30 September 2009

The Lost Symbol - Book Review

Two days ago, I finished reading the recently released novel, The Lost Symbol. For those of you who're yet to read the newspapers, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's latest novel, broke publishing records by selling more than 1 million copies in less than 24 hours.

Makes you wonder what the book is about, doesnt it?

Turns out, the 510 page novel is a thrilling read. As with most thriller/mystery novels, The Lost Symbol is a perfect page turner. But sadly, that's more or less all that it is.

For those who've read Dan Brown's previous books, The Lost Symbol seems to offer just one feeling.

Déjà vu.

As you read through the first few chapters, you get the distinct feeling that you've read something similar before. Something that bore almost the same setting, style and characteristics. There's talk about a mysterious organisation. A sinister man has made a devious threat. A character has either been killed or is in perilious danger. The protaganist, Robert Langdon, is yet again forced to meet a rather inconvenient deadline. His adventure ride is obstructed by a flurry of high ranking officers. The names dont matter. CIA, FBI...perhaps even a new branch of U.S. Government.

And through all this, we're provided with Wikipedia-like information. Everything we want to know about towers, tunnels, symbols, organisations, historical inaccuracies. Mr. Langdon spews it all while trying to save the world.

Of course, if there's one field where Dan Brown impresses, however, it's the subject matter. Just like in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, he's gone to great lengths to research almost unheard of topics. That's perhaps where the joy lies. There will be moments through out the book when you'll smile, feel surprised, or pause to wonder something. These are the moments when the real brilliance of the book shines through. Even while the main plot is being followed, we learn about secretive technology, hidden organisations, misunderstood historical facts.

Just to make sure you don't get the wrong idea about the novel, you should know that I read it almost without pause. Dan Brown has a way of making you want to know what comes next. Sure, at times it seems formulaic. But it gets the job done. It makes sure you don't put down the book without finishing it. As with almost all of his novels, The Lost Symbol has this quality.

But in the end, it boils down to this. The Lost Symbol, for a first time reader, is everything it promises to be. A thrilling, suspenseful, and ultimately satisfying novel.

But for the rest of us, who've joyfully read his other novels, The Lost Symbol doesn't offer anything new. It repeats much of Dan Brown's tried and tested formula. The first time some of us read The Da Vinci Code, we were spell bound by the author's mastery over such complex yet interesting subjects. However, once you've read all his books, it takes the gloss off Dan Brown's writing.

The Lost Symbol, though in itself a competent thriller with a satisfying end, slightly disappoints as Dan Brown's latest offering....

[If you've read The Lost Symbol, please let me know your own opinion about it, as well as my review. If you havent read the book yet, please let me know how this review has influenced you.]
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27 September 2009

Falling, Falling....Fallen!

If you're a new comer to Laptop Diary, please read the Introduction...

[In the year 2016...]

I knocked on the Doctor's door, and heard him say, 'Come In'. Nervously, I entered the room, and hesitated near the door.

"Hallo!" The Doctor cried out jovially. He was a large, pot bellied man with a thick tuft of hair, and thick, golden spectacles.

"Please sit down. Mr. Musthafa. So what seems to be the problem?"

I immediately regretted coming to the Doctor. It was a stupid idea, I thought.

"Go on, feel free," he said calmly.

"The thing is, Doctor. I have dreams. Weird dreams." I muttered.

I could see the Doctor was interested. He leaned back in his chair, and crossed his legs. "Go on, tell me what these dreams are."

So I began narrating. "Well, it starts in a huge hall. There's a concert going on. You know, some kind of Ghazal concert. And the singer is seated in the middle of the stage. Next to him is the Tabla player. The funny thing is..."

"Yes? Come on. Tell me."

I began sweating uncomfortably. Somehow I muttered. "The Tabla player is playing....not on two tablas. But on.....on two bald heads."

The Doctor raised his eyebrow. "I'm sorry?" He asked politely.

I shut my eyes and continued. "Yes, there are two fellows sitting in front of him. And...and he's busy hitting their heads."

"Ha!" The Doctor laughed. "Must be a very funny dream, eh?". He began roaring in laughter.

"One of the bald headed fellows was me." I said curtly.

"Oh," the Doctor said, looking embarrassed. "By funny I meant -- Well, how long have you been having these dreams?" he said, hoping to change the topic.

"For the past year and a half."

"That Tabla player's been hitting your head for the past year and half?" The Doctor asked incredulously.

I frowned. "Yes. In the dream!"

"Right. Right, in the dream. Hmm, well, such dreams are usually manifestations of deep rooted fears. Do you have such fears of balding?"

I hesitated, wondering about the question. Did I have such fears?

"No, I'm not normally so worried about my hair."

"Right, so then--"

"--Of course I do count the number of strands that fall onto my towel or shirt and so on. You know, just to make sure the buggers aren't crossing the 100 strands per day limit. And I apply egg york to my head twice a week, along with three different shampoos (just to be safe, you understand.) Plus I stand upside down every night for half an hour, so that blood flows to the head and nourishes the scalp."

There was an awkward silence as the Doctor looked at me, dumbstruck. "Right," he finally managed to say, "I think you're a little worried about your hair. But my dear fellow, I cant see why. After all," he pointed towards my head with his fountain pen, "you're head is like a African rain forest!"

He smiled politely, apparently pleased with his analogy.

In a flash of a second, I tugged my hair upwards, revealing a gaping bald patch at the top of my head.

"Good God!" the Doctor yelled, almost falling back in shock. He quickly recovered, and tried to appear less horrified. "That, that was -- unexpected." He managed to say.

"How long have you been wearing a wig?"

"Since I began balding, I suppose. No point in wearing it before that, is there?" I asked sarcastically.

"Right, right. Well then, I suppose these dreams are a result of--"

"I'm getting married," I blurted.

There was a slight pause. The Doctor cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"I'm getting married." I repeated plainly.

The Doctor was uncertain now. "Err, well, congratulations, I suppose?"

I decided to get even more blunt. "I was wondering what to do about my, er, problem."

"Problem?" The Doctor asked. "Oh, you mean the one on your head."

"Yes, that problem."

"Well, I suppose this is a classic case of Inferiority Complex. Right now, you must be feeling a sense of--"

"I'm worried whether my bride will like me when she sees the, er, problem. Should I just wear the wig permanently, and never tell her about it?"

"About what?" The Doctor asked dim wittedly.

"About the problem," I said testily.

He smiled, relaxing in his chair. Putting aside his writing pad, he looked at me smugly.

"In my honest opinion, you're worrying over nothing. There's no reason for you to hide your baldness from your wife. After all, you cant hide it for an entire life time, can you?"

I nodded my head, realising the stupidity of my idea. "Well, it's just that....well, I'm worried about my looks."

The Doctor smiled sympathetically. "I can understand," he said understandingly. "I can see why you would feel insecure about your large nose, bushy eyebrows and chubby face."

I stared at him in shock. "I...I was talking about my hair," I spluttered.

"Oh. I see..."

There was pin drop silence for a few seconds, as the Doctor stared down at his writing pad, avoiding my eyes. Finally, he managed to say.

"Well, Mr. Musthafa, what you must understand is that baldness isn't necessary a bad thing. There's lots of examples of people who've excelled in life even though they're bald."

I raised my eyebrow in skepticism. "Really?" I asked. "Like?"

"Well," The Doctor began, thinking of a good example. "Well, look at Bruce Willis!"

"I cant act. I definitely cant jump from buildings."

The Doctor thought again. "Ah," he said, "what about Salman Rushdie?"

I shook my head. "My own mother would kill me if I wrote blashphemy about Prophet Mohammed. Besides, I cant write like him."

He fell silent again. "What about Gandhi?"

I glanced at him suddenly. "Right, maybe Gandhi isnt a good example for us," the Doctor said. "But you must realise something, Mr. Musthafa. Beauty doesn't lie just in outward appearances. All you need to do is be confident of your self. You dont need to wear a wig. That shows low self esteem. Be confident of who you are...."

[Half an hour later, when the Doctor is alone in his office...]
The Secretary entered, saying, "Sir, there's another patient waiting for you. Shall I send him in?"

The Doctor stared at the mirror, adjusting his wig carefully. Once he made sure he looked good, he nodded his head....

[This post is an attempt to break away from the so called 'Philo' stuff. Hoping that I'll be able to write about a variety of topics, instead of just one. Suggestions in that aspect would be more than welcome. Thank you!]

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23 September 2009

'When We Were Kids...'

If you're a new comer to Laptop Diary, please read the Introduction...

I'm sure you can relate to this. Has it ever happened that you're eating lunch with your family, or watching T.V. together one evening, when the elders around you say something like, "What all happens in this generation. When we were kids..."

And so it begins.

It's fascinating at first to hear that your grandfather lived in a village. Its even funny when they tell you about how they would play in the mud and splash around in the water, (though a bit scary when you realise they never had Lifebuoy around...)

But after a while, it's infuriating when your dad tells you that he walked 5 kilometers to school everyday, everyday! So I wondered how it would be if we could get a turn instead, to talk about how it was when 'We Were Kids...'

Life was good back then. Most of us spent our childhoods, playing amazing games on revolutionary game consoles like the Playstation.

Our teenage years were spent, almost always next to the computer. We chatted with total strangers in MSN Messenger, sometimes until they became our closest friends. We made accounts in social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook. For a while, it seemed as though the 11th Commandment was 'Thou Shall try to get as many scraps as possible'. Some of us had friends all over the globe, from Argentina to Germany to Japan.

We photographed every important event of our lives, and some, sadly, photographed even the unimportant ones. Pictures of Birthday parties, Summer trips, Weekend Stay-overs....everything was uploaded for everyone to see. All of us felt important, as though everyone else wanted to know what we had to say. So we updated our status every other day. What's more, we read every one Else's status updates. We let everyone know when we were happy, we sulked publicly when we were sad. We sought comfort when we were depressed, we swore publicly when we were pissed off...

We had friends. Loads of them. We had friends whom we'd never ever seen in person. We had friends who were actually our friends' friends. We had friends who wished us on our birthdays, we had friends who forwarded mails every time. Then we had friends whom we messaged often. There were other friends who we'd call often. We messaged each other at every time of the day, left scraps, gave miscalls. We were never out of touch, unless we wanted it that way.

We watched movies. Not once a month. Not even once a week. We watched a movie whenever we wanted. We watched movies like the Titanic and Lord of the Rings, which left us spellbound. We watched movies like the Matrix, that dazzled our senses. We watched movies like Spiderman and The Dark Knight. We memorized movie scenes, by hearted (actually learnt by heart!) movie dialogues.

We witnessed historic events. We stared in horror at our television screens, as two planes crashed into two towers. We cried when we saw people being slaughtered in war. We shook our heads in despair as bombs ripped across cities all over the world. We worried about death, yet faced it bravely. Earthquakes, floods and hurricanes came, but we stood strong and brave. Even a Tsunami washed away our cities, but not our courage.

We watched as horrible leaders like Saddam Hussain were disposed, ironically, by other incompetent leaders like George Bush. After years of Anti-Americanism, we were mesmerized by the speeches of a man born to a Kenyan man, and a woman from Kansas. For the first time, almost all over the world, we applauded the victory of Barack Obama.

Then there were those days when we counted the months, weeks, hours and minutes, camping outside bookstores so that we could get our first copies of the latest Harry Potter book. Newspapers and Television channels around the world covered the story as millions of us hoped that Harry Potter would survive. And he did.

Perhaps most important of all, we lived in the generation of 'Greats'. We got the unique chance of watching Michael Jordan soar to slam a basket,Tiger Woods swing a drive, Sachin Tendulkar send yet another ball out of the stadium, Roger Federer lift Grand Slam after Grand Slam after Grand Slam. We bid good bye to Michael Schumacher after he won everything there was to win. We said 'Well Done, Michael', 'Good going Michael', 'Keep it up Michael', 'Excellent Michael', 'Unbelievable, Michael!'...until we smiled and simply said, 'Wow, Michael Phelps. Wow.'

Perhaps even more importantly, we were mesmerized by a Jamaican, who sailed across a race track as though he was out for a jog. Usain Bolt became the fastest man ever, and we witnessed it.

It was exciting back then. We used the Ipod and the Internet, to hear the music of Britney Spears, Eminem, Linkin Park and Coldplay...without paying a single cent. New Superstars were born, and we regretted the death of the biggest pop star of all time. Michael Jackson.

Years from now, we'll be asked about these times. They'll want to know how it was back in the early 2000s'. And this is perhaps what we'll say....about the time when 'We Were Kids...'

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14 September 2009

What About The 'Other Guy'?

If you're a new comer to Laptop Diary, please read the Introduction...

"What about the other guy?" I protested.

"Oh, just shut up," my friends replied in unison.

It all started when we decided to watch an English Romantic Comedy. Dumb choice, was what I first thought. But then something struck me as odd...

The plot of the story was that there was a guy named Robin, who loved a girl named Jenny. Jenny however, has a boyfriend named Tim. So the entire story is about how the hero tries to woo the heroine. And believe it or not, it actually works! (Yah, I was just as surprised as you!). So with a matching soundtrack, the credits start rolling. And the movie's a success.

Or is it?

What about the 'Other Guy'?

In the case of this movie, the 'other guy' is Tim. Personally, I was rooting for Tim from the beginning. He seemed like a good enough guy, and there was no reason why Jenny should leave him for Robin. But then Jenny gives the explanation. Tim is not as funny as Robin. He's also not as caring, or as loving. Nor does he have that same sense of crazy enthusiasm. As though it's a fault of his, Tim is a quiet, reserved kind of guy.

So Jenny decides she's much better of with Robin instead, and everyone in the theatre hall applauds. Well, except me.

Because here's my problem. I'm happy if I get to go through life as Robin. But what if I'm Tim instead? What if I'm not the funniest, smartest, sweetest guy? What if...I'm the 'Other Guy'?

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09 September 2009

A Boy Named Chris

The five year old boy, dressed smartly in a red t-shirt and small, black baggy pants, ran around the Business Class lounge, smiling happily.

Victor Fabiansky smiled.

A few minutes later, he was talking to the same boy. "What's your name, little fella?" he asked.

"My name is Chris, and I'm 5 years old," the boy replied animatedly. He had fair skin, puffy cheeks, floppy hair. Half the ladies in the lounge were watching him with adoring eyes.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"My name is Victor Fabiansky."

The boy ran back towards his mother, crying out excitedly. "Mother, mother, I made a new friend named Victor Fabiansky!". The mother smiled politely, trying to hide her embarrasement.

He came back a moment later. "What do you do, Mr. Fabinsky?" Chris asked, unable to pronounce his name properly.

Victor Fabiansky hesitated for a moment, looking into the 5 year old boy's innocent eyes. For a single, impulsive moment, he thought of telling the truth. Instead, he smiled again and said, "I'm a Fireman."

Chris's mouth opened wide. "Wow, you're a real Fireman?" He asked excitedly. He looked at Victor's large suitcase admiringly.

The truth was, the suitcase concealed eight separate metallic pieces, which when assembled within half a minute, produced one of the deadliest pistol in the world. The Night Hawk .50 Calibre.

Victor Fabiansky had a reputation for being one of the deadliest assasins in the world. He could fire six shots into a little girl's head at point blank range. Without blinking an eye. And he had a penchant for wearing Italian Suits.

"Where you going?" Chris asked inquisitvely.

Victor smiled as he replied. "To Hawai."

He needed to take a vacation. Especially after his last job. Suddenly, he was reminded of it all again.

Eight weeks ago, at around 11 P.M. on a cold, dry night, Victor Fabiansky had slipped into his friend's house using the spare key he always kept. Without making a sound, he went upstairs, and made sure the wife and kid were sound asleep. Seeing their faint outlines on the bed was enough. Then, he slowly made his way downstairs, and into the basement.

Victor Fabiansky had a reputation for speed. It was once said that he could kill six men in a duel, before anyone else could even fire a single shot. That kind of skill was excatly the reason he could handle Thomas Bergman so easily.

Before Thomas could even realise that there was someone in his basement, Victor had drawn his gun, standing mere inches away from the man.

"Last wish," Thomas had whispered before Victor could pull the trigger.

Raising his gun slightly, Victor looked at his friend coldly. "What is it?" he hissed.

"Spare me from a quick death. Shoot me in the gut. Please," Thomas added.


"Because I want to see my wife and kid before I die. Poison me if you want. You can be sure I'll die. But please let me see my wife and kid...one last time." There were tears in the dying man's eyes. Victor Fabiansky was said to have lost his heart after killing six children in a nursery. But for some reason, he lowered his gun and fired at Thomas Bergman's stomach. Without blinking an eye. Three shots. Just to be sure.

Just as he was about to leave, Victor saw a photo frame on the table. He picked it up and dropped it next to Thomas.

"In case they don't wake up in time," Victor said.

"Mr. Fabiansky?" Chris said for the fifth time. "Are you alright?"

"Oh yes," Victor said quickly, shaking away his thoughts.

"Is it tough to be a Fireman?" Chris asked curiously.

Victor looked at him with a sad smile. "Yes," he said. "Sometimes it's very hard."

As he saw the boy play around the lounge, Victor felt a curious sense of disappointment. Eight years of cold blooded murders had hardened his heart, or so he thought. But for the first time, he felt a sense of remorse. A feeling of loss.

"Mr. Fabinsky?" Chris asked again.


"Would you like a milkshake?" Chris asked, offering him a large plastic cup of milkshake. Victor couldnt help but feel a sense of comfort with the five year old. His cute, innocent looking face looked familar for some reason. As though he'd seen the boy before. He gladly accepted the drink, and took a sip.

"Where's your daddy?" Victor asked Chris. The boy shook his head slowly and said. "I don't have a daddy."

Victor felt sorry for the kid. And he immediately wished he'd never asked the question. Chris stared at his feet, looking lost for a moment.

"I'm, I'm sorry to hear that, Chris," Victor said apologetically. He wasn't good at consoling. He was a hit man after all.

"He went to heaven," Chris said softly, looking down, probably to hide his tears. "And before he went, he told me that one day, I'd make him proud. That's the last thing he told me. To make him proud." Tears began streaming down the boy's face, as he thought of his father.

"I'm sure you will," Victor said softly. Suddenly, he felt his throat become dry. His eyes began to water, and he was sweating profusely. Before he could say anything, it felt as though someone ripped out his stomach. Writhing in muted agony, he slouched in his seat, his legs sliding forwards towards Chris.

Victor Fabiansky looked at the boy in front of him for one last time. Suddenly, he realised why his face was so familiar.

"What's your-- What's your...father's...name?" Victor said.

"Thomas Bergman." Chris said. "And I think I've made my dad proud. Yes, I think I've made him proud," he muttered, as he walked away towards his mother, who was waiting at the entrance of the lounge...

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04 September 2009

The Devil, The Angel...And Me - Part 2

Before reading this, read the first part and comment please!

[I was lying on a reclining sofa, feeling exhausted already. The Devil was sitting on my left shoulder, a glass on whiskey in his hand. He sipped it slowly, savoring the taste, and leaned forward to look at the Angel.]

Devil: [teasingly to the Angel] Still drinking Strawberry Milk, are we? 

Me: [warningly] Luke!

Devil: Alright, alright. I'll get to the point. Dude, you know the facts. Since the past one month, you've been getting less than 20 views per day. What's more, you're last five posts got an average of 6 comments each. [Pauses expectantly]

Me: So?

Devil: [surprised] So? So? Have you lost it or what? You used to get 15 comments per post. Now you're getting about 6. Why are you even in this blogging business.

[The Devil and I look at the Angel expectantly. The Angel hums a tune absent mindedly.]

Me: [loudly clearing my throat] Ahem!

Angel: [realizing it was his turn] Oh, right. Right. Err...where were we. Yah. About the comments thingy. The point is, he didn't start a blog just for receiving comments. He started it to express his creativity and share his enthusiasm about writing with his other similar minded readers.

[The Devil stares at the Angel blankly for a moment, looking stunned. Then he bursts out laughing.]

Devil: [Imitating the Angel] Express his creativity and share his enthusi -- My foot. Dude, tell me you don't want more comments. Go on, swear on God or whoever you swear on. And tell me you don't bother about the number of comments you get for your posts.

Me: [looking uncomfortable] Breakfast anyone? I'm famished!

Devil: [testily] We're part of your imagination, you thick headed jackass. We don't eat. So for the love of G- I mean, Satan, will you just admit it already?

Me: Alright! Yes, I care about the number of comments I get. If I had my way, no one would be able to close my blog without depositing their comments for every post they read. I want my Gmail Inbox to overflow with comments!

Angel: [looking horrified] My God! Musthafa! How could you...

Devil: [dismissively] Oh shut up Goody two-shoes. Now, here's what I plan. You need to write more raunchy stuff. I'm talking real adult material that'll have everyone reading your blog. Forget about morals. This is the 21st Century, keep up with the times. Then, write posts about fashion, movies, irritating people in your life--

Me: I don't know anything about Fashion.

Devil: No one knows anything about Fashion. We just say what sounds right. Then, be controversial. Say something SO outrageous that the readers will be forced to comment.

[The Angel sat on my right shoulder, his arms folded, looking the other way, sulking quietly.]

Devil: Then, go on and read a lot of blogs. Ha, who am I kidding. Just comment something on those blogs. Flatter them. And ask them to read your blog. Build an audience.

Me: But that's -- that's lying!

Devil: Really, Smartypants. Did Mr. Milk-drinking-anti swearing-white guy over there teach you not to lie?

Me: [keeping silent]

Devil: Good. So I'll continue. Three key words. Change your content. No more boring short stories. No more morality filled, philosophical posts. Write posts about people around you. Make fun of them. Talk about your daily life. Alright?

Angel: [Getting up to leave] Since you've got it all planned out, I guess I'll leave.

Devil: [happily] Ciao'. Take care.

Angel: [taking a deep breath and sighing] Just one thing though. Musthafa, do you remember why you started blogging? It was because you had something you wanted to share. A funny thought. A short story. You liked expressing yourself. No, wait, you loved expressing yourself. Then the comments started coming in. They were encouraging. Some were even flattering. That's when you got high headed --

Devil: [interrupting] We'd like to call it ambitious --

Angel: [angrily] Silence, you evil, misguided soul!

[Continuing] Musthafa, think about this. What's most important for you? A mass audience, overflowing comments, popularity?

Devil: [looking dumbfounded] Like duh!

Angel: [ignoring the Devil] Or did you want something else? Remember the girl who emailed you, saying that she couldn't stop laughing after reading Julius Caesar 1.5? Or that other guy who had a tear in his eyes after reading A Handful of Olives? Remember how you felt when you heard their reaction?

Ask yourself. What do you really want? Quantity or quality; Popularity or loyalty; overflowing comments or sincere appreciation? Most important of all, think about why you started Laptop Diary in the first place.

[With that, the Angel disappeared. I bowed my head for a moment, making up my decision. Finally, I looked at the Devil again.]

Me: I'm sorry Luke, but I agree with Gabby.

Devil: [looking heartbroken] No, no, no! This isn't fair. I was the one who influenced you. How could you-- [The Devil bursts into tears. For all his outward appearance, Luke is just an intern level devil. It's his first time trying to tempt a Human. I couldn't help but feel sympathy.]

Me: Luke, Luke, cmon, don't get upset --

Devil: [sobbing angrily] The name is Lucifer! Lucifer![He imitates a scary voice] You call me as though I'm your Pizza Delivery guy! He's evil by the way. Picks out and eats some of the olive toppings.

Me: [sounding confused and puzzled] I'm sorry? How can I make it up to you?

Devil: [stops crying and looks up eagerly] You promise you'll post the link to your blog on your Facebook profile?

Me: [protesting] Cmon, you know that makes me look like a Wannabe blogger.

[The Devil is about to start crying again.]

Me: [Relenting] All right, all right. I'll post the links on my Status Updates. Fine?

Devil: [Hopefully] And about the adult content--?

Me: [shouting] No! Now get out!

Devil: Alright, alright, sheesh, you don't have to shout, you know. I'm going. Got to tempt a kid to steal some candy. Argh, I hate these low level jobs...

[The END]

As if it's not obvious enough, all the thoughts of the Devil were my own, fleeting thoughts. The Angel represents all that I hold good in blogging. Hope to hear your final conclusions, since I do have a habit of spoiling the sequels to posts!

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