Streubel Update – One Chapter Closes and a New One Begins

On May 7, 2011 an 11 year journey ended as I was presented my doctoral hood at Washington State’s commencement ceremony.  The chapter of formal education in my life has final come to a close after 4 degrees.  This conclusion, I have been told, has resulted in the only ordained Assemblies of God minister with a PhD in Soil Science.  (If there are others please show yourself we need to talk).   As the person who said they would never continue their formal education beyond a church ministries degree this truly was a divine helped and inspired journey.

One question I consistently receive is “why”? The simple answer – I believed I was placed on this earth for a purpose and that purpose is to bring hope to people, both spiritually and physically.  For a more detailed response read

As you may have assumed or my friends already know – I don’t always fit the normal standard curve.  My journey has been a strange one, where at times there no place for me to fit, no model to follow.  I was continually caught in a state of limbo.  There is no divisional lunch at Network Council for soil scientist pastors with a heart to feed the world.  My small group has been rather lonely (and Mary’s even smaller) HOWEVER my creator had a plan….His purpose was just around the corner.

In true irony two years ago when I was at my lowest – my God was orchestrating the beginnings of my new chapter by preparing a unique puzzle piece at a faith based disaster relief organization (Convoy of Hope) suited for someone who didn’t always fit the mold.

The week after graduation I was presented with two job offers – one academic (WSU tenure track faculty) and Convoy of Hope.  As I sat around the table with leaders in the children’s feeding initiative everything started to come together for the first time.  All the unique experiences from tilapia, chicken, goats, senior pasturing and even anaerobic digesters started to make sense and fall into place – as if my designer was saying “see I told you I could be trusted – you’re not crazy”.

So in the next three weeks Mary and I will be pulling up our roots in Washington and leaving for Springfield, Missouri to work with Convoy of Hope’s children’s feed initiative to development models for sustainability.  We will be working with area farmers and children educating them on best management practices that work locally so Convoy can ultimately by their food from local suppliers plus by building the local capacity Convoy can focus on other geographical areas of need.

It will not be easy, there will be frustrations, it will take time, there are still lots of unknowns but most importantly…

I WAS MADE FOR THIS…and now the new chapter begins.


I CAN’T RUN NAKED..(The Nerdy Tech Stuff in my Running Bag)

Taking a break from phosphorus dynamics between manure and biochar (Phd dissertation) to follow up on what is inside my running bag.

As a borderline scientist I tend to be a little nerdy and want to account for all the variables if necessary.  Yet there are days when I just strap on the shoes and run.

Identification: Having been almost run over a few times I am a fan of RoadID. I try to wear it on my wrist whenever I am out on the road.  The family calls it the “death bracelet” I call it peace of mind.

Tracking Distance and Time: I have three options in my bag depending on where I am running. During long runs and all races I grab the GPS unit.

1)      Garmin Forerunner 205 – it gives me time, distance, location, elevation etc.  This unit is an older model but serves its purpose very well.  I have very little trouble losing signal and one charge last forever.

2)      Timex Heart Rate Monitor – to look at my fitness I will strap on the chest piece and track my HR throughout my run.  This gives me a good look at how hard I am working.

3)      Soleus 10k Watch – I wear this 24/7 and it gives me my times with a good basic memory package for laps etc.

Weather: I like to know what is going on weather wise when I run.  My current record is runs at 3oF and 104oF.

1)      One thing about Washington is it has an extensive network of weather stations which save me a lot of time and effort. (AgWeatherNet) gives me everything I want and more.  I happen to have two stations accessible when running at work.  Most states have some sort of free access agricultural weather monitoring system.  WSU’s site is free to everyone thanks to farmers who provide funding.

2)      I also carry a Brunton ADC-Summit hand held weather station with me when I don’t have accurate weather information available.  This gives me wind, barometer, elevation, temps and wind chill.  (NERD)

Recording Mileage: I have tried several logging options over the years.  I have used Nike’s Plus system (yes with my Brooks shoes) but when the battery goes dead in the sensor it doesn’t work.  Currently I use and the Brooks Running Club site on Facebook but honestly I do a better job of keeping a hard copy with pencil and paper.  Dailymile is a good site too if you are looking for easy.

Music: Deep down I tend to be a purest and have never ran a race with any sort of MP3 device.  I run with music about 15% of the time, and when I do I use an iPod I used to run with a Sony Walkman (Tape edition)

Of course you don’t need all the technology to enjoy the run but for me having information is good!

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My Running Gear

In response to some questions about my running gear thought I would let people into my running bag. There are several places people can go for gear advice but hopefully you find it useful to see what I wear and Run Happy.

Disclaimer: In full disclosure I am a member of the Brooks Running Pace Team (since 2010) which is about giving regular guys like me the opportunity to feel like a rock star. HOWEVER I have been running in Brooks gear since the mid-1990’s so the closet was full of Brooks before the ID Program.

The Top:
Outer Shell Top: A long sleeve Brooks NightLife jacket (Marathon Maniac Issue Member #1475. This is bright and reflective so I can run at anytime of the day and know people will see me. This color also keeps the Grandview gangs from flashing signs at me. (Happens all the time when wearing blue or red Brooks jackets) Under the jacket I will wear a technical running shirt long or short depending on the temperature.

Bottoms: Brooks Elite Shorts or Spartan Pant 2 running pant. I do have several pairs of shorts both longer and short, my ultimate choice revolves around how much flesh I want to show for the day 🙂 I do believe real runners wear short-shorts. (my friends don’t agree)

Shoes: Brooks Adrenaline GTS Series. Brooks currently is on the 11 model I am still wearing the 10. ( When I run in this series I have been averaging 500 miles per set of shoes. I stop at 500 so I can wear the shoes around the lab etc. I would be able to get more out of them if I needed. My current pair is almost at 400 miles.

Socks: Although some do not see why I would want to spend $20 on running socks. I promise it makes all the difference in a marathon (or 5k). I use several of the Brooks socks and get 2 years of running out of a pair before they are done. After biting the bullet on my first pair of running socks I have never gotten a blister or hot spot. I will never go back.

Next post – My nerdy tech stuff

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Are You Done Yet?

Numerous of our family and friends have ask about my progress and when they get to call me Dr. or when I can afford to take my wife out to dinner. So here is the latest update:

The last six months have been full of set backs, rescheduled dates, and experimental reruns which ultimately shattered any hope of a December 2010 graduation.  I am currently in the writing process submitting drafts to my committee chair and then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting….you get the picture.  In a research based PhD publications are the key and required by the department at WSU (at least 1).  They are how your committee and chair get a return on their investment of time and money.  In most cases a graduate student finishes their dissertation and then publishes the outcome after graduation or a combination.  My committee chair however wants everything that can be published already submitted prior to my defense.  The difference between dissertation and publication ready are VAST, as I have found out in the last 4 months.

My PhD dissertation encompasses 4 major chapters (it was 3 until Friday afternoon).

1)      Literature Review

2)      “Influence of Biochar on Soil pH, Water Holding Capacity, Nitrogen and Carbon Dynamics. ”

3)      Characterization of Biochar made from dairy manure fiber and its ability to sequester phosphorus from dairy lagoons

4)      The impact of phosphorus recovered from dairy manure using biochar on soil characteristics and crop yield.

Progress: Chapter 1 – 80% complete but will be in revision until defense

Chapter 2 – DONE Accepted to SSSJA

Chapter 3 and 4 – Writing and rewriting


So it boils down to this – we are not setting any dates for my defense BUT it must happen before April 1, 2011 and I will walk in May.

Thanks for the prayers!

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When Goats Pee

Over the last two months a new running group has been established at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, WA.  On any given day there is the potential of 4 or more runners heading out for a nice lunch run around the roads of the beautiful Yakima Valley.  

 Yesterday was not one of those days as everyone’s schedules have been a little different making running alone necessary.  The thing about our running routes is the amount of dogs who like to come and greet us alone the way.  Depending on the day we each take turns yelling at or rushing the dogs giving them the scare of their lives…or at least reminding them they make us nervous. 

 Yesterday however, there was no one to help deflect the dog attacks, it was just me.  The beginning of the run was relatively calm with less then normal dog action but all of a sudden one of the usual suspects started running from the front porch to make my leg into his lunch snack.  On the normal day the 4 foot fence keeps him at bay but today (of course when I was alone) he jumped the fence without hesitation coming to hunt me down.  In that moment of panic I saw my new Brooks GTS 10’s being ripped in two and my new Brooks ID Elite shorts pulled to my ankles tripping me into ball of shame in the middle of the road.  Somewhere out of my inner most soul it came, the loudest, most gnarly exclamation I have ever made “Go Lay Down”.  The dog’s hair rose throughout its back and stopped dead in his tracks retreating to behind the protection of this fence. 

 In was in that moment of pride and relief I noticed that in the adjacent field the 15 plus goats were eyeing me down and in peeing in unison.  (As a former goat owner I have seen this response before)  The urination in fear response is a classic.  

With my Brooks gear unharmed and firmly around my waist I finished my run and returned to the world of graduate school with the ever present reminder that my voice and face are capable of making goats pee.  May my anger never reach that point with my kids because that is not how a Dad should ever be remembered.

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A Little Self Promotion – Front Page Tri Cities Herald

Scientists see biochar as promising fuel source

By Kevin McCullen, Herald staff writer

Scientists in Eastern Washington are at the forefront of research into an ancient practice that shows promise as a clean fuel source, a way to improve soil condition and to capture carbon that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere.

Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the federal Department of Agriculture’s research station in Prosser and Washington State University have been integral figures in studies of biochar and its potential uses.

Biochar, a charcoal-like material, is produced when biomass — including wood, plant and animal waste — is burned in the absence of or under low oxygen conditions so the material doesn’t combust.

This process, called pyrolysis, thermally decomposes the waste into biochar, bio-oil and syngas. Biochar and bio-oil show commercial promise and syngas offers a power source that can run a pyrolyzer.

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has estimated that if the United States were to pyrolyze 1.3 billion tons of various forms of biomass annually, it could replace 1.9 billion barrels of imported oil with bio-oil. That would represent about 25 percent of the annual oil consumption in this country. In addition, USDA estimates the country could sequester 153 million tons of carbon annually by adding biochar to soils.

Although widespread research on biochar began less than a decade ago, debate already is brewing on whether its prevailing commercial use will be for fuel or for soil and carbon sequestration.

In January, UOP, a subsidiary of the Honeywell Corp., announced it had been awarded a $25 million grant from the federal Department of Energy to build a demonstration plant in Hawaii to take waste feedstocks of wood, agricultural products and algae residue to produce bio-oil. The oil then will be refined into aviation and diesel fuel with technology developed in part by PNNL, a junior partner in the project.

Biofuels, including bio-oil from char, “can’t replace all petroleum,” said Doug Elliott, staff scientist with PNNL’s Chemical and Biological Process Development unit. He has been researching biofuels for three decades.

“But U.S. production of biofuels could replace one-third of our total petroleum products annually and on a continuing basis,” he said.

Could create jobs

Or the use of smaller portable pyrolyzer units one day could be deployed in forests to clean up wood waste piles, produce lower-grade fuel, generate power and create jobs in rural communities. The Forest Service is funding research of a small demonstration project in a small Northeastern Oregon community.

“There’s all kinds of things that are potentially usable as a fuel source. You can make this work on a whole lot of things that don’t have a value and actively have a cost,” said Eric Twombly of BioChar Products, who is conducting the forest fuels project in Halfway, Ore.

Twombly fired up his mobile plant in December at an old lumber mill site about eight miles from the Idaho border. He hopes to produce at least 500 tons of biochar and at least 300 gallons of bio-oil using chipped wood waste.

A farmer already is buying some of the oil to use in his orchard heaters, and Twombly uses the syngas to power the plant. It now employs three people, but Twombly envisions one day creating at least a dozen full-time, family-wage jobs.

And ongoing research by soil scientist Hal Collins and his team at the USDA’s vegetable and forage crop research unit in Prosser is looking at how dairy waste could be transformed on-site into a product that could be added to the soil, used as an energy source and to eliminate the environmental concerns of waste ponds.

Jim Amonette, a soil chemist at PNNL who has extensively studied biochar, and others say it isn’t a panacea that will resolve the nation’s energy and environmental challenges. But he says its potential use in storing carbon and as a soil amendment is promising.

“You are basically taking a biomass that would be back in the atmosphere in five to 10 years and converting it into biochar that will be in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years,” said Amonette, who contributed a chapter to Biochar for Environmental Management, considered one of the definitive reference works on the topic.

“It is one of the few ways you can pull carbon out of the air and generate energy at the same time,” he said.

Different products

The process isn’t new. Researchers have found areas in the Amazon basin where people centuries ago deposited charcoal, leaving behind areas with rich soils and lush plant growth. Scientists aren’t certain how they created the charcoal, said David Granatstein, a sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University and a co-principal investigator of a study published last year.

Scientists subsequently have found that different methods of pyrolysis — fast and slow, which are distinguished primarily by the rate of temperature increase in the pyrolyzing unit — produced different amounts of finished product.

Fast pyrolysis takes place in seconds, with temperatures that can reach up to 1,000 degrees. WSU researchers and Collins found in their study, released in 2009, that higher heating produced more bio-oil and less biochar from the same amount of biomass, while slow pyrolysis with slow heating rates yielded more char and less oil.

Amonette said research of the two methods in general has shown that a ton of biomass subjected to slow pyrolysis can produce up to 750 pounds of biochar, while the fast process yields 300 pounds of char.

Pressure to produce bio-oil could grow as oil prices continue climbing. UOP has said it expects to start fuel production in Hawaii no later than 2014. The company estimates it could produce gasoline and diesel for about $2.50 a gallon, Elliott said.

Others, however, tout the potential value of biochar for use in soils and in controlling greenhouse gases. Production of biochar locks up carbon from the biomass that would otherwise rot or be burned, and therefore decreases the amount of carbon dioxide returned to the atmosphere, according to researchers.

“By finding ways to keep this carbon out of the atmosphere for longer periods, we’re making better use of the service provided by plants when they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis,” Amonette said.

Soil scientists also have found biochar is good for storing carbon because it takes a long time to decompose, Collins said. It also has shown promise in retaining phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium — helping prevent them from leaching into lakes and streams — and retains moisture because it is porous.

But research by soil scientists thus far suggests biochar isn’t a magic elixir for all types of soil. It may work best in tropical and highly weathered soils — such as in the southern U.S. — where minerals have leached out of soil.

“It’s not a nutrient. It imparts some characteristics that improve soil conditions,” Collins said.

His team in Prosser now is looking at transforming dairy wastes into a fuel source and reducing environmental issues with the waste. The researchers are taking manure run through a digester at an Outlook dairy, running it through a pelletizer to change it to pellet form, and then subjecting it to slow pyrolysis to produce bio-gas or bio-oil.

Biochar produced in the process is being applied to dairy waste water to remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus, which could be sold as a fertilizer.

“We think it shows a lot of promise,” Collins said.

Research will yield more clues into potential applications of biochar and bio-oil. Economics also will play a key role in how the technology is developed, said Jim Bartis, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp. who specializes in energy.

“We know we can implement (the technology) now on a small scale,” Amonette said. “We can’t wait 50 years to get all the bugs out.”

* Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535;

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Run, Walk, or Crawl – Just Finish

This phrase is not original to me but I have used it during my last few marathons to justify walking after a major battle with cramps around mile 22.  When I first started running marathons 10 years ago the thought of walking was in my mind an Epic Failure only reserved for “the lesser”.  Ten years older and wiser I now realize the power of the marathon comes in the completion.  Yes, I strive for PR’s and the ever present goal of qualifying for Boston (before I hit 40) but at some point I realized that when you cross the finish it doesn’t really matter how it looked in the middle…I finished.  I strapped on my Brooks – moved forward – didn’t quit. 

Philippians 3:13-14 says Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.   The last month has been one greenhouse failure after another causing stress, frustration, heart ache and perhaps a graduation delay, but it is the past.  Now I start the process all over again, with yet another lesson learned through trial and error, but with more knowledge comes a greater chance for success.  It’s like the marathon, it doesn’t matter what the middle looked like in the end, it is finishing that counts.  Although it might not be pretty, whether I receive my doctoral hood in December or May will not matter 10 years from now…I just have to finish. 

Off I go to a committee meeting, then to prepare for replanting the greenhouse, and clean out the manure tanks.  I am straining toward what is ahead – pressing on towards the goal – to finish the race, because I have to Prepare the Soil for Harvest

Tightening up the running shoes (Brooks of Course)  I will Finish – Running, Walking or Crawling.

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Mr. Freeman’s Trail

Freeman’s trail, it is a special place hidden from the masses but open to all who ask. Created for days when you need to clear the fog and spend some time in worship.  It could be the woods, the quite, or the man who made it but one thing is for sure…Freeman’s trail will also bring you back to what is important.           

Jim Freeman, my high school cross country coach and life long friend built a running trail on his property specifically made for days like these.  (Mr. Freeman was a world class marathoner in the late 60’s early 70’s – 8th at Boston – 2 invitations to Olympic trials)  I have run this trail since 1992 throughout every season.  I have even just taken my wife for a walk around the picturesque surrounding.   Saturday was no different.  

Running along side my friend Tim we spent over an hour talking faith, life and biology.  As we ran the mud covered my shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS) and backside.  The quick turns inside the woods laced with enormous cedars revved the heart beat into the upper 170’s.  The upper hill, which Tim insisted we run 4 times, made the calves scream with pain as only a “good” hill can conjure.  In the flats along the mowed path we would continue talking as our bodies regained the courage to run another lap.  Then as we passed by the food bank garden and pond the talking stopped, the pace increased and we pushed the hills.   It was a good Saturday run. 

When overwhelmed by the crashing wave ready to pound every once of good intention my faith solidly holds me in place.  This anchor never moves however at times my vision is blurred and I struggle to see the obvious.   Although the deepest part of my core knows it is holding firm I need a good run to sort it out.  Saturday was one of those runs. 

Thanks Mr. Freeman for the beautiful trail.

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BioChar What is It – What is BioChar?

I have had a lot of questions about my posts related to Biochar over the last few months, so I thought I would post this piece from the Economist from University of Florida.  I could talk for a few hours on the subject about the truth, lies, snake oil effect and real research that is going on… but this article gives a good overview.  Again – not my own article – but I do have the largest supply of biochar from anaerobically digested dairy manure fiber currently in the world.  A large portion of my PhD is dealing with the use of biochar as a nutrient recovery tool

The Economics of Biochar

Before the industrial revolution, whole forests disappeared to provide the carbon that ironmakers need to reduce their ore to metal.  Then, an English ironmaker called Abraham Darby discovered how to do the job with coke.  From that point onward, the charcoal-burners’days were numbered.  The rise of coal, from which coke is produced, began, and so did the modern rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Ironically, the latest fashion for dealing with global warming is to bring back charcoal.  It has to be rebranded for modern consumers, of course, so it is now referred to as “biochar.”  There are individuals who think biochar may give humanity a new tool to attack the problem of global warming, by providing a convenient way of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, burying it and improving the quality of the soil on the way.  Many people with an interest in biochar got together recently at the University of Colorado, to discuss the matter at the North American Biochar Conference.  They looked at various ways of making biochar, the virtues of different raw materials and how big the benefits really would be.


The first inkling that putting charcoal in the ground might improve soil quality came over a century ago, when an explorer named Herbert Smith noticed that there were patches of unusually rich soils in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.  Most of the forest’s soil is heavily weathered and of poor quality.  But the so- called “terra preta,” or “black earth,” is much more fertile.  This soil is found at the sites of ancient settlements, but it does not appear to be an accidental consequence of settlement.  Rather, it looks as though the remains of burned plants have been mixed into it deliberately.  And recently, some modern farmers – inspired by Wim Sombroek, a Dutch soil researcher who died in 2003 – have begun to do likewise.

According to Julie Major, of the International Biochar Initiative, a lobby group based in Maine, infusing savannah in Colombia with biochar made from corn stover (the waste left over when maize is harvested) caused crops there to tower over their char-less counterparts.  Christoph Steiner, of the University of Georgia, reported that biochar produced from chicken litter could do the same in the sandy soil of Tifton in that state.  And David Laird, of the USDA, showed that biochar even helped the rich soil of America’s Midwest by reducing the leaching from it of a number of nutrients, including nitrate, phosphate and potassium.  However, it is the idea of using biochar to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a semi-permanent basis that has caused people outside the field of agriculture to take notice of the stuff.  Sombroek wrote about the possibility in 1992, but only now is it being taken seriously.

In the natural carbon cycle, plants absorb CO2 as they grow.  When they die and decompose, this returns to the atmosphere.  If, however, they are subjected instead to pyrolysis – a process of controlled burning in a low-oxygen atmosphere – the result is char, a substance that is mostly elemental carbon.  Although life is, in essence, a complicated form of carbon chemistry, living creatures cannot process carbon in its elemental form.  Charcoal, therefore, does not decay very fast.  Bury it in the soil, and it will stay there.  Some of the terra preta is thousands of years old.

Moreover, soil containing biochar releases less methane and less nitrous oxide than its untreated counterparts, probably because the charcoal acts as a catalyst for the destruction of these gases.  Since both of these chemicals are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, this effect, too, should help combat global warming.  And the process of making biochar also creates beneficial by-products.  These include heat from the partial combustion, a gaseous mixture called syngas that can be burned as fuel, and a heavy oil.

The benefits of the soil should be enough to persuade some farmers to make and bury biochar. Others, though, may need more incentives – probably in the form of carbon “offsets”that compensate for emissions elsewhere.  In the developing carbon-trading economy, CO2-emitting industries could pay farmers to buy stoves to char and sequester farm waste.  Farmers in poor countries could get in on the act too, through the Clean Development Mechanism, a United Nations’ program that allows emitters to buy offsets in the global market.  (The Economist, 8/27/09).

I retrieved Thursday November 19 at 6:30am from

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Norman Borlaug

In the last month the world lost the father of the green revolution Norman Borlaug.  He won the Noble Peace Prize for basically his breeding of semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.  (I might add that the original variety Borlaug used for his base breeding was developed and given to him by Orville A. Vogel the wheat breeder at WSU)

In a presentation to the American Society of Agronomy in 2007 (  Borlaug addressed the issue of world hunger and ability to use GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) to help the issue of world food security.  I understand the issues surrounding GMO’s I deal with the debate on a regular bases for classes, research and personal pondering however the question I pose is this:

This great era of political correctness, environmental awareness, the Omnivore’s Dilemma, world population nearing 7 Billion, and agriculture being told it must turn away from large scale commercial endeavors – WHO DIES FIRST and WHO GETS TO DECIDE?

Norman Borlaug was an advocate for the poor and hungry yet was dismissed at times for his support of GMO’s.   If we do not use every tool available in our tool box including: no til, precision agriculture, big farm, small farm, machines, hand tools, synthetic fertilizers, green manures, manures  and GMO’s there will most likely not be  enough global food production to sustain our population, people will die.

I think the legacy of Dr. Borlaug will not only be feeding millions of people but his keen awareness that hungry people should eat and we need all the tools available to accomplish this task.

Can you answer the question? Who dies first and who decides?

Is it government, Universities, ADM, the producers of Corn King, the farmers, Al Gore?  Who gets to limit the tools in the tool box – would we limit the tools our heart surgeon has available to him during open heart surgery?

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