Sunday, April 12, 2015

Welcome to Penny Pincher Journal!

Welcome to Penny Pincher Journal!


Dr. Penny Pincher


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Rust Converter- Turn Rusty Metal into Primer

Rust Converter- Restore Rusty Items

I have always been interested in rust converter.  You can put rust converter on a rusty metal surface and it forms a black protective coat, ready for painting.  Rust converter works using a chemical reaction with tannic acid which converts iron oxide into black colored ferric tannate, which is much more stable than rust.  I like that rust converter chemically reacts with the rust to convert it to something else.  I like the idea of changing the rust into something else instead of just painting over it and watching it rust through again later.


My son's car has some rust coming through at the bottom.  Conveniently, his car is black, so the black ferric tannate will almost match his car's color.  I also have a black metal cabinet in my shop that has a rusty spot about 1 inch tall by 2 inches wide where the paint chipped off.  I'll try the rust converter on the metal cabinet first before we try it on my son's car.

Before Rust Converter


Rusty Metal Surface- Before Rust Converter
Rusty Metal Surface- Before Rust Converter
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

As you can see, there is a rusty spot on my metal cabinet.  This is a great place to try out the rust converter.

Permatex Rust Converter
Permatex Rust Converter
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I went with Permatex Rust Treatment, which is a rust converter.  An 8 oz bottle which can convert 20 square feet sells for about $6.50.  A 16 oz bottle sells for around $10.  You can buy this at a car parts store or on amazon:
Permatex 81773 Rust Treatment , 16 oz.

Applying Rust Converter with Small Paintbrush
Applying Rust Converter with Small Paintbrush
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

When applying rust converter, it is important to pour a small amount into a different container.  If you dip your brush into the bottle, the chemical can activate from rust on your brush, ruining the whole bottle of rust converter.  I found a cup in my recycling bin and wiped it out.  I poured a very small amount into the cup since my rusty surface was pretty small.  I used a small paintbrush to apply the rust converter to the rusty surface.

Rust Converter- First Coat, Wet
Rust Converter- First Coat, Wet
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The photo above shows the first coat of rust converter while it is still wet.  It didn't take much at all to cover this small rusty patch.  After 15 minutes, I put on a second coat.  The photo below shows the rusty area with a second coat of rust converter while still wet.


Rust Converter, Second Coat, Wet
Rust Converter, Second Coat, Wet
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

At this point, I was a bit worried.  I was putting the rust converter on to make the rusty spot less noticeable, but now it was very noticeable since it was white.  I went let the rust converter dry overnight and came back to check out the results the next morning.

After Rust Converter

I was happy to see that the rust converter did turn black as promised.  The rust converter is suitable as a primer.  I think the black color is close enough, and the metal cabinet is in a protected area in my shop, so I don't think I will paint it.  I will just leave the rust converter as the top coat.


After Rust Converter- The Rust is Completely Converted to Black Primer
After Rust Converter- The Rust is Completely Converted to Black Primer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Close-up of Rusty Surface After Rust Converter.  The Rust Has Transformed into a Black Surface.
Close-up of Rusty Surface After Rust Converter.  The Rust Has Transformed into a Black Surface.
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I will definitely go ahead and use rust converter on my son's car.  I will plan to put paint on over the rust converter since the car will be exposed to water and salt in the winter.

Rust converter is a great way to take care of rusty surfaces, stopping the rust and providing a good primer coat that can be painted.

Permatex 81773 Rust Treatment , 16 oz.

Copyright © 2015 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Buy In Bulk: Save Money

Buy in Bulk and Save

Bulk Toilet Paper- Case of 80 Rolls!
Bulk Toilet Paper- Case of 80 Rolls!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Tonight I was looking for a replacement spark plug for my riding lawn mower.  I pulled up the manual to find the exact type of spark plug that was recommended, then searched on Amazon to find one.  I have Amazon Prime, so I get free shipping on most things.



I found the spark plugs selling for $4 to $5 each.  Some two-packs were $8.  The manual wasn't clear whether I need one spark plug or two spark plug, and I couldn't remember if this engine has one cylinder or 2 cylinders.  I figured I might as well buy two- I'll either use them both this year, or if I only need one then I'll have it ready for next year.

Then I came across a deal for a 24-pack of  the same spark plugs for $8.57.  Shipping was still free, but delayed by a couple days since the package was heavy.  This pack was marked down from $83.76 which works out to $3.49 per spark plug.  At $8.57 for 24 spark plugs, that works out to about 36 cents per spark plug!  The bulk spark plugs are packaged in compact case, rather than individually packaged in cardboard boxes.

Bulk Spark Plugs- Case of 24
Bulk Spark Plugs- Save with a 24-pack
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I decided to buy spark plugs in bulk.  I have room in my shop to store the box of spark plugs, and I will be set with spark plugs for the life of my riding mower and then some.  I'm sure my wife will think it is a little ridiculous to buy a 24-pack of spark plugs, but it's a great deal!  I could sell or give away spark plugs to friends and still have plenty of spark plugs.  Buying 24 didn't cost much more than buying 2.

What to Buy in Bulk?

This bulk purchase of spark plugs got me thinking about buying in bulk.  What other things do I buy in bulk to save money?


Clearance Items You Know You Will Use

A few months ago, I found some really high quality oatmeal on clearance and bought a ton of it.  I bet I ended up buying a full shopping cart of boxes of oatmeal.  This is great stuff, and only cost 4 cents per serving.  That's hard to beat.  Before buying, I checked the expiration date and tried to estimate how much I would eat before it expired.  I know that food stays good a bit past the expiration date, but I didn't want to get carried away and buy more than I really needed.  Still being cautious, I bought a few boxes to take and home and try it.  After finding out that it was good stuff, I went back to the store and bought more.

So one category of item to buy in bulk is clearance items that you know you will use.  I wasn't shopping for oatmeal that day, but when I saw it so cheap, I knew I could save a lot of money if I bought it.  The cheap oatmeal saved me money since I needed to buy less food.

Things You Buy Anyway

Another category of item to buy in bulk is stuff that you are going to buy anyway.  I have dogs, so I need to buy dog food.  I buy the biggest bag of dog food that they sell.  The same goes for my cat food.  Bulk bags are not the most convenient size to haul around, but it is the least expensive per pound.  Take the cost of the bag and divide by the number of pounds to get the cost per pound.  The bigger bags of pet food are a lot less expensive per pound.

One benefit of buying pet food in bulk is that I don't need to buy it very often.  The big bags last a long time, which means I spend less on gas driving to the store to pick up pet food.

Toilet paper is another thing I buy in bulk.  We get big bales of 24 rolls, which is the lowest price per roll.  One downside is that we need lots of space in the closet to store toilet paper.  The upside is that this saves money, and we usually have plenty of toilet paper around.

Other than the bargain oatmeal that I mentioned, I can't really think of food items that I buy in bulk regularly.  Bulk food can get stale.  With food, I try to buy a little as possible.  I know some people buy tons of meat when it is on sale and put it in a freezer.  I don't have a freezer, so I haven't tried this.

When Buying In Bulk Wastes Money

There are plenty of ways that buying in bulk can go wrong, and you end up spending MORE money instead of saving money.

Things You'll Never Use

If you buy things you'll never use, it doesn't matter how good of a deal you got- the money spent is wasted money.  Imagine if you bought tons and tons of blank VHS tapes in bulk, then you ended up getting a TiVo or Roku and no longer have a need to record TV shows on VHS tapes.  Not only are the video tapes wasted, but you wasted space storing something that you will never use.  Plus you wasted money that you didn't need to spend.  When you buy in bulk, it commits you to use a lot of something and sometimes this doesn't work out.

With my example of buying spark plugs in bulk, I am taking a some risk that my lawn mower will break down and I will not need that type of spark plug anymore if I get a different one.  But I am not too worried because the spark plugs were so cheap, and I think I could probably sell extra ones on craigslist if I wanted.

No Room For All The Bulk Stuff

Another problem is if you actually buy more stuff than you have room to store trying to get the lowest unit cost.  At Sam's Club, you can buy some very large quantities of items.  I could imagine someone buying 144 rolls of toilet paper trying to get the best price per roll.  Then you really would need an entire closet to store it all.  Or you can buy a 50 pound bag of rice for really cheap- but where will you put it?  Running out of room in your house is not only inconvenient, but it can cost money.  If you have so much stuff packed into closets and cupboards that you can't find anything, you might end up buying things that you already have.  If your house gets too crowded, you might end up renting a storage garage, or even moving to a bigger house.  Added expenses like this would greatly offset savings from bulk toilet paper!

Finally, buying perishable items in bulk is risky.  You may have good intentions to use the perishable items right away, or to can or freeze them.  But there is a chance the bulk purchase will get stale or spoil before you can use it all.  In this case, you may be better off buying a smaller quantity and not wasting any than buying a bulk amount and wasting some of it.

Buy in Bulk

If you are careful, you can save money buying in bulk.  Make sure to buy items that you know you will use and that you have room to store.  It is worth checking the savings before buying in bulk- it is not always cheaper to buy in bulk.

Copyright © 2015 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Straw Bale Gardening: Conditioning Straw Bales

Straw Bale Gardening: Conditioning Straw Bales


This is article two in my series about Straw Bale Gardening- in this article, you'll learn all about conditioning straw bales for a straw bale garden.  See my first article on Straw Bale Gardening to learn how to find straw bales and how to lay out a straw bale garden.

Steps for Conditioning Straw Bales for Straw Bale Gardening

The following steps for conditioning straw bales is from Joel Karsten who wrote the book Straw Bale Gardens Complete.

  • Day 1: 3 cups composted fertilizer per bale and water
  • Day 2: water
  • Day 3: 3 cups composted fertilizer per bale and water
  • Day 4: water
  • Day 5: 3 cups composted fertilizer per bale and water
  • Day 6: water
  • Day 7: 1.5 cups composted fertilizer per bale and water
  • Day 8: 1.5 cups composted fertilizer per bale and water
  • Day 9: 1.5 cups composted fertilizer per bale and water
  • Day 10: 3 cups bone meal/wood ash mix (supplies phosphorus and potassium), and water



Here is a link to an article in Modern Farmer that describes this method for conditioning straw bales.

During the conditioning process, the straw bale will heat up to over 100 degrees, which kills most of the weed seeds that may be mixed in with the straw.  Some people use hay bales instead of straw bales, but I would be a little concerned about weed seeds even with the heating of the bales.  Since the bale heats up, you will need to wait until the bales cool down to plant your seeds or plants that you have started in the bales.  I am not sure yet if I will just stick my hand in the bale to see if it is warm, or if I will use a thermometer.

We should be ready to plant some of the hardier vegetables after Day 10, which will be April 18.  The last frost date here in southern Iowa is around May 10, so we'll have to be careful what we put out early.  Our straw bale garden is located on a hill facing the south and is sheltered by the garage on the north, so we should be safe to put plants out pretty early.  I am looking forward to seeing some plants growing in these straw bales!

Day 1:  3 Cups Fertilizer per Bale and Water

Conditioning Bales for Straw Bale Gardening
Conditioning Bales for Straw Bale Gardening, Day 1
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Last weekend, I brought home 25 bales of straw for my straw bale garden.  My wife and I figured out a layout for the garden, put down landscaping fabric, and put the bales in place.  I used some metal stales to keep the straw bales in place.  My earlier post describes the benefits of straw bale gardening, starting the plants from seeds in planting trays, and laying the bales out to start a straw bale garden.

Straw Bale on Day 1 of Conditioning with Fertilizer
Straw Bale on Day 1 of Conditioning with Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
The next step after getting your straw bales in place is conditioning the bales.  This is a 10 day process where you keep the straw bales wet and apply fertilizer to the bales.  This starts the bales breaking down so that plants will be able to grow in them.  You can use "standard" high nitrogen fertilizer or organic fertilizers.  My wife decided to go with organic fertilizer.

Organic Plant Food Used to Condition Straw Bale Garden
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
For the first treatment, she placed 3 cups of plant food (fertilizer) on top of the bales and then ran water on top of it to start washing it into the bales.  We had some plant food left from last year's garden but needed to buy more to have enough for all of the bales.  Since the organic plant food is sort of expensive, we may use compost for the next treatment with fertilizer which is on Day 3.  On Day 2, only water will be applied.  Later in the conditioning process, we will add some bone meal and wood ash.

Day 2:  Water Bales

We watered the bales today, plus it rained quite a bit, so they should be good and wet now.  Watering the bales will wash the fertilizer down into the bale and also keep it damp inside the bale so the bacteria can do its work to break down the bales and get them ready for planting.

I don't see much difference in the bales since we started, except they are now dirty and wet...

Conditioning the Straw Bales, Day 2
Conditioning the Straw Bales, Day 2
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Closeup of Bale on Day 2 of Conditioning
Closeup of Bale on Day 2 of Conditioning
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 3:  3 Cups Fertilizer per Bale and Water

Day 3 of conditioning the straw bale garden calls for adding more fertilizer and watering the bales.  I picked up a few 40 pound bags of compost to use as fertilizer at Earl May.  I got 2 bags of plant leaf compost and 2 bags of cow manure compost.  The composted leaves was $4 for a 40 pound bag.  The composted cow manure was $7 for a 40 pound bag.

I added about 1.5 cups of each type of compost, for a total of 3 cups of fertilizer per bale today and soaked it in with water.  As I worked on conditioning the straw bales tonight, I realized that this is really like starting a compost pile.  The difference is that I will be planting things in this compost pile and letting plants grow while it composts.


Day 3 of Conditioning the Bales- Before Adding More Fertilizer
Day 3 of Conditioning the Bales- Before Adding More Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Composted Leaves and Plant Material- $4 for 40 Pounds
Composted Leaves and Plant Material- $4 for 40 Pounds
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Composted Cow Manure- $7 for 40 Pounds
Composted Cow Manure- $7 for 40 Pounds
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Watering the Bales to Soak In Fertilizer
Watering the Bales to Soak In Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Day 3 of Bale Conditioning, After Adding More Fertilizer and Soaking with Water
Day 3 of Bale Conditioning, After Adding More Fertilizer and Soaking with Water
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 4:  Water Bales

Day 4 of straw bale conditioning  is watering only.  The purpose of watering the bales is two-fold.  First, watering the bales will wash the nitrogen from the compost or fertilizer that you apply on top of the bales down into the bales.  Second, watering the bales keeps them wet inside so they can start to break down and get prepared to be a good growing medium for plants.

Here are some photos of the bales on Day 4 of conditioning for straw bale gardening.


Straw Bales, Day 4, Before Watering
Straw Bales, Day 4, Before Watering
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Straw Bales, Day 4, Before Watering, Side View
Straw Bales, Day 4, Before Watering, Side View
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Straw Bales, Day 4, After Watering, Close-up
Straw Bales, Day 4, After Watering, Close-up
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Straw Bales, Day 4, After Watering
Straw Bales, Day 4, After Watering
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 5:  3 Cups Fertilizer per Bale and Water

I get to add more fertilizer today.  Today I finished up one of the 40 pound bags of plant compost and one of the 40 pound bags of composted manure.  Watering the fertilizer into the bales must be working, because there isn't that much stuff on top of the bales.  I don't know if the composting is going very fast due to low temperatures- it is getting down into the 40's at night.

The bales do not look that much different to me yet.  They are waterlogged and dirty.  It is probably too late to try to return the bales if I were to change my mind now...

Here are some  photos of how the bales looked on Day 5 before fertilizer was added.  It was raining today, so they were already wet.

Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, Before Adding More Fertilizer
Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, Before Adding More Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, Before Adding More Fertilizer, Several Bales
Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, Before Adding More Fertilizer, Several Bales
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Next, I added about 3 cups of compost fertilizer on top of each bale.

Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, with Fertilizer Added
Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, with Fertilizer Added
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, with Fertilizer Added
Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, with Fertilizer Added, Side of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Then I used the "shower" setting on my garden hose sprayer head to water the fertilizer down into the bales.  Here is how they looked today after watering:

Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, after Watering in More Fertilizer
Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, after Watering in More Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, after Watering in More Fertilizer, Side of Bale
Day 5 of Straw Bale Conditioning, after Watering in More Fertilizer, Side of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 6:  Water Bales


Today I just watered the bales.  I also put up my rain gauge near my garden.

Day 6, Before Water, Top of Bale
Day 6, Before Water, Top of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 6, Before Water, Side of Bale
Day 6, Before Water, Side of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 6, After Water, Top of Bale
Day 6, After Water, Top of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 6, After Water, Side of Bale
Day 6, After Water, Side of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Rain gauge, Attached to Deck Rail Next to Garden
Rain gauge, Attached to Deck Rail Next to Garden
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 7: 1.5 Cups Composted Fertilizer per Bale and Water

The plan for Day 7 of conditioning the bales is to add half the amount of compost that we have been adding, and then water it into the bales.  This will also be the plan for Day 8 and Day 9 as well.

I put my hand against the side of a bale today to check the temperature and I did feel some warmth.  It is hard to say if this is from the bales heading up inside from the fertilizer and composting process, or if this is simply passive solar heating since the bales were out in the sun today.


Day 7, Before Fertilizer, Top of Bale
Day 7, Before Fertilizer, Top of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny PIncher
Day 7, Before Fertilizer, Side of Bale
Day 7, Before Fertilizer, Side of Bale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 7, After Adding Fertilizer, Close-up
Day 7, After Adding Fertilizer, Close-up
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
Day 7, After Adding Fertilizer
Day 7, After Adding Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 7, After Fertilizer and Water, Close-up
Day 7, After Fertilizer and Water, Close-up
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 7, After Fertilizer and Water
Day 7, After Fertilizer and Water
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Day 8: 1.5 Cups Composted Fertilizer per Bale and Water

Day 8 is the same plan as Day 7: add 1.5 cups compost per bale and water it into the bales.  Today was a long day, so I was working in the garden after dark tonight.  I can get some light through the windows in my shop if I turn on the lights.

Day 8, Before Adding Fertilizer
Day 8, Before Adding Fertilizer
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 8, Before Adding Fertilizer, Side View
Day 8, Before Adding Fertilizer, Side View
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 8, Fertilizer Added
Day 8, Fertilizer Added
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 8, Fertilizer Added, Side View
Day 8, Fertilizer Added, Side View
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 8, After Fertilizer and Water
Day 8, After Fertilizer and Water
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 8, After Fertilizer and Water, Side View
Day 8, After Fertilizer and Water, Side View
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


Day 9: 1.5 Cups Composted Fertilizer per Bale and Water

Today, I decided to stick my hand into a bale and see if it is heating up noticeably.  The air temperature was about 75 degrees.  The inside of the bale was definitely warm- I would say maybe 130 degrees.  With my hand not far into the bale, the tips of my fingers were uncomfortably warm.

Checking Temperature Inside Straw Bale- It Is Definitely Heating Up!
Checking Temperature Inside Straw Bale- It Is Definitely Heating Up!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Today's recipe is to add 1.5 cups of compost per bale and soak it in with water.  Here's what that looked like:

Day 9 Conditioning, Straw Bale Before Fertilizer Added
Day 9 Conditioning, Straw Bale Before Fertilizer Added
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 9, Straw Bale with 1.5 Cups of Compost Added
Day 9, Straw Bale with 1.5 Cups of Compost Added
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 9 Straw Bale Conditioning, After Fertilizer and Water
Day 9 Straw Bale Conditioning, After Fertilizer and Water
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 10: 3 cups bone meal/wood ash mix (supplies phosphorus and potassium), and water

It's graduation day for the straw bales today!  Today is the final step of bale conditioning.  I'll add some bone meal to supply phosphorous and wood ash to supply potassium.  Then I'll add some more compost to supply nitrogen and soak all of that into the bales with water.

The next step is to check the temperature inside the bales to make sure it is not too hot, and then plant when we are ready.  Since it is only mid-April, we may plant some things right away like lettuce and wait awhile to put some of the plants we started inside in starting trays.

You'll see from the photos of Day 10 that I added some foam covers to the metal stakes that I used to hold the bales in place.  The other day, I bent down to pick something up and almost hit my head on a fairly sharp stake.  I decided to put some padding on before a kid or small dog gets hurt.  I bought some swim noodles that are used for floating in a swimming pool for $2 each and used a hack saw to cut them to length.  I slid them over the posts, with a couple inches of extra length to absorb any blows and prevent impalement.

Here are the photos from Day 10 of conditioning the straw bales:

Wood Ash from Fire Pit- Adds Potassium
Wood Ash from Fire Pit- Adds Potassium
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Organic Bone Meal- Adds Phosphorus
Organic Bone Meal- Adds Phosphorus
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 10, Bales Before Adding Anything
Day 10, Bales Before Adding Anything
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 10, Before Adding Anything- Closeup
Day 10, Before Adding Anything- Closeup
Dr. Penny Pincher

Bales with Wood Ash and Bone Meal
Bales with Wood Ash and Bone Meal
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Bales with Wood Ash and Bone Meal- Closeup
Bales with Wood Ash and Bone Meal- Closeup
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 10 Straw Bale Conditioning- After Watering
Day 10 Straw Bale Conditioning- After Watering
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Day 10 Straw Bale Conditioning- After Watering, Closeup
Day 10 Straw Bale Conditioning- After Watering, Closeup
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The bales are heating up inside, and conditioning of bales for the straw bale garden seems to be going well.  Next, I'll wait until the temperature inside cools down a bit and then go ahead and plant.  You can spread a bit of topsoil on top of the bales and plant seeds right on top.  You can also dig into the bales a bit and plant small plants right into the bales, adding some topsoil in the hole to cover the roots.

So far, straw bale gardening is going well.  I plan to post more articles as I start plants in the bales.


Straw Bale Garden- Ready to Plant!
Straw Bale Garden- Ready to Plant!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
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