I took my drone out for the first time in a while last Saturday. It also turned out to be the last time.
A few little items:
I’ve been working from home for the past month or so. We’d been in a co-working space in Boston for the past year, and it was decided that since most of the developers are remote from the main London office, we should work remotely too. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I’m finding that I personally end up working very late. On the flip side, I did pick up two lovely 27″ Thunderbolt monitors which work just as well with my personal Mac as they do with my work Mac.
There’s been a nasty strain of what’s probably the flu going around this week, and I managed to pick it up. I was fine on Sunday, with just a little cough, Monday, I was a little achy over the course of the day, and I was pretty much out of it the rest of the week. Tuesday and Wednesday I managed to get up and get dressed, get some code reviews done, do some minor work, and then fall back into bed. I haven’t felt this crummy for so many days since grade school. No appetite, achy and feverish all over, chills, headaches, the works. By Friday I was starting to feel a little better, but I’m still feeling a bit light-headed. It’s also run through my brother’s family, my sister’s family, the family across the street, and my friends report being sick too.
We’ve had a pretty strong nor’easter Friday and Saturday. Rain and snow Friday, heavy rain yesterday that turned back to snow. And then today, I noticed the first of my new planting of crocuses had blossomed.
Spring time, and better days, are ahead.
I’m getting very annoyed with the way local media is abusing the term “breaking news”. To my mind, stories must meet these criteria to be termed “Breaking News”
- The story must have just become known,
- and be of an urgent or emergency nature
- or supremely important
I’m a Boston Globe subscriber, and we watch the Channel 5 news. Both are bothering me with their misuses of “breaking news”.
The Globe sends out breaking news emails, and they’re pretty good about doing it in timely fashion, but I’m really starting to wonder about their news judgement. For example, Friday, I got an email from them: “Breaking News Alert: Baker promises state funding to offset any Planned Parenthood cuts”. This is not urgent, this is not an emergency, it doesn’t rise to the level of importance I would expect —and it is done via an email, which means it’s an interruption. Lately, they’ve been supplementing it with “morning”, “midday” and “afternoon” reads.
I do read the news. But it if isn’t pressing, I’d prefer to read it on my own schedule.
They also send out a morning digest of the headlines— that, I do appreciate and enjoy, because it comes on a schedule and is not an interruption. I also do appreciate the breaking new alerts that truly are breaking; for example the alert they sent out last week of a major problem on the expressway. They weren’t doing the email alerts at the time of the Marathon bombing, but it would have been entirely appropriate then.
WCVB misuses the term in another way, to promote news stories that have already been broken. This weekend’s example would be the fire in Warwick that happened overnight, but was still being described as “breaking” on the 6 PM newscast the following day. It’s especially annoying when there is nothing new to the story, and they’ve been telling the story all afternoon on their various newscasts. If there is nothing new to add, and the story is more than a couple of hours old, it is no longer “breaking”.
The term “breaking news” used to imply some sort of emergency. If news organizations continue to abuse it, like the boy who cried “Wolf”, the public will learn to ignore it.
Sometimes, I find myself doing the same stupid thing over and over again.
I bought Seasons 1 and 2 of the remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation. TNG is probably my favorite of the Star Trek series. I managed to wade through Season 1 but didn’t make it very far into Season 2.
When Borders was closing, I saw a complete DVD set of The World At War on sale for $30. My Dad and I used watch it together when it first came out, and I can still remember the theme music. The box set is sitting in a drawer, unopened.
I started re-watching episodes of WKRP In Cincinnati on YouTube. I didn’t care for the quality, and the bootleg versions they had were clipped top and bottom, so I bought the complete box set of all the seasons. So far, I’ve just made it to the middle of Season 1, where Mama Carlson does a performance review of the station.
A couple of weeks ago iTunes had a sale on the first season of Batman, for only $10. I loved Batman as a kid, and still sometimes catch it on MeTV. I enjoy it differently than I did then, but it’s still fun. I haven’t watched any of it yet.
And now, I find myself wanting to sign up for HBO in order to get Game of Thrones. I haven’t seen it, but it looks interesting. Lot of people are really into it. But am I really ready to binge watch 60 hours of it? The clock is ticking; the next season begins this summer.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the election, and my two readers have both asked me what I think about it. I came down with a cold the night before, and spent Election Night shivering in bed with the chills, as I watched the unfolding disaster, and spent most of the time since recovering, which sounds metaphorical, but isn’t.
For the first week, I was too ill and too upset to read much of the news. I’ve been about 10 – 14 days behind on Twitter for a while, and spent most of the past week catching up. It was hard reading all the pre-election certitude in the cold hard light of hindsight.
I’ve never been so sorry to be proven right. I was saying a year ago that Trump scared me, because I saw very clearly what a weak candidate Hilary Clinton was. In July, I wrote, “Hillary Clinton feels like Martha Coakley writ large; people will find a reason not to vote for her.” She seems unauthentic, doesn’t seem to be intellectually honest, and never defined herself well enough for people to vote for her; she relied on the belief that Trump was clearly unsuitable.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. Trump won fair and square. It doesn’t matter that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump; in our system, the states elect the president, not the people. And there are enough states with enough people that the economy has left behind that have spoken. There have been protests of the election, but to my mind, that’s wrong. You don’t protest free elections, and that goes double if you didn’t vote. I felt sick enough to work from home Tuesday morning, but I still voted.
Next, I’m hoping I’m wrong about him. I’d like to be proven wrong, because the better he does, the better we do. One of the columnists in the Globe wrote, “I don’t want Trump to succeed. I want him to fail spectacularly.” I get what he’s saying, but I hope Trump manages to pivot away from his more extreme positions. and perform reasonably. My Uncle Kip claims that we’ll see a different Donald Trump, and I hope he’s right. So far, I haven’t seen it.
Finally, I’m seeing a lot on Twitter about opposing every move he makes. I despised the Republicans for doing that to Obama, and I’ll despise the Democrats if they do that to Trump. To my mind, the duty of an opposition party is to fight the policies they oppose, find common ground where they can, try to influence the president by providing an alternative, and remember they are Americans first and partisans second. President Obama seems to be taking that to heart, and I hope other members of his party do as well.
The thing that dismays me is that people either couldn’t see his character issues, or saw them, and decided they were OK. There are a lot of people who should have known better, but voted for him anyway.
What truly scares me is the outright fascism his victory has enabled. All the little neo-Nazis and white supremacists are crawling out from under their rocks into the light of day. It’s become more acceptable to be racist in public. I’m seeing reports of people being harassed just because of who they are. I worry about people like my friend Rami, one of the nicest, friendliest people around, getting hassled because of his name and appearance.
Trump hasn’t helped with his statements or his actions. He did make a point of telling people to “Stop it”, but then he’s gone on to appoint Stephen Bannon and Jeffrey Sessions to important posts. He’s still leading with his mouth. He still doesn’t seem to think through his actions. He still seems, well… nuts. And he’s already in line to be the most corrupt president ever – witness the foreign governments lining up to stay at the Trump hotels, and the settlement of the Trump University case.
Unfortunately, he also has a Republican Congress to back him up, and the Republicans in Congress so far haven’t shown any inclination to put country above party, or to consider the people their actions affect. I’m hoping there may still be enough institutional decency left – or at least, enough institutional protectiveness of their own prerogatives – to prevent the worst of the abuses.
I suspect that the way it will play out is that it will be Amateur Hour for the first six months or so – he is inexperienced in government, and doesn’t seem to be surrounding himself with good people. He will attempt to bully his way around, and manage to offend enough of Congress that he will engender opposition within his own party. As his policy initiatives become clearer, the media will find people who will be hurt by them, and allow them to tell their stories. The biggest advantage Obamacare has right now is that there are already a lot of people dependent on it. After a while, he’ll realize that if he wants to get anything done, he’ll need more experienced hands to help him, and hopefully, get rid of the strident right wingers.
In the end, it will come down to his willingness to be bound by the rule of law. If he recognizes that, while it won’t be great, we’ll be OK.
I. The Candidates
In the years that I’ve been able to vote, I don’t recall disliking both candidates as much as I do these two:
- I voted enthusiastically for Reagan in both 1980 and 1984.
- I voted for George Bush, but also respected Dukakis in 1988.
- In 1992, I voted for George Bush. I really respected his pragmatism, and the way he was able to pull together a bunch of disparate countries during the Gulf War.
- In 1996, I felt comfortable voting for Bob Dole. I didn’t like Dole’s ‘attack dog’ persona, but felt that at core, he was principled and honest.
- In 2000, I simply couldn’t decide. I neither liked nor disliked either candidate. In the end, I ended up voting for Gore, rooting for Bush on the way from the poll booth, then rooting against Bush during all the legal maneuvering. I didn’t care for either one, but I didn’t dislike either one either.
- In 2004, I voted for Kerry. I wasn’t enthusiastic for Kerry, but I respected him.
- I voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. I’m happy with these votes. I don’t think he’s nearly as liberal as his vilifiers make him out to be. He’s pragmatic, and he thinks before reacting.
Which brings us to this year. Ugh. Out of all the people in the country, these two are our choice. A raging racist narcissist/fascist, and a power hungry politician whose only guiding principle appears to be a desire for power.
Trump taps into the anger and frustration– and, let’s be plain– the racism of a lot of white Americans. There are a lot of people who are worried by him, but for a lot of people, he’s talking the kind of trash these people want to hear.
Even worse, I think Hillary Clinton is an incredibly weak candidate. You never get the sense of a set of core values, like you did with Bernie Sanders. You might not agree with Sanders, but it was easy to see that his positions arose out of a consistent set of values and philosophy that drove them. I don’t have a sense that Hillary stands for anything other than Hillary.
She is not an inspiring leader or politician. She can’t work a crowd like her husband, or inspire like Reagan. She can say the lines, but in her mouth, they sound hollow.
There is the sense that both Clintons feel they are above the law; that they are willing to bend the law or facts to suit themselves. The problems with the State Department emails speak for themselves.
Hillary Clinton feels like Martha Coakley writ large; people will find a reason not to vote for her.
Trump really worries me. I do see the parallels to the rise of Nazism in Germany in his campaign.
He doesn’t seem to understand the Constitution. He doesn’t seem to understand what the role of the President is in our system.
He leads with his mouth, and doesn’t appear to think at all. He’s changed his stands on so many things that I can’t credibly predict how he would react on anything. He is reckless and hateful and doesn’t give a damn who he hurts, or who he provokes.
I think the thing that worries me most about Trump is his lack of understanding or respect for the Constitution. The two main reasons our system of government works are the divided structure of the government, preventing a concentration of power in any branch, and a cultural respect for the institution of the government, instilled by our Founding Fathers.
It’s this respect for the law that fundamentally keeps office holders in bounds. In 1952, in response to a steel mill strike, Harry Truman nationalized the steel mills. The owners sued, won the case, and Truman obeyed the court, returning the mills to their owners. Once this respect for the law breaks down, it’s all over, and we’re in the same boat as any banana republic.
He is incredibly dangerous, and I think he has a decent shot at winning.
II. How Did We Get Here?
So how did we get here? How is it that these two are the choice we’re left with?
I think the first place to look is the educational system. Instead of teaching history and civics, we teach “social studies”. Kids don’t learn American history — we were playing a game one evening, and none of my nephews knew who George III was — and they don’t have a sense of how things work. They learn the trappings of patriotism — red, white and blue, let’s wave some flags — but they don’t know the meaning. They don’t know of the sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War, or of the service to country made by both the soldiers and the home front during World War II. They have little sense of civic duty; what we owe our country and our countrymen, in return for what it provides us. We’ve come to see voting or serving on a jury as a chore, let alone making sacrifices for the larger good.
Gerrymandering is the “is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.” The way it works is you concentrate your political opponents into one or two districts; you may lose that district, but you’ve strengthened your hand in the rest of them. My friend Barbara recently sent me a long an interesting article about how the Republican party gerrymandered its way into Congressional dominance. What you wind up with is long rambling Congressional districts that resemble a salamander on a map, designed to create “safe” districts for incumbents.
Once you’ve created safe districts, you’ve moved the electoral action from the general election to the primaries. In a general election, you have to appeal to the full electorate; in a primary, you only have to appeal to party members, and primaries on both sides favor the extremes on both sides, as the more extreme candidates are more likely to fire up their supporters. This is how the Tea Party became a force in Congress, and what explains the radical turn to the right of the Republican party; with safe Republican seats, the battles turned to the primaries, and a number of more moderate Republican congressmen and senators lost their seats in the primaries.
(It also explains the rise of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.)
Coverage of the election by the media has been piss-poor.
It used to be that newscasts were something networks and television stations ran to satisfy the public service obligations of their broadcast license. And then, somewhere along the line, broadcasters realized newscasts could be incredibly profitable, and that’s all she wrote.
It used to be that journalists would report what a candidate said, but then they would also report whether what was said was accurate. Now, they’re so afraid of looking “partial” that they do not call either side on whether they’re lying or not.
It used to be that reporters would focus on the important stuff. Now they’d rather report on what’s become viral on youTube.
Most pernicious, it used be that the media reported on where the candidates stood. Now, they’d rather report on the polls.
They’d rather broadcast highly stylized “debates” that say nothing, and are more about each candidate scoring off each other, than in-depth interviews explaining how each would govern.
We’ve become an electorate that would rather “send a message” than elect someone to serve us. People don’t take the election seriously enough. Voting is perceived as a nuisance rather than a duty to be taken seriously.
III. What’s to Be Done?
Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump is far too dangerous to risk voting for anyone other than Hillary Clinton. He scares the hell out of me. If he means what he says, a vote for Trump is a vote for repression, for shooting from the hip, of risking war because our president can’t be trusted to think before he acts. And if he doesn’t mean what he says, then what the hell does he stand for?
There are a lot of disaffected Bernie Sanders followers, and a lot of people disaffected by both candidates, who are talking about write in votes, or not voting, or voting for a third party. Normally, I believe in voting for who you want to vote for, but I feel that Trump is such a clear and present danger that there is no choice but to hold one’s nose and vote for Clinton.
But we also need to examine what brought us to this place, and what we can do to prevent ourselves from being in this bind again.
There needs to be more emphasis on history in schools. History does repeat itself, and if you can recognize the historical patterns, you can act on that recognition. There needs to be more emphasis, both at home and at school, on civics, on duty, on being part of something larger than oneself or one’s family.
I think the day of manually drawn electoral districts needs to come to a close. One technique that has worked is bipartisan districting commissions; if both sides are part of the process, there is less likelihood of shenanigans. Both sides need to recognize that gerrymandering is a two edged sword. What I would like to see is both sides agree ahead of time to accept a computer generated district map. The algorithms for the mapping software should favor compactness, equal populations, natural boundaries and existing municipal boundaries.
The Media and Us
The media need to stop with the horse race coverage already. I don’t want to know what the percentage points are; I want to know what the candidates stand for, what their biases are, how they plan to run things. How do they plan on dealing with Congress? Do they understand the powers and limitations of the office? Are they honest? Do they tend to parse the truth? What’s their past experience?
I’ve never cared for the debates. I think they’re just theater, and they’re more about scoring points off one’s opponents than communicating what the candidate is about.
What I’d really like to see is a long one-on-one interview with each candidate with a really skilled interviewer. Charlie Rose would be great. I don’t want someone to “nail” the candidate; I want someone who can talk with them about themselves, and dig a little bit and find out what makes them tick.
No president gets to do exactly what they want to do, so for me, individual promises and stands of the moment aren’t particularly important. I want a President who is intellectually honest, has a set of core values that I can generally live with, and the competence to work toward those values.
A lot of the British population voted for the Brexit, hoping to send a message about immigration and the sovereignty of British law, and then, when it won, when the pound dropped, and they saw the prospect of international markets closing against them, had second thoughts. Elections do have consequences.
What people tend to forget is that a campaign is a long job interview, and at the end of the day, we’re not sending a message, we’re hiring someone. To serve us. Not their own interests, not their career, not their egos. Us. All of us.
I’ve been having a really hard time lately at work trying to keep track of the items I need to work with. I’ve been working in the front end with WebStorm for nearly two years, and lately I’ve been starting to do some Java work in Eclipse, and stored procedure work in MySQLWorkbench. Typically, in any of these environments, I may be working on between five and twenty open items at a time. None of these environments make it easy to keep track of the files one has open, or to find the item you’re looking for.
One thing they have in common is that they all use a collapsible tree view as the default means of opening items. When you open a folder, the folder shows its contents, but the other open folders are still visible, as are the contents of any containing items.
This leads to a very broad but shallow decision tree. There can literally be dozens of open items that your eye has to scan through to find find the desired item. It’s even harder with the list of stored procedures, since they are named by convention in ALL_CAPITAL_LETTERS, meaning there are fewer differences in letter forms, and they cannot be organized by folder, or even initial letter… just a long list of capitalized words that look much alike.
By way of contrast, the Mac (and Windows) default standard file picker allows you to drill down into a file hierarchy. You can use disclosure triangles if you want, but you can also double click a file, and only the files in that folder are visible. It’s easier to acquire a target from a list of fifteen files than it is in a list of sixty.
Webstorm disabled the option to use the native file picker because of Java issues, but when I asked about it, their customer service person told me about a hidden registry key to re-enable it. It’s made me much more productive.
All three environments use tabbed windows with the tabs on the top, at least, by default. In Eclipse, is the file names get truncated, and the set of files I’m working with at any one time are all named similarly, so it’s hard to see which tab to jump to. Also, since space is limited, it’s often the case that the file I want is hidden.
I’ve configured Webstorm to show the tabs on the side. This means more of them are visible, and it doesn’t truncate the file names so they’re easier to differentiate. Unfortunately, it sometimes closes files without warning if there are too many open, or if one clicks on the tab in the wrong way.
It would not surprise me to find that Eclipse could be configured the way I want, but I haven’t found it yet. Its preferences are a maze of twisty passages all alike, and I haven’t made myself at home yet.
I find MySQLWorkbench has its own way to be annoying. It’s good about showing the full name of the open file or procedure, but it also doesn’t necessarily scroll the tab set so that the open tab is among the open tabs, making it hard sometimes, to bounce between two pieces of work.
These IDEs do a lot to make things easier for developers. I just wish their UIs were more polished.
I attended the Focus 40 event at Northeastern tonight. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, it was designed to focus on envisioning the state of transportation in the Greater Boston and 2040. Although a planning session for the T, the panel discussion actually said very little about the MBTA. It was more about what the role of government vs private enterprise should be, how climate change will potentially affect the transportation system, and potentially how new technologies such as Uber or Lyft, or self driving cars are the way of the future.
It was all very interesting, and there were a number of very well known people there. Transportation Secretary Pollack and another state Cabinet officer opened the talk, and I saw the new General Manager of the T there. Former Transportation secretary (and father of the Big Dig) Fred Salvucci spoke from the floor, and former Governor Dukakis was there.
For me though, it was a little too orientated toward transit advocates. A couple of panelists, when asked for a headline from 2040, announced the last of the private automobile. I’m not having it, at least not entirely. I don’t dispute the appeal of on-demand ride sharing programs like Uber, but I’m not as bullish on autonomous vehicles. For one thing, if everyone has their own self driving car, that’s still a ton of congestion on the road. More importantly, though, they overlook how enjoyable and empowering it is to drive oneself.
I like to drive, and I know my brother likes to drive even more than I do. They say things like you could read or relax while on the train or in a self driving car, but I’d much rather be the driver than a passenger.
I’ve been a rail fan since I discovered the subway commuting to BC. But we moved our office from Newton to downtown Boston in December, and I’ve been chafing at riding the commuter rail since. It’s a lot more expensive than driving to Newton, and a lot more inconvenient in many ways. Driving, I could be a few minutes late and not worry; taking the train, if I’m a couple of minutes late, I’ll miss the train, and have to take the next one — and the gaps between trains are long. I used to work late quite often; now I have to drop things in the middle in order to be sure of catching the train — after 6:15, the gaps between trains are even longer. The trains are too crowded to read easily*. And paradoxically, I’m riding my bicycle much less. I used to keep it in the back of the car and go for a ride after work; now, I don’t have the bike with me, and I don’t have the time to go someplace after getting back to the station.
Personally, I suspect transportation in 2040 will be much like transportation now. There will still be people driving themselves, either because they can afford to, or they like to, or are going someplace the system doesn’t easily serve. I think the rapid transit and commuter rail systems will still be vital, simply because of their capacity to move a lot of people at once. I do think ride sharing programs like Uber and Lyft will pick up a lot of the “last mile” traffic, and bleed some usage from the bus system. I suspect buses will be routed much more dynamically than they are now, and possibly even on demand. I think a bus route could be managed by an autonomous vehicle, but I also believe that the unions will be able to block it from happening for a while. And hanging over all these trends is the risk of catastrophic weather caused by climate change causing heavy damage.
* On the reverse commute to Providence this was not the case. ↩
One of the things the media enables is bomb-tossing. It encourages extreme reactions on both sides. And so, it was disappointing, but not surprising, that within hours of the announcement of Justice Scalia’s death, the Senate Majority Leader was talking about not allowing a nomination for his replacement to come to a vote.
Just as parents expect good behavior from their children, I have certain expectations from my leaders. In neither case, is an expectation a guarantee. In both cases, when expectations are not met, there should be consequences.
I expect my leaders to do their duty.
I expect them to fulfill the requirements of the jobs they chose to run for, and were elected to. If they want to grandstand or pontificate, they should get a job in the media. At the end of the day, I expect them to be grownups, to understand they can’t hold us hostage until they get exactly what they want. I expect them to come to an accommodation with each other.
It’s absurd to expect the Court to run with a vacancy for a full year. It would mean too many tie decisions, too many cases put over for re-argument, too much delay processing certiorari petitions.
It’s also absurd to say that there can’t be nominations made during an election year. Many justices have been confirmed in presidential election years, including Anthony Kennedy.
What I Expect From the President:
I expect the President to nominate someone Senate Republicans can live with. I’m not saying he should nominate someone they would whole-heartedly endorse, just someone they can accept. The President needs to accept the fact that the majority of the Senate is controlled by conservative Republicans. I’m not saying he needs to nominate another Scalia; I’m saying it’s not a time to nominate another Kagan (not to disparage Justice Kagan; I like her a lot). He needs to find a middle of the road candidate. He should in fact, solicit the advice of both sides of the Senate. He would probably be better off if he did this privately.
What I Expect From the Senate:
I expect the Senate to give whomever the President nominates an honest consideration and an honest vote. I expect the Senators to recognize that he is the President, and that, according to the Constitution, it is his duty to make the final nomination. They need to recognize that whoever replaces Justice Scalia is not going to be as conservative as he was, just as liberals in 1975 had to accept that whoever President Ford appointed would not be as liberal as Justice Douglas.
If the President solicits their advice, they should give it. It would be more productive if they gave it to him directly rather than through the media.
I do not expect the Senate to rubber stamp a nomination. If the President were to send them a nomination that was clearly unsuitable, constitutionally, they do have the right to withhold their consent. But they need to recognize unpalatable is not the same as unsuitable. I do expect them to act on his nomination.
What I Expect from the President and the Senate:
I expect both sides to remember that the other party has prerogatives, and a Constitutional role in this process. I expect both sides to realize that the Court should not be expected to limp along for a year. I expect them all to be grownups, and realize that they are all not just members of political parties, but Officers of the United States of America, and (like any job), their office requires them to sometimes do things not exactly the way they want it. Realistically, I also would remind them that what comes around goes around, and at some point, their political fortunes will be reversed.
I expect them all to do their duty to the country I love.
I may not get a lot of actual comments here, but I do get my fair share of comment spam. The point usually is to be able to place a link to some other site here in order to raise their search engine ranking. They don’t really care about this site, or conversation about it; they’re just using it to increase their PageRank. Others use the comment queue to send me messages, mostly about scummy ways to improve my own search engine standings*.
Some of them are just blatant about it, but others are a little more… circumspect? …devious? They consist of a couple of sentences of very generic comments, that often sound complimentary, but don’t really have any relationship to the subject at hand, in hopes that the spam will be accepted as an actual comment.
I moderate every comment. I get an email for every comment that the system doesn’t recognize as spam, read it, and either release it or mark it as spam. In addition, I look at my comment spam from time to time, and if I recognize patterns, I add them to the block list, which will automatically mark the comments as spam. From time to time I check the spam folder, and see something that the system marked automatically. I just saw a lulu.
This comment is a pipe-delimited list of generic comments – the spammer robot was supposed to only post one per comment, but pooped the whole thing into one posting. Here is is (stripped of the links they were trying to plant)
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