Visual Media Workshop

The VMW is
a lab/
workspace/
creative zone/
vertext/
forum/
platform/
initiative/
experiment

that

sits at the intersection between/
falls between established disciplines of/
crosses the fields of

art history and information studies/
humanistic inquiry and technology/
established humanistic and new data-driven approaches

(Alex Oliver, April 2014)

VMW

  •  

    Is Your Cloud Truly Open?

    How long has the question asked above been thinkable? Is it even yet thinkable? Check out the entire image up there. Why don't we just substitute "server" for cloud? Because if we do that, the fact that IBM is talking about robust server-terminal architectures suddenly becomes one of #areyouSTILLtalkingaboutthat rather than something more existential like, how can clouds be closed??

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    The Act of Identification: Bertillon and Chinese Exclusion

    Last week’s break-through led us to begin researching the use of the Bertillon system to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act.  The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers from 1882 to 1943.  Whereas prisons and police departments used the Bertillon system to identify criminals, the United States government used the Bertillon system from approximately 1903 to 1906 to identify those Chinese immigrants who were allowed in the United States because they met certain sets of requirements, while excluding all others.

    The use of the Bertillon system of identification to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act was short-lived, but was the result of twenty years of increasingly stricter immigration polices. After 1882, the any Chinese laborer who was already in the United States was banned from obtaining citizenship and needed to obtain a certificate to leave and re-enter the country.  Furthermore, Chinese members of the groups still permitted entry, such as students and wealthy travelers, were required to obtain certificates verifying their status and their access to enter the United States.  After 1902, the regulations were stiffened, and all Chinese residents in the United States were required to obtain a certificate of residency or risk deportation.  Shortly thereafter, around 1903, the Bertillon system was briefly implemented.  These regulations also burgeoned an extensive human smuggling and document forgery industry.

    Therefore, for potential immigrants, having, creating, or purchasing the "correct" identity was key; identification was the avenue to immigration.  Paperwork was the basis of entry and exclusion.  As the certificates of residency attest, "laborer" did not refer to an occupation but rather was a statement of fact that enabled thinly veiled racial exclusion.  In one such certificate from 1900, a baby-laborer's occupation is listed simply as "infant."  Thus, the language of exclusion was bound-up in the identification requirements, which evolved as the twentieth century approached.

    In 1882, when the law was first enacted, it was required that the Collector of Customs board all departing vessels carrying Chinese laborers to foreign ports, and "on such vessel make a list of all such Chinese laborers, which shall by entered into the registry books to be kept for that purpose, in which shall be stated the name, age, occupation, last place of residence, physical marks or peculiarities, and all facts necessary for the identification of each such Chinese laborers, which books shall be safely kept in the customs house."  Likewise, every every Chinese person who was not a laborer and who was therefore allowed to enter the United States need to be "identified" by the Chinese government in an official certificate, translated into English.  The certificate stated "the right to come, and which certificate shall state the name, title, official rank if any, the age, height, and all physical peculiarities, former and present occupation or profession, and place of residence in China" and required the applicant’s “proper signature.”  In 1884, “individual, family, and tribal name in full” were added to both methods of identification.  By 1888, the identification certificates for the eligible classes, “Chinese officials, teachers, students, merchants or travelers for pleasure or curiosity” were required to include “a full description of the person, of his age, height, and general physical features.” 

    Notably, between 1884 and 1888, fifteen years before the implementation of the Bertillon system for Chinese Exclusion, identification requirements changed from “peculiarities” to “general features.”  What does this shift mean for the nature of identification? The initial focus on “peculiarities” marks the person by his or her difference.  In this case, that difference is what permits the person to be identified as one with special rights and priveledges.  The later turn towards “general features” suggests that instead of individual marks of uniqueness, the entire body much be subjected to the systematization of the identification process.  Eventually, this will lead to the implementation of the Bertillon system.

    Furthermore, the shared use of the Bertillon system on criminals as well as immigrants created problematic parallels.  Those who received identification cards using the Bertillon system were permitted into American society, while the prisoner identification cards were meant to keep repeat offenders out.  In the case the prisoners, the act of measuring renders the prisoner into a permanent piece of metadata.  The goal, in an extreme interpretation, is to identify the person as a criminal and remove that criminal from society, made invisible behind a prison cell.  For the immigrants, the metadata is instead a tenuous guarantee to remain visible in the United States, yet also a reminder of the invisibility of the uncountable, unwanted potential Chinese immigrants banned from admission to the country.

    Thus, the act of subjugation to the system and judgment under the schematization of numbers was a humiliation.  "Lan Qiche…noted how his country people were measured 'as if they were criminals.' Like many others he found this 'an insult to our nation's dignity.'" (Parenti, The Soft Cage).  The question here lies in the nature of the insult of the Bertillon system.  What was commonly known of the Bertillon system and how was it received?  The shame of the Bertillon system was folded into a deeper institutional insult, revealed in language of exclusion of the law and its appeals.  "The exclusion of paupers, criminals, and persons afflicted with incurable diseases, for which statutes have been passed, is only an application of the same power to particular classes of persons, whose presence is deemed injurious or a source of danger to the country.  As applied to them, there has never been any question as to the power to exclude them.  The power is constantly exercised; its existence is in solved in the right of self-preservation…"

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Visual Media Workshop Fall Newsletter

    Whether you are interested in one of our longer term collaborative research projects, primarily use the lab for short-term support for your own work, or are just curious about what’s happening, you will find that we are an interactive team interested in a variety of cultural questions and embedded in the dynamic interplay between the humanities and information science.

    Constellations Website [www.constellations.pitt.edu]: This year, all the grads in the lab are encouraged to post their thoughts on their current work every two weeks on the Constellations Website.  Feel free to browse through our work, and be sure to check out Katie’s “Knitting Subjectivity” post, an insightful comparison between knitting and the Bertillon system. 

    Decomposing Bodies [http://bodies.haa.pitt.edu]: The VMW team and Josh Ellenbogen continue to collaborate on Decomposing Bodies, cataloging and data scraping thousands of identification cards collected last fall at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio. These cards are artifacts of the “Bertillonnage” criminal identification system, developed by Alphonse Bertillon in Paris, and a popular method of criminal systemization and identification in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The Decomposing Bodies team is also actively brainstorming ideas for a future exhibition.  Alison, Josh, Aisling, and Jen plan to make another research trip to Columbus in January of next year.

    Itinera [http://itinera.pitt.edu]: The Itinera project, a collaboration between the VMW team and Drew Armstrong, maps culturally-motivated travel.  Beginning with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European travel, Itinera continues to expand into new geographic and temporal networks. Presently, the Itinera team is developing a set of standards that would allow a wider set of researchers to contribute data to the project.  As Itinera opens to a broader spectrum of travel, and our network becomes denser and more complex, more inter-related opportunities emerge.  For example, Jen’s work on Alexander von Humboldt expands the body of European travelers into networks within nineteenth-century South America and Russia.  

    Bunker-Haskins: In order to provide scholars digital access to the Bunker-Haskins slide collections, we have been working on configuring an instance of ResourceSpace, an open source digital asset management platform.  A key objective of this project involves enabling user-contributed metadata by subject specialists to enhance resource discovery, but users will also be able to download digital images, create collections, and more.  

    Network Ontologies [http://www.networkontologies.org]: Scholars from all over the country will convene at the University of Pittsburgh on November 21 and 22 for a workshop entitled, "Network Ontologies in the Early Modern Period," co-sponsored by a number of local and regional groups. The aim of this workshop will be to share experiences implementing data ontologies in digital humanities projects, such as our own Itinera, and to develop a metadata structure that would then support the interoperability of these networks over the long term.

    Undergrad Activities:  The work-study students in the lab have been very productive on a number of different projects.  Linda and Leah are digitizing the Bunker-Haskins slides and researching a crowd-sourcing space that would allow experts in the field to contribute descriptions.  Linda has also been scanning images to support teaching, including the ongoing project to catalog all of the images from Terry Smith’s textbook, Contemporary Art: World Currents. Dan does a little bit of everything and anything.  He is currently preparing videos on printmaking for the art gallery, working on code for the digital humanities website, and transcribing criminal identification cards for Decomposing Bodies.

    Grad Activities: Aisling, Jen, Katie, and Christie collaborate on several projects in the lab.  Aisling begins her second year working in the lab with a variety of responsibilities, including the supervision of the undergraduate students digitizing and organizing facets of the HAA slide collection and pursuing a new project related to the "Images of Medieval Art and Architecture" website [http://www.medart.pitt.edu].  Jen has been working on editing and standardizing Itinera data and expanding Itinera’s geographic network to include Alexander von Humboldt’s voyage to South America.  She is also researching Bertillon furniture with the hope of reconstructing the measuring apparatus and creating an interactive component for the potential exhibition. Everyone contributes to research on Itinera as well as a bi-weekly sprint cataloging the criminal identification cards collected during last fall’s trip to the Ohio History Connection.  In addition to Decomposing Bodies, Katie is contributing to the Bunker-Haskins Resource Space.  Christi’s projects include creating a digital space for the History of Art and Architecture Department to collaborate on pedagogy, providing social media maintenance for both the VMW and the Department of HAA, and assisting Kirk Savage with a research project.

    HAA Twitter feed: Follow the Department of the History of Art and Architecture on Twitter! Find us at https://twitter.com/haapitt

    The Digital Research Ecosystem at Pitt: The VMW exists as part of a larger ecosystem, extending beyond the HAA department, and even beyond the campus-wide DHRX [www.dhrx.pitt.edu], to the national conversation about the changing profile of the humanities in the age of digital hyperproduction. The VMW has evolved into a unique hub of cross-disciplinary energy, where students, faculty, and staff of all levels can engage not only with digital tools, but equally, with each other. 

     

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Getting Started with "Digital:" A View from Three Others

    I am asked many questions on a weekly basis about what it takes to start using digital methods in the humanities. I enjoy answering the questions, but often feel frustrated by my inability to convey precisely what is needed. In many ways, "doing DH" is something you can hear about, but you sort of also have to experience it to understand--just like writing an essay changes how you view your topic, so goes using the analytic power of digital computing. Brian Croxall recently wrote a post in which he expresses similar excitement and misgivings and also gave links to two other excellent posts on the subject. So, here they are, in easy clicking order for you:

    Brian Croxall, "'Help, I Want to Do DH!'" http://www.briancroxall.net/2014/09/25/help-i-want-to-do-dh/

    Lisa Spiro, "Getting Started in Digital Humanities," http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-1/getting-started-in-digital-humanities-by-lisa-spiro/

    Paige Morgan, "How to Get a Digital Humanities Project off the Ground," http://www.paigemorgan.net/how-to-get-a-digital-humanities-project-off-the-ground/

    I'll edit this post over time, should I run across more...

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

    Andy Warhol's Bob Indiana Etc. (1963), with John Giorno and Marisol

     

    Artistic Matchmaking

    On Friday night I attended the world premiere of “Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films,” at the Carnegie Music Hall, an appropriately lavish and cozy venue for an intimate evening with Warhol and five pivotal songwriters. The “Exposed” project, a partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, represents a collaborative, cross-disciplinary endeavor of a very public sort.

    The five songwriters each provided an unique soundtrack to three not-yet-publicly screened Warhol films, so the relatively small audience (honestly, I was surprised that the house wasn’t packed) was privy to a total of fifteen, 3-4-minute shorts. Stepping back for a moment, I will briefly mention a similar event that I attended back in 2011 at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. Marc Ribot, the avant-garde guitarist, played his live score to Charlie Chaplin’s movie, The Kid, thus re-animating and reinterpreting the then-ninety-year-old film.

    I’m interested in these types of collaborative projects because they present a very particular set of creative constraints, and require the melding of two (or more) artistic voices: that of the original artist (filmmaker, director, auteur) and that of the musician interpreting the imagery and film narrative. In the case of Marc Ribot and the five musicians that performed last night, the musicians face not only the challenge of creating a musical score that they feel somehow matches or heightens the experience of the film, but also must navigate the complicated reality that they are reinterpreting the work of the dead and the highly-revered (and even idolized). Which begs the question: How does one collaborate with a dead artist? Does the living artist have more power than the dead artist or the other way around?

    Music, arguably, has the capacity to completely alter the experience of a film. Stripped of any diegetic sounds, the unique soundtracks have the ability to transform the mood and atmosphere of the entire visual experience.

    I was attending the premiere partly because one of my generous friends offered me a free ticket, partly due to my interest in the creative challenge described above, but also because I’m an unapologetic fan of some of the musicians involved in the collaboration. Watching Tom Verlaine (b. 1949) lope onto the stage in his modest way, yielding a guitar, was tantamount to going on a bike ride with David Byrne (I’d imagine), or eating dinner with Alice Waters. Best known as the frontman of the band, Television, Verlaine provided bare yet poignant musical accompaniment for Warhol’s films: John Washing (1963), Jill (1963), and Bob Indiana Etc. (1963). Sitting alone on the stage, Verlaine filled the auditorium with his mesmerizing and reverberating guitar sound, sticking to simple and repetitive melodies that were nonetheless effective.

    Martin Rev (b. 1947), of the electronic punk band, Suicide, stood in stark contrast to Tom Verlaine, wearing vinyl pants, a tight t-shirt, and red goggle/sunglasses. Where Verlaine’s music was spare, Rev’s was aggressive and unrelenting. Yet, his pure energy and noise also worked in its own way, demonstrating the skill Rev exerted to imbue the films with his own aesthetic sensibility without destroying the film’s integrity. At this point in the performance I wondered if the musicians had any say in selecting the films that they scored. After all, Rev’s raw force was well-suited to the hyper-sexual Superboy (1966), Allen (1964), and the disturbingly enchanting Jack Cigarette (1964).

    Then came Eleanor Friedberger (b. 1976) in all her tall, slim, chique-ness, a figure who would have undoubtedly graced Warhol’s lens if she’d been the appropriate age or ever occupied his social sphere (she was only eleven-years-old at the time of his death in 1987). I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of Friedberger’s band, The Fiery Furnaces, but she did provide a peppy and poppy accompaniment to Screen Test: Donovan (1966) and Screen Test: Edie Sedgwick (1965). The most memorable film and music match-up was Marisol – Stop Motion (1963), a gem of a film featuring the beautiful sculptor, Marisol. This film seems to have truly brought the best out of Friedberger. There must have been something in the moving pictures themselves that resulted in something that is, perhaps, even better than the two things experienced separately. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of any collaboration?

    Dean Wareham (b. 1963) performed three songs that seemed very much inspired by the Velvet Underground, and that were appropriately matched with Paraphernalia (1966), Nico/Antoine (1966), starring Nico, and Kiss the Boot (1966), revelatory of Warhol’s foot fetish.

    The performance finished with a set by Bradford Cox (b. 1982), the frontman of Atlas Sound and Deerhunter, and someone I’ve long admired. This was my third time seeing Cox perform, and he brought his usual off-kilter nature to the stage in the form of a graduation cap and gown. He scored two of my favorite films of the night, Mario Montez and Boy (1965), a spectacular short film featuring two men, a hamburger, and a sumptuous kiss, and Me and Taylor (1963), which contained a dance sequence perfectly punctuated by Cox’s atmospheric riffs. My only disappointment was that Cox didn’t sing. Whereas I wished Wareham had only performed instrumentals, I was longing for the warm embrace of Cox’s voice.

    The concert finished within 75 minutes, without any intermission, leaving the well-dressed audience to spill out into the streets at an amazingly respectable hour. Left with images of thickly-lined eyes gazing at a screen, and so many cigarettes smoked, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated by the experience. In my opinion, Warhol’s films were enhanced and elevated by their new, 2014 scores.

     

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • VMW
  • Cold Mountain Stole Chart A

    This chart is from the Cold Mountain Stole pattern by Keiran Foley, published in Summer 2009 issue of Knitty: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEsummer09/PATTcoldmountain.php

     

    Knitting Subjectivity

    Transcribing Bertillon cards last week I got to thinking about knitting.  When I was a more prolific knitter, people would sometimes admire my creations (not that I was particularly gifted – just good at following instructions) and say things like, I Could Never Do That.  In response, I’d try to explain why it seems hard but isn’t.  After a while I began to think that knitting is, in many ways, like computing.  Writing a knitting pattern is a lot like writing a computer program – forget one step and it might not seem like a big deal until many thousands of stitches and rows later when your delicate lace sock more closely resembles a glove knit by cats for an octopus. 

    Designing knitting patterns can be hard and requires the skill, patience, and creativity to understand how each stitch constructs the whole.  Like the 1s and 0s that make up binary code in computing, knitting stitches are in the binary knit and purl.  The most complicated patterns are conceived of in charts where each “cell” contains a symbol representative of a stitch.  The comparison to pixels is not only irresistible; it is almost an exact translation. 

    Though not binary, Alphonse Bertillon tried to do something similar, encoding the features of the human body in to an elaborate (and problematic) classification of measurements and codes.  At least one goal here was to break down the human form in to objective constituents that can be consistently interpreted by anyone (purl and knit each mean one thing, whether accomplished in English, Continental, or other style) in order to solve the problems of recidivism and identification of defectors.

    Yet, as Dr. Langmead is prone to pointing out in her classes, none of these things are done in a vacuum of objectivity.  Computing platforms, programs, algorithms, and displays are designed by humans with human biases.  Subjective humans likewise construct knitting patterns.  Knitters use different yarns and needles and knit with different tensions, all of which contributes to a slightly different stitch or purl.  Bertillon officers inscribed their own prejudices and meanings to the system they employed. 

    The danger of subjectivity in knitting a scarf is obviously not equal to the danger of subjectivity in “objectively” describing the human body (see post by Jen about agency, authority, and control).  I’m excited to participate in the transcription of these cards and I look forward to seeing how these issues are explored in the work that results, including the installation proposed by Jen in the aforementioned post.  What other standardized systems do we conceive of as objective and what are the implications of overlooking their subjective origins?   

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Building Decomposing Bodies: Thinking about interactions with Bertillon Furniture

    In thinking about a possible exhibition on Decomising Bodies, I hope to create an interactive exhibit that recreates the Bertillion furniture.  Visitors could meausure themselves and fill out Berthillon cards for themsevles and their companions, thus transcribing their own bodies into the system of measurement and identification.  This concept has important implications for concepts of the agency. Signalment assumes the "absolute immutablity" of the skekeltal structure of an adult body, the uniquenes of each human subject, and the ability of precise comparative measurement that can transform each subject into a set of data measurements.   As agents, participants would take an active role the creation of this unique trace of their own perons.  However, the trace becomes part of a human archive that effectively transcribes unique beings into data and code.  Furthermore, the dynamic developped between measurer and measured, both following a prescribed set of bodily motions, becomes one of controller and conrolled.   The measured subject become an object of knowledge, while the measurer is placed in a position of authority,  thus physically revealing the power sturcture embedded in concept of measurment for the the participants.

    As discussed in the agency meeting, this piece could potentially accompany other interactive systems of measurement, such as a physiongnomtrace or an exhibit on nineteenth-century photography, and thus contribute to a wider exbibtion on the body made legbile thorugh a set of systematic tools, reproductions, and material objects.

    Logistically, the furniture is simple and could be recreated by a contractor using a basic set of construction drawings.  This is where my architectural background becomes very useful.  The following components are listed in Signalic Instructions.  The provided dimensions are limted, but using these controlling dimensions and the images provided I could create working drawings for a set of furniture.  Some dimensions will have to be estimated using the infomration given, but I should be able to make an informed decision about the construction of the furniture.  Further research could provide more detailed dimensions.  A times the instructions specify a certain type of wood, and this wood may be hard to come by or expensive today.  For cost and ease of a temporary exhibition, I do not think we need to follow these wood specifications.

    1. Stool for measuring the foot

    2. Stool for measuring the trunk

    3. Trestle for measuring the forearm

    4. Square with double projection and handle

    6. Backboards for the support of the sheet and the rulers.

    There are a series of tools needed, some which could be collected, others constructed:

    1. A large sheet, ruled in squares

    2. A rigid wooden meter, 1 cm thick and 3 cm wide, graduated in millimeters

    3. A rigid wooden half meter, graduated from 0 m 70 to 1 m 20 for seated measurent

    5. A grauated double decimetre with a handle

    Four metal instruments would be needed to complete the measurement: 

    1.A calipher compass (or head calipher) with an arch of a circle graduated from the 12th to the 22nd centimeter.

    2. A small calipher rule calibrated from 0 to 10 centimeters,

    3. A large calipher rule calibrated from 0 to 60 centimeters.  

    4. Scissors

    Contemporary versions of these are available, but some product reasearch will need to be done to verify the measuring systems will be compatible.  Scissors are also listed for the cutting of longer nails to acheive a correct measurement, but we may prefer to omit that part!

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Current Projects
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    A Selection of Visualization Resources, as Curated by Alison in September 2014

    From time to time I am asked to speak about the process of visualization, especially in the context of humanities research. Each time I set about doing this, I look over my list of resources on this topic and curate a list of them. The list does not change dramatically over time, but it does vary. Below is the list of projects, resources and tools that I presented in September 2014 here at Pitt:

    Projects and Resources

    Tools of Note for Humanists

    These are a smattering of different types of packages...investigate for yourself! Fool around with them and see what happens.That's often the best way to learn.

    And, please don't forget about Excel and Numbers. They can often be your first, best path. If, for example, what you want to display adds up to 100%, please consider the benefits that a pie chart has to offer...

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Jen's Thought's on Decomposing Bodies:

    Thinking about Decomposing Bodies, I came across many Bertillion Card Forms that were missing their left corner.  The loss of these corners meant that the card type could not be properly determined.  Thus the card type was catalogued by making my best guess between "1900s Card with 'Stoop'" and "1900s Card with 'Eng Ht.'" The frequency of cards with missing left corners means that a substantial number of cards are potentially being catalogued incorrectly due to insufficient information.  Therefore, I suggest the addtion of a fifth Bertillion Card Form type of "unknown 1900s" that catalogues accurately the fact that the card is damaged and the type of card unreadable.  I believe this would lead to a more accurate cataloguing process.

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • VMW
  •  

    Anomalies

    As my colleague, Aisling, describes in detail here, we in the Visual Media Workshop have been transcribing Bertillon cards for the Decomposing Bodies project.  The cards have measurements for limbs and digits on the left side of the body (left arm, left middle finger, left little finger), but today I found one which randomly included a few measurements for the right side.  I initially thought this may have been due to circumstances that prevented measuring the left side the second time (some cards include a second set of measurements taken at a later time) such as loss of an extremity -- except there appears to be an original measurement for the right middle finger.  Several hundred transcriptions have been done at this point, yet this is the first instance of right side measurements we've come across.  It's always possible that Hastings (the principle officer recording the measurements) just decided to try something different that day, but it seems unlikely.  Given the systematic and detailed classification of the human body being undertaken here, I doubt Hastings was ever acting on a whim.  It will be interesting to see if we discover more anomalous measurements in the cards and what patterns, if any, we can find.     

    Categories: 
    • Current Projects
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

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