Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Awesome New Band

I was just thinking about that band Live. You know, the one with the hit single Lightning Crashes.

So I was thinking about starting up a new band, called Live. Not like the Live I mentioned earlier, which is pronounced like "Live at Budokan". No, this name is completely different. It's pronounce Live, as in "I live to blog".

And their first hit single would be called Thunder Strikes.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Why Babies Suck


They gotta eat, don't they? Sheesh.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Our New Aristocrats

Seems like these days a lot of people can become famous even without any sort of talent. How did we come to this?

Talented people being famous, I can understand. Charismatic actors, talented musicians, athletic dancers. Even people who don't seem like they spend much time preparing, like Kurt Cobain. Well, I can see how his music and lyrics resonate with a lot of people, sloppy as the musicianship may be.

But what's all this stuff with Paris Hilton? Anna Kournikova? There are probably a whole lot more of them, but I don't read Us Weekly so I don't know their names. I just find it strange that some people can become celebrities even if they have no talent or other means to justify their fame, like having lived through some extraordinary experience.

While we're on the topic of fame, what's with all the media obsession over famous people these days (the talented and talentless alike)? I can understand why movie and rock stars are rich- they are key ingredients in products that are consumed by tens of millions of people. I am a big consumer of movies, tv and music, but it mystifies me as to why anybody should care how much Ryan Seacrest's new house cost, or what the hot glam boy-girl hook-up of the week is.

Why are we so curious about celebrities' personal lives, as if we want to vicariously live through them? Do all the people who are so interested in these celebrities' lives honestly want to trade places with them? Really? Do they want a complete lack of privacy? To be surrounded by an army of sycophants and suck-ups? To worry about their weight and complexion all the time? It'd be nice to live in some movie star's phat pad, but you gotta figure that being in the business of projecting glamour is hard work at best and a total nightmare at worst.

Chalk it up to whatever you want: 24/7 media always searching for "safe" stories; the constant barrage of pop culture in so many media channels, new and old. It almost seems as if our society is coping with the lack of a true aristocracy by creating one of our own.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Knee-Jerk Biases

I have personal views on a bunch of things: Abortion, the War in Iraq, immigration reform, the religious right, liberals, elitism, the environment, environmentalists, capitalism, social equality, taxes, certain celebrities' sexual orientation. You name it, I've blabbed about it at one time or another.

Lately, though, I've been very self-conscious about expressing my views. I fear that many of my opinions are not very well-considered, and drawn from an out-of-touch perspective. Sometimes I wonder if I gained some beliefs simply through osmosis after hearing them from others for so many years.

We are all prone to making judgments based on our personal points of view. That's just human nature. But nowadays I definitely try hard to weigh the validity of my views with a candid assessment of 1) my own perspective, and 2) whether my opinion is truly well-considered.

And my own self-conscious fear of forming -and voicing- an ill-considered, knee-jerk opinion makes me sensitive to it when I hear other people express their views. Admittedly, I don't always know how much the other person has considered the topic or to what extent it affects them personally. Which makes the whole thing inherently hypocritical. But every time I hear someone voice their views on a topic, I always wonder if they suffer from the same syndrome that I do.

Take one popular topic: Wal-Mart bashing. I often get annoyed when I hear people bash Wal-Mart, because I think it's easy to hate it if you can afford to shop somewhere more expensive. But in being annoyed, I reveal the hypocrite that I am. How do I really know how much the Wal-Mart hater I'm speaking to understands the underlying issues? Who am I to judge them for judging Wal-Mart? My friends certainly know that I am both abundant in opinions and lacking in knowledge (the worst of both worlds), so I certainly have no right to the moral or conceptual high ground.

It's a bit sad and perverse how my desire to open my own eyes has ultimately resulted in blinding me. I've become so averse to my own tendency to form unsubstantiated opinions that I often think I see the same fault in others. And in forming my own ill-considered, pre-conceived prejudices about others' beliefs, I have become exactly what I tried so hard to avoid.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Foot is a Size 11. My Mouth is Much Smaller. MMMmmrmmphmrpm!!!

That is what it sounds like when I try to speak with my foot in my mouth. Which is most of the time. I've had more than my share of embarrassing moments, when I said the wrong thing or did something really dorky.

I often blurt out something totally stupid when I meet new people at parties. This would be a classic symptom of the social awkwardness exhibited by most people who register as high as I do on the geekger-counter (doo doo doo doO dOO DOO DOODOODOO DOOOOOOOOOOOOOO).

One time at work I really pulled the worst foot-in-mouth maneuver in the history of the human race. We were busting our asses on a really important deal for a really important client. Let's call them KissMyAssCo. Now KissMyAssCo had been driving me crazy for months. They were extremely demanding, and I for one felt that many of their demands were both unreasonable and unecessary.

One day, KissMyAssCo calls us up and demands that I and some others on the team fly to their headquarters (KissMyAssQuarters) to go over some mundane stuff that we'd been over with them a million times before. Realize that KissMyAssQuarters is nowhere near North America- it's in KissMyAssCountry, where everyone speaks KissMyAssLanguage and smokes. I'd been there every other week for the three months prior. My body couldn't take it any more, and my wife was about to leave me for her favorite pillow, with which she had apparently developed a fond relationship while I was eating partially-thawed, freezer-burned airplane food at 30,000 feet.

So one of my co-workers sends a voice mail about this to my company's internal KissMyAssCo working group (the KissMyAssCoAssKissers), to discuss whether we really needed to fly over to KissMyAssCountry, land at KissMyAssAirport, take KissMyAss limo to KissMyAssHotel, for a repetitive meeting with KissMyAssCo's KissMyAssExecs over KissMyAssDinner at KissMyAssRestaurant while sharing a bottle of KissMyAssBooze.

I was in my mid-20s back then, and arrogant young men in their mid-20s vying to become Master of the Universe often think it's better to shoot first and think later. Actually, they don't think it. They just know it. This was before I came to the sudden realization, many years later, that I know nothing. So what happens next is only appropriate for schadenfreudesters who revel in the pain of others. Namely, my pain. So all you readers can feel free to proceed to the next paragraph.

In my haste to express my extreme frustration with the whole request, I hit reply all on the voice mail system. If I ever find the engineer who invented that button I will thank him by sticking his devil-spawn button (phone attached) up his ass with my foot. That is, if my foot is not in my mouth at the time. I start off my voice mail ReplyAll with "This message is for the KissMyAssCo circle jerk team...". I distinctly remember emphasizing the phrase "circle jerk" (to represent the verbal emphasis I conveyed back then, I am italicizing the text here. How clever of me). The rest of the message was filled with sarcastic remarks that clearly expressed my disatisfaction with the whole situation. I thought my awesome 'tude would reflect my wariness with the whole thing and generate some mutual concern among my fellow KissMyAssCoAssKissers. I had successfully pissed on KissMyAssCo's lamppost, marking my territory. Yes, I was a badass.

About 2 minutes later, my voice mail light blinks on. I am huffing and puffing, still thumping my chest after leaving my I-don't-give-a-crap-because-I'm-awesome voice mail. I pick up the handset. The person leaving the message, unfortunately for me, was Big Boss Number Two. We'll call him BBN-2 even though he is in no way affiliated with British television (neither is anything else named BBN, because it's BBC). Apparently the original voice mail wasn't sent just to the immediate KissMyAssCoAssKissers team- BBN-2 was also cc'd on all the previous voice mails, which I had replied all to.

My palms start to sweat. I had described a very important client's very important deal in masturbatory terms to a very senior member of my firm. And not just in normal or generally kinky masturbatory terms, but in mutual-homoerotic masturbatory terms. I figured I was so deeply in trouble that my toes were already touching the bottom of the quicksand pit. There was, after all, a response from BBN-2 to my homo-masturba-orgy voice mail in my inbox.

How wrong I was. Oh so deeply, horribly wrong. The sandpit wound up being much, much deeper. I realized this as soon as I heard BBN-2 start his voice mail by addressing Big Boss Number One. I will call him BBN-1 for the purposes of this blog post, and to prevent myself from jumping out my second floor window right now (I'm still traumatized just thinking about it, several years later). Because even as I am calling him BBN-1 in the Blogosphere, in the office everyone calls him CEO. (Yes, I know what you are thinking. All together now: "Holy Crap"). So the voice mail goes like this: "This is BBN-2, with a message for the KissMyAssCo team as well as for BBN-1, who was also on the cc list for all the previous voice mails. Um...I think Jack was just expressing a bit of frustration about the situation..."

For the following paragraph every time you see quotes like this: ", unless otherwise instructed please do the little two finger quote gesture with your hands, like in Austin Powers...thanks. The really sad thing is that I am just dorky by nature, so oftentimes when I'm acting "normal", and especially when I'm trying to act "cool", I do or say something that most people who are actually "normal" find to be "awkward" at best and "dorky", "lame", or "pathetic" at the all-too-often-occurring extreme.

Side note: How funny that Mike Myers employed a written expression on film with great humorous effect, and then I employ a derivative converted-from-text-to-film-back-to-text expression, to a totally non-humorous effect. I wonder if it's the concept, the execution, or both. Who am I kidding. It's both.

These things stay with a person. I think about some embarrassing moment in my life at least once a day. Usually several times, because I shouldn't play favorites so I try to give each esteem-sucking, ego-deflating vignette sufficient airtime. Some are from several years ago. Others are from the recent past. Several are from the past few hours. I have a vast and extensive library of them tucked away in my mind- there's certainly no lack of material. Good thing most of them will simply go with me to the grave when I die.

Except for the ones that my friends witnessed. Those are the most embarrassing ones, and will live on in infamy for at least 1 or 2 future generations as stories of dorky Uncle Jack. After which time they will become cautionary tall tales. So if, many years hence, your kids tell their kids the story of "The Boy Who 'Replied All'", you can tell your grandchildren where the story came from. I wonder how they'll work the phrase "circle jerk" into a children's story.

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Investing in Bonds

A few friends have asked lately about where to buy Treasury and California Municipal Bonds, so I am posting a little primer here. A quick word of warning: I am not a professional investor, so use the information below at your own risk!!!

Treasury bonds you can buy directly from the government at TreasuryDirect. You can also buy them through most brokers, like Vanguard or Fidelity or whatever company you use. For new issue auctions (when the government issues new bonds and sells them directly to investors like you and me), the brokerage may add a small fee of $10 or so, but sometimes it's worth it to do that just so you can have everything in one place to ease the record keeping.

Brokerages usually also sell secondary bonds, which are previously issued bonds that the brokerage now owns and offers to sell to their customers. The price will be different (not $1,000 like most new issue bonds) depending on what interest rate the bond pays vs current rates. For example, if today's prevailing rate for a 5 year bond is 4%, and a broker has a 7 year bond in its inventory that matures in 5 years (meaning it was issued 2 years ago) but that bond pays 4.25%, they will want more than the original $1,000 for it since it pays a higher coupon than the current yield for the same maturity. Treasury securities are exempt from state income taxes but not federal taxes.

For California municipal bonds, you can also go through your broker. Large brokers will have a decent sized inventory of munis that they can sell you. These are almost always secondary purchases. Bear in mind that there is no "exchange" for bonds like there are for stocks. Since there's no common market for bonds, sometimes pricing can vary between brokers and you have to check a few sources before buying. Treasuries are very safe (if the federal government goes down, we've got much bigger problems than lost savings, so they're considered essentially risk-free), but munis can vary in quality (remember OC went bankrupt in the mid 90s). You have to check the credit rating and whether the bond is insured, among other factors. That information is available from your broker.

CA municipal bonds for us CA residents are completely tax free at both the state and federal levels, which makes them an excellent deal if you are in a high tax bracket. To calculate the taxable-equivalent yield (i.e. how the tax-free yield of a particular muni compares to the yield of a taxable bond of comparable risk and maturity), it's:
tax-free yield/(1-tax rate) = taxable-equivalent yield

Most people will ladder bonds- take the chunk of money they want to invest, and split it into 5-10 equal parts to invest in bonds that mature every year out to 10 years or so (for example, if you have $100,000 to invest, you will buy $10,000 of bonds that mature in each of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 years). And then when the 1 year bond matures and returns the principal to you, you would simply take that money and buy a new 10 year bond with it at the prevailing interest rate. This method allows you to average out short- and long-term rate exposure, and also protects you from adverse interest rate environments because you have money coming back at least once a year that you can reinvest at the prevailing rate at the time.

Now lately short term rates have been rising very quickly (the Federal Reserve sets short term rates, although they seem to have little control over long term rates), so recently there has not been much difference between the yield on a short term money market account and a 10 year bond, or at least not so much of a difference that you would be willing to lock up your money for 10 years. As a result, a lot of people I know are not investing in long term bonds at all and just watching the short term rates in their money market accounts go up every few months. The Fed has recently announced that they will likely cool down on raising short term rates, and long term rates do look like they're rising, so hopefully sometime in the next few years we will be in a more normal market with a regular yield curve where the long term rates are materially higher than short term rates.

Again, this is all based on my rudimentary knowledge- I have enough experience with these things that a lot of friends ask for advice on topics like this one, but I do not profess to be an expert in personal investing, nor is this meant to be a complete tutorial on bond investing (there are a lot of variations that would bore most people to tears if I were to post them all). A great resource with tutorials and calculators is Bankrate.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

I Could Care Less!

Its so rediculous how bad grammer and spelling rears it's ugly head everywhere I turn. And all this self-publishing on the Internet makes it even worse. I hope that one day they will license and test people before they are allowed to post on the net.

Until that great day finally arrives, I abhor you to please get a copy of Strunk & White. It will be the best $10 you have ever spent, and a service to English-speaking and -reading people everywhere. Because if I hear you say "Where are you at?" one more time, I swear I will roll up my own copy into a stick and beat you with it.

While I'm ranting, this whole Carpool Tunnel Syndrome thing is totally overblown. Yes, employers should be more careful about repetitive driving. Maybe they should encourage their carpooling employees to take a different tunnel to work every day. Or, better yet, they should outfit company car dashboards with a whole panel of buttons and knobs that are each randomly assigned a new function each time the ignition starts, to limit the number of potentially harmful repetitive motions that occur while carpooling through a tunnel. Maybe their insurance premiums will benefit as a result. Who cares if the drivers can't figure out how to turn on the wipers. It is, after all, a syndrome. Besides, they're driving in a tunnel anyway, and their fellow carpool passengers can help them test all the buttons.

And what's with all this controversy about Youth in Asia? There are youth everywhere. Deal with it. How do you think the human race continues its existence. Do Asians have less of a right to procreate? I can't believe so many people are up in arms over Youth in Asia.

And if you are inclined to email me about this post to point out all of the misspellings, improper using of English, and grammatacal errors in my own blog, please save your bandwith. I am well aware of my own crass hipocrasy, and I really, really could care less what you think. ;)

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If You Can Read This

79 6F 75 20 61 72 65 20 61 20 74 6F 74 61 6C 20 67 65 65 6B 20 6A 75 73 74 20 6C 69 6B 65 20 6D 65 00

To see the answer click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button, and drag down over the space below:

in hexadecimal: "then you are a total geek just like me!"

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Spoiledest Generation

This is admittedly from my own personal perspective, and is not meant to be a general observation that applies to everybody.

My father came to the United States with $80 in his pocket and no friends or personal contacts in America. He had to borrow money for his plane ticket. My mother came here also with hardly any money, and didn't know anybody but my dad. They were not married at the time- she was friends with my dad's sister, who asked my dad to find my mom a place to stay and help her enroll in junior college.

My mom initially stayed with a nice family, trading some babysitting and household chores for room and board while she went to junior college. That is, until she kept getting sick and the family asked her to move out. After my parents married, my father went to night school for his accounting degree. In addition to night school, he worked two jobs to support my mom and his sister (my aunt came over for a short while), both of whom were attending junior college.

Most in my parents' generation don't speak English well. They didn't have access to high paying jobs when they were building their lives. They usually had to start their own businesses, funded with money they personally borrowed from family and friends. Despite the disadvantages they faced, my parents and those of their generation managed -through hard work, sacrifice, and sheer determination- to raise a family, bring lots of relatives over, and help each other attain at least a middle class income.

I think being so accustomed to self-sacrifice compelled my parents and those like them to shelter their offspring from the same difficulties they themselves faced throughout their lives. And in some ways, I think our parents' good intentions had unintended consequences, because we the children certainly took advantage of it. I was afforded a private education my entire life- it was costly and my parents had to sacrifice a lot to send me to private school and college, but they always managed to come up with the tuition somehow. I never really had to work to earn spending money when I was young- my parents always gave me a generous allowance even though they sometimes struggled to pay the mortgage and other bills. At most I would help out at the family business on weekends. But that was more like just hanging out in downtown L.A. on Saturdays and doing a smidgeon of work here and there when I got bored or felt inspired.

Naturally, my experience is similar to those of many of my friends and cousins. Most of us would help out our parents here and there, but mostly we just took everything we had for granted. We hung out, went to school, and spent our parents' money. We whined, cajoled, and demanded our way to some shiny new car when we got our drivers' licenses. We went skiing in the winter, went to New York or Europe in the summer, and bought excessively expensive camping gear for class trips in the fall. All on our parents' dime.

Now our parents are nearing retirement age, and we are all grown up, with responsibilities and families of our own. We have college degrees and professional careers, nice cars, expensive homes and large mortgages to match. Yet we are not all that actively focused on building savings and assets. Many of us have high enough income that, with a lot of saving and some calculated risk, could lead to true wealth accumulation and ultimate financial security. But we don't care about that. As a generation of shallow imposters, we simply care about projecting the perception of wealth. We can point endlessly to the marketeers and McKinsey consultants who have propagated the mass luxury market, but ultimately we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We don't pay much attention to the only part of our financial lives that we have 100% control over: costs. We simply want our luxury cars, trophy houses with granite kitchens, designer clothes, meals at fancy restaurants that serve bland food. And we don't want them when we can truly afford them. We want them now. Instead of thinking about asset allocation, we think about whether we have enough cash coming in every month to make the payments that support our lifestyle. In our minds, the high income spigot feeds from a bottomless well and never gets clogged.

A lot of us in the kids' generation probably would have benefitted greatly from facing more career and financial hardship. I can't help but think that our priorities would be quite different- we'd probably care a lot more about having cash in the bank and a lot less about 5 star hotels and home decorating. It would certainly adjust our expectations and make us more grateful for what we have. Since when did lifestyle become a worthwhile goal? Financial security for yourself and your family is a worthwhile goal. Fostering strong personal relationships with your family and friends is a worthwhile goal. Indulging in expensive wine and custom furniture are not.

It's funny how, despite all of my negative observations about my generation, in my parents' eyes they feel that their goal in life has been accomplished. From the day I was born, all they really wanted was to assure that I lead a life filled with happiness and security, no matter the sacrifice to them.

For my own generation, though, I wonder about how we will look back on our own lives when we are old and retired. We're in our late twenties and early thirties now. For our entire working lives we've never experienced an economic downturn that's lasted longer than a year or two. We've never been net borrowers with interest rates at 13%. We've never owned a house for 10 years without seeing it appreciate. We've never had a favorite aunt or sister ask us for a large personal loan to start some risky business. We've never felt compelled to seriously consider such a request simply because we don't want our loved ones to go from their menial day jobs to the graveyard shift at a gas station every night just to pay their bills. We've never had to decide between taking a vacation and paying our kids' tuition. We've never had to defer paying a credit card bill to free up enough cash for a down payment for our teenage child's first car. We've never faced true hardship in any way that is remotely comparable to what our parents had to endure.

Today we face war in Iraq, diplomatic conflict with a defiant Iran, the threat of terrorism, a breathtakingly large trade deficit, and a receding (perhaps bursting) real estate market. It is quite possible that in the unforeseen future looms a protracted economic downturn. One that adversely affects the careers and livelihoods of the majority of us who are now in our prime. On Wall Street they have a saying: "In a bull market, everyone can claim to be a genius. But a bear market truly separates the men from the boys." I wonder how our character holds up if we ever encounter such hardship.

And perhaps many of us will be blessed from the day we are born to the day we die with the inheritance of a sheltered existence that our parents so dearly bought for us. That would certainly be good for our own comfort, but how does that affect the way we raise our own children, and the values we pass onto them? When all of us -our parents' and our own generation- are all long dead and gone, how do our incomplete set of values translate into any sort of a lasting, constructive legacy for future generations? Decades from now, when people look back on my own generation, will they comment on our outstanding character? I don't think they will. I think they will condemn us for our unhealthy sense of entitlement. For failing to recognize that the greatest inheritance our parents left to us is not the fancy education or the down payment on our first house, but rather the selfless example they set and the strength of character they embodied in building truly meaningful lives.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Move the Butt Plug and Give Me Some Sheep! Settlers of Catan!!!

There's this board game that nobody in the United States really knows about. Well, I guess some people know, because our friends Mike and Lisa in Menlo Park introduced us to it. They never actually sat down with us and taught us to play (we are friends by phone nowadays since we moved to Los Angeles), but they talked about it so much that it prompted me to go out and buy a copy and teach myself.

Ever try to teach yourself a complicated board game you've never played before? And then try to teach your friends after you've read the instructions just once? These are my college guy friends so all of the mocking quotes to follow start with "Dude". Repeat while simulating smirking, whiney voice: "Dude! I love how you make up the rules throughout the game to help yourself." "Dude! Are you just 'remembering' a new rule now to help yourself win?!" "Dude! You dragged us all to Vegas just to hole up in this room and play a frickin' board game?! F**k you!". OK that last one was slightly deserved- we all learned to play when I brought the game to Vegas. What a bunch of f****n' nerds. Me not included. Please kindly forgive the sloppy language- I am in college roommate mode as I write this. OK I will clean up the language a bit: Please ignore the previous use of the word f****n' and replace with f*****g.

All Hail Herr Teuber
Settlers of Catan was invented by a German named Klaus. Klaus Teuber. Klaus is a great, great man. I have never met Klaus, but whenever I think of a middle aged German man I immediately picture the new CEO of Daimler-Chrysler, Deiter Zetsche. Gotta love the mustache. Klaus I am sure looks a lot like his countryman Deiter. Except sexier. And he wants you to touch his monkey. OK I shall stop now because Klaus and Deiter suddenly find me tedious *yaawwwnnnn*. And besides, now is the time ven zey daunce. (If you are not getting the joke go watch some SNL reruns with Mike Myers.)

Gimme Some Sheep, B****H!
Catan is a game that takes place on an island. You collect resources: brick, wood, wheat, wool, and ore. Some people from the Midwest have been known to call wheat "corn". And virtually everyone for some inexplicable reason calls wool "sheep", as in "Montana: Where men are men, and sheep are scared." (courtesy Jason A) You spend the resources to build roads, settlements and cities to accumulate points. First player to accumulate ten points wins. So in some ways it's a bit of a cross between Monopoly and Risk.

But Catan is way more fun than either Monopoly or Risk. The game moves in two dimensions, the board is made up of many small tiles that randomly change position with each new game, and trading resources with your competitors is a constantly occurring activity that is important to winning. Most games have very close finishes, and usually nobody is so far behind that they feel like they've already lost halfway through.

Get the Butt Plug Off My Wood (and get your mind out of the gutter!)
The best part of Catan is a little piece called the Robber. Wherever the Robber goes, drought follows. So if the Robber is on a part of the board that you have built on, you don't get those resources even if somebody rolls that number.

Since most of my Catan buddies are doctors, the Robber's unique shape reminds them of something they often see at work. You'll have to guess what they call it, but I'll give you a hint: It starts with a B, ends with a G, and in the middle is "UTT-PLU". We started calling the Robber the Butt Plug in Vegas. The name, unfortunately for poor Klaus, has stuck (now ees zee time ven he really daunces). Now everyone calls it the Butt Plug. Even our wives like Pat, Nina, and Nicole, who would never ever curse except at crazy LA drivers, fondly refer to the Robber as the Butt Plug. Funny (or maybe not) how a German dude who invents a piece whose purpose is to "plug" a resource shapes it like a butt plug. Next time I see Klaus I will ask his monkey whether it was intentional.

Stop Blocking My Roads, A******S
Catan is a very involved game. Resources -critical for building and gaining points- are scarce. Good positions on the board are scarce. On more than one occassion has somebody become extremely aggravated, getting angry at another player. Even Pat gets angry sometimes when people block her building efforts. To better demonstrate, let me recount a recent evening of Catan at our house.

Pre-Game Warm Up
It started off innocently enough. First we enjoyed a pre-game dinner at Sanamluang Cafe in North Hollywood. With Jon. He's crazy. I don't need to tell you that though. You can see from the picture.

We had some spicy beef salad which looked better than it tasted. I figured the Butt Plug experience to come later that evening would be that much more entertaining with somethin' a little spicy in our bowels.

First Game Goes to Jack! All Hail the Lord of Catan!
I win the first game. Whenever Jon plays, he also simultaneously plays Yahoo! Hearts and tracks the Yankee game on the laptop. And he still whips my ass every time. This is the first time I've ever won with Jon at the table. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. But still not as crazy as Jon. I don't remember why he is making that face in the picture. Maybe he is jizzing because Jeter got on base.

Just When You Think I'm Stupid, You Find Out I'm Even More Stupid Than You Thought
I, by the way, am the world's losingest Catan player. I don't think I win even 10% of the games I play (it's a 3-6 person game. do the math to see how pathetically far below the mean I am in game-telligence). So I'm stupid partly because I can't win a game to save my life. But more so because I keep on playing even though I never win. Like a f*****g dummy.

Second Game: Jon Wins, Pat Gets Pissed
After the first game, it's like 10pm on a weeknight. Jon's on call. But he makes us play a second game anyway because he, in his words, wants "V for Vendetta". He kicks our asses and wins the second game. It only takes him about 20 minutes.

That's not where the drama was though. During the second game, I beat Pat to a very key position on the board. She got pissed. And decided to no longer trade resources with me for the rest of the game. She doesn't cuss like me, Jon or any of my guy friends, but you can see steam rushing out of her ears. From the look on her face I'm sure the expletives rushing through her mind would melt my ears off, so I am glad she doesn't spew forth. And after seeing that I posted a picture of her being pissed on the Internet, she will get even more pissed at me (see the above paragraph on how I'm stupider than stupid).

Third Game: All Hail Pat, the New Lady of Catan!
So now it's almost 11pm. On a weeknight. (Yes, we are wusses and go to sleep early like all old fogies). Pat is pissed after losing both games. She definitely wants to kick our asses. So she makes us play a third game. Now this time, Jon seems to be winning. So I go after him to be sure he doesn't win so quickly. As we're duking it out, Pat surreptitiously collects her resources and beats us both to 10 points. Look who's smiling now!

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Jack's Artery Blockade

A few days ago, Pat whipped up some brown sugar-glazed pork. The official Thai name for it is "moo+ wan+", or "sweet pork". (The "+" means to inflect up at the end of the word, as if you were asking a question in English.) My friends who have tasted it affectionately refer to it as "artery blockade" or "the fibrillator". It's a little bit like pig candy, but with three times the sugar and stir fried in oil instead of baked.

I scooped a big ol' helping onto a plate and thought, "Hey! I should blog this! I bet people will want to know how to make it, even if they're too scared to eat it!" So I benignly reach for the digicam. Pat then lets out a shriek:

Pat: No! You left a little grease streak on the side of the plate! If you're gonna blog it let me clean it up!

Jack: I don't think people will care. They know I'm a slob in the blogosphere like I am in real life. This is not some fancy food blog with fancy pictures.

Pat: You want me to put it on a nicer plate or something?

Jack: Again....ain't my style. Function over form. Substance over style. Step aside. I'm taking the picture.

Pat: You want me to add some chopped scallions to it, to give it some color?

Jack: OK how about this...why don't you hold up this wooden spatula and smile for the camera. I can always use a picture of you in your pajamas to accompany the picture of Jack's Famous Artery Blockade.

Pat then shrieks even louder and runs upstairs to hide from the digicam, the sound of her giggling receding up the stairwell (she can't help but giggle even in times of extreme distress- at least if our house ever catches fire at night I'll be awakened by the sound of giggling).

Alas, after that whole ordeal, below is the "recipe" for Jack's Artery Blockade. Don't even ask me about portions and cooking times...just use The Force when you cook, like my grandma.
  1. Add some oil to a medium hot pan or wok
  2. Throw in some sliced pork or cooked bacon
  3. Add some fish sauce. I'm Thai-Chinese but not a Thai-Chinese snob (can't we all just get along?), so I use fish sauce like the recipe calls for, not soy sauce
  4. Add some white pepper
  5. Add some brown sugar
  6. DO NOT add garlic. I like garlic, but it tastes funny in this dish
  7. DO NOT add vegetables. They suck
  8. Stir
  9. Let the meat simmer for a bit
  10. Push all the meat toward the outer edges of the pan or wok, leaving a hole in the middle
  11. You will see the sugary sauce (aka "Jack's Super Secret Artery Blockade Sauce") begin to evaporate in the center of the pan. I think fancy cooksters call this a reduction. Like, "Siamese Pork Cutlet with a Lana'i Sugar Cane Reduction". Since I won't be charging $20 for this dish (I don't have nice enough plates- my fine china is made of plastic), I just call it "evaporating pig meat juice"
  12. Lower the heat to medium-low to medium
  13. Sprinkle more sugar periodically and stir
  14. Over time the juice will continue to evaporate and form a glaze. Keep on alternately stirring and then creating a space in the middle for the juice to evaporate.
  15. It's ready to eat after it's simmered and stirred for a while, when the pork has hardened somewhat and the glaze gels and is no longer like gravy
  16. Sprinkle chopped scallions over the top before serving, for presentation
I actually object to the last step, but as I type this Pat is dangling my six pack of Costco bacon over the trash can, saying "Tell them to add scallions. Now. Bitch."

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Jelly Bean Conundrum

Ronald Reagan, famous for keeping a jar of jelly beans on his desk during his Presidency, once said: "You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful."

When I was young and still vying to become Master of the Universe, I used to sift through to get just the one or two colors I liked. These days I just grab a random handful. Not really because I feel bad about depriving my fellow Jelly Beaners of the treasured orange ones, but more because I just can't be bothered to actually sift through them. I don't even care what brand of cola I drink these days (it's Wal-Mart cola more often than you think!). I do, however, still carefully pick the peas out of my fried rice (peas suck so hard that I will continue doing this until I die).

Reagan didn't elaborate on how to interpret his conjecture. So I changed my Jelly Beaning MO. Does that make me an easier going, more pleasant person? Or just a bigger wuss?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How to Name a Chinese Restaurant

I've had a lot of friends ask recently, "Jack, how do Chinese restaurant owners pick a name for their establishment?" Actually, nobody's ever asked me that (and most of my friends don't use "establishment" in everyday conversation), but I just threw it out there as a way to enhance my weak storytelling skills. If I had stronger storytelling skills I would not have thrown it out there, and I certainly would not have admitted to making it up. I also would get back on topic real fast.

Because I am of Asian descent (see "Fob or Not?!?!"), I know these things. Here is how you pick a name for a new Chinese restaurant:

1) Pick a name from list A
  • Golden
  • Jade
  • Bamboo
  • Empress
  • Emperor's
  • China
  • Panda
  • Hunan
  • Szechwan
It doesn't matter what kind of food you plan to serve- you can randomly pick either Hunan or Szechwan because nobody in the U.S. knows the difference anyway.

2) Pick a name from list B
  • Dragon
  • Palace
  • Garden
  • Pavilion
  • Inn
  • Pagoda
3) Place A in front of B.

Congratulations. Now you have a name for your new Chinese restaurant.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Unfinished Business

My life is riddled with the remains of my complacency
Half-finished works and unrealized potential
Strewn about like rusted junk on an unkempt lawn
Overgrown with laziness and apathy

Countless times have I heard praise
Fade to hushed disappointment
Millions of possibilities and lofty expectations
Lay rotting from neglect

At once full of promise
But doomed to fail from the start
Like a story retold to each passing generation
With the same fizzled ending

A waking dream of what could be
Stillborn by the morphine of unproved arrogance
Desire and discipline dim before they roar
Extinguished by bottomless lethargy

And that is the difference
Between a worthwhile legacy
And a paper-thin fa├žade of accomplishment
Carefully draped over an unfulfilled life

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Friday, April 07, 2006

FOB or Not?!?!

FOB. ABC. No, I'm not singing a song that teaches kids to spell.

F-O-B! (pronounced "fob", but usually with an exclamation, like "FOB!!!") means Flresh-Off-Boat! A! B! C! means Amelican Bohn Chinese! Just a decade or two ago, Asian immigrants (FOB!) and their children (ABC! like me!), considered these labels to be badges of shame, connoting traits that just didn't fit into the great American landscape:

- Multi-variable length hair style accompanied by splotchy sideburns. Thin polyester jackets with two tone color schemes. White socks with sandals. Even worse- hiked up dark socks with sandals and shorts. Some funky, unsophisticated-sounding, non-European, definitely non-American chop suey accent.

- Rice rockets (Japanese compact cars, for the uninitiated) with dark tinted front windows. High SAT math scores. (They just had to ruin the curve didn't they?). Bad at sports. Socially awkward when outnumbered by WASPs.

Amazing how much can change in just a few decades. Most FOBs (at least from my parents' generation) are a self-selecting group of earnest, enterprising, risk-taking individuals- how many of us would leave our homeland to pursue some nebulous, unquantifiable opportunity in a far away place where we don't speak the language? As a result, many FOBs prospered. Don't act all surprised. Just because they don't speak English well doesn't mean they're bad at business. (pet peeve side note: if you are speaking to somebody who is not fluent in English, speak more slowly if you want them to actually understand you. Speaking louder does not help them understand you any better).

And FOBs' ABC kids -with one foot in America and maybe a small toehold in some land across the Pacific (still gotta eat rice for 3 out of every 5 meals!)- actually scored ok on the SAT verbals. They played sports. Joined the debate team. Went to college (*ahem* University of Caucasians Lost among Asians). Became professionals. Lawyers. Doctors. Engineers. Internet tycoons. Intellectuals. Artists. Token Asian Guys on movie sets. A few semi-funny comedians. They wedged themselves into the great American landscape.

And America over time also began to reflect a slight yellow glow. White guys got yellow fever. They got married (one married my cousin. Go Rob!). They produced hybrid offspring (who apparently are "half white/half right"! haha courtesy of Jonathan Chin). Asian cuisines got fused into gourmet menus (by white chefs, but us Asians are more pragmatic than proud so we'll take it anyway). Japanese cars set the new gold standard for reliability in the world's largest automobile market. Jackie Chan made some hit movies in Engrish. Ang Lee won an Oscar. Everyone's into yoga.

I don't know if it's cool to be a FOB or ABC. But any negative connotation with FOBiness has definitely been rapidly receding. Many value their FOB- and ABC-dom: It's advantageous to have a rich multilingual, multicultural background when you inhabit a rapidly shrinking globe.

So whether you're yellow, brown, black, red, white, or any other color (Barney:purple; Kermit:green...they're American, aren't they?!), let's test your FOB-IQ! Since many FOBs these days are quite cosmopolitan, with respectable hairstyles, department store wardrobes and fluency in multiple languages, it may be more difficult than you think to figure out which of my friends below is FOB (born outside the U.S.).

For each of the pictures below, take your best guess...FOB or Not!!! The answers are in InvisoText.

(hold down your mouse button and scroll your over the white area to the right of each picture)

Fob or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

Walter! He no FOB! He born in USA!!!

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
FOB!!! But Uma is married to a CA (Caucasian American) so she is undertaking a 7 step de-FOBbing program. She may even learn to bake one day. (Asians stir fry. They don't bake).

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

HE NO FOB!!! Not only is Bobby not a FOB, he's half white!!!

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

NOT FOB!!! Jon is ABC!!! But still a math major.

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

Trick question!!! Lisa is not Asian (can you tell by the picture?), but she was born in South Africa- Honorary FOB! (Some would argue that affluent white immigrants are FOPs: Fresh Off the Plane! That is at least two classes above FOB if you are counting purely by mode of transportation.)

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

Another trick question!!! Diana was born in Singapore, and currently lives in Singapore! NOT FOB!!! But if she lived in the U.S. she would be FOB!!!

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

NOT FOB!!! Jenny is ABC, born in USA! She eats only hamburgers and speaks only English. She's what's called a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Hey, I just repeat this stuff...I don't make it up).

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Super duper trick question!!! Clockwise from top left:
Shont: Half ABA! (American-Born-Armenian!)
Pat: FOB!!!
Katrina: All American! Not FOB, Not ABC, Not ABA!
Baby Olivia: Not FOB, Not ABC, 1/4 ABA! ("and damn pwoud ob it!" she adds).

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Phil! He's of Korean descent, but despite the FOB-like hairstyle and unintentional half-'stache (so difficult to distinguish between "FOB", "grunge" and "slob" appearance these days), Phil HE NOT FOB!!!

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

Yet another trick question! (us ABCs are so tricky! Maybe it's something we learned from our FOB parents!). Sandy hails from Canada, but lives in Cambridge, MA. He's a FOC! (Fresh Out of the Car).

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

Shirley! She's NOT FOB! She's an ABC! Can't you tell? with a name like Shirley?!? That's totally an ABC name.

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.

Tammy! Her brother is FOB! But she is ABC!!!

FOB or Not?!?!
Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Will! Born in Taiwan!!! FOB!!! Well, at least by the definition of FOB that I posited above. Will though would probably rather fight you to the death than allow you to call him a FOB! There are distinctions among foreign-born Americans, spanning varying degrees of FOBiness. Will mostly grew up in the U.S., so despite his pimped-out ride (FOB/ABC style), Will would argue that he and newly arrived FOBby FOBs don't have too much in common!

So did you get any right? Is your FOB IQ sufficient?

Here is another test to gauge your FOB sensibilities. I am not providing answers to these- you will have to consult your own personal FOB or ABC friends for enlightenment:

When you go out for Chinese food, where do you go?
- PF Chang's
- Sam Woo BBQ

What's your favorite dish there?
- Chicken lettuce cups
- Boiled tripe

When you finish eating at a Korean restaurant and they give you a little cup of milky white liquid with little pellets on the bottom, what do you do with it?
- Rinse your fingers
- Drink it

When you order a rice dish at a Thai place, what utensils do you use? (Note: This may be a trick question. And if you are trying to game it, having guessed what I guessed you will guess, well then it may turn out to be a *trick-trick* question, where I have guessed what you guessed I guessed you would guess...)
- Chopsticks
- Fork and spoon

When you buy a new tv, what is the first thing you do to it?
- Remove the stickers
- Wrap the remote control in Saran Wrap

What floor, in a building, would you least want to be on?
- 4
- 13

What's your opinion of durian?
- Tastes like heaven
- Smells like hell

When you go on vacation and arrive at your destination, what's the first thing you look for?
- The spa
- Chinese food

In what order do you prioritize the following weekend activities:
- Eating
- Shopping
- Camping
- Eating
- Hiking
- Shopping
- Eating
- Reading
- Shopping
- Partying
- Eating
- Concerts
- Shopping
- Eating

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You know you need to move out of the city when...

You take your baby to the park and she is too scared to crawl off the picnic blanket onto the grass.
(courtesy of Mike Edwards)

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Maximizers and Satisfisers

Our friends Cung and Alice introduced us to this Maximizer/Satisfiser concept. I've since expanded on it so it's probably unrecognizable to them at this point. Thank goodness for creative license. I guess one person's creative license is another person's bastardized brainchild.

Maximizers price shop. They compare. They check out floor samples. They do lots of research on the internet before making a purchase. They're not necessarily cheap- they often like and want good stuff. They figure out what to buy based on the vectoring of such factors as features, quality, price, looks and cachet. I'm not quite sure how to graph that -there aren't enough axes if your feeble mind, like mine, is unable to conceptualize beyond three dimensions- but you get the point. They always want it at the lowest possible price. Well, the lowest price from a reputable vendor that doesn't sell their wares out of the trunk of an '82 Buick. Sometimes the cost in time and effort exceeds the actual dollar savings or the added utility of getting the best features in an item, but they go through the exercise anyway. For some, finding the best deal becomes a bit of sport. It's not like they always need to get the best deal for something- it's just that they can't sleep at night unless they know they did. Maximizers can also sometimes fall into the grip of analysis paralysis, in which case they just don't buy anything for a while to give them time to consider even more details that range in importance from earth shattering (well, maybe not quite earth shattering but somewhat important) to insignificant. Maximizers I bet are often insomniacs (Me).

I bet a lot of "maximizers" hail from middle or upper-middle class backgrounds. Pat's friend from med school, Justin (he is an Australian heterosexual guy who wears cosmetics- go figure), once told us about his summer selling shoes at a department store. The kids from lower income families would save up for a new pair of sneakers, and when they finally had enough money they would walk into the shoe department, point to the pair they want, and wear them out of the store with the tags still attached. Easy sale. The rich customers would go in, usually without much of a clue, ask the clerk which one or two styles they recommend, take a quick look, and make a choice pretty quickly. Price is not terribly important to them, and they just buy what seems to look good and feels comfortable. Again, easy sale.

The middle class customers, however (especially the educated, working professional types) would go into the store and examine every little aspect of each style they were considering, to the most minute detail. They would compare and contrast the material, the price, the stitching (memo to shoe shoppers: it doesn't matter if it's American or European, Nike or Addidas- they're all manufactured in the same shoe factory in China by some lady who used to be a farmer but now lives in one of the factory dorms, eats in the factory cafeteria, sends her two kids to the factory school, and now spends 12 hours of her day stitching your Nike running shoes that you just discarded last week after you accidentally stepped in a big steaming pile of dog poo). Definitely not an easy sale.

Satisfisers are the store clerk's wet dream. The rich shopper example from the shoe store is a classic satisfiser. They know what they want ("Honey...I stepped in some dog poo...I'm going to get a new pair of shoes!"). They drive to the mall to get it. They ask the clerk which one looks good. They might try one on to be sure the thing's not a foot death-trap. They go "hmmm...I like the little bright red flap on the back of the shoe...let's see...$250...sounds good!" Then they whip out the credit card, and are quickly on their way.

Satisfisers don't do endless amounts of research. At most they'll ask one of their maximizer friends what to get and where to get it. If their maximizer friend starts to expound too much on the pros and cons of the different choices, the satisfiser's brain automatically switches to thinking about something totally different- this is a highly evolved defense mechanism designed to keep the satisfiser brain from being overloaded with seemingly useless details. Satisfisers I bet fall asleep before their heads hit the pillow (Pat).

Ok so I called myself an insomniac and classified myself a maximizer. That's not entirely true. I often have trouble sleeping, but I am not really a maximizer. I am a cheapskate. Cheapskates are cheap for cheap's sake. They revel in being cheap, and they don't care too much about quality. They just want it to do the job, and most importantly they want it cheap.

If Neutrogena Shampoo is considered good and reasonably priced (Pat), the cheapskate buys Suave anyway because it's cheap and besides, it'll take at least 15 years of continued use before it makes you permanently bald (me). In those 15 years, the cheapskate would have saved $2,343.53 in inflation-adjusted dollars by using Suave instead of Neutrogena. If that's not more valuable than personal scalp-follicle longevity, I don't know what is.

Cheapskates don't throw anything away, because that AC/DC adapter for the cheapskate's now-damaged, discarded calculator may come in handy someday in the future. Who knows, maybe one day they'll make an iPod that needs the same voltage, wattage and plug size as that Canon calculator from 1988. Or that broken cordless phone. The one with so much static buzzing that you can't actually hear any discernible sounds, and on the other end the person talking to you thinks you're calling from Alpha Centauri. That thing's still in the linen closet, with the power adapter neatly taped to it. Just in case McGyver shows up with some bad guys on his tail and needs to construct a morse code communicator with the parts.

Mind you this is all relative. Some people can afford a luxury car but still drive a Civic. They are cheap. If they drive a Lexus, they are likely maximizers (lowest maintenance luxury car). If they drive a BMW, they are likely satisfisers (fun to drive, but they didn't quite consider the high maintenance costs when they bought it). Some people can only afford a 1985 Civic but drive a brand new Acura. They are headed for personal bankruptcy at worst, or a lifetime of renting their home at best.

Ok so now you know what I am. Which one are you?

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There are 10 kinds of people in this world

Those who understand binary. And those who don't.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Yoshinoya Beef Bowl Prevents Cancer

The April issue of the American Cancer Society Journal has published the results of a widely conducted 20-year study of cancer preventing foods. At the top of the list is Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. Initially thought to simply be a leading cause of diabetes and heart disease, Yoshinoya Beef Bowl's cancer-fighting benefits came as a great surprise to the researchers. Despite initial doubts, the study was compelled to include Yoshinoya's Beef Bowl because the dish is very popular in Japan, with a Yoshinoya seemingly on every street corner in Tokyo and other large Japanese cities. The study included foods that were popular and frequently consumed in countries that have a low incidence of cancer, such as Japan and Greece.

While researchers initially believed at the outset that the predominance of foods such as fish and olive oil were responsible for the low incidence of cancer in Japanese and Mediterranean populations, the results of the well-funded independent study showed that Yoshinoya Beef Bowl clearly was the primary cancer preventing agent among the Japanese population. The study showed an average 30% lower incidence of several types of cancers for men and women of all age groups who regularly ate Yoshinoya Beef Bowl over a 20 year period, from 1986 to 2006. Those who ate a large Yoshinoya Beef Bowl with two packs of Kikkoman Soy Sauce at least twice a week particularly benefitted, with some age groups displaying up to a 45% lower incidence of colorectal cancer. "We were as surprised as anybody about the results, but the study was conducted very rigorously with independent funding over a 20 year period, and we consider the results to be conclusive," commented the study's coordinator, Dr. Aaron Ohno of the nationally-funded Japan Cancer Research Institute.

Public reaction to the study's surprising results has thus far been enthusiastic. "I give the results of this research study two big thumbs up. Now I can enjoy the fatty-fat-fattiness of a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl and know that I am also improving my health," comments 19-year-old Arthur Ipsla of Los Angeles, CA, a longtime Yoshinoya patron who has been cancer free all his life.

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