The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for September, 2009

Engaging People Is The First Hurdle

Posted by BigWords on September 28, 2009

Shovel in hand, I’m resurrecting an old (and I thought obvious) argument about writing.

What is a writer’s first hurdle?

When people talk about ‘writing’ they usually mean writing novels, or poetry, or artistically stimulating mediums that afford the author some artistic gratification which should be obvious in the reading, viewing or listening. It is a bit less obvious when the medium is not immediately engaged in a conversation or emotional attachment to the characters or situation, though the basic framework which governs any form of writing is still true in many of these other forms of writing.

On the borderlands of writing there are hundreds of small yet vital writing opportunities that may not – at first glance – be the exact same thing as crafting the complex plots and intricate characters which epitomise writing as an art form and mode of expression. There are the wonderful RPG books to consider first of all, because I definitely class them as closest to epic storytelling in their set-up. The fact that the reader has some input into the narrative is irrelevant.

They exist for the sole purpose of character building, storytelling, and the realization of worlds which don’t exist. Some rulebooks (the Dungeons & Dragons ones especially) are so complex that they must be viewed as a higher level of storytelling than mere novel-writing… How many novelists, if they had the ability in the first place, could cope with the balancing, levelling and complex threads of storytelling that run through the books? Not me…

I’ll admit from the out that I could never cope with writing one of those fuckers. I’ve read through enough rulebooks (and seen the covers of White Wolf #4 and #5 reprinted enough times in other contexts) to know that the creators of such tomes require a special kind of patience. RPG books are close enough to aspects of computer game writing that I would also include the creation of those games as great writing as well. I’m not going to trawl through which games have great writing, ’cause you should know them when you see them

Sometimes games can take on a life outside the initial release, and this is down to the writing. It might seem as if there are complex equations to be made in assessing which parts of the game are most important to which gamers, but good writing can save a game with poor graphics, or filled with glitches, or has an awful camera. Tomb Raider‘s success was as much down to the prevailing atmosphere of alt-history in the mid-nineties as it was due to Lara’s ridiculously large breasts.

The number of ways available to a writer to engage with an audience has become even more complex with the internet, and that is something which hasn’t been examined as seriously as other forms of writing. Is the format as good as paper-and-ink? Maybe or maybe not. The readership is slightly different, and – if I’m going to be completely honest here – there are an awful lot of spammish pages on the net. I’m not sure is Wikipedia counts as anything other than gifted insanity, but as a home of writing…

Minor diversion from the topic: People seem to think that making shit up about famous people is a reasonable way to pass the time. It ain’t. Neither is altering pages on history due to political or religious motives, both of which have been evident. There are a lot of people who take the idea of disseminating information to the masses seriously, and the scribblings of a few simple-minded morons has made the task nigh on impossible.

But I’m getting back to the point: Does the site engage a readership? The simple answer is yes. It is high on the list of most-viewed websites, surpassed by a handful of search engines and other essential sites. It is an amazing achievement, creating a popular and highly-regarded – in its’ theory if not its’ actual undertaking – website. The readership is there, therefore it is serious writing, if only because of the number of readers. It gets a passing grade.

####

This subject resurfaced from a comment I made about Salmand Rushdie’s writings. I like the ideas he throws around, but he has become one of the laziest writers around in the years since he turned in such memorable and engaging ad copy as “quote here” for company. He seems to have forgotten that the reader has, perhaps, better things to read than confused text which rambles rather than rattles, and that is where most people fall – the first hurdle. The first hurdle of a writer…

A writer’s first hurdle is to engage people.

Ad copy, which I haven’t touched on in a fair while, is as important in social media as any novel, and it reaches a far greater number of people than any novel. The words from a successful ad campaign can far outlast a bestselling novel in the collective memory of a generation, and influence artistic trends that most novels could never hope to. There are still references made, on television and in print, to the adverts of the sixties, when creative types threw away the rulebook and started to use tricks that nobody had ever seen before.

The introduction of a color supplement in newspapers might have been the focal point through which the lens of creativity was focused, but it was the accompanying words and ideas which fueled the boom in advertising. It was also the point at which newspapers began the slow slide into mediocrity and facile celebrity-watching which now dominates the industry, but for one shining moment, for one brief second of true artistry, the magazines and newspapers which had been in a rut suddenly came alive.

People bought newspapers for the ads as much as the non-news, eager to discover the latest campaigns. This is engaging with an audience on a level that strikes an immediate and lasting relationship, because they could then go out and purchase the products and feel part of a like-minded group. When readers of books try to do the same thing… Not so much luck, unless the book in question is a ultra-hyped product, replete with tie-in toys, games, films and other kipple.

If an audience isn’t engaged by a performance they tend to walk out.
If a reader isn’t engaged by a book they might not finish the text.
If a television series does not engage with viewers it is cancelled.
If a game does not engage with players it will be ridiculed by geeks.

If a comic does not engage with readers you get the situation Hawkman found himself in, bouncing between creators and mired in horrendous continuity issues that effectively killed off the character for the better part of a decade. Somehow, through luck and bloody good timing, the character was salvaged. Why? Because readers are engaged with the struggles that the character faces. They like the winged misery-guts, whose soap-opera history adds to the fun of his adventures.

Engaging readers in the narrative is hard.

The first duty of a writer is to engage is some manner, and the point of any writing – with the format, genre, medium, length and style being largely irrelevant – is this magical connection. Once you have people by the short and curlies you have them forever. You just have to get over that first hurdle…

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Things That Should Exist But Don’t

Posted by BigWords on September 23, 2009

There are some things which I keep expecting to find on the internet, but can’t quite seem to locate, so I thought it would be an idea to make a list of everything that people should have thought of before me. I refuse to believe that I am the only person that has thought about this shit, and everyone should be ashamed of themselves that they didn’t come up with these ideas first:

  • Real maps designed after the style of GTA 3‘s excellent (and colorful) in-game map. This would be the coolest thing since… Actually, it would be the coolest thing EVER. Not only would map-lovers be intrigued by the design aesthetic, but gamers might start buying things that are actually useful – like maps.
  • Remote controls designed to look like Star Trek phasers. C’mon, you know these would be cool. And they would serve a purpose.
  • Computer games with real-life repercussions… No, wait- Sorry, that one has already been covered. I don’t know whether to be surprised or horrified.
  • Sports with mortality rates. I’m partial to a Rollerball derby being set up, but a Death Race would suffice.
  • A bag / backpack which knows how much weight is being carried in it, and can warn of back strain. Somebody make one of these for me, PLEASE. Seriously, make one.

I could come up with more, but I’m afraid of being labelled a complete, irredeemable geek.

####

This isn’t worth a full blog post of it’s own, and sticking it here seems as good a place as any:

WARNING:

The following link must NOT be clicked on, under any circumstances. You have no idea what the fuck it is, you don’t know what lurks beyond the click of a mouse… You really don’t want to know either. For all you know it could be a picture of a fat, naked man, a sign-up page for the military, a horrible virus or merely a LOLcat page. You just don’t know, so why take the chance.

It isn’t worth it. Do not click on the link. I’m warning you, so you can’t come back here and blame me.

NOT. MY. FAULT.

Got that?

LINK

For the benefit of anyone who clicked on the link, I offer my full apologies.

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Building The Best Library – Cinema

Posted by BigWords on September 20, 2009

Halliwell’s has long been a sore point for me. The reviews (as they are) don’t add up to much, being so brief, and the viewpoint that all horror films are shit niggles at me. I want to respect the views, but damn… The reviewers make it so hard to take the books seriously. I have a couple of editions, yet I don’t look at them very often. They are excellent for information on pre-1930s cinema, but for modern films are less than useless.

Not much more useful, though containing far more informative reviews, is Virgin’s Film Guide. I have an old edition, yet don’t feel the urge to upgrade to a more recent version, so that says something about the amount of times I really use it. Time Out on the other hand, is one of the guides that I feel the need to keep on buying. The books have changed and evolved over the years, and it is interesting to see what gets bumped and what gets expanded upon.

Good Movie Guide by David Parkinson falls between all those big guides, but has its own niche due to the indexing throughout the main body of the text. It has driven my direction to films I would never have thought of watching, and I thank Parkinson profusely for the publication. The cover is bland and uninteresting, but the contents within are well worth trying to track this sucker down. I don’t know if many people have really paid it much attention, but I really like the book.

Roger Ebert’s Video Companion (1997 Edition) doesn’t contain many reviews, but I kept a hold of it for the honest and excitable way in which some lesser films are extolled. There are more of his reviews online now, and looking for other (newer) editions doesn’t seem worth the hassle. I like Ebert, unlike some readers who have complained about his style, but the act of reviewing takes a personal touch. I kinda miss the video era, and this is a final hurrah for the format before the digital revolution stole away my grubby pre-’84 copies of horror films.

The Film Yearbook and Film Review books from the eighties which listed every release of the year are still kicking around, though I seem to look at them less as time goes by. I’ve gone off a lot of eighties product, though looking back I realize that the Buckaroo Banzai coverage was woefully inept. How could so many people ignore an instant classic? Roger Rabbit got endless coverage in some books, and this goes some way to explaining the success of The Matrix. People like innovation.

The how, why and where is unknown, but at some point in the last couple of decades I managed to get my hands on The International Film Guide 1968 (edited by Peter Cowie) which is filled to the brim with information on obscure European short films and actors who most people would be hard pressed to name. I really like dipping into this every now and again to remind myself that there have been more films made than I have ever even heard of. It is an immensely humbling experience reading this.

Ten geek points for anyone who has heard of Jerzy Skolimowski.

Film guides might seem to dominate my cinema book collection, if you have read this far, but they go hand in hand with the film scripts I seem to collect. And novelizations. Whenever I find a film that says something interesting and has an interesting character I try to learn more about the film, hence the increasingly eccentric books as I delve deeper into the stacks of books.

The Action Movie A-Z by Marshall Julius
The DVD Stack ed. Nick Bradshaw & Tim Robey
Film Facts by Patrick Robertson
Illuminating Shadows – The Mythic Power Of Film by Geoffrey Hill
Incredibly Strange Films edited by V. Vale & Andrea Juno
National Heroes – British Cinema In The Seventies And Eighties by Alexander Walker
That’s Sexploitation! – The Forbidden World Of Adults Only Cinema ed. Muller & Faris
The Ultimate DVD Guide ed. Andy McDermott

The Rough Guide To Cult Movies covers much the same ground as Incredibly Strange Film does, but in less detail with added films. It rattles through the twentieth centuries most offbeat and obscure directors and their output, with as much love for Herschell Gordon Lewis and Fellini alike. Nobody is pushed to the sideline as the bottom of the barrel (where some glittering gems have settled) is scraped with the intention of finding gold.

The BFI book Ultimate Film is a Top 100 book I actually don’t hate so much. I know that people are getting fed up with my twenty-minute-long rant when I’m asked on my opinion of the Top 100 television shows that run every so often, but this book serves a purpose, and it is filled with info on the films covered. The BFI Film Classics series (of which I have a couple) are focused on single films, so the coverage is much more in-depth than I get elsewhere. I really like these.

The Bonnie & Clyde Book ed. Sandra Wake & Nicola Hayden is one of the few books that I bought merely upon seeing the cover. I love the silvery quality of the cover, and – despite thinking the film was a bit overcooked – I have actually found the book informative and not as slanted in viewpoint as it could have been. Blockbuster, Tom Schone’s look at the summer hits and the people who make them, is a subject I find endlessly fascinating.

I’m gonna say it again and again, because people don’t understand my reaction to the large summer films – 99.99999% of blockbusters are unmitigated, totally-irredeemable shit. This includes a lot of films I actually own on DVD, so I completely understand if people want to disagree. The braindead, simplistic, brash spectacles with little (or no) sense of logic and plot are a viable commodity in Hollywood, and at least I have one book which covers that aspect of film.

One last mention, before I wrap this up, must go to The Making Of Taxi Driver by Geofrey McNab. I know there are a dozen or more similarly-themed books on the making of the film, but this is – for me at any rate – the best of the bunch. Feel free to disagree, complain, recommend and – I know this is coming – try to get me to pick up your books because y’all are a bunch of geniuses and I’m shockingly behind the times in not acknowledging you as such…

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T-Mobile Connection Problems

Posted by BigWords on September 20, 2009

[warning: yet more raging against incompetence]

Yet again I find myself staring at the user screen of my T-Mobile connection and wondering why I’m wasting £20 a month on their less-than-adequate service. The current problem? I’m receiving a signal strength on 64% yet the small Bytemobile Optimization Client logo at the bottom of the screen keeps on turning red and my connection dies. I get about five minutes of use before I have to disconnect then reconnect to bring the link back to life.

Not fun, kids. Not worth the money either.

I’ve uninstalled the program and reinstalled it (several times now), ran CrapCleaner, defragged the hard drive, and yet the problems remain. Is this a known issue or have I managed to find a glitch that has thus far remained unknown? And if it is known, how many other people are being screwed over? It’s kinda weird that I seem to be affected only in the past week or so, and there hasn’t been any worthwhile information released about the problems T-Mobile is facing.

If they expect to get any more of my money then somebody had better come up with a solution to this issue before I invest in another company’s product. Losing signal strength would be completely understandable, but it’s fine. The only thing I can think of being to blame is the connection software. For anyone who isn’t aware, bad coding is a bugbear of mine – too many people seem to be satisfied with releasing shoddy software for the sake of it.

For the moment I am going to continue using T-Mobile’s web-and-walk dongle, but in nine days (when the money loaded onto the card runs out) I will be looking for another service provider. I’m not going to be limited in my browsing due to the vagaries of a small company whose idea of customer care is to ignore problems.

t-immobility

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Magazines

Posted by BigWords on September 19, 2009

Black Static, the horror magazine, had a free issue offer so it seemed sensible to see what they were doing before either submitting anything or taking out a subscription. I’ve had the issue (#12, Aug/Sep) sitting around for a couple of days, and the more I look through it the more I’m coming around to really liking it. There are lots of magazines being published at the moment, so finding one that doesnt seem like another “obligation purchase” is refreshing.

The layout of the reviews reminded me of Samhain, while the familiar size and weight made me think of Tripwire… Though consideering the fates of those magazines I guess that any more of my views may put the jinx on what seems to be a damn fine read.

With Dark Side seemingly set to vanish from the newsstands – not that it gets a very good showing in Fife shops at the best of times – I need a horror magazine that doesn’t annoy me. I’ve grown increasingly dissatisfied with Fangoria over the past few years due to its annoying layout quirks and some really bad fims they have covered. I know, despite my whining, that the mag doesn’t have control over the quality of the films, but wasting space on poor movies is all too common.

I don’t think I have addressed it here before, but Wizard, which found its’ voice in the late nineties, has seriously gone off the boil lately. Do we still need to read the wanky fan-wish “cast the comic” stuff, or to know about another new publishers’ lineup? No, sorry, that shit ain’t gonna wash when I have better magazines to read. Only… The little things which crop up in various titles that really don’t add anything is beginning to be really noticeably.

Why do articles get broken in two? Do I want to turn to a few pages from the back of the magazine to read the rest of an interview? Or get a headache trying to separate the text from the ugly colors on the page? That particular problem is most noticeable in Allan Bryce’s SF-tinged mag. Enigma? I can’t remember the title, but it was so hard to read that it was no surprise that it didn’t last the test of time. The harder it is to read the words on the page, the less interested I become in the comtent.

I’m still picking up Death Ray, SFX (despite some SF, horror and fantasy creators viewing it with suspicion) and SciFiNow. Along with New Scientist, that’s pretty much my buying habits at the moment. There are gaps in my Hammer Horror and Comics World collections, so I pick those up when I see them, as with Starlog and other defunct titles. PC Zone and PC Gamer have slid in value for money in the last couple of years (and do I really need the same stuff on the cover disks as they had this time last year?).

360 and other gaming titles are fun, but with the exception of demos don’t really offer me anything that I can’t find on the internet, so I only occassionally pick those up to see who is involved with wich projects. There are some juicy bits of gossip that turn up if you buy all the mags and read them carefully, but I can’t be bothered any more. The news that a possible 1970’s-set sequel to Thief is the only reason I picked up one a couple of months ago, but still…

Maybe I’ll have to think hard about adding Black Static to my purchase list.

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Building The Best Library

Posted by BigWords on September 18, 2009

There’s a big reshuffle going on here at the moment, with piles of books and stacks of boxes being shifted back and forth. In the midst of the chaos it became clear that there are serious gaps in my collection, so starting here I’m going to see what I need – with the assistance of anyone who wants to chime in with a recommendation. The first stack that came to hand was – not entirely surprisingly – computer books.

I have managed to get through quite a few of the …For Dummies books, and as useful as they are I guess I don’t react as well to the format as others. They feel like light reads despite their subject matter, and there are better books being published with computerly writings. For the record, the following are the ones I have held on to

Java For Dummies by Barry Burd (4th edition, 2006)
Windows Server 2008 For Dummies by Ed Tittel & Justin Koreic (2008)

No, I don’t have as much as a clue as to why those two in particular remain, the second especially so because I would rather poke my eyes out with a rusty spoon rather than use most Windows products, but remain they do. I must have read something in those books that I thought would make a good prompt, but for the life of me I can’t remember what made me refrain from handing them off to someone else.

The Ultimate HTML Reference by Ian Lloyd (SitePoint) covers code, so any other – similar – books aren’t necessary unless they offer something really different. What ‘something really different’ would be, I have no idea, but if there is something I should be reading then I’ll find out soon enough.

The bare bones ‘n’ facts are important, but context is king, right? History lessons:

A Brief History Of The Future by John Naughton
Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte
Encyclopedia Of Cybercrime by Samuel C. McQuade, III
Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig
The Microsoft Way by Randall E. Stross

And that about covers the computing books. I know I’m missing some important texts, but that’s all there is at the moment. Fiction takes up a larger portion of my collection, so the non-fic grouping needs fleshed out with some good stuff. Any suggestions are welcome.

Note: I haven’t included the Photoshop books or gaming books, because they would really need sections of their own.

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Why Do Remakes Have To Kill Franchises?

Posted by BigWords on September 16, 2009

Having just sat through Death Race I have to ask this question. It should have ended with the chick standing on the roof of the car in the Frankenstein mask, the cutaway signifying the possible escape of the drivers. It ran on a few minutes longer, with an ending which was completely unnecessary and destroyed my interest in seeing a sequel. I have to make it clear, straight off the bat, that I’m a big fan of the original, and the thought that this would be similarly laced with barbed commentary appealed to me.

Wow, was I wrong about that or what?

It could have set up a great B-Movie franchise of explosions, gratuitous violence and general mayhem, but after the add-on scenes set in Mexico I’m not sure a sequel would even be possible. It isn’t as if creating a kick-ass franchise is difficult, as even the abysmal Butterfly Effect has managed to drag on to three equally yawn-inducing installments. As for the craptastic remake of The Omen, the least said the better…

Why are remakes so hard to get right? I’m not going to include the constantly revised stuff here, because anything with Sherlock Holmes or Batman is going to be revamped in a few years anyway (and Batman currently has a few versions available), so this is centered solely on fresh remakes on dead properties. Such as Planet Of The Apes.

Rule One (which must be obeyed at all costs) is that a remake must engage the fans of the original. Halloween (which was too slow and too retro) missed a few vital pointers from the original and demystified Michael Myers to a degree that it wasn’t really a horror film. It wanted to be taken seriously, but when there is an audience waiting on a certain type of film, they’re going to react badly when they see something that doesn’t push their buttons.

Rule Two is don’t fuck up the ending. This is where I ought to launch into a “What the Hell is the point of Tim Burton?” rant, but I really don’t care to expend energy attacking someone who doesn’t even have the courtesy to learn about the subject of his films before he starts directing.

Anyone who makes a comic-book movie having never looked at the comics is a fucking hack.

And a pretty useless one at that. There are at least a dozen major problems with the first Batman film, and even an awesome Batmobile can’t save the film from the dumbest ending ever. Who in their right mind kills off the Joker? Then he compounds his errors with the Planet Of The Apes, where he kills the potential series with a completely uncalled for coda in which… Sorry, I can’t even bring myself to relay the end of the story.

Anyways…

Rule Three. Don’t betray the fans of the original. As if having to watch Tom (not gay) Cruise running around in Mission: Impossible, we find out that the heroic Jim Phelps betrayed the IMF. Really? The same Jim Phelps who put his ass on the line every week to save the world? The man who put more villainous dictators in their place than Dubya could ever wet dream of? It was a slap in the face to the fans of the original series, and an insult to intelligent viewers.

Rule Four. Don’t remake Casablanca.

Rule Five. Big robots fighting each other over a Rubix cube isn’t big and isn’t clever.

Rule Six. Never let Pitof direct.

Addendum to rule six: Never let Uwe Boll direct. Anything.

Rule Seven. Just because everyone else is doing a _____ film, doesn’t mean you have to resurrect a crap franchise to cash in. I’m half dreading the announcement that some half-assed reimagining of an old cartoon will be appearing in cinemas soon, because it nearly always turns out to be a bad idea. If you need proof that it’s not a way to appease fans, then just look at the mess which Transformers made of its source material.

Rule Eight. Always keep the villain alive for the sequel.

I’ll add to this when I pluck up enough courage to watch what Uwe Boll did to Far Cry, and I suppose that I’ll have rules for making films based on computer games as well. I may even have to watch Super Mario Bros for that, so I might have to sober up before posting my thoughts. If I watch Tomb Raider I’ll need to be really drunk…

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Posted by BigWords on September 15, 2009

One of the (many) reasons I tend to steer clear of the news is the sheer number of utterly depressing stories. Today I learned of the deaths of two iconic individuals, one being relayed by a friend and the other from a five minute news bulletin – the type of abbreviated news show which normally ends with a light subject such as skateboarding dogs or singing parrots. I’m a bit late with the news of one death, but like I have pointed out I really don’t like watching the news.

Patrick Swayze
18 Aug 1952 – 15 Sep 2009

swayze_roadhouse

I remember watching Road House on a crappy VCR back in the early nineties, amazed that the dancing guy from Dirty Dancing could handle himself in a fight. It was a combination of the script and his acting which convinced me that he wasn’t a lightweight ‘celebrity’ but a real actor, though his choice of roles in films such as Ghost seemed to undermine his credibility.

When the news of his cancer was released, ahead of The Beast‘s first – and only – season, I assumed it was a publicity stunt. It soon became clear, as photographs which showed his illness were published, that it was a life threatening disease he was battling. The news of his death, while not unexpected, is still a shock considering how important a fixture his films were…

Jim Carroll
1 Aug 1950 – 11 Sep 2009

jim carroll

The poet, author, punk and cultural icon known for The Basketball Diaries wasn’t, perhaps, as well known as Swayze. It’s a shame that more people haven’t read his work, and I guess I’m to blame as well – I’ve never picked up his poetry. That situation will be rectified soon, I promise.

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Zombie Wordsearch

Posted by BigWords on September 14, 2009

zombiewordsearchJust for fun – and because my obsession with lists kinds makes them essential – I’m posting a wordsearch here. Sans clues. Yup, that’s right… You’re gonna have to stretch your little gray matter to find all thirty-six words and phrases I have included.

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On The Edge Of The Image

Posted by BigWords on September 13, 2009

I’ve been trawling various images for suitable NaNo logos, and the better the original image (i.e. how recognizable, suitable and clear the image is) the more fun I seem to be having with the process. It’s childish and (possibly) copyright-baiting, but I’m getting so much amusement from the process that I really don’t care.

After looking through so many images I happened upon a WWII image, and found great amusement in it. It only occurred to me recently that a great many of the well-known images from the era had a subliminal homoerotic nature, and this (Rosie) is one of the best.

Just to the side of what we can see is a bed with a young woman strapped face down to the matress, a jar of makeshift lube, and – probably – a gimp wearing a gas mask and RAF badges stiched on to his flesh. You can’t tell me this image hasn’t got a subtext…

There’s a reason I don’t write art reviews, but I can’t think what it is at the moment.

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