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Week of 6 August 2007

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Monday, 6 August 2007
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09:02 - Barbara returned last night to a chorus of barking and tail-wagging. And that was just me. The dogs were happy to see her, too.

Her new Pentax K100D body performed well, once she got a set of working AA cells installed. I'd charged eight Powerex 2500 mAh AA cells for her (two sets), but there was apparently at least one defective cell in each set. She probably could have swapped cells around until she found a working set of four, but it was easier just to install a set of four AA alkalines, so that's what she did.

I wondered how long a set of alkalines would last. Barbara shot about 100 images with the alkalines, including perhaps 25 with flash, and the battery indicator in the camera still shows a full charge. I'm going to shoot with this set until it dies, but it's nice to know that regular AA alkalines are usable in an emergency. I remember using some early digital cameras that ate a set of alkalines after literally only a dozen shots. Even 100 images on a set is reasonable, and it looks like I'll get much more than that.

There are lots of new blog entries posted on the Blue Planet Run site, including one by Mary. The common thread that runs through nearly all of them is happiness at returning to the USA.

In one of his blog entries, Heiko Warner talks about the realities of the run versus the official BPR stroll-in-the-park update stories.

As you can see, things are not always going as smooth as you may think while reading the daily updates and look at some of the beautiful – often staged – photographs taken somewhere along the route – some in locations we don’t even pass through while running. I am not sure why much of the actual run is focused on only a few of us and is being portrayed as some kind of a beach vacation where people are worried about massages and getting a manicure. The running schedule is rather harsh at times, and real daily life on the road is shown rarely.

This from a guy who'd just been knocked down and nearly run over by the team van, and who's a member of team of four runners all of whom were too sick or injured to run. But they ran anyway. And all of the teams cover for each other, willingly, taking on shifts for other teams who are in even worse shape than they are or lending a team member to a troubled team, knowing that that team would do the same for them.

Until recently, BPR has trivialized those efforts, making it seem that the run has been problem-free. Fortunately, someone at BPR has apparently come to his senses, and in the last week or so the updates have included more realistic depictions of the challenges the runners face. I'm not sure what BPR thought they were accomplishing by making this run look easy, when it's anything but.

For the next couple of months, I'll be doing serious heads-down writing on the home chem lab book. I'll continue to post updates here, perhaps even daily, but they'll mostly be short.

I've written a lot of books, but somehow it always comes as a surprise how much work is actually required to write a book. I guess at the back of my mind I must be thinking that this should get easier with practice. It doesn't, or at least it doesn't for me.

I also need to start talking to the folks at O'Reilly about my next book. As another author once said to me, when we wake up every morning, we're unemployed. I get very uncomfortable if I don't have at least one book and ideally more than one under contract well before I finish the book I'm currently working on.

09:18 - Oops.

From: Barbara Fritchman Thompson
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 08:42:58
  Re: Saturday post

"He cleaned it out, so presumably the Trooper will start normally when Barbara gets back."
Actually, he took off the cable, I scraped the connector and posts with my pocket knife myself. Small point, but being a woman, I thought you should correct that point so as not to appear as the helpless female.


Tuesday, 7 August 2007
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08:29 - Still working on the home chem lab book.

The Blue Planet Run website has a bunch of new blog entries posted, including one by Mary Chervenak. You can see them here. There's also a new video report on Mongolia, in which Mary features.

The run reaches the California-Nevada border late this afternoon their time. They spend a day running across Nevada and then enter Utah.

I hope it isn't as hot and humid there as it is here. Our high temperature was 98F (37C) yesterday, and the highs this week are forecast to be in the mid- to high 90s, with the wind chill reaching 105F. The dogs and I won't be spending much time outdoors.


Wednesday, 8 August 2007
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08:28 - Yesterday afternoon about 5:00, the dogs started barking like crazy. It was too early for Barbara to be home, and this was their excited bark as opposed to their intruder warning bark. I finally got up and looked out the window. Jasmine and Missy were out in the front yard. (Missy is Duncan's and Malcolm's girlfriend, a pretty little Yorkshire Terrier.)

Jas was on both crutches, poor kid. When you're 14, it must really suck to be on crutches for your entire summer vacation. She starts back to school in a couple of weeks, her first year in high school. I asked Jas if she was looking forward to high school and she said she wasn't. The classes don't worry her, but the change in schools does. More particularly, I suspect, it's the change in teachers and classmates that worries her. She'll be making a big change from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Everyone is telling her that high school will be more challenging, which I'm sure is intimidating.

Jasmine gets pretty much straight A's. She works her butt off, and I suspect she thinks that's why she gets straight A's. In fact, I think she could probably have slacked off quite a bit and still gotten straight A's. But Jas is the sort of kid who comes home with a 98 or 99 on a test and is really upset with herself for not getting 100.

A month or so ago, I suggested to Kim that she have Jasmine's IQ tested to find out which fields Jas would be best-suited for. Right now, Jas wants to be a physician. I suspect Jas is bright enough to be a good physician, but trying to judge an extremely deferential 14 year old girl makes it tough to know for sure. Like a lot of girls, Jasmine tends to undervalue her own abilities, particularly in stuff like the hard sciences and math. She is taking some honors courses this coming year, but she shies away from the idea of taking AP courses later on, although I suspect she'd do well at them. Kim is concerned about Jasmine's lack of confidence, and once Jasmine gets into the swing of high school we'll be doing what we can to boost her confidence.

The Blue Planet Run entered Nevada yesterday afternoon. At 0730 my time (EDT), I think they were about here, at the intersection of South Moapa Valley Road and Waterfowl Road. At about 1800 my time, they'll depart Nevada and cut through a small part of Arizona on their way to Utah.

Mary Chervenak is scheduled for a day off once they reach Utah. I hope she gets it. She started on Team Silver (which was actually named Team Gray originally) and later moved to Team Green. BPR had purchased airline tickets ahead of time for the flight from Japan to San Francisco, and those tickets were for particular individuals. That meant they ended up re-forming the original teams for the flight over, and they've stuck with those original teams until now. At some point, I expect them to rejigger the teams, which means Mary could end up losing her day off.

As I said to Mary and Jo Rogan the other day, I think BPR made a major blunder by dividing the runners into so many small teams. If it had been me, I'd have created two teams, Blue and Gold or whatever, and assigned 12 runners to each of those teams. I'd have assigned one of those teams to run from midnight to noon every day and the other from noon to midnight. That way, they'd each have run times during the day and during the cooler evening/night hours. (I suppose they could have made the break points at 0100 or 0200 to divide the night hours more evenly.)

Each team would have an 80 mile daily run, which means only eight of the 12 runners would need to run on any given day. If everyone remained healthy, each runner would have two days on followed by one day off, which is a more reasonable schedule for a run that lasts 95 days. When they did have injuries or illnesses, they'd have enough in reserve to deal with them without putting too much burden on the healthy runners. With the small teams, they've committed the fundamental tactical error of creating a piecrust defense--thinly scattered resources and no reserve. And, predictably, they've seen the inevitable results of that. Defeat in detail.

Larger teams would have several other advantages. Logistically, it'd be much easier to deal with the problems they've encountered, everything from illnesses and injuries among the runners and support staff to mechanical breakdowns. And it would also help them eliminate the sleep disruption problems they've had, with runners constantly having to run different shifts around the clock. Basically, all 21 of the runners have been constantly jet-lagged for the last two months because they've not been able to sleep on a regular schedule.

Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Yesterday 21:19:30
  Re: vegas

Hi all,

I just had breakfast with Mary at 2pm at the Excalibur in Vegas. A few months ago, I'd have bet good money I'd never write that sentence. What I've learned in Vegas is: don't bet good money. I'm now in St. George, Utah, where her team will end the evening. They ran last night through the Mojave. Unfortunately, the team van went off road and buried itself up to the axle in sand. At the same time, they'd been assigned a route that had been tagged "day only" by the route planners. So of the 40 planned miles they would only do 16 or so. Now, I don't know about you, but for me at this point that would be a blessing but they were all irritated they didn't get a full run in. Mary had about five miles through fairly deep sand and just when she had got back to the road they pulled her because of "traffic". She says she was 200m from the exchange point and there was just a smattering of cars (it was 0330 in the Mojave). Of course, she compared the traffic there with the M-7 where they wouldn't pull her and..you can imagine the comparison.

If you've read some of the other blogs and the (new again) website, you have probably noticed a change in tone. Team Yellow (Heiko, Paul, Laurel and Rudy) had a really rough time starting in China and haven't pulled punches in their discussion of the run. One of the daily updaters wrote some more honest updates and got pulled. I'm not sure why the sudden change in tone. I suspect that lines of communication broke down in Siberia not just between runner and family but between runner and Run. Now that they're back up, I think there is confusion as to what, if anything, should be done. I think, talking to a few of the runners - at least this is Mary's take - is that while the run has been very difficult and not always accurately portrayed in the BPR updates and website, that the positive outweighs the negative and that the positive has been extraordinary. There is a strong bond between teammates. I believe their irritation isn't at having suffered but at having their suffering portrayed as partying or ignored altogether by the organizers. Together, they are a very strong and impressive group.

I'm off to find a dark spot for my scope (it's clear!) and dinner, not necessarily in that order. More tomorrow for a full accounting of Team Silver's latest shift. They'll move to the 0300-0900 shift starting on August 9, somewhere in southern Utah.

When I read the part about "One of the daily updaters wrote some more honest updates and got pulled" I had this vision of a giant hook reaching out and snatching one of the runners, but that turns out not to be the case.

Paul called us last night to gloat. He had his 15" Obsession telescope set up at a very dark site south of St. George, Utah, and wanted to let us poor haze-bound folks know about his good fortune. When I asked him if he'd meant that one of the runners got pulled for writing the truth, Paul said it wasn't a runner but one of the BPR staff who'd been writing the daily updates.

Barbara and I are looking forward to seeing Mary again, which should happen in a month or so. We'll go out for Mexican food, or have pizza on our deck, or something. Anything but Chinese food, which Mary says she'll never eat again. I told Mary that I'm a bit concerned about third-world cooties. Not to worry, though. I have N100 respirator masks for Barbara and me, and I'll wand Mary down with my CDV-715 radiation survey meter before we sit down to eat.

10:17 - I enjoy watching Cali Lewis on GeekBrief TV, but she is one scary driver.

13:00 - At noon, our weather station read 97.6F (41C). I took a digital lab thermometer outside to verify that, and it read 97.4F. Our forecast high today is 102F. The dogs and I are staying in other than brief visits to the shady part of the front yard.


Thursday, 9 August 2007
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08:20 - Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Yesterday 20:17:26
  Re: Are we in Siberia?

Where to begin? My day began at 7am with a knock on the door. I sprang out of bed, happy to greet the bright new day and my wife in from her triumphant final leg of the graveyard shift...wait. Wife not looking so triumphant. Day looking a bit too bright. Two bags go wizzing past my head. Wheels turn. There should be a third bag. Mary is talking, but having been awake about a minute and a half I'm not really listening. It turns out that somewhere between mile 43 of Nevada 167 in Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the hotel in St. George, UT (a 2 hour and 14 minute drive - I timed it (see below)) Mary's backpack went missing. Debate raged (we'll leave details out, especially since they seem sort of fuzzy, save Mary knows it was in the van at mile 43). The driver refused to go back to look for it. A non-exhaustive list of the contents of the bag: passport, cash, credit card, driver's license, contact lenses, prescription sunglasses, biking sunglasses, computer, camera, DVDs, running shoes with prescription orthotics (tied to bag). As I said, wife not looking triumphant. Wife, in fact, looking just about as mad as husband has seen her. We head, at a relatively high rate of speed, faster each time I look to my right, back to the last known position of the bag and search for a few hours. No luck. We return to the hotel, hastily check out and determine a shopping bag of less valuable items is also missing. We eat lunch and buy a wallet and new (cheap) backpack. I continually ask questions, the answer to which is: "It was in the backpack" I try to stop but can't. "Where is the next hotel?" "It's in the backpack." "When do you run next?" "It's in the backpack." "What was the name of that guy we met the other night?" "It's in the backpack." You get the idea. We begin the drive to Escalante (about three hours). Mary dozes, having not slept all night. About 2pm, I cut off a silver van coming from the north as I merge onto Utah 12, heading into Bryce Canyon. Silver van phones us - that shouldn't happen. It is Alyson, our friend and now masseuse to Blue Planet Run (another essay in itself). Alyson had had her reservation changed from St. George (a 2 hour drive from Vegas) to Escalante (a 5 hour drive) without anyone telling her. We pulled over and she told us that Mary's bag has been found and she is to call Runner Services. Cell phone coverage is spotty in central Utah the way a nice clean floor upon which one crumb has fallen is spotty. We locate the crumb and call Runner Services. Apparently the bag was recovered and is in a BPR van, somewhere, on its way to Escalante. Whoo. We do a little happy dance among red rocks and then drive on to Escalante. I have wireless internet coverage but no cell coverage. For some reason, I always marvel at that.

The lady at the hotel desk seemed confused by us: Alyson, Mary and I. Mary and I claim to be married but want two rooms under reservations with two names. I'm staying two nights, she three. Mary and Alyson claim to be part of the Blue Planet Run, I do not. If I hadn't already written a long, nonsensical paragraph I'd go through the whole Abbott and Costello routine which ensued.

In other news, the running goes well. The Run is through the Mojave and Mary had a nice run along Lake Mead, near the Valley of Fire State Park, which I highly recommend next time you're in Vegas. They're upfront with you: put your money in the bin, they say.

The skies were clear and the stars beautiful. All the night runners have commented. Mary's next run in on the 0300-0900 shift on August 10.

Sorry for the rambling email, but it has been a day. Food and sleep, hopefully in that order.

Uh-oh. I wonder if that driver realizes how close he came to suffering the Fist of Death.

And I wonder if Paul realizes how close he came to, well something. That hotel clerk probably thought something kinky was going on, and that's no joke in Utah. I think they shoot you. Or perhaps force you to marry both women.

I'm getting really short of DVD+R discs. I'm down to about 50, so it's time to re-order.

I've been using and recommending Verbatim MCC003 DVD+R discs for years, but recently they've reportedly changed both their packaging and their dye formulation. I've read several reports by knowledgeable people about problems with the new Verbatim DVD+R discs. I haven't seen any of them, so I can't really comment, but I'm concerned enough that I'm going to start using Taiyo-Yuden discs for anything that matters, at least until I have more information about the new Verbatim DVD+R discs.

I say "new", but apparently Verbatim has been shipping these for quite a while. That's one drawback of my habit of ordering fairly large quantities at once. When a company reformulates, I may not find out about it for some time, and when I place another order I may unexpectedly end up with a large number of discs that use a different formulation than what I'm used to using.

Unfortunately, NewEgg doesn't carry Taiyo-Yuden DVD+R discs. Also unfortunately, TY discs are frequently counterfeited, so I'm immediately suspicious of any vendor who sells supposed TY discs at a bargain price. Rima.com seems to be a reliable source. I'm going to order five 100-disc spindles of 16X TY DVD+R discs later today, which will cost $40.50 per spindle delivered.


Friday, 10 August 2007
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08:20 - I don't know what our high temperature was yesterday, but when I took the dogs for a brief out at 1700, our weather station was indicating 101.8F (43.6C). That's a good temperature for a hot tub. Come to think of it, the humidity in a hot tub wouldn't be all that much higher, either.

Today is supposed to be more of the same. At least there's supposed to be a cold snap over the weekend. Tomorrow's high is forecast to be only 91F.

Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Yesterday 14:57:36
  Re: Re: Are we in Siberia?

The bag is sitting beside me, intact.  It was found on the road by a non-BPR person who called the number and turned it in, anonymously. There are some awfully good folks out there.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: Mary Chervenak, Barbara Thompson
Date: Yesterday 16:13:28
  Re: Re: Are we in Siberia?

On Thursday 09 August 2007 14:57, you wrote:

> The bag is sitting beside me, intact.  It was found on the road by a
> non-BPR person who called the number and turned it in, anonymously.
> There are some awfully good folks out there.  -Paul

That doesn't really surprise me. I think most people are basically decent and act according to the Golden Rule.

Last night, I was telling Barbara about my encounter with the mailman yesterday afternoon. I heard the mail arrive and went out on the front porch to get it, by which time he was just walking back to his truck after delivering the neighbor's mail. It was close to 100F, so I shouted to ask him if he'd like a glass of icewater or iced tea or something. He shouted back that he greatly appreciated the offer, but he already had plenty of icewater. People all along his route had been bringing cold drinks out to him.

Which reminded me of the time I was working during college summer vacation for the Pennsylvania highway department. We were out running a paver one very hot August day. I was one of the flagmen, which is the most miserable job you can imagine, particularly when you're running a paver. You have to literally run from place to place, because the paver just keeps rolling, with a continuing series of dump trucks delivering hotmix to it. We sometimes paved as much as 15 to 20 miles over a 12-hour day (so, yes, Mary, I actually have run 15 or 20 miles in one day in this kind of heat; I'd forgotten about that.)

Anyway, it was late afternoon, and about 100F in the shade, but we were in the sun. I'd stopped a line of traffic and stood waiting until the flagman on the other end radioed me to tell me he'd stopped traffic his way. I waited until the last of his line came through and then waved my line to go ahead. Two or three cars went past me, and then one pulled up and stopped next to me. There were two college-age girls in it, with a McDonalds bag between them. The girl in the passenger seat rolled down her window, handed me her Coke, and said, "Here. You need this more than I do." I hope she has a long and happy life.

From: Jack Jacobson
  To: Robert Thompson
Date: Today 13:37:53
  Re: Backup Strategies
Hi Robert,

I've read your backup strategies, if I'm not mistaken I think you use DVDs as a primary source, although in the past you used tape. I personally use USB drives, they seem much simpler (require less time) for my forgetful mind, and I keep them in different locations for redundancy.

My question is, do you think the data integrity of the DVDs is adequate? I ask because of info on this site.

As always, I'm interested in your comments.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Jack Jacobson
Date: Yesterday 13:56:33
  Re: Backup Strategies

Hi, Jack

He's confused about almost everything. I should probably write up an essay on backing up, but right now I just don't have time. There are a lot of issues, but basically what I'm doing now is:

1. Making daily backups of my entire working directory (including my and Barbara's Linux home directories) in five locations:

a. The primary hard disk (sda) of my Linux box.

b. Two additional hard drives (sdb and sdc), which are internal drives in my Linux box.

c. Two additional hard drives (sdd and sde), which are external USB 2.0 drives connected to my Linux box. One and usually both of those goes with me when I leave the house for anything longer than walking the dogs.

2. Making weekly (Sunday) backups of my working directories to DVD+R discs. (I used to make daily DVD+R backups, but that added little redundancy and generated a lot of discs.) Those go into a 48-disc wallet that contains the last six months or so of Sunday discs, along with full sets of my archive and holding (short-term archive) directories. Again, that wallet goes with me when I leave the house.

3. Each time my holding directory fills up, I move the contents to my archive directory and burn a new set of archive discs. The old set of archive discs and the holding disc (which makes the old archive set current) get moved off site.

If you use good DVD+R discs in a good drive, and if you store those discs properly, there shouldn't be any problem. I've gone back and done detailed surface scans on DVD+R discs that were burned years before, and I found no degradation. Reports of very premature disc failures are, I think, the result of people who don't know what they're doing, use cheap blanks, store them improperly, and so on. A top-notch DVD+R disc (like Taiyo-Yuden) should last for many years if it is burned and stored properly. I think the gold-based discs are simply overkill, and I've seen no convincing evidence that they are any more archivally stable than first-rate standard discs like the Taiyo-Yudens.


Saturday, 11 August 2007
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08:40 - This is huge. The judge in the SCO/Novell and SCO/IBM cases just ruled that Novell owns the copyrights to Unix, which guts SCO's cases against both Novell and IBM. It's all over but the shouting.

Brian Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly, sent me galley PDFs yesterday of the two initial narrative chapters (Introduction to DSO Observing and Observing Equipment) and thirteen more constellation chapters. The layout of the narrative chapters needs some work, but the constellation chapters just need careful proofing. I made it through eight of the constellation chapters yesterday, and will finish the remaining five today. That'll leave 25 constellation chapters remaining to be proofed. I'm sure I'll be getting them shortly.

Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Yesterday 23:15:55
  Re: Are we in Siberia?  No, Mongolia.

Someone call John Muir or Ed Abbey. There is still wildness in America. The Blue Planet Run fell silent for much of the day today as they passed through Bryce Canyon National Park, through Escalante, Utah, where they threw an impromptu party and into the Escalante Grand Staircase National Recreation Area. Having driven through this area a few years ago, I knew what was coming, but the team appears to have been taken by surprise. Cell phones do not operate. While contact can be made when teams check into hotels, phone contact was essentially zero today. A bad day for it, as the pilot van carrying the medical team blew a radiator. Team Silver ran downhill for 40 miles and then caught the Hall's Crossing ferry across Lake Powell and spent the day, indeed, they are still in, Blanding, Utah. I discovered I can send a text message to an email address and Mary discovered she can respond by email to a cell phone. A new era in marital communication thus dawns.

I had a fantastic hike in Capitol Reef National Park today and a fantastic night out with the telescope in Escalante NRA last night. I managed to find a spot at which I could not see an artificial light or any light dome associated with artificial lights. As I said, southern Utah is still quite wild.

Team Silver will run toward Moab from 0300-0900 August 11 and then drive to Fruita, CO. Word on the street is that Mary will be transferred to Team Orange (Sean, Brynn, Sunila) over the weekend but that is unofficial. The last word on the lost bag is that it was found by a fisherman on his way to Lake Mead. It turns out it was the pair of shoes tied to the bag that stopped him; he thought it was a body. He turned it in anonymously and, as Mary said, she'd have gladly given him all the cash in the bag as a reward.  

The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend (Sunday AM is best) so if you're lucky enough to be somewhere not hazy (sorry, everyone in Winston-Salem), have a look. Have a good night. -Paul

And bad news from Mary. In her latest blog entry, Mary says, "I exfoliated." So I sent her this:

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Mary Chervenak
  CC: Paul Jones, Barbara Thompson
Date: Yesterday 15:12:41
  Re: Exfoliation

> I exfoliated.

I wasn't entirely sure what that word meant, so I looked it up in my scientific dictionary. Do you mean that you:

1. Lost your leaves (or perhaps bark)
2. Developed erosion channels due to weathering
3. Were reduced to a pile of small pebbles and aggregate

Inquiring minds want to know.

I hope it's not #1. You're much too young to lose your leaves. Come to think of it, you're much too young to develop erosion channels or be reduced to a pile of pebbles and aggregate.

I hope things are going well for you.

From: mary chervenak
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
  CC: Paul Jones, Barbara Thompson
Date: Yesterday 23:02:36
  Re: RE: Exfoliation

You are correct.  I have lost all my leaves.

You read it here first. And some people say that bloggers aren't real journalists.

10:48 - Ah. It's a girl thing. BGrigg over on the messageboard explains:


I knew what she meant. It's also used to describe the act of removing dead skin, especially from feet. It's what women do at a spa.

I only know this as I work for a printing company, and once had to proof read a brochure for a spa. I have NO idea why they seem to like having hot rocks placed on their bodies, so don't ask!

Which sounds painful to me. And speaking of painful, I just finished reviewing the PDF galleys for constellation chapters 13 through 25 and sent them off to my editor.


Sunday, 12 August 2007
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00:00 -


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