AFTA 2015 and Its Impact on Philippine Cooperatives

25 Jan
ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community

ASEAN: One Vision, One Identity, One Community (image credit: ekonomi.kompasiana.com)  

By now, the ASEAN Free Trade Area (Agreement for some) or AFTA 2015 concept may have hopefully permeated every Filipino’s psyche and consciousness. This is a very important event that everyone must be aware of and understand. Otherwise, its impact and repercussions may hit us like a speeding truck and leave us sprawled on the ground dumbfounded and confused.

For those who may have already forgotten what AFTA 2015 is all about below is a brief description.

The AFTA was signed on January 28, 1992 in Singapore by the ASEAN heads of state and governments. The original signatories include representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam joined in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.

The objective of this agreement is to increase the region’s competitive advantage as a production base with the end goal of penetrating the world market. Also included in the objectives were to encourage more foreign direct investments to the region and to liberalize trade through the elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers among the ASEAN members to 0-5%. This means that the agreement is expecting a fixed period of downward preferential tariff adjustments until those tariffs come down to zero.

Once implemented, this will expand the intra-regional trade allowing the ASEAN consumers wider choice and better quality consumer products.

However, before the plan can be implemented it is imperative that each country of the region must have seamless coordination and integration in terms of common processes and systems. In the field of education for example, among the many reasons why the K+12 Program of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the shift of the tertiary level school calendar were implemented were to synchronize our educational system with the rest of our neighbors. Thus, students can enroll in schools and universities within ASEAN without much hassle and interruption.

The target date of implementation of the agreement will be this year 2015 especially for the six original ASEAN member countries. While for the newer member-countries, the target date of implementation will be by year 2018.

In the cooperative movement where we all belong, there is a growing apprehension especially among the production and agricultural-based cooperatives. It is perceived that this intense competition from the ten ASEAN neighbors will open the doors and allow the entry into the country of cheaper agricultural products. Aside from this, the free flow of other products like electronics, semiconductors, garments among others will imperil our country’s export capacities.

Credit-based cooperatives like our Baguio-Benguet Community Credit Cooperative (BBCCC) might also encounter stiff competition from foreign banks and other financial institutions. War on this front will be waged on better interest rates and other offerings meant to attract customers. The question that bears deep thought is how these local organizations and even co-ops can compete with our ASEAN neighbors that have long practiced better production system and more sustainable business models.

The ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nation is a political and economic organization that was formed on August 8, 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Indeed, AFTA 2015 is now upon us and knocking at our doors. Are we really ready to welcome it?

Internet of Things: Advantages May Far Outweigh Its Drawbacks

29 Oct

Internet of Things Advantages May Far Outweigh Its Drawbacks

People may not realize it but the Internet of Things is already gaining traction and slowly influencing how people live in this connected world. Right now, its perceived advantages may far outweigh its feared drawbacks. Some analysts even called the up-and-coming technological paradigm shift as bigger than the Industrial Revolution.

The Internet of Things pertains to the concept of devices connected to the internet where data gathered by such devices are reported to users. People can then act on the said data or the devices themselves are empowered to act on it. The ease of data transmission, reception and implementation are all meant to improve people’s quality of lives. Kevin Ashton is the person widely credited for coining the phrase in 1999 while working for Procter & Gamble. Since then, the phrase caught on and was used in a variety of articles which appeared in scientific and academic journals.

Right now, many smart devices like laptops, smart phones and tablets communicate with each other through the use of Wi-Fi internet technology. Transfer these technological capabilities into ordinary household gadgets like refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens, thermostat, door locks among others, equip these with their own computer chips, software and access to the internet and a “smart home” now comes to life.

Many gadgets comprising the smart home totality are now being offered in the market. One example is the Nest thermostat where it adjusts household temperature depending on usage patterns and billing rates. The Nest thermostat can be controlled using a mobile app. Recently, Nest which was bought by Google for $3.2 billion, has expanded to include smart smoke detectors in its product offerings as part of its smart-home solutions. LG Electronics, the South Korean firm, is also now offering users the ability to control their appliances by way of text messages.

The Internet of Things can only work if these gadgets and devices start interacting with each other through a networked system. The AllSeen Alliance, a nonprofit organization devoted to the adoption of the Internet of Things, is facilitating to make sure that companies like Cisco, Sharp and Panasonic are manufacturing products compatible with a networked system and to ensure that these products can interact with each other. Gartner, the research company, estimates that by year 2020, there will be 30 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things.

The advantages of course of these highly networked and connected devices mean productive and enhanced quality of lives for people. For example, health monitoring can be rather easy with connected RX bottles and medicine cabinets. Doctors supervising patients can monitor their medicine intake as well as measure blood pressure, sugar levels and alert them when something goes wrong to their patients online.

In the aspect of energy conservation, household appliances can suggest optimal setting based on the user’s energy consumption like turning the ideal temperature just before the owner arrives home as well as turning on and off the lights whenever the owner is out on vacation just to create the impression that somebody is still left inside the house to prevent burglars from attempting to enter.

Smart refrigerators on the other hand can suggest food supplies that are low on inventory and needs immediate replenishment. The suggestions are based on the user’s historical purchasing behavior and trends. Wearable technology are also part of this Internet of Things, where these devices can monitor sleeping patterns, workout measurements, sugar levels, blood pressure and connecting these data to the user’s social media accounts for tracking purposes.

Compare these advantages to its feared drawbacks like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging each item to be placed inside the smart refrigerator, each clothe to be placed inside a smart closet or medicines inside a smart medicine cabinet are just too taxing an activity for many.

The other disadvantage is the fact that most devices are not yet ready to communicate with another brand of devices. Specific products can only be networked with their fellow products under the same brand name. It is good that AllSeen Alliance is making sure connectivity happens but the reality of a “universal remote control” for all these devices and products is still in its infantile development.

The most important drawback with regard to the full implementation of the Internet of Things is with regard to the privacy and security issue. Smart home devices have the ability to devour a lot of data and information about a user. These data can include personal schedules, shopping habits, medicine intake schedule and even location of the user at any given time. If these data fall into the wrong hands great harm and damage can be done to people.

It is indeed wonderful to know that technology is working for people and not against people. Despite these perceived and oftentimes realistic disadvantages, people and companies responsible in implementing the Internet of Things must work together to minimize such risks from happening. The Internet of Things has its own advantages that may far outweigh its various drawbacks. It only takes an extra effort from everyone involved.

Cooperativism and Politics

21 Oct

The growing importance and influence of cooperatives in the lives of many people these days can no longer be taken for granted. The cooperative movement is becoming a social force to reckon with especially in the areas of politics and governance. The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), a cooperative union that represents cooperative federations and organizations worldwide, estimates that there are already one billion coop members spread across the globe.

Similarly, the United Nations (UN) assessed that three billion people have benefitted from the movement by providing them with livelihood and thereby improving their economic and social standing in the community (“Cooperative Facts”, 2012). At the practical level, the working class communities are the direct recipients of whatever benefits the cooperative movement may bring to them. The need therefore to protect the gains of the movement becomes necessary and indispensable otherwise many lives will be adversely affected.

Yet, early in its inception cooperatives have a neutral and apolitical stand with regard to the larger society where they operate. Initially, they mainly focus on improving their members’ welfare and think of ways to improve the operational and organizational sustainability of the individual co-operative, nothing more, nothing less. Taking a valiant stand and marching on the streets to protect the movement and its members is not that widespread yet. Although, it can be argued that (taking the Rochdale Pioneers as example) the birth of cooperativism was already a stand against the excesses of capitalism and that can be considered a political position and a statement already.

Assigning a political role to the cooperatives is not a far-fetched idea especially when the coop members/activists are simply trying to protect the movement from certain inequalities. These inequalities can take the form of unjust laws, repressive taxation or policies meant to stifle the growth of the co-operative movement as a whole. Political roles for the cooperatives may also take the form of suggesting framework for reforms that will not only benefit the movement but the whole society as well. There is power in numbers and a good idea.

The economic and developmental aspects are the major challenges cooperatives try to address today and even in the near future. This will require the members to actively pursue in the national and international levels an active voice in policy determination and implementation. This is already an obvious by-product when an individual joins a co-operative and embraces its ideals. Even the current UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recognized this fact when the UN declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives in order to give the movement the attention it deserves and further spread its ideals.

But one not so obvious responsibility of every member and even leaders of the movement is forgetting or wilfully deviating from the original vision and mission statement of the movement in general and the primary cooperatives in particular.

The general membership base and the leaders may become too engrossed and too pre-occupied in watching over the profits of the co-operative or protecting its name that they now come to believe that anything not related to growing the revenue or anything that can tarnish its reputation are a waste of time and resources.

As a political force, cooperatives must not lose sight of its original mandate otherwise it will lose its relevance and significance to the people it is championing. The movement may even end up as not knowing what it is fighting for if the original vision and mission is lost.

Reference:

Co-operative facts and figures (2012), Retrieved January 18, 2013 from http://2012.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-facts-figures

The Beatles…“In My Life”

17 Oct

I feel nostalgic every time I hear any Beatle song. It was like magic all over again bringing back memories for me whether I hear the songs on my radio, the neighbour’s radio or the radio of the clunky jeepney that plies our village. The driver of this very popular public transport vehicle here in the Philippines would gleefully say while tuning his radio, “Aalis na!” (“Let’s go!”), indicating that the jeepney is about to leave so the passengers must hurry otherwise there will be no seats for them.

However, this is not to say that my pubescence coincided when the Beatles reigned supreme in the First British Invasion during the 60’s. It was actually far from it. I was actually born when the Beatles disbanded in 1970. I began to appreciate their music when John Lennon was felled by a deranged fan’s bullet in 1980. So you see, I didn’t actually lived in the era of the band’s heydays but in the days when there was no longer a band called The Beatles, the supergroup which produced superhits. I lived in the days when there were only individual superstars with the names of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

“Yesterday”…when I was in grade school I accidentally stumbled upon a cassette copy of the band’s album when I was rummaging into my stepfather’s modest music collection. I still remember the cover of that cassette tape, four sombre looking boys all wearing identical hair styles and printed above was the album title, Rubber Soul. I immediately placed the tape in the tape deck of our audio component system.

At first, the music emanating from the speakers sounded funny with a lot of jingly-jangly guitar riffs. But several songs later the noise was now replaced by catchy melodies you can even hum it hours after you’ve heard it. One thing with any Beatle song is that they grab your attention because of their melodies. From that day forward, I constantly pestered my mother to buy me any Beatle album or just anything with The Beatles name on it. This was in the early 80’s. I even bought for myself, after saving my school money for weeks, an LP version of the White Album even if I knew that our old vinyl player is not working. I just wanted that object to adorn my bookshelf and be proud of it whenever I look at it.

It is quite an experience for me back then since most of my grade school summer vacations were either spent playing or hanging out with my neighbourhood buddies or staying at home and listening to a gamut of musical styles and genres courtesy of my stepfather’s music collection. This was a time of discovery for me. I even attempted to learn how to play the guitar so as to emulate my Beatle idols. But sadly, that skill really eluded me.  Even after I’ve grown up much as I tried in vain, I still couldn’t play a decent chord. Enough of the illusion of being an art creator and just better stick to being an art appreciator…”While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

This is also the time I had a crush on a girl from our school. She was actually my classmate and I was so smitten that I remember singing, “Till There Was You” and “Michelle” every time I saw her at school. But I was so timid and shy that I haven’t got the courage to even say hello nor corner her to start a conversation. I somehow regretted that because after our graduation from elementary I never saw her again and just kept to myself my dying admiration for that girl all those years…”Misery”.

During my high school days my fascination for the Beatles were somehow muted by the then growing popularity of the 80’s New Wave music genre. Music critics even called that period as the Second British Invasion because most of the bands that became popular in the US and even here in our country came from UK. How can one forget The Cure, Tears for Fears, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Housemartins, etc. What is also not so surprising is that most of these bands admitted their brand of music was largely influenced by the music of The Beatles themselves.

When I reached college some of my acquaintances that came to know about my preference for The Beatles were aghast, they couldn’t believe even at this age and time there are still people crazy enough to listen to “old school” music. I don’t know about them but I considered it as a compliment instead. Fortunately, because of my growing infamy for liking this type of music, I was referred to another classmate whom I would find out later had a bigger passion for The Beatles than I do.

Not only he had the most extensive collection of their records (vinyl, cassette and CD versions) but also owned an array of Beatle literature from books to magazines to comics. He willingly shared those with me and I readily immersed myself in those things. During that time I could rank The Beatles alongside such historical greats like Mahatma Gandhi and Jose Rizal (our national hero here in our country).

I met my lovely future wife in the early 90’s while establishing my professional career in the publishing and book distribution industry, and we were married in 1996. During our wedding, the Catholic priest officiating the ceremony surprised us by asking what is our theme song. He asked this because a choir in the background is on the standby to sing whatever we will say just to add ambiance to the occasion. I really wanted to mention any Beatle love song but maybe because of the occasion’s quickened atmosphere, I blurted out instead Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

I once told my wife that if ever our future children turned-out to be boys I would surely name them after the four Liverpool lads. But as God would have it, He gave us two beautiful “Girl”s as children. No, I didn’t name them after John, Paul, George or Ringo, or my wife will surely mangle me if I did that. We gave them names as lovely and sweet as the most beautiful Beatle melodies ever composed.

This may sound like a cliché but my fascination for the band and their music encompasses everything I believe in life: originality, creativity and a pioneering spirit unyielding to the period’s standards. I am not here to champion their personal lives, which is not my concern and have no right to judge anyway. I’ve set those aside and instead looked at the positive side of their contributions to a world beset by hypocrisy, bigotry and lies. Just look at the newspapers, it is as if the world is going backwards what with those sickening stories of corruption, natural and man-made disasters cramming page one.

For me, The Beatles gave us the power of music that enabled us to think, to love and to be honest with ourselves. I doubt it very much if the band members themselves really meant it to be that way but there’s no denying their positive impact on our popular culture and psyche.

As one of their song declares, “Life is very short/And there’s no time/ For fussing and fighting, my friend/ …we can work it out,/ we can work it out.” And we all need this now badly.

Writers and Their Writings

16 Oct

Writing they say is a solitary pursuit. Writers often have to deal with a blank page staring them straight in the eye and the writer’s struggle often excruciatingly on how best to fill that blank page with sensible texts, all by their lonesome self. Rightly or wrongly, some claim that writing is best suited for people who are introverts and loners because these are the types who deal with their personal demons without the slightest assistance from others. Their imagination is their best tool to craft their masterpieces and lay claim to a semblance of greatness.

Yet, it is also a fact that writers cannot exist in a vacuum. They need the encouragement and approbation of people in order to feed their desire to continue with their craft. Add to this is that writers also need to expand their repertoire, develop their skills and learn new tricks to express themselves in writing thru the guidance of others. Thus, they need people to interact with and the dynamics of society to enable them to further enrich their experience in order to come up with something creative and original.

Just like reading, writing is a personal endeavor which can differ from one person to another mainly because of the individual’s unique experiences. A sentence for example, can be interpreted many times over depending on the person reading it. Just like a group of words forged by the writer can attain a different meaning much different from the obvious.

What remains though, whether writers create a feature article, news article, web articles, blogs, travelogues, novels or whatever fancies their attention, the fact remains of the need to be steadfast with the commitment to improve their craft. Not only do they owe this to their readers but most especially they owe this to themselves.

Reality no matter how bitter it is can best be served by a writer who knows how to wield the power of the pen (or in our case, the keyboard) responsibly.

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  -Ray Bradbury

How to Become a Genius: 5 Steps to Become an Einstein or Da Vinci

15 Oct

Image

“Geniuses are made, not born.”, is an oft repeated phrase that has a ring of truth in it. Did anybody notice in history that when Einstein was a baby he can already compute complex mathematical problems or Da Vinci when he was also a baby he can already compose a painting rich in contextual meanings? Most likely not, although the above examples are taking the argument to its absolute absurdity it nonetheless highlights that nobody is born that really good at the start. Not even Einstein or Da Vinci for that matter.

Hard Work is the Key

So how does a person become a genius? The answer…through hard work! Yes, we also need to sweat it out just like losing those unwanted body fats or reviewing for a very important exam. Although, from time to time there exists in our midst so-called child prodigies but their peak performance or peak excellence can only be achieved through continuous practice and lots more of practice.

Take for example the former chess whiz kid, GM Magnus Carlsen who at one time drew his game with none other than GM Gary Kasparov when Magnus was just 14 years old back in 2004. That was already an accomplishment considering Kasparov at that time was the strongest chess player that ever lived. And Magnus, well he was just a kid at that time who is slowly gaining ground as an established chess player. Today, Magnus surpassed Kasparov and is considered as the highest ever rated chess player, with a peak ELO rating of 2878.9 achieved in March 2013 (“Live Chess Ratings”, 2013). And of course he did this feat through lots of practice and playing chess for hours everyday.

Improving on the Way We Do is a Form of Genius

The same work ethic is expected from each one of us if ever we aspire to be the best at what we do. Whether we are a musician, a college student, an office worker, or a teacher we need to devote time and effort in order to improve the way we do things. We need not feel discouraged because we are not born geniuses. There is no problem with that as most of us are not born geniuses either.

The least that we need to do is to rest on our laurels and rely on our past accomplishments. This may temporarily work to give us pride and confidence but it does little to help us achieve more or do more. Remember, we are only good as our last performance is. Tomorrow is another day of new challenges and new circumstances. And what better way to prepare for it is to keep improving our skills and developing the skills where we are weak at.

To become a genius is not the be all and end all of things. Everybody has that potential. More importantly, we need to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and pair these with the opportunities and threats in our environment. We need to work our way up into becoming the best at what we do.

So How Do We Become a Genius?

  1. Know Where You Are. Determine your personal strengths and weaknesses and cross-check these with the opportunities and threats in your lives. This may take a while but this will help you going in knowing yourself and your true potentials.
  2. Plan. Make a plan and a strategy based on your findings. Learning where you are now and determining where you want to go is a step in the right direction. For example, you are an accomplished accountant but has difficulty composing a business letter. Your inability to write correspondences may affect your profession so a short course on letter writing or writing in general may do you good in the long term. Taking on-line courses for this training may also do the trick.
  3. Continuous Learning. Continue developing the areas where you are good at. For example, if you think you can still improve as an actor, then take acting classes on the side and imbibe those extra tips and lessons.
  4. Be Positive. Don’t take criticisms personally. There may come a time when people judge you or comment on the way you work but don’t let this ruin your day. Instead, take note of what they are saying and probably there’s a small truth in those criticisms. Learn from your mistakes, correct them and move on.
  5. Keep Yourself Healthy. A genius can do many things at the same time and you can only do these if you are healthy and in tip-top shape. You need to eat the right foods, avoid stress, take enough sleep everyday and exercise regularly.

Reference:

Live Chess Ratings (2013), 2700chess.com, Retrieved September 24, 2013 from: http://www.2700chess.com/

5 Tips on How to Keep Our Brains Active

14 Oct

Nature dictates the usual cycle of things: birth, growth, development and decline. These are normal occurrences that we all have to contend with. Yet, despite these cycles we still have some powers left in our system not really to avoid the unavoidable but to delay the obvious. This is especially true on the aspect of decline or in people, the stage of getting old both physically and mentally.

Our brain can stagnate or even deteriorate when we no longer use it in creative or analytical thinking. It’s like a muscle where it can grow weak due to lack of exercise and stimulation. As people say, we either use it or lose it.

Listed below are five ways in which we can maintain the proper workings of our brain and prevent it from stagnating or deteriorating thus, allowing us to continue living healthy and productive lives.

1. Read – a good novel to read on a relaxing day is as good as eating a healthy and nutritious food but only this time our brain benefits the most. Aside from novels, informational books on general topics, politics, economics or science can make us think and at the same time also make us a good conversationalist. You will never know on when you can use that bit of information that you have just read to close a business deal or simply to impress somebody.

2. Enrol in On-line Classes – the need to keep pace with this fast changing times and learning new skills is not only an option but is already becoming a necessity as well. Aside from the benefit of taking on-line classes during your most convenient and available time, it will also allow you to update your skills and align it with what the market really wants. Being relevant because of your working knowledge in computer graphics or the extra inputs you’ve recently learned while taking an on-line writing course is beneficial not only to the brain but on the pockets as well. Learning new skills can allow you to land a part-time gig as a computer graphic designer or an SEO writer.

3. Do Crossword Puzzles – even if this sounds monotonous, a crossword puzzle will force us to clean the cobwebs out of our heads and keep the gears moving once again. Remembering the synonyms or antonyms of a word or remembering the place where an event occurred can really make our brain run into full throttle and creativity.

4. Learn a New Language – aside from forcing you to use the functions of brain like memorizing words and analysing sentence structure, learning a new language might prove to be useful on your next business or leisurely trip. This is also a good way to expand your perspective and learn a new culture altogether.

5. Teach – Even if you are not a professional teacher or lecturer, this should not stop you to impart what you know to a willing audience. Your actual experience as a manager for example can be helpful to aspiring new employees trying to climb the corporate hierarchy. You can act as a mentor to them or coach newbies and guide them towards a path that will lead them to success. An on-line coaching or mentoring portal is best suited for people who are still fully engaged in their professions but are more than willing to share what they know to willing learners. Teaching somebody allows you to think logically and systematically so that lessons are understood and well explained.

All these activities are meant to inculcate in us the value of continuous learning. Whether in our professional or personal lives the need to learn something new and wonder at how things work must never diminish even if we are maturing in psyche or in age. Being good or expert at what we do is no hindrance for us to be a beginner once again in other fields of expertise. Making our brains work thru the tips listed above will not only benefit us but more importantly allow us to help people and be a way to improve their lives as well. Indeed, we are truly old when we stop learning.

Our Life’s Journey and the Single Steps We Take

14 Nov

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”–Lao Tzu

We have many dreams, we have many plans, we want to do so many things all at the same time.

We want to establish and start several business ventures, we want to go to this place and that, we want to start learning a new skill or hobby, we want to enroll and take up a masteral degree program, we want to meet friends and acquaintances.  We plan all these activities alongside our current responsibilities of taking care of our career and our family.

We seem to be going at different directions all at the same time.  Yet, with all these planned activities we can’t seem to go somewhere or anywhere.  We are like a rocking chair which is constantly moving but does not go anywhere.

At the end of the day while lying in bed and exhausted we seem to be paralyzed by the thought that we have to do so many things in so short a time.  At times we feel we are overwhelmed by the influx of things to do and this simply immobilizes us into inaction.  This is where the details of things start to set in.  And this is where we start losing steam and enthusiasm.

As I go through with life, I realized that I do not need to punish and stress and stretch myself too much because of all my planned activities.  I just need to focus on what is urgent and what is important.  Then do those things right away.  Take things one step at a time.

I just need to focus on the most important thing right now for me – to be a good husband to my wife and an ideal father to my two teen-age daughters.  I learned that if I am focused on those aspects alone everything will fall in its places.  In all these I also try to establish a positive relationship with God even if at times this is rather bumpy and inconsistent.

I have already experienced many trials in my life that tested my endurance and patience and even my faith.  But somehow I found out the truth about the saying, “If God closes a door, somewhere in the house He opens a window.”    I learned that we should not lose hope even if our business failed, lost a job, suffered tremendous loss because of natural and man-made calamities.  There is always a better opportunity waiting for us only if we know where to look.  I found out things like these make us stronger emotionally and physically.

Living in today’s milieu allow us to do things faster and better.  Technology has allowed us to communicate with family and friends half-way across the globe and technology has also allowed us to do our jobs faster and better.

However, we should not allow ourselves to be controlled and dictated by all these technological advancement.  Instead, we must use these technologies to enhance our humanity and use it to live peacefully with our fellow human beings.  Afterall, life is too short to be encased in anger, frustrations, revenge and hostility.  Negative feelings shorten our already short life.

Determine where we are now, identify what is urgent and important in our lives, plan a course of action, launch ourselves into full action and eventually we will all get to where we want to go.

Indeed, we all must begin with a single step.

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