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Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Software 55

J. Ayen Green writes "When the request came for me to review Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook by Bhavin (Vin) Patel, I was excited. I've been a software developer forever, a Web developer for as long as there's been a Web, and a Drupal developer since D6 was imminent. I have two Drupal books myself, and am working on one about D7 Views, but with all that, one glaring hole in my self-education has been Panels; it would be my first chance to use it." Keep reading for the rest of J. Ayen Green's review.Panels is the big cousin of the Views module, and big brother to the Panels Everywhere module. All were written by Earl Miles, aka merlinofchaos, a deserving macha in the Drupal community and, in my opinion, a topnotch coder: all the more reason to look forward to the book.

I need to mention the parameters within which I formed this review. I first considered the book format, because it greatly influences my expectations. A Packt 'cookbook' does not have the format or aims of a standard computer reference or 'Bible' text. It is meant to give the reader a broad but shallow exposure to a topic by using a plethora of step-by-step examples. Basically, if you come away from a cookbook feeling excited by the technology and wanting to dive deeper into learning it, the author has done a good job.

Patel starts off the book with the obligatory chapter on installation and setup, though this one contains a bit more since it is a broader Getting Started chapter. Panels is a contributed module, and installing it will be a familiar process to Drupalers. He covers installing Chaos Tools (Ctools) as well, since it is a required module. There are instructions for those upgrading from a prior release of Panels, too. Having installed and set up the module, Patel then leads you through creating a basic Panels page and node, the building blocks of a Panels layout.

It was early on that I discovered a couple things that made using the book more challenging than it needs to be. Patel uses a non-American dialect of English. While it's quite understandable, at times the usage and sentence structure require one to stop, blink, and reread the passage. Some might find this to be annoying. I looked at it as reading dialogue written by Dickens or Twain, and was fine with it. The other thing is that the instructions at times seem to skip a step, going from point A to point C without a mention of the requisite point B. Again, this causes the occasional confusion for a few moments, but nothing one cannot get past.

Chapter 2 covers a number of topics related to navigating and making use of the Panels interface and related topics. One might be biting at the bit to start creating meaty layouts by now, but Panels is a fairly complex framework to use, so having these 'recipes' available is important. Keep in mind that a 'cookbook' is designed so that most recipes are independent of each other, so they can usually be skipped over, if desired.

This chapter also touches on the topic of context, the context of 'context' here being the circumstances in which a layout exists. For example, with the standard capabilities of Drupal, a block is a fairly independent piece of content. If you want the content of a block to be intelligently related to the main content on the page, it's a difficult nut to crack aside. It can be achieved to some extent with the crafty use of Views, more so by writing a custom module, but becomes pleasantly easy using Panels. This is a big and important topic, and though this is a cookbook and not meant to be deep, I think this subject could have done with a chapter of its own.

Theming is the topic of Chapter 3. Even though Panels handles much of the work, there will likely be the desire to (re)theme its output to varying degrees, and this chapter guides the reader through examples of manipulating it with CSS, adding it to a theme region, and other useful topics.

In Chapter 4 we jump into examples of what is expected from Panels, doing things like replacing the front page, overriding the node edit form, using Panels with feeds and even using mini panels, basically panels within blocks. In Chapters 5 through 9 we move on to using Panels with other common Drupal add-on functionality: organic groups, the custom content kit (CCK), the advanced profile kit, composite layouts and Views.

Chapter 10 builds on much of what was covered and what Panels excels in by creating an example of a travel industry web site. The travel tie-in really doesn't matter, though, as one can easily extrapolate the example to whatever subject matter the intended site will contain.

I enjoyed working my way through the book. I found Patel's recipes to be creative and useful, and they gave me a sufficient understanding of Panels and its capabilities to begin considering possibilities for its use on existing and upcoming sites.

You can purchase Drupal 6: Panels Cookbook from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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55 comments

Fristy Frosty (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853458)

Frosty Shatner. Posts again. Chumps!

I dont get this drupal pushing (3, Interesting)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853464)

i didnt see any other cms that is more development-hostile. it is surely nice for 'oh hey, i installed a module with one click from admin' crowd, but, when you attempt to go deep down, you see a real mess. i had to deal with it because a client requested it, but when they have seen that their not-so-extraordinary simple design requests required code changes than simply changing template files (forms are a bitch in drupal compared to other apps for example), they changed their mind about it.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853530)

You might want to fix your GirlieGirlie link, or the website itself, as neither work. And if that is an indication of the work you to for that "codebase" ... no thanks.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (2)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853634)

And if that is an indication of the work you to for that "codebase"

above sentence is incomprehensible.

link works. what doesnt work, is the complex seo friendly language virtual subdirectory rewriting mod_rewrite rules that are on the site .htaccess, due to apache 1 - apache 2 difference.

it is an open source project. i will fix those rules when i have the time. anyone who is smart enough to google girigiriphp is free to acquire the thing from sourceforge and use it without language virtual subdirs on apache 2+ or with them on apache 1.x for now.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853748)

Dude, it's a valid link to a SourceForge project. Is Sourceforge broken for you? I suspect you need a new browser...

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (2)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854680)

it works now.

He fixed it. I was in a rewrite loop before. See his post above.

link works. what doesnt work, is the complex seo friendly language virtual subdirectory rewriting mod_rewrite rules that are on the site .htaccess, due to apache 1 - apache 2 difference.

As for "browser" issues, I mainly use FF, because Chrome still doesn't have decent Adblock plugin. Though I use Chrome for Google Goodness, like Gmail. I also have Safari, Opera, IE8 installed.

Which browser would you suggest?

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853654)

Froms are a bitch? Seriously? Webform is as easy as Gravity Forms for Wordpress.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

B9DV8 (96776) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854306)

And even if you are talking about custom forms build through the API (well documented through api.drupal.org) there is a module (in dev) called Form Builder that provides a graphical UI that helps you build them.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853788)

it is surely nice for 'oh hey, i installed a module with one click from admin' crowd

Last time I checked (admittedly, it might've changed in 7), you couldn't install a module with one click from admin. You could enable it, mind you, but that's not quite the same. :p

Drupal blows for the, "LOL I CLICKY ON STUFF" crowd - that's what Wordpress is for. :p Where Drupal rocks *is* the developer crowd. But then, I speak of actual developers, not mere HTML monkeys. ;)

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

B9DV8 (96776) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853998)

Drupal 7 adds the ability to specify a compressed module file to load, either from a url or by browsing locally, and install it from the Admin interface. Also your can do one click updates on modules.

D7 has made a significant effort to providing a more friendly Administration UI experience, while maintaining (and adding) alot of awesomeness under the hood.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853866)

Fercristsakes, stop whining and learn how it works. Or hire someone who does.

There's nothing wrong with the Drupal architecture. Any professional, competent PHP developer can handle changes/modifications easily.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853968)

So what other apps do you think do a better job? I'm about to undertake a site renovation for a drupal installation, and we're currently trying to decide whether to keep drupal or use something else. We've talked about wordpress, mediawiki, and a few others, but really knowing which offers the blend of power, flexibility, and ease of use that we're looking for requires a lot of in depth knowledge about each platform. It's a bit overwhelming, and none of us are particularly deep in our expertise.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854104)

some knowledge of a particular app is inevitably necessary. after all, apps gain their own life after their codebase grows over a certain level.

but, some apps are restrictive, and require more effort from the developer to get to know them, and also make development more time consuming for them and/or restrict them, even if they are very familiar with the app.

in that drupal fails. it may have started with the best of intentions, however the point it ended up in the spectrum has been far from those intentions.

http://www.google.com/search?q=drupal+disadvantages&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#sclient=psy&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=vr8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&source=hp&q=drupal+sucks&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=9bef8cda26d1a6ec [google.com]

even if a bit outdated, many points in below article hold too.

http://robozen.com/technology/drupal-sucks/ [robozen.com]

zealots of drupal trumpet that 'if you are a competent developer, drupal is good for you'. i am a competent developer, that is working on many different apps and platforms on the web. if, an app requires me being a competent developer to be able to fully use it, then i understand that that app is lacking in modifyability and usability - because, a good app, would play like a flute at the hands of a competent developer. not, just work and do what other apps also do well.

it is my understanding that the drupal zealot crowd has never heard the concept of 'keep it simple, stupid'.

anyway, you will be alright if you go with anything else than drupal for average needs. joomla, wordpress may be good choices. however if your project is serious, then you may consider stuff like this : http://silverstripe.com/?v=b [silverstripe.com]

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

Gramie2 (411713) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854118)

It's REALLY hard to answer that without knowing what the website does. For simply presenting content, WordPress is fast and easy. If you want to link to other databases, use complex logic, etc., Drupal lets you create custom modules that can do anything, but still fit within the CMS framework.

My question is why the review for a Drupal 6 book when Drupal 7 was just released. I know that version 6 will be around for a long time (certainly on several websites I maintain), but I would be willing to bet that Drupal 7 has enough architectural/visual changes to make this book much less useful.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34854094)

agreed, drupal is a festering hunk of shit. A client had asked for it specifically and I spent a 2 months rediscovering what a clusterfuck that codebase is.. and frankly anything related to PHP.. I ended up doing the site using ruby on rails and it took me about 2 weeks. The only decent parts of D6 are largely undocumented (the forms API has almost none).. views and panels are really good modules, but doing something as simple as exposing your own table to views is largely undocumented and takes longer than it would to just roll your own query system... and if you don't understand databases well enough to make use of them without tools like 'views' you really shouldn't be doing dynamic websites in the first place.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854210)

not to mention that, to create a simple html form and format its design, to submit something to a page on the website, you have to create a fucking module, or use other roundabout ways.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (2)

B9DV8 (96776) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854358)

Custom Content Types (CCK) and Webforms handle most of those use cases without creating a module.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

abbub (253205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34855516)

Um, yeah... Any argument you may have had is lost with this post. Sounds to me like you never bothered to learn how to use Drupal.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34856560)

the answer is in the other thread you have replied to.

in addition, in frontline development in which there are money and budgets and real business, there is a certain threshold for 'learning' or becoming familiar with an app code is acceptable. anything that passes over that threshold becomes a loss in regard to budget, and is not acceptable.

drupal crosses that threshold a lot of times. as the other poster which i linked in that other thread, in which you have replied smart assedly without reading it, openly puts forth - drupal may be good for people who are indulged in the messy codebase and merry go rounds of drupal code, and like to tinker with it, however it is not fit for production environment in which there are deadlines, budgets, and quirky requests. developing for real businesses or heavy usage is not a hobby matter in which you can go roundabout for simple stuff, like popping up modules for changing the looks of a form, or (thankfully, in the new versions apparently) using an api for creating a form. anytime a client can come with a spec list for changes and a deadline, and if the app that is being used is not development friendly, developer will find that it will not be feasible with the budget and time given.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

B9DV8 (96776) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854408)

I always found the forms API pretty well documented.
http://api.drupal.org/api/drupal/developer--topics--forms_api_reference.html

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34855720)

that page is less than a week old. It replaced a page apologizing for almost no documentation and an invitation to 'use the source, luke'

drupal is a hackfest.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

B9DV8 (96776) | more than 3 years ago | (#34862376)

Nonsense. The D6 documentation has been there much longer. Drupal 7 was only officially released on January 7th, so I suspect that the documentation wasn't updated before that.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34854404)

Have you looked at Drupal lately, or even understand how it works? I don't see any other cms that is more development friendly. Need to create a new page layout? Use panels [drupal.org] and views [drupal.org] . Need more help on modifying a theme template? Try contemplate [drupal.org] . The webform [drupal.org] module makes forms easy, but if you learn a little bit about the form API and use ctools [drupal.org] , it's not bad. Oh and you need to push all your changes from one staging site to another? Try features [drupal.org] .

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34855166)

i refer you to another poster :

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1947992&cid=34855044 [slashdot.org]

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

abbub (253205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34855680)

So...that would be a 'No' to his question, then?

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34856498)

no, its not a 'no' to his question. it replies to his question, and it has an answer. read it, if you want it.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

abbub (253205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34863692)

Yeah, you have referred to another poster that also seems to have had a very biased OPINION about drupal. The fact that he believes that you need to install endless numbers of modules to get anything done in drupal just shows me that he's as clueless as you are about it, which leads me to believe that neither of you have actually bothered to spend much time looking at it. With a few modules (CCK, Panels, Views, Webforms) you can use drupal replicate just about any site on the internet.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34863856)

noone working for real money can spend MUCH time for getting to know an app. period. unless, you are willing to pay it.

cck, panels, views, webforms, all the crap you are pushing, are limiting and time-inefficient for business purposes, serious development.

youre basically just a drupal fan. thats alright. but dont come up trying to sell it for things that it is not suitable for.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

memco (721915) | more than 3 years ago | (#34857520)

I have just started to attempt to learn Drupal, and on the surface, it looks really great, but a lot of things are difficult to get working correctly. The appeal for me was not having to build user management and CMS features that already exist elsewhere and probably have more features than I can afford to build. The unfortunate thing is that to get those features, I have to give up a properly designed database. While writing custom forms to work with my data took some time, it's taken me longer to try and get views to accomplish the same thing I can do with a few fairly straightforward SQL queries. Drupal has great potential, a huge community and a lot of extensibility that are easy to tap into for novices–which are great features to have, once I have the few custom features I need in place, but getting my customizations in place is worse than when my appendix burst.

My ideal CMS handles user management/roles/acces control and has the ability to create/edit static pages, and gives me an easy way to integrate my own application. Is there anything out there like that? I tried CodeIgniter, it was fairly easy to use, but doesn't seem to have pre-roled CMS I can use on top of my app–I'd have to build it all from scratch. I need something half way between Drupal and raw PHP, haven't found it yet.

Re:I dont get this drupal pushing (1)

ya really (1257084) | more than 3 years ago | (#34857656)

randomly read your post after one i replied to above, but i feel your pain. Read what a I wrote here [slashdot.org] and see if you like that any better. It's based on zend and zend can be kind of a clusterfuck, but it's still better than drupal.

Drupal needs 5 years and 2 revs (3, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34855044)

I've used Drupal for a few websites and cursed it every time. It is just about adequate for non-technical users to add content to a finished website, provided you have installed, configured and documented a HUGE number of extremely complicated and interconnected modules - all of which teeter on the verge of unsupportability.

However, the development process is awful. Just the simplest change to an existing template requires intimate knowledge of HTML, PHP, DOM, sometimes Javascript and CSS. The level of module documentation is appalling and vast numbers of key modules appear to be whimsical products of amateur enthusiasm, written as a hobby and supported sporadically (I've got bugs I reported 2 years ago that have just been added to ever-lengthening queues that authors have apparently lost interest in) or not at all.

Like most open source software that's written for fun, most of the contributions are far too complicated and appear to be intended more as a monument to the authors' obscure programming techniques than as a clear, properly designed and thought-out addition to enhance the job of a web designer. Maybe with some iron-willed leadership the package could ber whipped into shape in enough time, but until that process is complete it will really only ever be a toy product - for used by people who like to tinker with its internals than those who just want a clean, properly implemented website.

Re:Drupal needs 5 years and 2 revs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34856096)

^^^^^ this

To change or modify drupal to do anything but do a simple site requires enough knowledge to just do your own. The community reminds me of the old Nuke crowd - overeager amateurs traipsing about in an architecture that allows any module developer to break the site via the badly designed 'hook' system. The sad part is that PHP now has (though you wouldn't know by talking to most 'PHP developers') the capability for decent OO practices.

I don't know what kind of clients these drupal fans have, but mine say things like 'oh we like everything about this module but could you do *this* instead'... *this* being something that would require a gutting of said module because it wasn't assumed or planned for in the design.

so goody for the people that want to click click click and build queries for their anime furry fan site and click click click add modules... click click click build forms... you won't ever have any problems because you won't ever need to do the kind of things my clients require.

Hmmm... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853476)

Wow what a worthless review even by Slashdot standards. Could this person have any less content or meat to this review? Packt, yes this is for a Packt Publishing book, is getting sloppy in their shill reviews by pushing out this one.

Re:Hmmm... (3, Funny)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853534)

Then you would know not to buy the book... It's like a movie trailer but for books...

Re:Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34859784)

I'm disappointed. Whenever a Packt book gets "reviewed" here, I look forward to finding out whether it got an 8/10 or a 9/10. That is, a "very good, should purchase", or a "very good, must purchase".
Now with this review I'm left in suspense? Where is Michael J Ross when you need him?

Where do you get off? (0, Troll)

BitHive (578094) | more than 3 years ago | (#34853662)

It was early on that I discovered a couple things that made using the book more challenging than it needs to be. Patel uses a non-American dialect of English. While it's quite understandable, at times the usage and sentence structure require one to stop, blink, and reread the passage. Some might find this to be annoying. I looked at it as reading dialogue written by Dickens or Twain, and was fine with it. The other thing is that the instructions at times seem to skip a step, going from point A to point C without a mention of the requisite point B. Again, this causes the occasional confusion for a few moments, but nothing one cannot get past.

Hahaha what the fuck? Are you fifteen years old? I literally cringed while reading this. Instead of stroking your e-beard, why not hone your writing skills a bit before you deign to critique someone else in your book review that reads more like an 8th grader's last-minute book report.

Re:Where do you get off? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34854050)

I wish America had an author of the stature of 'Twain'. Ah, well.

Re:Where do you get off? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34856278)

"Hahaha what the fuck? Are you fifteen years old? I literally cringed while reading this. Instead of stroking your e-beard, why not hone your writing skills a bit before you deign to critique someone else in your book review that reads more like an 8th grader's last-minute book report"

And I cringed when I read this... toasted marshmallows, however e-beard was funny, an e-bard in the making.

Re:Where do you get off? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34856522)

the trick when flaming someone is not to put more effort into your flames than they put into whatever set you off in the first place

Talk about not filling in the background... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853784)

What are panels?
What's a macha?
Heck, spend a line on what's-Drupal.
How are Panels related to Views? What's the difference between a big cousin and a big brother? Based simply on the naming, shouldn't Panels Everywhere depend on Panels and thus be the big brother instead of the other way around?
Is this a book I should read if I want to work with Drupal but don't currently?
The review author is working on a d7 book, and d7 is the current version, but this is a d6 book; is it out of date already?

In short, I can only conclude that if I already wanted to learn about Drupal 6 panels, maybe I should read this book. But that sure seems like a really narrow target, and the review didn't help me figure out if I might be in the target audience if I don't fit that incredibly narrow group.

who cares? 7 is out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34853912)

this book is already outdated

Isn't it ironic? (0)

Gramie2 (411713) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854150)

The reviewer complains about the author's dialect, and then writes:

> ...it's a difficult nut to crack aside.

Re:Isn't it ironic? (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854216)

Not to mention that the review sounds like it was chunked out in 5 minutes by a half-literate 8 year old.

Oh thank god (3, Funny)

rokstar (865523) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854330)

There hasn't been a book review on drupal in over a month on here. I was getting worried there for a second.

Re:Oh thank god (1)

freefal67 (949117) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854672)

Seriously though. What is the deal with this? How many people actually use this thing that I've still never heard of outside of Slashdot?

Re:Oh thank god (1)

abbub (253205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34855584)

Along with Wordpress and Joomla, I think it's probably one of the most used CMS systems on the web. ...so....a lot of people actually use this 'thing'.

Re:Oh thank god (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 3 years ago | (#34856488)

Seriously though. What is the deal with this? How many people actually use this thing that I've still never heard of outside of Slashdot?

You probably do, without knowing it. It's the code behind 1% of the World's websites. Including a lot of government and local government websites.

Drupal 6 is obsolete... (3, Informative)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#34854576)

For those not in the know, Drupal 7 was just released. Not sure how much of this will apply to the new version, so you should check before spending money on this.

Re:Drupal 6 is obsolete... (2)

mugnyte (203225) | more than 3 years ago | (#34855214)

    A religious war surrounds Drupal regarding efficiency, transparency, supportability and eventually scalability. It does not offer methods to consolidate query results and can suffer from chattiness against data stores, only alleviated by elaborate tiered caching schemes.

One should evaluate a large list [wikipedia.org] before picking any CMS; Drupal is not the only successful system in use.

Re:Drupal 6 is obsolete... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34856026)

For those not in the know, Drupal 7 was just released. Not sure how much of this will apply to the new version, so you should check before spending money on this.

Drupal 6 is not obsolete, it'll be supported until the release of Drupal 8. While Drupal 7 may have just been released, much (likely, most) development will continue to occur in Drupal 6 for a few months until more module mature for it.

Re:Drupal 6 is obsolete... (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34856996)

Buying a book on panels seems kind of crazy, it's a module designed to prevent you from having to construct pages yourself. I had it on my site but I wasn't making new layouts enough to actually need it, so I just scrapped it, installed insert_block, had insert_view already.

" I've been a software developer forever" (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34860008)

No, you haven't.

Great start to the article, really made me want to read the thoughts of someone with a reading age of ten.

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