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April 27, 2007

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Welcome to the April 27, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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ACM/IEEE Seek CC2001 Curriculum Recommendations
ACM (04/27/07) Apt, Allan

The distressing drop in student enrollment in computer science throughout the U.S. has, in part, prompted the need to reevaluate the current CS curriculum. ACM and the IEEE are asking for industry feedback on the 2001 Computing Curriculum, hoping this insight will help better define the opportunities the field offers and draw more student interest. The recent plunge in student interest in computing has been accompanied by criticism of the relevance of the current curriculum to critical job skills. The ACM Education Board and the IEEE Computer Society are providing the opportunity for input with the launch of the Interim Review of the 2001 Computing Curriculum for Computer Science (CC2001). A Web site ( http://campus.acm.org/public/comments/comments_cc2001.cfm ) has been established to provide comments, criticisms, and, most importantly, contributions. The review period extends to June 30, 2007. In 2001 the Computer Science volume was published as the first in a series of five curriculum guidelines that became known as the Computing Curricula Series. To provide timely guidance in the fast-changing computing field, ACM and IEEE-CS directed that an interim review of each volume be conducted after approximately five years. A meeting open to members will also be held on May 11 at the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, near Boulder, Colorado. Anyone wishing to attend (at their own expense) should send their request to Alan Apt (alan.apt@acm.org), ACM Education Manager.
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IU Computer Scientist Honored by ACM for Contributions, Leadership
Indiana University (04/26/07)

ACM has named Indiana University computer science professor David S. Wise the winner of its 2007 Outstanding Contribution Award. Wise helped provide computer scientists, engineers, and researchers in related fields with an outlet for communicating with each other in leading the creation of the Federated Computer Research Conference. He created the subscription and copyright policy of ACM's Digital Library, which helped improve its usability and content, and he also pressed for early inclusion of newsletters and conference proceedings for ACM's Special Interest Groups. Wise served as the chair of the SIG on Programming Languages, and was also the vice president and secretary-treasurer of the organization. ACM named Wise an ACM Fellow in 2004 for his leadership and contributions to functional programming. Applicative programming, multiprocessing architectures, and algorithms are among his research interests. ACM will honor Wise at its annual Awards Banquet, which is scheduled for June 9 in San Diego, Calif.
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Nation's Cyber Plan Outdated, Lawmakers Told
Washington Post (04/26/07) Krebs, Brian; Mcloone, Sharon

Plans and policies for securing the nation's critical online infrastructures are severely flawed and outdated, experts told lawmakers at a House subcommittee hearing on April 25. Practices such as report cards and policies addressing cybersecurity as an end rather than a means is "procedurally correct but factually stupid," said biostatistician Daniel Geer in written testimony. Jim Lewis, a security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Emerging Threats Cybersecurity and Science and Technology subcommittee that the nation's current cybersecurity strategy is outdated and has "shifted too much of the burden for security to the private sector and did not resolve key issues regarding responsibility within the government." Professionals for Cyber Defense President Sami Saydjari provided written testimony urging lawmakers to start a $500 million "Cyber Manhattan Project" that would be run by the country's top experts, adding that preparing for cyber war will take more than three years and require infrastructure for critical computer systems, experienced defenders, and a national program. "The U.S. is vulnerable to a strategically crippling cyber-attack from nation-state-class adversaries," Saydjari said. Lewis said that a new comprehensive strategy is needed to address issues such as how many interagency groups and committees are working of the same cyber issues, and also called cyber espionage the greatest current threat to the United States. House Homeland Security subcommittee chair James Langevin (D-R.I.) questioned the wisdom of funding cuts for HSD's science and technology directorate and questioned the administration's cybersecurity efforts.
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Sun and I.B.M. to Offer New Class of High-End Servers
New York Times (04/26/07) P. C10; Markoff, John

Sun Microsystems and IBM both introduced new high-end server systems that provide an early glimpse into a new era of computing. Sun's machine, designed by the company co-founder Andreas Bechtolsheim, is an ultra-fast video server potentially powerful enough to send different standard video streams simultaneously to everyone watching television in a city the size of New York. IBM's machine is a video game server that blends a mainframe computer with the company's Cell microprocessors, creating a system that could support thousands of users interacting in a three-dimensional simulated on-screen world, described as the "metaverse." Both machines will cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, but they represent that the modern computing world is moving away from the era of cheap microprocessors that started two decades ago. Former ACM President David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said he believes that is still more to be done with combining microprocessors, but "if the future of computing is the data center and the consumer gadget," the two new machines could be the wave of the future. "It's a new era--it's the era of application-specific computing," said Bernard S. Meyerson, chief technologist of IBM's Systems and Technology Group. Meyerson said that IBM has introduced hybrid computing, and that computers will now be custom-designed for specific purposes.
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Driving Interactivity Needs Inform Real World Designers
AScribe Newswire (04/26/07)

Auto safety and interaction design will be a focus of the ACM Computer-Human Interaction Conference (CHI 2007) on April 30, in San Jose, Calif. CHI 2007 is highlighting the issues because people are increasingly talking on the telephone, retrieving directions, and making entertainment choices while driving. "With the increasing number of cars on the road, longer commutes, and the proliferation of complex information and media features used in cars, there is a greater need for careful interaction design in automobiles," says Dr. David M. Krum of Bosch Research and Technology Center. Other organizations that will have speakers at the conference include Ford and IBM. Aside from industry representatives, experts from Stanford University, Drexel University, and the Manchester Business School in the United Kingdom will also address the gathering. They will discuss the potential distractions of interaction, and the challenges of applying interaction design to automobiles. More than 2,500 professionals from around the world are expected to attend CHI 2007, which will begin April 28 and end May 3. The ACM Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) is the sponsor of CHI 2007. For more information on CHI 2007, visit http://www.chi2007.org/
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Computer Scientists Unveil Next-Generation High-Performance Processor at The University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin (04/24/07)

University of Texas at Austin computer scientists have designed and built a prototype general-purpose computer processor dubbed TRIPS that could potentially manage trillions of calculations per second. The researchers say the Tera-op, Reliable, Intelligently adaptive Processing System processor could be used in industrial, consumer, and scientific computing. TRIPS uses a new type of processing architecture called Explicit Data Graph Execution that, unlike conventional architectures that process one instruction at a time, can process large chunks of information simultaneously with greater efficiency. Current multicore processors are actually multiple processors bundled together, with each individual processor running at about the same speed as previous generations. TRIPS is different because it contains two processing cores, each of which are capable of 16 operations per cycle with up to 1,024 instructions simultaneously. Current high-performance processors are generally only capable of four operations per cycle. University of Texas at Austin associate professor of computer sciences and co-designer of TRIPS Doug Burger said, "The TRIPS prototype is the first on a roadmap that will lead to ultra-powerful, flexible processors implemented in nanoscale technologies."
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Robotic Flower? New Internet-Controlled Robots Anyone Can Build
Carnegie Mellon News (04/26/07) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

In an effort to create greater interest in robotics, Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a series of robots that can be built by almost anyone using off-the-shelf parts, but are capable of connecting to the Internet wirelessly. The Telepresence Robot Kit (TeRK) was developed by robotics professor Illah Nourbakhsh and members of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab with the goal of making highly capable robots accessible and affordable to college and pre-college students, and anyone else with an interest in robots. TeRK is not sold as a complete set of parts, but rather the plans and the brains of the robot, a device called Qwerk developed by the CREATE Lab and the Charmed Labs of Austin, Texas, are available online. The rest of the robot is designed to be built using parts available at most hardware stores. Several designs are available, including a wheeled robot with a video camera, and a flower robot designed to open and close based on moods or use it petals to play catch. Qwerk controls the motors, cameras, and other devices, and is actually a full-fledged computer with a Linux operating system that can use any computer language, has a field programmable gate array, and accepts USB peripheral devices such as Web cameras and GPS receivers. Nourbakhsh said building such a capable robot would have been all but impossible five years ago, but is practical today because of widespread broadband Internet access and the availability of hotspots in public and residential settings.
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Congress Gets Competitive With Bills
InternetNews.com (04/26/07) Mark, Roy

With strong support from both parties, the U.S. Senate recently passed several pieces of legislation greatly increasing federal funding for research and education in an effort to boost student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. On average, U.S. colleges and universities produce about 1 million graduates a year, but only 70,000 of those graduates have degrees in engineering. In comparison, China and India produce 6.4 million college graduates yearly, with almost 1 million degrees in engineering. The America Competes Act, which passed the Senate 88-8, lays the foundation for a national "innovation infrastructure" and calls on the National Academy of Sciences to identify barriers preventing a more innovative U.S. economy. Under the proposed legislation, funding for the National Science Foundation will be doubled from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion gradually, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science budget will double to more than $5 billion over the next 10 years. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will also receive a bigger budget and will be required to use no less than 8 percent of its annual budget on high-risk, high-reward research. Several grants, scholarships, and programs, including expanding statewide specialty schools in math and science, will also be created to attract more students to science, technology, engineering, and math studies. "This bill slingshots our economy forward," says Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "We are not giving [our students] the tools to compete." Meanwhile, the House passed legislation that provides grants to spur pure research by young scientists and a bill to provide for 25,000 new STEM teachers.
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Leadership Alliance Targets Minorities in Computing
HPC Wire (04/27/07)

The National Science Foundation awarded a three-year, $2 million grant to create the Empowering Leadership (EL) Alliance, a national alliance led by Rice University that will establish a nationwide network to engage underrepresented minority student in computing disciplines. The network, which will be composed of dozens of leading universities, professional societies, laboratories, research centers, and corporations, will strive to keep minority students interested in computing careers by providing them with research opportunities, professional development, and mentoring programs. "At universities across the country, we are seeing what I call the 'loss of the precious few.' Research shows that isolated, unsupported students of all kinds will leave and environment that does not meet their needs," said Rice University professor Richard A. Tapia, director of the EL Alliance. "Students migrate to more welcoming degree programs and departments where they recognize that they have support, a vested interest, and a high probability of success. Those that do complete bachelor's degrees in the computing disciplines may have had such a painful journey that they are unlikely to consider graduate school, and another opportunity for diversifying our national leadership in computing and advanced technology has been lost." To prevent the "loss of the precious few," the EL Alliance will provide students with summer research opportunities with experienced and successful computer researches, mentoring, meetings with national leaders, professional development programs, career support, and online speaker series and meetings to discuss challenges and engage minority role models.
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IBM, Intel, and Microsoft Tout Technology Future
InformationWeek (04/25/07) Claburn, Thomas

At this week's Gartner IT/xpo, Intel director of technology management Jerry Battista, Microsoft Research principal researcher Eric Horvitz, and IBM research executive for communications industries Paul Bloom fielded questions and offered a look into the future of computing technology that featured photo-realistic virtual words, desktop file manipulation using hand gestures, and presence information relayed by ubiquitous sensors. Battista highlighted massively multi-core processors that, as an example, can condense a two-hour soccer game into 10 to 15 minutes of highlights automatically, by assigning processors to track each of the players and the ball, as well as analyzing the audio and processing the video. Horvitz discussed the development of "intention machines," which predict users intentions and deliver pertinent information. Horvitz said Microsoft was spending about 25 percent of its research budget on artificial intelligence-related projects. Horvitz also showed off surface computing, which uses a lunchbox-sized motion tracking and projection unit to turn any surface into a computer display and input device. Bloom said IBM has shifted away from a focus on pure technology research, and is now researching service-oriented business possibilities, citing a Gartner prediction that by 2009, 80 percent of IT systems will track where people are and how best to accommodate them. IBM is working on a presence infrastructure called Presence Advanced Services for Telecommunications Applications (PASTA) that provides IT systems with presence information. IBM is also developing a service called BusinessFinder, which Bloom described as a "presence-based electronic yellow pages," and a system that designates modes of contacted based on where the user is located called Presence Zones.
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$105 Million Goes to Computing Center
Stanford Report (04/25/07) Orenstein, David

The Army's new Army High-Performance Computing Research Center will be developed by a multi-institution team led by Stanford University with the help of a $105 million, five-year grant awarded by the army. The research center will be used for advanced simulations to develop new materials for military vehicles and equipment, improve wireless battlefield communication, improve detection techniques for biological or chemical attacks, and stimulate innovations in supercomputing. Work on wireless communications will try to improve how commanders and soldiers use information from reconnaissance sources such as airplanes, submarines, sensor arrays, and soldiers in the field. The research center will also focus on improving computations with better hardware and algorithm designs. Future director of the research center Charbel Farhat, a member of the Stanford School of Engineering's Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering and an expert on supercomputer simulation, said the research will likely produce products that benefit society in general, such as lightweight materials developed for armored vehicles that could be used in cars and trucks to make them lighter and more fuel efficient. Additionally, $1.5 million a year will be allotted to the program for an educational outreach program for middle- and high-school students. Institutions participating in the center, which include Morgan State University in Maryland, New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, and the University of Texas at El Paso, will work with nearby school teachers to augment their math, science, engineering, and computing programs.
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Similar Programming for Multicore Computers
Technology Review (04/27/07) Greene, Kate

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are exploring a way to make parallel programming easier in order to take full advantage of the computing potential available in multicore computers. Many experts believe that unless parallel programming is made easier, computing progress will stall. In single core systems, software code basically runs sequentially, with each task occurring one after another, but in multicore systems tasks get split up among the cores and when different tasks need to access the same piece of memory and fail to properly synchronize the data can become corrupted and cause the program to crash. MIT researchers have designed StreamIt, a computer language and a compiler that basically hides parallel-programming challenges but also allows for full use of multicore processors. StreamIt, developed by MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science Saman Amarasinghe, is expected to be available for use on commercial chips made by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba by this summer. Amarasinghe's solution is based on a concept called data flow that steams data sequentially through a sort of pipeline. The compiler scans for independent functions, and can place separate tasks on different cores to prevent tasks from interfering with each other or attempting to access the same piece of memory. University of California, Berkeley professor of computer science Ras Bodik said StreamIt is a solid idea and based on well known concepts, but suspects that software engineers will need to use several tools, such as transactional memory that allows multiple tasks to access the same piece of memory at the same time, to truly unlock StreamIt's potential.
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Pitt Scholar Finds Success in Her Computer Science Work
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (04/25/07) Templeton, David

Neven Abou Gazala believes that women should strive to enter and thrive in the male-dominated world of computer science, and hopes her own work will dispel the illusion that the computer industry is dominated by geeks and nerds. This August, Gazala expects to receive her doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh and expects to obtain a teaching position at a prestigious U.S. college of university where she can continue her research in computer power management. University of Pittsburgh's computer science department chair Rami Melhem said, "She has done very good work in power management that's very crucial and gaining importance every day." Even without earning her doctoral degree, Gazala has already established an impressive list of credentials in computer science, including 10 published papers on computer power management and winning a 2006 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for being an outstanding woman in computer science. Gazala has developed hardware that lowers power consumption in processing and hard-drive memory while performing tasks with low power requirements, as well as produced software that further reduces battery drain. "I think now we have more opportunity than men in the field," Gazala said. "Everyone wants to recruit women and have good women on the team." Gazala hopes that a teaching position will allow her to continue her research and eventually accomplish her goal of developing a laptop that can go 10 days without needing to be recharged. For information about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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A Summer Merger? Leaders of the 2 Big Academic Computing Networks Think They Can Make It Work
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/26/07) Fischman, Josh

Tracy Futhey of National LambdaRail and Jeffery Lehman of Internet2, chairs for their respective groups, said they believe their two networks could merge this summer. Lehman said that a merger between the two academic computing networks had not happened sooner because members believed the networks were designed to do different tasks, but now realize the networks can co-exist. Internet2 was created over a decade ago to provide researchers with a high-speed bypass around regular Internet traffic to send large packets of research information, and currently has about 300 university members and dozens of corporate partners. LambdaRail is a test bed for network engineers to experiment with new technologies, testing the limits of traffic, often testing the network to the breaking point. Lehman said the conflict between the two networks stemmed from researches depending on high-speed network connectivity being hesitant to share a network with people who constantly might break it. Academic researchers were essentially left with two Internet providers, so universities had to choose which was best for their many research needs and maintain contacts and arrangements with both networks. The two chairs said the six-person team charged with writing a detailed merger agreement should have a draft by early May, which the Internet2 and LambdaRail boards of directors can vote on during special meetings, perhaps by June.
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Does Moore's Law Help or Hinder the PC Industry?
Extreme Tech (04/24/07) Gardiner, Bryan

A discussion of Moore's Law by Gartner analysts Brian Gammage and Carl Claunch led to agreement that Moore's law is a key driver in the computer industry, but is also often misunderstood. Gammage attested that most people assume Moore's Law means that the speed and power of processors doubles every 18 to 24 months, when in actuality the law "is all about the density ... the density of those transistors, and not what we choose to do with it." He said this increased transistor density has also accelerated replacement cycles for computers and servers, which many people feel is a negative trend for the PC industry because it saddles users with the cost burden. Claunch and Gammage agreed that computer suppliers are facing tighter prices and margins as a result of Moore's Law, with Claunch observing that the cost of doubling the number of transistors is not doubling concurrently every 18 to 24 months. One of the benefits Gammage saw as a result of Moore's Law was the creation of many jobs in the computer industry, while other advantages he cited include periodic innovation and agility in the industry, increased power efficiency, and the law's tendency to create a level playing field. On the other hand, Claunch cited electronic waste, a lack of replacement parts, excessive premium price tiers, and embedded CO2 from all the discarded computers as problems that possibly stem from Moore's Law. Claunch concluded the debate with the recommendation that Moore's Law not be perceived "as simply good or evil, but rather a mix of both."
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60-Mile Wi-Fi
Forbes (04/23/07) Vol. 3, No. 7, Zhao, Michael

Wildnet is a wireless networking scheme in which a pair of transmitters can send 5 million bits of data per second over a maximum distance of 60 miles. Wildnet creator and Intel Research Berkeley Lab director Eric Brewer says he wants to connect the world's poorest communities with this technology as part of his ultimate goal of "improving the quality of life, health care, and education in the developing world." Deploying Wildnet is inexpensive, involving a cheap Intel computer board with commercially available Wi-Fi radio chips that use the free Linux operating system to tap the publicly available radio spectrum. Wildnets have been established in Asia and Africa, and the deployment in southern India has yielded tremendous benefits for poor villagers, sparing them from making a long, arduous trek to eye clinics. Brewer says Wildnet complements satellite, Wi-Fi, WiMax, and cellular broadband technologies. Wildnet was developed under the aegis of Brewer's Technology & Infrastructure for Emerging Regions project, which is currently sponsored by the Intel Berkeley Research Lab. The next challenge Brewer wants to tackle is the provision of data processing aid for microlenders in impoverished nations.
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What Will the Next 50 Years Bring in Robotics Research?
PhysOrg.com (04/24/07)

Key intelligent robotics researchers and top science communicators hope to use the "Rights to Robots" public debate to bring greater attention to the ethical implications of the direction of robotics projects. The debate between members of the "Walking With Robots" network took place on Monday in London, and addressed issues such as whether conscious robots should have human rights, whether robots can care for the elderly, and whether they can perform as soldiers. Professor Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield facilitated the debate between Owen Holland of the University of Essex, Dr. Tony Hirst of Open University, Murray Shanahan of Imperial College London, and Alan Winfield of the University of the West of England in Bristol. The U.K. Office of Science and Innovation's Horizon Scanning Center recently commissioned a study on artificial intelligence developments over the next 20 to 50 years, and the experts plan to use the report, "Utopian Dream or Rise of the Machines?," as they consider the issue of ethics in robotics research. "The problem is that robots may be required to make decisions that could affect our lives much sooner," says Sharkey. "While some governments are beginning to draw up ethical guidelines, we need to initiate proper public consultation and informed public debate now."
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Robo-Girls
IEEE Spectrum (04/07) Hospodor, Joe; Hospodor, Andy

All-girl teams are becoming a force to be reckoned with at regional high school robotics tournaments, and among the contests where girls are starting to make their presence known are For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) events designed to stimulate interest in science and technology among young people. FIRST gives all teams a standard set of components, and each team must design and construct a robot that fulfills a specific function--placing rings on a rack, in the case of one regional competition--in six weeks. After that, the teams' machines are pitted against each other in the tournaments that test their reliability and precision. In this year's competition, California is hosting 19 teams, all but nine of which are strictly female. Among the notable all-girl teams performing at this year's Los Angeles regional was the Royal Robotrons of Louisville High School, who were mentored by California State University professor Tarek Shraibati. He works in the university's manufacturing systems engineering and management department, and is also the father of one of the team members. The Royal Robotrons and other teams are demonstrating through their participation in FIRST contests that girls can compete in robotics.
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The Promise of Plasmonics
Scientific American (04/07) Vol. 296, No. 4, P. 56; Atwater, Harry A.

Plasmonics is the science of producing electron density waves or plasmons with light, and scientists have learned that they could squeeze optical signals into tiny wires with this method. Computer chip designers could use plasmonic circuits to build faster chip interconnects for transmitting large volumes of data across the chip. California Institute of Technology professor Harry A. Atwater cites two developments that have been critical to the progress of plasmonics research: A recent increase in computing power that permits the accurate simulation of electromagnetic fields generated by plasmonic effects, and the emergence of unique techniques for building nanoscale structures that have enabled the construction and testing of minuscule plasmonic devices and circuits. Plasmons can produce signals in the soft x-ray range of wavelengths through the excitation of materials with visible light, and minute plasmonic devices could be mass-produced using a process similar to lithography. Atwater's lab has recently devised a low-power version of a "plasmonster" switch that could increase the speed and usefulness of plasmonic circuits through a three-terminal configuration that boasts transistor-like properties. Improvements in microscope resolution, LED efficiency and brilliance, and chemical and biological sensor sensitivity are other potential applications for plasmonic technology. There is speculation among some researchers that plasmonic materials could render objects invisible by changing their surrounding electromagnetic field.
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