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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in xhac's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
1:03 pm
lousy options
Hi Anthony. We, your doctors, decided that we should do this in person, instead of on the telephone.

You are 90% through your radiation treatment so here are your choices:
- You can have a major surgery in which half your pelvis is going to be removed and your sciatic nerve is going to be severed (it wasn't working well anyway), leaving you with no movement/feeling below your ankle. Also there might be some risk of other nerve damage, affecting bladder/colon control. A followup surgery will replace the missing pelvis with an unspecified substitute (meanwhile your leg will be "unsupported").
- You can continue with radiation, in which case you have a "non-zero" (later 40% and later still "too difficult to estimate") chance of controlling the tumor. In this case surgery becomes very risky/impossible for the next 6 weeks and after that will have a 30-40% chance of developing major complications. In other words the best time to have the surgery is now. After radiation we will monitor your tumor and if it starts to grow again we're going to "salvage surgery".

You have 30 minutes to decide. BTW I, your surgeon got to go midquestion, so talk it over with your radiologist.

This cute little tidbit took place on Monday. I decided to continue with radiation (because, in my understanding, both doctors winked at me to take this option), which was very frustrating for my family, who apparently didn't like any option and would prefer for me to get magically better. In case I didn't communicate the stressful nature of the situation (i.e having to decide something so major in so little time), my sister _and_ my radiation oncologist were openly crying and my mother, who had no idea what was going on because she didn't speak the language, was in an mildly hysterical state of seeking information.

After a case of "broken telephone" my relatives in the US arranged another meeting with the doctors on Thursday, one day before the end of my radiation treatments. Fortunately (and understandably) the doctors were now semi-openly supporting my decision by understating the risks and overstating the rewards, since it would be stupid to change our minds now. Everybody was happy after that.

Now my treatments are over. I'm probably starting chemo next week. Half of my butt is completely red and is expected to start pealing soon. They gave me a cream for that.

Mood: decisive

Friday, December 7th, 2007
8:37 pm
cool rider
I have been living in a hotel for the past few days. The culprit: snow. There are about 15 steps that I have to tackle to get in and out of the house where I live and them there are some 10m of uncovered road area to get to my ride [1]. If you fill that up with snow/ice it can really be a death trap. I had the misfortune to land one of my crutches on a piece of ice the other day and it wasn't pretty. As a precaution, we moved to a hotel for the duration of snowfall. There was internet access (curiously not wireless) but I didn't bring my laptop because it was just one more thing to carry (especially on a very complicated route the last day where we hop from building to building with all our stuff trailing).

Anyway, that's why I haven't been in touch for so long.

I have 8-10 more radiation sessions to go. Thankfully I switched back from twice a day to once a day treatments. It seemed that between the long rides and the waiting (and the eating) it was the only thing did all day. The old twice a day treatments where stronger than the once a day ones (when you add both together) by 30% but they were less focused. I remember that they took several minutes to position me before treatment on the once/d regime with people tugging and prodding and shoving and stuff. Lately with the twice/d they just throw me in there, give me a little push and "I'm perfect". So I guess once/d is using a smaller dose but it all goes to the tumor.

The pain is a bit better, but the huge thing sticking out from my right pelvis hasn't gotten any smaller. It seems that every time I see my doctor, a very stressful chinese woman, she has a different explanation: "it's too soon yet", "it's probably dead and we're seeing scar tissue". Today she told me that it may not go away for years: "I'm pretty sure it won't stay there forever". That's entertaining. Overall she's optimistic though, so what can you say.

For the guys that e-mail me about not seeing me at jabber/skype, I have to say that there is not really a position in which I can use the computer for a long period of time (i.e. more that 3m). You can only roll around for that much time. So I'm offline and do some hit and runs to answer e-mails and write some blog entry.

[1] I'm actually using a wonderful service called "The Ride" which helps disabled and senior citizens get around for $2 per person. You just call them the day before about where you're going and what time you need to be there and they just show up and get you there. It took three weeks for me to get accepted but in a rare demonstration of perfect timing, I got my first ride on the day I switched to twice a day. They use minibuses and other people's rides can interfere with yours (we had a ride last 1:45 with several pickups/drop offs before we reached our destination). Also some times they can be horribly late. You get what you pay for I guess but it has been a life (/money) saver.

Mood: expectant

Monday, November 26th, 2007
3:44 pm
radiation continuation
The doctors changed my radiation regiment. I guess the tumor grew some more and they're trying something more aggressive. So now I'm having two lower-dose sessions per day, six hours apart. The great thing is that each session lasts for less than 10 minutes which is a piece of cake.

The bad thing is that this means 4 routes to and from the hospital each day. Just today the taxi was $30 going to the hospital and $35 going back. And we still have the afternoon appointment. "Taxi!", you say; "are you some kind of millionaire?". Well. It can't be helped. I don't think I'm capable of hanging on the metro, which is 30m walking from where I live. My uncle and my aunt's friends have done a great job as transportation thus far and our taxi rides are kept to the minimum [1].

In other news I have changed my pain control medicine from a patch to pills and it seems to work a bit better. I have been using the patch forever now and the american version's glue is not that strong and with my sweats and all they were not delivering "the stuff" to my skin that well. Also my hair-falling phase has quickly turned into hair-growing and it's the first time in a long time I can see grey stuff on my hair.

[1] We are collecting receipts from every ride and each one is crappier and scantier than the last one. No driver will give you his name "for security reasons" and on the rarest of occasions that they don't just hand you a blank receipt, they always ask how much should they put down for the fare. I have a feeling we are not getting a dime out from these.

Mood: abused

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007
12:24 pm
bring on the heat
Last time I told you how bad was my first radiation session. Well I have had 6 more since then and they were way better. First of all they were shorter than the first one, which helps. Second, and more important, the radiation guys know me by now and they propose a break themselves on the first sign of trouble. On the last 3 session I didn't need any. In case you are wondering I'm handling my own genitalia now so no more Frozen-Fingers-Jim.

For the last 5 days I have something new to worry about, and that's fever. I routinely went up to 40oC. Since the fever is completely asymptomatic and every blood culture has come back negative the fever is caused either by the tumor dying or by the tumor getting bigger, or both (can't get more pythionic than that.

Fun facts about fevers: A fever alone cannot cause real damage to an adult person. However high it goes it won't fry your brain (in little kids it can cause seizures) or disable an organ or even twist your smile. That is why I have been completely ignoring my fever (currently 38.8oC) and aren't taking any medication for it. Best decision I made in a while (doctor approved). Taking a fever suppressant at 39oC will make you sweat for 3 hours and when you're done you end up looking like you just got out of a pool. Also, two hours after that the fever was exactly where it was or even higher. I used to handle the situation with a lot of towels since I had to routinely go past 2 of those fever roller coasters in a signle night, but it was getting tiresome. Once you get the "get rid of the fever NOW" mentality you had since you were little, you realize that the fever can be your friend.

Last but not least, today is Thanksgiving in the US! My uncle has bought a 17 pound turkey for an 8 person dinner. Thank god I have the cancer excuse to not eat that much.

Mood: zen

Thursday, November 15th, 2007
9:53 pm
Sit still or burn
I had my first radiation session yesterday. What a freaking nightmare. Being the first one, It lasted longer than the rest, including a planning session I had previously which was described to me as "about the same as the real deal". My pain control has failed me completely and it's only a few positions that I can hold more that two minutes. The "getting nuked" position wasn't one of them, let me tell you.

So what happenedCollapse )

PS: FYI my bum is not glowing (yet)

Mood: radiated

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007
10:36 pm
Me first tattoo
Yey. When it rains it pours. I got me three tattoos today. They may look like little dots, but they really are miniature chinese symbols that impart great wisdom. Too bad it's below my underwear. I guess spiritual girls need to form a line for enlightenment.

The tattoos are actually markers that will help the radiation oncologists aim their radioactive beams at me. [1] They are employing a technique called Intensity-modulated radiotherapy which seems very cool (it takes several hours just to simulate the beams in special simulators so that it's shaped like the tumor).

Oh yeah, taking the radiation that early actually means that the chemo they gave me was not working. The doctors have an indicator in the blood (called LDH) that tells them how good the treatment is doing and it has gone up again (we didn't use that indicator in Greece). The pain has gotten a lot worse and an MRI I tried to do yesterdays (but failed to complete because of the pain) showed the tumor growing again. My first scheduled radiation appointment is for next Thursday, but they're trying to push it for early next week. We'll see.

[1]: Yes! I have already thought of bringing my pet insect and have it casually bite me after it's had a healthy dose of radiation, but my physician (Dr Caterpillar) did some experiments in the past with said technology and is not very confident in the results. Beautiful set of hair though, the multi-legged bastard

Mood: marked

Monday, November 5th, 2007
1:10 am
out of the hospital
I was released from the hospital yesterday and I'm back at my aunt's house.

In Greece I spent 9 out of 10 months I had chemo at the hospital. Here I wouldn't even be there for those 6 days if it wasn't for the fever. The fever is gone and so am I. You know what they say: "The hospital is the worst place to be if you're not sick". I mean, last Tuesday they gave me the chemo, handed me a list of things to look out for (fever was one of them) and sent me home right away with a pat on the back.

I guess if you're paying through the nose for hospitalization that's a great thing.

They also suggested to take it easy at work, which made me feel horrible for sitting in my butt for the last _year_. Thank the lord for not being able to walk or I'd feel like such a prick. :-P

Mood: homely

Thursday, November 1st, 2007
4:55 pm
Mass General
I just finished setting up wireless at mass general. I swear there are dozen SSIDs around here... Turns out it's "phspiaguest".  I've been here for the last four days (but I just gotten my laptop) and the differences with the greek hospitals are already screaming at me.
Saturday, October 27th, 2007
4:27 pm
What I'm doing
Hey! It seems blogging is useful again, even if it's just to spread news.

For those that don't already know my present situation, I'll give a generous introduction:

Around June 2006 I was decided I'll become a marathon runner or something and started doing some lame laps around the municipal track or along the beach at Loutraki, carefully measured in googleearth to keep perfect records. Some time after that, say August 2006 I started to have some nuisance pains on my right hip which of course were attributed to the "let it burn" aspect of training. It was a few months after that, following an embarrassing round of rafting that I couldn't even step on my leg and decided to go to a doctor. Of course the doctor, after having me do some x-rays and CTs diagnosed it as what all his other previous appointments had, which was that herniated disc in my back was pushing on a nerve that goes down my foot. Very very common and very very annoying. As a result, I got me some pills and prescription for physiotherapy. The pills I took but the physio I skipped (which is just as well).

Anyway. The pain grew gradually stronger and stronger until one day, around January 2007 I couldn't get out of bed. My doctor, plus another one I got for a second opinion, suggested more of the above. Only instead of pills I was shooting shots up my butt and laying really still, or there would be pain. Actually I had mastered a regime where I was laying down for 20 minutes and then standing up for 10 because the pain hated too much stillness. It came a day that I haven't been able to sleep properly for weeks, except if you call sleeping on your toes with crutches sleeping.

After a few weeks of this, and seeing that my situation was getting worse we decided to go to a hospital. Three hospitals toy be precise. It was an orthopedic one, a kind of neurological one and guess in which one did I end up: a cancer one. Turns out what was causing the pain was a huge tumor on my right pelvis which, wasn't really happy about having injections of anti-inflamatory drugs being done twice a day to it.

That was January and as much as that was ages ago, it feels like it was only last week. Hospital time sure flies. I had my opiates and my "too much to put on our report" morphine to keep the pain away, along with too much chemo, if comparing to other folks there is any tell. The diagnosis was osteosarcoma on the pelvis, which is a nasty thing, kind of resilient to chemo and all too frequently involved in limb amputation.

Well I did my chemo and I also did something called a bone marrow transplant where they get and keep stem cells of your blood, then they zap you with some pretty devastating meds and in order to recover you need those stem cells that they took earlier. All very cutting edge and all (although probably two decades ago).

While I was doing all these, the big treasure at the end of the rainbow was that some time the tumor might be ready to be removed by surgery, preferably abroad. The greek surgeon we visited in order to have permission to go out (and have the insurance pick up the bill) told us that he could give no such permission, as he has proudly performed many amputations where the fellow lived to tell the tale. That was a distressing time for me as you might understand, but my very resilient parents finally convinced him he should let us go.

So right now I'm in a bed at my aunt's house at Boston Massachusetts writing you about the past and something about the future.

The hospital I'm treated at is Mass General Hospital which I guess is very respected and all. The first doctor I saw, as well as every other doctor I saw told me "this doesn't look like an osteosarcoma". After a new biopsy (big needle in butt taking samples) this was confirmed and it seems that I am suffering from a Ewing's sarcoma which is, I guesss, a close cousin of my previous diagnosis. This is just as well because the doctors here had pretty much told me that if it's osteosarcoma we probably have to amputate the leg (you see the tumor is now tangled in some blood vessels that are too critical for the leg so the leg must go). Being Ewing's we have an opportunity to shrink the tumor down further using new chemo and radiation therapy (Ewing but not osteo is kink of sensitive to radiation). This way, they say, there is a chance to save the leg. Don't you just love doctor speak.

My feelings about the whole situation: I can't say I've come to terms to loosing a leg just quite yet. Sometimes I think I am but the next moment something shudders inside me at the thought. I almost laugh at myself at when my hair fell out and was kind of upset about it. All in all I think I've been a pretty good sport and haven't gone into drama mode (yet). At least that's what the nurses tell me.

Anyway, I had my first chemo in Boston on Tuesday which went pretty well. I was pretty much sleeping from then on. Today I think I'm better. I think I'll go to my _600 channel IPTV with PVR and pausing live tv_ TV. Internet is on the room upstairs though and I'm too lazy to go there with my crutches.

Anyways. Take care. I only check my gmail account (that's where lj comments go).
Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
12:44 am
symmetric marvels
It's been many years since I've seen the movie Doppelganger [1] but it left me with a lingering question that I finally got answered this week.

The plot of the movie is that a planet is accidentally (duh) discovered in the exact same orbit as the earth, only rotated by 180 degrees [2], so they send a man out to investigate. The spaceman ends up crash landing on the strange planet which is actually a mirror earth, where everything that happens on our earth, happens on the other earth as well, the only difference being that everything is reflected, just like looking at a mirror. Right is left and left is right. So when the spaceman disappears behind the sun, another "reflection" spaceman appears. Of course nobody believes him, even though they see that his internal organs are set up the wrong way.

So the question: Could this movie plot happen. I'm looking for "possible" not "probable".

So the other day I was listening to a lecture by Richard Feynman which was about exactly that problem. Only he didn't mention the movie. He was more concerned about whether the laws of physics are valid when you look at them in the mirror. As he puts it "can we describe 'left' to an alien over the phone?".

Take a minute to think about it if you don't already know the answerCollapse )

[1]: Or I might have saw it with the title "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun". Actually I'm not even sure if that's even the movie I saw, since I had to google for the plot to find it.
[2]: that's not an 180 degrees phase shift, mind you. Distances from the sun are (presumably) the same

Mood: awed

Sunday, December 17th, 2006
10:32 pm
About two month ago I was asked to build a website for internal use, acting as a kind of Electronic Program Guide (EPG) for IPTV. So I started building it using php which was pretty much the only web development tool I knew. As time went on, more and more functionality needed to be added and the website had to communicate with other servers and network elements and stuff, which isn' t so great to do in php. So I decided to switch to turbogears, which is a python web dev framework and which I had long wished to learn.

Using turbogears was super-easy. I was able to convert the whole site in just two days and I ended up with half the code. Once you get the feel for this kind of web development, you just can't go back to embedding code inside your html. Absolutely brilliant.

Then, as I was beginning to get comfortable, I was dully informed that the site would be accessible to "up to 200 pilot users". These news were really disconcerting, for many reasons, not least of which being that it had to be translated in Greek. It turned out that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to make the turbogears database subsystem, called SQLObject work with database fields that used utf-8 encoding. Many failed attempts later and after realizing that I could never debug SQLObject in time, I decided to reinvent the wheel by writing my own sql object wrapper.

Behold mySQLObject.py

This is probably the most redone project in the history of CS but I wanted to do this since my third year at the university. I wouldn't believe you back then if you told me that you could do this in a day by picking the right programming language, but that's exactly what I did with python.

Its functionality is pretty limited in that it only supports things that I already used in the site (e.x. it only supports fields of strings, integers and boolean). My biggest concern right now is how stable it is. I'm particularly concerned with the stability aspect of things, especially regarding database timeouts and stuff [1]. I'm also pretty sure there are a bunch of security considerations that are not covered, since I did most of the checking and "escaping" in the site code.

Sample usage:

from mysqlobject import mySQLObject

class Table(mySQLObject):
.	_columns = { "id":"id", "name":"str", "description":"str", "value":"int"}
.	_table = "dbtable"

t = Table.selectBy(id = 5)[0]
t.value = 10

for t in Table.select():
.	print t.name, t.description

t = Table(name= "asdf", description="desc", value = 10)

for t in Table.select(joinlist = [ "dbtable2" ], sqlwhere= "dbtable2.id = dbtable.value"):
.	print t.name

[1]: that's mainly the reason behind the paranoid try: except: of every query. I didn't really have time to actually wait for a real database timeout so I catch everything. This means that you have to remove these checks to debug a faulty query.

PS: The site went up yesterday to a limited number of "friedly" users. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Mood: hopeful

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006
4:31 pm
captain president
As in reply to a previous post here is what the president has to say. The link is in Greek, but here are some translation clues:

μαιμούδες = monkeys
βδελυγμία = (roughly) disgust
βόλεμα = getting comfy

But I'm sure I got all these out of context.
Monday, November 20th, 2006
11:58 am
service meltdown
Well, it's not "everything goes to hell on Friday 17:00" but it's close: Monday and half the services are critically ill. Does wonders for your disposition.

Lots of red.

Mood: frustrated

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006
2:41 pm
where did you _think_ you were?
In case I had any doubts that I was actually a second rate civil servant reality recalibrates my point of view. It is indicative of the uniqueness of the situation in the western world, that I struggled to come up with a translation of "κατάληψη". When a westerner hears that a company was "taken over", he would probably think that someone has bought enough stock to have a controlling interest in it. "Picketed" is a _gross_ understatement. "Under siege" would seem more appropriate though it would be misinterpreted as figurative.

In greece, "κατάληψη" is something that habitually happens twice a year in the universities and somewhat less commonly at schools.

When I heard that the same thing happened to the executive building of the most vital telecommunications organization of the country, my first thought was "... and where's the army".

Mood: militant

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006
12:16 pm
18 weeks?
It's been 18 weeks since I last updated?

I swear by the mighty orifice that spawned the universe that it will not reach reach 19, even if it's the end of me.

And so it is done.

Mood: resurrected

Saturday, July 1st, 2006
8:11 am
The Aqua Tunes Saga, Part 1 of 4, The Mobile
My mobile phone was stolen at the end of last summer, along with other stuff and I got around to replace it only a few months ago. My requirements list was fairly simple:

  • Infrared port, for sure and easy connection to the PC and the zaurus

  • Bluetooth, for advanced connectivity to the PC/zaurus

  • GPRS, mainly to use as a modem

  • Not to be a clamshell design, to keep slim/sturdy enough to keep in my backpocket

These sound straightforward enough and you'd expect that half the modern mobiles out there fit the bill. Not according to a products catalog I browsed through some months ago. Being a notorious minimalist in marker research I had decided upon a model right from that catalog. It was the Sony Ericsson w800i.

At the time I though that that particular model, along with another one from nokia was one of the few ones that met my requirements stated above. What I didn't know is that, apparently, the catalog I consulted had time travel abilities and had actually fallen into my timestream from 3 months in the future. Further, the phone wasn't really called SE w800i, rather sported the fancy name SE w800i Walkman (R) mobile phone, denoting that it was a phone _and_ an mp3 player. Sure, I had noticed the steep price tag (around 400e) but as I mentioned, I though it was because it had such wonderful features.

The whole affair got further complicated since my 5yo phone number in under the name of my mother and so in order to take advantage of any special deals, my mother should do the buying. I will not bore you with the(se) details, but after several shouting matches, misunderstandings and half inaudible phone conversations, I was finally the owner of a se w800i. Proud owner? Not really.

If you suggested to me back then that I should buy an mp3 player / mobile phone, I would have laughed in your face and called you names. First of all, I wasn't all that into music. My honest-to-god-purchased-cd-from-a-store (not the ones from newspapers, gifts, etc) amounts to 0 or 1 (I can't remember if I actually bought "master of puppets"). My mp3 collection is hardly 5 CDs, copied from friends, (in a totally fair use way I'm sure), mainly to take advantage of my super-early-adopted MP3 cd player I got 7 years ago(!) on a trip to the US.

The phone is great though. The screen is the best thing I have ever seen in a mobile (though I couldn't care less about that), the operation is sensible and interrupting your radio program to let you answer the phone you just received is actually quite intuitive. And that was before I got my mind blown by Google maps mobile. The only thing I'm really annoyed about it the little slide button on the back which both uncovers the lense and activates the camera (2.0 MPs), even if the keyboard is locked. This happens 1/3 of the times I get the phone out of my back-pocket. Oh, and it's orange

So the phone is nice. But how to use it?

(to be continued)

Mood: epic

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006
10:10 pm
After 2 years of playing nethack I have finally ascended (to demigod) for the first time. What is nethack, you ask? Well, I don't know, just the MOST DIFFICULT COMPUTER GAME EVER.

The following is part of my YAFAP on rec.games.roguelike.nethack. You shouldn't understand any of this if you are normal:

I guess it wasn't such a feat since I came across the bones of
countless wizards that met their end. To give you an idea, I used 14
wishes, with as many more to spare! I actually ended up carrying the
wands of wishing instead of the spellbooks I needed. I also broke
pretty much every conduct, spent way too much time with nurses in
sokoban and abused charm monster and finger of death spells.

Rodney was really sweet and stayed out of my way (I only killed him 4
times). I guess it was the full moon.

All in all I think that (other than all those wishes) being careful was
the key. I noticed that I check my armor _every_ time I touched a
cockatrice corpse, without even thinking it.

The biggest scare was kind of stupid: I'm standing on the right altar on
astral and I #offer the amulet only to get the response "You have
nothing to sacrifice". My first thought was that somehow rodney
switched amulets on me and I started a pretty detailed post on getting
answers about what happened. Only later, as a last resort, I tried to
#offer while having the amulet in my inventory and not on the altar.

That's my YAFAP. Can't wait for Nethack 2: Ascention to Full Goodhood.

Mood: demigodish

Monday, June 5th, 2006
5:04 pm
MTBD theorem
After years of research, I have found the following theorem to be accurate.

MTBD (Mean Time Between Drops) Theorem:

Given any newly acquired electronic device, the time between drops (ie the time that passes between two consecutive major drops [>1m]) of said device will diminish exponentially with time.

Corollary: Intentional TBD (a.k.a throws, tosses, poundings) follow the same distribution with different factors

Corollary 2: Given two consecutive drops and a durability/resilience factor we can calculate the time when the device will be crushed/ rendered inoperative.

Mood: calculating

Sunday, May 28th, 2006
12:40 am
extracting wmf
Q: What is the best way to extract a figure from a word file?
A: Open the .doc from openoffice, save to OpenDocument format (.odt), unzip .odt and the figure should be in the "Pictures" subdirectory. No loss in quality for scaled images.

Q: Why would you want to do such a thing?
A: Oh, I don't know. Perhaps because you need to extract the figures from 10 book chapters written by 10 different authors and deliver them to the publisher as different files. Recycling is also a possibility.

Q: Does this work for .WMF files too?
A: Yes! If you thought the only way to move such a figure was to copy-paste it from app to app now you know differently. Of course the only way (that I know of) to use such a file is to insert it into word or openoffice, so why bother.

Now I have to delete all those scripts that turn word -> ps -> psselect page -> pdf -> pdfcrop.

Mood: exploratory

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006
3:07 pm
BIOS upgrade
The sight of a sysadmin cheerfully on his way to upgrade the BIOS of a server used by a lot of people is eerie indeed.

I have never heard anyone say: "I just upgraded the BIOS of my PC and it's _so_ much better!".

On the other hand I have heard many a people say: "I just upgraded the BIOS of my PC and now it just goes BEEP. BEEP. BEEP".

Oh the folly of man.

Mood: perplexed

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