Teach: Tony Danza… good and bad

October 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm (Uncategorized)

Lately, I’ve been catching some of the new show called Teach: Tony Danza, which follows him and the progress of one tenth grade class in Philadelphia as he attempts to teach them English.

I am appalled at some of what Tony is doing. His lack of concern for the legal rights of students with special needs, his automatic dismissal of constructive criticism from his teaching assistant and the principal, and his overall attitude toward the kids is just ridiculous. Clearly, that school must have benefited from the show in some small way besides getting one of their billets filled.  Aside from the mandatory teacher orientation, he didn’t have to do any preparation for the art of teaching (or if he did, he slept or joked his way through it without learning anything).

On the other hand, I can see that shows like this are probably one of the only ways to really publicize the profession of teaching as a viable and intelligent career path. There are clearly misconceptions about teaching– the expression “those who can’t do, teach” is common and itself a misrepresentation of the profession. Everyone from public schools can probably recall an example of bad teachers in their lives. Myself, I can think of more than one social studies teacher whose primary goals each day involved watching replays of last week’s football game while letting the smart kid (aka, me) summarize last night’s reading on the overhead projector for the rest of the class.

There is one kid in particular who is not being challenged and his attitude is being highlighted in the show because he’s honest enough to admit his fears about Tony’s ability to teach him anything. At some points in my life, I was that kid. It should not matter that Monte is above the rest– Tony’s job is to find ways to challenge Monte within the context of the larger lessons. If this requires differentiation, then Tony needs to spend the time to do that to his lessons. I’m willing to bet if he spent half as much time planning as he does making fun of the kids, he might actually accomplish something.

The other kids mostly fall into the category of kids who require additional scaffolding to truly learn anything.  It made me pretty mad to see Tony making fun of the kid who’s on the gifted list, when he actually came after class to talk about his difficulties with the material. “Gifted” is not code word for “SMART KID WHO NEEDS NO HELP AND IS CONNING YOU INTO HELPING HIM.” Gifted has a multitude of subcategories and many times, the fact that a kid requests extra help is an indicator that he DOES care, that he DOES want to succeed.

Restricting kids from using the resource room is another thing that Tony did. He seems to view the practice as too accomodating. I’d like to see Tony sit down and be pushed through reading a novel he does not understand, then forced to take a test next to the smart kid who was done in like, five minutes, and actually pass a test. It’s not easy. He has access to the teacher’s resources; if his goal is truly to allow these kids to learn and think for themselves, then he needs to allow the accomodations to occur that are already in place. The resource room, the teacher assistant that has been provided– these are helping aids, not tools designed to alllow kids to slack off.

So perhaps this show will serve a dual purpose– to teach Tony Danza about the realities and complexities of teaching students effectively. And to teach America those same things. If we’re lucky, by the end of the year those poor kids might have learned something too.


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Work for the Navy, Women!

September 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm (Uncategorized)

Today I want to promote the Navy as a viable place for women to achieve success in the STEM fields. Many women face difficulties in these fields and the ease with which we overcome these difficulties in our respective career paths varies from place to place. Although it wasn’t “easy” to find this opportunity, once I started looking for it, it wasn’t long before I found it. I just had to know where to look. My employer is the U.S. government and I have to say, I really think this was the way to go. If I had followed that traditional route, this may not have crossed my radar as a path to follow.

Advancement of women in the STEM fields is a “hot topic” these days for discussion– but I see little tangible progress toward building up the female presence universally in these fields. What is being done is generally through outreach to local schools and colleges, girls scout troops and large festival-type events to the general public. But what about the women already in those fields? What is being done to facilitate their ability to stay in those fields without sacrificing their other ideals, such as getting married, taking care of their children, and spending time doing the equivalent of golf or fantasy football that the men in these fields are able to do?

The Navy has provided some mechanisms that facilitate equality. The leave policies, the security that comes with a federal job– these are universally appealing to men and women alike. Probably for different reasons– I hear the men I work with talking about their golf trips on their day off, while most women (myself included) use the one day off every two weeks to get all our housework done, run some errands and possibly get fifteen minutes between running errands and starting dinner to read a good three to ten pages of a book.

This is stereotypical, sure. But it’s also statistically accurate. Just take a look at Tara Parker-Pope’s recent revelatory book, For Better. This book outlines the statistical probabilities associated with a successful marriage with respect to a wide variety of factors, including work-life balance and equity between spouses in terms of household chores.

Another thing that the Navy and other federal entities provide is access to funds restricted to continuing education or training in their field. I have been taking classes on the government’s dime for the last year, and it’s been such a blessing not to have to deal with coming up with thousands at a time for tuition and books. Now, I have to pay for books, that’s true. But with half.com and amazon.com, this isn’t really a burden. I do get to keep them, after all.

There are other benefits as well, but that’s all for today. Go Navy!

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Unfortunate and Fortunate Events

August 24, 2010 at 5:43 pm (Uncategorized)

Have you ever wanted to do something quite badly, that was impossible because of circumstances beyond your control? Only to have those circumstances changes quite rapidly and then realize that the factors that were prohibiting you before were really just surface factors and something much deeper has also been holding you back?

All figurative language aside, I am really upset about something that I wanted to do. I’ve been wanting to sing in a formal setting for most of my life. I dreamt of being a country singer as a small child, even had the opportunity to stand onstage next to Lorrie Morgan once (though I was so young at the time, I didn’t fully grasp the honor at the time).  In school, I took every opportunity to sing: chamber groups (hello, my Peace Piper friends, my Divas, even my Girls Ensemble friends from middle school!), a capella groups (Sevenfold, how I miss you all, and Sweet Tones, I’ll never forget you!), tricounty, all county, all state. I was once ranked the top alto in the state of Maryland. Yes, thank you.

After college, there was only one group I longed to sing with left on my list. I didn’t know that the Patuxent Voices existed until recently, but I did know of the St. Maries Musica madrigal group, and I wanted to be in that group so badly. I still do. One of their members, my friend Monty Hill, recommended I audition for Patuxent Voices in the meantime while they lacked an opening for a female voice. And I totally auditioned for Patuxent Voices last night. But then I heard the practice schedule and I realized (perhaps not fully until later) that this might not work as planned.

See, I am going to school part time and working full time. I commute to both. I have two dogs and a fiance at home and these are not things in my life I can neglect. I am planning my wedding. I am involved in my church. Very involed. Look in the church bulletin on a given Sunday and you’ll see the Clifton name written all over it.

Then I get the message that St. Maries Musica is having an emergency audition on Monday. And I am personally invited. And suddenly, the floor drops out from beneath me, because I can’t even make the audition, much less a practice schedule of that magnitude.

So you see, I am in a bind. I finally have these two great opportunities, and I am going to have to turn both down. And I am ever so disappointed.

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My Momentary Return to Virtual Reality

August 14, 2010 at 7:25 pm (Uncategorized)

I must apologize to any (if any) readers who have been awaiting new posts. I got caught up in real life and although I had things I wanted to blog about recently, I haven’t really sat down to put my fingers to keyboard for much longer than it takes to check my email since about February. I guess that says a lot of about my real life, which validates that I do have one, at least.

For those who care, I am still working on my education while working for the Navy. This summer I took two classes through Capitol College at the local higher education center: Mathematical Method for Engineers and Laplace & Fourier Transforms. Both had their relative merits and I’m glad that I did. I reassured myself that I still understand calculus, and I refreshed my memory on the algebraic methods required to break complicated polynomial fractions into partial fractions before applying an inverse Laplace transform (which was a new technique I learned. I learned to use MATLAB beyond the basic functions and I even wrote some small m files to help solve systems of equations. So, I am pleased with the result.

Right now, I am finally on vacation. My parents, one of my sisters and one of her friends are with me. My uncle Sam works for Marriot, and he was kind enough to let us use his vacation week at the Marriot Grande Ocean resort in Hilton Head Island. We also took a trip to Savannah, GA to visit my grandmother and a few cousins. It’s the second day. I am in love with the semitropical climate already. Where else can you find Spanish moss alongside palm trees, with tidal pools and seagulls, soft sandy beaches as far as the eye can see and the horizon? Well, somewhere you’re bound to other than here, but there’s nothing like this in Maryland as far as I’m aware.

Regardless, I will not spend my vacation online for very long. Hence the title of this post. But I strayed online because I wanted to look up one of the authors that I have recently discovered. And she is worth touting on here, because she is the kind of creative writer that I strive to be in secret. if you knew me professionally, you’d probably be shocked to find out that I spend an inordinate amount of time reading fiction and writing fiction. Considering my field of choice is physics and my career field is in Defense, fiction seems a far cry from my professional goals. But Leah Stewart is one of the few authors that I have read and immediately said to myself, “Yes. This is the kind of writer that I want to be.” Her latest novel, Husband and Wife, recently was published. I have also recently read “The Myth of You and Me” and had the same reaction. I liked that one so much, I bought it. I’m usually the library book type because I read them faster than it would take to drive to a bookstore, browse around and buy one. Leah Stewart is worth reading, folks, so take note and go get one of her books. And then drive down to Hilton Head Island, knock on the door of my condo and I’ll get you situated next to me on the beach, cocktail in hand, to read yours while I read mine.

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The care and keeping of destructive creatures!

February 7, 2010 at 3:38 pm (Uncategorized)

The destroyers

I have two dogs: Minnie and Flash. Minnie is a beagle and is relatively new to our household. She is quite destructive. When we first got her, she destroyed ten of Flash’s toys within a week. Flash always was slightly destructive, especially as a puppy, so we were semi-prepared– all of our shoes were safely tucked out of reach. But Minnie has to be watched every second, or she’ll get into something she’s not supposed to. For example: bathroom trash. If she gets into that, you’ll find within a minute small shreds of tissues all over the immediate vicinity. The mismatched sock pile: she can tear a sock into five or six pieces within a few seconds too. I had to but taller laundry baskets– Minnie loves socks and underwear. And don’t even get me started on the toy thing. Flash likes rope toys, to play tug of war, and stuffed toys. Minnie and Flash can completely rip apart a toy and shred the rope into tiny threads in about five minutes. Those “long lasting” bones? Ten minutes, tops.

As a result, I’ve become pretty adept at coming up with “toys” for them from around the house. Some have been flops, but household stuff generally is better-made than those expensive and completely useless dog toys they sell in stores. Sometimes I will pick up a cheap one. But I bet you can guess how long it usually lasts— less than an hour. And then I get to go around and pick up bits of fluff (the dogs love to tear a stuffed animal in half, then pull out the stuffing and distribute it all over the room for romping in) or string or plastic. I gave up vacuuming daily– if I did, I’d spend half an hour picking up the pieces too large for my vacuum to handle beforehand, and crawling around on the floor is not something I like to do. I vacuum about once  a week instead, and the type-A in me cringes as I walk over bits of cracked pen casing, fluff, string and dog hair all day.

Some of the best homemade methods I’ve found are: when they lost interest in bones that they’d been chewing up (I bought those bones with meat still attached– they destroyed the meaty part in seconds, then gnawed off the ends before realizing the bones didn’t have any meat inside), I took a bit of bacon grease and used a paintbrush to swipe the inside cylinder of the bones. They got interested really quickly after that! I’ve also taken those little Victoria’s Secret dogs they give out sometimes and let them tear those up. It’s not like I needed them, and they’re made of some tougher canvas than those store-bought toys. Plus, the fluff in those is less easily broken apart. Sometimes, when I go through clothes and find useless underclothes, I’ll tie knots in them and let them pull those apart. I know it’s probably counterintuitive to let them play with underclothes, but believe me, I’d rather pick and choose the ones they tear up then leave them to choose for themselves.

I’d welcome any suggestions for getting my dogs to stop chewing stuff. I’d welcome any suggestions for durable playthings too. Anyone?

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Good news in the world of me!

January 29, 2010 at 3:50 am (Uncategorized)

Although this was not what I wished for for my birthday, I have recently received word that my job that had been eliminated… aka the reason I started this chronicle of my frustrations after being laid off– well, that job exists once more. I am to report to work on Monday like nothing ever happened. YES!!!!

It’s funny. I finally have one experience in my job search worth something– the job fair on my birthday– and then boom! Back to work. I’m not complaining. I’m thrilled. I’m waiting for the phone call that says “just kidding!”

I’m still in that place where I’m ambivalent about where this job will lead, since it’s not in my preferred career field. But I’m going to go back to work in relief, build up some savings, and maybe travel a bit for training. Then I’ll reevaluate. After all, there is something to actually gaining work experience in one job before you start looking for the next one.

Since I was in such a good mood from my good news, I’ll share something funny I found spoofing the State of the Union. It’s funny! http://www.hulu.com/watch/122534/supernews-obama-says-fck-it

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My Birthday

January 27, 2010 at 3:27 am (Uncategorized)

Hello everyone! I got confirmation today that someone else out there besides me actually reads my blog. Thanks Nicole! Your note was really timely and made my day seem a bit brighter. We’re in this together– if there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know.

Today is my twenty-fourth birthday. I had a pretty good one, considering how broke we are and how far away most of my good friends live. I woke to Charles bringing home roses and a box of chocolates (not bad, not bad!). I purposely didn’t open the box right away so as to attempt to not eat all of them by lunchtime. The flowers are lovely, white and pink roses and some baby’s breath.

My phone was ringing off the hook all day and I’ve already made plans to hang out with friends over the next few weeks– long overdue! So thanks to everyone who remembered without the help of facebook– thought you got away with it, didn’t you guys? Just kidding. If facebook has to remind you, that’s ok too. Thanks to all! I accept all forms of payment, including paypal… sike! But really I do have paypal. Just sayin’.

Today I also attended a job fair. I feel pretty good about it, too. Most of the employers were contractors to the base, and I was able to talk to every single one. I must have handed out at least twenty resumes and got information about over 50 postings that are current for my area, most of which I am halfway qualified for! So, all in all I’m happy.

Funny thing happened too. I saw this girl from high school who absolutely loathes me. And the best part? She has to have gained at least thirty pounds since I last saw her! I know it’s wrong to revel in such trivial matters, but believe me, if this girl had tortured you the way she tortured me in high school, you’d be crowing with delight too. I even managed to avoid talking to her– she was recruiting for a firm that I’m interested in working for– and their company is hiring for positions for which I really hope to get an interview. Now I’m just worried that she’ll “inadvertently” toss my resume when she gets back to the office. But there are laws against that… right?

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Crossroads and Confusion

January 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm (Uncategorized)

So it’s a new year, and somehow I feel like I am missing out on an opportunity for a new me. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly which opportunity I’m missing out on, since I feel myself being pulled in multiple directions.

Lately, as you know, I’ve been looking into changing careers. I worked for the Navy for a year as an analyst, and while I was good at what I was doing, I really did not like it very much. I felt like I was trapped in a cubicle with a neverending supply of spreadsheets to work on. Even when I got alternate assignments… like creating macros for Excel to automate days-worth of calculations and manipulations, or performing schedule analysis with really cool and expensive software that used Monte Carlo simulations to predict the best, worst and most likely scenarios for given outcome… I felt like those were just ancillary to what I was going to be stuck doing (the spreadsheets) for the rest of my career.

When I went to college, I was dead set on being a scientist. The job market did not agree with my plans and I only got job offers for positions in mathematics. The issue was, most scientific careers that are in growing industries are either engineering or forensic in nature. I have a strong interest in both, but my degree is in neither. All that matters to a job recruiter in the first round is the subject in which you received your degree. Although NAVAIR had plenty of engineering positions, there was a strict requirement for having a bachelors in an engineering discipline. So I was pretty much limited to either cost analysis, schedule analysis, or both. And those are math positions with very limited interaction with engineers.

Right now I am working in the social services field. I have experience from my college days working with people with special needs, so when I had the opportunity to look for a position in my hometown, after I exhausted the limited options for my background in math and science (after all, most places require 5-10 years of experience… my single year as a cost analyst really did nothing for me), I looked for something in social services because it is something that I already knew I could do well. I got hired as a rehabilitation associate for Pathways, Inc. last month. I enjoy the work– I go out to group homes for adults living with mental illness and assist them in working on their rehabilitation goals, which usually include developing skills in independent living, money management, medication and health management and communication. But as anyone who has ever worked in this field can attest, I do not make enough money to survive. I am living paycheck to paycheck, and if it were not for my fiance, we would have already lost our home. This can only work for so long, and then I will need to find something that pays better.

And the reality is, while I can live with working in social services, I really do not feel like my heart is in the work. My heart belongs to science! And in this economy, with the market flooded with jobless, bachelors degree-bearing individuals with minimal experience, I have no leg to stand on in the field where I truly want to work. I need a Masters, at the very least. And to get a Masters, I still need three or four undergrad courses to qualify for the programs in which I want to study. I live in the middle of nowhere and those classes are not available here. So what to do? I certainly cannot afford to move right now. I also work a strange schedule (either 7 am-3pm or 3-11 pm on most weekdays, and 10 am-6 pm on the weekends) which will make taking any class difficult anyway.

I feel like I am treading water and I really hate that. I’m at a crossroads… and I’m really confused about which path to take.

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Television Rants… again

December 17, 2009 at 1:55 pm (Uncategorized)

I am starting to really hate television networks. I’m not a big TV person, never have been, primarily because every time a show comes about that is actually worth watching (and by that I mean the plot isn’t based on some idiot in real life) it gets canceled before it can gain the following that networks deem worthwhile. Cases in point: in 2009 alone, ABC axed Eastwick and Defying Gravity in favor of… you guessed it… more reality TV! Anyone sick of seeing pathetic people vying for fifteen minutes of fame? How about some real intellectual material, or some lighthearted entertainment that doesn’t involve watching fat people step on a scale in their underwear or trash talking with bleeps every other second?

I like the idea of airing shows on hulu and other streaming media sites, because it allows people with real lives (read: people who don’t sit on their ass all day and watch TV) to catch up with the shows they like without needing to subscribe to DVR service. In this economy, hulu has found a way to reach people without costing them money. TV networks, however, are only allowing hulu to air their shows in hopes that it will lead the viewers to go back to the old days of making TV time. They pull the shows that receive the good following online but lack the statistics on live TV.

Wake up and smell the opportunity, folks. The internet isn’t goin’ anywhere. Either change with the times, or stop lamenting the fact that people aren’t watching your shows, because it’s the network’s fault people are reduced to catching the five episodes the network decided to air before pulling the show on hulu instead of building a following for airing it on real live TV! How many new shows can gain the traction (aka MONEY) from five to ten episodes? If you can think of any, please enlighten me. It takes promotion and dedication on the part of the network to get the numbers, and ABC failed miserably at promoting the very shows that might have gotten that following had they been given more than a passing chance to succeed.

Then the press blames the actors for the failures… Is it really Lindsay Price’s fault that the network barely promoted her show, let run all of eight episodes and then pulled the final five? What’s more of a waste… making thirteen episodes, airing eight and then neglecting to air the final five that might have resolved the story lines and gained support, all in favor of airing yet another reality TV show? Or letting the single season story lines evolve to the point where people are hooked, gaining the support required (in the eyes of the network) to guarantee a slot for another season, boosting the views online and building the hype through targeted advertising? No wonder you’re losing viewers, ABC! And Defying Gravity had the same problem from the same network. Hm.

And ABC still can’t “figure out” when to air the final five episodes of Defying Gravity. By the time they figure it out, anyone with half a brain (like the smart people who watch the show) can find the final five either via watching them on Canadian TV websites like Channel 13, or using torrent software. So guess what. When they finally get around to airing them, they’ll point to a lack of viewers as further evidence. But the network’s delay is perpetuating the failure! For any of you interested in seeing the final episodes, send me an email and I’ll tell you how.

A few places to vent, if you feel the same. My comments are on there!




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Emily’s short list of books of the year

November 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm (Uncategorized)

I read a lot. For the majority of my life, I’ve been the one who reads at every opportunity. Instead of TV, I read to relax. And I listen to books on CD on every drive I take, unless my CD player is acting up (which unfortunately happens a lot). Each year, though, I have three or four books that stand out. These are the books I’ll return to again some other time in my life, guaranteed. This year, the books that did it for me are as follows:

1. The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein.

This book is hands down the pick of the year. I read this first in 2008, and recommended it to my mom. She then recommended it to my dad and I recommended it to my fiance (then boyfriend) Charles. My dad listened to it on a long trip with my sister Amy, who then recommended it to my other sister Patti. All in all, this book was read by every member of my immediate family and we all could not get enough!

Enzo is the narrator, a dog living with his owner and watching his owner fall in love, get married, have a child and subsequently lose his wife. The heartbreak and underhandedness of some of the adults in this story is intense, and Enzo gives an unparalelled look into the life of humans at their darkest and at their personal best.

2. An Echo in the Bone, Diana Gabaldon.

If you haven’t read any of Diana Gabaldon’s books, you might want to start with Outlander. This story of a time traveling woman caught between her Highlander husband in the eighteenth century and her historian husband in the twentieth century is one of a kind and completely engaging. This is the eighth installment in the adventures of Claire, Jamie and Brianna Fraser and their many acquaintances and it is amazing. I highly recommend taking all eight in rapid succession, else you might forget some of the more particular details that make the story. There is a companion for quick reference called the Outlandish companion (in the U.S.) and the books in order are: Outlander (1991) • Dragonfly in Amber (1992) • Voyager (1994) • Drums of Autumn (1997) • The Fiery Cross (2001) • A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005) • An Echo in the Bone (2009) along with several spinoff stories about one Lord John Grey, all of which are entertaining and well worth reading as well.

3. I will break from tradition here, only because this pick, Robert J. Sawyer, has so many wonderful novels to choose from! I read WWW:Wake and The Rollback this year, both of which are science fiction at its best. Robert J. Sawyer also wrote the novel on which the new ABC TV show Flash Forward is based upon and many other adaptations of his novels have made their way to the silver screen. I find Robert J. Sawyer to be one of my personal favorite authors of all time and I highly recommend his work.

4. Stephenie Meyer: The Host, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn

I know that there is a huge controversy in the literary world about the Twilight phenomenon. True, a great deal of the success of the series has to do with the target audience of teenage girls. That’s all well and fine, but I do not fall into that demographic and neither does my mother, my sister Patti, my best friend Arfa, my fiance Charles… the list goes on.

I first encountered the Twilight phenomenon when my best friend Arfa and I met for lunch in DC last summer. She mentioned something about Edward Cullen. My blank look prompted an indignance at my ignorance that I didn’t expect from her and I promised to read them as soon as possible. One weeklong vacation later, I had read all four books. I was hooked.

Stephenie Meyer has accomplished a level of achievement with Twilight that cannot be overlooked regardless of individual opinion of the books. She has inspired countless people to read who might never have done so otherwise. The Stephen Kings of the world may disagree (see http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/books/blog/2009/02/stephen_king_stephenie_meyer_c.html) but the fact remains that Stephenie Meyer’s books are getting at-risk kids and normally uninterested adults  to invest in their reading abilities by giving them something exciting to read about. The subsequent media frenzy over the movies has been a byproduct of this initial boost in reading, and is something of a phenomenon in itself… the recent release of New Moon the film is just the beginning.

And think on this: she has managed to get teenagers interested in a story that doesn’t even mention sex until after the characters are married… in the FOURTH book. No sex, no drugs, and the only violence is that of the age-old vampire/human conflict? You can’t tell me you aren’t at least intrigued enough to watch the movies. And as any movie made from a book will inevitably neglect some key points, you may as well read the books as well.

Another story by Stephenie Meyer, albeit quite overshadowed by the success of Twilight, is her first novel for adults, called The Host. It is about an alien invasion and is quite a stellar accomplishment itself. It follows the cohabitation of an alien and a human inside the human’s mind, and is a unique take on the invasion story made popular since the dawn of science fiction.

Here’s to reading as the rediscovered pastime!

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