Grant Proposal: Learning Perl 6, a book from O'Reilly Media


The Grants Committee has received one grant proposal for the November/December round. Before the Committee members vote, we would like to solicit feedback from the Perl community on the proposal.

Review the proposal below and please comment here by December 12th, 2016. The Committee members will start the voting process following that and the conclusion will be announced approximately in one week.

Learning Perl 6, a book from O'Reilly Media

  • Name:

    brian d foy

  • Amount Requested:

    USD 10,000


Partially fund the writing process for Learning Perl 6, a book from O'Reilly Media

Benefits to the Perl Community

Note: I am also running a Kickstarter campaign ( I have not given much thought to the mechanism of The Perl Foundation funding, but I think I'd want it to be through your normal mechanism rather than Kickstarter. I understand that payment on completion in part of that process. That works for me. I would appreciate TPF's help in spreading the word and finding backers.

Perl 6 does not have a tutorial book. To reach further out into the general programming world, people need a gentle introduction to the language. This book is about bringing people into the community more than serving the ones already here.

Some people have written survey books that have covered ancient versions of the language (Perl 6 and Parrot Essentials, Perl 6 Now). Other people are working on cookbook-style example books (Moritz Lenz most notably). Several other efforts have stalled or stopped. A book can be a big chunk of a person's life, and financial stability along with the removal of the distractions of normal commerce are key to success.

The big question is my need for the money, especially when I have a major publisher committed to publishing the book. In short, I've shifted O'Reilly risk tolerance by taking on some of it myself.

First, book sales aren't what they used to be. I'm taking a big gamble here and I have a lot of personal risk, mostly in lost time. Many comments on the kickstarter have centered around "Why doesn't O'Reilly pay for the book?" Publishers don't "pay" so much as give you advanced royalties. That robs the future to pay for the present. I've never taken an advance on a book, and even if I did, a sane publisher wouldn't provide me enough money to allow me to do this. I fully expect Learning Perl 6 to be my least-popular book.

The entire technology book market shrinking and has been for years. Perl 6 as a usable language is a new technology in an already crowded market. There's a big chance that this is a "front list" book that makes all of its sales in the first months of its release and is never bought again. This situation happens with a dedicated fan base or a highly promoted book that doesn't catch on. I already know the sales numbers for Learning Perl. If I had to guess at a sales target for Learning Perl 6, I'd take one-tenth that number. It's not a motivating amount for me. As the author of several existing books, I don't have the same secondary rewards of new fame and recognition as a first-time author.

Second, book sales aren't primarily important to the marketing goals of the Perl 6 community. To be taken seriously as a technology (even if the community is small), someone needs to be able to point to something in the marketplace. A technology manager might take a signalling cue from the existence of a dead-tree book because the publisher has already judged risk and committed to the book. Even if we think this is a poor way to make judgements (and granted, we'd often be right), there's the dirty mess of reality versus how we think the world should be. This is important to many people in the Perl 6 community. The lack of a book is a big hurdle for our "force multipliers"—the teachers and trainers who don't have the time to construct a full curriculum themselves but could use a tutorial book that's ready to teach in a segmented, classroom enviromented.

Third, the Kickstarter amount sounds impressive, but I'm also responsible for all expenses and taxes. Every e-book and print book I give out as a reward is actually a pre-sale. Most of that money flows to the publisher as a sale (of which I still get a royalty). The Kickstarter money is also subject to taxes. I've run a small business for a couple decades; that number doesn't seem that large for the effort. I'm looking for any support out there. When you consider the amount, I think it's much more productive to think about getting what you want at a price that makes sense to you. Considering the levels that TPF has funded similar grants delivering less, I think this is more than reasonable value.

If you could get this book without this grant and without the Kickstarter, I'd support that. Indeed, I've waited for that book just like you. But, no one has stepped up to write it and that book doesn't exist. TPF's role could underpin the community support I'm already receiving. This grant further ensures the end result.


The deliverable is a printed O'Reilly Media book. O'Reilly publishes and promotes the book. I am already under contract with O'Reilly. Brian Jepson is my editor, and we've developed mock cover art for the book (meaning, O'Reilly has assigned us an animal).

I am running a campaign through Kickstarter to fund this book. Several of the rewards involve delivery of the book. The folks at O'Reilly tell me this means I can't have my working sources open as I normally do because it would violate the Robinson-Patman Act (some customers get the same product at a lower price). I can, however, allow access for selected technical reviewers and grant managers.

Project Details

I'm writing a tutorial-style book for beginners. I expect the book to be about the size and scope of the existing Learning Perl book. I'm aiming for 300 pages.

This is not be definitive or a reference (others are working on that). This is not the documentation. A tutorial's task is to introduce the language in steps and uses the least number of concepts along the way. My goal is to build a solid foundation for understanding the language both in syntax and philosophy. Documentation explains a tool but doesn't put it into the context of a task.

This book progresses by slowly introducing concepts and giving readers a chance to practice those. Typically, I explain the fully expanded form of syntax and work my way to the idiomatic representation. This technique helps readers understand the implied parts of the idiomatic form, but also helps them become better readers of other people's code.

Each chapter of the book includes exercises along with explicated answers. Practice is the key to learning.


A book project isn't straightforward. There's not a single path to the result. Often the work is a big soup until it seemingly miraculously comes together close to the end. The progress in a new book is more experimental and philosophical than concrete. The initial effort is usually a big mess, but that's part of the process.

Project Schedule

I have these major milestones specified in the contract for the book:

  • Two completed chapters by January
  • Half the book by May
  • The whole book by August

It takes approximately three months for a book to make it through the O'Reilly publishing process. This includes one round of technical review, two rounds of copy-editing, an indexer (a live person who indexes the book), and finally injection into the distribution channels.

Additionally, there is a set of people (official technical reviewers or self-selected backers through a Kickstarter reward) who will receive monthly drafts of the book. They will be able to provide feedback and comments, and should be an effective commitment device. They get a PDF that looks just like an O'Reilly book since it comes out of the continuous publishing system.

As for a more detailed schedule, it's been my experience in publishing that they are never honest and no one expects them to be true. I could say that I'd deliver a particular chapter in a particular month, but later discover that it's more important to work on a different chapter. Halfway through I typically have a moment of clarity that makes me go back through everything I've already done to take it in a different direction.

I typically view the schedules as a bit squishy, but I've always been close.

Completeness Criteria

To be judged complete, my O'Reilly editor, Brian Jepson, certifies that I've met the conditions imposed by O'Reilly. Once I've done that, O'Reilly mostly takes over and it's a sure thing.

Under the standard author contract, O'Reilly judges the book complete when they think the content and form of the book are at or above the level of their usual quality. If it is not (and this have never been a problem for me), they have the right to ask another author to make changes to bring it up to their standards.


I'm brian d foy, the author or co-author of many of the existing Perl 5 books from O'Reilly Media, including Learning Perl, (Editions 4 to 7), Intermediate Perl (Editions 1 and 2), Mastering Perl (Editions 1 and 2), and Programming Perl (4th Edition). I am a U.S. citizen living in the U.S.

I've worked extensively in the publishing process, have great tools that I've already used for my previous books, and have already set up everything with O'Reilly Media.



Honestly, I don't see an actual complaint here. You seem to have three complaints: that Brian is a novice in Perl 6 and that others would be "ghost writing" it, and that he is already getting money for the book from O'Reilly. None of those complaints seems valid ... or at least, not worth being even remotely angry about.

The fact that you think that getting royalties from O'Reilly means that there's no need for additional funding means you don't understand the publishing business. You can't make a living on computer books. If you feel this book is not worth spending more money on through TPF grants and KS, fine, but clearly Brian thinks that the book is not worth his time unless he gets more. Nothing wrong with that. If you disagree, fine, but there's nothing wrong with him saying "I need X to make this worth my time, and royalties will only cover Y."

Also, the fact that you think correcting and improving code examples etc. is akin to "ghost writing" means you don't understand writing a teaching book. Teaching (and writing the teaching) is a special skill that's far more rare than computer skills these days. Brian is a very good teacher and writer. That is far more important than getting an expert in the specific subject. You can be the premiere expert on Perl 6, but if you can't write a book well, then a novice in the subject can produce a much better book than you.

I don't know why Brian is writing it and not someone else (likely because there was no one else more suitable who was willing and able to do it?), but he's clearly not trying to put out a bad product, and he is working with the experts to make it as good as it can be, and you have had all the opportunity anyone would need to help him improve it. Feel free to not take on that opportunity, but angrily complaining about how the writing and publishing business works won't get you far.

(And BTW, nothing against Mortiz Lenz's book, but it looks like a very different book than this one, to me. I see no reason to pick one over the other.)

Mentioning the kickstarter campaign in the grant proposal is fine. -Failing to mention the grant proposal on the kickstarter page is less so. The optics on the timing of releasing the grant proposal after the kickstarter passed the fully funded threshold is unfortunate.

If the grant proposal was submitted after the kickstarter project was fully funded... I would have a hard recommending that it be funded. Because it would appear by the author's own admission that the job is already fully funded.

That said, I think the efforts of an established Perl teacher and author would be beneficial. -Until the performance and ecosystem matures, the market for a Perl 6 book isn't likely to end up on any best seller lists. Subsidizing the work involved is reasonable.

A published book by a recognized author would help grow the community of Perl 6 developers. But is the Perl 6 community ready for an influx of novice users of the language? Whether it is better to prioritize on funding implementation grants or documentation is a bit of a Catch 22.

Bringing more novice users into the Perl 6 community could force core developers to prioritize more on the ecosystem. A good thing.

I am writing this note to express my support for brian's grant proposal for "Learning Perl 6".

I've known him personally for quite a few years now, but before that, I knew him through his works. Before picking up Perl, I had programmed using a number of languages from APL to Z80 machine code, including Pascal, C, C++, and Java. Along the way, the number of programming books whose content I can still remember are few: Toni Baker's Mastering Machine Code on Your ZX Spectrum, P.J. PLauger's The Standard C Library, and brian's books make the list for me. I've read all, and I've had the privilege to review a couple.

brian has the rare gift of sorting through the elements of a programming language, and seeing exactly what needs to be explained and in what order to facilitate confident learning. Few people write books with such a natural progression of topics as he does. Bjarne Stroustrup might have created C++, but I honestly doubt anyone could learn C++ confidently by following his writing. People with deep expertise in a matter tend not to be able to assume the perspective of someone who is encountering the topic for the first time. brian has proved time and again his ability to present information in a way that is most appropriate for the level of the reader.

Thanks to the incredible efforts of its developers, there is now a working implementation of Perl 6. However, it is far from certain that Perl 6 will be able to gain and maintain a significant foothold in the marketplace of programming languages. An important reason for this uncertainty is the sheer number of other programming languages that are out there. They are all vying for our attention. And, some of these languages also help one earn an income.

A programming language can gain popularity through network effects: Programmer A sees programmer B do something useful with Perl 6, so she decides to give it a shot. If she can quickly get up to speed and do something that piques programmer C's interest, he might decide to give it a shot. Their work might inspire another two programmers each to pick up Perl 6. Each of those might inspire two more. Of course, whether this happens depends on the factors: Programmers' ability to solve problems with Perl 6, the value of solving those problems, and the ease with which a programmer can get up to speed.

In the short run, we must take the stock of programmer ability as given. The benefit of solving problem X is independent of the programming language used in solving the problem. The only variable that can affect adoption of Perl 6 among programmers is the ease with which one can get up to speed. With one of brian's books by your side, you are sure to be able to that easily, quickly, and happily because he knows how to structure an introductory book to build on small successes. Such a book by a publisher of O'Reilly's stature will make it easy for one programmer to say to another "Here Perl 6 is really cool, and this book will get you up to speed quickly."

When products spread through the network effects like that, the market itself expands. Currently, estimates of the size of the market for Perl 6 books range from small to nonexistent. The only people who are trying out the language are either already experts in it or are familiar enough with Perl and enthusiastic about the prospects of Perl 6 that they are willing to feel their way around information scattered across documents, web sites, and IRC chat logs.

I expect, brian's "Learning Perl 6" to attract enable people who would otherwise not have considered dabbling in the language. Therefore, it will help expand the market for other books on the topic, especially reference works and those that rely on the intimate expertise of people who built it. That will enable more people to eventually become experts in it. This is crucial in ultimately getting to the point where people can feel confident in saying "may be we should write this bit of our infrastructure in Perl 6 to take advantage of all the power it affords. After all, there is a vibrant market for reference materials and a thriving community."

It will be much easier to get there if there is a book which introduces Perl 6 from the perspective of someone who's trying it out for the first time.

brian is a professional author. He, at least partially, depends on money he makes from his books to make a living. When he started writing Perl books, the overall programming book market was expanding, and demand for Perl books was high. Today, he is taking on the risk of sinking significant amounts of time into a book whose sales will may never justify that time. The successful KickStarter turned that large risk into a smaller one for him by allowing each contributor to voluntarily bet a small amount on the opportunity to expand the market for Perl 6 knowledge. I contributed because I prefer brian to figure out everything that might trip me up and explain it to me. That will save me time. The time I save has value. It is only fair for brian to be compensated for the time he is committing to spending so as to save me time.

This is not a zero sum game. By funding his grant proposal, the Perl Foundation would send a clear signal to the broader market that there will be resources available for people to learn Perl 6 quickly and efficiently. Once people are able to whet their appetites and if they like the language, they eventually want access to more expertise. That is, if brian succeeds, he will pave the way for others to succeed. The success of his book can be used to convince publishers to take a chance on other books by less well-known (to the publishers) authors.

For all these reasons, I hope the Perl Foundation will fund this grant.


"So why wasn't the kickstarter for $47,000? Or why wasn't his intent to apply for a TPF grant ever even mentioned in all those updates?"

Those are fine questions ... but they are questions, not complaints or criticisms.

"It's not the sums that are at issue but the shady tactics employed to obtain those sums."

You're making assumptions instead of asking questions. I see nothing "shady."

"You're free to dismiss my anger as invalid"

I dismiss nothing: I analyze, question, and critique. And you've offered no valid criticisms that would reasonably justify even the remotest anger, as best I can tell.

"but here's the Perl 6's community reaction when we've learned of this grant, that speaks beyond my words alone"

Showing that other people feel as you do does not justify your feelings. Come on.

But with this attitude, it's no wonder he doesn't go into the IRC channel more. You really expect someone to come to you when you're openly and regularly hostile to them? Come on.

"They weren't teaching books, so you're right, I don't understand writing a teaching book, but I understand writing about stuff."

The technical research of a book is only a part of the actual authoring of the book. That's the point here. Otherwise, we could just point people at manpages and source files. I am not saying you or anyone else can't do it, but it's a lot of work, and saying that his technial advisors are "ghost writers" is beyond silly.

"So my other concern is Brian's "Tips" he publishes on the book's website being a preview of things to come. They contain poor-quality, unidiomatic code with misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete descriptions."

And you have had every opportunity to provide constructive feedback to help him make them better. You act like he is unwilling or unable to learn and improve, which seems obviously false.

"... the two languages are vastly different."

Don't even get me started on how terrible the name "Perl 6" is. But I digress.

"Doesn't matter how good a teacher is if he barely knows the subject he's trying to teach."

Actually, it does, because it means he will put the work in to get it right, and he likely will get it right (assuming the experts don't shun him).

"'I don't know why Brian is writing it'"

"I'm glad you wrote that statement, because you're not the only one wondering it."

You misrepresent me. I am not wondering why he is writing it. I simply don't know. I haven't spent any time thinking about why he is writing it. I tend to think people have their reasons for things they do, and I can't know all of them, and unless it affects me directly, I just don't care.

If the book were about a topic I was deeply involved with, I'd probably be wondering, but I am not.

"You posit there's no one else to do it, but that's not true."

None of the other books in that page are similar to a "Learning Perl 6" book, it seems to me. And I have no way of knowing if those people are *good* writers. But the bottom line is that either none of these people offered to write this book for O'Reilly, or they did and O'Reilly picked Brian over them. Either way, it's not Brian's fault.

"There's no complaint, but a comment"

Heh, OK.

"And the comment is that as a member of Perl 6 community I see Perl 6-related writing Brian produced so as incompetent and his methodology to gain funding for the book as dishonest and manipulative."

And you offer no serious backing for your claim of dishonesty or manipulation. You do sortof have a point about the Kickstarter not mentioning the grant, but that is a question to ask, and until you get the question answered, it's not really a point.

So why wasn't the kickstarter for $47,000? Or why wasn't his intent to apply for a TPF grant ever even mentioned in all those updates?

I have no inside knowledge, but it doesn't sound unreasonable to me to set the funding threshold at a low enough figure so as to ensure a basic minimum level with the hopes that actual contributions would have exceeded that (for example, thanks to one or two more large corporate contributions).

Having the KickStarter funded proves that there is actual interest in the project, but, maybe not as much as originally hoped. If that is the case, it would be natural for one to ask "what more can I do? Where else can I turn?" and consider asking the Perl Foundation.

This is how I interpreted the request for additional funds.

Given the fully funded Kickstarter campaign for a Learning Perl 6 book by brian d foy, I'm not sure what the funds in this grant request would cover that is not already covered by Kickstarter.

I still can't quite make sense of what the benefit would be to the Perl Community. If it's a "Learning Perl 6" book, then I posit we are *already* getting that from the Kickstarter campaign. (Yes, I realize bdf may not have known this at the time he submitted his grant proposal to TPF) Is the benefit that these funds enable bdf to devote more time to the book so that we get a better book?

If the grant proposal was a hedge against the kickstarter campaign not being funded, then, since that *is* funded, there should be no need for TPF to fund this grant.

I think it would help the community (or at least me) better understand this proposal if the relationship between this grant proposal and the Kickstarter campaign was clarified.

As much as I'm in favor of having Perl 6 books, I'm against funding
this proposal.

The kickstarter was the promise to the community that, given enough support,
brian would write the "Learning Perl 6" book. Where the definition of "enough
support" was set by brian himself, and met by the community. We should hold
brian to this promise.

The argument that the funds raised
through kickstarter are subject to taxes, and shipping the actual rewards
also costs money sounds weak, because that was all know well in advance.
Many guides exists on how to do a successful kickstarter campaign, and they
tell you to factor in these expenses. If that was an honest mistake by brian
after all, the responsible thing would be to abort the kickstarter, and
refund all the backers.

Asking for more money before producing anything worthwhile smell a lot like
salami tactics, where in each iteration, you ask for just as much as you think
you can get away with.

All in all, I think there are much better uses for that much money, for example
sustaining Jonathan's core development grant.

P.S. just to get rid of the misconception as early as possible: "Perl 6 by
Example" is not in cookbook style. A cookbook's primary aim is to provide
solution to problems by, well, giving exemplary solutions. My book aims to
teach Perl 6. The chosen approach of using examples for structuring doesn't
make it a cookbook.


If this is accepted, it will be the most wasteful way to spend 10000$. Some great people (typically not complete outsiders) are doing a lot of work for various parts of the perl 6 project, and some of this work has a much bigger impact. As an example, I want to mention gfldex++ who did a lot of work on the documentation (which by now also includes tutorials on various topics). And all this work is available for free and is constantly improved.

I am not sure why the first comment here was deleted. I thought it summed up all problems of this grant quite nicely.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with this is not a dishonest money-sucking nature (book sales + kickstarter + grant, is there anything else coming?), but that the community will have to constantly deal with non-idiomatic crap this high-quality book will push. Perhaps consider putting these 10k into live support to cover up the mistakes of the book.

Anyway, if these 10k are just gathering dust, please tell me. I'll then push some people who can actually drive perl 6 project forward to apply for grants (or for more grants).

In no way this grant proposal should be accepted. This grant proposal is a disgrace for everyone.

Aleks-Daniel Jakimenko-Aleksejev said:

Anyway, if these 10k are just gathering dust, please tell me.

I am having difficulty understanding these reactions: The fact that the Perl Foundation has grants available is not a secret. It is not an offense to apply for them.

If anyone has ideas for other projects, they are free to write and submit proposals. The requirements are explained on the page to which I linked.

One of the requirements is to submit a proposal.

I support this proposal. Reading the details, I believe brian is saying that it will help him produce a better Learning Perl 6 book, and deliver it faster. I also supported the Kickstarter, and have no problem with him submitting this grant request.

As someone who has worked with brian, both editing his articles for and as a technical reviewer for Learning Perl 7th edition, I know he is a hard-working, honest and competent person who delivers on his commitments.

I'm also excited about this book. Given his expertise in both Perl, teaching and technical writing, he is almost uniquely qualified for this task. For example, brian understands that Perl 6 has so many advanced features, that it is sometimes better to show basic Perl 6 examples that are not the way an advanced Perl 6 programmer would write them, so that readers can understand the core concepts at play. These nuances are often under-appreciated but make the difference between a competent text, and a cherished one that introduces new programmers to programming and Perl 6.

Perl 6 deserves a high-quality introductory book - this seems like a great opportunity to support brian deliver something wonderful that ultimately benefits all of us.

I am not sure why the first comment here was deleted. I thought it summed up all problems of this grant quite nicely.

Two comments were removed at the request of the commenter.

I was impressed by Brian's lecture at Meetup. Please support him.

Makoto asked me to reply to some of the concerns here.

It's no secret that I'm trying to make a living writing Perl books. The dirty subject of money, so often unfit for polite company, is upsetting for some people. It's certainly not comfortable to me to have to arrange funding for a project in public.

Some people are concerned about the money available for other Perl 6 projects. If funding my proposal means some like Jonathan cannot be funded, then I say Jonathan should get the money. The grants committee can strike that balance. But, other people have to apply for those grants.

There's some confusion about the Kickstarter. I think most of the world realizes that project creators try to raise as much money as possible. The minimum is a balance between a number that seems attainable yet workable. But, project creators try to raise as much money as they can. You can see that in the rewards I offered, my links to other projects, and my goal to get to 2,000 backers. Moritz seems to think I was confused by Kickstarter. Quite the opposite in fact. This isn't my first rodeo. The grants committee knows my track record for delivering books under contract.

The issue of royalties seems to be a big deal. I'm sure Damian Conway's explanation of the rewards of publishing would be acceptable to the Perl 6 community. Several other people turned down a bag of cash to write this book. I didn't, and am trying to come up with extra financing so I can pay the bills while I write this. If I wanted to get rich, I have much better ways to cash in.

Lastly, some people seemed to have assigned malicious intent to me. To that I have no reply.

I've long had mixed feelings about the Perl 6 project. Among other critiques, I think it's a "big" language, which makes it hard to learn. brian has a proven track record at making Perl 5 accessible and I think he'd do a much better job for Perl 6 than, frankly, many of the existing Perl 6 enthusiasts. I strongly support this grant.

I see no conflict between the Kickstarter and the grant proposal. I support it.

I support brian d foy's grant proposal for the reasons articulated in A. Sinan Unur's first post. For more than a decade I've said that I won't really learn Perl 6 until there's a "Learning Perl 6" book from O'Reilly. This grant will get us closer to that goal. --Jim Keenan

Hmm. I continue to have mixed feelings about this grant proposal.

I'm still hung up on how this proposal doesn't offer any distinct deliverables that aren't already promised by the Kickstarter campaign.

Yes, I want the book to exist. I really do. But, the way I look at it, we're getting a book out of the Kickstarter. If not, then the Kickstarter was a lie. Since I don't want the Kickstarter to be a lie, then the $10,000 that the TPF might give has to be for something else. What could that something else be? Extra chapters? Better chapters? Maybe more rounds with the reviewers from the campaign? Whatever it is, it would have to be something quantifiable so that we could account for the expenditure.

I guess I'm saying that I'm not comfortable saying "throw another $10,000 in the pot for the book" and that I'd be more comfortable if there was some other form of accountability for the money that TPF would grant.

my two cents,


I can not make a comment on individual grant proposals but let me just say that the grant program exists to help advancement of our language, Perl, and we welcome any types of grant proposals within our rules.

All the proposals will be published publicly. If you want to have a private discussion, feel free to contact me at [email protected], or any Grants Committee members near you (members list).

The grant program is supported by generous donation from our TPF donors. I thank them for helping grant recipients achieve something that wouldn't have been possible without the donors.

A. Sinan Unur, that's quite a lengthy—and somewhat unasked for—lesson, but I don't see it answering the original question.

What *are* the benefits of this grant to the Perl community, considering it does *not* affect the book's future existence?

If Kickstarter's promises were not a lie, the book is being produced and delivered regardless of this grant's outcome. Hence, the question.

Why not approve the grant on the condition that an electronic edition be published for free?

People would be able to either buy the paperback edition from oreilly or download the ebook freely.

Think of it as this: Community pays brian for a book (kickstarter + grant), brian delivers a book to the community free of charge.

win - win

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This page contains a single entry by Makoto Nozaki published on December 6, 2016 11:00 PM.

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