Using Alta Vista Forum
A guide to the basics for the students and instructors of the
Canada - EU Exchange Programme
Michael W. F. Harvey
August 15, 1997


Table of Contents

 Introduction

Using AVF- The Technical Stuff

   

       

Documents 

  • Arranging Documents 
  • Types of Documents 
  • Posting Documents with Files 

Teams 

  • Creating a Team 
  • Team Properties 
  • Team Members
  • Discussions
  • Calendar and Newspaper
  • Documents
  • Email Within Teams

Email

Help


Introduction

Alta Vista Forum is the program that we will be using for the Canada - EU Exchange Programme. It will serve two components of the programme, the virtual seminar and the Internet simulations of multi-level decision-making. It is a web-based program which works best with Netscape 3.0X. This handbook will describe how Alta Vista Forum functions. If you are not comfortable with Netscape, please read the document on it that accompanies it. If you do not have Netscape at all, or not the right version, the Netscape Guide will tell you how to get it.

What is Alta Vista Forum?

The objectives of the virtual seminar and the EU simulation are to develop alternative teaching methods for instruction about multi-level systems of governance. To achieve this we are implementing Alta Vista Forum (AVF) as a teaching tool.

AVF functions as a "virtual office" in that it allows for all participating individuals to communicate with each other in a number of ways. Using discussion fora participants can have group discussions. Using document fora participants can share documents. Using email participants can email all or any one of the participants. All of these functions are handled within Netscape with no (or minimal in some cases) modification to the browser.

One of the most attractive things about AVF is that it allows the formation of teams. Just as in an office participants can form project teams where they can have their own group discussions and share and even co-author their own documents. Participants of AVF who are not members of a given team are not allowed access to that team. Members of a team have extensive administrative powers within the team. Anyone can create a team.

So how are we going to use AVF?

Organization:

Every participant will be a member of the forum. Depending on what we are doing each of you will also be a member of one or more teams. The way that the program is set up now once you are a member of the forum the moderator will set you up as a member of the team called "Canada - EU Exchange Programme". He/she may also set you up as a member of another team.

Virtual Seminar:

The virtual seminar will be conducted mainly using the discussion forum. The moderator or instructor will suggest a topic, in some cases, and students will be encouraged to discus it. As anyone is able to add a topic students may also start discussions. In other cases documents may be placed in the document forum for reference or to provide material for the start of a discussion. In some cases a team may be formed for a more localized seminar.

Internet Simulation:

At the stage of development the Programme provides for a simulation of a European Council meeting. This exercise will use even more of AVF's tools. Students will be assigned countries to represent. Each country will be a team. Inside the team the participants will be able to discus strategies among themselves using the team discussion forum. They will be able to co-author and produce position papers using the document forum. They will also be able to communicate with each other using email simply through their browser using the email function. The simulation will include more that the actual summit, but place special emphasis on the lead up to the forum. In this way teams will be able to negotiate with each other in the CEUEP discussion forum, generate an agenda and share their position papers with each other using the document forum. Once the summit actually starts students will have a given time to use the CEUEP fora and their separate team fora to work through the agenda and conclude the summit.

Other Functions:

AVF will be a permanent fixture on the CEUEP web-site. Students in participating institutions will be able to use it as a place to ask each other questions and share information outside of the Programme itself. AVF is as useful as its participants want it to be. Instructors should encourage their students to experiment with it and find alternate uses for it outside of the course requirements.

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Using AVF - The Technical Stuff

This program is probably unlike one you have ever used before. It is not extremely complicated though, and you don't need to know any Hypertext Markup Language (HTML - the language of the World Wide Web) to use it, just some practice, experimentation, and general knowledge of how to use PCs. This section will tell you how to use the basic functions of Alta Vista Forum for our purposes, but there is always room for further experimentation. It will assume that you have some, but not much, experience with computers. Furthermore, as a handbook on Netscape is included it will assume that you know how to use that program. If you do not, then please refer to it first.

How to get to our Alta Vista Forum

The best way to get to Alta Vista Forum is by going to our CEUEP web-site. This web-site contains all of the information about the programme and you are invited to browse around and investigate it before you enter AVF. Importantly there is a research guide on the EU for the WWW which you will hopefully find useful while participating in the programme.

The URL for our web-site is http://www.mun.ca/ceuep/. Make sure that you bookmark this site.

One important thing to note about our web-site is that it has frames. This means that it will not work with Netscape 1.0x or early versions of Internet Explorer. It will also not work as well as intended unless you use Netscape 3.01. This is the browser that is recommended for you to use.

A second thing to note about our web-site is that unless you have your monitor set correctly it may look somewhat odd, and not work correctly. If you do not see five buttons, the right-most being "Home", in the bottom frame then you know something is wrong. Increase your desktop size. Assuming that you are using Windows 95 go into Start - Settings - Control Panel - Display. There click on the "Settings" tab and increase your desktop size and display size to 800x600. You may have to specify your monitor before you do this.

So now you are ready to enter AVF. Click on the button in the bottom frame marked "Virtual Seminar" and then click "Alta Vista Forum".

Now you are at the "Summit Vista". Here you are able to access top level discussions and documents. Immediately you are identified as user anonymous. The anonymous user has very little ability to do anything but read the top level discussions and documents.

Registering

The first thing that you want to do is register. Click on the hypertext that says "register now" and you will be transported to a form. Fill it out to the best of your ability and submit it. You will then be asked to log in. Now you are a member of the Alta Vista Forum. You will be given your own personal vista and user profile. You can look at it and modify it:

Your Personal Vista

Once you register and log in you will be welcomed by your name. If you click on it you will be transported to your Personal Vista. Your Personal Vista contains a list of icons which direct you to your own Newspaper, Calendar, Documents, User Profile, and Conference. Ignore Conference (it doesn't work, and won't) and Newspaper and Calendar for now (these are not necessary at the moment.) The Document tool allows you to store documents to use at some other time. We will learn more about this later. The User Profile tool contains information about yourself. Lets investigate this further:

Your User Profile

Once in your user profile you will see all of the information about you that you entered in the form. Anyone can see this information, but you are the only person who can change it. You can also delete yourself, as can the administrator. There is also some other information here about your preferences. The ones that are there now are the default ones, but you can change them if you want. To do this click on the Modify icon on top of the page.

One change that I suggest that you make to your preferences is the "Discussion Topic View". Change this to dialogue. This will make the discussion more like a real conversation.

You will notice that there is a box in your user profile with a dashed black outline. This is a place where you can put your "photograph". If you go into "Modify" you will see a place where you can upload a file onto the server to use as your graphic. The file should be in GIF or JPG form. If you are not given the option to do this then your browser needs to use the AVF Upload Helper Application. If this is the case you can learn more about how to use this application later in this document, so just hang on.

Now that you are all set up as a user the moderator will set you up as a member of one or more teams. He/she is unable to do this automatically, for this would mean that anyone could access all our files. Your moderator will check the page within a day and add your name to the appropriate teams. Otherwise you can go to the function "List Users" and email the moderator to remind him/her that you are a new participant.

Before we investigate teams, let's look at the major tools available to you even before you are a team member. The most important tools are the Discussion and Document fora and the Email function. We will look at these next.

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Discussions

Discussions are the most important part of AVF for our purposes. They are extremely simple to use. At the Summit Vista there is currently a discussion forum set up. Even before you register you can post here as an anonymous user (i.e. a visitor). Once you are registered, but not a member of a team you can also post here as an anonymous user (if you choose to) or else with your name and info attached.

Topics

The discussions are structured by topic. Anyone can create a topic. The topics are listed immediately inside the discussion forum with a number in brackets after it This number indicates the number of replies. Imagine that this is a topic:

Example of a topic (3)

This indicates that there are three replies to this topic. In essence these topics are separate discussions. You click on a topic to access it. Each topic is given a number, say a. The topic is actually a message. Each message has a title and a body. The title of the first message serves as the topic title and the message serves as the introduction.

Replies

Once inside the topic you can read the message and reply to it. Your reply will have a title and a body as well. It will also be given a number. If it is the first reply it will be a.1, and if it is the second it will be a.2, and so on.

You can also reply to a reply as if it was a topic. Say that you reply to message a.1. Your message will be numbered a.1.1. This pattern continues. Note that the number in brackets behind the topic title in the topic list only indicates how many first level replies there are.

You can set the number of levels using the Tools icon. Depending on how the administrator set the forum up you may not have this ability however.

Structure

The structure of the discussion is variable. You can either choose table view or dialogue view. Table view shows the message that you are viewing followed by a list of reply titles that you can click on. Dialogue view also shows the message that you are viewing and all subsequent messages following it. The advantage of dialogue view is that it streams along to simulate a real discussion. Table view, on the other hand, is useful if you want to view select messages. For our purposes it is recommended that you use dialogue view. You can change this either on the spot or in your user profile as mentioned above.

Imagine that we are viewing topic 4. The messages are arranged in either dialogue view or table view in the following way:

4 This is a test topic
4.1 Re: This is a test topic
4.1.1 Re: Re: This is a test topic
4.1.1.1 Re: Re: Re: This is a test topic
4.1.1.2 Re: This is a test topic
4.2 Re: This is a test topic
4.2.1 Re: Re: This is a test topic
4.3 Re: This is a test topic
4.3.1 Re: Re: This is a test topic

This structure is set up to simulate an actual group discussion. In practice it seems to do pretty good, but an actual substantive discussion will have to be held to see how well it works.

Notes About Discussions:

The "Unseen" icon

If you are viewing the discussion you can click the "Unseen" icon at the top of the page to view only messages that you have not previously seen. Sort of... Actually the only way that the program can tell that you have seen a message or not is if it can find it in your Netscape cache. (You can find more about your cache in the Guide to Netscape.) If you are like me and regularly delete your cache, or if your browser has deleted part of it for you, then this tool won't work as intended. On the other hand, if an "unseen" message is viewed outside of its context, even if you have read the message before, it might lose some of its meaning. I encourage you to not use this tool unless the discussion gets very large and unwieldy.

Attachments and Hypertext

The discussion forum allows you to insert hypertext into your message in two ways. First, if you happen to type a URL in your message, such as http://www.mun.ca/ceuep, AVF will automatically convert the text into a hypertext link. Secondly you can attach it.

When you are composing your message there is a small bow which allows you to insert a file name. This filename can be a URL or else it can be a file on your hard drive. If it is a URL you have to indicate this. If it is a file on your hard drive (a .html or .txt file) then you have to upload it onto the server as you would if you were posting a document. This is not as complicated as it sounds, and in most cases it just means that you have to put the file name in. (For more information on this see the section on "Document Fora" below.) Your attachment will be displayed as a hypertext link below the body of your message.

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Documents

Documents can appear in any number of places in Alta Vista Forum. Your administrator can set up a document forum at the Summit Vista. You have a document forum in your team(s). You also have a place to put documents in your Personal Vista.

Arranging Documents

When you go into a document forum you may find two types of items: documents and folders. You can create a folder with certain properties by pressing the "Add Folder" icon. You can add a document by pressing the "Add Document" icon. Once a folder exists you can enter it by clicking on the hypertext link. Once inside you can add a document inside that folder. Folders can also have multiple levels of sub-folders.

Types of Documents

There are three main types of documents that a user can post:

The first is a text document. This simply means that when you press "Add Document" you just type your document in the small window provided for you. This is of relatively little use, as you could do the same thing in the discussion forum.

The second type of document is a file document. These are the most useful. There are two types of files that the CEUEP will be using: Files written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML files with the extension .htm or .html) and files written in plain text. (ASCII for DOS or Plain Text files with the extension .txt). The reason that we are only going to use these kinds of files is that if other kinds of files are used, such as WordPerfect files or Word files, then each browser has to be configured to launch that program as a helper application. Because not every user will be using the same computer each time he/she logs on, and there is no way to guarantee conformity of word processors, and furthermore because it is quite complicated to designate helper applications, we will only use file types that can be read within the browser.

When you add a file you can choose the "Text and File" option which will allow you to make a short text introduction to your document, or even an abstract.

Finally there is the option to post URLs as documents. This is useful if the document you want to post is already elsewhere on the World Wide Web. You can have a text introduction to this as well.

Each document type allows you to have attachments, which can be other files or URLs, similar to the situation that we saw in the discussion forum.

Text Files

If you want to post a text document you should use your Word Processor to create it. If you use a program like Microsoft WordPad, which is a text editor, the document will not come put as you would expect it to. You should use either WordPerfect or Microsoft Word to create a file, and then you can save it as a WP or Word document. Then save a copy of it as a ASCII for DOS or Plain Text file with the extension .txt. This is the copy that you will load onto the server.

Don't make your files to complicated. If you put in any fancy formatting it will all be lost when you convert it into a text file. Thus, if you have a table in your document and then convert it into a text format, then the table will not only be lost, but it will create a real mess that no-one will be able to understand. This is the same for special margin or line formatting that you might use. Keep this in mind. If you really want to make your file fancy or complicated then your option is to turn it into a HTML file.

HTML files

If you know how to write HTML you will know that it is extremely more flexible than either a regular word processor file, and certainly more flexibly than text files. On the other hand, if you don't know HTML then you are out in the cold. You can read them, of course, but you can't write them. So, if you don't know HTML then you have two options. The first is to learn it. It isn't hard and you can get tutorials for it on the WWW simply by searching for them. The second is to use a late version of either WordPerfect (7 or better) or Microsoft Word (8 or better) to author your document and then use tools that both of these programs has to convert your word processor document into a HTML document. This is something that you will have to experiment with on your own. We do not expect the kind of documents that you will use for the Canada - EU Exchange Programme to require any fancy formatting, but if you want to be a keener, then this is your option.

Posting Documents with Files

In the previous pages we have alluded to loading files up on the server. In fact every time that you type something into a little window and submit it you are posting a file onto the server. The server in question is the Memorial University of Newfoundland server, no matter what institution you are operating from. When you want to take files from your hard drive and put them up on the server it can get a bit more complicated though.

If you are using Netscape 2.02 or 3.01 the process will be very easy: When you press "Add Document" you will see a button marked browse. This allows you to browse your hard drive and select a file to put in the small window for file names. Then all you have to do is submit the "Add Document form" and your browser will tell your computer to send that file to the appropriate folder on the server. It will then be available to all other users.

On the other hand if you are using Netscape 3.03 or 4.01 or any version of Internet Explorer you are in a bit of trouble. Instead of finding the "Browse" button you will find a message that tells you that you need to install the AVF Upload Application Helper. This program is not overly difficult to install, but it does take a bit of tinkering.

******If you are using Netscape 4.01 you will be unable to load files onto your server*******

The program will not work with Netscape 4.01. Thus it is recommended that everyone downloads Netscape 3.01 and use it. It is free and very easy to install, so this is the best option. If you must use Netscape 3.03 however or Internet Explorer then follow the procedure below to download and install the programme. The procedure assumes that you are using Netscape 3.03, but it is not much different if you are using Internet Explorer.

    • Go to the "Documents" within AVF. Try to add a document. There under the "file" option you will see an hypertext link bringing you to a place where you can download the appropriate upload application helper. Chose the correct one and shift click it. Save it in a file that you can remember.

     

    • Go to menu option "Options" then "General Preferences". You have to identify the program as a helper application, so click on the tab that says "Helpers".

     

    • Press the button called : "Create a new Type"

     

    • In the box "Mime Type" type "application"

     

    • In the box "Mime sub-type" type "x-please-send-files"

     

    • Press "OK"

     

    • Now, in the box labeled extension type "exe"

     

    • Under Application click on "Launch the Application"

     

    • Click on "Browse"

     

    • Select the program that you downloaded

     

    • Click OK

     

    • Click OK again.

     

    • Try to add a document.

     

This procedure should work fine. If it doesn't you can either try it again, or else break down and convert to a more friendly browser.

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Teams

Teams are a very important part of the organization of Alta Vista Forum. By now you should be able to realize what they are through the context of the above sections. This section will provide further elaboration:

A team is a small group of Forum participants who will work together in a more intimate setting than with other participants. The purpose of the team is to allow members to have greater administrative control over the work that they are doing with each other. Because of this, within your team you are allowed to do much more than you are able to in the general area.

Creating a Team

Anyone can create a team, and it is a very simple process. All that you have to do is go to the Summit Vista and click on the Teams button. (The same page can be reached from other areas in AVF by clicking on the icon marked "List Teams".) Here you will see two icons marked "Add Team" and "Delete Team". DO NOT DELETE TEAMS. If you press the Add Team icon you will be transported to a form in which you must input the properties of your team. You can also add team members from the list of all AVF members. The person who created a team is automatically the team owner. This does not imply any special powers, however, and it can be changed at any time in the "Team Properties" area.

Team Properties

When you create your team you will not be asked to give much information: Simply a team name, description, members, and a background colour that you want to use. Keep in mind that if your background colour is too dark then you will be unable to read text.

Once your team is created you can go to the "Team Vista" by clicking on the name of the team. Once in the team vista you can click on Team Properties at any time to change the properties of your team. Any member of your team can change the properties of your team. The properties included here are team name and description; membership, and who to automatically notify by email when there has been a change; team owner; background colour.

Keep in mind that if any member can change team properties then this means that any member is able to add or delete members. These are important powers, so keep in mind that your team members can do it.
 

Team Members

Also from your Team Vista you can click on the icon named "Team Members". Here you will be transported to a collection of "Business Cards" for all team members. A Business Card basically contains all of the information in your User Profile.

Discussions

You will notice an icon in your Team Vista that is marked "Discussions". This is your team discussion forum. It is exactly like the discussion forum on the Summit Vista except that onyl team members can access it.

Calendar and Newspaper

You team also has a newspaper and a calendar. These are not necessary to the operation of the CEUEP, but if you and your team members want to investigate them, that is up to you.

Documents

Here is the really neat thing about teams. It is a document forum like any other, but with two exceptions: only your team members can access it and team members are allowed (if you specify this when you add the document) to modify documents. Here is the procedure for co-authoring documents:

Allowing Your Document to be Modified

1. The first step in setting up co-authorship of a document is enabling modification at the time that you create the document. To allow your teammates to modify a document that you create, perform the following tasks:

2. Open the folder in which you want to place the title of the modifiable document. (Click on the folder and sub-folder titles until you open the folder to contain the document title.)

3. Click on the Add Document icon.

4. Fill out the "Add a document to..." form.

5. In the "Specify the document type" section of the form, you may want to consider clicking on the "Text and File" radio button. In this way, you can enter instructions for your teammates in the Text box located toward the top of the form, such as the following: "I've attached a file that contains a first draft of the team's mission statement. Feel free to go in and make edits. Just make sure that you save previous versions of the document so that we all can see where we've been." Then, you can specify the pathname and file name of the file in the "Text and File" line of the form.

6. Check the "Allow other members to modify this document" check box, which is located toward the bottom of the "Add a document to..." form.

7. Click on the OK button, which is located in the lower-left corner of the form.
 

Modifying a Document

The process for modifying a document is the same regardless of whether or not you are the owner of the document. To modify a document, perform the following tasks:
 

  • Open the folder that contains the modifiable document. (Click on the folder and subfolder titles until you open the folder that contains the title.)
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  • Click on the "Document Profile" icon, which is immediately to the left of the title of the document you want to modify.
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  • The AltaVista Forum displays the "Document profile of..." page. If the document consists of a text message and an uploaded file, then the profile page displays a hyperlink to the uploaded file under the "Upload record" section, in the "Source file name" line. To edit the uploaded file, click on the hyperlink. The file (a .txt or .html file) will appear in the browser. Choose "File" and then "Save as" to save the file on your own hard drive.
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  • Make edits to the document and then save it as a different name than the previous document so that you can keep track of the different revisions of the document.
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  • Click on the Tools icon in the "Document profile of..." page.
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  • Click on the Modify Document Profile hyperlink on the "Administration tools for..." page.
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  • In the "Upload a new file" section, make sure that the "Save the previous version" box is checked (if it is important to your team to track previous revisions of a document). Then, located the edited file on your local disk, and place its pathname and file name in the text input area next to the "Browse..." button.
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  • If the document is "Text Only" or a URL and does not include an uploaded file, edit the appropriate sections of the "Document profile of..." page to reflect the changed URL or text message.
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  • Click on the OK button, which is located in the lower-left corner of the Modify Document Profile page.
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  • The AltaVista Forum returns you to the document's "Document profile of..." page.
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  • If the document consists of a "Text Only" portion and an uploaded file, then the hyperlink in the "Source file name" line of the profile points to the edited file that you just uploaded. The AltaVista Forum created a new section toward the bottom of the profile, called the "Previous Versions" section. That section provides hyperlinks to previous versions of the document, for future reference. Otherwise, the altered URL or text message replaces the previous one.
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    Replying to Documents

    Your team can use document replies to discuss how well the revision process is going and when the revisions should stop. By accessing the document's profile page, editing the file in the "Source file name" line of the profile, and using the "Administration tools for..." page to replace the file with an edited version, a team can write a document together without having to make hardcopies of the document and sending it out to review.

    Email Within Teams

    You will find two more icons on your Team Vista page. One of these is the "Conference" icon. This tool is not going to be used, so ignore this. The more important icon is the "Email" icon. Using Alta Vista Forum's Email tool you can email all of your team members or one specific one without leaving your browser. The following section will explain how to do this.

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    E-mail

    One other thing that AVF offers is the ability to use Netscape Mail to email one or a group of other participants. (See above, Email Within Teams). In many cases you will see another participant's name in hypertext or else their email address in hypertext. Their hypertext name will lead you to their user profile where there will be a hypertext email address. When you click on the hypertext email address you can send them mail if you have your Netscape Mail set up. Follow the procedure below to set up Netscape Mail if it is not set up already. This procedure assumes that you are using Netscape 3.0x, but it is very similar for Netscape 2.0x

    • In your browser select the "Options" pull-down menu and then "Mail and News Preferences".
    • In Mail and News Preferences click on the tab "Servers". Put the name of your server in the box next to both ingoing and outgoing server. Put your username in the appropriate box.
    • Click on the top tab marked "Identity". Put your full name in the appropriate box, and email address in both the "Email" address and "Reply-to-Address" boxes. Put the name of your organization in the appropriate box, if you want.
    • Now, you should be ready to send mail using Netscape. You can set it up to receive mail using a POP3 server, but this is unnecessary. Also, ignore all of that stuff about news, unless you want to read newsgroups for some reason.

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    Help

    Your help section is an enormous set of documents that will tell you everything you need to know about AVF. Unfortunately there seems to be a lot to know because the help section must be hundreds of pages long. It is, however, very helpful and will lead you through things as if you were somewhat slow.

    The good things about the help function are these. First of all, it is well organized using hypertext so that you can find what you are looking for relatively easily. Secondly, if you get stuck in a specific area of AVF the help icon in that area will transport you immediately to the associated help file. I recommend using help only for specific problems. This handbook will explain the majority of things that you need to do, but it also assumes that there are a million different unseen problems that will only be discovered during the use of the program.

    If you want to be really helpful you could create a discussion topic called "Technical Problems" and there you and other users could share technical problems and solutions that you may run into during use of the programme.

    If you ever get really stuck you can email the moderator. He/she will either be able to answer your question or else will email the administrator at Memorial's Computing and Communications to try and figure out the solution.

    In conclusion, once you get used to it, AVF is a fairly intuitive program. As with every program it will take some experimentation and practice. I encourage all users to play with the program before they actually have to use it.

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