Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Throwback: Vintage Kenner Coloring Book, part one

I picked this up at the OSWCC Summer Social a few weeks ago, and it’s just awfully neat and fun for a couple reasons. The top image is actually the back cover, but the French logo just looks cool.

The real joys, though, lie inside. Clearly, there were a few different artists at work on this little gem. For instance, this is not a bad picture:

There’s a lot of attention to detail in there, especially for a coloring book: the pattern on Aunt Beru’s collar; the painted shapes on the ceiling; the vaporators in the background. It even somehow captures the moods in the scene, from grumpy ol’ Uncle Owen to concerned, motherly Aunt Beru to “I’m so boooored and lonely” Luke.

Then, of course, you get a picture like this one:

See, I can’t even come up with a smart-ass enough comment for it. I’ll just point out that Leia’s expression is fantastically awful and that Luke’s hands seem to have melted like wax and fused around that tube of toothpaste he’s firing.

The whole book is like this, back-and-forth between the decent and the horrible, and I’ll share two more in this entry, saving a couple other doozies for another day.

The good:

…and the, well, um…

Meet Darth Minicranium, whose head was shriveled in a bizarre gardening accident. The only thing that makes him happy these days is wearing his sunglasses and favorite striped PJs.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio | , , | 1 Comment

Collect All 21! – Special Enhanced Podcast Excerpt

(If you just want to nab the George Krstic-enhanced “Collect All 21” podcast, it’s here in mp3 form, so you can right-click and “save as” for an easy download. The blog entry below tells about how it came to be, so feel free to come back and read and leave comments and feedback.)

UPDATE – George K. and I recorded a second one, too!

I’m a bit hyper about this little project having become a reality, so I’m asking forgiveness in advance for any fits of nerdbabbling.

Remember a few months back, when I got that note from “Clone Wars” writer George Krstic? Well, we’ve stayed in touch since then, and I mentioned that I’d love to do a sort of interactive podcast reading from “Collect All 21,” with George sitting in and sharing his own memories and thoughts on growing up addicted to the original trilogy.

So a couple weeks ago he let me know that he’d scheduled his usual summer return to Northeast Ohio, and we planned on hanging out and geeking for awhile and giving the interactive reading a shot.

Tuesday afternoon, then, we met up in Cuyahoga Falls for beer, pizza and wings, and passed a couple ridiculously fast hours talking writing and science fiction and cartoons and toys and video games and crazy people we’d known and cross-country road trips.

Then we headed over to my friend Keith’s house to record the podcast, which we built around the book’s second chapter, “The Droids We Were Looking For: How Kenner Took Ownership of My Childhood.”

(We actually got to Keith’s much later than we’d planned because we passed a Target and stopped to check out the Star Wars toys. I haven’t bought much of the new Hasbro stuff lately, but I picked up a very cool IG-86 Assassin Droid from The Clone Wars cartoon line because a) I was totally caught up in the evening’s geekdom and b) come on, I’m checking out Star Wars stuff with the guy who wrote “Downfall of a Droid” and created this character!)

IG86

Recording the reading and conversation with George was an absolute blast, and I hope the fun comes through in the finished product and gives some insight into what “Collect All 21” is all about. I can’t stress enough (again) how much I love hearing other Star Wars fans’ remembrances of their own experiences growing up on the toys and movies and books and comics of that era, and sitting down face-to-face and hearing some of those memories from a writer and guy like George was just an amazingly enjoyable experience.

The finished podcast runs about 45 minutes, and you can find it here.

MassiveSuperColossal Collect-‘Em-All Thanks to George – visit his web site to see the ton of neat stuff he’s done – for taking some time to nerd out and revisit the days when Real Action Figures Had No Knees, and to Keith for sharing his house and his recording setup and making this podcast possible.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Television, writing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mileage: Looking Back

On the one hand, I’m really super Wham-O excited about this weekend’s Columbus road trip, spending time with very dear friends we don’t get to see nearly enough, and, of course, the Dublin Irish Festival.

But when I hoist that pint of the fest’s special stout, it will come with a tinge of sadness, because it means I’m breaking the streak of six summer races which my brother Adam and I started in 2003, and which marked the beginning of my running journey.

Before that first Pro Football Hall of Fame 2-Mile, I had never run more than a mile, and my “training” that year consisted of going out once, three weeks before the race, and seeing if I could run two miles without puking. Organized sports were never my thing past about the fourth grade, and even then it was just YMCA-league soccer. (In fact, not too long before then, I’d gotten a call from an old friend about playing in a pick-up indoor soccer game one night. About 15 minutes in, I thought I was Going. To. DIE. Or throw up. Maybe both. I spent about three times as long recovering from that game as I did playing in it.)

I enjoyed that first two-mile, though. Not the run itself, really, but the finish, running up the hill in front of the Hall of Fame, and then all the Subway subs and fruit and cookies and water and sports drinks we could eat.

The next year, 2004, we had to run the North Canton Fourth of July 2-Mile because Adam was going to be out of town during the HOF race. I think this time I actually managed to put in two or three practice runs beforehand, and while I knocked a stunning minute-and-a-half off my previous year’s time, I’ve since come to realize that the North Canton’s course is basically a flat square, compared to the HOF course with its two grueling climbs. The thing is, though, I didn’t like the way I finished the North Canton race: The last 100 yards or so I was so beat that I kind of half-assed it across the line, and that stuck with me. Since then, I’ve always tried to make sure I’m pushing as hard as I can at the finish.

In 2005, 2006 and 2007 I started running more in preparation for the races, and it gradually grew into trying to jog two miles once a week or a few times a month. Fall and winters, though, still remained mostly wastelands, running-wise. My race times got a little better, though I never beat my North Canton run (I’m telling you, those hills are bastards), and Adam put it into my head to embrace the final climb and try to pass at least one person during that last stretch every year.

And every year, I grew to enjoy the whole thing, from the race day nerves, even though there was nothing really at stake, to pushing past that inevitable complaining from my inner voice about a minute into every race: “Seriously? You paid for this? This isn’t fun at all – what were you thinking?!?

We stuck to the 2-mile for pretty much one reason: Because, duh, it was mercifully short. And every year, when I was at my worst, my most miserable, when that horrible whisper came into my head and said, “I could grab my knee and limp off to the side and just walk and it would feel soooo muuuch betterrrrr,” then at that point, I knew I only had, what, like five minutes left?

Every summer we sat there post-race munching subs and chips watching the five-milers come in looking like they’d been beaten with sacks of oranges, and we said, “See, now that’s just crazy. Running five miles? Something’s gotta be wrong with your head.”

Last spring, then, something must’ve gone wrong with my head. On March 23, I went for a two-mile run for no other reason than it was sunny and in the mid-40s and I hadn’t run in five months. And around this time, Adam started saying he was thinking of giving the HOF 5-Mile a try.

Add to this that I had also recently gotten back in touch with my friend Keith, a longtime distance runner, who told me outright that there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to handle five miles.

So on March 29, 2008, as I had five years before, I put on my shoes and went out to try something for the first time, hoping only to finish five miles without stopping or throwing up.

Within a couple weeks I was doing 5-milers regularly, and pushing myself out to new frontiers a step at a time. I even got new shoes, having run on the same pair for those first six races.

We did our first HOF 5-Mile in the middle of Adam’s own training for his first marathon, and in the weeks afterward, I ran with him regularly on Saturdays.

I remained, though, pretty much a one- or two-days-per week,  runner, taking on three to seven miles at a time, and rarely running back-to-back days until this June, when I committed to this marathon.

Adam hits the road with me almost every one of my four running days per week. We’ve put in more miles together this summer than we did in those first five years combined, I’m sure, and maybe even counting last year’s pre-race mileage.

But I’m still going to miss those five that end with a charging climb in front of the Football Hall of Fame followed by a pile of sub sandwiches.

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode VII

Saturday, July 25

I went across the street to my brother Adam’s house just before sunup and tapped on the front window to let him know I was heading out to start the week’s long run – my first 12-miler. Not training for a full marathon himself, Adam decided to max himself out at 10 miles on the weekends, so my plan called for a two-mile loop which would bring me back to the end of our street, where he’d meet up with my for the remaining 10 miles. This marked a minor turning point: Last year, it was my brother heading out first and me joining him for the second half of his longer runs.

Adam came to his front door, pushed the Start button on his stopwatch for me, and off I went.

Heading west, I saw my favorite sort of sunrise: Through the trees, deep and rich and muted near the horizon. The kind of sunrise that always reminds me of my Dad and that Cyrkle song he liked (and which, as a result, I have a soft spot for), “Red Rubber Ball.”

I took it easy, treating these miles like a warm-up stretch. I let my mind wander, jogged a couple new streets, and by the time I met up with Adam, the sun was fully up, bright and yellow.

From here, we followed the same 10-mile loop as two weeks back.

About halfway into mile six, another not-so-monumental first: I tried one of the running gels that Jenn bought for me, since I know I’m going to have to get used to them.

No “Popeye eats-his-spinach” energy burst. No sailboat tattoos on my calves suddenly morphing into battleships. I ate the gel and washed it down with the recommended 4 ounces of water and just kept going.

As we passed the nine-mile mark, I tried to steel myself for what was coming, both in terms of a particularly long, slow straightaway with a subtle, sapping incline, and for crossing my personal frontier and then going two miles beyond it.

I distracted myself for a bit trying to figure out roughly where I’d be crossing into new mileage territory and looking for a suitable marker to mentally commemorate the occasion.

For poetry’s sake, it could’ve been around where Shelley and Keats streets intersected my run.

For symbolism, it could’ve been where I passed a particularly flat and leathery groundhog carcass, because, well, I was feeling a little like roadkill at that point.

For coolness, it could’ve been where I passed a spray-painted construction zone reminder on the pavement near the road’s edge, the all-caps fluorescent orange letters reading “UNTOUCABLE.” (Yeah, the cool factor is pretty much nullified by the misspelling.)

Somewhere in that stretch, at any rate, I put one more invisible barrier behind me.

The last mile and a half was a tough run.

For one thing, I had to finish the effort with a tiny pebble rattling around in my right shoe, pinned under my heel for a few seconds here, shifting up to the ball of my foot there. Had it happened earlier, I probably would have stopped to get rid of it, but at this point, given what it was taking just to keep jogging, I didn’t want to even think of what it would be like re-starting from a dead stop.

My lungs were surprisingly fine, but my legs were really at their limit. Outside of the final all-out pushes we usually try to do up our street, it’s been awhile since I’ve just been running and felt like I couldn’t lift my knees higher or push my stride a little longer. I was definitely there this time, though, especially during the hill climb that started mile twelve. I mined a little bit of new energy from the short downhill afterward and tried to ride gravity’s momentum for as long as I could.

I passed Adam’s mailbox – our finish line – with a total distance of 12.14 miles and a time of 1:46:30, about an 8-minute, 46-second per mile pace.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 3 Comments

Zoicks. Zounds. Zubbles.

I had a great time recently talking to inventor and author Tim Kehoe about Zubbles for this GeekDad post.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Games, geek, photos | , , , , | Leave a comment

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode VI

(Written Saturday, July 18, 2009)

In terms of Xs on my calendar, I’m one-third of the way through my first marathon training program: six weeks of eighteen – 24 of 71 training days – are behind me. 47 days to go, plus Oct 11, race day.

Distance-wise, I’m just under one-quarter of the way there. I’ve covered 104 miles “officially” (meaning without counting the miles that build up through the extra tenths and quarters I add to most of the shorter runs) of the 435 total preparation miles I’ll run.

And with today’s 7.2 miles with my brother Adam, I’ve run more miles in July (55) than ever before in a single month, and there are still seven running days left.

Even so, only two runs so far have marked times when I’ve set personal distance marks. It feels like most of the important work and progress to this point has been in establishing the habit and getting those Xs in their little boxes.

And I’ll take that progress, because the numbers in the next 12 weeks still look damn scary: This was my last single-digit mileage Saturday until the week before the race. This coming Saturday, I jump to a dozen miles, and then 13 – which I’m planning to pad to 13.1 so I can call it my own personal half-marathon. And I’ve been warned by both Adam and my buddy Jeff that the jump from 10 miles to 15 in weeks nine and ten is probably the most brutal progression of the whole process.

Both of those guys are big inspirations – neither had run a marathon before, and both did so on their first try with this very same plan.

And that’s got me thinking more about some of the parallels I find in the way I run and the way I write.

Maybe one of the reasons I’ve taken to this program is that it’s all there, scheduled and organized and step-by-stepped in a plan I can follow, with incremental achievable goals. All I have to do is reach that little number in the box four days a week, and eventually, it gets done, piece by piece. I didn’t have to go out and figure out the plan of attack myself. (My brother tried that last year when he first got the idea of running his marathon: All he did was add a mile every week to his one weekly run. He was fine until he got up into the dozen-mile range and it started killing him.)

Point is, this fits with the way think I work best with my writing: Start with an assignment – whatever it is – and follow the plan. Actually sniffing out news stories was never my strong point. Observing and reporting, interviewing, uncovering facts, learning from others, and assembling the pieces into a story was always where I felt more comfortable. You know, the writing part.

When I was a sports writer, nights without games – and thus, nights without assignments – were much more nerve-wracking than any game night, even with the hair-pulling post-game deadlines. In the newsroom, I was much more terrified of wondering on Monday morning what I was going to write about that week than I ever was about being asked to tackle big assignments on short notice.

Anyway, today was a ridiculously gorgeous morning for a run: Cool enough to bring light goosebumps before and after, but warm enough to sweat in shorts and a T-shirt. Clear skies, light breezes, and a rich, rising sun – the kind that just bathes everything in that almost post-rain vibrancy of color: Hillside wheat fields glowed in gold, and the tall corn in the fields rustled in waves of deepest, brilliant green. (My whole life, I’ve always measured summer by the cornfields, and every year, I swear, overnight they seem to transform from these expanses of pencil-thin rows of tiny, fragile-looking green shoots to towering, jungle-thick oceans of leaves and tassles.)

We finished in 59:14, which averages out to 8:14 per mile. I didn’t really feel the distance until we were into mile number six, and I still managed to end with a strong kick.

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , | 2 Comments

“Men will lift their minds to the moon this week, and who knows then how far beyond?”

Columbus Evening Dispatch, 7/21/69 (click to enlarge)

Columbus Evening Dispatch, 7/21/69 (click to enlarge)

I’ve had this July 21, 1969 edition of The Columbus Evening Dispatch since I was a kid. I think my grandma gave it to me when my Star Wars fandom gave birth to my fascination with real-life space travel and astronomy.

While I was getting the paper out for a revisit around the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, though, I also found part of an amazing Detroit Free Press special section dated Sunday, July 13, 1969. Its full-color front and back pages – I only have the outermost pages which wrapped the section: 1,2, 15 and 16 – blew me away, and I can’t’ imagine what this must have cost to produce 40 years ago, especially since even when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, seeing a color photo in a newspaper was still a relatively  rare and eye-catching thing.

I don’t know how or why this Detroit paper made it into our collection: All the rest of the old newspapers are either copies of The Daily Chief-Union, published in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, where my parents grew up, or The Dispatch out of Columbus, where most people in Upper turned for the big-city news.  (Neil Armstrong, in fact, spent part of his childhood living in Upper Sandusky, and the small church some of my family attends has a plaque outside its front door noting that it’s where he was confirmed.)

I absolutely love this artist’s conception of the lander

You really, really want to see this in the big version. Click on it.

You really want to see this in the big version. Click on it.

and the Earthrise and the command module orbiting  overhead, and I hope the original’s got a nice place on an enthusiastic owner’s wall someplace, because it’s just stunning. (I’m also absolutely baffled that there’s no credit on the illustration: The creator’s signature is in the lower right corner of the painting, but I can’t make it out, other than to guess that it looks like A_____  L____, or maybe M___ L____.) The post header I’ve used comes from the long caption beneath the painting, which begins:

Frail man sails a silvery bug into space this week, riding his faith and audacity across 240,000 dark and empty miles to leave his footprints on the moon.

The entire front page piece – “This Trip’s Dark, New Perils” – is basically a What Could Go Wrong story by Gary Blonston and Boyce Rensberger, detailing some of the awful possibilities:

High above the moon’s surface, astronaut Mike Collins will circle in the command module, waiting for rendezvous. He will be able to talk to Armstrong and Aldrin,to see their ship, to hear a distress call if that call should come, but no more. When the lunar module Eagle drops within 35,000 feet of the moon, Collins cannot follow. It is impossible for him to land.

Collins has talked about that only briefly. Quietly, clinically, he explained to Life Magazine:

“If they have difficulty on the surface of the moon, there is nothing I can do about it. So I guess the question that everyone has in the back of his mind is how do I feel about having to leave them on the lunar surface.

I don’t think that will happen and if it did I would do everything I could to help them, but they know and I know and Mission Control knows that there are certain categories of malfunctions where I just simply light the motor and come home without them.”

The statement is too chilling to contemplate for long. A quarter-million miles away, two men – two friends – ask help from the surface they will never leave…

Page two is taken up by a long, anecdote-driven Neil Armstrong profile. The two stories on page 15 are Blonston’s first-person account of watching a Saturn V rocket launch and a less-than-flattering look at NASA’s societal impact on Cocoa Beach, Florida. There’s also a drawing of the region showing the best sites for watching the launch which I think is kind of neat and reminds me of living in Orlando and driving down Route 50 to Titusville to watch space shuttle takeoffs.

Where, Through Eons, Man Has Never Stood (click to enlarge)

Where, Through Eons, Man Has Never Stood

The back page offers another burst of color in four moon photos, the largest a red-filtered Apollo image, labeled with phrases like “Where The Sun Spills Raw Heat” and “Eerie, barren folds of mountainous terrain undulate to the horizon of the moon, dead and stark and hot with lunar daylight.”

I wish I had the rest of this section, but discovering these four pages alone, along with the coverage of the first landing’s anniversary –  has really stirred up some wonder.

The Apollo 11 landing happened a year and a half before I was born. Apollo 17, NASA’s last lunar landing trip, concluded when I was barely two, which means I have no memories at all of the moon mission years.

I wish I did.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, geek, Ohio, photos, Science | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Half-Blood Prince: Thoughts After Midnight

So Kelsey and I are officially part of the  largest midnight movie opening ever, with our $17.50 in ticket money having just pushed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince past the $22-million mark for Wednesday’s overnight opening.

It was a fun night, especially since neither of us had been to a midnight premiere before. We stopped at the grocery store on the way and bought a bag of gummi bears apiece, tucking them in our sweatshirt pockets. Picked up our internet-purchased tickets at the theatre kiosk and got in line at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Lots of lightning bolts drawn on foreheads. Lots of striped ties and prep school outfits and robes. (PotterMania: Helping Parents Recycle Graduation Gowns Since 1997!) Even a couple Dobbys and a surprisingly good Professor Lupin.

I figured on a decent tween crowd, but was surprised at how many high-schoolers there were, until I gave it some thought and realized that they’ve really grown up on these books and movies, and then it seemed pretty cool.

We filed into the theatre at about 11:20 and got a couple good seats about halfway to the top and on the end of the center section so Kels could have an aisle seat. I bought us a Coke to keep the sugar and caffeine levels up.

After the previews, the curtains flanking the screen pulled fully open, the lights dimmed completely, and Kelsey and I shared a “This-is-awesome” grin and settled into our seats. I hope someday she looks back and remembers that anticipation and the fun that came with it.

So, thoughts on the movie:

Having read the first four Potter books before the first movie in the series came out, my own mental construct of Rowling’s wizarding world and its characters has stayed pretty much intact as the books themselves have been adapted into movies. Basically, this means that I’ve been able to kind of treat the movie series as a totally different kind of experience than the books, even though I obviously know where the overall story is going.

The Half-Blood Prince has very different feel to it – the book did, too, but not quite as drastically – than the others in the series, and I think it’s because so much of the various storylines were trimmed to make them all fit into a watchable movie. There’s not a real overarching sense of growing dread or a constantly building feeling of impending doom, or a neatly-interlocking pattern of clues and discovery. Consequently there’s a lot less action in this one, though there’s no loss of drama. It’s more of a series of smaller mysteries and stories that run their own parallel courses, knocking together and eventually braiding into the larger tale.

There’s much less of Voldemort’s back-story, which I figured would be cut, but I missed it anyway, because the creeping growth of his evil throughout his childhood and younger years is a great and chilling portion of the book. The overall darkness gathering thorughout the wizarding world and spilling into the muggle community is similarly shortchanged. In both cases, though, the movie uses well-crafted scenes as snapshots hinting at the big picture, even adding in a couple new scenes to keep things moving.

(Aside: I’ve had a quiet crush on Helena Bonham Carter since my friend Jen showed me A Room with A View during our freshman year of college. Because of this, I find Ms. Crazypants Cackling Murderer who’s got Really Bad Teeth and Kooky Hair Bellatrix Lestrange inescapably hot.)

On its own merits, I enjoyed Half-Blood Prince easily as much as any of the other Harry Potter movies. (Honestly, I have trouble ranking them, although I think as a whole the first one is the weakest, since it spends sooooo muuuuuuch camera time lingering on the sets and visual effects.) But the newest one gets serious bonus points because it will always conjure up excitement and gummi bears and a memorable night with my daughter.

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Film, geek | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Harry Potter and the Catoblepas of Anticipation

A few weeks back, I had to log off the computer and go downstairs to deliver some news to my daughter.

“Well,” I said, “I tried to get us tickets to the 12:01 a.m. showing of Half-Blood Prince – and it was sold out.”

I couldn’t bear to let the look of disappointment and shock sit on her face too long before adding “So I got us tickets to the 12:02.”

So, ten-odd hours from now, we’ll be gearing up for the midnight(ish) premiere of the sixth Harry Potter movie. I’m excited, but even though I love the movies, the anticpation is more about the opening night experience. I realized over the weekend that while I’ve seen my share of opening night movies – seeing Return of the Jedi (archived on an old Field’s Edge page) the day it was released remains my all-time favorite cinematic memory – I don’t think I’ve ever gone to one of these overnight shows, so it will be a first for both of us.

Double-checking the ticket confirmation online yesterday, I noticed there are now five just-after-midnight showings at the theatre we’re visiting, and they’re all sold out, which should make for a pretty buzzy atmosphere.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Counting by summers.

CA21Bday

Technically, my lame manipulation of the classic Star Wars birthday poster – distributed back in 1978 – could be seen as overdue, since I announced the first release of “Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek” on July 2, 2008. Still, its Amazon and Target listings both put the official publication date as July 14, so I’m going with it. (Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, is listing a publication date of April of this year, going with the revised edition, so, Yay, Two Birthdays For CA21, I guess.)

At any rate, piles of sincere thanks to everybody over the past year who has read it, bought it, downloaded it, talked about it, linked to it, halfheartedly glanced at it, stopped by to ask me about it, or even just looked at the cover photos for a moment of nostalgia. Or to laugh at the dork in the brown corduroys and white socks playing with a Y-Wing.

Ten-thousand-credits-all-in-advance thanks again to friend & editor Adam Besenyodi, cover re-design master Kirk Demarais, and Down Under smart and hilarious foreword writer David Morgan-Mar. (Someday I hope to meet Kirk & David and thank them in person by buying them refreshing beverages of their choice, but until then, I hope these digital thanks across state and international boundaries are sufficient.) Thanks also to my buddy Dustin, who shared news of this spring’s revised edition through TheForce.net and Rebelscum.com.

The best thing of all has been hearing from people that the book gave them a chance to spend a little time revisiting a fun past, and reminded them about why so many of us are still attached to the Star Wars saga three decades after it was born.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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