Thursday: Hili dialogue

March 4, 2021 • 6:30 am

First, Greg Mayer has added his take on the Donald McNeil affair at the New York Times, so go to yesterday’s post and look for Greg’s addendum at the bottom.

Good morning on Thursday,March 4, 2021: National Poundcake Day.  It’s also National Snack Day, National Grammar Day (work on the placement of “only” in a sentence: the correct usage is, for example, “I ate only two donuts” and not “I only ate two donuts”), Hug a GI Day (do you know where the term “GI” for a soldier comes from? go here), National Dance the Waltz Day, and World Book Day, but only in the UK and Ireland. (The rest of the planet’s World Book Day comes in April).

News of the Day:

The GoFundMe amount sent to Jodi Shaw is now at almost $285,000 and she added this note:

Hi everyone… thank you so much for all your support. In addition with proceeding with a legal complaint against Smith College, I am trying to come up with a special way to say THANK YOU to everyone who supported me and the others who will benefit from the new fund. Stay tuned and thank you again! -Jodi

The SpaceX Starship SN10, designed to send people and cargo to both the Moon and Mars, finally stuck a landing yesterday, flipping upside down and coming down soft as you please.  The previous two flights crashed after short (6.5-minute) flights, and, sadly, for this one the rocket exploded after its safe landing:

Livestreaming your life (nearly 24/7) is big business in China, and there are businesses devoted to training livestreamers how to rake in donations. It’s all about good-looking young women who squeeze money out of lonely guys. Watch this 13-minute NYT video and tell me that this isn’t really screwed up.

Glory be! Google announced that it’s going to stop following users as they access multiple websites, a tactic it has to target ads specific to consumers’ interest. I despise that snooping, and can’t stand seeing ads for cat stuff on Facebook. (Facebook is not of course part of Google, and refuses to give up this kind of tracking.)

The governors of Texas and Mississippi have now “opened up” their states, completely eliminating mask mandates, contrary to the CDC’s and their own states’ advice. Joe Biden, mincing no words, said this:

“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask and forget it,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House. “It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science. Wash your hands, hot water. Do it frequently, wear a mask and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it.”

This strikes me as slandering Neanderthals, and it’s bad advice. Nevertheless, as I contemplate taking a short trip to regain my sanity, the more “open” states are attracting me since I’m fully vaccinated. Of course I would comply with all the normal sanitary precautions anywhere I go, including wearing masks.

Finally,  today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 518,079, an increase of about 2,400 deaths over yesterday’s figure.  The reported world death toll stands at 2,573,494, an increase of about 11,000 deaths over yesterday’s total. Both figures are an appreciable increase over yesterday’s toll.

Stuff that happened on March 4 includes:

  • 1461 – Wars of the Roses in England: Lancastrian King Henry VI is deposed by his House of York cousin, who then becomes King Edward IV.
  • 1493 – Explorer Christopher Columbus arrives back in Lisbon, Portugal, aboard his ship Niña from his voyage to what are now The Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean.
  • 1519 – Hernán Cortés arrives in Mexico in search of the Aztec civilization and its wealth.
  • 1794 – The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed by the U.S. Congress.

This amendment limits the ability to bring lawsuits against states into federal courts.

Here’s a drawing of Chicago in about 1850:

March 4 was the original Inauguration Day, but it changed after FDR’s first election. However, it was feared that Trump supporters would mount another assault on the Capitol today because of the traditional date. It won’t happen: security is too tight.

  • 1917 – Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first female member of the United States House of Representatives.

Rankin was elected twice, 24 years apart! In 1916 and 1940. Here she is:

I well remember this, and people went wild, especially in the religious American South. Here’s one reaction, with the Wikipedia caption: “Beatles burning in the American city of Waycross, Georgia organized by the radio station WAYX. A smiling boy holds a copy of the 1964 album Meet the Beatles!, which is soon to be tossed into a bonfire.”

  • 1985 – The Food and Drug Administration approves a blood test for HIV infection, used since then for screening all blood donations in the United States.
  • 1998 – Gay rights: Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc.: The Supreme Court of the United States rules that federal laws banning on-the-job sexual harassment also apply when both parties are the same sex.
  • 2018 – Former MI6 spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in SalisburyEngland, causing a diplomatic uproar that results in mass-expulsions of diplomats from all countries involved.

They both survived. Russia has to stop poisoning its dissidents, and Novichok doesn’t seem to work that well, anyway.

Here’s the video: Wallenda made it all the way across the 1800-foot chasm, with toxic gases rising above (note that he’s wearing an oxygen tank and gas mask, as well as a safety line).  Why do people do this? Because it’s there!

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1394 – Henry the Navigator, Portuguese explorer (d. 1460)
  • 1745 – Casimir Pulaski, Polish-American general (d. 1779)
  • 1904 – George Gamow, Ukrainian-American physicist and cosmologist (d. 1968)
  • 1936 – Jim Clark, Scottish race car driver (d. 1968)

I asked my friend Steve Knoll, who was once on a racing team and has an encyclopedic knowledge of motosports, to write a few words on Clark, and here they are:

Most of us who were Formula 1 fans in the 1960s still consider Jim Clark the greatest the sport ever produced. He was a two time World Champion and won the Indianapolis 500 as well. He won 25 of his 73 starts before he lost his life in a minor series race in his prime.

While his records have all since been eclipsed, he drove in an era where there were far fewer races, the field was far more evenly matched, and there was only about a 50% chance of surviving a 10 year career, Jimmy’s lasted less than 8.

Chivalry was not yet dead, at least in motorsports, and his peers not only regarded him as the best, but also universally respected this shy, unassuming Scottish sheep farmer as a great gentleman.

This portrait by the great Jesse Alexander (story here) is, as far as I’m concerned, racing’s greatest photograph:

Those who began pushing up daisies on March 4 include:

  • 1852 – Nikolai Gogol, Ukrainian-Russian short story writer, novelist, and playwright (b. 1809)

Gogol was the favorite Russian writer of my Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin, as well as my BFF in Cambridge, Timothy “Fud” Groves.

The father of Louisa May, and a famous man in his day, Bronson, as he was called, looked like this:

Unsoeld summited Everest along with three others during the first American expedition in 1963.  He and Tom Hornbein chose the difficult West Ridge route (below), and their ascent is one of the greatest feats in mountaineering. He and his partner, Tom Hornbein, had to bivouac high on the mountain, with the result that Unsoeld lost nine of his toes (but continued to climb).  Unsoeld died in an avalanche on Mount Rainer.

The West Ridge route is to the left

Unsoeld. Sadly, he lost his daughter, Nanda Devi Unsoeld (named after a mountain), who died of altitude sickness at only 22 while climbing her namesake mountain:

  • 1986 – Richard Manuel, Canadian singer-songwriter and pianist (b. 1943)
  • 1994 – John Candy, Canadian comedian and actor (b. 1950)
  • 1996 – Minnie Pearl, American entertainer (b. 1912)
  • 1999 – Harry Blackmun, American lawyer and judge (b. 1908)
  • 2016 – Pat Conroy, American author (b. 1945)

Conroy wrote, another novels, The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides. Here’s the last scene of the latter, which, though somewhat of a schlocky movie, has this scene that always chokes me up. (Note that his wife, Blythe Danner, is Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili, who hates little Kulka, is having a standoff with her:

Paulina: Let there be peace among cats.
Hili: It’s better to be careful.
In Polish:
Paulina: Niech będzie pokój między kotami.
Hili: Lepiej zachować ostrożność.

And little Kulka is playing, assiduously photographed by Paulina:

Caption: Another picture of Kulka sent from upstairs.

In Polish: Kolejne zdjęcie Kulki przesłane z pierwszego piętra.

From Bruce: A canny and well protected bobcat (but didn’t it hurt itself climbing up there?

From Charles. This may be a wee bit misleading! Nevertheless, Boebert is a loon. I wonder if she’s carrying her Glock onto the House floor yet?


A cat meme from Nicole:

From Daniel. Some person was buying souls, as a “test” for atheists, at $10 each. You had to sign a contract, too. The ten slots sold out quickly. LOL!

From Dom, a very clever headpiece:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a nefarious cat:

And something you probably didn’t know:

Art for yesterday’s World Wildlife Day:

H. J. Muller was a giant of genetics, and won the Nobel Prize. But look—THERE’S A CAT!

Matthew’s explanation of the tweet below:

And this is @electroBOOMguy – he’s an electrical engineer with a youtube channel. He knows what he is doing, just not exactly when it will happen…

57 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

  1. Oh wow! I was going to send the starship link to PCC(E) but thought it might be too obscure – it was AMAZING! As in hollywood come to life amazing!

    You know it exploded about five minutes after the live stream ended. But that’s an improvement – the last one blew up on touchdown!

      1. Well, Musk isn’t designing it, a team of engineers is doing that.

        It’s clear in the video Jerry posted that the vehicle landed too hard (bounced, ended up non-vertical, resulting fire).

        R&D is hard work. Test failures are the expected result. Many things cannot be (reliably) modeled and must be tested on full-scale, production-like samples. This type of vehicle has never been done before. The NASA space program had many, many firey failures before success was had. (And remember Challenger, Columbia (a vehicle would never get that name today!), and Apollo 1 (January 27, 1967).)

        1. Test failures are the expected result

          No they are not. They wouldn’t be called failures if they were expected.

          So far, SpaceX are three for three on Starship plus several of the ground tests also ended badly. If NASA ha such a record, they’d be asking questions in Congress now.

          Also, yes, Apollo 1 was a catastrophe, but they learned lessons from that. They also leaned lessons from Challenger and Columbia (some of which they eventually forgot, it’s true) but neither of the failures in either of those cases were repeated.

          I’m sure you could go back into the mists of time and find lots of examples of NASA rockets blowing up, but that was in the early days of space flight. Rocket flight is far better understood now.

          Even SpaceX has mastered the art of landing a Falcon 9. Yet they seem to be incapable of doing it with Starship.

          1. The specific failure isn’t expected, of course, but some failure is. On several occasions, Musk has given his guess at the chances of success. His answers definitely indicate expected failure.

            Since they have several Starship versions being built simultaneously, I suspect that there are a lot of known flaws in each but they go ahead with the launches anyway as long as there are substantial design issues that will be tested. For example, SN10’s stubby legs have long been a subject of discussion. They’ve been crushed by past hard landings and, judging by its tilt, that was probably a factor this time as well. Musk says that the next version of the legs will be considerably larger but the design is a matter of controversy.

            There is likely a lot of design issues with the Raptor engines. Unusually in the industry, they are developing this new engine simultaneously with their new rockets. We could see a problem with SN10 long before it landed. The color of the exhaust of one of the engines indicated some kind of problem.

            They haven’t even settled on the proper thickness of the steel skin. I believe SN10 has a 4 mm skin but they are still testing a 3 mm skin with the SN7.2 tank adjacent to the launch pad. No word yet on how it’s going and whether future Starships will have 3 mm skins.

            So they are definitely planning to have failures. I would be interested to know if the rate of failure is more or less than expected.

              1. You seem unclear on the “prototype” concept.

                I’m sure every major rocket project has had similar failures but they just weren’t as public as SpaceX’s failures. These other projects also moved slower, like Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, or had astronomical resources devoted to them, like NASA’s Moon programs.

      2. They are early proof of concept prototypes that are fully expected to fail. It’s part of their development process. There process is entirely different from the traditional rocket design and build process, but the results demonstrate it works. Falcon 9.

        I know you despise Musk and his companies, but how much success will they have to demonstrate before you are able to admit they have indeed had some impressive successes? Do you think that Tesla cars are a scam? Do you think that the Falcon 9 is no real improvement over other rockets?

        1. proof of concept

          Well the concept is “reusable space rocket”. How’s that proving going?

          I know you despise Musk and his companies

          Do you? How?

          how much success will they have to demonstrate before you are able to admit they have indeed had some impressive successes?

          More than zero.

          Do you think that Tesla cars are a scam?

          Aspects of them are scams.

          They are not as good for the environment as the fanboys make out.

          The way the Model 3 was announced and sold looks just like a bait and switch scam.

          The “full self driving” option was definitely a scam.Tesla was taking orders three years ago at several thousand dollars and it’s still just vapourware.

          Do you think that the Falcon 9 is no real improvement over other rockets?

          That is an interesting and complex question. I don’t think we really know the answer to that question yet.I think it comes down to how much saving having a reusable first stage booster really gives you. Obviously it means you don’t have to build as many first stage boosters as if you throw them away, but you do have e to recover them and refurbish them. You also have the problem that the extra fuel you have to carry limits the payload (by about 40% on a Falcon 9) meaning you have to make more launches. SpaceX commercial launches are cheaper than other companies’ but they have the advantage of a couple of huge government contracts to defray development costs.

          1. These things are connected in an obvious way. They’re getting the government contracts because their rockets are cheap and relatively reliable.

            I agree that Tesla has been overselling their Full Self Driving feature. I think half of this is marketing BS but the other half is that it is a really tough problem. As far as I can tell, Tesla is doing at least as well as other companies, perhaps better than most. I am somewhat skeptical as I know that human-level AI is hard. I’m also not sure that people will like self-driving cars. On the other hand, the fact that self-driving features are being rolled out slowly across the industry is going to help its acceptance. I don’t yet have a car with automatic lane-keeping but I suspect I would like it and want more features like it. Repeating that process of adoption will eventually get us to fully automatic driving.

            1. They’re getting the government contracts because their rockets are cheap and relatively reliable.

              No they aren’t. They used their initial NASA contract of $several billion to fund the development of the rockets, which is fair enough – that is what it was for. They also have a military contract with the US DoD which works out at $316million per launch as opposed to the $62 million they charge commercial customers. A lot of the comparisons between SpaceX costs and other people’s costs ignore the fact that the US tax payer funded the development of the Falcon 9 and its predecessors.

              As for the Tesla FSD thing, I agree it’s hard and that Tesla seems to be doing as well as a lot of their competitors (except possibly Waymo) but that is not the issue. The issue is that they were taking orders for it when it didn’t exist and still doesn’t.

          2. “Well the concept is “reusable space rocket”. How’s that proving going?”

            It’s going quite well. Better than any other rocket maker has accomplished in decades.They’ve “proved” a number of “concepts” pretty well. To name some, a range of construction methods, a range of steel properties and thicknesses for various applications, that the Raptor engine can fly, that it can restart, that their novel guidance method and systems (belly flop, flaps) they’ve devised work and that their novel landing maneuver works. More importantly they’ve no doubt proved quite a few things that don’t work which is precisely their goal.

            “Do you? How?”

            When a very smart person consistently fails to take into account very visible evidence contrary to their statements regarding something, especially when that person also values the methods of science, broadly construed, IMO the most likely explanation is that they have a personal dislike for that thing.

            “More than zero.”

            Concise, but inaccurate.

            “They (Tesla cars) are not as good for the environment as the fanboys make out.”

            Too subjective to answer directly. However, there are very good reasons to think that they are significantly better for the environment than any ICE powered vehicles. And of course modern mass produced electric cars are a young technology that is improving quickly.

            “The way the Model 3 was announced and sold looks just like a bait and switch scam.

            The “full self driving” option was definitely a scam.Tesla was taking orders three years ago at several thousand dollars and it’s still just vapourware.”

            Inaccurate. No, the full self driving option is not a scam, and it is not vaporware. Tesla has been transparent about their Autopilot and FSD. Yes, Musk has underestimated how long it would take for their FSD to become fully functional. However, Autopilot and FSD have always been options and at any given time the degree of functionality was clearly stated to buyers. Tesla has always been clear that their FSD is not fully operational and is a work in progress. As progress is made owners’ cars are automatically updated. Fully featured FSD is currently in beta release to about 1000 owners.

            “SpaceX commercial launches are cheaper than other companies’ but they have the advantage of a couple of huge government contracts to defray development costs.”

            Yes, they are quite a bit cheaper. Even on a booster recovery launch the F9’s payload capacity is at least 16,800 kg to LEO, comparable to the Atlas V, and even government missions to ISS, which include the cost of the Dragon spaceship, are cheaper than an Atlas V launch. All in, even the initial COTS money, the US government has never had cheaper launch costs than they have with SpaceX already.

            1. The proof of concept is not going well. They’ve done three launches and they’ve had three failures. You seem to be consistently failing to take the very visible evidence into account.

              Tesla’s cars are better for the environment than ICE cars (provided the electricity is generated from renewable sources) but building any car is not good for the environment and building millions of them is definitely not great. Furthermore, Tesla’s recent purchase of $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin tells you everything you need to know about their real feelings towards the environment. Bitcoin consumes more electricity than Argentina at the moment.

              The FSD has been on sale for years. You can currently buy it as an option for $10k. So where is it? It’s not merely “not fully operational”. It doesn’t exist. Sure they are making some progress with the research, but no reasonable person would put a time scale on when (or if) it will be useable. But they will still take your money. IMO this is fraud. They are selling something that doesn’t exist and they can’t be sure it will ever exist.

              And you’re still not factoring in the development costs for SpaceX launches.

              1. Pretty much all inaccurate. But obviously this conversation isn’t going to go anywhere.

              2. IT’s a fact they have had 3 failures out of 3

                It’s a fact that cars are expensive to build in terms of environmental cost

                It’s a fact that Tesla purchased $1.5 billion Bitcoin. It’s true that the estimate of power consumption is an estimate, but it’s certainly well within the order of magnitude.

                It’s a fact that Tesla is selling FSD when it doesn’t exist yet and may never exist.

                What’s inaccurate?

              3. All of that except the bitcoin purchase is inaccurate. I don’t know about the power usage factoid so can’t say one way or the other. I’m not interested in the bitcoin issue. I’m interested in what motivates someone like you to misrepresent things that they don’t like. Confirmation bias I suppose.

                I’m not going to waste our time citing sources or continuing this exchange further. The information is readily available for anyone to find who is interested enough.

              4. Yes, even if the electricity is 100 per cent green, building cars does have some environmental impact (but of course the factories can also run on green electricity), but you make it sound like Tesla is building millions of extra cars. No. People who buy Teslas stop buying other cars. So people are buying greener cars to replace their old ones. A net gain. Whatever one thinks about Musk, he does seem to be a true environmentalist, whereas other makers have been forced to go electric.

                After 400,000 km and 16 years, my Skoda wasn’t worth repairing anymore, so I bought a Tesla Model 3. I still haven’t had to pay to charge it up, but even if I do, and do so on the road which is more expensive than at home, the cost to drive a given distance is less than with my 60 m.p.g. (4 litres for 100 km) car. And of course the Tesla is cooler. 🙂

                Buy your Tesla via this link and get about 1000 miles worth of free supercharging:

                There is no list price and actual price for Tesla. All prices (and any subsidies, rebates, etc.) are the same for all. Elon hates bazaar-style auto purchase as much as I do.

      3. I agree that there is a distinction to be made between “space is hard” and incompetence. We know very little from the video alone – and likely never will know proprietary vital information. I want to see people bringing resources to and from Mars – not nerd crash-up derby in Texas.

        Also, it is true, that companies produce literal propaganda to support their activities. But I can’t help but be amused by …

        How Not To Land An Orbital Rocket Booster : SpaceX :

  2. … it was feared that Trump supporters would mount another assault on the Capitol today because of the traditional date. It won’t happen: security is too tight.

    Trump’s DC hotel tripled its room rates (to $1,331/night) for yesterday and today, March 3rd and 4th, the dates corresponding to Trump’s imagined delayed inauguration according to QAnon conspiracists.

    Never miss a chance to take the marks’ money, is the Trump way.

    1. He’s playing the fool deliberately. He’s also done some very good videos where he debunks claims of perpetual energy devices.

  3. 1963 – William Carlos Williams, American poet, short story writer, and essayist (b. 1883)

    And a practicing pediatrician. Anyone who’s read WCW’s short story “The Use of Force” is unlikely ever to forget it.

    1. A doctor who made house calls, and scribbled poems on his prescription pad for later transcription on the typewriter.. I got more classroom mileage out of “so much depends” than almost anything else. Put him together with Don Marquis and you have the two typewriter gods of poetry.

  4. The Prince of Tides. Here’s the last scene of the latter, which, though somewhat of a schlocky movie, has this scene that always chokes me up.

    Yeah, the film adaptation is somewhat schlocky (with Ms. Streisand as “Lowenstein,” the NY psychiatrist for the protagonist’s sister, and his extramarital love interest), but Conroy’s novel is as hard as nails.

      1. It was a pure vanity project (she bought the film rights, produced and directed), though I think Babs has put in some topnotch performances in other pictures.

  5. This post made me go back to a paper I am writing to check my usage of “only”. Ouch. Had to make lots of changes! If only I’d know this earlier … 😉 Thanks for pointing this out!

    1. I think you’re right and it was a cat that she had on her head – though what it had been made into by the time the photo was taken is less clear to me…!

    1. We happened to the Neanderthals. Not necessarily in a “red in tooth and spear” way, rather than taking over the environment and decapitating the animal resource base, but the time correlation is deeply suspicious. AMHs arrive ; Neanderthals (and most of the rest of the larger fauna) die out.

  6. Funny that the story about the buying up of souls for $10 each appears on the anniversary of Nikolai Gogol’s death. His book “Dead Souls” is one of my favorites, even though it is unfinished and tails off at the end. But before that, some brilliant stuff.

  7. There was an opportunity for a “Connections”-style association:

    Igor Gamow, son of George (Birthday mention today) was the inventor of the “Gamow Bag” used to treat acute altitude illness, which killed Nanda Unsoeld, daughter of Willi, who died on this day in 1979 (Death mention today). There, my “braining” is done for the day.

    1. Well spotted!

      “Sadly, he lost his daughter, Nanda Devi Unsoeld (named after a mountain), who died of altitude sickness at only 22 while climbing her namesake mountain” – what a truly sad coincidence.

  8. Utopia used an edited version of the vinyl record burning photo on the cover of their 1982 Swing to the Right album (last one of theirs that I bought, I think):

    As a kid, I had a Giles cartoon album autographed by Jim Clark (we briefly lived in the same village as one of his sisters, and I think it was a prize in a raffle at a local jumble sale).

  9. The drawing of Chicago in 1850 brings to mind the depiction, in ‘Two Years Before The Mast’, of California in 1834. The book is the story of Richard Dana’s experiences during a two year voyage from Boston to California and back to Boston, via Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. The purpose Dana’s voyage was to take him away from his studies and strengthen his eyesight. The purpose his Captain’s voyage was to return from California with as many dried cattle hides as was possible to cram into his ship.

    What has always puzzled me about the cowhides is what happened to the cow carcasses. Dana’s ship was just one of many doing the same thing. California’s population at that time was quite low, not even 10,000. If steak was eaten by the population morning, noon, and night it would not account for all the meat. There was no refrigeration at the time. Perhaps the carcasses just rotted, or perhaps they were rendered for fat.

  10. Willie Unsoeld taught at Evergreen State College. His students worshiped him. Avalanche danger was fairly high on the day he died, along with one of his students. Several more of the students with him were buried or partially buried in the avalanche but manage to dig out. Another ranger and I attempted to reach to accident site on a military helicopter. It was quite cloudy and the pilot was forced to turn around due to lack of visibility. When he did so, all I could see ahead of the ship was more clouds, but apparently the pilot had some holes that let him see the ground. I had met Unsoeld several times and he was a very nice person. Mount Rainier receives hundreds of climbers a year and seems to be an easy climb, but the mountain is not to be taken lightly.

  11. By the way, the Economist just published an article on SpaceX’s SN10 launch. As they say, SpaceX is “the world’s leading satellite-launch company”. They also mention how daring it is that they are making good progress on a reusable rocket that is as powerful as the Saturn V that took astronauts to the Moon. Some people don’t appreciate its significance.

    1. Looks like we’ve at least found an argument, if not a rocket, that can be reignited and reused… (I’ve got no d*g or cat in the fight, but I was amused by the heated discussion above.)

  12. The livestreaming video reminds me of the movie “Her”, where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an operating system.

  13. Unless you’re in Wales, and aren’t too much a purist. Then you might say ‘popty ping’ for a laugh:)

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