Why Sites Didn’t Automatically Update to WordPress 4.9.6

Why Sites Didn’t Automatically Update to WordPress 4.9.6

WordPress 4.9.6 was released last week and was labeled a minor release. Minor releases trigger WordPress’ automatic update system. Shortly after its release, some users began questioning why their sites were not automatically updating to 4.9.6. I wondered the same thing after logging into a site I maintain and discovering it had not updated.

It turns out that the WordPress Development team disabled the auto update system after discovering that a few plugins were incorrectly loading the new privacy features and triggering fatal 500 errors on the frontend of user’s sites.

The issue stems from privacy code that includes a file that was not expected to be loaded without the rest of the WordPress admin. Mika Epstein, a volunteer member of the plugin review team, personally contacted the affected plugin developers last weekend to help rectify the issue.

A recent scan of the WordPress plugin directory shows that there are no other plugins incorrectly loading the privacy code. However, automatic updates for WordPress 4.9.6 remain disabled until the release of WordPress 4.9.7.

WordPress 4.9.7 will fix the issue described above and include a few other bug fixes. Since auto updates will be enabled for 4.9.7, sites running on 4.9.5 should auto update to 4.9.7 when it’s released. WordPress 4.9.7 is expected to be released sometime after the Memorial Day holiday. Until then, users will need to manually update to 4.9.6.

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Happy 15th Birthday, WordPress!

Happy 15th Birthday, WordPress!

This weekend WordPress turns 15. Since it’s creation as a blogging platform, the CMS has grown to be able to power the largest enterprise digital experiences.

Check out 15 WordPress milestones that made the CMS what it is today!

To get the party going, we created a Spotify list using music from all of the incredible jazz artists who lent their names to WordPress Core updates. Celebrate the history of the most powerful CMS out there.

From strong eCommerce solutions to personal blogs, the platform can help anyone realize their dream. WordPress powers 30 percent of the web and has over 55,000 plugins. It’s because of the community, and users like you that the CMS has been able to grow so much so quickly.

There are going to be celebrations all over the world, to find one near you go the WP15 website. There you can find all the planned meetups, see what people are saying on social media, and even buy some cool 15th birthday swag. Share your celebrations on Twitter using #WP15.

Happy birthday, WordPress! Here is to 15 more!

Emily Schiola

Emily Schiola is the Editor of Torque. She loves good beer, bad movies, and cats.

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Power Up Your Users With The User Role Editor Plugin

Power Up Your Users With The User Role Editor Plugin

A wise man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In WordPress this comes in the form of user roles which permit different access levels to parts of a WordPress site. The principle of least privilege in IT is a good one to follow. Only the most trusted users should have the greatest access, […]

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How WordPress Users Can Survive the GDPR

How WordPress Users Can Survive the GDPR

The thing that attracted many of us to WordPress is that it allows you to do a lot with an extremely small budget. Where, previously, a team of developers might spend weeks or months working to enable some specific functionality, and a team of designers might spend a similar amount of time to achieve a certain look, suddenly an ordinary person, with no coding ability, could find plugins and themes that would allow them to achieve the same thing within a few hours.

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A Comprehensive List of GDPR-Related Resources

A laptop, complete with a GDPR key.

There’s been a lot of talk about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) so far this year. In fact, there’s been so much talk that it’s easy to lose track of what’s most important to understand. Given the penalties imposed for non-compliance, this could be catastrophic.

While there are a wide array of articles on the subject being produced regularly, you’ll want to keep track of additional sources of information. For example, WordPress’ own reaction to the GDPR should be closely monitored, along with the responses of various developers and businesses connected to the platform.

In this post, we’ll round up a number of resources related to the GDPR that will help prepare you for its rollout. We’ll also mention some choice articles from the Torque archives to further inform you on the subject. Let’s get started!

A Brief History of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

For the uninitiated, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a ‘mutation’ of sorts of the previous data protection legislation and the EU Cookie Law. It’s a European Union directive stating that site owners need to declare the use of cookies to visitors. However, the GDPR takes things further by looking at user privacy and data as a whole.

It contains a complex assortment of guidelines for compliance that ultimately boil down to three simple elements. Users must be given:

  1. The right to access their data.
  2. The right to be forgotten.
  3. A method for porting their data elsewhere if needed.

If your site doesn’t comply with these three requirements, the penalties could be catastrophic. For example, non-compliance could mean incurring a fine of 4 percent of your annual turnover, or up to $25 million.

Essentially, the GDPR is intended to help ensure that users gain more control over their data, and that site owners are more transparent about what they do with the data they collect. With over 50 percent of companies using so-called ‘Big Data’ tactics, the time is ripe for legislation.

The GDPR rollout date is May 25, 2018. For this reason, practically all concerned parties are working hard to ensure that their websites are compliant – including WordPress.

How WordPress Is Handling the Implementation of the GDPR

Given that it currently powers over 30 percent of the web, WordPress is one of the key players when it comes to GDPR compliance. Some users may feel that their WordPress-powered websites are exempt because they simply don’t collect data openly. However, this is incorrect. All WordPress sites collect data by default.

The only real source of news on the GDPR as it relates to WordPress is a constantly-updated page on WordPress.com, outlining how Automattic’s business philosophy aligns with the goals of the GDPR. Although we are confident that WordPress is working hard behind the scenes to ensure that the platform is compliant, they have been slow to respond to inquiries from the community regarding the GDPR.

We’ll take a look at the GDPR for WordPress initiative in more detail shortly. For now, what’s important to know is that the whole community is pulling together to make sure WordPress and its outlying elements are all fully compliant.

A Comprehensive List of GDPR-Related Resources

By now, you’ll hopefully understand just how important GDPR compliance is. Given that, you’ll want to use only trustworthy resources when researching the ways you can make sure your site is compliant.

The following list is a guide to reliable GDPR resources. While we recommend starting with this very article, the second place you should go is the official website.

The Official GDPR Website

The official GDPR website should be your primary resource when learning about everything related to the initiative. The main area of the site that you’ll want to read through is the Key Changes page. This outlines the differences between the new legislation and the 1995 Data Protection Directive, from which the GDPR was partly derived. This page also highlights the different GDPR effects, the penalties imposed, and how the legislation is enforced. It also looks into more detail about the three simple elements we mentioned earlier.

The second page you’ll want to look at is the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. As the name suggests, this page is invaluable for quickly finding answers to the most pertinent general questions related to the GDPR. The featured questions mainly deal with what constitutes personal data and data breaches, who is affected by the GDPR, and what penalties are enforced for non-compliance.

On the whole, the website isn’t much to look at, and it’s difficult to navigate in certain areas. However, it is the ‘horse’s mouth’, so to speak, and you should make a habit of visiting it regularly.

Articles

A comparison between two contrasting viewpoints on the GDPR.
Even the GDPR isn’t safe from Doc Pop’s Torque Toons.

As you may expect, the internet has become pretty obsessed with GDPR-related articles. This means there’s lots of information to assimilate, and no shortage of advice on how to become compliant. Of course, it can be difficult to know where to start (as well as how to tell which articles are reliable).

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our own piece on the GDPR initiative, and we’d humbly suggest that it’s a great first step for site owners who are new to the subject. US website owners will also want to check out this piece by PCMag UK. The article covers how the GDPR impacts US users specifically, and why it’s necessary for companies to employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO) to help ensure that GDPR requirements are met.

Finally, you’ll likely want to read up on how Automattic itself is tackling the GDPR. The first port of call here should be the official statement on WordPress.com. WooCommerce users should read this dedicated GDPR page, which also includes some handy additional resources. Although Jetpack has a tag set up specifically for GDPR, the only article within is short and directs to the previously-mentioned WordPress.com page.

Tools and Plugins

As for dedicated plugins you can use to help ensure that your site is compliant, there are a smattering of choices (although we expect there will be more in the future). The first plugin you might want to try out is WP GDPR Compliance:

The WP GDPR Compliance plugin.

This plugin lets you add elements to your current form plugin to make sure it’s GDPR-friendly. So far, Contact Form 7, WordPress’ comments, Gravity Forms, and WooCommerce are supported, with more on the way. There’s also a handy checklist included so you can see at a glance what aspects of the form are compliant, and which still need addressing. While reviews thus far have been mixed, it represents the best option currently available.

For a feature-heavy plugin that’s extremely handy for recording how your site is used, you’ll want to look at WP Security Audit Log:

The WP Security Audit Log plugin.

This plugin records every action taken on your website relating to user activity, and we’ve talked about it in our own GDPR article. Needless to say, we’re big fans of the plugin for the flexibility and power it gives you.

Finally, if you’re a developer, you’ll want to make sure your products are also compliant – especially plugins. A good primer on the subject was presented by Heather Burns at WordCamp Belfast in 2016, although you’ll likely want to supplement this with more current information. To actually whip your plugins into shape, check out the GDPR for WordPress initiative:

The GDPR for WordPress logo.

This ultimately lets you work with hooks to provide anchors that tell others where your plugin provides compliance. It’s a project that’s constantly moving forward, and as Kåre Mulvad Steffensen alluded to in this post, its tools should be integrated into the WordPress core within the next couple of revisions.

Conclusion

The GDPR is taking up much of the WordPress community’s focus in 2018, and for good reason. Quite frankly, user data is vital for income. By not protecting it (and the users who gave it to you), you’re doing them a disservice and potentially impacting your own cash flow to boot.

Therefore, keeping up to date with all things related to the GDPR is vital. This post collated a number of resources, articles, and tools to help you guarantee compliance. In our opinion, you’ll want to start at the official website, but also take a look at how the WordPress bigwigs are getting the platform prepared. Developers will also want to check out the community-led initiatives to help you comply with the GDPR.

Do you have any questions about the GDPR or any resources to add? Let us know in the comments section below!

Featured image: TheDigitalArtist.

John Hughes

John is a blogging addict, WordPress fanatic, and a staff writer for WordCandy.

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5 Artificial Intelligence Tools for Content Marketing

5 Artificial Intelligence Tools for Content Marketing

Content discovery, writing, editing, SEO, content distribution, and data analysis are some of the operations that you can automate with AI. Find out five great tools to improve and speed-up your content marketing workflow.

How can you automate and scale-up your content marketing operations with artificial intelligence? What can you do today?

In this article, you’ll find out which tools can help you create more value, speed-up your operations, promote your content. All these things, by just hiring a digital brain on your team.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Narratives about AI go from dystopia—robots will take over human work—to the dream of maximizing outcomes. In marketing, this means better results makes us imagine a world where every single arrow perfectly hits the center of its target.

Cool, but… what are we talking about exactly?

Artificial Intelligence is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of more or less mature technologies which simulate the functions of the human brain. This big growing family includes machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, NLP (natural language processing), and NLG (natural language generation), linked data, and many other fields of computer science.

How does AI apply to content marketing?

With Facebook, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Netflix: artificial intelligence has already entered our daily lives, and we’ve barely noticed it. The results of our web searches, the social media posts that appear on our feeds, and even the suggested tv series are the result of an analysis of our preferences and needs crossed with the available content.

The good news for marketers is that AI is not limited to a few tech giants anymore. Lately, affordable solutions have appeared on the market and fit the needs and budgets of SMEs.

Content discovery, writing, editing, SEO, content distribution, and data analysis are just some of the operations that you can automate with these intelligent technologies.

Writing and Editing

In March 2016 in Japan, a sci-fi novel written by an artificial intelligence program passed the first selection of a literary award. The novel ironically titled “The Day a Computer Wrote a Novel” didn’t win, and yet it opened to algorithms the art of creative writing, with a lot of media sensation.

It’s been awhile since international newspapers such as the Washington Post integrated AI in their editorial teams, leaving to the machines the task of resuming agencies’ takes. Freeing journalists from repetitive tasks allows them to invest more time and budget on in-depth analysis, reportages, research and on such quality content where human intelligence is needed.

What about marketing? More or less, the logic is the same: you can automate the production of routine content and focus on creative and strategic operations. Even editing can be quicker and easier when you use AI tools that check the grammar of your content.

#1 Acrolinx. Structured enterprises don’t have any problem producing content, but they have one in maintaining the internal coherence between diverse documents in terms of language, tone of voice, and style. Acrolinx intelligence is focused on this issue; it analyzes your texts and then suggests orthographic, grammar, and stylistic tips in order that the overall voice of the writer is consistent with the brand it represents.

#2 Grammarly. When you need a quick proofreading on your content, you can rely on one of the most popular AIs on the market, Grammarly. The tool has a simple text editor that you can download on your computer and it can also be integrated with other tools such as browsers, email clients, and Microsoft Office suite.

SEO

If you are a web writer and you find yourself struggling with SEO, you’ll be relieved to know that you can delegate SEO technicalities to a colleague who lives in the cloud. It will optimize your texts and make them understandable for machines and even more readable and enjoyable for your human readers.

#3 WordLift. This artificial intelligence for SEO specifically designed for WordPress helps content marketers to write without worrying about how search engines work. Basically, WordLift translates your articles in metadata that machines can understand and that can be used by chatbots, crawlers, and digital assistants. Moreover, this tool enriches the user experience of articles and web pages with content recommendations, automatic internal linking, data visualizations, and images.

Data Analysis

Imagine you can integrate real-time data analysis with the optimization of your marketing campaigns. It’s a dream come true.

#4 Crystal. Specialized in performance analysis for digital content, Crystal.io monitors stats from different channels and media – including your website and your social channels. It makes easy to publish new content and automates campaign management in order to get the most out of them. Moreover, Crystal.io is a window on the most important trends you should keep an eye on and allows you to stay on track.

#5 Quill Engage. Writing reports can be a time-consuming repetitive task. But isn’t data analysis the thing that machines can do best? Indeed. Quill Engage allows you to turn data into contextual interpretations and suggests to marketers the next actions towards their goals.

Key takeaways and conclusions

Artificial intelligence is not here to replace human intelligence; it can already work side by side with human colleagues. While AI is exceptionally good and efficient in data analysis and can offer suggestions and potential solutions, it is still up to us to think out creative solutions and make decisions about strategic choices.

“We are living in an era that Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai defined AI-First, where artificial intelligence is the main interface to access content and services.” Andrea Volpini, CEO of WordLift – the AI for SEO, said. “Companies, publishers and bloggers need to use AI to organize and promote their content.”

Selecting content from a limitless quantity of data and information you can find online, summing-up data, and interpreting them on the basis of the context, editing and optimizing texts won’t be exhausting tasks anymore, but just the basis for an efficient and effective content marketing.

Automating repetitive tasks means saving time – and you know how saved time can be useful to focus on the most strategic and creative tasks.

Digital marketer focused on content marketing, Silvia lives and works in Rome since 2003. After a ten-year experience covering different roles in digital communication, in 2017 she joined WordLift, where she manages content marketing with a strategic approach and a lot of emojis. 🤓

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Doc Pop’s News Drop: Mass Deletion of Unused WordPress Plugins

Doc Pop’s News Drop: Mass Deletion of Unused WordPress Plugins

Doc’s WordPress News Drop is a weekly report on the most pressing WordPress news. When the news drops, I will pick it up and deliver it right to you.

There are over 9,000 plugins that have been approved, but the developers never uploaded the code. It’s believed that many of these developers submitted their plugins just for free security review or just to squat on a plugin name. So the WordPress Plugin Review Team have announced they will start deleting these “unused” plugins from the repository.

This week we’ll talk about a few of those unused plugins plus we’ll have some news from our friends at WordCamp Europe. 

Love WordPress News, but hate reading? My name is Doc and this is Doc Pop’s News Drop.

As of today, there are 55,210 plugins in the WordPress repository. These plugins are what make the WordPress ecosystem so powerful and modular, but did you know there are over 9,000 plugins that have been approved by the plugin review team, but the developers never uploaded the code?

That’s why the WordPress Plugin Review Team have announced that they will soon begin deleting unused plugins from the repository. Just to be clear, these aren’t plugins that haven’t been updated or installed lately… the term is specifically referring to plugins that have been approved but the developer never uploaded the code.

The idea is to stop people from squatting on domains and make sure if a developer registers a plugin, they are uploading that plugin to the repository. If a plugin hasn’t had code added after 6 months, it’s going to be deleted. And if you keep submitting multiple unused plugins, the team will start marking all of your submissions as pending.

According to Mika Epstein, the head of the review team,

“Every time you submit a plugin, a human being downloads and reviews your code. If you’re submitting with out a plan to actually use the hosting, you are abusing the finite resources, and taking away from everyone else who is using the directory. Worse, we’ve found out some people like to get a review as a ‘free’ security review instead of hiring people for that work,”

That’s not cool y’all.

Emily Schiola has a great post about this on TorqueMag.io, which you should check out for more information.

Now let’s check in with Jenny Bueamont, the lead organizer of WordCamp Europe to hear what’s new behind the scenes.

Thanks Jenny!

That’s it for this week’s News Drop, head over to our website TorqueMag.io for more WordPress news, interviews, and cartoons, and stay tuned next week for another WordPress News Drop.

Doctor Popular is an artist and musician living in San Francisco. As a full disclaimer, he is neither a doctor nor popular.

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Making your WordPress Database HEART Healthy

Making your WordPress Database HEART Healthy

If your WordPress site was analogous to the human body, the core code would be the brain and your plugins and theme would be the rest of the central nervous system that makes the site do what you tell it to do.  However, in the Information Age, where data is currency and the lifeblood of your site and business, the WordPress database would be the heart of your site. The queries you execute on your database would be the arteries and veins that feed that lifeblood to your site and receive data from your audience.

This is why it is so important to maintain the database as part of your regular site maintenance workflow.  Today I will be sharing with you a 5 step plan (or workflow) to use in maintaining your site and keeping it HEART healthy.  So let’s get right to the HEART of the matter.

1. Have a backup

The first rule of database maintenance is NOT “We don’t talk about database maintenance.”  In fact, it is critical that you maintain your database with the same care that you should maintain your own heart. The first rule of database maintenance is very simple – ALWAYS make a backup before you do any work on a production site. In fact, Rule 1a can best be described as “Inasmuch as it is possible, NEVER work on the database in a production or live environment.”

Managed WordPress hosts provide a staging environment specifically designed for maintenance and development. I recommend that you always make a backup copy of your site’s database before doing any work on it. Additionally, work in an isolated environment from your production/live site environment so that, in the event that something goes wrong, your live site is not impacted. If your hosting provider does not provide staging environments, you can always copy your site into a separate installation of WordPress on your server or into a localized MAMP (Mac) or WAMP (Windows) virtual machine host.

2. Eliminate the clutter

In the same way that you would reduce your cholesterol and blood sugar to healthy levels in order to allow your blood to flow freely, you want to eliminate data in your website that is stale, obsolete, or unnecessary.  The most common content that slows down website performance is orphaned metadata found in the postmeta, commentmeta, and usermeta tables. This metadata is often left behind when improperly removing old posts, comments, and users from the site’s database.  Leftover information becomes more data for queries run on these tables to parse through, slowing down the effort to return the needle in the haystack.

There are also a variety of popular plugins that will help with this cleanup process like WP Sweep and Advanced Database Cleaner.  Other items that you also want to watch out for include:

  • Outdated revisions
  • Trash/Spam comments
  • Trash Posts
  • Orphaned term relationships
  • Expired transients (The current WordPress core version now automatically deletes these.)

Another consideration with e-commerce sites is to archive obsolete products and outdated order histories, provided your business model will allow for this as part of your workflow.  WooCommerce does have tools available for archiving older products and orders based on customizable parameters.

3. Analyze the configuration

When you are feeling chest pains, one of the first things a cardiologist will do is take pictures or perform an ECG/EKG to get an idea of how and why your heart is causing you pain. In the same way, you want to analyze how your database is configured in order to make sure that data is flowing correctly and efficiently to protect the integrity of your database.

One thing you want to make sure of is to check for the default WordPress indexes and review any custom indexes you have created. Indexes are designed to work like filters for your data to speed up the WHERE and ORDER BY clauses of your MySQL queries. However, a word of caution is warranted here. Complex indexes that are made on frequently updated fields (using INSERT and UPDATE queries) can make those queries run slower.  Executing a “mysqlcheck” command with the “–check” flag will identify any corrupted tables or indexing errors.

Additionally, one thing to keep in mind is that there are two different types of storage engines in MySQL – MyISAM and InnoDB. The important things to know about these are how they use memory and how they exercise locking during queries. From a high-level point of view, MyISAM utilizes physical disk space for memory when processing read/write query functions.  InnoDB, on the other hand, utilizes a dedicated slice of RAM memory for processing your query functions, making InnoDB much more efficient. Additionally, MyISAM locks the entire table when querying, whereas InnoDB only locks the current row being scanned during a query.  InnoDB also has an automatic repair feature. As MyISAM is 20-year-old technology and will soon be no longer supported in newer MySQL versions, it is recommended to uniformly use InnoDB for all tables in your database.

4. Reclaim empty space

In the same way blood clots can slow your blood flow, thus making your heart have to work harder, empty space in your database can lead to database fragmentation requiring optimization to reclaim that dead space. Simply put, deleting content from your database does not automatically reclaim that disk space on the server where the database is stored. In fact, the content that was there is actually replaced with a whitespace of sorts. As a result, you will often notice after deleting large amounts of data from a website that the directory size of your server-configured mysql directories differs from the actual amount of data within the database (seen through MySQL CLI, phpMyAdmin, or third-party database connection tools).

In order to reclaim this space, there are two methods you can use. From the server command line, you can execute a “mysqlcheck” command with the “–auto-repair” flag.  Otherwise, you can use phpMyAdmin to execute an Optimize Tables function. However, I must advise a word of warning regarding this function. As this is a destructive process of literally rebuilding your database tables, if you are performing this action in a live environment you will want to do this during an off-peak time frame.  For example, if you have a large wp_options table, when optimizing this table, your site will go offline until the table rebuild is complete. This is one of the many reasons why I strongly advise against doing this kind of maintenance in a production environment.

5. Transfer to production

Now comes the time for surgical precision. Just as with a heart transplant you are replacing a worn out heart with a new, healthier organ, this last step is all about bringing your hard work from the four previous steps to fruition. If your workflow allowed you to safely perform the previous tasks in production, then you can skip this step.

If your hosting provider has the tools available, you can use a one step deployment method to copy your newly repaired site/ database to the live/production environment.  However, there is a caveat. With e-commerce sites, you will need to ensure your deploy does not overwrite any new orders placed during the maintenance timeframe.  With WooCommerce sites, order data is stored in four tables:

      • wp_posts
      • wp_postmeta
      • wp_woocommerce_order_items
      • wp_woocommerce_order_itemmeta

You could ignore these tables in your deploy by selectively choosing which tables to migrate. Alternatively, WooCommerce provides tools to help you safely backup the new orders and then merge them into your repaired site.  You could also utilize the native WordPress Exporter to export the live site and then reimport it to merge the orders after the deploy of the repaired database.

In Conclusion

Just as your doctor will check your heart when you go in for your regular checkups, it is imperative that you perform regular maintenance on your website database.  Regular for your workflow is subjective and really depends on the flow of data in and out of your site. Some sites may require maintenance once a month, some twice a year, others once a week.  It all depends on your individual situation. Trim the fat and reduce the clutter. If necessary to perform “surgery,” hire a specialist like a qualified database administrator. You don’t want your family practitioner performing open heart surgery; that’s the job of a cardiac surgeon. Make it a regular exercise to maintain your database and fine tune your configurations to help your site continue to perform at top shape:

  • Have a backup
  • Eliminate the clutter
  • Analyze the configuration
  • Reclaim empty space
  • Transfer to production

Take H.E.A.R.T.

David Noland serves as a senior technical support administrator and in-house WordPress Database Subject Matter Expert for WP Engine, LLC in Austin, TX.  He fancies himself a world history junkie and he has nearly halfway completed his bucket list item of stepping foot on all 7 continents, having traveled from North America to Asia and Europe.  He is married to Sara, his wife of 20 years, and has 4 adult children and 7 grandchildren.

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