January 02, 2001
"Impotent Goals"

I've heard it said that if you keep saying you want to do something, but you never get around to doing it, then what you have are "impotent goals." If you want to lose weight, for example, but you just can't seem to go to the gym or watch your diet or whatever your chosen method of weight loss might be, then perhaps you don't desire that weight loss as much as you thought when you made your little resolution. Your wishes are wishy-washy.

In the face of impotent goals, you can try to change your approach (maybe you find exercise more enjoyable than dieting, or visa versa) and see if the new path is more copasetic (sp?) with your intentions. OR, you can just flat out change your goals.

I discovered a couple years ago that while I wanted certain projects to be completed (like say, to get laughter.org up and running), I was not particularly well suited to be the person to actually finish the job. So, I could either move on and skip those goals, or I could pursue another approach. I decided to find someone else who is/would be more motivated to accomplish the task than I am, and pay that person. Seemed reasonable.

Alas, it has become obvious that the task wasn't compelling enough for other folks, either. So, we are left with the possibility that either I need to find someone *else* who would find the project compelling, or perhaps these projects (like laughter.org) simply aren't worthwhile enough to pursue.

Sometimes the toughest decision is to let go of your illusions (like the idea that you will EVER fit into your college clothes again, or the idea that your band will ever hit the big time). Then again... sometimes, it's just a matter of finding the right approach. I have a plan for how I'm going to pursue laughter.org. I'll try one last time to motivate the current webmaster. If that doesn't work, I'll try to enlist one more person's help. If *that* doesn't get this project moving, then it's time to cut that baby loose. There are too many other worthwhile goals to pursue.

Posted by at 04:51 PM in the following Department(s): Goals, Plans, Intentions | Comments (1)
 January 03, 2001
The Race Thing, part I

For a few weeks now, I've been intending to write an essay here called "The Race Thing". The upshot is this: I don't get it. I don't get the race thing. I don't understand racism and I have no tolerance for racism. At the same time, I haven't been exposed to the kinds of racism that many of my friends experience on a daily basis. I don't know to what extent racism pervades our society today; I've simply never seen it in the computer industry and I haven't been terribly active in those sectors of the population where it allegedly prevails.

Don't get me wrong; I *know* that it exists. A relative of mine who is a cop makes that obvious in the stories he tells. And, sadly, I do know several people who have expressed unflattering opinions about people based upon their skin color. I can only chalk this up to ignorance and frustration, and I've seen it happen with people of all different ethnic backgrounds.

Just because I haven't seen it in the computer industry doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course. But, nonetheless, because I'm not reminded of *my* skin color every day, I guess that can make it difficult for me to imagine that *some* folks *are*. When I get into a conversation on the topic, I am therefore constrained to intellectual observations rather than any real first hand data.

(perhaps when I get around to writing this essay, I'll mention my experiences as a "minority" at Bennett High School, but I'm getting ahead of myself...)

Nonetheless, I find the recent news that a major employer in the computer industry is being sued for discrimination to be particularly hard to fathom.

The lawsuit alleges that the company in question maintains a "plantation mentality" when it comes to its African-American employees. When I read this, my first thought was: "Well, Duh, assholes! They have a plantation mentality toward ALL their employees!" I have known people to have to seek psychiatric help over their working situation with this particular employer. The suicide rate seemed rather fantastic while I was there: pretty much every other week, the corporate newsletter mentioned the passing of some co-worker from some undefined cause.

This wasn't a race thing. This was an everything thing. You either "drank the kool-aid" or you were an outsider. If you allowed the borg to assimilate you, then congratulations, you were eligible for promotion... and, you could do well. But, if you clung to a life that was outside of the corporate culture, you surely would not succeed there. I have many brilliant friends of all ethnic backgrounds who are doing well there; but, their lifestyle choices are more amenable to that style of working situation. The plantation life ain't so bad, I guess, if you like that kind of work.

It was clear that if you kissed The Man's ass, you got promoted, and if you didn't, you didn't. HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER CONTEMPORARY WORKING ENVIRONMENT? The folks filing this lawsuit are seeking a class action remedy because they (the seven plaintiffs) were "passed over" for promotions that were given to others (whites) who were "less qualified". I have some news that may shock some: LOTS OF PEOPLE GET PASSED-OVER FOR PROMOTION IN FAVOR OF TWITS WHO ARE LESS QUALIFIED.

Note to all y'all who feel oppressed because of your gender, race, religion, or whatever: the key to success in this corporate world is to learn what to kiss and when to kiss it. If you really want to be "equal" to the straight white male who got that promotion, learn to kiss ass like he does.

If you're above kissing ass, then you're above being promoted. Whoever thought that being promoted was glamorous missed a class somewhere.

Now that I've insulted all of my former colleagues who have ever gotten promoted, I think I'm going to take a breather. I'm getting worked up.

In my next installment, I'll insult several ethnic groups, deride America's educational system, and further expose my raw, naked bitterness (even more fully than I already have here) before I finally capitulate and admit that I really don't know what I'm talking about, apologize to my former overlords, and beg for mercy from my new masters.

Posted by at 11:37 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (1)
 January 05, 2001
The Race Thing, part II

So, I understand that I risk looking foolish by exposing my ignorance and my only half-formed ideas on the subject, but I nonetheless need to explore this issue. I do this like I explore any issue -- by throwing it out there and seeing how it looks, then rearranging as appropriate. It's just the way I'm built; some internalize. I gotta get it out there. Better to risk looking foolish now than to not examine the issue and risk *doing* something stupid later.

I think.

There's also the painful reality that my many friends and family who happen to understand The Race Thing first-hand will be uncomfortable seeing me make a fool of myself like this. Let's face it: this is embarassing. I'm making an academic exercise about one of the most emotion-laden issues around. By exposing my ignorance to my dearest of friends and family who happen to have a different background than me, well... I hope you'll understand that *I'm* just trying to understand. And, I'm starting this out by trying to understand just how much I *don't* understand.

First of all, let me state something that can only sound obnoxious, but I believe it to be true, nonetheless. When I meet people, *yes* I notice their appearance (including their skin color, et al), but I honestly believe that I don't *assess* them on the basis of their physical traits. In this day and age, that can only sound like bullshit (and like self-serving denial), but let me try to explain.

Let's put this in the grossest of terms, because I think you *will* understand. When a heterosexual man encounters a woman he has never met before, he will react to a number of attributes he encounters. He may, for example, find himself physically attracted to her bust, her butt, her face, her neck, her hands, her hair. He may go crazy (or not) with lust over her voice. Her eyes. And yet, another man might not even give a second thought to these very same attributes. So, Mr. Smith meets Jane Doe and immediately notices her full, shapely breasts. Mr. Smith is a breast man. He can't stop thinking about the large and inviting bust-line of Ms. Doe. Mr. Jones walks up and meets Mr. Smith and Ms. Doe. Mr. Jones is not a breast man. He likes butts. Breasts don't really do it for him (even though Ms. Doe believe that every man she meets is only interested in her breasts), and Ms. Doe's bust in particular is of no interest to him. Since her figure otherwise has nothing terribly attractive to him (her butt being somewhat not his type), he does not end up focusing on her as a sexual being. She's just another woman he is meeting. That's all.

This isn't an essay about sexual attraction (now that I've alienated another large segment of the audience), it's about perception. Ms. Doe, because she has been physically endowed with a chest that gets an awful lot of attention, can't quite grasp the idea that NOT ALL MEN ARE INTERESTED IN HER OVERSIZED BREASTS. And, yet, some men simply don't care. Doesn't phase them at all. And, note, I'm still talking about heterosexual men, in this metaphor. In this example, Mr. Jones can talk with Ms. Doe and not have a single thought about sex. At least, he's not thinking about sex with her.

Like anybody else, I make assessments of the people I meet based upon any number of attributes. And, I *do* notice skin color, shape of face, voice, eyes, language, weight, all that stuff. But, for whatever reason, I'm just not interested in most of that stuff. Grooming habits probably register more deeply in me than skin color. Eyes matter a lot. They reveal a lot. A dishevled shifty-eyed white guy will always worry me more than any black man in a suit. (Except for Don King, ha, ha.)

Now, I could go on for another thirty paragraphs about why I think this might be the case for me (parental upbringing; unique experiences in my high school, mental defects, whatever), but this isn't about "look how non-racist I am." Rather, it's a starting point for understanding just why it is I *don't* understand.

I want to tell you about my Uncle Philip. Phil is great. He's only five years older than me, and we grew up in close proximity for many years of my youth. He sharpened my chess game, let me use his computer (remember the TI 99/4?), tried to explain the Theory of Relativity to me. He's a great guy.

Now, he *also* happens to have been born with Cerebral Palsey. So, this affects his speech and his motor control. Talking with him is difficult, at first, until you get used to his speech. Anyway, Phil came to visit me my senior year at Cornell, and we went to a Cornell hockey game. I drove us to the parking lot by Lynah Rink and started looking for a place to park.

"Allan. What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for a place to park."

"Park there!"

"But, that's a handicapped spot!"

I am such an idiot.

In my mind, I'm not thinking "Ooh, I have a handicapped person in my car." It's just my Uncle Phil. One of the most brilliant minds I know.

This is an example of how patently stupid I can be when it comes to keeping in mind very obvious physical realities of someone else's existence.

A similar incident occurred more recently, when I had the pleasure of joining my friend Harry from Cornell at a little soiree at his house. Harry was News Director when I first began working in the News Department at WVBR, and he was one of my first and most enduring mentors there. Harry went on to become a reporter for the NPR station in San Francisco. Very cool dude with a very sharp intellect.

Anyway, many cities later, he and I both live in the same town again, and he invited me over to his place. As it turns out, I was one of only two white people at the event. Everyone else there was Asian-American. I didn't even notice it at the time. But, we all ended up settling into this excellent discussion about the radio business and the software industry, and the subject of discrimination came up. I was surprised, at first, when they started talking about how NPR doesn't have any minorities in its upper ranks, etc., etc. What surprised me wasn't the facts that they brought up; what surprised me was... they were talking about themselves. ie, this topic was immediately relevant to *them*. And, I'm thinking to myself, "But, Harry, what are you talking about? You're not a minority. You're Harry!" (Unlike my conversation above with Philip, I actually didn't say this out loud.)

So, you see, I'm an idiot. (Sorry, Harry. Sorry, Philip. I hope you both can forgive me. I can only hope I have other redeeming qualities.) And, this particular kind of idiocy has led me to completely not get The Race Thing. The concept of "minorities in executive positions" has always been an academic subject for me. But, it *isn't* an academic subject. Real people are facing real glass ceilings on the basis of physical attributes that have nothing to do with their abilities.

More to the point, *some* people's *entire lives* are shaped by the fact of thier ethnic background. And, this fact is leading to huge injustices on both sides of the racial divide.

Tune in for the next installment, wherein Allan the Idiot brings up O. J. Simpson and the criminal justice system over lunch with some co-workers of multiple ethnic backgrounds, and watch as the fun ensues.

Posted by at 06:24 PM in the following Department(s): Essays
 January 10, 2001
Serendipity

Just today, I had to wrap up writing a scene from The Do Over for tonight's writing class. In the scene, it's a pleasant family Christmas event, and I wanted to convey how everybody is happy and jolly and ignorant and at the same time indicate that that happiness and jolliness and ignorance are all about to be shattered.

Brian, the main character, has given his father a t-shirt. The t-shirt reads "If ignorance is bliss, this must be Eden."

We first see the t-shirt at the same time as Brian puts one of his own Christmas gifts on the record player: the Beatles album, "Help!"

("When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way...")

Anyway, we'll find out at tonight's critique whether I successfully manage to do this foreshadowing thing effectively. In the meantime, though, I was very surprised to find that one of my teammates at work had left a coaster on my desk that they had picked up at a local restaurant. There's a quote on the coaster that reads: "If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?"

I know that *she* was commenting on the happiness factor at work (...well, not "the" happiness factor; *my* happiness factor... or, possibly, my *ignorance* factor...), but I thought it was funny how it also so directly related to the scene I've been writing. Thus is the synchronicity I encounter in my life on a daily basis.

Posted by at 07:25 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 January 14, 2001
National Politics: Nothin' but Entertainment

National Politics is a sport, and popularity points are the tally by which we determine the winners. At least, that's the case presented by the national media, which continues to sink to depths even lower than those described in James Fallow's excellent book, Breaking the News.

Former President Ronald Reagan recently fell and broke his hip, requiring surgery. This 'news' article recounts the details of his hip replacement surgery in fairly straightforward mannger before it gives us the score update:

According to an ABCNEWS.com poll taken last year, 64 percent of Americans now approve of Reagan's performance while he was in office. That's eight points better than Reagan's average job approval rating while he was in office, 56 percent.

Reagan's career average lands him at the center of the pack of postwar presidents, behind John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Bush, and tied with Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. His ratings ranged from a low of 42 percent in early 1983, several months after unemployment soared to heights unseen since 1940, to a high of 73 in 1981, just after John Hinckley Jr. shot him.

Reads like a sports column, no? It's like they are talking about how a team fared over the years in the standings of its league.

What is up with that?

This is ABCNews! This is the Associated Press! These are the pinacle sources of 'news' in this country! And, they're reporting on national statesmen as if they were athletes vying for the record books with their accumulation and averages of popularity points!

So, here's the question to make you stay up at night: is the alleged 'news' media cynically reporting on politicians like this because they believe that Americans are that stupid, are they doing this because *they* (the reporters and editors themselves) are that stupid, or is the American public, in generally, really that stupid? Perhaps the national contest for the White House really is nothing more than a pageant and the results have no more meaning in our daily lives than who wins the Miss America contest. I don't know.

Either way, I'm very unhappy about this. Grrrr.

Posted by at 07:56 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits , Tidbits III
 January 18, 2001
Update on The Do Over (mid-January 2001)

I've got about 77,000 words written (which, given that I had about 70K written at the beginning of November, that's really pitiful progress). It looks like I'll be confining my story to what was originally conceived to be just the first act, so we can cut around 6,000 words or so from that total. D'oh.

Nonetheless, there's steady progress to report. The final couple of story arcs to take shape are finally coming together (well, okay... *one* of them is starting to take shape), and today I began work on The Last Scene. That's not too terribly impressive -- I am, after all, writing out of sequence. Nonetheless, this last scene is quite an important moment for a number of characters, and it's such a thrill to be here and now look back and say, "A-ha! This is where those arcs need to end up!"

Can you tell I'm excited? The critique I've received so far on this scene leads me to believe that I'm track; that I've brought the characters convincingly to this point. This only energizes me more to go back and fill in the holes that still need work. Woo-hoo!

My current plan is to have a final book proposal and to have a finished first draft absolutely no later than the last week in May. I have a plan to accomplish these tasks. And, every week that I make progress on the writing, I get that much closer to the goal.

In the meantime, I will be taking time out this weekend to write a short story. It's all part of the master plan, I assure you. This short story will be a part of my application to the Clarion West writing workshop for this coming June. :)

Posted by at 01:57 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress
What I'm reading now

I read several books at a time. I'm just silly that way.

Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen -- One of the best books on usability I've had a chance to read. Like many usability gurus, Mr. Nielsen can get bogged down by dogma from time to time, but his approach is nonetheless fascinating. This is a must read for anybody working with the web, as well as anybody interested in usability design in general.

To The Best of My Ability edited by James M. McPherson -- a wonderful Christmas gift. This is a survey history of the Presidency of the United States, up through the Clinton administration. Because each of the historians happens to be a specialist for his/her respective President, each tends to be a bit more enthusiastic/supportive of his/her subject and a little less critical than I would have expected or wanted. The result is a series of essays that tend to lob more softballs at their subjects than I prefer. Where's the hard-edged evaluation of the foibles as well as of the successes? Despite the fact that the essays are, well, Statist (and, for that matter, Presidentist) in their approach, it's nonetheless an excellent primer for getting acquainted with each of the men who have held the office. Makes me interested in pursuing more critical study before too long...

The Well of Sacrifice by Chris Eboch -- a "young adult" novel written by a friend of mine. I'm not familiar with the genre, but the story is interesting and the Mayan culture is obviously well researched and vividly presented. I'm enjoying it. Hey, Anita! Check this book out and tell me what you think! It's got death and disease and war and nose piercings and human sacrifice and all that wonderful stuff. :)

The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes -- a collection of short stories, the likes of which we used to be forced to read in grade school. Kinda like the way we used to be forced to listen to dull classical music and to go to stuffy old art museums. Alas, now that I am older, I have more of an appreciation for "Litracha". Why didn't anyone ever tell us that some of this stuff is actually *good*? The first few stories were sorta okay, but I arrived at the story entitled "Home", and now I am completely hooked. Very compelling. Daunting. Sad. Angry. Wow.

Assorted Foxtrot by Bill Amend -- because too much Litracha and history and science and stuff can hurt your brain. Alas, alack, this is a good collection so far, but the formula is getting a little stale. Hey, Bill! Try to freshen this strip up, okay?

Posted by at 02:24 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music
Dot Com Economics

So, back when I was self-employed or worked for small companies, I would often be confronted by economic choices. For example, if I or someone on my team wanted or needed a new piece of equipment -- let us say, hypothetically, a new monitor -- the decision to purchase would often boil down to the business.

For example, I might ask "How many more widgets must I/we sell to offset the cost of this monitor?" There's also the quintessential "What would it cost me if I *don't* purchase this item?" Even though the second question is more important, the first question always helped to put things into perspective that helped to create incentive. Usually, it would cause me or the member of my team to think in terms of "What can I do today that will help to drive up sales by X widgets?"

But.

What if you work for a company that loses money on every sale? What if you work for a dot com? THEN what do you do? It's like being in a bizarro world. Selling more means... losing more. So, if you want to clear the cost of a piece of equipment, do you try to sell more? Or, do you try to sell less?

Are you better off encouraging your friends to shop with your employer when you know that every dollar they spend brings your employer closer to bankruptcy? I don't get it. I just don't get it.

I think I'm beginning to understand why my essays are getting dumber and dumber. It's because *I'M* getting dumber. Spending time in the land of dot coms is hurting my brain. Decision making here has absolutely no basis in reality. This must be what it's like to work for the government.

Posted by at 03:57 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 January 22, 2001
What I'm listening to now

Lounge Against the Machine by Richard Cheese -- Well known contemporary "alternative rock" hits as sung by a lounge singer. Extremely funny, but much too short.

Down Here by Tracy Bonham -- This album rocks. This woman is the real deal; not a pretender like Meredith Brooks trying to cash in on the Alanis Morissette fad. Great music; great production.

Maroon by Barenaked Ladies -- A fun pop album, and a return to form for this band. Strong reminder of their first album, Gordon.

Gilles Apap and the Transylvanian Mountain Boys -- I'd been looking for this one for a few years after hearing it on an NPR station in Boston. Finally found it through CDNow. No, Amazon doesn't list it. This is the most passionate classical music I've heard in an extremely long time. Gilles is a stunningly good violin player. The selections on this disk are European Gypsy songs rendered with heat and fun. Amazing.

Righteous Love by Joan Osborne -- Good, but not great. Joan is in danger of becoming Bonnie Raitt.

No Mermaid by Sinead Lohan -- in the same category as Sarah McLaughlin, with a similar emphasis on celtic rhythms. This album is a better debut than Sarah's was. It'll be interesting to see how she fares in the future.

No Angel by Dido -- also in the same category as Sarah McLaughlin, and stronger still than Sinead Lohan's album. This one is captivating. It's been in rotation in my multi-disk player for almost a year. Highly recommended.

The Best of Suzanne Vega -- Features a couple of new tracks, including 'Rosemary', which is the reason I bought it. I'm not a fan of greatest hits albums, as a general rule. But, I'm glad I now have the song Rosemary. :)

Jill Sobule -- Recommended to me by a friend a couple of years ago, I finally tracked this one down. Fun folk which plays against your expectations.

...and a few other "known quantities", like the new Don Henley, Talking Heads' 'Stop Making Sense', Counting Crows, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Hmmm. Now that I look at it, this is a pretty sedate rotation for me. Usually, my multi-disk player has a few more bizarro selections than this. Maybe it's time to throw Propellerheads back into the mix....

Posted by at 02:24 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music
 January 25, 2001
Headaches

Some people get the flu. I get headaches.

I know I'm actually a lucky guy, insofar as my headaches tend to miss the "migraine" category. Which is to say, if your definition of migraine is "head hurts so bad, you literally throw up and can't move for days because moving would make your head explode", I don't get migranes because I don't get the nausea bit.

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I used to get these killer headaches every couple months or so. Sometimes more frequently than that. They clamp on for days at a time, sometimes going longer than a week. Lately, it's been much less frequent, but the duration has been every bit as long.

So, for the first time in maybe half a year or so, a major mother of a headache has wrapped my brain in a vice. Sudden changes in light and turning my head from side to side makes the lower part of my face want to run away from the timebomb in my cranial cavity. Moving my eyes too quickly has the same effect. Sleep is hard to come by and, well, I'm just not a big fan of pain as it is.

My current bout has gotten so bad that I've taken one of the only 'sick days' I've ever taken in my adult life. Taking a sick day doesn't make my headache any better; it simply allows me to be miserable in the discomfort of my own home. Alas, work had to call me for yet another "short fuse" item. "Short fuse" or "fire drill" is a common high tech euphamism for "we decided this morning that the deadline for this major project that we've never even warned you about is this afternoon, and if it isn't done, heads are going to roll. Probably yours."

I'm actually glad that my boss called me about this particular "short fuse" item. It was directly pertinant (pertinent? I'm not looking it up today. My eyes hurt.) to my team, and the most important thing I can do right now is to keep my team happy and productive. I had a once in a long while opportunity to make sure we do the right thing, and I'm grateful to have been given that opportunity, even though it meant I got to be miserable at work and miserable at home all at the same time.

So, why do I bring this up? Here's why. Boss guy: "So, Allan, how are you? What's keeping you down today?"

Me: "I have a headache."

Weh, weh, weh. I can count the number of sick days I've taken in my adult life on *one hand*. And, on this fine occasion, I'm not only miserable, but I sound even more pathetic than I am.

"I have a headache." For crying out loud. He pointed out -- correctly -- that I had a headache yesterday. (I know this is funny. I'll be sure to laugh about it as soon as it stops hurting to move my head.) I guess I needed a new excuse today. Like PMS.

Whatever.

Oh, one more thing. Raging headaches and sleep deprivation combine to make me a little more emotional than I usually tend to get. So, the scene I wrote this week for The Do Over is one wherein the hero breaks down. It was easier for me to get in touch with those sort of emotions, so I'm hoping the scene is therefore all the more empathetic. When life hands me lemons, by golly, I'm making lemonade.

Posted by at 02:04 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Tidbits II
 January 31, 2001
Yes, I'm still employed.

Many of you have noticed the news about layoffs at my current employer and have asked if I'm still gainfully employed there. I am, indeed, still gainfully employed and was spared the axe, myself. Alas, I also had to lose two people from my team, and that is not happy-making.

One of my former employers seemed to go through layoffs on a regular basis. It was not one of the happiest places I've worked. And, yet, there were other folks there (one in particular) who actually thrived with this employer.

We all have different styles, and different things inspire us. I, for one, am not inspired by the management style that involves periodic layoffs. Frequent layoffs (even if we're talking about once a year, which seems to be the pattern with my current employer, thus far) imply consistently bad decision making and/or setting a low bar when hiring candidates. I am not inspired by the idea of either working with fools or working for fools, so it doesn't really matter to me which is the case in this particular instance.

In my not so humble opinion, however, given the quality of the people who ended up being let go... I'm not inclined to think that the problem has been a low bar for hiring.

Anyway, suffice it to say that while I remain employed, I'm finding myself in the inevitable unhappy mode that follows layoffs. Nonetheless, I'm working on figuring out how to ensure that *I* don't make the kinds of boneheaded decisions that would result in a further cutback on my staff.

Posted by at 01:26 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits II

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.

The author. January, 2010.
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