Caroline B’s Blog

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This week has been a pretty intense one on Harvard’s campus: between the different Assassins games and the campus wide House war that’s going on, the entire student body has been watching their backs. I, for one, spent the first few days of this week hiding out from my attacker in Dunster Assassins, only to be “killed” in the dining hall during lunch…

For a bit of background, many of the upperclassmen Houses run a game of Assassins towards the end of each semester. Each House has their own set of rules, but the basic idea is that players are assigned a “target” and are expected to “kill” them over the course of the game. “Killing” your opponent might mean a variety of things – anything from spraying them with a water gun to hitting them with a foam sword. Once you kill your opponent, you gain their opponent, and it continues on until there are only two players left. All of this amounts to a really intense week of strategizing and stalking!

This year, Dunster’s Assassins game is themed after Hunger Games. Every night, we get an email from “AnonyMoose” telling us which “tributes” have died, along with a brief story of how the kill happened. Each entryway has also been assigned a specific weapon to use, much like the districts in the book: the Gamemaker put different weapons in the arena, and my entryway was assigned a red pen as our weapon of choice. When I got killed in the dining hall this week, it happened with a piece of masking tape!

Probably my favorite version of Assassins is the game run by Quincy House, as theirs has an incredibly involved series of rules. The tradition goes back decades, and the most recent update of the pages-long rule document can be found online (check out their website!). I have a few friends playing, and since the only place they can get shot is in on Quincy grounds, they’ve all been avoiding Quincy House during the day so as to survive another day. Last night, I was walking by Quincy House on my way back to my room, and was surprised to find that there was a huge crowd assembled in Quincy Courtyard. Turns out there was a duel going on, a rare occasion in the Assassins game in which two players go head to head in a confined area in the courtyard, shooting Nerf guns at each other and playing to the “death.” Though the actual fight lasted only a minute or so, the entire event took over twenty minutes because there were so many rules to be clarified. It was so intense!! A few pictures are below.

 

Dueling in the courtyard!

Talking strategy…

On top of all of the Assassins games happening simultaneously, there’s also a multi-House war going on! Though the details are a bit fuzzy, the war began with Adams House and Currier House has since extended to include nearly half of the upperclassmen Houses. When Cabot House joined the fray, they announced: “We, the people of Cabot, will not stand for such injustices and must act to impede this infringement upon our Faust given and unalienable Rights, among these being Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Admittedly, the war itself is a bit of a joke but it has stirred up a bit of friendly House rivalry! You can check out the most recent coverage, courtesy of The Crimson, here on their blog.

And my last bit of news is that Henry Kissinger, class of 1950, came to campus this week in celebration of the College’s 375th!  In the midst of all of the Assassins games and right at the start of the inter-House war, Kissinger – a former Secretary of State – spoke in Sanders Theater on Wednesday. It was really interesting to hear his perspective on his political career, which involved real life decisions about political strategies and war tactics. When asked about his “position” on the inter-House war and whether he had any input about how to best “win,” Kissinger announced that he was a proud supporter of Adams House, his former home at Harvard. Glad to see that the House spirit never dies!

Kissinger in Sanders Theater

 

While the large majority of my time at Harvard is spent maintaining a healthy balance between work time and fun time, I must confess that there are weeks where I find that I really just have to buckle down and get things done. This week was definitely one of those weeks, where I felt like every time I sat down to take a break (or more likely, try to take a nap) I would remember something I needed to do or add to my ever-growing to do list. Another confession though: I kind of think I thrive during weeks like this, and find that it’s when I’m at my most productive – though the days themselves might be stressful, there’s a strange sense of satisfaction to get to the end of it all and realize how much I got done. Admittedly, I’m not quite done with this crazy week soooo that sense of accomplishment won’t be happening for a few days, but I’m looking forward to that feeling nonetheless.

A handful of things that managed to spring up this week:

–       Thesis: This was probably the most exciting part of my week – I finally figured out who my thesis advisor is going to be!! After literally months searching and a dozen conversations with different faculty members, I feel like the pieces are finally starting to fall into place. Finally finding an advisor means that I know have to turn to the more involved question of exactly what I’m going to ask as my research question. I settled on prison health care as a general topic, but am in the process of determining my exact focus, which takes a lot of reading… Add to that the problem of having to apply for human subjects approval and the puzzle of figuring out my methodology and it turns out I have a LOT to think about. The deadlines are coming up much sooner than I thought!

–       Extracurriculars: It just so happened that this week was the week that all of my extracurriculars decided to have an extra meeting, ask for an extra tour, or have a special meeting on a weeknight. The week started with a 7 hour long training for FOP (I’m leading a training trip for new leaders in May!) and was peppered with tour evaluations for Crimson Key Society (we’re about to elect a new class of members) and a planning meeting for Health Leads. Tons of stuff going on, and all at the same time!

–       Summer: I finally ended up securing a summer internship, but have spent the past couple of weeks trying to figure out where exactly I’m going to live. Finding an apartment to sublet is more difficult than it might seem! Luckily, this ended up working itself out pretty easily, but not before a couple of hours perusing Craigslist listings for summer sublets in the Cambridge area.

–       Computer Troubles: In a really unfortunate twist of events, my laptop completely died a couple of days ago and I was delivered the sad news that its hard drive completely died. Forced to say goodbye to my computers while it gets fixed in the shop. Not the most convenient considering that I have midterms on Monday and Tuesday!

–       School: Yup, saving the best (/worst) for last. This weekend is simultaneously my “wow, I have three midterms on Monday and Tuesday” weekend where I study all day, all weekend AND the turning point in my semester when I have to start looking ahead to the big final projects, papers, and take home finals I’ll have to start dealing with over the next few weeks. I find that this part of the semester can be the hardest to deal with, because I simultaneously have to keep my head in the “midterm game” while keeping an eye to the finals that I have just on the horizon. It’s seriously crazy to realize how fast the semester has flown by!

How do I make it through weeks like this? That’s an interesting question and even after three years, I’m still not sure I’ve developed the perfect formula for weeding through these more stressful times.  One solution I know works for sure: up the coffee intake. I am a full-fledged coffee addict, and this time of year is when I start making multiple trips to the coffee shops around the Square for caffeine. Another trick I’ve learned is to not be shy about giving my roommates a heads up about my stress level and work load. It may sound silly, but even a simple “hey, apologies in advance – probably will be a little messier than usual this week!” can really make a difference, and my roommates are always great about supporting each other through various crazy times. Definitely one of my secrets to success!

Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of Dunster-related activity in my life: between Housing Day, room selection, and faculty dinner this past week, it’s been great to have excuses to get involved with the House.

First up: Housing Day. As many of my fellow bloggers reported, Housing Day is truly one of the most exciting (if not THE most exciting) day on campus, and I’ve found that the tradition has only gotten more fun as an upperclassman. Dunster, like every other house, starts the day early with breakfast in the dining hall – we all get decked out in new Dunster “swag” (this year we got tanks and sunglasses) and start getting ourselves psyched up for the critically important task of welcoming new freshmen into the House. This year, I had the important responsibility of sporting one of the moose costumes – mine was an inflatable moose head, which looked TOTALLY ridiculous on me but was a complete blast to wear.

Me (the moose!) with the Pforzheimer House polar bear

While Housing Day was a blast, I was also super excited to undertake the process of finding a room for senior year. Admittedly, I was a bit freaked out that I was looking for my senior suite, because it’s just further evidence that I’m starting to get old, but it was nonetheless fun to spend time with my blockmates finding the perfect room. While freshman blocking groups get randomly assigned to a house and then placed in a suite over the summer, upperclassmen are given the opportunity to hand pick their specific room. It is, of course, a privilege to have some say in what room you end up living in, but it also ends up feeling like an enormous responsibility – I’m in charge of my own fate! This year, as seniors, we weren’t going to take any chances and the process was undertaken with extreme precision and care.

The first decision we made was to join up with other girls from our blocking group, such that we’re living in a “quint” as a group of five (rather than in a triple, like this year). We then spent HOURS poring over the floor plans for the house, comparing common room size, bedroom layout, window views… We were so indecisive that the night before the lottery happened, we went and visited our top four picks, sinking so low as to knock on the doors of current seniors’ rooms at 11 pm the night before the lottery to settle any debate about which room was our first choice. We even hunted down the four groups who got to pick their rooms in front of us, to figure out which suites they were going for – this kind of information is important! Ultimately, all of the preparation made for a smooth lottery overall, and we got our first choice room – it has a SWEET view of the river!

Fourth Floor Plan

This week was also Dunster’s Faculty Dinner, and I invited Dr. Andrew Berry, a professor in the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department, along with two other undergrads from the House. It’s always such a great opportunity to have dinner with your professors – being able to interact casually with them makes for a really interesting interaction. One of my favorite traditions at Harvard!

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I must confess, I rarely make a trip to the Quad. As far as Harvard’s campus goes, walking from Dunster to the Quad Houses is essentially as far a walk as you can make – 25 minutes, unless you catch the shuttle (which does, conveniently, pick up right outside the front door of Dunster). This week, though, I made the journey for one specific reason: to check out the much-talked-about Cabot Café. Cabot House is one of the three Quad Houses, and last semester a few students petitioned the University to help them start a swanky new coffee shop in the House’s basement. Thus far, it’s been a huge success, and I felt like I’d be missing out if I waited much longer before paying a visit.

Check out this article to get a fuller background on the founding of Cabot Café, but the basic idea is that five Cabot undergraduates approached the housemasters last year looking for support for a new student-run café on campus. I have to brag…one of the five was my freshman roommate! Cabot Café works with coffee shops and bakeries in Harvard Square to help stock their supplies, and I know the café has earned a great reputation for always having a great selection of baked goods available for late night snacks. In addition to generally having tasty food options and a full coffee drink menu, Cabot Café also prides itself on providing a comfortable social space for students on campus. As stated in this article from the Crimson, Cabot Café has from the beginning encouraged students to hang out and study in their space, regardless of whether they’re ordering off the menu.

Thus far, the project has been a huge success and the café even went under pretty serious renovations this winter. They reopened at the start of the semester featuring better lighting, new comfortable furniture, and student art decorating the walls. What better reason to visit!

Cabot Cafe at its busiest!

When I arrived at Cabot Café, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the student barista working behind the counter knew a ton about the various drinks they offered and expertly made me a handcrafted “Mocha Loca”. Though the space was fairly empty when I first got there, it was packed in no time with students setting up to study for the night or hang out with friends for a bit. As in any café, there was a comfortable amount of background chatter; unlike some other stores, the music selection in Cabot Café was actually good! I found that the café genuinely was a comfortable and enticing place to study. In fact, I almost missed the last shuttle back to the River because I was getting too comfortable!

A little glimpse of the menu

 

Outside of my visit to Cabot, this week was also fantastic because of the unbelievable (if not unseasonal) weather we’ve been having. Temperatures crept above 80 three times this week – I even had to pull out my underbed storage so I could start using my summer clothes again! Though I do feel as though Boston was generally cheated out of winter this year, I can’t complain about having beautiful sunny days in the middle of March. Soak up some Vitamin D!

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I’m having a bit of a “time flies” moment: today marked the start of Junior Parents’ Weekend. There are several important lessons to be learned from this occasion:

  1. I’m getting old. Having your parents come to town to visit for Junior Parents’ Weekend officially means that your time at Harvard is coming to a close – by this point, I know what I’m studying, I have some vague idea of what I’ll be doing post-graduation, and the most important questions on my mind generally tend to surround my senior thesis and career aspirations. Heck, the housing lottery for my senior year is this coming Tuesday. My days, unfortunately, are starting to be numbered.
  2. Parents love to take their kids to dinner. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my undergraduate career, it’s that college students should take every available opportunity to eat out while parents are around. As much as I love HUDS, it’s always awesome to have an excuse to eat in the Square. This weekend we’re hitting two of my favorite restaurants, Henrietta’s Table and Sandrine’s.
  3. Parents also love to meet roommates. One of the nicest things about Junior Parents’ Weekend is that by this point, my roommates each know the others’ families and enjoy spending time with them – makes it a lot of fun to go out to dinner together!
  4. Take advantage of every opportunity to interact with faculty. Tonight, the Dunster Housemasters – Mr. and Mrs. Porter – hosted a reception for juniors and their parents. I was shocked to find that only about 20 juniors (out of a class of 100+) took advantage of the offer! At worst, these types of events are a good excuse to eat tasty food. At best, you get to learn more about different professors’ lives and how they interact with Harvard.

    Masters' Residence, where we had our reception

  5. New England winter is just as bad as I think it is. My roommates are both from warm climates – North Carolina and Southern California – and I know their parents were a bit shocked at the Boston cold. While I do feel bad that parents got blasted with a snowstorm this weekend, it’s a bit reassuring to get confirmation that this weather is, in fact, cold. It also makes me feel a bit more rugged for being able to survive New England!

    Snow!

Aside from spending time with my parents, my roommates, and their families, I’m also hoping to take this weekend as an excuse to visit a couple of museums on campus. The Museum of Natural History and the Sackler Art Museum are both open to parents for free this weekend (students always get free admission) and my parents and I are hoping to take advantage of that offer tomorrow afternoon. In contrast to Freshmen Parents’ Weekend, I now know where to take my parents on campus!

Social Studies concentrators are required to take a “tutorial” each semester – during your sophomore year, the tutorials focus on political theory (Kant, Weber, Rousseau, Hobbes…) and are meant to serve as a academic base for the rest of your work in the department. Junior year, the tutorials are topic-oriented and students can pick what their focus is: this spring, I’m taking a tutorial on the American city, which has been AWESOME so far. Each week we read ethnographies about different cities in the country, and we complement our readings with our own field work. The eight of us have to pick a topic area in Boston and then spend 5+ hours a week doing field research. I ended up deciding to write about the relationship between government programs (public housing, food stamps, etc) and community centers, and therefore have been spending the past few weeks wandering around Boston and visiting different offices and neighborhoods to try and get a feel for the area.

My first stop was the Dudley Square neighborhood in Roxbury. I confess: despite having spent the past three years volunteering at Boston Medical Center, which is only a few blocks away from this neighborhood, I’ve never ventured past the area immediately surrounded by the hospital and was excited to have a reason to do a bit of exploring. After a bit of wandering around, I ended up finding this delicious local cafe called Haley House that serves up local recipes – their whole concept is “food with purpose,” so the entire institution is tied in with the surrounding community. I tried a jerk chicken grilled cheese, which was to die for.

I also got to spend a lot of time downtown this week, largely checking out formal programs like the Boston Housing Authority and the Department of Transitional Assistance. After years of working with patients and referring them to these organizations, I found it incredibly interesting to visit a lot of these programs that I’d heard so much about. I admit, I was pretty nervous about doing ethnographic field work at some of these sites, as I generally just have to walk inside and start talking to people about the kinds of services that are offered there. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that all of the employees I ran into were extremely friendly and willing to chat with me for 20 minutes about their jobs. Today, for instance, I was lucky enough to get a full hour-long tour of this community center called Rosie’s Place, and then was offered an impromptu tour of a job search agency near my hospital! The fact that people have been so willing to help has definitely made the research process easier.

Outside of my tutorial, though, things have been a bit frenzied for the past couple of weeks. This past Wednesday, I had two midterms and a paper due on the same day, with ten pages of field notes due for my research project on Thursday. Egad! Not the easiest academic week I’ve had this semester, but I think I’ve managed to survive it mostly intact. I’m also bummed I couldn’t upload pictures, but my computer seems to have crashed! I made an emergency appointment at the Apple Genius Bar for tomorrow, but in the meantime I’m struggling to figure out what’s wrong 🙁 Fingers crossed!

After returning from a wonderfully relaxing winter vacation, I came back to campus last week and got hit hard with something I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding: “real life.” As a second semester junior, there are some big questions that I have on my plate that I have to start sifting through – what will I write my senior thesis on? What do I want to do with my summer? What kinds of jobs am I considering for after college? …the list, unfortunately, goes on and on. Unsurprisingly, I’ve spent my first couple of weeks back on campus dealing with logistics and doing a bit of thinking about what the next couple of semesters (and years!) will look like.

The first major item on my “list” is the summer question. As a junior, there are two major options: “the internship” or thesis research. Many of my Social Studies classmates are spending the summer doing field work for their senior thesis, and therefore have been focused on applying for funding and finding an advisor to help them refine their project. I envy these individuals for a couple of reasons: 1) they have already picked their thesis topic and 2) they have a concrete plan for what they want to do this summer. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I: 1) haven’t yet finalized my topic and 2) really have no clue whether I should be applying for funding. Egad!

As I mentioned, the other major option (aside from thesis research) to consider is taking a summer internship, although even the goal of “finding an internship” is an extremely abstract vision. Especially for someone interested in public policy, as I am, there are a whole range of options to consider, ranging from Harvard-sponsored programs to policy internships in DC to private sector options. Two Harvard resources that have been really great in this search have been the Center for Public Interest Careers, which runs an awesome internship program for undergrads, and the Office of Career Services, which is primarily responsible for running the On Campus Interview program for big private firms interested in hiring undergraduates. I’ve found it really helpful to have so many Harvard-specific resources and programs at my disposal. Still trying to figure out exactly what my vision is for this summer, though!

Luckily, I’ve managed to make a bit of headway in refining my thesis topic! I’m still very early in the “game,” but at this point Social Studies juniors are expected to start thinking about their specific question in addition to finding an advisor to work with over the coming year. We have to fill out a thesis journal over the coming months, as a way of reflecting on the process and keeping track of the decisions we’re making. My early idea is to write on health care in prisons, primarily looking at the role of preventive care in this setting. I’ve set up meetings with a couple of Harvard professors and graduate students who study incarceration, so hopefully they’ll be able to help me formulate my question. It’s sort of exciting to finally make a bit of progress!

This weekend’s definitely going to be filled with a good amount of work, both for the classes I’m taking and for non-class related tasks (applications, outside research, etc). Since the weather’s been a little lousy, I’m almost looking forward to the opportunity to camp out at a local café with something warm to drink! Excited to have a productive weekend!

After the joy of Thanksgiving break (which was MUCH needed – so nice to be home!) I was unlucky enough to come back to school to an extremely large pile of work and a big ol’ presentation for my Social Studies tutorial. Not so fun! So needless to say, I’ve spent the week cracking down on my assignments, drinking lots of coffee, and spending late nights at the library.

I did have one near-horror story with my paper, though. For background: in order to print using library printers, students have to swipe their ID and pay with “Crimson Cash,” which you can load onto your card online. The paper I was writing was for American Constitutional Law, and given that our professor is a Law School professor, we needed to submit our essays in hard copy at his office at 4:30. I was working on my paper down to the wire, went to print at 4:15… and discovered I didn’t have enough Crimson Cash to print it! Probably the most stressful 7 minutes of my semester were spent trying to load money onto my account, waiting for it to load, and finally printing my paper. A full out sprint across Harvard Yard later, I submitted at 4:27 – phew!

Yesterday also marked the end of classes, which means that today is the start of our nine day reading period. I was joking with friends this morning at this day (that is, the first day of reading period) is the “best day of the year” – mostly because it’s one of the few times all semester you can feel guilt free when you’re not working. I took full advantage of my mini-break and treated myself to dinner out last night and a long night’s sleep. It was much needed!

The bliss only lasts for so long, though, as end of the year assignments and activities begin cropping up constantly during reading period. I have two more papers due over the course of the next week, as well as three exams during our finals period, which means I’ll definitely be working!

Outside of class, though, there are also a lot of fun social events and activities going on, which means students are usually busy all day despite not having classes this week. Tomorrow night, for example, is the “Five House Formal” – as you might have guessed, five of the upperclassmen Houses are joining together to run a giant formal downtown Boston. As further evidence of how hectic reading period can be, there are probably a dozen end-of-semester performances going on this weekend. I went to see my friends in Spring Awakening and Little Shop of Horrors Thursday and Friday, and am going to the Kuumba (gospel) concert tonight. It’s definitely busy trying to balance everything! The mix of school and fun is what makes reading period great, though – I’m strangely looking forward to the next week!

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The week before Thanksgiving is always a strange time at Harvard: we traditionally have the Harvard-Yale game the weekend before break, which leaves us with a two day span of classes and assignments to deal with before heading home for the holiday. Campus definitely starts to empty out relatively early, as a bunch of students from farther away generally tend to leave a day or two before the official break starts in order to get the longest vacation possible. I, being from Rhode Island and therefore close to home, have been left on campus for these last two days!

We just had the annual Harvard-Yale game this weekend, and Harvard won 45-7 (woot!). A bunch of my friends and I headed down to New Haven on Saturday morning – bright and early at 6:15 am! The Game (yes, we capitalize it) started at noon and Harvard proceeded to completely dominate. No better way to spend the day than to see the Crimson win! The bus ride back was great – almost everybody fell asleep immediately, and the ride was completely silent. I like to think of it as the sign of a successful day!

 

My roommates and I on the field after the Game!

Now that we’re back on campus, we’ve definitely started to settle into this strange pre-Thanksgiving week. Only one problem set separates me from a weeklong vacation! I know a lot of my friends are going to be flying home starting tomorrow (or have already left!), so things are definitely going to get quiet pretty quickly. The school sent out an announcement about dining hall closings over break, which means that vacation is nearly here!

Perhaps the weirdest thing about Thanksgiving is right when we get back – we only have one week of classes left when we return from vacation, and then we immediately start our winter “reading period”. I always feel like this time of year absolutely flies by, because once Harvard-Yale is over we jump into a whirlwind period of exams, papers, and final projects. I, for one, have a 25-page term paper that will be due ten days after I get back from Thanksgiving! It’s definitely scary to already have to be thinking about my huge end-of-year assignments.

Until that point, though, I’m looking forward to having a relaxing (almost) weeklong break at home. I’ll have to bring some work with me to make sure I’m being at least slightly productive, but the thought of sleeping in my own bed and having home-cooked meals sounds incredible at the moment. I’m even bringing my roommate home for Thanksgiving – we’re already scheming about what type of pie we’ll be baking! I’m starting my countdown to break now… 43 hours and counting!

I am a self-proclaimed geek about two specific topics: history and biology. I studied both in high school and have made a point of taking related courses in college, so when the opportunity came up to get a guided tour of Harvard’s Natural History Museum, I jumped. Yesterday afternoon, Dr. Andrew Berry – of the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department – took ten students on a tour of the museum, which started with a lecture on the history of the collection and transitioned to a tour around both the museum and the research facilities in the facility.

The event was sponsored by Harvard’s Woodbridge International Society, which is a student group on campus focused on supporting international students in their transition to an American university. They run a freshman pre-orientation program (the First-Year International Program) that helps students start bank accounts, get cell phones, and adapt to American-isms before school starts. During the year, they host social events on campus to establish an international community. Since Dr. Berry is British himself, the idea inspiring the event was to connect an international faculty member with international students. Confession: I’m not international! But it was great to participate and meet students from all over the world.

We started with a lecture about the history of the Natural History Museum, which was founded by Louis Agassiz in order to disprove Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The idea was that if he could arrange specimens from all over the world, it would evidence divine creation. I’m definitely a bit of a history nerd, but especially given that I’ve been learning about Agassiz in one of my courses this semester, I thought it was fascinating to learn more about the start of the museum. We then transitioned into a guided tour of the exhibits, and Dr. Berry would point out different specimens he thought were particularly interesting. Even though I’d been to the museum a few times, I was still blown away by some of the stuff he was telling us.

Dr. Berry showing us around

What Dr. Berry described as "the coolest room at Harvard"

We also stopped at the Glass Flowers Collection, which is absolutely incredible. In the late 19th century, Harvard commissioned the design of these glass flowers for botany courses on campus, because it was so difficult to find certain species in the New England winter that they needed life-like replicas to study instead. I highly recommend you check out the website to learn a bit more about the history and creation of the flowers – they were all hand crafted! So incredible.

The Glass Flowers Collection

The last part of the tour was a trip into the “belly” of the museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology. This is where the curators and researchers do all of their work with the different specimens Harvard has and continues to collect. Dr. Berry took us to the beetle collection, where they apparently have over 3 million beetle specimens stored.

Checking out the beetle collection at the MCZ

Overall, it was SUCH a cool afternoon – so excited I got the opportunity!

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