Causes, Effects, Lurking Variables, and Brainrot

June 26, 2010 at 11:13 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve noticed a change in four variables since a week back, and I am trying to determine which were the causes, and which were their effects.

First though, an allude on lurking variables. For those unaware, if event A precedes event B, for example if Obama becomes PotUS and the economy crashes, event A is not necessarily the cause for event B. In the example, Obama’s inauguration was actually a lurking variable, while ineffective previously established banking policy was the actual cause.

Anyway. The two main things that I observed were that 1) I lost my creative spark, and 2) I started playing EVE Online on a trial account.

Which brings me back to the topic title. Playing EVE seemed to me the cause, and ceasing to write the effect. However, I had continued playing DotA while I had been writing, and I had also played DotA without writing through most of college. I had to wonder what else had been different.

Which brings me to the other two things. I 3) stopped listening to audiobooks, and 4) stopped wanting to do things, like going to the beach or walking the dog at night.

I did not listen to audiobooks during the school year, but I did read books during previous summers. I also wrote during previous summers, as well as during my audiobook listening period this summer. Since playing video games, if not EVE specifically, does not directly correlate to my writing stints, whereas book reading of some kind does, I’m going to tie those two together.

That leaves EVE and my lack of drive – and those two I’ve observed not only in myself but also in some WOW addictions that I’ve seen. Moral of the story? If you want to spend your free time playing video games (like me), don’t do it. Go out to a bar, go race some toy cars, go pick some cherries – but don’t play EVE or WOW or even LOL. Any game where you make progress is simply pulling you further in: good marketing doesn’t correlate with a good product (see: Microsoft, Apple, etc)

In introspecting on these variables on the beach with my dad this morning I stumbled onto a related doozy: video killed the radio star. More importantly however, video kills the imagination. The ambiguity of the 1000 words that a picture can substitute forces for the reader to imagine their own image of whatever is being described, thereby revving the imagination engine. Video, however, provides a single interpretation which requires absolutely no creative juices to be running. It’s great to relax on, but it doesn’t stimulate the mind the way books (written or audio) do. Watch movies, but read books too, especially if you’re suffering from writer’s/artist’s/filmmaker’s block.

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Collaborative Writing, Authoring, Writer’s Block

June 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , )

I have, just today, realized just how challenging my recent endeavor has become. The project is the story of an alternate earth, called Verdanus, which is in a binary orbit with another planet, Tertius. I attempt to explore several layers of conflict in this sci-fi setting by approaching the world from the perspectives of a myriad characters. The original idea was joint project between myself and Rohit Kumar, and I have expanded upon it greatly.

The story was originally created as a basis for a massive collaborative writing project on a roleplaying website, but the project and audience did not mesh. I have recently revitalized the project on Eric Martindale’s roleplaying website, RolePlayGateway.com. His innovative Roleplay Tab bit of user interface has allowed for any writer to create a comprehensive collaborative writing project, and I took advantage of it for Verdanus and Tertius: War of the World.

When the project failed in its original location during the summer of 2009, I moved the content to Ficly.com. Ficly allows for any author to add a sequel or a prequel to any story, so long as they maintain a 1024 character limit. A paperback page is about 350 words, while 1024 characters is about 175. The drive to make each ficlet both interesting and informative pushes authors to use those 1024 characters to their utmost potential, making stories both more concise and funner to read. The website also promotes collaboration, though this project, there tagged with ‘Elysium‘ for reference, has not been subject to sequels or prequels. Ficly’s Kevin Lawver has taken an interest in my Ficly Tree suggestion, which would better show the relationships that sequels and prequels share.

I have also recently taken full advantage of WordPress.com to house an archive or the project and make it more accessible to those that might follow me on Facebook or Twitter. However, Verdanus on WordPress alone would eventually smash me into writer’s block, killing the project altogether. The Ficly version has the potential to inject the project with other’s ideas, but has by now too large a barrier to entry (even though I’ve tried my best to provide ample hooks and entry points) to ward of stagnation. The 1024 character limit does help, forcing me to remember an overflow of ideas from each ficlet for later. On the other hand, the RolePlayGateway version has picked up several other writers who are eager to ‘play in the sandbox’ and thereby give me new ideas, as well as drive me to give responses to their content.

The challenge is as follows. The project exists as entirely my own writing, and as the combined writing of myself and others. Every new bit of content that I add thus needs to work for both versions, and that is becoming increasingly difficult. I cannot directly respond to another writer’s content, as I have neither invited them to replicate their work on my other versions, nor do I feel comfortable copying it over (except for the microstory Promotion for the Sous which Rohit Kumar composed, and I included with his permission). So my content has to be dynamic enough to be interpreted both as a continuation of my unbroken story, and a continuation of the story influenced by other writers. I first realized the challenge factor of this with a microstory which can be found on RolePlayGateway in Verdanus and Tertius, Ficly (Out in the Open), and my Verdanus blog (Out in the Open).

I wonder how long I can keep up? I’ve yet to read some new content by others on the RolePlayGateway version, so I may have to start focusing on those tendrils of the story that have so far gone untouched.

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Trees, Ficly Trees, Tree Metaphors

June 15, 2010 at 11:06 am (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , )

I am not a computer science major, but I am acquainted with the Tree structure. If you are familiar with Ficly, you might realize that Ficly stories are arranged like a tree-like structure. What I like about Ficly though, is that their trees are much closer in form to real trees.

Every story in a Ficly tree has one very important relationship: the story that spawned it, except in the case of the very first ficlet written in that tree: the ultimate seed. Ficly allows for users to compose not only sequels to a story, but also prequels. Much as a tree grows both up as branches and down as roots, Ficly trees grow forward with sequels and backward with prequels. Much like a tree’s thick trunk, the most content is usually concentrated around that ultimate seed. As well, any story can spawn more content both forward and back in time – much like the Banyan tree can drop roots from its branches.

The problem that arises with actually reading through Ficly trees is that there is no single thread that a reader can follow – the stories cannot be arranged in any ordered way along a line that will make sense. What Ficly needs is a way to view the entire tree. I have participated in other’s trees, and have spawned a tree of my own – the story of Verdanus and Tertius which I tagged with “Elysium” for easy searching. There are 14 stories (13 by me), and reading them in the order they appear in the search may or may not give you any idea of what is happening. However, after fifteen minutes of crude photoshopping, I’ve come up with this:
Tree structure of the Elysium stories on Ficly

I imagine that, if this was implemented, a “See this ficlet’s tree” link would lead to a similar view, with each node clickable. Whether it would be an HTML5/CSS3/Javascript object, or simply a visual arrangement of links I can’t say – I’ve no idea what it would take to make such a tree look beautiful regardless of what the story arrangement in it was. However, it would be nice to see the ultimate seed – which I outlined in red – and perhaps arrows along those lines pointing to what each ficlet spawned. The story from which the tree was opened might be highlighted in some other ways, and stories which the user viewing has written might also be marked – as might stories the user viewing has commented on. The number of comments that each story has, or the rating that it has received might also be included in the tree view.

I’m not the programmer for the job – but you might be. If you have any experience with programming visual displays of node-to-node relationships, then this is right up your alley.

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Smallville; Starcraft II: am I late to the party?

May 21, 2010 at 12:36 am (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , )

The party being the questions I am both asking and attempting to answer.

I watch Smallville, and I was just now wondering how long this series was going to last. They can’t rightly be done based on the last scene of the season finale – that wouldn’t bode well for the Superman that we all know and expect (what with comics, cartoons, movies all saying otherwise). Or can they? Lex is dead, why should Clark stick around?

And that’s what hit me: Lex can’t stay dead. That’s the third biggest contradiction they could have (the second would involve Lois being dead instead). I thus propose that 1) Lex will return to Smallville and 2) The series will end with a face shot of either Lex turning past us and looking a little to the right of the camera (from the camera’s point of view), or with a scene of Clark in canonical red-and-blue looking off into the distance right after that Lex shot.

If I am right, I will be flaunting it in the year (or two (or three)) that it will take to happen. If I am wrong, my one hope is that someone comments about it. Hah.

I’m probably (here comes my clever inclusion of the title (again)) late to the party, as I’m sure others have already made the same guess about Lex returning before the series would end, but I’m also probably the only one who made the same exact prediction about the very last episode. I challenge the CW to prove me wrong by 1) using my exact prediction and then 2) filming yet another season, just to spite me. Why? Because I actually like the show! Now read the post title again.

The other party has been in Beta for quite a while now, and I, who have been on the Beta waitlist since two hours after it was announced, have only now gotten an invite. I have a Dell Latitude D630 running XP with the cheapest options overall: this means I have an Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator X3100. Integrated graphics cards suck so much, that my guess is that Blizzard wants to know if my laptop will run their game. With the install now complete, I will give it a try.

UPDATE 1: Just kidding, it is now patching. And you got excited! Hah!

UPDATE 2: Patch done! And then suddenly, there was a v12->v12.1 patch that had to happen. Too soon.

UPDATE 3: This is just ridiculous. I’m going to watch My Name is Earl. I’ll figure this out tomorrow. Hah.

UPDATE 4: A day later, on the road, and having patched via a tethered 3G connection, I have finally found my way to the smooth login screen. Unfortunately, Battle.net doesn’t seem too happy about my improvised internet – I might have to wait until I’m on some respectable WiFi. Still, the fact that the menu loads is a good sign. I did have to reinstall and restart before the patcher worked.

UPDATE 5: Tethered 3G works just fine, but Blizzard decided that v12.1 that I had just finished updating to wasn’t enough, and rolled out v13. Downloading, slowly but surely…

UPDATE 6: Now, 13 patches later, I am about to try running the actual game. Moment of truth…

CONCLUSION: SC 2 runs with an Intel GMA x3100. However, my Dell Latitude D630 apparently lags the game, enough so that Battle.net lets me know about it. I tried playing an unranked practice and learned two things: 1) Lagging for 5 seconds every 20 seconds will bring me down to 0 of my allotted 45 seconds of lag within 5 minutes and 2) I still suck with Terran.

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Poetry, Prose, Songs, Rants, Roves

April 25, 2010 at 2:26 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Recently I had a heart to heart with a friend, Max Lytus. He’s had some dark periods, and so we related by bringing out all of our old poems, songs, stories. There was some pretty awesome, even if long forgotten, material in our stacks, and so he’s started out his own blog at maxlytus.wordpress.com. If you can sing, and his songs strike you as poignantly as they did me, leave him a comment – I’d love to hear those songs produced, whether by an amateur or by a professional.

Likewise, you can find my own poetry and prose, as well as some roves, at a new(ish) blog I started at seldomjournal.wordpress.com. I’ll still be ranting here though, so no need to migrate if feelings aren’t your cup of tea.

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Homeopathy, Comparisons, and Meyers Briggs

April 12, 2010 at 12:33 am (Making Sense of Things) (, , , )

If you don’t know much about homeopathy then you should probably read the WP article. I first heard of homeopathy when I read Voodoo Science by Robert Park. On the beach with my parents last New Year I found out that my sister had once been treated with homeopathic remedies.

She was given the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) and developed a rash and fever. Further medication only worsened her state. My mother was told by a homeopathic practitioner to stop all conventional medication and to instead administer ~7 homeopathic remedies at various times each day. Within five days my sister was cured.

My mother proceeded to embrace the Post Hoc fallacy by insisting that since my sister was cured, it was because of the homeopathic remedies. I suggested that perhaps her body simply needed the calm afforded by the placebos that were labeled as homeopathic remedies, as the only “medicine” involved were sugar and water.

Nonsequitor: http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/08/12/this-is-why-its-tough-for-an-atheist-to-date/

My mother and I don’t see eye to eye on most issues, that being just one example. Perhaps it is the strong disparity in her Cold War USSR upbringing and my no-war US childhood, but I can’t help but revert to MBTI thinking. I’m an INTP. My mother always compares me to my sister, who Ive talked to and found is an ESFJ. I’m introverted, she’s ex. I’m intuiting, she’s sensing. I think and perceive, she feels and judges. All of those come with their strengths and weaknesses, but all of my sister’s strengths are my weaknesses. She’s in HR, I’m in physics/programming. She went to a huge school, I went to a small one. She makes her situation while I mold mine as it comes.

MBTI has helped me view what my mother perceives as faults instead as alternatives. My biggest reveltation has to do with my perception of time. Rather than taking the “do today what you can do tomorrow” approach, I find myself procrastinating until the last minute. The rare times that I do work early, it comes out shoddy. When I put it off however, I spend my mental downtimes (restroom, shower, falling asleep, waiting in queues, walking to places, etc) immersed in useful thought, often about the very things that I’ve put off until later. When I finally sit down to do them, I’ve had many hours of mental planning, planning which I wouldn’t have had without procrastinating. And to think, procrastination is very common in TP individuals!

If only children all took Myers Briggs early on in the educational system, and schooling was tailored to the children’s traits.

Back to the beginning: I sometimes wonder if my lack of belief in placebos and homeopathy diminish their psychosomatic effects. Perhaps however, my strength of resolve helps keep my stress levels low, contributing to a reduced frequency of illness (my worst this past year has been influenza, which I suffered for only two days during which I dosed advil, filtered half a dozen cans of soup, and slept for 19 hours each day, after delaying the effects for several days with Vitamin C until the weekend). Yeah, I think knowing is better than being ignorant, irrespective of which one brings you happiness.

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Marketing Tools and Learning Metaphors

February 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , , , , )

As a CMU Delt, I often partake in Delt activities, make use of Delt resources, and hang out with my Delt brothers. I, probably more than anyone else, know how difficult it is to drive the herd to a new pasture. In the distant past we tried rolling out a BB, a phpBB 3.0 forum, a Shareflow, and now a Drupal wiki. Getting everyone to register on the same network, no matter how great I or the respective admin think it a step forward, is one of the most grueling, frustrating, and unproductive processes that I have ever undergone. The worst is that even when a majority of the users have finally registered, there is no incentive to actually make use of the system.

Until now. One of my brothers came up with an internal game: each brother must declare himself the absolute best at some unique activity within our fraternity. Everyone else can then challenge their title, and claim it if they win the challenge. The massive e-peen style bragging rights of owning multiple titles is already driving brothers to challenge each other. With half of the brotherhood claiming their titles, and 8 challenges already announced, I consider this a successful venture given that it has only been one day since I rolled it out.

The marketing tool: I started the title signup over e-mail, but I placed the list of titles and challenges behind the Drupal Wiki registration. So half of the brotherhood has declared a title and are now committed to the game, but must register for the wiki resource to keep track of everyone else. Frequent visits to the wiki will hopefully prompt more involvement in filling it out with content, but at least the registration problem has been surmounted!

On the other side of the table I’ve been reflecting on how I learn. Back when I was taking the various levels of Calculus, I always suggested that I understood the material best after we had applied it to the next topic. Unfortunately, this often came after the exam, so my self-appraised knowledge meant diddly squat in the calculation of my grade. It appears that in my Conflict and Dispute Resolution class I’ve hit the same problem (along with the rest of the class). We were all called out on our unanimous failure to complete the assigned reading, which is a breach of our “learning contracts.”

After forgoing the intended topic and instead discussing our problem, the best argument that we were able to come up with was that some of us learn better when we are given an active chance to exhibit the topic in class, or are provided with an example first, and are then given the option to research the theory more deeply afterwards. I illustrate this with the hallway metaphor.

Imagine that any theory is a hallway lined with doors to rooms. The rooms are examples: situations where the theory works to explain something concrete, singular. Reading about the theory first is like hearing tales of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the eclairs, the river, without actually seeing it. I propose instead that we start in a room, and explore it the way CSI might explore a crime scene, searching for the events that lead to a murder. I propose we explore that example, which hopefully makes no sense, until we apply the theory, which is provided by the instructor. It is like opening that door and realizing where the room was located in space. Now that I am facing the hallway, I can walk around and open other doors, apply the theory to other situations and examples.

The alternative, where the theory comes first, starts me in the hallway. It tells me things about that hallway that I have no way of anchoring, and tells me so many things that by the time I need them, I will forget most of them. When I am finally placed in the hallway, I am placed facing into a room, looking at one example. I start applying the theory right away under the assumption that it was correct, without ever trying anything else. And now my memory is of how this example pertains to the theory, rather than of how I used the theory to dissect the example. I will not realize that there are other doors behind me in the hallway – I will never apply the theory in situations that are incongruous with that first example.

I learn by curiosity: I frame things as problems, and look for their solutions. It isn’t fair to tell me what the solution is without first giving me a stab at the problem: I get nothing from seeing the answers to the SAT without first struggling with the questions. How then, is it fair to prime my learning by making me read the theory before I’ve had a chance to stumble onto it myself? Am I a wikipedia page, taught to spew forth aggregated knowledge, or am I a difference engine, capable of solving problem by processing information?

I say down with required reading. I didn’t teach myself PHP because I read a book: I read a book because I wanted to use PHP to make a website. My brothers didn’t register for the Drupal Wiki to become contributors: they registered to solve the problem of having no access to the content they wanted.

I wont learn anything by reading a book before I come to class: I will read the book because what I learned in class made my curiosity itch for more.

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Social Media and all that Hype

June 15, 2009 at 1:20 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , )

Jumping onto the social media bandwagon, I proceeded to Twitter – only to find that I have nothing to say on it. One could argue that I simply did not embrace Twitter for its use – letting people who apparently care about your daily dealings know just what those dealings are – but I would say that I prefer a more personal mode of interaction for my “status updates”. I have also found that, of my initial ~20 contacts, at least three of them are Serial Twits (because Twitterers or Tweeters both sound ridiculous, and neither is as demeaning), who post about every little thing, and sometimes four or five times about the same thing. Whether it be a sports match, a gaming convention, or the influx of illegals into your backyard, I don’t care. Luckily twitter allows me to forever remove these spammers from my feed, thereby ending my friendship with them. Somewhat like breaking up over facebook – society in my eyes is hitting a new low. So now I use twitter for FDA recalls, NSF and NASA updates, and to see when Download Squad or RolePlay Gateway have something new to report.

Which brings me to something useful: Google. Having given up on Firefox due to a Google Gears + Integrated Gmail crash, I am now using Google Chrome for my internet, with Gmail for my email, and Google Reader for my RSS feeds. I Google Maps my public transportation, I Google Search for my search, and the only other sites I seem to frequent are Wikipedia and IMDB. If Google were to absorb those too (as per its blobular trend), and maybe make a Linux based Google OS, and take over Meebo for its multi-protocol instant messaging, then I really would bow down to that Blue Red Yellow Blue Green Red Skynet and consider myself saved by the Technorevolution. They did after all come out with the Android, and if naming is any indication of function…

So I’ve recently narrowed down my list of non-google sites that I actually use. They are Ficly, Photobucket, and WordPress. For some reason, I feel that Google Wave might help to centralize everything that I do online.

On an unrelated note, two of my professors were walking the stairways and hallways in a very solemn manner – slow, careful steps, hung head, stooped posture – until I alerted them to my presence, whereupon each of them in their respective incidents livened up and help a perfectly normal conversation with me. Then returned to their zombie walk as I made some distance.

But for those of you who do use twitter, I highly recommend TwitterFeed, Su.pr by Stumble Upon, and TweetPsych. I have decided that a Tweet should either have a witty joke/comment, or a link in it to be of any use to anyone. “Mowing lawn, back in ah hour” does not qualify.

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I told me so, was right, and should have taken my own advice.

May 29, 2009 at 2:12 pm (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , , , , )

Several years ago when I wrote Username God I also wrote a second short essay, Chapter 2, which I have been unable to find. It was an overextended metaphor wherein each person was a car (literally, an automobile). I took the essay too far, surely, but came out with a “moral of the story”.

That moral was to stop, and help someone out. Regardless of who you were, where you were going, where you came from, the essay damn-near preached to perform unprovoked good deeds. I followed my own advice minimally (almost hypocritically so), and primarily while on the road (almost ironically so) but without actually stopping. I tended to drive (each summer that I had a car and worked more than 10 miles from home) as unobtrusively as possible. I would let someone who needed to get to an exit change lanes ahead of me, rather than speeding past them and having them fend against the driver behind me. I would let someone making a left turn get it over with (so long as my action wasn’t impeding traffic), and I would let someone pull out of their driveway when I was heading towards a red light anyway.

A normal person would say those fall under basic roadway etiquette, and yet so few drivers actually stick to non-aggressive driving. Well, apparently, I should have taken my selflessness advice to all aspects of my life, due to Upstream Reciprocity. Doing something nice (on the roadway) that makes another driver think “Oh, why thank you!” rather than “What an asshole!” should ideally spread forward, pushing that driver to repeat a nice action later on, increasing the levels of overall happiness. In smaller circles (among friends), altruistic acts come back to improve your quality of life by having your recipients become your suppliers, of happiness.

Better late than never, right? Time to hub away, being an unselfishly selfish person. The alternative would fall along the lines of being an inefficiently selfish person, so I’ll stick with the former (everyone is selfish, but this way we win the Prisoner’s dilemma!). And it doesn’t hurt: if I further my ends by furthering yours, you reap the benefits anyway. Just make sure to reciprocate if you want to preserve the arrangement.

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ChristWire: 404/502 (You’re doing it wrong!)

May 25, 2009 at 10:51 am (Wrongs of the World) (, , , , )

I am opposed to any sort of theism, but I do not hate particular people whom I meet who happen to be theists. I am sure that I am friends with many of them, so I keep my views in check when discussing religion with them. Often times I am regarded as negatively for being an atheist as I regard them for being theists, but when the topic is not religion we usually get along great.

And I know that when it comes to organized anything, including religion, people are bound to blog, make web communities, start organizations. Atheists have certainly done so, just like marine biologists, nuclear physicists, poets, etc. But when someone comes out with a message along the lines of

404 Server Error – Page or Article Not Found
Our holy servers are currently experiencing miraculous amounts of high traffic and atheistic evils.

I have to stop because my otherwise boring day has just been interrupted by an uproarious fit of laughter. My coworkers are looking at me like I’ve just been shot (or had a violent seizure). And its not even done! They redund the message a little lower on the page:

404 Error Page Not Found
Refresh to find the article you wanted, and if that doesn’t work please keep praying for an hour and then check back.

Which isn’t quite as funny, but wasting an hour to make a page not found error resolve is just nonsensical. (If the page doesn’t exist, your prayers will do nothing to make it happen. One of the webmasters needs to actually upload that page.) There’s more! They took the time to (incorrectly) explain why 404s occur.

Why do 404 error messages occur?

Evil Democrat

Evil Democrat


The 404 Error message was created by an unholy menagerie of vile atheists, Democrats, liberals and Godless Soviets in the Year of our Lord 1992. We’re told through electronic pathogens and demonic incantation rituals, they managed to create ways to electronically limit the amount of lost souls and seekers of truth that ‘web servers’ could process in a given minute.

Though their machinations are evil and everlasting, through hope, prayer and clicking refresh you can eventually overcome these wicked limits during times when tens of thousands of people flock to ChristWire per hour to discover the works of True Christians.

Yes, that is indeed taken from ChristWire wherein any non-existent page will (hopefully) redirect you to that compendium of knowledge.

Christians: how can you take that? Do you wholeheartedly agree with ChristWire’s message? Or are you appalled at this blatant defamation of your faith via ignorance and hatred? If you find that this portrayal of your faith hurts Christians everywhere, send ChristWire a message via The Holy Mailbox.

By the way, as per Webopedia, the error that they incorrectly describe as a 404 is actually a 502 Service Temporarily OverloadedServer congestion; too many connections; high traffic. Keep trying until the page loads. Though I’m in doubt as to whether that has ever actually happened to them.

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