I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Preferences Change

One of the beauties of the written word is its permanence. Its a direct line to what the author was thinking at the precise moment he or she put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

While I enjoy being able to look back on what I used to think about a given subject, I also used to dread the idea that someone might fight a contradiction in my writing and shove it in my face.

I don’t fear that anymore.

If you find a contradiction, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Point it out to me if you must and I’ll probably just nod my head in agreement with you.

Beliefs change. So do preferences.

A couple of days ago, I looked over my list of 100 Preferences that I wrote in 2005 and 14 of the 100 have changed. One of them has changed twice. I’m thinking that I need to update the list—maybe draw a red line through the ones that have changed and use a different color to highlight my new preferences.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my preference to put nearly all food products in the refrigerator (including chips, cookies, bread, and pop tarts). I get all kinds of mock grief for this from my friends. But hey, a guy like what he likes, right?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who Wears Short Shorts?

Up until last year, I can’t tell you the last time I went out and bought a pair of shorts. I used to wear them all summer long, but after rupturing my Achilles tendon in my right leg in 1997, and then after having some complications after the surgery, let’s just say that wearing shorts didn’t have much appeal to me after that.
But I noticed something one day last year—my leg seemed better. Not great, but better. So I bought a pair of shorts.
That’s when things got confusing.
When did shorts become so long that they hang down to the place where my tube socks used to be pulled up to? Are these really shorts or just short long pants? And how does a person move in them—especially on the tennis court—when they hang down so far?
I have no answers.
Last week, I bought a couple more pairs and was left with the same questions. Then a friend gave me a pair that he picked up on a discount rack that wouldn’t fit him. All of a sudden, I have a drawer full of shorts that make me feel like I woke up after a 20-year coma to a world in which all the styles have changed.
Photo credit: Abraham Del Pozo

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Series of Firsts: First High School Memory

About a week before high school started in1982, the tennis team met for the first time. I’d been practicing all summer, hoping to make an impression on the coach, but not really having any idea how well I’d do against older, more developed players. I entered the tennis courts in a location affectionately known as “the hole” (because it sits down in a bowl-shaped area). I’d spoken with the coach on the phone a few days prior to let him know I wanted to play for the team, but I was still extremely nervous before the first practice.

Thankfully, the coach didn’t make any cuts because I probably wouldn’t have made the team that season. We had about a dozen guys on the team—the most of any of the three seasons I played there.

The coach divided us up the first day based on our experience and we began to run through the various tennis drills he taught us.

I recounted the memory in a post from 2006:

I attended my first high school tennis practice at the beginning of my sophomore year (I know I'll sound old when I say this, but back then, high school started in 10th grade—not 9th). I was immediately enamored with two players. Both were seniors. Both had the latest in tennis racket design (one graphite and the other aluminum—most of the rest of us, myself included, were still using wooden rackets). And both were named Jeff. They played tennis on a level I'd never seen before. They took full cuts at the ball and somehow kept the ball from flying over the fence and into traffic—a skill that I certainly hadn't mastered at that point. They were doubles partners and each of the remaining members of the team were paired up to practice with them. I learned more during that year from them than in all my other previous years on the court combined.

They worked together as a team when they played doubles—complete with hand-signals that indicated when one player was going to poach or stay put. And they were quick to teach the rest of us what to look for and how to position ourselves. Their teaching didn't pay immediate dividends, but it did provide for some comedy.

I remember garnering up the courage to poach during one particular practice session against them. I probably should have abandoned ship when I saw that the serve my partner hit resembled a helium balloon, but I didn't know any better at the time. One of the Jeffs—the one who typically crushed balls from the baseline—stepped into a forehand while I was poaching and the ball was on me quicker than anything I'd ever seen. As I attempted to bail out (I must have looked like a guy who was desperately trying to avoid getting shot) the ball found a nice cushy spot just under the ribs on the left side of my body and I went down in a heap. The ball, however, bounced off my body and found its way over the net for a winner. After everybody saw that I was okay, laughter filled the courts—including from my own mouth—even though it hurt to laugh.

Starting classes a week after I started tennis practice was so much easier since I already knew about a dozen guys and one teacher (the coach). To be honest, I can’t even remember my first day of classes, but I’ll always remember that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I strolled onto the court to play high school tennis for the first time.

Other posts in this series:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Recommended Websites/Blogs

The Internet has a bad reputation—sometimes justifiably so—but I’ve been running into some great websites and blogs:

  • Young People Who Rock: A CNN blog written by Nicole Lapin. Each week, she finds one person under 30 and she writes about the differences they are making. One of the entries is about Jessica Cox, a 25-year-old woman who was born without arms. She’s training to become a sports pilot instructor.
  • Consumerist: A blog that links to good shopping deals, gives the consumer tips about current scams, and warns consumers about things like “8 Pieces of Junk Fitness Equipment.” At times, I find this blog to be a bit alarmist, but I also find a lot of informative and interesting content as well.
  • Newsweek: Yes, the magazine. They have have a culture/ideas section that I love to read. One particular story running in that section is titled Just Hold Me—it’s about a reporter’s experience with the Snuggie. In the article, the writer said this: “We spend everyday of our lives learning about the latest terrible economic news: the Dow plummeting, unemployment rates rising or Bernie Madoff's scamming. Even if we're not personally feeling the strain, there's a buzz in the air that tells us to stay home, to relax on the couch, to cook our own dinner—to squirrel up and save for a rainy day.” Good stuff.
  • Books and Culture: Part of the Christianity Today website. One of the things I really like about Books and Culture is that it talks about ideals and principles that are being discussed in books that do not necessarily come from the Christian perspective. I’m attracted to the notion of thinking about life beyond the Christian cloister because most of life happens outside of that rather small circle.

What websites/blogs do you recommend? I’m looking for more cool sites that are out of the mainstream.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Preserving Paper and Electronic Files

We live in a world of constant change. I was reminded of that again the other day when I went to my basement to look for something. I opened a box and saw some old zip drive disks that my dad used to back up his documents. Zip drives were all the rage in the late 90s. In fact, I remember going to a big box electronic store during that time period and calling my dad from the store to ask him what he thought about the price of the zip drive they had on sale.

At his suggestion, I bought it and finally felt like I’d thrown off the limitations of floppy disks that could only store 1.4 MB of information (I take pictures today that are that size). Yeah, I could have been burning things to CD, but I hated the permanency and I hated the process. My new zip drive was cumbersome to take on the road when I traveled, but I did it any way. It did what I wanted it to do. Then along came thumb drives and made zip drives unnecessary and obsolete. Then external hard drives began to shrink in size and price and suddenly, we had a couple of options. Then on-line encrypted storage became affordable and I started using that.

All of these changes took place in the past ten years and I’ve embraced all of them because each one made things a little easier. It is a little disconcerting though to know that the medium we are using today will be at the bottom of a cardboard box in two years. It’s not disconcerting because for sentimental reasons, but instead for content reasons. In previous generations, old journals and letters stood the test of time because paper was the standard medium. How will an electronic journal on an old thumb drive at the bottom of a cardboard box stand the test of time? Will the data still be retrievable in 80 years? Would that generation even have the capability of retrieving the data—even if they knew what they had found?

Paper seems to be the answer, which is hilarious if you think about it. But it’s not the only answer because paper doesn’t survive fires, and spills, and moves. It seems to me that we need to print more of the personal documents we create and then find a way to preserve what we’ve printed, but we also need to store the original files electronically so that more copies can be made if necessary. And with each change in electronic storage, we need to transfer the files.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Series of Firsts: First Hobby

I caught baseball card fever in 1975. The year before that, my parents got divorced and my mom, my sister, and I moved to a different neighborhood—to the neighborhood my mom grew up in. It was a nice, middle class neighborhood with lots of other kids to play with. And it had Biga’s (Bee-ga’s)—the local five and dime store. I wrote about it here. And Biga’s had baseball cards. Collecting them became my first hobby.

In the post I wrote about Biga’s a couple of years ago, I re-counted my weekly routine as a kid: Every Friday, after my mom got paid, she'd give me two dollars and I'd walk to Biga's—just three blocks away from our house, and I'd buy six packs of baseball cards. At fifteen cents a pack, I still had more than a dollar left for candy or anything else that caught my fancy. Or if I really wanted to go all out, I'd buy twelve packs of baseball cards and use the left over change for “penny candy.”

More times than not, I bought 12 packs of baseball cards. I couldn’t wait to open them. I’d peel the pack open and begin to rifle through the cards before I even got out of the store.

“Got it.”

“Got it.”

“Got it.”

“Whoa. I don’t have this one! Cooooooool.”

Each pack of Topps baseball cards had a stick of gum inside. It was brittle and chalky and it didn’t taste very good, but the bubblegum smell always promised otherwise, so I’d usually stick it in my mouth. Then I’d move on to the next pack. Sometimes I’d end up with three or four pieces of gum in my mouth and I probably looked a lot like one of the pitchers on the cards who had a wad of chew in his cheek.

I sauntered toward home, opening each pack and then placing the cards back in the small brown paper bag Mrs. Biga put my cards in at the point of sale. When I got home, I’d put the cards in a shoebox. I had the players broken down by the team they played for. If a guy had been traded since the card came out, I moved him to the section with his new team. Not knowing any better, I put a rubber band around each team to keep them separate. I’d put the pitchers in front of each team, followed by catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, outfielders, designated hitters, pinch runners, managers, and then team photo cards.

After my collection outgrew the shoebox, my mom ordered several baseball card “lockers” from Topps for me. Each locker has slots that held about 40 cards—which pretty much held a full team for each season.

I had a friend named Willie and we’d get together on the weekends and trade baseball cards. We didn’t trade them based on their market value. We didn’t even know such a thing existed and I’m glad we didn’t. Instead, we traded based on how we valued the player and the coolness of the picture on the card. You have no idea how hard it was and how many cards I had to give up to get him to trade me George Brett’s 1975 rookie card. By then it was probably 1979 or 1980 and Brett was beginning to establish himself as a premier player. I’d never been able to get my own copy of his rookie card, so I was willing to give up almost anything for it. I finally got it from him and it became my prized possession. Little did I know that it would worth more than $100.00 one day. It still sells for $80.00 or $90.00 in good condition. Here’s one example.

When I was 14 or 15, I started going to baseball card shows. By then, I’d learned that cards had a real monetary value and that I needed to take care of them. I kept checklists of cards I needed to complete my sets. I even sold a few cards at a show or two. Then, one day, girls entered the picture, and baseball cards lost their appeal. I sold my entire collection to a friend when I was in my mid-20s. I wish I hadn’t done that. But the funny thing is, whenever I see an old baseball card I used to own, all of the old memories of a more innocent time come rushing back and I feel like I’m nine years old again, standing in Biga’s anxiously waiting to tear into the next pack of baseball cards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Grandfather from Ireland

Crystal Miller said something on Facebook yesterday that reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago. She said that she was planning to write about her Irish ancestors this week. My mom’s father immigrated from Ireland, so in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and in honor of my grandfather, I’m borrowing Crystal’s idea and re-posting my grandfather’s story:

I had dinner with my mom the other night and we got into a conversation about her parents that blew my mind. I’d always known that her dad came over from Ireland. And I knew that he married a nurse, but that was the extent of my knowledge about them. Mom told me that her dad came over with a friend. They both wanted to get out of Ireland because of the many social problems and they’d heard about the beautiful weather in California, so that was their intended destination.

So, at the age of 28 or 29, my grandfather hopped on a ship with a friend and sailed for the United States—leaving everyone and everything else behind. My grandfather went with his mother’s blessing. Like all good moms, she just simply hoped for a better life for her child. My mom isn’t sure how my grandfather made it from the east coast to Nebraska, but she does know that when he and his friend reached Omaha, he had terrible stomach pains.

He went to a hospital in Omaha and when his friend found out that my grandfather was going to have to be in the hospital for an extended stay, he left for California on his own and left my grandfather here. I’m not sure if he went with my grandfather’s blessing or not. But while my grandfather was in the hospital he became rather attached to his nurse, so much so, that he ended up marrying her and settling down in Omaha. (Maybe I should have paid a little more attention to the cute nurse who took care of me while I was in the ER a month ago, huh?) If my grandfather hadn’t become ill when he did, I wouldn’t exist.

Here’s a picture of my grandfather, my grandmother, me, and my oldest sister from 1969 (my grandmother died in 1974 and my grandfather died in 1978):

Monday, March 16, 2009

Breaking a Losing Streak

“Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”

Those are the words that Vitas Gerulaitis is quoted as saying after finally ending Jimmy Connors’ winning streak against him. I’m not entirely sure if this quote is true, but I’ve heard it a number of times, including this past weekend by a commentator on the Tennis Channel, and it’s on several reputable websites. If you look at their head-to-head record, Connors led 15-6 (their 21 matches spanned 1974 to 1985). Gerulaitis could have been including exhibitions though.

The things is, if you know anything about Gerulaitis, then you know that it sounds like something he could have said. He liked to have fun on the court and he wasn’t above making fun of himself sometimes after hitting a poor shot. A man who is able to laugh at himself is a man who has come to terms with who he is and what his limitations are. He did get to number three in the world at one point, so he wasn’t that limited, but didn’t have many weapons and he had a hard time beating Connors and Bjorn Borg (Gerulaitis lost all 16 matches he played against Borg). He just made the most out of the talent he had. Sadly, Gerulaitis died in 1994 from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

He should be remembered for a lot of things. He was a great tennis player. He befriended some of his biggest rivals. He was known for quietly helping both friends and strangers. And like all of us, he had his issues, his was a battle with drugs. He had long hair and a big heart. And he had the aforementioned sense of humor—especially about himself. Just hearing his famous quote again over the weekend made me smile. And it made me want to laugh at myself more too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Beauty of Awkwardness

Yesterday, I started reading Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches by William F. Buckley Jr. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, but I just never got around to it. (I have an earlier version of the one pictured on the left.) I’ve been in a reflective mood recently, so now seemed like a good time to jump into the book of sampled speeches that Buckley gave over the course of his lifetime.

Before digging in and starting at the beginning, I flipped around to get a taste of Buckley later in his life. The speeches are published chronologically so I wanted to read one of his later speeches before getting into his more youthful view of life. I know from experience that not only can views change, but delivery and tone often change as well as a person gets older and I’m more interested in who Buckley became than who he started as.

I stopped on a speech called “Towards a Recovery of Gratitude” and I read it. About half way through, Buckley talks about an experience he had in a souvenir shop in Stratford-upon-Avon when he was 13. He purchased a copy of something written by Shakespeare and when he went to pay for it, the woman behind the counter slipped in a copy of Romeo and Juliet, obviously intending it as a gift. Buckley gave her the change in his hand to pay for it and after he was outside, his music teacher, who had chaperoned him into the store, told young Buckley that he needed to learn to accept gifts because, “They are profaned by any attempt at automatic reciprocity.”

Many years later, one of Buckley’s friends emailed him one day telling him that he had developed a retrieval system for Buckley that would catalogue all of the books in Buckley’s library—something Buckley had been yearning for. The man told him, “It is yours as a belated Christmas gift.” Buckley began writing a response to ask his friend to bill him for his services, but then he stopped.

One minute later, my mind traveled back and I was again a little boy at a souvenir store in Stratford, embarrassing a kindly woman who had made an act of generosity. There and then I shed the grown-up equivalent of a thirteen-year-old’s tears at my awkwardness.

In that awkwardness, we see so many things: guilt, humility, repentance, love, appreciation, and of course, as the title of the speech suggests, gratitude. Good awkwardness, one that leads to such displays, is a beautiful thing, even though most of us would rather avoid it. It reveals the full range of our humanity without the need for words, and more importantly, it gives us pause that often leads to change.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

801 and Counting

Yesterday was post number 800 here at Little Nuances. Like so many other posts here, it wasn’t especially long (344 words), but if you multiply it be 800, you come up with 275,200 words. In contrast, my non-fiction singles book was 45,000 words. So, I’ve written approximately six times more words here at Little Nuances than I did for that book.

When you first start a blog, you never think about how many posts you’ll write or how you’ll keep coming up with topics to write about. You just want to write about what you are passionate about. But if someone forced you to pick a number of posts or words you would write over the next few years, it would be overwhelming. You’d probably choose a number like 30 posts or 10,000 words and even those numbers seem high because they exceed what you can comprehend on any given day. But you don’t need to worry about all that.

Just write today. There’s power in that.

If you write 344 words today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, you will have written 1,720 words or nearly 4% of a 45,000 word non-fiction book in just five days. Write 600 words a day for five days and you’ve written 6.7% of a 45,000 word non-fiction book. At that pace, you could write a first draft in 75 sittings. [Although, if you want to be published with a royalty publisher, I’d encourage you to write a book proposal and then have a contract in hand first, but that’s an issue I can help you with over at the A Write Start website.]

Maybe you aren’t trying to get a book published. Maybe you are trying to write your family history before it gets lost forever, but you don’t feel like you have the time. Or maybe you would like to start a blog, but you are afraid you’d never be able to fill it up with words. You have today and all you need to write is 344 words.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Series of Firsts: First School

I don’t have a very good memory, but I can remember a lot about kindergarten. I remember that I didn’t want to go. I remember getting upset when my mom dropped me off and left me with a bunch of strangers. I remember nap time. I remember waiting at the door for my mom to pick me up and take me back home. Noticing a pattern here? My mom still tells stories about how bad she felt for leaving me there because my teacher always told her that I threw a fit when she left.

The name of the school was Gilder Elementary in Omaha, Nebraska. It was located just a couple of blocks from where I lived and it was pretty new when I first started attending it. According to their website, the school opened in 1964. My first year there would have been 1971. The school was just one story, so it was long and spread out. The playground sat at the bottom of a huge hill. Back then, I really didn’t like the playground much because I didn’t like to get dirty.

By the time I was in second grade, I experience my first bully. His name was Dwayne and I hated him. He picked on me because I was overweight. The problem was, he was older and more filled out than I was. I finally got to the point where I was willing to fight him if that was what it took, but it never happened. He seemed to gain respect for me once I was willing to stick up for myself.

After second grade, my parents divorced and my mom moved my sister and I to a different neighborhood. I had to start all over at a different school, but I had an easier time there. I fit in better for some reason, so I was happy that I got the chance to change schools. While Gilder never really felt right to me, it became a permanent part of my history.

What do you remember about your first school?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Collecting Coffee Mugs

My local newspaper ran a story last week about a group of area high school students who heard that a homeless shelter was short of coffee mugs, so they organized a drive and donated 300 to the shelter. The story makes the point that nearly everybody has an abundance of coffee mugs because they serve as so much more than coffee holders. It says that they are relics of where we’ve been, billboards for our beliefs, representative of our hobbies, and they are reminders of those who love us.

I opened my cupboard after reading this story and here’s what I found:

A Kansas City Royals mug. It’s my favorite for several reasons. Obviously, it allows me to display my loyalty to my favorite team. But it’s also one of my biggest mugs and it has a certain feel to it. It’s smooth and it just feels right in my hand.

A map of the state of Florida mug. I bought it at the airport in Tampa several years ago on my way back home from a writer’s conference. I love it because it highlights all of the big cities I’ve visited.

A Washington Times mug. Got this one as a gift for subscribing to the Washington Times weekly edition many years ago. I don’t use this one much and I don’t subscribe to that newspaper any more either.

An American Christian Romance Writers mug. I attended the conference for this organization four or five years ago—not because I want(ed) to write romance, but rather because their focus was on fiction in general and they generally attract some of the best novelists and fiction editors in the business. But the name of the organization just had to go. Thankfully, it was changed the year I attended the conference to the American Christian Fiction Writers, but the mug remains the same.

A First National Bank of Omaha mug. I used to work there, so this one reminds me of my former co-workers.

A mug that says the following: “A hundred years from now . . . it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” I ordered this from my niece when she was in grade school. I love to use this mug because it reminds me of her.

A Preferred Stock mug. Got this one in one of those gift sets you see at Christmas time. I bought it for myself because I love the cologne. It’s like a cheap version of Drakkar Noir—my all-time favorite cologne. And who can argue with getting a free coffee mug?

A Baker Publishing Group mug. They sent this to me one year for Christmas. They published my first book, Single Servings. So, it’s a cool memento.

A Gateway mug. Got this one for ordering a Gateway PC many years ago. Ironically, the mug outlasted the PC.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Shooting Hoops in the Neighborhood Park

As I was driving home from running errands yesterday, I drove by the park I spent so much time in as a kid. The park isn’t anything special. It has a rundown baseball field, some open land where we played football, some swings, and a basketball court. During the summer, if I wasn’t playing tennis somewhere else, then I was at this park playing baseball, basketball, or football. And during the school year, I spent most evenings there too.

I don’t drive by that park all that often, but when I do, I rarely see anybody using it. So, I was surprised to see three kids who were probably 13 or 14 years old playing basketball there yesterday. They were talking and laughing as they shot the ball and it made me feel good. Thirty years ago, I was one of those kids. I couldn’t wait to get to the park to shoot some hoops with my friends. Seeing the next generation enjoy something you used to enjoy is so satisfying. Those kids could have been playing X-box or chatting with each other on MySpace, but instead they chose to stand on the same cement I did three decades ago and play the same game I did.

I bet they didn’t have a care in the world for that short amount of time. I know I didn’t when I was in their shoes.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Series of Firsts: First Album/Cassette

My dad bought me my first tape recorder in the early 1970s. This was before boom boxes. I bought a similar one many years later and used it for a long time (pictured on the left) I was about seven when Dad handed me the recorder for the first time and I thought it was the coolest invention ever. We’d drive around in his car on Saturday afternoons and he’d sing songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” into the recorder and try to get me to sing along or to say something so he could record it. I was bashful and I shied away from it at first, but I eventually warmed up to it.

He also gave me a Tom Jones cassette with the tape recorder. It turned out to be my first cassette. I don’t remember a lot about it. But I do remember two things. First, Tom’s name was printed as “A-Tom-ic” Jones on the cassette. I thought that was pretty funny, even though I had no idea what it meant. Second, I remember a song called “Promise Her Anything.” In preparation for writing this post, I did a little online research to see if I could find the title of the album/cassette. “Promise Her Anything” appears on several of Jones’ albums, but I did find that it appeared on his 1966 album titled A-Tom-ic Jones. I’m thinking that it must be the one. I listened to the cassette quite a few times, but it never really resonated with me. I liked it because my dad gave it to me and somehow, even then, I felt like he’d given me a little piece of himself because music is so personal.

I’ve lost track of the cassette over the years, but I’m certain that it is in a box somewhere in my basement. The sound quality is probably muddied. The tape may or may not even work in a cassette deck. But the memory of it lives on.

What was your first album or cassette? Tell me the story behind it.

Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Life Button

Something has always bugged me about clicking on the “Life” button at the USA Today website. It reads more like a celebrity gossip blog than it does life, in my opinion. As of this writing, here are the current stories running at the top of their Life page:

So, why does this bother me? Because it’s so one-sided. Entertainment is just a small part of life. When I click on a “Life” button, I want to read about who attends high school reunions and why, who goes to coffee shops and why, who journals and why, who writes in long hand and why, who celebrates holidays apart from extended family and why, and so much more. I want to read about the median age for those who marry for the first time. I want to know why some people frequent one grocery story while others frequent another. I want to know what percentage of people don’t own a cell phone and I want to know why. I want to know who still writes letters and mails them via snail mail and why.

I guess you could say that I’m interested in finding out what motivates people in general. I don’t care if Jennifer Aniston ate a dog treat. I don’t care how wild fans of the Jonas Brothers got over the weekend. I don’t care if Katie Holmes is pregnant or not pregnant. If I did care, I’d expect to find such information behind the “Entertainment” button, if the USA Today had one, not the Life button.


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