Monthly Archives: September 2017

Totality: Words fail. Pictures fail.

The best photo of a total eclipse you’ve ever seen doesn’t tell 1% of the story. The only way to communicate the reality is through digital processing technology. How very postmodern.

August 21, 2017: Easterbrook Campground, SE Wyoming.

This was my first total solar eclipse. To say it was life-changing … well, if you’ve seen totality you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I can’t explain it. And that’s the problem.

I’ve been a writer since 1979. I’ve spent the past five years growing steadily as a photographer. So in theory, it feels like there should be some means, some combination of words and images, by which I could communicate what I saw and how it affected to me.

But there isn’t. Words fail me. Pictures fail me.

Now, I’m used to words failing, That’s a curse every writer is all too familiar with, and it’s part of why I gave up poetry. But photography? If the issue were that I’m not good enough, fine. I’m still learning and am well aware of my shortcomings as a shooter. But there are millions of photographers out there better than me who have the best equipment you can buy, and they haven’t captured it, either. I didn’t realize that before August 21.

Like you, I’ve seen hundreds of photos of total eclipses, maybe thousands. I can now tell you, with absolute certainty, that every image of totality you’ve ever seen is a lie. A flat, washed out, uninspired lie. The best total eclipse photograph you have ever seen fails to capture one percent of the truth.


Here’s what I think I saw.

Up until the instant of totality, it looks just like the pictures. An eerie darkness falls around you, and it’s a strange spectrum of light you’ve never seen before. It’s not the darkness you’re used to – it’s like there’s some sort of not-quite-right filter over the light. Like the white has been sucked out, maybe? I can’t describe it any better than that.

At the moment of totality, though… Your breath catches. You may feel yourself yelling involuntarily. The same is happening to those around you.

First, the moon isn’t just a black disc like you’ve seen in photos. You can see its features in the foreground. It’s fully three dimensional, and the depth of field is staggering.

You notice that it doesn’t look exactly round. The sunlight bending around it highlights the irregular features of the surface – mountains, valleys, etc. – so that it looks kind of … rough and rectangular, lower left to upper right.

It seems so damned close. The whole show seems like it’s happening a hundred feet above the trees. It’s right there.

The yelling and exclamations continue. You may hear someone laughing. Or crying. You may be laughing and crying all at once yourself. And perhaps at no point in your life have you felt so inadequate at expressing what you feel.

The color – it’s almost reflective. The contrast around the corona is sort of a liquid amalgam. The sun’s light, which we’re used to being yellow, is brightest white. Unnaturally white. Pure white.

At this point somebody may have looked away for a second, then they start yelling – “look at the horizon!” You do. It’s a 360-degree sunset. No account I had ever read of totality mentioned this. It’s breathtaking.

At the moment totality breaks there’s that spot of light at the edge you’ve seen in a million photos. Except the photos can’t capture the reality – it’s like a spotlight from some celestial rock concert, a distilled white tightbeam focused squarely on the center of your pupil.

And now you have to look away and put your glasses back on. You may be feeling an overwhelming ambivalence – you’re on a high like nothing you’ve ever known, and you’re also let down because it’s over.

If you’re like me you may not be interested in looking up during the remainder of the eclipse because … you now know that it’s really nothing at all. The anticlimax is palpable – the waning of the show does little more than remind you of what it isn’t.

If you’re like me, you’re already feeling the need for another fix. Within an hour you’ll be wanting to know when the next total eclipse is. You don’t care where it is – you’ll get there.

Photography vs Photographic Art

I had taken a couple of photos with my iPhone prior to totality. I deleted them. Had I shot the event with my Nikon, I’d have deleted those, too. I’d have been unable to look at them without knowing how utterly I had failed. The thought of those shots depresses me.

Within minutes I was actively pondering what it would take to produce an image that accurately communicated the full truth of the moment. What was clear was that simple photography wouldn’t do it. If it could, I’d have seen the shot by now.

Lately, though … My photography has recently taken a turn deeper into the artistic woods. I’ve never been a photojournalist. I don’t have a realist or naturalist bone in my body. My work has always used the processing technology available to produce distinctly idealized versions of my subjects. Even better than the real thing, as a certain famous rock band might put it.

My workflow has in the past used Lightoom, Photoshop, occasionally Photomatix, and several filters in the Nik suite. Recently I added On1 Photo RAW to the mix and I routinely employ five to ten of its filters in a given shot, in addition to everything else. So it’s a relatively complex process, and the goal isn’t realism.

I have colleagues who very much are purists, though. We’ve had discussions over my techniques and the aesthetics behind them. I know that many people feel like a camera’s job is to show you what was there, period. Any enhancement is somehow dishonest in their eyes.

There’s a problem with this. For starters, just about every professional photo you see is processed, whether you know it or not. Some of the most “natural” shots have made ample use of technology to make them, well, look natural.

The reason for this is fairly obvious once you think about. Put simply, the camera isn’t an eye. More to the point, it isn’t an eye connected by a complex network of nerve fibers to an even more complex visual center in the brain. The camera isn’t an imagination and it has no intellectual or emotional context function.

This means the picture I snap, no matter how “realistic,” may come nowhere near representing what I saw. And what I want to communicate isn’t what the lensfinder saw, it’s what my mind saw. I want to communicate my reality, although at this point that term’s meaning is becoming problematic.

The upshot is a bit of wonderful postmodern irony: I produce something “real” by employing electronic tools for artificial processing.

In other words, art.

I want to create an image that communicates the totality I saw on August 21 in Easterbrook campground. So I’ve been considering how I might use photography as a jumping-off point for a work of photographic art that accomplishes what photography cannot.

I have some ideas, and I think I can do it. This is going to be challenging, though, because the totality I witnessed was transformational. It changed me, and I suspect others who have seen the full eclipse feel the same way.

If I manage to pull it off I’ll share it with you. Wish me luck.

Nebraska fires AD; somewhere Frank Solich is laughing his ass off

Because 10 wins isn’t good enough.

As a committed Husker Hater, I can’t stop laughing over this:

Nebraska fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst on Thursday, calling for a higher level of competitiveness five days after the Cornhuskers football team lost to Northern Illinois.

University chancellor Ronnie Green, who did not hire Eichorst, said in a statement that while Eichorst made positive contributions to the school, his “efforts have not translated into on-field performance.”

I always enjoy it when Nebraska loses. I mean, this was one of my favorite sports moments ever:

Husker_Child Crying

I know, I know. I’m a terrible person.

To the point, though. What makes NU’s ongoing futility so entertaining is how they got here. Remember Frank Solich? He was their football coach from 1998-2003, and during that time his teams won 58 games (four of them over my Buffs). After that last season they ran him off, though. He’d only won nine and by jiminy that wasn’t good enough for a legendary program like Nebraska. (That team won its bowl game, giving them a final record of 10-3.)

I think a lot of us Colorado fans were just fine seeing the back side of Frank Solich.

Since that decision, the Huskers have played 13 seasons (not counting this one) under three different coaches. During that span they have managed 10 wins only four times.

To review, then:

  • With Solich: Four 10-win seasons out of six (66%)
  • Since Solich: Four 10-win seasons out of 13 – and this year ain’t looking good (30%)
  • With Solich: 9.6 wins per year
  • Since Solich: 8.3 wins per year

Any questions?

Here’s hoping the legacy of stupid continues. Until the end of time.

Can the Caribbean survive?

What will the islands and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts look like in a generation?

Hurricane Maria climateI’m not a climate expert, so I want to tread cautiously here. That said, our recent spate of catastrophic weather has raised some uneasy questions in my mind.

As I write this Hurricane Maria is lashing Puerto Rico. It is, in the estimate of some officials, the worst storm in the island’s modern history. Catastrophic devastation is certain. Death is likely.

This has been a hellish hurricane season. Harvey pounded the Caribbean and Texas to the tune of billions of dollars in damage, leaving at least 165 dead along the way. Irma “caused catastrophic damage in Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla, and the Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane. As of September 19, the hurricane has caused at least 101 deaths, including 44 in the Caribbean and 57 in the United States.” Jose mercifully veered north, although it was threatening the northeast for a while, and after Sandy we know for sure that major storms aren’t just a southeastern thing anymore.

Climate can be a capricious thing, of course – it had been several years since the US mainland had been hit by a hurricane – but there is reason to fear that 2017 is a harbinger of the new normal. There is now debate among scientists as to whether it’s too late to do anything about climate change (Neil deGrasse Tyson this week placed himself in the too late camp) and if this is the case, hurricanes are a likely manifestation of Climate 2.0. More of them, and more powerful.

Which has me looking at what the last few weeks have done to the Caribbean. The Leeward Islands have been crushed. Puerto Rico is having its day right now. And we know that the rest of the region is simply waiting its turn. Cuba. Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Bermuda. Jamaica. Central America and Mexico.

And of course, the US mainland. In the age of the new normal nothing within 50 miles of the coast from North Carolina to Texas can feel safe, can it?

What if the parade of devastation we’ve seen this year becomes the rule instead of the exception? What if, late each summer, one aspiring Category 5 after another forms off the west coast of Africa and marches this way? What if the region has to hunker down, then emerge to count its dead and asses the economic damages once or twice (or three times, or four, or five) annually?

How many times can you clean up and rebuild?

I find myself wondering if the Caribbean can survive. If I lived there I know I’d already be considering how I might get to safer ground, although, since many of these areas are comparatively poor, it may not be possible for a lot of these citizens to escape.

Beyond this, I wonder the same kinds of things about US coastal areas. I don’t know that I think people are going to abandon Houston and Miami, but we saw an interesting stat as Harvey approached Texas: 80% of homes in the Houston area had no flood insurance. Which made me ask another question: if I ran an insurance company, would I write storm and flood policies for people in these areas?

Would I live there if I couldn’t get insurance? Could I live there knowing that it’s not if, but when?

I don’t have a lot of answers. Just questions. And as I watch hurricane season 2017 throwing one haymaker after another, the questions grow more dire.

Point/Counterpoint on Medicare-for-All: @Doc argues with himself

There’s been a lot of attention in recent days about the “Medicare-for-All” bill introduced by Bernie Sanders, and the reaction I’m seeing on social media is interesting.

Point-CounterpointPeople keep posting notes wanting me to tell my Dem Congressperson to support the bill. They want me to encourage Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to support the bill. Tell this Dem to support the bill, tell that Dem to support the bill.

I found myself in a pointed argument with myself about the Sanders bill this morning. Here’s the transcript.

Point: @Doc

You dumbasses realize that there are still Republicans in Washington, right? And that one of them is president, and that a bunch more hold voting majorities in both houses on Capitol Hill? And that every single Democrat could light his/her hair on fire in support of the bill and it wouldn’t matter because no Republican will vote for such a measure even if Jesus shows up and tells them to?

You want Medicare for everybody? You’re going to need the White House, the Senate and Congress. And probably the Supreme Court, too, because if the law passes there will without question be some sort of ginned-up legal challenge funded by the people who brought you $400 aspirin on your last hospital stay.

So maybe that’s a better place to focus your energy.

Counterpoint: @Doc

Sam, you ignorant slut. Bernie Sanders knows full well his bill has no chance. Not in this Congressional session, at least. His bill isn’t about now, it’s about the future, in two ways.

First, it paves the way. It gets the conversation on the radar. Thanks to him, this will be a talking point from now until a single-payor measure becomes law. And the more people talk about it, the more normal it becomes to talk about it, and the less radical the idea seems. This is especially true since it doesn’t propose a new program. It merely seeks to expand a program that everyone knows, that every family in America already relies on or eventually will, and that we know works. It’s by far the most efficient healthcare delivery system we have, and this all makes it a far easier path to tread, legislatively speaking, than some hypothetical new BernieCare system.

Second, what Bernie is doing is a clever political ploy. At this point, it’s less about the law and more about picking teams. The bill, and the activity you see on social media, is all about forcing Democratic reps to get on board. A bright light will be shone on those who refuse, and that allows us to focus laser-like on making clear they need to get on the bus or we’ll find someone else who will.

In other words, this is a wedge bill aimed at strengthening the hand of the party’s progressive wing.

So pay attention and start contacting Congresspeople like your Facebook friends tell you to.

Its time to rid the English language of it’s outdated grammar and punctuation rules

Grammar nazis may not like it, but many of our language rules are artifacts of ancient languages that no longer serve a meaningful purpose.

I’ve been a writer since the ’70s. I’ve written poetry, fiction, academic, business, political and entertainment pieces. I’ve written for print, broadcast, online, social and mobile. I’ve been responsible for ~2,300 posts at S&R alone (although not all of those were writing – there has been some photography along the way, as well).

I have an undergrad minor in English, an MA in English and a PhD in Communications. I’ve studied lit – lots of lit – composition, creative writing and historical linguistics.

I’ve taught writing at the undergrad and graduate levels – English, comp, marketing and business, you name it.

Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to become an expert at a given thing, and my best guess is that I’ve probably spent twice that amount of time writing.

My point? I know a bit about writing and the English language. Not everything by a long shot, but I do feel I have, at the least, a moderately educated opinion. I’m not a lock-down grammarian like some I know, but I have an ear for things and a deeply informed understanding of what works, what’s efficient, what’s fluid, and what the rules are.

And I stand before you today to offer a modest proposal: Resolved – that we keepers of the sanctity of the language need to let go of some of our most deeply cherished pet peeves. You probably have some peeves of your own and when people violate them it drives you buggy. We all do. But let’s breathe deeply for a moment and ponder the actual value these technicalities have in our lives.

I don’t have time to address all the cases I can think of, but let me use three examples to illustrate my point:

  • there/their/they’re
  • its/it’s
  • you’re/your

Specifically, I propose that the three former cases be replaced by “ther,” to be used interchangeably in all instances. Also, that we kill off “it’s” and use “its” in all instances. Finally, I don’t care how we spell it – I’m good with “yor” – but we need to stop making a big deal about that last one, as well.

Why? You know how your mom would occasionally misspeak and you’d call her on it and she’d say “you know what I meant”? Right. You might write “the dog chased it’s ball,” and I might correct you, but I know what you meant. And that’s the purpose of language: to convey meaning and information, not technicalia arising from ancient rules in proto-languages nobody has ever heard of.

In short: language serves us, not the other way around.

Some linguistic history explains what I’m on about. Sorta.

English, and most of the languages spoken in the Western world today, evolved from a couple branches on the Indo-European tree. German and English, for instance, derived from Old High Germanic, while Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese come to us courtesy of ancient Latin. Along the way English got hijacked by French (courtesy of William the Conqueror), which explains why we have so much Romantic influence on modern English.

Those ancient forebears of our current languages were highly inflected. That is, you’d have root forms of words and a number of endings for tense, singular/plural and the like. If you had all the forms correct, word order probably didn’t matter. In Latin, for instance, you can jumble the words up but the sentence is still comprehensible.

We still have remnants of this functionality in English today. Think about how we conjugate verbs. I run, you ran. I think, you think, he thinks. Arise, arose, arisen. See what I mean?

The thing is, modern English isn’t an inflected language, it’s a synthetic one. This means that while we may still have inflections, our ability to understand meaning relies instead on context and word order. If I write “John run to the house,” you’d know I was saying “John ran to he house” (a lot of people speak this way as it is).

Have a look at this and see if you can sort it out.

Everything direct winter way the to superlative its the good the far was going going authorities darkness before it nothing foolishness belief degree so the us spring only being the before or was age like epoch hope despair all we of epoch of of season was of the for direct the worst for was it light incredulity short of was period it was times comparison its of season it the us period we had was of Heaven it were was of best it in it the we the of we had the some of was were of the present wisdom it all on other in it of evil times insisted was the was age noisiest the it received that.

Literature students might recognize the opening sentence of Tale of Two Cities, but if you didn’t know the passage enough to maybe tweak on a couple specific words, you’d be lost.

The upshot is that our language today incorporates all kinds of artifacts from earlier incarnations of English when the forms were necessary to convey meaning clearly. Now, though, they’re useless appendages we have evolved beyond beyond which we have evolved. These sentences are perfectly comprehensible:

  • Bob and Sally picked up they’re new puppy this morning.
  • The puppy pounced on it’s new toy.
  • The man your looking for is standing over their.
  • Its a beautiful morning, isnt it?
  • Ther goes the smartest kid on campus.

It isn’t like we don’t do this sort of thing every day already. For instance, in this sentence:

Bob and Sally tried to teach the puppy not to bark.

Did you see that last word and get confused about whether it meant the outer layer of a tree trunk?

Is “read” present tense or plural and how do you know?

The tailor is hairy but the furrier is furrier.

Hopefully you get the idea by now. If not, I can go on all day. English is probably the biggest mutt of a language in the world, and many of our forms, usage strictures, punctuation and spelling rules serve no practical purpose.

Beyond, perhaps, allowing that the actual value of an English teacher is nothing more than grammar nazi, or perhaps as a marker of social status?

Think about. Let me know what you conclude.

I’m passionate about job hunting

You can’t make this stuff up. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

I once sat in a meeting and listened as one of our veeps said, and I quote: “I have a real passion for process enhancement.”

I’m trying to imagine what it’s like being in bed with a woman whose passions run toward process enhancement.

Anyhow, I’ve been doing some job hunting lately. And marveling at the things you find in these ads. Some are simply clumsy or overwrought. Like these:

With ______’s signature process, we extract and create highly compelling content, then skillfully package and distribute it in the form of in-person and digital experiences, cross-platform writings, and media coverage of such innate value that influencers, prospective and current customers, and other stakeholders willingly exchange their support, engagement and/or patronage in return.

Well, okay. As long as they do it willingly.

The Copy Writer, needs a flair for partnering to translate inputs into impeccably organized and well- conceived creative solutions.

I applaud them for understanding that they do, in fact, need a copywriter.

There are also some … themes … that make me worry about our nation’s HR professionals. 

Our client is passionate about building smart property insurance solutions that help adjusters and contractors confidently assess inspection data and automate repair scope…


You’re passionate about the power of the marketplace to connect people and you’re fluent in the technologies and strategies that define and shape the modern marketing world.

Passionate? I get wood over the power of the marketplace to connect people.

Do you have a passion for enterprise cloud technology?

My nipples get stiff just thinking about it.

Got a burning desire to sell barbells?

Ummm. You might want to get that burning looked at.

Are you passionate about crafting customer-centric integrated marketing strategies that drive revenue?

For passionate people looking for autonomy and exciting career opportunities, _______ truly has something special inside.

________ is a high growth, Denver-based startup that is redefining vacation rental management and we’re looking for a smart, passionate, and entrepreneurial individual to join us.

We’re currently looking for a relationship-driven, deadline-juggling, PR genius brimming with creative energy and passion to lead our burgeoning internal PR efforts.

Are you marketing automation guru, with a passion for data, looking to make a direct impact on the success of a company?

I second what Inigo said.

Once more, into the breach….

Dr. Sammy’s Italian sangria recipe

Italian-Sangria-recipeThis is the best sangria I’ve ever had.

The other night I was in the mood for sangria, but we were having pasta. I found myself wondering if there were such a thing as Italian sangria. So I hit teh Googles. Duh. There’s lots of recipes for Italian sangria.

Nothing looked quite right to me, though. So I took the parts that sounded good from three or four of them and decided to mash up my own little Frankensangria recipe.

Read more

What Happened: Hillary Clinton blames everybody, but it’s a clearcut case of both/and

Hillary-Clinton-What-HappenedWe Americans tend to see binaries. Right and wrong. Black and white. For us or ag’in us. Either/or. But in this case, the truth is both/and. Clinton’s What Happened is right. Her critics are right.

A lot of Democrats wish Hillary Clinton would shut up and go away. Hillary has a new book, and she clearly has no intention of shutting up or going away.

“The best thing she could do is disappear,” said one former Clinton fundraiser and surrogate who played an active role at the convention. “She’s doing harm to all of us because of her own selfishness. Honestly, I wish she’d just shut the f— up and go away.”

Since her loss, Clinton has taken fire from both sides of the aisle for what’s seen as her refusal to acknowledge her own role in her campaign’s defeat.

She has blamed Russian hackers, sexism and former FBI Director James Comey for her defeat. But she has proven less vocal about flaws in her own campaign.

Is she right? Although investigations are still under way, it seems likely (based on the theory that where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there’s a lot of smoke, and also the Trump Crime Family is as stupid and corrupt as the night is long) that Russia played a role in helping Trump. If I were her I’d be righteously disenchanted with Comey, as well. And there is zero debate as to the role of misogyny in her unpopularity. A huge amount of the Hillary hate is driven by sexism – I can’t quantify how much, exactly, but I wouldn’t argue if you said more than 90%. As bad as she is – and make no mistake, I think she was a horrible candidate – if she were a man the reaction to her would have been on a par with any other bought-up Democratic apparatchik (as long as said apparatchik was white, of course).

So it is more than fair to say that Clinton has a point.

On the other hand, it is more than fair to say, as I note above, that she was a deeply flawed candidate. While she is not without accomplishments by a long shot, a number of charges having nothing to do with gender may objectively be laid at her feet. In a fit of frustration with certain of her supporters last March, I noted the following:

  • She voted for George Bush’s illegal war on Iraq, a mistake for which there was no excuse. That war left up to, and perhaps more than 200,000 civilians dead.
  • She supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And then backtracked. If you liked the TPP, fine – make the case. But it was a position which was wildly at odds with what many Dems believed in, and thus criticism of her on the issue was fair game.
  • She doesn’t think we need to bring back Glass-Steagall – which her husband helped kill and which paved the way for the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression.
  • She supported – or maybe not – the Keystone Pipeline. Again, it was hard to tell, and this sort of waffling is not a candidate’s greatest quality.
  • Her eventual support for marriage equality was preceded by 20 years or so of unambiguous opposition to it (and it’s fair to argue that she flipped on the issue only once the polls hit a tipping point).
  • She has a record of being neo-Con/hawkish even by Republican standards.
  • She’s a big fan of war criminal Henry Kissinger.
  • She supported the Patriot Act.
  • She praised Nancy Reagan on AIDS. She later apologized, but WTF? Is this really something a presidential candidate couldn’t be expected to get right in the first place?
  • She has a long history of – and forgive me for using Dubya’s cynical term here – flip-flopping, and all too often the about-faces seem to coincide with broad shifts in the polls. A caveat here, though. One might actually argue that this is one of Clinton’ better qualities, that she listens to the people. Sticking to your guns and staying the course and not changing horses in mid-stream when it becomes clear things have changed is not a virtue. So I’m willing to entertain discussion on this one.
  • She took a lot of cash from Wall St. and as such we might be suspicious about her commitment to getting the financial sector under control. After all, these aren’t people who dish out millions for the privilege of being brought to heel.
  • Finally, in every way I can see, she is unarguably to the right of Richard Nixon. She is what we would have called, back in the early 1970s, a mainline Republican.

I think more broadly – and this admittedly gets into the vague warm fuzzies of politicking – it can also be fairly charged that she had no real vision for her presidency. There were plenty of reasons to vote against Trump, but comparatively fewer to vote for her. There’s certainly nothing wrong with using your opponent’s shortcomings as campaign fodder – you’d be insane not to, in Sideshow Don’s case – but it’s also true that voters like being inspired. They’re motivated by the sense that they’re moving toward better days. As a certain other candidate once demonstrated, people will vote for hope.

Did Clinton ever offer hope?

In other words, Clinton is right to point out the forces that kneecapped her campaign. Without Russia, Comey and the fact that America has deep-seated issues with women she would very likely be president right now.

And those who now wish she’d shut the fuck up and go away are also right to criticize her for running a weak campaign. She was running against the most appalling candidate, perhaps, in the history of American politics (I say perhaps because I can’t quite get the genocidal Andrew Jackson out of my head). Had she been able to muster any sort of positive message at all, she would have won in a cakewalk.

Had she even tried to address the very real concerns of Sanders supporters, she may well have won. Should they have set aside their rage against the mainstream machine that is the modern Democratic party and done whatever was necessary to prevent our current dumpster fire of a presidency from becoming reality? Maybe, but it’s easy to read that laundry list above and see how people starved for meaningful change might be a bit uninspired by a candidate who promised more of the same, forever and ever, amen.

We Americans tend to see binaries. Right and wrong. Black and white. For us or ag’in us. Either/or. But in this case, the truth is both/and. Clinton is right. Her critics are right.

The real question before us right now – maybe the only question – is how best to approach the 2018 midterms and the crucial 2020 general. From where I stand, I can’t see how Clinton is helping.Hillary-Clinton-What-Happened-book.jpg

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