Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

It Isn’t Any Trouble Just To S-M-I-L-E

This week at Starbucks restored my faith in humanity, and my enjoyment of the job. I won’t lie- it’s been rough at work lately. Labor must be kept under sale volume, which means that we are understaffed most of the day, every day. Then the holidays hit, and we were dealing with extra merchandise in the back room, extra drinks to throw in the mix, and customers with about as much patience as a stick of lit dynamite. Once the holidays were over, we obsessed about our white-glove cleaning inspection, where so much as one coffee bean out of place would earn an “excessive dirt build-up” rating (and yes, I am serious about just one solitary bean out of place).

This week, things calmed down. We still had our crazy “line to the door” times, but in between those moments were moments of pure peace. We could actually focus on issues, we could tidy up the café, we could restock merchandise.

You know what? It made us nicer people. At one point, mid afternoon, our café was completely empty for 20 minutes. Hmmm, what to do? How about we put on the Jazz Crooners, crank up the music, and belt out The Look of Love while sweeping up crumbs and wiping up spills? Oh yes, that will work!

Customers noticed the difference. Soon after our little singing session, we had a customer come in and order a Venti Breve Latte. I was on bar, and unconsciously called the drink back to the register partner in iambic senarius (try it yourself, daDA daDA daDA). The customer cracked up, and stayed for another ten minutes telling us funny stories about how snooty baristas usually are at other stores, and how nice it was to see baristas having fun with their job. That’s when it hit me- we were having fun again!

So the next time you go into a Starbucks and the partners are less than stellar (ha! See what I did there?), just keep in mind that they might be stressed out of their minds. It’s not an excuse, but it is a reason. I’m hoping, though, that our less-stressful atmosphere will continue for a while- I like having fun at work!

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Warning: this post contains a long-winded English major talking about business and budgets. Read at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for misinformation, because the city’s information is confusing, and she refuses to go to business school just to understand it. All the best- Miss Woodhouse

I’m missing a library book.

Wait, stop! Please don’t pass out!

Okay now? Good; I’ll move on.

Here’s the deal: it’s somewhere in my room, and I will find it. Hopefully, I’ll find it tonight. It’s just that it’s a small little paperback, and I have a lot of books. No, really, I mean it. A lot of books. Too many books, if there is such a thing. (I don’t believe that there is, but others have a differing opinion.)

What I find amazing is that if I go buy the same book as I lost for the library with the same ISBN, it’ll cost me about $6. Seriously, and that’s for a new copy. They, however, want me to pay $16 dollars to replace the book, with no guarantee that they’ll get a new copy to replace the one I can’t find. They can make $10 or more on this transaction! Arg.

But this post is not meant to focus on my inability to organize. No, this post is on the ridiculousness  of libraries. First off, library fines don’t go straight back into the library budget. They instead go into the city coffers. I have a bit of an issue with that. If I get a speeding ticket, then I expect my money to go to the city. If my book is a little late, then I expect my money to go to the library.

Apparently, this is a tough concept for the city to handle. Or maybe not.

Before I delve too deeply into this mess, allow me to confess that I am not a business-type person. I don’t fully understand the workings of city government, and all the information I have is gleaned from conversations with librarians and a PowerPoint that you are free to view for yourself here. But never fear, dear readers, this ignorance will not stop me from expressing my opinion.

Our city, by its own admission, has higher library fines than average. More to the point, its fines are much higher than the cities surrounding it. According to data from 2007 (not great, I know, but it’s the most recent I could find), other cities are between $.10-.15 per item. We are at $.20.

Now for the big numbers. Annually, residents pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300,000 yearly in fines. Now that I see those numbers, my $16 seems so insignificant. Wow, $300,000? That’s a lot of late books/movies/cds!

This is the part where my head begins to hurt. Library fines (which I’ve been told don’t go directly to the library), only make up 2% of the annual library budget. Breathe for a moment and soak up that information. Our libraries have a 15 million dollar budget? They don’t seem to buy all that many new materials, so I’m assuming that the bulk of that goes to building upkeep and salaries. It may look like a lot of money, but then realize you are spreading that out among 10 buildings. Not such a liberal budget after all. Anyway. It is also 13% of book purchasing yearly- sorry, but doing that math makes my head hurt. Feel free to work out what the annual book buying budget is and post it in the comments!

So, if I have this right (and again, I might not), the fines we pay make up 2% of the total budget, and that 2% of the budget only cover 13% of book buying costs. Is anyone else having flashbacks to high school Algebra word problems? Then we will quickly move on.

Now, in 2007 the libraries began using a collection agency for accounts seriously in arrears. Considering I have about $50 on my card right now (I’ll drastically reduce that by finding this silly book), I’ve been a little nervous about that agency. (Editor’s note: make that $47.60. Yuck.)

I shouldn’t be. According to my source material, 454 accounts in 2007 had fines amounting to more than $72,000. At first I thought that all 454 accounts added up to $72,000, with the average account having a $158 total fine. No, apparently these are individual accounts with $72,000 each. I don’t know if that is even possible, but unless the slides are poorly written that’s what they say. That would make outstanding fines over $32.5 million, and that seems unreasonable to me. Maybe it is the $158 instead, but who knows?

Here’s my problem- if our yearly library budget is $15 million (and again, math is not my strong suit), and the city managed to collect the some $30 million in unpaid fines (we are still very hypothetical here), that extra money would not go to the library. Instead, that money would go to the city coffers, $15 million would go to the Library budget (making Library fines support them 100%), and the other $15+ million? I guess that the city could do with it whatever they choose. This, my friends, is what I don’t see as fair.

So now my head hurts, I know WAY too much about library budgets, and I still don’t know where that book is. If only I knew how to hack one of those grossly overdue accounts. I mean, if you owe over $72,000, what’s another $50 or so? Oh well, off to dredge the room….

(Just kidding! The book is found, returned, and the debt settled. More money for the city, I guess.)

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Investing In the Generations

This article is cross-posted from this blog, but since I wrote the post over there, I figure I have the right to steal from myself! My school’s English Club goes once a month to a senior community, reads a short story or two, and then leads a short discussion loosely based on what we read. It’s really great, and I enjoy it a lot.

For the past week I’ve been trying to put together a nice, formal write-up of our experiences reading at Chesapeake Place’s senior community.

I realized today though, that our times with these lovely people are not formal. Rather, they are an amazing chance to interact with some wonderful people with entertaining life stories and experiences. Our part in the interaction is minimal- all we do is bring a story, read it aloud to them, and ask some interactive questions. Their answers make each meeting priceless.

These people all come from different lives, different backgrounds, and different countries. One woman immigrated from the political unrest in Germany in between the two world wars. Another woman told us what it was like growing up in a large family with a deceased mother and a workaholic father. Yet another woman shared her childhood experiences of living in a Catholic boarding school in Canada.

Our printed, polished, literary short stories by Doyle, O. Henry, and Capote truly pale in comparison to the living, breathing epistles these people share with us. At the same time, it’s heartwarming to watch them listen to what we read- the peaceful, thoughtful expressions on their faces, and the way smiles creep onto their faces during humorous parts. They are so appreciative of us coming once a month to spend time with them, but really, I’m grateful to them for their willingness to open up about their lives.

I never leave Chesapeake Place without a feeling of regret- regret that I can’t spend more time talking with them, and regret that so many people are missing out on opportunities to interact with people like this. Local senior communities are a wealth of stories and experiences just waiting for an audience- why don’t you take an hour or two and invest in these wonderful people? You will never regret it!

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Things We Haz

I don’t have much energy to write tonight- having spent the last 20 hours working on a university project, I’m pretty wiped out. However, one of my resolutions was to not miss a Starbucks Saturday post, and I don’t want to slip in January!

I love when we get to do silly things at work. Passion tea, for instance, gives us several opportunities to crack each other up. I heard about some partners this summer who offered to pair the passion tea with the “luscious lemon tart”. I don’t know who names our pastries, but that name was a doozie and the passion tea suggestion only made it more ridiculous. “Cheery Cherry Pie” was cute and clever though (not to mention delicious!).

Thursday I opened a new bag of passion tea, and had half the bag left over. I folded it over, labeled it properly with “Passion”, and then wrote beneath that “we haz it!”. That made one of my coworkers crack up, as did writing “I haz a cut” on a leaking jug of milk.

If you don’t get those references, then you have to visit this site. Warning: time waster!

On a related note, cleaning up the bottom of an industrial fridge after three cracked jugs of milk have dripped all day and half the night is not fun. Nor is dealing with frozen milk- it doesn’t foam well. I tried explaining this to the man whose cappuccino I had to make over (not enough foam in it), but I don’t think he believed me. I’m not a bad drink maker, it’s just the product giving us a hard time.

Our Christmas party is this weekend though, and I think that we’re going to have a ton of fun outside of the store. I can’t wait!

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When I’m writing, the number 50 is really important to me. In my stories, if I can make it to page 50, then the chances are good that I’ll be able to finish it off. If I can write 50 words in a post or paper without struggling, then I know I have a good topic.

This is my 50th blog post. It’s only been four months, so I feel good about the future of this place. Fifty posts, and I’m still having fun!

In honor of the milestone, here are 50 random facts from this website. The comments in italics are mine. Enjoy!

1. If you are right handed, you will tend to chew your food on your right side. If you are left handed, you will tend to chew your food on your left side. (So, if you are ambidextrous, do you chew in the middle of your mouth?)

2. If you stop getting thirsty, you need to drink more water. For when a human body is dehydrated, its thirst mechanism shuts off.

3. Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying. (Wearing contacts is much more reliable. So is holding an unlit match between your teeth. Not that I do this or anything…. *looks away*)

4. Your tongue is germ free only if it is pink. If it is white there is a thin film of bacteria on it.

5. The Mercedes-Benz motto is “Das Beste oder Nichts” meaning “the best or nothing”.

6. The Titanic was the first ship to use the SOS signal. (dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot  Not that it did them a ton of good.)

7. The pupil of the eye expands as much as 45 percent when a person looks at something pleasing.

8. The average person who stops smoking requires one hour less sleep a night.

9. Laughing lowers levels of stress hormones and strengthens the immune system. Six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day. Adults only laugh 15 to 100 times a day. (lol!)

10. The roar that we hear when we place a seashell next to our ear is not the ocean, but rather the sound of blood surging through the veins in the ear.

11. Dalmatians are born without spots.

12. Bats always turn left when exiting a cave.

13. The ‘v’ in the name of a court case does not stand for ‘versus’, but for ‘and’ (in civil proceedings) or ‘against’ (in criminal proceedings).

14. Men’s shirts have the buttons on the right, but women’s shirts have the buttons on the left.

15. The owl is the only bird to drop its upper eyelid to wink. All other birds raise their lower eyelids.

16. The reason honey is so easy to digest is that it’s already been digested by a bee. (Um, ewwww!)

17. Roosters cannot crow if they cannot extend their necks.

18. The color blue has a calming effect. It causes the brain to release calming hormones. (The colour red has the opposite effect.)

19. Every time you sneeze some of your brain cells die.

20. Your left lung is smaller than your right lung to make room for your heart.

21. The verb “cleave” is the only English word with two synonyms which are antonyms of each other: adhere and separate.

22. When you blush, the lining of your stomach also turns red. (How do we know this? Why do we know this?)

23. When hippos are upset, their sweat turns red.

24. The first Harley Davidson motorcycle was built in 1903, and used a tomato can for a carburetor.

25. The lion that roars in the MGM logo is named Volney.

26. Google is actually the common name for a number with a million zeros.

27. Switching letters is called spoonerism. For example, saying jag of Flapan, instead of flag of Japan. (So what if I say my Mail Harry’s in the Chatholic Curch?)

28. It cost 7 million dollars to build the Titanic and 200 million to make a film about it. (I’ve not seen the whole thing, but from what bits I caught on TV they could have left out the sad ending and made it more cheaply. Not that I cried or anything.)

29. The attachment of the human skin to muscles is what causes dimples.

30. There are 1,792 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

31. The sound you hear when you crack your knuckles is actually the sound of nitrogen gas bubbles bursting.

32. Human hair and fingernails continue to grow after death.

33. It takes about 20 seconds for a red blood cell to circle the whole body.

34. The plastic things on the end of shoelaces are called aglets.

35. Most soccer players run 7 miles in a game.

36. The only part of the body that has no blood supply is the cornea in the eye. It takes in oxygen directly from the air. (Thus, we cover it up with a piece of flexible plastic so we can see better. I really hope my contacts do breathe as promised!)

37. Every day 400,000 babies are born, and 140,000 people die.

38. In most watch advertisements the time displayed on the watch is 10:10 because then the arms frame the brand of the watch (and make it look like it
is smiling).

39. Colgate faced big obstacle marketing toothpaste in Spanish speaking countries. Colgate translates into the command “go hang yourself.” (Remind me not to brush my teeth in Mexico.)

40. The only 2 animals that can see behind itself without turning its head are the rabbit and the parrot.

41. Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair. (So redheads are more intelligent? I have to think this through.)

42. The average person laughs 13 times a day. (Wait, didn’t we establish that adults laugh at least 15 times a day? Was that previous figure including cyber laughing?)

43. Do you know the names of the three wise monkeys? They are:Mizaru(See no evil), Mikazaru(Hear no evil), and Mazaru(Speak no evil).

44. Women blink nearly twice as much as men.

45. German Shepherds bite humans more than any other breed of dog. (I deg to biffer. I should qualify that their biting is mostly in the line of duty. Pitbulls, however, just bite for fun. Big difference.)

46. Large kangaroos cover more than 30 feet with each jump.

47. Whip makes a cracking sound because its tip moves faster than the speed of sound. (This mostly applies to the bull whip. Just think, those Oregon pioneers were breaking the sound barrier long before we invented flight.)

48. Two animal rights protesters were protesting at the cruelty of sending pigs to a slaughterhouse in Bonn. Suddenly the pigs, all two thousand of them, escaped through a broken fence and stampeded, trampling the two hapless protesters to death. (…and their name was Legion. Wait, wrong story…)

49. If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle; if the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died as a result of wounds received in battle; if the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural cause. (What does it mean if it’s just a statue of a horse? Do the same rules apply to how the horse died?)

50. The human heart creates enough pressure while pumping to squirt blood 30 feet!!

And because my mum raised me to have a song for every occasion, watch this:

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How To Save A Life

Work today was rough. I heard a lot of sad stories, and saw a lot of pain and confusion in people’s faces. From the parent that has to tell his daughter that months of chemo didn’t work, to the mother who realizes that her last child is growing up too fast while her oldest is drifting off, there’s a lot of pain in people’s lives.

This song is running through my head on a continual loop- every story I heard, every flash of pain I saw brought a different part of the lyrics to mind. Feel free to listen, feel free to read the lyrics.

But above all, dear customers, remember that this little barista cares about you and is praying for you. I may not be able to do more than offer you coffee and a listening ear, but I’m there for you whenever. Be at peace.

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Helping or Hindering?

Lately I’ve been wondering exactly where the fine line between helping people and hindering them in their personal growth is. I get frustrated when people are supposed to do something, and then they don’t. So, do I continue to poke, prod, and remind them about their commitments? Or do I just grit my teeth and complete the project myself just so it gets done?

Both tactics have their pros and cons. To continually be reminding people is stressful for me, and annoys them. On the other hand, this does give them the opportunity to step up and complete the project. I may have a heart attack, but at least they get the satisfaction of a job well done.

To do the project myself also stresses me out, but the job is done to my liking. The only bad thing is that the person with the “responsibility” doesn’t have to follow through with their commitment. While this might help them out in the short term, it doesn’t teach them to manage their time and responsibilities.

Both plans stress me out, and we all know that I can’t stand any more stress then I already have. I’m not sure if there is an alternative that doesn’t cause stress. If there is one out there, I’d love to know what it is.

Tonight, I chose the latter plan of attack. I must admit that I found myself growing very annoyed to have to do this on top of all the other work I have this week, but in the end it felt good. The project is done, I’m set up better for the next time I have to do it, and I can sleep well tonight knowing that all is well.

Still, it doesn’t seem very fair. Welcome to the real world, I guess!

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At precisely 1:54 this morning, my entire neighbourhood lost power. Those of you readers who know me well will gasp in shock, as you realize that this is right in the middle of prime study time for me. One minute I’m happily reading tweets and looking for a blog plugin for the English club (and yes, working on an English paper), the next minute everything around me went dark.

To be honest, my first thought was “oh, Mum is making a statement about the lateness of the hour.” Then, I realized that she couldn’t have turned off the lamp beside me without me noticing her doing it. Then, my internet connection disappeared.

It’s one thing to lose power during the day. You have to keep your fridge and freezer closed, interior rooms may be a little dim, and the radio will fall silent. Really though, it’s not much of an imposition. Losing your power at night is a whole different ball game.

For one, I can’t see anything. I mean, the ENTIRE neighbourhood has no power- this includes street lamps. Two, I stupidly didn’t charge my phone for the last 48 hours, so I’m down to a sliver of battery and I need my phone to wake me up in the morning. Thankfully, I did charge my iPod so it’s my portable lighting device. As for my laptop- well, I obviously don’t have internet, but I’m on powersaver and typing this right now. I’m good to go for another hour or two.

This whole incident is just bringing home how much we rely on things that most people don’t even have. It’s automatic to walk into a dark room and reach for the light switch. You expect that when you open the fridge, a little light will pop on. When I turn on my iPod, I expect to see my wifi signal. When I plug in my phone, I expect it to charge. When we look outside, we expect to see the porch lights on the neighbour’s houses.

However, right now in Haiti, there are people simply wondering if their house is still standing, if their neighbours are still alive, and if they will be able to find any sort of food. Bodies are being discovered with sickening regularity, each body representing not only a life lost, but also a family destroyed. I’m sure that they aren’t worrying about charging their cellphones, or surfing the web on their iPods. I’m sure that all they want is their family and friends to be alive, and to know where to find food, clothing, and shelter.

My house is still structurally unchanged- even my alarm system is still set thanks to back-up batteries. I have plenty of food and water in my fridge and garage. My family is all around me, safely tucked into their beds. My phone may be low on power, but there are two more in the house all ready to go. Despite my lack of internet, I’m still sitting here typing away on my laptop.

You know, I think that I’m pretty lucky. Because, when you look at your life in the big, world picture, you come to realize that every frustration and setback is nothing when compared with the suffering of others. So instead of mourning my lost study time, I’m going to shut this computer off, get into bed, pray for the people of Haiti, and thank God that all I have to worry about is a low cellphone battery.

It’s really not so bad being powerless.



On Tuesday, Starbucks rolled out a bunch of new teas and new healthy food. This was my first time working a rollout day, and I noticed some interesting things.

We do sometimes get send foods in advance to test out so we can tell our customers about them. However, we are not sent everything. Sometimes, we don’t even get the food for the customers to buy on rollout day. Here we are with this huge poster of our new sandwiches, and the warehouse forgot to bring us our order. Really, they did. It was a little embarrassing to tell customers “no, we don’t have the new food. No, it didn’t sell out by 8 am, we never got in the shipment. No, there was nothing we could do to prevent this from happening.” The day was sporting in that respect!

Here’s a good one- did you know that the new tea sachets are made of nylon? Neither did I, but when a customer asked the question of us, I spent 20 minutes on the phone with Tazo tracking down the answer. The Tazo people are really nice though, so if you ever have tea questions don’t hesitate to call the number on the back of your box.

Rooibos is the most difficult tea name for customers to pronounce. We get “roo-i-bos”, “roo-bos”, “roo-boss”, and a plethora of other variations. I don’t blame them- it’s a confusing little word. For what it’s worth, the proper pronunciation is “roy-bus”. Yup, roy-bus. I told you I don’t blame people who can’t get it on their own!

Lucy’s cookies, though in Starbucks across the nation, are from right here in Hampton Roads. Check out the Virginian-Pilot article here. I love cool stories like this- and yes, the cookies are super yummy! We can be proud to call this a local company.

I, personally, am addicted to the glazed cashews with pomegranate and vanilla- and I don’t even like cashews that much. They are just the right blend of sweet and salty, with a little bit of sticky thrown in. By the end of the first day I got a few customers as hooked on them as I am!

The new rewards program is still confusing, but 13 more stars and I’m at the gold level. For what it’s worth, the little cup with the stars on “your Starbucks account” is as addictive to click on as that Poke the Penguin game. The stars just keep jumping around, but they are so cute! I also just got a coupon for a free oatmeal, which will be nice during my morning shift next week.

I know this is a bit of a random post today but it was a random Starbucks week, so it all works out in the end. Have a good week, and happy coffee and tea drinking!


Digging Up the Past

*Disclaimer: My use of the word “Archaeology” in this post pertains solely to the methods used in the Middle-East and parts of Africa. I have no experience with more “modern” or “American” archaeology locations and techniques, so I will not pretend that I do. Enjoy the post! Miss Woodhouse*

I have an active interesting in archaeology. If you don’t believe me, then just looking at the archaeology books on my shelf, the National Geographic and Archaeology Today magazines scattered around my room, and the dirt on my hands. Okay, I’m kidding about the last one, but the other two are true. There’s just something about digging into the past that fascinates me.

Last spring I took a Biblical Archaeology class at university, and tonight I pulled out my books to reference them for another class. Specifically, I’ve been studying whether archaeology disproves the Bible, or if it confirms the Bible’s veracity. One of the most interesting books I’ve read on this subject is titled “What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What archaeology can tell us the reality of ancient Israel”. Snappy title, I know.

The author is a long-time archaeologist named William Dever. After devoting his whole life to digging up the past, Dever uses this book to present his arguments against deconstructionists who say that the study of history is irrelevant in today’s postmodern world. They even go so far as to say that the field of archaeology is pointless and should have been abandoned decades ago.

Put yourself for a moment in Dever’s place. Here he is, getting on in years, spending most of his life digging up the past and now some upstart, pseudo-erudite scholars want to tell him that his work is meaningless, pointless, and obsolete. For most of you, dear readers, your contact with archaeology stems mainly from Indiana Jones and Amelia Peabody. Modern archaeology is nothing like the action-packed adventures of these characters. Basically, you spend months findings sponsors to pay for your expenses and crew. Then, you spend a few months in the relentless sun, systematically digging through an endless sandbox with little more than a toothbrush and tweezers, hoping to find something worthwhile. Maybe you will find an old mosaic, or the corner of a house. Mostly though, you will find little but garbage and potsherds, so you will try to pick up any contextual clues you can from these objects in order to gain more support for your next season.

I can’t fully wrap my mind around how frustrating it must be.

So, at this point you may be wondering what importance archaeology can have in our lives. Good question! Well, first there’s the old saying that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. By conducting archaeological excavations, we can learn and understand the history of an area. Sometimes the lessons are cultural- for example finding out that a city turned into a ghost town because the government was overthrown. Other times, archaeologists find clues to the history of the land that will make a difference in how we develop it in modern times. For example, if an excavation finds a civilization buried suddenly in mud, then we can surmise that the area was prone to sudden mudslides, and still may be unstable.

Biblically, archaeology provides some of the most compelling outside evidence that the Bible is real. We read about how the wall of Jericho fell inward by the power of God. Then, we find archaeological evidence of a city called Jericho whose walls fell inward. Given this information, archaeologists can make a correlation between the evidence and the accounts and conclude that the Biblical account is accurate. When we find seals, cartouches, and engravings that speak of people and events we read about in the historical books of the Bible, we can conclude that the events written there are true and accurate. In fact, Dever ultimately claims that archaeology can and does prove the veracity of the Bible. He believes that the details contained in the ancient scrolls and confirmed by archaeological discoveries are much too precise to be made up. Therefore, archaeology confirms the Bible and by doing so confirms the validity of our faith.

Just think- all of that meaning from a clump of dirt and sand!

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