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On The Internet, Nobody Knows You’re A Dog



(Wikipedia)

You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but the above cartoon is the most popular cartoon ever printed in the New Yorker magazine. It was drawn by Peter Steiner and appeared on July 5th, 1993. It’s become almost a catchphrase of sorts. The comic embodies the idea that online we can be whoever, or whatever we want. 

We’ve come a long way since 1993, of course. In fact, in today’s world of facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn!, Pintrest, Twitter and more, you would probably have a hard time hiding the fact you are a dog. The first selfie you posted would be a dead give away. Not to mention the fact that you bark at all the cute cat videos.

But, while your online presence is certainly a reflection of you, the opportunity exists to shape that presence and use social media to craft the face you show the world. This week I’ll be talking about several social media platforms and explaining how I’ve attempted to use facebook, LinkedIn!, Twitter and this blog to keep people from knowing I’m a dog. 

Today I want to talk about what being online means to me. I want to tell you the story of two of my greatest friends in the world, Chasm and Margit. We were introduced by Orson Scott Card, the controversial author of Ender’s Game. But, he wasn’t controversial in 1995 when we met. And in fact, we didn’t even meet Scott. We joined a writing group together at a place called Hatrack River. (www.Hatrack.com)

Hatrack River was an interactive writing experience. The setting was in OSC’s Alvin Maker series of stories. You created a character and then wrote as that character describing your interaction with other characters who were also writing as in story characters. I know it sounds sort of dry and boring. But, for a writer, and a fan of OSC’s stories, it was a wonderful place. I wrote several characters and Chasm and Margit wrote some of the people I interacted with. Over the course of months and eventually years, we became friends. Ironically, my character and Chasm’s were bitter enemies, but he and I hit it off. 

We eventually started sending emails telling each other about our kids and families. He lived in Yellville, AK, I lived in Maple Valley, WA. He had a teenage son, I had babies. We even called a couple of times to chat. Chasm wasn’t well, physically. He’d been in a terrible car accident and never really recovered. Writing for him was a chance to run and be physically active. Things that were denied to him in real life.  

As the summer of 1996 approached, I decided that I wanted to surprise my friend. I’d never been to the South, but my young family loved road trips. I decided we would take our summer vacation and drive out to Arkansas to see him this man that I had never met, but had come to call my friend. In May I got an email from his wife. He’d  passed away suddenly from complications due to his injuries. 

You might find it odd that I grieved for a man I’d never actually met, in person at least. He’d been a kindred spirit, and even today, 20 years later, I still miss him. 

Margit’s character in Hatrack River and mine were great friends and we became great friends. Eventually we all drifted away from Hatrack River, but I still kept in touch with Margit. She announced a few years later that she was getting married. How could I miss my friend’s wedding? It was a sight to greet her in the receiving line. She stared at me with a blank expression. 

You don’t know me, do you?

Umm. . . . .

I’m some weirdo you met on the Internet.

I told the story in more detail here (Some Weirdo She Met On The Internet Showed Up At Her Wedding.)

I tell these two stories to show that despite the fact that we may never see some of the people we meet online, we can still form strong attachments to them. And just as we can make judgements and form opinions of those we meet online, they are doing the same thing to us. And back in the 90’s you pretty much had to put yourself on the Internet to be noticed. Today, you really don’t have a choice. You are going to be online whether you choose to or not. However, you do get to choose, to a large extent, what people see about you. 

While they may figure out you’re a dog, you still get to choose which tricks to show them. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

Mother Nature Obviously Took A Wrong Turn At Louisville

Did you know that they can land an airplane in a blizzard? 

Yeah, me neither. The runway was packed snow. The descent was surprisingly mild, probably because the snow flakes were the size of big fluffy pillows. I thought, “the drive to the freeway is going to be awful, but, I should be okay once I get to the interstate. They always plow the interstate first. 

I was carving fresh lines in the powder, the only problem was I was in a car. Sure enough, the roads to the freeway were awful. I’d never had the anti-skid technology kick in before. As an experienced winter driver, let me tell you, that anti-skid technology is NOT your friend in the snow. 

But, finally i managed to slip, slide and end up on the freeway onramp. Well, that was an adventure. Glad it’s ov. . .The freeway looked like the setting for an episode of “Monster Trucks And The Mudholes That Eat Them.” Except it was white instead of brown. 

What was the problem? In Salt Lake City they always plow the freeways first. The problem was I wasn’t in Salt Lake City. I wasn’t even in Utah. I was in Louisville, KY, for yet another product launch. Louisville is definitely not a snow city. Well, I mean now it was, of course. 



But, not generally. I should have taken it as a sign when I went to get my rental car and this was what it looked like.



The car rental company really had a sense of humor. 

I’ve lived in Utah for a lot of years. When I taught my girls to drive, I made them drive in the snow. I like driving in the snow. But, nothing I’d ever driven in prepared me for Interstate 65 in Louisville. I daren’t stop for fear I’d never get moving again. When you have a car with anti-skid technology, the car’s computer works really hard to prevent the tires from spinning. One of the skills of driving in the snow is to be able to “power thru” snow. Basically, you intentionally spin your tires. The speedometer says 30 MPH, you hope to accomplish 10. The trick is to let off the gas before you hit solid traction. Anti-skid thinks that spinning your tires 20 MPH faster than your true speed is a bad thing and the harder you press the accelerator, the less power the computer sends you from the engine. 

If you are going to have a car with anti-skid technology, I would recommend practicing to get the hang of it. I would not recommend practicing on the freeway in a blizzard. 

I survived to my hotel. And that’s when I got one more reminder that I wasn’t in Utah any more. This letter was on the counter in my room. 



It doesn’t normally get really cold in Louisville. The hotel was concerned with pipes freezing. Living in Utah, I can certainly appreciate that. But, I just couldn’t get comfortable with their solution. Number 3 says, “Please leave the water running in the sinks and bathtub. 





Utah is a desert state. We are constantly worried about water. The snow we get in the winter has a direct impact on how much water we’ll have the following summer. It’s not uncommon for a resident of Utah to be able to tell you the current snow pack level. (We’re at 72% of normal as of mid February.) We do NOT leave the faucets running.

Ironically, while I was shivering in the cold and snow of Kentucky



Utah was having record heat. Highs in the 50’s and even low 60’s. (We’re going to pay for those warm days next summer when we can’t water the lawn.) 

But, the travel was worth it right? I had braved the elements to get to Kentucky and our company site so that we could launch our product line on time. 



No.

Monday was the “fight the elements” day. Monday night my client called me.

Rodney, we’ve decided to postpone the launch until next week.

Are you serious?

As a heart attack. So, are you going to extend your stay or fly home?

I lose a full day every time I make that trip. I think I’ll just extend my stay.

Oh really? Because I’ve heard Utah is lovely this time of year. 

Yeah, me too.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

My  Brother The Rock Star



Okay, so I know he looks like a pirate, but trust me, he was a rock star. He worked for a company named GWAVA. You can see their logo behind him. We were at BrainShare, Novell’s tech conference in Salt Lake City. The conference was supposedly about Novell and Novell products, but really it was about GWAVA and Richard Bliss was the face of GWAVA. 

There’s a reason for the pirate garb and I’ll get to that. Richard is the most brilliant marketer I’ve ever met. He and I will be talking and while I’m thinking through topic A, he’s already processed A and moved on to B through K. He understands things organically that I struggle to grasp by experience. 

Before he worked for GWAVA, he worked for an anti-virus company in San Francisco. He had a small budget for Comdex, a big computer show in Las Vegas and wanted to make a big impression. He rented Hummers, the civilian version of the military ones and he offered the press free rides. Cab rides in Vegas during Comdex are tough to get. Richard got tons of great press for his company with a little ingenuity. 

Some of his marketing efforts were truely gurilla marketing. Some stories will have to wait for him to tell. 

He once changed the name of his company because the new name worked better for the company. The owners were pleased, but asked him to check with them prior to making any naming changes in the future. 

He was once faced with not being able to sell out a conference during a down economy. He realized that for $50,000 he could pay for all the attendees. But, no one wants to attend a free show. So, he approached a major sponsor and asked them to take credit for paying for people’s attendance. The sponsor got great publicity for no added cost. The attendees were falling all over each other to attend. And he got a sold out conference. He made way more than the $50,000 it cost him. 

He was once arrested for being a spy in Russia. . Oh wait, that was a different Richard Bliss. 

He wrote a book called “Stealing The Show.” The idea is that it doesn’t matter who sponsors the show, you have the ability to make the show your own. And that brings me back to the picture of him as a pirate. 

Brainshare has a theme every year. The year the picture was taken the theme was “Pirates of the Carribean.” GWAVA makes an anti-virus engine for Novell GroupWise. The GWAVA booth looked like a ship, and Richard was the captain. He teamed with other vendors to give away $500 in “gold” coins. Bags of dollar coins. He also gave away a big screen TV and several other prizes. But, in watching the show, and it really was a show, the attendees weren’t there for the big screen TV or the coins. They were there for Richard. He had the entire floor chanting his company’s name. 

At a key point in the presentation extras in the audience dressed in black t-shirts which said

  • SPAM
  • PORN
  • VIRUS

came running up to attack the good ship GWAVA. The imagary was perfect. Your network will be attacked by viruses, porn and spam. And just like Richard and GWAVA can protect the good ship GWAVA from the volunteers working for the free t-shirt they got to keep, GWAVA and Richard will protect your network too. 

He now writes a blog on forbes.com where somehow he gets paid to hang out with football players and write interesting stories about how Big Data gives teams an advantage on the field. 

He’s my big brother and I’m really proud of him. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

Oh, That is NOT A Good Sound

It wasn’t my fault. 

I fell asleep. Well, that was my fault. But it was late. We got to the hospital about 11:00. My lovely wife was being seen for stomach pains. She’d had them before, but this time they were much worse.mthey sent her to one room after another for blood work, x-Rays, ultra sounds (she wasn’t pregnant, by the way.) and as the hours ticked by, I found a comfy chair. . .relatively. . .in a hallway, crossed my legs and leaned my head back. Like I said, it was late.

Mr Bliss? Mr. Bliss, you need to wake up now. 

Huh?

We’ve concluded out tests. We’re getting ready to discharge your wife.

what time is it? 

It’s just after 3:00 AM

I staggered up and shook the cobwebs out of my head. There was something wrong with my foot. I couldn’t feel it. It made it hard to walk. It had fallen asleep, of course. I laughed at the silly figure I cut trying to drag my foot down the hospital hallway.

I realized that I could walk, like a scuba diver with floppy fins if I just picked my foot up high enough. . .like thi…CRACK.

That was not a good sound. It sounded like breaking a whole handful of dry spaghetti, with a couple of yellow #2 pencils thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt…yet. I turned around and wisely drug my foot backwards down the hall to my lovely wife’s room. 

I collapsed on a chair in the corner, and suddenly got very, very cold. Shivering cold. But, if I could just shiver hard enough, I’d be fine. (Did I mention it was 3:00 AM and I had just broken my foot? Not thinking the most clearly.) Finally, I climb into the bed next to hers and pull a blanket over me. It dawned on me that I was in shock. 

The nurse finally comes in to discharge my lovely wife. She does a double take when she sees me in the other bed. My lovely wife starts to offer an explanation, 

He’s . . .

I’m FINE. Let’s go. 

And I meant it. We’d been in the hospital for hours and hours. Broken foot or not, I was ready to go home. I knew if we told them about my foot we’d be there there for even more hours.

For the next six months I wore a stiff brace on my foot. It still twinges every now and then. It took much longer to heal than if I had allowed a doctor to fix it that first night. Why didn’t I? 

Stubbornness. . .impatience. . .embarrassment. . .dislike of hospitals.

The point wa that it my decisions kept it from getting better. 

Here’s the tie-in to this week’s theme of viruses and computer security. In the past I’ve treated my computer the same way I treated my foot. Maybe you have too. I KNOW it’s not working as well as it should. I might even remember that il-advised email attachment that I opened that broke it. But, I don’t want to take the time to have it fixed properly. I go through and delete the problematic files. I close the extra pop ups. I live with the slowness. 

And if you asked me, I KNOW what will make my computer whole. But, rather than get it actually fixed, I just buy an anti-virus program for $29.95 on the Internet and hope it’s good enough. Both of these events happened a long time ago. I’ve gotten better at protecting my computers and I’ve tried to make it a habit to not fall asleep in hospital hallways  with my legs crossed. But, like I said, it really wasn’t my fault.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild. 
Follow him on Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss) or email him at rbliss at msn dot com 

I Only Made One Mistake…One Was Enough

Rodney, the email system is broken.

I just set it up on Saturday. What’s wrong?

We can send email, but no one can send us any email.

I’ll come look at it.

I was an expert. When it came to Microsoft Exchange I was one of the very top experts in the world. I worked for Microsoft writing Exchange training materials. I’d written a popular book on Microsoft Exchange.

I taught people to use Exchange.

And I was an idiot. But, I didn’t know that right away.

That night I drove to my mother’s office to look at her Microsoft Exchange server. I had a tough time convincing her to install email in the first place. I know it sounds strange, but there were companies who were late to embrace email. Why? . . .I’m not completely sure I can explain.

But, now I’d installed it and it was broken. Couldn’t be my fault. They must have done something. I arrived and started looking at their Exchange server. It was tucked away in a small wiring close. I quickly checked through all the easy stuff. I finally narrowed the problem down to a single folder. It was a folder where mail was queued up before being routed to the internet. The only problem was that the files never got to that directory.

They were routed properly, but then just disappeared before they got to the queue directory. Using Windows Explorer I navigated away to other folders, but no matter what I tried I kept going back to the queue directory and it continued to be empty.

Now, remember I was an expert at this. It couldn’t have been something stupid. . could it? But, how could that stupid folder be empty? Could an empty folder actually not be empty?

An idea started to tickle the back of my mind. And a sinking feeling. I clicked the START button and selected RUN: CMD. A command prompt appeared. Using archaic DOS commands, I navigated to the empty folder. To list the contents of a directory in DOS you type DIR.

Instantly the screen started to scroll past faster than I could read. The empty folder had thousands and thousands of files in it. After a couple minutes I typed CTRL-C to break out of the list.

What happened?

Two problems. First, I screwed up. Me, the world famous Exchange expert forgot one little setting. I had forgotten to uncheck a box that said “Allow others to send email through this server.”

By leaving that option checked, I basically said that other other sites could hand their email to my mother’s email system and route it to the internet that way. That’s not a bad thing, is it? In fact, what wouldn’t you want to set that up?

And that was the second problem: Spammers.

Remember that this was when the Internet was in its infancy. Spammers would search the internet for open relays and then use them to flood email boxes with thousands (millions?) of emails.

I don’t understand virus writers, but spammers are pretty simple to understand. It’s all about the money. They are the petty thieves of the internet. Especially in the early days before they teamed up with the virus writers, spammers wanted to get as many emails out to as many people as possible. They didn’t need a high percentage. Sending out 1,000,000 emails and get just a 0.1% response rate and you’ve got 1,000 customers. Sell them a $25 product that cost you $5 and a single email campaign could earn you $20,000.

They were thieves because eventually systems on the internet started blocking them. So, they would look for open relays like I had left them and they would use (abuse) those relays until the relay got blocked and then they’d move on to the next location.

Fixing the relay host issue was simple. What why hadn’t I seen the files in Windows Explorer? Why were they invisible in one view and suddenly visible in the other?

Windows Explorer looks at ALL the files in a folder before it shows you ANY of the files. So, when I was using Explorer to look at the queue directory, Windows was looking at the files. . .and looking. . .and looking. And I left before it finished, assuming it would ever finish.

DOS has the advantage of displaying a file at a time. At the command prompt it took over ten minutes to clear the directory.

What lesson did I learn?

First, I’m not as smart as I thought I was. . I rarely am. Second, the internet is a dangerous place. You should approach it assuming that someone is out there trying to take advantage of you.

I’ve been reminded of both lessons on a regular basis.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Supporting Software Is Hard Enough Without This

It kind of goes VRRRMMMM, ka-chunk, ka-chunk.

Does it happen when you first start out or when you are going faster?

No, it’s only below 30 MPH.

I’m not a car guy. I try to be, because I discovered it costs about $25 to change your own oil, and about $60 to have JiffyLube do it.

But, what I hate about car repairs is the same thing I hate about software support. You have to guess what’s wrong. Oh, sometimes it’s easy. My neighbor diagnosed bad sparkplugs in about 10 seconds. It took all day to get the plugs out.

IMG_1773

But, it’s not always that easy. My van is leaking oil and has been for the past 6 months. Well, it’s not oil, it’s power steering fluid. Unfortunately, I can keep adding fluid and keep dumping kitty litter on the spot on the driveway. But, we’ll figure it out eventually.

And that’s the difference. No one is actively trying to screw up my car. Software on the other hand, has it’s problems and then you find someone who is actively trying to break my systems.

The first virus I ever had to deal with was while I was working as a support engineer at WordPerfect Corp back in 1989. We didn’t have the internet yet, so viruses spread via floppy disks.

IMG_2104

That’s what thumb drives used to be called. It held 720K of data. One of my disks wasn’t working right. I tried everything. I just couldn’t get the program on it to behave correctly. Eventually, we suspected that a network had infected many of the disks in Support. We got copies of software called “Anti-virus” and went through and scanned all our disks.

Sure enough, my problem disk was infected. There are several ways of getting rid of virus. The simplest is to simply reformat the disk. You could also wipe the disk with a magnet and then reformat it. Or, you could even simply throw it away.

None of those were satisfying enough. I’d spent weeks struggling with this. I didn’t want to eliminate the virus, I wanted to seriously hurt the virus writer. I wanted to hunt him down and take away his computers.

I settled for the next best thing. I cut the disk in half. And then I cut it into quarters. And then I chopped the disk up into little pieces. . . then I threw it away.

I have to admit, I’ve never understood virus writers. I also don’t understand graffiti taggers or the knockout game. Why would you want to make life hard for people you have never known and may never know?

It was a strange experience for me, knowing that someone on the other side of the world, or possibly just down the street had written a piece of code with no other point than to screw up my life.

Today virus writers and anti-virus companies dance a strange and dangerous dance, as first one and then the other partner leads. Like vaccinating our children, vaccinating our computers is something that is simply understood.

But, the first time it was a bit of shock.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Haute Culture And Picnics

So, what did you think of the candidate?

Good technical skills. Knows the software. But, I think we’re going to pass.

How come?

Just not the right cultural fit

The following happened to a woman interviewing for a program manager job at Microsoft.

Well Jesica, any questions for me?

No, not really.

WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN COMPETE IN THIS TEAM? IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE PEOPLE GETTING UP IN YOUR FACE LIKE THIS, YOU SHOULDN’T WORK HERE!

Seriously, the interviewer went from Bruce Banner to the Hulk in just a couple seconds.

Why?

He was trying (badly, IMO) to see if she was a good cultural, or team fit. Microsoft was one of the companies that I’ve worked for that worried the most about culture.

The above interview happened with the Microsoft Exchange team. Even by Microsoft standards they were a little crazy. After shipping Exchange 4.0, the Ship party got a little out of hand. What with free beer and a team known for rowdiness. They tossed a leather couch off the third floor balcony. After shipping Exchange 5.0 they passed out cigars and so many of the team smoked them in the building that it set off the fire alarm and the Redmond fire department rolled trucks. They were not amused. I think it was the Exchange 5.5 Ship party where they built a jello wrestling ring in the middle of the atrium. It broke of course and they never did get the stains out of the carpet.

Microsoft had an extensive art collection. The executive committee instituted a rule that the Exchange team had to notify the art department before a Ship party. The art guys would then come remove all the art work from the building. There was an exterior art work that couldn’t be removed. It was a circle of stones. The circle was 20 feet in diameter. The exchange guys lined it with plastic and turned it into a wading pool. Unfortunately, they flooded the parking garage below it.

The Exchange team got its cultural personality from Brian Valentine, the director over Exchange.

What is your team’s culture? It doesn’t have to be mayhem and destruction like Exchange was.

While working for a large non profit in Utah, the company gave each team a certain amount of morale money. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to do a team dinner taking employees and spouses out for a nice dinner. And that’s what most teams did. They did a Christmas dinner for employees and spouses at a local restaurant.

Everyone was expected to go. Secretly? I hated it.

I loved my manager and my peers, but the venue was all wrong. Christmas is a busy season. It meant I had to find a baby sitter, drive to Salt Lake, sit at a long table with twenty people around it and try to talk to the four or five within earshot. I calculated how long I would have to stay to avoid looking rude. When I got the morale money for my team I approached it a little differently.

Team, we are not doing a Christmas dinner.

Really?

Yeah. Instead, we are going to go see Avatar as a team Wednesday afternoon.

What are you going to do with the rest of the morale money?

A picnic.

Huh?

In June, when the kids are out of school, we’ll do a picnic at a local park.

What, like on a Saturday?

Nope. On a Wednesday. Your wives can bring the kids. There’s a water park area. I’ll buy the meat with the morale money and everyone bring a side dish. We’ll eat, play softball or frisbee, or just visit. When you are done, you can go “work from home” for the rest of the day.

The team, all of whom had young families, loved it. My boss hated it.

Why don’t you schedule it for a Saturday so it’s not taking time away from work?

That’s the point, Mark. They put in a lot of hours, I feel guilty making them choose to spend their free time at a company event.

Your team has a culture. It’s going to have one just by virtue of it being a team. As the manager, and the leader you get to set that culture. And it should reflect both you and the team. You might be a Brian Valentine who would start every Ship party by declaring

I want each of you to break at least two rules before you go home.

Or, it might be the team Christmas dinner. Or maybe you’re the picnic team.

And when you look to add people to your team, “cultural fit” isn’t just a lame excuse for not hiring someone. You need to make sure the new members are going to fit in with your culture.

(BTW, my friend didn’t go to work for the Exchange team. Who needs people yelling at you all day?)

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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