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Sep. 16th, 2014


I don't know if it was the plane trip or shaking hands with half of the professors at Cal Poly, but I now have a cold. I was hoping it was allergies, so I took my allergy pills, which meant that I had a runny nose all of yesterday. Today I figured it wasn't allergies, so didn't bother... so I got the runny nose AND a sinus headache. (Brilliant, self.) Then on the way home, I stopped for gas and cold pills. (And got the fun of buying decongestants with an out of state license.)

Incidentally, this reminds me of another weird culture shock; the area stores all charge for plastic or paper bags*. I don't know if I saved most of my tote bags from Ithaca; at the least, I'll need new ones.

I think 'lack of free grocery bags' was part of Mom's list of Why She Hates California. (The bags, the drivers, the fact there is a giant hill between my apartment and my office, the price of everything, the presence of too few restaurants that serve mild food**... pretty much everything except the ocean.)

Department retreat today: basically, we went over all the policies, I got connected with the astronomers on campus, and information about who I report to for Physics 141 (because there are eight instructors for at least ten sections, so someone has to herd the cats***), and more New Faculty information.

* Not much. Something like ten cents, or maybe fifteen.
** Most of that is just that Mom's stomach is sufficiently delicate that even pizza for dinner will send it into a tailspin of heartburn and regret. Which makes eating out far less fun, especially in areas where you don't know what the hell weird thing they'll do to food, or where they think raw onions go.
*** I have 48 students in each section; that means a good five hundred students are passing through calculus-based physics. That's about as many as we had at the University of Nebraska, where I took calc-based physics, but we did it in two or three giant lecture hall classes, and weekly recitations with grad students.

Sep. 1st, 2014


My new resolution should be to update this more than once a month. At first, nothing was happening, then EVERYTHING happened.

-- I got a year-long lectureship at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, California. For reference, that's almost exactly half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. (For those of you who have been added since the last time I taught or graded, any posts that mention students will be locked and I will keep names off. My students have a right to privacy more than I have a right to rant.)

-- I move on the 10th. Classes start the 22nd. I teach three classes: two sections of calculus-based physics, and a section of 'physics for non-scientists'. The last is at 8 AM. (No one likes 8 AM classes; I don't, and most of the students don't. The only reason I liked 8 AM classes as a student because it meant I was done early in the day, and I had no trouble doing math at ass o'clock in the morning*, even before I started drinking tea.)

-- I probably have an apartment. I mailed my deposit last week, and I was going to call them today before I remembered that it was Labor Day.

-- I am (mostly) packed. There are about five boxes of actual household stuff, and 18 boxes of books and craft supplies. (Three of those are work-related books). Also several full trash cans, 3 ebay auctions and 9 Rubbermaid totes of things to donate. Mom's current thoughts is that it will be cheaper to ship these than hire someone to move. (As I have had my license less than a year, Mom has vetoed 'rent a van, drive to California', which was Dad's suggestion; if they're still there by Christmas, I might do that anyway. After three months on California highways, I suspect the interstate will be fine.)

-- I'm driving a lot better. I still hate going downtown, and like parking far away from everyone. (I get a walk AND I don't have to deal with not hitting things.)

-- Mom and Ben are out of town (back tomorrow), so I've been using the excuse to cook all the things I'm too lazy to make normally because only I will eat them.

-- I expect my adviser will be making noise about publishing the parts of my dissertation that aren't in peer-reviewed journals. I haven't looked at my research in a week. (The good news is that my collaborators and I mostly agree, and where we disagree are the places where one person's data isn't reliable.)

* Seriously, in high school math competitions, the earlier they were, the better I did... I suspect more because everyone else was half-asleep than any ability on my part to be a morning person.

Aug. 8th, 2014


I live!

So, my job plans for the fall are... well, I have a year-long job in California that's supposed to get back to me before Monday, and two part-time jobs (with an interview for a third) in town if I don't get that. And it's experience in my field: an adjunct position running a General Astronomy course via the Internet and covering an upperclassman course on the Solar System for a professor going to the National Science Foundation. (The interview is for one-on-one teaching a gifted high school student or students*)

Other than that, I finally set up my desktop, after my brother took his down. And I have a conference in Boulder next week, so don't expect much contact. (I don't know if I can make the Division of Planetary Sciences annual conference; it depends on what I'm doing and if I can pay out of pocket since I don't have grants. It is in Tucson and is a good place to chat with folks outside of the planetary ring community.)

* The public school uses that if they don't have the ability to get a gifted student into an advanced class. I had a mentor from 4th grade through 9th grade in math, which let me take calculus as a junior, and enter college able to waive all three semesters of calculus. (I was not the youngest in my calculus class; we had a sophomore as well.) UNL grad students are a major pool for employment here.
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May. 20th, 2014


Last night I dreamed that I was visiting my mother and aunt at my grandmother's old beach cottage*. Somehow I had lost track of time and had to convince them that I needed to pack and leave for the bus to Logan Airport that day, Monday, May 25th, because I had a flight to catch. Somehow, I had forgotten what the date was and had assumed it was... well, the 19th. There also was the sad feeling that I hadn't spent enough time at the beach on my vacation, and the urge to dash off to the beach instead of packing.

Maybe it's because I can't visit the beach this year -- things are just too uncertain because I don't have a job and might need to be available for interviews -- and didn't last year because I had my dissertation to finish.

Also, for some reason, there were cats in the kitchen, trapped by a baby gate, because no anxiety-based dream is complete without a surreal element.

* Grandma left it jointly to her kids. Since two of them didn't live in the area and one had a beach cottage of his own, they decided to sell it several years after my grandmother's death. Sadly the developers who bought it tore it down to build something with multiple stories.

Apr. 13th, 2014


Yesterday I visited UNL's observatory in Mead, Nebraska. We have a telescope on-campus as well, but this is the one that was used for a lot of the research*.

I swear, the place hasn't changed. Up to and including posters that still mention the USSR and don't mention dwarf planets** or that Pluto has all kinds of friends out there. On the car ride over, I got a overview about how the astronomy part of Physics and Astronomy has somehow managed to get worse: both the Mead telescope and the Student Observatory telescope have had problems, and we continue to have one astronomer who is close to retirement, one temporary person hired to teach Astro 103 specifically, and one who is part-time with the math department to keep his position and will probably never get tenure. They stopped offering the astronomy track for their physics major because they couldn't guarantee they could teach the courses.

About the only reason there's talk of actually changing this rather than continuing to let Nebraskan astronomy die its slow death was that the University of Nebraska at Kearney hired several astronomers and is setting itself up as the school in the state college system for astronomy, and somehow that pisses the physicists at UNL off. Even so, they'd probably have to start from practically nothing.

... If they do, I wonder if they'd hire me.

* I used the on-campus telescope for mine, partially because it's convenient (10 minute walk versus 30-40 minute drive that usually means staying at the observatory all night), partially because I could, and partially because of departmental politics. But the official reason we had the telescope on campus was for class viewing and student labs, but if no one else was using it, you could do whatever. Including letting friends in to look at Mars.

** I gave a talk, and I did mention dwarf planets in my solar system overview, even if the talk was on Jupiter and Saturn.

Mar. 31st, 2014

Becky on the Road

Today was my first driving lesson in over a decade. It went well -- I didn't hit anything*, even considering that the wind was blowing trash cans over into the street. Most of what I did was drive on residential streets making turns. Still don't have it all the way down, but my next lesson is on Thursday.

Who knows, by May I may be cruising the Interstate.

* Well, curbs. Do curbs count?

Feb. 25th, 2014

Home again, home again...

I've spent so much of February trying to prepare for interviews (and also being sick) that finding my 'normal' routine is hard. Today I have a couple more job applications to send out, and some science to do, and I should probably see if Mom tackled the Giant Laundry Folding Backlog, but it feels weird not prepping for something.

Anyway, I got back from my interview on 10th February, and after a couple days, got plane crud (aka a cold). I recovered, then managed to get norovirus, possibly from Dad's cooking*. Forty-eight hours before I needed to be on a plane for a job interview. So rather than write my teaching demo, I got to sleep and freak out about still being sick when I needed to fly, and watch my little brother treat me as if I had the Black Death or smallpox. (He had a basketball tournament last weekend, so was determined to Not Get Sick.) The only one who was happy was the cat, who can't catch norovirus, and likes it when humans lie in bed all day because he can sleep next to a nice, warm body. (Plus my room is the most awesome room in the house in his opinion, because he's not supposed to be in there.)

The flight out was a bit turbulent, and I missed a connection, but I got there. The interview went well: the more you do something, the better you get. And despite forecasted thunderstorms and fog, the weather in South Carolina in February is welcome after Nebraska in February. Also, I recovered enough to have sushi on Friday**.

* Two of the five people who ate Dad's black bean-and-rice salad got sick. Not enough to confirm it, but definitely suspect.
** I suspect my hosts were hoping that they got a job candidate who likes sushi.

Feb. 12th, 2014

Interview #1

So, I went on an interview, at the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, a public residential high school program for 200+ of Carolina's most high-scoring and interested high schoolers.

I think most of the question-asking went well, but I totally flubbed the teaching demo. The lecture part went okay with a few technological hiccups, but one of the interviewers asked me to work a problem on the board for the students, and I froze up doing it, which really made it look like I didn't know my stuff. Next time I do a teaching demo, I'll not focus so much on the lecture and make sure I can handle fielded questions.

Anyway, the town was small, but nice. A bit weird to get used to places where the residential streets didn't have sidewalks. It's really a driving culture down there, and not just because of the NASCAR track within 15 minutes of town. (I was counseled that unless I was attending a race, to avoid the area during races... much as one avoids driving near campus and downtown Lincoln when the Huskers are playing at home.) So if I get a job in the area, I'd have to learn to drive finally. That was actually a question asked of me: was I philosophically opposed to driving, or just never in a position to need it.

Besides that, there are always the bits of culture shock. Pickup trucks aren't new, nor are the proximity to farms. Between Lincoln and Ithaca, I'm used to things, and the realtor giving me a tour of town mentioned that there was a Farmer's Market last year**. Our Sunday dinner plans changed because half the restaurants in Hartsville close on Sundays -- we did end up at a very nice Mexican restaurant that probably does a good business on Sundays. That and

My flight back was needlessly complicated. I was flying out of Florence, SC, which is a tiny airport. I might even count it as smaller than Lincoln and Ithaca, since unlike them, it doesn't have a cafe, just some poorly stocked vending machines. Mechanical problems* meant that my plane didn't arrive in time and my connection was in doubt, but I decided to risk it. I didn't make the connection, so got to overnight in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Hey, new state for the checklist***.

On the morning I did fly out, it was snowing, and flights were already being canceled in expectation of the ice storm that is now blanketing the Southeast. I made it out in a not-quite timely fashion as airline schedules in Charlotte don't build in 'de-ice plane'. (Actually, they don't account for it in Ithaca where it's common in winter, which was why I never scheduled a tight connection in winter if I was taking the 6 AM flight, since we'd sit on the tarmac for 20-30 minutes while they sprayed down the plane with antifreeze).

So, next interview is late next week, and I should start prepping. And keep on the job market.

* Of the sort that propagate forward all day, since the plane has a schedule.
** Which is a nice thing for me; I like having lots of fresh seasonable veggies, and I'm starting to investigate being a slightly more humane omnivore and picking up (more expensive) animal products from local farms where the cows/pigs/chickens had a more pleasant life before their death. I'm probably never going to be a vegetarian/vegan, but I figure I can do what I can when I have the money to spend on happier hamburgers.
*** Airports and driving through states don't count as visits, but overnights or visiting any attraction does. Though seeing the Charlotte airport AND the Sleep Inn is not much of a visit to North Carolina.

Jan. 30th, 2014

Right, I have a LJ

Today I accidentally filled the kitchen with smoke because I entered the microwave settings to boil water for tea when I was defrosting a bread roll. It was needlessly exciting. I also learned that we don't have a working smoke detector because it really should have gone off for that.

In better news, I have not one, but two in-person second interviews. Oddly enough, both are in the state of South Carolina, which I have never been. My single in-person interview last year was in Georgia. I wonder if I radiate an aura that makes me attractive to Southerners, despite my Midwestern accent and Yankee word usage*. The first, at a high school for science/math-interested students, is a week from Monday, while the second (a college looking for a physics and astronomy instructor) is later in the month. I need to start writing my 'lesson plan' as both expect me to teach a class (or a mini-class) to show that I can, in fact, do what they'd like to pay me for. I also want to consult with a few people about doing more than a board lecture, since I talked up my ability to use modern teaching methods in my interviews.

Tomorrow I'm also giving a lecture at the university here: more aimed at the physics undergrads. One of my professors also invited me for pizza with the undergrads after, for advice on grad school. Since the seniors will probably be starting to get acceptances/rejections back, it's good timing. I don't know if he expects 'Rebecca went to a fancy Ivy League graduate school and it has taken her over a year to find a job' to be part of the lesson. (Honestly, even if I end up teaching high school, and if graduate school gave me a case of the crazies, I did enjoy my time there, and my graduate assistant stipend was enough so that I didn't run myself into debt doing it. I could have used a better exit plan, since I ended up being more attractive as a teacher than as a researcher -- and had I a chance to do a year or two over again, I would have buffed up my teaching credentials and practiced teaching more** -- but as has been noted, we can't all aspire to our adviser's job.

* I lived on the north part of the East Coast of the US until age 10, when we moved to Nebraska. Most of those accent and dialect quizzes place me as one of those 'vaguely Great Lakes'/'inland northeast' dialects, since I sort of have a mix of both Great Plains and Northeast Coast in my language.

** Or started making deeper contacts in the field. I have a few, but not as many as I should have to get a research job, and I know people enough for them to recognize my name, but not enough to really find a postdoc.

Sep. 16th, 2013

Thesis defense: 7 days remain

I forgot how much work writing a talk is. Especially a long talk.

For a conference talk, I pretty much have one point I want to get across, and I have 7 to 15 minutes to do so. If I have anything that requires length, I do a poster and just have to give a short (like 1-2 minutes) and non-technical elevator pitch, and anyone interested will swing by to chat with me about the details. But for a conference talk I have a captive audience ranging from my adviser (who has been following my progress and has probably heard me rehearse) to 'that undergrad who wandered in because rings sounded interesting'.

The audience is a bit similar for a thesis defense, in that, say, a cosmologist might not know much about the rings of Saturn besides 'they look very nice'. Considering I have a cosmologist on my committee*, I need to talk for her as a general 'knows physics and astronomy, but does not know about 35 years of ring research** and does not need to know all of the details'.

But the length means there's a temptation to put all that in, since I'm trying to summarize a 200 page document that took me *cough* years to do. Thankfully, several friends sat me down after the practice talk and said 'you are bogging down in details, cut as much as you can from that and focus on the major points of your research and the background people need to understand that'.

They also suggested labeling the giant picture of Saturn we have in the room I'll be defending in with post-it notes so that people can look at it if I start naming ring regions. Which, hey, if I got it, I might as well use it.

* Rules are you need at least one person outside your field, so I have two planetary scientists, a theorist that models gas disks around stars, and an observational cosmologist. The last two have appointments outside of astronomy as well. (So one is both a Professor of Astronomy and a Professor of Physics, and one is both a Professor of Astronomy and Professor of Applied and Engineering Physics. For that matter, my adviser is the only one who doesn't have a dual appointment -- the other planetary scientist is also a Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Most people get around Cornell's requirement that you have a 'minor member' by a professor with a dual appointment... or an Earth and Atmospheric Science professor if you study rocks or something.

** 1978 is the earliest paper I cite in the dissertation.

Sep. 8th, 2013

Not Dead, just Defending

What the subject line says. I am actually finishing grad school. My dissertation defense is set for 24 September (well, once I hunt down one more signature). A second-to-last draft of my dissertation mostly exists (I have one more section of the intro to revise, then it goes to my committee -- previous drafts were only seen by my adviser*). I also have a practice talk scheduled for this Friday.

Still no job. I'm heading to a conference in the first week in October, and a few group members suggested I bring a sandwich board that says 'will teach physics for cash'. After I get back from that, assuming no job leads, I pack up, ditch as much of my furniture as possible, and move back into Mom's guest room until I find a job. (Academic openings tends to be seasonal, with most job postings going up around now. A teaching position would be likely to start next fall, while a postdoc or fellowship can be more flexible. But, since many budgets go from a fiscal year starting in summer...)

I skipped my normal summer vacation to get my dissertation done; I'd be happy to take the rest of the year off after this (except for sending my CV out and hoping someone would hire me, and finishing up my last paper). I'm getting back into art, and I'd like to do more (fiction) writing, but spoons are on reserve for finishing.

* Technically, I was required to supply a first draft to the entire committee or get their permission to waive this. They all told me if I gave them anything that wasn't ready to go, they wouldn't read it. A few were surprised this was even a rule the grad school had, since NO ONE does this in the department.

Apr. 26th, 2013

Life Update

I feel like I should say something clever, but I don't got any of that.

My allergies, even with pills, are in the stage where I feel like there is something caught in the back of my throat. I've been reading a lot, so I should do a book review or two, but a lot of the books were re-reading the ones on the Hugo List. I'm done with the novels, and I could probably read the two novellas I own. It's kind of nice to know what I'll be voting for now, though I suspect that my top choice will not win the Hugo.

Writing and drawing is slow right now. I need to kick my muse in the butt. Maybe this weekend.

Also, I need to clear out all the books and clothing I own that I'm not going to use. More and more it sinks in that I expect to move in less than six months, which means clearing out years worth of... well, crap... I've accumulated. (maybe I shouldn't have skipped the clothing swap a couple of weeks ago, even if I mostly gave things rather than picking anything up.)

Also, i really should learn how to drive this summer.

Apr. 16th, 2013

Random musing.

One thing I really appreciate about my mother is that she seems to understand that not everyone is made happy by the same things. Which is really good, because she and I are very different in terms of likes and dislikes: for instance, Mom hates living alone, while I am really picky about the people I can live with* and need my own space or at least people who can give me my own bubble (I do fine during Christmases with Mom and my brother, even if I'm sharing a room with my brother and generally camp out either in the recliner or at the kitchen table to do things). (My sister takes after Mom; Jenn has never lived alone in her life, actually. Nor has my brother, but he also hasn't moved away from home yet.)

It also comes up with matters of money. During the job hunt, Mom reminded me to ask about salaries because, while I'm happy living on my grad student stipend, she wanted to make sure I had enough money to do things I like doing (traveling to visit friends and family, having a place I wanted to live, buying a car which I admit I'll eventually need) and suggested things like 'if you have the money, why not look into a weekly cleaning service, since we both know how you feel about housework?**'. I don't know if that's something Mom would spend her money on -- she might if she had more income, given she works long hours and not having to spend her days off cleaning would be pretty nice, but right now it would probably mean fewer trips to see her family -- but it's something she thinks I'd like, so I should totally look into it and see if it fits a budget. (This is also why Mom got laser eye surgery: the improvement in her vision was totally worth the money and pain of surgery, so she saved for it.)

It's nice to know that whatever I do with my life, I know Mom is proud of me and will help in any way she can, even though it is so far from what she wants for herself. (Mom once told the head of the UNL physics department at a job interview that, if she could have any job, it was the one she used to do as a nurse's aide at a retirement home; our chair joked that at least the physics department had its share of old people.)

* Thankfully, all of my biological family make this cut, or I've learned to adapt to them and they to me.

** I don't think many people like housework, but I guess there's a point of 'do I hate it enough to justify the expense of paying to have someone else handle it'.

And the moral of the story...

... is that my sinuses decide that two days on planes in a row is not something I should ever do again, even on medication. Forgetting my water bottle (I fill it after going through security) doesn't help. Seriously, I'm just glad one day of travel didn't stress my sinuses out too badly, so I didn't feel like crap at my interview. (And of course, just now I remember the prescription nasal spray I have that is supposed to enlarge my nasal passages to improve drainage.)

As for the interview, it went well. Everyone seemed really friendly and collegial, so most of my questions about the job are the existential 'what do I want to do with my life' ones: basically I'm nearly 30 years old and still don't feel like an adult. Maybe taking time off between college and grad school would have helped, but grad school classes were hard enough with just a summer between them and physics classes. Being an authority in my job -- whether it be 'you are in charge of XYZ course' or 'do you have any ideas for research projects?' -- scares me.

Maybe that's one reason I wasn't in a hurry to finish grad school: being a grad student is a pretty comfortable life for me.

Apr. 14th, 2013

So I think I mentioned this...

But it deserves a top level post.

I have a second interview down in Georgia, this one in person. The position is tenure-track at a state college near the Tennessee border (and on what I presume is [livejournal.com profile] bean_bunny's annual DragonCon Pilgrimage route, which is a minor intangible benefit). It would be full-time teaching -- and I mean full time, since I'd be teaching as many credit hours as I normally took as an undergrad* -- and the students would mostly be first and second year engineering undergrads getting a start at a smaller school before going on to take specialized courses elsewhere, and the standard 'non-majors taking Astronomy for science credit' students that everyone who is in astronomy expects to teach if they teach.

That and the Helsinki interview went well: I think I and the professor hit it off. Both jobs probably have about the same ratio of 'candidates remaining' to 'positions', so I feel pretty good about getting one of these. Mom asked me what I'd do if I got both; both have their pluses and minuses, but both are so different and would indicate different directions of 'what I want out of life'. Unless Dalton rubs me the wrong way in the day I'll be in town, or the darkness/cloudiness of Finnish winters scares me off ( I get really moody when I can't see the Sun, even in NY), it would come down to what I want, and not 'one is objectively better'.

Or the small number statistic gods will decide for me, since getting one job is more likely than two. Or one of my other applications would pan out.

* Professors at more research-focused universities usually teach about half as much, but are expected to be mentoring undergrad/graduate student researchers as well, so the time commitment for teaching isn't as extreme as it seems by 'hours spent in front of a class'.

Apr. 7th, 2013

(not) Sweet Dreams

I don't know what it says about me that I was dreaming about video games last night. Specifically the part of Skyward Sword where you have to collect the plot coupons goddess's tears while avoiding the invincible enemies. Which... well, I've played the last two DS games which basically involve the same premise every time you need to advance the plot, but for some reason the damn thing stressed me out. Enough that I dreamed that I'm helping my sister play Skyward Sword*, and the damn game randomized the location of the tears so I couldn't help her.

I don't even know what this means in terms of anxiety dreams, but it's better than having to repeat high school classes for some reason, usually with a side of 'can't get into my locker' and 'I don't even remember my schedule', which are my normal class of anxiety dreams. Why I have these now when I never got them (or remembered them) in high school is a mystery. Or why they are high school dreams, and not set at UNL or Cornell and involving college coursework/teaching things...

Then again, my dream the night before that involved a singalong of Jonathan Coulton's "Redshirt" with [plurk.com profile] dolphinacorn and a chorus of Miscellaneous Friends while I was picking up groceries, so maybe I should just go with it.

* When we were in middle school, Jenn or Ben would be the one playing and I'd watch, usually with a map from the strategy guide to help. Even if technically Ocarina of Time was my game, I could never get past the fire boss on my own.

Apr. 5th, 2013

Storytime: Stareyes vs. the Computer

I haven't been sleeping so well, so I stayed home from work to try to fix that. I'm hoping that a weekend will have me back on my feet on Monday. Instead, I decided to find a new source of stress in my life, which is messing with my computer. )

Feb. 22nd, 2013

Medical stuff

So, I've been feeling icky lately. It seems like a mix of gummed up sinuses and medication side effects, but it means I have been sitting at home feeling headachy and nauseous and just well enough to feel guilty about being at home and not at work. I'm hoping that a mix of pseudoephedrine* and a diet change will help. Maybe see if I can find some candied ginger, since that's supposed to help with stomach nonsense.

* Aka 'look, I'm not going to be making meth with this, I just want to clear all the annoying tiny passages in my skull'.

Feb. 4th, 2013

Still Here!

So, I'm going to try to do a general life update. )

Jan. 9th, 2013

Back in New York

I made it back to Ithaca, with only minor hangups: my flight out of Lincoln was delayed because the crew got in late last night and required a full 8 hours of downtime before they could fly, so I needed to be rebooked on my connecting flights (because 10 minutes is not enough time to make it to another terminal in Chicago). Then, of course, between an earlier takeoff than listed and a quicker flight, I could have made my original tickets. Oh, well.

Today I might take at least a work from home day, because I need to grocery shop. We'll see where I am after that.

I also need to find breakfast. The bread in the freezer smelled funny (but that could be a funny smell coming from the sink), so breakfast right now is tea and wondering if I should make pasta or finish my tea and go out.

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