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7 Things to Love About High Speed Rail

Posted by on Nov 30, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

[Some thoughts Phillip wrote down during our journey from Rome to Venice on a high speed Italo Treno train. –S]


Italo Treno

How do I love thee high-speed train travel? Let me count the ways!

After my first trip on high speed rail in Italy, I’m a believer!

View from train in italy

Here are some things I loved about traveling on a train instead of flying:

1. You don’t have to check your luggage, so it’s way less likely to be lost.

2. Quick boarding and deboarding time.

Luggage on train

3. You can move around. Since there’s no turbulence, there’s no “fasten seatbelt sign,” and you can get up and down whenever you want.

4. No extreme pressure changes.

5. No taxi time or Air Traffic Control delays. (For example, when we were traveling back to Phoenix, our plane was stuck on the ground close to 40 minutes at JFK airport).

Luggage on train

6. You can keep your phone on. No need to put it in “airplane mode” on a train.

7. Still very fast (250 kmh/150mph). A plane travels around 500 mph, but with all the extra time and hassle at the airport, it might still take about the same amount of time to get to your destination.




We were guests of Italo Treno.

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Smithsonian: Air and Space Museum and Mitsitam Café

Posted by on Sep 21, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Smithsonian American Indian Museum
Cafe at Smithsonian American Indian Museum

Cafe at National Museum of the American Indian

While I could have easily spent a full day at the Smithsonian American History Museum, a D.C.-area friend had recommended the Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian American Indian Museum as a “little known gem.” I decided to make my way there for lunch.

Mitsitam cafe
Smithsonian Native American Museum

The cafeteria serves native-inspired foods that span the American continents. I got a buffalo burger and fry bread.

Smithsonian Native American Museum

The menu also includes options like wild rice and ceviche.

DC Museum cafe

This is definitely a place I’d like to come back to and try more things!

Smithsonian space museum

National Air and Space Museum

When I walked down Independence Avenue to the south entrance of the Air and Space Museum, I was discouraged to see a line over 100 feet long to get in. I had started back toward our hotel, when I looked back and saw that the northern entrance – along Jefferson Drive – didn’t seem to have a line! Sure enough, about five minutes later I was in the museum!

Air and space museum

So keep in mind that there is more than one entrance, especially since, as Stephanie later told me, the Air and Space Museum is the most popular of the Smithsonian museums.

Amelia Earhart

Immediately upon entering, I saw display spaces festoooned with replica and original air and space craft – a lunar landing module, the “Spirit of St. Louis,” the front half of the fuselage of a 747, rocket nozzles as big as my living room.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: plane

In the past I had wanted to be an astronaut, so I was particularly intrigued by the exhibits showing relics of the U.S. space program in the 60s and 70s – toolkits, suits, windowed hatches, flight manuals, and the like. There’s even a very official and ornate “certificate of merit” presented to the first chimpanzee sent to space by the U.S., which I found both ridiculous and moving. While I was certainly impressed by the spacecrafts themselves, oddly, it was these historic bits of ephemera that captivated me the most.

image

The guided tour moved a bit too slow for me, so I bailed out to cover more ground.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Marty met up with me about an hour into my museum visit, so that was a nice surprise. We toured the World War II fighter aircraft exhibit together. I especially appreciated the naval aircraft display that replicated both the deck and interior of an aircraft carrier.

Air and space museum

Unfortunately, our time soon ran out at the Air and Space Museum. We went to the food court with the biggest McDonald’s I’d ever been to. There was a large seating area and lots of windows to let in light. Fortunately, we went as the day was winding down, so we didn’t have to wait in line long.

National Mall sunset

I enjoyed sitting in the gradually-emptying mega-McDonald’s and debriefing the museum sights with Marty.

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Smithsonian: American History Museum

Posted by on Sep 7, 2017 in Travel | 2 comments

Smithsonian American History Museum

I arrived at the National Museum of American History just in time for a guided tour. The group was small – only me – but the docent/tour guide was still more than happy to take me on the full tour.

It started with a walk through the first floor exhibit on the history of transportation in the US with early trains and automobiles on display.

Transportation Smithsonian - American history museum

My tour guide mentioned that, at any one time, there is way more stuff in storage at the Smithsonian than there is on display.

Julia Child's Kitchen - Smithsonian - American history museum

One thing that’s always out, however, is Julia Child’s kitchen, rebuilt piece by piece. It reminded me of the end of the movie Julie and Julia, where a scene in this historic kitchen fades into today’s museum display.

Uniform at Smithsonian - American history museum

Combat Zone

One standout section for me was the display on the history of war in the United States. It was more realistic than idealistic, providing insight into the enormous human toll war has had on our country.

I was also profoundly moved by a display of items left at the Vietnam Memorial including notes from loved ones and friends. I looked at the dates of the “boys” that died. Some of them were born about the same time as my father. I thought about all the friends, fathers, and uncles that those in my generations never grew up knowing.

Smithsonian lunch counter

Counter Protest

A section of the lunch counter from the Greensboro sit-in during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s was on display, somewhat unceremoniously, in a clear space between larger exhibits. If I hadn’t known it was a display, I might have just thought it was a closed (and very dated) snack stand.

When I saw the placard and description, I stood there a long time, trying to imagine how it would have been to sit there in protest years ago.

It’s easy to idealize the moral stands of the past; with the benefit of reflection and history, most would agree the Greensboro sit-in was necessary. However, in the moment, with hostile people around clamoring for “peace and order” and to “stop trespassing,” it would have been easy to flinch or doubt oneself.

National Mall

History doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s made up of the mundane things of life, uncertainties and all. I stared at the lunch counter and marveled in its reality. It was gathering place with ugly pastel-colored seats. A place where people sat down to eat and drink coffee. A place where people sat down to protest a kind of oppression I will never know.

With the voices of so many marginalized populations still asking for a place at the table to speak, it doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago.

 

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Ancient Agave Tour

Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Agave

To kick off the Agave Heritage Festival, Stephanie and I got to play archeologists for the morning.

Mission Garden Tucson

After getting to the Hotel Congress late the night before, I used my front-desk-issued earplugs to get some sleep, so we could get ourselves to the Mission Garden by 8:15 am.

Paul and Suzie Fish

We met our gracious guides there: Paul and Suzie Fish, emeriti professors of archaeology from the University of Arizona and the Arizona State Museum. The plan for the day was to carpool over to some pristine desert land several miles away at the base of Tumamoc Hill, where U of A Desert Laboratory is located, hike in about a half mile, and then be guided by the archaeologists on a tour of an ancient agave horticultural/gardening site and roasting pit used by the Hohokam people of the American Southwest.

Desert hike in tucson

While on this tour, I was surprised to find out that the Tucson area has evidence of farming estimated to go as far back as 5,000 years! The fields we were to tour are estimated to date to the 1200-1300s.

Charred rock

The first stop was the roasting pit. It’s a good thing we had trained professionals to take us here. Most anyone would have walked right by the spot, which looked like any other unremarkable clearing in the desert. A closer look yielded the clues: a few potsherds here and there, a slightly more charcoal-colored soil, and pieces of “rind.” Rind is the bubbly mix of stone and organic material that forms around such pits due to the high temperature in the roasting process.

Agave roasting site and cactus

The roasting was probably done every few years as it takes years for agave to grow to the harvesting stage. During its lifetime, little “pups” or rhizomes, which are essentially agave clones, grow out from the plants. Farmers would have taken these and used them to plant new agaves, which would have helped stagger the harvesting seasons.

Agave pups

Our guides explained that the agave was cultivated for three reasons: food, alcoholic beverages, and fibers – Stephanie filmed a jaw-dropping demonstration on how agave fiber can be made into a rope within minutes!

Since it would take at least 24 hours to roast the agaves, apparently, the Hohokam would multitask, using the time to work on other projects like making spindles for forming the fibers into thread or ropes.

Suzie Fish

As Suzie was explaining this to us, she reached down and grabbed a few bits of pottery sherds to show us. So I stooped down to glance at the dirt around my feet.

All of the sudden, the desert seemed to bloom with evidence of past humans. I found some pieces of the rind that our guides had described and some pottery pieces. Most interestingly, I found a rounded piece of pottery that Suzie told us was likely the beginnings of a spindle for making thread. Therein lies one of the most amazing aspect of archaeology – to touch an object that had been made with such intentional effort by another human centuries removed from me.

From the pit, we moved on to the remains of the gardens.

Desert

While there are no original agave plants left, our guides pointed out rocks arranged along the sloping hillsides to guide water to various miniature terraces where the agave would have been. Farther along, we started seeing evidence of experiments being done by the University of Arizona to replicate agricultural techniques used by the Hohokam. Since the early 1980s, scientists have been using this spot to try to replicate Hohokam techniques with agave horticulture.

Agave oasis

My favorite example was seeing how the terraces set up to encourage agave growth would not only foster significantly better growth for agaves, but they would also have a variety of plant neighbors which would grow up alongside next to them. They also benefited from the more advantageous microclimate of the terrace.

Desert terraces

I was in awe of how observant and creative the Hohokam were to create a space where they could cultivate agave on a larger scale. Indeed, our guides say that agaves are seldom naturally found below the 3,000 foot elevation mark. With a few ingenious adaptations, the Hohokam were able to make it work!

 

Ocotillo

 

– More Archaelogy Info –

The Southwestern United States and Arizona are hotspots for archaeology.

If you’re interested in getting involved in local AZ archaeological preservation efforts, one place to look is the Southwest Archaeology Team. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with archaeology on an amateur basis. They’re based in Mesa, Arizona and affiliated with the Arizona Museum of Natural History. I joined the organization for a time during high school and used the opportunity to take a class they offered in archaeological field surveying. In addition to educational opportunities, they provide volunteering opportunities in archaeology.

You can also check with local community colleges. As a high school student, I was able to take a class at Mesa Community College on archaeological field methods to learn the tools, techniques and terms of the profession.
Tucson desert


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am + 1pm: Fibers, Tequila and Fun at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Agave Garden Tours at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Rare + Collectible Agave Sale at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 1:30pm: Talk on Cryptic Gardens and Pre-Columbian Agave Clones at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 5pm: Cinco De Mayo Party at Club Congress. Free until 9pm, then $3
  • May 5, 6:30pm: Agave Heritage Dinner at Maynards Plaza Patio. Proceeds from this dinner help benefit Native Seed Search. $110
  • May 6, 6pm: Agave Fest tequila party at Hotel Congress. $35
  • May 7, 11am: Agave Heritage Brunch at Carriage House. Proceeds from this brunch help benefit Mission Garden. $55



We were guests of Hotel Congress.

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The Force of Memories

Posted by on Apr 13, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

In honor of the Star Wars Celebration Orlando convention currently happening, here is a post Phillip wrote with thoughts inspired by Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2015.  –S


Star Wars Celebration - SWCA

“Chewie, weʼre home.”

With those lines, from the world premiere of the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer at the Star Wars Celebration Anaheim convention, grown men around me were in tears.

I might have gotten a little emotional too. It had been 30 long years since we last saw the Millennium Falcon on the big screen and our two favorite pilots at the helm.

SWCA

Almost that long ago, in the mid-eighties, I remember being a seven-year-old kid, driving through the streets of Phoenix with my Uncle David. I grilled him about the future of the Star Wars and hung on to every morsel of news he passed on to me.

What makes these movies particularly powerful is the shared memories they create, especially across generations.

SWCA

Iʼm not exactly sure when it was when I saw Star Wars (A New Hope) for the first time. I always remember it being a part of my life.

SWCA

“Through the force, things you will see.
Other places. The future… the past.
Old friends long gone.”

–Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars disc

For me, getting together at my grandparents’ house along with my aunts, uncles, and cousins meant a chance to watch Star Wars on Uncle David’s Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) player! I look back on those times now with fond memories.

SWCA

Both of my grandparents have been gone for decades now. Yet when I watch any of the original trilogy movies, the memory of my family and my grandparentsʼ home is forever intertwined in the story of “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”

Star Wars LEGO

As I got older, I carried on the tradition with my oldest nephew, introducing him to LEGO Star Wars. Cameron and I sat around putting together spaceships for hours. While he is older now, I still cherish the memories of his youthful enthusiasm when I showed him a new set.

SWCA

As we watched the trailer for The Force Awakens at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, everyone there had their own memories to bring to that moment. Memories of how Star Wars connected them to people and events in their own lives. For two minutes, the sights and sounds of a galaxy far, far away brought us a little closer to our own memories of long ago.

They also reminded us to be mindful of the present: the good times are not just in the past.

SWCA

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Star Wars vs. Star Trek at Phoenix Symphony

Posted by on Nov 17, 2016 in Travel | 0 comments

Anyone can like Star Wars, especially in this particular moment in pop culture.

But being a Star Trek fan? Thatʼs different. Thatʼs real science fiction. Thatʼs dangerous. Itʼs more likely to get you beat up on the playground.

Nerds

I can’t remember NOT being a Star Wars fan. Star Trek films started to appeal to me later, in high school. Now I like both Star Wars and Star Trek; this includes the music.

So when the opportunity came up to hear the Phoenix Symphony play music from two of my favorite franchises during Phoenix Comicon (PHXCC) earlier this year, you’d better believe I jumped at the chance! They billed the event as “Star Wars vs. Star Trek,” to play up the (supposed) rivalry between the two camps.

Phoenix convention center and symphony hall

Phoenix Symphony Hall is next door to the Phoenix Convention Center, where PHXCC is held. It is literally steps away, making it the perfect location for a sci-fi driven concert.

However, I had made my way there from work and a rushed dinner, so I didn’t benefit from the close proximity – arriving grumpy and frazzled. Fortunately, my grumpy mood began to dissolve as I spoke to a couple of people and found that there were others around me that had a love for both franchises. I was among friends!

Phxcc symphony

15 minutes before the concert started, the concert hall was already mostly full and abuzz with excitement. You could tell by the t-shirts that Star Wars fans were there in force. I also saw quiet a few Starfleet uniforms in various shades of pastels and primary colors.

As much as I love the Wars, that night I wanted to side with the Trek underdog. Also, having heard the music of Star Wars many, many, many times before, I was looking forward even more to hearing Trek music. I had never heard any of it in a live symphonic concert.

Before the music started, the emcee announced that members of the audience could vote for their favorite franchise between the two, which would determine the evening’s encore number. I felt like I couldnʼt lose either way!

On to the music!

Phoenix Comicon 2016 PHXCC

Star Trek

Did you know that composer James Horner, who wrote the music for Titanic, Braveheart, and Avatar, also wrote the film score for two Star Trek movies (ST II: The Wrath of Khan, and ST III: The Search for Spock)?!

The evening’s selections included the stirring “Epilogue/End Title” from The Wrath of Khan. According to Phoenix Symphony conductor Tito Muñoz, it was Hornerʼs score for this 1982 film that brought him to the wider attention of Hollywood.

Phxcc symphony

I was kind of bummed to see only about a third of the program devoted to Trek, and I would’ve liked to hear more music from the original movies – for example, “Iliaʼs Theme” by Jerry Goldsmith or Cliff Eidelmanʼs exhilarating music to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Music from the more recent movies, including the score by Michael Giacchino for 2009ʼs Star Trek, seemed weaker than earlier Star Trek pieces. It didnʼt have the thematic drive and majesty that Horner or Goldsmithʼs scores had or the funky ’60s originality of Alexander Courageʼs theme to the original series.

For me, the real Trek showstopper of the night was the Star Trek Medley, which included themes from the various eras of the franchise. I loved the Original Series theme, replete with the original jazzy/worldbeat percussion arrangement. The medley also included the main theme to the Star Trek Voyager TV show. I had forgotten how majestic this theme was, and it was enough to make me want to go out and buy that music.
Symphony Program

Star Wars

I was excited by most of the selections for Wars. Of course, there were the concert mainstays such as the “Main Title” and the “Imperial March.” Even people who have never seen Star Wars have heard these themes.

What got me really excited was seeing “Princess Leiaʼs Theme” and some pieces from the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, on the program, including “Reyʼs Theme,” “The March of the Resistance,” and – my personal favorite from the new movie – “Jedi Steps.”

A photo posted by Brian Poole (@shirejedi) on

  I already own “Princess Leiaʼs Theme,” and Iʼve heard it a million times. However, seeing it played live was transcendent. The music itself is gorgeous. Of all the pieces that night, it was probably the most fun to see, because of the various solos. Although the French horn played in a rhythm that either betrayed that he wasnʼt familiar with the original or was trying too hard at his own artistic interpretation, the other soloists – on flute, oboe, and violin – were able to shine. Between these solo performances, the full orchestra waxes and wanes dramatically before ending softly. The violinist finished with a note that soared as high as the summer temperatures outside but with the quiet confidence of the eponymous princess of the song. It was amazing and perfect. By the time the song ended, the otherwise rowdy audience was so captivated you could hear a pin drop. This is the power of live music; to have seventy-some highly trained musicians bend their collective skills toward a unified effort is the pinnacle of ephemeral and transcendent craft. What a phenomenal way to connect the Phoenix Symphony to a wider public! Phxcc

Encore

Are you wondering who won at the end of the night? You could probably have guessed: Tito Muñoz took the stage for the final encore carrying a red lightsaber. The Wars had won, and he conducted a triumphant encore performance of the “Imperial March” – using the lightsaber in place of his conducting baton! The Force may have been with Star Wars that evening but may the music of both live long and prosper.

A photo posted by Chris Jorich (@cjphx86) on

– More info –

  • Did you see the video we took just after the concert? See what other Star Trek and Star Wars fans thought of the performance.
  • The Phoenix Symphony will be presenting Star Wars: The Music on January 13.
  • Where to eat and what to see near Phoenix Symphony Hall and the Phoenix Convention Center.


Images:

1) made with WeKnowMemes.

3) taken by a concert attendee.

All others by Phillip and Stephanie Liebold.


We were guests of the Phoenix Symphony.

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Phillip’s Guide to Phoenix Comicon

Posted by on Feb 11, 2015 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments

I decided to try something new last summer: attend the annual Phoenix Comicon (PHXCC). I would like to invite you to experience it briefly with me today.

You may think, “I don’t like comic books or super heroes or science fiction, what’s in it for me?

If there’s a theme to the Phoenix Comicon, it is that “everyone’s a geek, celebrate it!”

phxcc-1

What is PHXCC?

Phoenix Comicon started in 2002 with several hundred attendees as a way for comic book fans to gather in the Phoenix area to meet artists, buy and sell comic books, and have an excuse to dress up as their favorite comic book characters. Makes sense – “comicon” is short for comic convention!

But comic conventions have evolved beyond a focus on comic books to all things pop culture: science fiction, fantasy, horror, video games, board games, card games, anime, toys, filmmaking, etc. Even NASA has been coming for years to showcase their work and allow the public to interact with their newest projects.

phx-convention-ctr

From its humble beginning of 400 attendees at a Best Western in Ahwatukee, it has exploded into one of the largest conventions in the country – last year’s attendance topped 77,000!

The event is held during Memorial Day weekend in May at the Phoenix Convention Center.

They have 4 days’ worth of programming that includes panels and events. Don’t think of this as a serious trade convention but rather a celebration!

justice-league

What to do?

Panels

Panels vary widely in topics and format. Here’s a sampling of some of the panels from last year:

  • Spirituality in Comics – comic artists discuss spirituality and religious imagery in comics.
  • Meet a Scientist – scientists from a variety of fields answer audience questions.
  • Justice League Arizona – hear how a team of adults from all walks of life construct their own costumes of Batman, Superman, the Flash, etc. and dress up as their characters at charitable events. Did you know that if you have Batman or Wonder Woman ask a group to donate to your charity, people get way more excited to give?!

phxcc-3

There are special panels (spotlights) with celebrity guests in the larger convention rooms that include a Q&A. Last year, some of the actors you could see were Cary Elwes (Wesley from the Princess Bride), Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver!), and Nathan Fillion (from Castle and Firefly).

phxcc-pugs-2014

My favorite panel was the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown (PUGS). In the format of a game show, volunteer contestants get to debate such important topics as “Who was the most helpful Redheaded Doctor: Dr. Beverly Crusher from Star Trek or Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama?”

It is the audience who gets to judge the winner of each debate until the ultimate geek is crowned!

phxcc-lego

Exhibition Hall

When you’re between panels, most people spend time in the exhibition hall which takes up the exhibition floor of the Phoenix Convention Center. This space is the size of several football fields and it’s a place where you can go to buy pop culture inspired artwork, meet artists, buy unique gifts and see displays, like an entire city built out of LEGO, including replicas of buildings in the Phoenix area brought in by local LEGO building club Cactus Brick.

phxcc-mos-eisley

You could also spend time in a Star Wars village to meet R2-D2, Chewbacca, or share a drink with aliens at the Mos Eisley cantina.

You could easily spend hours perusing the tables here, but try to get out – there are more things to see!

phxcc-cars

Parties/misc.

There are also many other activities:

  • If zombies are your thing, you can dress up like a zombie and do the zombie walk through downtown Phoenix.
  • Don’t forget the parties: there’s the Geek Prom, the Peter Pan Pirate Pool Party, and all kinds of other after-hours activities.
  • There are also film festivals, roller derby competitions, and car displays outside (including the A-team van, Back to the Future DeLorean, Ghostbusters’ car).

  phxcc-4

What to expect

While there are many programmed activities, there’s much to expect that is not on the program.

phxcc-5

1. First and foremost, expect to get overwhelmed! There are lots of events and activities going on at any one time!

My word of advice here is to go online and view the events of the weekend or pick up the PHXCC programming guide as soon as you can. Thumbing through this can help you make sense of everything.

star-wars-cosplay

2. Next, there will be lots of people in costume! People spend many hours putting together costumes for this event. Some you’ll recognize: Star Wars characters, the Terminator, comic book characters, etc. Some you won’t: I later learned one of my coworkers went to PHXCC dressed as a character from an anime show I had never heard of.

It is in the costumes where passion is most obvious.

You’ll see some pretty awesome costumes, and people love being recognized for their work. Just remember, if you’re going to take a picture of someone in costume, make sure and ask for permission.

phxcc-6

3. Lastly you can expect to encounter people with passions for a wide variety of things – including some you didn’t even know existed!

A Place for All People of Passion

For me, going to PHXCC taught me about celebrating life and embracing who you are as a geek, a person with passions. I think I learned this best from a couple of kids.

We ran into a spunky 7-year-old girl equipped with a pink Disney princess backpack, a red lightsaber, and a big smile. Her wheelchair was outfitted to looked like an Imperial TIE fighter from the Star Wars movies! Her friend had a wheelchair made to look like the Millennium Falcon.

Everybody loved it, and the kids loved being the center of so much positive attention. For the three days of Phoenix Comicon, these kids weren’t simply scooting through life in a wheelchair, but flying through the stars.

milennium-falcon-tie-fighter

So whether you’re young or old, wheelchair bound or not, a Star Wars fan or a Star Trek fan, at PHXCC, you can celebrate that we’re all people of passion!

We are what we love; we’re all geeks!

phxcc-2

– More info –

Thank you to Phoenix Comicon for providing media passes! 

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