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Why the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Test Launch Matters

Thank you, Elon Musk, for the spectacle

It was a bit like the Roman idea of the circus. Give the plebs a spectacular show of blood and death and they'll forget about how shit their own lives are, and how they are being controlled by a small elite of unelected twats. And, in these shit times, the Falcon Heavy test launch on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, did indeed distract so many of us.

Falcon Heavy launch highlights

Historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center and the ghost of Saturn V. The power of the three rocket boosters. Kerosene and oxygen and thunder and lightning. The side boosters coming back to land simultaneously. Starman in his Tesla Roadster, driving through space, the gorgeous planet that we call home, David Bowie rocking the soundtrack. Don't panic on the dashboard and a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide in the glovebox. It was a non-stop, multi-sensory, space-tech, popular culture emotional orgasm. The Earth moved.

The begrudgery

The buzz lasted for days, but the begrudgers were quick to appear. Musk was denounced for spending $90 million to send a $100,000 car into space, when there are so many other good uses for money down here. This is wrong. For starters, SpaceX is a private venture. It gets government assistance, certainly, but Musk has invested his own fortune in the venture, a fortune he earned himself through innovation and perseverance. Better to look at something like military expenditure, and the global arms industry, which is heavily government-run or subsidised. 

"Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated that 2012 military expenditures were roughly $1.8 trillion. The combined arms sales of the top 100 largest arms-producing companies amounted to an estimated $395 billion in 2012 according to SIPRI. In 2004 over $30 billion was spent in the international arms trade (a figure that excludes domestic sales of arms). The five biggest exporters in 2010–2014 were the United States, Russia, China, Germany and France, and the five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan." - Wikipedia

So the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, who are entrusted with keeping the peace, sell shitloads of armaments to oil and gas and iPhone producers, as well as the two countries that have been essentially at war since Britain's shambolic imperial retreat and partition. This is a much bigger issue, an elephant in the room. If we stopped spending money on guns and missiles, we could solve global poverty, hunger and inequality permanently, in a year. Peace has never been given a chance, because the US, UK, France, Russia and China are making too much money from war and death.

It's all about the story

But back to the event itself. As a marketing storyteller (and novelist), I take my hat off to Mr Musk and the SpaceX team for making a great story and telling it with style. The story's the thing, to paraphrase Shakespeare, and this was a complete story, with depth, layers, twists and a climax. In these marketing times, there is a realisation that true, compelling stories are the holy grail. This was a true story, a real story and a story that will be told around campfires for generations to come.

The Beginning.

Stay tuned to Starman

Watch the continuing saga that is Starman in space here:

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Axial tilt - the real reason we celebrate Christmas

23 degrees

Earth's axis - an imaginary line between the north and south poles - is not perpendicular to the sun, but is off by 23 degrees. This is known as axial tilt. Because of axial tilt, we have our seasons: when our hemisphere is tilted towards the sun for half of our orbit around the sun (half of our year), we get more solar radiation. This is felt most strongly as summer. And when we tilt away from the sun for the other half of the year, we get winter. And the exact turning point in the middle of winter, when we (in the northern hemisphere) start to tilt back towards the sun, is technically known as the winter solstice. This annual event is imprinted on the global consciousness. As Christmas.

Newgrange and the winter solstice

How? Let’s start by going to the first large-scale building in human history. We don’t have to travel very far from Dublin (where this post is written), just up the road to County Meath, and Newgrange. On the 21st of December every year, a shaft of light penetrates deep into the heart of this ancient structure. It is believed that the light awoke the souls of the dead buried within, because the world was literally given new life. It is also believed that the appearance of the beam of sunlight was a cause of celebration for the early farmers who lived around the structure. It proved that the gods had decided that enough was enough with the ever-darkening winter days and that light and hope had returned. We can only imagine how it must have felt for people whose very survival depended on the return of spring to see that, clearly spring was on its way. Two minutes' worth of extra sunshine every day.

At around 5,000 years old, Newgrange predates the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge, and it is likely that those mighty structures also had some connection with the solstice, as did structures around the world from Mexico to Easter Island. Imagine the energy and organisation and meticulous study of the sun that went into the construction of Newgrange and the other monuments to the solstice! The solstice was clearly the single most important thing in people’s lives.

Mithraism vs Christianity

If we fast forward to the mighty Roman Empire of the fourth century CE, the official state religion was called Mithraism, a pagan cult that celebrated the sun. On December 25th every year, there was a huge celebration of feasts and games - the Romans did like to party - in honour of the sun god’s birth. They called it Natalis Solis Invicti and it was the biggest party of the year, marking the rebirth of the sun after the winter solstice.

Christianity was gaining a foothold in Rome at the time but, during the early 4th century CE, it looked like Mithraism could come out on top, with Christianity potentially fading away. Church leaders decided ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. They decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, which had never been celebrated before. Nobody knew when Jesus had been born. Most likely it was in spring, as that’s the only time of year when shepherds would mind their flocks at night. But that didn’t really matter. It was decided that the 25th of December, the exact date of the sun god’s birthday party, would also be Jesus’s birthday party. When the Roman emperor Constantine was baptised in 337 CE, Christianity became the official state religion of the empire and Christmas became a permanent feature of the calendar.

Merry axial tilt

So, as you enjoy Christmas, with its mix of customs and traditions from all over history, from Queen Victoria to Coca-Cola, remember that the most important thing of all is the winter solstice. Merry axial tilt everyone!

Learn more
Live coverage of the sun entering the chamber at Newgrange, 2017:

Image credits
The sun - NASA
Newgrange - Tjp Finn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Gary J Byrnes stories


Blade Runner 2049. Yes. It's awesome.

Summer 1982. I just turned fifteen, lived in Limerick, in Ireland's Wild West. A city with two cinema screens and a bumper crop of movies. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Poltergeist and The Thing. I remember the Saturday afternoon. I went with some friends to see E.T. but it was sold out. We walked the block to the other cinema. Blade Runner? Ridley Scott? Too young for the bars, it was either this unheard of movie or nothing. And the rest is future history.

Blade Runner has since become a bold pattern on the fabric of our planetary culture. If you haven't seen it - and there are millions, if not billions who haven't - I urge, nay beg, you to watch it before you see 2049. In fact, before you watch the first movie, go read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick.

The best way to measure a movie in my book is whether I can stay awake. There's something about the cinema's cosy darkness, like a factory womb, where replicants are nurtured. So I feared the 163 minutes. It turned out that 163 felt like 5. The movie looks amazing, plenty of nods towards the original's unique style, but glad to make progress in time, in look, in visual depth. The acting is universally excellent, highlights include Ryan Gosling in his best screen performance to date, Harrison Ford owning the screen when he shows up, Jared Leto utterly credible as the mysterious Wallace, Robin Wright perfectly cast as the grizzled LAPD police chief and Ana de Armas as an engaging hologram.

In terms of the big idea, it's still about what it means to be human and whether we can ever really know for sure that we are human. These are the kind of questions that don't surface very often in popular culture and it is to the credit of the filmmakers that they have taken Philip K Dick's obsession and really run with it. There's a scene where K's hologram girlfriend offers to read to him, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. There may be meaning here, in terms of imagined entities creating or owning further imagined entities. In my opinion, she should've offered to read Philip K Dick's Ubik. Could it be that everyone in the film is already dead, from that mysterious blackout that erased digital history? That would've pushed it out.

In terms of where we are now with our humanity, the Blade Runner future is one without animals, humans themselves in decline. We feel bad when Joi the hologram is destroyed, which brought me back a couple of weeks to when my daughter was on my phone, poking Talking Tom repeatedly in his face. The virtual cat said 'Ow, ow, ow' and I said 'Stop hurting him, that's not nice.' Are we already there, I wonder?

Read my fiction at

Climate Change, Hurricanes, Gods and Logic

Are the gods angry with us?

Nobody likes hurricanes. As Irma hits Florida today after leaving a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean, our thoughts are with those in her path. While many secretly hope that President Trump's Florida resort gets flattened, that is not a positive wish. This doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Anyway, hopes, wishes and prayers are completely useless in the face of nature. Nature doesn't care about gods. Nature is what we constructed our god myths around. You could say that nature is god. So, are the gods angry?

Climate science 101

If the climate is a god, we've made it angry by adding heat. Hotter oceans have more energy and release more - and more energetic - water vapour into the air. Hotter air holds more water. Hotter air melts icecaps, leading to higher ocean levels and more devastating storm surges. This is very basic science, something that most 10 year-olds can grasp.

Where's the heat?

Burning fossil fuel - oil, petrol, diesel, natural gas - creates greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide. When these greenhouse gases gather in the atmosphere, they block solar energy - heat - from escaping back into space. So the atmosphere gets hotter, more energetic, more capable of intense weather events and enormous hurricanes. Critically, water vapour itself is a greenhouse gas. See 'Climate science 101' above.

What's the alternative and why don't we embrace it?

Renewable energy, such as solar and wind, creates the power to run an electricity-generating station or to power an electric car, but without any greenhouse gases. It really is that simple. A key blocker is that we are lectured about the high cost of renewables. Take that one with a pinch of salt. A 2016 study estimated that global fossil fuel subsidies were $5.3 trillion in 2015, which represents 6.5% of global GDP. So, while Elon Musk and the Chinese make great progress driving down the cost of solar, there is not a level playing field while big oil still gets billions in handouts from friends in high places.

Applying logic

President Trump's decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement on GHG control was a mistake, especially from a business logic perspective. Here's my three point plan for getting things back on track:

  1. Err on the side of caution on GHGs. If the thousands of scientists are right, we have a slim window of opportunity to get our emissions under control. If we don't, we're in big trouble and our kids and grandkids will inherit a devastated planet. 
  2. Reduce or eliminate the subsidies given to fossil fuel businesses. Add up all the costs generated by mega-hurricanes and follow the money. Until the money runs out.
  3. Invest some the fossil fuel subsidy savings in flood defences and improving renewable efficiencies.

Prayers just don't cut it.

Further reading

Fossil fuel subsidies:
Greenhouse gases:
Donate to hurricane victims with UNICEF:


Easter Rising 1916 Remembered - Ireland's Crazy History and Broken Present

A Brief History of Ireland and Dublin

In a nutshell, Ireland's history is: warring tribes, St Patrick, warring tribes, Vikings, warring tribes, Normans, warring tribes, King Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, King William of Orange, Easter 1916, Independence, European Union, warring tribes...
No real recorded history of Dublin until the Vikings sailed up the River Liffey in the 9th century. Ireland at that time was populated by a lot of Celtic tribes constantly at war with each other, St Patrick having converted some of the pagans to Christianity in the second half of the 5th century. Then the Vikings came over from Denmark, said 'Hej' and that was that. They liked Dublin because it was a good spot for catching salmon and handy for grabbing and exporting slaves. They made their bases at rivermouths across Ireland, including at Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Galway - all Ireland's current cities, basically.
Dublin's name in Irish is Dubhlinn, meaning 'black pool', which may derive from a deep river pool where salmon gathered. The original Viking settlement is at a place called Wood Quay, just upriver (on the south bank) from the quaint Ha'penny Bridge, past U2's Clarence Hotel and now the location for the bunker-like offices of Dublin City Council (the original Viking origins of Dublin were dug up and skipped to make way for these horrible offices). The Vikings did annoy the locals, (something to do with the slave trade, perhaps) so a warrior called Brian Boru, from Killaloe, Co Clare, became the first to unite the Irish tribes against a common enemy. Boru's army defeated the Vikings in the Battle of Clontarf on Dublin's north city coastline in 1014. But Boru was killed in the aftermath of the battle. Ouch.
The Norman invasion began in 1169, commanded by Henry II. The Pope at the time gave Henry dominion over the "barbarous nation" of Ireland so that its "filthy practices" may be abolished, its Church brought into line, and that the Irish pay their tax to Rome. The Normans ruled the roost, mixing with the locals,until King Henry VIII decided to reconquer Ireland in 1566. The mainly Catholic Irish peasantry were never treated well and there was the occasional rebellion and famine, with Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, bringing about Catholic emancipation in 1829. Dublin's main street, and the bridge leading from it to the southside, is named after O'Connell, as is the main street of virtually every town in Ireland. The Great Irish Famine of 1845-49 was a major event, with over a million starving to death. Dublin was largely insulated from the Famine, as the seat of British power, the centre of a defended coastal strip called The Pale, its citadel Dublin Castle. The Pale gave us the expression 'Beyond the Pale', meaning something weird and bizarre. Dubliners call people from outside the city 'culchies' or 'boggers' while country people call Dubliners 'Jackeens' because they loved to fly the 'Union Jack' flag in deference to the British rulers. So there you have it.

But the drive for independence continued, with the Easter Rising, a mainly Dublin event, beginning on 24 April, 1916. Led by Padraig Pearse and the Irish Volunteers, it lasted for six days with much of the action taking place around the General Post Office (GPO) on O'Connell Street. The rebellion was crushed and its leaders executed in Kilmainham Gaol. This outraged the Irishand a War of Independence was launched in 1919. Led by Michael Collins, it was intelligence-led, used innovative guerrilla tactics, and brought about independence in 1921. But Ireland was partitioned, Ulster remaining part of the United Kingdom, and this caused a brutal Civil War, which ended in 1922. A bitter taste remains and Ireland's political landscape is still described as 'Civil War politics'. Neil Jordan's film Michael Collins is an excellent evocation of the period.
Pearse and Collins are revered as heroes (de Valera less so), with many streets and buildings around Dublin named after them. But we owe Britain a great deal, including our love of the language, the finest architecture in Dublin, a key emigration destination and a strong bond between the peoples.
Dublin today is capital of a broken nation, an utterly bankrupt economy and a people with little faith in the inbred political class that caused thespectacular collapse, which began in 2008. There is a general sense of malaise and despondency and a visible urban decay in vacant retail units, derelict office blocks and so-called ghost housing estates. There has also been a noticeable increase in beggars, vagrants and homeless people on the city streets. But Dublin's people have not lost their sense of humour, their joy of life and their love of going out, dining, drinking, partying. Dublin people remain among the friendliest and best-mannered on Earth and are very welcoming.
Dublin was, back in the 'boom' times, considered to be Europe's party capital. The joie de vivre isn't quite as bubbly these days, but  it is coming back, and there is still a discernible buzz to the city centre, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Go taste it!

Easter Rising Centenary
This weekend, Ireland remembers the Rising. The Easter Rising of 1916, often simply called The Rising, was the key event in Irish history. It was that important. Ireland was changed utterly and, as famed poet William Butler Yeats kind of said, 'A terrible beauty was born'.

A Very Brief History of the Easter Rising

Easter Monday, 24 April, 1916

Ireland was part of the British Empire. Irish republicans decided to launch an insurrection while Britain was distracted by World War 1 (1914-18). A number of armed groups took part: Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan, a women's organisation. The rebels had small arms and faced the mighty British Army.

Key characters
Patrick Pearse led the Irish Volunteers, rose to command the GPO HQ unit and, eventually, unconditionally surrendered. Pearse signed the Proclamation of Independence, along with six others: Thomas J. Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett.

Main event
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read by Pearse at the General Post Office, GPO, on O'Connell St, Dublin 1, on Monday, 24 April, 1916, and the flag of the Irish Republic was raised.

Key battles took place in Dublin, mainly around Mount Street and the Grand Canal, the Four Courts and North King Street, the South Dublin Union, now St James's Hospital, and St Stephen's Green, with significant rebel successes. Rebel positions in the GPO and Liberty Hall were shelled by British artillery, including from a gunboat on the River Liffey. The only major event outside Dublin was a series of successful rebel attacks in Ashbourne, County Meath.

Saturday, 29 April 1916.

Casualties, Irish Rebels
64 dead, 16 executed.

Casualties, British Forces
132 dead.

Casualties, civilian
254 dead.

Immediate outcome
16 Irish leaders, including the seven signatories of the Proclamation of Independence, were executed, mostly by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol. Roger Casement, captured while trying to bring Germany into the conflict, was hanged in London.

Impact on course of Irish history
The Rising put militant republicanism back on centre stage, after the 19th century's mainly pacifist attempts at achieving Irish freedom. On January 21, 1919, republican abstentionist MPs, by then known as Sinn Fein, declared the independence of the Irish Republic. The Irish War of Independence began that same day, with an ambush by the newly-formed Irish Republican Army (IRA) on British forces. The War concluded with the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December, 1921, with Britain giving up control of the 26 counties. Britain held on to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The loss of the six counties bitterly divided Irish republicans, leading to the vicious Irish Civil War, 28 June 1922 – 24 May 1923. Pro-Treaty forces, led by Michael Collins and with British support, won. The two leading political parties in Ireland today, Fine Gael (Pro-Treaty) and Fianna Fail (Anti-Treaty), are the direct descendants of both sides in the Civil War. The Rising gave Ireland her independence and led to the Republic we have today. This is justifiably a source of pride to Irish people. But it is also valid to wonder if the Republic which was created made all the horror and death worthwhile. At the time of writing, March 2016, Ireland has no democratically-elected Government and nobody really cares. The European Union has taken the role of empire.

Further reading

The Easter Rising led to the War of Independence, which led to the Irish Civil War, so all three events are linked and should be understood. These Wikipedia pages are top quality, easy reading:

Irish War of Independence, 1919-21:


Check the official website for all events being held across the country to mark the Rising. Key commemoration happens over Easter weekend 2016, though the dates do not correspond, but there are events all year long.


World War 3 - Ireland's Neutrality No Longer Tenable

Now that Islamic State has threatened attacks in Ireland, it's time to reconsider our position of neutrality and join the civilised world in a combined effort to destroy IS.
The Paris attacks have surely alerted us to the utter depravity of this religion-inspired death cult. While attacks in the West get most of our media attention, IS slaughters Muslims by the thousand and seems to aim for the worst excesses of Christianity - the Spanish Inquisition springs to mind.
I am ashamed that Ireland stayed out of the struggle to rid the world of Nazism - another death cult with a bankrupt ideology of hate and pain - so this could be an opportunity for us to make up for past failures.
World War 3 is upon us and it will continue for many years to come until the poison of militant Islam is discredited. The first step in this process is the military destruction of IS on the ground in Syria and Iraq.
This is the defining issue of our generation, more important even than climate change. Can we stop sitting on the fence when democracy, freedom of expression and women's rights are on the line? Or do we wait for the IS hordes to enter Europe, in a destructive spiral similar to the collapse of the Roman Empire, sending us into another thousand years of darkness?


My #Apprentice Audition Experience Left Me Cold

A frigid February morning in London. Tottenham Court Road tube station closed for upgrade, so a Central line train from Buckhurst Hill to Holborn and a walk through the quiet office canyons, tourists and street cleaners. Saturday. Counting Pret A Mangers. Nasty head cold, so into Boots for some dirt cheap painkillers and antihistamine tablets. There's another guy in a suit. It is Saturday.

"Apprentice?" I ask. He nods, smiles uneasily.

The email from the producers is drilled into me. Your interview time is 12:15. Please arrive on time (but no more than 15 minutes early) or we may not be able to see you. It's noon. I see a long queue outside the studio, decide on a Pret espresso. Probably the sixth Pret I'd seen.

So to the line. An hour at least out on the street, chatting to the other candidates around me. A guy tells me he's been through it before and that I should expect to have 30 seconds to pitch and to stick to 30 seconds.

Good advice. Even though we are technically competing against each other.

Due to the volume of applicants and the nature of the day, the selection process may be very short, but you should allow three hours in duration, possibly longer in the event of unforeseen delays. When you arrive, you will be asked to explain very briefly why you think you are a suitable candidate for The Apprentice. Some candidates may be asked to leave after this stage - so please note that it is possible that you may be required for only a very short time.
Please take into consideration your travel time to and from the venue and the possible duration of your stay.
Please come dressed in business wear.
Please note also that water will be provided at the venue but no other refreshments.
Unfortunately, due to the large numbers of applicants, we will be unable to provide any feedback in relation to the decisions made during the selection process.

Into the expansive, marbled lobby for another hour. Security guys - suits and earpieces - check documentation.

A copy of your passport to include; the front cover, any pages that contain personal details about you, any page with your photograph, any page containing your signature, any page containing an expiry date and any page containing a UK immigration endorsement. * If you do not have a passport, please bring a copy of your birth certificate and a form of photo identification, such as a driving licence. You will have to bring the original of any photocopied documents at a later stage if successful.
Proof of address (for example a utility bill).
Your up to date CV.
A colour passport photograph (taken within the last month).
Full application form (Download and print here)
If possible please type in your answers so we will be able to read them clearly and print a copy to bring with you
This form must be signed by you.
Applicant release form (Download and print here)
Please read this carefully. If you accept the terms, complete your personal details on the first page. must be signed by you where indicated. The contributor release form gives us permission to film, record and retain footage of you during the interview process.
Please note that due to the volume of people attending the interviews we will not be able to discuss the contributor release form with individuals or any proposed amendments. If you attend the interview with an amended contributor release form it may mean that you miss your interview slot and risk the opportunity to progress your application further. IMPORTANT NOTE Please note that if you fail to bring the above documentation, and completed and signed copies of the Application Form and Applicant Release Form you may not be permitted to take part in the selection process and will therefore miss the opportunity to be selected for inclusion in the programme.

A woman doesn't have a UK work permit and is sent away, dream crushed just as she got in the door.

We were taken to the lifts in groups of 12, by production assistants wearing the big earpiece mics so loved by the TV community. Up a few floors - TV production is big business, apparently hugely profitable - to what must be the staff canteen and general production waiting area, where the audiences get cheap booze before the recording. QI is playing on a big screen, sound off. A couple of staff at reception desks go through all the documents, make copies, allow us through to the chairs. Chairs! There are jugs of tap water and plastic cups. Printouts are taped throughout the space where maybe a hundred people wait, saying Do not talk.

I use this quiet time, at least another hour, to go over my pitch again and again in my head, getting it down to 30 seconds exactly. My name is called and, with 11 others, I'm taken to a small rehearsal studio, numbers on the floor, a man and a woman. Stand behind a number. He's got a stopwatch. 30 seconds to make your pitch, numbers called at random. People go over the 30 and are stopped mid-sentence. I make my pitch and it's good, bang on time. My business proposition is an original app in the financial sector. It's a good idea.

After the pitches, four of us are selected to go to the next stage and the others are thanked for their time. Another elevator ride to a half-used office space, some desks full of the clutter of paperwork and personal effects, other desks bare, some chairs and a waiting room. A view of the British Museum, just a block or two away. I'd hoped to get down to see the Rosetta Stone after the audition. After a couple of hours, the production assistants brought packets of Walkers crisps and cans of fizzy drinks and apologies. Some candidates were unhappy at the endless waiting and made this abundantly clear. I chatted with a Scottish guy and we wondered if this was part of the process.

My name was called and I was led to a room that looked like a smaller canteen, tables set up, maybe a dozen one-on-one interviews in progress. A woman interviewed me for about twenty minutes, along the lines of the questions from the application form. How would someone who knows you well describe your worst points? What intimidates you? What makes you angry? What is the worst lie you have ever told? What is your greatest regret and why? Describe something you would do if you knew you would not get caught? And some businessy questions. What's the difference between gross profit and net profit? Some mental arithmetic. What's 16 times 24? Or something similar. After a long day of waiting, this is hard. I try to focus on my business proposition, which is strong. I get the impression that my business idea is not so important.

Into the night with other candidates, single file. It's dark and the museum is long closed. Oxford Street is buzzing. I pick up some souvenirs.

Cheap, plastic tat. This may be a long day for you but we hope you enjoy the experience and we look forward to meeting you.

I don't get a callback. I don't know if any of the hundreds who shared that day did. I see the first episode of The Apprentice Series 11 and I wonder about the truth, the reality of it all.


The links to application form and release form are live - well worth a read.

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