Archived News for June 2007


Well, I didn't win. In fact, I didn't make it to the twelve finalists. Sure, I'm disappointed, but I can't feel too bad if Ecumenicalculator didn't make it either. It's an implementation of untyped lambda calculus that uses Church numerals (which are pretty similar to <N; 0, +1>). The code is amazingly terse and lucid, and basically puts my entry to shame. But, for all the talk on the contest page about clever code, it looks as if they've mostly just gone for funny entries - 8 out of 10 of the finalists so far have, I think, been in that category.

I've packaged up my entry, adding support for the GTK+ skeleton as I went, and getting the Windows version working with Wine as a bonus. There are binaries for Windows, for if you don't have a compiler or don't know how to use one, and I've also got binaries for Ubuntu in there, although I'm not sure how well they'll work. See the download link at the bottom.

All the entries are available as a torrent from a thread on the OMGWTF forums. But I'll save you the trouble of downloading all 348 entries. The most common solution was to hard code the answers to the test cases into the calculator. About 80(!) of the entries took this approach. The early entry numbers were over-represented in the approach, because it only takes five minutes to make a calculator like that.

Another common idea was to plug the numbers into Google calculator or a web service. Grepping among the entries for "google" gives 29 entries. Searches for "curl", "wget" and "HTTP/1.1" turn up a few more. About 15 entries involve Roman numerals. Weed all those out and you have about 210 entries that might be novel.

As for cool approaches, VICE is pretty good (and made it to the finals), but it has no implementation for division - the author just did (op1 / op2). You'd think he'd, at the very least, have done something iterative or using his other three functions. Two people implemented (what they describe as) neural networks. Apart from Ecumenicalculator, only one other person made use of a successor function (and they, curiously, had a predecessor function too). Someone used Newton's divided differences interpolation polynomial, which certainly sounds cool, and only one other person used Newton-Raphson, so my fears about unoriginality were unfounded.

Download Calc-Q (691 kB, 675 KiB)

Memcached on Windows Vista

If you're planning to use the Windows port of Memcached, be careful how you connect to the server in your code. Using the PHP memcache extension, I tried to connect to localhost:
$memCache->connect('localhost', 11211);
$memCache->set('test', 'Hello, Memory!');
But I couldn't connect. I kept receiving error 10060 - "A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond." I checked with netstat, and Memcached was indeed listening on In the end it turned out that localhost was resolving to ::1: (IPV6) rather than the more traditional (IPV4). Specifying the local IP address ('') instead of 'localhost' fixed everything.

(Sidenote for New Zealanders: This sounds like a "get better work stories" advertisement. At first we thought there might have been a compatibility issue, but, in the end, it turned out to be, uh, the refresh rate.)


As you can see, there are now news archives awaiting you, for the next time you feel nostalgic. Somebody submit some news - get those numbers up.

Obscure error with PHP5 on Debian/Ubuntu

With Debian's or Ubuntu's php5 package, you might receive this error when you call session_start():
ps_files_cleanup_dir: opendir(/var/lib/php5) failed: Permission denied (13) in /your/file/here on line 30
Frustratingly, if you do receive this error, you'll only get it once every hundred page loads on average. Which points to the cause of the problem: automatic session garbage collection. In Debian and Ubuntu, /var/lib/php5, where the session data is stored, has permissions of drwx-wx-wt and should only be cleaned by a cron script. So, the package maintainers disable automatic session garbage collection.

But, other php5 packages (like php5-cli) don't have garbage collection disabled. If you're seeing this error, it's most likely you've just mixed up your php.ini files (or copy pasted one from somewhere). To fix things, find where your php.ini file is (phpinfo() is handy). This is usually /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini. Then edit it, and change session.gc_probability from whatever it is (most likely 1) to 0. Save, and restart Apache.


...for the technical posts recently. I only post them when I've googled around and found other people with the same problem and no answers.

Music Players on Gnome

I got sick of running Amarok on Ubuntu/Gnome. It constantly crashes, eats memory like no other player I've ever used, and every few minutes opens a ghost entry in the window list that apparently clears a KDE specific HTTP cache. When I don't have browser open. Great.

I tested BMPx (Beep), Exaile, Banshee and Quod Libet. I settled on Listen for a while. But then I opened Rhythmbox, and damn has it changed. More in a bit.

Oh no's! Not global warming...

News is suppose to be objectional, so here it is whether you like it or not! (and you don't i know, but tough.)

Global warming kills people, not by rising temperatures, but by fearmongering which causes underdeveloped countries to remain underdeveoped. Enviromentalism causes continued poverty. Which i find ironic, but then again the white men never did like Africa.

I'll admit i was wrong about the Chinese navigator, it turns out it isn't proven. But the fact remains, the earth was 1.5 to 3 degrees warmer during the middle ages, and no false IPCC graph will change that. (It wasn't called Greenland for nothing.)

And when i want to learn about global warming i don't turn to a failed politician who can't even read graphs properly.

You want to end global warming right now? Then we all need to start putting more water in the freezer.. all of us, right now. See that will reduce overall water vapour in the atmosphere (the biggest greenhouse gas) and will also have a two timing effect because ice is cold. Ok problem solved.

Oh Noes. Yes, Global Warming. Part 1.

What follows below is part one of a response to the Epoch Times articles.

I don't want to judge the source here, but I should first point out that the Epoch Times is not a scientific paper. They're privately owned, but they are closely linked to Falun Gong - the same people who brought you the Divine Performing Arts show*. I say again, I don't want to prejudice things, but we can't take their word for anything scientific. We'll have to examine their evidence and arguments. I should also mention that they have a lot of arguments. They seem to think that if they present enough small (but bad) arguments in favor of their claim. people will eventually believe them. I've heard this called shotgun argumentation: fire enough shot and you'll hit something.

The first argument Mueller makes in his article relies on the fact that scientists have been wrong before. So, he concludes, they're wrong this time. Well, that's the argument he would have liked to have made. Only, global cooling never had substantial scientific support. It was a popular theory that a few authors got rich with. For Mueller's sake, let us assume that it did have scientific support. It's now a discredited theory - that's a key part of Mueller's argument - but who discredited it? Oh, yeah. Scientists. And that leads directly to contradiction because we can apply the same argument form and say: scientists have been right before, therefore scientists are right in this case. We must reject this argument as being invalid.

Next Mueller appeals to our sense of conspiracy. He claims dissenting views on global warming are being suppressed:

What is causing the current global warming? CO2 is a word that is constantly repeated. Most politicians and the media leave no doubt about the CO2 problem.
However, the problem arises when opposing opinions are suppressed, or even denounced because of a hidden agenda. This occurs when a large manipulative campaign is launched...

Hilariously, his awkward writing makes it seem that this suppression is causing CO2 levels to rise, but that's neither here nor there. My actual reply to Mueller is that opposing opinions on global warming are not being suppressed. In fact, if anything they receive substantially more weight in the media than they deserve. Controversy is juicy, science is not. Shows like 60 Minutes love to hear dissenting views on global warming; oh, the outrage of a crackpot not being taken seriously. Dissent on global warming is exactly what an aging, conservative audience wants to hear: the commie-pinko green hippies are wrong! And what people want to hear they will listen to.

But again, to be extra charitable to Mueller, we'll assume that he's completely right. Let us say that dissenting opinions on global warming are being suppressed and denounced. Does that make global warming any less factual? No. Were we not to listen to global warming "debunkers", the actual objective state of the world would stay the same. Science doesn't ask for your faith, nor does it ask for your opinions. The universe doesn't care what you, or anyone, believes. And so, the suppression of evidence against something is not, itself, evidence against something.

So, what about those graphs? Since, according to Darryl, we can't rely on politicians being able to interpret them, we'll have to do so ourselves:

This graph shows the findings of ten separate, published, scientific studies. Click through to see which ones, and exactly how the graph was compiled. The black line is the eleventh, and is different from the others. It's not based on reconstructed global mean temperatures, but on actual instrumental data. As you can see (by how the lines converge upon it) it is very accurate. Be sure of this much: the spike in temperatures at the right of the graph is very real.

The blue line is Prof. M. E. Mann's study - the "hockey stick" graph. It's referred to under the first of the Epoch Times articles as being "manipulation or statistical error". They apply proof by name-dropping: "other scientists, especially Professor McIntyre of the University of Guelph in Toronto, demonstrated that this graph is based on wrong data assumptions and incorrect selection of statistical procedures." Except they did no such thing. And even had they shown Mann's study to be in error, they'd also have to (as this graph shows) show the same for the dozen or so other studies, using other data, that agree with the Mann interpretation (within their margins of error).

You can see, on the graph, that Darryl is right about temperatures being a bit warmer than usual during the Middle Ages. It's known as the Medieval Warm Period. But he's wrong about the temperatures then being warmer than modern temperatures. Mueller claims that

In the aforementioned "hockey stick" graph, the medieval global warming between 950 and 1450 was ignored completely. Yet, it still was published without this data in the 1996 U.N. report.

First of all, note that Mueller calls the medieval warm period "medieval global warming". This is a weak attempt to make the current climate changes appear cyclic. Simply: they are not. Not only that, but the MWP was not truly global - this has been known since the late 1980s. The IPCC summarizes recent research by saying "current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth" during the MWP.

But also note that Mueller's idea of the hockey stick graph not showing the MWP is false. You can see the effects of the MWP on the blue line clearly, for yourself. The problem is that the Mann study doesn't show temperatures from before the MWP (proported to have started in the 10th century), and so the MWP is indicated by an initial downward slope, rather than a 'hill' in the graph

Part 2 is a work in progress.

Oh Noes. Yes, Global Warming. Part 2.

A reply to part two of a series of articles published in the Epoch Times: read along if you'd like. Note that our author's name has changed between parts - he now uses the umlaut: Müller.

Müller begins with a quote from H.L. Mencken. Mencken complains the public are "bombarded by an endless array of imaginary hobgoblins" to keep them alarmed. Müller follows up with advertising screed about how scary and alarming An Inconvenient Truth is. The implication Müller makes is that global warming is scary, and therefore false. Of course, this is only implied: it'd be too much to actually articulate such a ridiculous argument.

Enough with fancy sounding quotes and insinuations. Let's get on to Müller's first actual argument. We begin with a premise: the melting of the glaciers began before 1880. This is correct, but not very precise or informative. Glaciers have been retreating since about 1850, at the end of the Little Ice Age (see the graph in Part 1). But, Müller points out that:

[CO2 in the atmosphere] had barely increased from 280 to 290 ppmv (a millionth of a part in volume.) Therefore, CO2 is not the culprit...

First note the misleading definition of the figures we're talking about here. We're not talking about "a millionth of a part in volume". What we are talking about is a change of 3.5%, a significant amount. If Müller wanted to honestly let people evaluate the scale of carbon change in 1880, he would have said "parts per million, by volume". As it currently reads, the article could be mistaken for claiming the increase by 1880 was 'just' a millionth. I'm sure this is just incompetence on Müller's part, not malice. Despite the facts, let's just assume that Müller is right, and that CO2 was not the culprit back in the 19th century. What was? Well, the end of the little ice age saw a return to more normal temperatures. But does that mean that CO2 is not the culprit now? No. It doesn't

We shouldn't let any of this historical wrangling get in the way of the fact that CO2 levels are now at 380 ppmv, an increase of 135% from pre-industrial levels. Here's a graph (current time on the left):

Carbon Dioxide Variations

As before, each colour on the graph represents data from a different scientific study - most of this data is taken from ice cores. Also as before, the black line is extremely accurate instrumental data.

Müller's next claim fares particularly badly when compared to scientific evidence. The claim is that "in the 20th century there also was no uniform temperature increase associated with a simultaneously strong CO2 increase". We're not talking about cause here, just association (correlation). So, I took publicly accessible data about CO2 levels and temperature in the 20th century, and fired up an image editor (to equalize scales). Here's what I came up with:

Correlated temperature and CO2 levels

It's a little messy, but the point is clear. There is a correlation between temperature and CO2 levels, shown in the 20th century. You'll notice this data only covers 1960 on - that's because I wanted to restrict myself to instrumental data, and that means starting from when CO2 levels began to be regularly measured. If anyone would like me to discuss the supposed fall in temperatures through to the mid-70s (the mid-20th century maximum) I'll gladly take that up in the comments.

After this, in order, we have proof by reference ("as discussed in Part I, scientists were warning of an approaching ice age until 1975"), plain falsehoods ("records tell of a warming stage when temperatures were 1.5 and in some cases even 3 degrees Celsius higher than now between 950 and 1450 in Europe"), and irrelevancies ("even the Bermuda Triangle was about 1 degree Celsius warmer 1,000 years ago").

There's also the charming story of Greenland: "Greenland would not have been called 'green land' by its discoverers and settlers, the Vikings, if they had not found green pastures and meadows". I'll overlook that the presence of green pastures in Greenland, in any historical period, doesn't say anything about global climate. I'll overlook the fact that it wasn't named Greenland at first, but Gruntland (= ground land). And I'll overlook the possibly mythological story that Eric the Red called it Greenland to one-up Iceland and attract settlers (a la England of the South). To reply, I need only point out that the Red Sea wouldn't have been called the Red Sea if it wasn't red. Similarly, the black sea must be black. The Mediterranean must be smack-dab in the middle of Earth, and Canadian River is in Canada*. Oh wait, that's all bullshit.

Image uploads

You can now upload images when you submit a news item, so there's no need to find somewhere for your news images to be hosted. When you submit the files you want to upload you'll be given an image location string. Like: {image1} or {image5}. Use that string where you would use the image location - it is replaced by the actual URL when you submit the news item.


Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (GNU/Linux)




Oh Noes. Yes, Global Warming. Part 3.

The final installment in a discussion of Klaus Müller's "Global Warming Deception".

I was quite looking forward to doing this part. Müller certainly saved his best for last. And by best I mean his craziest, most mouth-frothingly confused theories. Let's get started.

During the last century an Austrian politician and dictator was supposed to have said that a lie becomes believable if repeated often enough.

That's it. I'm sold. Global warming is a complete lie! How could I ever have thought it possible. Of course it's a fraud. I mean, at some point between 1900 and 2000, someone once said that someone said that a lie becomes believable if repeated often enough. Of course!

The quote is actually usually attributed to Lenin, in the form: "a lie told often enough becomes the truth". Lenin was a politician, and you could possibly call him a dictator, but he certainly wasn't Austrian. Hitler fits the description given, but is not connected with the quotation. The quotation is sometimes given as from Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, usually with the addition of an "and loud enough". But Goebbels was neither Austrian nor a dictator. So, it's hard to know who Müller is talking about. Perhaps he just wanted to sound more authoritative - but then why did he over quantify his statement with "supposed to have" and make it vague with "during the last century"?

As we often do, let's give Müller the benefit of the doubt: we'll assume that a lie told often enough really does become believable. But that does not mean that every believable thing is just a lie told often. That's obviously what Müller is trying to say about global warming, so let us assume that too (really, we're going beyond what Müller argued and being overly charitable in our interpretation).

Well, then global warming is a believable lie. But whether something is a lie does not affect its truth. If you haven't studied ethics, that might give you pause, but I'll try to explain. Consider Mt Everest's height. If I believe the summit of Mt Everest to be 8,817 metres above sea level and tell you it is 8,848 metres above sea level then I have told a lie. My intention was to deceive you. The actual elevation of the mountain is objective and set but we need not consult it to determine my intentions. And it is intentions that matter in determining if something is lie. As Wikipedia says, "a true statement may be a lie if the person who makes the true statement genuinely believes it to be false, and makes the statement with the intention that his audience believe it to be true". Hilariously, the "factual accuracy" of the Wikipedia page for Lie is disputed.

How often have we all heard or read the mantra "Greenhouse Effect?"

Not often enough! Hum it with me: greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse effect greenhouse efect greenhouse effectgreen houseffect greenhouse effectgreen houseffect greenhouseffect greenhouseffect greenhouseffect greenhouseffect greenhouseffect greenhouseffect.

The Swedish Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius built a greenhouse in 1896 to predict future ice ages. He proposed that the heat buildup in a greenhouse was based on the concentration of CO2, which he believed enveloped heat. Almost all scientists, particularly leading German scientists from the Kaiser Wilhelm-Max Planck Institute, as late as 1970, considered this random speculation.

Total rubbish. You can read Arrhenius' 1896 paper, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground if you like. But if you don't want to, I'll spoil the surprise for you: it's nothing to do with greenhouses. Arrhenius actually used infrared observations of the moon to determine the absorption of CO2, and concluded that doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would produce an increase in ground temperature of around 5 degrees. That figure was remarkable accurate - the latest estimates of it put it between 2 and 4.5 degrees.

Müller's reference to "random speculation" is similarly confused. It's not Arrhenius' conclusions about CO2 levels that were ever in doubt, but his idea that it was the greenhouse effect that caused ice ages. Rather, most scientists did, and do, believe Earth's orbital eccentricity to be the ultimate cause of ice ages, with the greenhouse effect providing an amplification of the change.

However, scientific treatises and scientifically "correct" colleagues at the "Club of Rome" have since revisited this theory, bringing it back to life.

Translation: I blame Majestic 12. Or perhaps the Bavarian Illuminati. I'm not sure which.

The so-called and actually perceivable greenhouse effect in a real greenhouse can thus only be attributed to a lack in air exchange (convection).

Correct. But the "greenhouse" part of the greenhouse effect is actually metaphorical. Climatologists do not think Earth is an actual greenhouse, replete with glass and plants. That would be like insisting that all greenhouses be green. Instead, they use the name greenhouse effect to usefully describe a complex set of interactions between solar radiation, terran thermal radiation and atmospheric gasses. And convection (or lack thereof) doesn't actually play much role in all of that. In a sense, the greenhouse effect is a misnomer: it refers to a different mechanism to the one actual greenhouses use to keep plants warm. Keeping that in mind, we'll continue:

Besides, a greenhouse effect presumes a closed system, which simply does not fully exist in a greenhouse and certainly not with planet Earth. There is no definable border from the Earth to the cosmos—in the final analysis both are part of the same system.

No, you cannot claim anything you like about Earth's climate simply by saying that Earth and everywhere else are "in the final analysis" one in the same. Is there life on Mars? Well, in the final analysis, Earth and Mars are both part of the same system. So, the answer is yes. I don't know why NASA spends billions of dollars answering that question!

And no, the greenhouse effect doesn't presume a closed system. It presumes energy coming from the sun, and that energy being absorbed by the atmosphere and the surface. I think, here, Müller is confused and believes the greenhouse effect has something to do with convection and (correctly) that heat cannot be "convected" out into the vacuum of space, so there is a enclosed (not closed in the scientific/thermodynamic sense) system within which the greenhouse effect is purported to work. In fact, convection plays next-to no part in the greenhouse effect. Here's a quick overview of how the greenhouse effect works:

Radiant energy arrives at Earth from the sun. This radiant energy is in a smooth black-body (at 5525K - thus, the one true colour temperature) curve. Not coincidentally, a lot of this radiation is in the visible spectrum (evolution at work!). 70% of this radiation is absorbed: 42% is absorbed by the surface and 28% by the atmosphere - absorption raises the temperature of both.

All hot things radiate heat, but the earth and atmosphere, because of their lower temperature relative to the sun, will radiate differently from the sun. And what they radiate will be absorbed differently. Of what the earth emits, very little makes it through the atmosphere, due to greenhouse gas absorption. In fact, only about 8% makes it to vacuum. The rest ends up heating the atmosphere. So, the atmosphere is receiving heat from both above and below. The atmosphere is non-uniform too (in terms of density, and what gasses are present), so it actually radiates upward and downward in different amounts. About 40% is radiated upward, and 60% downward to Earth, to go through that part of the cycle again.

The whole system is in equilibrium. The amount of energy directly radiated by the Earth plus the amount radiated upward by the atmosphere is equal to the amount absorbed by both from the Sun (conservation of energy). The amount of energy received by the surface is equal to the amount received there from the sun and from the atmosphere (the atmosphere actually contributes more!), and also equal to the amount from the surface radiated directly plus absorbed by greenhouse gasses.

If you increase the amount of energy (mostly from the earth, actually) that is absorbed by greenhouse gasses, then you increase the temperature of the atmosphere. And this increase carries through to the amount of energy radiated downward by the atmosphere toward Earth. Which increases the Earth's temperature.

Why is it that CO2 or other gases cannot contribute to heat absorption? CO2 does have the potential to store heat, but there is another consideration which collapses the reasoning behind the CO2 Greenhouse Effect. There is this law of physics: liquid or solid bodies, i.e. oceans, clouds and earth, emit and absorb energy via a spectrum of rays. Gases such as CO2 can only selectively absorb or emit energy, a fact easily verifiable in any elementary chemistry textbook. Based on the aforementioned facts, the Greenhouse Effect does not exist; neither in a garden greenhouse nor on Earth. To put it more directly—even if the atmosphere consisted of 100% CO2, the Earth's atmosphere would be unable to heat up as claimed; it is impossible according to the law of physics.

I'm not sure what "the law of physics" is. Perhaps Müller means "a law of physics" or "the laws of physics", but then every law of physics is consistent with the greenhouse effect, right through to quantum physics, which helps explain black body radiation.

The atmosphere's heat exchange is in equilibrium, not stasis. Energy, regardless of "potential", isn't stored - it bounds around at the speed of light. This is easy to verify; if the sun were to be switched off, the atmosphere would cool. Heat in the atmosphere is being constantly maintained by the sun. CO2 does only absorb or emit energy selectively. But that's the whole point of my discussion above about how much energy makes it through the atmosphere to heat the Earth directly (most of it), and how much makes it from the Earth back into space directly (not much). The Earth and the Sun radiate at different wavelengths because they are (we hope) at different temperatures. And it just so happens that the Earth radiates in the infrared, where greenhouse gases and water vapour do absorb energy.

If the Earth's atmosphere consisted of 100% CO2, it would still heat up because it would still absorb radiant heat from the Earth. And even if it didn't, carbon dioxide absorbs infrared light in bands around the 2 and 3 micrometre wavelengths (in addition to the lower wavelength bands which are currently more important for the greenhouse effect), so light from the Sun would directly heat it too.

Since the IPCC panel deems the effect of water vapor simply too difficult to calculate and predict, they must call on other culprits, foremost CO2, but also CO, ozone and fluorocarbons. To be blunt, it appears that two-thirds of the hypothetically assumed Greenhouse Effect's factors are not taken into consideration. Since they do not appear in any calculations, they make for an easy conclusion by anyone with a sound mind.

Let me draw your attention to the latest IPCC report, known as the IPCC WG1 AR4 Report. Part 2, "Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing". Section 2.3.7, "Stratospheric Water Vapour". It begins on page 152. Or perhaps you'd prefer section 2.5.6, "Tropospheric Water Vapour from Anthropogenic Sources", starting on page 185.

To claim that water vapour isn't taken into consideration is, "to be blunt", ridiculous. You don't hear much about the effects of water vapour on climate change because those effects are very limited. First, a definition from the IPCC report, "radiative forcing (RF) is a concept used for quantitative comparisons of the strength of different human and natural agents in causing climate change." The RF value of atmospheric CO2 is +1.66 [±0.17] W m–2. The RF value of water vapour in the context of clouds is –0.7 [–1.1, +0.4] W m–2. And the impact of stratospheric water vapour is +0.07 [± 0.05] W m–2. See the difference in magnitude?

As discussed in a prior article, CO2 constitutes a mere 0.038 percent of the atmosphere. Human CO2 production accounts for a mere 3 percent of the total CO2. [...]CO2 naturally concentrates near the ground, where plants can derive nourishment. By contrast, in the upper atmospheric regions where CO2 is accused of wreaking havoc, the CO2 concentration lowers to under 10 ppmv (parts per million by volume).

Yes, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 380ppm. But that's up from pre-industrial levels of 280ppm. The actual human impact on the figure is 35%, not 3%. And it's not absolute concentration levels we should be worried about, but relative ones.

If it were absolute concentrations that we concerned ourselves with, why would we worry if we came across a 300 ppm atmosphere of HCN (Hydrogen Cyanide)? Obviously the effects of such an environment would be too small to consider! In reality, breathing it would kill a human within a few minutes. And in reality, a 380ppm concentration of CO2 does make a real impact on the climate.

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