Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Joe Omundson

It's been a year: remembering the eclipse

Today is the 1-year anniversary of the solar eclipse that many of us in the US got to experience, and my story about it has been sitting as a draft this whole time. Time to dust it off and share it!

I first read about the solar eclipse years ago, when 2017 was a distantly abstract number, and I knew that I wanted to plan a trip to see it no matter what else was going on in my life. I've been interested in astronomy and space forever and I couldn't imagine missing the rare opportunity to watch the moon block out the sun.

Earlier in the year I studied a map of the path of totality. From Moab, the closest place to see it would be in Wyoming; it was passing over Jackson. But I didn't want to be in a choked, noisy town, I wanted to be up on some peak somewhere with a broad view of the land, so I could see the shadow approaching and all the effects. I traced the centerline east and noticed that Union Peak was directly on it. A bit more research revealed that Union Peak was reasonably accessible and that it was an isolated peak with a sweeping view of the Wind River Range and the Tetons. Well. That was all I needed, grizzly bears be damned.

The eclipse was to happen on Monday; I left Grand Junction on Thursday morning to ensure that I found a campsite, and to have a few days of reflection to prepare for the cosmic event. I spent Thursday night in Dubois, a small town east of Jackson, where I scrounged up some quarters to afford a beer at the Outlaw Saloon. Wyoming seems to be stuck in 1995 -- you can still smoke in bars. The vibe was conservative and I knew I was out of place with my leggings-under-shorts, technical merino longsleeve shirt, beanie with longer hair, and gauged ears. I noticed a couple playing pool nearby, and they apparently noticed me too, as the guy asked me if I smoked and I said "not cigarettes" and he said "yeah I know" and gave me half of a joint. I sat at a table in the corner and used the wi-fi for a couple hours.

In the morning I drove 25 mile drive to my camping area. I'd noticed a lake near Union Pass on freecampsites.net and that was my destination. There were already a number of people camped here, and I probed around until I found a site at about 9AM. I lounged all day. I realized that I'd lost my hammock a few weeks prior at my birhday party. I hoped someone was getting good use out of it now.

On Saturday I decided to hike up to Union Peak to make sure I knew how to get there, and also to scout out a campsite that might be closer. I walked up the dirt road, past many campers pulled off to the side, until I reached a broad meadow with nobody camped in it. I realized I liked this site better and so I immediately turned around to get my van and bring it there; I could hike farther, later. On my way back, I met a guy named Randy looking at the information board and we had a quick conversation. He pointed out his camper and invited me to stop by for a beer later.

I moved my van, stopping along the way at Randy's camper for the beer he'd promised. I met his wife Althee (not sure how to spell that -- short for Althea) and they gave me an Alaskan Amber. We got to talking and I mentioned my heart condition, and it turned out Randy, one of those 63 year old active Coloradans who seems 46, had had an aortic aneurism and also required an open heart surgery w/ aortic valve reconstruction and a partially replaced aorta. They live in Carbondale. They were expecting 3 more couples to join them, longtime camping friends of theirs. They gave me another beer for the road as I headed up.

I'd paid attention to the road as I walked it the first time, to make sure it was passable in my FWD minivan, but apparently it's easy to be optimistic when walking. I made it to the meadow, but not without a whole lot of careful steering, bouncing about, a couple of loud clunks on the undercarriage, and almost getting stuck on a particularly tricky bit. The Rabbit actually did better on this kind of stuff -- just as much clearance, and the tight wheelbase made it easy to dodge and weave. I do enjoy the challenge of picking a passable route on hairy roads. People with 4WD trucks might have it too easy and miss out on the fun.

From there I walked up toward the peak, just far enough to make sure I understood what route would be the best to get me up there, then returned to my camp. I made a plan to hike up during the day Sunday and camp out for the eclipse Monday morning.

Sunday morning was lazy, I read a book, meditated, and ate food. Around noon I started packing my bag for an overnight trip up the mountain. The usual stuff -- sleeping pad, food bag, tent, plus both of my down quilts, because I expected it to get cold.

I started hiking up the hill and walked for maybe 15 minutes. The first vehicle that was going my direction was a Jeep and I turned around to stick out my thumb and grin at them. They stopped, thinking I might be joking, but I was serious, I wanted a ride. It was a male/female couple in their 30s and the guy driving jumped out to make space for me in the back seat. I said if it was a hassle not to worry about it, but he said no and enthusiastically got the seat ready. Their dog got out of the car and came around to say hi to me, which apparently she has only done to 4 people in the 7 years they've had her. We started bouncing up the hill. The road was strewn with bumps and boulders and the Jeep was necessary. They were from Albuquerque, had done some climbing in the previous days and were now going up to see the eclipse. They had the most benevolent energy, toward me and each other, and I was almost sad to say goodbye to them when I got to my dropoff point.

I hiked my way up to Union Peak, 11,491', a gentle hill really and no trail was necessary. At the top were 3 or 4 guys taking pictures and looking around; once they left I had the peak to myself. Three more pairs came up that night. Mike and Leon, a father/son duo: Leon was probably 15 and very interested in my gear and the general fact that I was camping right by the summit that night. He was all wide-eyed and grinning and full of questions, and you could tell his father enjoyed being his mentor and friend. Next two guys my age in green jackets from Minneapolis came to the top and asked me to take photos of them, and they returned the favor, and they also had a very kind attitude. Lastly was another father/son pair, the son was my age and they were from Dallas but had a ranch 4 hours away from where we were in Wyoming. They asked me to take their photo too.

I kept reading my book and I wandered around the meadow near the summit to keep warm, finding some rose quartz which I kept as a souvenir. Finally it was sunset and I went to bed after finding the most level and flat spot I could, building it flatter with some pancake rocks, on the downwind side of some big rock formations. I wrapped myself in both quilts and left my glasses on to catch a few shooting stars before drifting off. I slept well other than my pad going flat and needing to be blown up a couple times.

See my sleeping pad?

I woke up and stared at a stretched out dawn of orange and pink clouds, not wanting to get up to pee or reinflate my mattress, just stare and absorb it. 

Then I did my morning chores and I meditated for a little while, and not too long after that I heard rocks clattering up top and a voice mildly celebrating the summit. It was maybe 7:30 and my first visitor had arrived. He was Ty, from Texas, about 36 I believe, and we were instant friends. We talked for quite a while about our lives and the eclipse. Other people started arriving and soon there were a couple dozen people waiting for the celestial bodies to align. I mistakenly thought that we'd see a shadow scoot across the world when the moon first began to occlude the sun, but that was bad logic, as the darkening is quite a gradual thing at first.

I won't pretend to know all the ranges and peaks that are visible from Union Peak, but we had a view of many miles in many directions. On the horizon to the west were the Tetons, past Jackson, and since the shadow would be coming from that direction, that's where most of our attention was focused. The Wind River Range was to the south, including the highest peak in Wyoming, Mt. Gannett, but most of that was obscured by snowy formations in the foreground. East was a long valley of ridges and hills, north past the highway were interesting buttes and other peaks.

We used our eclipse viewing devices to track the progress of the occlusion. First there was a tiny notch where the moon was just beginning to impose. Then a small bite, then a bigger bite, then the sun started to look like a crescent. We were amazed that despite 75% of the sun being covered, it didn't seem any less bright to us, and it was only just starting to feel a bit cooler. I guess this is because human vision works on a logarithmic scale rather than linear; for something to appear half as bright, it actually has to decrease in luminosity by a factor of 10, or something along those lines. Night may seem 1/50th as bright as daytime to us, when in fact it is a factor of many thousands, as a linear sensor like a digital camera will reveal. The crescent got smaller, the air continued to cool, and gradually it started feeling more like twilight as the crescent got quite thin. By this point there were roughly 60 of us on the peak.

Then the crescent became a tiny sliver and totality was almost upon us. We looked toward the west. There was a general haze due to Montana forest fires, and as the Tetons dimmed, they were lost to our sight; but when totality fell upon them, they turned into stark black silhouettes against a smoky red backdrop. As the blackness rolled toward us over the hills and ridges, we moaned our amazement and looked back at the tiny speck of sun shining past the edge of the moon -- and then it was gone. No need for eye protection anymore, we looked at the gaping black hole where the sun should be, and the atmosphere projecting out around it, and several planets shining. This lasted for two minutes which passed unbelievably quickly.

Several airplanes flew overhead along the eclipse path. Someone in the crowd confidently announced that one of them was a NASA research plane. Others were likely private parties of people who wanted to maximize their time spent in totality, crazy expensive things that crazy rich people do.

In the minutes before totality I moved to a different position on the peak to get a better view, and I noticed a guy with a long beard in a down jacket who had that wild knowingness in his eyes. He noticed me too but we didn't say anything. Later, I approached him and said "Hey, are you a thru-hiker by any chance?" Was he ever. He was hiking the CDT at the time, and had traveled down from Montana to see the eclipse; he had five or six hundred more miles to get to the end. He'd hiked the AT in 2015, the PCT in 2016, and a number of other trails in between -- hiking almost nonstop, over 15,000 miles in 2.5 years. His trail name was Attrition because he was going to keep hiking as long as his resources lasted. We hung out for a while and then I started the walk back down the hill. He said maybe he'd catch up.

Sure enough, a mile or two later I looked behind me and he was approaching rapidly, obviously in excellent shape from hiking. I struggled to keep up once he caught up to me, but I didn't have to try for long -- I tried hitching a ride with a jeep, but it was too full of stuff; so we kept walking but then a guy in a 4Runner who had seen us talking to the jeep offered to give us a ride down, which we accepted. This guy was kind of a trip, he worked as some kind of environmental analyst who helps put a dollar value on natural systems to provide perspective for economic-minded people who would destroy it. He'd been an engineer before but quit that life to have more freedom; he was all about finding cheap solutions that met his needs, like a $28,000 house bought during the recession, travel rigs that can go anywhere and fit a bed in the back, work that can be done from anywhere. We bounced down the road again and he let me off at my minivan.

Half of the reason I make trips like this is for personal curiosity and satisfaction, but the other half is to meet like-minded people. I firmly believe that the best way to connect with people is to find an activity or event that exudes "you"ness and see who else is there. By going to that place at that time, I was applying a filter on humanity: selecting for people who care somewhat about astronomy and unique opportunities, who are willing to put in the effort to climb a summit for an optimal experience, who have time in their lives to plan trips like that, who enjoy the outdoors and wild spaces. Even then, 60 people showed up and I only had memorable interactions with two.

Reunited with my minivan, I scraped my way down the gnarly road, forded the creek at the bottom and was back on a smooth gravel road. I drove to Dubois to spend the night in the empty lot again. I got Wi-Fi and a couple beers at the saloon, then walked to a food shack where a couple guys were selling "Indian tacos" for $10 and quesadillas for $5. They were hardass, mean looking white guys. But I told him I couldn't afford the $10 option, and when I said I didn't have any cash and they also didn't take cards, he said "don't worry, just go sit down, I'll hook you up." They brought me a quesadilla for free. After I threw away the plate I warmly said thank you and asked if I could help with dishes or anything, but he just smiled and said "don't worry about it, enjoy your meal." It goes to show how useless my assumptions are about hardass looking guys.

I took it easy the next day, driving less than 300 miles south to camp in Irish Canyon in NW Colorado. A BLM campground, tables and fire rings and a pit toilet, all completely free; BLM areas are my favorite. Never crowded, usually free, still beautiful. Who needs national parks? BLM camping is where it's at. I got a bit drunk and wrote this story.

Now a year later I'm sitting in my bus in a parking lot in Hillsboro, having made a only few changes to the original story, and it seems as though the eclipse was another life. It's hard to believe that was only one year ago. I'm grateful to live a lifestyle where I'm doing new things with enough regularity that my memories of life aren't a featureless blur.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB010: I moved into the bus

The Transfer

Three days ago, on Saturday 7/28, I emptied everything out of my minivan and into my bus.

I was stuck for a while because I felt I couldn't move into the bus until the minivan was sold because otherwise I'd have two vehicles to juggle on the streets and that's a headache; so I listed it for sale, but obviously I couldn't sell it until I emptied it of myself and all my stuff, which required moving into the bus. Something had to give so I moved into the bus and drove the minivan to my mom's house, where it's parked now as I try to sell it.

(Want to buy a minivan? Nudge nudge. I promise it'll be perfect for everything you could ever imagine...)

It wasn't pretty that first day. Well, it still isn't, but it was even more disorganized then.

 After my first sort: at least there's some room to walk around

I found one potential place to park the bus out in NE Portland, the people seem really nice and are flexible with things, but there isn't much shade for the bus and it's a bit farther out than I'd like to be ideally. It's good to have that option but I'm still looking around for other options.

Today I'm in St. Johns and I've got the bus parked under the bridge while I'm at a coffeeshop.

I did more sorting today and set up my kitchen where I think I'd like it to go permanently. I ziptied the table to the wall and velcroed my stove, cutting board, and "important items" bowl (wallet keys etc) to the table.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB009: Subfloors are done! Also, goats

In seach of a place to park and work on my bus, I came across a guy named Dan on craigslist who has a shop in the rural area between Hillsboro and Newberg. People pay him a weekly fee to work on their buses there. It costs more than I can afford long-term, but I figured I'd pay for 7 days and get as much work done as I could in that time.

Aside from being a genuinely kind dude and making me feel very welcome in his space, Dan and his wife have a whole herd of goats that I was allowed to play with. They have about 50 total, 19 of which are babies. Every day I'd take some time to go sit with them because they were so funny, friendly, and therapeutic.

I'm happy to say that my goals turned out to be pretty realistic and I finished the two main things I went there to accomplish: installing the new subfloor, and making window covers out of reflectix.

When I started my week I had already cut most of the boards I needed for my floor, but I had two more I needed to cut at the front of the bus, so I started working on that on day 1. These were the trickiest ones to cut to shape, so I used cardboard to make a template, and I was glad I did because it took a few iterations to get it right.

On day 2 I cut those boards and was satisfied that they fit well enough.

The next thing to do was waterproof the underside of the boards I hadn't done yet, so I took all the wood out of the bus; with all the floors out for one last time, it was a good time to deal with the rusty seat tracks along the side of the bus. I decided that since they will be covered with insulation anyway, they didn't need to be cleaned as thoroughly with a grinder like I did with the metal beneath the subfloor.

So I wiped down the tracks and scraped the rust where it was deep and flaky and went ahead and coated them with rust converter and a green rustoleum enamel coating, just to hopefully keep them from rusting any further (I'm not sure how they got so rusty in the first place?).

Day 3 was my paint day. Each board needed 3 coats of Redgard, and some time to dry in between coats, so this took several hours to complete. I coated the entire undersides and also made a stripe along the outside edges of the tops.

I didn't get too much done on day 4 but I did decide to borrow one of Dan's ideas and use a layer of plastic sheeting underneath the subfloors. It may be overkill seeing as I already waterproofed the boards, but since they're in direct exposure to the road, I figured for another $10 it's an easy and effective way to make my subfloors quite a bit more water resistant from beneath. I tested the drilling/screwing process to make sure it was feasible before calling it a night.

On day 5 I screwed in a good section of my floor and got the process down. I found it best to pre-drill a hole with a 5/32" bit that was as long as the screw I was putting in (#14, 2 3/4") because then I could test what was underneath before committing to anything. It took a pretty big impact driver sometimes when there were a couple layers of steel to get the screw into, so I was glad I'd pre-drilled.

Day 6 was exciting because I got almost all the floors installed. Actually, I got everything screwed down that I was planning to screw down, and then I was going to work on a hinge system for a couple of boards on the sides of the bus so that I can open them from above.

(This was one of the friendliest and shirt-bitingest goats around:)

On the morning of day 7 I decided to scrap the hinge idea, because I didn't think my plan would create a robust, effective seal. So I decided to screw these boards down like the other ones. I realized that I can always back the screws out if I want to pull up those boards to make it easier to install utilities below them. So it's still good that I cut those pieces individually. I can rework the hinge thing later if I want to.

I made a new friend this week (actually on day 1 of my time here) and she helped me on day 7 by driving me to the property so I could drive the bus away at the end of the day, and she helped with screwing down the last 2 boards and cleaning everything up and also installing the reflectix window covers. So nice to have the help! It was a relatively quick job, I'd bought a roll of 4'x25' reflectix and cut it into two pieces that covered both of the side rows of windows. I then bought a roll of outdoor-grade velcro and we made 6 velcro attachment points for each of the window covers, which seems to be sufficient to hold them up; I'll probably create a more elaborate system later, but for now, this is easy enough and keeps the sunlight out.

as a side benefit, my bus looks like the international space station now

I drove my bus back to the RV storage place where I'm renting a spot, and cooked (reheated) my first meal inside the bus... and tried to imagine what it'll be like to cook in there when everything's done.

So the subfloors are 100% installed! And my windows have covers (well, most of them). I had no idea it was going to take this long, but it's a relief to have the floors done now. It means I can essentially start living in there whenever I please, and I won't have to empty it out to do any of the work that needs to happen next.

Speaking of what needs to happen next: My plan is to sell my minivan sometime in the next 2 weeks and move into the bus. My car insurance plan expires July 27, and my RV space rent is finished July 31, so it seems like good timing. Onto the next phase: bus dwelling around Portland and looking for good places to park it.

And because everyone likes baby goats (or should, at least), here are some more pictures of baby goats.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB008: One month with the bus!

Here's a photo of the inside of the bus today, May 26, one month after I drove it off the lot:

Compared to April 26:

After some more hours of grinding away at the old seat tracks, they're gone! And I've got a flat floor-installation surface. Time well spent in my opinion.

Safety first, even if you look like an alien.

I spent another few hours using the angle grinder tool w/ a wire brush attachment to clear off surface rust below the floor. Now's my chance to protect the frame from further deterioration.

I didn't have to remove all of the rust down to bare metal because my next step was to apply a "rust reformer" by rustoleum. This converts the rusty surface to a stable, paintable surface, as long as you've removed the loose surface rust. It's black, as you can see, and I've chosen a few colors for the protective coat, because why make it boring if you can make it less boring?

But before I applied the topcoat I started cutting the plywood to fit. I figured that way I could be coating the underside of the wood with Redgard (a waterproofing membrane) and letting that dry, at the same time the metal topcoat was drying. Being efficient with time is important since I only have the weekends to really dive into this.

First panel was pretty successful but had to be pulled out a couple times to adjust for mismeasurements.

The second panel was really satisfying because I measured it once, cut it once, and it fit almost perfectly -- only had to shave about 1/8" to get the fuel tank filling line to fit (the biggest notch in the below pic).

So, the rear 8' of my bus has a floor! It's not fastened yet, but at least I can walk on it and store things inside again.

Next I used about five cans of spray paint to apply two coats to all the metal:

While that was drying I went to work coating the bottom of the wood floors with Redgard, which is a pretty bizarre thing to paint with. It's really thick, almost gelatinous. It goes on pink and quickly dries red.

I applied three layers, using almost one gallon for 2 pieces of plywood.

So I popped those boards back in there, threw all my junk on top, and that's where I'm at now!

Work on the bus has been a bit slower than I'd like, but it's for a good reason. I asked David if they might need any more workers at the company he works for (they make radiant floor heating for RVs) and he helped me get a job there. So I'm working part time, it's $13.86/hour which is less than I made at the burger place after tips but it's convenient because it's right next to the shop where I work on my bus, and the work is pretty peaceful. I just need to be patient and realize it's OK to slow down if it means staying afloat financially. Still, I can't wait for it to be livable and really make the transition from the minivan to the bus.
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Monday, May 14, 2018

Joe Omundson

BB007: Subfloor removal

Before I talk about the floors, one last note about the batteries: this is what was connected to my positive terminal under the hood, maybe it's hard to see but the part that tightens around the terminal was almost completely worn through.

I brought the bus back to the battery shop. The guy who runs the place re-terminated my cables and got them securely fastened, in a much cleaner way than I could have done without the giant crimper tool they had. It was $12.20 for parts and he wasn't going to charge anything for labor cuz dude is awesome but I tipped him $5 anyway.

On to the floors: they are 3/4" plywood screwed directly onto the metal grid underneath. With an impact driver I removed every screw I could find, but some of the screws stripped, and others were so rusty that they disintegrated. There was also a very tough fiberglass weld between the plywood and the walls, which obscured a row of screws and was difficult to remove. Here's the first panel I worked loose:

I worked this up by placing a jack underneath the plywood panel, vertically placing a 2"x6" between the jack and the panel, and jacking it up until the weight of the bus forced the panel away from the frame.

I also removed most of the fiberglass paneling from the top of the roof. It's not in bad condition, but I don't want to use it in my build. It went to the dump. I hate that I'm not finding the time and space to find new purposes for these materials, but I'm kind of desperate to move forward with my build so that I can start to live in it and gain some more stability in my life.

I was able to remove the plywood flooring on the sides of the bus, which went to the dump with the ceiling panels. This cost me $28. Then, I went to the lumberyard and picked up 5 new sheets of plywood which have one side nicely sanded for flooring application. My dad bought me this plywood as a "housewarming" gift; I had been staying at his house for a couple weeks working on the bus, but I cleared out of his driveway and moved the bus over to Hillsboro, to work with the guy from facebook who offered to let me use his shop (David). It was awesome to get some quality plywood for free, as it's $42 per sheet.

By the end of the day I'd removed the rest of the plywood (except for the "cabin" section near the driver's seat, which I decided to leave for later). It was a long day, I felt like I got a lot done.

Here's a shot of the ceiling with the panels removed. You can see some darker strips running the length of the bus -- that's some kind of metal or epoxy or something, all the luggage racks were screwed into those parts. The rest of the ceiling is thinner honeycomb style fiberglass like you can see in the rectangle on the left (these holes were cut for speakers and lights).

The next day I did some shopping at AutoZone and Home Depot.

The rustoleum converter and paint are for the metal frame -- it makes a lot of sense to clean it of rust and protect it against future rust, while I have the floors off. Redgard is $52/gallon, I got 2 gallons, it's to create a robust weatherproof seal on the bottom of the plywood which is exposed to the road, worth the money in my opinion. I got these at home depot for $130.32  The rest of the items I got at AutoZone except I only got 2 U-joints instead of 3 and I got an air filter instead of a fuel filter. Instead of requiring 5 quarts of oil like a normal goddamn engine mine needs FIFTEEN quarts so it was 4 gallons of Rotella at $15/gallon and yeah, it got expensive ($177.86). The center bearing might help a lot with a wobble I'm feeling when I drive the bus.

Can you tell which filter is the new one? Ha. (There were actually two of these to replace.)

David and I took a break from working and he let me use one of his day passes at the bouldering gym he goes to. It was cool to get to know each other a bit outside the context of auto repair, and also I felt inspired to try to exercise more, it was really fun to climb and to get on a slackline again.

The next thing I had to do was remove the tracks that the seats were bolted to. The whole metal framework is essentially flat and ready for plywood throughout, except for these 2 rails which stick up above the level of the plywood and run for a total of about 27'. They are insanely thoroughly tack-welded on and it's taken me probably 3-4 hours of work to remove about 10 feet of track. I'm getting a bit faster at it, but it's definitely a pain in the ass. I just know if I don't remove them, I'm going to regret it later.

I asked David to take some pics of me grinding the rails off because I always feel badass making sparks fly and I guess I'm vain like that, haha.

Once I'm done deleting the tracks, I'll remove the surface rust from all of the metal and protect it using rust converter and then a layer of Rustoleum paint. Then, I can cut my new plywood to fit, coat it with Redgard, and screw it down -- I'll probably leave the top unfinished for some time as I continue to work on the bus, as I don't see the point in installing a nice floor when I'm still going to be doing so many things that could damage it in the next stages of the build.

The purchases described in this post bring my project total to $3,448.71.

I realize there's some ambiguity as to what counts as a build expense and what doesn't. Using my completely arbitrary intuition as to what counts and what doesn't, I've included title & registration fees but not insurance (actually I still need to buy that, but I won't include it when I do), because I figure titling fees are a mandatory one-time thing that count as part of the purchase price of a vehicle, whereas insurance is an ongoing cost and not a build cost; same with fuel. Yet other replaceable items like filters and wipers count as part of the build because they are tangible improvements to the condition of the vehicle. Tools or other items which I would have bought anyway (like recently I had to replace a multimeter after I broke it for an unrelated reason) do not count, even if they come in handy for the bus. Seem fair?
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