Mac OS X 10.3 Panther Review | November 29, 2003

Well I've been using Panther at home for a few weeks now, so thought I should give a quick review. For something a bit more indepth, here is a great, unbiased review of Panther.

Overall Panther feels much more responsive than Jaguar. Window handling seems snappier, launching applications feels quicker and I spend much less time looking at the rainbow spinning wheel of death than I used to. Considering OS X was supposed to be pretty much "crash proof" Jaguar used to lock up on me all the time. This was mostly caused by Macromedia apps crashing and taking down the whole system with them. Macromedia's apps still seem to crash on a fairly regular basis but on Panther they're yet (touch wood) to take down my OS.

After installing Panther I was pleased that there were few troubles with any of my applications. I did have problems with Photoshop, but fixing it was as simple as trashing a particular set of prefs. However there is one weird thing with iTunes. I've almost stopped listening to music on my stereo these days so have iTunes open all the time. However every now and then iTunes decides to start playing for no apparent reason something which can be really annoying in the middle of the night! I've had a bit of a search around but can't find any info on the problem.

The main feature I got Panther for was fast user switching. I share my home computer with my girlfriend and when I first got OS X I set her up a user account. However after the first few weeks of using it, it became a real pain in the arse. If I was in the middle of something and Mel wanted to use the computer for half an hour, I'd have to shut all my applications down, log out and then she'd have to log in and launch all her applications. It was such a pain that very quickly her user account got abandoned. Now with fast user switching, all your apps stay open making switching a much more viable option. I was also looking forward to showing off Panthers cool user switching transition. However despite being on a fairly modern flat panel iMac with more than the average amount of RAM, the whole cube thing just doesn't happen, which is sad.

The other cool thing is expose, Panthers new application switching/window handling mechanism. I'm yet to get the best out of expose as I'm still used to my old way of working which involved layering up windows in use so they overlapped allowing me to click from one to the other while hiding the windows that weren't in use. As expose doesn't work with hidden applications or docked windows I'm going to have to start keeping more things visible and undocked to get the best out it it, which means changing the way I'm currently used to working. Still I can definitely see the benefits us using expose, especially as it's much faster than Panthers regular window handling.

So generally I think Panther is an improvement over Jaguar. Whether it's worth the price tag is another question.

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Favicontastic! | November 24, 2003

Dan Rubin of Superfluous Banter contacted me last night to let me know he'd made me a favicon. Apparently my site was the only site in his regular reads not to have one so he very kindly knocked one up.

How nice is that!

[TIP: If you're a Safari user you'll need to shut it down and then go to ~/Library/Safari/Icons and delete the contents to be able to see the new favicon.]

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No Margin for Error | November 23, 2003

Margin Collapsing

Margin collapsing is a CSS phenomenon I've been familiar with for a while. Conceptially It's very simple, however recently I've been running into a number of problems with my layouts where margin collapsing appears to be the culprit.The problems usually revolve around either extra vertical white space appearing that I just can't seem to remove or the inability to create vertical white space by using margins.

At it's core, margin collapsing is very easy to understand. Basically when two vertical margins meet up, instead of adding together, the largest margin takes precedent and the other one "collapses" to nothing.

Here is a simple example:

This paragraph has a 20px margin

So does this one

Both paragraph tags have been given a 20 pixel margin. However because the bottom margin of the first paragraph touches the top margin of the second paragraph, the margins collapse, making the space between both paragraphs 20 pixels instead of 40.

Most people think of margin collapsing happening when one block level element follows another. However margins collapse whenever one margin comes into contact with an adjacent margin. This means that margins can also collapse when one element is contained within another.

A paragraph with a 20px margin inside a div, also with a 20px margin

In the above example a paragraph (light blue) with a 20 pixel margin is wrapped inside a div (medium gray), also with a 20 pixel margin. The top and bottom margins of the paragraph tag collapse into the margins of the div tag leaving just a 20px vertical margin around both elements.

Now you've probably noticed that these two tags are contained within another div that I've applied a border to. Most people will assume i've done this just to make the examples stand out. However I've actually done this for another reason.

Here is the same example with the border on the outer div removed.

By removing the border around the outer div, the margins of the contained elements are now adjacent to the margin of the preceding element (in this case a paragraph tag) and have all collapsed together. Now while this is what margin collapsing is supposed to do, if you don't know what's going on here, this kind of thing can be a bit of a head scratcher.

There are number of ways to get round margin collapsing issues. One way is to add a border or 1px of padding around the elements so that the borders are no longer touching and so no longer collapse.

The same example but this time each element has been given a border

Another way to stop margins collapsing is to change the position property of the element.The CSS2 Specs explain that margins of absolutely and relatively positioned boxes don't collapse. Also if you float a box it's margins no longer collapse. It's not always appropriate to change the position properties of an element but in some situations if you're having problems with unwanted margin collapsing, this may be an option.

Before I move on, it's probably worth bringing up self collapsing boxes. A self collapsing box is one where it's top and bottom margins meet.

Here is a very simple example of a self collapsing block

This paragraph has a 20px margin. After this paragraph is another, empty paragraph, also with a 20px margin

Because the second paragraph has no content, it's margins collapse together and they in turn collapse with the preceding paragraph. This is why you can put loads of empty paragraph tags in a page yet they take up no space. Usually this won't cause any problems, however people occasionally use empty elements to clear a float for instance, so this behavior needs to be born in mind.

Cleared Elements

On the subject of margins and floats, here is an interesting situation I came across a few days ago while trying to lay out a page.

This div is floated left
This div is cleared and has a 20px top margin

In the above example it would be reasonable to expect that the div with the 20px margin would be 20 pixels below the floated div. However in actual fact it appears to be only a couple of pixels below the floated div.

If you look at the CSS2 Specs for clearing floats you'll get a better understanding of what's going on. When you clear something, what actually happens is the element you've applied the clear to increases it's margin enough so that it clears the proceeding floated boxes. If that element already has a margin the largest margin wins. In this instance the 20px margin is just slightly larger than the height of the floated box and it's top starts at the top of the floated div. Because the floated div is slightly less than 20px tall you get a small gap between the two elements background colours.

In a layout I was working on recently I ended up with both these phenomenon happening at once. Things were collapsing all over the place (literally and figuratively). I even ended up having problems with an empty div I was using to clear a float apparently collapsing in on it's self and then collapsing with other elements, causing all sorts of layout problems. So if you find yourself in a situation where you are using margins to space out elements but are getting unpredictable results, it may be down to margin collapsing, it may be down to cleared elements and if you're really unlucky it may be down to both.

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Sub:lime revisited | November 23, 2003

Since submitting my sub:lime design to the CSS Zen Garden I've been getting quite a few emails about it.

Most have been from people asking if they could use the design on their site. I try to explain to them that the CSS Zen Garden is aimed at helping people learn about CSS and not just a repository for cool CSS templates. I'm happy for people to use the CSS and layout as the basis for their site, but am less happy people just blatantly copying the design, images and all.

To these people I point them in the direction of these links:

Explain that I'd rather they not use the design wholesale but use it as a learning experience, and hope that they understand.

However this morning I got a wholly different and much more encouraging email from a chap called Dan.

I am about to partake in a redesign of my personal website to make use of CSS layouts. In preparing to do so, I have been practicing with the zengarden layout. I selected your design and did my best to duplicate it using only styles (no images) as an excercise. I would like to share with you the result of my tests:

Sub:lime

Obviously by doing away with images you do loose some features, such as the side gradients. However, I think you might find that I discovered some optimizations in your design. I was able to avoid using the extraDiv1 and I found that many of the images simply aren't needed.

Now this kind of thing strikes me as the very reason behind the CSS Zen Garden and why the CSS is released under a creative commons licence. It's not to allow people to "steal" the designs and use them on their site, it's to allow people like Dan to break the CSS down, see how it works and come up with new and innovative solutions, while at the same time leaning about tableless design.

The solutions Dan has come up with are great. I'm the first to admit that the CSS makes far too much reliance on image replacement techniques such as FIR, and includes a couple of nasty little hacks, both of which Dan has managed to minimize/fix.

Now some people would see this kind of recodes as rude and insulting, however personally I think they're great. Apart from giving Dan the opportunity to try out his CSS skills on a design he obviously must like, I've learnt a thing or two as well. I spent about an hour going through his stylesheet this morning, looking at the changes he'd made and noting down ways I could improve my own CSS in the future.

So nice one Dan. I hope to see a few less people simply helping themselves to my Zen Garden Design and a few more people using it as the resource and inspiration it was intended to be.

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Vietnam and Cambodia Photos now up | November 22, 2003

Just to let you folks know that I've updated my Travel Photo Gallery with some pictures from my recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.

I'm interested to know which are peoples favourites and which people feel aren't strong enough to be in the gallery. At some stage I'd also like to put on a small local exhibition of maybe 10 pics, so I'd be interested to know which 10 people would choose to exhibit.

I hope you enjoy the pics and look forward to reading your comments.

I'm off to a photo exhibition up the road mow to see how the pro's do it.

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Macro Photography from Vietnam | November 21, 2003

I really enjoy taking Macro photos, especially of exotic plants and flowers. I love the strong colours and abstract patters that emerge. Ideally I'd be using a Macro lens. However Macro lens's are pretty expensive so at the moment I'm making do with a close-up filter.

Here are a few Macro shots I took on a recent holiday to Vietnam. I hope you enjoy them.

nice-flower.jpg

lilly2.jpg

orange-flower2.jpg

pot.jpg

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Photoshop 7.0 crashing at startup in Panther | November 20, 2003

Since installing Panther (Mac OS 10.3) I've been having problems with Photoshop 7.0. I'd try to launch the application but it would crash out and open a dialogue box asking if I wanted to submit a bug report to Apple.

I tried trashing my prefs but no luck. I noticed that the start-up process always crashed at the "loading fonts" bit so I tried turning off my fonts. Still no luck. Googling for the problem turned up no results and there were no details on either the Adobe or Apple sites.

I thought I'd end up having to reinstall Photoshop but this morning I noticed an article in my RSS client from macosxhints.

The article suggests trashing the Workflow folder in /Library -> Application Support -> Adobe. I gave it a go and sure enough it fixed the problem.

So I just wanted to say cheers to "Anonymous" for the post. I've scanned in all my half descent Cambodia/Vietnam pics (not many so it didn't take long) so hope to have a go at getting them up on my photo site over the weekend.

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Woosh, arrhh | November 20, 2003

Got my pics back from fireworks night. I've never taken any firework pics before so am quite pleased. What do you think?

Lewes fireworks

Lewes fireworks

Lewes fireworks

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Bull and Bush | November 19, 2003

So the Bush circus rolled into town last night, closely followed by a staff of 700+. Before arriving the Bush administration put a number of requests to the UK government. They wanted diplomatic immunity for their 250 armed security staff to shoot to kill, just incase they accidentally shot a protester. They wanted the tube system shut down, as well as most of the centre of London, something that would have brought the capitol to a halt and cost god knows how many million pounds in lost revenue. To protect Bush the London Police force have had to cancel leave, pull in staff from across the south and are planning to have a force of 14,000 in place for the 4 day visit, more people that we currently have "Peacekeeping" in Iraq. The policing bill alone will cost the people of London 5 million, something they are not too happy about.

Despite the fact that the British Government are supporting Bush in the war on Iraq, British opinion is very much divided. There was a massive groundswell of support against the war from a wide section of society. However people felt this anti war sentiment didn't get reflected in the US media and that middle America largely believe the UK support the invasion of Iraq. An estimated 100,000 people are expected to turn up to protest against the Bush administration over the next couple of days with the hope that the US media will cover the story.

Unfortunately much of the US coverage I've seen has been very negative and misleading. There is a feeling amongst the US press that the demonstrators (and by implication the British public) are anti American, however this is far from the case. The British public feel much closer culturally to the States then they do to Europe and if you're an American in the UK you're unlikely to feel any animosity. The protesters are definitely not anti American. However they are against the current regimes foreign policies. From the invasion of Iraq to the US's failure to sign the Kyoto agreement, from illegal Steel tariffs to wriggling out of their human rights commitments, many people see the US government as saying one thing and doing something completely different.

So this is why people are protesting against Bush. It's not that the British are mad fiery Europeans who will protest at the drop of a hat. In actual fact we are a fairly ambivalent nation so it takes a lot to get people out on the streets in such huge numbers. And it's not that we hate Americans (we really don't). We just see the US as an friend at a dinner party who is being a bit obnoxious and is starting to annoy the rest of the dinner guests. As we're you're closest friend at the party we feel it's our responsibility to let you know what people think in order to avoid upsetting the rest of the guests and making yourself look like an ass.

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New 20" iMac | November 18, 2003

Apple have just released a new 20" iMac.

Mmmm. sexy...

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The Pricing Problem | November 15, 2003

Working out a price for a website can be an extremely stressful exercise. If my experiences are anything to go by, most people will email you (and 100 other web designers) asking for a quote with very little or no information to go on.

Usually they simply ask...

"How much do you charge for a 20 page website."

Which is about as helpful as somebody walking into a car dealership and asking, "how much do you charge for a car with 4 doors". If you are lucky they may also throw in a few titbits like...

"We'd like something like xyx.com"

Where xyz.com is either the worlds worst website, or something so huge and expensive you just know they don't have the funds.

or

"It has to have a flash intro/news ticker/frame based navigation"

However you're a professional so you struggle on. You'll try to open a dialogue to extract a few more nuggets of info until you have enough to go on. Then you work up some prices and put together a proposal which can take anything from a few hours to a couple of days. You spend the time because you're a professional and because you want to let your potential client know as much about the web design process and what you do as possible.

You'll wait weeks and then if you're lucky you'll get an email back saying...

"Thank you for the proposal. Unfortunately we have found another designer who will do the job for x"

Where x is 5-10% of what you quoted. In fact it's about what you'd have charged for the time you spend putting together the prices and the proposal in the first place.

If you're unlucky you'll wait for weeks expecting an email and eventually, when one doesn't arrive, the memory of this proposal will fade into all the others.

These situations are really down-heartening. You've put a good deal of time, energy and creativity into your proposal and at the end of the day all your time was wasted. If you'd have known the potential client was speaking to lot's of other designers and that all they wanted was the cheapest price, you wouldn't have spent as much time on the proposal. Next time somebody approaches you for an estimate you'll be much more cautious and at the end of the day it's your potential clients who will suffer.

This seems to be an increasingly common event. There are so many web designers trying to eek out a living, many designers are willing to work for peanuts. It reminds me of the famous "will code for change" photo that was kicking around when the dot com bubble burst. Also there are so many web designers entering the industry who have never worked in a creative/IT sector before and have no idea how to set rates. I'm amazed by the number of freelancers who email me asking how much they should charge.

Combine this with clients ever increasing demands for cheaper over better websites and the ability for them to contact an ever wider number of designers, and you've got big problems brewing for the industry.

In Kevin Potts's excellent "The Pricing Woormhole" article, he points out these, and many more pricing related problems facing the web design industry. He agues that educating clients about the value of design is extremely important. This is something I've been arguing for some time.

However we work in a large and complicated marketplace and it's just not feasible to educate every client who comes through the door. In fact trying too hard to educate clients can actually backfire on you. People come to web designers for a website, not a market awareness course.

Kevin also points out that globalisation and the nature of the web is starting to have a big influence on our industry as well. I regulaly get emails from outsorcing companies from India and Russia selling low cost IT skills. Companies are starting to move their IT support departments off shore. How long before web design services follow the same suite?

The future of our industry is in the hands of it's practitioners. We need to develop sensible pricing policies and then stick to our guns. We also need to learn from other sectors and hone our business skills as well as our design and coding skills. We need to meet our clients needs more efficiently, but we also need to know when to walk away.

Fundamentally we need to distance ourselves from the image of the bedroom web designer/frontpage cowboy and brand ourselves firmly as professionals. You wouldn't choose you're doctor or lawyer based on the cheapest quote, why choose your web designer this way? What we need to do is make sure people use the same critical judgement the use when selecting our services as they do when selecting any professional service. How we manage this is another question.

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Some Nice CSS Sites | November 15, 2003

Here are a few nice CSS sites that have been lurking in my bookmarks for a few weeks.

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ReUSEIT! Competition Winners | November 15, 2003

Well the votes have been tallied and the winners of the ReUSEIT! competition have been announced.

I think it will come as little surprise that Mike Pick's excellent Kraftsman entry scooped the top prize. Mike's design was definitely one of my personal favourites. On the face of it, the design and layout is very simple. However Mike has paid great attention to detail here and it's this subtle use of detail that really makes the design. From the superb choice of typeface to the gorgeous iconography, the design exudes subdued style, allowing the content to take center stage.

The two runners up (Only a few graphics... and Minimal Use) were also good, solid, practical designs and ones I'm sure would suit Jakob's style.

Of the others, here is a short list of my personal favourites.

Overall the competition attracted a good spread of submissions. If I have one criticism, it's that I felt a large proportion of entrants had jumped straight into the coding before any prolonged design phase. In the early days of the web when the majority of people building sites were on the techie side rather than the design side, this is how most sites got built. However I feel there really is a need for CSS enthusiasts to spend more time in their favourite graphics packages before hitting their text editors. Theoretically at least, it's shouldn't matter if you're building the site using old skool table based layout's or lean mean CSS/(X)HTML. The design should inform the coding, not the other way around.

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Some Panther Links | November 13, 2003

If you're new to Panther and want to get a handle on some of it's cooler features, here are some useful links.

First up, Mark Pilgrim has written an excellent introduction to Panther on his equally excellent diveintoOSX site.

Next up is Panther by the Numbers, a macworld article outlining 40 new Panther features. Unlike most of these type of article, this one actually has some pretty good tips.

Finally there is Ken Bereskin's "Panther" weblog. Ken is the product manager for OS X so I guess he knows a thing or two about Panther. The blog is quite new but already has some interesting posts.

If anybody has any other cool Panther links, please let me know.

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Night of the Panther | November 13, 2003

When new software comes out I usually leave it a few weeks before installing it. Experience has shown me that most first releases are buggy and it takes a few weeks to iron out all the quirks. This was true with Panther, the new OS version from Apple. The initial release seemed to install correctly, but lot's of people were having troubles with external firewire drives and the new file vault feature, not to mention a number of apps just not working. However a couple of days ago apple released their first update (read patch) so I thought it would probably be safe to upgrade my OS.

So last night I installed Panther. I usually just slap on new software without backing up, but in this instance I decided to burn a few disks of important stuff, just in case. Luckily the install went almost without a hitch. I say almost because the install wouldn't actually work the first couple of times I tried. However I remembered that I hadn't installed the last bunch of OS10.2 updates, and once they were in it worked like a charm.

A number of people had commented about the speed of installation so I was kind of surprised that the whole thing took the best part of an evening. Still I'm all panthered up now and roaring to go.

The main reason for the upgrade was fast user switching. In OS10.2 you had to log out (closing down all your apps in the process) to switch users. Now user switching is seamless, which will hopefully make sure user accounts actually get used properly.

I really like expose, however I'm not actually sure how often I'll use it. I've got so used to hiding all my apps using alt-click that I rarely have more than a couple of apps visible at any one time. Still I'm sure it will come into use when using things like DWMx which really doesn't handle windows very well.

Supposedly there are over 100 new features in Panther so I'd be really interested to hear what people thing about this upgrade, what features you are most excited about, and what tips people have for getting the most out of Panther.

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Combatting Junk Mail, Marketting Calls and Text Message Spam in the UK | November 8, 2003

I used to work as a freelance web designer and in order to get more business I registered with a number of services like the Yellow pages. However rather than bring any business in, all that happened was my address, land line and mobile number got added to every junk mail list and phone marketing list in the country. Since then I've received all kinds of get rich quick junk mail and phone calls from people trying to flog me cheaper electricity.

However a while ago a couple of services were launched in the UK to help stem the flow of these marketing nuisances. The Telephone Preference Service and the Mailing Preference Service allow you to register your phone and address details, and by law anybody in the UK using list of contact info has to make sure their lists are cleaned of anybody on these centralised "opt-out" lists.

So I've just signed up and hope to see a dramatic reduction in the junk mail and marketing phone calls I receive. Shame something similar wouldn't work with email spam.

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Some Nice CSS Sites | November 7, 2003

I've seen a few really nice CSS sites of late. One of my favorites being SharkRodeo. The site is quite small and simple, but a lot of thought has gone into the layout, design and colour scheme. It really is a joy to look at and goes to show that small can deffinately be beautiful.

Then there is Wildly Sophisticated Media. This site has an identity that really packs a punch, feeling more like a trendy lifestyle magazine than a careers site.

And finally there is Lockergnome. Their new site has lot's going on on the home page and is a little too busy and portally for my tastes. However it has some lovely little flourishes and proves that CSS based sites don't all have to be minimal and full of white space.

If you know of any more cool CSS sites, please let me know.

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Spam Fighting Techniques to Protect Your Blog | November 7, 2003

You've noticed the rise of Comment spam and feel strongly enough to do something about it. You set up a website outlining how to protect sites from this nuisance. But how do you let people know about this site?

Well if your David from blogspam.org you Comment Spam people about it.

I mean, how clueless can you be?

So a big thanks to David for your recent spam attack. You've now been added to my blacklist.

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Interesting new CSS Zen Garden Design | November 7, 2003

The latest Zen Garden submission by Shaun Inman's is an absolute gem. Entitled This is Cereal, the design is full of wholesome breakfast goodness and is one of the most distinct designs I've seen on the garden so far.

Keep up the good work.

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P2P File Sharing on OS X | November 4, 2003

For a long time, P2P file sharing was confined mostly to the Windows world as there was a distinct lack of file sharing software available on OS X. Mac users wanting to dip their toes in the murky world of p2p file sharing would invariably settle a copy of Limewire.

Recently there have been a number of new OS X p2p file sharing applications released including 2get, Acquisition and Drumbeat. However the one causing the most interest is Poisoned. This little app is simple to use, works across a number of networks and has a few nice features to make file sharing easier. So if you want to see what all the file sharing fuss is about, have a look at Poisoned. Just make sure you have permission to share or download the files first.

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Comment Spam | November 3, 2003

As some of you may know, while I was away I got mildly hit by comment spam. A few of you were kind enough to email me suggestions on how to combat this, and after some playing around, I decided to settle on MT-Blacklist.

I chose the MT-Blacklist option because it seemed like the easiest solution to install. It didn't require any other MT plug-ins or template hacks which was great..

I did need have to get my host to install a perl module (Storable.pm) but was impressed that they did so with little or no fuss. And so my little comment spam filter is now merrily working away in the background and has already picked up it's first bit of comment spam. Horah!

So thanks to oli for pointing me in the direction of MT-Blacklist and thanks to Jay Allen for taking the time to put it together for the good of the blogging community.

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My Favorite CSS Zen Garden Designs | November 3, 2003

For no particular reason, here is a list of my top 10 favorite CSS Zen Garden designs, in the order they were submitted in.

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