Earning a geocoin is a bonus when on a full geocaching day

May 07

When out on the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway, you collect stamps in your log book.

I realize not everyone “gets” geocaching.

In fact, I’ve been asked several times why I do such a thing.

The questions are usually something along the lines of …

The coin we each ended up with.

“Wait, let me get this straight. You go hiking out in the woods, or drive around, looking for a box that somebody placed? And you don’t get anything out of the box?”

That is correct.

Geocaching, like anything else, is a game people play for various reasons. Whether it’s the thrill of the hunt, being outside, getting exercise or spending time with family, the game means different things to different people.

This past Sunday reminded me why this game really is so much fun.

Two of us headed to the Ithaca area to do a new cache series that would take us around Cayuga Lake. There were 20 geocaches in this series, and as long as you found at least 15 of them, you received an unactivated geocoin. For those who are geocachers, you know all about geocoins. For those not into the game, basically, a geocoin is a trackable item. So if you release it into the world, it can move from cache to cache, picking up mileage as it goes along.

The log book.

If they are released, they are not something you keep. But some people (me included) will purchase coins or whatever and keep them as part of a personal collection. I have a pretty nice collection of coins, but am looking to release proxy versions (using the trackable number, but not the coin) to get them traveling. I’m trying to decide the best way to do it.

So, besides knowing a coin was on the line, it also gave a good reason to get outside, see some great things and enjoy the outdoors some (though, to be fair, it was a bit hotter than expected and I wasn’t ready for it to be that hot!)

This was a day I needed.

It was good to get out and get some fresh air. To take a few walks and get to see and smell nature. To find a few caches (32, to be exact!) and sign some log books. To drop off some geocoins and travel bugs so they could continue their journeys. And to just get away from life a little and be able to smile and not worry about anything else.

All of the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byways Geotrail caches were quite easy to find. We ended up finding all 20. Most of they were pretty cool in that they took us to decent places. There were a handful, however, where we wondered how this was part of a “scenic byway,” outside of being near the lake. One or two left us wondering if they were last-second placements.

There were some amazing views.

But, it was enjoyable.

A couple of wineries were on the trail, so it was neat to stop in those. In fact, one had a note in a cache where if you went in and mentioned geocaching, you got a tasting for free. I’m not a wine guy, so I stuck to some lemonade.

Some of the non-trail caches we found were older ones, too. Being able to find a cache that is nearly 10 years old — and still in the original container with the original logbook — is really quite cool.

In the end, it was a fun-filled day. Geocaching is one of those things you can do on your own, with friends, with family, with kids or with whoever. It can be as hard or easy as you make it. For those wondering, we started in Ithaca, went up the east side of lake, then down the west side. It was about 95 miles and with 31 caches, it took us about seven hours, give or take.

And if you pick the right series, you can earn some cool things, such as this coin.

If you want more info about the game, I have a Geocaching 101 series I’ve been working on and post here sometimes. You can see all those posts by clicking here.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Good riddance: Geocaching challenges finally sent packing

Dec 05

Finally.

Groundspeak, the owners of geocaching.com, have finally come to some sort of senses and gotten rid of Challenges, a feature they launched last year. Though nobody ever came out and said this (that I saw), it was undoubtedly a way to try and appease the mass of people who have been clamoring for the return of virtual geocaches.

I gave this concept thumbs down last year when it was created. I never saw enough improvements to change that opinion. Apparently Groundspeak’s opinion of the Challenges wasn’t great either.

See ya, Challenges! Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out!

Everything seemed so rushed. There were countless numbers of flaws with what they launched and it was way too easy to get around the system and users could score more “finds” by doing all the work from their computer. I saw several challenges where people from around the world found an image needed and posted it, despite the reality that they didn’t actually complete the challenge.

And, “owner’s” hands were tied.

See, with geocaches, an owner owns the geocache. That means if you armchair a find, I can delete it. With challenges, you didn’t have that option. In fact, once you created it, it was done. You couldn’t do anything from that point forward. You didn’t even get notifications that somebody completed the challenge you created!

No editing.

No deleting.

No verifying.

Nothing.

What’s the point then?

The idea of geocaching is to get out and find something. It’s a way to get outside and see something. Not just sit on the computer and search for images so you can “claim” a find.

Heck, after initially having them “count” toward your finds for geocaches, Groundspeak at least was smart enough to switch that up.

This is what Groundspeak had to say in a post to its forums Tuesday afternoon:

In our effort to inspire outdoor play through Geocaching, we are often faced with decisions about what to focus on next, and what to focus on less. It is through these decisions that we explore opportunities to grow the global game of geocaching.

Occasionally, during this process, we are faced with the reality that certain ideas don’t catch on as we had hoped. In these situations we owe it to ourselves and to you to make tough decisions about the future of every project and the resources to be applied to each. Sometimes, as a result, cool features must become casualties.

In this spirit, we have decided to retire Geocaching Challenges.

This means that, effective today, we have disabled the ability to create new Challenges. We have also removed the Challenges application from all mobile application stores. In approximately 7 days, we will be removing all traces of the Challenges functionality and related content from Geocaching.com.

On an office wall here at HQ is a sign that reads, “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” By accepting that we will sometimes get it wrong, we can allow ourselves to learn from and imagine new opportunities in the world of Geocaching. Our hope is we can take the lessons from Challenges and create better tools to guide you on your next adventure.

Kudos to Groundspeak for realizing that this was a failed idea.

Geocaching had grown to an amazing size and with Groundspeak being the main players in this game, the company needs to try different things. I don’t blame them for attempting this.

And I personally hope Groundspeak doesn’t decide to bring virtuals back. The ones that are out there now are just fine. They are able to be done and that’s great. But as this game continues to grow, if there’s not a serious set of rules with virtuals, they’ll be overused and become a bunch of trash. I don’t want a virtual cache to take me to a parking lot, which you know would happen.

If Groundspeak wanted to work with some National Parks or something and unveil some virtuals in conjunction with places like that, I’d be all for it. But not for opening them back up to anyone. It would get out of hand.

For today, Challenges are on the way out and I applaud Groundspeak for making this decision. It makes the game better by not having Challenges and it, hopefully, will help the game swing back to what it was originally intended to do — get outside and find something.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog@gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Notes from my noodle: Aug. 7

Aug 07

My noodle has been speaking lately — and it’s asking why I haven’t written one of these in a while?

My answer? No idea.

So, here it is. For those new to the blog, this is basically a spot where I’ll write about some things that have happened or caught my eye recently, but didn’t really work as its own blog post.

For the first time in a few years, our softball season ended before reaching the league final. We’ve won our league the past two seasons, but this one was a bit of a struggle. Despite a large roster, we had issues getting some people there at times.

No three-peat for us this year.

The problem with that?

We never really had the same lineup or people in the same positions. Though we had a lot of good players, we had to move people around. That makes things hard.

Still, we finished quite strong.

We earned the fourth seed in the playoffs and opened with a 2-games-to-1 series win over the fifth seed. We then took on the top seed, who we beat last year in the final.

In the opener, we played well. Our top pitcher got hurt and I had to finish. We ended up losing, unfortunately, in a game we played really well.

I pitched Game 2 and did as well as I’ve done in a long time. We ended up losing, 5-3.

Though not all their faults, the umpiring we had in these two games was downright awful. It seems like that was a theme for most of the year. Both teams suffered from it, too. The second game really hammered us, though, as we lost three close plays where I think he was dead wrong. He also threw one of our players out of the game for “throwing a bat.” The umpire didn’t even see it. He heard the bat clip the fence on the toss (and it was a toss, I was right next to it). The guy was downright awful and was for most of the year.

Look, bad umpiring is one thing. It’s at all levels. All I ask is to be consistent. If you strike zone is a shoebox, fine. Make it both ways. These things can’t — and shouldn’t — change every inning. But with some umps, they do. And for the money they are being paid, there should be some accountability. The semifinals of the playoffs should have the two best umps, not some of the worst. We got that in our two games and I’m sure the other team will agree.

In the end, it’s all good. We still won 10 games, found some new players for the future and have an idea on how to move forward. I’m sure we’ll be right back in the thick of things next year.

****

When it comes to geocaching, I’ve gone through several phases.

The excitement of being new, the numbers hound, someone who chased first-to-finds to now, where I kind of just dig playing the game and having fun.

One thing I’ve always done, however, is plan when it comes to a bigger trip. This, too, has gone through phases. I used to be an in-depth planner and then it got to the point where I basically wrote down caches in the best order to grab to be efficient.

Every once in a while, though, I go back to the in-depth planning. This upcoming weekend is one of those times.

My current Delorme map — which will hopefully be filled in much more by the end of the weekend!

Four of us are going on an insane trip through the top of New York to fill in squares for the Delorme Challenge. For those who don’t geocache, the Delorme Challenge is based up on the New York  Atlas and Gatetteer, which is published by Delorme. In the atlas, the state is broken down into 80 squares. Your job is to find one cache in each square. Once you do, you get the coordinates to the Delorme final so you can go find that cache. My hope is to make that my 3,000th find, of which I am approaching.

At this moment, I have 63 of 80 pages filled on the Delorme map.

As long as nothing goes wacky, by the time this trip is done sometime Saturday night, I should have filled in 11 more squares and will be a mere trip to the Buffalo area to get six more squares to finish it up.

At the same time, I’ll be getting all the counties I need (sans the Buffalo-area ones) for the New York Counties Challenge.

The three others on the trip will also be filling in squares and counties, but on different levels. Some have more and some have fewer to get. We’ll also be taking a quick trip into Vermont for a few caches.

In the end, I had to go in-depth because with a trip that will eclipse 600 miles and be for more than 12-15 hours, we needed to make it as efficient as possible. We have some good caches on the list and we have a lot of quickies, too. But in the end, it will make for a memorable and fun trip with caching friends. I’ll be blogging more about this next week.

****

Speaking of geocaching, I’ve recently gone on a hiding spree. I archived some of my older caches and decided to place some new ones. Another cacher in a town not far from here has placed a whole heap, too. Hopefully with all of these new caches, some cachers will come our way to make some finds.

One of my recent hides.

See, this area isn’t easily hit by major highways and such. We’re in a rural area, so sometimes people don’t want to come here and find caches. I know one cacher who basically refuses to come to this area because all the roads are winding and such.

Their loss.

On top of the ones I’ve recently placed, I have several more to put out. I just need to find where to place them.

The hides have been fun to do. I like writing the descriptions and I like getting the notices when people find them all. It’s kind of a cool thing to know people are out finding the ones you hid and are enjoying them.

I have two caches, specifically, I need to get out. One is one I got at a cache I found and will be a “spawn” cache and the other is one I received from a fellow cacher when out in Chicago in 2011. These caches are his signature items. He gave me two, so I want to get one placed with the other remaining in my collection of sig items.

Further, I just have some other lock-n-lock containers I want to put out there!

****

As many of you know, I dig attending independent wrestling shows. One, it’s great action and usually better than what you see on television. And when it’s not better, it way worse, which makes it fun that way.

I know how hot it was for three of us to watch this card — I can’t imagine what it was like in the ring performing!

One company we watch often is 2CW, based out of Syracuse. They always put on a great show and this past Friday was no exception.

Except for one thing — it was hot!

The company returned to the Pastime Athletic Club in Syracuse for what seems like it will be the final show at this building, which is affectionately called the “2CW Arena.”

Herein lies the issue — it was hot as can be outside. Inside, which was basically a small gym, had the ring, wrestling, probably 400 fans inside and… no air conditioning.

Holy cow was it hot!

With the action going on, it got hotter as the night went on, too. It easily had to be above 100 inside.

We stayed for the whole card because we wanted to see the main event, which featured former WWE superstar John Morrison against one of the top indy stars, Sami Callihan. The match didn’t disappoint. Overall, the card as per normal, was solid. It was worth going to and watching.

I just wish it had been cooler!

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook

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Geocaching: Attacking challenge caches

May 16

Getting closer to finishing the New York DeLorme Challenge.

As part of a way to find the love of geocaching, I’ve taken a page out of a fellow cacher’s book.

Challenge caches.

This is something a caching pal has done for a long time. It doesn’t matter if the challenges are many miles away and that he might never get to find the final, he still tries to fill in the requirements.

It’s not a bad idea. It gives you something to shoot for and, maybe, the chance to get a cache that not many other people have found.

So, I’ve started doing it some, too.

Again, it comes down to the reality of being able to maybe get the final cache, but it’s still something to work toward.

Let me make sure I’m straight with the challenge caches. These are actual geocaches that require you to do something else to be able to log them. It’s not those silly and worthless “challenges” that Groundspeak unveiled a while back to try and make people forget about the fight to bring virtuals back.

No, these are challenge caches.

Basically, the idea is to have done something in caching and then you get this bonus cache. So, maybe you’ve found 10 5/5 (difficulty/terrain) caches and a person has put out a cache where you need to have done 10 5/5 caches to be able to claim it.

Or the DeLorme Challenges.

Or a state County Challenge.

The list is endless.

Originally, the plan was to try and scratch off a couple of these challenges with a weekend trip to the Allegany GeoBash. However, plans have changed and Mr. Economy is kiboshing those plans, so I’ll be staying closer to home and hoping to just go out and do some caching and take advantage of a great weekend.

Still, the idea of challenge caches is something I’ve become intrigued with. They are listed as mystery/puzzle caches (something I know people love) and they require you to get geocaches in certain spots or certain makeups to be able to find this challenge cache.

For example, one of the challenge caches we had looked to do this weekend was the “Our First 100 Stars Challenge – When & Why.” The cool part to this  challenge is it brings you back to when you started caching.

You need to make a list of your first 100 stars. What are stars of which I speak? Each cache is listed with two sets of stars — difficulty and terrain. Each of these are ranked from 1 (easiest) to 5 (hardest). From these, you go back to when you started caching and you make a list of total stars. Once you reach 100, you have matched the requirements. Then you go find the cache and can log it.

Two of the biggest ones in many states are the DeLorme and County Challenges.

The DeLorme refers to the atlas. Each state is broken down into squares. You must find one cache in each of those squares. Once you do, you are eligible to go make the find. The plan had been to go get many of the squares I have left to find this weekend, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out. My hope is to finish the New York DeLorme by the end of 2012, but we’ll see.

The County Challenge is basically the same — find one cache in each county in New York.

I’m not too far from this, either. It basically lines up well to be able to get the counties when I get the DeLorme squares.

My County Challenge grid in New York.

There’s a couple more intense challenges out there, too. So much so that there are many of these “final” caches to get, so that when someone gets it done, they might not have to travel all over the place to claim a final. These include the Fizzy Challenge (getting all 81 combinations of the difficulty/terrain chart), the Jasmer Challenge (finding a cache placed in every month since caching began, which is May 2000), and the AlphaNumeric Challenge(s), which can include anything from having caches that start with letters A-Z, or cache finds where the owner’s name starts A-Z etc.

There are also challenges where you have to finds by placed date and finds by found date. There are also the most well-rounded days, which include days where you find the types of caches, sizes of caches and the most difficulty and terrain ratings.

Here are some of my challenges and where I stand with them:

My Fizzy Challenge.

Finds by placed date (got 'em all!)

Finds by found date (I have a long way to go!)

Jasmer Challenge

Some of my most well-rounded days.

My best difficulty/terrain day.

Challenges, as I’ve found, are a lot of fun in regard to being able to make caching fun in a different way. It makes you concentrate on the caches you find as it might help fill in a challenge.

There are so many of them, too. I have several I’ve already done the paperwork on and can claim, I just have to travel and get them. Hopefully, I’ll soon be able to get those final caches and claim the smileys. It’s been fun lining them up and hopefully there’s a few more!

If you have any that you’ve done or are working on, link them or leave the GC number in the comments below as I’ve love to bookmark some more and work on them on the chance that one day I can find a few of these excellent final caches!

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook

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Thumbs down on Geocaching Challenges

Aug 31

Groundspeak’s newest addition to the geocaching family is more than a week old. Some kinks have been exposed and people are forming opinions.

I’m giving Geocaching Challenges a thumbs down vote.Let me say that I like the idea and the premise of the challenges. I just think the execution was weak and not that well thought out. In discussions with fellow geocachers about the challenges, I’ve likened it to a bit of anarchy.

I hope to change my mind one day.

By that I mean that people have had the chance to create things they’ve wanted to for years with virtuals, but haven’t been able to do so. Some of these challenges are so silly and pointless. It doesn’t seem to mesh with geocaching.

By theory, geocaching is a game in which people have to go out and find something. Maybe not necessarily a physical box, but they have to go out and find something. Challenges, by theory are also supposed to do that. Alas, there are several key parts that make this not so. And considering Groundspeak has made the challenges a part of the geocaching site (instead of its own site, such as Waymarking), it has left open the big debate between different factions of game players.

With me, I’ve tried to like them. And I hope there will be a day when I can change my mind. Alas, for now, there’s no chance of that.

There are too many things wrong with geocaching challenges to like them.

Let’s count a few of the ways –

  • Finds still counting on your overall totals, even though Groundspeak said they were going to split them.
  • Too many can be armchaired.
  • No checks and balances.
  • No true way to verify.
  • No “ownership.”
  • Searching for challenges is cumbersome.
  • You can’t see which challenges people have completed.

Let’s take a peek at these items one at a time.

First, the finds. Look, let’s be honest, geocaching is a game. People play it their own way. If people want to use these as geocaching finds, fine. But for those of us who think that’s silly (and considering Groundspeak has responded in saying that they were separating the two, I would think the vocal groups agree), there’s no way around it.

In regard to splitting the finds, Jeremy Irish, the president and a co-founder of Groundpeak posted this on the company’s feedback site:

Cache finds and challenge completion counts are now split out. Both are displayed on the logs unless you have not found a Challenge or found a Geocache. In that case the statistics for Challenges/Geocaches won’t be shown.

To me, this doesn’t appear to be separating them. See, when one looks at your profile, it still shows caches found/challenges completed in one number. Where is the separation? We have benchmarks on our profiles, too, but those aren’t counted in the overall number. One of the people I cache with, Brent, has done a few challenges. Here is a screen shot of his profile front page, showing what he’s done:

Note that finds and challenges are separated. This has been like this since the challenges started. So no change here.

That seems simple enough, no?

But, when one clicks on Brent’s tab at the top of his profile to see his geocaches and totals, here’s what one will see:

Though it notes total found/completed, it would appear to me that these numbers are still together and not separated, as people have been told they will be.

The little print down at the bottom shows that the totals exclude benchmarks. Why not just do the same for challenges?

This all leads into my second point — too many can be armchaired. By this, I mean that a lot of challenges can be done while you sit at home on the computer. In fact, one of the original “worldwide” challenges (which only Groundspeak can create) was to kiss a frog. Any type of frog. People were grabbing stuffed frogs, taking a photo and posting it. Within minutes of the posting, at that. It’s since been archived as the feedback was very poor.

I want to give an example from one local geocacher, Bob, who created a Brooks Chicken Challenge. It said in the description:

Residents of Oneonta are familiar with the animated neon sign outside Brooks House of Barbecue, which depicts a hatchet-wielding cook in mad pursuit of a fleeing chicken.

To complete this challenge, you and a friend need to go to Brooks Barbecue, pose in front of the sign, and post a photo of yourselves reproducing the activity the sign portrays.

Within minutes, someone not from the area and who, at that point had 80-something challenge completions (he now has 101), had posted a sign just of the sign and made some silly remark.

Already, that’s going against the spirit of the challenge.

I flagged the find, hoping something would come of it. I hadn’t checked in a bit, but it appears that or someone else flagging it or if Bob contacted Groundspeak appears to have done the trick as the log has since been deleted. That’s a good thing, though the stats for the challenge show that it’s been accepted once (the person in question still has the log on there that they have accepted the challenge), and has been completed once (though there is nobody logging that they completed the challenge).

Knowing the situation, I also created a challenge to see what would happen. I created a challenge at Mount Utsayantha in Stamford, noting that players had to have a photo of themselves on the fire tower. Anywhere. High, low, at the top — anywhere as long as they were on the fire tower. One person (Brent) has logged it, so no armchairing has been done, thankfully.

Alas, it doesn’t matter because I have no control over the listing.

See, when one creates and “owns” a geocache, he or she has control. That means they can make sure finds are legit, can change the listing or fix something if there’s an error and basically be the person who makes sure the credibility of geocaching stays.

No so with challenges. Once someone creates a challenge, they have a short time frame to fix the page. Once someone logs the challenge as a find, however, your hands are washed of it. You don’t get notices saying it’s been logged. You don’t have control over it. Nothing. It’s now just out there. So if someone in Bangladesh wants to log it improperly, they can.

That leads to my next three points that there are no checks and balances, no true way to verify and no “ownership.”

When somebody submits a geocache to the website, it goes through a process. A volunteer reviewer decides if it meets the criteria needed to be listed on the site and approves or disapproves it, usually with reason and how one can fix the issue. If someone really disagrees with the reviewer, one can go to Groundspeak to appeal. It’s all a process.

I can’t say that I always agree with reviewers. I can’t say that I haven’t gotten mad at decisions made. And I can’t say that I haven’t been baffled with how different reviewers can be when interpreting guidelines. But, in the end, they are there for a reason. And it’s a good reason. It makes sure things follow a certain protocol and makes sure things aren’t just haphazardly thrown out there.

The only reviewers here are other cachers, who can vote thumbs up or thumbs down on a challenge. I think if there are enough thumbs down votes, Groundspeak eventually archives it. But how many thumbs down are needed? How long must it stay out there before it is archived. With so many of these things popping up, can Groundspeak keep up?

With that comes the no verification and no ownership. If things are just out there and the creator has no control, the only way to verify appears to be complaining to Groundspeak. I would imagine that they have a lot more things to worry about than someone in some tiny town in, say, the Midwest, who isn’t happy because someone armchaired their challenge.

Those complaints add up.

If the creator had a little control over the challenge, then it might be better in that it would be made sure that the meaning of the challenge was upheld. It would make it so people on the opposite side of the country or world couldn’t search for an image of the item and do a quick log.

There needs to be some sort of a checks-and-balance system or verification. Until then, anarchy can continue to reign.

The other thing that I’ve found painful is the way to search for challenges. If they aren’t Groundspeak’s worldwide challenges, then you have to put the town’s name in and it doesn’t appear to give you stuff too far from where you search. For example. the Oneonta one is the only one that comes up when I search “Oneonta,” despite the Stamford one being only about 25 miles away.

In geocaching, you can set up queries to search and see. I haven’t seen that on challenges. Also in geocaching, one can pull up a map and see where the caches are. I haven’t been able to do that with challenges. I realize that challenges are also geared toward smart phones (which is another reason it’s silly that all the challenges are linked to geocaching as not everyone has a smart phone) and you can use the app on there, but I haven’t really tried it yet as I haven’t been out of the area far enough to see what it does.

Finally, one thing that irks me is you can’t go to someone’s profile and see what challenges they’ve completed, just how many. I can see all geocaches and benchmarks someone has done, why not what challenges they have completed? What gives on that? It would be a nice thing to see what challenges friends are doing, in case you might want to do them as well. As I said, searching for caches is already hard enough. Now I can’t even check friends challenges to see if there are ones close? Seems like this would have been a no-brainer.

I do still think challenges have a chance and a place in the game. I just believe that if these had been worked on for so long, it wasn’t done with the right thought process. I will hold out hope that things become better with them. If there are some changes to the process, I think it could be a wonderful addition to the geocaching website. But for now, it just seems sloppy and poorly executed.

I hope the challenge change a bit. I really do. And should they change for the better, I’ll have no problem re-visiting this topic and giving it thumbs up. At this point, however, I can’t do it as I just don’t believe it is a good addition at this point.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook by clicking the button on the right side of the page!

 

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