June 29, 2004

Interstitial Elevator

To turn just left of true, a shade right of false, below the knock-head ceiling of the world.

Follow

Reasons for pursuit are manifold but less well known. Alighting on the stairs, stepping out into the hall, cutting across the flow of the myriad pedestria cluttering the public ways, they make their turns. Sometimes, some times and in some places, then, they do not go unseen; a longing, insomniac wandering, perhaps a memory strange and unbidden is their momentary undoing.

You have seen them, too, or else you would not still be reading.

Oh, so close; so near and so fine. The emulation of the simulation of the facsimile of anima, other words both useless and prized. Resulting simulacra; deft and lithe, they dance across your vision. It is a rare and subtle moment, that one time you may in fact just...stop. Stop and look; retrace, go back, search, seek, perhaps (in wonder) find. They weren't a vision, nor a dream; rather, sight of the sightless, not unseen for once in oh those many transits of our vision.

Motion normal, action familiar, path plausible, even, but...still. Something that is wrong will gently touch tongue to teeth and tap with hesitation at your will, enough to bring you to a halt (to break the flow of day or night) and send you back. In blandest sweet, the taste of salt; a streak of sour in the sense of time. Into the path of others, yes, they came...without collision, nor disturbance, yet they turned (again) so shortly thereupon and then were lost.

Now we come to it. There was nowhere for them to go. There was nowhere from whence they came; that one small time you turn to look, a dead-blank wall will stare back from the point at which their presence first was known and took you by surprise. A dare, perhaps, to have you see the entrance from their world if only you could tell it from your own; a wall that is (to them) a door, faceless wonders enter our foyer of the real on errands swift and silent call.

What, then, to do?

Follow.

Recognize.

Eventual, it comes. To you once you have made the switch; evinced a change inside your brain which will not let you let them by but from then on will twitch with notice of the strange. There, that one there; came from the alley 'cross the way WHICH ISN'T THERE and then with nimble trick did dance away again between the two parked cars, without emerging on the sidewalk on the other side. Entranced, you make your way back to the point upon the street from which they did come, and then - brief small trick - there is a flicker, on the wall; a blackness strobing in the deep that brick nor mortar nor the weight of stone can hide. There; there. Touch the place and taste the time, reach out with all you have within-

I N T R U S I O N

If then you're fortunate, nay, blessed, a small plain hole may then appear. A tiny point of anti-light which will become the key with which you may unravel all that is dear and plain and, yes, familiar to you now.

Anonymous, without their names but with their selves worn proudly on their belts they walk. Can you join the dance? Can you pick up the motions from the study of the trance of years in which the others walk? Perhaps you can. Perhaps you too will learn to turn hard left into the wall, to slip between where others fall and then to find yourself inside the elevator of the interstitials, level change and static slant where (only there) your name means nought but what you brought. If you're lucky.

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June 24, 2004

IAF vs. USAF redux

The defense policy wonk-o-sphere is abuzz with the recent widely-reported results of Operation 'COPE INDIA' - a joint U.S./Indian Air Force exercise near the Indian base at Gwalior that took place in February. That it took place was not noteworthy - what is noteworthy is the degree of frankness with which U.S. Air Force personnel are admitting that they got a big ol' can of Subcontinental Whoop-Ass opened up on 'em. From the Associated Press: "'We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we thought we were,' said Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, the chief of Air Combat Command, which oversees U.S. fighter and bomber wings." In general, it is being reported that in some contests, the Indian Air Force took up to 90% of the engagements.

The USAF is, predictably, harping with concern over the age of the F-15C (the fighter used in these competitions and the US's mainstay air superiority platform) and pointing to these results as evidence that recent lack of investment in US air superiority is coming due.

The most telling numbers I've seen on this issue is the comparison of training time - if the Indian Air Force receives almost twice the pilot-hours per month as the USAF, under more operational conditions, this result is hardly surprising.  One of the largest advantages the U.S. has enjoyed over its adversaries is in training.  Training and planes are expensive, and as has been true for some time, the U.S. has found it easy to outspend its opponents.  Note that training does, in fact, increase pilot proficiency; this is not meant as a slap at American pilots.

There are some tidbits that bear thinking about, IMHO.  Perhaps largest, for me, is the 'big picture' elephant that isn't in the room - the F-22.  Recent Air Force statements and reports have indicated that the USAF feels that the F-22 is a 'make or break' platform, one to which they are willing to sacrifice the R&D and even procurement of other platforms such as the V-22 and the JSF.  It represents the continuation of USAF technical superiority over notional adversaries.  The F-15 platform is, indeed, aging; therefore, it makes sense for the USAF to indicate that these recent contests might point out the need for a more advanced fighter.

Except for one thing: the prominent mention by several parties that one of the most effective aircraft in the Indian arsenal was not the vaunted MiG-29 or Su-27 variants, but the Bison - an upgraded MiG-21, which is originally of 1960s vintage.  The MiG-21 cannot in any way be called technologically superior (or even on a par with) the F-15C.  Therefore, it is somewhat strange to hear the USAF say that it needs a more modern fighter, as demonstrated by their defeat at the hands of a fighter significantly older than their own platform.

I realize this is speculation without data.  It is quite possible (likely, I think) that the main asset of the MiG-21, its high sprint speed, was utilized in concert with the capabilities of the other aircraft mentioned on the Indian team - Su-30, etc. - to create tactical situations which the less-numerous American forces were unable to defeat.  The MiG-21bis 'Fishbed N' (which I am assuming the Indians were using) was manufactured up to 1987 - it has an upgraded engine, more modern avionics and better arms than the original.  Most importantly, it remains a lightweight, high thrust airplane with a high top speed - better able than larger aircraft such as the MiG-29 and Su-27 to match the F-15C's high thrust-to-weight ratio and hence performance.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how the F-22 would better answer the problem than increased and revised training - especially since the F-22 will not be available in numbers even to match the F-15, suggesting that the outnumbered USAF teams were going to be rule rather than exception in the future.

An additional piece of information I would have appreciated is whether the engagements were fought 'open,' or were restricted to visual target range or fought from BVR.  I would suspect that the more maneuverable MiG-30 and zippier MiG-21s being singled out as stars indicate that close-in engagements negated much of the USAF's traditional electronic advantage and distance engagement experience.

This is all just noodling on my part, however.  It will be interesting to see how the USAF responds to this other than by asking for more F-22s...and to the Indian Air Force, congratulations and clear skies!  Getcha next time. :-)

Posted by jbz at 12:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

Transcendence through Anonymity

There is a beauty and a joy in the blankness that can be attained. A soothing form of balancing, knife-edged and fine in the interstitials of the buzzing hum that is today. Look:

one::one - rejection/ erasure/ repulsion/ destruction - one::one

There. That one, there; the small girl with the brush-cut bristled hair - watch her feel the patterns of the wall with the neurons in her back - the small of which is nestled in the corner near the street. She watches traffic, foot and car, for the one she knows she'll meet inside the witching hour of the day. This day. This night. A lost and then-found treasure; who can say? Perhaps, then, you see the trail of breadcrumbs lost and ragged reaching from beneath her skirt and 'round the corner. Lagged off behind her, pick one up, the morsel of the whiteness in your palm - it's not bread, no, it's paper, plastic white and hologram. Identity, shredded, lost and dropped askew to scatter on the winds until it blows away. No longer true, it cannot hold her caged within, but flutters sideways past the grimy metal of the wasteman's bin into the puddle waiting near the curb. Look:

one::two - acceptance/flattening/leaching/purity - two::one

Farther down the street, a young boy sits. He's perched atop a dumpster, playing absently with a deck of pasteboards so dirty as to be nigh identical, none wishing to betray the winning hand (or, William, the Dead Man's Hand). Instead, the brownish slice of cards that flutter wildly in his grip. Somewhere, somewhen, he's read a book which talks about the freedom that can be found here once one has cast the self out. He has, some days ago. Longer down the trail than the girl we still can see (in the distance) watching the cars go by with still-wet tears of parting for the world. Climbing to his feet, our young man shades his eyes against the rays of the setting sun (which pierce the smog down here reluctantly, if at all). He swings down off the bin, cards magically vanished on his person, heading off down the street for a destination we don't know. His appointments we don't know nor understand, which is the point - he isn't here, nor there, as yet, his blankness just begun to show in the relaxation of his face, which doesn't strain for us. No more. Look:

one::three - recognition/flowering/manifestation/one hand clapping - one::three

Jump up and over, gentles, over cornice and rooftop all as one. Two blocks, nay, three, then fifteen more, across this unknown town to shore of water empty of a name. See, there? On the gravel, near the edge? The older woman there with the dog, who sits and watches out across the black surface of the river with her hand atop the hound's warm head. Tongue lolling, it sits beneath her palm, content to feel her pulse against its closed eyelids while it breathes. The ripples come ashore in train; marching to a distant heart beneath the town which hums and roars and SHOUTS A NAME OUT to the night. Us? We cannot hear it. She couldn't if she wished, but knows it anyhow - so too does her companion, paws, tail, coat and tongue. Ripples tickle at her soles, her paper shoes tapping lightly on her skin. Small bumps in the world, form through distortion, object through precessing packet of energy, they each nip (doglike) at her feet. Her face is light; no features there, just shadows, really, suggesting of the person that once she was. Was, of course; is is not the word this time. A glowing thing or place that is her self. No-one as defined by us and here. Of course there lives within a person unique and pure, unfettered by the chains of name and past; that person has chosen what to let escape and this is what we get: this glow, this light, the beauty that she is with dog beside her watching proof of Brownian motion trickle home. Look:

one::four - D I S T O R T I O N - one::four

a warmth on skin or play of light: that's all. We stop and hesitate, our paths brought short as we travel through the day. We don't know why. A ray of sun perhaps? Or, there, a warm short breeze, a ripple in the day's hot space that shows itself to us (a wavelet) passing by and gone before we could ever gain a hold. The echo of lost and gone-by footsteps tripping off the bricks in reflected soundscapes worthy of a lost and ruined Gothic manse - sound coming back to us in tricks and queer small packets of the world wrapped thin with tissue paper for our daily tasting of the here. They walk by, thus, those who have no they and want no more; they pass among the walkways of our lives in warmth and scent and color, their nonself serving to expose the wonders of their beings, of their selves with which they gift us in their passing ways. A gift which could not survive the cold and lines of the rigid ways and times with which we bind our days. Look. Look.

Listen.

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June 22, 2004

Presidents real and imagined

Giving in to gross fantasy is something I have long been unable to resist. Tonight is no different, but it struck me that the fantasy was not so much a happy one as a 'less sad' one. Watching The West Wing, I witnessed the composite personality known as Jed Bartlet (a creation of writers, directors, actors and others) suffer the loss of a secret team of U.S. Army commandos on a rescue attempt inside Colombia. While the moral problem that the fictional Commander-in-Chief struggles with is the main focus of the episode - that of the choice between military action with uncertain results and negotiating with criminals - I found my attention caught by the final images of the show.

In that sequence, President Bartlet is shown waiting at four in the morning, in the rain, at Dover AFB for the bodies of the slain commandos to arrive home. As each coffin is carried off the Coast Guard C-130, dress-uniformed soldiers carry it away from the airplane and pause directly in front of the President before slowly turning and carrying it off.

The rub is this: I cannot, for the life of me, put George W. Bush's face on that fictional president, in that scene. I cannot see that man standing in the rain at night in secret, where no camera will ever see, greeting each of those silent accusations for no other reason than a sense of duty. Every time I try it, I see his attention wander; his feet shuffle, his gaze travel away - the perfect image of a bored ten-year-old who doesn't understand why he's been brought somewhere and why he's supposed to remain solemn.

I recognize this is fantasy. I recognize it is built solely on my image of my President, as wrong and incomplete as that image most likely is. But that's how it is.

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June 21, 2004

Ross's Book Thing (as per Dave Camp)

I saw this on Dave Camp's blog, and thought it was cool.

The instructions are: Grab the nearest book, open it to page 23, find the 5th sentence, post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

"The French repeatedly warned that they could not furnish troops for European defense without generous American support in Indochina, a ploy Acheson accurately described as 'blackmail.'"

I don't know if you're supposed to identify the book, so I won't.

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No no, my friend. The first one is always free with P-to-the-N-U-T.

There really is just no way to win. I had, in recent weeks, managed to wrestle my hypertrophied videogamer gene down to a dull murmur by restricting myself to perhaps twenty minutes per day (max) of fast, simple Counterstrike rounds. At the end, I had further tightened the noose by only permitting myself to play on 24/7 Assault servers, eschewing map diversity for speed and efficiency. All well and good. I hadn't even installed the Halo CD my roommate had left, enticingly, on the hall table.

Then all hell broke loose. Another monkey at work broached an old, old, evil; a nearly-forgotten addiction. A scourge that I had sworn would never darken my sleepless nights again, my resolve hardened by the way in which the curse itself did SUCK.

Yes, those fateful words came sliding across the porches of my ears, to posset up my thin and wholesome blood: "Dude, have you checked out AO recently? I started up a 'toon again a week or so ago, and it's sweet..

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooo....

There was nothing to be done about it. In a last grasp at salvation, I decided that if I was to truly proffer up my credit card and re-explore the world of Rubi-Ka, I was going to do so with some limits in place on myself. I moved my Wintel PC over to his house, rendering my own home Windows-free. Then, and only then, did I log on to the system, giving them my card, finding that my 'toon (Gregg "Deltavi" Guynes, Level 106 Fixer) was still there, sleeping, faithfully awaiting my return since that last time those many months (a year?) ago that I logged out and left him crosslegged, sitting in Old Athen Backyard 2.

And my friend was right.

While we may, in fact, give up on the game again in disgust in a few weeks just like we did the last time (our second run at it), for the moment, it's entrancing. Whole lists of quests we haven't even heard of, items we haven't even imagined, scenery that makes you drool and play several hours just to go look at it. The Shadowlands pack is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that the Planet Rubi-Ka, once a bustling mecca of sci-fi mayhem, is nearly a ghost town. Everybody, and I mean everybody, is over in the Shadowlands, kicking strange Unredeemed ass.

So I only put in like seventeen hours this weekend. Really.

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June 18, 2004

Hyper-Spatial Kvetching

All right; I admit it. I'm to blame. Dave Camp came to see me several months ago on one of his frequent, death-metal-fuelled wanderings around the office (he claims that this is how and when he thinks, but most of us think he needs to walk while listening to that stuff or he'll involuntarily punch out his flatpanel one day). At any rate, he solicited my opinion on the upcoming redesign of the Nautilus File Manager.

Fine, so he didn't ask me how it should look, or how it should act. He did, however, if my flaky memory serves, ask me about my preferences regarding file management and the various philosophies then available. I told him that as far as I was concerned, Mac OS 9's Finder was the then- acme of filesystem management. He nodded, indicated in a particular grunting sort of Dave Camp way that he'd heard this particular opinion before, and told me that while that was interesting, he'd really like to know why I felt this way.

Poor boy.

So, despite the fact that he is without a doubt much more educated about, informed on, experienced with and generally understanding of this topic than I, I plunked him down in a chair in the Ops Pit and fired up a Blue and White Macintosh G3 with which to demonstrate my upcoming argument. I told him about a great many things, in poorly-chosen words, but probably the most important single thing I told him was this:

In the Macintosh Finder, the objects you see are not representations of objects on your filesystem. They are the objects on your filesystem.

This is no doubt going to cause all manner of howls from many of my nonexistent readers, but let me try to explain myself better. The problem I had and have with what I have since learned is called the browser model of file management is that what the user is seeing is a loose representation of the truth. The user can 'break' the relationship between the viewed object and the file or data represented fairly easily, in a number of ways. For example, the simplest way to break the relationship in the Windows explorer is to bring up another window, browse the same directory as the first window, and delete something from within it. It won't go away in the first window until that window has a reason to refresh.

This is wrong to me, because it makes the following demands on the user. It requires the user (as opposed to the computer - or software, really) to maintain state information in his or her head, or at the very least, perform an action (window refresh) to be 'sure' that what he or she is seeing is the 'current truth.' Bzzzt. That's not what I want. I don't want my file manager to be a tool that shows me most of the state of my filesystem, or a mostly current state. I don't want to have to remember for myself which window is my active working one; I don't want to have to clutter up my working brain with metadata like this which the computer can and should remember for me.

I prefer what I have since learned is called the spatial model or object model depending on if you work for Ars, in which the metaphor of physicality is extended as far as is practically possible inside the file manager. Not necessarily the aspects of physicality such as relative size, or mass, or smell (heh). The important bits, though - relative position of the object to other objects and directories on the filesystem, and the inability of a physical object to exist in two places at once. This latter is key for the easy and secure manipulation of files without having to maintain state information in ones head.

I showed Dave how the Finder will rigorously enforce the one-to-one rule - one object gets one view. A folder on the hard drive can only be viewed in one open window at once. If you double click on the folder again, rather than open an additional window displaying its contents, the Finder will 'promote' the existing window view - moving it to the front, or enlarging/unhiding it if it has been parked somewhere for convenience. There is no way in the Finder to trip oneself up by having 'ghosts' of objects hanging around after operations - at least, assuming things are working and there is no corruption.

This does not mean, as some who have yelled at me for this preference seem to think, that there *must* be a bazillion open windows after the user has browsed down several levels into the filesystem. Nope. The default behavior in the Finder, in fact, is to be parsimonious about opening new windows at all; double-clicking an object should, in fact, open up a view of its contents inside the existing window, such that the window is essentially 'replaced' by a window showing the new information. At that point, double-clicking the original object can and should bring up a new window, because doing so does not violate the singularity rule - there is still only one view of that object's first level visible (by object, I mean anything with contents - volumes, folders, files with Finder previews, etc. etc.)

Anyway. There are several excellent discussions and articles online that do a much better job than I of explaining this and setting out normative battle lines. John Siracusa at Ars Technica has a much more detailed, logical, sensible and just plain correct opinion piece on why the Mac OS X Finder sucks, which makes much the same argument. The GNOME and Nautilus crew had some lively discussions about it too.

In any case, I then performed all manner of unfair acts designed to take advantage of my own, superior, privileged position. I gave Dave a Mac to play with. I continued to fire incoherent opinion pieces at him by mail. I bought him beer, which was perhaps the most effective. I threatened his net access and his hard drive, since I was and am his sysadmin. In short, I abused every possible avenue to ensure that we would have at least one sensible file-management app out there, since Avie Tevanian and the rest of the NeXTies seem to have finally taken over Apple to the point where Steve Jobs' insane love for brushed metal and 'simplicity' seems to be more than enough reason to do things like, I dunno, lay off the entire Human Interface Guideline group and knife their baby by putting a craptastically 'browser model' Finder into Mac OS X - extending it past the outpost of shitty that Microsoft had staked out by including the NeXT 'columns' view. I don't know about you, but when I'm forced to use that thing I have these awful feelings that I'm being shown a bunch of paper lists with the pages overlapping and being told I'm looking at a marvelous new paradigm in information management.

OK, I'm done. Really.

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June 12, 2004

We need to stop bickering and be the citizens we need to.

This is a rant I posted to Brad Delong's blog in a comment thread (and later to Everything2) regarding a Sy Hersh speech. The entry is here.

This is a personal exposition from an American who has long been against the war and Bush. Please don't think I'm saying this to excuse myself. Quite the opposite is true. What truly upsets me about the arguments here is that, in fact, there is something positive about them that should be encouraged, not drowned in ideological sniping or personal attacks.

I'm sorry, that came out accusatory, and it wasn't meant to be. I'll try to be more clear. On both sides of the fence, above, are examples of people (Americans and others) stating that they are in the process of re-examining their positions based on new information coming to light. Others are realizing that their long-held concern has been correct, but that they have not matched actions to their worries or even their words.

Yes, some may have started from (or even remain in) an ideological position you dislike, or detest. However, I'd like to exhort all here to remember one thing - unless we all think, and pay attention, and examine not only the 'evidence' and 'information' coming from media and other sources, but examine our own thoughts, feelings and ideas on the matter - then we've already lost what may be the most important fight. That is the fight to remain the United States of America - not a 'morally superior America,' not a 'feared America,' not a 'responsible' America, or even a 'secure America.' It is fairly clear that all of those things have fallen away in the minds of many people here and around the world.

But what made the United States wonderful - and what has made many other nations wonderful institutions in the past, I'm not claiming we invented this - is the capability to learn and change

Even if you think that the Bush administration is on the right course, even if you think that this is a 'left wing circle jerk,' I ask you (as an American) to try, please, to retain your sense of civic responsibility. The one that our country's founders had in such great quantity. Never allow your government to think it is above its people. Never allow those in the U.S. Government to think that they are 'above' the rules which placed them there.

After all, if the liberals are wrong, then truth will out. Why? Because you, as a supporter of the administration, should be carefully watching everything with firm attention. Watch the left, and watch the right. Watch the press. Don't take anything for granted. THINK. If the liberals (yes, I am one) are in fact trying to take down an administration unjustly, then LOOK AT EVERYTHING and try to prove it. Don't try to tear down the liberals for trying it; they're doing their JOB. The attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton was something that infuriated the liberal establishment, such as it is in this country, but I (personally) feel an opportunity was missed, in the fury - the chance to try to rise above 'not-me' and reach 'us.' Whatever we thought about the attempt to impeach Clinton, more of us should not have tried to counterbash the Right by claiming they were simply playing 'partisan politics.' That's their role as citizens and members of a party. Our job was, and we blew it, to try to take our opponents to the table and say (essentially) "Okay. You have these things you say have been done that are wrong. We want to sit down here now, and define what, really, would qualify as impeachable - what was breaking the law. And then, together, in teams, we need to go look for everything. If, after that process, we are going to deadlock on if something was right or wrong - let's at least agree to have a common view of what we can establish happened.

I'm sorry, I'm straying. I'll wrap up here shortly. I realize that the United States has some unbelievable work ahead of it to regain the trust of the rest of the world, should that be something the US decides it wants (and I'm for it). I would ask that:

Those who are not Americans, and are watching us, urge us to take responsibility for our own nation and have real civil oversight. If after the paroxysm of democracy that is surely coming, you feel we have not gone far enough - that's your opinion. Tell us then. In the meantime, whenever an American tells you in open forum that they are having doubts, or changing their mind - don't bash us for where we started out. Help us learn to change our minds, to strive for the truth. There are good people in this country; I (PERSONAL BELIEF) think that most people here are simply average humans making their choices influenced by their surroundings, and are not 'evil.' I don't even really know what those are, in truth, good and evil. But I do know that I'd rather be in this kind of mess because I made a mistake than because I didn't try or do anything at all, and hid my head in the sand.

To all sides of the debate, liberals, conservatives - don't bash each other for our starting positions. Do whatever you can, please, to encourage everybody, on all sides, to push for full disclosure of what happened 'in our name' and for full punishments or rewards for those who deserve it. Reach out to those who tell you they are wavering in their 'faith' or their commitment to one side - because those are the ones who are thinking. Those are the people performing their duty as citizens. They are paying attention and accepting data.

Not everyone is 'swinging' of course. To the liberals who are digging in their heels - it doesn't matter if you were right earlier. It doesn't make you better. It makes you uniquely positioned to try to convince the other side that these flutterings they feel are the right thing. Even if a conservative or neocon tells you that they are flatly behind the President, that's their right. Ask them if they are interested in a full disclosure of what happened at Abu Ghraib. Convince them that while loyalty to the President is not a bad thing in itself, loyalty to a President, or a nation, or a person without the acceptance of constant new information and the analysis of that information is indeed a bad thing - it is an obsession, not a position.

I'm sorry to go on so long. I thank everyone here who has made an effort to ensure that the facts come out - and everyone here who is doing what they feel is best for the United States, so long as they are doing it because they feel their own position, viewed in a vacuum (i.e. not compared to the other side) is a 'right' or 'proper' one.

We're never all going to agree on what we should do. That's what makes us American. Let's try to agree that we need to be Americans, and that we need to take up the reins and responsibility that our founders and our predecessors and our teachers, who after all came from all over the world, left in our hands.

Thank you.


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