back to article If we can't find a working SCSI cable, the company will close tomorrow

Welcome again to On-Call, our Friday fumble through memories of jobs on which things didn't go as planned. Or sometimes went in ways it's not possible to plan. This week, meet “Jean” who in the early noughties scored a gig as “a fairly new-to-the-game support engineer for a shifter of overpriced household furniture.” Jean …

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Re: AC

"I'll raise you 10BASE5 and joy of vampire taps".

All these youngsters talking about the Cat5-O'Nine-tails, pah. A good bit of armoured 10Base5 with a vampire tap on the end was far more durable AND delivered more in the way of blunt-force trauma !

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Re: AC

"A good bit of armoured 10Base5 with a vampire tap on the end was far more durable"

But there were older networking standards in widespread use before they came along.

My "bit of fun" with network cables relates to cheap 10Base2 terminators with centre pins that would disappear inside the terminator (bad soldering).

Finding a dodgy terminator on such a cable isn't the easiest of tasks as what you see tends to be intermittent.

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Devil

Re: AC

... IBM Token Ring. Ah, the horrors you young uns never saw....

The Devil's "network"

I worked for 3Com, designing Token Ring switches...evil things, and almost impossible to get through emissions testing, what with all the ports switching at the same time.

The problem: Twisted pair Ethernet (10BASET and 100BASET) was eating Token Ring's lunch. So...Token Ring over CAT5 was a must! Worked OK for 4Mbit TR, not so much for 16Mbit. It was right on the edge of working, but good luck trying to get more than about 200 nodes on a ring. All kinds of "jitter control" mechanisms were tried, but 16Mbit Token Ring was not destined to be "a thing".

Ethernet over twisted pair was done with a carefully crafted waveform which minimized radiation and took into account the characteristics of CAT3 and CAT5. Token Ring couldn't do that, because of the requirement that jitter be minimized, so nice sharp edges were needed.

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Re: AC

"I worked for 3Com, designing Token Ring switches...evil things, and almost impossible to get through emissions testing, what with all the ports switching at the same time."

Evil things... That described a lot of the 3Com kit I had to herd. Especially the NetBuilder II and a LinkBuilder MSH that was the core of our network - I dreamed of using their replacement (a fully-laden Catalyst 5500) to crush them both, but they had to leave the machine room intact because they had trade-in value.

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Facepalm

Not IT, but a similar experience

I once had a holiday which was a bus tour of the old cities of Morocco. (recommended, BTW.)

One morning at breakfast, the American lady next to me - whom I hadn't previously spoken to - said that her camera wasn't working.

So I asked what was wrong, and she said it was just completely dead. It had been fine the previous day.

So I asked if I could have a look. Took out the batteries, cleaned all the terminals and connectors, and put it back together. It worked perfectly. She was utterly amazed and extremely grateful.

So we started chatting.

"What do you do?", I asked.

Said she, "I design satellites for Hughes".

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Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

In pounds and inches, I bet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

You do realise she was just making an excuse to talk to you?

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Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

In fairness I doubt satellites suffer from much oxide build-up on the battery terminals :-D

Your story did give me a flashback though - remember when RAM used to get an oxidation build up and introduce random memory failures? Re-seating RAM was one of the first tricks I would perform on a dodgy PC but don't think I've had cause to do it for years.

Was that a real thing that doesn't happen anymore, or just a placebo effect we used to experience?

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Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

I just re-seated two RAM modules in an old desktop that I have been using. Random crashes ever since I dusted it off and loaded W10. For 6 months it suffered from random lockups only under stress, and it even passed memtest a few times. I thought it was a bad driver for the MB raid chip.

Before that, the guy that gave it to me had tons of problems, and when I initially plugged it in sparks came out of the back of it. Replaced the power supply. When I tore apart the original power supply I found that the socket for the cord was connected using only cold solder joints. Too bad I had torn it apart to the point where it was not repairable.

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Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

Not sure about oxidation - I thought it used to be that RAM modules in the "black plastic rectangle with silver legs all along the long edge" type, chips basically, were heated while the PC was in use and cooled when it was turned off, and basically slowly wriggled out of their sockets. A carefully placed thumb press on the centre of each black bit, not touching the legs, fixed that.

Later: a laptop's own UEFI memory test was apparently fooled by its memory cache or something, passed. Booted with SystemRescueCD (Linux) and that memory test said, yup, a dead module. That was DDR-something.

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Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

It was definitely a real thing. Tin-plated SIMMs and sockets were the worst, gold-plated ones slightly better. Putting gold-plated SIMMs into tin-plated sockets (or vice versa) was not a good idea, it invoked two camps of angry gremlins - those of physics and those of electrochemistry.

Physical weakness was mostly down to the SIMM socket design, where socket contacts touched only one side of the SIMM. And two measly latches in the socket had to hold the SIMM in place with enough force to secure all 36 or 72 contacts.

DIMM design is much better because of symmetricity - socket contacts are applying force evenly from both sides of the DIMM. Also, JEDEC gave out an edict saying "thou shalt not skimp on gold when plating contacts". Or something like that.

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Re: Not IT, but a similar experience

"black plastic rectangle with silver legs all along the long edge" type, chips

DIL chips, Dual In Line. The worst type was SIP modules. Like SIMMs or DIMMs but instead of the edge connector we're all familiar with, it was a single line of pins incredibly easily damaged, bent or snapped.

basically, were heated while the PC was in use and cooled when it was turned off, and basically slowly wriggled out of their sockets.

Yeah, we called it "thermal creep". I went to one many years ago, symptoms described as "intermittently crashing 2 or 3 times per week". Took the lid off and it was almost unrecognisable inside, everything buried in a thick layer of black dust (industrial site) and half the RAM chips just fell out when I tipped it on its side to start cleaning it. It was a machine tool works so maybe that black dust had a high metallic content and kept it working.

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Anonymous Coward

Always check the hardware as well as software

Recent example. Home PC locking up and blue screening complaining about BIOS corruption and graphics drivers.

Firmware updated. Still the same.

Drivers upgraded. Still the same.

Took the lid off and nearly died from dust bunny inhilation. Removed the graphics card and cleaned it out along with the rest of the PC. Reseated the card. Fixed.

Always check the hardware....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

But what if it's locked down and you lack the key?

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Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

"But what if it's locked down and you lack the key?"

Presuming it's your kit (or you can get permission to cause cosmetic damage)

Option 1: If it's a padlock break out the bolt cutters, If it's a key lock built into the case see if it can be jiggled around/forced with a screwdriver

Option 2: Drill out the lock, or cut out the casing around around the lock.

If it's not yours and you can't get said permission, declare it not your problem and walk away until the key is produced.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

I've had that.

There have been many occasions where I've upgraded the graphics card but I cant get the damn thing to work!

4 hours later, after many reboots, driver reinstalls, hair pulling etc etc, and getting close to midnight (as I know I wont sleep cos my brain will be trying to work out why its not working) it dawns on me - I haven't plugged the power supply cable into the card - or, on later cards, only 1 of 2 have been connected!

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Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

Went into my local motorcycle dealer to check on how they're doing fixing my bike...

The service manager is bitching up a blue storm because Windows keeps crashing. It's an ancient Dell box and I can hear the fans at full tilt enough to launch a 747, so I ask him if I can fix it.

[angry glare] "How long?" "Probably 5 minutes"

Of course it's absolutely packed with crap it'd inhaled in the past 10 years in a non-enclosed shop. I actually had to pull felt-like mats of crap out with my fingers. I grabbed some compressed air, and a month later he's still telling me "you know, that machine hasn't crashed since! it used to crash all the time!"

Now in the rare times my bike needs work, it's first in the queue and out in an hour. He did an ECU recall in 15 minutes for me.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

"If it's not yours and you can't get said permission, declare it not your problem and walk away until the key is produced."

They block the door and reply, "You're not leaving until it's fixed."

"So you're basically saying I'm contractually-bound to fix a computer I have no permission to access and cannot leave until I do so?"

"Yes. And before you say this is illegal or the contract unenforceable, we know some good friends high up in the police forces..."

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Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

"Took the lid off and nearly died from dust bunny inhilation. "

Careful with that if there are smokers around - nicotine infused dust bunnies can be nasty (they're concentrated enough that it can be absorbed through the skin).

Don't forget to warn the user that "thou shalt not put machines on the floor or (worse) under a desk, as they suck in every bit of airborne dust around them"

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Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

"If it's a padlock break out the bolt cutters,"

No need - you can break most small cheap locks with a couple of spanners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jJP0CcuJyE

"If it's a key lock built into the case see if it can be jiggled around/forced with a screwdriver"

find ballpoint pen of approximately the right size. Heat the end to soften the plastic and jam it into the lock. Wait till it cools and then turn. Usually works (and works for bike locks too). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0q7Bnp8ZvY

Alternatively - keep a selection of case keys.

It's much easier to invoke the SEP field generator though.

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Re: Always check the hardware as well as software

"Yes. And before you say this is illegal or the contract unenforceable, we know some good friends high up in the police forces..."

Can they get you out of kidnapping charges?

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Anonymous Coward

Dodgy cabling

I had a similar issue with an IBM AIX box a couple of years ago; after a reboot, my data partitions didn't come up. Clearly a software issue. Nope. RAID? Nope? Dead disks? Nope. After a couple of engineers and various support staff at the end of a phone line had pondered on it for a couple of days, engineer three and I were at our wits end. Looking at the affected drive cage, we noticed the thick power lead that snaked all the way to the back of the case, out the back via a connector then back in at the other side of the case. And it was loose. Plugged that back in and bingo... I can see why it's done like that, but as a Wintel guy, I'd never come across anything like it before. Neither it seems had engineer #1. His company lost that support contract.

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SCO, oh the joy

One customer had (has?) SCO at their sites, years ago.

We were asked if we could interface the head office mail system with the store SCO systems (connected by dial up modems using a proprietary file transfer system, no IP, apparently no e-mail MTA).

Possibly the correct way to do this was UUCP, but I'd decided (not being terribly experienced in Unix itself at the time) to use Sendmail with a hand written set of routing/re-writing rules, the proprietary file transfer, and a custom written central routing program. Somewhat fiddly with just a loaned SCO box and the O'Reilly Sendmail manual, but it was an interesting exercise and was completed. Remote installation was required for Sendmail, too..

Just as the project was almost complete, the customer came back and said 'we've discovered that there is already a proprietary SCO e-mail server on the systems, so we don't need to transfer and install Sendmail. Could you use that instead?'

That'll be a 'no', then.. Buggered if I was going to rewrite all the custom routing rules, and the SCO mail system probably wasn't up to it anyway.

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404
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SCO is *not* dead...

... like ya'll seem to think.

I have a client with a (currently) 2013 Dell Precision SCO Linux tower server doing inventory and POS duties, with WLAN Windows XP/then Win7SP1 full workstation terminals since at least 2005. Surprised to see SCO Linux back then IIRC. Whole system gets security updates/software updates on a quarterly basis, too.

Somebody is maintaining it, I'll check on Monday what level the server is at.

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Happy

Re: SCO is *not* dead...

Hello 404, I was writing about SCO Unix not the Linux version, and I have no idea of what is going on now but I remember they had some big customers like McDonald's. The SCO customers we had, around twenty, all converted to the NT during those years when Microsoft was smiling. Wasn't that difficult as we used PROGRESS for our systems. But it wasn't easy for the customers. I think all of them had to upgrade their new hardware soon because the damned thing got slower. Some customers suddenly found unwanted people messing around in their systems and worst of all they still needed help, something they did not expect because it was Windows.

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Re: SCO is *not* dead...

...just resting?

That SCO Linux started life as Caldera Linux. Before Caldera conceived this bright idea to rename itself to "The SCO Group" and start suing world+dog for things that they didn't own, especially for Unix bits written by the original SCO aka Santa Cruz Operations.

TSCOG is not SCO. Or should we use newSCO and oldSCO?

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hmv

Re: SCO, oh the joy

Actually SCO's MTA (MMDF) wasn't proprietary and would have been capable of custom routing rules (I wrote a few back in the day) even if it wasn't quite as Turing complete and self-aware with a liking for biting anyone's arse as Sendmail.

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Re: SCO is *not* dead...

It sure isn't.

Just last week I had to rebuild a SCO OpenServer 5.0.nobody_knew box for a customer.

He's now on a Athlon 1.4G (instead of the old P2-450); has 512M RAM (instead of 64M); and now we're having problems with handshaking on his serial printers *grins*

And a new, fully legal copy of 5.0.7 registered and installed on his new server.

RwP

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Pint

Re: SCO is *not* dead...

I worked for a company that owned a lot of restaurants, mostly Pizza Huts. A large majority of those ran on SCO on either IBM or NCR hardware. Very stable OS, but user friendly to work on, it was not. NCR used to build a helluva reliable box though as far as hardware goes.

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'The company had also “migrated all their data to a huge Oracle 7 database running on SCO Unix.” Yup, SCO!'

SCO: My preferred OS for running small businesses back in the day. But with Informix.

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"SCO: My preferred OS for running small businesses back in the day. But with Informix".

Reasonable software. Shame about the lawyered-up cockwombles who came along later.

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Reasonable software. Shame about the lawyered-up cockwombles who came along later.

It wasn't bad. Although I did prefer Interactive's System V/386 (386/ix and PC/IX were also passable) if I had to suffer Intel based platform.

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Called in to a small client who had completely lost internet connectivity. Checking the physical didn't take long. I could see the panel pins nailing the cables to the skirting boards about half a second after walking in the door.

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Pint

gonna use this one from now on...

(Total Inability To Support Usual Performance)

brilliant!

anymore people? (except the ubiquitous FUBAR )

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Re: gonna use this one from now on...

There are many acronyms like this across the site at 'El Reg'. Almost any tech failure article has them, although recently, this acronym has been used more often than not. It's a bit of a shame, as I liked the variation.

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Re: gonna use this one from now on...

Then there's WOMBAT - Waste Of Money Brains and Time

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Pins in the cable?

Curious as to which species of SCSI is being referred to here because I can't recall ever seeing a SCSI cable with male connectors (pins). All of the various SCSI types I've worked with had the pins in the device or on the controller, with the cables carrying sockets.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pins in the cable?

Ultra 160

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Devil

Re: Pins in the cable?

a SCSI cable with male connectors

HD-50 and HD-68, and Apple's abomination (using a single ground pin for all those twisted pairs is such a good idea), the DB25.

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Re: Pins in the cable?

"All of the various SCSI types I've worked with had the pins in the device or on the controller"

That's odd. HD-68 was easily the most prevalent connector type for internal cabling. From Fast/Wide (appeared 1995 or so) through Ultra320. How did you manage to miss it? OTOH it may be a good thing, as SCSI cabling has always been an unholy mess. Good protocol though.

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Safety first

Working for the power company a while back when I came in Monday morning a little late to find a pile of help desk tickets for the engineering shop. Mice not workimg, computers not powering on, monitors not displaying, printers not printing, cofee maker down, etc... They thought they must of had a lightning strike or power surge.

Drive out there to find that the "safety team" over the weekend has decided to tie wrap all the cables of every device and in the process manged to randomly pull loose various connectors of two hundred plus machines.

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Devil's in the details

Years back, I worked for 3D Systems, supporting their old resin/laser-based stereolithography systems. Customer had just taken delivery a of shiny new SLA machine, and the elevator stage had a mind of its own, with the stepper motor bucking and intermittently running the opposite direction as commanded. Two regional support techs and their senior supervisor visited the site, replaced nearly every component in the subsystem, but still the problem persisted.

After three weeks of this, the customer was ready to crate it up and send it back. So - I'm dispatched with a one-way ticket to Oregon to figure it out. First thing I did was unplug/check/reseat each connector on the harness involved. Sure enough, in manufacturing one of the pins in a molex block had been improperly soldered to its wire, connected by just a few strands. Sometimes the motor got correct current to all windings, and sometimes it didn't. 15 minutes with a crimp and portable soldering iron and all was well. Cabling is always a playground for failure.

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Re: Devil's in the details

I too had to fix a CNC machine - every so often, but not always, the machine would engage its brakes (by design it locks itself rigid if it loses contact with the stand alone XP PC it shipped with, for safety reasons) and though it would resume the tool path would have been knocked off kilter. The cables were innocent this occasion. I swapped out its Pentium 4 CPU for a faster Pentium 4 HT*, and the problem never came back. Faith restored, we could leave it on a 30 hour job and go to the pub.

In all likelihood, the original CPU would have been up to the job, were it not for Windows XP sometimes deciding to do something you haven't asked it to do, thus momentarily distracting the CPU from the one thing we asked of it.

*I happened to have this CPU lying around ever since the pick donutty thing on its previous motherboard turned brown.

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Re: Devil's in the details

"I'm dispatched with a one-way ticket to Oregon to figure it out."

Was that a case of "fix it or don't bother coming back"? LOL

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Loose pins

I've also seen where pins have pushed out the back of the connector, so you look inside the case and it's just waving around in the air. Fortunately, that's something you can usually spot from the outside and it's rare.

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Happy

SCO

SCO wasn't bad at all, and I compare with Solaris, HP-UX, Aix and For:Pro. (Any For:Pro people out there, Monaco anybody.). Of course SCO came on PC hardware and wasn't up to the more severe hardware for other Unix systems. The occasional unproblematic compile for more semaphores and that was about all. HP-UX had in fact more odd problems with some of the cell commands.

I still feel sorry for the good people at SCO who lost their jobs due to that one idiot who dreamt of a billion bucks out of nothing.

Ps. the SCSI cables for Sun were expensive indeed.

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Re: SCO

"Ps. the SCSI cables for Sun were expensive indeed."

Only if you bought them with the Sun logo on them. 3rd party ones worked just fine.

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Pint

one of those other things ...

usb <-> ps2 dongles (2 at least)

usb serial port cable (both a 6 foot and a 16 inch one)

a Canadian tire magnetic multi slot screwdriver and a box with - 6" hex drive extender and 72 bits for the damn thing. Covers just about any screw head I've ever seen. (including those damned triangle ones that every oriental aftermarket tat assembler thinks are secure) The bits are from PrincessAuto.

1/4 and 1/2 socket drivers with 4" 6" 14" and 24" extenders, 48 sockets < that lot tend to stay in the spare wheel well of the car >

mini electric screwgun (with charger) < again, in the trunk most often >

Cable end crimping gun and I try to keep a dozen or so ends.

I actually have a parallel port cable, a serial to serial cable, and two USB2 A->B cables.

and not one but 2 spare 64Gb USB thumbdrives.

an 8' tested good cat6 cable. <helps if your TESTER is pooched. And I've met at least one>

I personally carry a 64Gb USB key that has ISO images for a *baseline* recovery image for *all* the OS's I support. And spare CD and DVD disks.

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Sn, Au, and willfull memory loss

I ran across the Sn/Au issue on sockets (root of the "pull and re-seat" voodoo dance) in the 1970s. Researching it, I found a paper from the 1960s, and then a paper from the 1950s. Apparently the issue of the Sn/AU high-resistance eutectic is just one of those things that our (technical) society forgets regularly, perhaps as a consequence of the "up or out" policies of companies regarding technical people. When the only way to pay your adjustable rate mortgage or get your kids through school is to move from the "technical ladder" to the "management ladder", most just move, and thus every decade (including apparently the 90s with SIMMs, and probably the 80s as well) the "common knowledge" gets lost.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sn, Au, and willfull memory loss

Wasn't there a story a few years ago with one of the IBM machines, that if you used the the "silver" memory in the gold plated sockets, the keyboard stopped working?

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