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i'm interested mainly in the business end of aquaponics, so here are some questions that have been proposed to me over the last few years. granted my responses are going to be my personal opinions and will be open to full discussion.

 

Does being a back yard warrior of aquapopnics qualify you to give training sessions for profit?

 

depends on what you're training. if you're going to train people on how to do what you've done, then by all means train away, but if you only have a small back yard system, then you shouldn't be selling advice on things like commercial systems. although in theory they are the same things just on different scales, but one small system is a far cry away from a full scale commercial system. the general rule of thumb for me is like a pay grade,you can advise below what you're currently at, but shouldn't ethically go above what you've already accomplished.

 

the sale of unbacked, theorized production numbers as facts.

 

this is an easy one, if you haven't actually done it, you cant claim to be able to do it, so you shouldn't sell products like manuals and kits without proper record keeping and time stamped photo evidence. there's alot of people out there claiming that they can grow things in just 4 weeks from seed to harvest...  well.. unless you're talking microgreens, im not convinced...

 

and last but not least for now, and my personal favorite...

 

the exploitation of a 2nd or 3rd world countries labor force to seek proper profit margins.

 

now here me out on this one... while creating an aquaponics business in any 1st world country is looking harder and harder with the increase of a federal minimum wage, 2nd and 3rd world countries with no minimum wage base leaves the proprietor free to pay what ever they want...

 

but here's the twist.

 

lets say the average wage in the united states is around $8 per hour now, and the average  wage of some 2n or 3rd world country is $2 per day. with that being said, you start your operation in the 3rd world country where you could pay $2 a day per person for labor, but you actually pay them $4-$6 a day which is 2-3 times the national average.

 

you're still exploiting the 2nd and 3rd world standards of wage, but you're giving these people jobs that pay twice to three times as much as they would be making other wise, all the while securing you high profit margins.

 

on one hand it's socially unacceptable to exploit these people, but on the other hand it is socially acceptable to pay them a higher wage than average.

 

if anyone else has more questions of ethics having to do with aquaponics feel free to chime in, because i know i haven't hit them all.

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Yes Damon, that is one of the biggest problems currently, the over inflated claims that some people are using to sell Aquaponics e-books and other products and not actually providing a good product to boot.

 

I'm always trying to rein people back, Don't overdo the claims.  I would rather be very modest when saying what aquaponics can do so that when people get even better results then they feel really good about it and if the results are only what I said, then they still can't complain (well maybe they can since some people can find something to complain about in anything) and I'm far less likely to get the problems with "well this is bunk, it doesn't do what they said!"

 

The true strength of Aquaponics is that you reduce overall water consumption over other types of gardening and aquaculture and you also reduce pollution that come from hydroponics or aquaculture so those are really the claims to fame in my book.  Now for the backyard the big selling points in my book, "Automatically watered, Automatically fertilized gardening!!!!!  And a garden you can get fish from too!!!!!"  I might be the energizer bunny when it comes to building things and setting up systems but I know myself, I can't be expected to water, fertilize, spray or weed a dirt garden (all my dirt growing has to be with drip irrigation or it doesn't survive.)

 

Anyway, I'm not sure what we can do about the crooks other than what has been done so far, here and over on BYAP there are threads where we can give eachother the heads up about questionable websites and aquaponic businesses (some tend to steel other people's photos and work and post it on their sites as their own.) 

Paying a "Higher than nominal wage" is social pollution.

While I don't want to get into a socio-economic discussion here, Paying a higher than norminal wage is setting them up for economic suicide.  If every person's wages were doubled (or even trippled) the world economic structure would collapse.

..

One of the reasons for global economic meltdown we are feeling now is almost a direct result of greed and this exact philosophy.  When a person in say Senegal West Africa is selling african carvings in his native country is visited by a businessman from say New York, USA and the businessman offers to buy his carvings for the equivalent of $30.00 US (when he is selling them for the equivalent of $2.00 US locally), the African Artists ramps up and his extremely happy.  He is making big money from the New York Man who is exporting his carvings to the United States.

...

The African artist makes great money, then invests in a computer and gets Internet access (a good thing for sure).  His family begins to live a better life, his business grows and he employs more people (this is getting better and better for him).  Then he finds the New York Mans Web Site in New York on the internet.... Woa!!! The New York Man is selling the carving's for $10-14.00 US!!!  The African gets angry, if he got $10-12.00 US for his carvings he would be filthy rich.  So the African Artist puts up his own web site, he puts his carvings on "his Website" and offers them "Direct" for  $9-$10.00 US.

...

Sales start rolling in at $9-10.00 each, and he ships them to the United States Customers, and charges an additional $25.00 shipping and handling.... Everything is good - right?  Wrong - so wrong......  You see the New York man was paying an average of $4-6.00 US per item in bulk shipping and customs fees, then he was employing a staff of say 12 people and paying their wages.  On top of that he had facility expenses (So in actuality his prices reflected this, along with a 40% profit margin out the door).  Now the African Artist is selling his works direct and maing a fortune.  The New York Import Export company is not selling any, but manages to sell their stock.  So the New York Man goes back to Senegal, Africa and is told by the Artist that he now wants $8-$10.00 per carving (after all he is the artist and since he has the knowledge of the internet, he can sell his items direct).  The New York businessman goes back to new york without the items. in fact almost all of his clients are doing the same thing, so he has nothing to import......

...

The African Artist goes on selling his carvings on the internet.  The buying public is not really that smart - but then "they are buying Direct From The Artists".  They are paying slightly less for the item, but the shipping and handling charges make the purchase 3 to 4 times what they could have paid the New York company (but this is normal in the mail order world, no big deal)...

..

Six months to a year later the New York Company folds due to economic down turn... People are out of work and the economy is bad.

...

The African Artist notices that his sales are dropping radically and can't figure out why... The a European Tourists gets really excited when they see his New Shop in Dakar, Senegal.... They take pictures with him and his shop.. The tourist tells the Artist they have several of his carvings/statues that they bought in Frankfurt, Germany.  But the tourist is puzzled, why do the statues bought in Frankfurt, Germany say "Made in China"??? (Germany requires all items to state the country of origin - On the item)...

...

Three months later the African Artist gets a letter from the European Torists.  Enclosed is an 8x10 glossy picture of him with the tourist outside his shop... This is great!  Also enclosed is a UPC andProdct Label from one of the Frankfurt, Germany shop carving/statues, along with a picture of the Chinese copy.....  The African Artist sees the web site, then he goes to his computer and looks up the Chinese connection... He sees his statues offered for $1.75-$2.25 US!!! He gets angry, his work has been copied, and copied in a country with no trademark or copyrights....  He is losing business, and not making enough money.....

...

The African Artists attempts to call the New York Man, but the phone is out of order.  The African Artist sends an eMail to the New York man, offering to sell him the carvings at the original price.  No answer, even the New York Man's web site is inactive, what;'s going on????  About six months later he gets an eMail from the Man in New York. In the eMail the Man tells the African that Company's in China have undercut the market,  People were buying the items on the internet direct at an inflated price, the inflated price made the eople in China aware that they could make them for less and capture the market.  The result was that the New York Company closed and is no longer Import/Exporting.  Thank you good friend for the wonderful years that we did business.  I wish you luck in your new ventures.

...

The African Artist has just learned a harsh economic lesson... The Internet has leveled the playing field.  But costs to ship and global fuel costs are on the rise.  So shipping costs along with inflated customs makes international wholesale trade almost non existent. Add the fact that China (with even lower wages than Senegal, West Africa) has entered the global market and they are ramping up to reproduce and capitalize on any and all products where they can reproduce and sell for a fraction of the "internet Price".

...

So the African Artist goes back to selling his statues/carvings local, mostly to tourists.  Even the wealthy Africans with internet access are buying his statues from the China Company over the internet, so now he is worse off than he was before that damned American came along...  Life goes on.....

...

So who is at fault?  The American?  The African Artists? Or, just Life in General?  You decide.

...

Some people would say the New York Company took advantage of the African Artists, some informed individuals would point out that in fact they didn't.  It all depends upon your point of view. But tyhe cold hard facts are that equal commerce is not actually equal.  There are costs in transporting and importing/exporting products that the "consumer" never sees.  Now that we have eBay, where people routinely pay $160.00 (and sometimes $200.00) for an item that can be bought retail in a department store for $199.00, then pay $50.00 shipping and handling to get that eBay purchase - the economic world is turned upside down.  Just what is an Internet Bargain, and what is fair?

...

Let's let the Internet determine that.....

...

I gotta go, that $19.00 retail watch is at $29.95 and somebody just out bid me!!!! I can't have that, I want that watch... Lets see I got 45 seconds left - I'll bid $39.95 at the last second so he can't out bid me again.... wait for it,,,,, wait for it.... Who Hoo!!!!  I got it.... Wait a minute - the shipping and handling and Flat Rate shipping is ???? $45.00 ????? From China???  Wait, that's supposed to be a Rolex?????? What's going on???

....

The Internet, Our Friend, and Our Nemisis...

...

Now bear in mind that this is an over simplification of this and there are many more economic obstacles involved in Import/Export.  I know,  In the 70's I was in the US Air Force and spent four 1 year tours, and one 3 year tour in Turkey.  I bought Rugs when I was stationed in Turkey.  I leased a 42 Foot SeaLand Shipping Container at the port is Turkey and shipped rugs back to the United States.  I made a lot of money doing this, and have literally hundreds of satisfied customers all over the United States. One of the things I did for the Family in Cheyjan, Turkey that I bough a lot of rugs for was to buy and Import to Turkey a 1970 Chevy Nova  (the Daughters of one of the Rug Weavers both loved Chevy Novas - I knew this because we were joking around on more than once and the daughters both told me they would marry me if I geave them a Chevy Nova.  They were both too young for me, but their old man told me he loved the Chevy Nova as well, but that it was beyond his ability to pay for one.)  I learned a valuable lesson about Turkish Customs when I imported that Chevy Nova - It cost me 1.5 times the purchase price, plus the $3,900 shipping cost to get it into Turkey.  Then there was the 45% sales tax.... But the old man almost had a heart attack when I brought it to him.  His family was always good to me, and they always treated me like I was family when I was in Turkey.  I had a lot of friends in Turkey.  He told me that I was the reason that his daughters grew up to be such wonderful people, that I helped pay their way through school and college, that I helped put shoes on their feet and keep them in good clothes, that I put the food on the table.  I always thought that the old man was just being dramatic, After all - I only spent about $60K every three years (average was $10K per year), how could I make that much of a difference.  fact was - at the time the average Turkish Citizen made about $640.00 a year, the well off Turks made about $4,000 a year.).  So in essence, I paid him more than he needed, but looking back - did I?  I don't think so.  You decide....

..

When both of his two daughters got married I made sure that I sent them both wonderful Wedding Gifts.  When Cashima (the youngest Daughter) got married I was in Turkey and had the honor of attending the wedding festivities - It lasted for a whole week!!!  My associates at te US Information Agency (don't scoff, that's what they called it back then) couldn't believe that I had been invited to a Turkish Wedding, and Took Pictures?!?!?!... The Turkish Liasons told me pictures were not allowed, that most Turkish Families didn't like for westerners to take pictures of their family events - I told them that I was family, and I took pictures of every where I went in Turkey and of everyone I met (unless they objected, I always respected their wishes, after all - I'm the visitor, it "their" country).

..

My point is that The World Economy is bad because of simple greed, the internet just fueled the fire.  Here in the United States we feel it more because it economically affects us more.  Our Government has over history spend billions in foreign investments and brokered deals where the United States got Preferential pricing on commodities like Oil and goods.  Then the American people had cheaper gasoline, cheaper everything imported.  I was laway amazed how gasoline in the United states was at $0.79 a gallon, yet in Turkey it was the equivalent of $3.29 US a gallon.  Even when I worked in Germany in the late 1980's I was amazed that US Gasoline prices were at $1.99 a gallon yet the Germans were paying $4.99 US per gallon.  Simply amazing...

...

Right now we have a Congress that concentrates on what special interest groups pay them to concentrate on.  Congress doesn't work for the Tax paying citizens anymore, they work for the highest bidder.  That's why the economy is getting worse, nothing they do is for the good of the people - just for the good of the ones with the most money.

...

We built a large commercial Aquaponics system here in Arizona about six years back.  The Grant research was for a multi level grow facility (Aquaponics was the added feature that we used to supercharge the production rate for produce).  The pilot project wasn't just a success - it was astounding....  The main project construction lasted about 18-months.  That's when the project came to a halt.  In the notification that we received it was stated that Research and Development Funds were being withdrawn due to economic conditions and that the U.S. Government no longer wished to invest in R&D projects that weren't deemed necessary and in the public interests... Not in the Public Interests????

...

Four months later, money was found for the Wall Street Bailout,  Then more money was found for the Auto Makers Bailout,  Then even more money was found for the Banking Bailout (you know the program that is paying the banks to Foreclose and not negotiate with home owners).  Now they are spending money to rebuild Roads and Bridges.  Sound reasonable, except when you take into account that a gasoline tax is collected for such things as Gasoline, Diesel Fuel, Tires and such - that money goes into the Federal Highway Fund (Most states also tack on an additional tax, with revenues going to the State Highway fund).  This fund pays for roadways and bridge upkeep.  So if there is a fund to pay for this, and the bridges haven't been maintained - where did the money go?  Interesting... but I digress...

...

Yes an Aquaponics system is scalable, and yes if you build even a back yard system, you have a great knowledge of how a system works.  Yes you can actually give educated advise to a commercial operation, but practical advice is subject to the non linear rule of scale.  Things in Aquaponics to not scale evenly across the board.  Nothing in the world of biology and chemistry does.  There is always a certain behavioral change in how things interact when the project is scaled up.

..

I have watched more than a few small garden Aquaponics enthusiasts meet with disaster when they try to scale up to full commercial scale.  Many have two to five years experience with small scale aquaponics, yet fail to see the obvious, or over correct/under correct when they see problems coming.  When a commercial scale operation achieves balance. it is harder to keep it there.  After all a 1% variation in a 1,000 gallon system is small, but 1% of a 150,000 gallon system is larger that the entire 1,000 gallon system alone.

...

Cash cows do exist in farming.... But wait a minute, define Cash Cows?   Do you mean a really decent return on investment and work?  Or do you mean a $1M return on a $1,000 Investment?  If you make more than you spend to live, then you are doing good.  If you make more than three times more than you need to live, and employ two to five others - then yes, you have a Cash Cow.....

,....

Dave

Phoenix, AZ

Whoops... In my last post I stated $30.00 for the African Artist's carvings in the second paragraph.... I meant $3.00 per carving...  If you do the math later you will notice that the New York Businessman is selling the carvings for less than the stated $30.00 - which is where my typo becomes glaringly apparent..

..

Sorry for the confusion..

..

Dave

Phoenix, AZ

As someone who has always been an entrepreneur, I love to start businesses around subjects I am passionate about. Some have been successful and some have not. The key to all of them is knowing the marketplace and being able to service it it some useful way that people will pay for.

I have done the workshop at Nelson & Pade and I think they get it about right by showing you how to produce fish and veggies but warning you that to have a successful commercial venture you should first understand your market and know how to run a business. Knowing how to run a business is far more important, and takes much more experience, than growing a head of lettuce or feeding fish.

Now having said that, if people are dumb enough to make false claims when they are selling education or systems then they are asking to be sued for damages or arrested for fraud. Aquaponics is just another place that they are fishing for people to take advantage of. In the end, if aquaponics is really a viable, sustainable way to grow food on a commercial scale then we need not worry because the shinning examples will emerge. I hope to be one!

 

 

Nice & honest reply.

 

God bless,


TCLynx said:

Seeing as there isn't yet any system to police who is "qualified" to teach aquaponics, other than people noticing them and talking about it on the forums, it is really left to people to make their own decisions.  There are people out there making a buck with plagiarized E-Books so I don't see much chance of stopping those who only want to make a buck from being un-ethical.

 

Now while I have never taken money for giving tours of my garden (it usually takes several hours of my time since few people leave all that quickly and then there are generally lots of e-mails before and after.) I wouldn't blame some one for wanting to take donations for their time and effort for doing such things.

 

As to workshops, again, I've not accepted money for them to this point but as long as they are honest about the experience of the person giving the workshop and honest about what they are meant to teach, (or what project is being done during the workshop) then I would see nothing wrong with accepting a bit of money for the time and effort.  See it does take some time and money to set up for a workshop project and then to wait for the appointed time to do the project with observers/helpers.

 

And with the above, I think I said the word Honest.  Isn't that the biggest thing with ethics?  Well to me it is.  I've had people ask me to "consult" on commercial projects.  Now I think they were expecting me to simply give them a quote for some "stock" system or something but when I came back asking a million questions so that I could direct them to the most appropriate "help" I think I scared them away.

 

Many people who think they want to get into commercial aquaponics seem to think it's as easy as buying a kit and they have no clue.  They came across the concept in some article or something and think they can quit their job, sit in front of the computer and somehow the aquaponics system will do all the work for them (and they haven't even thought of the business and marketing side of it at all.)

 

Now while the basic concept of aquaponics is very scalable and if you understand the nitrogen cycle for an aquarium AP system you can essentially expand the concept up to a huge system, the devil is in the details.  And the person who is going to be operating any such system will have to learn and get their feet wet a bit.

But when we start talking commercial operation, The real Devil has pretty much nothing to do with Aquaponics.  Can the business sustain itself?  Sometimes there is no way to know without trying but Don't take the numbers flipped out on the internet as proof.  I see so many people coming on asking for business plans.  As if a cookie cutter business plan would work anywhere.  I might be able to get away with a huge amount since I can grow without a greenhouse or heating (if I can figure out how to keep the squirrels from destroying my seed starting area all the time) but some one just a few hours North of me wanting to grow basil year round would Not manage without a greenhouse and then you have the increased pest problems in the greenhouses.

 

So, If someone wants to give classes, buyer beware.

If someone wants to take a class on commercial aquaponics, well I think there is only one class being offered by an operation that has actually been an operating commercial aquaponics farm for more than a year or two that actually offers any of their business information in the class and you have to decide for yourself if their commercial operation and business information would translate to your location and situation or not.  That just goes to my whole comment on Aquaponics of "know where the information is coming from"  Some one might be totally honest when they say that XYZ works perfectly for them but unless you live next door to them and are using all the exact same stuff I wouldn't take it as a guarantee.

 

Ok, I've probably babbled on long enough.

Interesting discussion Damon,

 

Is there any one organization or person in particular that you are referring to in this question?  ...

 

"Does being a back yard warrior of aquapopnics qualify you to give training sessions for profit?

depends on what you're training. if you're going to train people on how to do what you've done, then by all means train away, but if you only have a small back yard system, then you shouldn't be selling advice on things like commercial systems. although in theory they are the same things just on different scales, but one small system is a far cry away from a full scale commercial system. the general rule of thumb for me is like a pay grade,you can advise below what you're currently at, but shouldn't ethically go above what you've already accomplished...the sale of unbacked, theorized production numbers as facts..."

 

 

at this point in juncture im supposed to tell you to send me a private message ask me the question.

Thanks for that, Damon. 

good, just wanted to make sure i did the right thing.

Will do...need to add as friend :-)

 



Sylvia Bernstein said:

BrIt is about honesty.  To draw an arbitrary line in the sand that says that they must have been "running a "commercial" operation... that has consistantly turned a profit for two consecutive years" in order to have the right to teach does this community a huge disservice.

 

We are in a very quickly growing industry that is changing constantly.  Hell, a year and a half ago no one I know of was using vertical or hybrid system designs, now it seems like everyone is tinkering with them.  This kind of innovation will affect profitability.  And since most new businesses of any kind take a few year to even reach profitability, and few maintain it consistently, in my experience, you are presenting a nearly impossible standard for our young industry, John.  

 

Firstly, let me re-interate that my post was not directed towards any one person, or group specifically... as I said, there are people that are "trying to walk the walk"...

 

And I applaud them for doing so...

 

But, as you say.. aquaponics is "a very quickly growing industry that is changing constantly"... and new "innovation will affect profitability"... or MAY do so...

It isn't correct to say that vertical components and/or hybrid systems weren't around or being implemented a "year and a half" ago....

They may not have been attracting the current level of attention, and/or incorporation into attempts at "commercialisation"...particularly in the US...but various implementations of both have been suggested and/or trailed for some time...

But as yet, can anyone actually honestly say that they have actually proven to be and have substantially altered the profitability of the potential "commercialisation" of aquaponics???... they may well do so...

But this actually IMO... serves to re-inforce my point...

The UVI raft methodology has been around for some time, and is backed by solid research and published data relating to production figures... but has hasn't been taken up, in it's specific form, or entirity.. for many reasons, including reasons of locational specificity, climate, startup costs etc..

The "Friendlies" model attempted to address some of these very questions, and has become the basis for the recent plethora of "startup" operations... but has, I think it is fair to say, been attracting considerable criticism, or critque... as to production claims... the basis for revenue returns... and/or.. and as I suspect you are alluding to... questions as to problems that might be inherent in the methodolgoy that could, or do... potentially impact on, or limit the scalability and potential profitability of an operation based on that methodology...

Indeed, that is the very reason why many are pursuing the incorporation of media beds and other components of "hybrid" systems... including many who have been utilising the above methodology for about a year or so.. and have identified possible shortcomings...

If, having idetified potential shortcomings in a "model"... anyone was to continue to offer training in such a methodology... as the basis for commercialisation.. without specifcally pointing out such shortcomings and potential impacts on profitability...then I believe they would be doing a disservice to the aquaponics community...

But surely, they would be doing just as much as a "disservice" to claim that any "new" methodology is "profitable" in a commercialisation sense.... without having actually run such methodologies for several years... and proven them to be commercially viable...

I don't think suggesting a couple of years of actual production, backed by openly presented revenue figures.. is really setting the bar too high...

Indeed, when such systems reach that point of revenue success, they will undoubtably become offered as "franchise opportunities"...

There's an old saying... "one swallow does not a summer make"...

Can aquaponics sustain a family?  Yes.  Any answer beyond that has too many "it depends" surrounding it to be useful in a discussion like this.

 

I agree.. and training courses offered within such a context are entirely valid...

But claims to train people in "operating a successful commercial aquaponics farm"... are different in intent, investment and inherent proof...

As I said, the notion of "commercialisation", and/or "profitability"... hasn't really been defined as such...

And that itself leaves a possible yawning gap in any participants expectations vs reality... unless backed by openly published, or available cold hard figures (even if only available under contract)

The bottom line is of course honesty.  Anyone teaching a class is going to put their best foot forward when they are advertising the course.  As long as the course instructors are honest about their background and experience (and you can verify this by asking around), and answer direct questions about the course honestly, and privately, if they prefer, then the buyer can make their own educated decision based on the available choices out there.

Absolutely..

If I am wanting to become an aquaponic farmer in 2012 then there really are only a few educational options available to me....and there is only one that is being taught by people who run a successful farm, which is successful based on the labor of the farm operators alone vs free interns. But they haven't been in operation for two years...and they are currently changing over some of their technology, which may hit their bottom line for a while.  Should this disqualify them from teaching others what they know?

Not at all... but can/should such training be presented as a "proven methodology"... as the basis for "commercialisation" and "profitability"...

Or should it be presented as exactly what you state... a new methodology that has the possibility, but as yet not demonstrated... ability of raising the "profitability" and chances of commercial success...

i.e... to present the training in the methodologies... not as a claim to implementation of commercial success...

Unless you're prepared to put your figures on the table and "show people the money"

Rather a short sighted proposition Rupert.  If we were to apply this yardstick to teachers, then none would ever get a start in a job.  Most academics would also be eliminated. Most of them complete their masters or Dr on some sort of Government grant.  Most preachers would not ever get started and on it goes.  IMHO.

RupertofOZ said:

Talk about setting a cat amonst the pidgeons Damon...

 

I'll no doubt cope a lot of flack over this... but...

 

"Does being a back yard warrior of aquapopnics qualify you to give training sessions for profit?"

 

Absolutely NOT...

If someone hasn't actually been running a "commercial" operation... that has consistantly turned a profit for two consecutive years... then they shouldn't be offering training in "commercial" systems...

Basically their operations are still either "hobby farms", or proof of concept systems...

And without wishing to malign anyone, as there are those who are trying to "walk the walk"... rather than just "talking the talk"... many of  those have found that the methodologies they've used for the last 12-18 months...have either failed to meet the "promised" returns, and/or, have presented problems of one sort or another...

And even those that might be acheiving a level of reasonable turnover... rely heavily on direct marketing and approach a level of time commitment that limits any possible expansion...

And many of them would not be actually turning a "profit"... without the subsidy of "workshops", "training", or other sales of books, hardware, consulting etc...

If I offend anyone with these comments.. then post your figures up... and let the discussion begin in earnest...

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