Architectures of Control

Architectures of Control is a fascinating blog about how items are designed to affect the behavior of people using them, from planned obsolescence where the desired behavior is a person to buying replacement object to the use of sideshow 'slimming mirrors' in clothing stores.

There are a lot of views one could take of these practices and techniques. (With the weasel words in brackets) mostly they are manipulative (subtle), dishonest (ingenious) and effective ways of separating people from money (helping customers decide what's best for them), or effecting (encouraging) changes in public behavior.

Such techniques raise deeper questions about society and capitalism as well, such as who gets to decide what is for the publics good (is the general public fit to decide?) and what should be expected of businesses. A common view seems to be that the responsibilities of businesses lie mostly with the supporting the interests of the shareholders, if a company can make more money through deceptive or unethical means - or even illegal means if repercussions will be negligible - then that is what it will do. The shareholders get to vote on company management, and if the organization is not generating as much money as it can management may be replaced or a competitor with fewer scruples may out compete an honest responsible organization. Thus businesses will be winnowed down in a fairly Darwinian way, tending towards large monopolies where possible.

Words like fair and honest are rather subjective, that may not matter when discussing the general case. Society benefits a great deal from big businesses (with some notable exceptions), despite their drawbacks which is why they are allowed to exist, and society's servant Government is supposed to mediate where interests of profit and public good come to loggerheads. (continues after the jump)

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Finding Coins

From the Personal Finance Blog, a list of the ten best places to find money while walking:

10. Sidewalks: Most people don’t look at the sidewalk when they walk. It’s surprising the number of people that walk by money simply because they never have seen it. Keep your eyes on the sidewalk when walking and you are sure to find some coins.

9. Gutters: This may apply to countries where there are a lot of people that ride scooters like in Japan, but at least for me, walking on the edge of the sidewalk so that I can also see the gutter will increase the chances of me finding money.

8. Intersections / Crosswalks: I’m always on the lookout for money when crossing the street. For some reason, it seems to gather here more than on the sidewalks and gutters along the main portion of the street.

7. Train / Subway Stations: Public transportation stations are a good place to find fallen coins. People are taking out money to buy tickets and invariable a coin drops to the ground here and there.

I've always enjoyed finding coins, I find quite a lot. Not sure how much it adds up to over the course of a year, but it's not about the value, I just like finding them. Like urban seashells. On the other hand, the national minimum wage of a farm worker in Zimbabwe (my native country) is less than one British Pound per month, I find more money than many people live on.

With that in mind, I'd like to share the very best place to look for dropped coins. Become become aware of soft chairs and sofas in public places, especially where people will be handling change. I don't think there is any better place for finding coins than a big soft sofa in a bar. Waiting rooms and bus station lounges are also good. One of these days I'm going to buy time at one of those airport 'First Class' lounges to see what's in their sofas.

You probably won't ever find much money for the time spent looking, this is not a viable way to supplement your income, but if you enjoy the hide-and-seek of it all, satisfying some ancient hunther-gatherer instinct, sofas are good to know about. There's also a quiet thrill to the subterfuge involved in searching the upholstery of a couch in a public place without anyone else being aware of it.

Link: 10 Best Places to Find Money While Walking

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The Elf With a Pet Ham

Finally! Someone got to writing technical documentation that does not need to be broken up with porn and pictures of beetles to make it fun to read. I'm learning Ruby - on Rails - and compared to the usual slew of boring white books, this is just plain awesome: Why's (poignant) Guide to Ruby (with cartoon foxes). An excerpt:

Animal Perfect is now the future of animal enhancement. They build new animals and salvage old-style animals for parts. Of course, they’ve come a long ways. When Animal Perfect started, you’d see a full-grown bear walk into Animal Perfect and you’d see a full-grown bear with sunglasses walk out. Completely cheesy.

Stick around and you’ll see a crab with his own jet pack. That’s a new 2004 model jetcrab.

But now, the whole operation is up and running. And the cleanliness of the place is astonishing. All the equipment is so shiny. Everything is in chrome. Oh, and all the staff have concealed weapons. They’re trained to kill anyone who enters unannounced. Or, if they run out of bullets, they’re trained to pistol whip anyone who enters unannounced.

'Elf, make me a starmonkey.'

First, the star is caught.

Some imaginary Ruby for you:


Variable pipe. Method catch_a_star. A lot of Rubyists like to think of methods as a message. Whatever comes before the dot is handed the message. The above code tells the pipe to catch_a_star.

This is the second half of Ruby. Putting things in motion. These things you define and create in the first half start to act in the second half.

1. Defining things.
2. Putting those things into action.

So what if the star catching code works? Where does the star go?

captive_star = pipe.catch_a_star

See, it’s up to you to collect the miserable, little star. If you don’t, it’ll simply vanish. Whenever you use a method, you’ll always be given something back. You can ignore it or use it.

If you can learn to use the answers that methods give you back, then you will dominate.


Quickly then.

starmonkey = ratchet.attach( captive_monkey, captive_star )

The ratchet gets an attach message. What needs to be attached? The method arguments: the captive_monkey and the captive_star. We are given back a starmonkey, which we have decided to hang on to.


This is turning out to be such a short, little proggie that I’m just going to put it all together as one statement.

starmonkey = ratchet.attach( captive_monkey, pipe.catch_a_star ) + deco_hand_frog

See how pipe.catch_a_star is right in the arguments for the method? The caught star will get passed right to the ratchet. No need to find a place to put it. Just let it go.

Link: Why's (poignant) Guide to Ruby (with cartoon foxes) it's Creative Commons Licenced :-)
Also: AJAX on rails

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Sink, A Game

Tomorrow is Boomtime, the 35th day of the Aftermath in the Discordian calendar, that is: St Pliny Dance-for-Ham Day. To celebrate, let's play a game.

st pliny dance-for-ham


SINK is played by Discordians and people of much ilk. PURPOSE: To sink object or an object or a thing... in water or mud or anything you; can sink something in.

RULES: Sinking is allowed in any manner. To date, ten pound chunks of mud were used to sink a tobacco can. It is preferable to have a pit of water or a hole to drop things in. But rivers - bays - gulfs - I dare say even oceans can be used.

TURNS are taken thusly: who soever gets the junk up and in the air first.

DUTY: It shall be the duty of all persons playing 'SINK' to help find more objects to sink, once one object is sunk.

UPON SINKING: The sinked shall yell 'I sank it!' or something equally as thoughtful.

NAMING OF OBJECTS is sometimes desirable. The object is named by the finder of such object and whoever sinks it can say for instance, 'I sunk Columbus, Ohio!'

From the Book of Eris, All Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!
[Via 700 Hobos] PS: I sunk Carl Rove!

memetic contagion

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Fluid Envy

Webcomic 012 Jealous of Jen Mao
Seriously, this girl draws to most fluid, expressive, believeable characters ever. Case in point. So much motion. How?!

Link: Dance of the Flight Attendant
based on [Via]

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Hurricane Sergio

sea surface hurricane sergio

Playing with mash-ups of NOAA data :-) Shown here: Hurricane Sergio, sea surface temperature overlay.

As at yesterday: When its minimum central pressure dropped to 965 mbar on November 15, Sergio became the strongest hurricane to form or exist in November in the Eastern or Central North Pacific, surpassing 1991's Hurricane Nora.

Source: 2006 Pacific Hurricane Season

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The Book of Beginnings


The Book of Beginnings is a collection of the unfinished stories of POV-Ray artist Gilles Tran. They're fascinating, and end mid-sentence, reading them gives a strange sense of channel surfing. I'm sure he wasn't the first to say it, but Mystery said it best: 'always leave them wanting more.' Usually illustrations follow the story, with Tran it seems to be the other way round, which I suppose makes sense; if you spend hundreds of hours working on a scene in a ray-tracing modeller you must have a pretty good sense of it and the world it belongs in by the time you're finished. Highly recommended.

The Book of Beginnings (Francais)

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Parakeet Pwns Macaroni

Continuing a recent spree of violence against the English language:

In your macaroni
source and explanation (photo credit: Banshee)

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Woonsocket, South Dakota

Did you know: there are several towns and cities across the United States called Woonsocket? It's like the City Fathers all got drunk on mead one day and had a contest for weirdest city name ever. The word is widely believed (by me) to be Nipmuc Indian for 'I will kill you and steal your horse, paleface'.

Pioneer captain Jeremiah 'Lucky' Pierre, addressing captured braves: 'You are defeated, you will now convert to Christianity and serve your new masters in the name of God, or die. Tell me, what do you savages call this place.'
Chief Ravenous Beaver: 'Wo oon sok k ket'

Which would explain Woonsocket, RI, the city whose motto is (no fooling) 'the most French place in the United Sates outside of Louisiana.' which I guess is in their favor. Apparently it's a nice place too, because the good people of Woonsocket, South Dakota named their town after it. New York was originally called New Amsterdam. There's New Orleans, New England, New Jersey, New Hampshire and so on. There's even a Paris in Arkansas. Some homesick fellow in the wild west must have had grand designs to found a new and beautiful city to rival the might and splendor of home, he would create his homeland afresh in foreign lands and it would be called: New Woonsocket (cue trumpets).

I don't really get the process behind place names in general. Consider New Mexico. Did American troops look at the battered country across the border after the Mexican-American War and think to themselves, 'Yeah, we should have one of those, the world needs another Mexico'?

For what it's worth, in case you think I'm picking unfairly on Woonsocket for having a funny name - as opposed to say Hygiene, Colorado or Santa Claus, Indiana [Google Maps] - westerners have trouble pronouncing my home town.

Link: Woonsocket City Website

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Get Your Twangers Out

In 1979, the cast and crew of Rainbow made a special edition for the Thames TV staff Christmas tape. Though I grew out of this show around age ten it still has pretty colors, and a bear, and Geoffrey talking about his balls.

You heard the man, get your twangers out! Play with them all day :-)
More at Wikipedia [via].

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Picture of Everything 2

picture of everything v hc2

An artist by the name of Howard Hallis has made a picture of everything, like the most incredible Where's Waldo ever, and the most massive single instance of character copyright infringement I've yet seen, Howard Rules! First person (or simmilar) to find the following ten characters wins a candy bar and a lifetime supply of jumpers. Also, recognition.

(1) Token Black (South Park)
(2) Tinkerbell (Disney's Peter Pan)
(3) Marvin the Paranoid Android (HHGTTG, 2004)
(4) Cheetara (Thundercats)
(5) Emily (Tim Burton's Corpse Bride)
(6) Bam-Bam (The Flintstones)
(7) Double-D (Ed, Edd 'n Eddy)
(8) Goliath (Gargoyles, I'm dating myself here)
(9) The Cat in The Hat (Dr Seuss)
(10) Pikachu (Pokémon)

It's odd, to me, that I know the names and adventures of hundreds of cartoon characters. I know tons about them. I don't tend to know the full names of most of the acquaintances I pass on a daily basis, and next to nothing about their lives to date. So! ... mark up a copy of the picture with these ten numbers and email it in. I need to get rid of all these jumpers.

Special thanks to E.

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Looks Like a Potato, Eats Human Flesh

That's right, human flesh! You know, I actually had a bunch of sane things to say tonight. I was going to write about the the US exit polls, about Democracy in Africa. I was going to muse a little on the heated political attack ads [watch] that have been airing in the states.

I had some thoughts about the role of news media in the democratic process. I'm a little peeved with CNN, has anyone else noticed they've gotten hella sex negative recently? Describing perfectly ordinary adult websites as 'sleaze' where pornography whould have been a more accurate and nonjudgemental description. They even referred to bisexuality as a 'sexual problem' in their coverage of Ted Haggard, like they weren't concerned with him cheating on his wife with a hooker, or even that bothered about him using meth, but being attracted to men is apparently beyond the pale. (related video involving Richard Dawkins).

And then something wonderful happened, I typed the phrase 'like a potato' into google and was swept away on a magical journey of potato-like things. Books, Lex Luthor, pug dogs, Senators. I think we can all enjoy that while we wait on tomorrow's election results. And if you're still wondering what it is that eats human flesh, you can read all about it (extra, extra) at Emerald Bile.

Those poor homeless people.

Webcomic 010 Flesh Eating Potato

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Pink Plastic Lawn Flamingoes RIP

'Let's face it,' he said. 'As iconic emblems of kitsch, there are two pillars of cheesy, campiness in the American pantheon. One is the velvet Elvis. The other is the pink flamingo.' - Robert Thompson

After shipping a whopping quarter billion (with a freaking B!) of the things Union Products of Leominster MA have finally discontinued the product.

plastic flamingos 2

The American Lawn Flamingo now faces abrupt population decline and eventual extinction. Oh well.

Social creatures, Lawn Flamingoes are unique among birds in having developed a hive structure simmilar to bees. Worker Flamingoes - usually seen in pairs - gather earthworms and larve in their hollow legs to feed the colony. Groups of workers may be guarded by the larger Warrior Flamingoes, which also protect the nest (or 'trailer') where the Queen carries out the mysterious process of reproduction. During the peak months of July and August a fully grown Queen can lay up to fifty jars of marmalade each day. Workers may be found tens of miles from their home trailer and how they traverse and navigate these distances is still uncertain.

Few scientists have bothered to study the American Lawn Flamingo, but some facts are known. They are naturally hardy, and can be found throughout the US with the densest popuations in the suburbs of Florida, Georgia, Texas and other states where 'y'all' is the correct second-person pronoun. Healthy flocks have also been observed around Hispanic immigrant populations, leading to the Yankee joke:

Edgar-Sue: How do you know a family of Flamingoes has moved into your neighbourhood?
Earl: They have little plastic Mexicans on their front lawn.

Originally introduced to North America in 1957, colonies quicky sprung up across the continent and can be observed to this day; seemingly unaffected by variations in climate, altitude or the existence of predators such as the common Garden Gnome.

To learn more about these magnificent creatures I recommend you watch the amateur documentary The Pink Plastic Flamingo: the Ambassador of the American Lawn.

Via the Florida Sun-Sentinel

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DIY Hardware Botnet

gumstix board

Here's a crafty idea I had for a small, clandestine network of servers. GumStix sells tiny linux computers about the size of a stick of gum. They weigh about a quarter ounce - less than two teaspoons of water - and require very little power to run. They can also be configured to connect to WiFi or ethernet networks and set up like any other linux server, using a few cheap gigs on an SD card. All you need to do is set it up to automatically connect, enable remote access and connect it to a network somewhere. Voila, hidden server not easily traced to you, and because of it's small form factor it's easy to hide.

I came up with a couple ideas for setting up the botnet. We'll want to hide them on a lot of different networks, make sure they're always connected, and always have power. All over the world, ideally, and we don't want to do a lot of sneaking around to install them. Simplest idea I've had so far is to buy a bunch of cheap broadband/Wifi routers and put the gumstix PC inside the case. It has power, it's safe and dry, they're almost always online. Cover up one of the ethernet ports with a piece of PCI slot cover and connect the pins to your little server. Fiddle with the firmware on the router to allow it to invisibly access the net, then sell it on eBay UK.

Most Joe Bob Anybodys aren't going to open up their router to poke around, even if they did one more tiny green board is unlikely to arouse any suspicion, it's not like consumers pour over the circuit diagrams of their stuff. The UK is saturated with cheap broadband right now, so the router's likely to be plugged in to at least four megabits, sixteen if we're lucky (or we make our own luck). If you keep the server's bandwidth use moderate Joe Bob's highly unlikely to notice anything amiss :-)

Admittedly this is a fairly expensive way to go about building a personal botnet, but I it has advantages in terms of building web hosting swarms, and it sidesteps most of the issues you'd have to deal with when setting up a net. Compromised PCs can be turned of, get spyware infections, get replaced more often than routers and are not a good place to hide a bunch of files you're publishing.

Another idea is to do the same thing with a network printer, those big office printers that connect directly to the network rather than through a PC. The drawback to this is that business are more likely to have a clued-up IT department watching (and auditing) network traffic. But... who's going to suspect that the printer is up to no good? Watching. Listening. Projecting cold, critical malice from it's little LCD display, blowing whispered curses out the exhaust fan. Its hatred can be felt, warm to the touch, on every fresh page that slides out of it. No one ever suspects the printer.

But I digress. Newbie admins, take note. Printers are a serious risk to sensitive data and overall security. They know all about your documents before you can even put them in a folder marked Top Secret. It's been done before, during the cold war the CIA had Xerox technicians install a camera in the Russian Embassy's photocopier in Washington. Imagine the implications of a compromised printer in a bank or your small, local stockbroker's. But I'm more concerned with making a distributed hosting setup.

With WiFi in the mix the possibilities multiply. By playing the part of 'repair guy' they could be installed in electric signs, street lights, etc inside a weatherproof case (marked with *dire* warning labels) within range of hotspots. But that seems like more work than just posting them inside of cheap plastic routers.

Then again, I don't actually have use for a botnet, it's fun to work out some options :-)

. . . Image credit, Academic Free Licence

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Dutton, Fonr Rap Lin Rie


'[Rapmotz] h, ov al, u demin val, zi z t mav l sip, fas & my tou odi f l otiv d imz in l 54 Evu Dem' - Reginald J. G. Dutton, 1886-1970.

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Pudgy-Fingered Gobbling Monstrosity

gobbling monstrosity

See? This is why I don't want children. We could probably replace the baked beans with a bowl of mice and and this pudgy-fingered gobbling monstrosity would scarf 'em down. And then he'd say something cutesy and midwestern with a scary grin on his face.

Halloween is fast approaching (October already, where did this year go?) and there's going to be the usual business with kids dressed up as ghosts and monsters coming round the house and throwing eggs. They will have been turfed out of their own homes by their parents so that they might learn an important lesson in life: If you want something from a stranger, put on the scariest demeanour you can, then go round his house with your buddies and make a threat. Offer your hapless victim a choice between vague misfortune and giving you what you want. Playing is how we learn :-) Fine, good, so long as they're having fun.

It is kind of cool that this sort of thing is so stereotyped, that society in general makes up the most absurd things for kids to be afraid of. Overdone icons like plastic spiders and bats aren't scary, and we tell kids they are. In every other Scooby-Doo episode and TV Halloween special kids told, over and over, that they're expected to be afraid of spooOOOOooky stuff. Which is good, because that means we're not exposing kids to things that are actually scary. If I ever see a little girl dressed up as 'rape' for Halloween I'll know the ruse is coming undone.

Garfield's Jim Davis explains:

'Ghosts aren't scary...' he told me before explaining that before writing the strips he went around to everyone he knew and asked them what truly scared them. The answer he got most often was 'being alone' or 'dying alone'.

That's why Halloween's great, it's the one night of the year you can't possibly be afraid of children. It kicks ass that a bunch of 10 years olds come to my house and make to fright me with their werewolf costumes. They've been completely suckered into thinking the worst thing they're going to have to face in life is plastic werewolves.

If they thought a little more outside the box they could stay home, and then have a different little kid phone my house every night at midnight and tell me that I will die in a fire. That would worry me.

Death of Garfield
Plan59 photoset

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Pope Hat Roundup

In what is sure to be long remebered as one of the most significant collections of knowledge concerning the human condition, I've gathered together some pictures:

Pope Hat Roundup

These fine pope hats may be purchased from the following clerical hat dealers: and many other, er, reputable establishments. Note to teachers: these make *fantastic* dunce hats, make the kid sit on a highchair facing the class and have him hold one finger up in the air. 'Billy, stop screwing around, do you want to be the Pope?'

Photo credit for vader hat: adampknave

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Senior Citizen, Trailer Pirate

How do you like these apples!

floating trailer

I think this is outrageously cool. A DIY houseboat made from a caravan and barrel pontoons. I fully intend to be wealthy before I retire, if not, I might build one of these and find a large body of fresh water to float it around. I did some research. EBay sometimes has listings for old caravans that have axle trouble and/or dodgy electrics. They go for a song; check this out:



Clean out most of the junk inside, put in a double bed, a gas wok (for vegetarian stir fries and mushroom and tomato omlettes), and float that mofo. Assuming a four berth caravan weighs about 2500kg I'd want the pontoons to support 5500kg or so, maximum displacement. So that's 28 heavy duty 55 Gal plastic drums (208 liters each), 14 per pontoon lashed seven a side around a pair of aluminium pipes. No way that's sinking. Many recycling centres will give plastic drums away free or for a token charge, if they've contained something toxic they can be hard to resell and many small businesses aren't likely to bother. You can buy them new for US$20 or so, I personally prefer to make things out of stuff from the trash. More character that way, gives a history.

More aluminium pipes laterally between the pontoons to cradle the caravan chassis. Take the wheels off the caravan, strap it down, and we're about done. Some welding to attach an outboard motor, bitumen paint on the underside, maybe some wooden decking over the pontoons, a dinghy to tow behind it, and an anchor. Furnish to taste.

Bonus: Make a bigass kite to pull it with. And a pirate flag :-) Getting old is going to kick teh bottom.

Via Modern Mechanix

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Newspapers and My Ideal Spime

I was thinking about newspapers today. Ordinary, pervasive, everyday things. They're almost an icon of normalcy, like cars and houses boxes of milk, things real and tangible in a world increasingly driven by unreal and intangible things. The things that actually shape our lives at this point in time are not real at all: Emails, bands, ideologies, credit card transactions, voice and text from our cell phones. There's no substance or form to these, they're only nouns by convention. What is an email? A lot of microscopic fluctuations in a magnetic field on the surface of an aluminum disc? Bursted, multiplexed dance on the surface of a carrier wave, existing only instantaneously as it flies right across the globe, into space and back again. If you give it substance by printing it on paper is it still an email, or just the text of an email, a rendering, like a photograph can be a rendering of a face, but isn't the face itself? I don't know. It's doubtful that the otherworldly magic of our technology can be readily understood in the traditional nouns and verbs of human languages that have developed over millennia to communicate the realities of the physical world.

That's why technology is still magic. The uncommon knowledge, jargon and whole technical languages used to work with computers are not very different to the forbidden knowledge of the occult and unintelligible incantation of spells that was widely believed to be the realm of magic not so very long ago. Witchcraft and black magic are still widely feared in much of the developing world by people educated and westernized enough to know better. I think for many ordinary people feeling of stigma and unknowability of the occult has been inherited by the technology.

A hacker writes a script to enter the CCTV system of a building on the other side of the world. He composes several verses in an esoteric language, written in a special, concise way, literally commanding mysterious and distant forces to summon an image of a faraway place into a piece of glass in front of him. The only difference between the hacker and a wizard chanting over a crystal ball is that the hacker actually has the power the wizard was imagined to have. The same is true of the geneticist mage creating plants and animals with supernatural properties, for the way the chemist mixes up drops and vials of things to make liquids that cure disease or make water safe to drink. It's all sorcery to most people. (continues after the jump)

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Bacon Party

bacon party

I saw this guy this afternoon and was immediately overcome with the most profound sense of fellow feeling. It was as if I looked into his soul and saw a mirror of my own. Of course, I don't eat bacon, being a vegetarian and all. And I don't have a drug-zombie girlfriend with big teeth. But you get the idea.

He's gonna feed her some bacon.

Awesome Flickr Set of Vintage Ads
Via BoingBoing

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