Teaching kids that there is more to life than being pretty


A friend’s posting on Facebook:

I’m a little concerned about my daughter’s ideas on beauty. A few weeks ago, she told me that I’m the only person she loves who isn’t pretty. When questioned further, she acknowledge there are some other people she loves who aren’t pretty. … Last night, she said she loved Daddy more than me because he is more pretty.

[My friend has many virtues, including having worked hard enough to earn a PhD in Computer Science and having been creative enough to write a thesis that was worth reading, but, as with most of the rest of us in the software world, she is not besieged by phone calls from modeling agencies.]

My response:

The ancient Greeks thought that beauty was as much a virtue as intelligence or anything else. So she is not totally off the human reservation in her thinking. Adults say that beauty is irrelevant but kids watch what we do, not what we say. So after hearing about how it doesn’t matter what you look like, the child then hears a pediatrician (female as it happened) compliment a little girl on “looking cute”. So plainly adults do think this is a virtue and an achievement. And presumably they also see adults paying more attention to attractive people. I’m not sure what the right answer is. Maybe to admit that being pretty is great but it is just one possible virtue. And that a more sophisticated approach is to look at the balance of virtues that each person has before deciding that A is more lovable than B based on any single virtue. In other words, don’t assert that “pretty” is less important in our current society than “hard-working” or “honest” or whatever. Children would be able to see for themselves that this is a lie. But point out that being pretty is not more important than a basket of other virtues.

A response from a mutual friend (also a mom with a PhD in CS):

Most young kids are instinctively attracted to people who are physically attractive (which is unfortunate, but it’s overwhelmingly true.) That doesn’t mean they’ll grow up to be shallow people. I think you can be “relieved” that she has already learned to notice and articulate the dimension of physical beauty, because that’s a prerequisite for learning to separate physical attractiveness from other features that make a person desirable.

If you look at children’s literature and movies, almost everything targeted at the youngest audience has an attractive protagonist and an ugly villain. With a slightly older audience, you start to see pretty villains, but it’s treated as a challenging topic, or it may be treated as a shocking plot twist. Then in adolescent literature, it’s cliche for beautiful people to be cruel.

Separately, what would happen if a group of software and hardware engineers founded a fitness company? Here are a couple of photos of bacon doughnuts from the Fitbit Boston open house:

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Thoughts on the Republican debate transcript


I promised myself not to look at anything that any Republican candidate said or did due to the fact that I don’t think any could win (previous posting). But friends keep asking me what I think about these folks so here are my comments on the transcript from last night.

Trump: I hate to say it, but we have to leave [minimum wage] the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard…”

Telling Americans that they have to work harder to earn a higher wage = political suicide.

Carson: Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases….

Mostly consistent with The Redistribution Recession but “there is no free lunch” is not a message most voters want to hear. I would write off Trump and Carson based simply on the above.

Rubio: If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine. And that means all this automation that’s replacing jobs and people right now is only going to be accelerated.

Not a message that Americans want to hear. We are special. We are creative. People in Asia are not creative. Machines are like Asians (reliable, consistent, good at math, not creative) and therefore can never replace Americans.

Kasich: An economic theory is fine, but you know what? People need help.

… and the Great Father in Washington is going to help them. This guy may have some promise. Now that the government is close to 50 percent of the economy (previous posting) it does make sense that Americans seek help from the government. What other entity is big and rich enough?

Cruz: It’s great to be here in Milwaukee.

It is hard to think of a situation in which a person could say this and not be lying.

Cruz: I have rolled out a bold and simple flat tax: 10 percent for every American that would produce booming growth and 4.9 million new jobs within a decade.

How can it possibly work to have a 10-percent federal tax rate in a country where the federal government is more than 20 percent of the GDP (with state and local governments bringing us up closer to 40 or 50 percent, depending on how you look at Obamacare)?

Bush: A corporate rate of 20 percent, which puts us 5 percent above — below that of China, and allows us full expensing of investing. It would create an explosion of investment back into this country, creating higher-wage jobs, and so that’s part of it.

This would be a disaster for accountants and tax lawyers. The “full expensing of investing” is not something that the average voter can understand (presumably he means toss out our perverse depreciation system, as I suggested in my November 2008 Economic Recovery Plan). This seems like a losing message with voters who are passionate about soaking rich companies and would be much more receptive to a proposal for Third World-style capital controls to stop the corporate exodus.

Fiorina: Well, first of all, I must say as I think about that question, I think about a woman I met the other day. I would guess she was 40 years old. She had several children. And she said to me, you know, Carly, I go to bed every night afraid for my children’s future. And that really struck me. This is America. A mother is going to bed afraid for her children’s future.

It seems safe to assume that Fiorina did not tell the woman “If you wanted financial security, you should have read Real World Divorce and had sex with a married dermatologist for the first kid, then had sex with a drunken Medicaid pediatric dentist for the second, etc. Having established a tax-free, location-independent source of income, you could have moved yourself and your children to a low-debt, high-income, high-growth country anywhere in the world.”

Fiorina: We need to pass the REINS Act so Congress is in charge of regulation, not nameless, faceless bureaucrats accountable to no one.

This led me to Google and I found a relevant article. This seems naive because oftentimes the bureaucrats who make a living enforcing regulations present the most influential testimony on Capitol Hill. See this Washington Post article, for example. Some politicians are considering cutting off taxpayer funds used to try to get child support cash from imprisoned fathers. Who is enthusiastic about chasing after incarcerated African-American guys? Frances Pardus-Abbadessa, head of child support enforcement for New York City. (See this YouTube video at 6 minutes in for how Ms. Pardus-Abbadessa is getting her share of $6 billion.)

Kasich on immigration:  in 1986 Ronald Reagan basically said the people who were here, if they were law-abiding, could stay. But, what didn’t happen is we didn’t build the walls effectively and we didn’t control the border. We need to.

Translation: despite spectacular budget increases, the U.S. government has demonstrated continuous incompetence in this area for the past 30 years but somehow it will become competent. I wonder if this guy just checked the wrong box a long time ago and nobody has noticed that he is in fact a Democrat with unlimited faith in Big Government.

Cruz regarding entitlements: for seniors we should make no changes whatsoever, for younger workers we should gradually raise the retirement age, we should have benefits grow more slowly, and we should allow them to keep a portion of their taxes in a personal account that they control, and can pass on to their kids…

Translation: I have no clue what to do and the actuarial disaster won’t be fully apparent until I’m out of the White House.

Cruz on immigration:  the politics of it will be very, very different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande. Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press. Then, we would see stories about the economic calamity that is befalling our nation.

Beautifully phrased! (albeit irrelevant)

Fiorina: Obamacare has to be repealed because it’s failing… …it’s failing the very people it was intended to help, but, also, it is croney-capitalism at its worst. Who helped write this bill? Drug companies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, every single one of those kinds of companies are bulking up to deal with big government.

Self-contradictory? If Obamacare is crony capitalism then the “people it was intended to help” were executives and shareholders in the health care industry. In that case, Obamacare is not failing but rather it is working beautifully.

Carson: …there are a lot of people who say, if you get rid of the deductions, you ruin the American dream because, you know, home mortgage deduction. But the fact of the matter is, people had homes before 1913 when we introduced the federal income tax, and later after that started deductions.

How is this persuasive? Nobody can remember what things were like before the Great Father in Washington guided everything. Most Americans seem to think that before Social Security and Medicare older Americans would wander off into the snow to die at age 60-65 and that, before publicly funded schools, Americans couldn’t read.

Paul: I’m also in favor of a plan called the penny plan where we’d just cut 1 percent across the board and the budget actually balances in less than five years.

This seems false. Growth in government spending on health care and pensions (including Social Security) will be more than 1 percent annually, won’t it?

Cruz: There are more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible…

The real question is whether the IRS code or the Bible has a larger effect on American lives!

Cruz: if you’re a single mom, if you’re making $40,000 a year, what [his tax cut] means is an extra about $5,000 in your pocket

Assuming that the “single mom” has median fertility (rounds to two kids), why didn’t she have sex with two different men, each with a reasonably high income? In that case, assuming an appropriately chosen state in which to have sex (e.g., Massachusetts or New York), she would be getting a lot more than $40,000 per year, entirely tax free, without having to work. Her child support revenue would be, in most states, a function of the gross income of her defendants. Thus her profits from child-ownership would not be affected by Cruz’s proposed change in tax rates.

Bush: simplify the tax code, to spur economic activity in this country

The companies bailing out of the U.S. are not put off by the complexity of the tax code. They just don’t like the rates!

Rubio:  the most important job anyone in this room will ever have, is the job of being a parent. … And so when we set out to do tax reform, we endeavor to have a pro-family tax code, and we endeavor to do it because we know how difficult it is for families in the 21st century to afford the cost of living. … It is expensive to raise children in the 21st century, and families that are raising children are raising the future taxpayers of the United States, and everything costs more.

Let’s make low-income childless Americans work harder to give money to higher-income Americans with children (previous posting).

Rubio: And so, yes, I have a child tax credit increase, and I’m proud of it. I am proud that I have a pro-family tax code, because the pro- family tax plan I have will strengthen the most important institution in the — in the country, the family.

A person will be able to get hold of these credits by getting Clomid online, going to a bar, meeting a drunken married radiologist, etc. Thus the “family” can be a child support profiteer and one or more cashflow-positive children. That will be “the most important institution” that other taxpayers are tapped to subsidize.

 Rubio: I do want to rebuild the American military.

Why does the world’s most expensive military need “rebuilding”? Does that not call into question our competence to manage military spending?

Fiorina: how is it possible that the federal government gets more money each and every year, which the federal government has been doing, receiving more money every year for 50 years under republicans and democrats alike, and yet, never has enough money to do the important things?

Occam’s Razor gives us an uncomfortable answer: Americans are not competent to run a big government. No voter wants to hear that he or she is part of an incompetent nation.

Trump: [the latest trade agreement is] 5,600 pages long, so complex that nobody’s read it.

This is kind of impressive! What is in there?

Paul: You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the [world]…

A well-turned phrase.

Rubio: I’ve never met Vladimir Putin, but I know enough about him to know he is a gangster. He is basically an organized crime figure that runs a country, controls a $2 trillion economy.

Translation: I am envious of this Russian guy.

Rubio: Do you know why these banks are so big? The government made them big. The government made them big by adding thousands and thousands of pages of regulations. So the big banks, they have an army of lawyers, they have an army of compliance officers. They can deal with all these things. The small banks, like Governor Bush was saying, they can’t deal with all these regulations. They can’t deal with all — they cannot hire the fanciest law firm in Washington or the best lobbying firm to deal with all these regulations. And so the result is, the big banks get bigger, the small banks struggle to lend or even exist, and the result is what you have today.

Since these Republicans don’t have any chance of winning, should we buy stock in the biggest banks on the theory that they will outperform?

Kasich: I’ll tell you about Wall Street: There’s too much greed. … and they need a good ethics lesson on Wall Street on a regular basis to keep them in check

Let’s buy stock in corporate training firms. But what evidence does Kasich have that Wall Streeters are greedier than anyone else? They work with bigger numbers, of course, and are presented with larger temptations, but plenty of politicians have sold themselves for bribes that wouldn’t get the attention of anyone who works on Wall Street.

Fiorina: Government created the problem of a real estate boom. How did we create it? Under Republican and Democrats alike, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, everybody gathered together, Republicans and Democrats, and said, “home ownership is part of the American dream.

None of the professional politicians wanted to touch this and none of the journalists were curious to hear more! Good evidence that even Republicans love a bigger government. The idea that the Great Father in Washington has done something wrong is intolerable to contemplate.

Cavuto (journalist) to Donald Trump: Perhaps the most successful capitalist on this stage tonight, you’ve acknowledged that some give capitalism a bad name.

So painful to read that a person who has underperformed a passive investment either in the New York City real estate market or the S&P 500 is celebrated as “a successful capitalist.” Will give thanks on November 26 that I didn’t watch this on TV.

Paul: The planet’s 4.5 billion years old, we’ve been through geologic age after geologic age.

Where is the Creationist to ask him “Were you there?” More seriously, none of these folks talking about climate change addressed the question of how American fretting could be relevant in the long term, given that the U.S. is a shrinking share of the world economy. Why isn’t the focus on technological advances that would enable people all around the world to cut carbon emissions purely to save money? Instead of watching the debate I was down at MIT talking with a friend about Keystone Tower Systems (nearly all MITers but they bailed out of Massachusetts into Colorado). It turns out that the tower is about 30 percent of the cost of a windmill. If you build tower pieces in a factory they have to be small enough to ship, which means that they need to be built from crazy thick steel in order to be strong enough to support a 500′-high windmill (the higher the better for efficiency). This company has designed a machine that can be parked at the wind farm and will built the tower components in place, thus enabling large diameter tower bases made from thinner steel. Wouldn’t it be better to concentrate our energies on stuff like that instead of telling everyone on the planet to act against their personal economic interest?

Readers who watched the debate: What did you think? Are any of these candidates so charismatic that they can fight the headwinds facing any Republican in a country where voters want the government to take care of them?

Now that Steve Jobs is dead, can Apple please make me a thick ugly phone?


I have an iPhone 6 Plus, which I bought for the camera and because it does not run Samsung’s Contacts app (a.k.a. “raise your blood pressure 20 points app”). Supposedly this phone has a beautiful exterior and is very thin, but I haven’t experienced either of those properties because I put the phone into a protective case shortly after purchase. Now it is thick, fairly durable, and looks nothing like it did when it left the factory in China (or when it’s taxable patented soul left an offshore trust in the Netherlands).

Android users can now enjoy an abuse-proof phone (WSJ on the Droid Turbo 2). How about Apple making a phone for the real world as well? Here’s what I want:

  • rubberized exterior so that a toddler can throw it in a 5′ arc and have it land undamaged on a hardwood floor
  • thick enough to accommodate a 24-hour battery
  • use the thickness to accommodate a larger lens to cover a physically larger camera sensor (maybe 1/1.7″)
  • same (awesome) Apple camera software
  • (optional but it would be amazing) waterproof down to 10′ for underwater photos

Apple could then have three models for 2016: iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 7 Tough. (Or maybe “iPhone 7 Photographer’s Edition” since the most dramatic difference would be in image quality)

Advice to a pre-solo helicopter student pilot


One of the newer instructors at East Coast Aero Club asked me to fly with his student before signing the guy off for solo.

Here’s what I told the CFI and student pilot during the debrief…

Preflight: On a restart, look for leaks, snapped belts, tight fuel caps, and, if the helicopter was flown for many hours previously, oil level. Never skimp on the walk-around from a 10′ distance all around the helicopter. That’s where you will find inspection doors open, things attached to the skids, etc.

Pre-lift: Never skimp on the top-to-bottom flow check. Very few helicopters have been wrecked because of a subtle problem missed during a preflight mechanical inspection. Many have been crashed because something wasn’t set right and the pilot tried to fix the problem when in a hover or in the air.

Air taxi: The takeoff into an air taxi is the same as a takeoff to fly to New York. Hover power, nudge forward to 45 knots while holding the ship level, then reduce power to 17″ once reaching about 70′ above the ground. Keep the airspeed to 40-50 knots and the altitude 70-100′. That’s enough energy to do a reasonable autorotation while being slow enough to see and avoid obstacles such as trees and antennae and high enough to clear most obstacles at our airport.

Flying patterns: Remember that the inputs are attitude and power. Everything else on the gauges is an output. Don’t worry about the outputs. Concentrate on holding the correct inputs. (On a climb-out where the student had selected a 30-knot attitude I asked “Is this too high a pitch or too low?” and he correctly answered “too high” but wasn’t doing much about it because he was waiting to see what the airspeed indicator would do (it was showing 40 knots with a down trend).) Try to do at least one third of your practice flying with every instrument except the manifold pressure [power gauge] covered. You need to develop a mental catalog of the correct attitudes and power settings for every flight condition. (on our flight the student pilot flew a much better pattern with everything covered)

Shutting down: Watch the RPM gauge as you smoothly and slowly reduce speed from 100%. Then once you are sure that the throttle is moving in the correct direction you can move it a little faster down to 68% for the cool-down.

Overall: Download the Garmin 400/420/430W simulator and try to get it running on your Windows machine (used to be finicky about the graphics card, etc.).  Download the Garmin 430W manual as a PDF and learn about all of the buttons, even the ones that are just for IFR flying. You want to make sure that you can quickly get out of any screen or situation with the Garmin confidently and quickly. Plenty of airplanes have been crashed by pilots monkeying with a GPS that they didn’t quite understand.

Try to fly that first solo with 50 or 100 lbs. of weight on the instructor’s side. Otherwise the change in hover attitude can be disconcerting. (Even after 1000+ R44 hours it feels strange to fly the machine solo; I almost want to look back to see if someone is hanging/tugging on the heels of the skids.)


  • a poster from the local elementary school hallway:2015-10-28 15.34.18

Writing about rape without mentioning the financial incentives


A friend of Facebook cited this New Yorker magazine article: “St. Paul’s School and a New Definition of Rape,” by a professor at Harvard Law School. My friend’s intro: “A thoughtful piece, as always by Jeannie Suk. Taking her last paragraph especially to heart.” And, indeed, the piece is mostly about feelings that one might experience “in the heart.” But criminal justice is one of the largest industries in the United States and therefore people commenting on this issue may be influenced by their wallets. Judges get paychecks, lawyers get paychecks, prison workers get paychecks (larger than Harvard graduates in some states), officials and legislators get paychecks. Different definitions of “rape” may have a significant economic effect on the revenue for this industry because either a larger or smaller percentage of human activities will become potential sources of business. And of course there are oftentimes parallel civil lawsuits when there is an accusation of rape (see Missoula), giving yet more lawyers and judges an economic stake in how many human activities can be classified as “rape.”

Of course, economics may not be the only motivation for people in this debate but why assume that it is entirely irrelevant? Why assume that people in this industry would be just as happy not to be paid as to be paid?

Related: “The Lessons of Stanford’s Sex-Assault-Case Reversal,” a New York Times story on the administrative and legal processes following a year-long relationship between two over-18-year-olds who met (but did not have sex) on the Stanford campus. In a society where we worry about how it will be possible to fund college educations for young people from middle class families, there is no discussion about the resources spent paying university officials and attorneys to argue about sex between these two young people.

Also Related: A TED talk about divorce and its impact on children that was the subject of an email discussion. The speaker is a professor at UC Santa Barbara. Here were some comments:

  • “Parents’ conflict is more important than divorce per se” — doesn’t really make sense to consider these things independently. Divorce law often gives people good financial reasons to create conflict (e.g., to cement sole custody and the tax-free river of cash that goes with it). So the two cannot be separated.”
  • The whole talk has an enormous blindspot. She is in a state where a woman can go to a bar, have sex with a tipsy patron, and earn more money, after tax, than she gets paid by UCSB. Or where a person can marry three people in succession, stay with each one for 5-10 years, and end up collecting a share of the earnings of three other adults simultaneously. But there is no discussion of financial incentives and their effect on behavior.
  • The talk is irrelevant because the present and future of family court action is between biological parents who were never married. The U.S. doesn’t have “children of divorce”; it has “children of people who were never married”.
  • To look at an activity that generates $100 billion/year in cashflow and ignore the cashflow makes the analysis incomplete.


Do you need a flight suit, gloves, and helmet to fly a fighter jet?


Flying the Feathered Edge is an inspiring film about one of the world’s greatest pilots, Bob Hoover. There are a bunch of screenings in various cities on November 11. A group of (mostly) MIT-affiliated pilots watched this at a friend’s house last month on Blu-ray. What amazed us the most is that Hoover would fly high-performance fighter jets wearing a business suit. What’s also impressive, of course, is the amount of risk that a World War II combat pilot or an early Jet Age test pilot had to become comfortable with.

Mother Jones runs a story on software


Typically the boring world of software isn’t a subject for Mother Jones, but electronic medical records somehow made the cut: “Epic Fail” talks about how six years and billions of dollars wasn’t enough to put medical data into a computerized database in a useful form. (Compare to the technological progress in the U.S. during the four years of World War II!)

[If Sheryl Sandberg and/or anyone from the New York Times had contributed, presumably the article would have pointed out that Judith Faulkner, the founder of Epic who has made almost $3 billion personally by selling American taxpayers software based on 50-year-old DBMS technology, could have been way richer if she had been a guy.]

What’s the return on our $35 billion investment as a society? “Doctors are investing the time to input data, but their offices are still having to fax and mail records like they did a decade ago.”

[Personally, I don’t think that it is fair to blame Epic that we chose to implement electronic medical records in the dumbest way possible. Nor is it Epic’s fault that there isn’t as much value in combining multiple individuals’ records in a single DBMS as there would be to combining those individuals’ banking records. I just think it is interesting that software is now important enough to be written about in a magazine that is about the “urgent issues of the day.”]

David McCullough lecture: more about the Wright Brothers book


A rich friend of mine invited me to an event for rich bastards at a 10,000 square foot house here in the Boston suburbs (complete with bowling alley in the basement). The sponsors were Northern Trust and Netjets. The speaker was David McCullough, author of one of my favorite books, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, as well as a book about the Wright Brothers (reviewed here).

McCullough put the Wright Brothers book in context. He conceived it as part of a trilogy about the bridge, the canal, and the airplane. These were, in his words, all achievements thought to be impossible and all accomplished by Americans in a uniquely optimistic period between the Civil War and World War I.

McCullough says that he purposely picks topics about which he knows little because learning the history and the technical concepts is an important motivator for him. Reflecting on this trilogy he said that he has become fascinated by the role that adversity plays in developing character and accomplishment: “A lot of history is a lesson in how to cope with failure.” McCullough decried the default emphasis on success stories and pointed out that the Wright Brothers failed countless times before finally succeeding. “You need some adversity to succeed just as birds need a headwind to soar.”

McCullough attributed the success of the Wright Brothers to their home environment, particularly their father encouraging them to read and inquire, effectively giving them an at-home liberal arts education. He also pointed out that Dayton, Ohio at the time had more patents per capita than any other city in the U.S. McCullough said that it was important to study “values learned around the kitchen table” and how that influenced achievement. He said that if could pick just one of the four Wrights to interview (Orville, Wilbur, sister Katharine, or father Milton) it would be the father.

It was an interesting talk, though I wonder how applicable McCullough’s thoughts are to present-day American society. McCullough has been married for 61 years and is touch with all five of his children and 19 grandchildren. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012″  census.gov) shows an increasing percentage of American children grow up in single-parent households (see Real World Divorce for how, in a typical state, it is twice as lucrative to have three children with three different co-parents than to have three children with one co-parent). A Wright Brothers childhood, growing up in a household with two biological parents in a neighborhood where all of the other households with children also contained two biological parents (excepting in cases where a parent had died (less upsetting to a child than a divorce)), is no longer available at any price anywhere in the U.S.

The inquisitive gender studies student and Sheryl Sandberg


Department of What We Say versus What They Hear:

I was chatting with a gender studies teacher. Students were assigned to read various documents regarding the difficulties facing women in the American workforce (certainly in China and Korea women are much more likely to reach the CEO position). One of the assigned works was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (Gender, Power, Leadership and the Workplace is an example class that requires students to read Lean In).

The teacher explained that she expected students to question the status quo, become angry about the unfairness of being paid less than men, push for political change, and help their sisters in the office. After digesting these materials, however, one young woman asked “Wouldn’t it make the most sense then for me to get married and let my husband support me?”

[Related: About 15 years ago, at the height of what seemed like the largest possible Wall Street bubble, a female Harvard undergraduate mentioned at a party that “I used to want to be an investment banker. Then I realized that I could simply marry an investment banker.”]


The Martian movie: Hollywood’s war on the old?


Getting out of the house with two children under age 2 at home is a similar challenge to escaping from another planet. Thus of course the only appropriate movie to see during our afternoon of freedom was The Martian. The filmmakers seemed to have gone to some trouble to achieve technical accuracy, yet the demographics of NASA were very different from the reality disclosed by this Popular Mechanics article:  “less than 20 percent of NASA’s employees are under the age of 40.” Virtually everyone in the movie, including folks with desk jobs in Mission Control, seemed to be young and good-looking.

Readers: Why is it commercially unbearable for an older person doing a tech job to appear on-screen, even in a minor or background/non-speaking role?

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