30 March 2007

time and a word

A very short post after a very long week. Contains (as yet) no gratuitous swipes at our dully elected overlords in Canberra (and their HQ at Kirribilli) but does contain one unwarranted piece of reflexive anti-Americanism.

I was in the lift at work today and someone got in and said g'day to someone else in the lift, they had a short conversation and then this person got out a few floors later. And said "ta-ta". I don't think I've heard that phrase for about 20 years. Next thing someone will be saying "hooroo".

Unlikely though, they'll probably be saying that they did something from the "get-go". This obscure saying has migrated from commercial radio, where Americanisms seem first to get picked up, into the mainstream media and also into more general usage. I've always used the phrase "from the word 'go'", but I suppose I'll have to change. However before I do, I'll need to know what a 'get-go' is. Anyone know? What is it that is being got? And where do you go once you've got it?

And while we're on the subject of lifts, how stupid is it to have stairwells that you can't use as alternative routes between floors? Bloody fire regulations I imagine.

Oh look, we can't have a VVB post without a gratuitous swipe etc etc etc. Even though I expect to engage in so-called political discourse with people of sort of roughly like-minded persuasion to me, I have lately been amazed by the number of folks who reckon
Alexander Downer is a hypocrite and a pompous prat. Good on 'em. The rest of us knew it from the get-go.

25 March 2007

perfect government

Perfect government? Sounds like an oxymoron. It's apparently a song by NoFX. Not to worry, it seemed an appropriate post title for covering these two stories from the 'left' and 'right' aligned newspapers in the UK, the Guardian and Times respectively.

In the Guardian,
we learn that the venerable institution, the British Council, is undergoing all types of grief as its usual approach of funding all types of artistic representatives of the country is 'enhanced' (I bet that word crept in somewhere) to pursuit of 'strategic objectives' of the government.

I've got a bit of disclosure here - in various parts of my previous lives I've run across British Council people overseas and I've also had a hand in funding Australian artistic types to take our own messages overseas.

It's all typically fraught. Who do you fund? How do you choose them? What's the actual objective: raising awareness of the country; supplementing more mainstream tourism promotion activities; making people think you're great guys; slipping a few overseas trips to those struggling in garrets? Even more fundamentally, should it be done at all?

My own experience over about 18-24 months was instructive. There was no competition. There were no proper, documented processes. We relied on expert advice from the Australia Council and a couple of similar arts bodies. Some of the suggestions appeared to reflect the personal preferences of the experts we consulted, or what was 'hot' at the moment, and some appeared quite inappropriate (although I should say I had no particular knowledge of these art forms and reacted in what I took to be some sort of 'typical middle class' way). Also, this was all some time ago and I would hope that processes have improved a bit since then.

My experience over that period indicates that any effort to have a country's overseas cultural representatives serve some sort of 'strategic imperative' is doomed to fail and I wasn't surprised to read in the Guragian article that the artistic interpretations of climate change chosen were pretty naff. And would be counterproductive, I imagine.

the Times, we learn that the overwhelming trend towards numerical targets and other anally-retentive but very seductive ways of measuring government performance are also having counterproductive consequences. Of course, what gets measured gets done (and this phrase also produces about 1,280,000 results on Google). But the issue is what to measure. Where it's a difficult environment, simplistic measures of activity can be subverted easily (I was going to reference the Larvatus Prodeo post on Centrelink, but their servers are down). That's human nature.

Of course numerical indicators are needed, if for no other reason that this is the way that Treasuries around the world operate and such measures of activity are good for lonking numbers of people to numbers of things done. What gets lost is the nuance of any situation and ideally any numerical targets should be supplemented by qualitative feedback, in other words has any difference been made. This needs to be 'rich', the recent description of preference, for example by providing case studies and similar. You need something that can be learnt from so that services can be improved and any unintended consequences rectified.

So from all of this , what the lessons? Even where some government intervention is warranted, setting suitable performance measures is far from simple. And second, governments should understand what is propaganda and what isn't, and steer clear of the former.

As if. Perfect government indeed. Am I biting the hand, etc? No, just looking to make things a little better. It's no fun to be doing one's best to deliver some sort of service while getting continually diverted, or subverted, because of inappropriate performance indicators.

23 March 2007


"It's a hit,
don't give me that
do goody-good bullshit."

"The World Cup show will go on although there will be calls for it to be
abandoned. But to do so as a mark of respect would do a disservice to one who
gave his life to, and now for, the game. Woolmer would not want that to happen.
Besides which the financial implications of pulling the plug, the millions of
pounds that would be needed to be paid out in compensation, could come close to bankrupting the game."
Oh yes, talk of honour and so on, but the second paragraph gets to the heart of the matter.

state of the heart

Friday night you don't get 7.30 Report, you get StateLine. It's a good listen, but blogging and reading with the TV to your back in the distance, it's hard to get stuff straight and get it down quickly enough.

But they've got Ian Macfarlane on and apparently he's the PM's representative in Queensland. This statement - as I heard it - was not qualified in any way so I don't know in what context, or through what mechanism, he is the PM's representative. He's a personal friend? It's factional? Because he's a minister?

Anyway, the interviewer asks Macfarlane about the process for replacing the recently booted-through-the-back-door Senator Santoro and gets the response, "Oh, that's a question for the Liberal Party."

So, Senator Macfarlane is not a member of the Liberal Party? No, in fact he
is. He's a member of the parliamentary rather than organisational wing certainly, but even so, wtf? Obviously the target demographic for StateLine has some fab powers of deduction that take a detour - probably left - around the extensive grounds ("huge tracts of land") of chateau VVB.

So, have we poor denizens of hacienda VVB been misled (help! help! I've been misled!), or is this just lazy journalism? Or are there some conventions of Parliament of which the poor, misled serfs of el rancho VVB are unaware? (Very likely).

While we're on the subject of the ignorance of your 'umble correspondent, here are a couple of other conundrums which are perplexing us:
- why can I only post a picture to the top of the blog post rather than where the cursor is?
- why doesn't new Blogger "remember me on this computer?"
- when someone posts a comment I get an e-mail version which I have to moderate to publish to the blog. When I've done this, I get another identical e-mail. Why?
Tomorrow, we bottle the Coopers Pale Ale and test the last batch of ginger beer. Yippee! Also, no proofreading. Well, actually there is but it's kind of different.

22 March 2007

sounds of silence

Sounds of silence would be preferable to the sounds of people in love with the sound of their own voices. The cacophony from the sandpit has been quite disturbing of late.

Principal amongst these people, we would rate Peter Costello (raiding the honeypot, honourable members! the honeypot! the pot with the honey in it!).

In an entirely different category would be Lord Downer of Behind the Green Line (I have always thought that this man is a grub...but this man over here, honourable members, is a human! A human man, honourable humans and other members opposite!).

I'm glad that all the inhabitants of the sandpit are enjoying themselves, because it certainly isn't adding to the common weal, honourable readers. The weal! The common one!

And now, having vented, back to proofreading.....

18 March 2007

simple minds

It's the end of the weekend, we all have to be serious tomorrow as we go back to work, so VVB would like to help you feel that you have sufficiently enjoyed the weekend by linking to the funniest thing we've seen for a long time. We must be missing something, we looked at the headline and thought, "this is news?" WTF?

don't forget to remember

I guess a lot of people drink to forget. This is a theme that occurs particularly in country and western songs, I think. I can't remember any, so that means.....

...no it doesn't, how about
Tonight the bottle let me down?

These exceptionally random thoughts were stirred while I was just then brewing up batch no 16, a Coopers Australian Pale Ale. In fact what initially got me thinking was trying to divine Mrs VVB's objectives in buying the brewing kit in the first place. Is she trying to get me to drink myself in to an early grave? Or just out of her hair? Or just keep me
off the streets? Actually, in that last instance, it's the failure to win Lotto that has been the bigger factor.

Anyway, we await with much anticipation how the Pale Ale will work out. Next weekend we can test the latest batch of ginger beer - the first batch was grouse.

If you needed help in trying to forget things, then alcohol is a first best alternative compared to what seems to have happened to
this bloke - a high ranked US soldier who volunteered for what he thought was a job that had to done in Iraq, but instead found himself in a morass of corruption and rampant self-interest that simply undermined the very reason he volunteered in the first place. It's hard to imagine the torment he must have gone through. OK, he wasn't a battle-hardened soldier in the first place, but...

The figure that stuck in my mind was the 22 suicides out of 846 US military deaths in Iraq in 2005. Not a figure that's hit the papers anywhere, I imagine and not good for those 'selling' the war. Via
Political Daily Review.

And via
SciTechDaily, a link back to a local article about creating more ideal working conditions in cube farms by cancelling out ambient noise, a technology already available for headphones. This reminds me of a time when I was about to lose my very official, status-related office and said to the team that I looked forward to moving out with them. They were horrified because I was "too noisy" and they'd only let it happen if there was a cone of silence around my desk. Of course the machinations of the traditional hierarchical organisation meant that I had to keep my office anyway and they were not in any danger.

Interestingly enough, only a couple of years after that incident I went to work in an office where a whole bunch of us were plucked from our hermetically sealed, status-related offices and flung together in a project environment. Were we noisy? Well, no more than most and we got the job done. And all of us, as I recall, really enjoyed being out from behind glass and whatever that tacky stuff is that they make offices out of, and into the open environment. Good fun all round.

And finally. I'd line up with the Tory MP who said that
banning little kids from singing about pigs for fear of offending Muslims was 'bonkers'. This to me is the original type of political correctness, and in retrospect it was a short greasy slope from changing 'chairman' to 'chairperson' until we got to the particular type of lunacy highlighted in the story.

The next two weeks are going to be exceptionally busy for me so the rate of posting is going to decline even further. Which could be a shame as, we hope, our feudal overlords continue to disappear up their own fundamental orifices, creating all manner of opportunities for snarky stories. Damn.

17 March 2007

a question of balance

Catching up on the blogrounds the other night, not having subscribed to RSS feeds, but feeding the face at the same time when your ABC news comes on, the Santoro inadvertent oversights story first. Seemed to be over fairly quickly, then it was our fearless little leader visiting the troops in our name (tm). Sound of nails on blackboard, yes, that's him speaking. Back to the announcer, more story. Sound of nails on blackboard again. Back to the announcer. WTF? Sound of nails on blackboard again? Three clips for one story? How long has this been going, five minutes? Ooh, who's that? It's Kevin. Nope, he's gone, all of 7 seconds. Looks like the effort that has gone in to stacking the Board over all these years has paid off, we now have acceptable balance.

On a far more uplifting note, a good story in the Australian colour mag today about a bloke who tried to make it as a muso, didn't really work out, then started teaching young offenders and ne'er-do-wells to write and perform simple songs. With a view to reinforcing, or maybe introducing, some self-esteem. Seems it has mainly worked but the bit that got me was the satisfaction he got from seeing the results. I love those stories - for those of us still deep in the machine, it's a reaffirmation of the possibilities of life if you can grab, or make, the opportunities. Aaah, to have a transferable skill. Anyway his name is Allan Caswell and he has at last got a record released, so we might get that.

And for a final whinge, what is it with low-profile tyres? You get a puncture, if the wheel does one more revolution the tyre's stuffed and you have to buy a new one. Has happened twice with the current set of Toyos, Maybe that's why they were cheap.

15 March 2007

it's along way to the top

It seems to be covered in mud. As always, the issue du jour (that's latte speak) is covered in excruciating detail elsewhere. So what can Chateau VVB turns its attention to that might add value? Ooh, this is veering awfully close to metablogging which is, I understand, a bit de trop (that's chardonnay speak).

No, as a ten-year inhabitant (not quite a citizen, I still support the wrong team) of Brizvegas, it's about the journey to work. I'm still a climate gobbler, that is to say, a single occupant of a thirsty car on the daily commute. I leave for work 45 minutes earlier than I did when I came here so I can get out of second gear at least once on the 13 km trip.

Mayor Campbell is building tunnels everywhere except the leafy western suburbs I inhabit, so both the routes into town are chocka after 7 every morning. I'd use public transport except I'm not much of a fan of buses. I do like trains but, as we never had a train line out here in the leafy west, there'll never be one because of the cost, financial and social, of resuming enough properties. Unless we get a tunnel, of course.

It's the same or worse in Sydney and Melbourne. We're growing, we all need to get thither and, after we've been to thither, either yon or back again. So it would seem that population growth is the culprit. Of course the rationalists and classical capitalists are seen to be all in favour of unrestrained growth because it gives them a bigger market much more simply than seeking new markets elsewhere, which makes profitability easier (provided you're running a halfway efficient business).

That's a simplistic argument even if I am kind of attracted to it initially. However such simplistic approaches leave out the human ('soft') factor - not all bosses are avaricious, grabbing bastards. The growth at any costs model is of course attractive to governments as it is a more or less self-fulfilling prophesy - you don;'t have to be particularly good at what you do if you've got natural advantages (as of course we do in the leafy western suburbs).

I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable about stuff to start making any comments about natural carrying capacity, whether in urban or rural areas (stop that laughing, DH and SD!). However it seems to me that limits must be reached in terms of water, arable land and what-all. Technological advances have traditionally delivered increases in carrying capacity, but some of these now come under scrutiny - eg the costs of transporting food. I reckon we can expect to see mega-changes in the paddock to plate model as highly centralised and standardised models that deliver costs benefits to the distributor and/or vendor are shelved in favour of more local production. Which gets us back to the local arable land thing - eg Sydney has lost lots. Where do we get more?

How did we end up here? Probably by tunnel, in the meantime we should cogitate on how long can it go on.

11 March 2007

baby you can drive my car pt (n+1)

This is the story of the mighty Land Crab, a tale of not so much woe as inconsequence. Guaranteed to appeal to about .005% of my reader. But, on the outside chance that you are intensely interested in why someone would buy a Mk1 Austin 1800, and what happened when he did...don't say you weren't warned, and read on!

Why did I buy it? Some months earlier I had attempted to demolish the block of flats across the road from my folks' place, which was where I was living at the time. A deadly cocktail of alcohol and unrequited love combined one night, resulting in a very bent Triumph 2000. So it got carted off for several months' straightening and I immediately bought a Yamaha RD250. Another story entirely, for another time. Although it sort of prompts me to see whether there are any models of that bike.

Anyway bikes are exciting but a bit of pain in some circumstances. So, one Saturday I was out with a mate who wanted to look at an EH Premier. It was a lovely car and he bought it. It served him very well and indeed I also benefited as it was the tow car when I brought the Triumph 2500 home after its water-ingesting incident, some years later. But I digress. While he was doing the deal on the Holden, I was wandering around the yard and up the back - they were always up the back - was an Austin 1800. A rush of blood, well something...to the brain occurred. I took it for a drive and decided I had to have it. I was skint at the time so the land crab became the only car I've ever bought on hire purchase. I got some cash a few months later and paid it off after only two payments, which seemed to result in me getting a bad credit record. I assume this had something to do with AGL not making enough interest on the deal, but who knows?

Those of you familiar with the 1800 will recall that it probably was the slowest car in the world. Powered (using 'power' in its loosest sense) by the B series motor in single carburettor 1800 cc form, it didn't so much accelerate as acquire momentum by osmosis. Dead bears decompose more quickly, I would think. On the credit side, it was probably one of the most comfortable cars ever built - with two bloody great armchairs up front, it was like sitting in someone's comfy lounge.

This one turned out mainly OK. It let me down badly only once. I took my old man back to Dubbo to collect a Morris Marina, bought from his old business when he decided to upgrade to a contemporary car from his 1958 Austin A95. As we were just crossing the bridge over the Macquarie River to commence the trip home (ie, we had done all of about 2 km), it jammed in second gear. Turns out this was a design fault that many Mk1's fell victim to - they used a cable gear change and the cables would stretch and twist. The Mk 2s adopted a rod change mechanism. So we had to turn around and leave the car with my uncle for repairs.

However that incident led to probably the funniest thing to happen with the land crab. When I came back to collect the car, I decided to go to Sydney for a few days. I was cruising down the Mitchell Highway when, just out of Bathurst, the cops pulled me over for (allegedly) speeding. Now the cops around Bathurst had a fearsome reputation at that time so I wasn't surprised to be stopped, except I was in the 1800. I simply didn't believe it was that fast and that's what I told them. And they in turn didn't believe me.

Eventually the Triumph 2000 was repaired and returned to me. I found someone equally loony to take the 1800 off my hands. Would I have another one? Hmm....probably not. Very comfortable seats, though. I recommend them.

10 March 2007

I saw the sign

In yesterday's AFR, Laura Tingle at last managed to get a comment into the mainstream media that seems to have been missing: John Howard's contempt for Parliament through his refusal (for want of a better word, refusal rather take some liberties with motivation) to answers questions in Parliament. While Tingle situates this comment by recalling Keating's decision to not always even turn up to Question Time as similarly dismissive of the role of Parliament, this is the first time I can remember where an MSM opinion leader has taken the PM to task on his attitude to Question Time.

I've seen several references recently to Kevin Rudd turning his back to his adversaries, but it seems to me that Howard has been doing this for years? Is this an accurate reflection?

Anyway, going off about the lying little piece of sh*t is just par for the course at Chateau VVB, so probably best to move on. There has been a sign, we have seen it, and maybe some others have too. That would be a good thing.

Now, I read a whole heap of stuff in the papers this morning which could have been brought together in something of an interesting fashion. But that was then, this is now. I didn't mark them and as I trawl (not troll, that's a small Nordic gnome as far as I'm aware) back through the papers the only theme that springs out is the consistent attempts to damage Kevin Rudd's reputation by the hired hands of the government. I've just got to Christopher Pearson who's into it in spades. If you added the right-wing cheer squad to Malcolm Mackerras's pendulum, the world would look very different.

This obsession has got to stop, it's unhealthy. Mrs VVB and I were out for our evening walkies last night and discussing how best we could help Offspring No1 and Offspring No2 into housing - this thought has been brought on by Offspring No1 getting a promotion at his work and, while currently without a partner (prey? victim?) on the horizon (is this correct?), is starting to feel the need to 'settle down'. So Mrs VVB and I were discussing home affordability and how things had changed from when we were starting out. So I was rabbitting on about interest rates and particularly the fall in affordability compared to low nominal interest rates, and how the PM and alleged Treasurer seem to comprehend the latter but not the former, which is a real indicator. And so she says, "How did you bring them into it?" Meaning why rather than how, if you follow me.

And as an aside, we communicate with our offspring through our blogs. So much safer:-)

A really interesting article was the piece in the Australian magazine about the David Hicks campaign - that is to say, the efforts made by his family and supporters to turn public opinion. As I started to read it I thought it was going to be a counter-attack by the government or its mouthpieces against the growing public support for Hicks. There's certainly a few comments about Major Michael Mori and how he has run his part of the campaign. I guess in an ideal world you'd think that a lawyer would simply do the job in the official arenas of his responsibility. Not so, it seems. Mori has taken decisions that appear well outside of the strict legal niceties of the case. However, this is no ordinary case and I wonder whether Mori decided early on that he would have to step outside the usual boundaries. The article in total is quite balanced.

There's a comment from "one senior government official" that "they (Hick's team) have won the image battle". This is in part about the effort to remake Hicks' public image, for example influencing the photos used of him from the usual one of him with the rocker launcher in his Kosovo Liberation Army period to when he was younger (as young as 9) and in civilian clothes.

It seems Dick Smith has been to see the PM on a number of occasions about Hicks. Several years ago, Howard was dismissive. Most recently, he seemed "genuinely concerned that the process had taken so long." Well, that's what the article says. And it's the Australian, so it must be on the money.

Anyway, time to go. Bottling the second batch of ginger beer tonight. I'm currently sucking on a sample (well, actually the third sample this evening if we're being pedantic) of batch no 14, a Coopers Draught. Quite quaffable, even if I do say so myself.

08 March 2007

I should be so lucky

Heard on the ABC TV news a couple of minutes ago, the American ambassador claiming that it was actually a good thing that David Hicks has been held without charge for five years because it provided him with the "opportunity" to "conduct what I call lawfare". Is that really what he said? Brings a whole new dimension to the aphorism that a diplomat is someone sent overseas to lie for their country. (*)

Nice one, Your Excellency. A nice little bit of dog whistling to insinuate that it's only David Hicks' and other legal activities that have delayed the trial.

Not the need to fabricate some sort of legal framework where none existed, that would guarantee a guilty verdict. No fault of the US at all, you understand.

So on that logic, it would be better if he was detained without trial for 70 years, because then he could die in a familiar environment?

While that dopey trio of shameless blame-shifters, Howard, Downer and Ruddock, have used every opportunity to demonise Hicks in the eyes of Australians - oh, until recently, of course.

Actually, shameless doesn't quite fully capture the disgusting level of amorality the three have consistently displayed. Anyone got a better word? And one for his Excellency?

(*) Actually, look at the link. The author, Philip Habib, calims it's better for diplomats to be honest. A trait that's gone out of fashion over the last 11 years.

04 March 2007

church of the poison mind

Bob Brown, look out! Mahatma Gandhi, look out (oops, too late). And whoever it was yabbering the other day about the C of E and Catholics getting together, look out!

You have been
spotted, Dick. And we'll all be out looking for people who think beauty is absolute but love of peace is relative. Whenever I go to the local mall from now on; when I'm in the sandwich shop; when I'm in any meeting at work, for sure, I'll be asking: "Well then, do you think peace is absolute?" And when they go "yeah", I'll be thinking, "oh oh, here comes another one." Sort of. And beauty is absolute? In which beholder's eye, might one enquire, innocently?

Spare me. There's enough serious stuff going on around the globe without superannuated blokes in gold and ermine and what-all spouting this kind of thing. Frightens the horses, it does.

I mean, seriously. I know people who cleave very closely to their faiths. From my p.o.v. they're welcome to it but I don't begrudge them, those who genuinely believe, even if I can't relate to the deal. I find people like this very open to discussion and I, similarly, don't get pigeonholed by them just because I don't believe.

But this sort of thing should have had a bridge built out of it years - no, centuries - ago.

stuck in the middle with you

There's not nearly enough being written about the Rudd/Campbell/Burke series of who was seen doing what, and with whom, behind the bike sheds. And who was cheering, who was taking bets, and who was acting as the cockatoo. This abominable scarcity of informed and/or half-witted commentary cannot be allowed to go on without Chateau VVB adding its tuppence-ha'penny's worth - yes, we remember that currency, that's a proper sort of currency - so here it comes. Prepare to be underwhelmed, or navigate away now.

I reckon
Modia Minotaur is mainly on the money; I'm very worried about rose-coloured glasses; and I'm not surprised that those of conservative disposition see it differently.

While some believe that the little liar has his timing wrong, I'm more inclined to think that the theory is to hit Rudd early, get him out of the Labor leadership and discredit Labor generally by continuing to throw mud then bank on other issues, both known and currently unknown, to slowly bury Labor in the lead-up to the election.

The little liar had no choice but dispatch Campbell after Costello succumbed to his own delusions of adequacy with an over-the-top demonstration of his formidable oratorical powers. Whether Campbell was for the long walk in any case, I'm not close enough to this sort of stuff to tell. Doesn't matter anyway, the little liar is pretty economical with his favours (I almost said 'focused' or 'strategic' just then - what a giveaway).

Rudd has no choice but to tough it out, treading that thin line between 'yes I admit I did it but please forgive me ' and 'so what, let's keep our attention on the decline in our democracy after 11 years of the little liar'. All the malarkey about 'honeymoons' is just lazy journalism and utterly irrelevant to the story. Everyone can't be right, except within the safety of the space between their own ears. So it will indeed be interesting to watch the fallout and the general public response.

01 March 2007


More a place-holder than an actual blog post, this is just an excuse to link to an article that encourages managers to be honest with their staff. Evidently there's so little of this about that someone felt the need to write such an article. Exit, to the sound of conclusions being drawn.

Elsewhere, people seem to
feel similarly to me about the farce that is parliament. The quick clips I have seen before I could turn the TV to another channel ("Rodder's Life" on Briz 31, a truly excellent intro to d.i.y. shows: "This is the back bit of the car....you can see under there what we done...and now I'm gunna tell you how we done it") simply remind me that (a) parliament is 95% circus and 5% kindergarten, and (b) Peter Costello is his own worst enemy. Actually, that last statement may not necessarily be totally accurate...

If Kevin Rudd had lunch with Brian Burke, he should get a rabies injection, after which he should return to the circus kindergarten and tell Peter Costello to pull his head in.

We should also have a referendum at the next election with the following question:

"I do/do not want a nuclear power plant in my backyard. I do/do not want a nuclear power plant in the prime miniature's (*) backyard."

That should short-circuit a lot of argy-bargy and obviate the need for any expensive inquiries - not that they
seem all that necessary any more.

(*) I mistyped "minister" but the spell-check only gave me "miniature". Now that's hardly original but is it the first time that a spell-check has cast an accurate character assasinnation on the lying piece of shit?

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