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Assumption vs. Constraint

  • By: pcadmin on 30 Jun 2013

This is the second in a series of posts on commonly confused terms for PMP exam.

PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition defines:

Assumption – A factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real, or certain, without proof or demonstration.

Constraint – A limiting factor that affects the execution of a project, program, portfolio, or process.

Assumptions and constraints are first listed in the Project Charter and then analysed and expanded throughout the project. They form an important component of the project scope statement; their validity should be tested throughout the project.

As stated in the definition above, constraints define the boundaries imposed by the client/sponsor or by government regulations due to the nature of the work. Constraints can be business constraints imposed by the organisation, typically related to time, cost, schedule, resources, quality, or risk tolerances; or, technical constraints imposed by the design and architecture of the system, like hardware constraints in software development, strength of the materials for construction of a bridge, etc. Constraints are key inputs to the development of WBS, time and cost management processes, and risk management process.

Assumptions are factors that we believe to be true without any definite proof or analysis. Assumption analysis is a key input to the risk management process. We make assumptions every day in every aspect of our lives, assuming the traffic on the way to work will be same as last week, markets will recover the highs after a long bear run, milk will always be stocked and available at a 24 hr grocery store, people working for 7.5 hours will actually work effectively and efficiently for 7.5 hours, etc.

Another way to look at assumptions are factors that must occur for the project to succeed, with the probability of an assumption holding its weight between 0 (assumption turns to be completely false) and 1 (exactly as assumed). Using assumptions help to model a project for cost and time estimates. However, if the probability of an assumption turns out to be 0, the estimates and the whole project may be in jeopardy. That is the reason why assumptions are a critical input to risk management and setting up of contingency and management reserves.

Let’s look at an example:

You are a PM for a condo restoration project following a flood due to water main rupture. This is a major undertaking involving several stakeholders with competing requirements. Constrains imposed by the condo board and condo management company can include, all work on the condos should be accomplished by the year end and the budget for the project is limited to the insurance claim plus a percentage of the reserve fund as stipulated in the condo by laws. Another constraint could be that an inspection should be completed before the hallway walls can be insulated and dry walled. Some assumptions in this project can be – the next condo will become available as soon as the work on the last one is finished, no delays in the shipment and availability of materials, all the owners who renovated their units followed the condo by laws, etc.

Many times you may realize that constraints imposed on a project are also the result of assumptions made by sponsor/client/regulators.

An interesting word history on assumption from dictionary.reference.com (of course not required for PMP!):[1]

The word assumption is a great example of how a word can take on new dimensions of meaning over time, while staying true to some aspect of its original sense. Assumption has been in the language since the 13th century, and was initially confined to a specific ecclesiastical meaning in the Catholic Church. The Latin word on which it is based literally means “the action of being taken up or received,” and in English assumption referred to the taking up into heaven of the Virgin Mary. That meaning still exists today, and in all the meanings it has assumed since then, one can see the common thread running through them is the sense of taking.

One early sense meant “arrogance,” as in this 1814 quote from Sir Walter Scott: “his usual air of haughty assumption.” Arrogance is a taking upon oneself a conviction of self-importance. Later senses arose having to do with the taking on of power or other responsibilities, as in “the assumption of command.”

Probably the most common meaning of assumption in use today is for indicating a supposition, an estimate, a conjecture—that is, something taken for granted. And as any school kid knows, presuming to assume can be dangerous, leading us to make, as the saying goes, “an ASS of U and ME!”

Validation vs. Verification

  • By: pcadmin on 20 Jun 2013

This is the first in a series of posts on commonly confused terms for PMP exam.

PMBOK Guide 5th Edition defines:

Verification: The evaluation of whether or not a product, service, or system complies with a regulation, requirement, specification, or imposed condition. It is often an internal process.

Validation: The assurance that a product, service, or system meets the needs of the customer and other identified stakeholders. It often involves acceptance and suitability with external customers.

More commonly used definitions for Validation and Verification used in software engineering systems are:

Validation: Are we building the right system?

Verification: Are we building the system right?[1]

Verified deliverables are outputs of the Control Quality process and tests for correctness of the deliverables. Correctness relates to specified product/service/result requirements and design specifications. While doing Verification we are concerned with whether the deliverable meets exact requirements specifications.

Consider an example, you are in the process of developing a calculator mobile application for a mortgage broker for calculating monthly mortgage payments by their clients. The inputs in the calculator are cost of the property, down payment, interest rate, and amortization period.  While verifying the deliverable, you will typically test whether the application works as desired, the algorithm for calculating monthly payments gives the right results under different conditions, the flow of the application is easy to use, the branding for the broker is as per the approved design (through a previous Validation process!).

Validate Scope is a process of Project Scope Management knowledge area of the PMBOK 5th edition. The verified deliverables from Control Quality are reviewed with the customer or sponsor to ensure they have been completed satisfactorily and to receive formal acceptance. Validation is concerned with the acceptance of the deliverables.

How will a customer give formal acceptance of the deliverables? The client or sponsor will typically test the product/service/result against the requirements document (most importantly business requirements) and requirements traceability matrix. Most often than not, the client is much more concerned if the deliverable meets the stated need of the product/service/result than a list by list technical requirements. In the above example, while validating the mobile calculator application, the client will typically check for the correctness of results under different scenarios, branding, and most importantly whether the application actually serves the real need. The client may realize that in order for the application to be universal, instead of just having a fixed interest rate input, they want to include an option of entering variable interest rates (calculated by automatically downloading the latest prime rate from Bank of Canada).

Following Validation, the client may accept or request for a change (through Integrated Change Control) as a corrective action or defect repair.

Its common sense that Verification should be done before Validation, you won’t take an untested product to a client and bear the embarrassment if the product fails to function as expected; even though this happens all the time. Do remember that both Verification and Validation can also be performed in parallel. I’ll leave it to you imagination on how to accomplish this.

A good discussion of how NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) program defines Validation and Verification can be found here – http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2010/11/the-difference-between-verification-and-validation/

Which EAC Formula to Use?

  • By: pcadmin on 13 Jun 2013

Are you confused which EAC (Estimate at Completion) formula should you use in which situation?

Once you understand the logic behind each formula, you will no longer need to memorize the formulas.

Formula 1 –


This is the most commonly used formula if no other information is available. It assumes the present cost variance to continue for the remaining project. This cost variance could have been due to inaccurate estimation, changes in the external environment or prices, etc. and will remain going forward.

This is also referred to as a typical case.

Interpretation of the formula is very simple. Let’s assume CPI (cumulative) at 50% completion is 0.8. This basically means, our EV is 0.8 times AC, or we are only getting $0.8 worth of work completed from every $1 spent. If we continue getting the same worth (same CPI), the Estimate at Completion will be 25% more (1/0.8%).

Formula 2 –


This formula is used when the assumption is that the present cost variance was only a one-time event and our budgeted cost will be applicable for the remaining project. A one-time cost variance could be due to unexpected delays in shipment and no further shipments are required, or an unexpected event (a major flood or fire) caused the closure of the office building for a week, etc.

This is also referred to as an atypical case.

Again, the interpretation is very simple. Our EAC is simply the sum of costs incurred so far (AC) and the budgeted cost of the remaining work (BAC-EV).

Formula 3 – 

EAC = AC + [(BAC-EV)/ (CPIc*SPIc)]

This formula is used when not only the expected cost variance is typical (similar to Formula 1), but also there is no flexibility on the schedule, i.e. schedule cannot be compromised and the project has to finish as planned, e.g. a conference which has to begin on the advertised date, no questions asked.

As we can see, we estimate the cost at completion by adding the costs incurred so far (AC) and modifying the remaining budgeted cost (from Formula 2) to account for CPI and SPI.

Formula 4 –

EAC = AC + new ETC

This formula is considered the most accurate and no surprise, the most time consuming. We will typically use this formula when are estimates or assumptions are no longer relevant or while using a rolling wave planning.

The interpretation is straightforward, estimate at completion is simply actual costs incurred to date (AC) plus a new estimate of the remaining work.

Critical Path Calculations: Starting at 0 or 1

  • By: pcadmin on 01 Jun 2013

Are you confused if you should start with 0 or 1 for critical path calculations? In short, both methods lead to the same results. Once you understand the reasoning behind each method, it will be your choice which one you find easier and faster for calculations. PMI will not trick you if you prefer one over the other, but it’s a good idea to know the logic behind each method.

Let’s use a very simple network diagram to create a critical path using both the methods.

Figure 1: Network Diagram

Let’s start with 0 as the ES of activity A and do a forward and backward pass. As shown below, the critical path is A-B-C-G and the total float for non-critical activities are D-8, E-8, and F-2.


Figure 2: Critical Path using 0 start

Similarly, starting with 1 as the ES of activity A and doing a forward and backward pass as shown below leads to the same results.


Figure 3: Critical Path using 1 start

So, what’s the difference in the logic?

While creating a network diagram it’s assumed the first task will begin on the morning of day 1 and finish by the evening (or end of day) of the finish date. The following task (FS relationship) will begin on the morning of the next day. For instance in Figure 3, A’s ES is the morning of day 1 and EF is the evening (or end of day) of day 3. So the next tasks, B, D, & F, start on the morning of day 4 and so on.

So, if we only know the ES and EF, we can see the task duration will be = EF – ES+1

That is the simple logic when we start with 1!

In order to avoid the confusion of thinking in terms of beginning and ending on a particular day on each task, some authors and trainers use 0 as the start of a critical path. With 0 as the ES of the first task, EF is simply equal to ES+duration. The ES of the following task (assuming FS relationship) is simply the EF of the preceding task and so on.

With this method, the task duration is simply= EF – ES.

Solving Situational Questions

  • By: pcadmin on 29 May 2013

Situational questions are the most challenging question type on the PMP exam that test your ability to apply PMBOK concepts in light of your real world experience and best judgement. These questions tend to be wordy and need some practice to be able to identify the real PROBLEM/PROCESS/SCENARIO being tested.

A little practice and a careful strategy to weed out unnecessary information will help you master this question type. Below is my strategy to tackle such questions:

Step 1 – Carefully read the full question and try to focus on the real PROBLEM/PROCESS/SCENARIO being tested. Ignore all the extraneous information and description.

Step 2 – Read all the answer choices and try to eliminate choices that are clearly irrelevant and out of context for the question. Usually, it’s very easy to eliminate 1-2 choices.

Step 3 – Read the remaining choices carefully and decide which one best answers the question. This is where you own experience as a project manager and the ability to apply PMBOK concepts in real scenarios comes handy.

Let’s use our strategy to tackle a situational question:

You are a Project Manager on a new condo development project. This is the first major condo project your company is doing which specializes in townhouse development projects. The project has already gone through several changes and is 6 months delayed from its original advertised move in date. In a recent status update meeting, team lead for door design elements informed you that a major design element (door knobs) was changed as the original door knobs could not be delivered on time due to delays in shipping from China. The team lead mentions that the difference between the knobs is not even noticeable and will not affect cost or schedule in any way. What should you do next?

  1. Complement the team lead for being proactive and taking initiative in implementing a corrective action.
  2. Immediately inform the stakeholders, check for any impacts to scope, schedule, and cost, and update project documents accordingly.
  3. Check if the risk response strategy was correctly implemented and update the risk register.
  4. Demote the team leader as he undermined your authority and didn’t consult you before approving the change.


Step 1 

The information about the project is just extraneous information; the comment about project already being delayed for 6 months is also extraneous and not useful for answering the real question, just there to confuse you and make your thoughts go on a tangent.

So what is the real question here?

Simply put, a change was implemented without the knowledge of the project manager. What should a project manager do in this case? Stating a question in your own words can help a lot in visualizing the situation and coming up with an answer.

Before even going to the answer choices, let’s think if this situation occurs in a real project at your work, what is the best strategy? Because a change was implemented without the PM’s knowledge, are you thinking we should do an impact analysis and let the stakeholders know immediately? Did you consider the change may have been a risk response to an identified risk trigger?

Read on!

Step 2 

Read the answer choices and try to eliminate answers that are either irrelevant or doesn’t address the real question. In the above example, choices 1 and 4 are clearly out of context. You can’t award or reprimand a team lead for each change carried out correctly/incorrectly.

Even if you were to award a team member for anything, your HR plan will guide you on when and how. Always remember, you have already made all these decisions in your PM plan.

So, that leaves us with answers 2 & 3 as possible choices.

Let’s move on to Step 3.

Step 3 

Are you thinking answer 2 is the correct choice?

If there wasn’t answer 3, 2 would have been correct. But, as a seasoned PM, didn’t you do a good job with risk management? Your team lead would have mentioned this as a risk, listed a risk response strategy, and will be the risk owner. Another hint that a risk was already identified is the use of the word “major” in “…major design element…”.

As the risk event occurred, the team lead implemented the documented risk response strategy and made sure there weren’t any secondary risks. You can check the effectiveness of the risk response strategy and update the risk register and record any secondary risks.

Are you thinking, we should still let the stakeholders know? You are correct, after implementing the risk response for change to a major design element, it’s always a good idea to let the relevant stakeholders know as detailed in the Communication Plan.

Good luck with your practice!

Project Benefits Management

  • By: pcadmin on 27 May 2013

APMG(1) has recently published a document on benefits management in the project environment. Many project management standards identify that benefits resulting from a project should be identified at the start of a project in measurable criteria usually in a business case. The business case is often written by the project manager. But the benefits resulting from projects can only be measured after a project is finished, sometimes long after a project is finished. Often the project manager is no longer around to take responsibility for the achievement or non-achievement of those benefits.

This results in an interesting scenario. A project manager is interested in a project, wants to see it implemented as managing it provides income and may add to the project manager’s resume and qualifications, but shortly after its closing, the project manager moves on to another project. This project manager is charged with writing the business case, and obviously will write it in such a way that the benefits are positive and the project is approved. But this same project manager is not really responsible for the business case, as it is unlikely they will be around long enough to answer for achievement of those benefits.

International development projects struggle with this contradiction. Aid is granted to projects though an agency. We, the taxpayer, would like to ensure that our money is well-spent. So the organizations responsible for assigning that aid money, such as CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), develop mechanisms to ensure that the granted funds achieve results. They call it “Results-Based Management” (RBM). But I question the effectiveness of the “RBM” approach.

CIDA says on their website that the RBM is “a way of working that looks beyond activities and outputs to focus on actual results; the outcomes of projects and programs.” CIDA has developed a comprehensive toolkit for measuring those outcomes and risks to the outcomes. Unfortunately, most of those outcomes cannot be measured until a project is near its end or completed and a project manager has moved on to another project, or at least not until a good portion of money has been spent. Okay – perhaps success is measured earlier, but I suspect that those measures are skewed to favour approval to keep going, for the same reasons a business case is often skewed to approve a project. One of the issues with the CIDA process is that it seems that it was written without any project management expertise. There is no mention of measuring project performance using well-accepted project management tools, such as earned value, schedule baselines, work breakdown structure, etc.

But benefits, outcomes, results do need to measured and someone needs to be accountable for their achievement. This is one element of a strong governance framework. The project “owner”, the person or organization requesting, championing and/or funding the project can be the only logical answer. This person or group are responsible for identification of benefits and project selection, as they are typically attached to the outcomes over the long-term. Whoever this is needs to be identified in the governance framework, named in the project, and continuously involved in the project, providing oversight and direction. This is the missing link in many project management methodologies and would close one of the gaps in the Results-Based Management framework.

(1) APMG International is the accrediting body for the UK Government’s Office of Government Commerce Best Practice guidance portfolio.

PMP Exam and Question Types

  • By: pcadmin on 16 May 2013

The PMP examination is a 4 hour exam comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions. Out of these 200 questions, only 175 are used to determine your final score; 25 questions are not counted towards your score and are considered “pretest questions”. PMI uses these pretest questions to test out new questions for future exams.

The exam is computer based and conducted at Prometric Testing centers. In limited circumstances, a paper based exam is also offered.

It usually takes candidates less than the allotted four hours to complete the exam. There are no scheduled breaks during the exam, although you are allowed to take a break if needed. If you take a break during the exam, your exam clock continues to count down.

The examination is preceded by a tutorial and followed by a survey, both of which are optional and both of which can take up to 15 minutes to complete. The time used to complete the tutorial and survey is not included in the examination time of four hours.

Tips and tricks

  • There is no way to know which of the 25 questions are pretest. So, try your best to answer all 200 questions.
  • The 15 minute tutorial should be used to familiarize yourself with the testing interface. It usually takes a couple of minutes to go through the tutorial. Some candidates use this time to do a brain dump of formulas and key terms to their scratch papers.

Question Types:

The following are some major categories of questions on the PMP exam, some questions may be a combination of different types:

  • Situational/Scenario
  • Formula/Calculation
  • ITTOs/Theory/Definitions
  • Interpretation

Situational/Scenario: The most challenging question type that tests your ability to apply PMBOK concepts in light of your real world experience and best judgement. These questions tend to be wordy and need some practice to be able to identify the real PROBLEM/PROCESS/SCENARIO being tested.

Sample Question 1: You are a Project Manager on a new Condo Development project. This is the first major condo project your company is doing which specializes in townhouse development projects. The project has already gone through several changes and is 6 months delayed from its original advertised move in date. In a recent status update meeting, team lead for door design elements informed you that a major design element (door knobs) was changed as the original door knobs could not be delivered on time due to delays in shipping from China. The team lead mentions the difference between the knobs is not noticeable and will not affect cost or schedule in any way. What should you do next?

  1. Reward the team lead with a bonus for being proactive and taking initiative in implementing a corrective action.
  2. Immediately inform the stakeholders, and check for any impacts to scope, schedule, and cost.
  3. Check if the risk response strategy was correctly implemented and update the risk register.
  4. Demote the team leader as he undermined your authority and didn’t consult with you before approving the change.

Formula/Calculation: Questions that require using formulas and calculations. They are usually simple, but read the question carefully.

Sample Question 2: A new team member was just added to your present team of 10 including yourself as the PM. There will be                       additional lines of communication.

  1. 55
  2. 45
  3. 10
  4. 100

ITTOs/Theory/Definitions: Questions directly from the PMBOK Guide. Some questions will be directly related to ITTOs, some may require knowledge of process groups and sequence of activities, and some related to understanding key definitions.

Sample Question 3: You are evaluating the proposals from various vendors for a database upgrade project. You are in which process?

  1. Plan Procurement
  2. Conduct Procurement
  3. Monitor and Control Project
  4. Manage Communications

Interpretation: These questions will test your ability to interpret information or a calculation and to use such information for monitoring and controlling the project.

Sample Question 4: Your project is 30% complete, EV = $50,000; AC = $80,000; and, BAC = $120,000. The project is:

  1. Under budget and ahead of schedule
  2. Over budget but ahead of schedule
  3. Under budget but behind schedule
  4. Over budget and behind schedule


Answers: Q1 – A3; Q2 – A3; Q3 – A2; Q4 – A2

PMP Application Process

  • By: pcadmin on 12 May 2013

Now that you are convinced that PMP is a worthwhile effort with a positive ROI, let’s get started with the tedious task of putting together your PMP application.

To make your life easier, download one of the free templates available out there to organize your application and summarize your experience. Here is one that is very comprehensive: http://procept.com/spreadsheet.html

Tips and tricks:

  • Summarizing your project management tasks in 300-500 words can sometime seem like a frustrating task. My suggestion is to summarize the main project and its product, service, or result in a few words, and then summarize the main tasks and your role during each of the project management process group – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and control, and closing. Below is an example to help you with your summary. Always remember, it never hurts to use PMBOK terms and terminology while aspiring for a PMP.
    • “Project Manager for the selection and implementation of a CRM.
    • Led a team of business analyst, sales executives, and vendor consultants.
    • Conducted project feasibility and led RFP development.
    • Created a project plan including a WBS, schedule, cost, responsibility matrix, risk management, vendor management, and change management plan.
    • Used Earned Value to track project against baseline.
    • Provided monthly progress report to Project Sponsor.
    • Closed project with a lessons learned report and plan for training the staff in CRM.”
  • Even though overlapping months will be counted only once towards your 3 (or 5) year experience, all overlapping experience hours from multiple projects within a particular month will be counted. In other words, if in a year you were working on two projects concurrently, only 1 year will be counted towards the 3 (or 5) year requirement; however, you can count the hours from both the overlapping projects towards the 4500 hr (or 7500 hr) requirement. Be careful, there are only 24 hrs in a day, don’t try to claim 25hrs (or for that matter 16hrs) a day working on two projects, PMI will catch it!
  • Save all your project plans, documents, WBSs, emails, etc in a folder to be able to use it in case your application gets audited. Start thinking about risk management!
  • Ensure agreement from your primary contact (manager, sponsor, or client) on the project summary and the number of hours allocated to each process group. They could be your best friend and ally in case of an audit.   Another risk mitigated!

PMP Application Process

Register for a new account with the PMI to use their online application process: http://www.pmi.org/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx

 PMI advises – Before you begin, check to make sure you meet the credential eligibility requirements and can record the necessary information on the application.

Once you start an online application, you cannot cancel it. You can save it unfinished, come back to it later, and edit any information you already entered. The application will remain open for 90 days during which time PMI will send you an email reminder to complete the application.

  • Enter the required information for education, experience, and project management education. If you skipped the tips and tricks above, please read them, they can save you some headaches later.
  • After you are satisfied with your application, press Submit and keep your fingers crossed.
  • Within 5 business days, you will hear back from PMI that your application has been reviewed and approved and are required to pay the exam fee and proceed to the next step.

The fees for the PMP exam are as follows:

  • Computer Based Training – non-member rate USD$555
  • Computer Based Training – member rate USD$405
  • PMI membership – USD$139

Joining the PMI and paying the member rate will cost you less than paying a non-member rate. Plus as a PMI member, you get access to the online PMBOK Guide and e-reads library and a good collection of exam preparation books. But, of course, it’s your choice.

  • After you pay the fees, this is the moment of truth! You will either receive a confirmation that your application has been approved or an email informing you that your application has been randomly selected for an audit (5-6% of the submitted applications).

Don’t lose hope if your application has been selected for an audit, remember we mitigated the risk above. Just provide the requested information and you will be good to go in no time.

  • Once your application has been approved, PMI will provide you with a registration code which you can use to book your exam at a Prometric Testing Centre. You will have 12 months to schedule and write the exam from the date your application has been approved.


Now that your application has been approved and you have successfully completed your PMP application project (did you create a WBS for this project? just kidding), let’s focus on preparing for the exam now.

PMP: A Primer

  • By: pcadmin on 03 May 2013

Project Management Institute (PMI) is one of the world’s largest not-for-profit membership associations for the project management profession.

PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation is among the most globally recognized and demanded credential in project management. A PMP designation demonstrates to employers, clients and colleagues that a project manager possesses project management knowledge, experience and skills to bring projects to successful completion. As the demand for skilled project managers is at a critically urgent level, practitioners who hold the PMP credential are well positioned to provide the professional skills necessary to lead project teams and achieve successful project results. [1]

The PMP recognizes the competence of an individual to perform in the role of a project manager, specifically experience in leading and directing projects. Year after year, the PMP credential has garnered global recognition and commanded a higher salary for credentialed individuals over non-credentialed individuals. [2]

Some other popular project management designations include PRINCE2 (http://www.prince-officialsite.com/) and IPMA Four Level Certification (Level D-A) (http://ipma.ch/certification/competence/4-l-c-features/). PMP still remains the most popular and globally recognized designation, especially in North America.


PMP Eligibility Requirements

In order to qualify to write the PMP exam, you should meet either of the below requirements in terms of education, experience, and project management education.

Requirement 1

  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or global equivalent)
  • Minimum five years/60 months unique non-overlapping professional project management experience during which at least 7,500 hours were spent leading and directing the project
  • 35 contact hours of formal education


Requirement 2

  • Four-year degree (bachelor’s degree or global equivalent)
  • Minimum three years/36 months unique non-overlapping professional project management experience during which at least 4,500 hours were spent leading and directing the project
  • 35 contact hours of formal education


  • The scope of “professional project management experience” as required by PMI is very broad, refer to the PMP Credential Handbook[3] to check if you meet the experience requirements.
  • 35 contact hours of formal project management education can be acquired through various means, classroom PMP preparation courses, online courses, or relevant training related to project management.

New Standards from PMI

  • By: pcadmin on 21 Apr 2013

PMI members can now access the three new standards from PMI as PDF files for their own use.

PMBOK® Guide 5th ed, The Standard for Program Management 3rd ed, and The Standard for Portfolio Management 3rd ed. Go here to see the FAQ about this.


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