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March 3, 2006

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Welcome to the March 3, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Protectionism No Way to Counter Offshoring, Bush Says
IDG News Service (03/03/06) Ribeiro, John

President Bush is touting the benefits of globalization during his visit to India. Although some trade groups in the United States have been critical of the trend of shipping technology-related jobs overseas, Bush said taking a protectionist stance to outsourcing would not be the correct response. "We don't fear competition," Bush told the gathering in Hyderabad. And during a news conference in Delhi, Bush said he supports raising the H-1B visa limit so that more engineers, scientists, and physicists from India could come to the United States. The technology industry says the current limit of 65,000 H-1B visas a year is not enough. In an address to students at a business school in Hyderabad, Bush said American entrepreneurs and small businesses have access to a market that has approximately 300 million stable, middle-class families. At the same time, U.S. technology companies have flocked to India, and the country now serves as the site of many of their software development, support, and business process outsourcing operations. ACM has issued a comprehensive report entitled "Globalization and Offshoring of Software--A Report of the ACM Job Migration Task Force." To view this report in its entirety, visit http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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House Republicans Push 'Innovation' Agenda
IDG News Service (03/01/06) Gross, Grant

The technology industry is lauding Republican leaders in the House for pledging to support initiatives that will allow the nation to remain at the forefront of innovation in the years to come. During a press conference this week, leaders such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) touted an "innovation" agenda, prompting praise from the Information Technology Industry Council. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who lead the House Republican High Tech Working Group, introduced the Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which would encourage more students to focus on math and science by offering educational incentives, and includes similar inducements for IT investment by the health care industry. "This group has not just talked the talk, it has walked the walk when it comes to getting the job done for the high tech community and the American people," said Hastert. Other party leaders said more funding is needed for the National Science Foundation and other government research agencies. Hewlett-Packard welcomed the provision in the legislation that would provide a research and development tax credit. However, the innovation plan does not address some important areas, such as the "digital divide" in broadband, according to House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
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Is DC the Power to Solve Heat Problems?
CNet (03/02/06) Shankland, Stephen

In the search for new solutions to increasing power consumption and heat emission in data centers, some companies are investigating the possibility of converting alternating current to direct. Rackable Systems is leading the DC charge, but server providers such as IBM and Sun are skeptical of the solution, though they admit that electrical efficiency is a major problem. DC proponents claim that it would help the efficiency of the power supply, improving waste and component failure. "It keeps the units considerably cooler within the chassis themselves and saves us somewhere between 10 and 20 percent over the AC-powered alternatives," said the University of Florida's Charles Taylor, who recently installed a Rackable server cluster. Rackable claims that its DC method can save electric costs by 30 percent a month, and that reliability improves by up to 27 percent. Sun counters that far from being more efficient, DC power is actually wasteful. In DC, electrons only travel one way, whereas they move back and forth in AC, which, due to its ability to travel over lightweight wires, makes AC better suited for long distances. Once AC is at a building, however, DC is a more viable possibility. The problem of loose joints among copper bus bars plagues the distribution of DC throughout a data center, though a more recent approach applies DC power through a bus bar installed within a single rack. Processors that produce increasing amounts of heat are packed more closely together in today's data centers, and the continued demand for increased computational ability is only exacerbating the energy issue. DC power helps take the heat from power supplies and their cooling fans away from the server cooling intakes. Hewlett-Packard has incorporated DC into its blade servers, though IBM's Tim Dougherty, director of blade strategy, believes that DC simply moves the problem of power conversions from one area of the computer room to another.
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Online Amateurs Crack Nazi Codes
BBC News (03/02/06) Blenford, Adam

Software powered by grid computing has cracked one of the German ciphers from World War II that stumped both Allied code breakers during the war and cryptography enthusiasts since the publication of the ciphers in 1995. Encoded in 1942 by an updated German Enigma machine, encrypted German ciphers led to major Allied losses in the North Atlantic. Stefan Krah, a German violinist with a yen for open-source software and cryptography, began the renewed quest to crack the German codes out of "basic human curiosity," despite their relative lack of historical significance. Drawing on the years of work by veteran amateur cryptographers, Krah wrote a code-breaking program that he published on the Internet, drawing the interest of around 45 users who volunteered their machines for the project. The project now runs on 2,500 independent machines. It took just over a month to decode the first of the three ciphers, in which a German submarine reported that it was submerging and relayed the last recorded enemy position. The Enigma machine employed an array of rotors and electrical contents to uniquely encode messages, confounding the celebrated Allied cryptographers at Bletchley Park in the UK. The transmissions were scrambled further as plugboards swapped pairs of letters as the message was being encoded. Krah's software combines algorithms with raw computing power to reproduce the possibilities of the plugboard swaps, while systematically wading through the rotor setting combinations.
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MIT to Bring the Market Into the Lab
Financial Times (03/03/06) P. 9; Knight, Rebecca

Frank Moss, the new director of MIT's Media Lab, intends to draw heavily on his experience in the business sector to enhance the lab's partnership with industry. Unlike most research facilities that raise money through grants and specific corporate-commissioned projects, the Media Lab collects 60 percent of its annual budget from corporate sponsors, but many companies have lately been taking their research funding overseas. In response, Moss has made corporate interaction the lab's top priority, inviting officials from sponsor corporations to meet-and-greet sessions with the lab's faculty and students where they can see presentations of the lab's latest projects. Moss also intends to include sponsors in the development process, which could mean partnering with companies to develop prototypes, or taking a more commercial approach to the lab's development, bringing the research closer to market viability. The lab's relationship with industry reminds Moss of his days selling software, when he would have to convince CIOs and executives that the investment was justified. While he will devote considerable energy to courting industry, Moss says that the lab will not completely subordinate itself to corporate interests, noting that the Media Lab only has value if it stays on the cutting edge. Mindful of the increased competition for funding from facilities such as Stanford's Media X, Moss emphasizes the need for internal cooperation among different groups at MIT to enhance the value of the school as an entity, rather than just the Media Lab. "The real competition is not between me and Media X at Stanford, the real competition is between MIT and Stanford," he says. Moss has no intentions of renewing the Media Lab's overseas initiatives. Education and aging will be primary areas of focus for the lab under Moss' direction, as well as improving the human-computer interface.
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Tech Groups Urge Congress to Keep Net Neutrality
IDG News Service (03/02/06) Gross, Grant

Legislation banning discrimination by broadband providers against rival services transmitted over their networks should be considered by Congress, according to a letter various tech groups sent to the House Energy and Commerce committee on Wednesday. Sixty-four tech companies, trade groups, and consumer proponents issued the letter in response to recent reports that the committee was about to strip a communications bill of so-called net neutrality provisions. The letter's signatories include Amazon.com, EarthLink, eBay, Match.com, Microsoft, Pulver.com, Tivo, Yahoo!, the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, and Public Knowledge. "We...believe that unless Congress acts, the Internet is at risk of losing the openness that has made it an engine for phenomenal social and economic growth," reads the letter. "We are writing to urge that Congress take steps now to preserve this fundamental underpinning of the Internet and to assure the Internet remains a platform open to innovation and progress." According to the letter, consumers rather than network providers should determine what Web services and sites they use. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and other major broadband providers claim a net neutrality law is unnecessary, given a dearth of proof that a problem exists, and suggest that a net neutrality provision would be one of the first major Internet regulations. The communications bill the committee is considering includes a simplified plan for video franchising that would permit large telecom firms to enter the video market and rapidly get approval to roll out services designed to compete with cable TV.
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Ideas on Display at Microsoft's TechFest
CNet (03/01/06) Fried, Ina

Researchers at Microsoft's TechFest, an intra-company forum for pitching the latest design projects, are encouraged to present ideas that in some circles could be seen as competing with each other or redundant, such as two methods for optimizing Bluetooth capabilities to secure cell-phone communications. At Microsoft, however, having multiple researchers working on similar projects encourages collaboration and accelerates the time it takes for an idea to become a reality. Microsoft's Bill Buxton also notes that the spirit of innovation at TechFest is uplifting, as workers throughout the company can see that there is more to their work than simply fixing bugs on the latest version of Windows. As competition from Apple and Google intensifies, Microsoft is relying more heavily on its growing research unit, which has identified search and digital media technologies as areas of particular interest. When Microsoft jumped into the search game, it was years behind, and the efforts of its research unit ensured that MSN could at least become competitive, and it has since gone on to explore desktop search and other new search applications. Microsoft's Henrique Malvar, director of its largest research lab, notes that a good innovator, like a baseball hitter, will fail more times than he succeeds. If his average is too high, it suggests to Malvar that he is not pushing the limits enough. Some research projects demonstrated at TechFest included Pinpoint, a program that sends email alerts to the user when a friend is nearby, and an inkable digital calendar designed to modernize the handwritten home calendar.
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Software to Bring Order to Information Chaos
IST Results (03/01/06)

The IST-funded PARMENIDES program, a comprehensive system for rapidly gathering, analyzing, and creating new information out of chaotic data that only humans had been able to analyze before, has made significant advances the murky field of applying computer analysis to unstructured, real-world data. The system was tested in three applications in the field: querying information from advertisements and business wire services to identify demand for new drugs in the biotech industry; compiling terrorist dossiers; and assessing the relationship between food, weight, and health. "Our greatest contribution was to create a framework for integrating structured and unstructured information," said project coordinator Anthony Theodoulidis. Most of the world's information is presented as unstructured text, such as newspapers and letters, that is not in any database and requires human intervention to analyze. Once the project is refined, it will be able to analyze text or other unstructured information, and include it in a database, essentially teaching computers how to read. The best results from the testing phase came from the Greek Ministry of Defense, which used the system to identify patterns and make connections about terrorist activity that would elude normal human analysis. The system also monitors trends and changes over time, and helps to uncover new information out of old data. Ontologies are the key to the system, describing the terminologies with significance for a given domain. Three ontologies analyzed databases, unstructured texts, and the two together as data sets. The PARMENIDES project also developed tools to automate the creation of ontologies, potentially enabling ontologies to exchange information from different datasets, and even improving the average user's Web search experience.
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Smart Homes Control Heat, AC
Red Herring (02/25/06)

At the University of California's recent research symposium, architecture graduate student Therese Peffer showcased a project to introduce technology into homes that would allow consumers to monitor how much electricity they are using per hour. The smart home project would use sensors to help homeowners keep a tighter control over their energy consumption. "Right now, there is no feedback except when the utility bills come at the end of the month," said Peffer. The symposium saw many projects that involved collaboration between departments, and many drew funding from both public and private organizations. The partnership between universities and industry has never been more important to advancing research, said Richard Newton, dean of Berkeley's College of Engineering, noting the diminution of major corporate research facilities, such as HP Labs and Bell Labs. In one project at the Berkeley Institute of Design, researchers are converting mobile devices into educational tools for children in rural India who frequently take time away from school to work in the fields. The mobile learning program is developing education games and speech recognition software for handsets. Another Berkeley project is creating a sensor network for elder care that detects when a patient falls or is afflicted with a serious ailment. The researchers are testing the sensors, each roughly the size of a deck of cards, at a retirement home. In their completed stage, the sensors would enable independent living, transmitting alerts to relatives or a hospital through wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, though false alarms are one of the major challenges that the system must overcome.
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Software Promises More Efficient Design Process
Purdue University News (02/28/06) Venere, Emil

A team of mechanical engineers at Purdue University has developed a software system that figures to improve the design efficiency of parts for a host of devices, from cars to computers, by offering rapid design evaluation and optimization. Design and analysis, currently independent processes, are brought together in the software, streamlining the time-consuming process of finite-element analysis by allowing designers and analysts to work concurrently on the same part, rather than waiting until the CAD process is completed to begin analysis. The software, which contains around 35,000 lines of Java code, is detailed in a paper written by mechanical engineering professor Ganesh Subbarayan and doctoral student Xuefeng Zhang, who developed the program. To produce the ideal shape for a structure, the program finds the lowest sustainable weight through a process called topology optimization. Finite modeling breaks complex objects down to their most basic geometric parts, creating algebraic equations that the computer can work through. The researchers' program takes an incremental approach to finite modeling, only restructuring the elements of the part that were changed, rather than recreating the entire geometry. "Now, the same CAD software or similar CAD-friendly software will be able to do the analysis, and in a much more efficient manner because there is no remeshing," said Subbarayan, who has been working on the project since 1998. The program, already in use by researchers at Purdue to develop new materials on a microscopic scale, figures to improve the longevity of circuit boards by optimizing the shape of solder droplets.
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Bioinformatics Pioneer David Haussler to Receive Carnegie Mellon University's Prestigious Dickson Prize in Science
AScribe Newswire (02/27/06)

Carnegie Mellon University will award David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), with its prestigious Dickson Prize in Science on March 9, 2006. The award honors scientists who have contributed greatly to the research community. In addition to producing groundbreaking results in bioinformatics, Haussler, director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at UCSC, has achieved similar success in the field of computational learning theory. Haussler, who won the 2003 Association of Computing Machinery/American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Allen Newell Award, also helped forge cooperative working relationships between computer scientists and molecular biologists. A fellow of AAAI and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Haussler is currently involved in an effort to use the genomes of living mammals to reconstruct by computer the entire genome of the common ancestor of all placental mammals. Haussler, who will receive $50,000, will deliver a lecture during the ceremony.
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3D Plasma Shapes Created in Thin Air
New Scientist (02/27/06) Hambling, David

Researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Tokyo, Burton, and Keio University have demonstrated a laser system that is able to display 3D images in thin air. Potential applications of the technology could result in it being used to create emergency distress signals or temporary road signals, according to officials from Burton. "We believe this technology may eventually be used in applications ranging from pyrotechnics to outdoor advertising," adds a spokesman from AIST. The laser display makes use of an ionization effect, and a certain intensity in the laser pulse is needed to break air down into glowing plasma, in order for the laser beam to become visible to the human eye. In the demonstration, an infra-red laser was used to produce a hundred flashpoints per second, projected between about two and three meters from the unit, in a space of about a cubic meter. Solid shapes could be sketched due to the use of a high-speed linear motor for controlling a lens, and by extension the focal point of the laser in 3D.
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China Splits From the Internet? Probably Not
Computer Business Review (03/01/06) Murphy, Kevin

The Chinese Ministry of Information announced that on March 1, 2006, a number of new Chinese-language second-level domains would be added to the Internet so that "Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers of the United States." If this is true, then Internet experts' fears have come true about rival DNS roots servers causing worldwide incompatibility. The U.N. World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has been debating how to handle the DNS root server Pandora's Box for years, and in November 2005 issued a policy conclusion stating that reliance on the ICANN-run root should continue. However, because of translation difficulties in the Chinese announcement, and also China's PR interests in making anti-U.S. news splashes, it is possible China has not set up a separate root. Since March 2005, China has routed some Chinese specialty domains behind the scenes through .cn, making it seem like a host of .cn-based domain names float independently from the ICANN-run root. In this case, ISPs resolve domains to .cn behind the scenes, and private company New.net used the same tactic to sell its non-approved domains such as .shop and .sport. "As far as I can tell, what they're doing is using DNS forwarders, much like ISPs do," says John Klensin, former chief of the Internet Architecture Board. ICANN currently has no comment, but believes the news is not as bad as the announcement makes it seem.
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Endless Energy Is Harvesting's Promise
EE Times (02/27/06)No. 1412, P. 1; Brown, Chappell

Energy harvesting, the technique of gleaning power from extreme environments, has begun to attract the interest of commercial developers for the potential it offers for creating self-sustaining electronic systems, weaning the consumer electronics industry away from its dependence on the battery. Energy can be drawn from the environment from vibration, strain, inertia, and magnetism, as well as heat and light. For instance, strain and vibration can translate directly into electricity through the application of piezoelectric materials. Replacing batteries is a lofty goal, and researchers have yet to produce a device that rivals its low cost and reliability. Dust Networks founder and CTO Kris Pister sees the convergence of sensing, computation, and power following the pace of Moore's Law and eventually scaling down to a theoretical zero in size. While at the University of California, Berkeley, Pister focused on reducing the power consumption of circuits, and has turned his attention to software since founding Dust Networks. Pister sees economic potential in energy harvesting techniques, such as photovoltaic cells, that could extend the life of the battery, rather than attempting to replace it altogether. Photovoltaics is the most advanced energy harvesting technique, and has the advantages of low cost and abundant availability. In addition to photovoltaic technologies, MicroStrain is developing piezoelectric materials to monitor the structural integrity of a building through the use of strain sensors. "At the end of the day, wireless networks will always be hampered by the need to change batteries," said MicroStrain's Michael Robinson. "Harvesting energy is the only way to avoid that." The implementation of energy harvesting techniques is predicated on the low-power design of electronics, which is beginning to appear, particularly in microprocessors. Leakage remains a central problem for new parallel architectures, however, posing a critical challenge to semiconductor designers.
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TIA Lives On
National Journal (02/25/06) Vol. 38, No. 8, P. 66; Harris, Shane

Despite a congressional mandate putting an end to its activities, the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, collectively a government anti-terrorism initiative that relied on extensive data mining of personal records and government databases, continued on under different names after having been transferred from the Pentagon to another organization. The Advanced Research and Development Agency (ARDA) has assumed two of the most critical elements of the TIA program, including the Information Awareness Prototype System, the architectural framework that links together numerous data mining tools. TIA owes its origins to Hicks & Associates' Brian Sharkey and former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, who pitched the idea to officials at the Defense Department in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. DARPA agreed to host the project, with Poindexter at the helm until protests over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal forced his resignation. It remains unclear if the program will continue under ARDA, though documents have revealed that it had full funding at least until September 2004. Another component of the original TIA program that lived on after it was halted by pressure from privacy groups, Genoa II, concentrated on creating technologies that policymakers and analysts could use to anticipate terrorist attacks. Although the link between the TIA initiatives and President Bush's domestic surveillance program remains unsubstantiated, the early-warning system that TIA was designed to create is the specific type that the NSA is using to eavesdrop on phone calls and emails.
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Career Watch: Lucy Sanders
Computerworld (02/27/06) P. 45; Hoffman, Thomas

While the Labor Department projects that technology-related jobs will increase by more than 2 million by 2012, the proportion of women in IT has dropped 18.5 percent in the last eight years. Cisco has partnered with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to help reverse this trend. NCWIT CEO Lucy Sanders spoke in a recent interview about Cisco and NCWIT's attempts to boost opportunities and awareness for women in technology. Women hold about 29 percent of the U.S. technology jobs, though that number is declining, while the enrollment of both men and women in computer science programs in colleges and universities has fallen 18 percent, and just 15 percent of high school students are taking the computer science advanced placement test. Sanders says that NCWIT and Cisco are working actively to boost awareness by promoting the viability of technology as a career to parents and educators, attempting to dispel the widely held myths that a career in technology equates to a life of social isolation and meaninglessness. "I know firsthand that it's an exciting and creative and socially relevant career," said Sanders. CIOs at the world's best companies report directly to the CEO, according to the Hackett Group, noting that the elevation of technology to a top strategic priority is a key factor separating the average company from the world-class company. The Hackett Group reports that IT departments are managed centrally at 67 percent of world-class companies, where managers and staffers are also far more likely to have advanced degrees than their counterparts at typical companies. While the CIO serves on the primary management committee in just 56 percent of average companies, the CIO has a seat at the table in 100 percent of world-class companies.
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Wireless Sensor Networking Software: The Next Generation
Sensors (02/06) Vol. 23, No. 2, P. 23; Hobbs, Kristi

The wider adoption of wireless sensor networks hinges on the incorporation of three additional functions--node intelligence and automation, node aggregation, and enterprise integration--within next-generation wireless sensor networking software. A certain degree of node configuration figures into nearly all wireless sensor vendors' software offerings: Almost every software package shows a graph of real-time sensor data, while some feature an interface that lets the user export data to a spreadsheet for offline analysis; but these tools are missing certain advantages many users perceive as critical to the usefulness of wireless sensor networks. Next-generation software needs to support node intelligence and automation through intuitive and easy-to-use tools that enable the rapid acquisition and local storage of data, as well as local analysis so that higher-power gateway nodes can compile and process data from lower-power nodes and pass minimal information. Current code management software can accommodate a few dozen nodes at most, but the next generation of software must manage nodes on a vaster scale by aggregating them into groups and assigning the same function to an entire group at a time. Easy integration of sensor networks with the rest of the enterprise is also a must, and fulfilling this need requires a technique for passing data directly among a heterogeneous network of wireless sensors and business systems that employ diverse networking protocols, in addition to a data logging and offline analysis methodology. Online analysis capabilities must subsequently be supported.
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Sweet Predictability
Software Development (02/06) Vol. 14, No. 2, P. 30; Humphrey, Watts

The quality of software and the productivity of developers can be tracked via the Personal Software Process (PSP), which can also facilitate accurate forecasts of success, writes Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute Fellow Watts Humphrey. The PSP requires all development team members to measure and track their personal work, with a particular emphasis on finding and correcting defects early on through personal design and code reviews. Conducting inspections via the Team Software Process (TSP) afterward can reveal almost all defects prior to system-level testing, according to Humphrey. The reason why so many organizations have not adopted this methodology is twofold: Most software groups lack the data to formulate solid quality plans, and the dearth of PSP data leaves developers without any idea of how many defects they inject or how much it costs to spot and fix those defects. Useful quality measures include defect-removal yield and cost of quality, with the former constituting the portion of defects removed in a phase, and the latter comprising the assessment of failure, appraisal, and prevention costs. Humphrey sets the effective review rate between the optimal rate of about 100 lines of code (LOC) per hour and the upper limit of 200 LOC per hour, and recommends that developers track their personal review performance to ascertain the highest review rate that still supports a consistent review yield of at least 70 percent. Process quality can be measured against the ratios of design to coding time, design review to design time, code review to coding time, and review time to development time. The PSP approach also involves using personal plans and historical data as a work guide, beginning with attempts to achieve a PQI value of 1.0 and planning design review according to the PSP Design Review Script and code review according to the PSP Code Review Script.
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