Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Shape Of Things To Come On The Internet

Internet Sites Could Be Given 'Cinema-Style Age Ratings', Culture Secretary Says -- The Telegraph

Internet sites could be given cinema-style age ratings as part of a Government crackdown on offensive and harmful online activity to be launched in the New Year, the Culture Secretary says.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

The Cabinet minister describes the internet as “quite a dangerous place” and says he wants internet-service providers (ISPs) to offer parents “child-safe” web services.

Read more ....

Winter Cold Puts A Chill On Green Energy

In Minnesota, Alan Stankevitz did a new winter chore for homeowners: clearing the solar panels. Alan Stankevitz

From The New York Times:

Old Man Winter, it turns out, is no friend of renewable energy.

This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine.

So in regions where homeowners have long rolled their eyes at shoveling driveways, add another cold-weather chore: cleaning off the solar panels. “At least I can get to them with a long pole and a squeegee,” said Alan Stankevitz, a homeowner in southeast Minnesota.

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Space Station Cargo Delivery Still Expensive

From Future Pundit:

Orbital Sciences Corp has won a $1.9 billion contract to carry 20 metric tons of cargo to the International Space Station in 8 flights. Think about those numbers. That's $95 million per metric ton to move cargo from ground level to low orbit. Those deliveries start in 2011 and run through 2015. A metric ton is 1000 kilograms or 2204.6 lbs. So the cost of putting stuff into low Earth orbit in 2015 is still going to be around $43k per lb or $95k per kg. At these prices large scale human colonization of space still seems a very distant prospect.

Those costs will come down a lot if a beanstalk into space built using nanotubes becomes possible. A bigger cost reduction for a Mars mission will come from nanotech advances. A bunch of nanodevices that can transform Mars landscape and produce needed supplies for a colony would reduce the size of the payload needed for setting up an initial colony.

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Google's Grand Ambitions

From CBS:

(CNET) Google stretched its wings in 2008, furthering an expansion beyond its core search and search-advertising business. But the economy and the government raised the possibility that those wings could be clipped.

The company began the year overcoming opposition to its $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, a move that gave Google more clout in the market for graphical "display" ads. But that antitrust fight was a harbinger of things to come.

In April, Google showed its ambitions to house not just its own online applications such as Google Docs, but also others' with a project called Google App Engine. Basic applications are free, but more taxing ones cost money, a pay-as-you-go model that's popular with the cloud-computing concept.

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Tiny Clues To Collision In Space

From BBC:

Evidence that a massive meteorite shower had an impact on Earth on a global scale 470 million years ago have been found on a Highlands beach.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen uncovered tiny remnants of meteorites, smaller than a grain of sand, within rocks in Sutherland.

The find is linked to others made in China, the US and Australia.

The scientists think the meteorites - a result of a collision in space - triggered earthquakes and tsunami.

The university said the find near Durness confirmed previous scientific speculation that the meteorite shower - which followed a "catastrophic event" in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - was so vast in size that it affected locations across the globe.

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The World's Most High-Tech Nation

From ABC News:

If there ever is an "Easy Tech Adaptation for Dummies" book, I’d be the first one to grab it. Living in the most wired country in the world is quite a struggle for people with technology phobia like me. I’m not talking new gadgets or software that are released every few months or years. I’m talking almost every day learning how to use new functions on my mobile phone or keeping up to date with new ways to communicate.

Today, I joined the tech-savvy generation’s new thing: T-mobile money, only to find myself all frustrated because the whole concept is too good to be true and way too complex. It is a prepaid smart card that is embedded into your mobile’s SIM card, which works as a wallet, navigator or personalized weather forecaster. It even tells you how crowded -- not with car traffic but with human traffic -- certain places are so that you can avoid holiday shopping at those spots!

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Honey Bees On Cocaine Dance More, Changing Ideas About The Insect Brain

In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate. (Credit: iStockphoto/Florin Tirlea)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate.

Normally, foraging honey bees alert their comrades to potential food sources only when they've found high quality nectar or pollen, and only when the hive is in need. They do this by performing a dance, called a "round" or "waggle" dance, on a specialized "dance floor" in the hive. The dance gives specific instructions that help the other bees find the food.

Foraging honey bees on cocaine are more likely to dance, regardless of the quality of the food they've found or the status of the hive, the authors of the study report.

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Discovery Indicates Mars Was Habitable

From Live Science:

Evidence of a key mineral on Mars has been found at several locations on the planet's surface, suggesting that any microbial life that might have been there back when the planet was wetter could have lived comfortably.

The findings offer up intriguing new sites for future missions to probe, researchers said.

Observations NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which just completed its primary mission and started a second two-year shift, found evidence of carbonates, which don't survive in conditions hostile to life, indicating that not all of the planet's ancient watery environments were as harsh as previously thought.

The findings are detailed in a study in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Science and will be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Quantum Computer Could Solve Problems In A Few Months That Would Take Conventional Computers Millions Of Years

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 13, 2001) — How to build a super fast computer that uses the bizarre properties of quantum physics is the aim of a project by computer scientists Fred Chong of the University of California, Davis, Isaac Chuang at MIT and John Kubiatowicz at UC Berkeley. The five-year project is supported by a grant of $3 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The grant will establish a Quantum Architecture Research Center between MIT, UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

A quantum computer could solve problems in a few months that would take conventional computers millions of years, Chong said.

Quantum physics describes the special rules that apply to atoms and subatomic particles. One principle is that when you observe a particle, you change it. If a particle can be in one of two states, for example "up" or "down," it only settles on one state when you look at it. Before you look at it, it can be in both states at the same time.

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The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs Of 2008

From ABC News:

Progress This Year Wasn't Just in Hardware but in Understanding the Urgency of Key Issues.

The year 2008 closes with two enormous scientific and technological challenges unresolved: How to create renewable and benign sources of energy and how to lessen the damage we're doing to the global climate system.

Those twin issues are the "greatest challenge facing modern science," according to Nobel laureate Steven Chu, the gifted physicist who has been nominated to head the Department of Energy. He will be at the center of the effort to deal with these vexing problems, and his nomination signals a new day in that effort.

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Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible

From E! Science News:

Researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that the human brain—once thought to be a seriously flawed decision maker—is actually hard-wired to allow us to make the best decisions possible with the information we are given. The findings are published in today's issue of the journal Neuron. Neuroscientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky received a 2002 Nobel Prize for their 1979 research that argued humans rarely make rational decisions. Since then, this has become conventional wisdom among cognition researchers

Contrary to Kahnneman and Tversky's research, Alex Pouget, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has shown that people do indeed make optimal decisions—but only when their unconscious brain makes the choice.

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Caffeine Works Better For Men

From Live Science:

Caffeine affects men more strongly than women, new research reportedly shows.

However, the same study found that while decaf coffee perks up both of the sexes, it affects women more.

The results come from a University of Barcelona study of caffeine's effects on 668 university students, with an average age of 22. Measurements were taken before and after the caffeine was ingested. Tests were carried out at between 11 am to 1 pm, as well as between 4pm to 6pm, to check for differences caused by the time of day.

"Although both the men and women saw an improvement in their activity levels with the coffee, which increased in later measurements, we observed a greater impact among the males," researcher Ana Adan told Spain’s Scientific Information and News Service (SINC).

"Numerous studies have demonstrated the stimulant effects of caffeine, but none of these have looked at their effects in terms of the consumer's gender," she added.

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Top 10 Places Already Affected by Climate Change

CLIMATE CHANGE: The effects of climate change are beginning to appear around the globe, including the conflict in Darfur. © Lynsey Addario/Corbis

From Scientific American:

Cities deep underwater, frozen continents, the collapse of global agriculture: so far, much of the discussion about climate change has focused on these distant, catastrophic effects of a superheated world. What's less talked about is how global warming is making itself felt already. Even the modest temperature rise we've already experienced has set in motion fundamental shifts—and the further warming we can expect in the next few decades has the potential to set off dramatic changes.

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New Type Of Laser Discovered

Quantum cascade lasers are small and efficient sources of mid-infrared laser beams, which are leading to new devices for medical diagnostics and environmental sensing. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — A Princeton-led team of researchers has discovered an entirely new mechanism for making common electronic materials emit laser beams. The finding could lead to lasers that operate more efficiently and at higher temperatures than existing devices, and find applications in environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics.

"This discovery provides a new insight into the physics of lasers," said Claire Gmachl, who led the study. Gmachl, an electrical engineer, is the director of the Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE) center. The phenomenon was discovered in a type of device called quantum cascade laser, in which an electric current flowing through a specially designed material produces a laser beam. Gmachl's group discovered that a quantum cascade laser they had built generated a second beam with very unusual properties, including the need for less electrical power than the conventional beam. "If we can turn off the conventional beam, we will end up with a better laser, which makes more efficient use of electrical power," said Gmachl.

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Slow Starvation of Brain Triggers Alzheimer's

A 3-D image of brain atrophy differences in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) patients and mild Alzheimer's disease patients. Alzheimer's patients show far more damage overall, especially in cortical areas of the brain. Credit: Dr. Liana G. Apostolova, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

From Live Science:

A slow starvation of the brain over time is one of the major triggers of the biochemistry that causes some forms of Alzheimer's, according to a new study that is helping to crack the mystery of the disease's origins.

An estimated 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The disease usually begins after age 60, and risk rises with age. The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer's and other dementias is about $148 billion a year.

Robert Vassar of Northwestern University, the study's lead author, found that when the brain doesn't get enough of the simple sugar called glucose — as might occur when cardiovascular disease restricts blood flow in arteries to the brain — a process is launched that ultimately produces the sticky clumps of protein that appear to be a cause of Alzheimer's.

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Scientists Seek Ways To Ward Off Killer Asteroids

Artist's rendition released by NASA shows an asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Between 500 and 1,000 massive asteroids cross the Earth's path regularly and any one of them could cause a global catastrophe, space experts warned Tuesday, urging quick preventive measures. (AFP/NASA-HO/File)

From Yahoo News/McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — A blue-ribbon panel of scientists is trying to determine the best way to detect and ward off any wandering space rocks that might be on a collision course with Earth.

``We're looking for the killer asteroid,'' James Heasley , of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy , last week told the committee that the National Academy of Sciences created at Congress' request.

Congress asked the academy to conduct the study after astronomers were unable to eliminate an extremely slight chance that an asteroid called Apophis will slam into Earth with devastating effect in 2036.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Aubrey de Grey Google Tech Talk On Defeat Of Aging

From Future Pundit:

A friend points out that Aubrey de Grey's October 8, 2007 Google Tech Talk on the defeat of aging has only 402 views. That's a waste of a valuable talk on a very important topic. So here's a post to begin to remedy this waste:

Aubrey and Dave Gobel co-founded the Methuselah Foundation accelerate the defeat of the aging process. Toward this goal Aubrey proposes Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) to reverse the aging process and repair our bodies to save us from the ravages of aging.

If you are new to SENS and or just haven't heard a recent talk by Aubrey on this topic then watch his lecture.

Read more ....

Bionic 'Sex Chip' That Stimulates Pleasure Centre In Brain Developed By Scientists

The chip could stimulate the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with
the pleasure felt when eating and having sex

From The Daily Mail:

Scientists are developing an electronic 'sex chip' that works by stimulating the pleasure centres in the brain.

The technology, which creates tiny shocks deep in the brain, has already been used in America to treat Parkinson's disease.

Now researchers are focusing on the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with feelings of pleasure caused by eating and sex.

A research survey conducted by Morten Kringelbach, a fellow at Oxford University, found the orbitofrontal cortex could be a 'new stimulation target' to help people with anhedonia - an inability to experience pleasure from such activities.

Read more ....

Bees Acts As Bodyguards For Flowers By Protecting Them From Munching Insects

Photo: A bee hovers above a flower - their buzz scares off other insects such as caterpillars

From The Daily Mail:

Flowers use bright colours and strong scents to attract honeybees to their pollen. But the stripy insects also defend them from other insects, according to a new study in Current Biology.

Their buzzing noise warns off others such as caterpillars who would otherwise munch on the blooms undisturbed.

The researchers, led by Jürgen Tautz from Biozentrum Universität Würzburg, Germany, found many caterpillars possess fine sensory hairs on the front portions of their bodies that enable them to detect air vibrations, such as the sound of an approaching predatory wasp or honeybee.

'These sensory hairs are not fine-tuned,' Mr Tautz said.

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TOP TEN SPACE PHOTOS: Most Viewed Of 2008

From National Geographic:

10. Supernova Creates "Ribbon" in Space

Like a ribbon trailing from a parade float, a streamer of hydrogen gas seems to waft across the stars in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Released in July, this festive shot of a supernova remnant was National Geographic News's tenth most viewed space photo of 2008.

Bright stripes within the ribbon—which is actually the shock wave from the stellar explosion—appear where the wave is moving edge-on to Hubble's line of sight.

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Science And The Holidays

From Scientific American:

From greening your Christmas tree to what oil producers could learn from the story of Hanukkah, your guide to the science of the holiday season

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Peripheral Artery Disease: Pain When Walking Can Be Reduced With Moderate Exercise, Study Suggests

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — You probably know that poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to dangerous deposits of fatty plaques in arteries. But it is not just the heart that is affected – blood flow can be blocked to the legs too, leading to pain when walking, immobility and even in extreme cases, amputation.

Approximately 20% of us will suffer from this peripheral artery disease (PAD) once we are 65 or over, and with risk factors including smoking, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure it is on the rise. Surgical intervention can sometimes help, but the prognosis is not good.

Encouragingly, new research by Ronald Terjung et al. published in The Journal of Physiology shows that regular, moderate exercise can go a long way to relieving the symptoms of PAD, and by some unexpected mechanisms.

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Chocolate, Wine And Tea Improve Brain Performance

Chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance. (Credit: iStockphoto/Silvia Jansen)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — All that chocolate might actually help finish the bumper Christmas crossword over the seasonal period. According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance.

The team from Oxford’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway examined the relation between cognitive performance and the intake of three common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) in 2,031 older people (aged between 70 and 74).

Participants filled in information about their habitual food intake and underwent a battery of cognitive tests.Those who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. The team reported their findings in the Journal of Nutrition.

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Spirituality Spot Found in Brain

From Live Science:

What makes us feel spiritual? It could be the quieting of a small area in our brains, a new study suggests.

The area in question — the right parietal lobe — is responsible for defining "Me," said researcher Brick Johnstone of Missouri University. It generates self-criticism, he said, and guides us through physical and social terrains by constantly updating our self-knowledge: my hand, my cocktail, my witty conversation skills, my new love interest ...

People with less active Me-Definers are more likely to lead spiritual lives, reports the study in the current issue of the journal Zygon.

Most previous research on neuro-spirituality has been based on brain scans of actively practicing adherents (i.e. meditating monks, praying nuns) and has resulted in broad and inconclusive findings. (Is the brain area lighting up in response to verse or spiritual experience?)

Read more ....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Apollo 8: A Picture Of The Earth From The Moon 40 Years Ago

Apollo 8 "Earth Rise" (Click The Above Image To Enlarge)

Top 10 Scientific Discoveries For 2008

From Time Magazine:

1. Large Hadron Collider

Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP / Getty

Good news! The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — the massive particle accelerator straddling the Swiss-French border — didn't destroy the world! The bad news: The contraption didn't really work either. In September, the 17-mile collider was switched on for the first time, putting to rest the febrile webchatter that the machine would create an artificial black hole capable of swallowing the planet or at least a sizeable piece of Europe — a bad day no matter what. No lucid observer ever thought that would really happen, but what they did expect was that the LHC would operate as advertised, recreating conditions not seen since instants after the Big Bang and giving physicists a peek into those long-vanished moments. Things looked good at first, until a helium leak caused the collider to shut down after less than two weeks. Repairs are underway and the particles should begin spinning again sometime in June.

For the other 9, read more ....

The Politicization Of Global Warming

Photo: Dr. William Happer (Source: Princeton University)

Princeton Physicist Calls Global Warming Science "Mistaken" -- Daily Tech

Scientist fired by Al Gore was told, "science will not intrude on public policy".

Noted energy expert and Princeton physicist Dr. Will Happer has sharply criticized global warming alarmism. Happer, author of over 200 scientific papers and a past director of energy research at the Department of Energy, called fears over global warming "mistaken".

"I have spent a long research career studying physics that is closely related to the greenhouse effect", said Happer. "Fears about man-made global warming are unwarranted and are not based on good science."

Dr. Happer views climate change as a predominately natural process. "The earth's climate is changing now, as it always has. There is no evidence that the changes differ in any qualitative way from those of the past."

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Remembering Apollo 8, Man's First Trip To The Moon

Apollo 8 astronauts (l. to r.) William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman train in the command module one month before their mission. Francis Miller / Time Life Pictures / Getty

From Time Magazine:

Commander Frank Borman was very clear about the fact that no one aboard his spacecraft would be getting drunk on the way back from the moon. NASA had packed a couple of miniatures of brandy aboard Apollo 8 for the occasion — it wasn't enough for three grown men to get anything close to tipsy, but it was a couple of minis more than any crew had ever taken into space before, and when you're piloting a ship that is screaming to Earth at 25,000 miles per hour and you have to hit a narrow atmospheric corridor just 2.5 degrees wide in order to survive the fireball of reentry, a cautious commander would also consider it a couple of minis too many. So Borman ordered his crewmates, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, to keep the brandy stowed.

Read more ....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scientists Doubt Inventor's Global Cooling Idea — But What If It Works?

Ron Ace has filed for a patent on a way to prevent global warming.
George Bridges / MCT

From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON — Ron Ace says that his breakthrough moments have come at unexpected times — while he lay in bed, eased his aging Cadillac across the Chesapeake Bay bridge or steered a tractor around his rustic, five-acre property.

In the seclusion of his Maryland home, Ace has spent three years glued to the Internet, studying the Earth's climate cycles and careening from one epiphany to another — a 69-year-old loner with the moxie to try to solve one of the greatest threats to mankind.

Now, backed by a computer model, the little-known inventor is making public a U.S. patent petition for what he calls the most "practical, nontoxic, affordable, rapidly achievable" and beneficial way to curb global warming and a resulting catastrophic ocean rise.

Read more ....

SpaceShipTwo’s Carrier Makes First Flight

Virgin Galactic's twin-fuselage White Knight Two carrier airplane takes to the air for the first time on Sunday after weeks of taxi tests. The plane will serve as the mothership for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane. Bill Deaver / Mojave Desert News


Twin-fuselage White Knight Two goes through test at Mojave airport

A carrier aircraft designed to be the first stage of a commercial spaceline system made its maiden test flight Sunday at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Designed by Scaled Composites, the huge and unique White Knight Two mothership rolled down the runway and muscled itself into the air using four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines. The White Knight Two flew for about an hour, departing the runway at roughly 8:17 a.m. PT, safely touching down at the Mojave airport at approximately 9:17 a.m. PT.

"It's a big day," said Stuart Witt, general manager of Mojave Air and Space Port. "I think it's a real reflective time. When everybody's looking for a bailout, there are still people that are doing something for a much larger reason," he told

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Facts Melted By 'Global Warming'

Butterflies and polar ice are enlisted in warmist cause Photo: Getty

From The Telegraph:

Something very odd had happened to the daily updated graph on the official Nansen website last weekend, writes Christopher Booker.

Last weekend, that heroically diligent US meteorologist Anthony Watts noticed that something very odd had happened to the daily updated graph on the official Nansen website that shows how much sea-ice there is in the Arctic. Without explanation, as he reported on his Watts Up With That website, half a million square kilometres of ice simply vanished overnight.

This might have brought cheer to all those, such as Al Gore and the BBC, who have been obsessively telling us that the Arctic ice will soon disappear altogether. They were dismayed enough last winter when, after reaching its lowest point in 30 years, the ice bounded back to near "normal". This winter the freeze has been even faster and greater, making the extent of the ice, according to the other main Arctic website, Crysophere Today, 500,000 sq km greater than this time last year. How better to maintain the chosen narrative than to lose that half-million square kilometres simply by "adjusting" the graph downwards?

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