march 2013

3.1.13
It is not March. It cannot be March.


3.4.13
I recently made the first design change to this site since I implemented this design more than a decade ago, and that was to center the design on the page. Back when I first made this site, I could have it aligned left and it would still be centered on your screen because the width was slightly smaller than a maxed out browser window for the vast majority users' screens, but as time has gone on an widescreen monitors have become the norm, the left-alignment has gotten harder and harder to look at.

I didn't do a major redesign to accomplish this—anyone who knows HTML knows that this site was built with only the slightest nods to CSS, which has been the standard way to design pages for years and years now, ever since the major browsers had a fairly high amount of fidelity to the W3C standards for CSS 2. This site uses the original tables model of laying out content, which is completely disavowed by HTML pros these days, but which still holds up fine, which is why I haven't invested a lot of time in updating the backend.

Because of this, and my poor decision to use a background image for the column colors instead of using CSS styles to determine the background colors for each column (I think there were rendering issues with at least one of the browsers way back when that have been corrected in modern browsers), making a seemingly simple change like centering the design actually involved a series of sequential, massive search-and-replaces to add the styles to all of the columns, change the background, and center everything.

I think it probably screwed up some of my older pages that I don't update at all, but the main content pages—this page, the days archive and the links pages—all seem to have come through the fire with the appropriate changes, and that's good enough for me at this point. I don't ever upload the truly archival stuff anyway, so even though they will still have the left alignment, they're still readable, and if I ever do need to update and upload them again, I can manaully tweak any pages that didn't turn out well after the replacement code was added.


3.5.13
Here's my take on the Flacco contract as a Ravens fan: yes, he's overpaid. But in an odd way, he still deserves that money: he was offered a fairly generous contract at the end of the 2011 season, and he turned it down because he felt that he could use the 2012 season, the last year before he became a free agent, to prove that he deserved more. And that's exactly what he did: he led the team through a tough playoff run where he beat Andrew Luck (the number one draft pick and likely superstar), Peyton Manning (who the Ravens hadn't beaten in over a decade), Tom Brady (a perpetual nemesis who is hated by Ravens fans almost as much as Ben Roethlisberger), and Colin Kaepernick (an up-and-comer who is almost certainly going to get another shot at a Super Bowl).

Sports Illustrated called Flacco out before the AFC Championship game, putting him on the cover of the magazine and telling him that now was the time to prove that he deserved to be considered one of the best in the game—and he went out did exactly that, beating Brady in Foxborough (he aslo beat Manning on the road after a short week and having to play in the oxygen-deprived atmosphere of Denver in weather that was in the teens). And although the Ravens played ugly in the second half of the Super Bowl after the long stoppage from the power going out in the Superdome, Flacco himself played well in the fourth quarter, leading two drives in that ate up nearly eleven minutes on the clock and resulted in two field goals, including what would turn out to be the game winner.

(Broncos fans like to harp on the miracle catch at the end of regulation in the Denver game, but the fact is that Flacco made that throw when he had to make it and it eventually resulted in a victory. They also forget that the only reason that game was even close was because of the spectacular failure of the Ravens' special teams squad, which gave up two touchdowns on a kickoff and a punt return; otherwise, that game could have been comfortably in the Ravens' hands by halftime. Also: aren't moments like the miracle catch, and indeed, Flacco's and the Ravens' remarkable playoff run, exactly why we watch the NFL in the first place?)

Besides, people forget that contracts in the NFL, even superstar contracts, aren't like they are in MLB or the NBA—Flacco's $120 million isn't guaranteed, and is more of a vanity number so that he (and his agent) can say that he's the highest paid player in the game, at least for a short while. Less than half the contract number—$52 million—is actually guaranteed, which is less than the guaranteed money for some of the NFL's other big contracts, and his agent has even admitted that this is essentially a three year deal that will have to be reworked in a couple of years because of the massive salary cap hit that comes in the second half of the deal.

Here's another way to look at this deal: if you went to any owner in the NFL and told them that if they paid $20 million a year for the next six years, they would be guaranteed a Super Bowl ring, they would all do that without hesitation. Every. Single. One. The Ravens are just paying for this retroactively, with the hopes that they'll have at least one more ring to show for it sometime in the next six years. Yes, it's a reward for something that Flacco has already done, and maybe from that perspective it's not the most aggressive fiscal position the team could have taken, but they're taking care of a guy who got things done for them, and as a fan I'm fine with that.

And Flacco is still improving—there's every reason to believe that, his stellar postseason this year notwithstanding, his best performances are still to come. He's only 28, and the next four years are when athletes typically experience their peak years. He's working with an offensive coordinator now who he clearly has a better rapport with (a former QB coach who spent many years working with Peyton Manning on the Colts), and that relationship has every chance to get even better once they go through a whole season together (the Ravens fired their former offensive coordinator, the only offensive coordinator Flacco had known in his pro career, with only three games left in the regular season).

Yes, Flacco and the Ravens are going to be a bigger target this year, so he's going to have to step up even more if he wants to have anyone outside Baltimore think he deserves to be considerd as one of the game's elite, despite his postseason and being the Super Bowl MVP. But as someone who has been a Flacco doubter in the past, and someone who's a believer now, I think he's fully capable of continuing to prove all the doubters wrong.


3.6.13
Another solid Walking Dead episode this week. I like how we're circling back to a lot of the loose ends from season 1—first Merle and now Morgan, the first non-zombie that Rick encountered after waking from his coma.

I'm still eager to wrap up the Merle and Andrea storylines (hopefully permanently), but I feel like this episode put Rick back on track and also let Michonne open up a little bit, something she's needed to do for a long time (both from a character/story standpoint to solidify her place in the group and from a show standpoint to make it easier for fans to identify with her).


3.7.13
I've been using Google Chrome as my browser for a few years now, but recently I've started to notice some of the same issues with this browser that led me to switch to it from Firefox in the first place—slow launch times, a massive amount of memory usage, delay when switching between tabs, etc.—that were not an issue when Ii first made the switch.

I did some research and found a good (if aging) article on the subject—a detailed comparison of the major browsers on the Mac. It was especially helpful that they had a section on memory usage and management, and that one of their tests was performed with 40 tabs open, which is close to my typical setup on a browser (three windows with a dozen or so tabs open in each).

The study confirmed that, indeed, Chrome was the worst of the big three on the Mac, and that Firefox performed very well by comparison, so I did a quick switch back to that browser, replicating the tabs I was currently using in Chrome and relogging in to all my password sites to enter my latest passwords into Firefox. And so far it's been working great: Firefox opens much faster, doesn't have a lag when I switch between tabs, and keeps its memory usage down—it will sometimes spike to 1.5 gigs (Chrome was typically using between 2 and 2.5), but it will periodically do some cleanup in the background and get my usage back down to the 1.2 gig range, half of Chrome when it hadn't been restarted in a while.

The study suggests that I might have even better results with Safari, but right now I'm perfectly happy with Firefox, which is also the browser I use on my PC at work, so I'm going to stick to this for the time being.


3.8.13
My mom's coming to visit this weekend, which Will is really looking forward to. He calls her Gabby, and already in the past couple of days, whenever we've been strict with him about something, instead of simply crying or arguing with us, he's tried a new tactic: yelling "Need Gabby!" at the top of his lungs, knowing full well that his grandparents are nearly as firm about enforcing the rules as we are. It's amazing how early they figure this stuff out...


3.11.13
50 files read over the weekend! This is far lower than even my lowest totals at my previous institution, but it was still enough for me to feel like I was contributing a little bit and also to get a first person view of the process from the counselors' perspectives.

This experience feels like a microcosm of the first year of my new job so far—I feel like I'm trying very hard and contributing a lot, especially towards long-term initiatives in my office and around the university, but I haven't accomplished nearly as much as I had hoped to, so I'm personally a little disappointed in myself. I know in my head that the reasons I haven't been able to do more are almost all external to me—lots more red tape than I'm used to, systems that are not as open and customizable as the ones I worked with at my previous job, and a lack of a fully staffed team to whom I can delegate tasks with little daily oversight—but I still internalize it.

Trying to see a positive here, I think this pushes me to do even more and to work even harder, and I still feel confident that, in a year or two, when I've got my full team in place and we've all been working together for a while, and when I've got a better handle on how to navigate the complex web of systems, governance boards, and oversight committees here, my office will be in a much better place than they would have been without me. But I'm impatient—I want to be at that point already.


3.12.13
My mom was here over the weekend, and I decided to take Julie out for a nice dinner since our opportunities to do things sans Will are limited (we don't have a babysitter yet—so far we've only left Will with family). I did a little research on the highest rated upscale restaurants in Atlanta, and then did more research on which ones were open on Sunday and still had tables open for Sundy night, and I ended up settling on 4th & Swift.

It serves contemporary American cuisine with locally sourced and seasonal product, and for a twist they have two menus—a seasonal menu that changes every quarter and a market menu that changes every week or so. The entrees are anywhere from $20-$30, and for a three course meal (starter, entree, and desert) with drinks, you can expect to pay between $50-$75 per person.

I started with a bowl of pureed sunchoke soup with clams, bacon, and black olive oil, while Julie had the crispy brussels sprouts and green apple salad. They were both good, and Julie especially enjoyed hers, but there wasn't a whole lot that was revelatory. For my main course, I had the venison with a squash puree, mushrooms, and a port wine juniper sauce that had some interesting curry notes, while Julie got a pheasant lasagne and we split a side order of crispy brussels sprouts. Again, the dishes were good, but there was nothing that jumped out at me as something that I wasn't expecting. And the brussels sprouts, which have become a favorite in our house since we figured out about roasting them a year or two ago, weren't as good as when we fix them at home—they used a very sharp vinegarette to dress them, and it overwhelmed them with acid. Desserts were more of the same—good but not fantastic.

It was a nice evening out, the food was very good, and the service was attentive, but the overall experience was somehow less than I was hoping for. There were no dishes that contained anything I hadn't experienced in some form before, nothing that I would rush to tell my friends the HAD to try, and the service wasn't as elevated as I'm used to in restaurants like these. My gold standard here is Volt in Frederick, Maryland—each of our visits there was an adventure, and there are dishes that were so unexpected that I'll remember them forever (like the soft shell crab I had on our last visit there).

That's what I've come to expect from a restaurant at this level, and 4th & Swift (at least with the current menu) didn't quite deliver. I won't rule out going again, because again, the food was excellently preparted, but I'm going to have to see something on the menu that sparks my interest before I commit.


3.13.13
I used to be a big comic book collector when I was in my early teens, and I went through another period in the late 1990s just before X-Men truly entered the mainstream as a result of Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie (I was a Marvel guy, and the X-Men and its spinoffs were my main focus within that universe). But it's a hard hobby to keep up with: the weekly visits to the store to pick up new issues, the multiple spinoffs, crossovers, and limited series, and then the organizing and storage once you get all the books you want home—not to mention actually reading them.

I've toyed with the idea of doing digital subscriptions to a few titles ever since Marvel starting offering that option a few years ago, but with their recently unveiled Marvel Unlimited service, I may finally pull the trigger. For $60 a year, you get unlimited access to decades worth of the major Marvel titles, and since what I'd really like to do is read the X-Men from the beginning all the way up to when I encountered it when I was 13, and also to revisit my favorite set of issues I ever owned, the New Mutants series when the art was in the hands of Bill Sienkiewicz.

I'm still not sure about the experience of reading these titles on a tablet with a glossy screen, especially since I have a hard time engaging with the glossy pages and ultra-vivid colors of modern comic books, but I'm willing to pay $10 to try it for a month to see if it's worthwhile to buy a full year's subscription (the monthly cost of which is half as much as a straight monthly subscription). And even if it's a less than optimal experience, it will still be fun to revisit the storylines that got me into those characters in the first place.


3.14.13
Pi Day!


3.15.13
Man, the Ravens are getting hammered so far this offseason: Anquan Boldin has been traded, Ray Lewis and Matt Birk have retired, Bernard Pollard and Bobbie Williams have been released, and Danell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and Cary Williams have signed with new teams as free agents. That's eight starters from the Super Bowl team total, five of which were from the defense. And the bleeding may not be over—Ed Reed is testing the free agency waters and is being pursued by New England and Houston.

It would be easy to panic as a fan, but this team has been through waves of critical losses before, and somehow Ozzie Newsome always manages to find great talent to fill in the gaps, either by looking for bargains in free agency closer to the start of the season or by drafting extremely well. And the results speak for themselves: five straight years of going to the playoffs and winning at least one game.

Granted, this year's losses do seem to be more severe than in any other year, but at the same time, I have to applaud the Ravens for not making competing offers for Ellerbe, Kruger, and Cary Williams, each of whom was given an offer far above what they should have gotten, likely because of their stellar performances in the playoffs. Ellerbe has a chance to be a star player at his position, and Williams and Kruger should both have solid careers for the next few years. But looking back on these players five years for now, I'm betting that none of them will be seen as having lived up to their contracts, and I'm glad it's not the Ravens who will be on the hook for that.

I thought two years ago was going to be our year, and I really thought the year before last was going to be our year. Each year I felt like we were going into the season a lesser team than we had been before it, and each year we got close to the Super Bowl. So even though I'm nervous about all the losses, I have to have some faith in the organization given the history.


3.18.13
Although last Thursday's episode of The Office (the first new one they've aired in a month) was a throwaway that was really a preview for the upcoming spinoff focusing on Dwight, I've been pleasantly surprised by this show in its final season.

Last season, the first without Steve Carrell, is almost completely unwatchable, and having that stand as the final statement would have been a terrible way to end a show (even though the series maybe should have stopped at season five or six). Still, if the alternative was to have an even worse season follow it, that would have been preferable to draining every last drop of blood out of what was once a vibrant show.

But instead, the show seems re-energized this season, no longer preoccupied with Robert California's eccentric CEO antics and the constant competition for the manager job at the Scranton branch, and with some realistic cracks showing in Jim and Pam's marriage, which up until now has seemed easy and unassailable. They've also been able to fold in a few new characters who aren't as willfully quirky as the long-term cast has become, and it didn't hurt, quite frankly, that Ed Helms' Andy Bernard was completely absent for a long stretch of the season.

This season certainly won't end up matching the show in its heyday, but it's a nice rebound from the weird aimlessness and unresolved tension of last season. I'm still concerned about the finale itself—all signs point to some sort of meta-ending where the actual documentary that the crew that has been following these people for the last nine years made of their footage, which is likely to be a disaster of Seinfeld-like proportions—but there are some solid episodes this season, and not nearly as much forced weirdness as there has been the past couple of seasons.


3.19.13
Last Friday night we decided to try a barbecue restaurant that's pretty close to us that has gotten great reviews: Community Q. We've only been to one other barbecue restaurant since we moved to Atlanta, and that was the excellent Fox Brothers, which we've been to twice. But Community Q is a lot closer to home, and more conducive to a spontaneous low-key dinner out with Will.

And low-key it is: even though, from what I can tell, it has only been open since 2009, the booths and tables seem like they've been there since the 1950s. There's a bit of a hipster vibe as a result, like it's being too purposely retro, but if that kind of thing has a tendency to annoy you, you're not going to care one bit once you taste the food.

Julie got a pulled chicken sandwich, while I got the pulled pork, and for sides we tried collards and sweet potatoes with braised kale. Everything was amazing. They bring the food out to you on metal trays covered with wax paper, and the meat comes with texas toast and pickle slices. And in addition to the traditional sweet barbecue sauce (made in-house), they also had a Carolina vinegar-style sauce on the table, which, although not quite as good as actual eastern Carolina sauce, is the closest thing I've had to authentic Carolina barbecue since moving to Atlanta.

I can't wait to try the brisket and the ribs on return visits, but the pulled pork was so good I wonder if I'll ever get around to trying them. The food was a touch pricier than I was expecting (for a drink, side, and meat, you'll pay at least $10), but it was very family-friendly, it's just down the road from us, and the food was incredible. We'll be returning frequently and soon if I have my way about it.


3.20.13
We finally started exploring churches in Atlanta over the weekend, visiting St. Bartholomew's on Sunday for the main service. We were actually intending to try the Episcopal church in Decature first, but this past weekend was the Georgia Marathon, which runs through Decatur and the path of which we would have had to cross a few times to get to the church, so we decided to try a church a little farther from the action.

I've always gone to very tradiational Episcopal churches with very old buildings, and St. Bart's was not that. It was clearly built sometime in the 1960s, with a stained concrete floor, movable chairs instead of pews, and window above the altar with an abstract labrinth design etched into it instead of stained glass. There wasn't anything I necessarily disliked about the architectural style, but it just didn't feel like church to me.

For the service itself (at least the parts I got to see—Will was in kind of a mood and Julie and I took turns walking him out to the foyer when he got too fidgety to sit), it was also not as traditional as I'm used to. One of the things I've always liked about the Episcopal church are the prayers we say out loud together, the whole congregation, and here the tendency was for the choir to sing those parts (and not to tunes that recognized or particularly liked).

I also got the strong feeling that they didn't really welcome children in the main service—they have some sort of children's chapel, and most of the children left to do that at the beginning of the service to return just before communion. Will is pretty well behaved, but he does have his moments, and he's definitely going to have his bad days (he got on this kick in the middle of the service on Sunday where he'd say "Need dipey change! I pooping!" even though he didn't—it was just a ruse to get out of the service for a few minutes), and I don't want to feel like everyone is looking at him/us with judging eyes, which I kind of did on Sunday (which was even more telling because we were clearly visitors and were probably given more slack than we would be as regular attendees). It's important to us that we go somewhere where he can be a part of our experience.

This is not to say that we're ruling this church out—the people seemed nice, and they are very active with community service projects—but it just wasn't an immediate "this is our home" reaction like I've gotten at most of the other churches we've attended.


3.21.13
Yet another starter for the Ravens is going to be missing from the lineup next year, and this is the one that really hurts for me: Ed Reed.

Reed was my favorite player—his was the first jersey I bought, and he's the one who got me into the Ravens in the first place. See before I moved to Baltimore, I didn't really follow professional football. But my brother is a big sports fan, and so when he also moved to Baltimore, I decided to treat him to an NFL game for his birthday.

I got two tickets from a friend of mine at work whose family owned a block of tickets together in the endzone bleachers, right behind the Ravens marching band. It was a Sunday night game against the Cleveland Browns, and while I was kind of in awe at the spectacle even though I didn't know much about the teams or the players, it was a play by Reed at the very end of the game that sealed the Ravens victory that started my love for the game and specifically for that team.

The Ravens were up by 20-13, but Cleveland had driven down the field and was closing in on a touchdown that would have tied the game and sent it to overtime. In the endzone, a deflected pass that otherwise would have been a touchdown ended up in Reed's arms, and he ran back 106 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory for the Ravens (at the time, this was a new NFL record, and it would still be standing today if not for Reed himself breaking it with a longer 108 yard interception for a touchdown in 2008).

That game, and that play specifically, made a huge impression on me, and although it would still take a few years for me to grow into the Ravens fanatic that I am now, that was when I really started paying attention to the team, watching a game on tv here and there and keeping up with the major personnel moves.

It's going to be weird to Reed in another uniform at M&T Bank Stadium—the Ravens will host his new team, the Houston Texans, at some point during the 2013 season—but, as with all of our free agent losses so far this year, I think the other team offered more than was sensible to pay given his declining skills and physical condition (I doubt the Ravens would have even offered Reed $4 million for a 1 or 2 year contract; the Texans offered him a 3 year deal worth $15 million total).

Still, I was hoping that Reed and the team could have found a way to roll a short term deal into a longer term coaching position, since Reed has indicated he'd like to move into that type of role once he retires from playing. That's still possible once he calls it quits sometime in the next couple of years, but it would have been cool if he had been able to stay a Raven for his entire career. He will be missed, and I think the whole city is hoping for his return once he's ready to move to the sidelines.


3.22.13
Dang it Davidson—so close! If not for Marquette's string of three pointers in the last two minutes, combined with that fatal out of bounds with only 7 seconds left, we'd be in the next round on Saturday.

Great season, though—just getting an invite to the tournament is a real accomplishment, and 17 straight wins to close out the season is no mean feat, either.


3.25.13
The question is no longer whether Girls is bad or not; the question is how bad can it get before even its most ardent defenders have to admit that it's terrible.

I've watched the entirety of the first two seasons, and out of 10 hours of content, there's probably less than 15 minutes of truly funny/interesting stuff. I've really tried to give this show a try because there are so many who rave about it, but I just don't get it.

Maybe it's easy to say that I'm too old or the wrong gender to really be in tune with this show, but sometimes bad is just bad and no amount of voice-of-a-generation hipsterism can cover it up or excuse it.


3.26.13
Finally we the Ravens have some good news in free agency—Ozzie picked up premiere pass rusher Elvis Dumervil from the Broncos when a paperwork snafu left him out on the open market. He'll replace Paul Kruger, a Ravens draft pick who finally came into his own last season and got a ludicrous payday ($40 million for 5 years) from divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns.

Let's compare: Kruger is one year younger, but he only has 15.5 sacks in his career compared to Dumervil's 63.5. They are both entering the prime of their careers, but Dumervil is a much more proven player who should make a great tandem with Terrell Suggs. The real kicker? The Ravens got Dumervil for $1 million a year less than the Browns are paying Kruger.

This is all thanks to Ozzie Newsome, who is great at setting his price limit for a player and not getting in a bidding war with another team where he ends up overpaying. He's patient, he's smart, and there's little doubt that, even with all of the Ravens' losses this offseason, he's going to make sure there's a great team on the field next year (and having 12 picks in this year's draft isn't going to hurt either).

My real fear now as a fan is that Ozzie himself could leave—he doesn't have much left to prove in the NFL, and the Athletic Director job at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, has just opened up—and Alabama, as college football fans know, is coming off two straight national championships. It would be a great bookend to his career to come back and help them win a few more.

When reporters asked him about whether he'd take the job if he was offered it, his reponse was "I have a great job." But that's not a no.


3.27.13
Decision release day. The first time in over a decade that I haven't been part of the process at my old institution, and the first time ever for my new institution. Fingers crossed that all goes well.


3.28.13
So now that the RD decisions are out the door, most of the rest of the office is starting to coast down into summer mode. Sure, there are still the transfers to deal with, and we have our April yield events leading up to the May 1 deposit deadline, but collectively, we have breathed a sigh of relief and are near the end of a very long tunnel.

Not me though—in the next week, I have at least five meetings scheduled that are explicitly about what's going to happen next cycle, and I don't feel like there's going to be a break for me at all. A good example of this is our post-release office celebrations: the first one is scheduled from 4:30-6:00 tonight, a cocktail party at my boss' house. Everyone else in the office will leave around 4:00 to get there except for me—I have a technology sterring committee meeting that goes from 3:30-5:00 (at least—these things often go long), and then I have to go pick up Will in heavy traffic. If the event is still going on, I'll be lucky to get there by 6:00.

This is followed by a breakfast in the office on Friday morning at 9:00. Again, everyone in the office will be there except for me—this time I'll be in a meeting to discuss a support plan for a key piece of technology for our office that is transitioning from being hosted in the cloud and supported by the vendor to moving to on-premise servers and supported internally. This goes from 9:30-11:00 and is on a building on the other side of campus, so I will miss the breakfast entirely and probably won't make an appearance in the office until 11:30, at which point I'll have just enough time to say hi to a few people before I'm off to a working lunch to discuss our data reporting policies.

It's just bad luck/timing, I know, but I hope at least a few of my coworkers realize that I'm not blowing off these events, but that my work doesn't stop the day our letters go out, and that as much as I'd like to pause and take a few minutes to pat myself on the back for the unofficial end of our annual business cycle, I still have pressing work to do.


3.29.13
I've finished the book on the Smiths and I've moved on to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I have a paperback copy of this somewhere that I started and stopped sometime during our transition from Baltimore to Atlanta over the past year, and it seems a little wasteful to buy it again on the Kindle, but I've made a commitment to this platform in all but exceptional circumstances (such as books that feature/rely on images or books that just aren't available as an ebook).

The first third or so of the book was just as readable and entertaining as I remember, but now I'm a little more than halfway through and it's having a harder time holding my interest. It took me a while to figure out why, but I think it's because the stuff that was covered in the first part of the book dealt mainly with physics and chemistry, and the advances in those fields were told through the life stories of the people who made those advances, most of whom were terribly eccentric with fascinating life stories to go along with their scientific achievements. As we've moved on into things like geology and meteorology, the book has become simply like a well-written science primer with fewer and fewer anecdotes to flavor the narrative and add personality to the scientific processes that are being explained.

Hopefully this will change—there's still a good chunk of the book left, and we've got to move on to more interesting things eventually—but I've gone from seeing this book as one that I would buy remaindered copies of and force into people's hands to one that I would probably still recommend but with caveats.

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