Archive for ‘Consumer reports’

November 9, 2014

Olympic recurve archery

This month marks a year since I’ve started doing Olympic recurve archery. What a treat it’s been!

There is a lot to write about archery from equipment to mindset. I will post in the future about some of the things I’ve learned along the way. For now I just want to give a heads up to Ron Jackson and the Ontario Centre for Classical Sports.

Ron is a former fencer and current archer who started the OCCS in Mississauga (3750 B unit 14 Laird Road, Mississauga). It is in an industrial park that is newly renovated with a large, fresh and modern look. He has about 24 lanes for archers of all skill levels in a very friendly and inviting atmosphere. Everyone who works there is great to deal with. I usually go at about 3 or 4 pm on a Saturday and there are usually only a couple other archers there with, perhaps, a class going on in a curtained off section. There is no crowding and no rivalry.

Oh, and they teach fencing as well!

It is sad that a city the size of Toronto really doesn’t have many archery venues. Shawn Adams runs a location near Danforth and Chester but there is a waiting list. Hart House at the University of Toronto has an archery range in place of the old gun range in the 2nd subterranean floor. It’s has room for about 8 archers, is crowded and hot. The people there are also pleasant but getting on the list is very difficult.

At the OCCS you can buy a 5 hour pass for $55 to be used any time they have open shooting. Ron also gives lessons and he is an excellent teacher (as are others on staff). He also runs a Pro Shop where I have bought all my equipment at very competitive prices. He custom twined my string and custom assembled arrows. Ron never seems rushed or patronizing although I have often asked really dumb questions.

As I said on opening, I will add to this post in the coming weeks. For me personally, the equipment has been a major part of the discovery of archery. From bicycles to bows, from baseball gloves to skates, I have always loved the technical aspect of any sport I’ve taken part of. I will delve into that. Stay tuned.

November 9, 2014

Bateman Bicycle Company–913 Bathurst St

Some a**hole bent the rear wheel of my single speed a couple of weeks ago. While in general I am not a supporter of the death penalty I have pondered it’s appropriateness for bike vandals. After discussion with my son I have decided that perhaps the death penalty is not apt (although deserving). Instead I have decided that public flogging is the way to go.

However, that is not the purpose of this posting. Although if you support flogging let me know. I’m thinking of fundraising for a flogging post to be established somewhere in the city…

So I went to my local bike shop, Bateman’s on Bathurst St about 2 1/2 blocks north of Bloor to see if the rim was fixable. Alas, it was too bent out of shape (much like my mood) to be repaired.

So we had to order a new rim and have a wheel built. I wanted the same 28 rim with 30 spoke wheel that I had …an Alex 28…and I wanted to re-use my Formula hub (and freewheel). I told them that my single speed was my life (my Pinarello road bike if pure pleasure but is not my daily commuter) and I hoped they could get this done soon as i didn’t know how I would exist without it.

Within minutes they flipped over my Michelin Lithium rubber and freewheel onto a loaner wheel, returned my bike to me and said they would let me know when the new wheel was built. The next week they called me to say that they couldn’t get the same rim and offered to get me a better rim for an extra $25…after about a one second pause I said yes, I think I can suffer through a better built wheel.

Next week I dropped in on a Friday at about 5:30 pm and they flipped back my tire and freewheel onto the newly built wheel and I was ready to leave in minutes.

The cost? $70 for the rim and $50 for the wheel build plus tax. No other charges and I was never without a rideable wheel the whole time.

That’s great service for a local bike shop. Other nearby shops won’t even fix a flat for drop ins and here I had my bike back on the road in no time. I was never without a ride. And, I should add, all this was done with smiles and the most friendly of attitudes.

That’s a huge thumbs up for Bateman Bicycles.

By the way, they also have a new spin class program at their ‘warehouse’ location a block away at Bathurst and Barton for reasonable rates. And if you have a friend coming to town they do bike rentals from hybrids to high class road bikes.

Their retail prices are full retail. You can get cheaper elsewhere. But a bike shop is a service business. And on the service side I’ve never done better than here.

March 27, 2013

Buying Cast Iron cookware

Recently, as I’ve been getting more into preparing food over going out, I’ve been paying more attention to cookware.

I’m not a gourmet cook. I do stove top frying and sauteeing. I do a lot of fish, pasta and mixed vegetables. And what I’ve found works best (at least for me) is cast iron skillets. Why cast iron? It holds heat evenly and consistently, without hot spots (if it’s quality cast) and it is better non stick than coated pans.

Cast iron is not all the same, however. Modern cast iron (post mid 1940s) is not as good as the more vintage skillets for a couple of reasons. The iron ore used after about1940 is said to be of a lower grade than previous ore. As a result of impurities, there can be hot spots and uneven heating. In order to maintain strength, the newer cast pans are thicker and heavier to compensate. The lack of the skilled tradespeople required to sculpt these pans is also a factor in the newer and heavier pans.

Not only does the extra weight make them harder to physically handle but also less responsive to heat manipulation from the burner.

Cast iron takes longer to heat than stainless or aluminum but it maintains its heat for much longer.  When cooking with cast one turns down the heat after the initial heat-up and lets the pan do more of the work. A thinner pan will be more responsive to heat input.

Older, thinner and purer cast iron are therefore better cookers and easier to handle.

As well, older cast iron skillets were hand ground after removal from the mold. The cooking surfaces, after conditioning, were like glass. Newer cast is pebbled because the cost of hand grinding led to its discontinuation as a cost cutting measure.

The end result is that modern cast iron is less non stick as well as less effective.

I’m afraid I don’t know much about Canadian cast iron as most quality products seem to be American.

There are several quality manufacturers of cast that date from about the 1880s. Griswold is the most desirable manufacturer (for collectors) followed by Wagner. Other well known brands are Vollrath, Wapak (known for thinness and lightness) and Favorite Piqua. The latter two happen to be what I own and enjoy.

If you are interested in cast iron there is a wealth of information available. One site I particularly like is The Cast Iron Collector (

The most important part of owning cast iron is learning to clean it properly. Water and soap are enemies of cast as it causes rust. A well seasoned iron pan (seasoning essentially involves heating the pan in the oven or stove top with cooking oil) is easily cleaned with a simple damp cloth while still hot and then allowed to dry and cool gradually. It is then lightly coated with oil and is ready for the next use.

The antique pans can be quite expensive to buy on eBay. A #9 or #10, the most versatile sizes, can run $50 and up (plus delivery) for the best sought after brands. They can often be found, however, at garage sales and the like for $5 or $10 and, unless they are badly damaged or warped, can be re-conditioned to perfection with a bit of effort.

A modern Lodge cast iron skillet can be had for $30. Personally, I would say if you can afford it, try a vintage skillet and you will never look back.

I must say that I don’t think I have used anything but cast iron on my stove top in the past year.

February 7, 2013

I hate Rogers!!!

Rogers wireless service people are terrible to deal with! I know this isn’t news to anyone who has the misfortune to be a customer of theirs but wow, what service.

I don’t have time to write more at this time because:

1. I’ve already spent two hours in the past 12 hours trying to sort out their mess

2. I’m too pissed to write sensibly.

The problem is that they see service as a game. If you’re willing to play, you can sometimes swing a good deal. But you have to watch your account like a hawk for unauthorized billings for services you thought were free. And when you speak to sales or service people and they say ‘don’t worry, I’ve made an entry of our conversation on your account’ don’t believe them. I had a long conversation with service last night. Then I phone this morning and their records show a conversation and ‘resolution’ of a problem that has little resemblance to the conversation I had with them. In fact, it is largely a fabrication.

So when I naively say to the service rep this morning ‘check your notes and you will see what I am complaining about’ the response is that the notes don’t substantiate anything I am saying to them! And there is no recourse.

Bell, of course, may be even worse. Is there no cell company with any integrity or sense of customer service?

November 19, 2012

Shopping Advice re: stores that price match

I just thought I would add this observation as we enter the frenetic shopping time of the year. For several years now I’ve noticed that stores that price match are over priced.

For example, I went to Best Buy last week to buy a smart cover for my iPad Mini. I went to Best Buy because it was more convenient than going to Apple. Anyway, the cover is $45 at the Apple Store and they were charging $49.95 at Best Buy. Best Buy has a price guarantee so I was able to get them to confirm the price difference and sell the cover to me for $45.

However, the point is that they were over charging by 11% on the item.

I find this a typical scenario at such stores. They bring in customers with a promise to beat any other retailer, thus setting up an expectation that they are cheaper than other retailers. I presume they figure that most customers won’t price check and will just pay the higher prices. But it’s interesting that I have noticed that stores that offer price matching are usually more expensive.

A word of warning: if you’re shopping at these stores, do you homework first.

September 28, 2012

Getting into squash

About 3 years ago I began playing squash. A little late in life but better late than never. It’s a sport that I’ve really come to enjoy. And the Athletic Centre at the University of Toronto has almost a dozen courts in pretty good shape… not to mention that the AC is a great facility that is very handy.

So, anyway, after several years I’m wondering about a new racquet and some stringing options to enhance my otherwise lame game. Me being me, I’ve researched the topic and thought others might benefit from some of the stuff I’ve learned.


There are two basic shapes. Almost everyone these days is using the teardrop shape with the open neck. Because the strings in these racquets are longer they give more bounce to the ball after being struck. They, therefore, result in more power. However there is always a trade off of power for control. A teardrop shaped racquet will impart less control.

Most teardrop racquets have a lower string density (usually 12 x 17 or so–that’s 12 vertical by 17 cross strings). That means each string is less tethered down and moves more with each ball strike, again decreasing accuracy of the shot.

The other basic shape is oval or quadra shaped. These racquets have closed throats. The string pattern is about 16/17, ie: a denser pattern for more control. But, there is less power imparted by an impact of the same speed and strength.

Contrary to what many people think, a tighter strung racquet is a less powerful one. The deformation of the strings and the resultant trampoline effect is what imparts speed to the ball. Tighter strings don’t move and therefore don’t trampoline as much.

That’s why teardrop racquets with longer string length and lower string density are used for power while the reverse is true for control.

Depending on your game, you should use a racquet that either enhances your strength or smooths out your weaknesses. I’m still working on what is best for me. My current racquet is more of a control oriented one (Dunlop Liquidmetal). More on my next choice later. Of course most racquets promise to to enhance both, but there is always a trade off.


Aside from string tension (as above) there are other attributes to string technology. First is gauge. The higher the gauge the finer the string. The finer the string the more power (they usually stretch more) as well as the better the control (based on finer ball indentations). But the world is unfair and finer strings will break more easily. That’s $40 for a re-stringing. Gauges are 17, 18 and even 19. I think you’ll likely find it hard to get anything other than 17 or 18. By the way, 16 gauge is pretty thick for squash and not recommended. I have heard of shops that don’t do much squash stringing who have used 16 gauge because they have it is stock for tennis racquets.

String can be nylon monofilament or braided and natural gut (from cows). I have yet to try gut but if you’re a serious squash player it sounds like gut is one of those ‘you gotta’ try it once’ kind of things. Gut is about $40 more expensive, raising the cost of a re-string to about $80. But gut holds it’s tension longer so you get better playing for longer. As well, it is more forgiving in that it imparts less tension through the racquet to your hand/arm and is therefore recommended for players who are struggling with tennis elbow. I haven’t personally tested this yet so I’m just going on written advice. Gut is very sensitive to moisture and can rot and sag with high humidity. You can’t leave it in the hot trunk of a car or a wet and smelly locker (oops, that leaves me out).

Ashaway makes most of the string sold in North America and the U.K. I am currently using a textured Ashaway string, the Supernick XL. It is a 17 g with a textured surface for better ball control. Next time, though, I think I’m going to try the 18 gauge Ultranick or Powernick. The Powernick comes in a 19 gauge but I haven’t heard a lot of good things about it. It confers power but with a real lack of feel I understand.

Re-stringing costs anywhere from $15 (at Sportcheck) to $20 (Sporting Life) for labour. String is $15 to $30 (more for gut). Usually you will walk out with a bill for $30 to $40. Rule of thumb is to re-string your racquet as often per year as you play per week. So if you play twice as week, as I do, you should string your racquet twice a year (which I haven’t adhered to).

By the way, the strings that new racquets come with are usually pretty bad. Depending how anal you want to be and how much you want to spend, you can play out the factory strings or pay to re-string your new racquet at the time of purchase. If you are new to squash just play with the new racquet as is until you decide what you want to go for in several months. Get to know your racquet and your game style.

So where am I at regarding my purchase? Well, my current racquet definitely needs to be re-strung. So I thought this might be a good time to put that money toward the purchase of a new one. For some reason, I’m stuck on buying a Head racquet. For me the price/performance ratios seems to be right and they have several models that might work for me.

Luckily all the models I’m thinking of are sold at the UofT Athletic Centre and all three models are available for trial before purchase. So I’m going to try:

Head Youtek Cyano 2: this is a 115 gm racquet. It’s very light, and as typical of such a light racquet, it is head heavy. That means the balance point is past the half way point of the racquet toward the head. Otherwise the racquet would feel too light. New players like lighter racquets because they feel they can swing faster. But a lighter racquet can impart less power and can be harder to control, even though you can get your swing off later than might be wise. Pros can use the lighter weight to greater advantage than can a beginner.

At 115 gm it may be too light for me.

It is a teadrop racquet that, in spite of being so light, is built for power.

Head Youtek Anion2: this is the same racquet as the Cyano but is heavier at 135gm. As well, it is head light. Where the balance point of the Cyano is 365mm, the Anion is 335. because the balance point is closer to the handle, the Anion feels very similar in weight to the Cyano.

Head Neon2: this is a 130gm racquet with a 370 balance point. It is quadra shaped and built more for control than power.

I am just going to have to try each of these for a game and then see what feels better. They can each be tweaked by a re-stringing as well.

They range in price from about $130 to $160 (even though ‘MSRP’ pegs them at about $200).

By the way: Dunlop double dot balls. Period. When the balls become shiny (and therefore less grippy), wash them under water and give them a rub (to roughen them) on a carpet.

Opinions vary on when to replace balls. Some say when they break, others when they get shiny and feel dead.

I signed up for squash lessons at the Athletic Centre to help improve my game. Who knows, with a better racquet and lessons I might be able to return the odd serve yet!

UPDATE(Sept 30): So I played squash yesterday and talked the Pro Shop at the AC into letting me serially go through the three racquets I’m interested in.

First I went with the Cyano2. I must say I liked it quite a bit. Although it is quite light the head heavy balance seems to work well to give it the feel of a bit of heft. I wasn’t blown away by the power but it did hit a bit harder than my current racquet. I didn’t feel any real loss of control. I appreciated the lightness.

The Anion2 just felt heavier and not as quick as the Cyano.

The Neon2 had quite a different feel. I think I could sense the lack of power in return for more control. My partner/opponent thought I was making more accurate shots. Hard to know.

In the end, I found a great deal on the Cyano at Sporting Life and decided to buy it. I may or may not keep it.

I’m thinking if I string it with 18 gauge Supernick XL string I may have the perfect balance.

I should also add that I developed some bad habits over the last several years of playing and since starting lessons my game has definitely fallen off as I concentrate on technique. In other words I’m playing at the bottom of my correct style rather than at the top of my bad habits. So far I’m down on my game. But, hopefully, it will all pay off in the end.

UPDATE (Oct 2): So this afternoon my new squash racquet arrived by UPS. Tonight I broke my old squash racquet! Karma.

October 30, 2011

Consumer reports: Paintless Dent Repair (PDR)

So someone dinged me in a parking lot last week and I ended up with a small dent on the driver’s side door of my car.

I had heard of PDR–paintless dent repair–and thought I would give it a try as the paint was not damaged, just a dent in the metal.

I called Carstars, a body shop on Dovercourt where I had done work on my car before, and asked if they knew anyone who does PDR. They gave me Valter’s name.

As it turns out, Valter Caldeira works out of his house (but he also travels to customers) on Melita Ave at Christie and Dupont. He told me to come over to his place after my work and he would have a look.

About a half hour later I could not see the dent at all! He manipulated the metal by accessing the door panel through the window opening (very gently!) and worked and and re-bent the metal to its original shape. He then polished the paint and, bingo, I cannot see anything but a shiny good as new panel.

The cost was $100 but I’ve called around and he is on the low side of cost for this type of repair and it is much cheaper than an auto body shop would charge. And to have it done perfectly while I waited and just a couple of blocks from my home is quite a service.


Valter’s cell is 416-995-6150. Hopefully you will never need him but if you do it’s a great service.

September 5, 2011

Wheel-Trans: follow up

If you read my previous Wheel-Trans article you will know just how user un-friendly they can be. That was when I was trying to make arrangements for booking trips.

Only my 91 year old mother qualified for Wheel-Trans. My father did not. I guess because he was able to get to the appointment proved he didn’t need it!

That was several months ago and this past month, after my dad developed some trouble with his right leg, I arranged for him to re-apply for Wheel-Trans.

So first you have to book an appointment at one of their five Toronto locations. Of course you cannot do this on the Internet but instead have to wait on the phone for 23 minutes to get through and book it. I did so and last Wednesday I took the half day off work necessary to take my father to their offices. Yes, the applicant has to show up in person. Unlike a handicap parking permit which can be completed by a physician, to qualify for Wheel-Trans you have to show up in person to prove that you are too disabled to be able to travel on TTC without special aid. Yep, Catch 22 all over again!

Of course, I checked carefully with the TTC office to ensure that I was going to 5120 Yonge St for the appointment.

At 12:30 I race out of my office with my car to get to my father’s place and then to the Wheel-Trans office in time. Not too much traffic that day and I arrive at about 1:10 pm. We are driving along Yonge St when my father points out the building and says ‘wait that’s where the office is, that’s where I took Mom 3 months ago’. I take a look and the street number is in the high 4000’s not 5120. I figure well, Dad is 91 and he is just wrong. I tell him, patronizingly, I ‘Dad, it isn’t 5120 so you just remember wrong’. He insists he is right but he obviously can’t be because it isn’t 5120 Yonge St.

I continue along Yonge St to 5100 and the next building is 5150….hmmm… Ok. I park the car and we’ll just find it on foot. I am incredibly lucky to get a spot right outside 5100. Now, 5100 is the North York Civic Centre or something so it is set back from the street behind a square. One has to navigate a number of stairs (up and down), a small square and up more stairs.

We start walking. We reach the entrance to 5100 and I figure the next building north must be 5120. I’m wrong. It is 5150 (as I had seen from the street). I stop several people. No one has heard of 5120. We go inside. No one has heard of the Wheel-Trans office.

My Dad tells me that it is the wrong building and we should go to the one that my mother went to. I have no idea what to do.

I call Wheel-Trans. We are now at almost 1:30, our appointment time and by Dad is getting anxious. So am I. I am on hold for 25 minutes for Wheel-Trans. In the meantime I ask my father if he is up to getting back to the car and we’ll try the office he went to last time. My father usually isn’t wrong about this kind of thing.

So, while on hold with Wheel-Trans, we struggle back to the car and drive to the other building. As we get there the Wheel-Trans person picks up. I ask where the registration office to sign up for Wheel-Ttrans is. She tells me that I have called the booking line and she has no idea. I tell her that I have called the number listed for General Information and that we are past our appointment and that I have been on hold for 25 minutes and that surely she must be able to find the address of their own office! Gruffly she asks me to hold.

When she returns she tells me the office is 5120. I say ‘there is no 5120. I was just there and there isn’t a 5120!’. She doesn’t know what to say. I make a U-turn and return to 5100 Yonge St.

We traverse the Civic Centre and enter the library. I speak to a security guard at the entrance to the library. ‘Yes, he says, the Wheel-Trans office is upstairs’. I tell him there aren’t any signs or anything. He tells me that if I take the elevator one floor up I will see the signs.

Up we go and opposite the elevator is a sign about the size of a ‘wet paint’ sign taped to a pillar that says ‘Wheel-Trans’. We go into a room that is obviously a temporary make-shift ‘office’ with two folding tables and two women sitting there, one behind each table. The office is otherwise completely bare and empty. It is obviously temporary space.

We go to the first table and sit down opposite one of the women. The first question I ask her  is whether this is a new location, were they a couple of block south several months ago. She answers ‘yes we were. We find space wherever we can’.

My Dad smiles. I smile. He was right. I should not have doubted him.

She interviews my father following a perfunctory and typical bureaucratic registration form. When finished my father asks if he qualifies for Wheel-Trans. She replies that he will receive a response by mail in about two weeks.

Frankly, after all the walking my father did to get to that interview room, I’m not sure he will qualify. And, perhaps that is the point. The TTC figures ‘if you can find our office and get to it, then you don’t qualify’.

This is the best a major public utility like Wheel-Trans can do for the disabled and seniors? Confuse them and make them jump through hoops to find a temporary crappy little office in a makeshift room in order to qualify for a service predicated on the fact that they are immobile. What a shame on them.

But one thing leaves me feeling good. My father is certainly a resilient and reliable person. More than I can say for Wheel-Trans.

August 10, 2011

Bateman’s Bicycle Company: a little local treasure

Unpaid advertising for Rob Bateman’s little bicycle shop. He rents space just beside Stanley’s variety store at 29 Baron St (southwest corner of Barton and Bathurst). The actual store is a tiny affair and he has the adjoining two garages that he uses as a workshop.

While Rob sells some new bikes, I haven’t ever bought one from him. But I have had him do some work on my bikes. About two years ago I put together a single speed for myself from a beautiful Jamis Sputnik frame (with Easton carbon fork) and a number of parts I bought off eBay and other places. After assembling it I went to Rob to let him give it a once over to make sure I didn’t screw up.

Since then I’ve had him look at a few things on my bikes and friends’ bikes.

Rob is very reasonably priced and knows about customer service. He is always happy to help out and is meticulous about the work he does. If you ask him to fix a chainring, he is just as likely to disassemble your bottom bracket to check that out. And while you think this may just be a money making attempt on his part, his rates are so reasonable that you really appreciate it.

And, as I mentioned, Rob is not the typical arrogant techie.

Bateman’s is a real community gem. His site:

July 24, 2011

Eating my way across the West Annex, and beyond

If there is one thing I really like to do (not unlike all of you as well) is eat. And I admit to a proclivity for eating out.
Bloor St between Bathurst and Spadina has an excellent selection of eateries. It is missing a good Italian place…ever since the $10 all you can eat Tres Fontaine disappeared several years ago we have been left with no representatives of the world’s greatest cuisine…except for decent pizza slices at Pizzaiola.

So, lets embrace our inner Asian selves and enjoy some good Japanese (and some Asian fusion) food.
I admit to a very strong initial reluctance to eat raw fish. I wasn’t going to let a sushi dish leave me with a metre long fish tapeworm. And I’ve seen them alive and up close.  But, although I still occasionally find myself wondering about diphyllobothrium infestation I have, nevertheless, given in to my inner need for fish in any form.
Since we have no Portuguese restaurants in the neighbourhood, we cannot immediately avail ourselves of the planet’s best prepared fish. Instead, we can still have very good fish on Bloor St.
After literally trying every Japanese sushi place on the strip, I initially settled on Sushi on Bloor (515 Bloor St W) as the best. It’s atmosphere is quite young, mainly students. It can be quite hectic. The noise level is loud, the lineups can be long. If you are there after about 6:45 you can expect to wait a while to get seated.

The food is generally very good and the prices are great. You can eat well for under $10. As with most of these sushi places salad and soup are included, as is a scoop of ice cream for desert.

If you don’t catch a line up and want a quick, good and cheap meal, you cannot beat Sushi on Bloor.

However, and it took me a couple of years of devoted loyalty to Sushi on Bloor before I was able to accept this, for about $1 more per entree, my current favourite restaurant has even better food and the decor is a bit nicer. But I am not going to name this eating establishment because I don’t wish to Galloway it (*def. `To Galloway`: To announce to a large audience a herebefore hidden treasure of a restaurant, which then becomes so overcrowded you can no longer get in. Named after Matt Galloway, after he outed the patio of Bairrada Churasqueira on the air during the summer 2010 World Cup.)

What I really like is that it is less crazy and busy than across the street. It is better suited to a more leisurely meal. And the fish on the rainbow rolls seems just a bit fresher here. But I think the teryaki meals are better at Sushi on Bloor as it comes with more, and better, vegetables.

My current fave is indeed one of the best prepared and best value restaurants in Toronto.

There are other good Asian and sushi places on the strip that I will speak of in future articles.

I want to give a notable mention here to a couple of other places worthy of some consideration. I really like the potato pizza slices that Enzo prepares Pizzaiola. Thats the Pizzaola near Howland and not the newer usurper closer to Spadina.

And now that Ghazale (beside the Bloor Cinema) has fish as part of their $6.99 dinner plate, they are a value, taste and heath oriented pit stop for a quick take out. You can eat there but it isn’t the most pleasant place to sit with only 2 seats and a line up of people. But, just to repeat myself, there is not a better value for a good solid meal than Ghazale’s.

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