Expressing gratitude

My gear, and fantastic gear bags, along with a little bit of fuel.

When we started crowdfunding our documentary-making business a year and a half ago we had virtually nothing to work with except a few ideas we liked, a network of dedicated fans and supporters, and a willingness to learn quickly and work real hard.

With every project we got ourselves some equipment, and we continue to expand our little empire of awesome gear as we grow. I don’t mind telling you where I get this stuff: my bud Kent at Vistek in Ottawa is my go-to guy for just about everything. He’s knowledgeable, friendly, and dedicated to his work. He listens to me ramble on about what we’re doing, and he very patiently walks me through the various options. I usually take my time buying stuff; the money we have to spend on this comes from individual contributors, most of whom work very hard for their money. I do not treat it like government grants, I promise you. I am very careful to buy what we need and look for the best ways to spend well and smart. In the two bags you see I have three cameras and all kinds of accessories for same (lights, lenses, filters, mics, batteries, etc. – my computer and numerous peripherals also live in there). Tripods and a few less fragile bits of gear (extra cables, extra gear bags) are checked in.

It’s a fantastic kit I’ve got now, and I am extremely grateful to our backers for allowing me to play – I mean, work – with such great equipment.

I’m also grateful for my fitness level. My Uber driver this morning had trouble believing that I could lift and carry all my bags (he helped me put them in his car; he knew how heavy they were). But I certainly can carry it all because thanks to the great teachers/mentors I get to train under at Douvris Martial Arts, I am fitter, stronger and tougher than I’ve ever been. (You should give this a try – let me know if you’d like a free guest pass, we’re always looking for new friends.)

So yes. I had to get up in the middle of the night to catch this early flight to Calgary. But I am very happy to be able to do this work with excellent gear and feeling immensely grateful. Tea helps, too. 😉


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter twenty-nine

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

“Jason, come see me, please and thank you.”

Wow, Jason thought. That’s kind of terse, even for Jules. Jules Fisher, his editor, was an old timer, and he very clearly made it known that he was not impressed by kids like Jason. He thought they had an attitude problem, and a sense of entitlement as big as the satellite truck. Which was usually not matched by the kids’ achievements. Not remotely. (Get it? Sat truck… remote…? Oh, never mind.) Usually it was all these kids could do to write a letter right. They got to work after four years in college, thinking they’d get to be star reporters, and they couldn’t write to save their lives. Which would have to be saved by other people once the kids got themselves in danger. Like that idiotic girl who’d left a waitress job to be a journalist and gotten herself taken hostage in Somalia. What was her name again, Amanda something? Whatever. The point remains. These pretty young things think they can do anything they want but they have no actual talent of any useful kind. And we’re supposed to put up with them because they’re “fresh”… Sigh. They were even worse on TV, because, like, you know, and then I was like, you know – that’s all they ever say, with question marks everywhere, and that made them sound even stupider than they looked? which was saying something?

Yeah, they were fresh alright.

Jules was known to grumble a lot at the best of times, and this wasn’t the best of times. His newsroom had just gotten itself scooped by another outlet and if there was something Jules Fisher hated, and I mean hated with a passion, it was getting himself scooped.

The news business drove Jules mad – which admittedly, was a bit of a short trip. Ratings were low because ads didn’t sell so much, so the bosses cut experienced (and expensive) reporters and – more importantly in his view – editors, and replaced those with social-media-savvy Millenials, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in the hope of connecting with younger viewers and readers, which advertisers are after. But since Millenials can’t write and have nothing interesting to say, the stories they crank out flop miserably, leading managers to let more experienced people go. Jules was reasonably certain the younger kids could be taught to write and produce stories that added value to their network or newspaper. They weren’t all stupid. But this sort of training takes time, and it takes mentors. By thinning the ranks of experienced writers and editors, managers made sure there was nobody around with any time to teach the youngsters anything, such as what constitutes an interesting story and why it’s important not to get scooped on same by the competition.

This morning the competition was kicking CBC’s ass, and Jules was pissed.

“I gather,” he said the minute Jason walked into his office, “that you were given the lead on that Toussignant story,” he looked at his notes without looking up at Jason, “three days ago?” Now he looked up at Jason.

“I think so, yes. Carla sent it to me earlier this week, asking if I could look into it because she was swamped with her other stuff. I meant to have a look but then got busy on the Libyan thing, and of course that was…”

“Yes well now Global has the Toussignant story and they’re running it big because,” for a minute there it looked like Jules might actually be close to having his head explode, “well, it IS a big story, see, guy kills his parents and defends himself saying they deserved it for not loving him properly…”

Jason hadn’t yet realized it was a bad idea to interrupt Jules when he was going on like that. “Yeah, but it’s just a murder story, do people really…”

The sound his editor’s hands made when they slammed on the desk kinda scared Jason for a second. He was really not used to people getting physical with him. “I have no idea what it is that they teach you people in J-school anymore, but let me tell you this: When you’re sitting on a story like that, you DO NOT sit on it like that!! Here’s a guy who’s desperate to have his story heard, and you had an early lead and blew it? That won’t do, Jason. This story’s gonna be big, kid, take my word for it. And thanks to you, we’ll be playing catch-up on it instead of owning it.”

The outburst stopped briefly, and Jason stood there waiting for the next part. He still didn’t know what the big deal was. It wasn’t a significant story or anything, just some guy accused of murdering his parents.

Jules looked up and if his eyes had hands on them they would have strangled the 24-year-old right there on the spot. “So now that means you drop whatever you’re doing and go make it up to me on that Toussignant story.”

“But, Jules, what about the Libyan story?”

“It doesn’t exist anymore, as far as you’re concerned. You make it up to me on the one you flubbed or you no longer work for me. Simple enough for you?”

When he got back to his desk Carla Laframboise was waiting for him. “Way to make me look stupid,” she sneered at him.

He shrugged. “That’s OK, Jules already chewed me out.”

She rolled her eyes all the way to her shoulder blades. “Yeah, I’ll bet he did. And it’s definitely not OK to let us get scooped like this. Your job around here is to help all of us look good. And that means doing a lot of leg work. I wasn’t always the one on air, you know. Before I got to where I am now, I did a shitload of leg work for other people. Then one day my chance came and I grabbed it. Yours will come, too. Unless you get yourself fired first. Now what did Jules say?”

“He said to make it up to him. I’m not even sure what that means.”

“It means blow him away. You’ve let the competition get the lead on that story, now take it back from them.”

“Sounds great, but how?”

“No idea. It has to be different, spectacular. Cover it differently. Focus on an angle the other guys didn’t notice. Find something compelling to say that’s been ignored so far. Find a way to get the lead back from Global, I don’t care what it is…”

“Alright, alright, I’ll think of something.” And with those words, Jason put on his coat and left the building. Not to go chase the story, as his more experienced colleague would have hoped – to say nothing of what his boss Jules might have expected. No, Jason went home, to have dinner with his parents then spend the evening playing Call of Duty with his cousin like he promised.

“A new angle, something compelling,” he kept repeating to himself. “But what?” He decided to stop thinking about it for a few hours and play, then go to sleep and see what came into his head first thing in the morning.


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To train and to inspire – what this project is all about


Today was a good day. Eldest, Middle Daughter and I competed in Battle Zone 2016, the tournament our dojo organizes every year. It was well attended, which meant we had pretty tough divisions to compete in.

Eldest did very well in kata and got second. She fought well but did not place in sparring. Middle Daughter, who’s just starting the competitive thing, did an excellent kata and fought as well as I’d ever seen her fight, but did not place in either discipline. She found this hard to take and had to fight back tears, but in the end I think she learned a great lesson about hard work, courage, and sportsmanship. I’d say that was time and money well spent.

I am exceedingly proud of both girls and told them so abundantly.

Me? I did decent, too. I got silver in kata and gold in sparring. That wasn’t easy; I started fighting a very strong opponent – a woman who’s not only excellent but roughly nine feet tall. She’s not easy to hit. She took the lead and got all the way to 6-2 but I managed to win that one 10-7, so yeah, that felt alright. Then I had to fight my friend and teammate and it’s always bittersweet to win those (fortunately it was a narrow win so we all get to feel a tiny bit better about that). Anyway, despite my bout of anxiety on Thursday, I did well. I even qualified for the Grand Championship (where the gold medalists from each division fight each other). I was in a group with women 20 years younger than me and, well, let’s just say I lost very convincingly. But hey, I’d never qualified for Grands before, I was dashed if I wasn’t going to give it a shot. At least I provided some comic relief, so there is that. (We took some video and they’ll be part of the mini-documentary about my journey to Dublin.)

But you know what’s even better than me doing well?

Two of our karate mamas, who are pretty new at competition, dared to step into the ring today. And they both did supremely well. It’s such a privilege to help someone develop skills and then see them compete and win. And this really is what I want to do with my newest project. To help you conquer your fears and push yourself past your limits – no matter what your limits are, just to push a little bit past them. Because that’s the only way we can get better at whatever it is we’ve chosen to devote our time on Spaceship Earth to.


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Translating light into words

Light. Magical light. It’s all around us and nowhere at the same time. And how many of us notice it?

I do. Big time. I was blessed/cursed with the ability to see everything. I am so detail-oriented it sometimes hurt. I notice odd socks. I see pain in people’s eyes. I see joy in their teeth (no, really; you can tell a lot about someone from their teeth). Sometimes I stand on my dock at the lake and try to absorb the millions of light diamonds that sparkle on the surface of the water. They are so beautiful they make my soul sing.

Yes, you could say light is a big deal to me. It’s one reason I get up early for my jogs. Because running in the rising sun fills me with hope and renewed enthusiasm for the day that’s coming.

It happened again this morning. I was up before 5 and went for a quick light stroll around the farm. Light breakfast followed by a bike ride along the Ottawa river with Eldest, on our way to our karate tournament. It’s a beautiful path and going east at 6:45 the sun was perfectly positioned to give us a fantastic warm glow and make the geese appear about as mellow and friendly as geese can be.

That’s not quite as poetic as I’d like it to be. I wish I had the right words to convey what I saw. Alas. You’ll just have to believe me that it was glorious.


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Yes, dear, you told me so

Hey, remember when I had this argument with John about the wind in Uffington?

He asked me to post this.

It was with the better microphone. And while you can hear the wind, he’s right that the clip is totally usable. Unlike, ahem, what I said. I insisted it wasn’t worth shooting it because in my headphones I could hear the wind very loudly. He insisted on shooting it anyway. I rolled my eyes all the way to my shoulder blades and shot.

Well. Fine.

You were right, dear.


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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter twenty-eight

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

At first Jeff hadn’t wanted a lawyer. He had this idea that he would be better served if he did the job himself. Unfortunately for him, while the principle generally applies in everyday life, that was not exactly a good idea in this case. A first-degree murder trial isn’t everyday life, far from it. It was explained to him that there might be problems with this idea, especially if he decided to appeal his verdict – which was a possibility he couldn’t dismiss out of hand, certainly not before the trial.

There’s an old joke in the justice system that the guy who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer, and it’s only funny because it’s true. Especially in murder cases. Given that it’s such a serious accusation and also because the consequences are so drastic if one is found guilty, it’s really important that the accused have proper representation. Just to make sure his or her rights have been properly defended.

Jeff eventually relented. He was determined to defend himself in his own way, but he wasn’t prepared to battle everybody every step of the way; that sounded like way too much work.

“OK, I see,” he told the legal officer who was visiting him that morning. “I’ll agree to get a lawyer if you guys insist so much on it. But I want it clear that I’m the one in charge of my defense strategy. You’re right that I don’t know enough about court procedures to navigate it all by myself, but I know where I want to go.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Toussignant, and let me be the first one to say you won’t regret changing your mind on this. We can help you find a lawyer that will suit your needs. Now unfortunately your income is not so low that you’re entitled to legal aid, but I’m pretty sure we can find you someone willing to take your case on a pro bono basis.”

“Pro bono, does that mean free?” Jeff had no illusions when it came to lawyers, but you never know, right?

“Pretty much, yes. Pro bono is a Latin phrase meaning ‘for the public good’ and it is common for lawyers, especially those with the bigger firms, to devote a certain percentage of their time to taking on cases without payment. You might just be lucky enough to attract the attention of one or more such lawyers, given what I understand about your preferred defense strategy – assuming I understood you properly.”

“Yes, I’m sure you did. I intend to plead not guilty and make the case that I defended myself against parents who did not love me and never treated me right. I have been working on my case over the last few months and I believe I am ready to make it in front of the world. I don’t need a lawyer to tell me how to make my case. I just need one, apparently, to help me deal with the nuts and bolts of how the courtroom works, how to address the judge and also how to counter-interrogate witnesses. And yes,” he added with a bit of a sly smile, “I expect my case will attract media attention. Certainly I’ve been seeking it.”

“Understood. We’ll see what we can do for you.”


It didn’t take long for Jeff to find the lawyer he wanted. Paul Smith had recently turned 34 years old. He had been hired about a year and a half ago by the firm Gervais, Rockport & Associates of Laval. Before that he’d interned and worked for a few years after articling with a bigger firm in downtown Montreal but realized that mergers and acquisitions really weren’t his thing. Working as a lawyer was hard enough without the added struggle of working on aspects of the law you didn’t care about. And since he wasn’t yet married with children, he thought that was a good time to take risks and try something new. He decided he would rather work as a criminal lawyer; he worked with legal aid for a while then found this job at Gervais where he was given a chance to work alongside solid lawyers who had earned a good reputation as defenders of the wrongly accused.

Paul didn’t believe in walking all over his honour to defend sleazeballs, but he did believe everybody was entitled to the best defence, and he wanted to dedicate himself to that pursuit. When the firm sent him to interview Jeff Toussignant, to see if this was a case they should agree to take pro bono, he was intrigued. Here was a guy who, despite not being particularly nice or anything, was not a confirmed asshole. He also did not look stupid.

“Listen,” Jeff said, by way of introduction, “I’m glad you agreed to take on this case pro bono. I don’t intend to make it a very time-intensive experience for you. In fact, and I’m not saying this to make you feel unwanted or anything, but you’re there mostly because they were bugging me about the need to get a lawyer. I’m sorry if that sounds heartless or harsh, but that’s the truth.”

“Right,” said Paul in return, “well, Jeff – I can call you Jeff, right? Since we’re not trying to be overly polite to each other…” he looked his client straight in the eye and held it for a few seconds, but Jeff didn’t flinch. “To be brutally honest with you, Jeff, I am taking your case because I’m intrigued by your story, and also because I gather you intend to make a bit of a splash in court with your testimony and something tells me this case might stand out. I’m fairly new in the criminal system and – I hope you won’t mind my being so honest – this is a good case for me to make a name for myself.”

Jeff laughed. “We’ll get along just fine, Paul. Now where do we start?”

Paul cleared his throat. “First of all, I will not ask you whether or not you are guilty. I find this colours my judgement. I will work from the assumption that you are not guilty. That way I’ll be in the right frame of mind to give you the best defense I can. Now I gather you intend to plead not guilty. Is that right?”

“Yes it is. I do not contest the fact that I hired the guys I hired to give my parents the drugs that killed them. It would be stupid to deny that, since the cops have already found the money transfer from my bank account to their company, which has been found to be something other than a simple ‘comfort care’ agency. No, you see, Paul, that part is easy for the prosecution to establish. But I will still plead not guilty to first-degree murder. What I did was not murder. It was self-defense.”

Paul Smith had heard a lot of weird talk in his life, but this was definitely among the most interesting ones.

“I see,” he said, taking off his glasses to clean them up. Saying “I see” and cleaning up his glasses was this particular lawyer’s way of buying time when he had nothing useful to say. The trick was to use that time wisely and come up with something good, pronto. It didn’t always work.

“Well,” he said, replacing his glasses slowly on his nose, “that certainly is unusual. But probably not unheard of. I’ll have to do a search to see what previous cases might apply to yours. Offhand I can’t think of any…”

“That doesn’t matter to me,” Jeff interjected. “I have a case.”

“I’m sure you do, and I hope you’ll let me have a look at what you wrote so I can better prepare myself for the trial and maybe even offer a few suggestions to you on the best ways to present your case.”

Jeff looked mighty dubious. He had read his manuscript over and over and over again; he was convinced it was perfect. And since he’d never liked the thought of listening to an editor’s advice before (might have explained his lack of professional success, that), he wasn’t about to start now.

“Either way, we need to do a search about this, since your defense is so unusual. We wouldn’t want to try something in court that a previous court slapped down hard. That’s not very useful. On the other hand, if there are aspects of your defense that have worked for other defendants in situations similar to yours, we might want to give those a try.”

[next chapter]


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Pardon me while I sing! Or: YES! EAT FAT!


Many of us avoid fatty foods at all costs, worried, perhaps, that an extra helping of guacamole or second peanut-butter sandwich might quickly transform into extra padding around our bellies. But a new review paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this week shows that diets full of fat can actually be healthy for you—as long as it’s the right kind of fat.

I’m so glad science is catching on. But there’s a but. If I understand correctly, the study claims healthy fats include canola oil and exclude butter. I would disagree strongly with that. Healthy fats are fats that come naturally with – you know – natural foods. Like cream, butter and yes, up to a point, bacon (hold the nitrites).

Anyway, even with this caveat, I say yay. We may finally be slowly getting rid of George McGovern’s stupid low-fat legacy, and not a moment too soon.

p.s. eat fat.


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A soft society

Ah, timing. I was just chatting my Dear Husband about how soft young people seem to be these days (we do this a lot), and this pops up across my Facebook:


And now I’m depressed.

Don’t people learn first aid anymore? Haven’t we heard of the Heimlich manoeuvre? I don’t have particularly good memories of school, but one good thing I learned there was how to perform it. We practiced it on each other until we got it. We made each other gag and giggle a lot, but we got it. So much so that I once saved someone who had chocked on a piece of meat. Tried it too timidly and rather unsuccessfully at first, and – seeing as things were getting dramatic – I did it again but much more decidedly and out came that piece of meat, flying half-way across the room and landing with a wet thud. I believe I was 16 or 17 when I saved that person. I have never done it again but I am reasonably confident I remember how to.

I dislike relying on gadgets too much because gadgets fail sometimes. They’re also not always right where you need it. Batteries die. Sometimes you left the gizmo in the car. Sometimes, in a panic, you can’t make it work right. Human skills that rely on human intelligence and reflexes are much more reliable, provided the human in question isn’t a flake who folds at the first sign of trouble. That’s why raising kids in bubble wrap is so damn dangerous. You are taking away their ability to react well in a crisis. And one day this might just kill them. And kill them stupidly at that. (Don’t bubble-wrap your kids! Teach them to deal with danger instead.)

I’m not in favour of anyone choking, but for crying out loud humans have choked for as long as they’ve breathed, and most of us so far have managed to cope with the danger (you can even do the Heimlich to yourself by ramming something hard and sharp up your solar plexus).

Be competent. Learn to deal with danger, learn to assess situations quickly, and learn basic first-aid and survival skills. Can it fail? Sure. Very few people are thoroughly prepared for everything. But I’d rather rely on my skills than on some gadget. That’s too soft for me.

And I don’t like soft.


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And then, for no good reason, you doubt


It’s weird how it happens sometimes. You feel great and train hard and things are improving and you feel like, yeah, that’s me right there, fighting like I belong in a ring. And then for no reason at all, suddenly you feel like a giant fraud. You have no business being there. You’re an imposter. You don’t belong. You might as well give up and take up crochet because maybe there at least you wouldn’t suck so bad.

Usually this happens to me right before a tournament. In fact, trying now to look back since I started competing in January, I believe it’s happened every single time.

Sigh. I would give a lot of money right now to understand how it happens or why. Because it makes no sense. I do enjoy the training, the pushing past my limits, the fighting. I like the progress I’m making every week. I like competition once it starts. It’s in the day or two before a competition that I get weak kneed and yellow bellied. And sure enough, I have a tournament on Saturday – first one since the Nationals in May – and yeah, I am powerfully tempted to hide at my lake all weekend…

I won’t, of course. I’ll get in there and enter the ring intending to dominate it and win. I may not win. I may lose. But I’ll get in there intending to win. Because that’s the only thing to do when the chickens grab hold of you: To carry on with the plan, no matter what. To trust that when you made that plan you knew what you were doing. And most importantly: you have to trust that your training will carry you through.

Because like the title of my new project (help me produce it!) says, it’s not just for kicks. This is for real.


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Children and the elasticity of time

Time, I once famously said (that was a famous post, right?), is a dangerous thing. I normally don’t get any. I mean, yes. Like everyone else, I get twenty-four hours a day. But like I explained in that post, mine is taken up by children a lot. And it’s not just because I homeschool; I take it parents of children who go to school are also very busy with homework, parent-teacher things, lunch-making, and the awful terrible horrendous job of getting sleepy children up, dressed, fed, and out the door in time every morning. At least mine sleep in.

No. There’s something about having kids that turns your days into black holes of time-suckingness. (Of course that’s a word; I just made it up.) And it’s very frustrating sometimes. Especially when you have more projects on the go than you’d have time for even if you didn’t have children, plus all kinds of ambitious homeschooling projects for the kids, too. These days we’re heavily into music and arts and world history and Latin and (cough) a bit of French since it’s summer and all three kids are two grades ahead in core subjects anyway, and it’s a blast. A very time-consuming blast.

What’s prompting all this time-suckingness-related brooding is the coming twelve days. We’re at the lake now, until shortly after lunch Friday. Then we go back home to do some intensive karate (tournament on Saturday is the major event). We need to do some filming on Parliament Hill early Sunday morning, following which, if the weather allows, my husband and the kids will leave for the lake again. Me? I’m flying to Alberta at oh-insane hour Monday morning for a very intensive few days of filming interviews and other bits for the two documentaries we have in production. I’m doing Calgary, then driving to Edmonton, then flying to Toronto for a bit of a trek around the area before zooming back to Ottawa on the lovely 401.

Dad and daughters and pets will have come home from the lake by then, but they (the people) are leaving early Thursday to spend the long weekend at my husband’s childhood cottage on Georgian Bay with his family, leaving me with a dog, a cat, and a bicycle. Oh, and time.

TIME! To do stuff! Like work! And paint! And mow the lawn! And stain the fence! And who knows what all!

My filming whirlwind of a trip will be very intensive (I generally don’t recommend trying to keep up with me when I’m in my woman-on-a-mission mode; I move a lot and I move fast), but you know what’s really cool about it? I get TIME! Time to work on flights, time to go running in the early morning light without worrying about waking up my sleeping beauties (crowded small hotel rooms aren’t the best place for my early morning routine), time to listen to all these awesome history/philosophy podcasts I’ve been piling up during those long drives on terribly boring highways, time to hear myself think. It’ll be great. Heck, I’ll even have time to practice piano and maybe I’ll even crank out my music and sing my head off since nobody’ll be there to complain that maybe we don’t need Blondie 16 times in a row. (I live among heretics, I swear.)

Yes, I’ll miss my people. Yes, I’ll feel guilty a bit for enjoying their lack of presence in my immediate vicinity. But not guilty enough to stop myself from accomplishing 3843812 critical chores and feeling good about knocking them out.

It’s a weird thing, having kids. If you didn’t have them, you’d have all kinds of time to do your work. But then, you also wouldn’t have the same energy and devotion and pure drive to make that work matter (and ideally succeed financially) because it’s not the same when you don’t have pretty small humans depending on you. And even if money is not a problem for you, you still want your work to matter because you are showing your kids what it’s like to have a passion and follow it and work hard at something worth doing. Without kids, you’d have time to do work. But your work would matter less.

In the end, time is an elastic concept. It stretches and contracts, sometimes because of something you do and sometimes because of outside forces. Sometimes it gets so squished that the prospect of four entire hours to work on anything feels like a month. The trick is to grab those wonderful, blissful opportunities when they present themselves and make the best of them.

Without too much guilt.


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