Saturday, 20 February 2016

Is the Hugh Gray Photograph a Swan?




The dog is dead, long live the swan!

In the midst of preparing a review of Darren Naish's new sceptical book,  "Hunting Monsters", I noted an opinion on the 1933 Hugh Gray photograph stating it was a picture of a swan.

The author is somewhat contradictory about the photo in that at one point he speaks of the "sheer ambiguity" of the picture yet later states with the usual sceptical certainty about these matters that it is "almost certainly" a swan. For about thirty years prior to this opinion, the prevalent sceptical view was that Hugh Gray had photographed a labrador dog swimming in the loch (or even elsewhere).

Apparently, that dog is now canem non grata (or whatever the latin is). It looks like the sceptics have finally accepted the "believers" were right about the "dog" in the picture being nothing more than an example of pareidolia (like seeing a face on a slice of toast). Don't expect them to thank us.

Now, I had actually been aware of this opinion doing the rounds on the Internet forums for a number of years. When it appeared I thought someone was having a joke. But now that someone is trying to elevate it to the ranks of not just plausible, not even probable, but certainty. In that light, it is time to expose the problems with this argument.

The first thing to note is the modus operandi of the sceptic. I have debated with and observed sceptics for over five years now and think I have a good handle on the way they try to persuade people of their arguments. To say it is all based on "logic" and "science" would be simplistic and naive. Too often, one will encounter more of the psychology, sleight of hand, straw men and ad hominems when dissecting sceptical arguments.

This particular sub-plot is no different. Observe the two pictures below which were published in defence of Darren Naish's reinterpretation of the Hugh Gray photograph. The top picture is a common image of the Hugh Gray photograph and the bottom picture is an idealised drawing of a swan in the "Hugh Gray" position.




We would be invited to note the apparently common features. The long neck, the body and the white feathered tip at the posterior. But, at best, this is a misrepresentation of the facts. At worst, it is deception. When I saw this pair of images, I asked myself two questions. The first was why they used this particular version of the Gray picture? It is a poor quality image and there is a far better one available. It is called the Heron-Allen image and is shown below against our theoretical swan.



Using this picture, we can discern some features which puts the swan interpretation on a  shaky foundation. If we zoom to the far right side, things become decidedly un-swan like. One is immediately confronted with something that looks like a fish head. Do fish heads grow out of swans' butts? Not unless genetic engineering is older than we thought! Those who unthinkingly say "pareidolia" may not have noticed that this "pareidolia" is casting a shadow on the water.

In fact, that whitish area that looked like the feathered tip of a swan's posterior is now resolved to something less substantial. It looks like spray water heading up vertically or it may be a light defect on the film. I am open to either, but it has nothing to do with swans.




A further examination of the superior Heron-Allen image betrays another problem. Where are the feathers? Try as I may, I cannot see anything that suggests feathers or anything avian. On the contrary, the image suggests a surface that is more smooth in appearance and contour.

There are other issues I would point out, but I will leave those for a follow up article as I expect an "academic paper" (I use the term loosely) to be published trying to push this fast crumbling theory. For example, someone is going to suggest (or rather tell us) that this is a double exposure and that opens a wonderful vista for sceptics as it allows them to tack on almost anything in their agenda against this picture. But that is for another day.

So why did the author use the inferior image when this superior image was available? My own opinion on this is that if the superior image was used, it would simply destroy the swan argument. The feathered tail would disappear and the curious fish head would appear. However, the more ambiguous inferior image better suits their case.

Darren Naish and his advisers on this matter know this superior image exists. Why did they not use it? After all, Steuart Campbell in his book "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence" was using it years ago. You now see what I mean by the psychological tactics of convincing readers as well as the scientific.

The second question I asked myself was why they used a drawing of a swan instead of a real one? The problem with drawings is that they can easily be drawn to fit the theory. It is no surprise that Darren Naish's swan looks like the Hugh Gray object.

Or does it? A quick use of picture software allowed me to overlay the swan drawing over Hugh Gray object. You know what? They don't even fit. If you align the neck and shoulder to fit in proportion, the problem becomes apparent. The Hugh Gray creature is far more extended that our theoretical swan. So we have a swan with a fish head growing out of its butt which is about twice as long as a normal swan. This bird gets more cryptozoological than the Nessie it is trying to get rid off!


 

CONCLUSION

Whatever you may think of the object in the Hugh Gray photograph, you should remove "swan" from your list of possibilities. I am astounded at the level of scepticism today when such explanations are trotted out with no proper due diligence on their validity. Critical thinking has grown fat, lazy and complacent in its pursuit of truth. In fact, do sceptics even believe these theories themselves or is it all a matter of getting rid of that troublesome monster?

Why Darren Naish allowed himself to be suckered by whoever he consulted on this matter is a mystery. Sceptics do not critique each other, I established that years ago. He should have asked me about this picture, but I won't be holding my breath over sceptics asking believers about anything. They hold us in too much intellectual contempt to "lower" themselves to that level!






61 comments:

  1. Ah, the power of suggestion, or rather, persuasion. I now see a swan with a stick in it's mouth! Just when I had finally trained my brain not to see the dog. Damn it! The skeptical tactic seems to be one of escalation “They don't buy that one? OK, let's try this one on them.” Here we go again! LOL

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    1. My problem is not that people can offer sceptical interpretations - even if they are crap.

      My problem is the insufferable arrogance of scepticism. It is not just limited to the comments you see here or elsewhere in the small corner of crypto-scepticism, it is endemic in their movement.

      They are jackboot fascists when it comes to other peoples' opinions that are contrary to their own.

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    2. I have no idea why the level of vitreol and drive that some these professional sceptics have towards something that might just give a wee bit more colour to life. I'm not sure why they just don't stay out of it if they don't believe it exists. There's something wrong with these people who set out to destroy for the sake of it, because that's what it is. Being a decent analyst who is not convinced is different entirely. But I wonder how anyone can not be convinced, or at least curious, by the massive body of evidence. But that's another story.

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    3. Skeptical? More like silly interpretations. The swimming dog wasn't convincing, so they have to come up with another more sillier one that might fit the mold, and hope that one is more convincing.

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    4. My experience is most Nessie sceptics are former believers or semi-believers who retain an interest in the subject simply because it is such a fascinating legend.

      They've likely become sceptics by seeing something else in the 'massive body of evidence'.

      I agree if you were a flat-out sceptic from the start, the chances are you would take no further interest in the subject.

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  2. The colour of a swan is the best argument against this theory. Surely a white swan on a dark Loch would be seen more clearly in the photograph. I dont know how Darren has come up with this one, but i think its more ridiculous than the dog with the stick suggestion.

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  3. Not sure your 'drawing not fitting' argument is overly convincing here Glasgow Boy.

    Sure, the drawing provided doesn't fit, but swans come in many sizes and are we able to give the dimensions of the Gray object with any kind of accuracy?

    My take is the drawing is there to illustrate the theory, not to overlay the image,

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    1. They come in many sizes, but they tend to come in the same proportions.

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  4. The reason the publishers used the poor quality image is because that's the one they purchased from the picture library they used. I hoped that they would use a higher quality version. There was no deliberate decision made to use the poor quality one.

    And I cannot see that any of your other objections have any merit whatsoever. The stretched looked of the object in the Gray photo is due to the obvious fact that it's a double exposure. Your 'swan tail as fish head' proposal is transparently pareidolia, as is the 'swimming labrador' explanation, something I have never taken seriously... contra your belief in some sort of 'church of scepticism'. How unbearably naive.

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    1. A poor decision regarding a poor quality image which confuses the matter more.

      I was hoping you would be more even handed in the assessment of such images than Dick Raynor. He has been hardened against such things over the decades, but you ...

      Again, your use of dogmatic words such as "obvious" does not sit well. How is it "obvious" that this is a double exposure?

      I don't expect you accept there is a fish like head there, but please do us the courtesy of acknowledging it casts a shadow.

      I can tell you that many of your fellow sceptics saw the swimming dog as transparently pareidolia. Clearly you don't agree and clearly it is not as transparent as you make out!

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    2. Hello G.B.
      can you clarify your position regarding the shadows associated with the object in question.I acknowledge that I can see what appear to be shadows but when I see the shadow of a bridge (for example)over a river the shadow seems to be on the river bed rather than the water surface.Or do you mean that part of the creature is in shadow.
      This is the first I have heard of the Swan theory-it does not work for me.

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    3. Actually, I use the term "shadow" and "reflection" interchangeably. The dark area is reflection from the sun behind Hugh Gray. The reflection, location and stated time are consistent with HG's testimony.

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    4. Professor Naish -
      In your Scientific American article on the LNM you wrote that sightings can be attributed to (and I'm paraphrasing): seals, deer, small cetaceans (whales), along with boat wakes and other natural artifacts. Since small whales is on your list I've looked over photos of Belugas, and I have to say that the head-like structure Glasgow Boy identifies in the Gray photo is rather Beluga-like. So perhaps Mr. Gray did get a photo of one of your small cetaceans. Having said all this, my opinion of the photo is what it has always been: it's simply too ambiguous to be considered positive evidence.

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  5. Disturbances on the water suggest that the object is a big one. Just a cursory glance suggests that it's much bigger than a swan. Professional sceptics are an endless source of entertainment.

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    1. "Disturbances in the water suggest that the object is a big one"

      Do they? how?

      Given the general location it's supposed so have been shot - where's the far bank of the loch? It suggests an enlarged cropped image,

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    2. I'm adept at viewing water,and know what a normal disturbance looks like. Just like I know that the concrete surface outside my house is a footpath.

      An enlarged cropped image, just like the Surgeon's photo? Water disturbances are dramatically different in both photos. You can see absolutely that the Surgeon's photo is highly cropped. If the Gray photo is as highly cropped then the camera format must have been medium or large to record such detail. I have no idea which, but I work as a photographer and am very familiar with cropping and resolution.

      And really, look at the object with respect to the water disturbances. Do the same with the Surgeon's photo. They are like chalk and cheese.

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    3. So where's the bank of the loch?

      I'm adept too, and I know the alleged location.

      The only way the image cannot show either near or far bank is if it's been taken elsewhere or the image is cropped.

      My take is that it's a small object photographed quite near the shore.

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    4. I have been to the location several times by the Fraser monument. I can take pictures looking down at the loch which do not include the far shoreline.

      Either way, there is some degree of cropping on the pictures we have.

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    5. With a modern camera no doubt. With the camera HG claimed to be using, I'm absolutely not convinced.

      Regardless, my point is there is no suggestion in the image whatsoever that this is a 'big disturbance' as we simply have no starting point to gauge any scale from. Likewise the dimensions of the image.

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    6. I was just thinking of the Surgeon's Photo. When the uncropped image finally surfaced in the 90s, the opposite shore barely made it into the top of the image.

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  6. I cannot see how anyone could confuse a large disturbance as being caused by a swan. To quote Gray himself: “An object of considerable dimensions rose out of the water not very far from where I was.” Now, either he was lying , he fabricated a hoax or was too stupid to differentiate a “small” swan from a large animal creating a disturbance.

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  7. No its still a labrador swimming with a stick in its mouth...

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    1. Burton: It's clearly an otter.
      Harmsworth: It's clearly a dog.
      Raynor: It's clearly a swan.

      Nothing like certainty, eh?

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    2. Perhaps the sceptics should elect a Pope of Nessie Scepticism to quash these heterodoxical views on what the photo shows? They can't all be "certain".

      I am sure Dick Raynor would be up for being the Holy Father of Nessie sceptics.

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  8. I cant believe anybody can see a swan in the photo. Its just not there.

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  9. Im sure one of these sceptics said this was a type of boat. Has he now changed his mind ?

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  10. I'm aware software is available that (to a certain extent) correct/improve a blurred photo. Has this ever been tried with this photo?

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    1. This was originally suggested by Steuart Campbell in the 1980s to defocus the "dog". He suggested the type of software used by police to resolve car number plates, but I heard no more of this venture.

      I have deblur software and have used it on the HG photo with no success in terms of the dog theory. This latest theory is heavily dependent on an as yet undetailed double exposure theory (as was the dog theory but not well explained).

      I can't see how that software would improve a hypothetical double exposure situation. The main problem of course would be what part of the image belongs to the first exposure and which to the second?

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  11. I look forward to reading your review. I have just finished reading the book, and while it said some interesting things I thought it was less than thorough in its treatment of particular cases. It presents the kayak theory of the O'Connor photo, for instance, and even says the kayak is a "perfect match" for the photo, without showing an image of either.

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  12. Kayak and Swan? I hope im wrong in thinking Darren is just airing the views of Dick Raynor.

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    1. Sadly it seems Darren Naish is over reliant on Dick Raynor. Nessie scepticism needs a bigger forum of opinions and independent thinkers.

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  13. Nice i have had a mention on the skeptical facebook. Dick Raynor has posted a video against my argument that a swan would clearly be seen. Just to clarify, my argument was based on the skeptics sayung the object was close to the camera and not at the distance of Dick Raynor's video. I thought this was obvious,but obviously not .

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  14. There are a couple of things not concerning the photo but the Hugh Gray account that puzzles me.

    1) He states he was walking back from church. Who takes a camera to church?

    2) If this was a double exposure, dog + unknown was it his dog? There is no mention he owned a dog and why, if it was Gray's dog take it to church?

    3) If the dog was owned by another person near the river surely this person would also have witnessed the event.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm a nessie believer it's just the circumstances of events as to the photo.

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    1. 1) You're at a church beside Loch Ness!
      2) Never seen a mention of a dog owned by HG.
      3) No dog involved.

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    2. GB..."1) You're at a church beside Loch Ness!"

      Gray was walking 'back home' from church, who takes a camera to church?

      I'm with you GB as to nessie/unidentified amphibian,I'm not looking for a ass kicking contest. It's just my view as to the Gray account. Dog or no dog.



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    3. Hi Darryl.

      I think the problem lies with trying to pin down specifics with testimony so long ago and when the witness is sadly long dead. As I understand it Mr Gray said "Four Sundays ago after church I went for my usual walk near where the river enters the Loch." After church perhaps need not mean IMMEDIATELY after? Please correct me if you have a more specific statement he gave regarding the sequence of events as I could be wrong, but my reading of his statement leaves open the possibility that he perhaps went home and collected his camera before his walk?

      I think the swan idea is an interesting one mind. I think it stands up better than the dog theory, particularly if the swan was in the process of washing itself. That might explain some of the blurring in the mid-section of the shot.

      But, as observed by a previous commentator, the photo's really too indistinct to draw any definite conclusions. :(

      Very interesting article and discussion nonetheless. Thanks to all.

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    4. Gray did not take his camera to church. I'm not sure where your "back home" comes from Darryl, but Whyte has it as "Four Sundays ago, after church, I went for my usual walk where the Foyers river enters the loch". If he saw a swan on his walk though, why would he bother to take pictures of it? And I say pictures, because it seems he took 5 pictures but 4 were blank. Or did he not advance the film, creating a multiple exposure?

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    5. We don't know and the sceptics will come in to fill that void with all kind of speculation.

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  15. I'm all for beleaving in nessie but i just cant think that dragging up this photo does any good at all . Ever since seeing it for the first time , i just cant treat it as any sort of evidence for nessie .
    there i've said it & i feel so much better !!,i'll hide in the shelter now & wait for the replys ....

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    1. Well, Bodge, I regard it as an important photo. So do the sceptics as they like to target the icons.

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    2. Bodge "I just cant think that dragging up this photo does any good at all. Ever since seeing it for the first time , I just cant treat it as any sort of evidence for nessie"

      No need to hide Bodge you have a rite to express your thoughts. I think Nessie/s do exist in the loch, but have great doubts as to the Grey photo. Fraudulent claims of photographic evidence abound, the late Mr. Sheilds for example.

      Bodge, don't totally believe every photo is nessie. Sonar is the way to go.

      Daz

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    3. Daz old buddy, AKA Darryl Hedger, where have you been and what ever became of your 3D sonar expedition?

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  16. It is a historic photo in the Loch Ness story.After all these years people are still talking about it and coming up with alternative answers. We have heard it all on this one, boat, dog, large amphibian, big eel, and now a swan.Hugh Gray will always be part of the story whether we like it or not.

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  17. Do we know what sort of camera it was? This would have a bearing on the probability of an accidental double exposure.

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  18. David Evans....Maybe I can help? From research by other (persons of interest) I was informed Gray used a Kodak No2 Hawkette camera using 120 film.

    Of further interest, try looking at the photo upside down.

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    1. Well, I have read around on this subject and have not seen any contemporary reference to the type of camera used. Kodak were stated as examining the photo at the time, but that is not an equivalent statement.

      Of course, people may make educated guesses decades later. That is a different matter.

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    2. I'm unaware.. "Kodak were stated as examining the photo at the time" Would that include the negative?

      Who stated the Kodak examination of the photo?

      At those times 120 films were D&P at the local chemist or sent to processing labs. Kodak in those days never had a 'in house' technical department (in the UK) to analise film.

      As to "Of course, people may make educated guesses decades later. That is a different matter" Could you elaborate?

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    3. It was in the original article, I would have to dig it out to get the exact wording. I would lay good odds those 1933 experts would have spotted a double exposure when they saw one and nobody is on the record as saying so.

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  19. Further, I am under the belief that persons (past or present and future) who knowingly pertain to have a photo/film/video of nessies and make financial gains should be charged with fraud or false representation.

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    1. Depends if it shows a real Nessie or not ....

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  20. Agree, I'm on the fence with Dinsdale as to the Gray photo

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    1. I am not clear on Tim Dinsdale's position on the picture. He suggests a theory about two divers' helmets and a boat. It is easier to imagine a supposed dog and a swan than that.

      He met and talked with Hugh Gray at least once and examined an original print. My take is that HG would have pointed out the fish like head to the right which probably bamboozled TD as he may have taken the left to be the neck. After all, in the 60s and 70s everything revolved around long necked plesiosaurs.

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  21. 'Of further interest, try looking at the photo upside down' well yes its certainly different, looks to me like a salmon or trout making its way up a small stream (very active imagination)

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  22. My last take on the photograh.It is 80 odd years old and only recentley people have claimed ita a swan. Im quite sure if it was a swan then the sceptics would have pointed this out year's ago.None of them did. The truth is they wont and cant accept any photograph to be of a large creature so they simply go through everything bar this as with this image. Clutching at straws in my opinion.


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  23. The correct Latin term is canis non gratus.

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    1. Thanks. I got an A for my Latin O grade, but I have clearly forgotten a lot.

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  24. People are known to do strange things on impulse. Nevertheless, we should not imagine 1933 was similar to today, where the ubiquity of digital cameras and mobile phones ensures that people are busy photographing everything that appears in front of them. Popular cameras in 1933 were primitive, and used sparingly, mostly for family shots.
    Now, we are expected to believe that Mr Gray was strolling along with his camera when he sees a swan with its head in the water. He then decides to take a picture, and when it turns out bad, decides to get his 15 minutes of fame by passing it off as The Monster. But why would he waste film on a swan in the first place? It's not such an unusual sight around the Loch. And all that, of course, assumes that the swan's movements were slow enough to make it worth while taking a picture in the first place.
    The second possibility is that, when he saw the swan, he recognized that it might be confused for The Monster. That strikes me as being even less likely.

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  25. Simple question: if you think this picture is real, what role does the fish head play? Unless it's a picture of...a fish splashing around?

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    1. You're looking at the head of the Loch Ness Monster.

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