All of MalcolmOcean's Comments + Replies

I resonate a lot with this, and it makes me feel slightly less alone.

I've started making some videos where I rant about products that fail to achieve the main thing they're designed to do, and get worse with successive iterations and I've found a few appreciative commenters:

Rant successful, it made someone else feel like they weren't alone

And part of my experience of the importance of ranting about it, even if nobody appreciates it, is that it keeps me from forgetting my homeland, to use your metaphor.

My most recent published blog post had in the 2nd paragraph "I bet there’s nobody reading this who has never used a phrase like..." and this article made me think it would be kind to change it.

Then I searched your facebook posts and you have indeed used the phrase, so in this case at least you aren't nobody. But I'm still changing the post.

(The phrase is "part of me", which if any of my friends were to somehow have never once used I wouldn't have been surprised to discover it you.)

Right, yeah. And that (eventually) requires input of food into the person, but in principle they could be in a physically closed system that already has food & air in it... although that's sort of beside the point. And isn't that different from someone meditating for a few hours between meals. The energy is already in the system for now, and it can use that to untangle adaptive entropy.

Well, I mean that there's something like a "more closed" to "more entangled with larger systems" spectrum for adaptive systems, and that untangling adaptive entropy seems to be possible along the whole spectrum in roughly the same way. Easier with high entanglement with low-entropy environments obviously! But if the entropy doesn't crush the system into a complete shutdown spiral, it seems to often be possible for said system to rearrange itself and end up net less entropic. I don't know how that relates to things like thermodynamic energy, other than that all adaptive systems require it to function.

Huh, reading this I noticed that counterintuitively, alignment requires letting go of the outcome. Like, what defines a non-aligned AI (not an enemy-aligned one but one that doesn't align to any human value) is its tendency to keep forcing the thing it's forcing rather than returning to some deeper sense of what matters.

Humans do the same thing when they pursue a goal while having lost touch with what matters, and depending on how it shows up we call it "goodharting" or "lost purposes". The mere fact that we can identify the existence of goodharting and so... (read more)

So we let go of AI Alignment as an outcome and listen to what the AI is communicating when it diverges from our understanding of "alignment"? We can only earn alignment with an AGI by truly giving up control of it? That sounds surprisingly plausible. We're like ordinary human parents raising a genius child. The child needs guidance but will develop their own distinct set of values as they mature.
This feels connected to getting out of the car [], being locked into a particular outcome comes from being locked into a particular frame of reference, from clinging to ephemera in defiance of the actual flow of the world around you.

Maybe instead of "shut up and do the impossible" we need "listen, and do the impossible" 😆

Sort of flips where the agency needs to point.

I like, 'do the impossible - listen'.
I like this. I know you know the following, but sharing for the sake of the public conversation here: I wrote an essay about this several years ago, but aimed mostly at a yoga community. "The coming age of prayer []". It's not quite the same thing but it's awfully close. I guess I kind of disagree with the "do the impossible" part too! It's more like "Listen, and do the emergently obvious."

This "it gets worse if you try to deal with it" isn't necessarily true in every case. In this way adaptive entropy is actually unlike thermodynamic entropy: it's possible to reduce adaptive entropy within a closed system.

Actually naming whether this bolded part is true would require defining what "closed" means in the context of an adaptive system—it's clearly different than a closed system in the physical sense, since all adaptive systems have to be open in order to live.

I agree. I was being fast and loose there. But I think it's possible for, say, someone to sit in meditation and undo a bunch of entropic physical tension without just moving the problem-ness around.

This is great and I'm looking forward to your book.

Some adjacent ideas:

I feel like I've been appreciating the nature of wisdom (as you describe it here) increasingly much over the past couple of years. One thing this has led me to is looking at tautologies, where the sentence in some sense makes no claim but directs your attention to something that's self-evident once you look. For example, "the people you spend time with will end up being the people you've spent time with".

In 2017, I wrote an article about transcending regret, and a few years later I shar... (read more)

Huh—it suddenly struck me that Peter Singer is doing the exact same thing in the drowning child thought experiment, by the way, as Tyler Alterman points out beautifully in Effective altruism in the garden of ends. He takes for granted that the frame of "moral obligation" is relevant to why someone might save the child, then uses our intuitions towards saving the child to suggest that we agree with him about this obligation being present and relevant, then he uses logic to argue that this obligation applies elsewhere too. All of that is totally explicit and... (read more)

I like and agree with your argument here in general. I don't think it's true that, in the specific LW case, " didn't know how each other felt about it or what it meant to each other, and that if you'd more thoroughly seen the world through each others' eyes, it wouldn't seem like 'zero point' is the relevant frame here." Or at least, none of what you said about the LW admin perspective was new to me; it had all been taken into account by me at the time. (I suspect at all times I was capable of passing their ITT with at least a C+ grade; I am less sure they were capable of passing mine.) But that individual case seems separate from your overall point, which does seem correct. So I'm not sure where disagreement lies.

Ah this comment from facebook also feels relevant:

Sam Harris’ argument style reminds me very much of the man that trained me, and the example of fire smoke negatively affecting health is a great zero point to contest. Sam has slipped in a zero point of physical health being the only form of health which matters. Or at least the highest. One would have to argue against his zero point, that there are other values which can be measured in terms of health greater than mere physical health associated with fire. Psychological, familial, and social immediately co

... (read more)
Huh—it suddenly struck me that Peter Singer is doing the exact same thing in the drowning child thought experiment, by the way, as Tyler Alterman points out beautifully in Effective altruism in the garden of ends []. He takes for granted that the frame of "moral obligation" is relevant to why someone might save the child, then uses our intuitions towards saving the child to suggest that we agree with him about this obligation being present and relevant, then he uses logic to argue that this obligation applies elsewhere too. All of that is totally explicit and rational within that frame, but he chose the frame. In both cases, everyone agrees because within the frame that has been presented there is no difference! Meanwhile there is a difference in many other useful frames! And this choice of frame is NOT, as far as I can recall, explicit. Rather than recall, let me actually just go check... watching this video [], he doesn't use the phrase "moral obligation", but asks "[if I walked past,] would I have done something wrong?". This interactive version [] offers a forced choice "do you have a moral obligation to rescue the child?" In both cases, the question assumes the frame, and is not explicit about the arbitrariness of doing so. So yes, he is explicit about setting the zero point, but focusing on that part of the move obscures the larger inexplicit move he's making beforehand.

Broadly an overall point that makes sense and feels good to me.

Something feels off or at least oversimplified to me in some of the cases, particularly these two lines of thinking:

There's no substantive disagreement between me and critics-of-my-blocking-policy about the difficulties that this imposes—the way it makes certain conversations tricky or impossible, the way it creates little gaps and blind spots in discussion and consensus.


As far as I could tell, both I and the admin team agreed about its absolute size; there were no disagreements about thin

... (read more)
Ah this comment from facebook [[0]=AZXp1mTKSG0dYTwiXOzGfhZ9QIxxCaLEttIt5HIgcOd5tCFhEgd_2lhDwINvoT1pYNPvw29UrFmzZFo346kVtrSLD6O9FKME5Yy1R_oRalsSuy_rZ3QneH6MDGW9BYSANmc&__tn__=R]-R] also feels relevant: A lot of what's going on here is primarily frame control—setting the relevant scale on which a particular zero is then made salient. And that is not being done in the nice explicit friendly way. Sam Harris here is not casting a sneaky version of Tare Detrimens, but he's maybe (intentionally or not, benevolently or malevolently) casting a sneaky version of Fenestra Imperium.

No particular tips about Hamming Circles proper—I've run them a couple times but don't feel like I grokked how to run them well—but I'll put out that I've had some success with running longer events oriented towards Hamming Problems, shaped more like "here's 5 hours, broken into 25min pomodoros where you focus on making actual tangible progress towards something that's stuck, then during 5min breaks check in with a partner about how your focus is going".

Which on reflection is actually very similar to how the online goal-crafting intensives I've been running for years are structured, except with coaches instead of a buddy.

They feel like different-but-related thing to me. I would say that colorblindness can be simply that you haven't learned to differentiate some aspects of reality. A blindspot is not just something you can't see but a way in which you're actively hiding from yourself the fact that you can't see it. That's how I use the term "blindspot", which is perhaps downstream of Val / Michael Smith's "Metacognitive Blindspots" presentations (at eg the 2014 alumni reunion iirc, I forget where/when else). "Colorblindness" doesn't cut it for that meaning, so it's not the ... (read more)

This is exactly true of the colorblindness thing, though. Like, I was with you up until the quoted lines; that's what it's like to e.g. try to explain "red" to someone who can't perceive red, and didn't even realize what red is.  You keep pointing at red objects and they nod along, you have a hard time putting redness into words while trying to speak in terms they'll understand, you find yourself maybe even being like "gosh, what is red, though, geez," etc.

A lot of what you're pointing at here reminds me of an idea I had for illustrating how the brain hemispheres work (based on Iain McGilchrist's new model, not the old debunked models from the 60s). I had an image of a comic or something depicting the two hemispheres as hiking partners, the left hemisphere (LH) with its face buried in the map and the right hemisphere (RH) looking around at the territory. And there could be a series of short stories showing how if they're not able to talk to each other they can get in various confusions, but how if they are a... (read more)

It took me a bit to figure out the abbreviations. It would be helpful to introduce the abbreviation when you mention the left hemisphere and right hemisphere the first time for easier reading.

I've just updated Complice to give it primitive support for FVP directly!

A user sent me this article and asked about some changes to Complice that would make it easier to use FVP. I took a different approach than he suggested (creating a filter to only show starred actions) but I came up with something that I think works substantially better.

First I added a new hotkey (d) to mark a dot next to an intention in your list, which is sort of the bare minimum needed to implement FVP or Mark Forster's other systems, which people have tried using the star ★ featur... (read more)

I use Complice, so this is exciting news for me!

I've been asked to self-review this post as part of the 2020 review. I pretty clearly still stand by it given that I was willing to crosspost it from my own blog 5 years after I originally wrote it. But having said that, I've had some new insights since mid-2020, so let me take a moment and re-read the post and make sure it doesn't now strike me as fatally confused...

...yeah, no, it's good! I made a couple of small formatting and phrasing edits just now but it's otherwise ready to go from my perspective.

The post is sort of weirdly contextual in that it's p... (read more)

The first section prompted me to want to share this piece by David Chapman, "The Court of Values and the Bureau of Boringness", which semi-satirically suggests splitting democracy into two types of vote, of which each citizen must pick one in any given election. One actually makes policy for roads and industry and so on, the other makes claims about some cultural issue. The idea is that this would allow the crazy to not get in the way of getting enough attention on the decisions that are settled enough to be non-controversial but not actually precisely ans... (read more)

Appreciating you pointing out via those first two quotes that some of these dimensions are pointing at someone being submissive rather than sovereign+respectful (not attached to these words).

Feels weird that I missed that when I was reading the draft, actually. Bullet points 2-5 of the "someone isn't doing frame control" list still seem solid to me. On reflection, I actually think bullet 1 is actually completely misleading, because someone frame controlling can also do a bunch of these things, particularly if they have a victim energy as in Raemon's commen... (read more)

I stand by the thing I was trying to communicate in point 1, though I might have communicated poorly. I have met many people who are well established, very smart, who are not socially submissive, who still make the little moves that demonstrate vulnerability. I think Eliezer does this, for example.

Yes. (Likewise in Malcolm culture!)

My main approach to this is to focus on honoring distrust:

"I can't personally trust that this is not frame control, so to honor myself, I need to [get out of the situation / let you know that's my experience / etc]".

As with anything, this can also get weaponized depending on the tone & implicature with which it's said, but the precise meaning here points at encouraging a given person to really honor their own frame and their own experience and distrust, while not making any claims that anyone else can agree or disagre... (read more)

I'd edit "victims" to "weak" in the second header, since I think that expresses your point way clearer. You're not just pointing at the common-ish (& true!) refrains of "abusers are traumatized" or "abusers were once victims" but more specifically "abusers may be doing a bunch of frame control from the role of weak & vulnerable person".

I actually originally wrote "Manipulators can be weak", and changed it at the last minute (not sure why)

Glad to have helped your blergness snap into place—not taking it personally. I share your concerns here in the specific case and in the general case re the word "knowledge"! And that people understanding the difference between "common knowledge" and other things is important.

More accurately maybe I could say "this matches what I understand to be the widespread model of Leverage known by dozens of people to be held among those dozens"

Some of it I observed directly or was told it by Leverage folks myself though, so "rumor" doesn't feel like an adequate descriptor from my vantage point.

I like this a lot, both the videos as a demonstration and the articulation & examples of unique and idiosyncratic skills like this. Have noticed this more the last few years, and my impression is they're remarkably common if you allow for very subtle ones.

I will say though that I'm a bit confused about "cup-stacking" as a metaphor (or name) only insofar as it seems like exactly the opposite of the thing you're trying to point at, with respect to both:

  • "unconsciously/accidentally developed"
  • "can't control when to use it / notice when one is using it"

Would... (read more)

Yeah, I agree the name is sort of bass-ackwards.  The reason it stuck for me personally, and has oozed into my immediate social surroundings, is because of the immediate and visceral WOW of seeing the literal actual cup-stacking happening so quickly, and being like, oh, okay, okay, yeah, someone whose skill at X is like that.  Okay.  Whoa.  Yeah.  Wow. i.e. it's deeply evocative once you have the contextual experience.

facts that are more-or-less "common knowledge" among people who spent time socially adjacent to Leverage

Yup, sounds right. As someone who visited the rationality community in the bay a bunch in 2013-2018, almost nothing listed in the bullet points was a surprise to me, and off-hand I can think of dozens of other people who I would assume also know almost everything written above. (I'm sure there are more such people, that I haven't met or wouldn't remember.)

I don't have anything in particular to say about the implications of these facts, just seemed worth mentioning this thing re common knowledge.

(The main thing I hadn't heard about was the sexual relationships bullet point.)

man, i'm kinda mad about something going on with this "knowledge" word. i'd really like to insert some space in here between "lots of people believe a thing" and "lots of people know a thing".

i believed most of the bullet points in a low-confidence, easy-to-change-my-mind kind of way. the real thing is that all the bullet points have been widely rumored. it's not the case that all those rumoring people had justified true belief that everyone else had justified true belief about the bullet points, or whatever. if you announce a bunch of rumors with the word... (read more)

The flu did mutate and stick around mightily, but annual flu deaths are an order of magnitude lower than COVID.

Maybe this is what you're already saying, but I want to highlight something specific:

My understanding is this isn't about the virus mutating to become less deadly, but more because endemic viruses encounter non-naive immune systems, which is true for flus but not for sars-ncov-2 (so far). T-cells have basically lifetime memory I think (longer than antibodies?). This is similar to how european diseases were so devastating to indigenous folk (and I ... (read more)

Oh huh I completely skimmed past that on first read & didn't even notice it, but revisiting it after seeing this comment, I also find it off-putting. Could capture most of the good and none of the bad with something more like "Buckle up, you have no idea what you're in for!" which feels (appropriately) like an invitation to a wild tour, rather than a "you fucked up."

Feels weird being told to shut up when I hadn't said anything.

I appreciate you trying to write this up, but as other commenters have noted, there's no contradiction here in the first place and you appear to have missed the point.

As far as I can tell, if you understand Yudkowsky's point, Zvi's follows directly. {No evidence of X} = {evidence of not-X}, but the speech act of claiming "There is no evidence of X" only occurs when there is some evidence worth claiming doesn't count as evidence.

And Yudkowsky's point also points out that essentially "no evidence" is not just vague but in virtually all cases just completely ... (read more)

Yeah not quite Australia but closer to Australia than to what we've had. The border has been nearly closed to all except citizens and close partners. Canada has forced 14-day quarantines for everyone entering, and fined a guy $500k for stopping to sightsee on his way to Alaska. One weird thing is that while the land border basically only lets citizens go into their country (with rare exceptions), I gather that Canadians can fly to the US, but not the reverse. So returning Canadians would be a major source of infections.

I think sane policy would have increased returning quarantine to 3 weeks to be safe, and enforced it quite strictly. Then pour tons of resources into contact tracing as well.

🇨🇦 Tiny Canada update: we've now vaccinated 10 doses per 100 people, and since we're officially doing first doses first in most cases, that's nearly 10% of the population vaccinated. The territories, that have almost nobody in them, are like half-vaccinated already.

Interestingly, while we're way behind the USA on administering vaccine doses (they're at 37 doses per 100 people), we've already soared way past the "more people vaccinated than ever tested positive" figure because we had fewer people test positive in the first place. From a timeline perspecti... (read more)

This is a good point, and suggests that the bigger issue was whatever caused anyone to publish anything saying there seemed to be an association between the vaccines and blood clots in the first place.

Guessing that that varies by location—I've heard of online classrooms where you're not allowed to have your video off nearly all day.

But even if it's all as you describe, one answer for how virtual classes might still be worse is that for kids whose home situations are abusive or neglectful, it makes a meaningful positive difference to get to be around teachers and other kids outside their home.

🇨🇦 Canada update: we are WAY behind on vaccines (2.7% of population) and the bottleneck is very clear: we don't have the doses.

The "why" is also becoming a bit more clear: we never even tried to create a big manufacturing plant for it last year and instead just tried to partner with everybody, including a deal with China that was announced last May and started going sideways 3 days later but we're just finding out now that it completely fell through and is a nonstarter! Wtf.

A couple articles to read on that front:

... (read more)

News: This article lays out roughly why Canada is way behind on vaccines—no attempt was even made last year to ramp up manufacturing capacity in Canada, instead just a bunch of partnerships, including one with China that completely fell through (other sources (eg globe & mail) have speculated that it may have fallen through in part because China is still grumpy at Canada for arresting the Huawei exec 2 years ago, but that's unclear).

LILLEY: Britain's vaccine success the path Canada should have followed

Something missing from the top-level post: why stagnation.

I'll just put out that one of the tiny things that most gave me a sense of "fuck" in relation to stagnation was reading an essay written in 1972 that was lamenting the "publish or perish" phenomenon. I had previously assumed that that term was way more recent, and that people were trying to fix it but it would just take a few years. To realize it was 50 years old was kinda crushing honestly.

Here's google ngrams showing how common the phrase "publish or perish" was in books through the last 200 years... (read more)

I think there's a case for two different sources: one external, the simple lack of any further low hanging fruit to exploit, and one internal, which is exactly this - the increasing inadequacy of our institutions to create the conditions for innovation, often caused paradoxically by the excessive focus on promoting innovation. "If scientists gave us all this cool stuff by working on their own, imagine how good they will be if we hire a lot more of them and pit them into a competition for funding with each other!" was a catastrophically stupid idea, assumin... (read more)

Some hypotheses for “why stagnation” in my review of Where Is My Flying Car? []

I don't have the detailed knowledge needed to flesh this out, but it occurred to me that there might be a structure of an argument someone could make that would be shaped something like "we got a lot of meaningful changes in the last 70 years, but they didn't create as many nonlinear tipping points as in the previous industrial revolutions."

Fwiw, flying cars probably wouldn't hit any such tipping point, though self-driving cars probably would.

Widespread nuclear energy might've meant little concern about global warming at this point, but solar & wind ha... (read more)

Prompted by your comment, when I wrote more stuff last night, I made it standalone: 

Covid Canada Jan25: low & slow

I saw it and sent it to my Canadian friends. They really appreciated your update. 

Appreciating you chiming in. That's a great point about how different rural communities are doing different. I kind of had the impression some rural areas in the prairies were doing bad, but I didn't off-hand have a sense of where or why. Your rough sketch with vague notions is helpful on that front.

I drove across the country on the way out to BC a couple months ago, and it's indeed hard to imagine the farming areas in the south half of the prairies having much covid spread, whereas it makes sense that resource-extraction areas would for the 2 reasons you describe. That plus exponentials/nonlinearities seems sufficient to explain most of the discrepancy, maybe.

Huh yeah, weird. It's like, what are they waiting for with AstraZeneca?

It is worth noting that I think ~40,000 doses per day is according to plan at this phase, a plan which calls for like a million doses a week as of the start of April. Which sounds like a lot but is still way too slow! (A million a day would be awesome.) But the failure to ramp up continues to be a failure of intending to ramp up, it seems. I'll be quite concerned if we fail to ramp up to even the unambitious levels planned for April. I don't know to what extent useful prep is happening to ensure that we're ready to go hard once we get more doses.

🇨🇦 People liked my Canada update last week, so here's another one. I thought I wouldn't have much to say but apparently I wrote some stuff!

I made it its own post for better linkability. I'm honestly not sure if that's better, but that's what I did.

Covid Canada Jan25: low & slow

🇨🇦 For those who read these updates but are in Canada, I've done a little research into how things are going here and it seems that we're actually doing an okay job of distributing the vaccines we have, but we don't have nearly enough yet to immunize the population. From CBC:

Using the intuitive distribution-to-administration time-delay framing in another comment by Unnamed... where the USA's shortfall is 17 days, Canada's got as short as 3 days this week!

That yellow curve above looks like an exponential that'll reach our 38M population in just 6-7 weeks ... (read more)

Is it possible to make this a standalone post? This is fantastic information. 

This was a profoundly impactful post and definitely belongs in the review. It prompted me and many others to dive deep into understanding how emotional learnings have coherence and to actually engage in dialogue with them rather than insisting they don't make sense. I've linked this post to people more than probably any other LessWrong post (50-100 times) as it is an excellent summary and introduction to the topic. It works well as a teaser for the full book as well as a standalone resource.

The post makes both conceptual and pragmatic claims. I haven't exa... (read more)

Haven't even gotten to the rest of this yet but already want to say I think this initial summary is incorrect. I'll have to do some re-reading to discern the extent to which I think that's a mis-reading on your part, a mis-characterization on Kaj's part, or the result of ambiguity on the original authors part, but regardless: the summary at the start of this post, quoted below, seems to me to be completely the opposite of the actual basis of Coherence Therapy (speaking as someone who has read UtEB, several other Coherence Therapy books, done half a dozen s... (read more)

The thing that changed and allowed me to actually start updating more efficiently was that I actually started believing that all parts of me are pretty smart. I started believing this because I started actually listening to myself and realised that these parts of me weren’t saying the ‘obviously wrong’ things I thought they were saying.

Yeah this is huge. I've had some similar insights myself the last few months and I now think it's one of the most important things that people can do. Which of course requires listening to the parts of you that think the oth... (read more)

The thing that changed and allowed me to actually start updating more efficiently was that I actually started believing that all parts of me are pretty smart. I started believing this because I started actually listening to myself and realised that these parts of me weren’t saying the ‘obviously wrong’ things I thought they were saying.

Yeah this is huge. I've had some similar insights myself the last few months and I now think it's one of the most important things that people can do. Which of course requires listening to the parts of you that think the oth... (read more)

Mmm nice. I went through a similar progression in some ways and I feel like I'm tasting a step further which is something like "the issue people have is they try to use self-modification techniques they don't have full buy-in for, and so resisting parts stop them from using those."

And then the resolution goes something like, instead of intending to do "IDC" or whatever else, orienting to a stance of intending to do more like "whatever it takes to have an internal dialogue here that integrates all objections thoroughly and doesn't dismiss or discount any"

Wo... (read more)

Resonating with what Romeo's saying. For instance, in this quote in the original...

If I felt more secure and more superior to the people in the conversation, I think it would be easier to behave better

...I would differentiate "more secure" and "more superior". There's a version of the latter that is quite contemptuous, which is usually a whole layer on top of insecurity.

I haven't been at all diligent about this "the outside view" vs "an outside view" reframing, but I'll add my own personal anecdote that in general I've broadly found these sorts of reframings to be helpful, eg shifting to past tense to say "I've tended to be triggered by X" vs "I always get really triggered by X" as a way to feel a sense of self as changing rather than stuck. It generates a whole different meaning.

Appreciating this, and in general appreciating LW as a place where commenting on comments from 7y ago is considered good practice :)

Wow yeah this is a great list. Haven't seen many people besides me who are this aggressive about some of these things.

The whole thing about being able to compose emails without seeing your inbox is vital. You can also do that by setting up mailto:%s as a "custom search engine" (eg at chrome://settings/searchEngines) with a keyword like mto and then you just open a browser window and type "mto" and either the person's email address or just their name. if it's their name, obviously you'll have to fill in the email later, but the point is it takes you straight to the compose view, with no inbox in sight.

Mmm, appreciating your comment and very curious to hear what reflections emerge as you digest it more :)

Others are welcome to offer concrete examples! I was mostly hearing about this second hand from Bay Area rationalists myself :P

I don't know that I've run into this lately, but I think I've also selected on having friends who are generally considerate of each other. My local culture is fairly reveal-like, but has a fair amount of effort put into things like "here's me saying what's important to me, but I want to be clear this is not an obligation on you." (We keep saying "not an obligation" even though it's generally well understood, and I think that's a good equilibrium because it prevents things from accidentally drifting into the Tell Culture failure modes)
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