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US To Delay China Tariffs on Some Products, Including Laptops, Cell Phones

Tue, 2019-08-13 18:10
The Trump administration on Tuesday delayed imposing a 10% import tariff on laptops, cell phones, video game consoles and a wide range of other products made in China, in an abrupt pull-back from a hardline stance on Chinese trade. From a report: The U.S. Trade Representative's Office action was published just minutes after China's Ministry of Commerce said Vice Premier Liu He conducted a phone call with U.S. trade officials. The delay in the tariffs that had been scheduled to start next month provides some relief to retailers. Although most stores would have stocked their holiday merchandise before the earlier September deadline, some might have faced the tariffs for fill-in orders late in the holiday shopping season. "We're doing this for the Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers," President Donald Trump told reporters as he prepared to depart from New Jersey for an event in Pittsburgh.

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YouTube Tests Bigger Thumbnails

Tue, 2019-08-13 17:30
YouTube is experimenting with making video thumbnails much larger on its homepage, according to several screenshots that appeared on Twitter and Reddit this morning. From a report: The new homepage design changes quite a bit about the current setup. Videos are no longer grouped by categories, fewer videos appear in a line for people to scroll through, and, yes, the thumbnails are noticeably larger. It's unclear just how many people have been served the new layout. So far, it's not going over well with users. People are complaining that the bigger thumbnails make the homepage more difficult to scroll through.

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Insect 'Apocalypse' in US Driven by 50x Increase in Toxic Pesticides

Tue, 2019-08-13 16:50
America's agricultural landscape is now 48 times more toxic to honeybees, and likely other insects, than it was 25 years ago, almost entirely due to widespread use of so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a new study published this month in the journal PLOS One. From a report: This enormous rise in toxicity matches the sharp declines in bees, butterflies, and other pollinators as well as birds, says co-author Kendra Klein, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth US. "This is the second Silent Spring. Neonics are like a new DDT, except they are a thousand times more toxic to bees than DDT was," Klein says in an interview. Using a new tool that measures toxicity to honey bees, the length of time a pesticide remains toxic, and the amount used in a year, Klein and researchers from three other institutions determined that the new generation of pesticides has made agriculture far more toxic to insects. Honey bees are used as a proxy for all insects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does the same thing when requiring toxicity data for pesticide registration purposes, she explained. The study found that neonics accounted for 92 percent of this increased toxicity. Neonics are not only incredibly toxic to honeybees, they can remain toxic for more than 1,000 days in the environment, said Klein. "The good news is that we don't need neonics," she says. "We have four decades of research and evidence that agroecological farming methods can grow our food without decimating pollinators." "It's stunning. This study reveals the buildup of toxic neonics in the environment, which can explain why insect populations have declined," says Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. As insects have declined, the numbers of insect-eating birds have plummeted in recent decades. There's also been a widespread decline in nearly all bird species, Holmer said. "Every bird needs to eat insects at some point in their life cycle."

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Americans Would Rather Get Food Poisoning on Vacation Than Not Have Internet Access, Study Finds

Tue, 2019-08-13 16:10
Americans would rather endure such vacation travesties as lost luggage or food poisoning, rather than go without internet while on vacation. Almost half of respondents (49 percent) in a study commissioned by Roku said that no internet access would qualify as a vacation disaster.

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AI Used To Narrate E-books in Authors' Voices

Tue, 2019-08-13 15:25
Chinese search engine Sogou is creating artificial-intelligence lookalikes to read popular novels in authors' voices. From a report: It announced "lifelike" avatars of Chinese authors Yue Guan and Bu Xin Tian Shang Diao Xian Bing -- created from video recordings -- at the China Online Literature+ conference. Last year, Sogou launched two AI newsreaders, which are still used by the government's Xinhua news agency. Appetite for audiobooks in China is on the rise, mirroring trends in the West. Chinese think tank iiMedia expects the market to more than double between 2016 and 2020, to 7.8bn Chinese yuan ($1.1billion) a year. It is now a simple process to use text-to-speech technology to quickly generate an audio version of a book, using digitised, synthetic voices. But most people prefer audiobooks that are "professionally narrated" by authors, actors or famous public figures.

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How One City Saved $5 Million by Routing School Buses with an Algorithm

Tue, 2019-08-13 14:57
The Boston Public School District held a contest to determine the best solution for busing around 25,000 students to school every day. The winning algorithm improved the efficiency of the routes in 30 minutes. From a report: In 2017, the district was facing serious challenges. On a per-pupil basis, Boston Public Schools had the highest transportation costs in the country, around $2,000 per student per year, representing 10% of the district's budget. The schools dealt with rising costs each year, despite declining ridership. The on-time performance rate of their buses was also well below that of other large districts. With no clear vendor to turn to with this problem, BPS instead sought out experts, hosting a competition where researchers could experiment with anonymized BPS data sets to create efficient routes and optimal start times for each school. "To put it simply, we wanted a solution that worked," said Will Eger, the BPS senior strategic projects manager. "There are lots of quirks in this transportation situation, and we wanted something that could address the vast majority of those issues while also being highly efficient, something that could run overnight at least." Those quirks represent millions of decision variables that affect any solution, including varying road widths, differing bus infrastructures (for example, the presence of wheelchair lifts or child safety restraint seats), students who require the same bus driver every year, students who have monitors, and students who have been in fights and, therefore, need to be on different buses. It also includes the roughly 5,000 students who have a special need that requires door-to-door pick up and drop off (sometimes to non-BPS schools, as the city provides yellow bus service to students who attend charter and private schools within Boston, and to special education facilities outside the city). Considering all those possibilities creates a "number of solutions so large that you can't even enumerate it," said Arthur Delarue, a PhD candidate who worked with the team from the MIT Operations Research Center whose algorithm won the competition. The team spent hundreds of hours devising a solution to what Delarue called a "bold and unusual" challenge. Their solution replaced what had before been an incredibly laborious process, one that took ten school system routers thousands of hours to create custom routes for each child and school. Those employees still work with BPS, tracking routes that struggle with on-time performance, and managing route guidance for drivers (Google Maps isn't sufficient since it's built for cars, and 70-passenger buses can't, for example, easily make u-turns). But now, the MIT algorithm routes the entire system at once, providing a base for the human routers to tweak.

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Google's Jobs Search Draws Antitrust Complaints From Rivals

Tue, 2019-08-13 14:44
Google's fast-growing tool for searching job listings has been a boon for employers and job boards starving for candidates, but several rival job-finding services contend anti-competitive behavior has fueled its rise and cost them users and profits. From a report: In a letter to be sent to European Union competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Tuesday and seen by Reuters, 23 job search websites in Europe called on her to temporarily order Google to stop playing unfairly while she investigates. Similar to worldwide leader Indeed and other search services familiar to job seekers, Google's tool links to postings aggregated from many employers. It lets candidates filter, save and get alerts about openings, though they must go elsewhere to apply. Alphabet's Google places a large widget for the 2-year-old tool at the top of results for searches such as "call center jobs" in most of the world. Some rivals allege that positioning is illegal because Google is using its dominance to attract users to its specialized search offering without the traditional marketing investments they have to make. Other job technology firms say Google has restored industry innovation and competition.

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The Banana Is One Step Closer To Disappearing

Tue, 2019-08-13 13:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from National Geographic: A fungus that has wreaked havoc on banana plantations in the Eastern Hemisphere has, despite years of preventative efforts, arrived in the Americas. ICA, the Colombian agriculture and livestock authority, confirmed on Thursday that laboratory tests have positively identified the presence of so-called Panama disease Tropical Race 4 on banana farms in the Caribbean coastal region. The announcement was accompanied by a declaration of a national state of emergency. The discovery of the fungus represents a potential impending disaster for bananas as both a food source and an export commodity. Panama disease Tropical Race 4 -- or TR4 -- is an infection of the banana plant by a fungus of the genus Fusarium. Although bananas produced in infected soil are not unsafe for humans, infected plants eventually stop bearing fruit. First identified in Taiwanese soil samples in the early 1990s, the destructive fungus remained long confined to Southeast Asia and Australia, until its presence was confirmed in both the Middle East and Africa in 2013. Experts feared an eventual appearance in Latin America, the epicenter of the global banana export industry. No known fungicide or biocontrol measure has proven effective against TR4.

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How Netflix Is Using Its Muscle To Push Filmmaking Technology Boundaries

Tue, 2019-08-13 10:00
Carolyn Giardina from The Hollywood Reporter writes about the growing influence Netflix has from hardware and software development to industry display standards. For example, as recently as six months ago, Netflix forbid Hollywood cinematographers from using a highly-popular camera because the standard model employed a 3.2K resolution sensor instead of a 4K sensor required for the streamer's original programming. Netflix also pressured TV manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic to feature a "Netflix calibrated mode" and "Netflix Recommended TV" logo in their consumer TVs. From the report: To make sure its content is being produced how it wants, the streamer in September launched a Netflix Post Technology Alliance with MTI, Adobe, Sony and others. It shares its roadmap with these companies, and if these firms develop tools -- from cameras to editing systems -- that meet its requirements, they are permitted to use the "Netflix Post Technology Alliance" logo. The logo has been visible in the past year at industry trade shows -- a literal sign of growing influence. Netflix also is involved in industry standardization and development efforts. For instance, it recently joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Academy Software Foundation, a forum for open source software developers. While Netflix is involved in collaborations, the company also maintains robust engineering efforts in-house -- beyond the teams working on its secret distribution algorithms. It is pioneering new interactive content, such as Bandersnatch, which was made incorporating Branch Manager, a software system developed in-house. Other homegrown advances include Netflix's scheduling software and its work to bring more automation to audio dubbing through artificial intelligence. There's likely much more in the works that Netflix does not share with the public. But one thing is certain: The company is having a penetrating impact not only on which content is made and how it is distributed and consumed, but also on the very tech that creates it.

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Nuclear Reactor For Mars Outpost Could Be Ready To Fly By 2022

Tue, 2019-08-13 07:00
A nuclear power system that could one day provide juice to colonies on Mars is closer to being ready than previously expected. According to project team members, the Kilopower experiment fission reactor could be ready for its first in-space trial by 2022. Space.com reports: A flight test is the next big step for the Kilopower experimental fission reactor, which aced a series of critical ground tests from November 2017 through March 2018. No off-Earth demonstration is on the books yet, but Kilopower should be ready to go by 2022 or so if need be, said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "I think we could do this in three years and be ready for flight," McClure said late last month during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group. "I think three years is a very doable time frame," he added, stressing that this is his opinion, not necessarily that of NASA, which is developing the Kilopower project along with the DOE. As its name suggests, the Kilopower reactor is designed to generate at least 1 kilowatt of electrical power (1 kWe). Its output is scalable up to about 10 kWe, and it can operate for about 15 years, McClure said. So, four scaled-up Kilopower reactors could meet the energy needs of NASA explorers, with a fifth reactor likely landed to provide a spare.

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Ebola Is Now Curable

Tue, 2019-08-13 03:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: Amid unrelenting chaos and violence, scientists and doctors in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been running a clinical trial of new drugs to try to combat a year-long Ebola outbreak. On Monday, the trial's cosponsors at the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health announced that two of the experimental treatments appear to dramatically boost survival rates. Starting last November, patients in four treatment centers in the country's east, where the outbreak is at its worst, were randomly assigned to receive one of four investigational therapies -- either an antiviral drug called remdesivir or one of three drugs that use monoclonal antibodies. Scientists concocted these big, Y-shaped proteins to recognize the specific shapes of invading bacteria and viruses and then recruit immune cells to attack those pathogens. One of these, a drug called ZMapp, is currently considered the standard of care during Ebola outbreaks. It had been tested and used during the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014, and the goal was to see if those other drugs could outperform it. But preliminary data from the first 681 patients (out of a planned 725) showed such strong results that the trial has now been stopped. Patients receiving Zmapp in the four trial centers experienced an overall mortality rate of 49 percent, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Mortality rates are in excess of 75 percent for infected individuals who don't seek any form of treatment.) The monoclonal antibody cocktail produced by a company called Regeneron Pharmaceuticals had the biggest impact on lowering death rates, down to 29 percent, while NIAID's monoclonal antibody, called mAb114, had a mortality rate of 34 percent. The results were most striking for patients who received treatments soon after becoming sick, when their viral loads were still low -- death rates dropped to 11 percent with mAb114 and just 6 percent with Regeneron's drug, compared with 24 percent with ZMapp and 33 percent with Remdesivir.

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Tesla Owner Implants RFID Chip From Her Model 3's Keycard Into Her Arm

Tue, 2019-08-13 02:10
A Tesla driver figured out a way to implant the RFID tag from her Model 3's keycard into her forearm. Now, all she needs to do to unlock and turn on her car is to hold her forearm near the console -- no physical key fob or smartphone required. The Verge reports: Amie DD is a software engineer and self-described "maker of things." In a video, she explained that she had implanted an RFID tag in her arm years ago, which she had used to open her home's front door and to send a smartphone's browser to her personal website. When she preordered her Model 3, she realized that she could probably do something similar with the keycard. She didn't have any luck transferring the software to her existing chip, so she decided to extract the card's chip and implant that into her arm. To do that, she dissolved the card using acetone, and had it encased in a biopolymer. From there, she went to a body-modification studio to have the chip (about the size of a Lego mini-figure) implanted into her forearm. In another video (warning, there's some blood), she shows off the implantation. She also documented her process on Hackaday. She told The Verge that the chip does work, but the range from her arm to the console "isn't the greatest." It's only about an inch, but she's hoping that it'll improve as the swelling of her arm goes down.

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Study Blames Rise In Teens Who Need Glasses On Excessive Screen Time

Tue, 2019-08-13 01:30
pgmrdlm shares a report from StudyFinds: So many people, especially young people and teenagers, spend a significant period of time each day staring at a screen of some kind, whether that be a computer, smartphone, tablet, or the regular old TV. Now, a new study is warning parents that all that screen time may be behind a stunning rise in children who need prescription glasses. According to the report released by United Kingdom-based eye care company Scrivens Opticians, the percentage of 13-16 year olds in the U.K. who need glasses has nearly doubled over the past seven years -- from 20% in 2012 to 35% in 2018. Two-thirds of those teens were diagnosed as being myopic, or short-sighted. Researchers theorize that this significant increase in eye problems among young people is likely linked to excessive time spent staring at screens, which can lead to eye strain, shortsightedness, and blurred vision. In fact, the study also found that the average 13-16 year old spends around 26 hours per week staring at a smartphone, playing video games, or watching TV.

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Russia Says New Weapon Blew Up In Nuclear Accident Last Week

Tue, 2019-08-13 00:52
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The failed missile test that ended in an explosion killing five atomic scientists last week on Russia's White Sea involved a small nuclear power source, according to a top official at the institute where they worked. The men "tragically died while testing a new special device," Alexei Likhachev, the chief executive officer of state nuclear monopoly Rosatom, said at their funeral Monday in Sarov, a high-security city devoted to atomic research less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow where the institute is based. The part of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center that employed them is developing small-scale power sources that use "radioactive materials, including fissile and radioisotope materials" for the Defense Ministry and civilian uses, Vyacheslav Soloviev, scientific director of the institute, said in a video shown by local TV. The blast occurred Aug. 8 during a test of a missile engine that used "isotope power sources" on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk region, close to the Arctic Circle, Rosatom said over the weekend. The Defense Ministry initially reported two were killed in the accident, which it said involved testing of a liquid-fueled missile engine. The ministry didn't mention the nuclear element. It caused a brief spike in radiation in the nearby port city of Severodvinsk, according to a statement on the local administration's website that was later removed. A Sarov institute official on the video posted Sunday said radiation levels jumped to double normal levels for less than an hour and no lasting contamination was detected. The Russian military said radiation levels were normal but disclosed few details about the incident. There's speculation that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin introduced last year.

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Ring Told People To Snitch On Their Neighbors In Exchange For Free Stuff

Tue, 2019-08-13 00:12
popcornfan679 shares a report from Motherboard: Ring, Amazon's home security company, has encouraged people to form their own "Digital Neighborhood Watch" groups that report crime in exchange for free or discounted Ring products, according to an internal company slide presentation obtained by Motherboard. The slide presentation -- which is titled "Digital Neighborhood Watch" and was created in 2017, according to Ring -- tells people that if they set up these groups, report all suspicious activity to police, and post endorsements of Ring products on social media, then they can get discount codes for Ring products and unspecified Ring "swag." A Ring spokesperson said the program described in the slide presentation was rolled out in 2017, before Ring was acquired by Amazon. They said it was discontinued that same year. "This particular idea was not rolled out widely and was discontinued in 2017," Ring said. "We will continue to invent, iterate, and innovate on behalf of our neighbors while aligning with our three pillars of customer privacy, security, and user control." "Some of these ideas become official programs, and many others never make it past the testing phase," Ring continued, adding that the company "is always exploring new ideas and initiatives."

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Many of the 'Oldest' People in the World May Not Be as Old as We Think

Mon, 2019-08-12 23:35
We've long been obsessed with the super-elderly. How do some people make it to 100 or even 110 years old? Why do some regions -- say, Sardinia, Italy, or Okinawa, Japan -- produce dozens of these "supercentenarians" while other regions produce none? Is it genetics? Diet? Environmental factors? Long walks at dawn? From a report: A new working paper released on bioRxiv, the open access site for prepublication biology papers, appears to have cleared up the mystery once and for all: It's none of the above. Instead, it looks like the majority of the supercentenarians (people who've reached the age of 110) in the United States are engaged in -- intentional or unintentional -- exaggeration. The paper, by Saul Justin Newman of the Biological Data Science Institute at Australian National University, looked at something we often don't give a second thought to: the state of official record-keeping. Across the United States, the state recording of vital information -- that is, reliable, accurate state record-keeping surrounding new births -- was introduced in different states at different times. A century ago, many states didn't have very good record-keeping in place. But that changed gradually over time in different places. Newman looks at the introduction of birth certificates in various states and finds that "the state-specific introduction of birth certificates is associated with a 69-82% fall in the number of supercentenarian records." In other words, as soon as a state starts keeping good records of when people are born, there's a 69 to 82 percent fall in the number of people who live to the age of 110. That suggests that of every 10 supposed supercentenarians, seven or eight of them are actually younger than that, but we just don't know it because of poor record-keeping.

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ByteDance Launches New Search Engine in China

Mon, 2019-08-12 22:55
ByteDance, the owner of short-video app TikTok, has launched a new search engine in China, entering a sector currently dominated by Baidu. From a report: Beijing-based ByteDance is moving beyond its core businesses in news and video and into work-place messaging and music streaming, competing with Tencent and other Chinese tech firms. The domain for the new search engine, Toutiao Search, sits within the company's flagship product - Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao. ByteDance, which according to sources familiar with the matter was valued at $78 billion in its last financing round in 2018, declined to comment. The company said on social media last month it was looking to hire people to work with its search engine team, and had hired technical experts from Google, Baidu and Bing. It said the search engine would offer content from ByteDance-owned apps, including Jinri Toutiao and the Chinese version of TikTok, as well as the wider web.

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Uber Imposes Engineer Hiring Freeze as Losses Mount

Mon, 2019-08-12 22:15
Uber isn't letting tech workers join the ride, at least for now. From a report: The ride-hailing giant canceled scheduled on-site interviews for tech roles last week, and job applicants have been told positions are being put on hold due to a hiring freeze in engineering teams in the U.S. and Canada, according to multiple people who received the communications. In emails sent to job interviewees, Uber recruiters explained "there have been some changes" and the opportunity has been "put on hold for now," according to emails reviewed by Yahoo Finance. The hiring freeze comes after 400 layoffs in its marketing department earlier this month, which raised concerns and fears company-wide. During a recent all-hands meeting, a question about potential layoffs in the engineering department was also raised, but executives didn't provide any timelines. The number of hiring posts for software engineer roles at Uber peaked in March, according to data tracking firm Thinknum. The move highlights the challenges that Uber faces as it scrambles to prove to Wall Street, since its IPO in May, that it's on the right track to achieve profitability. The company, with 100 million monthly active users, reported $5.23 billion in losses for the second quarter last week.

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Almost Half of Employees Have Access To More Data Than They Need

Mon, 2019-08-12 21:35
A new study of over 700 full-time US employees reveals that that 48 percent of employees have access to more company data than they need to perform their jobs, while 12 percent of employees say they have access to all company data. From a report: The survey by business app marketplace GetApp also asked employees what classifications of data protection are in place at their company. No more than a third of businesses were found to use any one individual data classification. The lowest in use are Proprietary (15 percent) and Highly Confidential (18 percent). The most commonly used are Confidential -- 33 percent of businesses use this classification, Internal -- 30 percent, Public -- 29 percent and Restricted/Sensitive -- 25 percent.

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Verizon To Sell Tumblr To WordPress Owner

Mon, 2019-08-12 20:55
According to The Wall Street Journal, Verizon has agreed to sell its blogging website Tumblr to the owner of popular online-publishing tool WordPress. Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion in 2013, and was later included in Verizon's $4.5 billion purchase of Yahoo's web assets in 2017. Bloomberg reports: Automattic Inc. will buy Tumblr for an undisclosed sum and take on about 200 staffers, the companies said. Tumblr is a free service that hosts millions of blogs where users can upload photos, music and art, but it has been dwarfed by Facebook, Reddit and other services. The Tumblr acquisition is the largest ever in terms of price and head count for Automattic, the company's Chief Executive Matt Mullenweg said in an interview. The San Francisco company has a stable of brands focused on online publishing, including longform site Longreads, comment-filtering service Akismet, and avatar-managing service Gravatar. Mr. Mullenweg said his company intends to maintain the existing policy that bans adult content. He said he has long been a Tumblr user and sees the site as complementary to WordPress.com. "It's just fun," he said of Tumblr. "We're not going to change any of that." Tumblr has a strong mobile interface and dashboard where users follow other blogs, he said. Executives will look for ways WordPress.com and Tumblr can share services and functionality.

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