Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 4th, 2021

New free ebooks from Standard Ebooks, in all ebook-reader formats

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“New” in the sense that they are newly available from Standard Ebooks. If they don’t have the format you want, you can download the book from StandardEbooks.org, add it to your ebook library in Calibre (a free app), convert the format, and the load it from Calibre to your device.

Here are all their ebooks sorted in order they published them, newest first. Let me point out a few titles:

For those watching Lupin on Netflix, Standard Eblooks has Maurice Leblanc’s Lupin series in translation.

If you read aloud to children, I highly recommend The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. And note:

When should you stop reading to your child? It isn’t until around the age of 13 that reading and listening skills level out. So, if you continue to read aloud books which are above your pre-teen’s reading level, the benefits are the same as reading to them when they’re little.

That’s from this post.

As I’ve mentioned, Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche is a great favorite of mine.

If you’re a reader, this is a (free) treasure trove.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

More on the gut microbiome: How gut microbes could drive brain disorders

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Cassandra Willyard writes in Nature:

In 2006, soon after she launched her own laboratory, neuroscientist Jane Foster discovered something she felt sure would set her field abuzz. She and her team were working with two groups of mice: one with a healthy selection of microorganisms in their guts, and one that lacked a microbiome. They noticed that the mice without gut bacteria seemed less anxious than their healthy equivalents. When placed in a maze with some open paths and some walled-in ones, they preferred the exposed paths. The bacteria in the gut seemed to be influencing their brain and behaviour.

Foster, at McMaster University in Toronto, Canada, wrote up the study and submitted it for publication. It was rejected. She rewrote it and sent it out again. Rejected. “People didn’t buy it. They thought it was an artefact,” she says. Finally, after three years and seven submissions, she got an acceptance letter1.

John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, joined the field about the same time as Foster did, and knows exactly how she felt. When he began talking about the connections between bacteria living in the gut and the brain, “I felt very evangelical”, he says. He recalls one Alzheimer’s disease conference at which he presented in 2014. “I’ve never given a talk in a room where there was less interest.”

Today, however, the gut–brain axis is a feature at major neuroscience meetings, and Cryan says he is no longer “this crazy guy from Ireland”. Thousands of publications over the past decade have revealed that the trillions of bacteria in the gut could have profound effects on the brain, and might be tied to a whole host of disorders. Funders such as the US National Institutes of Health are investing millions of dollars in exploring the connection.

But along with that explosion of interest has come hype. Some gut–brain researchers claim or imply causal relationships when many studies show only correlations, and shaky ones at that, says Maureen O’Malley, a philosopher at the University of Sydney in Australia who studies the field of microbiome research. “Have you found an actual cause, or have you found just another effect?”

In recent years, however, the field has made significant strides, O’Malley says. Rather than talking about the microbiome as a whole, some research teams have begun drilling down to identify specific microbes, mapping out the complex and sometimes surprising pathways that connect them to the brain. “That is what allows causal attributions to be made,” she says. Studies in mice — and preliminary work in humans — suggest that microbes can trigger or alter the course of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and more (see ‘Possible pathways to the brain’). Therapies aimed at tweaking the microbiome could help to prevent or treat these diseases, an idea that some researchers and companies are already testing in human clinical trials. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more more. The Parkinson’s theory is particularly interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 1:46 pm

Noah Smith has an interesting interview of Liam Kofi Bright — “the meaning of life, the nature of truth and bullshit, the future of democracy, whether the U.S. is an oligarchy, culture wars, human empowerment, and how philosophers should interact with the world.”

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It’s worth reading the entire (lengthy) interview. It begins:

If you follow one philosopher on Twitter, you could do worse than to choose Dr. Liam Kofi Bright, an assistant professor at the London School of Economics. Of course, he might not like me saying that, since self-effacing humor is kind of his thing. But that’s just one more reason Liam is great. Another is that he’ll actually answer my random philosophy questions. His public presence extends far beyond Twitter, as he appears on numerous podcasts, writes blog posts, etc.

Of course, his academic work is prestigious as well, as he has recently been awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize, and he publishes lots of papers (Including one in Nature Medicine!), etc. etc. He works a lot on philosophy of science (my favorite area of philosophy), with an emphasis on the social structure of science. One of his big theses is that the hierarchical nature of science hurts its ability to create and disseminate knowledge. He has also worked to incorporate the ideas of Black thinkers like W.E.B DuBois and Ida B. Wells into formal philosophy, and has addressed issues of race and diversity in philosophy itself (Bright himself is British, with Ghanaian and Irish ancestry).

In the very long unedited interview that follows, we discuss many Big and Important Questions — the meaning of life, the nature of truth and bullshit, the future of democracy, whether the U.S. is an oligarchy, culture wars, human empowerment, and how philosophers should interact with the world. Basically, the things I always wanted to ask a real philosopher about!

N.S.: OK, so, like, you’re a philosopher. So, what’s the meaning of life?

L.K.B.: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

N.S.: Got it. I was always thinking it was something like “pet the fluffy bunnies and watch some anime.” But that’s not too far off, right?

Well, anyway. Your Twitter handle is @lastpositivist. What is a positivist, and why are you the last? 

L.K.B.: Not too far off indeed – readers interested in the full argument for the correct theory of the meaning life should see here.

The logical positivists were a group of early 20th century intellectuals, most famously gathered in Vienna in what we call “the Vienna Circle”. They were scientists and philosophers interested in how to interpret breakthroughs in physics and mathematics that they had lived through, such as the discovery of Einstein’s general relativity. What’s more, they were living in post-world-war-one Vienna, formerly the head of a large empire but now the capital of a small rump state and in the midst of the socialist experiment we now call “Red Vienna”. Many of the logical positivists thought that the social changes the world was undergoing were intimately tied up with the scientific and conceptual changes they studied.

Most philosophers take their project to have been an interesting failure, set aside for good reason. But I think the way they combined scientific and social philosophy has much to recommend it, and the arguments against it far less convincing than generally supposed. Hence, I am the last to carry the torch!

N.S.: So how do we need to combine scientific and social philosophy right now, in the world of 2021? What new things have we learned about the world in recent decades — or what new things have we learned about how to learn about the world — that tell us about how we should organize our society? 

L.K.B.: There’s a lot to say here, but I will limit myself to just a couple of examples! One is a relatively new example and the other (alas) perennial.

Red Vienna was an experiment in socialist government, and that led to a lot of interest in how one could use results from the social sciences to help workers rationally plan features of their own society and living arrangements in a way that would be conducive to the common good. Members of the Vienna Circle were interested in this, and indeed their efforts bore some fruit – readers may be interested in this charming story of how the logical positivist philosopher Otto Neurath worked on postwar British social housing.

While many of these very same questions are still relevant, I think nowadays we are faced with an overwhelmingly urgent problem which is of a similar type but whose scale and stakes are much higher. This is coming up with rational social responses to the realities of human caused climate change. Doing this in a manner that has any hope of avoiding much avoidable suffering will require the successful coordination of nations, social movements, and scientific and technical experts. My friend, comrade, and coauthor, Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò the younger, for instance, has convincingly argued that we on the left need to do much more to champion the development of carbon capture technologies and think about how they can be integrated into a comprehensive global strategy for dealing with this crisis. This sort of techno-social coordination, towards the end of averting suffering and promoting flourishing, is just the sort of project which the logical positivists can help us think about.

The more perennial issue the logical positivists can help us think about is in avoiding being deceived by propaganda and obfuscatory jargon. The logical positivists were famous for insisting on “verifiability”. This amounted to an insistence that if a claim is to be counted as “cognitively meaningful”, as in even a candidate for being considered true or false, then there must be some way of gathering evidence (inclusive of mathematical proof) that would help us tell if we should accept or reject it. So a claim like “the bunny is on the sofa” would in suitable contexts be a meaningful claim about the world, since we can look at the contextually appropriate sofa and see whether or not the contextually appropriate bunny is there. But a claim like “the number 7 is furiously green” is not even wrong, it is neither true nor false, since while it has the surface form of a meaningful sentence there is in fact nothing that it is like to gather evidence for or against it.

Thanks to some very recent translation work by Chirstoph Limbeck scholars working in English have recently come to appreciate how Carnap, one of the key members of the Vienna Circle, used this to try and identify propaganda that would serve pernicious social purposes. Very often what those who wish us to take indefensible courses of action do is play upon our emotions by issuing suggestive phrases that predictably give rise to certain sentiments, but fail to actually be verifiable so cannot be subject to serious challenge or examination. Some examples of this are overt – enigmatic “Q-drops” that often don’t quite say anything that might be checked against reality in any conclusive manner, but always somehow suggest that former president Trump is working to some good end and that democratic elections which do not go in one’s preferred way are not to be trusted. Other examples of this are less often flagged as troubling because they are the normal rhetoric of politics, but in my opinion are just as bad – such as when people defend American imperialism with fine phrases like “America, despite our recent stumbles, still has the DNA of freedom and individual dignity, and can advance these values in the face of a Chinese state” that surely would never admit of serious confirmation. Thinking about how strategic use of unverifiable claims helps propagandists is a project the logical positivists began, and we would do well to continue.

N.S.: Interesting! I’ve long thought that direct air capture of carbon was the way that rich countries could “atone” for the fact that they got rich burning fossil fuels.

About verifiability and propaganda. In social science, I’m a big proponent of verifiability — economists need to test their theories, and they didn’t always realize that they needed to test their theories, and now they are realizing it which is good. But when it comes to political propaganda, I wonder if this is always a good criterion. It seems to me that most of the values and ideals that actually motivate large numbers of people to take political action are unverifiable. It would be nice if we could get people to storm the battlements of injustice or throw their backs into the building of a new nation by chanting “What do we want? Evidence based science! When do we want it? After peer review!”. But I don’t think we can. Instead, it seems to me that most of what motivates people to action consists of what Harry Frankfurt would call “bullshit” — statements whose use-value is far more salient than their information-value. To use your China example, perhaps it’s empirically meaningless to say that a nation has “DNA”, but if the idea of America as a champion of freedom and dignity stirs us to help Taiwan preserve its independence and India and Vietnam to resist Chinese territorial expansionism, is the rhetoric really so bad?

How might a logical positivist respond to the idea that bullshit is uniquely useful for stirring humans to action?

L.K.B.: Ah I guess it depends on big questions about how much you trust people to reason straightforwardly about their own interests. I think for the logical positivists the Red Vienna context was quite important here. It’s not like they just wanted to start throwing economic models at people and expect them to act appropriately. Rather, there was a whole nexus of social institutions dedicated to public edification and opportunities for involvement in self-government that were themselves educational. Some of these (such as a scheme for nightclasses for workers) many members of the Vienna Circle taught in, and others – such as the Visual Education movement – they actually pioneered. So I think it’s very much an enlightenment goal they were working towards: a total package of cultural and institutional changes that would give people both the knowledge and ability to not only clear headedly reason about their social situation, but collectively decide what is to be done about and set in motion policies in light of those collective decisions. I think that as part and parcel of building this society, a sort of no bullshit approach to political speech and persuasion is important, as expressive of – and contributing towards – the sort of trust in the public which we are trying to vindicate.

N.S.: One thing I’m noticing here is that your view of philosophy is very real-world-oriented — it’s not about sitting around trying to devise internally consistent ethical rules for solving increasingly abstruse trolley problems, which is sort of what I imagined ethical philosophers doing when I was an undergrad. Instead, it’s about making things better for real people and societies that actually exist. I like that.

So my next question is: What do you see as the most important social problems right now that philosophers should be attacking? I guess that could be UK society, or American society, or global society, or all of the above. What are the biggest challenges we need to be tackling, or at least the ones that interest you the most? You mentioned climate change, which seems like an obvious one. What are the others?

L.K.B.:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 1:11 pm

Spinach & Red Kale Recipe with some notes on Japanese ingredients

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I made this the other day and it has been exceptionally tasty. I needed a new batch of greens, so I bought a bunch of red kale to cook with a brick of frozen spinach I had on hand. What made it especially tasty were the flavorings.

I used a stainless steel pan rather than cast-iron because I was going to do long simmering with acidic ingredients and that tends to strip the seasoning — not really a problem, except that then you have to re-season the pan. So I used my 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan.

• the cloves from 1 head of garlic

I peeled and minced about 12-14 cloves and set that aside in a little bowl. By doing that first, the garlic has time to rest before it is put into a hot pan, which allows the beneficial compounds to stabilize and survive the heat.

I put into the pan:

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

As I prepped the onions, I put them directly into the pan to await the arrival of heat since (unlike, say, a steak) they don’t have to be put into the pan after it’s hot.

• 1 large red onion, chopped
• 1 bunch large scallions, chopped (including leaves)

Onions and garlic have a particularly good type of dietary fiber to nourish good microbes in the gut microbiome, so I eat onions in most meals. (See this recent post for some ways a healthy microbiome helps you.)

Elle Krieger, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author who hosts public television’s “Ellie’s Real Good Food” abd blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com. wrote in the Washington Post:

It’s not enough to just get beneficial bacteria into your body. To make sure these good guys stay and thrive, you’ve got to feed them. One of their preferred meals is a type of soluble fiber called fructooligosaccharides (FOS), found in a wide range of vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Because FOS helps probiotics thrive, this fiber and its relatives have been dubbed prebiotics. It’s a term we’ll be seeing more as scientists unravel the details of how our gut microbiome works. Beyond being probiotic power food, FOS has been shown to increase absorption of minerals such as calcium, improve feelings of satiety, reduce the risk of colon cancer and, ahem, “keep things moving.” . . .

You won’t find prebiotic fiber listed on nutrition labels, so the best way to boost your intake is to focus on getting more total fiber (most of us fall sorely short of getting enough fiber in general), and with that, regularly including more foods known to be richest in FOS, such as bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, barley, whole wheat, garlic and onions.

Every meal I eat includes intact whole gains (wheat, barley, rye, kamut, et al.) and some allium (onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, or spring onions (when available)).

With the garlic resting and the onions and scallions ready in the pan, I turned the heat to medium to start the onions cooking. As the pan warmed and the onions started to cook, I prepared the kale and lemons:

• 1 bunch red kale, rinsed, shaken out, and chopped
• 2 small thin-skinned lemons, ends cut off and discarded, cut into slabs and then diced

After the onions had cooked down and softened, I added the garlic and cooked it, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. I then added and the kale and lemons, and covered the pan and cooked it for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the kale wilted.

I reduced the head to medium low and added:

• 1 300g brick of frozen chopped spinach
• about 3-4 tablespoons Bragg’s apple cider vinegar (or use Eden Organics Brown Rice Vinegar, Organic)
• 2 tablespoons Eden Foods Organic Shoyu Soy Sauce Imported
• 2 tablespoons Eden Foods Mirin

Cook’s Illustrated some years back rated Eden Foods Organic Shoyu sauce as the best of those they tested. I tried it, and I liked it a lot. It’s a soy sauce, so its ingredients include wheat as well as rice.  I also like Eden Foods Organic Imported Tamari, a fermented sauce like shoyu except no wheat is used. Tamari has a somewhat bolder presence than shoyu. The combination of shoyu and mirin is traditional in Japanese cooking.

You can read more about those foods at the links provided, and the information is interesting. Note that the sweetness of mirin is not from any added sugar but is purely the result of fermentation with koji. (FWIW, I’m also very fond of Eden Foods Hot Pepper Sesame Oil, whose ingredients are sesame oil and red chili peppers and nothing else.)

Because I couldn’t find some of these Eden Foods products locally, I ordered them directly from Eden Foods (along with some of their other food products).

After I added all ingredients, I covered the pan and continued cooking over medium-low eat, removing the lid occasionally so I could break up the brick of frozen spinach as it thawed, stirring to mix the ingredients. I simmered the greens for a total of about 35 minutes.

The batch will last a few days at the rate of two 1/2-cup servings a day. For my next batch of greens, I have two bunches of collards. I’m thinking of using the above approach but with diced beets instead of diced lemons.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 11:40 am

Sarah Silverman just wants to make things right

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In the Washington Post Geoff Edgers has an engaging profile of Sarah Silverman (including a couple of videos). It begins:

One morning not so long ago, Sarah Silverman needed some weed. So she drove to Santa Monica and pulled into a parking space outside a dispensary.

That’s when the trouble started. A man in an Escalade got out of the car and started screaming.

“What’s wrong with you? You hit my car, you b—-.”

Whoa. Silverman was sure that she hadn’t so much as smudged his bumper. But, even if she had, did this man’s response match the crime? Standing there, Silverman had a choice: shout back or try one of her social experiments. Could kindness convert this negative energy into something positive?

“I’m so sorry,” Silverman said without a tinge of sarcasm. “Show me where the scratch is? I’ll pay for it.”

That’s all it took. The man was disarmed. He told her to forget about it; life would move on.

Except that Sarah Silverman knew the story was perfect material — not necessarily comedy gold, but funny enough and with a deeper message. She told her sister, Laura, about it in a Zoom, mentioned it to her producer, Raj Desai, and then recounted it on “The Sarah Silverman Podcast” a few days later.

The interaction is about human behavior and our ability to reshape even the ugliest confrontations by trying just a bit harder. It also highlights Silverman’s special superpower, the ability to use her glow and an awwcomeonbuddy nudge to convert all sorts of nasty mojo.

She would be delivering this story onstage now, except that there’s a pandemic and, therefore, no gigs. Or she might be telling it on TV, except that Hulu canceled her “I Love You, America” series in 2019 and HBO passed on her latest pilot last year. Then again, it makes cosmic sense that this is being told on her podcast, because it’s hard to imagine Silverman’s pot-fueled parable getting space to breathe on those other platforms. The HBO bigwigs would have told her to tighten up the anecdote. The rules of standup would have required the setup to be met by a punchline.

Which is why “The Sarah Silverman Podcast,” launched by the longtime comedian a few months ago with little fanfare and a sense of resignation, may be one of the sneakiest successes of the pandemic.

“I mean, yeah, I came to it because my hands were bound,” Silverman says in a recent Zoom interview from her apartment in Los Angeles. “I couldn’t do standup and I had no place to put stuff. But now I realize this was really what I needed to do. I just can’t believe the freedom and the messiness and the looseness. It’s maybe something I didn’t realize I was missing.”

Everybody has a podcast, she’d grumble when the subject would come up in the past. “And I get it,” says director Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Anchorman”), a longtime friend and one of those nudging her. “You want to do a TV show. It certainly seems bigger and cooler, but that’s changing. I honestly don’t know anyone out there right now with the reach that Joe Rogan has.”

Rogan, the former “Fear Factor” host and second-tier standup before he launched “The Joe Rogan Experience” in 2009, chums around with Elon Musk and signed a $100 million deal with Spotify last year. Rogan says the podcast has 190 million downloads each month. Marc Maron reinvented himself with “WTF,” with then-President Barack Obama showing up at his garage in Los Angeles. Conan O’Brien, with his ever-shrinking late-night show, expanded with “Conan Needs a Friend” and his Team Coco company producing other podcasts. (Silverman considered an offer from O’Brien’s company, but chose Kast Media because she thought Team Coco wanted too big of a revenue share.)

Still, Silverman had other plans for 2020.

Her big project was “The Bedwetter,” a musical adaptation of her best-selling 2010 memoir. It was set to open off-Broadway in May at the Atlantic Theater Company with a cast that included Linda Lavin and Stephanie J. Block.

In early March, Silverman was in New York with playwright Joshua Harmon, who co-wrote the book, and Adam Schlesinger, the Fountains of Wayne founder and Emmy winner, who wrote the music.

Schlesinger, years earlier, had been the one who pitched the idea of a musical after reading the memoir, a freewheeling, origin story of the anxious young girl — she struggled with enuresis, or bed-wetting, until she was 16 — who became a comic star.

In mid-March, after the NBA shutdown, the Atlantic closed its doors and postponed the show. “And two or three days later, Adam texts: ‘You won’t believe this, I think I have this thing. I have a super high fever and a cough,’ ” Silverman says. “And then, April 1, he was dead. Dead.”

By then, HBO had already passed on “Silvershow.”

Over the past decade, Silverman’s penchant for shocking, potty-mouthed material has evolved to embrace more of what she calls social politics. She’s still not above discussing, in detail, her Internet porn search words. But she also addressed the Democratic National Convention. Her philosophy, onstage and off, is that not everybody is stupid, not only her views are right, and if we listen to those we disagree with instead of rolling our eyes, we might get somewhere. Imagine being as clever as John Oliver without the snark.

“I Love You, America,” which ran from 2017 to 2019, embraced that evolution. In one early segment, Silverman traveled to Louisiana to visit a family of rabid Donald Trump supporters. During the visit, she led a discussion about health insurance, and it became clear that the family, which had been mercilessly bashing Obama, was covered by “Obamacare.”

[the article includes the dinner portion of this video:

Start at 3:45 to see that portion. – LG]

“That moment was the crystallizing moment for me,” says Amy Zvi, Silverman’s longtime manager and an executive producer on the show. “Rather than say, ‘You realize that you’re wrong and I’m right,’ Sarah didn’t correct them.”

“I don’t want to make people look dumb,” Silverman says. “Those aren’t the people I care to show up. I think people can be changed, but they’re never going to be changed by feeling judged.”

“I Love You, America” lasted two seasons, earning Emmy nominations each year and allowing Silverman to boldly confront even her most uncomfortable experiences.  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The concluding paragraphs:

Then there was the angry Escalade man. The incident did not end when she killed him with kindness. No, Silverman insisted, “I want to make this right.”

Then she asked what he smoked.

“I like a full-bodied high,” he told her.

With that, Silverman, Emmy-winning standup, TV host and now podcaster, walked into the dispensary and acquired a spliff of Indica for her antagonist. He smiled at the olive branch, but they were already at peace. While she was inside, he had paid her parking meter.

“I haven’t shaken someone’s hand in a year, but I gave him a big handshake,” Silverman says. “And I go, ‘Look at us. We were arch enemies and now we’re best friends.’ ”

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 10:08 am

Exceptional shave: good soap, good prep, good razor/blade combo, practiced hand

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Combining good things in a good way in good proportions will often produce a good result. Take, for example, today’s shave.

The shaving soap is Phoenix Artisan’s ultrapremium CK-6 formula, whose ingredients are especially effective for both stubble (softening it for the shave) and akin (softening it post-shave). Moreover, Planet Java Hive’s fragrance is one that I especially enjoy — coffee + honey — so  I lingered in the lathering, enjoying as well the gentle feel of the Mühle silvertip pictured. (It helps that the water here is soft.) The extended lathering surely helped ease the cutting when the blade hit the stubble.

The razor is the Gillette Heritage model. Gillette wisely realized that they had no current expertise in making double-edge safety razors, so they seem to have purchased heads from Edwin Jagger or Mühle in the design those two created some years back — a very solid and well-performing design. Gillette may well have designed the handle, since it shows some lack of experience and knowledge — for example, it lacks a good grip at the base of the handle for the pass against the grain. The razor is a good performer, though, and I have in it a blade that works well for me in that razor.

My shaving technique now has been polished through years of practice, and after three passes I had a perfectly smooth face with no nicks or burn. Rinse, dry, and add a splash of Planet Java Hive

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2021 at 9:28 am

Posted in Shaving

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