Comment On The Ace in the Hole

After spending his first three years out of college in an entry-level position with Ask.com, Erhen was ready to move on to something with more responsibility. One day, he received a phone call from a company that wanted him to come in for an immediate interview. [expand full text]
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Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-07 22:24 • by Anonymous (unregistered)
273497 in reply to 273482
"FFS people, when we go to a doctor or solicitor, we expect them to give us advice."

Yes, but this is not what happened in the story. What happened would be more like (with some emphasis):

Guy: "Hey doc, I need your help."
Doctor: "How can I help?"
Guy: "Well, my stomach has been hurting for awhile. I figured that you could just cut me open and take a look. You do that kind of stuff, right? I can pay $50. And you don't even need to sew it up, I'll do that myself!"

It's not that the man was ignorant of technology. He was, but this isn't the issue. The issue is that he seemed entirely ignorant of his ignorance.. something that is rarely limited to a single topic or field.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-07 22:30 • by Jimbo (unregistered)
273499 in reply to 273482
acid:
To be frank, I'm having trouble seeing the WTF in this story.

I hate to be the one to break it to everyone here, but there are people out there who don't understand technology anywhere near as well as we do. There are people out there who are NOT well versed in the uses of the internet, or with the lessons we've all learned along the way.
<snip>


Agree with the sentiments, however this is someone who for 8 years has been pushing to get this website created. This suggests that for 8 years he has has been aware of and presumably used the internet (I say presumably used because that would be about the only way a non-tech person would be aware of it, I reckon).
The fact that he doesn't understand how a website works is not surprising (as you point out), but the fact that for 8 years he sat on this idea, and (by the sound of it) never once thought to see whether someone else had thought of it is certainly laughable.

That being said, I tend to agree with you. This story (though probably still a WTF) is not a tech WTF, and probably doesn't fit with the general genre of this site.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-07 23:40 • by Sesh
I am starting to think Erhen should have given this a little more thought than saying no to the job.

Now in the current situation, if a company is still surviving in business without a webpage, then it says something about the company's management, its products and customer loyality.

Surely it could have been tough to get the oldies to understand online payment is no longer an ace in the hole but having done that Erhen could have easily become the CTO of the company. No kidding.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-07 23:53 • by Dan_the_welder (unregistered)
273506 in reply to 273401
All things considered McMaster does a good job.

You have to understand that they have been around for ever and their legacy customers are facilities guys who can thumb straight to the relevant catalog page in a second.

Spend a minute on Grainger.com if you want to see the wrong way.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 01:49 • by Nick (unregistered)
273513 in reply to 273459
Steve:
Shortly after Thomas Edison invented the movie camera, someone thought of bringing a camera to a theater and planting it in the middle of the audience. It worked as well as you can imagine.

The first bootleg?

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 02:00 • by Nick (unregistered)
273516 in reply to 273482
acid:
To be frank, I'm having trouble seeing the WTF in this story.

I hate to be the one to break it to everyone here, but there are people out there who don't understand technology anywhere near as well as we do. There are people out there who are NOT well versed in the uses of the internet, or with the lessons we've all learned along the way.

FFS people, when we go to a doctor or solicitor, we expect them to give us advice. We expect them to do their job in a way that protects us and but also teaches us a little more about what we can be changing in our daily lives so that we are not so reliant on them in the future. Why is it any different for us?

In 2007 the web had been easily accessable by the general public for at least 12 years, it would be very hard for someone to know virtually nothing about the Internet, didn't the company have email?

I'm not a doctor and I don't read medical journals, but I do know that doctors have been performing successful hand transplants for about 10 years. there is a difference between not knowing something and actively avoiding any knowledge of the subject.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 04:51 • by bjolling
273530 in reply to 273475
dive2deep:
Not to stray too far off-topic, but the crap-cleaning business may be more lucrative than you think. During a time when we had two dogs, I found it much less painful to pay $65/month to have someone clean our yard once per week than to do it myself. This guy had quite a lengthy client list, many of them paying for 2x/week service.

He must have done pretty well, since one day his truck pulled up to our house and the business owner got out with another person.

"This is my apprentice," he said.
It's amazing how lazy people are! I spent three days training my dog to shit in a specific hidden corner of the garden.

How can you consider yourself a good programmer if you don't even optimize such a thing?

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 05:55 • by Falcon (unregistered)
"They have the Internet on computers now!"

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 07:48 • by MK (unregistered)
I also have to wonder how much of this story was made up.

When I was a kid, there existed between the old and the young a true generation gap. This was in the late 60's and early 70's and the world, in my judgment, was changing much more rapidly then it is today. The process of getting older carried with it different expectations. If you were over 40, it was time for you to start slowing down; to start wearing more modest clothes and to start chastising your children for their disrespectful ways. Not only did you not stand a chance of keeping up with the changing trends and attitudes of the young, most likely you had no interest in doing so.

That cultural gap between the old and the young was an irresistible source of humor. So irresistible, that it survives to this day and gets dragged out as though the old are just as clueless and out of touch as they were 40 years ago. It's all a fantasy. The days of old codgers and their impatience with young whippersnappers is long gone. Get over it.

To remind us over and over that the interviewer was "a nice older gentlemen in his sixties", and that he was a "sexagenarian", only betray the ageism of the author. I know plenty of people 20 and 30 years younger who are just as clueless as the kindly, well-intentioned manager in the story. And I know plenty of people in their 60s and beyond who are very technically savvy.

Perhaps the story may have been more believable had it been about a manager in his or her 40s who wants to be cutting edge by leveraging Twitter and social networking in the company's new marketing strategy with no idea whatsoever of what those technologies are or how they might be used in a marketing sense. The buzzword bandwagon is far more insidious than oldsters just discovering the Internet.

And yes, I'm 47, and if I had a lawn, I wouldn't give a damn if your ball was on it.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 07:57 • by AdT (unregistered)
And thus the saying was born: He has his head up his ace.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 08:00 • by Anonymous (unregistered)
Blatantly made up. Regardless of age, you'd have to have been completely ignorant of all news and media for over a decade, to still believe "internet companies" were run by students in garages. Also, why would any firm looking for a project manager go head-hunting a junior web guy? Tiresome

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 08:43 • by Da' Man (unregistered)
I worked for a company that had the bad habit of sending out their newsletter as a high-res PDF email attachment (usually 3-4MB) to just anybody who was careless enough to ever give us his email address.

I kept bugging the CEO to at least switch to an HTML-Version instead, or just notify them that a new version is now available on our web server; or better: both.

No chance. This is how it was done since ever (at least a year or so), and it is not going to be changed.

One day I gave an intern a quick introduction to HTML (really just the basics: what are tags, how to use italics, etc.) when the CEO came in to ask something.

I didn't think much of it then, and not the following day, when I saw her happily playing with HTML-code. The CEO asked her personally to do something with her new HTML-skills... well, I better look over it before she sends it back, I thought, but then again, I was busy with other things...

A week or so later I was called to the CEOs office, because he just had a fit, and was shouting at the poor intern.

However, it wasn't even her fault. In fact, she did a fine job (given her lack of experience - they say that HTML takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master!) but it did not please the stylistic requirements of the power that is(TM)

It turned out, that because he was used to have the newsletter divided by pages, he not only asked her to make one page for whatever used to be one - he also expected everything to be in a three-column layout.

And no matter what she did, the last line of the first column never really worked out the way it was intended - even less so on the CEO's computer, who had different fonts installed, and a different screen, too.

The problem was, of course, that now I had to take care of the newsletter, and that on top of all my other duties... :-(

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 08:57 • by dhromed
273600 in reply to 273485
One has to give the old guy credit that his ideas are absolutely right on track.

They're just ten years too late.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 09:15 • by BigG (unregistered)
273605 in reply to 273482
acid:
/snip
Expecting everyone on the planet to be au fais with technology, and the internet, and with the risks of phishing and malware and viruses etc. just seems a little naive to me.

Once my own father (a career journalist) came up to me with this great idea for a classified advertising site on the internet. He wanted to charge by column centimetre (we use real measurement standards here in Australia). I could have laughed or poo-pooed (again no pun intended) the idea, instead I took 20 mins to explain to him the basics of how itnernet advertising works, what the market model was, and pointed him to sites like Allclassifieds here in Oz so he could see how it was done. In the end, he realised that it WAS a good idea, but it had already been done several times.

This idea and his take on it doesn't make him an idiot. It makes him a specialist in his field, and he was trying to relate to a new technology and new way of doing things using the only framework he had available to him at the time to make sense of it. It wasn't sufficient, so I supplied the right one.


Your father is a smart man. I think a lot of our frustration is from people that can't/won't make sense of a new framework. In our careers, we change framework/technology very frequently, sometimes every month!

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 11:15 • by not difficult (unregistered)
273643 in reply to 273409
Let's be honest about the site itself, because it's a half dozen pages with a half dozen database tables.

The only stumbling block for me would be interfacing with VISA and Mastercard becuase I've never done it. Transferring the catalog is time consuming, but anybody else can do it.

Awhile ago, I put together a collecting database inside of about two weeks using Notepad and filling in 10% of the database. I spent more time fighting HTML 4 tables to display a Windows 3.1 theme than anything else. It probably would've been easier to just use divs and make everyone upgrade to the latest Firefox.

Later, I took alot of that display code and in about a week created a simplistic copy of eBay. Still in Notepad, not Visual Studio. Probably 20% of that was wasted fighting the server's ridiculously slow SQL Server web interface.

After that, I wrote a CMS for somebody's comic in about a 3 hours. I spent another couple of hours here and there cleaning up the really ugly PHP code to handle anything stupid he might do. I would've been done even faster if C# was an option, but this guy was so cheap that he was borrowing hosting from a friend.

So it's funny when I offer to help Fun Publications, whose forum software must pre-date AOL and in 2009 still can't handle online registration for Botcon, and get a cold shoulder. They're almost as bad as some of the rentacoder jobs that want to duplicate Facebook for a cup of coffee and bus fare.


Steve:
Aside from the $2000 part, this would seem to me to be a great side opportunity for someone working in an entry-level job.

I know that much money won't go far for a custom-website. Does anyone have an idea of how much it would take to set up a bare-bones, cookie cutter website with the ability to process orders? Obviously, the customers aren't goint to print out and mail in their orders. I can't believe there isn't a template or code out there that someone couldn't just cut-and-paste and add some graphics and text to.

Say he bills his time at $20/hr, thats 100 hours, or 2 1/2 weeks of time to set up something. Yes that is an abysmally low rate, but you have to start somewhere. The experience you gain and putting it on your resume is the greater compensation.

Re: I believe it.

2009-07-08 15:58 • by Wyrd (unregistered)
273669 in reply to 273407
sammy baby:
I believe this story, absolutely.

Back in the day, I was doing some work as a systems administrator for a small regional ISP. One of my clients was a guy who had a microscopy supply company - they sold lab equipment to schools, research facilities, basically anyone with a need to look at reeeeeeally small things. They were fully on board with what they used to call "internet commerce" back when we still felt like we needed a name for it: the cost savings they'd realized on not having to ship a paper catalog anymore was more than enough to justify hiring a few college kids to maintain their site.

At the time, it was powered by a horrible mix of CGI scripts which drove an order-form based (read: no shopping cart) which sent credit card information around in unencrypted e-mails. (When I raised this concern with the owner, he looked surprised. "Most people I know are comfortable buying things on the Internet," he said. "That's because they know that the companies they deal with are taking steps to protect their payment information," I replied. "You're not. I know because I run your site for you.")

But the owner was convinced that his site was truly groundbreaking, and one day he called my office on his cell phone to share a big new idea with me. After about fifteen minutes of lead in where he basically tried to warm me up on how great the site has been for him so far, he said, "So here's my idea: I want to be able to update the price of an item in my database, and have it show up on the web, in real time."

I managed to get out the word "Well," before he cut me off. "I have to go now, I'm getting an MRI done on my brain and they say I need to turn off my cell phone. But I'll call you back about this later." He never did.

Another time, he sent me a very angry e-mail demanding to know why his site was down. I tested accessing the site from my desktop, and Google Translate, and glanced at the server logs - all suggested perfectly normal activity. When I told him so, his next email became indignant. "Well, I'm in Beijing right now at a client's site, and I can't get to the site at all." When I asked him if he'd tried speaking to any technical support resources there, he responded, as if speaking to a child, "I can't talk to anyone here. They all speak Chinese."

Oh, and about those college kids - the head college kid called me up in my office one day, sounding a bit sheepish, and said, "Um, the boss asked me to call you. Do you have any reason to think that the server has been hacked?"

I grew alarmed, immediately started watching system activity, looking for alarms, anything - but everything looked normal. "Um... no. Why?"

"Well," intern replied, "we have these pictures on our site - they're jpeg images of the products."

"Yeah?"

"Well, we have a few of them, and they're supposed to be in color, but they're now in black and white."

I paused a few moments to wait for the next sentence, but it didn't come. "Um," I said, "are you asking me if someone broke into your web site and replaced your color images with black and white ones?"

There was a long pause, and when he spoke again, he sounded even more sheepish. "I told you," he said, "he told me to call you."


Thank you.

Thank you for writing this post. I'm hoping to be self-employed one of these days, and It's always good to have a reminder of what I might be in for.

--
Furry cows moo and decompress.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 16:01 • by Joseph Z. (unregistered)
273671 in reply to 273409
You can get this set up pretty easily with something like Yahoo! Stores. Doesn't take long to set up, costs less than $50 a month. Pretty easy to work with, too, if you've ever "worked with the internet" before.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-08 19:42 • by russ in Albuquerque (unregistered)
273685 in reply to 273506
Dan_the_welder:
All things considered McMaster does a good job.

You have to understand that they have been around for ever and their legacy customers are facilities guys who can thumb straight to the relevant catalog page in a second.

Spend a minute on Grainger.com if you want to see the wrong way.



Another advantage of the McMaster site is that you can use the search to find something generally like what you're looking for, then use the catalog page to select exactly what you really want (fortunately the item numbers are active on the displayed page). Contrast that with the mscdirect.com site that uses what might be the worst search (unless you opt for a google search) and displays the catalog pages in a low enough resolution that I can't read the damn things on my 24" monitor. C'mon, just a few more pixels and I might be able to read the fine print without using their godawful viewer's "zoom" feature that brings up slightly less blurred text.

I use McMaster's website 10x more than MSC, even though they don't list the maker of a lot of what they list and have a smaller selection. But the difference might be because MSC *always* screws me on the shipping (split shipments, minimum shipping charges, etc.) where McMaster doesn't. I got another box yesterday, $35 in parts and $5.50 in shipping, MSC would've charged $20.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-09 01:16 • by acid (unregistered)
273717 in reply to 273516
Nick:
In 2007 the web had been easily accessable by the general public for at least 12 years, it would be very hard for someone to know virtually nothing about the Internet, didn't the company have email?

I'm not a doctor and I don't read medical journals, but I do know that doctors have been performing successful hand transplants for about 10 years. there is a difference between not knowing something and actively avoiding any knowledge of the subject.


Ummmm...

I think you've missed the point to be frank. Big time. You may know that doctors have been performing successful hand transplants, but you don't go in to a doctor specifically asking for one and telling him what technique you'd prefer he uses. If you walk in holding your severed hand, he's going to KNOW you need a hand transplant, book you in and then explain what HE is going to do to you to fix the problem you have.

The real problem here is that we of a technical bent mostly forget to explain our craft. Just because you know that doctors can perform hand transplants doesn't mean that you know how he does it. The general populace out there are trying to micro manage us because they expect us to be the norm for our profession - closed off and unwilling to communicate what it is we can do for them. They're trying to give us options so we can shoot them down, because we have the well deserved reputation for not providing them with the best options in the first place.

Erhen (when he heard this fellow) had two choices. One, not take the job, was the easiest and he went with that. The second was much harder, explain the situation to him AS AN EXPERT who could tell him what he really needed and why, by asking the pertinent questions and establishing the real requirements.

That's the bit that we've lost focus on. We go to a doctor, we know they can fix us but we let them ask the questions they need to ask to determine the best way for them to do it. Their choice, not ours. And yet, we expect our customers and clients to tell us how we should do our own jobs?

And NO, there's no difference between not knowing something and actively avoiding information on the subject. Both people don't have the answers they really want you to provide. I was in the middle of a discussion the other day with a friend and was describing modern theories of what it would be like experiencing crossing the event horizon of a quantum singularity. Ten minutes later I got a roasting because I didn't know who Jerry Springer was. Somehow, after finding out about him, I don't consider myself ignorant for not knowing about him.

This is a tale of someone providing a potential solution when he should have been providing requirements. As I said before, that's not a WTF, unless you're talking about Erhen's unwillingness to glean requirements from the pitch and help the man with a more realistic estimate of what's required.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-09 06:00 • by ace hole (unregistered)
273748 in reply to 273408
universe man:
AndrewB:
The real WTF is that Erhen's watch tells him what year it is.


He's got a watch with a minute hand, a millennium hand, and an eon hand.
How about shrimp to go with the millennium hand?

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-09 13:04 • by jay (unregistered)
273865 in reply to 273454
Franz Kafka:
jay:
In fairness regarding the $2,000 budget ... My understanding of the story is that they're talking about hiring this guy as a full-time employee, not a consultant. In that case, the $2,000 budget would presumably not include his salary. If $2,000 is just supposed to cover software tools, it would be quite adequate for a modest web site.


are you kidding? That won't cover servers and hosting for much of anything.


That depends on the scale of the operation. I've set up several web sites that cost less than $10 per month for hosting, plus I think $20 a year for domain name registration. Sure, that's shared hosting, so if the site gets a million hits a day its going to come crashing down real fast. But one of those sites gets I think ten thousand hits a day and performance is excellent.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-09 13:22 • by jay (unregistered)
273871 in reply to 273482
acid:
I hate to be the one to break it to everyone here, but there are people out there who don't understand technology anywhere near as well as we do. There are people out there who are NOT well versed in the uses of the internet, or with the lessons we've all learned along the way.


Acid has a good point here. Just because something is part of everyday experience to us IT geeks doesn't mean it is at all familiar to the general population, nor that we should really expect it to be.

I'm sure that there are lots of things that are everyday knowledge to, say, people who work in the copper mining business, that I know nothing about. Yes, I'm aware that copper must be dug out of the ground. But exactly how they find it and how they get it out? I have no idea. If my company suddenly found itself in need of large amounts of copper and sent me to a mining company to discuss the subject, I wonder if the people there would ridicule me for all the stupid misimpressions I had about how their profession worked, or if they would understand that I am not in their business so of course I don't know these things.

A few years ago I came across an article in a news magazine about coal slurry pipelines. Apparently there is a network of pipelines across America that transport coal by mixing it with water, pumping it through these pipes, and at the other end draining off the water and drying out the coal. It's cheaper than using trucks or trains. I didn't even know this industry existed until I read that article, and yet apparently thousands of people spend their entire lives working at this. Were you aware of it before reading this paragraph?

That doesn't mean I won't enjoy a good laugh at some of the misunderstandings of non-IT people. Just like I wouldn't begrudge the coal miner laughing at my ignorance. Once he explained why some idea I had was absurd I might well laugh along with him.

What it does mean is that when I'm done laughing at the non-IT person -- either behind his back or to his face, depending on his personality and our relationship -- I then try to explain to him what really is possible and how to do it. I don't conclude he's an idiot because he doesn't know computers, just that he's ignorant of these particular facts.

After all, if everybody knew as much about computers as we do, they wouldn't pay us the big bucks to do this job, would they?

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-09 19:54 • by acid (unregistered)
273918 in reply to 273871
Hear Hear Jay.

jay:
A few years ago I came across an article in a news magazine about coal slurry pipelines. Apparently there is a network of pipelines across America that transport coal by mixing it with water, pumping it through these pipes, and at the other end draining off the water and drying out the coal. It's cheaper than using trucks or trains. I didn't even know this industry existed until I read that article, and yet apparently thousands of people spend their entire lives working at this. Were you aware of it before reading this paragraph?


You know, that's pretty interesting, and no, I had no idea that's how they shipped coal in the US. Mind you, next time I hear a project manager arguing about how thick a pipe he needs for his new app, I'm going to be grinning and everyone's going to think I'm grinning for completely the wrong reasons...

CAPTCHA - Abigo - Sometimes serendipity strikes us in the strangest ways.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-10 15:31 • by Mu (unregistered)
You never know, my little cutting edge science company is stuck on old office versions because the head of administration found out some stuff we can do with 2007 is incompatible with her '97. And she's not giving that up!

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-12 12:16 • by Bernd (unregistered)
274350 in reply to 273428
Kazan:

i'd setup a Drupal uebercart for $2000 ... would be less than 4 hours of work :D

I know of a typo3 installation (read: configure; make; make install) that cost 60k. It was set up 3 years ago and is still up and running hosting the web presence of a company in the german cable business.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-13 15:31 • by Andreas (unregistered)
There is a store in Sweden which sells things related to analog photography. It's a great store, you know, they've got everything from white cotton gloves to 8x10" view cameras. Their site is great and contains a ton of information on each product. It is also quite clear from the design that the people who made the site knew SOMETHING about the web.

However, their ordering system is the worst I have ever seen in my entire life. If you want to order something, you download a PDF, where you look up the product. The PDF contains things like SKU, price, etc. You then FILL IN (as in, with your keyboard!) these data on a form on the website. The form data are then mailed to the company. You even have to calculate the total cost yourself (as in, with a calculator!).

They recently "improved" the site by making the price of the products available outside of the PDF. Now you can click on a little button next to the product, and a Java applet (!!!) displays the price. This solution is truly mind-boggling.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-07-17 10:41 • by Michael B (unregistered)
I remember, in 1995, getting out of college and having several phone interviews. One was with a company that offered a service where you'd dial a phone number and be able to listen to a song. Like a jukebox, but over the phone.

Tempted though I was to accept the trip in order to see Seattle, there was no way I was going to take the job. Too far away, and even in '95 you could see where the business model of calling a phone number to listen to songs was about to have some major competition.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-08-11 17:30 • by Anon (unregistered)
When I ran my custom website business, we had lots of clients like this. Moving from print to web was viewed as a printing and postage-saving deal. In one case, the graphics house that had been doing the print preparation (with Photoshop) pressed the "export as HTML" button as an experiment and said "voila! a website!". The client was a woodworking component manufacturer with thousands of items in their catalog. They came to us to add the "web ordering page". They expected a one-week job to go from JPEGs of their catalog to an online ordering system.

Sigh.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2009-08-16 15:10 • by pterry (unregistered)
282377 in reply to 273748
ace hole:
universe man:
AndrewB:
The real WTF is that Erhen's watch tells him what year it is.


He's got a watch with a minute hand, a millennium hand, and an eon hand.
How about shrimp to go with the millennium hand?

I tol 'em, I tol 'em. Buggerit

Re: The Ace in the Hole

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Re: The Ace in the Hole

2010-09-04 04:42 • by dgghua (unregistered)
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Re: The Ace in the Hole

2014-01-06 10:16 • by Harry King (unregistered)
424421 in reply to 273376
Frank:
Can someone please tell me how lucrative the dog-sh*t market is??


Nearly as lucrative as taking the piss.

Re: The Ace in the Hole

2014-03-12 12:13 • by Emperor_Z (unregistered)
I feel bad for the manager in this story. He seems like a pretty smart guy, and he realizes the potential of the internet despite apparently having very little exposure to it. The upper management's unfortunately got him trapped in a time capsule.
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