Jason Collins, PhD on Loss Aversion and Ergodicity Economics

Jason Collins, PhD

People are predictably irrational, right?
We have a poor intuitive understanding of statistics, we leap to drawing cause and effect relationships where none exist, we don’t understand exponential growth very well, and we gorge ourselves on junk food and junk television.
We’re broken!
While there are all kinds of quirks to our built-in reasoning hardware, some of those quirks might not be as irrational as they seem.
Jason Collins has a PhD in economics and evolutionary biology, and he’s long been writing about they ways in which our “cognitive biases” may – in some cases – actually be adaptive decision-making strategies.
In this episode, we dig into some of Jason’s recent posts on ergodicity, and how that may inform the “loss averse” ways that humans make decisions.
While this episode does get pretty technical, anyone who is interested should take a look at Jason’s blog posts on the topic.
[Note: In this episode I talk about logarithmic functions as asymptotic functions. This is incorrect, and I apologize in advance to anyone who I may offend with such foolishness.]
Check out the full episode with Jason to learn:
  • Why the literature in social psychology is so messy, and what four heuristics Jason uses to evaluate the plausibility of social psychology claims
  • Why “loss aversion” might not be quite what it seems – and why humans may be better at intuitively understanding the dynamics of certain types of bets than we originally thought
  • How much variance is there across individuals in terms of their strategy when playing different kinds of games – and how this can translate into understanding the actual effects of different experimental interventions

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Jason here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:50] What is “cognitive bias?” What kinds of systematic judgment errors do humans make – and why do some people think that these errors are actually adaptive heuristics?
  • [06:50] What are the ethics of “nudges”? What are the actual effect sizes of “nudges”? How do the actual results of interventions in things like organ donation and retirement account opt-ins actually play out?
  • [12:40] What heuristics should someone use to evaluate whether a social science claim is worth paying attention too? Is the effect size too large? Why would humans have evolved a certain type of “bias”? And, what is the piranha problem and what is the garden of forking paths?
  • [22:53] How context dependent are social psychology effects? What do we typically see in attempts to replicate studies?
  • [28:53] What actually is “loss aversion”? How do we differentiate loss aversion from risk aversion and negativity bias?
  • [36:07] “Loss aversion” may actually be a rational response to certain types of systems where people have a risk of having their wealth wiped out.
  • [43:01] What is the variance across individuals in terms of psychological effects and different strategies relative to risk taking?
  • [46:32] What is “ergodicity”? What are real-life examples of ergodic and non-ergodic systems?
  • [58:14] What is the optimal strategy for trying to maximize your wealth in a non-ergodic system where gains and losses are potentially compounded?
  • [01:05:20] Would we expect people to have evolved some sort of intuitive understanding of non-ergodic systems based upon the real-life dynamics of things like wealth and prestige?
  • [01:16:16] How can the rules of an experimental game impact the ways that people strategize? Do people have an intuitive sense that they are likely to be iteratively playing the same game over and over again with the same people?

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Joshua Becker, PhD on on Polarization, Collective Intelligence & Social Tipping Points

Joshua Becker, PhD

It’s all over the news: We’re getting more and more polarized. People can’t even seem to agree on basic facts anymore. Politics are tearing this country apart.
However, some of Joshua Becker’s recent research shows that – while polarization potentially makes things more difficult – people are still very capable of learning from each other even in highly polarized environments.
Joshua Becker studies collective intelligence through the lens of computational social science, which means that he studies the ways that groups of people share information, learn from each other, and settle on collective norms.
Check out the full conversation with Joshua below to learn:
  • Why polarization reduces our ability to learn from each other – but why it doesn’t actually prevent sharing information from improving our knowledge about the world
  • How social networks organize to solve problems like “which side of the street should I drive on” – and how groups of people can change those conventions
  • The role of community in creating a better future – and what tangible actions Joshua has taken in his own life to create community

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

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Check out more from Joshua here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:14] Are echo chambers a real thing?
  • [12:47] Is the backfire effect real? Or, do people still learn from sharing information with each other – even in highly polarized environments?
  • [21:38] Different studies show different effects depending on exactly what is being measured as an effect of “polarization.”
  • [30:10] Both academics and journalists are motivated to provide “compelling narratives,” “counterintuitive ideas,” and “difficult problems that must be solved!”
  • [39:39] How do people organize to solve collective action problems?
  • [45:12] What types of organization emerge in complex social systems?
  • [49:30] Is there such a thing as a “collective consciousness”? How do people coordinate conventions like which side of the road to drive on?
  • [01:00:58] “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – this isn’t just a platitude, the mathematics of network dynamics and social tipping points show that this is how you can actually change the world.
  • [01:05:14] How can we create a sense of community – and what actions does Joshua take to create community in his own life?
  • [01:14:32] How to connect with Joshua online

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Jason Crawford (The Roots of Progress)

Jason Crawford (Roots of Progress)

“Progress” sounds like a good thing – in fact it’s almost embedded in the definition of the word.
However, as a mad-at-the-world, angst-ridden teen, I was opposed to progress.
Pretty funny how that works out.
Jason Crawford has been studying the stories behind some of our most game-changing yet under-appreciated innovations like the bicycle, the process of refining steel, and why we use alternating current in our electrical grids.⁠
And, he’s been posting his finds on his blog The Roots of Progress.
Jason and I have a conversation in which we disabuse my 16-year-old self of some misguided beliefs, and we also dig into both the small-scale and large-scale dynamics or our societies that actually stimulate innovation.
Check out the full conversation with Jason below to learn:
  • Why the concerns about excess population growth and rising inequality aren’t all they’re cracked up to be – and why progress itself is potentially the solution to these problems
  • Why a bottom-up view of historical innovation is necessary to better understand our history – and how bottom-up views combine with top-down “grand theories” to give us an accurate picture of progress
  • Why some inventions are “behind their time” (like the bicycle) and what they can teach us about innovation

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Jason and The Roots of Progress here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:04] Disabusing my 16-year-old self of some misguided assumptions about the nature of progress – and all the ways in which life is better now for just about everyone than it was in 1700.
  • [10:10] Common arguments against “progress”: zero-sum thinking and Malthusian concerns about population. And, the unexpected developments that change the population calculus.
  • [17:16] Why Jason is skeptical of arguments about “relative happiness” and increasing inequality.
  • [19:27] Behaviorally modern humans have been around for a long time, so why wasn’t there “progress”? What changed that caused us to start inventing things much more quickly?
  • [28:13] Are there broad sociological trends that kickstart progress (like WEIRD psychology and the Catholic Church)?
  • [34:27] Jason prefers to take a bottom-up approach to understanding progress through specific examples of inventions like bicycles, steel, vaccines, etc.
  • [41:02] What about ideas that potentially require several things to go correctly at a time? Do these kinds of ideas resist “tinkering” or are do they have tangible intermediate steps?
  • [45:40] Are we really in a period of scientific and economic stagnation – as argued by Tyler Cowen, Patrick Collison, Peter Thiel and others? Or, are we just waiting for the next “S Curve” of progress to take off?
  • [53:14] Why hasn’t the increased accessibility to information facilitated by the internet resulted in more progress? What are the negative impacts of things like bureaucratic calcification and institutions that optimize for things like prestige and politics over progress?
  • [01:06:42] Coming soon on The Roots of Progress: Mortality rates and public health improvements, agriculture and the economics of food, and how to build a bridge that doesn’t collapse.

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Brian Speronello (Accelerated Conversions)

Jessica Danger

If you’re actually reading this site, there’s a good chance that you – like me – are often confused by the gap between what people say they want and what they actually want.
There’s one sphere of the internet that takes this in a much more academic and abstract direction – places like LessWrong, Overcoming Bias, and Slate Star Codex.
And there’s another sphere of copywriters and marketers who are much more boots on the ground since their ability to make money and sell products is dependent on a deep understanding of human psychology.
My friend Brian Speronello is in the latter camp. He runs a boutique copywriting shop called Accelerated Conversions, and he works closely with a handful of elite clients helping them optimize their messaging and their marketing.
Brian is not just a great copywriter, he’s a self-aware great copywriter, so he’s able to break down the process that he goes through to craft winning pitches for folks like The Ready State and Organifi in exquisite detail.
Check out the full episode below to learn:
  • Why some of the most well-respected businesses around spend thousands of dollars per month to have people like Brian adjust the words on their websites
  • The most underutilized way for copywriters to show proof of their claims and build trust with their audience
  • The ultimate test of whether your sales pitch or copy was scammy or sleazy

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Brian and Accelerated Conversions here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:22] Why Brian chooses to only work with a select group of clients – and why turning your craft into a “business” can pull you away from doing the work that you love
  • [15:03] Why would someone pay thousands of dollars per month to put words on a website?
  • [19:47] How Brian gets people’s attention – without compromising his ethics or resorting to clickbait
  • [24:02] How does Brian figure out what people actually want and will pay for – as opposed to just what they say they want
  • [30:23] Dissecting one of the most famous examples in copywriting (Schlitz Beer) – and understanding how to prove claims in your copy so your clients find them believable
  • [48:03] The value of constant feedback from clients – and how Brian uses feedback to better understand his market
  • [55:46] The ultimate test to find out if your sales pitch is ethical
  • [57:10] The rebranding and relaunch of The Ready State – and how Brian applied the principles from this conversation to this real life example
  • [01:09:30] The power of a guarantee to further build trust and credibility
  • [01:14:10] How to connect with Brian

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Jessica Danger (Morning Chalk Up | A Fresh Cup of Fitness)

Jessica Danger

I first started writing articles when I was about 16 years old for a polemical political zine my friends and I distributed in our high school.

Since then, I’ve been regularly creating some form of written content, but I can’t say I’ve put too much thought into the craft of my writing.

I’ve certainly done quite a bit of training in copywriting and attempting to write in order to sell something, but that’s not quite the same thing as writing in order to tell a story.

So, I was really excited to have this conversation with Jessica Danger to get some insight into how she actually teaches creative writing and what she recommends to improve the skill of writing.

Jessica is also an editor at the Morning Chalk Up and a podcast co-host on “A Fresh Cup of Fitness,” so she has insights into how to create and curate content for a large audience – without giving in to incentives to post clickbait or use salacious titles.

Check out the full conversation with Jessica to learn:

  • Why it’s so important to separate writing from editing – and why most writers have difficulty with this
  • How to develop the critical eye of an editor – and the most common mistake made by beginner, intermediate, and advanced writers
  • What drives editors crazy when they receive bad pitches

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Jessica, the Morning Chalk Up & A Fresh Cup of Fitness here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:15] Writing is a skill that is learned through constant practice and iteration – just like skills in fitness. It’s less magical than people think.
  • [07:05] There’s one consistent stumbling block that shows up for beginning, intermediate and advanced writers – it just presents itself differently.
  • [14:52] Does reading actually translate into making people better writers? Or is there some other mysterious skill that makes people good at writing? What other drills can people use to improve their writing?
  • [26:15] Most people make this mistake when trying to write and edit their work. And – what are other drills that people can use to become better editors?
  • [35:00] What is worth sharing with the large audience of the Morning Chalk Up? What different types of people read the newsletter, and how does Jessica develop an intuition for what they are interested in?
  • [42:00] No click bait and no “iceberg lettuce” in the Morning Chalk Up
  • [49:40] What should a potential contributor think about when pitching an editor? And what drives editors crazy about bad pitches?
  • [59:13] “A Fresh Cup of Fitness” podcast – and the difference between written content and a more conversational podcast
  • [01:11:11] Jessica’s memoir – and her plans to prioritize getting published after focusing on different aspects of her career

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What I’ve Learned About Learning

Learning

Learning is a super power.

And, if you learn how to each, then you’ve compounded that super power.

Not only can you acquire skills, but you can pass them on to others and quickly level up both yourself and your entire organization.

I’ve put a lot of thought into both learning and teaching over the last few years. I look back with regret on my own bad learning habits, but I’ve also learned – through an interplay between real-life experience and abstract content consumption – a lot about teaching and understanding how to make knowledge actually “stick.”

If anyone reading has any thoughts, ideas or resources on improving transfer of learning, please send them my way as well.

Check out the full episode below to learn:

  • The most important thing that I’ve learned that has helped me learn – and teach – more effectively than anything else
  • How to blend “theory” and “practice” so that what you’re learning sticks
  • Why “genius” and “talent” isn’t always something that you’re born with – and how people develop elite level skills

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Show Notes:

  • [00:09] Learning and teaching are superpowers. Not only can you level up your own skills – if you can pass that information on, you can level up everyone in the organization.
  • [03:33] Understanding one thing has dramatically improved my ability to teach and pass along skills: People need to be solving a problem in order to learn effectively
  • [10:41] What is the optimal blend of theory and practice? Some people end up doing a bunch of “drills” and “skill transfer” exercises that result in little real progress. Others spend a lot of time on “book learnin” that doesn’t have practical application. How do the best blend the two?
  • [17:40] Transfer from practice scenarios into real life application is extremely difficult. How can we create practice scenarios that recreate the chaos and unpredictability of real life?
  • [24:44] Pattern matching and “chunking” facilitates creativity and understanding of nuance – and also creates the illusion of “genius” or “talent.”
  • [30:55] Better improving the transfer problem is probably the highest leverage activity we can focus on in learning and teaching

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Gretchen Leslie (GrowthLab | I Will Teach You To Be Rich)

Gretchen Leslie

We’ve romanticized being a “digital nomad.” Being able to work from anywhere. Sending a few emails, then spending the rest of the day relaxing by the pool or booking your travel to the next storied European city on your hit list.

But, how do remote organizations work where people actually get stuff done?

Gretchen Leslie is the Director of Operations for GrowthLab and I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

I recently attended a live event that Gretchen and the GrowthLab team put on in New York, and I wanted to talk with Gretchen about her management philosophy and how she manages an entirely remote team.

Gretchen has an extensive background in Six Sigma and large organizations, so – between that and her work with GrowthLab – she has deep insights from a wide variety of organizational scenarios.

We cover some tactical management strategies for creating alignment on a team working on big projects and encouraging feedback and suggestion from employees

And, we also discuss key organizational tipping points that anyone running a business should be aware of, as most companies can either be too lose or too rigid with their data tracking, their process adherence, and their internal staff development process.

Check out the full conversation with Gretchen to learn:

  • Why some people are a great fit for remote work – and what she looks for in candidates when hiring to join a distributed team
  • The framework that keeps everyone on track when working on large projects – and why just having a detailed spec sheet is not enough
  • How to make meetings not suck – and why GrowthLab has a “No Meeting Wednesday” policy

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Gretchen, GrowthLab and I Will Teach You To Be Rich:

Show Notes:

  • [01:07] “The Venice of the South” – where you can take your boat to the casino and pick up a daquiri on the way
  • [06:46] Tips and tricks for running operations on a distributed team – and what to look for in order to hire people who are a good fit for remote work
  • [14:09] Gretchen’s key management framework: “What does done look like?” And why just having a hyper-detailed spec sheet doesn’t mean that everyone is aligned on a project.
  • [21:15] A real life example of successful project management coordination across teams: The “Founding Class” event that GrowthLab recently put on in New York.
  • [27:29] How to find the balance between bottoms-up idea generation and top-down decision-making in an organization. And, how to effectively challenge employees so that they are able to vet their own ideas.
  • [35:20] The two types of mistakes that organizations make when tracking data. And, how Gretchen uses psychology to create compliance to process.
  • [45:50] How to make meetings not suck – and why GrowthLab has a “No Meeting Wednesday” policy.
  • [53:45] Music, subcultures, and the trajectory of “excitement” to “jadedness” within a subculture.

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Evan Peikon (Training Think Tank)

John Friel

Anyone who has coached or competed in CrossFit for awhile sees things that kind of don’t make sense.

Athletes with 15+ unbroken ring muscle-ups and a 6:30 2k row who are surprisingly bad at “metcons.”

Athletes who can only do 5-10 unbroken strict handstand push-ups who are able to quickly chip away at a set of 50 and beat athletes who can do 20+ unbroken reps.

Evan Peikon from Training Think Tank has done a lot of work with the Moxy unit on measuring muscle oxygen saturation and blood flow, and he’s developed a model that is able to explain a lot of these seemingly confusing contradictions in performance.

In this podcast, we break down Evan’s model for fatigue in mixed modal athletes, and we also give some practical training tips so that athletes can improve their conditioning or their strength based upon their individual limitation.

Individualization in a program isn’t just about understanding what an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses are, but understanding what each individual’s specific limiting factors are and focusing training on improving those weak links.

Check out the full conversation below to learn:

  • The 3 different types of limitations in CrossFit athletes – and how each of these types of athletes should think about training to improve their capacity or get stronger
  • How Evan currently thinks about fatigue – and what is outdated about the way that most people are thinking about getting tired in a metcon
  • When “mental toughness” plays a role in performance – and when athletes are hitting hard physiological limiters that they can’t push through

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Evan and Training Think Tank here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:10] Evan’s opinions on metalcore
  • [10:55] The basic physiology of oxygen delivery and what different measures like VO2 max, muscle oxygen saturation and heart rate can tell us about performance
  • [16:58] What are different types of fatigue that can occur at the muscle level? And – the 3 different types of limiters in CrossFit athletes.
  • [23:35] What is the difference between Evan’s model of fatigue based upon his work with muscle oxygen saturation and more traditional models of fatigue based upon acidosis?
  • [31:45] What is happening when athletes feel “burning” in the muscle vs when athletes feel a “pump” in the muscle? How do these sensations in the muscle create global feelings of fatigue? What role does the “mind” play in governing our effort?
  • [41:44] Psychological gamesmanship in racing – particularly in track athletes
  • [45:00] What role do occlusions play in creating fatigue for athletes in CrossFit? And – the 2 different types of occlusion and what those mean for your ability to “push through.”
  • [01:03:40] Why do some people always have one specific muscle group “blow up” – like their grip, their shoulders, their low back, their calves, etc.
  • [01:09:23] How can athletes who tend to get muscle pumps improve their ability in CrossFit? What would an ideal training session look like for this athlete – and why do some common training protocols potentially make this kind of athlete worse?
  • [01:17:25] What does Evan think the most common limiting factor is for athletes who do not tend to occlude in their muscles? These athletes often struggle to build strength – how should they structure their strength training protocols so they can actually get stronger?

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Chris Mills (Harm’s Way)

John Friel

Chris Mills is the drummer for Harm’s Way – and he’s also a clinical social worker for an addiction and mental health residential program.

Many folks who are touring most of the year piece together random part-time jobs or have their hands in a few different pieces of the music industry (management, booking, merchandise, etc.).

Chris, however, is a highly trained professional in an extremely difficult field.

We dig into music nerd stuff about how Harm’s Way writes songs – and how they think about the roll of “heaviness” and “rhythm” in their songs. And Chris also explains why he thinks that many of the models that we use to think about addiction are outdated – and what he prefers instead.

Check out the full conversation to learn:

  • Why Chris got into angsty nu-metal as an adult – and how that influenced his songwriting process
  • Why the most common models for thinking about addiction are outdated – and what methods Chris has found to have more success for patients
  • What is typically the biggest barrier to lasting behavior change – and why it’s much harder to “stay sober” than to “get sober”

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Chris and Harm’s Way here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:08] Getting into nu-metal as an adult – and how that influenced the process of writing music
  • [08:31] Harms Way’s change in sound was more “organic” in that the new riffs that they were writing started to sound different. And, how songs can be “heavy” without just focusing on the “breakdown.”
  • [15:15] The album writing process: trying to create a cohesive work – and writing through jamming, building songs in practice, and grinding it out.
  • [26:02] The crappy practice space that Like Rats and Harm’s way share.
  • [29:08] Working as a social worker in a residential program in the field of addiction and mental health. How does Chris prioritize what clients work on in terms of their biggest priorities in treatment?
  • [37:44] What’s the difference between the 12 step model, the disease model of addiction, and a more behavior-based model? What framework does Chris prefer for treating his patients?
  • [45:42] Differentiating psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers – and understanding what is usually the biggest obstacle to creating lasting behavioral change?
  • [54:14] Harm’s Way’s history as a straight edge band, and how Chris thinks about playing in a band that often focuses on negative emotion in its art through the lens of a social worker.
  • [58:14] Harms Way’s upcoming touring plans

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Todd and Friel on Fundraising

John Friel

When people think of “owning their own business,” they usually either think of doing freelance wedding photography on the weekends, or raising a bunch of money and starting the next Google.

This can be a pretty significant limiting belief, since getting investors is an intimidating, stressful and time-consuming process.

But, what do you do when you need to get your company funded? And what are the trade-offs between different funding models?

I’ve raised money from friends and family in the past to cover the buildout and operating expenses of South Loop Strength & Conditioning when we took on a large lease.

And, my friend John Friel is currently in the process of applying to the well-known start-up accelerator Y Combinator for his company Art in Res.

Check out the full conversation to learn:

  • What are the incentives of investors and what are they hoping to gain out of investing in companies – and what are the trade-offs and dangers of pursuing the rapid growth that venture capitalists expect?
  • How to think about “storytelling” to investors and why some investors like to hear hard numbers and other like more narrative in their pitches
  • What are the differences between nerds, fans and utilitarians – and why do suburban dads who don’t even play guitar know so much about different tones and amps?

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from John and Art In Res here:

Show Notes:

  • [01:21] Going through the Y Combinator application process required “stepping back” and looking at the entire structure of Art in Res – rather than getting caught up in the day-to-day, in-the-weeds aspects of operating the business. It also required understanding how to “storytell” to investors – which seems to require different skillsets for finance people and venture capitalists.
  • [12:30] Why play the venture capital game rather than bootstrapping and attempting to create a “lifestyle business?” What will it take for Art in Res to grow to a scale that would justify venture capital investment?
  • [24:15] How much money should you actually raise during the fundraising process? There seems to be conflicting advice regarding being frugal – but also raising more money than you think you’ll need. And – the cognitive biases that make it necessary to game the system so that you can signal a constant and impressive upward trajectory.
  • [37:31] Thinking about the incentives of venture capitalists and why they want to invest in companies – and going down a rabbit hole to parse out the difference between nerds, fans and utilitarians. And how art collectors, coffee snobs, music gear heads and sports fans all probably follow a similar archetypal structure in terms of their enthusiasm for esoteric knowledge.
  • [53:45] How to potentially tap a latent market for art collectors – and understanding the psychology of potential consumers in order to create a marketplace on which commerce actually takes place.

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