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Redistricting Commission Update: If Reps don’t want to answer the question?

Earlier this week, the Citizens Redistricting Commission held a hearing in Oakland for organized groups to submit their maps for consideration.  One of the last groups to present was the California Institute on Jobs, Economy and Education.  Commissioners were rightfully curious who that really meant.  They repeatedly asked for more information about the organization, who were their members and what was their policy interest was in redistricting.  The presenters did everything they could to skirt, dodge and avoid answering the questions.  

Well, since the Institute did not want to help, I can.  The gentleman who began the group's presentation was Thomas Hiltacht.  Hiltacht is a well-known Republican attorney.  He's worked for everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to the nefarious initiative to divide the state's electoral college votes by Congressional District.  

The man who drew the lines was Matt Rexroad.  Rexroad admitted he is a County Supervisor in Yolo County.  He left out the fact he is also a highly-partisan Republican political consultant who frequently posts on redistricting for the FlashReport describing lines that may advantage or disadvantage his party.  Guess which ones made it into the Institute's plan?

The good news is that Commissioners quickly realized their plan was a hot mess.  The Senate plan includes a district that runs from El Dorado to Tulare.  That's more than 250 miles and a 4 and a half hour drive.  The Assembly plan splits 85 cities.  That's about 30 more than the Legislature did 10 years ago.  The Congressional plan drops African-Americans from three districts to one in Los Angeles County.  That understandably irritated the African-American Commissioner from Los Angeles.  

The bad news is that we have to continue to be vigilant.  Tomorrow the Commission is scheduled to hear more group presentations.  The last group to present is Citizens for California Reform.  Another independent organization that just wants fair redistricting right?  Wrong.  Citizens for California Reform is a front group for Gabriella Holt, failed Republican candidate for Assembly District 54 in 2008 and the main force behind the 2010 failed effort to use a part-time Legislature initiative to threaten Democrats into giving into Republican budget demands.  

Hopefully we can count on Commissioners to see through their act just like they saw through the Institute's today.  


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Are all these tornadoes being caused by global warming?  [Greg Laden’s Blog]

People are asking me: Is the recent spate of tornadoes caused by global warming? The usual answer to that question is that you can't answer the question because a tornado is not caused by climate ... it is cause by weather ... and global warming (which is real, and which is cause by humans) is climate change.

However, that is not really the best answer to the question. Ultimately, I want to propose an analogy for how to think about this question, but first, a stab at a good answer, which if modified could probably be improved:

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Biopunks, biohackers, and the movement to own your own DNA [Thoughts from Kansas]

On DNA Day, 23 and Me had a sale on their personal genomics service. They'd do their standard scan of your genome for free, as long as you paid for a year's worth of their online subscription service.

A much smaller version of that same genome survey would have cost you a thousand dollars or more only a couple of years ago. For your money, you get data on single nucleotide polymorphisms at about a million spots in your chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA: mutations that can tell you about your ancestors' migrations across the globe, about your propensity for certain diseases, and about various behaviors and traits, from eye color or hair color and on to the ability to detect the odd odor some people's urine emits after they eat asparagus.

For the price (nearly free up front, and a modest cost for the online community provided), my wife and I jumped on the deal. Since I got the results back two weeks ago, I've been exploring not only the services and information provided by 23 and Me, but the various other tools that individuals have started producing to help analyze and investigate this insight into my ubiquitous but invisible DNA.

Declining cost of sequencing DNAIn years to come, the ability to learn about our personal genetic information, and other personal molecular biology, will only increase. The cost of sequencing DNA keeps dropping, and the level of detail possible through microarrays like those used by services like 23andMe keeps growing. At the same time, the amount of information available about the effects of individual genes and individual gene mutations is rising rapidly. The possibilities are tremendous, but this is not without its risks.
My genome, for instance, revealed a genetic predisposition towards late-onset Alzheimers. The odds of getting Alzheimers are still quite small, but elevated because of this particular mutation to the APOE4 gene. This wasn't a total surprise, given my family history, and as a healthy, young guy with a background in biology and biostatistics, it wasn't hard for me to put that information into a context and move on. Down the road, I'll probably keep an eye out for new research on Alzheimers medicines and look into tools for early detection, but I'm not going to kill myself if I forget my keys. (Thanks to the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the Affordable Care Act's prohibition on "pre-existing conditions" - not to mention the inherent uncertainties in translating this genetic result to a specific outcome - I'm not especially worried about discussing that result in public).

But I can see how someone with a different background, different family history, different training, or different genetic risks, might find these results scary. A 30 year-old woman with certain mutations related to breast cancer could be advised to undergo prophylactic double mastectomies, a decidedly fraught decision. Because of that tension, the FDA and Congress (as well as state regulators in New York and California) have held hearings into the practices of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing services like 23andMe, questioning whether the tests should be treated as medical devices, whether results should have to be passed to consumers through a doctor or a trained genetic counselor, thus increasing the cost and making the services inaccessible to folks with low income or without health insurance. Critics note that most doctors haven't got the background to say anything informative about the results.

They also raise a more fundamental objection, one at the heart of Marcus Wohlsen's fascinating new book Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life. They argue that our DNA is as much a part of ourselves as our hair color or height, and that we have as much a right to access and explore that genetic information as we have to find out about our hair and skin and eyes and teeth. DNA is not destiny, but it is certainly a key part of who we are, and we shouldn't have to rely on intermediaries to be able to interpret the results.

Wohlsen chronicles the nascent movement of folks taking this a step further, not just using the increasing ubiquity of genetic information to learn about themselves, but using the increasing ubiquity of molecular biology equipment and information to turn biotechnology and molecular biology research into a sort of hobby. Some - like the folks at OpenPCR who I met at Maker Faire last weekend - are working to make the equipment needed cheaper and easier to build on your own and to reconfigure and tweak for your own needs. Others are using results from genetic tests as a basis for research into their own biology, with one person conducting a small clinical trial among people with a shared mutation, to help him find out which vitamin supplements would be most readily absorbed into his body (give his particular genetics), to help him avert a disease his genetic screening revealed he was likely to experience. Another biopunk converted her apartment closet into a biotech lab so that she could create a simple, cheap genetic test for hemochromatosis, a difficult-to-diagnose genetic disease which affected her father, but which her insurance company wouldn't pay to test her for.

Most of the biopunks Wohlsen introduces us to aren't trying to cure diseases or create genetic tests. They surely wouldn't mind if they changed the world somehow, but their interest in DIY biology is driven more by a sense of personal exploration and a pure fascination with how things work. The goal, one of these biopunks explains, is to "increase the tinkerability" of biology, "simplifying and domesticating" it to make it accessible to anyone who wants to play with it. Groups like the Bay area's Biocurious aim to create communal molecular biology labs which anyone can join and tinker in; Biocurious will open its lab this summer in Mountain View, not far from Google and the researchers at NASA's Ames facility.

Wohlsen, an AP reporter who covers the Bay Area biotech industry, does a brilliant job bringing us inside this movement, and exploring the hopes and enthusiasm of its advocates. He acknowledges the concerns that exist, but nicely defuses concerns that DIYbio could simplify bioterrorism. A terrorist could accomplish all they might wish without any of the new technology coming out, and the supply companies which will sell you custom stretches of DNA and other essential tools of molecular biology are, by Wohlsen's account, smart and ethical enough to screen out dangerous gene sequences.

I'm fascinated by this movement for various reasons. Partly because I know that this is the future, and it's awe-inspiring to see this unfold, to see molecular biology join insect collecting, bird-watching, and astronomy among the sciences people bring home as hobbies. There's tremendous power there, and tremendous opportunity, and I wish I'd paid more attention to molecular biology in school so I could take part.

But I'm also fascinated because this is the future even for people whose aversion to biochemistry is even greater than my own. Just as everyone in the mid- to late 20th century needed some grasp of physics to be able to think sensibly about nuclear energy, nuclear war, and a host of related issues, the 21st century is sure to be dominated by biology. And DIYbio can play a key role in democratizing science, precisely because it's more focused on what's neat than on what's likely to turn up a new Nobel Prize or a new patent and venture funding for a biotech startup. Its openness will be a great strength as a tool for improving science literacy, and biopunks know it.

Wohlsen quotes from Meredith Patterson's Biopunk Manifesto:

Scientific literacy is necessary for a functioning society in the modern age. Scientific literacy is not science education. A person educated in science can understand science; a scientifically literate person can do science....

Scientific literacy empowers everyone who possesses it to active contributors to their own health care, the quality of their food, water, and air, their very interactions with their own bodies and the complex world around them.

This is a point I constantly return to in my own work on evolution education. Within the lifetime of a student in high school today, the cost of genome sequencing will surely drop low enough that a genome sequence will be a standard part of everyone's medical chart. To understand that wealth of information, doctors and patients will need to be able to understand the common ancestry of life, and the evolutionary forces driving the differences in genes and their effects between humans and model organisms like mice and flies and roundworms. Increasingly, doctors without that context will be worse doctors, and patients without that context will be worse patients: less involved in their own care, and less able to understand the advice their doctors will be giving them. They'll be less able to understand new discoveries when they are reported in mass media. They'll be cut off from an essential part of themselves.

It's clear that Wohlsen, like me and the opponents of FDA regulation of DTC genetic testing, agrees with the idea that this information is and must be our own, to play with and interpret as we see fit. Biopunks, with their commitment to the idea that "knowledge set free will empower everyone," are trying to change society and prepare it for the potential of the revolutions happening in biology today.

Wohlsen summarizes:

Do-it-yourself biotech strives to bring biotech out of these closed-off [academic and industrial lab] spaces and give it to the public. Whether the public actually wants to have it is another question. Do-it-yourself biologists believe they should want it, if only because they have a right to it. Here, DIYers say. This is yours. Because DNA is us.

...

Biopunks have not achieved any major scientific breakthroughs. Maybe they never will. But they all exhibit a goofy joy in what they do, like they're getting away with something. Because rather than wait for science to be done to them, they have decided to do science.

That's a vision I agree with, and a movement I want to be part of. Most of my reason for getting my own genetic analysis was precisely so I could explore these same ideas, and so I could have first-hand experience that could inform my opinion on policy decisions being made today which will affect the future of this fascinating movement. Whether or not you decide to look under the hood at your own DNA, I'd encourage you to read Wohlsen's book and think about the issues it raises.

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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Make Yourself Irreplaceable with a Limited Skillset

Not all of us designers are a Jack-(or Jill)-of-all-trades. Some of us have that one thing we are really good at and we are okay at other things. We might be great web designers, but our coding skills are just sub par. In the design business, we can get discouraged easily, because clients and companies look for people who are well versed in their skill set. Also, job titles are becoming more and more comprehensive, but don’t fear. If you don’t have it all, there are some steps you can take to make yourself irreplaceable.

Look for Help

Let’s get personal for a moment: I am a print and web designer and that’s honestly about it, and to be honest, I prefer print over web design. It takes me hours to code, I get frustrated and if it doesn’t go right the first time, my troubleshooting skills are non existent. Fortunately for me, when I got a client who was interested in web design, I almost always had to turn them down because my coding skills just weren’t up to par. I’m sure I ended up losing out on decent money and clients because once you can’t help someone out as best as they need, they end up dropping you.

Eventually, I got tired of passing up on opportunities. I needed a partner and I needed one quick. So I wandered over to Craigslist and put up an ad about who and what I was looking for. I got about 20 interested people from just posting in two different cities (not the big ones, either), checked everyone out and made a decision. I actually ended up finding someone I liked, met with him and the rest is history.

My point is, if you don’t have a certain skill and you find your clients are looking for that skill often, just find a partner or outsource. Not only did I hook up with a web developer, I found a videographer as well and now I don’t have to turn down a lot of work. You’d be surprised how many people are looking for partners and are as like-minded as you may be.  Having a partner doesn’t just mean more opportunities, but it means less work on your plate. I don’t have to go crazy about troubleshooting coding any more, I can actually get started with the next client. So hit up Craigslist or some other ad websites, or just get into some good networking and get yourself a partner or two.

Go Above and Beyond

This is a very cliché statement, but it’s a very true statement. We can assume that most of the people looking for your work are not people who can do your work and are oftentimes people who don’t understand the work that you do. You can capitalize off this by making sure your client understands your work process and what you are doing. Going into consultations and meetings with nothing they can see is never good. Really make a huge presentation about their work so they understand you mean business. Don’t reveal too much information but try to get them to understand the amount of work you’ve done so they can understand the quality as well.

Going above and beyond doesn’t just have to be design related either. If you can get more information from the client about the company and what the designs may be used for, perhaps you can share some knowledge with the client. I try to get information on marketing techniques, audiences and upcoming events so I can lend a hand. Make sure it’s cool first, but perhaps come up with some marketing and promotional ideas and submit them to the client. If the client likes them that could mean more work for you via the submitted ideas or because the client sees you have taken an active interest in helping them. For you it may not be marketing and promotional ideas, but it may be a potential brochure or site redesign or just letting them know the benefits of different technologies. Don’t just treat the client as a means to work, but take an interest and work with them like you work there. Everyone always wants more bang for their buck, just think of different ways you can do so.

Relationships are Key

Networking is one thing but having a professional relationship with a client can be so much more rewarding than just exchanging business cards. Treat your client like you would treat a good friend and they will at least consider you first. Everyone has to understand that designers and clients are humans and respond to human emotions. How flattered do you get when a friend sends you a Christmas card? How neat do you think it would be to get one from a client?

Doing things like sending cards and updates creates more of a personal connection with a client. It also keeps you fresh on their mind. Make it known to them that they matter to you. Remember things about them to talk about during meetings. Some clients feel more of a connection by talking on the phone rather than through e-mail or Skype. The little things really matter with people. Be genuine and don’t go overboard (and creepy) with it. After all being successful isn’t necessarily about how many people you know but how many people you have relationships with.

Exploit Your Niche

Your limited skill set can be the very thing that makes you extremely different from others. The truth is, when you can typically focus in on a niche to the point of being an expert, you can really bring a lot of attention to yourself. For example, if you are a print designer and you want to exploit your niche, you can create solutions and new trends in print design that really put you at the forefront of that niche. By branding and having a good marketing strategy, you can end up being a print design guru.

Setting yourself up as an expert of a particular niche can really get you a loyal client base because they believe in you and your expertise. Write articles and e-books about your niche to really push the point that you are an expert and know exactly what you’re talking about. On your business card, instead of it saying ‘print designer’ think of something really clever to call yourself to drive the point home. This not only makes you neat, but can really help filter out the type of jobs that you get–if you set yourself up as a print designer, clients will typically only come to you for print design.

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we as designers have to be well versed in everything. If you understand other skills, but are really strong in one particular area, you can be as lethal if not more lethal than someone who claims to be a Jack of all trades. Build teams and really build your brand and you can become someone who would be considered irreplaceable.

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Visualize Images Using HTML Text with Textify

Textify lets you drag an image onto the page and watch it be reconstructed purely out of text. The markup for the resulting textual image can be copied and used elsewhere.

There are a lot of settings which allow you to control the characteristics of the text. Even the smallest tweak to the settings can result in a very different output. Beware that using very large amounts of text will cause heavy browser lag. Textify has only been tested and confirmed to work in Chrome and Firefox 4.

textify

Requirements: Chrome or Firefox 4
Demo: http://textify.it/
License: License Free

Sponsors

Using What Font is you can identify the font you are looking for!

Aactis Shopping Cart: easy, fast and reliable. Check for special offers.

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Bellwether Report

So the Democrats won the special election in Jack Kemp's old district, NY-26, a GOP stronghold for 40 years. The pendulum is swinging so wildly it hit the Republicans in the head and left them so confused they attacked the most popular program in America in a time of terrible economic anxiety just after they lost a huge amount of wealth in the most frightening economic crisis since the great depression.

But I think they should stay the course. It's the kind of message that will surely resonate with time if they just keep repeating it. They should listen to this fellow. He really knows how to sell it:




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Extended Mind

Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at
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1967: when the paperwork became too much! [bioephemera]

This 1967 IBM propaganda film, "Paperwork Explosion," couples an eerily deadpan refrain of "more time on paperwork," with a creepy pseudo-country neighbor* urging us to embrace Progress.

The film's frenetic soundtrack and abrupt transitions embody the familiar hysterical nervousness of an increasingly automated era, while striving the whole time to convince us that technology will relieve the pressures of the modern workplace, allowing us to "think" instead of "work". Looking back, of course, it's clear that technology instead cranked the pressure up. If writers like Nicholas Carr are to be believed, we're thinking less the more technology we have; the machines are thinking for us. (Hello, Watson). So in one view, this film is not so much visionary or sinister as it is touchingly naive - and awesomely retro, of course.

I found this via Braniac, who found it at West 86th. Both blogs, particularly West 86th, have smart things to say about the metaphor of liberating explosive energy that underpins the piece. Ben Kafka's reaction seems to have been similar to mine:

Yet we must not miss the ambiguity here. "Machines should work, people should think." The message repeats itself several times; it's the core of the film's techno-utopian vision. We can imagine IBM executives and lawyers and public relations agents sitting across a table from Jim Henson telling him to make sure he includes these lines in his film. What if, following William Empson's advice to readers of poetry, we shifted the emphasis just a little bit? From "machines should work, people should think" to "machines should work, people should think"? Is it possible that the film might be trying to warn us against its own techno-utopianism? Read this way, the film is less an imaginary resolution to the problem of information overload in the modern era than an imaginative critique of this imaginary resolution. Machines should work, but they frequently don't; people should think, but they seldom do. (source)

Techno-dystopianism, techno-optimism: whatever strand you grab, a piece like this, viewed today, can't help but seem both prescient and foolish in its idealization of the automated world, both subversively Luddite and blindly technophilic, because we haven't decided yet whether we live in a utopia or a dystopia, whether (in Adam Gopnik's brilliant summation) the Never-Betters or Better-Nevers are right. Who knows, really? People should think, but do they?

*Is it me, or is that neighbor like a crotchety uncle from a Wonderful World of Disney special who wandered onto the Prisoner set (or vice versa)? Who is he - a self-made outdoorsman in his homestead, or a postmodern prisoner in a theme park world where no one is allowed to work anymore - only think? Why is he so creepy? Argh!

Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


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London Drudge is Failing Down

QUEENBOBO_SM
You know E.J., over here they call their apartments "flats" and their elevators "lifts"!

What a country!

So our Mr. Brooks spent his 800 words New York Times Op-Ed ration today write a slobbery mash note to Britain thanking them for how well Mr. Brooks believes they have put into practice the Brooksian Vision of the perfect political system:
"It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school. This makes it gossipy and often incestuous. But the plusses outweigh the minuses."
And why not?

After all, the Fictional British System Mr. Brooks has invented has everything America's Greatest Conservative Public Intellectual could possibly want: an awesome class system (now a bit down on its heels, but still), spiffy uniforms, jellied eels, a Queen and Margaret Thatcher.
Hell, even its home-grown Conservatives are perfect accent pieces for someone like Mr. Brooks -- not the hateful, vicious, thugs who actually run Mr. Brooks’ Movement (and about whose nature and lineage he continuously lies), but toothless, Precious Moments Figurine Conservatives

that come in a variety of festive designer colors. Silly little fops who imitate Mr. Brooks' oeuvre in flattering miniature: perching on the mantle of the media and regurgitating little puddles of American Hippie Punching dogma on command.

Not at all like our giant ass-ache of a country that Mr. Brooks ominously warns us "Americans" not to feel "smug or superior" about.

Glenn Greenwald takes up the challenge of taking today's ritual whacks at the indestructible Bobo pinata:

...
Brooks is widely loved by establishment figures because he thinks like them, speaks for them, and tirelessly defends their interests, most especially with this democracy-hating mindset. The obvious flaw in his post-financial-crisis fantasy was that the near-economic-collapse was the direct result of the very council of oligarchical elites he yearned to empower ("the safe heads from the investment banks. . . people like [former Goldman CEO Hank] Paulson . . . [and former Goldman CEO] Robert Rubin") -- just as the architects and bipartisan cheerleaders of the Iraq War (prominently including Brooks) continue to wield Seriousness status and exert dominance over America's foreign and military policy.

But more generally, what Brooks so envies about British political culture -- a small, incestuous, aristocratic, homogenized group of trans-ideological elites harmoniously resolving their differences -- is exactly what already drives American policy and politics. And that is what establishment spokespeople like Brooks always mean when they yearn for "bipartisanship"...

The estimable Aramis of "Barkers and Rubes" also gets in some sweet licks here.

Several weeks ago, at a little meet-up at a nearby eatery, as I was getting wound up about some damn thing or other, Arvan of sexgenderbody wisely noted something that I occasionally forget (and that I am elaborately expanding and paraphrasing into my own native tongue): that America really is an empire, ruled primarily out of D.C. and New York by a small group of incredibly powerful interests who pay good money to remain thoroughly insulated from the messy, dying remnants of democracy as it thrashes around on the slaughterhouse floor. That the maddening insipidity and jaw-dropping mediocrity of imperial spokesmen like Brooks is merely a sign that they are performing their function -- protecting their their paymasters from scrutiny or harm -- exceedingly well.

All passages are blocked, all bridges are guarded and the Empire has command of the air and controls all the high ground. And nothing I say, nothing Glenn Greenwald says, nothing Matt Taibbi says...nothing whatsoever is ever going to effect the slightest change in status or power or reach of people like Mr. Brooks.

Nothing.

And why?

Well consider for a moment that many of the reforms which would dramatically change the American political system in ways that Mr. Brooks finds so laudable are well within reach right here in America and always have been. Everyone who is not a liar or a congenital imbecile knows what the problems are: our media -- the nervous system of our democracy -- is hopelessly broken and compromised, and monied interests have turned the American political system into an open, reeking whorehouse.

If you want to fix American politics, get rid of the fucking oceans of money and all the attendant corruptions that go with it. If you want to fix the media, put a public premium on individuals and institutions that tell us the truth, and a public sanction on individuals and institution that lie to us

Problem solved.

Except it isn't because the "problem", as Malone says in, "The Untouchables" is not figuring out where the booze is.

Everyone knows where the booze is.

The problem is, who wants to cross Capone?

And in a world where politics remains contentious but where partisan fights are governed by a deep respect for courtesy, comity and honesty...

....Administrations that use national tragedies to lie us into illegal wars would be impeached and imprisoned.

...Hate Radio would be a shameful perversion like unto horse porn, enjoyed by freaks in secret in their basements at night.

...Fox News would have been nuked from orbit long ago. Just to be sure.

...and David Fucking Brooks would be scratching out a living writing seed ads for Grit Magazine.

And as Mr. Brooks knows full well, the oligarchs that he so loyally serves will never permit that world to come to pass.



(BTW, I did this Photoshop of Mr. Brooks back in January of this year. Prescient? Not at all. Read any random 3-4 Brooks columns and his inner Peeved Monarch just sorta leaps out at you.)





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At home in a beer hall

What an ass:

You can read all about this thoroughly idiotic -- and completely disrespectful -- hearing in this post by Ari Berman.

The GOP is becoming more and more openly thuggish. And Patrick McHenry is one of their leading lights. Ugh.


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