Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

10/30/2009

Horror Photographer

Filed under: Art,Fun,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:38 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

There is nothing I can say about this website that will make you understand it.

Have you heard of Strobist?  You know, the lighting site that has helpful hints for photographers?  Well, Joshua Hoffine‘s blog is like that, but for horror photographers.
Don’t go here if you are easily frightened or prone to nightmares.  Seriously.

But, for the rest of you, Happy Halloween!

10/23/2009

Maize Mazes

Filed under: Art,Fun,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Cool mazes made from, uh, maize.

No, really, this is something I’ve seen in the Mid-West, where I’m from, but not so much anywhere else, so when I saw an article on the creation of corn mazes, I had to share it.  Every year back in Illinois, there were always farmers who would carve giant mazes out of their fields for people to come and wander through.  Naturally, there was a small charge, but it was well worth it for a maze lover.  And, I think it kept more than one farm afloat, to be honest.  I seem to recall that the better mazes made more money from selling admission to the maze than they did from the crop itself, which is actually kind of sad.

Anyway, this article is about the fun of making them, so go check it out.

10/22/2009

Review: The Dip

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

No, not a movie review, but a book review.

So, I’ve been reading more lately, which is great.  And, I’ve been doing my best to read fiction and non-fiction.
Sadly, I haven’t been quite able to review it all, thanks to a brutal personal schedule that often has me out late several days in a row, just to try and squeeze in all the work and personal things to make me feel less alone.  So, while I intended to review this over the weekend, I’m just getting to it now.

In any case, I got The Dip by Seth Godin some time ago and read it just recently.  I got it because I wanted to read a book by the famous Seth Godin and, frankly, this one was the shortest.  No, seriously, I wanted to get one of his books, because I’d read about him, but I didn’t want a huge investment in either money or time.  This book fit the bill.
But, also, it turned out to be good timing for me.  In a way, The Dip is an inspirational book, a book about the power of positive thinking.  It’s certainly a motivational book and would fall under the broad category of “self-help books”, in my opinion.

The premise is simple, really.  Godin says that effort in any worth endeavor, espcially those in the business world, has a curve.  Sort of like a learning curve, but it goes deeper than that.  The curve, which he calls the Dip, is what separates those who are successful and those who aren’t.
When we start something new, whether it’s a new business or a new hobby, we throw a bit of effort into it and we see some small results.  At first, a very little effort produces significant improvements and results.  But, eventually every endeavor hits a point where added efforts produce fewer or no apparent changes in skill or improvement of any kind.  This is the Dip.  Many people quit here and don’t push through the Dip to get to the rest of the curve where additional efforts produce increasing results and result in mastery, eventually getting to a very high-level of performance.  The problem is, we start many, many things and can’t possibly pursue them all through the Dip and on to mastery.  Also, we don’t always have the skill, resources or simple ability to follow through sometimes, but we chase after these things anyway, thus wasting precious time and effort on things that won’t pan out, leaving us not enough time and resources to pour into the few things we might truly follow through the Dip into mastery.

On the one hand, it’s inspirational to realize that if I manage to stay faithful to the things I really find enjoyable and worth pursueing to their end, I might make it through that inevitable slump that everyone always hits.  If I can maintain my enthusiasm when things seem to be all working against me or keeping me from moving from dabbling hobbiest to skilled practitioner.  For instance, it gives me hope that my photography will hit that level where I suddenly start getting it and start seeing better and better photographs.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m on the cusp of that already.  An example of how the Dip works, for instance, is the 365 Days project on Flickr.  The goal is to take a self-portrait every day for one year.  Most people hit a creativity wall at three months or less.  Many bail out at that point, and, in fact, I almost did myself.  But some carry on through the slump, fighting the urge to just throw in the towel, waiting for the creativity to spark again.  Even then, some of us never get that creative spark back and our photographs never improve or we drop out later, midway into the Dip itself.  Quitting in the middle of the Dip, incidentally, is something Godin warns about.  Better to quit sooner, and not waste the resources to get further along only to quite later.  Or, better still, to perservere and make it through the Dip to the other side, thus achieving a new level of skill and competence.  I haven’t given up on my 365 Days Project yet, so I’m hoping I’m not the only one who’s seen improvements in my photographs.
And, The Dip also helped me realize that I need to waste less time on things that I know I won’t follow through on and drain my resources, thusly preventing me from pouring more effort into the things I really want to do well.  Now, I’m having to look at what I’m going to “quit” to make room for more effort for my photography and my writing.  I’m a little afraid that it will be sleep I give up to make room!  But, no matter, this book pointed out some deficiencies in how and where I spend my effort.
That needs to change.

I have to admit, I was skeptical about the hype associated with Seth Godin.  I mean, how good and brilliant can one man be, especially when it comes to sounding off about business and management?  But, this book really helped me see some of what’s been going wrong in my life much more clearly.
It’s already motivated me to workout more and more regularly, in an effort to improve my over-all health and appearance.  And, it’s provided considerable encouragement to keep working at my photography.  So, for those two things alone, it was worth getting.
I recommend The Dip for anyone who feels “stuck” or frustrated that they’re not moving ahead in their personal projects.  I’m sure it’s great for business, too, but I got plenty out of it for myself.
I think you will, too.  Trust me, it really is worth the read.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Being right means never having to say you're sorry."
   --Vernor Vinge

10/21/2009

Review: Law Abiding Citizen

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent


LawAbidingCitizen

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Law Abiding Citizen Friday night.

This was a fantastic movie.
No, really, I think this may have been one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen.  I was actually surprised at several points in the movie, which, frankly, is unusual for me, especially when it comes to action-thrillers.  The movie stars Gerard Butler as a father who watches his wife raped and murdered in front of his face and hears his five or six-year-old daughter murdered, while he lies stunned, helpless and potentially bleeding to death.  Only, he survives and lives to see the Assistant District Attorney, played by Jamie Foxx, make a deal with the worst of the killers to plead to a lesser charge to testify against his partner, who gets the death penalty.  Obviously, Bulter’s character is less than pleased  about this deal and he vows revenge.

The movie flashes forward ten years, to the day of the execution.  What was supposed to be a painless, humane solution to a violent problem turns into a very violent solution, much to the surprise of the audience of witnesses which include the Assistant District Attorney team who put him there.
Then, while they’re still trying to figure out what happened and why, someone goes after the second killer, the one who made the deal and put the other killer on death row, even though he was, in fact, the more evil of the two men.  The vigilante turns out to be Butler’s character, who incapacitates the killer and dismembers him in the most gruesome ways imaginable, videoing the whole thing.
And that’s just the first thirty minutes or so of the movie.  Yeah.  That was kind of my reaction, too. Damn.

So, here’s the thing, if you can make it through the amazingly brutal, psychologically damaging first half-hour of this movie, the pay-offs are fantastic.  Explosions, high-level plotting and scheming, spies, remote-controled weaponized bomb disposal robots, you name it, it’s in this movie.
Butler’s character is a military genius, inventor, and engine of destruction who references Carl von Clausewitz, if you can wrap your head around that.  And, he’s in amazing physical condition, too.  He fights a war of brutally personal scope, announcing that he will take revenge for what he lost, who he lost, by destroying the system which allowed a deal to be made giving any kind of leniency to the killers of women and children.  He claims that he’s fighting “total war, like Clausewitz describes.  He’s unrelenting and you find yourself rooting for him, even though, at best, he’s the darkest of dark heroes.

And, of course, I’ll stop giving away the plot now, but trust me when I tell you; see this movie.
If you’re a fan of Gerard Butler or Jamie Foxx, they both play great parts in this movie.  Both play complicated, multi-layered characters with deep backgrounds and are finely detailed.  The scripting is good for everyone, but they have the best dialog between the two of them.
The cinematography is pretty impressive, too.  The close-up shots of a very intense Foxx and equally firey Butler fill the screen and capture your attention in a way that’s hard to describe.  It’s very well done and in a style unlike anything I recall seeing before.  The rest of the movie is just as visually stunning, each shot highlighting the action in that scene.  Brilliantly done.

I won’t tell you how it ends, or even if the ending is happy.  It is, I promise, satisfying.
And, I assure you, this is a movie well worth seeing.  Go.  Now.

10/16/2009

Cuddly Cthulhu

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:01 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

The happiest time of year!

Okay, so, maybe Halloween isn’t everyone’s favorite time of year, but I still think it’s fun.  But, then, I’ve always loved the strange and odd that makes other people uncomfortable.  Back in the “Before Time”, as I like to refer to my adolescence, I got really into a writer by the name of H. P. Lovecraft.  In fact, he was the inspiration for my writing under the name “J. K. Hoffman”, not that Rowling person.  In any case, he created a series of myths around a terrible elder god who slept in an ancient city sunken beneath the waves of a long forgotten ocean, dreaming of devouring all of mankind who was named Cthulhu.  There were all sorts of stories about him and his kin and they were actually quite frightening and a little unnerving at the time, even for me.

But, apparently, old Cthulhu has gotten himself a new publicist and a whole new, “kid friendly” image.  No, seriously!  Check out these 14 Great Cthulhu TOYS and see if you don’t agree!

And, for those of you who remember that high-school 0r junior high-school fascination with things man was not meant to know, go hit that link and have a smile at what the night terrors have become.
Happy Friday everyone!

10/13/2009

Secure Shell on your Phone

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,Apple,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,News and Current Events,On The Road — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is late at night or 11:07 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I’ve been doing a lot more on my phone lately.

I’m not really big into the latest and greatest phone technology.  I don’t go out and grab the latest phone just because it’s come out and has new bells and whistles.  No, really!  But, I have to admit, my new iPhone has pretty much taken over a significant portion of my technological life.  And, I’m pretty much okay with that, because I love it.  One of these days, Real Soon Now, I’m going to write up a review of the VNC software I use on it to manage my servers remotely.  But, until then, I’m going to give you a quick high-light of something absolutely miraculous: secure shell sessions for your phone.

Yeah, now, notice that I didn’t write “for your iPhone”, but, rather, “for your phone”.  There are actually secure shell clients for all three of the big smartphone players; Blackberry, iPhone and Palm.
Now, for those of you not sure what I’m talking about, that’s okay, it’s a geek thing.  Secure shell is a protocol that hardcore, professional geeks like me use to securely access remote systems.  In a nutshell, it’s like Telnet, another hardcore geek tool, but it doesn’t pass information like usernames or passwords in “clear text“, which makes it more secure.  And, that’s the reason guys like me use it.  It lets us securely access servers remotely over networks in ways that don’t endanger our networks or users.  It used to be really only for Unix and Linux, but there are secure shell clients for just about everything now.  Frankly, more professional geeks should be using it for a lot of reasons, but many don’t.

Regardless, I think we’ve reached the pinnacle of technology when I can get a secure shell client for every major smartphone out there.  What that means is I can securely access virtually any kind of server from my phone, where there is a speedy enough data link.  Think about that for a second.  From my PHONE, I can securely access servers, wherever I may happen to have the freakish whim to do so and can get a decent cell signal.
I remember back in the days when you had to have an actual dial-up MODEM to get into servers remotely.  There was no method, secure or otherwise, to get into a server from home or anywhere else.  Now, I can do it, securely, from my PHONE!  How crazy is that?  Seriously!
So, if you want to be able to do that, too, here are links to three reviews of SSH software for the various smartphones. They should all have links to where you can actually download the software, if you want it.
SSH for Blackberry
SSH for iPhone
SSH for PalmOS

Also?  There are lots of applications for managing Windows servers, especially for the iPhone.  Check out Managing Servers and other systems from the iPhone.  It’s why I couldn’t hardly wait for the prices to come down to reasonable levels and why I babble about how there’s an app for everything on this iPhone. Really, it’s made so many things so much easier for me, I cannot begin to tell you.
But, I may just try.

10/9/2009

Cardboard Consumerism

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:39 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I likes me some creative photography!

And, Kyle Bean, a photographer and creative graphics guy from the UK, sure fits the bill.  He makes things, out of cardboard, and then photographs them.  Aw, hell, why waste time reading about it?  Hit his portfolio and enjoy!

10/7/2009

Full Disclosure

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

The FTC has some new rules for bloggers.

Okay, they haven’t taken effect yet, but, they will soon enough. The new rule is, basically, that bloggers now have to make any paid endorsements or reviews clear, or clearer, at any rate, so that people reading their review know that they got something for it, even if it’s just the product itself. Which, frankly, only seems fair.

Now, you all know I review stuff here all the time; movies, books, applications, and other stuff I use. But, know this, I have never, ever been paid to review anything here, nor would I accept payment for reviews unless it was the sale of an article to a magazine or newspaper. I certainly would never review something for someone who paid me to give their product a good review. Even if I happened to agree that their product was the best, accepting money for that review would bias me.

So, you konw, when I tell you a movie sucks, I mean it!

10/6/2009

Review: Pandorum

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:38 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Pandorum

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Pandorum Sunday morning.

It was okay, but nothing fantastic, frankly, or overly surprising.
The premise is simple enough; a flight crew wakes up from an extended hypersleep on an enormous spacecraft that seems to be either abandoned or damaged, but they don’t know what or why and no one is there to tell them what’s going on.

But, of course, it’s more complicated than just firing up the computer and reading the ship’s log.  The power is out, mostly, except for power surges that are almost more trouble than the lack of power that seems to be the rule.  The flight crew is missing one person and suffering from a kind of temporary amnesia caused by the extended hypersleep, but things start to come back to them quickly.  The officer of the team, a Leutenant played by Dennis Quaid, gets enough emergency power routed to the local workstation to discover that the ship’s reactor is going to overload, or rather, it’s going into emergency shutdown before it does actually overload.  The Corporal, played by Ben Foster, just happens to have remembered that he knows how to restart the reactor and save the ship and everyone on it.  All he needs to do is get to it, which means getting past a whole lot of bulkhead doors effectively locked due to the power fluctuations.  Naturally, that means he’s going to have to crawl through a whole lot of very strange, ooky ducts that lead to a lot of eerie, drippy, abandoned corridors.

The thing is, as huge as the ship is, most of the crew and passengers aren’t there or awake.  And, while wandering the corridors, looking for a way to the reactor, the Corporal remembers that they’re a colony ship, sent to create a new Earth on a very distant planet.  A one-way trip meant to off-load a significant portion of the population of an over-stressed, worn-out, abused Earth and give humanity a new start.  Which makes it even more confusing that they seem to be all alone.
Only, it turns out, they’re not alone.  Something else is there.  Something human-like, but more animal.  Something that hunts in packs and seems to know the ship quite well.  Something that’s hunted the other flight crews down for food.  And, at least some of the colonists, too, as it turns out.
The Corporal runs into two colonists, each involved in life-sciences of one kind or another, who have learned to live in the dark, corroded ship, hiding from the alien things who have made it their hunting ground.

Well, that’s the basics of the movie.
It’s not a bad premise for a story, actually.  In fact, in one form or another, it’s been used in science-fiction for many years.  It was even the basis of at least one sci-fi role-playing game.  This movie handles the topic quite well, I think.  It produces a fairly realistic set of circumstances, if it’s possible to create a “realistic” setting in a science-fiction setting.  Then, it puts reasonable people in that setting and applies pressure.  I think that is the essence of a good story, whether in a movie or a book.  People are at their most interesting when they’re under significant pressure, when they’re given a chance to show their true character.
The sets are very much like the sets we saw in Alien, and many, many times since.  It’s nothing particularly new anymore, but I think Pandorum does it better than I’ve seen since the Alien movies, so it was fine and not over-done at all.  It is a dark movie, in both the cinematography and the theme are dark.  The sets are mostly in shadow and odd emergency lighting, reinforcing the idea that no one knows what’s going on and what dangers might be lurking just off screen.  And, of course, the idea that an entire ship of people, an entire colony, might be lost at any moment and the possibility that something sinister already has happened to them are themes that are ever-present and weigh heavily on both the characters and the audience.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good science-fiction horror movie, but I have to say, Pandorum was that.  It wasn’t great, but it was good.  It’s hard not to compare it to Alien, since that was the first true sci-fi horror movie I ever saw.  But, it’s no where near as good as Alien.  Still, Pandorum is worth seeing on the big screen if you like scary, tense science-fiction films.  And, I did enjoy it.

10/4/2009

Review: FoodScanner and DailyBurn

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,By Bread Alone,Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Review,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:47 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon
IMG_0088
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Yeah, so now I’m reviewing iPhone apps.

One aspect of my personal life that probably doesn’t come through that much on this blog is how concerned I am about health and, specifically, my weight. Now, some of this may come from having been married to a self-diagnosed anorexic, but, mostly, it goes further back than that.  In any case, weight and general health have always been a concern for me, but even more so since surviving cancer.  So, I know from all the health magazines I read that one of the greatest tools for weight loss is tracking caloric intake.  I had been doing this via a Moleskine, but I always had to look up the calories in a book or on a website or something.  It was just challenging enough to make me want to quit.  So, naturally, when I got an iPhone, I went looking for an app that let me do record my intake that way.  Enter FoodScanner.

Not only does this fantastic app have seemingly endless lists of food, including many popular restaurant menus, but you can scan the barcode on the package and it will automagically find the food and all the nutrition information for it.  But, wait!  If that’s not in the database yet, you can add it in manually and link the barcode yourself!  How cool is that!  Seriously, I love this thing.  It’s made it so much easier to track my calories I can’t believe I ever lived without it.  And, at $0.99 it’s a real bargain, especially if you want to work on consuming less to lose weight.  Fantastic!

IMG_0089
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Now, as cool as FoodScanner is, what’s even cooler is the free app that goes with it called DailyBurn.  To get the full functionality, it does require that you setup a free account with their service, but, trust me, it’s totally worth it.  Once you’ve setup your free account, DailyBurn will get the calorie and nutrition information you put in with FoodScanner and use that, so you don’t have to enter it twice.

Now, as you’ll notice from the screen shot to the right, the default screen on DailyBurn shows you your caloric intake, what you’ve burned via work outs, and your current and goal weight.  There’s also a tracker to show if you’ve met your workout and nutritional goals, which I’ll mention later.  This page, as you might have guessed from the title “Today’s Stats”, is updated daily, which they define as 12:00AM to 12:00AM.

Notice, though, that the Nutrition indicator only shows when you’ve met all your “goals”, which, frankly, aren’t quite my actual goals.  For one thing, I want to keep my calorie consumption below what they have as a goal, so as to lose weight.  Also, notice the “Upgrade to Pro” link.  That takes you to a sign-up screen for a monthly membership, which I didn’t want to get roped into paying.  Not sure what the upgrades are, actually, but one presumes additional control over goals and additional exercises and other options.

IMG_0090
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

On the screenshot to the left, of this paragraph, you can see the “Body Tracker” page.  Here you can track any number of physical characteristics including weight, waist size, body fat, resting heart rate, arm size and many more.  Frankly, it’s got all the recording features of any big program that you could want.  Also, if you upgrade your free account, which I have not done, to a “Pro” account, there are even more things you can track, like sleep levels.

I like having the chart to see how well, or poorly, I’ve been doing over time.  Sure, maybe it’s a little bit over-kill, but, I’ll be honest, I love charts and graphs and stats.  My favorite page on my Flickr account is the stats page.  It’s true; I’m a stat whore.  So, yes, this feature appeals to me.  Your mileage may vary.

Also, like I mentioned, I didn’t want to get started paying a monthly fee for something I may not continue to use in the long-term, so there may be additional features here that are worth having.  Not sure.   Right now, I’m just a rookie fitness nut, so my health isn’t worth a monthly fee for those kind of intangibles.  Heck, I don’t even pay for a gym membership yet!  So, that may be something worth checking out for you super-hyper fitness nuts.

IMG_0091
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

The next page I seem to hit a lot is the “Workouts” page. Granted, I’ve probably worked out more since I got this app than I have in the past month, but, still, if it’s working, then that’s all that matters.

Now, one of the things I don’t like is that the exercises it DailyBurn measures are somewhat limited.  And, you can’t enter anything new.  So, if, for instance, you were to get exercises out of Men’s Health and knew the caloric expenditure, there’s no way to enter that in.  Now, I assume that buying the “pro” version of this, which is actually a membership and not a one-time payment, you might be able to add more exercises or have a larger selection, but, frankly, I get close enough that it’s not worth it to me to pay a monthly fee for that kind of “upgrade”.

I should also note, however, that I haven’t looked into the “My Workouts” section too much, but it looked like it had promise.  It gave you workouts to achieve certain goals, like Fat Loss and Strength Building and so on.  Under each section, there are several workouts designed to help you with that particular goal.  Kind of like a personal trainer in an iPhone app.  (Though, I prefer the Men’s Health app for those kind of things to the ones I saw in DailyBurn.)  The last section is essentially a workout log that shows all the sets you’ve done and how much weight you lifted on each set.  The only problem is, it only shows today’s workout, not any previous day.  It like this to show a chart of progress, not unlike the body goals charts shown above.  But, again, I’m sort of a stat whore, so take that for what you will.

IMG_0092
Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Now, what I think is the best thing about DailyBurn, next to showing me how little I burn off with my wimpy home workout, is the “Nutrition” screen.  I specifically chose the screen at the left because it showed several things I want to highlight.  This is not what I hope a “typical” day is for me.  Or, at least, not what I hope a typical day will be for me going forward.

In any case, you can see that it shows you your consumption levels and whether or not you’ve met your “goals” for the day.  Goals not met are shown in blue.  Goals that are in the “good” range, or met, but not exceeded are in green.  And, finally, goals that have been exceeded are in red.  You can see that I was a bad, bad boy on the day used as an example.  Also, since I’m trying to lose weight, I’m doing my best to keep my caloric intake between 1500 and 1900 calories.  My goal here is to burn more calories than I actually need so as to shed some poundage.

Now, again, I’m a total stat geek when it comes to this stuff, so I love see all this.  Also, in just the few weeks that I’ve been using these two programs, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons.  For one thing, I need to work out more.  My little, tiny workout in the morning doesn’t even burn off breakfast most days!  Not acceptable!  So, I need to adjust that.  Also, I noticed that I’m not getting anywhere near enough protein while consuming way too many carbs and, obviously, more than enough fat, too.  So, I need to adjust my diet as well as step up my exercise program.  But, it took getting good information to do it.

For the couple of bucks it cost me to get FoodScanner and the free version of DailyBurn, I’ve gotten a lot of valuable information and awareness of what I need to change and improve in my personal health and nutrition plan.  Well worth the small change I paid.

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