"You can't handle the truth!" -Col. Nathan R. Jessup

(I shortened this weekly feature’s name from “Star Wars Wednesday” to “Star Wednesday” — it’s no less horrible, just shorter.)

On this week’s Star Wednesday, I’ll be taking a look at this metal Boba Fett coin bank.

I own hundreds (if not thousands) of Star Wars collectibles that offer no real world functionality. They sit on shelves, and I enjoy looking at them, but they don’t do anything. I have shelves and shelves of items like that, which is why over the past few years I’ve started looking for Star Wars related items that I can incorporate into my daily life: coffee mugs, t-shirts, or in this case, a coin bank.

I got this coin bank (along with the R2-D2 one) at Big Lots a couple of years ago for somewhere between $5 and $10. According to Amazon there’s a third one featuring Darth Vader, but because the shape of Darth Vader’s mask is nothing like the top of this bank (like Boba Fett and R2), it’s almost unrecognizable. I wouldn’t go (and haven’t gone) out of my way to pick up the Vader one. According to a sticker on the bottom of the bank these were made in 2012.

The bank itself is cylindrical, with a dome on top that pops off and two arms attached to the sides. All three banks (Fett, R2 and Vader) are physically identical with different paint jobs. The graphics on the Boba Fett one are nice, both front and back. It’s missing his iconic blast damage on the front of the helmet, but does have his traditional Mandalorian insignia on the chest plate and some nice shading overall to give the appearance of some depth to the helmet and armor.

As far as coin banks go… it’s a coin bank. You drop coins in through a slot on the top of his head and they stay inside until you pop the top off and empty the coins out. There just aren’t a lot of ways to mess up the design of a coin bank. I have on occasion managed to accidentally shove the lid down inside the bank when trying to snap the lid back on, which causes the tube to temporarily bend out of shape. The metal is slightly thicker than that of a standard can of soda, but not much. When empty, you could easily squeeze and crush the bank, though I don’t really recommend trying it.

I don’t know how I acquire so much loose change but I do. I always seem to have a pocket full of it and yet I never seem to think to spend it unless whatever I’m buying is just a few cents over the even dollar amount. For years I’ve stored all this change in a bowl on our table (or, more commonly, in my truck’s center console) but this little bank gives me a place to put it. I like the fact that you can stick this on your desk either at home or work and not take up a lot of space while still representing Star Wars with a functional item.

Fett’s almost full of republican credits now and I can’t wait to carry this guy into my local credit union, pop the top of his helmet off, and buy myself a drink in the Mos Eisley cantina.

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I like being involved in weird and unusual things. Sometimes I get involved in weird and unusual things by saying “sure” when I get invited to such things. Last week my friend Dean invited me to attend the inaugural Track and Field World Championships at a local private arcade. Dean told me a few well known competitors would be flying in from California for the event. He also told me that local video wizard Drew Stone would be documenting the tournament, and wanted to know if I would provide audio commentary for the proceedings and interview the competitors.

I said “sure,” which is how I ended up attending the 2084 Arcade in Beggs, Oklahoma with a wireless microphone system threaded through my shirt while watching some of the best Track and Field competitors in the world battle it out on the vintage game.

Track and Field is a classic arcade game, released by Konami in 1983. The game’s unique controls and social competition aspect (allowing up to four players to compete against one another) were enough to make it a good game, but the hype surrounding the 1984 Olympics (which took place in Los Angeles, California) certainly didn’t hurt the game’s popularity.

Each competitor in Track and Field must use three buttons to play the game. There are two RUN buttons that must be hit repetitively to propel your feet in the running events, and a third JUMP/THROW button that does just that. Not only does the game require quick reflexes and pixel-point accuracy, but also maniacally fast fingers (with tough forearms to match). While many classic arcade games only require good hand/eye coordination, Track and Field adds those RUN buttons to the mix. Literally, the faster you can mash those buttons, the faster your little man goes.

And Hector “FLY” Rodriguez is the fastest of the fast, although technically speaking he “flicks” the buttons instead of mashing them, as do most of the world’s top players. In 2008 Hector scored 95,350 on the game, breaking the former world record of 95,040 which was held by Kelly Kobashigawa for 23 years.

But Hector was not the only competitor in town. Jack Gale, also from California, arrived with his eye on the trophy. Gale is no stranger to winning — he is currently first in the world in games like Enduro Racer, Mad Crasher, and Vs. Hogan’s Alley, and holds (and has previously held) many others. Gale’s world record on Zoo Keeper stood for nearly twenty years.

Jack Gale and Hector Rodriguez discuss strategy outside the arcade as Mason looks on.

King of Kong did a disservice to the arcade community by prominently displaying the negative side of rivalry instead of the friendly competitive spirit I’ve witnessed at every single arcade competition I’ve attended. I’ve met several of the people featured in King of Kong (including Billy Mitchell) who have been nothing but polite and genuinely kind, not only to me but their other competitors. Anyone expecting anything less from a gaming competition (hosted in Oklahoma, no less) should be surprised. Rob Walker, one of the contestants and the owner of the 2084 arcade, cooked enough burgers and dogs to feed an army. My only complaint of the day was that so many people brought so many pops and drinks to share that there was no room in the ice chests for us to add our twelve pack. The vast majority of people I’ve met in this circle are generous and kind; in Oklahoma, doubly so.

(When some of the competitors noticed Mason taking an interest in the game, they began giving him tips and encouraging him to enter. While we all knew Mason’s chances of winning a tournament that included the world record holder were extremely slim, it was very nice for them to include him, a gesture that truly shows the real generosity and kindness of most arcade enthusiasts.)

With our bellies full of burgers and hot dogs, it was time for practice to begin. On any other day, everyone’s focus would have been on Walker’s immaculate collection of games… but not on this Saturday. On this Saturday, machines like Journey, Robotron, Joust, and Bubbles sat untouched as the contestants warmed up their chops on the three practice machines that had been moved into the center of the arcade.

As the sun went down, the competition lit up as nine hopeful competitors entered the qualifying round. Each qualifying round was played on the same machine. The machine had two cameras mounted on it, one rebroadcasting the screen to a large flat screen television mounted behind the player and another one recording each player’s face. Additional action was recorded by two or three additional cameras. All of this wizardry was concocted and coordinated by local television media Drew Stone.

After the prelims, the field was narrowed to five finalists: world record holder Hector Rodriguez, Jack Gale, event co-organizors Dean (owner of Arcade Sales and Rentals) and Rob, and Rob’s son Brad. Less than 10,000 points separated the top five scores.

Although Mason did not advance to the finals, he had another job to perform. Mason randomly picked each finalist’s name from a plate to determine the final order.

Although the competition was always friendly, it was also intense as each player flicked, tapped, and occasionally bashed the buttons as furiously as possible in order to propel their runners toward the finish line. Each competitor pulled out every trick they knew in order to obtain as many bonuses as possible. With gamers this evenly matched, a winning score could come down to earning a single 1,000 point bonus.

By the end of the night we were all hot, sweaty, tired, and having a blast. Dean and I, with our wireless microphones attached to our lapels, gave commentary on each player’s performance as they pushed their scores higher and higher. And while every competitor did awesome, at the end only one person could be the ultimate winner.

At the end of the night, pictures of the competitors were taken surrounding the Track and Field machines. The machine used in the competition along with a few additional Track and Field marquees were autographed. Trophies, leftover from the original Classic Video Game Tournaments in the 1980s, were obtained and distributed to the winners.

Oh, and speaking of winners, at the end of the night the points were tallied and the winner…

…will be revealed when the video is released. Sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy!

Thanks to all the competitors and spectators who attended the event, and special thanks to Dean and Rob for organizing the event in Rob’s wonderful private arcade, and Hector and Jack for coming all the way from California to attend the event. Talks are already underway in regards to a bigger event next year. Mason is hoping they do; he spent the morning practicing…

PS: If you want to hear me talk about the Commodore 64 version of Track and Field, I covered it a few months ago on my C64 game podcast, Sprite Castle.

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I learned a lot about computers between 1980 (the year we got our first one) and 1993, and doubled that knowledge between 1993 and 1995. In 1993 I built my first PC, in 1994 I got my first dial-up internet account, and in 1995 I began learning about computer networks.

I first gained access to the internet in the fall of ’94, thanks to a generous co-worker who shared his college dial-up internet username and password with me. You must understand how valuable this was at the time, back when people gladly paid by the hour for access to America Online. The college account I used was limited to text-only — no World Wide Web for me, not yet — but it was unlimited and it was free, granting me access to an entirely new world. Soon I was learning all about and exploring IRC, FTP, and Gopher sites.

It all started when a friend of a friend taught me how to download the college server’s list of usernames and passwords. The passwords were hashed (meaning you couldn’t directly read them), but another friend of a friend showed me how to crack them. Before long I had another computer running 24/7, dedicated to revealing those passwords. It guessed the short and simple ones first and then burned cycles for days and weeks trying to break the more difficult ones. My friend’s internet account had a limited amount of storage space. Having access to more accounts meant more storage space. Eventually I gained access to admin accounts with unlimited storage space and the ability to create other accounts. I ended up with many more accounts than I needed, because cracking them seemed dangerous and exciting.

Then I met other people who were inside other systems, doing similar things and willing to trade some of their accounts for some of mine. Once that number of people grew to half a dozen or more, we decided to meet in person to trade information and share knowledge at JJ’s Pizza.

A few of the shady members of this circle also happened to attended classes at the University of Oklahoma, and so JJ’s Pizza, located next to the campus, became our official meeting place. Once or twice a month, our little group of hooligans descended on JJ’s and, over a couple of large pizzas and pitchers of beer, took turns acting as both teachers and students. JJ’s had a side dining room and we were always the only people in it. At that time I owned a portable radio scanner, and sometimes I would turn it on and we would listen to the local police talk to one another over their radios as one guy soldered modifications to electronic devices and another wheeled and dealed in stolen internet accounts as a used car dealer might. Some people said a lot and others said barely anything. Over time I learned that the ones that said nothing at all were the ones to really be afraid of. Some people who aren’t very good with dealing with other human beings are dangerously good at dealing with computers.

I don’t remember how many times we met at JJ’s — a dozen, dozen and a half, tops. Like a lot of computer groups, things got to the point where everybody had shared everything they were willing to share with one another and the fun fizzled soon after.

The picture above of JJ’s Pizza was not taken twenty years ago when all this tomfoolery took place; I snapped it yesterday. I now drive past JJ’s Pizza every Tuesday and Thursday on my way to and from OU. I haven’t been back inside (I’m sure the old Rastan arcade machine is long gone), but I may stop by for lunch sometime soon to see if anything inside seems familiar.

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Welcome to a new feature here at RobOHara.com I’m calling “Star Wars Wednesday,” in which I talk about a Star Wars item from my personal collection each Wednesday. (Okay, so the column title isn’t going to win any awards for originality…)

This week’s featured items are a pair of The Empire Strikes Back mugs, released by Deka in 1980. Deka released a series of plastic mugs and breakfast bowls for all three Star Wars films. Four different mugs were released for Empire: one with R2-D2, C-3P0 and Chewbacca; one with Yoda; one with Boba Fett and Darth Vader, and this one featuring Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. A cereal bowl featuring several characters from the film was also produced. Deka also released cups and bowls for Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, many of which can be seen on this seller’s page.

As you can see (specifically in Leia’s face on the top photo), the mugs often faded and changed colors after repeated washings. These are the original mugs I had as a kid and they definitely held their share of chocolate milk!

Star Wars wasn’t Deka’s only line of plastic mugs; they also produced mugs and cups for Strawberry Shortcake, the Smurfs, The Planet fo the Apes, Care Bears, the GoBots, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, Pac-Man, E.T., Popeye, Punky Brewster, the Muppets, and even for the 1976 remake of King Kong! If kids loved it, chances were Deka had a mug available for it.

While it appears their website is no longer available, the earliest trademark for Deka Plastics, Inc of Elizabeth, NJ, I could find was in 1960, and the last one I could find was in 1992. If you’re interested, you can still find tons of these mugs and cups for sale cheap on Etsy and eBay.

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Less than two weeks ago I had never watched a Harry Potter film. I wish I had a legitimate excuse for that. I’m not offended by movies about magic, nor to I dislike mystical, fantasy movies. The first film in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released less than a month before Mason was born in 2001 and Susan and I were pretty busy. Soon the second movie was released and I couldn’t watch that one before I watched the first one, and then it seems like I turned around and there were eight films and I gave up on watching them.

If anything at all turned me off of the films it was the common statement that the films were “this generation’s Star Wars.” My generation’s Star Wars IS Star Wars, thank you very much!

As a “40-something” I don’t talk to a lot of “20-somethings,” but I recently learned if you want to talk to “20-somethings” about the art of writing fiction, you need to be able to speak the language of Harry Potter.

And so roughly two weeks ago I watched 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Saturday night I watched the final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) and in between I watched all the others. With a background deeply rooted in Star Wars it was impossible for me to watch the films without noting similarities between the two. As I worked my way through the films I made jokes to myself about the adventures of Harry Skywalker and his friends Ron Solo and Princess Hermione Organa as they sought to do battle with the mystical Dark Lord Darth Voldemort using their magic light wands, with help from the wise elder Dumbledore Kenobi, the magical Yodobby, the ghosts of loved ones who have passed… and Warwick Davis.


All kidding aside, I did enjoy the movies. The “chosen one” plot device is a common one (see: Star Wars, the Matrix, Ender’s Game, The Lord of the Rings, The Sword in the Stone, Conan, etc.), but there’s a reason it works as kids and adults alike like to wonder “what if…” Although the stars of the film were pretty young in the early films, as they aged I could tell they were going to have to deal with the love triangle between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. In Star Wars I learned that the hero (Luke) saves the day and the sidekick (Han) gets the girl, which is what I expected to happen in the end here as well.

Watching all the movies in such a short period of time allows you to not only appreciate them as individual films, but as a single piece of work as well. I liked how the series began and ended at Hogwart’s, with Harry’s adventure beginning and ending at the train station. By watching the films one after another it was obvious how far special effects advanced during the series’ ten year span. The computer animated snake in the first film was borderline atrocious, and by the last film we had not only animated snakes but entire CGI armies fighting one another. (For what it’s worth I’ve yet to feel any emotion while watching CGI armies fight, be it orcs or stormtroopers.)

Knowing almost nothing about the films I was genuinely shocked when a few of the characters died, although from a story perspective most of them were pretty predictable. I didn’t know that Snape was going to even have a story arc, but based on the ending of the sixth movie (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) it was obvious that Snape would either be killed or save the day (or, perhaps in a broader view, both). The most dangerous thing to the story was the introduction of time travel; once that Pandora’s Box has been opened it’s hard to close it, and makes viewers wonder why they didn’t use it continually for every single encounter.

The only real complaint I had with the films was the actors’ British accent. While I understand it was an intentional choice, it made it hard for me to make out a lot of the dialog. If I ever have more time to go back and revisit the films, I’ll do it with the subtitles on.

In response to everybody who’s about to suggest “the books are better,” I’m sure you’re right. The movies are what I had time for right now. If my queue gets low, I’ll add these to it.

I was a little disappointed by the very end of the series as I assumed Harry and his friends would be the next generation of professors working at Hogwart’s. I read somewhere that the main trio went on to work for the Ministry of Magic, but I didn’t get that from the film.

Last year while on vacation in California we visited the Warner Bros. studio tour and got to see their entire area of props from the Harry Potter films. You can view the Harry Potter items here, and (obviously) things like the giant spider, the fireplace full of letters and the hat Mason is wearing in the below picture make more sense now.

And now with words like muggles, death eaters and horcrux added to my vocabulary, I bid adieu to the chosen one and his magical friends and move on the other next thing!

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Anyone who has ever written pseudo code using Microsoft Word and pasted it somewhere else knows the pain of the “smart quote,” those curly quotation marks that authors love and programmers hate. From experience I can tell you that WordPress hates them, or at least is inconsistent in the way it handles them. Even when they appear correctly within my blog, WordPress mucks them up when passing headlines off to Facebook and Twitter.

So far, the easiest way I’ve found to deal with smart quotes is to turn them off. I disabled them in the WordPress editor, and because I write so many blog drafts in Google Docs, I turned them off there too. For a long time, this has worked.

But now I’m back in school, writing short stories that require very a specific format. That includes paragraph tabs, spacing issues, and yes — smart quotes. After spending the past couple of weeks working on a short story, I cut the text from Google Docs and pasted it into Microsoft Word only to find a complete mess. I searched Google and found a few tricks to help me convert all the quotation marks, apostrophes, and dashes back into their “smart” counterparts, but it was still more work than I want to do every time I write a story. I love the portability that Google Docs affords me and hate the idea of writing things in a single Word file (I worked on my last short story via three different computers), but I hate having to reformat all my work even more.

What I wish is that Google Docs had a button that would allow you to “swap” between two different sets of settings. I don’t know if that’s possible or not. If that’s not possible, the next best thing would be some way to load and save settings — things like spacing and, yes, turning on and off smart quotes. The best solution I’ve found so far is creating two different documents, changing the settings to the way I want them, and then making a copy of that empty document and writing in that copy. Surely that’s not the best solution, is it?

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I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the things I love. When I first discovered and subsequently fell in love with podcasting, I started a few podcasts and joined a few others until I was recording multiple shows a week. When I fall in love with television shows like Lost or Breaking Bad or Parks and Recreation, I’ll binge watch episode after episode and season after season until I’ve consumed the entire pie — quite possibly while consuming an entire pie. When I decided to collect arcade cabinets, I bought 30 of them. I’ve watched five Harry Potter films over the past seven days. It’s just who I am.

I recently re-enrolled in college. I’m only taking one class this semester: “Writing the Short Story,” a prerequisite required for starting the Masters of Professional Writing program at the University of Oklahoma. Despite the fact that I’m only taking one class, the time invested is not inconsequential. Twice a week I leave my house at 6 a.m., drive for an hour to an off-campus parking lot, and catch a bus there that takes me to the campus. After arriving there I set up my laptop and work for two hours before attending class. After two hours of class I check my e-mail and voice mail before driving back to work. (Work has been extremely accommodating by allowing me to shift my work schedule around and still work 40 hours while attending this class.)

This of course does not include the time I’ve spent outside of class reading, writing, and, believe it or not, watching films. Over the past three and a half weeks I’ve watched a total of ten films: five recommended to us by our professor as examples of films with character-driven plots (mostly from the 1940s), and the five aforementioned Harry Potter films. The Potter films were not assigned to us, but they’ve been referred to so many times in class that I’m missing out on conversations about story plot and pacing. By next Tuesday, I expect I will have seen all eight films. In addition to film watching, I’ve started reading a collection of Agatha Christie’s short stories along with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (which has been referred to me dozens of times by my friends, readers, and listeners). I’m also listening to podcasts about writing (including #) during the four hours I spend driving to and from college each week.


The upside of obsession is that you get stuff done. I am getting stuff done. I am reading and writing more than I’ve done in the past couple of years. That’s great! The downside is that I’m starting to get poked by friends and fans and family wondering where I’ve been. So that’s where I’ve been. I’m here, just a little distracted at the minute by reading and writing and consuming media.

I’m on the fifth draft of my short story for class, getting ready to start on the sixth after the debates end tonight. I’ll have time to sleep when I’m dead. Until then… G’night, Harry.

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I can tell you everybody I knew who had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985: my neighbor Doug, my buddy Jason’s little brother Adam, my buddy Jeff’s aunt and uncle, and not long after that, Jeff’s family. At each one of those houses I remember playing Super Mario Bros.

I got my Commodore 64 in 1985, the best game playing home computer at the time. The Commodore 64 had great sound, great graphics, and many, many great games… but it didn’t have Super Mario Bros., something some of my Nintendo-owning friends reminded me of on more than one occasion.

Like all platform games, the goal of Super Mario Bros. is to move the player’s character — in this game, Mario or his brother Luigi — from the beginning of the level to the end of the level without getting him killed. There are a few ways to get killed: you can run into an enemy, fall through a pit, or get shot. Beating the first level isn’t that difficult and most people were able to master it pretty quickly.

Then you started finding the secrets.

While most of the pipes were simply part of the level’s structure, there were a few you could enter that led to secret rooms filled with coins! The mushrooms made you big! The flowers gave you the ability to shoot fireballs! 100 coins gave you an extra life!

Those weren’t even the good secrets. On the game’s second level, my neighbor showed me how you could trap a turtle and jump on him indefinitely, giving you hundreds of extra lives. There were hidden bricks; secrets, hidden within the levels that did magical things. Before long the game wasn’t about getting from the beginning of the level to the end at all — it was about finding all the little secrets hidden within. This was long before secrets spread at the speed of light across the internet — you either read them in a book or a magazine, learned them from a friend, or discovered them on your own.

Eventually, we Commodore owners did get our own Super Mario Bros. — kind of. In 1987 Rainbow Arts released The Great Giana Sisters (itself a close copy of Super Mario Bros.), which was soon modified to look like Super Mario Bros. As far as games go it was pretty good, but it wasn’t the Nintendo version.

There aren’t a lot of pack-in games that people have such fond memories of. Few people point to Combat or Pole Position II as their favorite games for the Atari 2600 or 7800 (respectively), but Super Mario Bros. was an instant classic — so much so that, 30 years later, here I am still writing about it. (Find someone who wrote 500 words about Pole Position II on its 30th anniversary, I dare ya.) Not only did it launch Nintendo into the stratosphere, but it created a long running series of games that continues today and turned Mario into one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. Nobody you know dressed up as Pole Position II for Halloween last year.

Not only did Super Mario Bros. add the words Goomba, Koopa Troopa, Piranha Plant and Hammer Brother to the vocabulary of children everywhere, but it permanently raised the bar of video games. No longer were we content with safely guiding characters from Point A to Point B. Not only did we want more out of our games; suddenly, we expected it.

Happy 30th birthday, Super Mario Bros. May you eat a thousand magic mushrooms and still be able to fit into your overalls.

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I’m a big believer in preventative maintenance on cars. I rarely do it, but I believe in it.

We paid off my 2006 Chevy Avalanche in 2009, so I’ve been driving a payment-free truck for six years. My Avalanche currently has 130,000 miles (which is amazing considering how many states it has visited) and I plan on driving a payment-free truck for many more years. Of course payment-free doesn’t mean cost-free. I drove right past the 100,000 mile tune up and scheduled both the 100,000 and 120,000 mile checkups at the same time. Back when I had one my truck payment was $500 a month, so my theory is that if I pay less than $500 in maintenance on any particular month, I’ve come out ahead.

Over the past week, Susan and I scheduled the following work to be performed on my truck: two routine maintenance checkups, an alignment, a windshield replacement, and a stereo upgrade. The maintenance and alignment were $900 combined. The windshield was $300. Coincidentally, immediately after those two things were performed, my rear window stopped rolling up or down (and would not stay closed). That was another $300. The icing on the cake was the stereo I purchased from Best Buy. Cost of the stereo in the store? $149. Total amount spent after having it installed? Roughly $450.

In the long run I came out ahead — we’re talking four months of car payments after not having made one for six years — but man does it hurt to spend that kind of money to (except for the stereo) just keep things running properly. I’m now driving the truck to Norman twice a week for school so hopefully this maintenance will keep things running. And now I can listen to podcasts on my Bluetooth-capable stereo during the commute.

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And, we’re back to blue. An errant php call to an apparently depreciated function (looks like they dropped the reference to e-links/blog roll) was causing WordPress to hang. After commenting out one line at a time 500 times, I finally found the offending line.

Long story short, after days of work, I finally have everything back to where we started. Good? Good.

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