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Sump Pump Chump Dumped on Rump, Seeks Plump Sum

January 30, 2013 at 3:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Back in August 2011, Christopher Hepburn wiped out while riding his bike along the SouthPointe Trail between 32nd and 34th Streets. Now he’s suing the current and former owners of the home adjacent to where he fell. Hepburn isn’t after some little payout, either. He’s after at least $100,000 for medical expenses, plus the traditional “pain and suffering” bonus.

The Journal Star first posted their article about this lawsuit on the 26th. I was going to write something about it then, but I decided to hold off to gauge the reaction. I’m glad I did. The general tone of comments on the article, as well as conversations I’ve had elsewhere, is that Mr. Hepburn is a jerk looking for a free payday. And maybe he is. Perhaps he’s exaggerating his case, as those who sue have been known to do, in order to make a little cash. Perhaps he should “man up”, accept the fact that he’s a clumsy oaf, and stop trying to blame other people for his problems. I’ve certainly said that before about folks involved in lawsuits.

I don’t think it’s that simple. First off, if Mr. Hepburn were after an easy payday he should have included the City of Lincoln in his lawsuit. The accident happened on a public trail after all. If the lawsuit were all about the money, wouldn’t you include the source with the largest checkbook?

Second, there’s the fact that the portion of trail Mr. Hepburn wiped out on should have been perfectly safe at that time of year. He didn’t crash on a patch of black ice or a sneaky bit of frost. Nor did the crash occur on a steep hill, a winding curve, or an area prone to goose attacks. (The latter can be experienced just a few blocks north and east of the accident location on the Tierra/Williamsburg Trail.) It should have been a perfectly normal chunk of concrete.

The lawsuit implies that the home’s sump pump was sending water off the property, across the bike trail, and into the adjacent drainage ditch. That’s not necessarily an awful thing, particularly if water is only sent across the trail periodically. If it only happened after a large rainfall, for example, the trail would likely be wet anyway. In addition, it’s not an unusual situation. The City of Lincoln directs storm water across the Billy Wolf Trail along Capitol Parkway and in the 27th & Capitol Parkway underpass. Signs warn of potentially slippery conditions.

But what if the sump pump was sending water onto the trail even in otherwise dry conditions? That situation would present two dangers: (1) it could promote the growth of slippery, slimy algae, mold, or the like; and (2) the slippery conditions would catch trail users off guard because who expects slime on a well-used trail on an otherwise hot and dry day? Sure, trail users must be vigilant to protect themselves from the sorts of dangers they might reasonably expect to encounter on a public trail—bumps and dips in the concrete, for example. But somewhere there lies a corresponding responsibility of those who might somehow “harm” the trail or its ability to be used. The same is true for every public good, including sidewalks, roads, public utilities, and so forth.

Indeed, it’s illegal to push snow from your property into the street for this very reason. It’s reasonable for drivers to expect certain conditions when driving in the snow. But when a property owner puts his snow into the street, the conditions may be worse than a driver could reasonably expect. There might be a larger-than-expected “hump” of snow, for example, which could cause a loss of control. Or pushing snow onto an otherwise clear road could make that section of the road unexpectedly slick.

I don’t know if the homeowners should be held financially responsible for Mr. Hepburn’s injuries. I don’t know if they were aware that their sump pump had (allegedly!) created a dangerous situation. (Who thinks to ask their builder, “Hey, did you install the sump pump such that it won’t create hazardous conditions on that bike trail out back?”) But I do know that Mr. Hepburn can’t automatically be assumed to be an idiot or an asshole. Give the guy a chance to make his case.

And while it’s on your mind, go check your property (and adjacent public areas) for any obvious unsafe conditions you might be causing. Save yourself a headache later on.

Where in Lincoln is this?

January 28, 2013 at 2:16pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Unsolved.

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Cat Fights Are a Sin of the Times

January 25, 2013 at 2:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

What’s going on in Lincoln? There are some strange skirmishes going on this week. Is it the weather?

Crimestoppers is looking for a man who picked a fight at Cappy’s. The reason for the beatin’? Math. I would love to know more details about that one. I bet they were arguing over whether or not 0.9999… equals 1. My friends and I had some heated discussions over that one back in high school. I guess we were fortunate that our disagreement didn’t escalate to fisticuffs.

And yesterday one Anthony Whitney hit a man with a truck because he was feeding stray cats. Now, I understand that feeding strays is widely considered to be poor form. But deserving of motor vehicular assault? I don’t think so.

Now I’m feeling inclined to go look up other bizarre assaults. Are you aware of any others?

Gone in a Flash

January 23, 2013 at 2:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Anybody who has driven through Lincoln at night knows how infuriating it is to be stopped over. And over. And over again at intersections when there are no other vehicles on the road for blocks in every direction. One proposal, which I frequently and enthusiastically support, is to convert most signaled intersections to flashing yellow / flashing red lights so that one direction of traffic doesn’t need to stop at all, while the other direction can proceed after stopping. The approach makes logical sense and it is used effectively in many communities around the country.

Lincoln won’t be so lucky any time soon, according to a piece by Nancy Hicks in this morning’s Journal Star. Omaha has used the flashing light system after 10pm for three or four decades and it “has worked well for the city”, according to their traffic manager. However, apparently research by the Federal Highway Administration says flashing lights are unsafe. I’m not sure what research was being referenced in the article, but I did find this case study from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The scant data available online for that study do suggest that nighttime flashing lights increase right-angle collisions. That’s not too surprising; it’s reasonable to hypothesize that drivers might assume that intersections with flashing lights are safer to drive through without stopping. After all, traffic engineers wouldn’t put flashing lights at a busy intersection, right? And of course the drivers would be wrong. So +1 for the “no flashing lights” argument.

The data also suggest that crash numbers went down regardless of overall traffic volume. Traffic volumes at some intersections went down; some stayed the same; and others increased. In every case, crash counts decreased. Notably, injury crashes seem to have decreased even faster than total crashes, indicating that the accidents that did occur after the switch to normal light operation were less severe. It’s easy to understand why: drivers are more likely to drive slower as they approach a static red light than a flashing one. +1 for no flashing lights.

And yet I’m going to continue to advocate for Lincoln to move to flashing lights at night. Why? This case study clearly shows that flashing lights are more dangerous. Am I nuts?

No. First, this is merely a case study. It’s a small, deliberately-selected set of data from a single community. The intersections chosen for intervention were chosen because they featured high crash counts. The fact that changing the signal pattern decreased crashes does not suggest that all use of flashing signals is bad. Instead, it demonstrates that these specific intersections never should have used flashing signals in the first place. The data available here are far too limited for us to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness or safety of flashing signals in Lincoln. I assume there are more studies available somewhere out there. A broader analysis of the data will give us a better understanding of how these signals might work locally. Show me the data and, if they are compelling, I will change my mind.

Furthermore, I’m not worried about intersections like 27th and O. They should stay as they are. I’m concerned with ridiculous situations like those at Lucille and Pioneers, and Pioneer Woods and Pioneers; or 84th Street at Hazelwood, Sandalwood, Rockledge, or Firethorn; or 40th and Wildbriar; or many more. (These just happen to be situations I bump into the most frequently.) There is no reason for drivers on the major streets to have to stop for nobody (as I so often do), and there’s no reason for drivers on the minor streets to have to sit around twiddling their thumbs and wasting gas waiting for a green light when there’s nary a car in sight. The status quo does more to promote global warming than traffic safety.

Besides, it’s not like Lincoln’s traffic engineers are afraid to let efficiency trump safety. Take a look at all of the intersections around town with curbs arced to promote right turn speed rather than pedestrian safety. The smoother turns lead to fewer rear-end collisions, yes, but at the expense of forcing pedestrians to deal with swifter (and therefore more dangerous) traffic.

Traffic management, like all things, is a matter of balancing priorities. We cannot have perfect traffic efficiency, perfect safety, and low costs. But we can do our best to explore the available options and make adjustments as necessary. In this case I think adjustments are prudent. But heck, why not let data drive this decision? First we need to gather up all of the studies that talk about this sort of thing. Based on our analysis, Lincoln should then run its own experiment. Start by choosing five to ten “very low risk” intersections and give the flashing lights a try. Observe the data. If the data look good, expand the trial. Continue that pattern for a couple years and report back. I suspect we’ll see no substantial sacrifice of safety, with healthy improvements in local traffic efficiency. Perhaps not. At least we’ll know.

Take a Peek at Lincoln’s Boobs

January 22, 2013 at 2:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It’s difficult for me to imagine something I care about less than what waitresses wear at a restaurant. But that’s exactly what’s got many Lincolnites abuzz these days. The cause of concern: a new restaurant called Twin Peaks is coming to the Haymarket. The restaurant chain promises “scenic views” of waitresses in suggestive outfits. It’s Hooters in a mountain lodge setting, though hopefully with better food.

I understand why that gimmick isn’t for everyone. What I don’t understand is the furor it evokes. You’d think the restaurant were proposing to drag in customers kicking and screaming off the streets, or to serve them arsenic and borax once they’re inside. Innocent children skipping merrily along to a production at an adjacent theater will be “forced to see the barely dressed servers as they take food to outdoor diners”. The horror! The real boobs here are the opponents.

There are several things going on here. The first is an inflated sense of entitlement. Opponents of these sorts of establishments want to control their world and yours. They don’t think they should have to be offended as they go about their daily lives. If only! It would be like me fighting to bulldoze every Amigo’s in town.

The second is simple exaggeration to save face. You know the type: the person who goes out of his way to insist he would never eat at such a place and it’s degrading to women and how can they get away with that? and the food is probably terrible anyway. Yet once it opens he’ll wind up going with the guys because Bill wants to go and it’s Bill’s birthday so he gets to pick but I’ll bet the food is terrible and we won’t stay long. Mmm hmm.

The third is a twisted sense of morality. We’re supposed to believe that it’s “obscene” for waitresses to wear short skirts and skimpy tops, yet comparable clothing is worn every day—well, every warm day—at local swimming pools, shopping malls, and college campuses. Comparable clothing is worn every day at many local businesses, not as an official “uniform” but because those who wear it know how much it boosts their tips. Less clothing is used to advertise at stores all around town, including Victoria’s Secret and Doctor John’s, not to mention teen-friendly “clothing” stores throughout Gateway and SouthPointe. Isn’t all of that equally obscene? If you want to talk about obscenity, let’s talk about the rampant alcoholism so proudly encouraged throughout the Haymarket and the broader Downtown area, along with its effects on our community. Let’s talk about all those who put lives at risk while driving drunk; those who destroy their bodies night after night; and the establishments that proudly promote the abuse of America’s favorite and most destructive drug. No kid ever died from seeing boobs.

Establishments like Twin Peaks are supposed to get folks riled up. Their atmosphere is crafted precisely to have that effect. All of these pre-opening bits of media coverage? They play right into the restaurant’s plans. I take quite a bit of pleasure from knowing that the restaurant’s opponents are achieving exactly the opposite of what they want. It’s a classic variation of the Stresisand effect. Serves them right.

If Lincolnites really don’t want this place in our town, fine. But show your contempt using the most effective means possible: silence. A restaurant with no buzz is a restaurant with no customers. Stay away from the joint and the “problem”—if you can even call it that—will eventually take care of itself.

Where in Lincoln is this?

January 21, 2013 at 2:34pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Unsolved….a difficult one.

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Hall of Famers

January 17, 2013 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincoln Southeast will induct into their Athletic Hall of Fame tonight three individuals I went to school with:

  • Courtney Lamb (1995)
  • Kam Gillespie (1997)
  • Jon Bowling (1998)

In particular I want to give a shout-out to Courtney. He was one of the primary reasons I have my 1994 NSAA Cross Country State Championship gold medal. Courtney was our fastest runner (by far), while I sauntered in with my bloodied feet as the sixth man. (Five runners count toward a team’s score in cross country.) Running on that team was a great experience for me, and being on a winning team was pretty darn special.

A hearty congratulations to all three, along with the other inductees. Go Knights!

Sweet Dreams

January 17, 2013 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I dreamt last night that Paul’s BBQ had reopened. I could smell it and almost taste it. It was wonderful.

Then I woke up.

Once I got over the massive disappointment I started thinking about some of my other favorite restaurants that have gone by the wayside over the past several years. There was Bob’s Gridiron Grill, for example. Located in Bishop Heights at 27th and Highway 2, it was perfect for The Missus and me at the time since our apartment was just a couple blocks away. I loved their meat loaf and several other dishes. Until the portion sizes shrank. And quality slipped. And gradually ... poof. It was gone.

And don’t get me started on Crawdaddy’s. I really miss that place. It was a dive in the greatest sense of the word. The building was falling apart, the floors were crooked, the heating and air conditioning only worked occasionally. But oh my the food was excellent, and the service walked that fine line between surly and superb that you can only truly appreciate once you become a regular. The Missus and I were devastated when it closed.

It’s not all bad, of course. Lincoln is blessed with oodles of fine restaurants and there’s always a fresh crop to grow fond of. But boy, I sure could go for some Paul’s ribs for lunch today.

Our Buddy Blight is Back

January 15, 2013 at 2:10pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I haven’t groused about blight in quite a while. Let’s change that, shall we?

The Lincoln City Council has blighted a block at 18th and Q that will one day become UNL student housing and parking. As happens so often, the designation relies on a pretty weak definition of “blight”. In this case a single old house on one corner of the block is the primary excuse for calling the entire parcel “blighted”. As Jon Camp said, “If you can blight this, you can blight anything”.

The City Council can and does “blight anything”, owing in part to some highly interpretable definitions [PDF]. Mr. Camp of all people should know that, considering his many years on the Council. Mr. Camp has often been the lone “no” vote.

Sometimes the fuzzy blight designations are relatively harmless. An area might not be a perfect candidate, yet it’s clearly a drag on the surrounding area. And hey, if somebody wants to fix it up, more power to ‘em. Other times blight designations are intended for nothing more than a straight handout of taxpayer dollars to a developer. That happened last year at Gateway Senior Living. You and I are paying for that facility’s improvements.

Yesterday’s decision at 18th and Q is pretty much par for the course. The University could have handled the project but they would rather have a private company manage it. I haven’t seen it written anywhere that the private company would not go through with the project if TIF isn’t available. On the contrary, one would hope their business plan can sustain itself without massive handouts from the likes of you and me. Nevertheless, we are footing a portion of the bill. You’re welcome, private developer.

It could be argued that taxpayers are still coming out better in the long run because at some point the private developer will pay property taxes, whereas if the project were owned by the University no such taxes would be paid. That’s a fair counter, I suppose, although I’d want to see a comparison of the expected return on the taxpayer’s TIF investment vs. alternative scenarios. And that counter-argument doesn’t account for the fact that the private developer may have been capable of doing the project without a taxpayer dime.

I’m skeptical of blight designations. I’ve made no secret of that. In general I think Councilman Camp has it right: Lincoln is far too quick to rely on blight designations and TIF to get things done. Those tools have their legitimate uses. Maybe if I were on the Council and if I had reviewed all of the documentation available to Council members I would come to side with the majority. For now the City Council’s decisions seem, more often than not, to be wrong.

Early Experiences Matter

January 15, 2013 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

As the father of a child whose early years were filled with stress, abuse, and neglect I can only say: I know.

Say Hello to Mr. Lee’s

January 11, 2013 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I was pretty bummed to see Dairy Queen leave its longtime spot on South 48th Street in College View. It wasn’t the greatest Dairy Queen you’d ever come across, but it was a convenient place for me to get my peanut butter cup Blizzard fix. Nevertheless, change happens. And before I knew it, a new restaurant had moved in.

Mr. Lee’s Chinese Restaurant is small. Very small. Presumably that means they’ll be focusing on their carryout business. Seating is limited to five booths along the outside wall, plus two chairs near the counter where you can sit to wait for your to-go order. I encourage them to consider some sort of high-top table and stools in the center of the dining area. That may give them a small boost in capacity. The counter at which you order will look familiar to you if you ever ate at Dairy Queen. There is a nicely organized and legible menu board high on the back wall.

The menu is mostly what you would expect for fast food Chinese in Lincoln, with a few notable exceptions. There are the usual fried rice, beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp dishes, of course. Favorites like Tso’s chicken, szechuan beef, and sweet & sour pork are all there. Lunch portions start at $5.49, while dinner portions are in the $7.49-$7.99 range. Pretty standard, in other words. Also on the menu are lo mein, chow mein, and egg foo young options. There’s also the notable addition of jumbon soup ($8.25). More on that in a moment. No doubt owing in part to its Seventh Day Adventist neighbors, Mr. Lee’s makes clear that tofu can be substituted into any dish, or the meat can simply be left out.

There are no surprises with service at Mr. Lee’s. You order at the counter and when your food is ready they call your name. Simple enough. The young lady behind the counter on the night we visited was very friendly, but you could tell she and the restaurant were both new. She had to go to the back to ask about the ingredients in a couple dishes; one presumes she’ll pick up on that over time so she will be able to respond to customer inquiries with more confidence.

The Missus was intrigued by the jumbon soup so she decided to try something new. It turned out to be a large bowl of noodles, beef, shrimp, and all kinds of veggies. The broth was ... I don’t even know how to describe it. It was a dark broth with a touch of spice and flavors my taste buds weren’t particularly familiar with. I need to try it myself sometime so that I can work on figuring it out. Bring your appetite; there’s more than enough for a single meal in that bowl. The Missus accompanied her soup—unnecessarily, as it turned out—with a chicken egg roll. It was lightly fried, with large pieces of chicken inside, and served with a sweet and sour sauce. She gave it two thumbs up.

I went the more traditional route with the lunch portion of szechuan shrimp. The entree featured medium-sized shrimp, vegetables, and dried chile pods in a moderately spicy brown sauce. Alongside it was a pyramid of steamed rice and one very tasty crab rangoon. I wasn’t knocked off my feet by the dish, but it was decent. The style of the dish was much different than meals of the same name I’ve had elsewhere in Lincoln. That makes me want to try a variety of other dishes to see just how unique Mr. Lee’s approach is.

The biggest disappointment with our meal was our drinks. Mr. Lee’s only offered bottled Coke products when we were there, and they didn’t even have cups for water. It sounded like a fountain machine might eventually arrive. I hope so. At the very least they need to provide water cups. Bottled water makes my skin crawl.

Overall Mr. Lee’s seems like a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Its size will make some things difficult, but its location and its relatively unique approach to some of its dishes helps it have its own identity from Day 1. Mr. Lee’s Chinese Restaurant is located at 4130 S. 48th Street. Call in your carryout order at 402-489-5337.

Brick and Motors in Lincoln

January 10, 2013 at 2:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Lincoln’s drivers often top lists of “safest drivers”. At the same time, locals like to sarcastically chide their fellow motorists for driving too slowly, failing to use turn signals, or being baffled by something as simple as a roundabout. Both perspectives are probably right in their own way.

But one thing that truly defies explanation is local drivers’ habit of running into buildings. It happened again yesterday when a man drove his car into a Valentino’s (and subsequently ordered a pizza). That’s not the first car/building collision in 2013, either. A few days earlier a car poked a hole in a house. In fact, there’s a bit of an epidemic in Lincoln. There were at least thirteen such incidents in 2012!

What’s going on? Jack Mitchell—who proudly proclaims that he was the first to highlight the magnetic relationship between bricks and motors in Lincoln—has started tracking these collisions to see if he can identify any patterns. He has started a page on KLIN’s website (it’s a work-in-progress) and he started a spreadsheet that anybody can contribute to. (Work on the spreadsheet is done on the honor system. Please don’t be a jerk and ruin things for the rest of us.) I admit to taking a break from work yesterday and contributing to 21 of the 37 incidents documented so far. Feel free to contribute any information you have on other crashes.

The data collected so far are interesting. Most notably, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that most of these incidents are the result of older drivers losing control or pressing the wrong pedal. In fact, most of the incidents for which the driver’s age are available involve people in their teens or twenties. There’s a reasonable explanation for that initially-surprising fact: most (if not all) of the crashes involving younger drivers happened as the result of a crime. Alcohol was typically a factor.

Do you notice anything interesting about the data?

Go Get Shot

January 9, 2013 at 2:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

If you haven’t already done so, go get yourself the flu vaccine. So far two Lancaster County residents have died from complications from influenza. One was a man in his 60s; the other, a two year-old child.

The purpose of vaccinations is two-fold. The first is the most obvious: by vaccinating yourself you’re insuring yourself against illness. Getting vaccinated doesn’t mean you won’t get sick. Rather, it makes it more likely you don’t get sick, and if you do get the flu it’s likely to be significantly less severe than it otherwise would have been.

The second purpose is more subtle but no less important. The more people who are vaccinated within a population, the less likely the virus can effectively spread within that population—even among non-vaccinated individuals. That’s especially important for those among us who cannot, for whatever reason, receive the vaccination. They include the most physically vulnerable individuals. By vaccinating yourself and your family, you’re also helping to protect your neighbors, co-workers, and so on. The more people who participate, the more protected the community as a whole becomes.

Getting a flu vaccination is easy and (mostly) painless. Contact your physician or perhaps walk in or schedule an appointment at one of Lincoln’s 76,000 CVS locations. Today’s a good day to get shot.

Trail Report

January 7, 2013 at 2:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I ran a literal couch-to-10k yesterday afternoon. I got up off the couch and ran 10 kilometers. With yesterday’s weather how could I not?

Lincoln’s trails seem to be in pretty good shape. I ran on portions of the Boosalis and Rock Island trails. There was the occasional slick spot as one would expect, but not once did I have to do the delicate tip-toe dance sometimes required in winter to avoid winding up on my backside. Residential sidewalks were generally pretty good as well, though crosswalks are still a pain thanks to piles of plowed snow.

I sincerely appreciate the work that Parks & Rec puts in to clearing Lincoln’s trails. Sure it’s easy to be sarcastic and mock how the trails get cleared of snow sooner and more completely than Lincoln’s streets, but that’s simply a function of the scale of each problem. Even better, the trails are actually used in the winter—and quite frequently, too! Those of us training for the Lincoln Marathon and Half-Marathon have to put in our miles somewhere.

How are the other trails around town doing? How about MoPac east of 84th Street—do they even bother plowing that?

The Barn Doors Are Open

January 7, 2013 at 2:05pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

A little bird told me that Mr. Lee’s Chinese Restaurant has opened in the barn-like former-Dairy Queen on South 48th Street in College View. I’m looking forward to trying it out.

Many of you know by now that I live in the general area of College View. That, combined with the fact that I love food, means I’m all in favor of seeing decent restaurants succeed in my neck of the woods. Mr. Lee’s should stand a decent chance, as long as they remember where they are. College View has a heavy Seventh Day Adventist influence. SDA folks, you may or may not already know, tend toward vegetarianism. They also frequently eschew coffee, tea, and alcohol. Being successful in College View doesn’t require specifically catering to those needs—Taco Inn and daVinci’s aren’t exactly health food hotbeds—but a restaurant could gain instant credibility in the neighborhood if it did.

That shouldn’t be a problem for a Chinese restaurant. Many dishes are already structured to be agnostic about which type of protein is included. Throw in some good tofu or other meat alternatives and you’re set.

There’s just one problem for me: I’m already hooked on China House (40th and Old Cheney). I don’t know if I have room for another Chinese restaurant in my repertoire. If Mr. Lee’s hits the spot, I suppose I’ll just have to squeeze it in.

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