My Zunivers

27 July 2007

Hiking Article

For those of you who don't spend half your spare time reading Trail Journals (and the other half of your time reading books about things including amateur publishing is in some ways killing culture, ahem), you should at least read this article about local long distance hiker Stacy Gery.

Compared to her trail journal, the news article isn't much. Stacy's writing is excellent and entertaining, enough that I would ask Bill Bryson to rework A Walk in the Woods except that he'd probably still, well... I won't get into that. He's a decent enough guy.
In fact, I stared following her journal because it had substance and only later noticed that she was from around here (not because I noticed her saying so, but because I could tell from the writing).

I think the reporter who wrote the article did a good job on hiker life.
I also learned something from the article. In the video I saw that Stacy and I have the type of same model of hiking poles. And who wouldn't? They're cheap and they work.

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The Intelligence of Fish

Rufus has recognized the difference between my hands in his bowl and my hands outside his bowl. He now only freaks when I reach in. He also begs for food, as bettas do, but he has learned that he isn't getting fed unless I have taken the plastic wrap (yes, with holes) off the top of the bowl. He swims happily, maintaining a bubble nest near the lip of his bowl.

Tonight, I had him in a bowl while I changed his water. After I finished a good washing and I finished replacing the two plants, I picked him up to put him into the bowl. He jumped out of my hand, and landed on his right side on the carpet. (This is why you change the water on the floor, not over a drain.) He just kind of sat there, confused about being on his side. I picked him up, put him back in the cup to rinse off the carpet fibers, and then picked him up and put him into his bowl. He swam around, and then when he saw me looking at him he stopped using his right fin. That was odd. There was a little something stuck to it at first, probably carpet, but I saw him shake that off. For the next few minutes, though, he would only use his right flipper when I was not looking at him. I put the Evil Pen up to his bowl (he flares up when he sees it), and when I was not obviously looking he used both fins but when I looked he stopped using the right fin.

That was an hour ago. He is now furiously working on the first set of bubbles for his nest, using both fins, and taking little breaks under his napping plant every few minutes. I've gone over there once or twice. Only once has he shaken his right fin in front of me, and that was while he was facing away from me. I might need to rename name him Nemo and call him a clownfish until he gives up the act.


26 July 2007

Genealogical Nightmare

I don't know if I've discussed this before, but I have a pretty good idea of who started my paternal line in America. What I need to do is work backwards from my great-grandfather to someone I can catch on the original guy's family tree. Tonight I had the itch to go after that information again on the internet, and I'll say straight up that I didn't find it. I did find a detailed tree of a few generations of one branch of the original guy's family, which could be helpful.

One thing I did find, though, was that I was wrong about the origins of my paternal line. If my guess is correct (due to low immigration numbers and widespread settling of those few people, the probability is high), then I am not Bavarian, as suspected, but am in fact Hessian.

This is, of course, a nightmare. Now I need to explain to everyone "Yes, I'm Hessian. That simply means 'from Hesse.' You know, the area of Germany where some of the Hessians of mercenary fame came from? Those guys pretty much weren't professionals, but were mostly forced to fight. Anyway, the dude came in 1748 and died in 1780, and I don't know whose side his kids were on, okay?"

This comes up because I have, in a few conversations about genealogy, had some rather silly and ethnically snobbish types descended from people like George Washington and Patrick Henry deride my supposed family line simply for being German during the time of the Revolution. If someone so dumb heard the word Hessian in relation to my family name, all heck would break loose, my drink would probably go over my lap, and I'd probably personally be blamed for that confounded cherry tree that Washington didn't cut down.

On the bright side, I can always point out that among the Hessian ranks was one man of great fame, the guy without a head who went after Jeff Goldblum when he played a piece of construction equipment in some B-rate TV movie. No, it wasn't just the other guy in disguise trying to get the girl. That would be silly.

Oh, I also found out for sure that the man was Lutheran. Genetics might now explain why I do not get along well with churches that grew form German pietists, as well as explaining why a little liturgy and a bombastic organ makes my soul tingle.

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While I Was Working

A few of you saw me today, which is an accomplishment. I had not left the apartment since Sunday afternoon. In that time, I managed to basically finish my research, and then read a couple dozen papers to write a proposal. Too bad for me, though, that I've been doing all of this work when I could have just bought a copy of this book.

Oh, well. Life could be worse. I could work retail.

If you know me, you don't spend much time in the physics building, and you want to come to my PhD defense, please let me know. If you don't want to come, does the term "free food" change your mind? I'll give you the time and place and whatever else you need to get there.

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22 July 2007

A Little Break

I got the other half of my program working, so yay that. The runs take a little while though (although they are nothing like the Monte Carlo simulations I've done). Of course, I gave on efficiency this time. I could work the program into something that takes less time to run, but just this one time I'm going to jump on the "good enough is better than my pride in my workmanship" and suck it up.

As I was waiting, I found papers related to the proposal I need to write for this postdoc position that I might not get and might not even take depending on what comes up before then. It turns out that what I wanted to do but thought I couldn't do is actually quite possible. The bad news is, other people might already be doing it. This is one of those "Push the button and wait a month or six" kinds of projects. At the same time, however, the person I am applying with told me (I nearly quote) "Write a good proposal to get in, and then you do what you want when you get here. I don't expect your interests to be the same in two months." Wise words. Obviously, he means do what I want that is within the realm of what he can help me do, which is a lot and I'm sure there is something good in there. I like people like that.

I am still waiting for my program, so rather than writing my last chapter (in which those results will go) I took a break, and did an online quiz. Here is what I got.

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern, You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Roman Catholic


Reformed Evangelical




Modern Liberal




What's your theological worldview?
created with

So, what is wrong with this analysis? Well, half of it. In fact, the postmodern part. I have no problems with traditional church, but I recognize that some people do. Old ways of doing church can be connected to modern culture.

If dialogue means "coming to a happy medium and that is the truth" then I disagree with that as well. We do have a lot to learn from each other, as the results says, but we get to truth from the true bits we know, not from all of what we think mixed until everyone gets their share and then watered down so that everyone's ideas are included. I bring this up because there are parts of the "emerging church" that have this sort of universalist leaning.

[Nate takes a break to graph results, and starts a new calculation.]

I can't argue that evangelism is impersonal. I find evangelism materials that try to teach people about personal evangelism to be sorely lacking, though. If I don't live love, who is going to get the point? If I beat Bibles, and Bible beating makes people run, then I can't be claiming to get across the point of the Gospel. If you tell people truth and then they refuse, the response shouldn't go to the level things like "Well, just go Burn in Hell if you don't believe that the Bible says! That's what you deserve!" How about showing some care? You can't mock people who run from your message if they're running from you and you could prevent it by changing yourself. I even argue that in such cases Christians are responsible for turning people off, and I hope they get what they deserve for it.

Perhaps it is just because I travel rather heady circles, but many people I know who are shy of church, or even outright angry at church, are so because church refuses, either for real or just in their minds, to answer their questions. Short story-- I gave my pastor an earful this week on some science. He asked if we could help come up with potential names for an event on young earth creationism*. One of his brainstorming terms, in fact his first, was "global warming." I doubt that what I said to my pastor did a thing to him except make him think, "Oh, Nate doesn't like this great contorted Truth that I think. Too bad for him that he's so intellectual that he can't see the simple things." If you get the idea that some of your questions won't be answered in a church where that happens, you're absolutely right. Anyone with any scientific background beyond elementary school, even as poorly taught today, will never be happy if anything related to science or medicine comes up in my church. They tend to be happy with me, though, because I have answers rather than mindless rhetoric and cheap baloney. And it's not just science. It is politics, arts, soft sciences, lifestyle, culture.... Church too easily claims territory it shouldn't, tramples all over it, and leaves nothing except groupthink to show for itself. It is no wonder that people can't get answers, if Christians can't even live by their own principles.

On the same subject, but from the other side, I am not Roman Catholic in part because Catholics I meet often cannot answer my questions. More often, different Catholics give me conflicting answers. That sure looks good for a church that claims so much unity and ownership of Truth. Not. You know, perhaps the fact that I ask Catholics about Catholicism instead of asking my people means that I'm more into the dialogue thing than I thought. Anyway, I can understand this running away and wanting answers thing.

So, that rant over, I liked the quiz results, even if they are a bit dubious.

And with that, I bid you goodnight, and I go to the results of my second calculation of the evening.

*(Don't ask; I plan to harp on this extensively in a month or two.)

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21 July 2007

Chip This

This is one good reason why all the people who say "I don't do anything wrong, so I don't care who knows what I am doing" need a swift kick in the head.

...Mexico's attorney general, Rafael Macedo, made an announcement that thrilled chip proponents and chilled privacy advocates: He and 18 members of his staff had been microchipped as a way to limit access to a sensitive records room, whose door unlocked when a "portal reader" scanned the chips.

But did this make Mexican security airtight?

Hardly, says Jonathan Westhues, an independent security researcher in Cambridge, Mass. He concocted an "emulator," a hand-held device that cloned the implantable microchip electronically. With a team of computer-security experts, he demonstrated - on television - how easy it was to snag data off a chip.

Explains Adam Stubblefield, a Johns Hopkins researcher who joined the team: "You pass within a foot of a chipped person, copy the chip's code, then with a push of the button, replay the same ID number to any reader. You essentially assume the person's identity."

I personally have no interest in black boxed vehicles, EasyPass, chipped cards, jobs where who I am matters less than what number comes off some piece of something or other I carry or have stuck in me, and on and on.

Sadly, the only people who have really make a big stink about this so far are conspiracy nuts, and nobody listens to them. Normal people could But what would you expect out of people dumb enough to be happy to live life under watch because they aren't doing anything wrong?

Americans can't be bothered to think about problems until they happen, and sometimes not even then.

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Bad Hair Day

This was me on Thursday, the first day for a long, long time that I worked well neigh all day and I could go to bed saying "I have not looked out a window since I woke up."

Some of you might be wondering why I was wearing a fleece in summer. The answer is that I had the fleece at camp, and it still smells like insect repellent. I couldn't think of a better way to keep the bugs away from my codes. Ha-ha. Actually, I had it on because I was freezing cold when I woke up, and I needed a shower so I didn't want to wear anything clean. Normal people would have taken a warm shower, but I had some ideas that I had to get down right away. Right away ended up being about ten hours.

Some of you might be wondering why I have that look on my face. It's my best imitation of the looks that Kermit and Fozzie put on when the newspaper editor was talking to them about their fraternity in the first scenes of The Great Muppet Caper, as well as in other places. I figured if my head looked like a muppet then I might as well act like one.

Some of you might be wondering if I need a haircut. You're probably right.

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Checkers "Solved"

Well, so much for checkers. I will never play again. Heck, I haven't played for ten or fifteen years. And it just won't be fun without my grandmother.

The solution, by the way, is of the brute-force variety. I have no problems with that, but I live with a mathematician who might.



How is Harry Potter?

20 July 2007

New This Week

In no particular order....

The program works! But along with getting it tuned up for results, I realized that it was totally unneeded. What was it that Charlie Brown used to scream? This is the first time I've programmed something and then after the fact figured out that I don't need it. On the bright side, it might be useful later. Not. My adviser's response was along the lines of "Well, it will still be interesting to see the other lines." Um, yeah, because getting those requires the program for all the same reasons as the ones I did. Grump.

I have my thesis formatted! Joy abounds. Now I need to finish writing. My defense should be on August 7. Between now and then, I need to finish finding the new results, write up the new results, possibly write another chapter on theory (I want to very badly for completeness), and learn all about water so that I can write a proposal for a postdoc job (due August 1). I don't know enough about that part of physical chemistry to even write a proposal.

Gee, is my schedule empty now or what?

Chalk up on the list of things I've never done before the item "Carry a flag draped casket." Earlier this week I attended a small funeral for my friend's grandfather, and unlike most funerals my arms were put to good use. I am always happy to do that sort of thing.

My fish, who I think I will name Rufus because it was one of the only suggestions I got from anyone, builds more bubbles when his water is clean. Changing water is a quick process, so I am happy to do it. I can't do it every day, though. I do not have a net, and catching the fish seems to be the most time consuming part of the process. I had to get Rufus out of his bowl with my hands last night. That was exciting. He is now scared silly of my hands getting anywhere near his bowl.

I am really tired of spending hours a day in this chair. It sucks, and my butt hurts. You heard it here first.

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18 July 2007

Little Things That Drive Me Crazy

Every once in a while I get my garters in a knot about how absolutely dumb the media are in this country. Tonight, after spending the day working on refining some clunkier portions of my dissertation and then playing with LaTeX for a while for fun, I came across this gem.

Democrats steer all-night Iraq debate

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
43 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - Democrats steered the Senate through an attention-grabbing, all-night session Tuesday to dramatize opposition to the Iraq war but conceded they were unlikely to gain the votes needed to advance troop withdrawal legislation blocked by Republicans.

Let me get this straight.... I visited this page at 3:11AM on my computer's clock, which means that this news was posted around 2:30AM EDT, but I am supposed to believe that by 2:30, the Senate Democrats had managed by that time to run an all-night session? On Tuesday? I can't get anything else out of the wording of the opening sentence. There is a past tense verb, steered, and object, Senate, and an adverb phrase elaborating where the Senate was steered, an all-night session that happened on Tuesday.

The Senate Democrats are either now done doing what is purported to have happened all-night or they are now not done with the same. If they are done now, with all-night still going, then they did not go all night and someone somewhere made a factual error. If they are not done now, with all-night still going, then the reporter has reported something that is only anticipated rather than fact. I wont' even start on Tuesday.

Of course, the true substance of the article is quite good as political articles come. I'm just being an overly-picky old coot. Besides, there is a vote scheduled for 5:00AM, and no good way to stop that or anything else from now to then, so the anticipation is warranted. Sometimes I just wish I was back in my senior year of college when I took logic after lunch three days a week. This is the sort of thing we would do in class. Good memories, those days. Good memories.

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15 July 2007

Fish, Food, and (not) Fun

While my wife was gone, I managed to sneak a fish into our lives. I figured that as soon as she saw the little guy, she would fall in love with the cute little face and the flippy little fins. I was wrong, but she seems at least tolerant of his presence. And he knows who feeds him, so he couldn't care less about her either. He is a run-of-the-mill purple betta, blue on the edges, slightly ragged looking but apparently healthy, a wee bit perky, and tonight he is more than a little bit cranky about me tricking him out of his bowl so that I could change the water. One can't be all things to all fish so that one might be saved, thus my time as villian had to come eventually.

Before anyone goes into a "Nate being nurturing before he has a baby" fit, I must say that is not why I got him. I got him for two reasons. One, I was lonely when my wife was out of town. Leonard and I can only interact so much. Two, I like little critters of any kind and have been for some time considering a such a fish. If I could, I would have gotten a guinea pig instead of a fish.

As it happened, this little guy was unlike any of his fellows for sale. While the others sat sulking in their tiny cup prisons, he observed me with intent interest as I walked around looking at the day's options. Rather than leave him to be neglected in a few ounces of water and rotting excess fish flakes on some child's bookshelf or any of the many fish horrors, I decided it was time to switch form considering the fish to actually having one. And so I brought him home to have a happy life. He does seem quite happy, too, which makes me happy even if the happiness is cut short because I screw something up. He was quite pleased when I put him in his new home, and even more pleased when I added a second plant the next day, making his bowl go from Big and Clean to Interesting and Fun with Options and Good Hiding Places. Such is the life of a fish.

Anyway, this fish needs a name. Suggestions are welcome, but if you say "Gill" and then make a crack about Lake Winnipesaukee, Leo Marvin, or sailing, I will brain you with something hard when I next see you.

In other news, instead of being with friends and getting work done for the past two days, I got to sit around crampy and gassy while trying to sleep and, when sleep drew not neigh, reading to keep myself from going crazy. Yes, I managed to spend about 36 hours Friday into today feeling quite ill. Something went wrong in my GI tract, upper and lower, and forced an involuntary purge of all things great and small. The upper end decided to do this in three stages about fifty minutes apart, starting around 6:00AM just to mix it up. The lower end was, you guessed it, irregular. This too shall pass, I thought as I went to the bathroom about the tenth time.

I ate very little that was uncooked on the preceding day, but I know that some things can survive cooking, that I could have gotten it from something I ate days ago, that I could have gotten it from another person, that I could have gotten it from the fish, and on and on. So rather than play the blame game, I'll stick to my normal refuse to eat anything that tasted like my vomit game. That means no cheap frozen pizza or olives stuffed with jalapeƱos for at least a week or two. Actually, the olives were one of the uncooked things, so I think I'll just toss those.

I will, however, be willing to eat my recovery foods, including snacking on Cheese Nips and drinking orange Gatorade. I did that before my lower GI was ready for it. You can guess the color of foamy liquid that was produced, but you probably couldn't have guessed a smell. For the record, it was cheese mixed with manure enriched and extra ammonia. First time in my life I had an asthma attack from a smell that came out of my own body. And that is the first asthma attack I've had for for a long time. So on the bright side, instead of being with friends and getting work done, I got to sit around crampy and gassy with a moment of amusement wherein my lungs seized from contacting aerosolized cheese nips mixed with intestinally produced window cleaner.

Come to think of it, that wasn't a good trade.

In the rest life, my research program is still broken. I got a poorly structured and nearly uncommented set of Matlab scripts from someone else who had done this before. My equations and test parameters are identical, and even though my final algorithms are different (I don't have fsolve at my fingertips because I'm not using Matlab) my problem is definitely somewhere before there in the equations and parameters. So what the freak is wrong? I don't know.

With no explanation of why this program won't work, and no new job prospects, I have neither hope nor motivation to finish what I'm doing. Grump.

At least I have a wife and a fish.

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10 July 2007

Volumes of Sound

I read about this subject a long while ago, so I don't really know why it is news. It should be in the olds, even if they did stop making those in 2004. (Ha-ha.)

I can tell you, though, that it is true. Recording quality in a lot of music does suck more these days. The nominal gain is higher and the levels across all channels are compressed to all heck.

I have music mastered 20 years ago on analog equipment that sounds a lot better than my Polyphonic Spree CD made all digitally a couple years ago. The music from 20 years ago requires a volume boost to hear it well, but what you hear is clean. This problem is in the final mastering, not the medium. Buying e-music doesn't solve the problem unless the songs were mastered specifically for online sale and without the excess compression and gain. The poor mastering more than negates the benefits of the digital sound.

Of course, I don't really know whether or not to call it a problem, seeing as how it is done on purpose.

Wannabe audiophile readers will be interested to know that my music from nearly 20 years ago has about the same nominal gain as much of my classical music, old and new. Classical music production hasn't bought the loud sells concept because with classical music loud doesn't sell. Instead, good sounds sells.

I wish everyone cared about good recording.

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09 July 2007

My browser seems incompatible with the blog posting thingy, so I am not able to title my posts. Hmmmm....

Anyway, this post was to be titled "Lactation Rules."

I was glad to hear about this news today.

A measure to protect women from being charged with violating state or local laws when breast-feeding in public places was signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, his office said today.

Local governments may not prohibit public breast-feeding, whether or not the mother's breast is concealed, and the act cannot be considered indecent exposure, obscene or sexual conduct, or a nuisance.

I've never met anyone who has had a problem getting in trouble for breastfeeding. As I have expressed before that I think the cultural taboos surrounding breast feeding outside dark, locked-up places are silly, and many similar feeling young mothers who I know personally have been happy to hear me, a total boob, say that. Naysayers rant all you want. You probably do not have any reasonable arguments as to what's wrong with little nursing in your midst, and I hope that you can grow up enough to deal with your personal willies.

Ladies of Pennsylvania, do go on feeding your kids en plein air. It's not just me telling you to do it. The commonwealth supports you, too.

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06 July 2007

Cool Present

Today I came in to school and I was begifted. Steve presented me with a t-shirt that has a very cool message, one that I will wear with pride. Thank you, Steve, for the early graduation present :)

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03 July 2007

Life Recently

The conference finished up well. It was too bad that we had decided to leave after the last session, instead of spending the last night. The last few lectures were worthy of some conversations with the people who gave them. Also, on Thursday managed to meet some people my own age, theorists and experimenters, who happened to be from Pennsylvania. One grew up less than five miles from where I grew up. I got to chide him about "You know you're from Berks County when you say you're from Reading but you really just live in Berks County and have only been to Reading for baseball games, to get somewhere else, or because you got lost." We who are from Reading don't find that old joke funny.

My sister came to visit, and we had some fun. We went to the farmer's market and ended up with some fancy chicken sausages to make for supper. She went shopping with my wife for baby things. I took her for a walk of north side of Bethlehem. We got to talk about music, cars, family, and all that other stuff we always talk about. I didn't get to tell her that she should beat up the people who screwed up her file that was sent to the places she applied for jobs. She's got the worst string of such incidents of anyone I've met. I know a lot of people who deserve that sort of thing, and she is not one of them. She went home this afternoon, which is always sad.

At church, thanks to the good thinking of one of friends, I managed to get a spot doing set-up for the picnic. I also got a spot in the grill pit, where we spent an hour trying not to burn too much of the food. I admit, most of the burgers were overdone. We had a former Red Robin manager in our midst, but that didn't do anything like keep the grill I was tending from starting a grease fire on the grass or make me magically see when teh red was gone from the meat.

After lunch, when everyone sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" I did in fact get out some of "God Save the Queen," quietly, but enough to make a couple people laugh anyway. I then explained to some of the youth group and friends, gathered around the A-Treat keg, that the root beer keg was just the first step on a path of debauchery and that keg tapping was a life skill. They of course looked at me like I was crazy, so I had to explain that knowing how to work with beer and drinking it are really two different things. They looked at me like I was crazier. I'm pretty sure they think I'm an alcoholic frat boy now. Rather than explain to them how I was once at this party at a conference and had to save a friend from a couple of tipsy vultures by implying that I was her boyfriend, completely sober the whole time because I wasn't drinking, I filled their cups and told them how much I appreciated kids who behaved as wlel as they do.

Today I went in to see my adviser, who of course did nothing but tell me what I already knew about my upcoming deadlines, my lack of job, and my lack of knowing the future. I'd thank him for his effort if it wasn't all so blazingly obvious to me before I talked to him.

I have almost finished the introduction to my dissertation. One table remains, and then I'm satisfied. I'm sure there will be someone somewhere who will suggest changes of some kind to it, though, so I'll be seeing it again. Also, I scoff at those who say that it takes three months after your research in order to write your thesis, by the way. I will prove that wrong by writing a lot of it before I finish. I think that three month thing is an urban legend, anyway.

My car blew a fuse. Ahem. I thought that was my job. Of course, maybe I can work out a deal with Sylvia-- she blows the fuses and I blow the gaskets. Not that I really like blowing anything, mind you. Her fuses are just cheaper to fix then her gaskets. You can't beat a 40 cent fix. So, I made a Pep Boys parking lot repair (secodn trip to school in a row!), and I now have a few spare 30 amp fuses (standard) sitting around if anyone needs one. Funny thing, the old one was quite burned in a literal sense, but that could be expected with a 20 amp fuse in a 30 amp slot, I guess. And no, I didn't do that. This is the first fuse we've replaced since we bought her five years ago.

Some unknown time tomorrow I will be heading to Maryland. Unless we end up going on Wednesday. I should return Thursday.

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