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    INTRODUCTION & REUNIONS

There’s a breed of men who do not fit in

A breed that cannot lay still

So they break the hearts of kith and kin

And roam the world at will

They range the field and they rove the flood

And they climb the mountain's crest

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood, 
And they don't know how to rest 

He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone; 
He's a man who won't fit in.

 

                                                                   (From a poem by Robert Service)

 

OFFSHORE  NAVIGATION  INC

was.....

......The brainchild of Robert L Suggs, a Colonel in the USAF and a Petroleum Engineer, who managed to put two things together: the problem of accurately navigating seismic vessels offshore, and the potential of using Shoran to solve that problem. Originally, he somehow managed to obtain permission from the DOD (Department of Defense) to purchase Shoran navigation equipment, which he then modified for marine use. It was a struggle to convince oil companies to try the system, but he eventually succeeded, and Shoran became the principal tool used in the navigation of both marine seismic, and airborne magnetometer surveys in the latter part of the forties. In later years, once ONI had the market sewn up, Shoran  became available on the military surplus market; sold as scrap for few cents per pound. The equipment was used into the mid to late seventies.

Offshore Navigation was formed in New Orleans, Louisiana, (NOLA) 1946 by Bob Suggs and his founding partner, Maurice Bayon, who, through his connection with Hibernia Bank, arranged financing. Suggs remained as President until his death in 1989. Bayon, who died March 22nd 2001, at the age of 92, was Vice President. Others in at the start-up were: George Roussel - VP in charge of Operations; Joseph (Joe) DeLerno - VP in charge of the Western Hemisphere, and John (JC) Coffman - VP in charge of the Eastern Hemisphere. 
For the next 2 - 3 decades, ONI was the leading (if not only) company offering reliable radio-navigation services, principally to the offshore oil industry. The world was our oyster.

Once Shoran equipment became widely available, and more advanced, more flexible systems hit the market, dozens of smaller companies began to spring up, many of them started by ex-ONI employees ......... but that is another story ......or another website!


Radiolocation

A brief explanation for non doodlebuggers

There you go you see, I detect a question right away - Doodlebugger? you ask. Well, let me explain. Doodlebug, given its American definition: any device, scientific or otherwise, used to determine the possible presence of underground minerals. Hence doodlebugging. The loose definition of which refers to the search for oil. It’s also the common name for the larval stage of a certain species of the ant lion, a somewhat predacious bug, I gather. All true, I swear. I was passing a dictionary one day and took the trouble to look it up.

So, people involved in seismic exploration were frequently referred to as doodlebuggers.

But, when thought about, it’s not a lot of use someone discovering a possible source of barrels of the black stuff if they don’t know exactly where they were to begin with. Which is where ONI came in. 

Every seismic shot, bore hole, platform, pipeline or whatever, requires an accurate position fix, for which ONI supplied the coordinates. And just how did we achieve this? Well, Shoran,  located at a number accurately surveyed sites on shore, was triggered by a pulse from an offshore station, usually located on a vessel. The shore (Base) station then transmitted a return signal to a receiver on the vessel. This signal needed to be lined up on a marker pulse, the range read off a scale. Nothing automatic or fancy, in the early days, navigation solely in the hands of the operator or, more often than not, fate. Remember, this was way back when - in the Stone Age, so to speak - well before the advent of GPS. (Basically, the Shoran receiver measured the time taken from transmission of a pulse to reception of the return pulse and, taking into account the speed of light, and other scientific ju-ju, came up with a range. The intersection point of a basic minimum two ranges gave you a position. Two positions, actually. But, assuming you were still offshore..... only one was normally relevant!

What the Mobile Operator had were two indicated ranges, from which could be derived your present position with a fair degree of accuracy - well, relatively so. Back then? Plus or minus twenty meters... maybe! But even that required a well tuned installation; weather conditions which permitted the reliable propagation of radio waves; accurately located stations ashore, at least two of which were operational. It rarely seemed to happen. 

The boats needed bodies to install, operate, and repair the equipment, as did the shore stations. Lots of people, lots of logistics, lots of problems in lots of countries.

Onshore meanwhile, many other problems were to be experienced, which is where ingenuity and adventure came to the fore. Stations needed to be set, on pre-surveyed sites. Then the equipment had to be imported, by fair means or foul. Yes, many is the time a large dugout canoe has rendezvoused with a seismic vessel offshore Africa, equipment hastily off-loaded, secreted ashore, and assembled.

 

Those smugglers of old had nothing on us. Thus, unhindered by stifling government regulations, the survey could well have been completed before the mountains of paperwork, bureaucratic dallying, size and number of kickbacks etc, had been negotiated and resolved. Sometimes they never were resolved, for communications out in the bush were often non-existent. And as for your hypothetical bush telegraph, well..., even drums could be silenced for a few notes; provided such notes sported an image that bore a true likeness to the presidential incumbent! Of course, the powers that be were often only too blissfully aware of our presence, happy to overlook such burdensome bureaucratic details, just so long as the relevant papers changed hands. Naturally, once again, such paper featured a number, preferably followed by enough zeros to mount a serious attack on Pearl Harbor.

So, from all of the above, I hope one can ascertain that, basically, the seismic companies collected data on what perhaps lay beneath the earth's crust; ONI supplied the data that told them where it was they'd been.

But  enough of the technicalities, the purpose of this site is to concern itself mainly with the adventure involved in achieving this end product. And adventure there certainly was.

*************************************************************************************************

The following was submitted by Charlie McCarley for the Aug 1977 Crosstalk (ONI's company newsletter). This slightly edited version perhaps gives a little insight as to what we could have, and often did, experience upon throwing in our lot with ONI.

We have slept in plush hotels, with Persian carpets, chandeliers, symphonic music and impeccable service; Pullman sleepers; luxury liners; castles on the Rhine; and Elizabeth Taylor’s yacht. (Eh! Ed)

We have slept in filthy hovels; on steel decks; sand dunes; icebergs; pool tables; a tree limb in the Amazon delta; and once, in a telephone booth in Morgan City.

We have dined on escargot; filet mignon; vichyssoise; truffles; saltimbocca; bouillabaisse; and jellied eels.

We have eaten rancid mutton; rotten eggs; fish heads; sour rice; greasy cabbage; fly-specked soup; cold beans; bamboo chicken; humble pie, and Chinese garbage.

We have been caressed in Karachi; beguiled in Berlin; cursed in Cambodia, and molested in Manila.

We have survived thuggees in Bombay; muggers in San Juan; taxi drivers in New York; Teddy Boys in London; civil wars in Nigeria; cut purses in New South Wales; shiftas in Ethiopia, holy-rollers in Mississippi, and con-men in New Orleans.

Yes to most of the above, although I do seem to have missed out on Elizabeth Taylor's yacht, and I was never in Morgan City! But can anyone offer any insight as to the following tidbits which, Charlie said, were "withheld due to lack of space":

The quick Sikh with the stick. (See e-mail from Ted Patro on the "Contacts" page.)

The Western (Geo, one presumes) cook and the lady wrestler.

The whale bone in the duffel bag.

The somnambulant (to save you looking it up - sleep-walking) base operator and the jar of glue.

The midnight ride to the city dump.

The veiled lady and the empty seat.

The supervisor and the railroad track.

The eight o’clock mule..... etc, etc, etc.

The mind boggles, and we need to know; about these and many more.

Read more of Charlie's revelations, and those of others, on the "Crosstalk - Bits and Bytes" pages


The Frankfurt Reunion - Sept 28th/30th 2008

Can you still recall those end of prospect parties we used to have in various places (hotel bars, usually) around the world? Well, something similar took place at the end of September, 2008, in Bad Homburg, Germany, when a group of ex ONI-ers gathered together for a few days. Out of touch for nigh on 20-30 years didn't make any difference whatsoever, it was as if we had just rolled in back to Geneva/Singapore/Nola/Perth etc from numerous other locations around the globe. As used to be our wont, we even picked up a stray along the way, invited her (yes, a lady, of course!) to join the group, which she eventually did.

The group were: Rich & Pam Longton; Ron & Lynne Hewson; Geoff & Jan Metcalfe; Peter Studer and Dave Taylor. The stray (a Canadian) was named Karen, and if you check out the attached photos - "Last Night"; Karen, the blonde nearest the camera - it will be obvious where the attraction lay! Well, most of the group were much younger than I!

Most of us gathered at the Comfort Hotel, although Rich Longton - still in "expenses paid" employment - was down the road in the much more salubrious surroundings of the Park Hotel. But, as old habits die hard, we were soon sipping champagne in the lobby of the Comfort whilst awaiting the arrival of the rest of the group.

Being this was his current area of operations, Rich had booked a table at a local Italian restaurant that went under the name of Panne & Vino, so we broke the bread, drank the wine, and sampled the food, all of which were very good - well they would be, wouldn’t they, given the company and surroundings. Wasn’t it always so?

The full group on arrival at the Comfort Hotel, Bad 

Homburg - Lynne & Ron Hewson; Dave Taylor; Peter Studer; Rich & Pam Longton; Jan & Geoff Metcalfe.

 Breakfast, the following morning.

 

That first night (as for many years had been the norm) ended the following day, even if only one hour into it, when we adjourned for drinks in the bar of the Park. All except Ron and Lynne, whose journey from New Zealand had taken them thirty-two hours. Like I say, we are getting old, and age does take its toll.

Next morning, after breakfast, with Rich having to depart for the office - he was just wrapping things up, actually, before finally retiring back to Gig Harbor, Oregon (ah! Oregon! Reminds me of my first job for ONI, back in 1964. Remember the John Jacob Astor Hotel, in Astoria, anyone? Or Jose Shattles? There is a story or two there) - we all departed for a walk round the park, over the road, opposite the hotel of the same name.

As we walked along, continuing where our feet took us, the stories continued: the places we’d visited - countries rather than bars - and the people we had worked with. You know the kind of thing, "Do you remember the time when........?" or, do you remember old......?"

In the afternoon it was off to Frankfurt am Main, on the train - which is where we picked up Karen, took her in tow - ending up at a pub in the Old Town, the Haus Werthym (anno 1479). I had been under the illusion that this was a "by chance" event, until Rich met us there later on. Still, technology has advanced somewhat, and there are such things as mobile phones.

In the Frankfurt pub. Must have been shortly 

after arrival as there is not yet a drink in sight!

Outside the pub, with the exception of Peter Studer who had returned to his business in Switzerland. 

 

Once again the stories began to roll out, and I don't think Karen believed half of them, even though she had quite a story to tell herself, for which she duly received lots of fatherly - well, motherly, really - advice. As for ONI, names that were recalled from the depths - some mentioned in dispatches, others definitely not so - were: Jerry Naylor, Lou Tessmer, Frank Gaffney, Jim Strayhorn, Phil Thompson, Joe Lock, Dennis Cooper, Dieter Moser, Klaus Keilich, Terry Barnett, Willie Williams, Reine (Ron) Wasserman, Gordon Owen, Gus Gustafson, Larry Slagle, Herb Eaton, Earl Benson - What ever DID happen to him? - John Damon, Bob Brown - strange, those two being grouped together! - Wolf Englemann, Trevor Loose, Frances Minguez, Larry Parks, and of course, Danny's Bar in Douala, came up now and again, as did names such as, Easterbrook, and Coffman, Landry, and Conners - Lou, not Jimmy! And so it went on.

Lynne & Ron Hewson in Bad 

Homburg Park

En route from Bad Homburg to 

Frankfurt

 

Last night

 

After a pleasant afternoon spent here, it was off to the Adolf Wagner, for dinner, although Peter had to return home to Switzerland from the pub, as he too still works - for himself, as does Geoff. Come to think of it, the only male in the group no longer in employment, was myself. Perhaps that is how I ended up with the task of trying to pull this website together!

 The Adolf Wagner was a German beer-hall type place, although they only sold Appfelwine (or regular wine), along with meals consisting of pork or veal. Naturally we had to have jugs of the Appfewine, along with whatever it was I ate! The place was crowded and noisy. Lively, as they say. How we found our way back to the hotel in Bad Homburg I’m not too sure, but we did eventually make it, ending back in the bar at the Park Hotel once more.

Next day it rained. Fairly light most of the time, but all day, somewhat curbing our activities, to a hotel room. But that room did contain some bottles of this and that, so we sat and demolished those, eventually being joined again by Karen. Then we met up with Rich and Pam in the evening, to wander round looking for a suitable restaurant in which to dine. Almost naturally, after checking out one or two and rejecting them, we once more ended up at the Panne and Vino. Alas, with the departure of almost half our number, a bit of the sparkle seemed to have disappeared with them, too. It was another good night, just not as good.

The next morning, I departed back to London, Ron and Lynne set off in their hire car to tour Eastern Europe, and points in between, Pam and Rich were preparing to fly to Gig Harbor, and retirement. Retirement! Rich? I somehow didn’t think so.

So that was it. Many memories were recalled, much booze flowed, and everyone had a really great time over the three days we were together. Now we had drifted off along our various ways again, with promises to keep in touch. It had been so good there just had to be another. Roll on, when and wherever it may be.

Well, 'wherever' turned out to be New Zealand:

AUCKLAND REUNION

At the beginning of November 2013 a small group of hardy souls (naturally) gathered at the Best Western Motel in Ellerslie, Auckland NZ to once again study how to spell ONI.

Rich & Pam Longton were the instigators of this gathering as they had come "down under" from Gig Harbor, Washington, to visit Pam’s Australian family, then decided to catch up with a few folks in "The Land of the Long White Cloud."

Unfortunately, some of the Kiwis of earlier days were unable to make it, but those who did certainly had no trouble in recalling how to erect a Shoran tower, reassemble a generator, call a shot point, or put out a fire on a base station. Admittedly, there were a few deviations in some of the details, but hey! that’s only a minor issue in the big picture, when there’s beer & wine flowing well. After the initial meeting in the bar, everyone adjourned to a motel room, of course, just like the old days, carrying chairs, glasses etc between rooms, to make sure it was an "authentic" ONI gathering! Tony Hoggart had traveled up from down near Wellington, as had Merv Williams, & it certainly was great to see them again. Geoff Rolfe-Smith & wife, Maureen, had traveled up from Rotorua, the Hewson’s, from the Bay of Plenty. We did try to Skype Dave Taylor whilst all this was happening, to have him join in with the laughter & memories, but there was obviously a glitch in the line. We just fondly recalled old Lou Connor’s quote about "seeing forever on a clear day," & thought how different things would have been in those Shoran days with a few more satellites available. (Not to mention mobile phones etc!) Nevertheless, those were the days then, & no-one seemed to have any regrets about the incredible experiences that the ONI lifestyle gave them. (Or the fascinating people they met!) After time, & several bottles of wine had been consumed, naturally it was time to find a good place to soak it all up. So we wandered in dribs & drabs down town to a very tasty Chinese eating house called the Red Crab, still talking & telling wild stories. Compared to times past it was a fairly subdued dinner, (possibly somewhat due to age & the time of the night?) but we all enjoyed a great meal. We then wandered back to our respective motel rooms with barely a nightcap being mentioned!

Breakfast the next morning was another catch up for a couple of hours, but then as several people had other commitments it was time to relocate to another station. The Hewsons & Longtons stayed an extra day together, then met up later in the week at the Hewson house, in Tauranga, for a few more days (After Pam & Rich had driven up north to meet up with Ian Easterbrook, at the Motel he runs.). This allowed time for Rich & Bruce Burgess to meet up again, to share more stories. Next day, Pam & Rich departed on the long trip back to the States.

Unfortunately absent from the main gathering, for various reasons, were Ian Cartner, Jerry Naylor, Graeme Wood, Ian Easterbrook, Bruce Burgess, Eric Amohanga, & Peter Warmke, although there were some individual meetings along the line. Let’s hope some of us can all meet up again in the not too distant future.

L-R: Maureen Rolfe-Smith, Pam, Ron, Merv Williams, Jeff Rolfe-Smith, Rich, Tony Hoggart

 

In the Red Crab

Mervyn Williams

 

Phil Cosgrove, Rich, Gordon Owen

Three old timers-Phil, Rich, Gordon

Geoff Rolfe-Smith

Rich, Bruce Burgess, Ron

Pam, Rich, Bruce, Lynne & Ron

 

Rich Longton & Ian Easterbrook

*

Meet up again some did, for early September 2014 saw Ron & Lynne Hewson embark on an adventurous  tour of the United States Eastern Seaboard and beyond, to view the sights and, hopefully catch up with a few "older?" ex ONI bods. And I, via the wonders of Skype, found myself able to join them now and again. With Ron & Lynne being i-everything, October 1st saw me greeting Dan Jeffries in his Tampa living room. I found 86 year old Dan to be the same thoughtful, Mr nice guy I recalled from almost thirty years ago. It was a pleasure to meet up with him again. A pity I was not able to join them for dinner, but Skype is not quite that advanced. Best I could do was raise a glass. This is the story of that trip.

THE GERIATRIC GYPSIES USA ROADTRIP 2014

"We started in Washington DC, where the humidity was the most unpleasant part of a very busy sightseeing week. Then, picking up our SUV hire car, we travelled (note for those in the US, this is proper English!) through Maryland, down to the 22 mile Chesapeake Bay bridge, and off to the Outer Banks, to check out the Wright Brothers Memorial, amongst other things. We had a great few days driving down the islands, across many interesting bridges, catching various little large ferries, visiting appealing sites, until we reached South Carolina. Here we spent a few days wandering leisurely down the coast, taking less-travelled roads, exploring less populated inlets and waterways until we reached Florida, and our first ex ONI contact. Gordon and Anna Marie Haas live in their new home near Jacksonville. We’d previously met up several times over the past few years, in California, when travelling that coast, what a grand time we had. Now it seems like we are real "old" friends, but the memories never really fade when someone like Gordon starts to reminisce. Full of life, laughter, and great ideas, always going at 100 miles an hour, of course.

A wonderful time was had with them, then we departed south along the Keys, all the way to Key West. Here we did all the usual touristy things before retracing our steps, up to Tampa, on the west coast of Florida. After a bit of a geographic challenge, and i-phone help from Mike Matthews in New Orleans, we met up with a grand old man whom Ron knew well from his ONI days in Angola. No doubt many others will recall Dan Jefferies, too. Still a great guy. We spent a wonderful day with him, out to lunch, talking over old times, even Skyping Dave Taylor in the UK. Dan gave us a number of old photos of his ONI days, so hopefully we can scan some of them for Dave to put on the website.

After this great visit with Dan we decided "why not", so continued our "memory lane" trip and drove across Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans. Our GPS seemed to think it was a good idea to take us through the back streets of Algiers towards the city! so we then experienced a river boat ride and back streets like nothing we had ever seen when we lived there 35 years ago! Nevertheless, our hotel in Harvey was excellent and next day we were keen to get going to 5728 Jefferson Highway, 70123. We had been warned!… just as well, for the old ONI office and buildings are now a thrift store and, being a Saturday morning, there was standing room only! No bright yellow PHI choppers in the car park out back, just a pile of beaten up rusty cars trying to manoeuvre around each other whilst being loaded up with furniture, clothes, kids and various discarded paraphernalia. Had ONI still been in residence, and hiring...... ! We did manage to take a photo of Ron, outside, before the next invasion of "goodie bag" snatchers arrived!

Next visit was to our old house on Melody Drive, Metairie, and a real bonus! Our neighbour across the road (from 1976) was still there, and we were delighted to meet up again after all this time. And the guy who now owns our, then rented, home was keen to show us all the alterations he had made. After this it was off to Harahan, to visit Claudette & Jack Roberts. They live across the street from Al Poppe, who was unfortunately too ill to see us. He passed on a short while later.

We had another great evening with Claudette & Jack listening to stories about many other folks who had worked in the office with Claudette for many years. It was quite sad to hear tell of the demise of ONI first hand from her, but it was good to hear many happy stories of her days working with John Coffman, George Roussel, Joe Delarno etc, but especially Ray Landry. Even Gus Gustoferson & Bill Justice got a mention!

Next morning, a bright & warm Sunday, we hit downtown New Orleans, of course. We were treated to a really delicious brunch by Hans Karlsson at his fantastic restaurant "The Trolley Stop", on St Charles Ave. We knew Hans was ‘home’, for his 1000 cc Goldwing Honda was prominently parked in its reserved spot, right outside! The line for the tables was down the street, so we felt privileged just to walk right in and meet Hans at his table. His ONI stories could fill a book all on their own, and I’m sure his restaurant is listed as a "MUST VISIT" in most travel guides to the city. We can understand why.

Naturally, after much good food a walk in the French Quarter was essential. It brought back many memories for us: Mardi Gras in the good old days, Bourbon St Blues, and Jazz. A visit to Cafe du Monde was also a must, with its sticky beignets and good coffee. We also took a walk to see "Natchez" set off upriver, her paddlewheel churning.

We then had a phone call from Roger Mcleod’s ex wife, Becky, who now lives in New Iberia, with her new husband. She insisted we go and visit them. It was another long drive but one we enjoyed, passing over massive causeways, and through the bayous. This was a most entertaining visit, Becky is such a creative person and her home reflected this. We had also been asked by Dave Clayton to try and visit him in Texas, but time constraints meant we needed to head north, not west. We stopped for a few hours in Laurel, Miss, and had a welcome break with Roger McLeod and wife, Carole. Roger had a big box full of photos from Foots McGee, so many of these were "examined" over a few beers.

That proved to be our final meeting with ONI people. We then hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokey Mountains, stopped in Asheville, North Carolina, to view "Biltmore", the magnificent, huge, private Vanderbilt home. We also checked out Gordon Haas’ new home, set in beautiful woods. Then we were on our way North, to return the car, etc. After a very rainy, stressful drive around the big train station in DC, we dropped off the car, then rode the train to Philadelphia; a few days to check out America’s birthplace. We loved Philly, a very nice city, especially all the art and sculptures throughout the parks. Our last week we spent in New York, New Jersey actually, across the river from the World Trade Centre. We spent a very moving afternoon visiting the memorial, of course, as well as a few trips downtown. But as we’d been in NYC a few years earlier, in much warmer weather, we didn’t linger too long. Another highlight, and quite an achievement, was climbing the 535 steps inside the Statue of Liberty, to exit inside Lady Liberty’s crown. This had been on my "bucket list" for quite a few years.

So we reached the end of this fabulous 10 week road trip, which we consider to be one of our very best motoring vacations. Nothing seemed to go wrong, we saw many beautiful sights, met & re-met some wonderful people, and experienced some awesome moments. As Geriatric Gypsies, we will probably never "pass this way again". However, we were reminded many times of how lucky we have been over the years, travelling together so much, on so many incredible journeys.

Ron & Lynne Hewson

Ron outside the 

old HQ

ONI Barbie area & car 

park - was!

Hans Karlsson's very popular Trolley Stop Cafe

Ron wth Claudette & Jack Roberts

With good old boy, Dan Jefferies

Brunch in the New Orleans Trolley Stop diner with owner Hans Carlsson

 

With Hans & the mighty (for an 89 year old!) Honda, outside the Trolley Stop

With Gordon Hass & Anna-Marie

Relaxing in the Blue Mountains - awaiting the base station gear perhaps?

Back on the Mississippi as the Natchez departs

Alongside the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Meeting up with Roger McLeod in Laurel, Miss

So where was Lynne in all this? Probably taking the photos when not at the Court of Two Sisters. No, she is not holding up a glass, yet.

Lynne at Key West

 

A Mini-mini Reunion

In May 2016 I took my 32  year old son on a visit to the USA (or maybe he took me!) where part of the time we stayed with Rich & Pam Longton, at their home up in Gig Harbor; which I said at the time, reminded me of Amnity (as in Jaws), without the shark! Of course, during that time some of the stories occasionally rolled out again, and I don't think my son believed half of them. But of course, ours were the days before the Health and Safety Executive acquired the power to ban most of what was then fun and adventurous. Safety was in our hands, personally, and that seemed to work out OK.  

Rich & Pam

View from their window

Gig Harbor view

My most lasting impression this time around was the way New York had recovered from Sept 11th 2001. I had visited the site before, shortly after the attack, when it was still a hole in the ground, this time was different. If it weren't for the various memorials, and the vast crowds come to pay their resects, Ground Zero might never have been, such a fantastic job have they done. Two large square waterfalls disappear into the ground, one on the footprint of each of the original buildings. Topping their surrounds are stainless panels etched with the names of all who perished. Alongside each name is a small hole, into which, on the anniversary day of that person's birth, is placed a white rose. Rising behind this area is the new World Trade Centre building, even taller than the original, and the view from the top is absolutely stunning. 

View from the top

Memorial waterfall

Downtown transportation centre

Also, this time I got to visit Las Vegas, 52 years after the idea was first mooted on completion of my  second ONI project (P84). But I was far too late for Sinatra, etc!

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