6 Years On

13443234_10208550228968365_2066814682851981181_oMy father, my “Pappie”, passed away six years ago today. It seems like forever ago and it seems like only yesterday. I miss him. 

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Microsoft MVP 2012–Consumer Security


Dear Stephen Boots,
Congratulations! We are pleased to present you with the 2012 Microsoft® MVP Award! This award is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others. We appreciate your outstanding contributions in Consumer Security technical communities during the past year.

I’m honored to have been recognized by Microsoft once again for my contributions. My first award was on October 1, 2004 in the MSN category. Two years later my award category was changed to Windows Live since many of the projects under MSN moved to the Windows Live branding. Windows Live products and services still exist, but the brand is being deprecated as Microsoft moves to Windows 8. Those MVPs that were active in the Windows Live category are being transitioned to new categories if they are re-awarded. My activity a few years back was mostly concentrated on Windows Live OneCare, which was the paid subscription antivirus program that included many other features. When that service was transitioned to the free Microsoft Security Essentials in 2009 I was a moderator for it as OneCare was ending. I’ve continued as an active moderator on Microsoft Answers for Microsoft Security Essentials since then. Earlier this year the top level category on Answers was renamed as Virus & Malware to incorporate community support for the Microsoft Safety Scanner, Windows Defender Offline, and Windows Defender.

See you in the forums!

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Treadmill Dog, Hank

DSC_0008It sure has been a long time since I added a post to this blog!

Hank is a Blue Tick Coonhound. Ever since Hank arrived to join our household in March of 2010, he’s been a handful. He was about 4 months old back then and full of energy. He’s grown bigger since then, but hasn’t lost his puppy energy. He’s incredibly playful and quite intelligent, much to his detriment, unfortunately. He know how to climb the gate downstairs to get upstairs. He’s demolished a few DirecTV remotes, a cordless phone, 2 computer mice, and the cover for Pennie’s Kindle. He chewed the drywall off the corner of a wall downstairs, chewed the wood baseboard molding in a number of places, thinned the leg of a cabinet, and demolished the plastic tray in his kennel. The orchids downstairs are at the back of the highest shelf as he can reach them pull them over and chew the foliage. Most recently he bit through the thick cable for Pennie’s computer keyboard, shorting it out. Nothing has been safe from him. Each evening I typically take him out to the back yard to play for a minimum of 30 minutes – no matter the weather – to try to burn up some of that energy. Pennie also takes him outside at least once during the day for play, too.

On at least 3 occasions, we’ve been close to finding a new home for him, but we love the goofy guy, so we continued to put up with his behavior in the hopes that he’d grow out of it and settle down. We tried a number of things to get him under control – most were unsuccessful. A few weeks ago, we decided that we needed to take action or he would need to go. Pennie called a trainer and he came over yesterday afternoon to work with Hank (and us). One goal that Pennie had was to get Hank on the treadmill. The trainer told us that it would take 5 minutes or so and he knew that Hank would do well. He was right. Those first 5 minutes were a tad stressful for Hank, but he settled into it very quickly. The photo above shows me with Hank for his first treadmill session with me. Pennie worked with him this morning.

To say that the training was successful would be an understatement. I know that we will need to diligently continue working with him, but so far he’s been awesome with the things we learned yesterday. First of all, he’s on leash most of the time now, even in the house. It allows me to wash the dishes, put away laundry, etc., without needing to wonder what Hank is getting into while out of sight for a minute. It allows us to correct behaviors with a brief tug to the leash. In the first hours of having him on leash we are able to make him wait to pass through a door. And we’ve not had to yell at him for bad behavior. We’ve got much more to work on, but I am confident that this intelligent and loving dog will get it and so will we.

As I type this, Hank is curled up on the dog bed in my office. He’s snoring peacefully

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The Journey Wraps Up

Yesterday, October 28th, was the Closing on the sale of my parents’ house. It has been a lengthy process getting to this event – 15 months after my father passed away in July, 2010. The house needed lots of clean-up and repairs. Paneling was removed throughout the first floor, built-in shelving units were removed, and carpeting and floor tile was removed or replaced. The whole first floor and parts of the basement and top floor got a fresh coat of paint. The master bedroom was turned back into two rooms, though both have no closets now. The wood floors were refinished. A new window went into the porch where the ancient greenhouse windows were falling apart and broken. There were loads of little things done throughout, too. The house went on the market in March. Unfortunately, the housing market and economy in general was in turmoil, but we got two offers on the same weekend a few weeks after listing the house. I accepted the lower offer as the other one had raised some red flags. As that pending sale progressed, the inspections revealed that the septic system had failed and the underground oil tank failed a vacuum test. I knew that both needed to dealt with, so we agreed to address them, but shortly thereafter, the buyer failed to obtain her financing, so the deal fell apart. I took a gamble that the oil tank had not actually leaked and arranged to have it replaced with an above ground tank in the garage. I hired an engineer to do plans for a new septic system. The oil tank had not leaked, so I dodged a major bullet there. The septic replacement came in under the rough estimate, but it was still expensive. Both the oil tank and septic used up over $15,000 of the Estate funds. Another offer came in at this point and it looked like a good deal. Unfortunately, that one also feel apart when the buyer’s own condo sale fell through days before their Closing. We were back to square one and the clock ran out on the extension for the Reverse mortgage. The rules for a Reverse Mortgage are set and managed by HUD. Basically, the loan must be paid in full 1 year after the borrower no longer lives in the home. If not paid, it is in default and the servicing bank must assign it to a collections lawyer and it moves towards foreclosure. Fortunately, that process is slow as molasses, but it does add a complication to the settlement.

Fast forward to the weekend before the hurricane that plowed up the East coast in September, causing significant flooding in the area. My realtor held an Open House and there were a few interested parties. One of them was a young woman that knew the house from when she delivered the newspaper to my parents 20 years ago. She liked the house, but thought that it might be too much work for her. The hurricane hit the following weekend. Sunday afternoon, with floodwaters rising, and the winds continuing, my Realtor called me with an offer from that young woman. We finalized the offer 2 days later, after they were able to confirm that the basement was dry with all of the flooding in the area.

The inspections revealed nothing new, but the buyer requested some repairs. We agreed that I would fix the front and rear steps – basically repairing cracks and removing the fake brick veneer on the stringers for the front steps – and we agreed to a concession for some other requested items.

It was exciting to finally make it to Closing yesterday. As I left with checks in hand and the knowledge that the mortgage was settled I reflected on the road I’ve been on for the past several years. I spent so much of my time visiting and helping my parents as Mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease progressed and ended. I then spent so much time with my father in his last months. And finally, there were the hours, days, and weekends spent cleaning up and fixing the house, as well as maintaining the yard – mowing, leaf removal, snow removal. All of that is now behind me.

I’m very happy for Jill, the buyer of the house, since she had a connection to the house and she can now build her own life with memories there.

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Summing it up

Well, I suppose that I had a bad feeling about the deal on the sale of my parents’ house yesterday when we hadn’t yet received the response to our contract revisions after 4 days. This morning my lawyer called me to let me know that the buyer was pulling out because the sale of their house fell through. They were scheduled to close on that deal on the 15th, so they are back to the drawing board, too. I am sure that they aren’t very happy with that turn of events when they were so, so close to Closing.

When I received the call my stress level went way up since the Reverse Mortgage is heading towards foreclosure. It is already in the hands of the lawyers for the bank. It is my understanding that the legal filing will happen by the end of September, since the process started on 7/29. The costs added to the loan balance are still low, but once the filing occurs, those fees will apparently begin racking up quickly, which stressed me out as I know that a new contract, even if agreed to quickly will probably not result in a Closing by that time and I don’t know if the filing will be delayed if we have a firm Closing date and a pending sale.

After making a few phone calls, stressing over the details for a while, and considering options, some of which were pretty complicated, I decided that I am not going to do anything differently. We will continue marketing the house and hope that the right buyer comes along soon. If the foreclosure filing occurs, so be it. It means that we may net next to nothing from the sale of the house, but we aren’t actually “losing” anything that hasn’t already been lost due to the insane falling of real estate values which have caused the current situation. The house is priced correctly, if not lower than market value. The cost to any option to pay off the reverse mortgage while still moving towards an eventual sale will likely be higher than the cost added to the loan balance as it stands today. The most reasonable and least complicated (relatively speaking) option would mean that I would borrow the money to pay off the Reverse Mortgage and loan that to the Estate. I would need to have legal paperwork that shows that the Estate is liable for the loan, of course, however, the actual liability would be mine. The rate on the current Reverse Mortgage is lower than any rate I could get for a personal loan or mortgage, even if I were buying the house from the Estate as an investment property. Since the Estate has no income, I would need a quick turnaround on a sale to cover expenses or I would need to rent the house, which opens up a whole other can of worms that I just don’t wish to deal with.

So, in summary, the best option is to hope for a sale at a reasonable price before the foreclosure filing. And the second best is to hope for a sale as soon as possible, even if the filing takes place as there will still be a balance after the loan and fees are paid off.

Keep your fingers crossed – mine are.

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Waiting, waiting, waiting

Well, we have another deal in the works to sell my parents’ house. They made an offer on the 31st of July and we finally agreed on a price on the 3rd of August. The contract was signed by the 6th and my attorney sent a letter with changes on the 7th, which was Sunday. It is now Thursday the 11th and I’ve not heard back from the buyer’s attorney.

In the meantime, the bank holding the Reverse Mortgage on the property sent me a letter, received on the 1st, that HUD had denied my request for an additional extension of time, so the loan is in default and the case has been handed to an attorney. I spoke to that attorney on the 2nd and learned that it will typically take 30 to 60 days before legal paperwork for foreclosure is filed. Yesterday I sent all of the contract paperwork to the lender to show that we are working towards a Closing on the property. I’m not sure if that suspends the filing, but I am pretty sure that it slows the process down somewhat.

Last weekend I brought the rock pile from the back yard to our house. We’ll be using the rocks for a garden border out front. While I was transporting rocks, Pennie gathered some on Mom’s plants and brought them home. She planted them in one of the raised beds temporarily. They will be moved to various spots at a later date. We also brought a few loads of lovely compost dirt home. The leaf and brush pile in the back yard was knocked down and cleared away the week before, leaving a thick layer of compost. I removed quite a bit of the compost for use in our garden and the leveled the remainder. I decided not to seed the area as I might still want to get some more dirt from there. If the new owner is a gardener, they can take advantage of the dirt for the garden before seeding the area.

Yesterday I installed the smoke and CO2 detectors in the house in advance of an inspection by the town fire inspector. That has to be done before the sale can be completed.

At this point we wait. Wait for the acceptance of the revised contract or more negotiations, wait for the appraisal, wait for the inspections, wait for their mortgage approval, and wait for the final Closing.

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Some bad, some good

First the bad – last Tuesday morning my lawyer handling the contract side of the sale of my parents’ house called me shortly after 9 am. The buyer had backed out of the contract due to an inability to obtain financing. That has to suck for them as they paid for the home inspection, oil tank inspection, and septic inspection, plus lawyer’s fees. That sucks for me since the Reverse Mortgage is considered to be in default as of 7/23/11 – a mere 2 weeks away.

I called the Reverse Mortgage company that afternoon to discuss the situation. I was advised to send a letter explaining the situation and requesting an additional extension. The terms of the loan are that it is due 6 months after the last borrower no longer lives in the house. There can be 2 extensions of 90 days each granted. We  got both of those extensions already. Apparently, the rules are not the bank rules, but dictated by HUD who oversees and/or backs these loans. In retrospect, I wish that I had known what my father’s assets were in more detail. Had he simply withdrawn money from his IRA and investments to pay expenses, much of them to have Visiting Angels care for mom, I wouldn’t have this headache. He was overly concerned about having to pay income taxes on withdrawals, so he only took the required distributions and rarely cashed any Savings Bonds. And, sadly, the reverse mortgage allowed him to spend money like crazy on the scams and honest requests for donations he was constantly bombarded with via the mail that I fought with him over on a regular basis. Ah, well… Anyway, there is a very good chance that another extension will be granted rather than allow the loan to go into default and the foreclosure process beginning. I am, after all, doing everything possible to sell the house for a fair price and it is valued much more than the outstanding loan balance. Apparently the bank reviews the request and associated documentation and submits it to HUD for review and approval.

Despite the loss of the buyer I still needed to continue with the oil tank replacement and the new septic system. On Friday it was time to put the new oil tank in the garage and remove the old one from the ground. The risk was that a leak would be detected and I’d need to pay for mitigation of the leak at a minimum cost of $10,000. The good news is that it was in good shape. The failed tightness test had to be piping related. There is a nice new tank in the garage now and the front yard is a mess, but the new tank is going to be a good selling point for the house. An expensive risk has now been dealt with.

I had received a ballpark estimate for the new septic system of between $11-15,000 plus engineering and test fees. I paid $3,000 for the latter, which included an unexpected $700 for a survey, since there was no recent survey available. I was waiting with baited breath for the actual price for the work. I received the application and plans last Thursday and submitted to the town Friday along with the $100 permit fee. The contractor also received a copy of the plans directly from the engineer. I called the contractor yesterday and received the firm price of $9,850 for the new system. Hooray! There will still be additional cost for a plumber to disconnect the old laundry sink and add a drain for the washing machine. At the same time I’ll have them fix the toilet in the half bath which is not tight to the floor. I expect the septic work to happen next week.

In the meantime, the house is back on the market. The realtor is hoping to have an Open House this weekend.


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WP_000197Well, well, well. Yesterday morning I met the contractor and the engineer for the septic excavation test at my parents’ house. We lucked out in that a big storm just north of us only gave us a little rain before the hole was dug. A section of the fence along the driveway was removed and the backhoe was driven over the poor daylilies on the way to the back yard. They dug down at least eight feet until some ground water began to seep into the hole. The dirt was excellent, as expected. Since this was once a vegetable garden, the topsoil layer was deeper than usual. Below that was sandy soil – excellent for drainage. The engineer took measurements and I expect a design in hand some time next week. At that time I’ll find out the cost of the project and can bring the plans to the township for approval after paying the obligatory fees.

Backing up a bit, my lawyer sent the buyer’s lawyer a letter at the beginning of the week advising that they had not responded to our letter where we outlined the repairs we were doing and stated that we were not addressing the minor issues that the buyer wanted “repaired” from the original home inspection report. I had been willing to give them a credit for those items, but my lawyer felt that we were already spending a fortune on the oil tank and septic, so it was reasonable to deny the minor items (GFI protect some circuits, replace a few 2 prong outlets with grounded outlets, “repair” the front and back exterior stairs) called out. He told them that a response was required or the contract would be terminated.

The buyer’s lawyer responded yesterday. Basically, they came back with the same conditions, including the required replacement of the oil tank, septic, and all of the minor items at our expense. In our prior response my lawyer had not specified that we would replace the oil tank, but that we would be taking required action on it. I sat on the response overnight.

One thing learned in my chat with the engineer on Wednesday morning was that the new septic could only be designed for the number of bedrooms on record with the township tax department. We had listed the house as a 4 bedroom, though there was a question about the main floor rooms that now have no closets. When the house was built, there were only 2 bedrooms. My parents had a dormer added to give us 2 more bedrooms upstairs and my father removed the wall between the 2 downstairs bedrooms to make a single “master” bedroom. The front bedroom space was all built-ins that I removed and I restored the wall between the rooms. Anyway, it appears that the tax records show a 3 bedroom house, which now complicates matters somewhat. We advertised a 4 bedroom house, so we must now disclose that the house is a legal 3 bedroom. Even though the downstairs rooms can be used as bedrooms, one of them isn’t a bedroom.

I advised my lawyer to respond as follows:

  • We are replacing the oil tank with an above ground tank and that we are assuming all risk associated with the replacement. If soil contamination is observed or suspected, any testing and mitigation is at our cost. I’m told that this could be $10,000 to remove a truckload of contaminated soil and bring in a truckload of clean fill. The gamble is that we are 98% certain that the tank didn’t leak based on our soil sample test a few months back and the site soil conditions. Keep your fingers crossed. Cost without soil replacement or testing will be between $3600 and $4000.
  • We are replacing the septic with a new system, disconnecting the laundry sink from the old dry well and water supply, and adding a drain pipe for the washing machine. The cost so far is $1750 for the engineering and 450 for the test digging. Permits and interior plumbing for the laundry sink and drain are extra. The ballpark estimate for the new system construction was between $12-15,000. Since we now know it is a 3 bedroom house, and the conditions appear to be good for drainage, I expect that the total replacement will be in the neighborhood of $16,000 complete, though it could be more.
  • We are not willing to address any of the minor issues from the inspection report. Enough is enough.

I expect that he’ll send them our response late today or tomorrow with a statement that we will not be negotiating any further and they are welcome to proceed on our terms or cancel the contract.

If the buyer decides to be stupid and back out over the minor items, we will be re-listing the house and hoping to recoup some of the expenses of these repairs. I’ll probably address the inspection report items, too, to prevent them from getting in the way for the next offer. We would change the listing to advertise a 3 bedroom house with new septic and new oil tank. We shall see.

UPDATE: Moments after posting, I received a call from my lawyer. The buyer’s lawyer responded accepting our revised terms. Now we await the buyer’s final mortgage approval and escrow amount as we proceed towards the closing. Of course, the oil tank and septic tank fun will also continue…

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And So It Goes

It has been months since I last posted to my blog. I didn’t realize that it was actually the 2nd of January! With Facebook for quick updates, I tend to forget about the fact that I’ve had this blog for ages to write more lengthy things.

When I wrote that last entry there was still lots of work underway at my parents’ house, getting it ready for sale. That work continued through February and we finally got the house listed in March for $299,900. It had quite a few showings, but no offers until the middle of May, after we lowered the asking price by $5,000. We got two offers on the same day, but both were quite low. We spent a few days going back and forth with both offers, countering a few times, until we settled on an offer that was decent, though considerably lower that the asking price. Despite this, I felt good about the decision.

Well, the process of getting to Closing has been painful, to say the least, and I’m not sure that the deal will hold together, but I remain hopeful.

The buyer’s Home Inspection was pretty thorough, with lots of negative items highlighted on the report. I had the in ground oil tank insured prior to having the house listed, which involved a soil test surrounding the tank and it passed. Despite this, the buyer ordered another test. This time it was a tightness test which involves creating a vacuum in the tank, measuring the pressure, ad listening for tell-tale sounds with a microphone. The tank failed and the sound suggested that the piping was leaking (most likely) or that there was a hole in the tank above the liquid line. Unfortunately, the tank insurance considers this an inconclusive test, so removing the tank and putting one in the garage is considered a voluntary removal, which is not covered. And, if the tank does have a leak and the soil is contaminated, cleanup is also no covered. The only way it could be covered would be to excavate the tank, remove the piping, test it, and if it passes, re-pipe it and cover it up. Or, if it fails, contact the insurance company, pay the $500 fee to have them come and decide whether to fix it or replace it. If there was soil contamination, it would then be covered with a sizeable deductible. I’m taking a big gamble after talking to the oil company, insurance company, and testing company. The odds are very good that the piping is leaking. The soil is very sandy and no oil was detected when we did the soil testing. I’m having the tank replaced with one in the garage. The permit should take about a week to get, so it should happen in about 2 weeks for $3,600. When the tank is removed from the ground, the township building inspector looks at it to decide if we need to test and/or deal with soil cleanup. If that happens, we’re talking $10,000 or more for removing and replacing soil. My fingers are crossed that we don’t face that. Because…

We had another failure. The septic system (no sewer in that part of town) is original to the house. It is a cesspool behind the house. I remember it being pumped once. It may have been pumped more times, but certainly not every 2 to 3 years, which is apparently the recommendation. The design of the cesspool is a two compartment tank. One part is for solids and the other is where liquids flow. The solid part should not leach and the liquid part drains into the soil. Well, the solid part was completely full and the wall was degraded, meaning that solids went to the second compartment. This cannot be repaired, so we need to replace the septic system with a completely new one. I am meeting the engineer and contractor next Wednesday at 9 am. They will dig a 10 foot deep hole to determine the soil conditions for a design. The design is submitted to the town and a permit is then granted (after paying, of course). The entire back yard that was graded and seeded last year will probably be torn up in the process and the weeping cherry tree will likely be lost. I am hoping that the patio doesn’t need to be disturbed too much, if at all. The engineering cost, test trench, and permits will be close to $2500 and the ballpark estimate for the new system is $12-15,000. Ouch.

Needless to say, the minor items called out on the Home Inspection are indeed minor. The buyer had requested that we take care of some electrical items such as GFI outlets in the garage, kitchen and upstairs bath. The only other thing they asked for was to repair the front and back exterior steps. Both need some patching on the cement covering of the structure, particularly the back steps. We notified them that we were not going to take care of any of those items, but were taking care of the oil tank and septic at considerable cost.

Hanging over my head is the reverse mortgage. The loan is considered in default as of July 23rd. I received two 90 day extensions after the initial 6 month period we are allowed after the last party on the mortgage no longer lives in the house. I sent them a letter on Monday with a ton of paperwork to advise them that we were under contract, but that the Closing was at risk due to the major repairs required. I’d rather not have to fight a foreclosure after all of this.

To make matters worse, I received a call from the lawyer this past Monday morning. The buyer’s financing was denied. They were pre-approved, but apparently there was an issue with the remaining duration of alimony payments expected. When she qualified, she was fine. They didn’t tell her that she needed to get a house immediately, so six months later she doesn’t have enough remaining payments to qualify. Ouch. My realtor, her realtor, and her mortgage company are all part of the same company. Apparently, the realtors pulled some strings to get a meeting together and they are now all working hard to get the deal through. If they cannot, then my realtor wants the buyer to get her monies back so that she can go to another lender who will work with her to get the loan. We shall see.

Once the work on my parents’ house was completed, we did some work at our house. We decided to get the kitchen re-done. We contracted with Home Depot for re-facing the cabinets and a new Silestone counter. I had Lou, the carpenter who helped at my parents’ house, put up a new layer of sheetrock on the ceiling. Pennie and I removed the old tile backsplash. I removed and rebuilt all the doorway trim and patched some of the sheetrock. We selected a lovely subway tile for the backsplash which I installed over 2 weekends and we bought new stainless appliances from Lowe’s and Best Buy. The photos of the project are in the album below. We still haven’t selected the paint color for the walls, but we are thrilled with the results even before the painting is done!

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Black-eyed Peas

So, it is now the 2nd day of 2011. Pennie caught a flu bug at the end of 2010 and spent the weekend feeling pretty miserable. Despite her misery, she prepared a dinner of black-eyed peas for last night. We skipped them on January 1st of 2010 and we know what kind of year it was! Here’s to hoping that we’re facing a much better 2011!

I’ve been continuing work at my parents’ house, getting a fair amount done this weekend. On Friday there was a full house with the carpenter, the plumber, the painters, and me. Lou, the carpenter spent the day on the porch. It will look amazing once the drywall and trim is up, the greenhouse window floor is tiled, and the room painted. I think that it might be a major selling point for the house. The plumber repaired the toilet in the half bath that wouldn’t stop running when flushed and the upstairs toilet that leaked from the gasket under the tank. The painters put a skim coat of drywall compound on the walls of the stairway to the 2nd floor. And I did electrical stuff as well as helped Lou with the drywall for the porch ceiling. I took down the ceiling fans in the downstairs bedrooms and put up some nice generic light fixtures. I also put up a single ceiling fixture in the porch after the drywall was up. And I removed a circuit for an outlet in the kitchen and a dangling wire that we found in the basement ceiling.

On Saturday, the 1st, I cleaned up the main floor of the house and I pulled off the paneling in the kitchen. Of course, that created some new work when I discovered that there was no drywall behind the refrigerator, that the wall oven is set into a 2×4 frame that’s only covered by paneling, and that the lower half of the walls in the kitchen used to have tile on them. Lou will have some drywall work to take care of in the kitchen.

I’m heading back over today to do some minor things such as pulling the rest of the nails from the kitchen wall near the ceiling and setting the outlet for the refrigerator that was not attached to the framing. There is still quite a bit to get done there, but progress is evident.

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