May 05

A List of Planets


Trarsa, showing the eclipse shadow of the nearest moon.

For a long time writing The Saga of Banak-Zuur, I kept a running list of planets, other significant place names, people, and important artifacts.  Perhaps I should have kept it up, but it got oppressive to maintain.

Nevertheless, I got to thinking about all the planets in the series, and how they exemplify just how big my fictional universe is, and made an attempt to compile them from scratch again.  Here is the list of planets I constructed, but I can guarantee that several are missing for some combination of the following reasons:

  1.  I forgot about them.  I have a suspicion that I forgot a few in Korvoros, at least.
  2. They are never named.  There are several in The White Shamitz that fit into this category.
  3.  I haven’t written them yet.  Some of the worlds in the books I haven’t finished yet are here, but there is an excellent chance that I’ll add more.

Regardless, I’ll probably update this list as necessary.  I won’t describe them, because I don’t want to
give away too much of the plot.

Central System
Guuludin Homeworld
Infinity Base
Inner Sanctum
Karsh Kaila
Library planet
Noryx Homeworld
Rubris Targ
Sia Shorsh
Unnamed World
Unnamed World 2

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Apr 16

The Ins and Outs of Teleportation

Teleportation - Intrepid Class Teleporter

The transporters of Star Trek, an iconic staple ever since Scotty first beamed up Kirk, go through a spectrum of forms, limited only by the set designers’ imaginations. This one is from the Intrepid class.

The transporters of Star Trek are fairly well developed for a television series. There is all kind of talk about matter streams and quantum resolution, all of which actually makes quite a bit of sense regarding teleportation. But if you look closer, there are some technical and scientific issues remaining. How does a matter stream passing through a planetary atmosphere differ from a particle beam weapon? How does putting every atom in the right place for a ham sandwich (food replicator) mean less quantum resolution than doing so for a person (transporter)? But even if these technical points are resolved satisfactorily, and someone succeeds in building a bulk teleportation device, that is where the can of worms actually pops open and the philosophical ghosts start rising from their graves.

I talk about some of this in Korvoros, and rather than make you buy the book, I’ll quote some of it here.

“You ever travel by one of these?” Tim asked.

“Maybe half a dozen times,” she said. “It takes a little while to get used to it. It can be pretty scary the first time.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” he agreed. “Especially if you weren’t expecting it. You know, I think the scrambler amazes me more than anything else I’ve seen.” He permitted himself to enjoy some excitement. “That this machine can convert a person to energy, send it somewhere else, and put him back together again.”

Wendy stifled a chuckle. “Who told you that?”

“Well…. Nobody.” He shrugged. “I just assumed it.”

“Bad assumption. Not even Dyrrya Industrial can handle that much energy in raw form — aside from the space-stress accumulators and rarefaction field — let alone control it with any kind of precision. Besides, there’s a serious ontological problem with that approach.”

“A what problem?”

“Ontological. Dealing with the nature of existence. Or maybe epistemological, if you prefer. Either way, it’s a bucket of worms.”

“OK, smarty. Go on. Explain it to me.”

“A thought experiment. Suppose you were converted to energy. In the interval between then and when you are reassembled, are you dead? If you are, do you come back to life? I guess perhaps this is a theological problem, after all. But it goes further. Since all energy is identical, they wouldn’t need to actually send the energy, just the information necessary to recreate you. The same argument would hold if you were just broken down into elementary particles. Does that mean that all you are is the information required to make you?”

“Interesting point,” he conceded, staring at the machine with more respect than a moment before. “It does sound a bit crazy.”

“So let’s proceed to utter insanity,” she continued. “If the information is all that’s important, suppose that two receiving stations happened to pick up the signal and each one makes a new instance of you. Which would be the real one? Or would either of them really be you? You could be dead and they could be fakes that no one could tell from the original because all the memories are duplicated too.”

“Shit.” He looked around at the device as if it were a monster. “You have a way of spoiling things. So how does it work, then? Magic?”

“As far as I’m concerned, yes. I have no idea how it works, and I probably never will. It uses a heterodyning technique to modulate your body en masse onto an energy field in some kind of higher order abstract space.”

Tim picked up the idea. “So by never really changing you or taking you apart, you avoid the philosophical headaches.”

“Yeah. Like the ghost of Hylly Hahrl.”

I left in the line about Hylly Hahrl just to pique your interest. The ghost matter is an unrelated but philosophically similar problem.

A research team in Germany developed a teleporter of sorts that shaves tissue-thin layers off an object one at a time, scans it, and transmits the signal to another location where it gets reconstructed with a 3D printer. That sounds like an uncomfortable and awkward way to travel, but it is essentially the same process as the whole dematerialization/rematerialization process.

So, let’s allow our minds to wander.

  1. Teleportation - The Fly

    The Fly (1958) represents the archetypal teleporter malfunction. The DNA explanation in the 1986 version is total hogwash.

    You die and arrive at the pearly gates, but you can’t go to heaven or hell, because you’re just a teleporter reproduction.

  2. You come home unexpectedly and find your wife in bed with you.
  3. Suppose that reproductions, having identical brain structure, are perfectly telepathic.
  4. A scientist goes back in time, teleports Einstein, and keeps a copy.
  5. You and your clones agree to attempt to reconstruct yourselves into one person, but you don’t get the alignment quite right and you go through life as this blurry ghostly thing. Ewwwww! I don’t think The Fly has anything over that!
  6. There’s a new twist on theft and counterfeiting. Someone plugs a device into a commercial teleporter that replicates all the money and gold that goes through.

These ideas represent just a few minutes of science-fiction-writer speculation. Do you have any ideas of your own?

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Apr 15

The Life, Death, Life (and Death?) of DOMO

I wrote in an earlier post that Dream of Mirror Online (DOMO) was the best MMORPG in the world. That may be true, but let’s qualify that statement a bit and say that it’s the best MMORPG designed for adults. The best for children absolutely has to be Wizard 101. That said, DOMO has been through a rough history, and although its prognosis has drastically improved over the last few months, there are still worries in the back of my mind.

The Life of DOMO

DOMO Battle Scene

One person’s captured battle scene. Not mine.

I first discovered it years ago, when I got a sudden itch and hit Google to pursue an anime-themed game. I’m not sure if that was before or after my nephew Bobby got me hooked on Wizard 101, but that doesn’t matter, as both games kick butt. I fell in love with DOMO after finding it at Aeria Games, and ended up spending far too much money on it, though if you compare the price of that entertainment with going to the movies or getting an HBO sports package, it wasn’t really that much at all. I had a an automatic purchase of $20 worth of Aeria Points each month, and that went on for a couple of years, and doesn’t count the extra purchases I made.

I had phoenix tears and resurrection medals, teleport scrolls and talismans. I had Ye Yaxi, Meru, a love pet SE 3 (second evolution) named Mellomy Moonwhisper, and a fully evolved sapphire pet named Asuka Langly Soryu. Anime fans will know that second name. I had all three Saras. I really loved Mellomy and Student Sara.

DOMO has everything one could hope for or even expect in an MMORPG: a wide variety of territories from the deserts of Copperhorn Mountain to the snow-shrouded landscape of Sneaky Peak, from the deep sylvan realm of Giantwood Forest to the intricate construction of Collington. There are missions galore, monster-filled temples, sophisticated crafting, more character jobs than I can remember, missions, marriage, and murder. DOMO has it all.

Could life be any better in the virtual world?

The Death of DOMO

Unfortunately for the virtual world, it must exist on servers in the real world. Worse, those servers are managed by companies whose purpose is to make money. There is an even bigger “worse” than that: although those companies, either by economic coercion or actual conscience, hire GMs (Game Masters) to oversee the online world, the final decisions may be made by a bunch of suits who have never logged into anything more than their bank accounts, and who don’t have a clue, and who, in gaming terminoloy, are called “noobs”.

DOMO Sneaky Peak

Sneaky Peak, where last I fought monsters.

Everything was progressing nicely in the Mirror World of DOMO-land. I was in Sneaky Peak, the second most difficult area of the game, Student Sara and I kicking some ape butt. We worked well together, you know, because I favored the mage classes and did a lot of magical damage. Student Sara can do some serious physical damage, the kind of girl a rapist does not want to meet in a dark alley.

Although the universe was good to me, there were some problems I didn’t really know about. A lot of the potential market out there didn’t care for the relatively primitive (by today’s standards) graphics. I don’t know if there is a gaming term for such people, but there is a real-world term: “whiner.” They remind me of my little girls who, when you put on Arsenic and Old Lace, come up with something like, “Ew! Not that! It’s black and white!” Of course, my girls, given a few minutes to come to their senses, realize what they’re seeing and sit there with their eyes glued to one of the funniest movies ever made. There are gamers who lack their capacity to see beyond the black and white to the glories underneath. Zelda — Ocarina of Time, on the Nintendo-64, looks corny by today’s technology, but it remains one of the best games ever written.

Then, there might have been some problems with Aeria. I never had any confrontations with them myself, but there was a deluge of complaints against their idea of customer service, namely, not providing you with any, and then banning you when you complain about it. Once you have any experience points in the real world, you know that you get complaints like this all the time, rather founded or not. But there were enough of them that I was nervous about the company.

Then came the global life extinction event. I don’t remember the exact message, but in effect it was, “Thank you for the thousands of hours you’ve spent playing DOMO, and screw you and all the virtual property you had and the on-line friends you made, but we’re shutting the servers down permanently. Oh, and would you please spend some more money before then?”

I couldn’t help to think there was some sort of mental deficiency in expecting those who had been loyal players to spend more cash on something guaranteed to disappear in a couple of weeks.

Then there are relationships. There have been studies that show that the ending of a virtual relationship can be just as traumatic as in the real world. The reason for this should be obvious: even though the world might be virtual, the relationship is quite real. I am reminded of how slave owners would sell off spouses and children as it pleased them regardless of the emotional trauma it caused. Hey, it’s nothing personal; it’s just business. Isn’t it sad how, “It’s just business” is used to excuse such a multitude of sins? Breaking off real game relationships in service to the bottom line isn’t that much different.

There was a girl I knew in DOMO, whom I shall not name. I had even broken my rule that in-game relationships should say entirely in game. She knew about me in the real world, and I knew she was a 15-year-old in California. We talked about getting married (in game, of course). I still miss her.

The death of DOMO on Aeria Games was a multiple catastrophe. I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking of some place I’d been, and remember that it was Town-God Temple, Pandora’s Grotto, or Canute Canal. Since I had tens of thousands of Aeria Points sitting unused in my account, I tried other games they had to offer, but they were all vapid, blood-sucking shadows of DOMO. It was better to waste all that money than to waste my time seeking comfort where there was none.

The nostalgia grew so great, and I knew so many people who wanted to return to the Mirror World, that I looked into getting a static IP address, licensing the software for private use, and setting up my own server for 1000 or so personally invited friends. This is within my technical capabilities.

How’s that for dedication?

The Resurrection of DOMO

The idea of setting up my own server was still on the table when I was suddenly, spectacularly, and gloriously relieved of the responsibility. With far too little fanfare for the magnificence of the deed, Suba Games has brought DOMO back! (Add multiple exclamation points to the preceding sentence.) Now I’m free to spend money on Suba Points and not on servers. Servers are really expensive, you know, and can be time-consuming to maintain.

As soon as I heard about their closed beta, I got a key and jumped right in.  There was a glitch that meant I lost my free pet token and closed beta flag, but it was a glitch of my own making, and no big deal.  You can always get pet tokens and I’m not the kind of guy to run around with “#1 Closed Beta” sticking up my back.  It’s all good.

So now, within the radius of a few miles, I, two nephews, two sons, one daughter, and one niece are all enjoying virtual lives in the Mirror World. And why not? I can’t think of a better virtual world, though The Spiral is definitely in the same league.

Will DOMO survive?

In the Bible, Jesus resurrected Lazarus, but Lazarus died again. Or at least I assume he did. I worry that the same thing can happen to DOMO. That a game can have a nearly limitless online presence is something that Wizard 101 has proved beyond any doubt. It still remains a sad fact of life that the survival of a virtual world depends on whether it makes or loses money. Given the rabid popularity of DOMO, I really can’t believe Aeria was losing money on it; it was probably just a pseudo-random decision made by a roomful of suity noobs in disregard of their fan base. You don’t go pissing off your fan base; once it’s lost, you have to start all over at the beginning.

Its survival now depends on their providing a good experience for the player, and therein we have some positives and some negatives.

The Good:

  1. It’s DOMO. There’s not much more to say about this because I’ve already praised the virtues of both the game and Suba for bringing it back.
  2. The online traffic suggests that Suba Games is more reasonable and responsive to players than Aeria Games. I’ve seen one person complaining that he or she was suspended for no apparent reason, but it was rather the norm with Aeria. The forums were rampant with complaints about them, but this isn’t the case with Suba. Unless they do something to nerf their reputation (such as suspending accounts with no explanation) they have a leg up over Aeria.
  3. Suba looks to be sharp at keeping bots cleaned out. Playing multiple characters is perfectly legitimate, but running bots is the epitome of online skankiness. Just so you know. Bots are hard to write, unless someone has written some kind of framework engine. I’m a software and web developer in case you haven’t figured that out, and I can’t understand the mentality of people who’ll go to that much trouble to cheat at a game. You’re supposed to be playing it.
  4. GMs so far are not jeks.

The Issues:

  1. Stalls have proliferated like maggots. Everything seemed well balanced under Aeria, but now they’re everywhere, including places that in my opinion they shouldn’t be. Such as inside shops and across the previously pristine wilderness of Placid Plain. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them in dungeons. At the same time, I sometimes have trouble setting up stalls myself. I frequently get this infuriating “NPC or other player stalls are nearby. Please keep your distance” message. It wouldn’t be so infuriating if there weren’t already stalls closer together than the one I’m trying to set up would be. I can’t figure out what has happened with the dynamics, but setting up a stall is more difficult while at the same time they have proliferated. I have no suggestions about how to fix this, but the large number of them may be related to point #6 below.
  2. The treasure-hunting system is totally nerfed. I never spent much time with it before, but when I did, I usually got something at least a little useful. Now, virtually all you get are transformation pills, apparently for people who, for whatever reason, want to run around as a forest kuku egg for half an hour. They’re useless, and since pretty much everyone else I know has the same opinion of them, you can’t sell them. I click on them so the chest goes away, but my next task is to throw the danged thing into the trash. Once every other blue moon, you might get a ring or such, but not often enough to make it worth running around boards all day. I just played seven treasure maps my daughter gave me because she gave them to me, and promptly threw away seven useless transformation pills. No more time wasted on treasure maps until there’s something worth finding.
  3. I see some clicking problems, but it’s hard to say if it’s actually an issue with the client or one with Windows 8. All sort of mysteries turned up with Windows 8. The client always knew how to aggravate the player with missed clicks: click too fast, while it’s looking the other way, and it ignores you. I don’t know how many times I died because of that problem. It remains, but I’ve been plagued with a couple of new ones. Click-through. I’ll have the cursor over a monster, clearly see the boxing glove pointer, and click, then before I know it, I’m running away because it thinks I’ve clicked on the ground a kilometer away. Or worse, a vengeance boss. It also seems like clicks have come out of thin air, because I’ve gone running off and I wasn’t even in the DOMO window. I notice it a lot when I’m flying. I stop in mid-air like a ghost clicked on the screen.
  4. DOMO Student Sara

    Student Sara, my buddy and favorite of the three.

    The roll-out of some game features is coming along slowly, and in general I’m patient with that. Some of the advanced areas are not available yet, and that’s really not an issue, as it’ll be a while before I would set foot upon Sneaky Peak again anyway. I already mentioned that I had an SE3 love pet, and I intend to have one again. I’ve seen love pets in the game, but no special editions as of yet. It’s not the wait that bothers me but the worry that they might not show up at all. If I had to settle for a garden variety, I could probably live with that, but I would forever remain disgruntled by it. Same with Meru, whom I thought was so cute despite that despicable level cap. If Saras never show up, that might be a deal-breaker. This is DOMO, and and DOMO has Saras. They’re part of the world, like Big Beam. Suba Games: you would do well to keep players advised about the future.

  5. Have overall mall prices taken a leap? My memory isn’t completely clear on this, so I could be 100 miles off base, but it seems like certain items that once came in stacks of 10 or so, like phoenix tears and dreamstone powder, are now sold individually and about the same price. What I’m sure about is that with the Aeria mall, I always kept lots of them on hand, but now they’re not even remotely worth buying. 999SP for a single phoenix tear? For that, I’d rather take the experience hit. You can make it up in an hour.
  6. One final challenge the reborn DOMO faces with respect to some players has nothing to do with Suba, nor do I know that they could do anything about it. It’s strictly Aeria’s fault, and it’s psychological. In the Aeria version, I worked hard and spent lots of money. As I said, I just about had it all. Now, I’ve having to do all that work over again just to get back to where I was. Clearing the boards isn’t all that bad because it’s still fun, but scraping every penny off the floor to recover the items that I had years ago is discouraging. I wonder if it could end up turning off me, and other old-time players as well.

I’m sure that Suba is working on some of these, if not all. There was a recent system message that they had over 500 tickets in, so they’re aware of things. Even the best game programmers can only work so fast. Consequently, there is sound hope that many of these problems will go away. Even as it is, and though they are fewer in number, the positives by their very nature outweigh the negatives.

I hope DOMO on Suba Games will, as Spock would say, live long and prosper.  At the moment, it looks encouraging.

Addendum 2015 April 17

I now have a hypothesis about the explosion of stalls.  I ran to the north of Eversun City for merchant qualification and couldn’t find the guy.  As it turns out, the merchant class isn’t implement.  I hope that’s temporary.  Being a merchant is the only way to increase the number of slots in your stall.  I always suspected that designers at Starsoft were a little insane to establish an eight-slot limit in the first place, and tried to take it on faith that they knew what they were doing as far as planning game dynamics.  Can you imagine going to Dollar General and finding they only carry eight items?  It’s a limitation that pretty much cripples vending.

But the merchant’s ability to increase the number of slots empowered real shopping, which now we don’t have.  I suspect that those who actually want to make money find themselves coerced into creating multiple characters so that they can sell everything they want to.  Hence, maybe three stalls for each one with the merchant class intact.  Suba: get busy!

Addendum 2015 April 22

Speak of the devil!  As I write this addendum, the Suba DOMO server is down for patches.  They are adding, among other things, the merchant class.  As if they read my blog!  Over the next few days or weeks, we’ll see if the proliferation of stalls subsides.

But more to the point, the chat on Facebook and the forum is mostly positive toward Suba.  They’re moving fast, trying to do things right, and respond to plays.  This is in contrast to Aeria, whose forum was filled with complaints.  I’m quite happy with Suba and the effort they are putting into things.  The prognosis for DOMO looks to be excellent.

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Mar 19

Elise Stokes’ Cassidy Jones and The Seventh Attendant

Elise Stokes has struck gold again with the third installment of the Cassidy Jones Adventures, Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant. There are a lot of books that I would like my daughters to read, but few that I incessantly encourage them to read, such as these. Yes, the stories are whirlwinds of action, but as always, it is action wrapped up in sound values and wholesome attitudes.

Those familiar with the series will experience their eyes opening as new tidbits leak from the pages. The real background behind the virus that gives Cassidy her powers. How Arthur King fits into it, and what the Kings have to do with Lily White. What Emery’s father is really doing. The list goes on. The first two books seem like totally different stories aside from the fact that Cassidy is the protagonist of both, but here we see the two threads drawn together into an even larger and more apocalyptic plot.

Cassidy Jones and the Seventh AttendantIt’s hard to write a review without saying too much, but I’ll drop some hints: the last microchip that hasn’t been recovered, an ancient Egyptian queen, international spies, a mutant lizard man, and of course, some enhancement to Cassidy’s abilities — and her worries. We see new twists in the romantic drama between Cassidy and Jared.  (Personally, I root for Cassidy and Emery, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that turns out.) Don’t worry. I haven’t told you enough to spoil it in any way; there are still plenty of surprises in store, most of which you will never guess. You won’t believe who shoots Cassidy full of holes. Nor will I tell you who the seventh attendant is, because it’s always a treat to find out what Stokes’ titles mean for yourself.

I’ll admit to some moments of adjustment. One of the things that impressed me so much about the first book was that Stokes had done her research. She had constructed an explanation for the origin of superpowers that, unlike virtually all the most familiar ones, could pass my graduate school education in biochemistry as being plausible. Compare this to Spiderman and the Flash, both of which are total hogwash. I felt some of that satisfaction compromised this time around, especially with the arrival of genetically engineered lizard mutants. Fortunately, the disillusionment didn’t last long, nor is it a deal-breaker. I still enjoy the X-Men, and that’s a load of tripe orders of magnitude more severe than mere stretching of my genetic engineering credibility.

On the other hand, I have to also admit that lizard mutants fit into the enlarged premise quite nicely, even if the scientific realism is relaxed a bit. With each passing installment, you can see that Stokes’ vision was far more expansive than you ever imagined. The back story grows larger, the complexities more intricate, the dangers more profound, and the resolution more satisfying. With the third book, things are starting to feel like Mission Impossible, and I don’t think I can, with the English language, tell you just how cool that is.

One outstanding feature is that Cassidy remains true to Cassidy.  I write a lot of strong girls, but some of them are barely human. Heck, many aren’t human at all. Cassidy is not only strong, but super-strong, and copes with it the best she can as an authentic human being.  Actually, an authentic teenage human being. I’ve ranted about this before, and I’ll probably rant about it again. This is precisely why I encourage my daughters to read these books. Cassidy deals with her power in a way that serves as inspiration not only to girls, but to boys, and even old men such as myself. She is not only an inspiration to young people; she is an example.

Each new volume only reinforces my conviction that Stokes can do no wrong.

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Mar 19

What if We Had Tails?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.”
— Albert Einstein

How shortsighted of you, Dr. Einstein, as imagination encircles the cosmos! Actually, Einstein had more to say about imagination.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

That boosts my ego, because my imagination is over the top. I had thought to start this “Imagination Formation” series as a way to get started blogging on Goodreads, which I’ve shamefully forsaken, but as I finally found the path to linking my Goodreads blog to my RSS feed, I guess I’ll just start it here.

The first in the series: what if we had tails?

DOMO Shura Girl

The Shura from Dream of Mirror Online (the best MMORPG EVER!) have tails. But they’re not human. Notice that head hair and tail hair don’t match.

Sure, you know the obvious. We’d need a way to get the tail out through our pants or skirts, except that Victorian women probably would have tied them to their legs so people wouldn’t know they had one. Notches in chair backs so you can slide in without having to poke your tail through a hole in back or sit on it, though engineering dictates a notch on only one side (unless made with Korishini technology using exophase matter). Would it be the right or left side?  Left-handed tails?  Car seats?

What about the less obvious things? Humans have invented dozens of ways to feel superior to other humans, so it’s only natural to think that such ape-like attitudes would extend to tails. “Your tail is too bushy, you must be an uncivilized clout.” “Your tail is too thin, baldy!” “What a rat’s nest!  Do you ever comb it?”  (Nose in the air): “A golden tail is a sign of true blue blood.” “His eyes are too close together, and his tail is tail is too short. I wouldn’t hang around him.” “Look! He’s growing pubes on his tail!”  Of course, all of this can be fixed at the nearest tail salon.

Would men and women have different kinds of tails?  Suppose men had tails like lions and women had tails like horses.  For transgender people, that would mean more surgery. I wonder if little girls would wear three pretty matching ribbons in their hair: two on their ponytails and one on their pony tail.  Speaking of kids, you know they’ll pick on each other. Boys will be pulling girls’ tails and if the girls don’t have tail holes in their dresses, you know they’ll be lifting up on their tails to see what they can get a peek of. Even as children, they may have an inkling of the erotic potential of a tail, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

So that’s it. There is nothing deeply philosophical or technical about this series; it is just to throw out ideas to get the creative juices flowing. Yours, and maybe mine. Ideas are the stock in trade of any writer, but even more so for those of us who dare venture into science fiction and fantasy, where there are no bounds to where imagination can lead.

Einstein took it pretty far. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could be found wrapped in his oversize sweater in his armchair in Princeton reading The Lord of the Rings.

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