Austin startup seeks to make noise with chip-driven hearing aid
www.statesman.com ^ | Published: 12:20 a.m. Friday, June 17, 2011 | By Brian Gaar

Posted on 06/17/2011 12:26:24 PM PDT by Red Badger

A few years ago, Russ Apfel was looking for something to do.

The semiconductor industry veteran had sold his chip design startup to Silicon Laboratories Inc. in 2005, then he worked for the company before retiring in 2008.

Eventually, he started looking at the hearing aid industry. It made sense, because the devices' digital signal processor chips are firmly in Apfel's area of expertise.

Apfel was surprised to learn that hearing aids can cost several thousand dollars.

"I was appalled," Apfel said. "I couldn't believe how expensive they were."

Part of the reason, he said, is that audiologist visits and other services are bundled in with the price. Users must regularly return to a vendor or audiologist to have their hearing aids adjusted and calibrated.

Eager to get into a new business, Apfel jumped in. After about 20 months of work, his company, Audiotoniq, is unveiling its first hearing aid today at the Hearing Loss Association of America convention in Washington, D.C.

Apfel says his hearing aid will be just as powerful as those currently on the market but that users will be able to adjust the settings using smartphone applications.

Audiotoniq will sell the devices online for $1,500 to $1,800.

Other companies sell hearing aids online. But critics say that online distributors can't provide the necessary evaluation, fitting and training that users need to correctly use their hearing aids.

To compensate for the absence of audiologist visits, Audiotoniq will provide software that trains people how to listen better, as well as online chats and the option to get help by phone.

Craig Champlin , chairman of the University of Texas department of communication sciences and disorders, said that Audiotoniq's device has features that will result in an improved hearing aid.

"But it nonetheless will only go so far," Champlin said.

While a device might give someone more sensitive hearing, users still need coaching and training on new listening techniques, he said. For instance, a person with hearing loss will need help learning how to focus attention on a particular speaker.

"The hearing aid isn't yet smart enough to do that," said Champlin, who is an audiologist. "Audiotoniq is trying to smarten it up, but it's not there yet."

Champlin, who has advised Apfel's company, said that such techniques could possibly be taught online, rather than in person.

Apfel admits the product, which goes on sale in September, won't be for everyone.

"This is not for 90-year-old Aunt Em who doesn't know how to operate her TV remote," he said. "This is for people who are serious, who understand technology, who embrace technology and want to have control of their life."

Apfel and a local investor he declined to name are major backers of the company, which so far has raised about $2.5 million. Company officials will seek more funding this summer.

Harold Mindlin, Audiotoniq's vice president of sales and marketing, is a serial entrepreneur who said he was lured to the company by Apfel.

"Russ is the pied piper," he said. "Everybody bought into his vision."

Apfel said the hearing aid, which will be manufactured in Dallas, could tap into an underserved market.

About 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults report some hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Only 1 of every 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid wears one, according to the group's website.

Apfel expects that Audiotoniq, which employs just under a dozen people in Austin, will grow to about 30 by year-end. Next year, he expects to hire 30 more.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: electronics; hearing; tinnitus

Audiotoniq CEO and founder Russell Apfel, above left, and Vice President Harold Mindlin are unveiling today a new hearing aid — Mindlin holds a picture at right — that will let users adjust settings using smartphone applications rather than seeing specialists, Apfel says. Audiotoniq plans to sell the hearing aids online and will provide software that trains people how to listen better.


1 posted on 06/17/2011 12:26:33 PM PDT by Red Badger
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To: joe fonebone; SamiGirl; gitmogrunt; Freee-dame; ROCKLOBSTER; ryderann; Red_Devil 232; ...

Tinnitus Ring List!..................

2 posted on 06/17/2011 12:28:23 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Red Badger

I’ve been thinking that investing in hearing aid companies would be a good bet. When all the idiots with those big speakers in their cars playing rap music and it’s vibrating the windows of houses as the car goes down the street, there is no way that much energy pounding on their eardrums is not doing some damage.


3 posted on 06/17/2011 12:31:50 PM PDT by bkepley
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To: bkepley

Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc..........earphones....................


4 posted on 06/17/2011 12:34:06 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Red Badger

It’s about time. I’ve thought for a long time that the hearing impaired were being ripped off by outrageous prices for hearing aids, especially when you compare with other computer and electronic items. I expect the lobbyists for audiologists will try to outlaw these.


5 posted on 06/17/2011 12:34:46 PM PDT by Second Amendment First ("Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not..." - Thomas Jefferson.)
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To: Second Amendment First

WHATT!!!???....bump for later


6 posted on 06/17/2011 12:37:09 PM PDT by joe fonebone (Project Gunwalker, this will make watergate look like the warm up band......)
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To: Red Badger

Another Texas company.

Watch Rick Perry try to take credit.


7 posted on 06/17/2011 12:39:05 PM PDT by Jedidah
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To: Red Badger

not to pick nits, but which hearing aid is NOT “chip-based”?


8 posted on 06/17/2011 12:42:22 PM PDT by bigbob
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To: Red Badger

Might be nice to try. In my case I won’t get a hearing aid unless I can pay for it *after* I’ve used it, I’m not pouring money down that rat hole.

My problem is that audiologists have told me (and experience bears this out) that amplifying sound won’t do me any good. I can’t discriminate sounds well. IOW, if I can’t understand what someone is saying in a situation, making it louder will not make it any clearer, just louder.

If I am in a crowded restaurant with a group I pretty much smile and nod. Which probably pleases my wife, anyway.


9 posted on 06/17/2011 12:43:12 PM PDT by ChildOfThe60s ( If you can remember the 60s....you weren't really there)
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To: Red Badger

Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful!! My husband has digital hearing aids. His hearing has changed since he got them, but he refuses to go in to have them recalibrated (if that’s the correct term). It would be great if he could adjust them himself.


10 posted on 06/17/2011 12:44:21 PM PDT by TennesseeGirl
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To: bkepley
Do you want to share an office with my thumb surgery center to repair the damage teenage texters are doing now?

I've never figured out the huge price for hearing aids. Microphone, amplifier, batter, speaker and a little smarts to kill the feedback. Although it is in a small case, the individual parts are probably only a few bucks. Add a 10,000% mark up and you're still well under the current price.

11 posted on 06/17/2011 12:44:34 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! Tea Party extremism is a badge of honor.)
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To: Red Badger

Please add me to your list. Thank you.


12 posted on 06/17/2011 12:46:59 PM PDT by lysie
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To: bigbob
not to pick nits, but which hearing aid is NOT “chip-based”?

Guessing here, but I think by "chip-based" they mean digital. My wife is hearing-impaired, and currently uses an analog hearing aid. Her deaf friends say digital hearing aids are far superior, and when we've got the funds we'll switch.

13 posted on 06/17/2011 12:48:50 PM PDT by COBOL2Java (Obama is the least qualified guy in whatever room he walks into.)
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To: Red Badger
This is just what I have been waiting for. I just turned down a VA Admin furnished free hearing aid because they wouldn't let me learn to adjust it myself. I'm a retired engineer and tech savvy and I want to avoid licensed audiologists who increase the cost to the customer. I want to buy it on line like I buy computer parts on line from Newegg. The prices should drop like computer part prices have dropped.

Bookmark this.

14 posted on 06/17/2011 12:49:45 PM PDT by tommix2
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To: lysie

Done!..........You can hear me now!................


15 posted on 06/17/2011 12:50:32 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Red Badger

Please put me on your ping list


16 posted on 06/17/2011 12:51:07 PM PDT by tommix2
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To: Red Badger

I wear hearing aids. Mine are from 1993. I’ve had them refurbished several times, to avoid paying through the nose for new ones, which would cost around $2-3000 a piece.


17 posted on 06/17/2011 12:51:48 PM PDT by MsLady (Be the kind of woman that when you get up in the morning, the devil says, "Oh crap, she's UP !!")
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To: Red Badger

Thank you. Sort of. My hearing aids are less than one year old. I’m not sure if I like them any better than the previous ones.


18 posted on 06/17/2011 1:03:44 PM PDT by lysie
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To: ChildOfThe60s
"My problem is that audiologists have told me (and experience bears this out) that amplifying sound won’t do me any good. I can’t discriminate sounds well. IOW, if I can’t understand what someone is saying in a situation, making it louder will not make it any clearer, just louder."

That is just what the digital aids are for. They split the sound "spectrum" into 12 or so separate bands, and amplify them by differing amounts to correct for your specific type of loss, be it high frequency, low frequency or "notch" loss. The old analog type aids had VERY limited capability along these lines. I've worn HA for about 25 years, and made the switch from analog to digital about eight years ago.

Huge difference!!!

19 posted on 06/17/2011 1:06:31 PM PDT by Wonder Warthog
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To: Red Badger
"While a device might give someone more sensitive hearing, users still need coaching and training on new listening techniques, he said. For instance, a person with hearing loss will need help learning how to focus attention on a particular speaker."

Yeah, right. I worked with audiologists (one under the umbrella of an ENT clinic) for all my hearing aids. Coaching....training......zero. The only "customized" things that they did for me was measure the audiogram and cast the ear-molds.

When I switched to digital, the audiologist "did" program them according to the audiogram, but I had so little background information on what the aid could do that I really didn't understand all the possible options, and she wasn't very forthcoming with information to help.

In this day it is ridiculous for hearing aids to cost upwards of $3000 each ($6000 for a pair). And it is ludicrous to have to hook them up by a cable to a PC to have them programmed. Programming should be do-able over a bluetooth link, and the user should be able to do adjustments for themselves. And the available information from the manufacturers SUX.

20 posted on 06/17/2011 1:30:04 PM PDT by Wonder Warthog
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To: Second Amendment First

“It’s about time. I’ve thought for a long time that the hearing impaired were being ripped off by outrageous prices for hearing aids, especially when you compare with other computer and electronic items. I expect the lobbyists for audiologists will try to outlaw these.”

The real reason hearing aids cost thousands of dollars is because of old-fashioned anti-competitive collusion. There’s no way in the world that any hearing aid ought to cost more than $300.00-$400.00.


21 posted on 06/17/2011 1:30:10 PM PDT by catnipman (Cat Nipman: Made from the right stuff!)
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To: Red Badger

There’s a lot of potential, and money, involved in correcting hearing loss.

However, there is also a lot of potential innovation that still needs to be done. For example, instead of just selling a hearing aid, why not *rent* a much more complicated device, that over the course of days will do a very thorough hearing analysis in all kinds of normal surroundings?

The unit itself could cost $10,000 or more, and would come with the equivalent of a remote control, so the user could fine tune both hearing aids in any number of situations, say two dozen programmable modes. After use, the device is shipped back to the company, where the data it has collected will be analyzed for that person’s hearing aids.

Users could have a “driving in car” mode, to hear what is being said in the front and back seats. A “noisy restaurant” mode, so they can hear what is being said at their table. A “sporting event” mode for a particular sport they like to attend. Even a “church mode” so they can hear what is being said at a mono-directional distance.

All sorts of possibilities. This is because future hearing aids could be much more complicated, able to strain out extraneous noises, able to directionally and distance focus, even be attuned to particular voices.

Likewise, why limit hearing aids to just two earpieces? If the person wore glasses, while having a microphone in the frame might not be optimal for a full hearing aid, it could provide partial information to the hearing aides to help them “fine tune” sounds. The same with a mike in the lapel, jacket or shirt pocket, or wristwatch.

The further from the aural aids, the more a third or fourth aid could be used to triangulate sounds automatically.

And back to glasses, the person might even have a “heads up” display option, so they could look at one or more persons, and put a “mouse cursor” highlight on them, so the hearing aids would be “directionally interested” in that direction, out of a 360 degree circle around the user. Until either they, or the user, moved beyond a certain distance.

Lots and lots of possibilities, here.


22 posted on 06/17/2011 1:38:30 PM PDT by yefragetuwrabrumuy
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To: Red Badger

I don’t even know how much hearing loss I actually have! My tinnitus is so loud, and at so many different pitches, it’s hard to take the hearing tests. Whooshing, clicks, beeps and a constant hi pitched white noise whine. Louder than people speak. I need something to address the tinnitus, and I haven’t found anything yet that helps. I don’t want hearing aids blasting in my ears just to make speech, etc., louder than the tinnitus!
Thanks for the ping, Badge!


23 posted on 06/17/2011 1:44:27 PM PDT by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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To: Wonder Warthog

You can thank the FEDS, and especially the FDA for this clustermuck..............


24 posted on 06/17/2011 1:45:24 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: tommix2

Done!...........You can hear me now!..............


25 posted on 06/17/2011 1:48:14 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: TennesseeGirl

recalibrated - correct!............


26 posted on 06/17/2011 1:49:26 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Second Amendment First

Of course they will....

I use these:

http://www.basspro.com/Hunting-Hunting-Accessories-Listening-Devices/_/N-1z11cxl

14.99 + tax.................


27 posted on 06/17/2011 1:51:48 PM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Red Badger
Apfel says his hearing aid will be just as powerful as those currently on the market but that users will be able to adjust the settings using smartphone applications.

I adjust mine with a small button on the hearing aid, while it is still in my ear. I fail to see how a smart phone app would be an improvement.

Audiotoniq will sell the devices online for $1,500 to $1,800.

Well, at least it's a price improvement.

28 posted on 06/17/2011 2:14:28 PM PDT by Graybeard58
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To: TennesseeGirl

Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful!! My husband has digital hearing aids. His hearing has changed since he got them, but he refuses to go in to have them re calibrated (if that’s the correct term). It would be great if he could adjust them himself.

Hearing aids typically last about 4 years. After that the clarity is reduced and new ones are in order. I am on my second set by Siemens and love them. They are much better then my first set. They come with 5 channels and a remote control, with on board volume controls.


29 posted on 06/17/2011 2:14:50 PM PDT by chainsaw (I'd hate to be a democrat running against Sarah Palin.)
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To: Dr. Bogus Pachysandra

Louder than people speak. I need something to address the tinnitus, and I haven’t found anything yet that helps. I don’t want hearing aids blasting in my ears just to make speech, etc., louder than the tinnitus!

Hearing aids have volume cut off at 85db to prevent additional hearing loss.


30 posted on 06/17/2011 2:20:26 PM PDT by chainsaw (I'd hate to be a democrat running against Sarah Palin.)
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To: Red Badger

I was at a friend’s house recently. 6 of us at the dining room table and Dan pulled up an app on his smartphone that played sounds and we tested who could hear what. I couldn’t hear any of the sounds but the other adults at the table could. My kids in the other room said they could hear them too.


31 posted on 06/17/2011 2:20:40 PM PDT by killermosquito (Buffalo, Detroit (and eventually France) is what you get when liberalism runs its course.)
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To: ChildOfThe60s
Might be nice to try. In my case I won’t get a hearing aid unless I can pay for it *after* I’ve used it, I’m not pouring money down that rat hole.

I wanted to do that too but it wasn't necessary, after trying them in the office I was convinced. That was almost three years ago and I believe it was the best $5,000 I've ever spent. I live in a new world now.

Hearing aids are advancing all the time and I believe that most, if not all hearing loss is pretty much covered now. I never did understand the price tag though.

Find a company that will give you a free trial, I'm sure they are out there.

32 posted on 06/17/2011 2:21:28 PM PDT by Graybeard58
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To: ChildOfThe60s
P.S.

Don't get just one hearing aid. I've never understood the logic to having a "good ear" and a "bad ear", unless of course you already have good hearing in one and bad in the other.

33 posted on 06/17/2011 2:23:36 PM PDT by Graybeard58
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To: Red Badger

A deaf-as-a-post ping list? Must be the diesel clatter! Add me, please.


34 posted on 06/17/2011 2:25:34 PM PDT by Don Carlos (Retired MSGT (USAF), and damn proud of it. I stood my watch.)
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To: Graybeard58
"I've never understood the logic to having a "good ear" and a "bad ear", unless of course you already have good hearing in one and bad in the other."

Unfortunately, one of my ears is "mostly dead", and the gain needed to get sound across is above my pain threshold. But I "still" get two aids....both for the "good" ear. Then I alternate them day by day.

Keep your eyes peeled (or perhaps ear to the ground might be more appropriate for the thread topic) for info on adult stem cell treatment for "nerve damage" deafness. Apparently great strides are being made. I've read one case study of a young lady who was majoring in music, who developed a rapidly advancing nerve damage loss to the point that she was virtually totally deaf in one ear and about "half-deaf" in the "good" ear. Her parents were both physicians, and they became aware of a stem cell treatment, so they put her through it. She got about 50% recovery in the "bad" ear, and virtually totally normal hearing in the "good" one.

35 posted on 06/17/2011 2:46:55 PM PDT by Wonder Warthog
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To: Graybeard58
"I adjust mine with a small button on the hearing aid, while it is still in my ear. I fail to see how a smart phone app would be an improvement."

I think you're missing the point. The "adjustment" referred to isn't the total sound volume, but the channel-by-channel adjustment to match aid response to individual deafness characteristics. Although you can also change total volume as well

For whatever reason, (probably allergies), my hearing loss is highly variable, and the 4 "programs" that are typical for digital aids are insufficient. I really need that "analog type" total sound volume adjustment that a remote would make possible for a digital aid.

36 posted on 06/17/2011 2:51:00 PM PDT by Wonder Warthog
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To: bigbob
not to pick nits, but which hearing aid is NOT “chip-based”?

No, no, no, these are actually made from potatoes. In a pinch, you could actually eat them.

37 posted on 06/17/2011 3:34:00 PM PDT by ROCKLOBSTER (Celebrate "Republicans freed the Slaves Month")
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To: Graybeard58

>>>
I adjust mine with a small button on the hearing aid, while it is still in my ear. I fail to see how a smart phone app would be an improvement.

<<<

Think of a stereo system. Instead of turning up just the volume, and base and treble, you’re running it through a multi-band equalizer. With the smartphone app, you can adjust the various frequencies for a particular environment and situation. Frequently needed settings could be saved as presets.


38 posted on 06/17/2011 4:28:23 PM PDT by AFreeBird
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To: Red Badger

Thanks for the ping!


39 posted on 06/18/2011 4:23:27 AM PDT by Vor Lady (The Lord will turn the arena of suffering into a platform of opportunity. R. Zacharias)
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To: Red Badger

I would appreciate being added. Thank you.


40 posted on 06/18/2011 8:32:29 AM PDT by Rannug
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To: Rannug

Done!............You can hear me now!............


41 posted on 06/20/2011 5:45:45 AM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Don Carlos

Done!...........You can hear me now!..............


42 posted on 06/20/2011 5:47:08 AM PDT by Red Badger (Nothing is a 'right' if someone has to give it to you................)
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To: Red Badger

Will they be made in America?

If not, who cares?


43 posted on 06/20/2011 5:50:21 AM PDT by Cringing Negativism Network (BUY AMERICAN. The job you save will be your son's, or your daughter's)
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To: Dr. Bogus Pachysandra
Happy for the ping! Have to say, I tried taking the chromium about 2 weeks ago and it has helped fairly substantially. Any relief is welcome. I'll keep at it and stay on the ping list with updates. Cell phone is getting more difficult, but I have a new i phone and I am not sure that isn't the reason. It would help if I knew how to use it, but I don't yet.
Anyway the chromium is helping, I may ramp it up a bit.

Full disclosure however, I am not a big believer in aliopathic/conventional medicine

44 posted on 06/20/2011 4:23:48 PM PDT by acapesket
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To: acapesket

I tried acupuncture, and Chinese herbal meds with no luck. I have a very good herb doc. Will try the chromium.


45 posted on 06/21/2011 5:03:47 AM PDT by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ( Ya can't pick up a turd by the clean end!)
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