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Photo: Current, News for People in Public Media
Truck driver Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul.

It shouldn’t be a source of wonder that anyone who drives a lot in the US should listen to National Public Radio, given that the stories are longer than other radio stations’ stories and are repeated less monotonously. So nothing but unconscious bias can account for my surprise about truckers who tune in.

Alan Yu, a producer at WHYY, reported at Current, “In July last year, long-haul truck driver Stephanie Klang got a rare speeding ticket because she was too engrossed listening to public radio.

“ ‘It’s okay, I only get a speeding ticket about once every 10 years,’ she said. ‘… It was worth it for the story.’

“She told the state patrolman that yes, she knows listening to the radio is not a valid excuse, then proceeded to tell him all about the radio show that took her mind off her speed — an episode of BackStory about the history of taxes in the U.S. after the country had just broken away from England.

“Klang has been a truck driver for 37 years, going through all 48 contiguous states, and she listens to public radio all the time. She said she used to have a small booklet listing all the public radio stations in the country, which she got as a gift for pledging support.

“ ‘I used that book until it absolutely fell apart, and I wish I’d ordered two of them now,’ she said. …

“She’s not the only truck driver who listens to NPR — far from it, according to Finn Murphy, who has been a long-haul trucker for more than 30 years.

“ ‘Every single driver I’ve ever talked to listens to NPR,’ said Murphy.

“He recently published The Long Haul, a book about his experiences. ‘If I can, I’ll schedule my driving to catch Fresh Air with Terry Gross,’ Murphy wrote. …

I’ve got a little crush on Terry, actually. It’s probably because I’ve spent more time with her than anyone else in my life.’ …

“Murphy writes that even if truckers ‘may not like the slant, if there is one,’ they still listen to public radio. …

“Fred Manale, a 55-year-old trucker from Louisiana, said he listens to public radio, though he finds it ‘disturbing.’ For example, he said NPR should not be blaming President Trump for having a connection to Russia. …

“Ray Hollister discovered public radio when he was a long-haul truck driver for a year in 2002. Now the general manager of an IT company, Hollister said the network needs to ‘speak more to the flyover states. … Do stories that affect more people than just the coast.’

“ ‘Truck drivers come from across America,’ he said. ‘They’re a pretty decent cross section of America. I knew a ton of white, black, Asian, Hispanic truck drivers, and the only thing we had in common was that we were all truck drivers.’ ”

More here.

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Sweet potato evangelism has won the World Food Prize. I learned about this at National Public Radio, which has a regular feature on eating and health called the Salt.

Dan Charles reports, “One summer day in 2012, on a long drive through northern Mozambique, I saw groups of men standing beside the road selling buckets filled with sweet potatoes. My translator and I pulled over to take a closer look. Many of the sweet potatoes, as I’d hoped, were orange inside. In fact, the men had cut off the tips of each root to show off that orange color. It was a selling point. …

“In Africa, that’s unusual and new. Traditionally, sweet potatoes grown in Africa have had white flesh. …

“Those orange-fleshed sweet potatoes along the road that day represented the triumph of a public health campaign to promote these varieties — which, unlike their white-fleshed counterparts, are rich in Vitamin A. [In June], that campaign got some high-level recognition at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department. Four of the main people behind it will receive the 2016 World Food Prize. This prize is billed as the foremost international recognition of efforts to promote a sustainable and nutritious food supply.

“This year’s laureates are Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howarth (Howdy) Bouis. Three of them — Andrade, Mwanga and Low — worked at the International Potato Center, which is based in Peru, but has satellite operations in Africa. Bouis worked at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. …

“In recent years, researchers have documented health improvements among villagers in Mozambique and Uganda, simply because they chose to eat sweet potatoes with orange flesh.” More at NPR.

Don’t you love the orange truck? I call that multichannel messaging.

Photo: Dan Charles/NPR
Maria Isabel Andrade is one of four researchers honored with the World Food Prize for promoting sweet potatoes that are orange inside to combat malnutrition.

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112015-laundromat-favorite-place

 

Suzanne and Erik’s 3-year-old is an expert on washing machines. He checks them out wherever he goes. Did you know, they have washing machines in hotels in Miami?

When in doubt about a way to entertain a grownup, he suggests doing a wash. And sometimes, when my husband is babysitting, the two of them go to the laundromat and investigate what cycle each machine is in. With the top-loaders (no windows) it can be tricky to get a sense of what is going on inside, so my grandson puts his ear to the tub and tells my husband what he concludes.

I’m not sure what he would make of story time at the laundromat, as reported by National Public Radio (NPR), but I suspect he would find the stories intrusive for serious work.

For other children, it could be the gateway to heaven.

Andrew Boryga reports at NPR that a group of friends at Oxford University is “developing a combination childhood education and laundry services center, a concept they’ve dubbed a ‘Libromat.’

“The five team members have extensive backgrounds in childhood education, and they pooled their talents to apply for the 2015 Hult Prize, a $1 million award for young social entrepreneurs tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. This year’s challenge: provide self-sustainable education to impoverished urban areas. …

“According to the team’s research, mothers and caregivers in South Africa can spend a whopping nine hours per week hand-washing dirty clothes. ‘That’s one whole working day,’ team member David Jeffery, 23, says. So they aimed to solve two problems at once and teach mothers effective ways to read books to their infants in the amount of time it takes to complete a wash and spin cycle. And with the money collected from the laundry, they could keep this up for load after load. …

“In interviews conducted after the pilot, [Team member Nicholas] Dowdall was thrilled to learn that many of the mothers believed their relationships with their children had improved. Some even said their children were asking for story time every evening before bed.

“One participant, Ntomboxolo, 34, a mother who attended the sessions with her infant daughter, says, ‘I am a working mother, so more often than not I am tired. But now, I make time to share something in a book with my daughter every night.’ Ntomboxolo also says she saw changes in her daughter’s behavior: ‘There was not much communication before. I see her drawing closer to me.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

Photo: Justin Woods/Libromat
Parents do laundry and get advice on books to their kids.

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Green sea turtles are being seen farther north these days, thanks to a very warm river in California.

Sanden Totten has the story at National Public Radio. “The green sea turtle typically lives in tropical waters, like the shores of Mexico or Hawaii. But recently, scientists have discovered a population swimming year-round in a river just south of Los Angeles. It’s the northernmost group of these turtles known to science. …

” ‘The small turtles have heads about the size of a golf ball or even a small lime, and the large turtles, their heads are about the size of a softball or grapefruit,’ [Cassandra Davis of the Aquarium of the Pacific] says.

“Her group has been carrying out this sea turtle census for about three years. She estimates there are between 30 and 100 turtles in the area. But why these large tropical creatures chose this place to settle down is a mystery. It’s a river sometimes mired in trash next to a busy road and a military base. …

“Dan Lawson, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration … says the river is a mix of salt and fresh water, which is good for sea turtles. It seems to have plenty of food. And it has another thing going for it.

“There are two power plants — one on each side of the river. They both suck in cold ocean water and use it to cool their generating systems. This process ends up heating the water before it’s dumped back into the river. This warm outflow results in a sort of turtle Jacuzzi. …

“But, he says, there’s a catch. Over the next decade or so, the plants will phase out this method of using ocean water as a cooling mechanism. That means, eventually, no Jacuzzi. It’s unclear how this will affect the federally protected turtles.” More here.

Reading about warm water from power plants reminds me that when we lived in Rochester, New York, we heard that there was good fishing near a power plant on Lake Ontario. But the unnatural heating of the water is really not considered good for the environment.

Photo: Sanden Totten/Southern California Public Radio/KPCC
A recently rescued sea turtle recovering on the banks of the San Gabriel River.

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I have written a few times about young people who commit themselves to a life of farming. At National Public Radio, Jennifer Mitchell explains why Northern New England states like Maine are particularly attractive to beginning farmers.

“On a windy hillside just a few miles from Maine’s rocky mid-coast, it’s 10 degrees; snow is crunching underfoot. Hairy highland cattle munch on flakes of hay and native Katahdin sheep are mustered in a white pool just outside the fence. Not far away, heritage chickens scuttle about a mobile poultry house that looks a bit like a Conestoga wagon.

“Marya Gelvosa, majored in English literature and has never lived out in the country before. ‘Just a few years ago, if you’d told me that I was going to be a farmer, I would have probably laughed at you,’ she says.

“But Gelvosa and her partner, Josh Gerritsen, a New York City photographer, have thrown all their resources into this farm, where they provide a small local base of customers with beef, lamb and heritage poultry. Gerritsen says their livelihood now ties them to a community. …

” ‘It’s very fulfilling work,’ Gelvosa says, ‘and noble work.’ …

“In Maine, farmers under the age of 35 have increased by 40 percent, says John Rebar, executive director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: ‘Nationally, that increase is 1.5 percent.’

“And young farmers are being drawn to other rural Northeastern states as well, he says. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont were all hotbeds of activity during the previous back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s. Many of those pioneers stayed and helped create farming and gardening organizations that now offer support and encouragement for new farmers. …

“Sparsely developed states like Maine still possess affordable lands, which savvy young farmers with a little money — and a lot of elbow grease — are starting to acquire.” Read all about it here.

Photo: Josh Gerritsen/Donkey Universe Farm
Marya Gelvosa and Josh Gerritsen run a small farm on Maine’s rocky mid-coast, providing their local community with beef, lamb and heritage poultry.

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I do like stories about people who love their work so much that they never want to stop.

Perhaps it helps to have a talent like muralist Eric Bransby, who got to study with one of my favorite artists, Thomas Hart Benton. (Suzanne says I have a personal aesthetic, which is a polite way of saying I’m crazy about anything wavy, like Benton’s energetic American landscapes.)

Chloe Veltman writes at National Public Radio, “Eric Bransby is one of the last living links to the great age of American mural painting. He studied with one of this country’s most famous muralists — Thomas Hart Benton — and went on to create his own murals in prominent buildings across the west. The artist is now 98 and still painting.

“At his Colorado Springs studio, Bransby attacks a drawing with tight, sharp strokes, a pastel pencil grasped between gnarled fingers. His studio is unheated, but he doesn’t seem to notice the cold. He’s completely engrossed in the image taking shape on his easel. It’s a study for a new mural that he hopes to install at nearby Colorado College. He says he draws between two and eight hours every day.

” ‘Drawing has been a continuous thing for me, like exercises for a musician,’ he says. ‘It’s refreshing. I draw better. I paint better.’ …

“His parents didn’t encourage his artistic pursuits. It was during the Depression, and when he demanded that he get sent to art school, he remembers his parents said: ‘Well, he’ll do one year and he’ll come back so discouraged that we’ll make something else out of him.’

” ‘But that didn’t happen,’ Bransby says. ‘I found heaven.’ ” Read more here.

Photo: Nathaniel Minor/Colorado Public Radio
Eric Bransby, pictured above in his home in Colorado Springs, is still creating art at 98. “I try to make each mural a project that will somehow expand my abilities a little bit more,” he says.

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Every once in a while, when I walk over Fort Point Channel to get some lunch, I run into people dressed as comic-book characters who have wandered off from the convention center.

So I got a kick out of this NPR reporter’s visit to a San Diego Comic-Con (convention) and her description of “cosplay: the art and science of dressing up like your favorite character.

“I’ve got a confession to make,” writes Petra Mayer. “I’m a cosplayer myself, though without any sewing skills, my costumes are a little hacked together. Luckily for me, there are some truly fantastic sights out on the convention floor, like zombie Teletubbies or an army of Daenerys Targaryens (Daenerii?). And so many Frozen princesses I can’t keep track. There are classic Star Trek uniforms, Doctors Who, lady Thors and Lokis in gorgeous armor, and a truly impressive Silver Surfer in head-to-toe body paint that must have taken him hours.

“Today, I’m one of them. Every other day of my life, I’m Petra Mayer, mild-mannered books editor — but today, I am embodying one of my favorite characters in all of comics: Spider Jerusalem, swaggering, world-changing, foul-mouthed and foul-minded journalist of the future, star of the old Transmetropolitan series.”

Petra is thrilled when two kids she meets “actually recognized my costume, but they were just about the only ones — Spider’s ’90s heyday is long gone, and I needed some validation. So I went by the Vertigo booth, Vertigo being the imprint that published the Transmetropolitan books, back in the day.

“And what do you know, someone asked if he could take my picture. Turns out I’d just met Ray Miller, who manages Darick Robertson, the comic artist who helped create Spider Jerusalem. Only at Comic-Con!

“But after everything, all the joy, all the freedom, all the swagger — you still have to get home and take your costume off. And that’s how I learned this very important lesson: If you forget the spirit gum for sticking down your bald cap, don’t try to fudge it with liquid latex.”

Read Petra’s full report or listen to the audio here.

Photo: Petra Mayer
Twelve-year-old Hayley Lindsay spent almost a month working with her dad on this Toothless the Dragon costume. There are sawn-off crutches in the front legs so she can comfortably walk on all fours.

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“Nearly two decades ago,” writes National Public Radio, “a massive wave struck the Tokio Express, a container ship that had nearly 5 million Legos onboard. The colorful toy building blocks poured into the ocean. Today, they are still washing up on shores in England.

“Tracey Williams and her children first happened upon the Tokio Express Legos in the late 1990s. Since then, she’s created a Facebook page called — Lego Lost At Sea — where other collectors show off their findings.

“Williams, who lives in Cornwall, tells NPR’s Scott Simon that among the many small, colorful and ironically nautical-themed Lego bits are flowers, swords, life vests, scuba tanks and even Lego octopi. …

” ‘I thought it would be quite interesting, from a scientific point of view, to monitor where it was all turning up, what was turning up and in what quantities and who found it,’ Williams says.” Read more here.

I note a variation on a theme in Pen Pal (which tells what happens when a child on the Gulf Coast throws a message in a bottle into the sea and ends up with a political-prisoner pen pal across the world). Francesca Forrest, author of Pen Pal, records true stories about messages in bottles at her website about the novel, here. Like the stories of Legos washed up near England, some of the message-in-a-bottle stories are pretty intriguing.

Photo: Tracey Williams/Lego Lost at Sea

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In Detroit, with the globalization of the auto industry, the financial crisis, and ultimately the city’s bankruptcy, everyone has suffered — businesses, families, neighborhoods, and schools.

And when everyone suffers, arts organizations suffer, too. The famous collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which the city owns, is in danger of being sold and scattered to the four winds. And dwindling subscriptions have made the Detroit Symphony Orchestra take a hard look at finances and decide to go where the people are.

Rachel Martin of National Public Radio writes, “Detroit’s Orchestra Hall is one of the best symphony concert halls in the country. The acoustics are top-notch. The theater itself is grand. Important music is made there by some of the country’s most talented classical musicians.

“But what happens to the music when it’s taken out of that context, away from the pitch-perfect atmospherics, away from the grandeur, and instead it’s played in the community, say at a local IKEA in the middle of a busy shopping day?

“IKEA’s acoustics aren’t so great, but nothing about the power of the music changes.”

Ann Parsons, chief executive of the DSO, says, ” ‘We looked at zip codes, we did analysis. We could clearly see where everybody lived that used to participate. And we thought, “Well, what if we went to them, as opposed to making them come to us?” ‘

“That’s what they did, performing in community theaters, nursing homes, hospitals, churches and synagogues, in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, in an effort to lure back patrons who had stopped going into the city to hear the orchestra. They also to tried to attract new music lovers.

“It started to pay off: Subscriptions went up, and now concerts at Orchestra Hall are selling out.” More at NPR, here.

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The website Narratively just alerted me to something cool from StoryCorps, a feature I generally hear on National Public Radio (NPR).

According to the StoryCorps website, “The first-ever animated feature from StoryCorps, Listening Is an Act of Love, presents six stories from 10 years of StoryCorps, where everyday people sit down together to ask life’s important questions and share stories from their lives. Framing these intimate conversations is an interview between StoryCorps founder Dave Isay and his nine-year-old nephew, Benji.

Listening Is an Act of Love will be broadcast by public television stations nationwide. … on varying dates through February 2014. Can’t wait until the animated special airs on your local station? Watch on PBS Roku and Apple TV channels — available on DVD, too!” More here.

(At ny1.com, here, you can read how recording people’s stories caused Isay to take a permanent detour from his medical school ambitions.)

Do you have favorite StoryCorps stories? Have you ever created one?

I have a tape of my father reading the Kipling story “The Elephant’s Child” and poems he loved like “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” which always choked him up. But if you do a StoryCorps story, you get it archived at the Library of Congress — probably more permanent than my old cassette tape.

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According to Christopher Joyce at National Public Radio, young whooping cranes learn from older ones, and when older cranes are unavailable, they can learn from ultralights.

“Being a wildlife biologist in the 21st century increasingly means rescuing rare animals from extinction. Among the success stories is the whooping crane. Seventy years ago there were only about 16 birds left on the planet. Now there are about 600.

“But breeding more birds isn’t enough. Scientists want to restore the crane’s way of life, too. And a team of ecologists at the University of Maryland have discovered something that suggests they are succeeding: Captive-bred are picking up tips from older birds about how to skillfully navigate south for the winter.

“It’s a sign that those whooping cranes are passing knowledge from one generation to the next and, in a sense, rebuilding their culture.”

So how do whoopers raised in captivity learn to follow and where to go when there are no older birds around?

“Workers drive around the enclosures in an ultralight, one-person aircraft … that moves along the ground. It’s the first step in teaching these birds to identify an as a mature whooper. Then when the birds are yearlings and it’s migration time, they’re shipped up north, to Wisconsin.

” ‘The ultralight in Wisconsin not only circles on the ground and teaches them to follow,’ [Greg Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey] says, ‘but it also ultimately lifts up into the air’ and accompanies the whooping cranes on their great migration, which lasts between 50 and 100 days.”

More.

Photo: Joe Duff/Operation Migration USA Inc.
This young whooping crane is on its first fall migration, guided by an Operation Migration ultralight aircraft. Each whooper in this population wears an identification band, and many carry tracking devices that record their movements in detail.

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In Sweden, mangata is the word for the roadlike reflection the moon casts on the water. In Finland there’s a word for the distance reindeer can travel comfortably before taking a break: poronkusema. A terrific German word that people familiar with Concord, Massachusetts, will appreciate is Waldeinsamkeit. What do you think it means? Yep. “A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature.”

National Public Radio staff say:  “Just as good writing demands brevity, so, too, does spoken language. Sentences and phrases get whittled down over time. One result: single words that are packed with meaning, words that are so succinct and detailed in what they connote in one language that they may have no corresponding word in another language.

“Such words aroused the curiosity of the folks at a website called Maptia, which aims to encourage people to tell stories about places.

” ‘We wanted to know how they used their language to tell their stories,’ Maptia co-founder and CEO Dorothy Sanders tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

“So they asked people across the globe to give them examples of words that didn’t translate easily to English.”

I loved this report. You will, too.  Read more at NPR, here.

Art: National Public Radio, “All Things Considered”

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Joe Palca, at National Public Radio, recently had a nice report about astronomy and optics.

I thought of John and his OpticsForHire team.

“It used to be that if astronomers wanted to get rid of the blurring effects of the atmosphere,” says Palca, “they had to put their telescopes in space. But a technology called adaptive optics has changed all that.

“Adaptive optics systems use computers to analyze the light coming from a star, and then compensate for changes wrought by the atmosphere, using mirrors that can change their shapes up to 1,000 times per second. The result: To anyone on Earth peering through the telescope, the star looks like the single point of light it really is.

“The reason the atmosphere blurs light is that there are tiny changes in temperature as you go from the Earth’s surface up into space. The degree to which air bends light depends on the air’s temperature.

“With adaptive optics systems, telescopes on Earth can see nearly as clearly as those in space.” More at NPR.

Photo: Heidi B. Hammel and Imke de Pater
The near-infrared images of Uranus show the planet as seen without adaptive optics (left) and with the technology turned on (right).

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In case you missed it (ICYMI, as they say on twitter), National Public Radio had a delightful story about Irish Jews last weekend:

“St. Patrick’s Day in New York now means parades and green beer. But 50 years ago, it also meant green matzo balls at the annual banquet of the Loyal League of Yiddish Sons of Erin. The league was a fraternal organization of Irish-born Jews.

“The major migration of Jews to Ireland started in the 1880s and ’90s, says Hasia Diner, who teaches history and Judaic studies at New York University. Thousands moved [to Ireland], primarily from Lithuania. …

” ‘Then the Irish Jews, as Jews historically did, they went to where there were better economic opportunities,’ Diner says.

“A lot of Irish Jews found those opportunities in New York. Like many immigrant groups, they kept their culture alive in the New World. And in the early 1960s, they formed the Yiddish Sons of Erin.

“According to member Rosalyn Klein, the whole thing started as a joke. … A restaurant took out a newspaper ad for a meeting of Irish Jews. Klein thinks they didn’t really expect people, but a lot of them showed up.

” ‘And most of them had lived in Dublin, so it was kind of this mishpocha getting together again,’ she says.”

For many years after, a big Jewish St. Patrick’s Day celebration was held in New York and was de rigeur for politicians and celebrities.

More here.

Photo: SmittenKitchen.com.
This is a normal matzo ball. I couldn’t find a green one.

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There was a lovely National Public Radio story the other day about the rediscovery of Gospel singing brothers 30 years after they thought their career was over.

“In 1970, brothers Gean and Tommie West, both reverends, started a gospel group together in Dallas. They called themselves The Relatives, pressed a few singles and amassed a good following.

“By 1980, The Relatives had gone their separate ways, and for three decades that was that. But a few years ago, a Texas DJ and record collector who’d heard their music came knocking, and brought up the idea of a reunion. Now, they’re releasing their first album of original work in 30 years, The Electric Word.”

Gean and Tommie spoke with and sang for NPR’s Scott Simon, here.

Read about the company that relaunched The Relatives, Heavy Light Records, here, at the Austin Chronicle.

At the Chronicle, Thomas Fawcett writes, “For co-owners Noel Waggener and Charisse Kelly, married roughly the same amount of time they’ve been collecting records together, 16 years, Heavy Light is a deeply personal endeavor. In 2001, Waggener founded Waxploitation! (now Soul Happening), dusty-fingered local DJs who fuel dance floors with rare funk 45s. Bonding with master of ceremonies Obatallah Hayter, the late Harlem-born pianist who rapped over records from his wheelchair, the pair had an epiphany. …

“The result, Heavy Light Records, has so far amassed more than 4,000 recordings, including a sizeable chunk licensed from the heirs of San Antonio businessman E.J. Henke, who owned several small labels, including the Harlem, Satin, and Warrior imprints.” Noel was the DJ who brought The Relatives back. Jim Eno produced “The Electric Word.” More.

Photograph: Andrew Shapter
The Relatives teamed with members of members of Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears to record the new album The Electric Word. Left to right: Matt Strmiska, Earnest Tarkington, Zach Ernst, Rev. Tommie West, Dale Burns, Rev. Gean West, Tyron Edwards.

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