Bicycle Contemplations

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I have some "found" money coming my way, and I'm actively considering using it to buy a bike for myself in the hopes that I'll use it to be more active. There are plenty of bike paths in my area, so there's plenty of opportunity. However, looking at information online about what kind of bike to buy is just bewildering. Who knew there were so many different kinds of bikes out there? (Okay, you hard-core bike enthusiasts certainly did, but *I* didn't and let's keep the focus on what's important: me. ;-) )

I am not looking for the latest in bicycle technology, I'm not going to be training for ALC or any of the other marathon bike charity rides, nor do I currently plan to do more than toddle around my neighborhood and nearby communities. It would be nice to work up to biking to work some day, but it's almost seven miles along some heavy-traffic streets, so I don't think I'll be doing that right away.

Also, I do prefer to buy new, for all of you who would suggest me getting something on ebay or craigslist. I'm not a fan of inheriting someone else's problems, especially those they choose to conceal. I'd rather deal with a store's warranty or return/repair policies.

I can probably spend a grand on the bike and necessary equipment (helmet, other safety gear, etc.). Any recommendations for stores in the South Bay? And what kind of bike am I looking for? What kind of questions should I be asking salespeople if I don't want to get shafted?

Thanks in advance for any and all advice!

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Foot Stuff

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Well, I had my visit with the podiatrist today. It was brief. Much like my Primary Care doc, the podiatrist thinks it's a neuroma, and had the same recommendation: over-the-counter insoles with a metatarsal pad. Unlike my Primary, he had some samples he could share, recommended a specific insole available at a local chain of specialty footwear stores, and suggested I shop on Amazon for the pads if they seemed to provide relief. His other option was a cortisone injection into the space between my metatarsals. I'll go with the pads, thanks.

The footwear store didn't open until 9:30, and I needed to get to work, so I'll head over there at lunchtime to see about getting a pair of insoles, then apply the pad(s) tonight. Here's hoping for some pain relief!

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Deep Thoughts on "Deep Breath"

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Last night, I joined my guy and some friends to see the Doctor Who Season 8 premier episode, "Deep Breath," in a movie theater. It is enjoyable, every once in a while, to see Doctor Who in a theater with a lot of other Who fans. And this, being the first full Capaldi episode, I was curious to see how other fans enjoyed it.

It was not the first time I'd seen the episode. Thanks to our iTunes subscription, we were able to watch it on Sunday afternoon. And I have to admit, I did not fully enjoy the episode. and I've been trying to understand why. Here are my thoughts, and yes, spoilers abound.

Read more...Collapse )

(Edited to add bit about the return of a previous villain....)

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Updatiness (With Bullets!)

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  • I had a very nice weekend camping in Big Basin with some of the members of my church. We took Nessee with us, and she was mostly well behaved (though she did bark at some of the men from time to time). She did get sick in the car on the way to camp again (just like last year even though we took a less twisty route), but thankfully we were prepared for it and I had a plastic bag handy. I still didn't sleep particularly well, and Nessee contributed to that lack of sleep. Apparently when we sleep at her level, she wants to be pressing up against me all night long, and any time I shifted, she's push in closer. Eventually, she was curled up in the middle of the blankets and I was forced into increasingly uncomfortable positions. After forcibly moving her to the side, I was able to get somewhat better rest. But we need to invest in a better mattress before our next camping expedition. Otherwise, it was quite nice to be away from cell tower and wi-fi connectedness for nearly two days. I only got a little twitchy!
  • I used the campout as an excuse to take a break from the Soylent and haven't gotten back to it. I have to wrestle some of my personal issues to the ground before I think it'll really work for me. I'm struggling between the desire to not have to continually make decisions about what and where to eat, and not being able to have the ability to make spontaneous decisions about food. I want to eat my cake but keep it around to eat later all at the same time. I'll give it another try in a less stressed out time.
  • Speaking of stress, work's been fun (in the "sure, add more to my plate than I can accomplish in the time we have left" kind of way). Lots of extra hours, which means much less time at home. Chores are piling up, and Nessee is starting to act up. We haven't really been able to plan meals or shop for groceries, so we're eating out more, often individually, and not healthfully. I'm looking forward to release season being behind us.
  • I did the unthinkable (to me) last night: I told my gamers that after the current story, I was going to take a break from running games for a while. It hasn't been fun for me for a year or so, and I've just been giving in to pleasing my gamers. I'm hoping that after taking a break I'll feel rejuvenated and ready to take my place at the GM's screen again.
  • No progress on the adoption front at all. When we have more time and breathing room, we need to discuss how to increase our marketing reach. We've let our blog(s) and Facebook social page lapse, so those need to be re-energized. And if we can find new networking opportunities, we need to take advantage of them. It's a lot of work!


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Soylent Me #1

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I've mentioned hereabouts a few times over the last year a project called "Soylent" started by software engineer Rob Rhinehart, who in a fit of pique over so much time wasted choosing, shopping for, and preparing food, decided to try creating a perfect food replacement. The full story is available on his blog. Since then, he launched a successful Kickstarter-like campaign, started a company, refined the formula, and started manufacturing the stuff in mass quantities.

I have similar food issues that Rob speaks about. Choosing food has become a chore, and there's little pleasure left in eating it. So I tend to fall into ruts, and not always healthy ones. Additionally, stress and depression tend to drive me towards bad decisions in both quantity and quality of food. With my gallstone issues, this is not a good thing. Before I ran across Rob's blog, I had frequently contemplated the same thing he did, though I was thinking of starting at the food level. He went one further and started at the chemical component level.

With the approval of my partner, when open orders were announced for Soylent, I purchased a month's supply. Okay, that was probably a bit crazy; it might have been wiser to order a single week and see how well I tolerated it. I think the size of my order was directly related to my feelings about food and my fear that if I started and liked it, I would have trouble getting more. They had already mentioned production constraints, so I worried about running out. Thus, a full month.

And then I waited. And waited. I ordered it nearly a year ago, and this week it finally arrived.

It was shipped in two boxes. The smaller box contained a scoop (marked 1/2 meal), a two-liter airtight pitcher, and a "your order will be arriving soon!" flyer. The other box (which did indeed arrive very soon) contained four smaller boxes. Each of the smaller boxes contained seven pouches of powder and seven vials of an oil blend. If you go 100% Soylent, each box contains seven day's worth of product.

There are a variety of ways to prepare Soylent. You can make single servings, or make an entire pouch at a time. With my first batch, I decided to jump into the deep end, so I made an entire pitcher of the stuff. I poured the contents of a pouch into the pitcher, added a couple handfuls of ice cubes (I didn't understand the recommendation when I saw it, but I do now; I'll explain in a bit), and filled the pitcher most of the way with tap water. After adding the oil, I sealed up the pitcher and shook the thing vigorously for about a minute. My dog found this process fascinating. Once it looked blended enough, I added more ice and water, shook it again a bit, then poured a glass for myself.

Okay, it wasn't the best thing I've ever swallowed. (*waits for the pervs to get their minds out of the gutter so my snorkel is unblocked*) It poured as though it had the consistency of whole milk, and smelled a little sweet. The taste was very similar to cake batter, which isn't bad, but the consistency of that first glass was rather gritty. After finishing the glass, I felt like I had a mouth full of tiny flakes of hay. Not an encouraging start.

I wanted to give the stuff an honest try, especially given I had 27 pouches left to use. I grabbed a sippy bottle (A Camelbak eddy, I love 'em!), filled it up with Soylent, and brought it in to work. I got through another 6 or so ounces during the workday but found I was kind of forcing myself. At the end of the day I still had most of the container full, so I stuck a label on it and put it in the break room fridge.

Today, I decided against having breakfast at home in order to give Soylent another try. I got to work, grabbed the bottle, again added ice, and took it to my desk as I prepared to get to work. That's when I discovered why they recommended making the stuff with plenty of ice. Soylent is MUCH tastier when it's ice cold. The texture was also much better, though I'm not sure whether that's because of it being colder or because it absorbed more water overnight. Regardless, it made a tasty breakfast and I finished the bottle off well before lunchtime.

In the future, I think it will be best to make the stuff right before bedtime and let it chill in the fridge overnight. I also am contemplating using a blender to make sure it's more smoothly mixed.

So far, my system has tolerated it fairly well. I do feel a bit bloated and gurgley, but I kind of expect that. A day's supply of Soylent has the recommended daily amount of fiber, and for most of us, that's a LOT more than most of us get on a regular basis. No sudden increase in energy levels or a desire to jump up and run ten miles. My scale did register a more than six pound drop between yesterday and today, but I doubt that has much to do with the small amount of Soylent I had consumed by that point.

I do not plan on replacing all of the food I eat with Soylent. I'm not going 100%. Even if I wanted to, it would be unfair to Michael, since he would feel awkward going out to dinner with me and me not eating anything. Our meals have generally been a communal thing, and I don't want to change that. So, I will likely progress to using Soylent for all by the dinner meal on most weekdays. Weekends will have to be played by ear.

Besides, eating Soylent for most of my meals means that when I do choose to eat "traditional" food, I can enjoy it more, and not feel tired of having to make so many choices every day.

I plan to blog about the experience through the month+ of product I've got at home. I'll try to keep it to around a couple entries a week or less. :-)

(And if you're local and are curious enough to want to try some, let me know. Maybe we can find time to meet up and I can bring samples.)

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WWDC 2014

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Well, that was WWDC for 2014. I worked three lab shifts (about two to many, but I don't have room to complain since some QA folks were scheduled for as many as seven), met lots of interesting people, and learned quite a bit. Apple seems to have surprised a lot of people with some of the announcement (which is awesome), and I'm excited to have a new programming language to play with.

But now I'm home unwinding. Working the labs is WAAAAY outside my comfort zone. Like interstellar distances outside my comfort zone. But I won't have too much time to relax. We leave on our cruise in less than a week, and now begins the panic time where we figure out what we still have to get done and try to do it all before we board the plane.

After all the walking this week, especially around the City, I'm beginning to suspect something's not quite right with my right foot. In the last couple of days, it feels like I'm constantly walking on a small, smooth, flat stone, right next to the ball of my foot. Or like I'm walking on a bruise. Maybe it's time to see a podiatrist or something. (Like I need more medical appointments in my life, and more people telling me what to do...)

I know I'm forgetting something.... o.O

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CRPG: The RPG

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Because I have so much on my plate right now, my brain is naturally working overtime to feed me distractions. One of the distractions that I've been playing with is a fun little though experiment regarding a table-top role-playing system that I've humorously called "CRPG: The RPG". The idea is to emulate some of the tropes often found in "Computer Role-Playing Games".


  • Level-based with LOTS of levels (like 50+, maybe no level cap at all)
  • Frequent leveling (maybe as often as once per session?)
  • Several attributes that also have high limits (or no cap). Not sure yet how these would be used, but my first thought would be that checks would be attribute+d20 against some target number. The problem is that in the first twenty or so levels, the results will be rather random, but as they get to the higher levels, the d20 provides a lot less apparent randomness. I thought for a bit about whether low-level characters should be provided some kind of boost around high-level monsters, but in a CRPG, if you go the wrong way, you get stomped, so it seems to emulate the genre well enough.
  • A wide but shallow skill tree, broken into groupings. Each skill has a low number of levels (four?), and each level gives you a special ability you can use with an associated "action point" or "energy point" cost. For example, you might have a "Fire Magery" grouping, with a set of skills that allow the creation of different forms of fire, a set of skills that allow various kinds of attacks using fire, and maybe a set of skills that give the character immunity to different forms of fire. Another example would be a "Dual Melee Weapons" skill grouping that gave you access to various special abilities regarding wielding a weapon in each hand.
  • Depending on genre, they could be a dozen or couple dozen "professions" available to the character. Each time the character levels, the player chooses a "profession" to level which grants them specific increases to specific stats, and a skill point that can be spent on one of the profession's associated skills. The Medieval Soldier profession might give access to "Swords", "Pole Arms", "Shields", "First Aid", and "Leadership" skill groupings.
  • Each scene in a session has a point, some information that the characters need to learn, or some interaction they need to have. Once that point is reached, the GM awards the group with a "plot point" and moves to the next scene.
  • The group decides as a whole how to spend that "plot point". It can be used as a "hero point" to help avert a bad die roll, it can be used as an experience point to help someone in the team level, it can be used to power extraordinary special abilities, etc.
  • I'm thinking it takes three plot points to level. That way, if there are five to six scene's in a night's session, at least one character will have the potential to level up.


I'm not likely to do much more than toy with the idea, as by the time I'll have enough spare time to try and flush this puppy out, I'll have moved on to other ideas (such is my life). But it's fun to think about while so much else is on my plate. :-)

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My Tastebuds and Me

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(No, I'm not going to try and write this post as a parody of "The Wizard and I", though I was tempted...)

Some of my online friends around the social web have been posting about peculiar tastes and how it affects their enjoyment of some foods. It's got me thinking about how my sense of taste (in food) seems at great odds to just about everyone else.

For example, I hate mineral water. It's generally "bitter" to me (as I understand the meaning of that word), and even the addition of fruit juice does little to hide the mineral flavor.

Cilantro tastes like mineral water to me. Anything it is added to takes on that bitter mineral taste to the point where I can taste little else.

Cucumbers also have a very strong taste to me. A bit of cucumber in a forkful of salad will put me off salads for the rest of the meal. Worse is that since it often leaves a bit of itself behind no matter how carefully I pluck it out of my salad bowl, I can generally still taste it.

All fish has an unpleasant oily-salty aroma to it, which is intensified when I taste it. Doesn't matter if it's fresh or spoiled, it still has that smell.

Ever get a whiff of burning rubber? That's what alcohol smells like to me, in just about any form. (Isopropyl doesn't; I like the smell of isopropyl alcohol.) Given how it smells, you can imagine how it tastes to me. This is the main reason why I don't drink booze. I've also sent desserts back that have had, unknown to me, a dash of amaretto added because the whole thing tastes of burnt rubber. Yuck!

I don't like milk chocolate that much. There's not enough chocolate taste amongst the rather bland creaminess to make it worth it. I loathe white "chocolate". It tastes like rather tasteless butter. I much prefer darker chocolates. However, as the percentage of cacao rises, the sweeter the chocolate tastes, and at some point, super-dark chocolate is too sweet for me. (Yes, I realize that it isn't really sweet, but that's how I perceive it.)

Cooking vegetables, especially broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, and related plants, gives off an odor that turns my stomach. I usually have to leave the room else I get physically sick.

And that's just how things smell and/or taste. I'm also highly sensitive to texture, but that's another post.

(No, this is not an invitation to try and coerce me into "getting over" my dislike of some foods, or to belittle me for not liking something that you think is the best thing ever. While tastes can indeed change over time, I don't think it's particularly polite to imply that someone is somehow deficient in some way just because they have different tastes than you do.)

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Instant Gratification Gorilla

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This is a blog post that has been being passed around my Facebook page this week, giving a metaphorical explanation for why procrastinators procrastinate. Both it and it's follow up (about how to beat procrastination) have been interesting reads for me and ring very true for my life.

One thing that the author fails to mention, and perhaps this is not his experience but it has been mine, is that every time you allow the Instant Gratification Monkey take the wheel it grows a little bit. Not enough to really notice on any given time, but still, growth. If you fail to suffer negative consequences for letting it do so, that's a bit more growth. And if you get to the land of "good enough" (or as the blog author calls it, "The Mixed Feelings Park") by letting the monkey drive for a while, still more growth.

I realized that I've let that monkey take the wheel far too frequently in my forty-some years. The number of times that I've suffered negative consequences have been very few, and the number of times I've achieve "good enough" results by waiting until the last possible moment are uncountably large. I've written 30 page college-level term papers in one draft on an electric typewriter (not a word processor), with footnotes and bibliography in the 24 hours before their due. Multiple times. And every time I got an "A".

I always figured it's because I do write well, I know how to structure a paper like that (thank you, Brother Alfred Salz!), and I'm very good at analyzing data to make and support a thesis. I won't say it was easy, but with the panic monster breathing down my neck, I can be amazingly focused. (I've had people I trust tell me that while some people can make this work in their undergrad years, it's not possible in grad school. I'll take them at their word as I've never attended grad school. Now I know not to try until I've beaten the monkey into submission.)

By now, it's no longer a monkey. It's a gorilla. It's King Kong on steroids. Forcing myself to stay on task and focused requires an effort that is physically exhausting. On those days when I manage to force myself to push that monkey gorilla aside for more than a few hours, I end the day feeling wiped. I haven't found a good way to silence that monkey gorilla. And with my "all or nothing" (broken) mindset combined with my guilt complex for spending so much time in the space the blog author titles "The Dark Wood", I just see a never-ending list of things that need to be done, and no-where on that list is anything that is what I'd call "me time". (Because since I've spent so much time indulging the monkey gorilla, I don't have time for "me time". And besides, I'm such a bad person I don't deserve it.)

I did find the blog entries to be insightful, and they give me metaphorical terms to use to describe how I'm feeling and what I'm experiencing. I haven't finished reading his suggested solutions yet. Because that looks like work, and the monkey gorilla has found more interesting things to do for now...

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Money

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A bunch of my friends are in anxiety-inducing life situations that could be easily solved with an influx of cold, hard cash. I sometimes wish I made enough money to be able to help all of my friends not have to deal with these kinds of situations, and I sometimes am sad that I can't help out more. Love of money may be the root of all evil, but lack of money sure seems like the root of a lot of anxiety.

It's a shame too that the planet does have enough resources to give basic food, health, and living security for it's entire population, but human nature is such that we can't help but find ways to ensure that the bulk of those riches are held by a relatively minuscule portion of the people living here. I guess that's part of why I love Roddenberry's vision of the future, one in which the anxieties of trying to ensure that there's enough food to eat and sufficient medical care have been wiped out, allowing people to spend that energy in more creative and productive pursuits.

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Doc Visit

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I had my mandated annual physical for the adoption today. Despite society telling me that since I'm fat, I'm going to drop dead at any moment, I seem to be relatively healthy. My triglycerides are a touch high, but still in the "normal" range. My blood pressure is a touch high, but since it came down during the visit and I had to deal with terrible traffic this morning (and the stress of trying to find the doctor's new office), my doc says it looks fine. Pulse rate fine. My HDL is lower than she'd like, but there's not much I can do to affect that since it is apparently genetic. She urged me to exercise more, and I can't argue with her there, and to cut down on sugar intake. Both will help with both the triglycerides and the HDL (a little).

For a guy who's about to drop dead any moment now from morbid obesity, I guess I'm doing okay... ;-)

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Wedding Thoughts

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Given that it's the eighth anniversary of my proposal to Michael (and his acceptance), it's not surprising that my thoughts turn towards finally getting hitched. For those not in the know, we were ready to pull the trigger on a wedding six and a half years ago, but loss of a job and the need to gut and rebuild our kitchen (which had become contaminated with toxic mold) scuttled those plans. Now that we've moved to the Bay Area, the topic comes up every once in a while, but we've honestly made no progress on it. Some of that has to do with the fact that, well, we tend to move very slowly on big things like this. But another part of it, which we don't talk about, is that I've started to feel guilt about the kind of wedding I had once wanted to have.

Okay, I'll admit I'm foolish and have bought into the fantasy that we as a society have built up around weddings. To me, a wedding is always a solemn occasion, with a touch of the theatric. A chance to look your best, in a beautiful setting, with the person you love, in front of your friends and family, and to make a solemn vow that you will put this one person above all others in your life, sickness, health, richer, poorer, yadda, yadda. And, of course, the fun party afterwards with good food, good music, lots of smiles, and maybe the drunk relative or two. Sure, it can be expensive, but we're both fiscally prudent and, well, we both work in high tech, so it's not like we are impoverished. I wanted something lavish that would fulfill the "grandiose but not over the top" image I'd long had.

But then I started talking about weddings in social media. Frankly, I really should stop talking about such things in public. Such discussions always wind up the same way for me, with the casual destruction of my carefully constructed dreams and images. So too was it with a discussion of getting married. When I made some mention of some of the ideas that were floating around my head, the people in my social circles nearly unanimously suggested weddings on the cheap. "We had the ceremony in our back yard around a keg, and it only cost us the price of the keg!" or "We did a Justice of the Peace ceremony, and then went to a nice dinner with a bunch of friends, and it didn't put is in the poor house!" or "Why have a ceremony at all? It's just a waste of money and will end in tears."

I get that big, formal weddings are not everyone's cup of tea or piece of cake. Really I do. But they kind of were mine. I liked the spectacle of fancy dress, thoughtful music, personal vows, themed cakes, and good food. But now, whenever I think about getting married, I'm finding myself thinking that maybe just going to the JoP and getting married without letting anyone know. I guess, I'm thinking of eloping just to stay under everyone's radar. That way I won't have to hear anyone's post-wedding confusion about why we chose what we chose.

Yes, I realize this is me capitulating to some people's ideas of what a wedding can or should be like. Perhaps it's wrong, but my friends' opinions have a good deal of influence in my thinking. And when the chorus of voices that respond to my thoughts about weddings are all in agreement that spending anything more than absolutely necessary is a BAD IDEA, I kind of have to wonder what was I thinking?

We don't need a lavish ceremony or a rollicking party to cement the relationship we have. We've been together for over 21 years, that's not going to change just because we don't have a big fete. But it was something I wanted to do, and now every time I consider it, I can't help but think, "Why bother? Everyone's going to be thinking we did it wrong..."

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FOGcon Writing Workshop

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I heard today that there are still a few slots open for FOGcon's writing workshop. If you have a manuscript that you want reviewed by a professional writer, and get valuable tips and feedback, take a look at our workshop page.

Interviews with our guests of honor, namely Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, will be going up on the blog soon. And programming sign-ups are already available to those with FOGcon accounts.

Last year was a lot of fun. I'm getting the feeling this year will be better!
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Experimenting in the Kitchen

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When planning meals over the weekend, I had some ideas of what I wanted for tonight's dinner. I wanted something like beef tips and gravy over egg noodles. Unfortunately, all of the recipes for beef tips and gravy require a couple of hours of baking time and I knew that, on the first day back to work after the holiday break, I would most certainly NOT have that kind of time. So, I thought I'd try something and see how it comes out. Well, it did not come out as I expected but it was yummy enough to try and tinker with it some more.

I started off by thinly slicing some filet mignon (it was on sale) and then sautéing that in a bit of butter. Once it was done, I set it aside, reserving the liquid in the frying pan. I then added a tablespoon of minced shallots and a half cup of (cheap) merlot. (Since I don't drink wine, I just picked the Trader Joe's house brand.) I also added a double handful of chopped-up crimini mushrooms. I cooked this all down until it the liquid was near syrup consistency and then added a cup or so of beef broth. I had wanted stock, but I couldn't find any at my local TJs so I figured broth was better than nothing. I cooked that down until it was about half-cup of liquid, took it off the heat, added a couple of pats of butter, and really liked how the resulting "gravy" looked. I then added the beef back to the pan and stirred it up. I was not expecting the beef to absorb all of the liquid, but it essentially did. So much for my gravy!

Regardless, it was quite tasty. Beefy, with a hint of fruit, and a very rich mouth feel. I went ahead and served it over egg (white) noodles, and the combination was a tasty one. Both Michael and I liked it quite a bit. I just have to figure out better quantities of liquids to use so that I have a sauce left over. :-)

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1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?

Lots of things. With the new job, there were a lot of new challenges and opportunities. I got to go to WWDC for the first time, learned a new language (though I guess I've done the "learn a new language" a few times before), and was involved in an effort that gave me much higher visibility than ever before. In my personal life there have been many other things I've done that I've never done before, but most of them aren't fit for a public audience. ;-) And to top it off, I painted my nails and gone out in public with them, something I've never done before.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't make resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Other than famous people who I admire, no.

5. What countries did you visit?

None.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

A child.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

My brain doesn't take etchings very well.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Got my new job and prospered in it.

9. What was your biggest failure?

We did not move as quickly as I wanted to with the adoption. I had hoped to be listed by my birthday. Now I'll settle for being listed early in the new year.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing significant.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

New flannel PJ bottoms. No, really, of the things I've bought, that was the best.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

For me, it was all of those involved in the fight for GLBT rights, most especially family members like Edie Windsor and Brian Sims, and allies like Boies and Olson. It's been a truly remarkable year for equality.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Oh, the usuals. Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher, Bryan Fisher and his buddies, Justices Scalia and Thomas, Pope Benedict.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Easy. Mortgage.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Yep, I'll admit it, I was really, really excited about "Star Trek Into Darkness". Unfortunately it was not as excitement-worthy as I had hoped. I enjoyed it, but... Kahn? Really?

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?

Songs don't generally remind me of years, and I don't do a good job of following the pop charts. But there were a few songs I found this year that I really enjoyed:

"Ordinary" by Matt Gold
"Things Can Only Get Better" by Cedric Gervais and Howard Jones
Hunter Valentine
"History Repeating" by Dame Shirley Bassey
"New Constellation" by Toad the Wet Sprocket

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? - Happier
b) thinner or fatter? - About the same
c) richer or poorer? - Probably richer, though we're about to make a purchase that may push us slightly into the "poorer" category.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Goof off on Facebook

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Had a very nice dinner with my family.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?

Probably my Mom, but that doesn't mean much since I rarely use the phone at all.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?

Depends on what you mean. I'm still deeply in love with my partner of nearly 21 years. I grew more deeply in love with many of my friends (yes, I freely and gratefully acknowledge the true love I have for my friends), and I've met some new people who I may wind up loving in the new year as well.

23. How many one-night stands?

A gentlemen does not keep score. ;-) (How's that for an evasive answer?)

24. What was your favorite TV program?

Doctor Who. Surprise?

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don't hate. Hate has no real effect on the hated and only twists my stomach.

26. What was the best book you read?

Hm, I've read so many this year I can't recall one being the "best". I'm quite enjoying Diane Duane's "Young Wizards" books recommended to me by a dear friend. And I know there were several that kept me reading far further into the night than was wise, but I can't recall which ones those were. I really do need to keep a better log of books read...

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

See number 16 above.

28. What did you want and get?

I acknowledge there was something I wanted that I also got, but I shan't go into the details here.

29. What did you want and not get?

I wanted to get to the point where we were actively searching for an adoptive child. That did not happen in 2013.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

Saving Mr. Banks, though Pacific Rim and Monsters University were close contenders.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I did nothing on my birthday, did not celebrate it in any way.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Being further along in the adoption process. Yes, this was a big deal to me.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

"Personal fashion concept"??? What da fuq is that?

34. What kept you sane?

My partner.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Fancy? You mean who did I find sexy? Er... Hm... I'll go with Brian Sims. Handsome, bright, brave, and fighting for my rights.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

Marriage Equality, for obvious reasons.

37. Who did you miss?

Everyone. I'm a very terrible shot.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

My new friend, Joe. It's good to have someone in your life that gets you out of the house and out of your ruts.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:

Don't make assumptions about yourself. They're inevitably untrue.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Sorry, not much for song lyrics.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/872772.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Holiday Tuesday

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So, the day didn't start off too well. I woke up out of two dreams that both left me in a troubled frame of mind. The first one involved the start of a nuclear holocaust right after I'd been given a grand tour of Steve Jobs' secret prototype lab (with stuff that won't see the light of day for a couple of decades), and the second was all about me being snubbed by a large number of attractive men in a social setting (if it hadn't been for the unwelcoming glares, I would have assumed I was invisible and inaudible). Not sure which one was worse for my frame of mind.

It doesn't help that we were hoping to be doing touristy stuff this week since we have it off and most of the rest of the valley doesn't. Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Science, the Exploratorium, stuff like that. But Michael was down most of Monday with a cold and didn't want to push himself too hard today so as to not endanger his recovery. It's a good idea, but I had been looking forward to getting out and seeing some sights. Slightly disappointed, but ah, well.

The overcast weather is also weighing on me, as it always does. I do tend to get blue when the weather turns, and I haven't been using my blue light. It's up on my writing desk, and I've been avoiding my writing. I'm bundled up trying to keep warm, and entertaining myself with TV.

Lots of stuff running around in my head. Too much to make sense of. I need a brain flush. :-)

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/871590.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Things About Me

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Everyone seems to be doing the whole "X number of things about me" thing on FB these days. I've not been tagged but I'll play along. Let's see how many of these are a surprise to anyone...

1. I spent thirteen years going to college and all I got out of it was a Bachelor's degree.

2. The only seafood I'll eat is tuna out of a can.

3. I'm a big dog person, but it started mostly because my brother had a cat when we were kids and I wanted to be the opposite of him.

4. I've been watching Star Trek since the year I was born.

5. I have never quite come to terms with the fact that I was brought into existence without my consent.

6. I was rabidly anti-Mac until Mac OS X came out, then I completely switched allegiances.

7. "Hunger" is a sensation that has become detached from the thought of "eating" for me. I rarely notice when I'm hungry until someone says something. It's relatively easy for me to go a day forgetting to eat if I have a lot on my mind.

8. I hate the passivity of simply watching TV. I always have to be doing something else while the TV is on. The longer I go without cable/satellite, the happier I am with the decision.

9. I can deal with a messy house in general, but not the kitchen. That has to be spotless all the time.

10. I was almost outed by a roommate in college who, while trying to pull a prank on me, found a couple of unexpected magazines under my bed. He completely freaked out, I found I didn't care much.

11. I studied Klingon in the early 90's and was relatively fluent. I can only remember a few words and phrases now.

12. I have killed a pet through neglect.

13. I won $500 once for being a safe driver.

14. I prefer recorded studio music to live music.

15. I'm a time accuracy fanatic. It's really silly, but I get seriously annoyed by clocks that are off by more than a few seconds. All of my primary time pieces set themselves either by listening to the radio signal from Fort Collins, CO, or communicate with my phone through bluetooth. I "inherited" this trait from my father, who was a "legendary scientist" in the field of time and frequency standards.

Oh, did I mention that some of these are outright lies? I wonder who will be able to tell.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/871185.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Introspective Thought of the Day

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I had an insight today... To me, "I don't want to" is never an acceptable reason not to do something. I don't know where I got that, but I think it's been the cause of lots of disappointment in my life.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/870861.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Techie Advice Requested

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Over the weekend, I got an email from AT&T letting me know that we had exceeded the download cap on our account and that they were going to start billing us for extra network traffic. I guess I never noticed that we had a 150GB cap on our DSL account, but with all of the new goodies from Apple this past few weeks, I'm not surprised we hit it. It got me thinking and researching, though. We currently have a "high speed" account that gives us a whopping 6Mbps download speed. And we're paying a pretty penny for that combined with plain old telephone service. Now I'm thinking about alternatives.

AT&T also offers something called U-Verse which is recently available on my street. Much better download speeds, and I could bundle VOIP in to the deal. After accounting for the promotional price, it looks like the monthly cost would be lower than our current arrangement. But I don't know much about this "U-Verse" service. Will I need a new modem? Other equipment? I assume that with VOIP, our cordless phone base station will now need to be adjacent to the modem (wherever it winds up being located) instead of the much more convenient location in the kitchen.

I also looked at Comcast. Now, I have a lot of antipathy towards Comcast. They have been big names in the fight against Net Neutrality, they've been happy to help our federal government spy on us, and they have that ridiculous "speed boost" gimmick that makes it impossible to accurately measure the real bandwidth I'd be getting. However, they have a ridiculously high download speed, starting at 25 Mbps and going up from there. And a Internet + VOIP bundle would still be less than what we're currently playing AT&T. I assume we'd need a cable modem then and that our cordless base station would also need to be near the modem. We'd also probably need to relocate our wireless base station down into the living room instead of in the opposite corner of the house. (Cons: Our workstation machines would no longer have wired connections. Pros: Stronger wi-fi signal in the location were we most use wi-fi, would be able to hard-wire the AppleTV and Mac Mini we use for streaming entertainment.)

Does anyone have experience with these services? We really are only looking for high speed internet with high download caps and *possibly* phone service, so don't really care about TV offerings.

P.S. Anyone know if we would be able to keep our current home number if we went with one of these VOIP offerings?

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/870568.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Day of the Doctor in Theaters

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The 50th Anniversary Doctor Who special will be playing in 3D in select theaters on November 25. Plenty of locations listed here.

Squee!

Any locals want to plan an outing? :-)

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/868038.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Fall Down

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We've arrived at the time of the year that I dislike the most. The time when the alarm goes off and it's still dark outside, and when the sun does finally come up, it's overcast. The time when my body is absolutely convinced that the house is freezing, even though the thermostat reports it's 67 degrees downstairs (with the temperature upstairs likely a few degrees warmer). The time of the year that my body responds to with dried out skin and increased aches and pains as it complains about having to adjust to the colder climate.

Yeah, time to start hitting the light therapy box in the mornings. It won't help my body's complaints but it does seem to give me mental strength to not listen as much to them, and not succumb as much to the depression that comes along with it.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/867558.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

NaNoWriMo Advice

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I have some totally unsolicited advice for all those who are setting out to do NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve participated for many years, successfully completed most of them, so I feel somewhat qualified to dispense advice. Of course, my advice works for me and it may not work for you. Caveat emptor and all that.

1. Plan on NaNoWriMo being a big disruption in your life. You have to write 50,000 words in 30 days (or 720 hours). Unless you are a writing speed demon, it’s going to take you quite a bit of focused time. Make sure you have a support team in place to handle the daily chores and other household commitments for which you are responsible. Spouses, housemates, and children can be very helpful in your success if they are willing to work with you. If you spring it on them half-way through November, they probably won’t be.

2. Pick a daily writing target and make sure you hit it each day before you head off to bed. Most people pick 1667 words, but I would urge you to pick 2000 instead. It’s a nice round number, it’s not too much more than 1667, and it gives you a bit of a buffer for those days when words are more difficult.

3. When you can, write more. Frequently on weekends, I would get two writing sessions in, each of 2000 words. Sometimes I’d even get 5000 words in on a weekend day. This will allow you some breathing room as the month rolls steadily towards Thanksgiving and the semi-obligatory family time.

4. Words will sometimes be difficult. This is okay and expected. If you’re ahead on your word-count, it’s okay to take an occasional day where you don’t hit your writing target. Just don’t do that when you’re behind, since that will only put you further behind.

5. When words are being difficult, surprise them by doing something totally unexpected. Have ninjas arrive and fight with your characters, especially if it’s not particularly appropriate for your chosen genre. Or have thugs bust the door down and open fire. Doing something completely unexpected for your story will give your brain a break from pounding on your planned story and can be just the jolt of fun you need to get unstuck. You can always remove that scene in December.

6. Don’t edit. Don’t edit in your mind before you write, and especially don’t edit your words after they’re on paper. It’s okay to go back and fix the occasional misspelling (I hate those red squiggly lines that most word processors use these days), but don’t waste your precious writing time “fixing” stuff you’ve written for NaNoWriMo. That’s what December is for.

7. It’s okay to write stuff you know is garbage. NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality. Send your inner censor on a holiday, and just write whatever comes to mind in your story. You will surprise yourself and on a re-read (in December, or later) will find that some of your trashiest moments contain nuggets of awesomeness.

8. Expect life to not take it easy on you. You never know what November can bring. You might get super busy at work. You might get fired and have to look for a new job. Your family may find itself in a crisis when someone gets severely injured and winds up in the hospital. It’s okay to set your NaNoWriMo aside and deal with life. (On the other hand, if you are suddenly unemployed and use the time to write your 50K and more, enjoy the victory-flavored lemonade you’ve made of life’s lemons!)

9. Be aware of, and get comfortable with the thought that you might not complete your 50,000 words in November. And that’s okay. Even if you have no interruptions, and no real-life crises to deal with, the words might just not flow, or your novel idea may just not work out as well as you had hoped. If you don’t hit your 50K, revel in the knowledge that you tried, which is much more than most other “wannabe” writers have done.

10. I strongly urge all NaNoWriMo participants to NOT write the book they’ve always wanted to write. There are many reasons for this. First is, to get through the month and hit your targets, you will often write garbage. Knowing your “great American novel” is full of garbage can be discouraging for when you think about getting it into shape for publication. Secondly, you might fail to complete NaNoWriMo. While it failing to complete NaNoWriMo should not be a big deal, some people attach negative feelings to it. You don’t want your deam project to be associated with something you feel bad about, so why risk it? Especially if this is your first time writing a project of this size, write something you won’t care that much about when the month is over. Have fun, chew up the scenery, swing from the metaphorical chandelier, but avoid the temptation to write that book you’ve always hoped you could. Save that book for December or later once you have proven to yourself that you can write a lot of words.

Good luck, and most of all, have fun!

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/866870.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Dental News

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After the dental emergency of a couple weeks ago, I had a "regular" checkup meeting and initial cleaning today.

The hygienist was nice, a bit flighty, but very competent at her job. Unlike dentistry the last time I visited a dentist (seven, maybe eight years ago?), she cared if I was uncomfortable or in pain. Because of the condition of my mouth, she wound up numbing a significant portion of my gums, and in the process, my lips and tongue. I finally have full sensation back now.

Looking at the list of "problem areas", I'm going to be having plenty of return trips to the office over the next couple of years for work beyond cleanings.

Even though there's less pain now, it's far from painless, and knowing I have that much work ahead of me makes me feel queasy. Though that may be also partly due to skipping breakfast and no lunch yet.

I wished I lived far enough into the future for there to be dental nanobots that would just fix everything at a molecular level. *sigh*

Stoked, 2013 Edition

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I'm sitting in a hotel room in Atascadero, California, steeped in the joy and energy that was "Stoke the World 2013". What is "Stoke the World" you ask? Honestly, it's one of those things best experienced than explained, but I'll make an attempt.

There was a man, a great man, named Greg. He was a champion of getting people stoked up to be their ultimate creative and joyful selves. And cancer took him from us far too early. As part of his "last wish" he wanted his friends and family to get together and have a great big party, and to kindle love, joy, and creative energy in each other.

So we did, last October. And it was wonderful.

But once was not enough. Some people dreamed about more stoking, more love, more fun, more creativity. And those people stepped up and said, "Let's do it again!"

And we did.

At a saloon, out in the middle of nearly-nowhere in San Luis Obispo county, around 250 people gathered. There were children, youngsters, adults, middle-aged people, and even some older sages. People camped, brought trailers or motorhomes, or (like us) stayed in nearby hotel rooms. There was a huge stage, where all throughout the festival, DJs were spinning tunes. Scattered around the expansive lawn were clusters of art projects, activity areas, chill-out spots, comfy chairs, and croquet sets. There was a whole area for kids with projects geared to their interests and abilities. There was a tipi. There was a Temple of Fluff (where much cuddling occurred). There was a Hug Booth. In the saloon itself there were board games and role playing games and discussion groups and even a few classes (from candy making to tax resistance). As the sun set, the place lit up with LEDs, glow-sticks, colored lanterns, LED-lit juggling clubs, and a gadget that shot rings of fire into the sky.

If it sounds a bit like "Burning Man" that's not coincidental. One of Greg's passions was the communal art project out at Black Rocks, so parts of Stoke are based on that. But it of course is flavored by the people and the energy that gather at the saloon. Most of the people at Stoke know each other, or are one step removed from knowing each other. It's a chance for friends to reconnect, and a chance to make new friends. It's a chance to learn, and for some of us (myself especially) a place to push personal boundaries in a safe and welcoming environment. And it's an event to remind each other not to be complacent, not to just be comfortable, but to take risks and be creative and inspire other people.

At the peak of the activity on Saturday night, one of the people who knew Greg well offered us his words. He reminded me that we are at war. Our foe is time. We only have so much of it and we need to fight the tendency to mindlessly waste it. And time is a vastly powerful foe. If we allow ourselves to be complacent, comfortable, and not put up a fight, time will take us away and there will be nothing, and the universe will be a sadder, lonelier place. We can choose, however, to stand up and be a spark that brings a bit of light to the world. It can seem an insurmountable task to light up the darkness of night with our tiny little spark. But, and this is important, each of us have allies in our fight. We all find our allies in our own ways, but Stoke is all about making connections with other allies in our fights. And it's all about being sparks for each others' lamps, getting our lamps burning brightly, so that we can go out into the world and try to light even more lamps.

I know, it sounds touchy-feely, and hippy, but perhaps the world needs a lot more touchy-feely, hippy sentiments. Perhaps it needs more people who feel connected to one another in deeply profound ways rather than just as the surface. Perhaps the world needs more inspiration for us to shine out rather than pull inwards.

So, I went to "Stoke". I did a little bit of Stoking by running a table-top RPG for long-time friends and new friends. And I got Stoked a lot by beautiful art, clever stories, inspirational words, and, most importantly to me, letting people reach inside me, through my walls, to tell me I am welcomed, appreciated, and loved.

Will there be a "Stoke the World 2014"? I don't know. I do hope so, and will offer my long-distance help to make it happen if there's sufficient interest.

In the meantime, I'm full of inspiration and creative energy. I'm ready to refocus my time towards creative and inter-personal endeavors. I'm ready to light some lamps.

But maybe, just maybe, I'll get a good night's sleep first.

Thanks, Stokers, for a wonder-filled weekend. See you next time, whenever and wherever that may be.

1776

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Okay, you all know by now I'm a musical theater fan. You may also know that I'm a political junkie and a bit of a American historian. Thus it will come as absolutely no surprise that one of my favorite musicals is 1776. What may be surprising is that I had never seen a live production of the show. But honestly, it is a show that can be difficult to mount given the large cast of predominantly older white men (with only two women). Heretofore, I had only seen the movie version of the show.

So, when I saw that the American Conservatory Theater of San Francisco was mounting a production, I jumped to get tickets.

A couple of days ago, I got an email from A.C.T. about a special opportunity. Apparently on one of the Saturdays of a show's run, A.C.T. does something they call "playtime" immediately prior to the matinee. This time, it would be a bit of a lecture and interaction with the show's musical director. Of course, we R.S.V.P.'d.

That "playtime" was awesome. Michael Rice, the show's musical director (they guy who teaches all of the songs to the cast and then conducts the orchestra) walked us through some of the history of the show and then talked about the musical inspirations for each of the songs. He also threw in a bunch of trivia about some of the historical inaccuracies of the show, which were neat to know. He then went on to teach the hundred or so of us at the event how to sing the opening song ("Sit Down, John"), as he would actors in the show. (It was abbreviated, of course. We only had fifteen minutes or so.) It was fascinating hearing the choices he makes in how he explains it to the cast.

After "playtime" it was time for the play. We had great seats, about 2/3s of the way back from the stage in the Orchestra seats and dead center. The theater was rather full and the age ranges ran from pre-teen to senior citizens. I so love seeing kids attending live theater. The show opens with John Adams complaining about the uselessness of Congress, a joke that seemed all too timely to the audience tonight. Then the curtain opens to reveal the set, a stylistic interpretation of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Having been to Independence Hall a few times, I will say they did a decent job capturing the style of the place though they certainly didn't try to faithfully reproduce it on stage.

Usually when talking about theater productions, I often will talk about which voices where stronger, which were weaker, or who did and did not engage me with inhabiting their character. But honestly, with this production, I was completely swept away. I didn't really find any fault with any of the cast. John Hickok, playing the main character of John Adams, and who is in virtually every scene, played this fictional Adams with completely believable passion, frustration, and love for his wife. Andrew Boyer's Franklin was witty, persuasive, and funny. And I quite liked Brandon Dahlquist's Jefferson, the quiet man of beautiful words and beautiful wife. (I also quite enjoyed Dillon Heape's Robert Livingston, but partly, I must confess, because of more prurient reasons...) Honestly, though, singling out these individual actors demeans the rest of the truly excellent cast.

Unfortunately, the show closes on October 6 (which as I write this is tomorrow) and the last performance is sold out. Otherwise I would strongly encourage any local theater buffs to go check it out.

All in all, a wonderful day of theater.

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John Kusters

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