Dark and Clear Skies

Slowly, the Scorpion emerged from the horizon, into the heavens, just in everyone’s plain sight. It was gigantic, with burning orbs for pincers and armor; in the night’s darkness the Scorpion was unmistakeably recognizable. The Moon has long set and the Hunter has been gone even longer. The sky was for the Scorpion to crawl.

We lay on the white sands waiting for the Scorpion to reveal itself entirely. First came its pincers. Then its long body with its burning red heart. Then its tail, the stinger. But it was not really for the Scorpion that we waited hours for. Near its tail, as if stuck with its stinger dragged around as the Scorpion prowled, is a sight more beautiful, more majestic than a celestial scorpion—a sight I have made it my life goal to see. At the end of this particular Scorpion’s tail flowed forth not poison but milk.

Fun fact: Being that our Solar System is located in one of the arms of the Milky Way, we can view part of it from our outpost here at Planet Earth. As our night skies stand presently, the Milky Way is situated at the “tail” of constellation Scorpius; should you let the myths have their way, also known as Orion’s archenemy. As an additional marker, the Milky Way flows from the teapot asterism in the constellation of Sagittarius.

(So does the Teapot coat the Scorpion’s tail with Milk? Or is the Scorpion pouring Milk from its stinger into the Teapot? Is not the Teapot a Milkpot maybe? Is Sagittarius trying to avenge Orion? Reader, I leave you to decide.)

In case it is not yet obvious, I have been a fan of astronomy all my life. In fact, one of my main motivations when I got myself an expensive camera (the SLT A35) was to photograph the night sky. Much so that I christened my A35 “Getsurikai”—a BLEACH-inspired name which translates roughly to “moon grasp”.

Alas, contemporary life is not exactly friendly to night-sky shooting. Add the fact that, as a hobby, I only get a handful of chances throughout the year to try out my experiments. My progress in this interest has been slow.

I’ve experimented more than a few times just to learn how. I have tried it on the kit SAL 1855 lens when I bought a tripod. Needless to say, my attempts—done from our rooftop on the darkest nights our area will allow (which still isn’t that dark by the way)—ended with faint, out-of-focus traces of Orion. Else, you would’ve heard from me before now.

My luck proved better with the SAL55200. At 200mm focal length, shooting the moon became quite doable. That, combined with my XPeria Z and my Celestron 70AZ (codenamed “Lippershey”) produced some images I’m quite proud of.

A Hole in the Sky
Taken with the SLT A35 + SAL55200
The Sattelite Shooter
The Celestron 70AZ
The Subtle Lights of Our Sattelite
Taken with a combination of the Celestron 70AZ and the XPeria Z.

And suddenly, Getsurikai started to live up to its name.

But I wanted more! I wanted the stars. “Aim for the stars so if you miss at least you hit the moon” right? Well, I’ve somewhat hit the moon. I want my stars.

Enter the gorgeous SAL 1650. When I bought this lens, I did not really plan to use it for astrophotography. I have been laboring under the (wrong) impression that what makes astrophotography is a kick-ass telephoto lens (reasoning that you need a telescope to do astronomy so to do astrophotography, you need a telephoto lens. Seriously.)

What gave me the idea to use the 1650 was this shot, taken last summer.

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Compared to the other shots in this post, I know this one does not offer much merit. But look: it got a few stars and one planet, sharper than I ever got them. And that is with all the light pollution from where I stood and with a shining moon to boot, not to mention the exposure time of a mere 5.7s. If that does not win any photographer’s faith I don’t know what will.

But still, the opportunity for dark and clear skies has yet to present itself.

Until a few weeks ago.

Say what you want about the Philippines but we have a friggin’ Philippine Astronomical Society (PAS). I’ve been lurking in their group for some time now but I never really got the opportunity to join one of their events. That is, as I’ve said, until a few weeks ago.

In PAS’ 2015 stargazing event at Puerto Galera, I finally got this shot. What it lacks for in exposure, it makes up for in photography lessons learned and sentimental value. I dipped my toes in the hot sands of Puerto Galera not expecting that I’d have an appointment with the lovely Milky Way, wearing stars for jewelry.

The Light in Dark Skies
The Light in Dark Skies

In a moment of trial-and-error, I realized what I have been doing wrong all this time. Ironically, what got my ass is the fact that I tinker with my camera’s settings far too much. I should have left my white-balance at Auto. Color-correction is really no help here.

And of course, repetition is what builds skill. Fortunately, PAS held another stargazing event barely a month after the one at Puerto Galera, this time at Big Handy’s Grounds at Tanay, Rizal. And I got this shot which will now always keep me in awe and wonder about things way larger than myself.

Delight in Dark Skies
Delight in Dark Skies

(Mandatory disclosure: I almost did not get this shot because, again, I tinkered with my camera’s settings too much! This time around, the culprit is my aperture setting.)

Of course, these adventures have more stories than what I have just related. I’ve met some interesting people along the way but they don’t make it into this story as that risks making the narrative incoherent. Maybe, someday, I get to write about that and them.

Isn’t astronomy a nice reason to travel?

You Know What’s at Mountain View?

I stepped down from the plane into American soil a bit weary but completely awake. The flight was fully booked and, despite having more leg room than I expected, sitting for a flight of around twelve hours still took its toll. My legs felt odd from all that sitting. The whole flight I tried to minimize my trips to the toilet as I did not want to irritate/inconvenience the couple sitting beside me; I should not have taken a window seat. But given the circumstances of my trip, I don’t think I’d have a choice other than the window seat. After all, this flight was only booked around a week back.

(Author’s travel note: When taking flights, the window seat is cool if the flight isn’t too long and the cruising altitude isn’t too high. Otherwise, there won’t be much sight-seeing and you’re better off taking an aisle seat. For toilet breaks.)

Clouded Underneath
But don’t you think all that seating in an uncomfortable window seat is still so totally worth it just to see something like this? ;)

This story actually starts last October, during a particularly tiring week though not one completely devoid of fun. That was the week our office held its Halloween celebrations. Tired from leading our area’s decorations for the event, I ended that Friday sleeping on a sala sofa. I woke up at around dawn feeling a bit refreshed and took a bath. Afterwards, I checked my email and found an unread item from an “@google.com” email address. I shouted my surprise/amusement and caused my mother to panic.

By now, I’ve told the story countless of times already. Long story short, Google flew me to Mountain View for a job interview during the last week of February. I did not get in but I remember making a new year’s resolution last year and I’m amused to find out that I managed to eke out something akin to what I expected within a year.

I went alone, which is more or less my idea of travel, in contrast to tourism. I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers and talked to some really smart people. This experience is definitely one for gratitude.

During my first night, I happened to ride a taxi driven by a Vietnamese guy. We had a little chat wherein he learned why I’m in America. He was very thrilled for me in the same manner the people back home were very thrilled. He kept wishing me good luck while reminding me what privilege this is. I have not traveled much but I can’t help but think that had I been with a large group, the conversation would not have taken place.

My first order of business upon arriving at the hotel was to procure some dinner. I wanted to eat American food until I realized that America’s common foods are items I can easily buy back home: pizza, hamburger, fries. I loaded up Google Maps1 and decided on a Mexican place seemingly a walking distance away from my hotel.

(Author’s note: America’s foods did not come from America. Pizza is Italian. Hamburger is German. Fries is French. Totally a melting pot, America is.)

At this point I need to backtrack a bit in this woolgathering. I took my undergraduate degree in UP-Diliman, which has a campus larger than The Vatican. During my undergrad, I used to walk the distance from our department to the University’s exit. According to Google Maps, the shortest path from those two points, is 1.8km, roughly 1.12 miles. This should tell you what distances do I consider walking distances.

I started walking towards that Mexican place. I was wearing city shorts and sandals, which is what I’d wear for any hike in the Philippines, which is also mistake number one. California, you see, is biting cold. I’m aware that it is that part of North America closest to the equator but it remains way colder than the Philippines. Thankfully, I had the sense to keep my hoodie jacket on my person.

A few street crossings2 passed and I noticed that the Mexican place I intend to eat in is still nowhere in sight. At this point, every bit of exposed skin I had was numb and I started to marvel at how I took the number of food stops in the Philippines for granted; in the Philippines, you’d be hard pressed to find an urban stretch of several meters where there isn’t even a single stop selling any kind of food. I consulted Google Maps again, to make sure that my bearing is correct (it is) and that’s when I realized that the Mexican place I am trying to get to is 0.9 miles from the hotel.

I’m pretty sure my body language was shouting “TOURIST” during my first night, a body language expression that did not change for the length of my stay. With the cold biting at my skin, I began to wander in open establishments for some warmth and to maybe decide on alternatives to the Mexican place I’ve set as my destination. I happened into an amusing cross between a convenience store and a wine cellar clerked by an Indian man, judging by his turban. I did not stay long inside but, as I left the premises, the clerk followed me outside just to ask if I’m okay, not lost or what. After assuring him that all is fine (without, of course, conceding that I am a wondering wanderer), I finally decided to skip the Mexican place and just dine on pizza for my first night.

(Author’s note: Google Maps lists an establishment’s operating hours. If you are planning to visit any place at unsure hours, this is worth a check.)

The duration of my stay was only around four days. I did not go that far since I do not know how to estimate transportation costs. And yet, I’ve explored quite a lot. Did you know that Mountain View has a cozy public library? It’s been my dream of sorts to visit libraries in different places and Mountain View’s is a nice bonus first.

There’s this place in Mountain View—Castro Street—which earned my fondness the first time I went there. That small strip of space felt so me. In the ubiquity of American food even in Philippine soil, I began looking for Asian food and it was there3. It had two book stores, Books Inc. and BookBuyers, which both looked so cozy it’s a shame we’ve had so short a time together. It had a Taekwondo gym, and is near Mountain View’s Center for Performing Arts as well as the public library I’ve been raving about.

When my recruiting coordinator at Google informed me (via phone call) that I did not make it, she was apologizing that I bothered to take so long a trip for nothing. I wanted to tell her that it was fine, I enjoyed, and that the opportunity itself is a rewarding experience in so many ways. And it is. Until next time, I guess.

Thrilled and grateful as ever, as usual. ~Chad

Only in America.... Ramen!
BookBuyers

Castro Street

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

Wonderlust
  1. I do not find Google Maps very accurate in the Philippines yet though I expect it to get better as Google now has operations here. But if there is anywhere in the world where Google Maps is supposed to provide good info, it’s at Mountain View, California. []
  2. Where I can count the number of other people I met with just the fingers of one hand. One. Hand. []
  3. Nothing Filipino though; all that’s in Castro Street is a Japanese and a Chinese place. []

Palawan Photography

The waves rock our boat, turning our reef-hopping trip to an amusement-park feel joyride of sorts. Water splashes on the deck as we do a jump and a fine spray of sea water reaches my lips, blessing my tongue with its salty tang. An island, sun-soaked for everyone to see its lush, appears on the horizon. I take aim with my lens but, as I make sure that I have set the proper shutter speed to negate the wildness of waves, I acknowledge that, for the first time, my camera has proved insufficient for this adventure.

Don’t get me wrong. My camera performed as admirably as ever, taking shots as sharp as usual, limited only by the hands and eyes wielding it. But, as all cameras do, it could not record the feelings that made the trip impressible in memory. True, it recorded the beauty I saw of Palawan but it cannot capture the smell of adventure as we battled the waves, the flavor of sea-side air, nor that sun soaked smell served as my perfume for almost the whole time we stayed there.

I got into Palawan courtesy of the undergraduate research I am doing. Our project, Porites recognition, is part of a larger project in UPD. The researchers involved in the project went to Palawan to gather data. My role isn’t really field-related but I got included anyway.

Despite it being a research trip, it was adventure all throughout, from the waves to the food to the exploration of the city’s night spirit. The first day we rocked the waves, we ran short of fuel. We waited on a sandbar for further instructions. It’s beautiful, dreamy in quality, if not for the fact that it is a graveyard of corals damaged by dynamites. It is a peaceful spot in the middle of the sea nonetheless, as the resting place of innocent creatures should be.

Stranded

Taking a Respite from the Sea's Immensity

Abandoned

I tried to travel as light as possible being that (1) it is generally a good idea to travel light, (2) pretty men travel light and (3) I did not want too much of my personal stuff to get in the way of the research equipment we brought along. As such I took a leap of faith and didn’t bring any medium to back up my photographs and I was too lazy and too much of a cheapskate to invest in a memory card more or two, to distribute my photographs across. It would’ve been fine until they took a fancy to my camera and I became an official photodocumanitarian of sorts.

I got all my pictures back to Manila safe and sound but I learned a valuable lesson nonetheless: the pictures I take belong to the people who made the shot, whether they are distinguishable/included or not in the final output, as much as it belongs to me. I should’ve been more responsible for our shared property. In my lapse of judgment I didn’t act like a photographer, even for a hobbyist, not even like the computer scientist I am trained as.

I am grateful for the trip. I am grateful for the adventure; heck, the last one I had was almost two years ago. But I am most grateful for the lesson on not cheapskating on the memories I hitch on my camera.

Another awesome way to start the year don’t you think? ~The Chad Estioco

 

Lovely Lantern Lights

I expected rain to fall, maybe like last year, probably worse. The week was weird weather-wise after all. I made it a point to bring my umbrella, for Getsurikai’s sake. Thank heavens I had no need for it.

I arrived at UP late by my standards. For the past three years, I’d usually arrive before lunch then hang out for some hours, reading a book I brought, until my friends start texting me, asking where in UP am I. I’d do that to avoid being hassled by the traffic caused by the Parade. For some reason the traffic-hassle didn’t give me enough incentive to get-up early this year. I was late but it was a nice start to the adventure as I got an opportunity to get a before-the-show feel for the event.

Camera-Shy Horse

This horse is too camera-shy. Everytime I’d point my lens at him he’d turn his head the other way. Maybe he’s proffering me his best angle? Maybe he thinks my lens is some kind of a laser cannon*? This is the best of him I got: snout complete with matching calesa.

I was happily shooting around Oblation Plaza when I saw our ROTC squad advancing towards Palma Hall. I remembered that they will be one of the first parties to parade. So I hurriedly ended my little photoshoot, reasoning with myself that I need to conserve batteries as I don’t have any spare.

But not long after, the beauty of the Carillion took me in…

Hiding

The UP Carillion

We decided to station ourselves in front of Melchor Hall being that it is at the last leg of the Parade. Last leg == night time (eventually) == more awesome for the lovely lantern lights.

That said, with all my hurrying, we still had lots of idle time when our group was finally completed. Idle time + SLR/SLT camera =

And here I'm the camera man!

Friends with me

…rotating camera men!

Cute Dog

And the attention of cuteness!

The Parade started with UP Offices. I saw some personal acquaintances like…

UP President Alfredo Pascual

UP President Alfredo Pascual

Okay. I kid. I saw some personal acquaintances like…

The CRS Team

The CRS team, most of which are people from DCS.

Come to think of it, the deeper I got into the CS curriculum (and knew more teachers/people from the Department), the better my fate during batch runs became. Hmmmm….

And then came the UP ROTC in their distinct guardia civil outfit,

Inside their Ranks
I wonder, if a lightning storm ensues, will those hats act like lightning rods? Are the wearers safe from brain-frying and related phenomena?

Ironically followed by College of Arts and Letters float honoring Rizal and the Revolution,

 

Higanteng Rizal

Blast from the Past

Above pictured is Sir Wystan de la Peña, head of the Department of European Languages and my Professor in a GE coded European Languages 50 (EL 50). Take that course under him. I personally learned a lot from Señor de la Peña’s lectures. It is one of the most worthwhile courses I ever took.

Macario Sakay

Pagpupugay

The parade was scattered with awesomazing lanterns (duh!) and acquaintances that it is pointless to just blah on with words. Visual overload here we go!

Ian Tisang

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Jennica Reyes

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Rowena Sheila Uddin

With Ivan Marcelo

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Nikki Costales

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The Heart of a Star

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Elaine Diaz

Cher Tuazon

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Like last year, there were gaps in the Parade, most likely caused by people like yours truly who are so keen on taking pictures. And it was starting to get dark. Perfect for pictures like these…

Melchor Hall, in Lights

Lighted Street

Night Settling

At this point, I learned/realized a few things in photography.

  • You really can’t do much if a scene’s lighting is poor to begin with. Not unless you have your own lighting equipment. But (a) I don’t have that and (b) that looks too out-of-place, space-taking, and inconsiderate for an event like the Lantern Parade.
  • Unlike a point-and-shoot’s flash, which fires the lights straight at your subject, an SLR fires flash upwards, assuming there is a ceiling to bounce the light downwards, diffused. This results to a better effect/less glare. There obviously isn’t a ceiling equivalent in outdoors, Lanter Parade set-up. I had to use my hands to direct the flash to my subjects (hood it over the flash like a “ceiling” which will quickly catch the lights and bounce it towards your subject). Thank goodness I realized this quickly.

So, as it was getting dark at this point, it became harder to get decent shots. Lighting was no longer on my side as I was already relying on flash. Otherwise, it’d be too dark or too orange depending on where I decide to shoot.

Wall-E

The DCS contingent

Above pictured is Eng’g’s Wall-E, one of our lanterns, and the DCS/Cursor contingent of the Parade. Like last year, Eng’g scored with a particularly awesomazing lantern followed by a—wait for it—boring march of Eng’g orgs and banners. My sister, who majors in Broadcast Communication, likens it to dead air i.e., awkward and should-be-avoided pauses in radio productions. Unlike the last three years though, they, at least, weren’t wearing orange. Plus points for the fashion factor!

Belly Dancers 1

Belly Dancers 2

The Fire

I took this shot from one of the torches of the Beta Sigma frat men. Their first number was the human chain/snake which I believe is part of their initiation rights. Even if it is my second time seeing this, it was still kind of chilling especially with their chant. I heard someone (was he from βσ?) call their second part kata which is the Karate equivalent of Taekwondo’s poomsae or forms. While their formation and synchronicity might look watch-worthy, it didn’t really catch my attention (maybe ’cause I’ve seen better during my TKD days). So, my eyes were wandering off to better photo-ops, their torch flames in particular. It, however, amuses me that Beta Sigma has their own blend of martial arts.

A few more lanterns and it was finally the turn of my most anticipated college ever. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the ever-fine stars of our lantern show, the College of Fine Arts.

The College of Fine Stars

Warning: Awesomeness follows.

'Till We Have Horses

The Lone Ranger

Starbakz Kapeh

Pairy Queen?

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Inuman Tayo

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Mecha

Pandanggo Yo'

Darna

Darna

Narda

Lola Basyang (and Angry Birds)

Wa-PAKman

Memefaces

Le Meme Face

Gundam!

ROCK ON!!!

Night of the Living Art

HOLLOW!

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank

Mulawin

VLC Media Player

And of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without fireworks. It is unfortunate that an untoward incident happened in this year’s fireworks. We were only a few meters away from the fireworks fence when it happened and we saw those wayward fireworks shoot. Here is the statement of UP Diliman’s Chancellor regarding the incident.

Electrifying Sun

Fire Circles

Fire Disperses

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Whirling Fire

Radial

Fields of Fire

Judging by the number of pictures in this post, I’d say that I’ve really had a good time with my camera this Parade. I even exceeded my 300MB monthly upload limit at Flickr that I had to hijack on a new account to fit all these shots in!

That’s all for now. Hope you have a Merry Christmas! ~Chad

*This imagery was inspired by an episode of Pokemon, Bulbasaur-Charmander-Squirtle(-Pikachu!) era. Brock was making rice cakes when Ash noticed a camera lens (wanting to take a picture of Pikachu) appear from behind some bushes. He over-reacted, imagining it to fire a laser projectile of sorts, and ruined their little rice cake picnic. I’ve never been able to shake that episode from my mind since I watched it as a kid.

Hey Kids! New Gear!

(Note: This entry was supposed to go up at my DeviantArt account but then I found out that DeviantArt only allows images in the journal entries of Premium members. So I’m putting it up here.)

Meet my new gear/gun/wand/zanpakuto/(kindred/familiar) spirit/camera. A Sony SLT-A35 whom I have decided to christen “Getsurikai”. Bought with the advice of Joseph Cheng (from DeviantArt). Note that it is different from an SLR.

Getsurikai

This is, incidentally (and probably), the last picture from my old Kodak C913 (whom I haven’t bothered to name) which I’ll post online. It is pictured below.

First Shot

And this is the first picture Getsurikai ever took (so of course it isn’t really one for aesthetics), barring those which it took when I tested it upon delivery. But I didn’t insert the memory card then so they don’t count *wink*.So long buddy. I’ll miss your compact feel, how I can carry you everyday, except when my bag is too crowded already.

I’m not really a fan of anime but I’m quite a huge fan of BLEACH!. Those who know their BLEACH! will know from where did I pattern the name “Getsurikai”. It isn’t very clean Japanese from what I’ve been told but hey, I like the sound of it so I’m taking artistic license. And oh, it literally means “moon grasp” by the way.

These past few days, I’ve been busy trying to get the feel for it. So far, the biggest adjustment I had to make is the placement of controls. Whereas my old Kodak has all controls at the right-hand side, Getsurikai has it both in the left and right-hand side. Kodak has its shooting mode settings on a dial around the shutter button but that is where Getsurikai has its on/off switch, the shooting modes being in a dial at the left of the viewfinder. Imagine what happened the first time I (instinctively) tried to switch modes? Hooha.

But I quickly got over that problem and I’m pretty comfortable with where all the controls are located now. What I’m currently doing is trying to learn all its features before December’s Lantern Parade, which is, if you need to be made aware, a photographer’s idea of a shooting feast.

They’re not much yet but here are some of the results of my test drive.

Aperture Experiments
Just experimenting with aperture settings…
Art Found
Art found in the construction. We are having house renovations right now (with all this mess, I’m affectionately calling the affair “Voluntary House Demolition”). Interestingly, the carpenters used this amazing artwork to cover a hole they’re digging. I don’t know where did their boss, the Architect, got it though.

Thankfully, my room is not involved in the action. I can keep my stuff clean without much effort. Imagine all that dust in my laptop, my external hard drive, and my brand-new camera!.

My room got pretty crowded though, since my parents moved in some stuff (like the old desktop which no one uses now except for printing).

Windowside Lighting

Nighttime Window

This is my bedside window. Though dark, you’ll still see my bedside lampshade, accomplice whenever I read a book just before going to slumberland. The orange glow comes from the street lamp just outside.

For so long, I’ve wanted to get that shot. I don’t know when I first wanted it though. I first moved in to my room when I was in Grade Five but I only started taking an interest in photography around Fourth Year high school (four years ago!).

Another shot which I’ve wanted to take for so long. Also in my room.

A Ceiling of Stars

This is my ceiling, just after I hit the switches off at night. This is the sight which I sleep to every night. It doesn’t change depending on the time of the year, nor depending on anything else actually but it can be quite lovely, especially when the lights just turned off and those luminous trappings are fully-charged.It’s not much of a shot (just experimenting with ISO settings) but I’ll re-do this one once the Voluntary House Demolition finishes and I get more space.

My old Kodak actually has pretty good ISO settings; it can go up to 1000. But even with that, all you’ll see is a black screen when you try to take my room @ night pictures.

Overgrown

I remember, four years ago (!), back in Fourth Year Highschool, when I used to keep a dream journal in my (then-GeoCities) website. I had a particularly refreshing dream involving side walks. I’m pretty sure this one came from that dream.

That’s all for now. I hope I can get some more practice before the Lantern Parade. And with a schedule like this, I’m pretty optimistic. Click to enlarge:

Yep. Assuming I pass all my subjects this sem (oh pleaseeee!!!), that’s it. They’ll surely give me a CS199 and a CS196 (else, I will raise hell…hehe). Note that CS196 is a one-unit class—I either take it on a Wednesday or on a Friday—so I total 13u away from an undergrad diploma.

See you at the Lantern Parade.~Chad