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So, When Did You Become Such An Expert?

Elder, what language were they speaking?

That’s Dutch, Elder.

That don’t sound anything like what they taught us in the MTC. Elder do you think I’ll ever be able to speak like that?

Sure you will. One day, someone will come up and ask you a quesiton and you’ll answer him without even thinking.
– “The Best Two Years”

No one sets out to become an expert. Oh, maybe in a few things. My daughter is a 2Lt in the Army. She has gained the rating of Expert Marksman on the rifle range. But, for most people, they don’t set out to become an expert. Most of the time, we just want to be good enough to get along.

I’ve become an expert in a few things in my life. Mostly by accident, or simply working on improving everyday.

The quote above is from a movie about Mormon missionaries in Holland. I was a Mormon missionary in Chicago. I was working with deaf people. I practiced daily for months and months. By the time my two years was over, I was a fluent as any deaf person. To compare to a spoken language, I signed like a native.

My first “real” job was working for WordPerfect Corporation supporting their email product. In a poor naming decision it was called WordPerfect Office. I worked there for years. I got pretty good. I remember one day on the phones a person asked me a question. I didn’t know the answer. I thought of who I might ask. The programmers didn’t understand as well as I did, how the customers were using the product. The same went for testers. I was the most experienced person on my team. I suddenly came to the realization that there was literally no one in the world who could answer that question. If I didn’t know the answer, no one did.

I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that.

Oh, that’s okay. I was just curious.

I had become an expert without realizing it.

Over the weekend we went to visit my daughter’s ranch in Southern Utah on Saturday and Sunday. My younger daughter went down on Friday. She called me and told me her car broke down just outside the gate to the ranch. She explained the problem and I packed some tools to take down with me. My son and I talked about it on the two hour trip there.

Well, she said that it just quit while she was driving. It’s most likely the alternator.

My son-in-law called me while we were on our way.

Yeah, it looks like the pulley totally came off the alternator. The belts are pretty chewed up.

We bought a new alternator and new belts. Then, on Saturday, as my lovely wife, kids and grandchildren went off to enjoy the obsidian beds and the nearby lava tubes, my son-in-law and I replaced the alternator.

Today another son asked me to come “listen to my car.” It was making a weird rattle noise when he accelerated above 30 MPH. I noticed it right away. It was centered around the right front wheel.

It’s either a broekn belt in the tire, or possibly a bent rim.

Well, I did hit a pothole pretty hard.

It could also be that you dropped one of the weights they use to balance your tire.

So, you don’t think it’s an engine problem?

No. Definitely not an engine problem.

Later he took it to the tire dealership where he bought his tires. They ran it through a series of tests. He told me what they found.

They said my tie rods need to be replaced, but that wasn’t creating the rattle. They think the rim might be bent. They attached some weights to try to balance it out.

I realized then that twice in two days, I’d correctly diagnosed a car issue without even really thinking about it. I had become Elder Calhoon from “The Best Two Years.” At the end of the film a man comes up and asks him directions for the train. He answers him without thinking.

He’d become an expert.

When did it happen?

While he was working on figuring out how to get by.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Some Stories Never Get Told

He was his father’s only son. He never married. He was old when I was young. I’d known he was a veteran. His funeral was one of my earliest memories. I remember the bugler standing on a lonely hilltop in a very old cemetery in the town of Tekoa, Washington.

The town has less than 600 people in it. It’s a tiny farming town on the Washinton, Idaho border. It’s the place my people are from. My aunts and uncles is buried there. My grandparents are buried there. Their parents are buried there. And thier parents’ parents are buried there. Someday my cousins will likely be buried there.

I called him Uncle Earl, but he was actually my great-uncle. I didn’t really know him well. It’s hard when our ages were so different. I’m not even sure he liked kids. We lived in Tekoa off and on as I grew up, and we often visited my grandparents, and my great grandfather there.

In a town as small as Tekoa you pretty much saw everyone. So we saw Uncle Earl often. His house was next to my great grandfather’s as I remember. One time, as a young boy, I got lost coming home from school. It’s hard to imagine. The entire town was less than a square mile. I couldn’t find my way to grandparents’s house, where we were living. So, I walked to my great-grandfather’s house. That meant I walked by Uncle Earl’s house as well.

I learned today, what he did in the army. He fought in WWII. His rank was a Tec-5, or Technician fifth grade. Wikipedia says that a Tec 5 was a United States Army technician rank during World War II. Technicians possessed specialized skills that were rewarded with a higher pay grade, but had no command authority. The pay grade number corresponded with the technician’s rank.

I don’t know what he did in the war. No one really talked about it. I certainly never heard Uncle Earl talk about it. My uncle, Earl’s nephew told me a few stories before he also passed away.

Uncle Earl was wounded in the war. It caused some stomach issues for the rest of his life. I think he may have lived on a pension or disability payments.

Unfortunately, Uncle Earl passed away alone. He drank a lot later in life. My uncle says that he drank himself to death. As it was, he was dead for several days before he was found. It was a sad way to die for a war veteran, and a man with family all around him.

Today is Memorial Day. The day we remember those veterans who died either during war time or after. There are many deceased veterans in my family. My father, my father-in-law, Uncle Earl, of course. But, even further back, we have family that fought in the Civil War. And I have an ancestor Captain Abdail Bliss who fought at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War.

Some stories are known. Some are unknown. Some stories can be discovered. Some are lost to history.

Uncle Earl was the last of the Blairs. He had four sisters. One of whom was my grandmother. Those of us with memories of Uncle Earl are growing older. Soon, his memory will be words on an old blog post. Or the short information found on his government issued tombstone on a lonely hillside graveyard outside of a tiny town in the Palouse country of Eastern Washington.

A lonly hillside where once stood a solitary bugler playing the final salute to a fallen WWII veteran.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

No, Wait. I’m Not That Good

I don’t deserve it. I honestly don’t. People think I am way more virtuous than I am. It doesnt’ bother me. . .much.

As you all know I have 13 children. That’s a large family even for Utah. There are some people who think that large families are a problem. They think the world is already overpopulated. Not only do they feel this way, they for some reason feel entitled to complain about it.

My dear mother-in-law had 15 children. She was a very reserved and “proper” woman. She related to me one time some of the horriible things random strangers would say to her.

You know what causes that right?

However, I don’t get any of those rude comments, nor does my lovely wife. In fact, I get a “pass” from those who complain about large families. In fact, I get more than a pass. The same people who would insult my dear mother-in-law express nothing but admiration for us.

See, of our 13 children, most are adopted. And they weren’t just adopted, they were adopted from some of the poorest countries in the world. We’ve adopted from Haiti, India, Colombia, China and the United States.

So, instead of overpopulating the planet, we get credit for “saving the world.” That’s not why we adopted. We adopted because we were only able to have a few birth children and we wanted a bigger family. Had we been able to have mroe birth children, I don’t know if we would have ended up with 13, but I’m sure we would have ended up with more than most people would have considered “proper.”

I’m not a saint. I’m not responsible for saving the world. I’m just a dad trying to do the best I can.

But, still some insist I’m much more virtuious than I am.

We are in the middle of this pandemic. This week we are starting to open up the country. And while things are getting better, we still have a long ways to go and need to continue to practice the best practices that have got us this far. That includes social distancing and wearing masks.

It’s been over two months an dmany people are sick. Not from the virus. They are sick of the virus and the restictions it places on us. We’ve started to see protests against continued stay-at-home orders. We’ve started to see businesses opening up in defiance of government directives. And we’ve started to see people protest wearing a mask.

I have to admit, I wear a mask. I wear it everytime I go into a store or I’m going to be around anyone who is not my immediate family. I also wear nitrile gloves when I’m out. Fortunately, as a sometimes mechanic, I had several boxes of them. I understand that gloves are only effective while you are in a store. I use a new pair of gloves everytime I go into a different store.

Oh, and I don’t wear the mask and gloves in the car. That’s not really necessary.

And we have the counter-protests as well. We have those who object to people not wearing a mask. Objecting is fine. It crosses the line when people take it on themselves to enforce social distancing or mask rules.

So, I look like I’m pretty compliant, right. I must be on the side of those who want to force the world to wear a mask.

I’m not as virtuous as I get credit for. I have someone at my house that is immunocompromised. If she caught the Coronavirus, she might die. So all my masking, my wearing gloves, my social distancing? I’m not doing it for you. I’m actually more libertarian than liberal. I’m wearing a mask for selfish reasons.

So, those who want people to wear masks, think I’m on their side. And those who don’t want to wear masks, give me a pass.

I’m not nearly as virtuous as people think I am.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

It’s Worth What Someone Will Pay For It

I own two sets of noise cancelling headphones. One of them cost $400. The other cost $65. Which one is more valuable?

Are you sure?

I had a friend one time that was getting ready to move out of a neighborhood where I was building a house. It wasn’t going well.

I don’t get it Rodney. I’m having trouble selling the house.

It’s a great looking house. What seems to be the trouble?

I just can’t get anyone to offer me what it’s worth.

I don’t remember if I laughed out loud, or if that came later. My friend’s problem was a common one. He assumed the value of something was tied to how much he paid for it.

But, really, the worth of his house wasn’t determined by what it said on his mortgage note. Or the appraisal. Or even, the country tax records. The worth of his house was whatever someone was willing to pay for it.

There’s a parable that Jesus tells in the Bible that I’ve always enjoyed. It involves a vinyard. It’s time to harvest. The Lord of the vinyard goes out in the morning and hires people to harvest his vinyard and offers to pay them a penny for the day.

Noontime comes and the work isn’t progressing as fast as the master would like. He goes out and hires some more workers. He offers them a penny for the day.

As the day is drawing to a close there is still a lot of work to do. The owner goes out and hires even more workers and offers them a penny to finish out the last hour of the day.

He then pays them in reverse order. The guys that worked an hour got paid their wages of a penny. Next, the guys hired at noon got paid a penny for their work. By now, the first group is thinking,

If they got paid a penny for working less than half a day, we should be getting nearly twice that.

But, when the owner paid them their wages, it was a penny. They were upset. They pointed out that they worked twice as long as the noon-workers and many hours longer than the end-of-day crowd.

Here was the important lesson,

Didn’t we sign a contract? And am I not honoring the contract and paying you what I promised?

The spiritual lesson is that it doesn’t matter when we come to God. We all receive a Heavenly reward.

But, I like this story for the practical application to business. The Seattle Sonics basketball team was pretty good in the 1990s. Their two superstars were Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. Both were getting nearly the maximum salary amount. Then Seattle management made a huge mistake. They signed a guy named Jim McIlvaine. He was a good player, but not really a superstar. They paid him more than they were paying Shawn Kemp. It didn’t end well.

But, should it have? Didn’t Seattle honor the contract that they’d signed with him? He couldn’t handle getting less money than his teammate. Even though he was happy with his contract before the Sonics added McIlvaine.

Jobs are worth what people will accept to do them.

Employees are worth what they can earn.

One of my favorite movies is the original Magnificant Seven. At one point, Chris, played by Yul Brenner is trying to hire an out of work gun fighter played by Charles Bronson.

We heard you got that Salinas thing cleaned up in five weeks.

They paid me $800 for that one.

And Johnson County in four weeks.

They paid me $500 for that one.

You cost a lot.

Yeah, I cost a lot.

The pay is $20.

Twenty dollars? Right now, that’s a lot.

I once made $250 per hour. And it was fulltime temporary work. I’ve also delivered papers as an adult making barely enough to pay for gas.

What am I worth? What is the “right” amount for me to get paid?

There isn’t one. For some jobs I’m worth $500,000 per year. (Although the job was only for a summer.) For some jobs I’m worth less than minimum wage. I’m worth whatever someone will pay me.

Oh, thos headphones? I hate the $400 pair. They don’t fit well and I’m not fond of some of the features. The $65 pair? I bought them used on Craigslist and they are my favorite of all time.

Which one is worth more?

Don’t let the amount you get paid confuse you about what’s really worthwhile or not.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Breaking One Of My Three Writing Taboos

There are three topics very dear to my heart that I’ve (mostly) kept off these pages: Faith, family and politics.

Faith

I’m a person of faith. Which particular faith is not really relevant. But, my relationship with my Maker is very important to me. But, you know what is typically very boring to read about? Someone else’s description of their faith. It’s like when your best friend fell in love. All he wanted to do was tell you all about her. And while you liked your friend and wanted to be supportive, you very quickly got very tired of hearing about his new crush.

I kind of feel like discussions of religion are somewhat like that. I’m happy to talk about religion in the non-personal sense. Although even that quickly becomes somewhat tedious to those who don’t share the same enthusiasm for discussing thousand year old philosophies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several of you readers. Some I know are people of faith. Some I know are not people of faith. And mostly I have no idea if they, you, are people of faith. But, universally, the readers I’ve talked to are good people. And I’m of the belief that good people are no respector of religions. They are found in all religions and even among those who practice no religion, except being good to their fellow humans.

There are many wonderful places online to hear about religions. I’m certain you didn’t come here to discuss the finer points of theology.

Family

From the very first day I started writing, I’ve included a reference in my signature block to my 13 children and grandchildren. A friend pointed out that my reference is somewhat ambiguous. Is the total of children and grandchildren equal to 13? Or, are there 13 children in addition to grandchildren? And if there are 13 children, how many grandchildren?

For someone who calls myself a writer, I certainly wasn’t particularly skilled in writing that blurb. Actually, I spent a fair amount of time crafting that bit of text. I don’t talk easily about my children. Especially online.

In fact, just today I was talking with a coworker. We’ve known each other for more than a year.

Did you know I have 13 children?

No. How did I not know that?

It’s not something I talk about much at work.

Not surprisingly, she doesn’t read my blog and has never seen my signature block.

My children have their own interesting stories. Stories much more interesting than anything I can relate about myself. But, their stories belong to them. The internet is forever. While many of my children are adults, they still have their own stories. Maybe someday they’ll ask me to tell some of them. Until then, my comments on them will remain ambiguous. “13 children and grandchildren.”

Politics

That leaves the third leg of my non-comment triad. I enjoy politics. I look forward to the quadrennial presidential elections with as much excite as the Baseball World Cup. (Which also occurs every four years.) I’m old enough to have watched 12 presidential elections. Sometimes my guy won. Sometimes he lost. Recently, sometimes she lost. I’m one of the idiots who can go on at length about the impact of monetary policy on the relations with Taiwan and China. Or, how the U6 number is better than the U3 number for calculating the true unemployment figures.

I admit, it’s a topic that many find distasteful. In fact, my lovely wife hates discussing politics. It’s not a topic we discuss much.

But, online you can find wonderful discussions. I most enjoy discussions with people I disagree with who are interested in discussion, not argument.

If you’ve read to this point you may be wondering what my politics are. I’ve intentionally left out any indication of my preference. Odds are slightly more than 1/3 of you reading this identify as Democrats. Slightly less than 1/3 of you identify as Republican. The rest are independent.

I have no intention of alienating 1/3 of you by identifying with a particular party. I also have no intention of insulting any of you. Now you see why I don’t talk politics on this page. But, as promised, today I’m going to break that rule. . .because it relates to the topic of IT and computers.

Presidential campaigns are the most expensive operations in history. Both sides will likely spend over a billion dollars by the time we vote in November. The campaign organizations use all manner of media to get their message across. They use print, video, in person rallies, surrogates, TV, Facebook, Twitter, and now that the country is locked down they use Zoom.

My issue, is the recent “virtual” rally that Vice President Biden held. It didn’t go well. There were computer glitches. There were people who didn’t know they were on air. There was dead air.

And then a few days later the former Vice President was speaking to a group of people, again via a computer, and this time nearby Canada Geese disturbed it. And a Secrete Service agent seemed to wander into the shot. Again, it didn’t go well.

Here’s my problem: Why? Why is a national campaign having such trouble mastering this new medium.

My brother, Richard Bliss, is an executive consultant. He helps CEOs to craft their online messages and manage their brand. He, like many people, is working from home. Specifically he’s works out of a very fancy tent in his backyard in Northern California. But, you would think that a tent is not the greatest backdrop for someone getting paid to help C-level executives look good online. You’d be right. His backdrop isn’t a tent.

Typically it’s a fashionable apartment on the upper floor of a building in San Francisco. He doesn’t own an apartment in San Francisco. He rarely goes to San Francisco. That fashionable apartment is completely virtual. He has a large green screen that he uses and he can project anything he wants. And, if you don’t know it’s virtual, you wouldn’t notice. He’s really good at blending the line between virtual and reality.

My kids the other day watched an episode of America’s Got Talent. The performer was a magician. His prop was a series of TV screens arranged in a wall. He projected himself into the various TV sets and “talked” to himself. The magic was that his on-screen person had a drink and handed it to the real version of himself. It was seamless.

My point is that if a stage performer and a consultant in a tent in San Jose can create competent, believable online experiences, why can a candidate for national office do it?

It appears that Mr Biden is using the video camera and microphone on his laptop. The lighting is atrocious. It’s whatever natural light or lamps he happens to have in his basement.

I have a good friend who works in the television industry. Every week his studio releases numerous episodes of shows. Some are scripted. Some are “reality” TV. But, all of them have professional lighting, camera, audio and graphics.

I love baseball. I don’t get to enjoy many games in person. But, in many ways, I enjoy watching games online. During an online broadcast of a game you get instant stats and graphics and replays.

If we have this kind of technology, why didn’t someone on Biden’s campaign team hire anyone with these skills? Could they not ship Biden some professional cameras? Could they not place a public relations specialist into Biden’s household and have him setup a mini-studio. Get some great backgrounds. Use high quality mics. Get some stuido lights.

We’ve all been locked up for two months. During that time, you would have thought the campaigns would be building new strategies to connect to voters. At the very least maybe they could at least get someone to remove the “cheering” geese.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Working With Imperfect Tools

Like all writers and craftsmen, I strive for perfection. And at the same time I no it’s impossible. I recently built a cabinet as a Mother’s Day gift for my lovely wife.

I also built one a few weeks earlier.

The first cabinet I made, had at least a dozen mistakes or flaws. Some I worked around. Some I hid. A couple are visible. The cabinet is functional, of course. And there are parts of it that came out very nice.

I decided not to list the flaws here, because every custom made cabinet has some flaws. Some of the best advice I received on woodworking

All woodworkers make mistakes. The good ones figure it out before the glue dries.

It’s important to know when to say, “It’s complete.” BTW, it was the first cabinet I’d ever attempted to make. Most of my work in the past has been function over form. I built shelves for our store room.

I’ve repaired the cabinet floor under my sink. I did make a try at some book shelves that turned out not too bad.

For Christmas I decided to attempt some more delicate work and built hanging shelves.

But, it was the first time I’d built these style of bathroom cabinets. As I said the first one had over a dozen mistakes. The second one had fewer. My experience helped. I have at least one more planned that I hope will be even better.

I continue to strive for perfection, knowing I won’t be able to achieve it, but hoping I can get closer. As I was considering my various projects, I thought about my tools. I have quite a few tools; woodworking tools, of course, automotive tools, hand tools, power tools, pneumatic tools.

Some of the tools are new,

Any project, no matter how small is a good excuse to buy a new tool.

But, I also have some very old tools. Some that belonged to my father, and his father before him. These aren’t heirlooms. In fact, most of them are hard used.

A few are even slightly broken. And yet, I can take a broken tool, an imperfect tool and still attempt to use it to create perfection.

As my signature block pointes out, I have 13 children. I grew up without a lot of little kids around. I didn’t have any nieces or nephews until I got married. My lovely wife comes for a large family. I immediately inherited about 70 nieces and nephes aged from infants to older teenagers.

When I started to have children I was very nervous. I had no idea how to raise kids. Even know, as my oldest is in her 30s and I have grandchildren to spoil, I still don’t know much about raising kids.

As I looked back on my own childhood I could easily see the many areas that were “disfunctional.” My dear mother was married 5 times before I was 12 years old. My dear mother is an amazing women. She was married to my dad, her 5th husband for over 30 years until he passed away.

But, the fact is I didn’t want my children to have to experience some of the things I did growing up. Like all parents, including mine, I wanted my children to turn out better than I did. And it was my job to try to help them. To help them strive for perfection, knowing tey will never achieve it.

I’m the imperfect tool, trying to craft something closer to perfection, trying to pass down to my children the best parts of the things my parents passed down to me. Hoping, they in turn will take the best that I can give them and pass it on to the next generation.

And someday my children and grandchildren will use the tools in my garage to create their own projects. Constantly striving for perfection with the imperfect tools I hand down to them.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Looking Back Four Decades

It’s a if it was yesterday. In fact, it was a Sunday. I was 15. My brother was 17. We were getting ready for church. It was early in the morning of May 18, 1980. I was gazing off to the South. I was watching the clouds billow. It was like one of those nature programs where they use time lapse photography to show the clouds forming.

Except this was in real time. The clouds continued to billow up, miles into the sky. Fifteen miles we would later find.

It was the largest volcano eruption in modern American history. Mount St Helens blew over 1000 feet off the top of it’s mountain. The ash cloud would circle the globe, twice. The ash would bury eastern Wasington, Idaho and parts of Montana.

It was truly a once in a lifetime event. But, then I guess many events are once in a lifetime. Watching a volcano erupt was certainly one of them. Well, watching it erupt for the first time. It erupted a lot over the next several years. Some eruptions were more visually stunning. Sunday May 18, was somewhat cloudy even before the eruption. Other eruptions occured on a clear day. It was possible to see all the way to the mountain itself, nearly 300 miles away. The ash plume acting like a giant inverted arrow pointing to the mountain.

But, there’s no forgetting that first one. Even now, after a lifetime of experiences, it’s one of the memories I’ve chosen to hang on to. I can’t imagine ever forget it. Even if I live another four decades.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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