News


Palo Alto adds motion detection to Caltrain corridor

Pilot program seeks to spot people who are on the tracks

A first-of-its-kind system to detect suicide attempts along railroad tracks will be piloted in Palo Alto. The Suicide and Accident Intervention System, which was developed by Sunnyvale-based CSC Integrations specifically for detecting suicide-related behaviors, has already gone through a beta-testing period in March and April. The Palo Alto City Council approved funding for the system for a 60-day pilot period on June 27.

The pilot, which will cost $207,025, is focused on the East Meadow Caltrain crossing. It covers about 1,000 feet to both the north and south using color video cameras, thermal cameras and sensors.

The data is processed by an artificial-intelligence system, but the city will separately pay CSC Integrations to provide human monitoring of the video feed during the 60-day trial. The active monitoring will occur between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., but the company and city staff will test the system at other times as well, according to a city manager's report.

Company owner Jason Jenkins said the technology has proved promising, with zero false alarms.

"I'm very excited. If we can save a life, it is so worth it," he said.

The price tag could be considerably less than the approximately $800,000 a year the city has paid out for guards at five locations. The security guard program has been marred by missing guards and the arrests of some who engaged in criminal behavior, such as residential burglary, while on the job.

But the city is not removing the security guards, at least not at this time. The City Council recently approved a more than $1 million contract with Cypress Security through the end of the year.

Jenkins said the electronic-surveillance system is highly promising. It understands the different behaviors of pedestrians and bicyclists who are legitimately crossing the tracks and persons who are contemplating suicide, the latter who do such things as loiter.

When the cameras and sensors recognize the pattern of behavior, they send out either a high alert or low alert, depending on how imminent the danger is. The information goes to the city's 911 dispatch center and to train controllers, who can respond or stop the train, Jenkins said. The system can also send a photo of what it detected.

Fence-mounted detectors are also available, but they are not being used at the Palo Alto site at this time, Jenkins said.

If the pilot is successful, the system could be used along the entire length of the city.

The contract is sole sourced, since no other existing technologies meet the city's requirements, the city manager's report stated.

Motion-detection systems are currently used throughout the country to identify criminal and terrorist threats, such as at military installations. The software is capable of classifying objects as people, vehicles and watercraft, and it eliminates background interference such as vegetation moving in the wind, rain and lighting changes.

The 60-day pilot will be operational as soon as the city and CSC Integrations agree the system is functioning and stable, according to the city manager's report.

Related content:

Palo Alto urges safety improvements along Caltrain corridor

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Comments

28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Are the city congratulating themselves over this latest expenditure?

So I guess the solution to kids committing suicide is... technology?

Jenkins is so "excited" to sell it to us.

I guess there's a market for everything.


30 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 2, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Saturday afternoon

Hi, Fellow Onliners,

What a discouraging "advance"!

Just how does a person monitoring the camera feed in a police center respond as effectively as a person present on the scene?

How does someone in a 911 dispatch center shout out immediately in concern to someone slowly approaching the tracks?

How does a person at a remote TV screen move instantly to interpose him or herself between a teenager and imminent, self-inflicted harm?

How does a camera, which has no feelings or understanding, achieve the same deterrent effect as a watchful man or woman (whose presence and appearance a teenager may associate with some other concerned adult figure--a mother or father, teacher or coach, or other grown-up guardian)?

The claim that the camera "understands" different human behaviors is misleading. No more did the "autopilot" in the Tesla vehicle, which in May failed to prevent a driver's death, "understand" what was happening on the road.

Our city's leaders should not be investing in approaches (the shallow, inadequately sourced CDC study is another good example) that give us mainly a false sense of security. We should focus our energies on solving our problem of adolescent suffering closer to its actual sources.

While this high-tech security system is surely well-intended, I'm afraid these cameras will solve nothing and may even prove a distraction in our attempts to alleviate the despair felt by far too many of our high-schoolers.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator, Save the 2,008
Please join our chorus for school change at: savethe2008.com





12 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2016 at 7:13 pm

Reading through this post, it becomes evident that just because someone is a high school teacher that doesn’t mean such people have the slightest idea how to evaluate technology, public policy, where National Security issues. Comment after comment in this post demonstrates someone whose views are not well thought out about how technology works, or how it can work.

> How does someone in a 911 dispatch center shout out immediately
> in concern to someone slowly approaching the tracks?

Take this comment for instance. What does “slowly approaching the tracks” mean? Anyone crossing the tracks is going to “approach the tracks”. The issue is more likely to be detecting people on the tracks outside the crossing zone? Obviously, if a closed loop solution is desired, adding a loudspeaker at the crossing and a microphone connected to it in the 911 dispatch center would allow the 911 operator to communicate directly with the person on the track. Keep in mind that simply being on the track does not mean that a person is in imminent danger and that a call to a patrol car to attend to the situation would be the next action than 911 dispatch operator would do. The question as to whether to whether any person intent on harming himself by lurking outside the zone of the camera’s field of view, or the property line of the train system, is an open question.
Pressing the issue might have a thermal imaging camera added to the video imaging equipment installed at troublesome crossing--so that the monitoring system would be able to detect the presence of the human off the property line of the train system.

> The claim that the camera "understands" different human behaviors is misleading.

While this statement is technically true, the real intelligence and “understanding of different human behaviors” comes with the software that monitors the video feed. There only so many different behaviors that people exhibit around train crossings, so it’s not that difficult to believe that over time most of the destructive behaviors, as well as the normal behaviors, will be understood by the monitoring software.

Moreover, having these monitoring systems at troublesome train crossings gives us a video feed that can be used to help police in other public safety officials investigate accidents that occur there, and not have to rely on human eye witnesses for what is well known to be often inconsistent observation.

It’s a great thing that the city is getting involved with this sort of technology.


30 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 2, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Sarah1000 is a registered user.

Means restriction is just one piece in the suicide prevention puzzle. Stanford/Lucille Packard continues to send every suicidal youth away from its multi-billion dollar campus in Palo Alto to out-of-county hospitals as far away as Sacramento for treatment. Shameful.


23 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2016 at 1:07 am

>the latter who do such things as loiter.

Great. Give away the secret and the suiciders will just loiter further away and then make a run for it.

>The information goes to the city's 911 dispatch center and to train controllers, who can respond or stop the train

Great. How long until mischievous teenagers start "acting" like suiciders, get a train to stop, and then run away laughing? Hell, I would have done that back in my days in Palo Alto.


19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 3, 2016 at 7:36 am

This totally disrespects suicidal Gunn students. Instead of trying to understand them, you try to CONTROL them. Which is why they get suicidal in the first place.


15 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 3, 2016 at 5:54 pm

"It's a great thing that the city is getting involved with this sort of technology."

It looks like Silicon Valley hustlers are working the local city staff again. A bottle of snake oil labeled "Technology" is still snake oil.

Do we get a discount if they leave out the watercraft discrimination capability? There are very few boats using our railroad crossings.


6 people like this
Posted by Sandra Farrell
a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2016 at 11:14 am

This is a bandaid to a serious problem. If it saves one life it is certainly worth it. Young people have terrible burdens that most adults, including parents don't know anything about. I think it would be a better solution, while deploying the technical solution, to continue to try to figure out what those burdens are. In 1954-57 I went to Carlmont High in Belmont and I remember that there was a rash of train suicides in Palo Alto then, as well. It passed. This is not new. Has anyone been asking kids for help with solving this? It's good to hear from teachers, but it would be good to hear from kids, too


3 people like this
Posted by Headslap
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 4, 2016 at 11:21 am

Great that you mention what times it will be monitored. Now the kids will go out after 2am. I respect what you are trying to do - but some details could be left out.


5 people like this
Posted by A trial should be free
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 4, 2016 at 11:59 am

$207,000 is just the beginning: "the city will separately pay CSC Integrations to provide human monitoring of the video feed during the 60-day trial."

The city manager gets to spend more big money on more contractors and consultants. Yippee!

This is a trial. Why isn't it free?


5 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 4, 2016 at 12:47 pm

"If it saves one life it is certainly worth it."

It can't save a life unless there's a live alert guard present to intervene, in which case it isn't needed. Even if it actually works, it can only cue spots in the video stream where a suicide might have been recorded.

City Hall does it again.


3 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2016 at 1:06 pm

The article didn't state that this new tool is the answer to the mental issues of youth and adults. I am glad that at least there is an effort to use yet another tool to avoid a senseless loss of life. Yes, parenting is a key tool as well. Who is the perfect parent? Counselors can help as well, and they don't mind the increase in business even if children are not "healed" or do not have their problems solved. I think everyone is seeking answers not only to the trend of youth suicides, but to many other issues of life. The bottom line is that adolescence is not an easy time for most and most just love and support, even if they don't want others to know of that need. Young people should not be ashamed of their needs because adults need plenty of the same encouragement. The Silicon Valley has enjoyed much success and wealth, so why not spend on a tool that can help save a life. If it doesn't work, then get a refund. But if it works, be glad. Most people are aware that there is a waste of taxpayers money on various items, so they shouldn't complain about something that has the potential to help save a precious life.


Like this comment
Posted by PonderingQuestions
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jul 4, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Really? We (the citizens of palo alto) are paying $800,000 to a million dollars a year for guard crossing monitors?
I have to admit that I have seriously mixed feelings. That is a lot of money. Money that could be put to good uses in many places in the city. And yet I know a parent who has lost a child to suicide and I cannot fathom the pain and heartbreak that must cause. And yet, how effective is it? Is it a deterrent, or do people/students go elsewhere? And yet, if the tracks are an "attractive nuisance" (as swimming pools are regarded), shouldn't the owner/operator be responsible for protection/prevention, and not the city? And yet, what is a (young) life worth? How far should a community go to protect a few? What are reasonable limits? Are there reasonable limits?


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2016 at 4:44 pm

PonderingQuestions,

I disagree that any of the money spent is preventing suicides.

I contend that guards and this new system are an egregious waste of money.

They just display a desperation by City Council to end the suicides that are making Palo Alto look so bad.

Both these measures communicate the wrong message to students:

"You are suicidal because you are an unstable adolescent.
Your grievances are invalidated.
You're making us look bad! Stop committing suicide... or we're gonna make you stop!"



Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2016 at 10:31 pm

I like the idea. I think will be promising than the guards. We complain when the city doesn't do anything and we also complain when the city is making an effort. Wow!
I also think the city can put auto gates to seal off the crossing area when a train approaches. The current traffic lights allow cars to sit on tracks whether it's intentional or accidental.


2 people like this
Posted by Sheldon Kay
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 4, 2016 at 10:58 pm

Wouldn't separated crossings solve the problem. They will happen eventually. Why not sooner than later?


4 people like this
Posted by Josh S.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2016 at 11:53 pm

I originally wasn't going to respond because many, if not most, comments are not worth responding to in the first place. Let me start by stating some facts here. The city spends 1.6 million dollars a year according to documentation available through public records. The guards have been caught sleeping, texting, masturbating, breaking into homes surrounding the tracks, and many other criminal and non-criminal offenses. And most of all, not paying attention to what they are supposed to do. The system they are proposing doesn't have the capability to do any of these things. If it works, it costs what 207,000 dollars for an intersection. Looking at it from a business standpoint, the city and our community would see a return on our investment, should it work and taking into consideration that the system was installed along all intersections (data shows most suicides occur within 1000 feet (give or take) from the crossings), in approximately three years. So how does this not make sense. I for one am appreciative of any company or person who tries to do anything to solve one or more components of this problem. This is not the end all be all, but it is a damn good start. Nothing surprises me anymore with some of these comments.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2016 at 6:37 am

Josh S. your heartless analysis shows that you are truly clueless and it's sad. Getting kids not to commit suicide is not a business investment!!!

No other town does this.


6 people like this
Posted by Bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 5, 2016 at 10:24 am

Wonderful. Glad to hear this. This system certainly beats guards with their eyes stick on their smart phones.


2 people like this
Posted by MaryannH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 5, 2016 at 1:18 pm

Do we have any documentation on how effective the guards have been in saving lives? Suicides averted, etc.? Will the new system be integrated with CalTrain so that trains will actually slow down in time not to hit anyone? Are there emergency services who can be alerted and get there in time to stop the suicidal person?


5 people like this
Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2016 at 2:00 pm

(Former P.A. resident for 38 years)

At the top of the feed when I signed in was the letter from Marc Vincenti of the Gunn English Dept. Some of his questions and statements made me shake my head in disbelief! Even rhetorical questions should have some basis in logic and reality. For starters, his scenarios assume that someone, in addition to the one intending suicide, would always be present at the scene, ready to shout and/or physically interfere with the person trying to commit suicide.

Here are a few of the more egregious examples.

Qu.1: "Just how does a person monitoring the camera feed in a police center respond as effectively as a person present on the scene?"
Ans.1: Obviously a human being who is actually present at the scene might not respond at all, might respond effectively, might respond non-effectively or might become an unwilling additional victim!


Qu.2: "How does someone in a 911 dispatch center shout out immediately in concern to someone slowly approaching the tracks?"
Ans.2: How do we know that people committing suicide by train always "slowly approach" the tracks? How do we know that a person who was present at the scene would be able to recognize the intent of the person who was going to commit suicide in a timely enough manner to take any kind of action to stop them? How do we know that shouting out to the potential victim would have any effect other than immediate distraction? Could we guarantee that a shout would always be successful or might a still indecisive potential victim be startled or upset into action where otherwise they might have changed their mind? If we think a vocal interference would save lives, then why wouldn't a microphone be better than nothing, when there is no other person around? Or do you propose stationing suicide-watch people at every crossing?

Qu.3: "How does a person at a remote TV screen move instantly to interpose him or herself between a teenager and imminent, self-inflicted harm?"
Ans.3: This is another ridiculous question and one which is also loaded with assumptions. How do we know that a person on the scene would be able, or willing, to "instantly interpose him or herself" between the victim and harm? Don't we realize that an even worse tragedy might occur if the person bent on suicide were to resist and struggle with their "savior" with both falling in front of the train? And are teenagers the only victims to be saved? Is this effort solely for the prevention of teenage suicides or all suicides?

Qu.4: "How does a camera, which has no feelings or understanding, achieve the same deterrent effect as a watchful man or woman?"
Ans.4: The ridiculous is again belabored with this question. Yes, we all know that cameras have few feelings and lack understanding. But cameras can be on duty 24/7/365. Do propose stationing watch persons at every crossing 24/7/365? How do you know that every man or woman waiting at a train crossing is automatically "understanding", much less willing and able to play the role of "deterrent"? How many might be looking away, reading a book or talking on the phone at the time? Many people are very hesitant to get involved in even a most simple matter with strangers much less to get involved in something that takes time from their busy lives, could endanger them, could get them involved in lengthy legal consequences (police reports, sanity hearings, etc.) or otherwise complicate their own lives.

I don't know what world Mr. Vincenti lives in but in this one the right kind of people (those who are observant, caring and who would be willing and able to take immediate action without stopping to think about the possible consequences and who are always in the right place at the right time and have the physical resources to be helpful) aren't always where they should be at exactly the right time nor do good intentions alone produce desirable results.

Remember the old saying about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions!


9 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2016 at 2:09 pm

PAPD was at one of the crossings last night and used some of the technology to help an individual in distress. Would be good to hear an evaluation from the officers themselves. Perhaps the Weekly could do a short follow-up.


4 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2016 at 3:45 pm

What does Caltrain have to say about its train schedule potentially being disrupted by this thing?

Face it, the track guards are a farce and this is merely an extension of that farce. For starters, if this system is only active until 2:00 am, all one has to do is wait until after 2:00 am to walk in front of a speeding freight train.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2016 at 4:45 pm

"Will the new system be integrated with CalTrain so that trains will actually slow down in time not to hit anyone?"

Very unlikely. Neither a live person nor an expensive camera cum software can read someone's intentions as they approach the tracks. The camera's false alarm rate would be intolerable; it would delay the trains for every pedestrian approaching the tracks at the critical time.

"Are there emergency services who can be alerted and get there in time to stop the suicidal person?"

Only if the person waits around to be rescued. The above comment about excessive false alarms also applies.


2 people like this
Posted by Josh S.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2016 at 9:23 pm

@Resident, I am by no means stating that this is a business issue. I am merely stating that the financial portion of this system should be viewed in the eyes of business. Will the system be financially beneficial to our community. I have had a god child taken by suicide, so I completely understand the emotional toll it can take on parents. I can state unequivocally that the emotional part of suicide is very real and hard for any parent to face. When it comes to the expense of money by our city, we should look at it from the viewpoint of financial feasibility. I am simply stating that the current expense of 1.6 million a year for services that fall well below beneficial for our community should be taken into consideration. So I looked at the website of the company and the system operates 24/hr a day no matter what time of day it is. Per the company, the system sends automatic notifications to the police department and train control simultaneous. This would appear to ensure that the train could slow or stop should there be a person on the tracks. I'm not saying this is the end all be all, but like I previously stated, it is one component in a series of components that make up the suicide and mental health crisis our community is facing. I think that we need to take a serious look at the full situation and attempt to create a complete approach with mental health programs in addition to the use of technology like is stated in this article. If the system doesn't work, I assume it will be pretty easy to figure out. I'm happy someone is trying to do something about this problem. No matter who, what, when, where, or how. I think many of the commenters here are failing to see the big picture. We must do something to fix this issue. My goddaughter deserves it.


6 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2016 at 8:45 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Don't you think that if CalTrain thought the guards were a solution, they would have provided more to their comfort?
It is a waste of Money.
The needed reaction time is less than the time it takes a train to stop (unscheduled). Do City staff think those people will mosey out onto the tracks, park their butt and WAIT? No, they will Dash out (of hiding) at the last second.
It is a waste of Money. Another 'We did something' boondoggle


4 people like this
Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2016 at 9:59 am

The Caltrain right-of-way is owned by the PCJPB, not by the City of Palo Alto or any of the municipalities along it. The PCJPB is a consortium of the three counties served by Caltrain: San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara. It would be an interesting legal tussle to see if, say, the City of Palo Alto has the legal authority to compel a Caltrain slow down or stop.

"We're sorry the train was an hour late arriving in Belmont because some whiz-bang gizmo in Palo Alto thought somebody was going to commit suicide-by-Caltrain. All of the trains behind it will likewise be an hour late." Yeah, that will go over real big during rush hour.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2016 at 10:54 am

The theory behind this sounds wonderful but I also have reservations about the practice. Obviously a bored teenager trying to trick the technology and the number of false fails is going to be a big problem. However, without attempting new technologies, these will never become useful.

I would definitely like to see something along the lines of Styrofoam cow catchers on the front of all trains. Oh dear, Styrofoam is banned now.

However, not doing anything is seen to be not caring.

As with many things, we have to move into a phase of doing something and anything. Of course, anything works until such time as the next suicide comes along. And, I am not saying that the next suicide will be one of our high school students, but just some poor individual wanting to look for a permanent solution to a temporary problem and Caltrain as well as BART and other rail agencies get those too. The Golden Gate Bridge has been talking for years about a suicide barrier, not sure how far along that one has been. It will be wonderful, until the first time someone manages to beat it.

We can call it mental health, depression, stress, the economy, failed romances, bad decision making, or whatever, but unfortunately society has people who are looking for a way out. I tend to think that a flesh and blood person showing they care can take someone from the tipping point. Rather than labeling these individuals, I think we should all look out for individuals who need to be shown that they are valuable and their lives matter. Technology will never replace a hug, a smile, a human touch.


Like this comment
Posted by sadly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2016 at 6:54 pm

>> Technology will never replace a hug, a smile, a human touch.

Face it, any of those actions toward a teenager would get me arrested.
More prudent to call in a cold professional.


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Wonder how many people reading/posting on this topic are aware that Caltrain is installing a positive train control that is heavily hi-tech:

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 7, 2016 at 11:40 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Joe
PTC is to keep trains from running into Trains like happened on the East coast.
I don't think most people are against Tech, just using Tech in a place where it will not be effective.

If a company would like to do a 'field trial' basicly for FREE (city just provides Power to the site and waives Permit fees) so that they can PROVE it works. I would not object.
Once proven effective, further expenditure is open for consideration.
No track record. No MONEY


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2016 at 3:13 pm

> I don't think most people are against Tech,
> just using Tech in a place where it will not be effective.

Not the way I read most of the posts opposed to this system. Vision systems are extremely sophisticated .. so much so that most people are unaware of their capabilities. Far too many people posting on this topic, and others where a vision system has been proposed have emphatically promoted the idea that “it’s impossible”. These days, with AI moving so quickly, very little is “impossible”.

It’s true that the current version of PTC will not detect incursions on tracts. But it’s hard to believe that that capability will not be added to the general envelope of PTC.

There is currently no evidence that the system being proposed does not work—other than in the minds of some of those posting here. Missing from the discussion would be adding fencing at the troublesome crossings that restrict pedestrian access to the crossing. It’s difficult to believe that the fencing alone might not make access to the tracks very difficult by itself.


6 people like this
Posted by D.D.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 8, 2016 at 9:38 am

I'm not a psychiatrist, but I am a railroad engineer that has seen this first hand too many times. Generally a suicidal person will not sit on the tracks for a hour waiting for the train. They will hide behind a tree, signal tower or the like, and jump out in front of us at the last moment. I don't see how this "technology" will prevent that. If the camera spots a potential "suicide" it will call 911 dispatch and railroad dispatch. The average code 3 response by the PD is 5-7mins and it takes 1/2 mile or more to stop my train at 79mph. These suicides usually unfold within 30 seconds.

IMO, the efforts need to be focused at the root of the problem, which effective counseling and peer support groups in our community can accomplish, and for quite a bit less than $1 million taxpayer dollars annually.....


4 people like this
Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2016 at 12:24 pm

D.D.: Thank you for an insightful post. It is evidence that this technology hasn't been fully thought out and is likely to fail. The city bureaucrats will have spent a million dollars on a technology that is likely to fail but at least they'll feel good about having "done something".

Add motion detection to the growing list of useless deterrents: crossing guards, signs, help lines, fences, trimming of vegetation, etc. There is no record of any of these things having prevented even one suicide, so their effectiveness is highly doubtful.

I agree that what needs to be examined is the pressure put on students by tiger parents and by the school system. Push a kid too hard at that age and the train tracks will look like an attractive option.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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