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Volume 4, Issue 411: Wednesday, October 16, 2002

  • "In the High-Tech Sector, Optimism Is Just a Faded Memory"
    New York Times (10/16/02) P. C7; Markoff, John

    Pessimism has replaced optimism in Silicon Valley, as reflected by the prevailing mood at this year's Agenda conference; speakers foresaw little economic growth in the technology sector, and a few leading technologists implied that the United States' global industrial status could be significantly downgraded as a result. This is a marked contrast to the view held last year, when technology was looked upon as key to a fast economic recovery. Some executives said that the technology industry is maturing and slowing, while others blamed the financial crisis on rapid technology advancements. "The tech industry is in danger of looking like Japan: it's down and out for a long time," warned RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser. Politics and national security issues also had a role in this year's Agenda--national security expert and former IBM physicist Richard Garwin was on hand to discuss various terrorist threats, while Charles T. Burbage of Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter program was also a speaker. The conference indicated that the need for financial growth is partly responsible for industrial interest in military and defense technology. Meanwhile, a panel of Hollywood executives sparred with technology executives over the responsibility of tech companies to comply with digital copyright and intellectual property policies. Respondents attributed sluggish growth to the entertainment industry's refusal to consider new business models.
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  • "Stress Tests Go Atomic at MIT"
    Wired News (10/16/02); Borin, Elliot

    Scientists hope that a predictive model developed by MIT researchers could be used to anticipate the earliest manifestation of defects in materials that range from the sub-microscopic to the super-macroscopic. Subra Suresh, head of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, says that understanding fractures at the atomic level could help researchers design hardier materials. The MIT process recreates via computer simulation stress assessments performed on finished materials, only on a much smaller scale. The molecular energy of a given volume of material is calculated with the MIT model, and then compared to established standards; scientists can then measure how quickly the material's atomic structure will break down by predicting how fast the molecular energy will increase under stress. To help formulate the model, the researchers used a high-speed video camera to film a layer of soap bubbles representing a material's surface atoms when stress was applied to certain areas. The data was then compared to measurements of various materials using nano-indenters. The MIT model will probably be used to gauge the stress responses of micro-circuits built on smaller, more intricate chips so that designers can fabricate more robust devices. In theory, earthquakes could also be predicted with the model, which would measure the mechanical energy of tectonic plates and compare it to historical data on pre-earthquake conditions; from there, the amount of energy needed to generate a quake could be calculated. The quake's intensity, orientation, and direction could then be forecasted, according to the MIT team.

  • "Media Seek to Limit Digital Copying"
    Associated Press (10/14/02); Krane, Jim

    Speaking at an Associated Press conference, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohmann protested legislation from Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) that would require consumer electronics manufacturers to install "copyright chips" that would encrypt digital content, a move that would not only curtail consumer freedoms to copy and share content, but also thwart innovation and hurt the economy. The entertainment industry has been pushing heavily for congressional approval of the Hollings bill, an action that von Lohmann described as tantamount to "putting the dinosaurs in charge of evolution." At the same conference, futurist author Howard Rheingold said that "smart mobs" of people were organizing around mobile technologies, such as cell phone-based text messaging. He explained that these mobs could use the technology for both benevolent and malevolent purposes--pro-democracy rallies as an example of the former, and terrorist movements as an instance of the latter. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard VP Rick Becker noted that Sun Microsystems and other custom server vendors are losing market share to the Windows and Linux operating systems as customers lean more and more toward industry-standard hardware, which is cheaper and boasts capability improvements.

  • "Net Security Chief Leaves Too Many Questions Unanswered"
    Boston Globe Online (10/14/02); Bray, Hiawatha

    Boston Globe technology columnist Hiawatha Bray agrees with critics of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace that the policy does not appear to take the issue of cybersecurity as seriously as it should, given the many critical systems that could be severely damaged or crippled by a Web-based attack. Millions of home computer users are linked to the Net via always-on, high-speed connections, and without adequate protection these machines could be commandeered by malicious hackers as launch points for attacks on more sensitive systems. Meanwhile, corporate and government networks are just as vulnerable, yet other issues are taking priority over security. In the face of these problems, the White House cyberspace strategy report recommends security development on a purely voluntary basis, and supports federal intervention "only in the face of a material failure of the market to protect the health, safety, or well being of the American people." By contrast, Bray notes that the Bush administration's push for a possible war with Iraq will not wait for any comparable "material failures." Furthermore, industry has a poor track record of solving cybersecurity problems by itself. Solutionary chief security counsel Mark Rasch, who once prosecuted computer crimes for the Justice Department, suggests that making computer companies liable for software vulnerabilities that threaten their clients will force them to improve security. At the same time, Bray acknowledges that government regulation can become stifling if too much is applied.

  • "Asia Marches on Technology Frontier"
    Australian IT (10/14/02); Chong, Florence

    Shahid Yusuf, co-author of the World Bank report "Can East Asia Compete?," says the region has made progress in the technology arena: Some countries such as Japan, Korea, and China are doing well, while Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia are laggards. In terms of technological capability, Japan is almost on a par with or overtaking the United States, and its patents filed per capita increased 6.2 percent between 1992 and 1997; it has taken a lead position in game consoles and consumer electronics, and has more than 40 million people subscribing to its NTT DoCoMo wireless telephony service. Yusuf reports that Korea has "achieved parity with the best in the world" in niche sectors such as telecommunications software and computer chips, while South Korea is devoting nearly 3 percent of its GDP on research and development. Taiwan's Hsinchu Science Park, based on Silicon Valley, has become a major center of R&D and invention, while China has made strides in the development of biochemistry, lasers, and electronics. Multinational investments in Asian countries and Asian overseas investment have helped drive East Asia's tech development, as has the proliferation of information and communications technology, according to the report. However, Thailand and Indonesia are suffering from a pronounced lack of skilled professionals, and Yusuf says data shows that Thai workers are especially handicapped by unfamiliarity with English. In the meantime, East Asia will continue to be the world's manufacturing leader; the region will benefit from its services sector, which will chiefly focus on engineering, logistics, and wholesaling. Yusuf recommends that further progress will be made if Asian governments encourage innovation by promoting openness and a favorable business environment.
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  • "University of Florida Researchers Make Progress on Tiny Battery"
    AScribe Newswire (10/10/02)

    Batteries used in portable electronics could be improved while power packs for microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices could become a reality thanks to research being conducted by University of Florida scientists. A team led by chemistry professor Charles Martin is developing a minuscule battery that takes its cue from nanotechnology: The researchers have thus far fabricated nanoscale anodes and cathodes that are up to 100 times more powerful than conventional electrodes, while UF doctoral student Robbie Sides adds that they are also more robust. The nano-electrodes are the product of template synthesis, in which "nanoscopic" holes in a small plastic or ceramic template are filled with chemical components; upon hardening, the template is removed, and only the electrodes remain. "[Martin's] work...represents the key elements of his concentric tube battery approach, which represents a novel three-dimensional configuration," notes Bruce Dunn of UCLA. Combining the nano-electrodes with a nanosized electrolyte and other elements is the next step. A nanobattery would generate and store more power because lithium ions would be able to travel shorter distances as they diffuse than they would in current models. A considerable amount of the UF's fundamental nanobattery research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The UF is working with three other institutions on the project, using a five-year, $5 million grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

  • "Thanks for the (Digital) Memories"
    ABCNews.com (10/15/02); Malone, Michael S.

    Digital memory development has managed to keep pace with the evolution of computation, despite predictions that its growth would be severely limited 20 years ago--in fact, it has outpaced Moore's Law. For example, there are few major differences between the latest iMac and 1980's Apple II computer, but whereas the Apple II's Profile hard disk was almost as big as the CPU and stored a mere 10 MB, the iMac's disk drive is about the size of a deck of cards and can store up to 80,000 MB. The next step involves the mass production of cheap, atomic memory, the challenges of which are on their way to being solved thanks to recent breakthroughs. At the University of Wisconsin, researchers announced that they can store data using individual atoms of gold that self-assemble into 5-atom-wide tracks upon a silicon substrate. Much more difficult will be developing a method to read and write data stored in atomic memory, but the University of Wisconsin breakthrough indicates that an electron scanning tunneling microscope (STM) could one day be adapted for that purpose. The linchpin in atomic memory is using the STM to remove atoms instead of moving them, which earlier experiments have focused on. Current atomic memory research has hit a 20 atoms/bit threshold, but this would give an atomic memory device storage capacity of 250 trillion bits per square inch. This development would dovetail with the semiconductor industry's plans to build terahertz chips by 2010.
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  • "Tech-Crash Threatens to Take Down [email protected]"
    ZDNet Australia (10/15/02); Colley, Andrew

    The [email protected] project needs more funding if it is to continue, and chief scientist Dan Werthimer told SETI Australia Chairman Dr. Frank Stootman that the installation of radio data recording gear at the Parkes telescope observatory would be postponed until such funding is found. Werthimer blames the current economy for the paucity of funds for [email protected], which uses a distributed computing architecture to search for extraterrestrial radio signals, tapping into the collective processing power of participating PCs worldwide to crunch numbers. The Parkes facility is particularly crucial to the project, since it is more powerful than the telescope at Aerocibo, and its location in the southern hemisphere would expand the scope of the search. Adding to the difficulty are the strained relations between [email protected] organizers and the University of California-Berkeley campus. One source close to the Australian Telescope National Facility says, "I know that the Berkeley isn't happy that its site is getting hammered by all these people wanting data because it creates a lot of traffic that they have to pay for." Stootman is now calling on philanthropists to contribute financial support so that [email protected] can continue. Sun Microsystems, IBM, Intel, Fujifilm, The Planetary Society, Informix, Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance, and Quantum are among the current sponsors of [email protected]
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  • "Before Instant Messaging--Awareness"
    CommWeb.com (10/14/02); Rosenberg, Art

    AT&T Laboratories' "Hubbub" instant messaging experiment shows how presence technology makes co-workers more effective through collaboration. The study compared collaboration enabled by Hubbub with the way office workers would normally communicate at work. In all, 25 people participated in the study, with closer groups of about 7 people forming within the larger number. AT&T researchers found that enabling other users to see when a person was logged on and available initiated conversations 24 percent of the time. The researchers found that the technology satisfactorily enabled co-worker communication just as much as physical proximity, since co-workers initiated significant conversation 21 percent of the time when coming upon each other in the office. Some of the users were equipped with wireless Palm devices, but the spotty wireless network coverage outside of the office, together with the difficulty of writing messages, mitigated the effect of the wireless technology. Unique to the Hubbub system were polyphonic sounds that signaled certain meanings, but some users found them annoying or could not decipher them. The study, which was reviewed in the September issue of Communications of the ACM, also found that the sounds would not be useful in instant messaging between a large group of users. It was noted that with the emergence of integrated wireless PDA/mobile phone devices and wired IP telephony, instant messaging platforms in the future could be combined with voice capabilities.

  • "Wearables: More Than Sci-Fi Stuff"
    Wired News (10/15/02); Frishberg, Manny

    Students from MIT and Georgia Tech attending last week's Sixth Annual International Wearable Computer Symposium tried out new technologies at the University of Washington campus. One technology, augmented reality (AR), involves a see-through eyepiece that combines data and graphical displays to present an enhanced view of the world. Potential applications of AR include customized museum tours and archeological site walkthroughs, combined computer and real-world gaming, and medical imagery--X-rays, CT scans, etc.--that doctors can view without looking away from the patient. Toshihiko Oba of Tokyo's Saisekai General Hospital noted that most of the devices showcased at the conference suffered from a lack of depth perception, while fine-movement tracking that keeps the virtual image lined up with the real-world perspective also needs to be improved. Thad Starner of Georgia Tech remarked that wearable computers have the potential to be more useful than PDAs and laptops. Key to this conclusion is his observation that portable devices take more than two seconds to start up under most circumstances. Other examples of wearable computing highlighted at the conference include smaller versions of desktop systems that can be strapped to the waist or sewn into clothing.

  • "Vint Cerf Talks About Internet Changes"
    Slashdot (10/09/02)

    ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf addresses how the Internet is changing during an online question-and-answer session. In his opinion, anonymity is an important topic for discussion, because it carries both good and bad uses; he is also concerned about digital rights management legislation and mandates that would limit people's access to information on the Web, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Cerf thinks that, had he the opportunity to change TCP/IP protocols, he would outline a bigger address space, design it so that every end unit can "authenticate" itself to any other end unit, and offer better data confidentiality by developing end-to-end cryptographic techniques. He notes that the Internet Engineering Task Force has done a good job of developing open standards that help embed interoperability into scores of interacting systems, and is hopeful "that we will sustain and evolve workable mechanisms both for standards development and for the general governance of the Internet, largely in the belief that the system is too valuable not to get the support it needs to satisfy both needs." Cerf finds that positive developments in the Internet's evolution (information sharing, applications) outweigh the negative (censorship, spam, pornography), while the most surprising development is the deluge of content following Tim Berners-Lee's creation of the World Wide Web. When asked his reaction to John Gilmore's criticism of his leadership of ICANN and the organization's alleged lack of openness with its Board of Directors and the public, Cerf replies that ICANN posts a great deal about its activities on its Web site. He believes that IPv6 will achieve "significant penetration" by 2005, spurred by ease of configuration and an abundance of address space. Cerf also thinks that both people-driven servers and government/corporate control of information will be valued--a more open environment has its advantages, but shared practices and certain legal frameworks ensure that there are no nasty surprises.
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  • "Drowning in a Deluge of Data, Data, Data..."
    Financial Times-IT Review (10/16/02) P. 1; Moran, Nuala

    Data storage requirements have grown at a compound annual rate of 90 percent for the last two years, leaving companies struggling to figure out what to do with all their information, according to a recent Meta Group survey of 328 IT executives in the U.S. The surging volume of data is straining already tight budgets, while there still remains the question of what storage technology to use and incompatibility between vendor products. Network attached storage (NAS) has gained popularity with major vendors such as Sun, IBM, EMC, and Compaq entering the market, but because data has to flow over the general network, transmission speeds are slow. Some solutions involve both NAS and storage attached network (SAN), allowing for both the centralized management of the NAS and the performance of the SAN. The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) recently approved the Bluefin standard, which SNIA board director Vincent Franceschini says should be in products by the end of the year. Bluefin will allow users to mix and match components while maintaining control over the storage network. Other technologies that promise to ease the data storage burden include virtualization, which allows aggregate management and views of storage systems. IBM's new storage software division is also working to bring the efficiencies the company has honed in its own data center operations to products meant for the general market. According to PA Consulting Group storage expert Alistair McAulay, the best solution is to formulate tighter controls over what data is stored and when.
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  • "New Telecom Connections for the Deaf"
    Business Week Online (10/09/02); Robitaille, Suzanne

    A number of new Internet-enabled technologies for phone conversation are making deaf and hard-of-hearing people more effective and mobile in the workplace and enabling them to more easily communicate with the hearing world. Whereas previously, hearing-impaired people had to use bulky teletype machines hooked up to a dedicated landline, today all they need is a Web connection. The Internet Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS), for example, mimics teletype by allowing users to type messages sent to an operator, who then speaks to the end-recipient and types a response back. The result is a platform very similar to instant messaging; other Internet-based technologies are better suited for people with different levels or types of hearing problems. With two-line voice carryover (VCO), for example, telephone company operators help the hard-of-hearing by typing out what the other person says while the user speaks for themselves. Video Relay Service (VRS) is another option for those with broadband connections and standard videoconferencing software, and it connects the user with an operator who acts as an intermediary using sign language. People who use this method say it allows them to express more emotions, but that insufficient Internet bandwidth often hinders video quality. Telephone companies such as Sprint and AT&T are mandated by the FCC to make their services available to the disabled and already receive state agency funds to run the services. By using the Internet, they save costs and give users more mobility and choice of services.
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  • "Nanoelectronics Run Deep in the Heart of Texas"
    Nanotech Planet (10/11/02); Helsel, Sandra

    The University of Texas at Austin is working on commercializing its nanotechnology research, and Renee A. Mallett of The Office of Technology Licensing and Intellectual Property says both the local community and investors have an interest in nanotech. The office is responsible for all university licensing, and Mallett notes that its jobs include marketing, licensing negotiations, and contract writing. UT-Austin's Nano ManTech program is a recently announced project that promotes educational, research, and commercialization initiatives in the area of nanomanufacturing. Another recent technology announcement posted on the UT-Austin Web site involves "Semiconductor quantum dot devices and methods," which focuses on the integration of quantum dots, quantum wells, and barriers; electronic devices, better LEDs, and injection lasers are some of the potential applications of this technology. "There are resources opening up new opportunities through the federal government due to the interest in nanoelectronics and the promise of long-term applications," Mallett says. "Local nanotech-related efforts have already secured an SBIR grant and they are hot on the heels of a couple of others." Mallett adds that UT-Austin has a close relationship with International Sematech, although she acknowledges that Sematech is not involved in licensing.
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  • "Will Big Business Dictate Public Interest?"
    InternetNews.com (10/14/02); Wagner, Jim

    The Internet Society (ISOC), despite promising to manage the .org domain for the public benefit, can be viewed as an organization representing major technology companies, because top ISOC members include WorldCom, IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and the Defense Information Systems Agency. This perception is one reason why the ISOC is creating an independent "Public Interest Registry" (PIR) to oversee .org as a "completely separate organization," according to one ISOC official. PIR will be located on the Web at publicinterestregistry.org, and PIR plans to have an operating Web site at this address with comprehensive information for consumers and registrars before Jan. 1, 2003. Although the ISOC claims that PIR will be completely separate, PIR bylaws give the ISOC much authority over PIR. PIR does includes two public advocates as board members, Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg and ex-InternetNZ veteran Andy Linton, while also including ISOC CEO Lynn St. Armour. Yet PIR bylaws--recently published--state that the ISOC is the "sole member" of PIR, and that "the member shall have the right to cast the sole and deciding vote with respect to any matter." After the first year The ISOC will be able to fire and elect PIR board members at will as well as amend the bylaws. ISOC's Julie Williams justifies this authority by arguing that, because PIR is operating in the ISOC's name, the ISOC must maintain some control of PIR and .org.

  • "Designed For Life"
    New Scientist (10/05/02) Vol. 176, No. 2363, P. 46; Grossman, Wendy M.

    Northwestern University computer science professor and author Donald Norman, who wrote "The Design of Everyday Things," believes it is taking designers too long to create more usable computing products, which he attributes to a lack of business sense among usability proponents; he thinks that "people in the field of usability must understand both design and business better" in order to solve this problem. He observes that designers keep repeating the same mistakes because they do not look at previous designs, and doubts that the open source movement will make any real headway in this area. Norman argues that incorporating emotions into computers will be a key driver of usability. Unlike empathetic computers, such as those being investigated by MIT's Rosalind Picard, he sees potential in computers that can feel emotions that spur them to take actions that promote security and survival. "When a computer loses power and uses back-up power you want it to start being anxious so that it becomes more cautious," he notes. He lists as an example a robot he worked on that would be programmed to feel frustration and fear heights in order to avoid being trapped in corners or falling down stairs. On the subject of security measures, Norman discounts the value of facial and iris recognition systems, which are technically flawed and could lead to the theft and abuse of identity. Meanwhile, he says that incidents such as Sept. 11 could not have been prevented in terms of computer design, because according to him no errors were made.

  • "Slight Bump in 2003 IT R&D Spending Expected"
    Government Computer News (10/07/02) Vol. 21, No. 30, P. 80; Jackson, William

    A slight increase is expected for government spending on information technology research and development in the next fiscal year. The Networking and IT research and development (NITRD) program's proposed budget for fiscal 2003 is $1.9 billion, a 3.2 percent increase over the estimated 2002 budget of $1.8 billion. The budget will be distributed among a dozen member agencies. High-end computing and basic R&D will receive the biggest funding increases, with up to $547 million going to the former and $299 million going to the latter. Funding for research into large-scale networking and high-confidence software and systems experienced a slight reduction this year. NITRD's annual report for Congress indicates that research is crucial to national, homeland, and economic security. The report states that "The information technologies now being fielded in U.S. counterterrorism activities represent the outflow of the IT R&D pipeline." In the wake of Sept. 11, the government recruited several projects that the NITRD funded, including prototype robots that combed through the wreckage of the World Trade Center for survivors, thus demonstrating their strengths and weaknesses. Meanwhile, various mapping and imaging technologies were used to find fires, visually measure the dispersal of hazardous materials, and analyze structural damage at both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

  • "The Next Web"
    InformationWeek (10/14/02) No. 910; Ewalt, David M.

    Search engines are very limited when it comes to sifting through a mountain of data that is increasing steadily, but the Semantic Web could make finding information easier; such a development would make employees more productive and companies easier for customers to find, according to Adrenaline Group CTO Alden Hart. Taking meanings and syntax of human speech as its foundation, the Semantic Web would probably consist of tags embedded within HTML documents that tell computers the meaning of Web pages, enabling them to see relationships between terms via specialized dictionaries. The Semantic Web could also facilitate more automated monitoring of corporate financial performance, such as tipping off investors and regulators to incidences of insider trading, notes Enigmatec CTO Duncan Johnson-Watt. Semantic Web development issues will be a key area of study at IBM's Institute of Search and Text Analysis, says Nelson Mattos of IBM Research; however, Google and Microsoft are holding back on Semantic Web investment until successful applications emerge. Autonomy and other companies are pushing products and services that offer alternative means of processing unstructured information--for instance, Autonomy software, which scans text with pattern-matching algorithms, is being used in an integrated portal undergoing testing at the University of Maryland's R.H. Smith School of Business. Challenges that the Semantic Web currently faces include getting enough users and vendors to agree to standards and protocols that will govern its operations. Semantic Web development is being led by the World Wide Web Consortium, whose chief supporters are MIT, France's INRIA, the European Union, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Keio University in Japan.

  • "Controlling Robots With the Mind"
    Scientific American (10/02) Vol. 287, No. 4,; Nicolelis, Miguel A.L.; Chapin, John

    Researchers are hard at work developing technology that could enable people to control machines by thought; potential applications include more responsive prosthetics for paralysis victims, while further advancements carry the promise of restoring control to paralyzed limbs and the augmentation of motor, sensory, or cognitive capabilities. Two years ago, Duke University scientists got a monkey to manipulate two robot arms--one in close proximity, the other at MIT--when it moved a joystick, via microwires implanted in its motor cortex. Each neuronal impulse, or action potential, was recorded and translated into instructions that directed the movements of the robotic limbs. By employing only 100 neurons, the researchers estimated that they were able to get the robot hand to reproduce the monkey's movements with about 70 percent accuracy, while achieving 95 percent accuracy would require no more than 700 neurons. Furthermore, they discovered that the individual contribution of each neuron changed as time went on, so they refined the model to periodically reevaluate these neuronal contributions. In May 2001, the scientists used the brain-machine interface (BMI) on a trio of macaque monkeys, whose brain configuration resembles that of a human; the experiment involved recording neuronal impulses as they moved a cursor with a joystick, and then training them to move the cursor without the joystick, purely by thought. The experiment indicated that visual feedback helped the primates use the BMI to its fullest reactive potential, and the researchers started trials that add tactile feedback to the test subjects' experience in May. Before BMIs can be considered ready for human use, several issues must be resolved: The microwire implants must not cause infection or damage, and the size of batteries and electronics must shrink accordingly.
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