March 2009


OK girls. Now this is practically a public service announcement, more or less a duty really .

I really need to tell you about two guys who have quite possibly given more pleasure to more women than Casanova ever did. Though maybe not so intense.. arguable though.

It is certainly true they have given me personally more pleasure than Casanova ever did, but then he is no longer around, so I guess that is not so difficult. ^_^

To name names they are Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris..

How did they do it? Chocolate, it a word. Mmmmmmm but such chocs.

These guys are the co-founders of Hotel Chocolat.

I just had to post on this because their chocolate is absolutely yummy. To hold some in your mouth with your eyes closed… and let it melt on your tongue is something gloriously else.

Truly this is some of the best chocolate you are ever likely to find. Though I do remember a shop in San Francisco, but that’s another story…

Now I have gotten to visit a Hotel Chocolat retail outlet, where in my case a young guy just walked up and shamelessly propositioned me… with a freebie, I was helpless to resist, I ended up slipping him some money in the end to repeat the experience. But you can buy on-line too, both in the US and the UK, though it will be your postman who may not be quite so cute.

Oh. Guys are unaccountably allowed to buy and maybe even eat this gorgeous stuff too, though why they would I don’t know, surely they couldn’t appreciate it really ^_^. I guess it must be so they can buy it for female acquaintances ^_^.

BTW I am, like JMB, away. For a week in my case. I am not sure if I can get to an internet connection so I apologise in advance if I am slow in replying to any comments…

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OK girls. Now this is practically a public service announcement, more or less a duty really .

I really need to tell you about two guys who have quite possibly given more pleasure to more women than Casanova ever did. Though maybe not so intense.. arguable though.

It is certainly true they have given me personally more pleasure than Casanova ever did, but then he is no longer around, so I guess that is not so difficult. ^_^

To name names they are Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris..

How did they do it? Chocolate, it a word. Mmmmmmm but such chocs.

These guys are the co-founders of Hotel Chocolat.

I just had to post on this because their chocolate is absolutely yummy. To hold some in your mouth with your eyes closed… and let it melt on your tongue is something gloriously else.

Truly this is some of the best chocolate you are ever likely to find. Though I do remember a shop in San Francisco, but that’s another story…

Now I have gotten to visit a Hotel Chocolat retail outlet, where in my case a young guy just walked up and shamelessly propositioned me… with a freebie, I was helpless to resist, I ended up slipping him some money in the end to repeat the experience. But you can buy on-line too, both in the US and the UK, though it will be your postman who may not be quite so cute.

Oh. Guys are unaccountably allowed to buy and maybe even eat this gorgeous stuff too, though why they would I don’t know, surely they couldn’t appreciate it really ^_^. I guess it must be so they can buy it for female acquaintances ^_^.

BTW I am, like JMB, away. For a week in my case. I am not sure if I can get to an internet connection so I apologise in advance if I am slow in replying to any comments…

It’s not that Australia is so backward that broadband is not common for it surely is the norm in the city. But when you live in the country your only option is the relatively recent introduction of satellite broadband which my brother in law still regards with suspicion. Although I notice the local library, well I should say the nearest library which is a forty minute drive away, has broadband, however they did admit that it was sometimes a bit iffy. Consequently I have been neglecting my blog since I finished the cruise and have been visiting the relatives.

So here I am in the country, enjoying a very laid back visit on a horse farm. Well actually that is perhaps a bit grandiose since there are but six horses and it is only just under 40 acres in all.

My brother in law was a rather senior civil servant and took retirement at 55 as do many Australian civil servants. In fact my nephew has just retired from the income tax department and is planning his retirement which he says involved doing nothing. They do like to enjoy the good life, these Aussies. Anyway my BIL loves horses although he did not learn to ride until he was fifty but he has been a lifelong horse racing fan as are so many in Australia.

After a long search on the North Coast of New South Wales, he purchased 12 acres from a cattle farmer who was selling off some land to buy a new truck. In an ideal location, in the country but no more than forty five minutes from the coast and all those beautiful pristine sandy beaches, it is a very pretty property with its own small stand of gum trees in lovely rolling hill country and after he built a house and they moved here he began his new career as a racehorse breeder by buying a thoroughbred mare in foal and a riding horse who has a very fancy name which I cannot remember but has always been known as Nipper and for a very good reason.

Now Nipper cost $250 fifteen years ago and he was a former stock horse. As you can imagine for that price he was obviously not very successful in his career as a stock horse and he was passed from owner to owner as quite a few tried to whip him into shape and each decided he was not worth the time. My BIL became his new owner and attempted to turn him into his devoted horsey companion without much success as he was truly a biter and he also tried to unseat his rider as often as possible.

Like owning a sailboat or powerboat, owning racehorses is a sink hole into which you pour money but it has been a very happy retirement for my BIL as he has bred and raced a succession of racehorses from his original mare, albeit only in at the country race courses. But he has bred his last foal he says, as he surveys his little herd on his now almost forty acres and he expects this one to be his ticket to the big time. The next Phar Lap he tells me, although Phar Lap was a gelding and not a mare, but still the most famous horse in Australia. This one, the last of the line starting with Gildie the original mare, Blaze her daughter and Gilken her other daughter, followed by Tara who is Blaze’s daughter and finally Tara’s daughter who even though five months has yet to be named and is called simply the Foal. They all have fancy racing names but they have very simple names around here. Despite all being chestnuts the Foal is almost all black with a chestnut face and markings but it is too soon for her final colour to be known for sure. Her father is a very good horse and his foals are starting to win so my BIL is very hopeful that she will be a big winner and recoup all the money he has spent so lavishly on his little herd of mares and former riding horse, who have earned their retirement and lead the good life, eating their way through the paddocks which have been added to somewhat as he acquired more land and being fed hay and other exotic and expensive horsey treats. Nipper, at 28 and Gildie have to be fed a special senior horse diet and none were retrained to be ridden after their racing career was over. Occasionally Nipper, who is quite docile now in his old age, is ridden by a visiting grandchild or two but that is the extent of their usefulness, apart from this last mare producing the Foal.

My sister in law is not quite so enamoured of these horses who, when she has to take care of them for any reason, for example when my BIL was thrown and broke his leg, tend to nip her and kick her if they get the chance. So she would be very happy to move to their other house at the beach but she knows that her husband loves these animals so much that it is not really an option any time soon.

We have very much enjoyed our time here as we travelled between the beach house and the horse farm, in between feeding times for the horses of course. I must say it has been very relaxing to watch the rural landscape dotted with horses and the neighbour’s cattle and the weather has been gorgeous.

Tomorrow we leave for Sydney to visit one of my school friends and then we are off to Perth for four days where the temperature will reach 34 to 35 degrees Centigrade this weekend, despite the fact that is Autumn. I cannot truthfully say I am looking forward to the heat but it will be great to catch up with our Perth friends who spent last year on sabbatical in Vancouver.

I apologize that dial up does not allow photo uploading for this post but they will follow eventually I assure you.

Possibly a “Hard Hat” Post this.

The Arch Bishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is in practical terms probably now more respected than Canterbury, especially in the Anglican Church internationally, recently said he is worried that Christians are regarded as “mad” by the rest of British society.

He seems to figure people think this because he imagines they see Christians as motivated by charity and compassion instead of greed and money and that they think that’s crazy.

Now this touched on a post I did before.

Quite honestly, I figure he may have spotted a trend, but got the reason completely round his neck.

I don’t know anybody who thinks compassion, or charity is mad. I have asked around, so I guess it is probably a small sample and anecdotal, but maybe not wrong for all that. The Millions raised in the UK by the recent ‘Red Nose Day’ charity drive is a pretty solid counter to his argument, especially in a recession with many people worried about their jobs.

I already said in my other post why I think the religious in general and especially the overtly religious are now being looked on as potentially mad, bad and dangerous to know. I have kept looking into it when the chance comes and have not changed my mind any, in fact I am more sure it is how it is than I was when I wrote the original post.

Basically I think it is because of the surge in what is seen as religiously inspired terrorism. We know that the Terrorism in Northern Ireland has not gone away either and that had revolted and angered normal decent people all over the UK and Ireland of all stripes.

But that is not my main point here. What I think is frankly wrong, and a sign of religious blindness and even prejudice is the underlying assumption that I have heard before:

It boils down to the religious making an assumption that people who are not religious somehow have no morals, or consideration… because God isn’t there to beat up on them for being mean or having no morals.

Now there probably are people who would be mean if they didn’t fear God’s punishment. I figure they would be found amongst believers, because they would not exist amongst sceptics. I guess the same as there are probably those who are good because they fear the law.

There are certainly hypocrites amongst the religious. There are people who can justify being cruel, or righteously uncaring about those they see as sinners. Who smugly look down on others.

We have seen at the extreme there are people who can justify killing the innocent on religious grounds.

My point is. Yes there are non-religious people who are mean, bad and such. But there are religious people who are too. Still all that proves are people are people and some are not so nice.

What I will say is I have met and admired sceptics, humanists and atheists who are very moral, thoughtful, kind considerate people, sometimes dignified, sometimes full of fun. Two of the best examples of decent moral human beings I ever met were both humanists.

They are like that because of their personality, or moral convictions, not because of fear of God’s big stick. To them it does not exist. They often show the “Christian” moral virtues without so much of the humbug. Kindness, decency and moral behaviour are not dependent on religion and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So though he appears to be a really nice man, I think the Arch Bishop is both wrong and a bit wrong headed if he believes people in general think Christians are “mad” for being charitable, or compassionate, because many sceptics are just as considerate, charitable and caring.

Like I said before if people do worry about that it is probably entirely for other reasons and Christians are not being singled out..

Possibly a “Hard Hat” Post this.

The Arch Bishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is in practical terms probably now more respected than Canterbury, especially in the Anglican Church internationally, recently said he is worried that Christians are regarded as “mad” by the rest of British society.

He seems to figure people think this because he imagines they see Christians as motivated by charity and compassion instead of greed and money and that they think that’s crazy.

Now this touched on a post I did before.

Quite honestly, I figure he may have spotted a trend, but got the reason completely round his neck.

I don’t know anybody who thinks compassion, or charity is mad. I have asked around, so I guess it is probably a small sample and anecdotal, but maybe not wrong for all that. The Millions raised in the UK by the recent ‘Red Nose Day’ charity drive is a pretty solid counter to his argument, especially in a recession with many people worried about their jobs.

I already said in my other post why I think the religious in general and especially the overtly religious are now being looked on as potentially mad, bad and dangerous to know. I have kept looking into it when the chance comes and have not changed my mind any, in fact I am more sure it is how it is than I was when I wrote the original post.

Basically I think it is because of the surge in what is seen as religiously inspired terrorism. We know that the Terrorism in Northern Ireland has not gone away either and that had revolted and angered normal decent people all over the UK and Ireland of all stripes.

But that is not my main point here. What I think is frankly wrong, and a sign of religious blindness and even prejudice is the underlying assumption that I have heard before:

It boils down to the religious making an assumption that people who are not religious somehow have no morals, or consideration… because God isn’t there to beat up on them for being mean or having no morals.

Now there probably are people who would be mean if they didn’t fear God’s punishment. I figure they would be found amongst believers, because they would not exist amongst sceptics. I guess the same as there are probably those who are good because they fear the law.

There are certainly hypocrites amongst the religious. There are people who can justify being cruel, or righteously uncaring about those they see as sinners. Who smugly look down on others.

We have seen at the extreme there are people who can justify killing the innocent on religious grounds.

My point is. Yes there are non-religious people who are mean, bad and such. But there are religious people who are too. Still all that proves are people are people and some are not so nice.

What I will say is I have met and admired sceptics, humanists and atheists who are very moral, thoughtful, kind considerate people, sometimes dignified, sometimes full of fun. Two of the best examples of decent moral human beings I ever met were both humanists.

They are like that because of their personality, or moral convictions, not because of fear of God’s big stick. To them it does not exist. They often show the “Christian” moral virtues without so much of the humbug. Kindness, decency and moral behaviour are not dependent on religion and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So though he appears to be a really nice man, I think the Arch Bishop is both wrong and a bit wrong headed if he believes people in general think Christians are “mad” for being charitable, or compassionate, because many sceptics are just as considerate, charitable and caring.

Like I said before if people do worry about that it is probably entirely for other reasons and Christians are not being singled out..

Typical New Zealand agricultural landscape

One of the downsides of visiting a country by means of a cruise ship is the superficial glimpse you get of that place, almost like a teaser so that if you find it really interesting you would want to come back again and explore it more thoroughly.

Somehow I thought that New Zealand would be different since it such a small country and one is never far from the sea, so even if you sail around it, as we have done, you would get to see a large part of it at the various ports of call.

But as we sail back to Sydney, having left New Zealand behind yesterday, while I have enjoyed it, I don’t feel seriously tempted to come back again. Yes it is a wonderful landscape and the climate is pleasant enough. Like the Australians, the New Zealanders are very friendly and welcoming and we have enjoyed the visits we made to the various ports and surrounding areas. One of the things I have missed is a look at New Zealand’s 150 plus mountains which are closer to the west coast and we have journeyed mostly up the east coast. Our visit to Fiordland, which is where the mountains of the South Island run into the sea was disappointing as the weather was bad and everything was socked in. We did go into several sounds including the Milford Sound, famous for one of the world’s most spectacular hikes, the Milford Track but unfortunately we could not see very much due to the inclement weather. I am sure that we would have enjoyed visiting the Southern Alps which form the spine of the South Island as I saw some spectacular photos of them.

But let me tell you something of what I have learned about New Zealand on this trip. Quite a lot of it was ascertained in the wonderful Te Papa Museum in Wellington where we spent more than four hours and could quite happily spent several days.

Like Australia and Antarctica, New Zealand formed as a result of the breakup of the great continent of Gondwana between 80 to 100 million years ago and the two main islands and the subsidiary islands of New Zealand are still being altered as to the landscape since they are subjected to the forces where the two tectonic plates, the Australia and the Pacific, come together. While they have rocks which are over 600 million years old they also have mountains which are a mere 3 million years. They are situated on the very edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the volatile fault lines which surround the Pacific Ocean making New Zealand a constantly changing land with active volcanoes and earthquakes, with the active volcanic region mostly in the North Island. Although the islands seem small in fact the actual land mass is about half the size of Australia.

With a very high rainfall there are many fast flowing rivers and inland lakes and you are never far from water even away from the coast and this provides a very lush natural landscape.

The plant and wildlife native to the region are unique, with the only two land mammals, both bats, although many flightless birds evolved, with the largest, the moa, which was the size of an ostrich now extinct, while the kiwi, the takahe and others still exist although endangered. However many birds like albatrosses, gannets, muttonbirds, godwits come to New Zealand to breed and the seas abound with seals, dolphins and whales and even some species of penguin make their home in New Zealand. With its separation from Gondwana, came the tuatara, the sole remaining species of an order of reptiles which evolved about 220 million years ago and is still in New Zealand, Several ancient species of parrots, the playful but extremely intelligent kea and the flightless nocturnal kokako, are still found in this country.

Originally 80% of New Zealand was covered in forest, but today only 25% remains and it is heavily protected. Most trees are evergreens, including the giant conifers: kauri, totara and rimu. The kauri was once a very important resource although it is no longer logged, however any that fall naturally can be used. It was exported both as timber and as kauri gum which was used in the USA to make varnish and linoleum. All over New Zealand it was used to build bridges, wharves, houses, furniture, roof shingles and even tramway rails. The deforestation of New Zealand in a relatively short time has converted 51% of the country to grasslands and more than half the exports are agricultural in nature and it is often referred to as the world’s biggest farm. A thriving forestry industry still exists but a lot of it is the “farming” of non native trees, like pines and redwood sequoias which grow to a harvestable size much more quickly in New Zealand.

One of the results of this change in the landscape is the extinction of so many of the native species of animals as well as some, like the moa, being wiped out by hunting and the introduction of other non native species.

While we think of New Zealand as a wool producing country, a country with more sheep than people and this is certainly true with a sheep population of 40 million rising to 76 million at lambing time (compare that to just over 4 million people), in fact the percentage of wool of the total exports has fallen from 35% in 1870 to 2.65% in 2005. So most of the lambs are sold and exported for meat.

Of course the dairy industry too is a very big part of the economy, forming 18% of exports and New Zealand is well known abroad for its fine cheeses and butter.

I can’t fail to mention New Zealand’s extremely successful wine industry which in two decades has moved from producing quite ordinary wine into the big time with over 400 wineries making first class award winning vintages and the old scientist has been busy sampling them.

Then there is the kiwi fruit or Chinese gooseberry, so called after its country of origin. The growing of this fruit developed into a very big industry for the area of Te Puke in the North Island in the 1960’s as the kiwi became the trendy fruit of the time. While it is still a solid export for New Zealand other places like California and Chili now produce kiwi fruit in large quantities.

I’ll talk about the Maori settlers in a separate post but what I consider one of the rather sad things is that, as they did in other countries too, the early settlers tried to transform New Zealand into a Southern Hemisphere pastoral version of Great Britain. Captain Cook introduced goats, sheep and pigs but only the pigs survived and they became wild and known as Cook’s pigs and even today they are hunted in some areas of New Zealand although with dogs and knives as one is not allowed to shoot them. Of course they introduced the rabbits and when they became a problem they brought in ferrets and stoats which in turn became a problem for the kiwis thus their numbers have been severely reduced and they are a threatened species today.

Deer were introduced and they too soon became a pest and today are hunted and the meat exported. Possums became a huge pest after introduction as they caused devastation in the natural forest. All in all I would say the settlers did a number on the ecology in New Zealand, even the Maori with their introduction of the Polynesian rat or kiore which they originally prized as food but is now considered another terrible pest.

Trout too were brought into New Zealand but while they have been quite successful and they are often raised in trout fisheries and released into the lakes and rivers there is no commercial trout fishing and the only trout you can eat is one you catch yourself, with a fishing licence of course. You will never see trout on a restaurant menu but they will cook one for you, if you front up with a trout and a valid licence.

But today, although too late for many species, there is a growing awareness of promoting the health of the land for the needs of future generations and there is a large part of the land held in parks and reserves as conservation is now a core purpose of the parks system. New Zealanders make good use of the opportunities for outdoor “adventures” and there is plenty of choice of activity to get out there and enjoy the natural beauties of this small but very beautiful country. So yes, go there and maybe hire a car and drive around it and go where you wish to go, not where some cruise ship takes you. Frankly I think that would be a much better option.

Typical New Zealand agricultural landscape

One of the downsides of visiting a country by means of a cruise ship is the superficial glimpse you get of that place, almost like a teaser so that if you find it really interesting you would want to come back again and explore it more thoroughly.

Somehow I thought that New Zealand would be different since it such a small country and one is never far from the sea, so even if you sail around it, as we have done, you would get to see a large part of it at the various ports of call.

But as we sail back to Sydney, having left New Zealand behind yesterday, while I have enjoyed it, I don’t feel seriously tempted to come back again. Yes it is a wonderful landscape and the climate is pleasant enough. Like the Australians, the New Zealanders are very friendly and welcoming and we have enjoyed the visits we made to the various ports and surrounding areas. One of the things I have missed is a look at New Zealand’s 150 plus mountains which are closer to the west coast and we have journeyed mostly up the east coast. Our visit to Fiordland, which is where the mountains of the South Island run into the sea was disappointing as the weather was bad and everything was socked in. We did go into several sounds including the Milford Sound, famous for one of the world’s most spectacular hikes, the Milford Track but unfortunately we could not see very much due to the inclement weather. I am sure that we would have enjoyed visiting the Southern Alps which form the spine of the South Island as I saw some spectacular photos of them.

But let me tell you something of what I have learned about New Zealand on this trip. Quite a lot of it was ascertained in the wonderful Te Papa Museum in Wellington where we spent more than four hours and could quite happily spent several days.

Like Australia and Antarctica, New Zealand formed as a result of the breakup of the great continent of Gondwana between 80 to 100 million years ago and the two main islands and the subsidiary islands of New Zealand are still being altered as to the landscape since they are subjected to the forces where the two tectonic plates, the Australia and the Pacific, come together. While they have rocks which are over 600 million years old they also have mountains which are a mere 3 million years. They are situated on the very edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the volatile fault lines which surround the Pacific Ocean making New Zealand a constantly changing land with active volcanoes and earthquakes, with the active volcanic region mostly in the North Island. Although the islands seem small in fact the actual land mass is about half the size of Australia.

With a very high rainfall there are many fast flowing rivers and inland lakes and you are never far from water even away from the coast and this provides a very lush natural landscape.

The plant and wildlife native to the region are unique, with the only two land mammals, both bats, although many flightless birds evolved, with the largest, the moa, which was the size of an ostrich now extinct, while the kiwi, the takahe and others still exist although endangered. However many birds like albatrosses, gannets, muttonbirds, godwits come to New Zealand to breed and the seas abound with seals, dolphins and whales and even some species of penguin make their home in New Zealand. With its separation from Gondwana, came the tuatara, the sole remaining species of an order of reptiles which evolved about 220 million years ago and is still in New Zealand, Several ancient species of parrots, the playful but extremely intelligent kea and the flightless nocturnal kokako, are still found in this country.

Originally 80% of New Zealand was covered in forest, but today only 25% remains and it is heavily protected. Most trees are evergreens, including the giant conifers: kauri, totara and rimu. The kauri was once a very important resource although it is no longer logged, however any that fall naturally can be used. It was exported both as timber and as kauri gum which was used in the USA to make varnish and linoleum. All over New Zealand it was used to build bridges, wharves, houses, furniture, roof shingles and even tramway rails. The deforestation of New Zealand in a relatively short time has converted 51% of the country to grasslands and more than half the exports are agricultural in nature and it is often referred to as the world’s biggest farm. A thriving forestry industry still exists but a lot of it is the “farming” of non native trees, like pines and redwood sequoias which grow to a harvestable size much more quickly in New Zealand.

One of the results of this change in the landscape is the extinction of so many of the native species of animals as well as some, like the moa, being wiped out by hunting and the introduction of other non native species.

While we think of New Zealand as a wool producing country, a country with more sheep than people and this is certainly true with a sheep population of 40 million rising to 76 million at lambing time (compare that to just over 4 million people), in fact the percentage of wool of the total exports has fallen from 35% in 1870 to 2.65% in 2005. So most of the lambs are sold and exported for meat.

Of course the dairy industry too is a very big part of the economy, forming 18% of exports and New Zealand is well known abroad for its fine cheeses and butter.

I can’t fail to mention New Zealand’s extremely successful wine industry which in two decades has moved from producing quite ordinary wine into the big time with over 400 wineries making first class award winning vintages and the old scientist has been busy sampling them.

Then there is the kiwi fruit or Chinese gooseberry, so called after its country of origin. The growing of this fruit developed into a very big industry for the area of Te Puke in the North Island in the 1960’s as the kiwi became the trendy fruit of the time. While it is still a solid export for New Zealand other places like California and Chili now produce kiwi fruit in large quantities.

I’ll talk about the Maori settlers in a separate post but what I consider one of the rather sad things is that, as they did in other countries too, the early settlers tried to transform New Zealand into a Southern Hemisphere pastoral version of Great Britain. Captain Cook introduced goats, sheep and pigs but only the pigs survived and they became wild and known as Cook’s pigs and even today they are hunted in some areas of New Zealand although with dogs and knives as one is not allowed to shoot them. Of course they introduced the rabbits and when they became a problem they brought in ferrets and stoats which in turn became a problem for the kiwis thus their numbers have been severely reduced and they are a threatened species today.

Deer were introduced and they too soon became a pest and today are hunted and the meat exported. Possums became a huge pest after introduction as they caused devastation in the natural forest. All in all I would say the settlers did a number on the ecology in New Zealand, even the Maori with their introduction of the Polynesian rat or kiore which they originally prized as food but is now considered another terrible pest.

Trout too were brought into New Zealand but while they have been quite successful and they are often raised in trout fisheries and released into the lakes and rivers there is no commercial trout fishing and the only trout you can eat is one you catch yourself, with a fishing licence of course. You will never see trout on a restaurant menu but they will cook one for you, if you front up with a trout and a valid licence.

But today, although too late for many species, there is a growing awareness of promoting the health of the land for the needs of future generations and there is a large part of the land held in parks and reserves as conservation is now a core purpose of the parks system. New Zealanders make good use of the opportunities for outdoor “adventures” and there is plenty of choice of activity to get out there and enjoy the natural beauties of this small but very beautiful country. So yes, go there and maybe hire a car and drive around it and go where you wish to go, not where some cruise ship takes you. Frankly I think that would be a much better option.

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