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Metaphorical Programming

Mapraputa Is
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George Lakoff proved that concepts we live by are not logical
predicates and proposition, and not intellectual cold simulacrums, but metaphors.
"Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagina-
tion and the rhetorical flourish - a matter of extraordinary
rather than ordinary language. Moreover, Metaphor is typi-
cally viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of
words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most
people think they can get along perfectly well without
metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor
is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in
thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in
terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally
metaphorical in nature."
Looking at what our brothers indulge themselves in, a kind of déjà vu jumped on me<sup>1</sup>...
"Inheritance hierarchies"... Isn't it a point of
convergence, where CS and Metaphor Theory meet?
We already have functional programming, logical programming, object-oriented programming, now aspect-oriented programming endeavors to raise its ugly head... How about "metaphorical programming"? Where building blocks of abstractions will be not functions and not objects, but metaphors? I claim that such a revolutionary approach will ultimately make programming human-centric rather than machine-centric. See just how natural normal human way of thinking fits in "metaphorical programming" paradigm...
-------------
<sup>1</sup>) (comment for ME and JY: stylistic atrocity intended )

Uncontrolled vocabularies
"I try my best to make *all* my posts nice, even when I feel upset" -- Philippe Maquet
Michael Ernest
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Isn't Visual Basic an example of metaphorical programming, i.e., appearing to program through figurative expression, but not actually doing it?


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Not quite. What you are talking about is Visual Programming, not Metaphorical. To establish a mental framework for the further discussion, I'll quote Keith Devlin. I adopted his classification of levels of abstract thinking, and it really helps to see what's going on.
"Level 1 abstraction is where is really no abstraction at all. The objects thought about are all real objects that are perceptually accessible in the immediate environment. <…> Many species of animals seem capable of level 1 abstraction.
Level 2 abstraction envolves real objects the thinker is familiar with but which are not perceptually accessible in the immediate environment. Chimpanzees and apes seem capable of thought at level 2 abstraction.
Level 3 abstraction - here the objects of thought may be real objects that the individual has somehow learned of but has never actually encountered, or imaginatory versions of real objects… As far as we know, only humans are capable of level 3 abstraction. <…> the ability to think at level 3 abstraction is, to all intents and purposes, equivalent to having language.
Level 4 abstraction is where mathematical thought take place. Mathematical objects are entirely abstract; they have no simple of direct link to the real world…"
(Keith Devlin "The Math Gene")
What is wrong with OO programming? Why is it so difficult? Because OOP is really thnking on the 4th level. Now, thinking about Visual Programming, we see that it is thinking on level 1 - manpulating "real objects that are perceptually accessible in the immediate environment" - even monkeys can do that (I did it and it's really fun, I loved it ) Metaphors are thinking on level 3 - most comfortable and natural for humans. So I propose to move programming from 4th to 3th level, not to 1st, where there is no thinking at all

[This message has been edited by Mapraputa Is (edited December 30, 2001).]
David Weitzman
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What would metaphorical programming be? Written code is real, so you can never get beyond Level 1 abstraction. Also, since computer science is really just math and software isn't actuall real, you will always be working at Level 4 abstraction. But isn't OO Level 3 abstraction? You make imaginary objects. Level 2 abstraction could be pre-functional, pre-compiler, and per-virtual machine code. In level 2 everything is exactly what it seems. Isn't that machine code?
Frank Carver
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I think you may have got the wrong end of the stick, David. Almost all computer programming is about metaphors of some level. That's why we have things like variable names, which apply a metaphorical label to a logical or (rarely) physical entity.
I don't think you can apply the system of levels described above directly to programming, though. In many ways I feel that the difference in programming languages is almost orthogonal to the system described. As you progress along the imaginary line of languages, from flipping switches, to machine code, to assembler, to procedural, to functional, to OO etc., it seems to me that the further along the line you go, the clearer becomes the mapping in the language of choice between program elements and metaphorical elements.
In "low-level" languages, it can be very unclear what sort of metaphor a particular register contents or instruction group refer to. All we know is that it is a metaphor of some sort. This is one of the major factors limiting the scaleability and maintainability of lower-level languages; they have no syntactic support for this sort of thing, so much more information has to be encoded in free-format, untestable comments.
In the higher level languages (functional and OO, typically), that mapping is much clearer. The programmer is able to express in rich detail which sort of metaphor a particular language construct refers to: If I declare 'Person frank = new RealPerson("Frank Carver", "24/07/1961");', then that's pretty close to a level 1 or level 2 abstraction, referring as it does to a real person. The slightly more abstract "class RealPerson implements Person" is a closer match for level 3 - we know real people exist, but this is not a particular one.
Interestingly, this is about the level where a lot of OO tutorials leave off, and where students of OO begin to encounter the dreaded "but what is an object, really ?". The hard stuff is mostly level 4 :- have you ever actually encountered a "CustomerTransactionFactory" ?
We can therefore hypothesise some form of "even higher" level language, with explicit syntactic support for indication of metaphoric level. "abstract", "interface", and the (woefully misnamed) "static" in Java go some way toward this, but are clumsy and easy to misuse for this purpose, and don't line up well with the hierarchy explained above.
Any syntax suggestions for such a language ?


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He is a mathematician and writes about math mainly, so "level of abstractions" concept is rather orthogonal to his main subject. There should be more profound authors on this, but I am also only looking for them
David Weitzman
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I don't see how I could of got the wrong end of the stick -- I was careful to wildly contradict myself and say way programming is each of the four levels. That's kind of my protest to philosophy (not much better than poetry in my opinion). If a category for metaphors is itself a metaphor, then can you really trust it? Or are categories not metaphors? Have you ever seen a real category? It's all hearsay -- which means categories must be metaphors.
Michael Ernest
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A pastiche of responses to what's above:
- I was, as usual, joking about something serious with my gratuitous dig at VB. I do see VB as a metaphor for programming, i.e., suggestive of the act of programming by doing something else that looks similar in appearance.
- Abstraction is a process of separating ideas from their concrete expression; metaphor is process of associating one idea or action with another idea or action. These concepts are not orthogonal to each other; they're skew.
- The act of abstracting metaphors is a form of philosophy: to render a conceptual view of nature that is independent of not only its circumstances (time and place), but the contemporary view of those circumstances as well.
- The art of seeking associations among abstractions is a form of poetry: to render a physical view of nature that both depends on time and place and transcends it.
- Objects are unsurprising things. What is surprising is the variety of descriptors one can apply to them. In mimetic theory, objects are pale but humanly comprehensible imitations of the divine concepts that inform them. In romantic theory, objects are less important for what they are than what they evoke in the human mind (hellooo decadence!). In realist theory, if you kick it and it hurts, it's an object, you're lucky to have escaped its fatal indifference to you, and what really matters is the doctor bill that follows. In Java, an object is all of these things as well: a derivation of a Concept (or class); a thing that fails or succeeds in helping me; and a thing my boss says takes up too much memory or CPU time, so I have to stay late.
- C to me is an instruction generation tool. Its libraries of code macros (function calls) and data macros (defines, typedefs, structs) help expedite that process. To this, Java adds: a) more constraints on instruction generation (such as modularity and type checking) to achieve more powerful forms of instruction generation; b) abstraction of its instructions set, leaving some other interpreter (JVM) to black-box the bridge between bytecode and the CPU.
- Using a metaphor as a synonym for "a representation" strikes me as too literal a definition. (How's that for irony?) Metaphors suggest associations; representations are better left to simile. "As slow as molasses in winter" conveys a certain state, and you can probably write some code to correspond to it. "Richard the Lion-Hearted"? OOP is only going to get you in trouble with that.
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Most of all in this discussion I like that the word "orthogonal" was used three times
Michael Ernest
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Four, dear.
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Rats. You are right.
Ok, corrections. In this thread the word "orthogonal" was used four times.
More seriously. I was going to clarify terminology but Michael was faster.
Metaphor is not equal to abstract thinking, it is a form of abstract thinking that relates a new object to the one already known. It has a form of "A is B" (often in poetry) or, softer variant, "A is like B" (can be used in technical discourse).
For example, if we want to explain what is a plane to somebody who've never seen panes, we can say "plane is like a big metal bird". What strikes me about metaphors, that they concentrate knowledge in one image. Thus, a person can infer (correctly) that planes can fly, that they have wings, even that they have the same aerodynamic features birds have. But there is a danger in using metaphors as well: still A is not B. Thus, one may infer (erroneously) that planes, just like birds, periodically propagate themselves
Another example of metaphor can be found in Monica Pawlan's tutorial "Reference Objects and Garbage Collection" (http://developer.java.sun.com/developer/technicalArticles/ALT/RefObj/index.html). She is talking about The Reference Object application programming interface (SoftReference, WeakReference, PhantomReference classes):
"Here is another way to look at the same idea: imagine the root set of references as a solid beam from which objects are suspended by cables (strong references). An object might contain references to other objects. Weak reference objects connect to their referent not by a cable, but by a flexible rubber band, no number of which could support an object. Objects not held by cables fall into the garbage bin below."
If a category for metaphors is itself a metaphor, then can you really trust it? Or are categories not metaphors?
They are not. But if we substitute "abstract concept" for metaphors - then you are perfectly right. Concept of "abstract concept" is itself abstract concept
Michael Ernest
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My point about metaphors and similes should have been made much stronger. Consider the difference between these two statements:
An airplane is like a big metal, bird.
An airplane is a big, metal bird.
One of these statements, without the other to interfere with it, invites comparison, analysis, a breakdown of common traits. When we read "my life is like a red, red rose," we want to know exactly how the writer justifies this comparison (and of course, we hope to be awed a little).
The other invites imagination, an expansion in one's current thinking. When we read "Call me Ishmael" we don't ask how that's justified, we ask (or wonder) why.
The difference in these rhetorical devices is not small, unless of course you're not sensitive to the difference, and see the difference as mere syntactic sugar.
P.S. The word "orthgonal" has now been used six times in this thread. Some of those uses were even correct.
[This message has been edited by Michael Ernest (edited December 31, 2001).]
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The programmer is able to express in rich detail which sort of metaphor a particular language construct refers to: If I declare 'Person frank = new RealPerson("Frank Carver", "24/07/1961");', then that's pretty close to a level 1 or level 2 abstraction, referring as it does to a real person.
Um... I am not sure. Of course, my vision can be all wrong, but I nevertheless going to insist on it I remember a good anecdote - to illustrate what I think is level 1 abstraction. Psychologists study thinking processes. So... they hung a banana too high for a monkey to reach and put some boxes as well. Monkey jumped, jumped, jumped... Then she took boxes, climbed on them and got her banana.
Next experiment.
Psychologists hung a bottle of vodka too high for... um... Russian guy to reach (it's a Russian anecdote ). Ok, the guy jumped, jumped, jumped... Then again jumped, jumped, jumped... When psychologists got tired they said: "Hey, stop jumping, think!" "What? You are kidding? I do not have time to think, I need to jump!"
We can therefore hypothesise some form of "even higher" level language, with explicit syntactic support for indication of metaphoric level.
Then you speak about "domain languages". When somebody already found essential metaphors, parametrized them and built templates or something...
"abstract", "interface", and the (woefully misnamed) "static" in Java go some way toward this, but are clumsy and easy to misuse for this purpose, and don't line up well with the hierarchy explained above.
Absolutely.
Any syntax suggestions for such a language ?
I wonder if Chomsky's universal grammar can be applied here. As I was unable to read Chomsky himself, I resorted to Keith Devlin interpretation. Keith Devlin said (and specified that it's simplification) that the natural language syntax has fractal structure: the fundamental language tree, parts of which are fundamental language trees themselves (like in real trees)

where
S - sentence
NP - noun phrase
VP - verb phrase
"The important point is that a single, very simple structure is enough to generate (by repeated application) all sentences"
What Chomsky claims is that this basic structure is common to all natural languages and is possible "hard-wired" into the brain.
Whether the last calim is true or not, why to invent special syntax for programming languages, and not to use "natural" one?
Jane Griscti
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Is programming really metaphorical? A good metaphor points beyond itself; to something that is real but which cannot be comphrehended in full. Myths are classic metaphors: the book of Genesis and the Big Bang theory are both metaphors for how the universe came into being. They attempt to describe a reality (something happened) that no one fully comprehends.
Programmers, in defining domains do something similar but they are not building metaphors. A domain doesn't attempt to point beyond itself to the incomphrehensible. It attempts to capture it in a mechanical process.
A workable domain model is a fiction everyone involved has agreed to treat as a 'reality'. In effect, a domain is an attempt to 'freeze frame' something that happens and capture it in a mechanical form which will consistently and faithfully allow the something to be repeated indefinitely.
But, as even artificial processes change over time, the 'freeze frame' eventually ceases to be meaningful; the something that happens mechanically no longer matches the something that happens in the 'reality' described by the domain.
OOD is an attempt to build a useful 'change' mechanism into the freeze frame. It does this by breaking the domain into parts (objects) which programmers capture in code with the hope that the coded abstractions can be grouped together to build a working mechanical whole which accurately maps to the domain. The theory is that down the road, when the reality described by the original domain changes all that needs to be done is some tinkering with the parts which will modify the mechanical whole and bring it closer to the new and revised domain.
Now, you could make the argument domains are metaphors as all processes are ultimately incomphrehensible, which is why so much software gets trashed (software projects seem to have a 2 year life span and if they do manage to make it to a workable stage they are rendered into a buggy mess within the next two years). But in the end they (domains) are still abstractions; they aim to reduce the incomphrehensible to a smaller, manageable form.
A metaphor aims at revealing an incomphrehensible form and accepts the impossibility that it will never fully achieve its aim.

Level 4 abstraction is where mathematical thought take place. Mathematical objects are entirely abstract; they have no simple of direct link to the real world´┐Ż"

Is that true?? Abstractions are attempts at reduction; they presuppose a link to the real world. E=mc<sup>2</sup> reduced what was known about the real world to a manageable i.e. comphrehensible, form.
[This message has been edited by Jane Griscti (edited January 01, 2002).]


Jane Griscti
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Is programming really metaphorical?
No. I mean not yet.
A good metaphor points beyond itself; to something that is real but which cannot be comphrehended in full.
When in "A is B" A belongs to the 4 level, and B to 2-3 level. But it's not necessarily so. Both A and B may belong to the level 3. Trite example: "a plane is a big metal bird". Another example is Orwell's "War is Peace" and "Freedom is Slavery" (kidding. It's not a metaphor)
A metaphor aims at revealing an incomphrehensible form and accepts the impossibility that it will never fully achieve its aim.
It's a one particular case of metaphors.
Is that true?? Abstractions are attempts at reduction; they presuppose a link to the real world. E=mc2 reduced what was known about the real world to a manageable i.e. comphrehensible, form.
Perhaps 3-dimensional space presupposes. 4-dimensional? Then, there is such thing as infinite-dimensional space in mathematics...

[This message has been edited by Mapraputa Is (edited January 01, 2002).]
Jane Griscti
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Not sure it's "one particular case". Take your "a plane is a big metal bird" example. Until the other person actually sees a plane he will never comphrehend what a plane is. The metaphor lets him think about a plane as something man-made that flies, the way a bird does, but that's it. And the person using the metaphor knows it really doesn't describe a plane; the first-hand experience of seeing or flying in one.

Then, there is such thing as infinite-dimensional space in mathematics...

But isn't that because someone, somewhere had an experience, an intuitiion, that there is an infinite-dimensional space? Something in their experience as a person led them to create an abstraction.
[This message has been edited by Jane Griscti (edited January 02, 2002).]
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Jane Griscti:
But isn't that because someone, somewhere had an experience, an intuitiion, that there is an infinite-dimensional space? Something in their experience as a person led them to create an abstraction.
Not neccessarily. Sometimes the math just leads you there.
I remember when I was a physics student that we would look at our calculations and not have a clue what they would look like in a physical universe. Quantum mechanics is unexplainable but the math works.


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Michael Ernest
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Until the other person actually sees a plane he will never comphrehend what a plane is.
I submit that seeing the plane is actually less helpful than the metaphor.
The metaphor lets him think about a plane as something man-made that flies, the way a bird does, but that's it.
That's a simile: "as something man-made..."
And the person using the metaphor knows it really doesn't describe a plane; the first-hand experience of seeing or flying in one.
That's another trap. You can't assume speakers relate by metaphor only what they "fully comprehend", or only what they have first-hand knowledge of. Metaphor is not translation of the real, nor is it myth-making.
Michael Ernest
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Quantum mechanics is unexplainable but the math works.]
Couldn't you say the same for Zeno's Paradox?
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
Quantum mechanics is unexplainable but the math works.]
Couldn't you say the same for Zeno's Paradox?

Amazingly enough, special relativity has proven that Zeno's math doesn't work.
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
My point about metaphors and similes should have been made much stronger. Consider the difference between these two statements:
An airplane is like a big metal, bird.
An airplane is a big, metal bird.
One of these statements, without the other to interfere with it, invites comparison, analysis, a breakdown of common traits.

Isn't the second merely an incorrect statement?
Michael Ernest
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How so?
Jim Yingst
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> Amazingly enough, special relativity has proven that Zeno's math doesn't work.
Punching someone on the nose proves that Zeno's math doesn't work - but it's Zeno's fault, not mathematics. He implicitly assumes that an infinite number of steps cannot be completed in a finite amount of time. Veterans of the rope-burning problem know better, of course.


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But the way, if we sum infinite number of numbers each greater than zero, what we will have if not infinity?
The fact that infinite series
1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + ...
will yield 1 and not Double.POSITIVE_INFINITY proves that:
1) math abstractions often do not have direct correspondence in human experience
2) they are example of level 4 abstractions
3) often are counterintuitive.
Jane Griscti
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1) math abstractions often do not have direct correspondence in human experience

So math ultimately proves that our vaunted reasoning abilities have a major defect
Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
Punching someone on the nose proves that Zeno's math doesn't work - but it's Zeno's fault, not mathematics. He implicitly assumes that an infinite number of steps cannot be completed in a finite amount of time. Veterans of the rope-burning problem know better, of course.

I thought about this one for a long time; my "feel" is that Zeno shows math's shortcomings, not vice versa. Math has some very supple but ultimately finite descriptors. Like most languages, it can freely describe some truths in a contradictory manner when those truths extend beyond the language's grasp of meanings. If Math says it defines infinity in the middle of a forest and no one is there to hear it, I am suggesting, is that truth absolute?
Mmmm, never mind, that's obtuse. What I'm trying to say is, "a punch in the nose proves that what Math describes as an infinite number of steps can nonetheless be completed in a finite amount of time."
[ January 06, 2002: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
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"what Math describes as an infinite number of steps" - Zeno describes, not Math. What prevents us from describing the same process as a finite number of steps?
P.S. Admit it, you said about Math's shortcomings only to make me
Jim Baiter
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Zeno's paradox doens't really point out any shortcoming of mathematics. It is just a calculation that shows sum[2^(-i)] converges. However if you want a paradox that really gives math a headache, check out Russell's
http://mathworld.wolfram.com/RussellsAntinomy.html
Nanhesru Ningyake
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Map, how come you sound so "intellectual" nowadays?
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I am trying to impress Michael Ernest.
Michael Ernest
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Ok, who hacked Map's account?
Lalooprasad Yadav
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
Isn't Visual Basic an example of metaphorical programming, i.e., appearing to program through figurative expression, but not actually doing it?

That applies to a bad code in any language. It does not have to be Visual Basic, it could also be in Java .
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And I thought I was just a crazy Russian woman who loves to entertain MD citizens. Today I read Alistair Cockburn's "Agile Software Development" and here is an excerpt:
p.239
The Metaphor as a Theory
"Kent Beck suggested that it is useful to a design team to simplify the general design of a program to match a single metaphor. Examples might be, "This program really looks like an assembly line, with things getting added to a chassis along the line," or "This program really looks like a restaurant, with waiters and menus, cooks and cashiers."
If the metaphor is good, the many associations the designers create around the metaphor turn out to be appropriate to their programming situation.
<...>
If "assembly line" is an appropriate metaphor, then later programmers, considering what they know about assembly lines, will make guesses about the structure of the software at hand and find that their guesses are "close". That is an extraordinary power for just the two words, "assembly line"
Jim Yingst
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And I thought I was just a crazy Russian woman who loves to entertain MD citizens.

That's still true.
Re: Map quoting Alistair Cockburn's paraphrase of Kent Beck:
Gee, when they say it, it almost makes sense.
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Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
Re: Map quoting Alistair Cockburn's paraphrase of Kent Beck:
Gee, when they say it, it almost makes sense.

No wonder. They strive to be understood even by the most uneducated, unsophisticated, backward part of their audience, like Berkeley professors or something. Now it's clear that they aren't very successful. Alas.
[ February 19, 2002: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
 
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subject: Metaphorical Programming
 
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