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The Art of Technology
Updated: 1 hour 58 min ago

Nintendo announces March 2017 launch for Nintendo NX—and Zelda delay

4/27/2016 3:21am

With the news of Nintendo NX's launch window and yet another Zelda delay came this brand-new concept art from the upcoming Zelda game. So, that's cool, at least. (credit: Nintendo of America)

Nintendo's annual fiscal-year earnings release went live on Wednesday via an announcement from its Japanese arm, and with that release came a very modestly tucked bit of giant news: the firmest launch-window announcement yet for the company's next, still-unnamed game system.

"For our dedicated video game platform business, Nintendo is currently developing a gaming platform codenamed 'NX' with a brand-new concept," the report said in its "outlook" section. "NX will be launched in March 2017 globally." The earnings release did not offer any explanation or clarification about what that "brand-new concept" will be, in spite of recent patent-related hints about twists such as a new controller.

Nintendo didn't make a formal statement about the Legend of Zelda's latest delay; instead, the company tucked that news into a game release date list. (credit: Nintendo)

In even more surprising news, expectations that Nintendo would unveil the NX in time for June's Electronic Entertainment Expo were dashed by a statement from acting Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima, who confirmed in a Wednesday investor phone call (as reported by The Wall Street Journal's Tokyo bureau correspondent Takashi Mochizuki) that the system will not appear at this year's E3. In fact, various statements made on Wednesday, including an Australian announcement and a post on the company's American Twitter feed, hint at the company bringing only the Wii U version of The Legend of Zelda to E3 2016—meaning, the company's expo presence may include no other software [Update: Nintendo has now confirmed that Zelda will be the only playable game it shows at E3].

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Hacking group “PLATINUM” used Windows’ own patching system against it

4/26/2016 9:42pm

Platinum mass & well-formed crystals from Russia. (public display, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA). (credit: James St. John)

Microsoft's Windows Defender Advanced Threat Hunting team works to track down and identify hacking groups that perpetrate attacks. The focus is on the groups that are the most selective about their targets and that work the hardest to stay undetected. The company wrote today about one particular group that it has named PLATINUM.

The unknown group has been attacking targets in South East Asia since at least 2009, with Malaysia being its biggest victim, with just over half the attacks, and Indonesia in second place. Almost half of the attacks were aimed at government organizations of some kind, including intelligence and defense agencies, and a further quarter of the attacks were aimed at ISPs. The goal of these attacks does not appear to have been immediate financial gain—these hackers weren't after credit cards and banking details—but rather broader economic espionage using stolen information.

Microsoft doesn't appear to know a great deal about the team doing the hacking. The team has often used spear-phishing to initially penetrate target networks and seems to have taken great pains to hide its attacks. For example, it has used self-deleting malware to cover its tracks, customized malware to evade anti-virus detection, and malware that limits its network activity to only be active during business hours, so its traffic is harder to notice. Redmond suggests that the adversary is likely a government organization of some kind, due to its organization and the kinds of data it has sought to steal.

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Five months later, BlackBerry Priv gets Marshmallow update [Updated]

4/26/2016 7:00pm

(credit: Ron Amadeo)

BlackBerry recently dumped its in-house operating system—Blackberry 10—and became one of the newest Android OEMs. It launched the BlackBerry Priv with Android 5.1 in November last year, and today we're getting an idea of what the company's major update process looks like. The Priv is being updated to Android 6.0.

The initial launch of the Blackberry Priv gave us good reason to worry about BlackBerry's software acumen. It launched with Android 5.1 a month after Android 6.0 came out. What, we asked, would happen when it came time to update the Priv? If BlackBerry can't even launch with an up-to-date version of Android, how long would a big update take? The answer seems to be "six months." Marshmallow for the unlocked BlackBerry Priv is rolling out six months after the OS' release and five months after the release of the Priv.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow brings support for user-controllable app permissions—an ironic omission from the Priv given that the name stands for "Privacy." Adoptable storage will be great for the Priv's MicroSD—if BlackBerry doesn't disable it. This feature turns removable storage and internal storage into a single unified pool, allowing you to install apps, media, or whatever else you want on the SD card. Standby battery life should improve with the new "Doze" feature, too.

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Slower iPhone, iPad, and Mac sales drive Apple’s revenue down in Q2 2016

4/26/2016 5:29pm

Apple's three biggest moneymakers, the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, are down year-over-year. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Apple has just released its earnings report for the second quarter of fiscal 2016, which runs from the beginning of January to the end of March. As CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri warned in last quarter's earnings call, iPhone sales were down year-over-year for the first time since the product's launch in 2007. Since the iPhone accounts for around two-thirds of Apple's revenue, this means that Apple is also reporting its first year-over-year quarterly revenue decline since 2003, something CEO Tim Cook referred to as a "pause in [Apple's] growth." iPad and Mac sales are also down, though the Services and "Other products" categories ticked upward.

Apple made $10.5 billion in profit and $50.6 billion in revenue, compared to $13.6 billion in profit and $58 billion in revenue in Q1 of 2015. Its gross margin was 39.4 percent. These results beat the low end of Apple's guidance for the quarter, which predicted revenue between $50 billion and $53 billion and a profit margin between 39 and 40 percent.

The company predicts that the year-over-year quarterly decline will continue next quarter. Apple expects it will make between $41 and $43 billion in revenue in the third quarter of fiscal 2016 with profit margins between 37.5 and 38 percent. This is well below the $49.6 billion in revenue that Apple made in Q3 of 2015.

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Liveblog: Apple’s Q2 2016 earnings call starts at 2pm PT/5pm ET

4/26/2016 4:45pm

iPhone sales account for a huge chunk of Apple's revenue, so slower iPhone sales means a lot less revenue. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Apple will report its earnings for the second quarter of fiscal 2016 at 5pm EDT/2pm PDT/10pm UK, and as usual Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson and I will be following along with the call and providing charts and commentary. Apple is expected to report its first year-over-year revenue decline since 2003, mainly due to lower iPhone sales.

Apple's own forecasts predict revenue between $50 billion and $53 billion, well short of the $58 billion it earned in Q2 of 2015 though still higher than the $45.6 billion in revenue it earned in Q2 of 2014. The outsized success of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last year set a tough benchmark for the company, and pent-up demand for the larger phones left over from Q1 of 2015 also made Q2 sales higher than they may otherwise have been. A slowing economy in China, Apple's fastest-growing market, could also affect growth this quarter, while increased pressure from the Chinese government could impact future growth.

Apple introduced a handful of new products in the second quarter, which runs from the beginning of January to the end of March, but they were all introduced late enough in the quarter that we won't know how much of a difference they made until next quarter. New devices include the iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro, though price drops for the iPad Air 2 and a new capacity for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro could conceivably shore up the perennially backsliding iPad sales.

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Fullscreen’s video subscription service is packed with YouTube-driven shows

4/26/2016 4:34pm

(credit: Fullscreen)

YouTube Red isn't the only digital video service to put YouTube stars at the forefront of its content. The media company Fullscreen launched its online video subscription service featuring shows that star YouTube personalities, including Grace Helbig and Shane Dawson. The ad-free subscription service will be free for the first month and then users can pay $4.99 per month to continue watching.

Fullscreen started out as a type of talent agency that worked with social media stars to secure ad-sponsored deals on free sites like Instagram. Fullscreen's founder George Strompolos told the BCC, "Social media is a great place to make quick, inexpensive content to engage a fanbase. But when it comes to longer form or premium productions, the economics of producing it on the free web just don't work out." Now, with the company's roster of more than 75,000 partners (many of which are from YouTube), it will create a "premium destination" with original content featuring a lot of online personalities that young people already know, as well as licensed shows and movies.

Fullscreen didn't waste time in going for the big stars on YouTube. Comedian and personality Shane Dawson of ShaneDawsonTV has a huge following of more than 7.3 million subscribers, one movie under his belt with another on the way, and a podcast he's been recording for the past three years. Fullscreen will take his Shane and Friends podcast and produce it in video format, so fans who want to watch Dawson and his cohost Jessie Buttafuoco interact with guests can do so, while others can still listen to the podcast for free on iTunes or Soundcloud.

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As FDA preps e-cigs rules, scientists and Congress rally to support vaping

4/26/2016 4:20pm

(credit: Kieran McCarthy)

The 2017 Agriculture Appropriations Bill may not seem like a stirring piece of legislation to most, but it raised quite a few eyebrows last week as it passed through a House subcommittee with a key amendment—one that aims to spare the vast majority of electronic cigarettes from impending federal regulations.

The bipartisan effort to protect the burgeoning e-cig market is just the latest in a long-smoldering debate reignited by the Food and Drug Administration’s plans this year to begin regulating the new devices as it does traditional tobacco products. The crux of the controversy is about whether e-cigarettes act more as a gateway into or a ticket out of dangerous tobacco use, the single largest cause of preventable deaths in the US.

E-cig flavors. (credit: Wikimedia)

Proponents argue that the new FDA regulations will protect children from bad habits. For instance, one of the proposed rules will prevent e-cig makers from using youth-based marketing—like edgy, rebellious ads and candy-flavored e-cigs—that can hook kids into lifelong nicotine addictions and deadly tobacco habits. Such marketing strategies were first used by tobacco companies decades ago and were highly successful until the FDA banned the practice. With e-cig companies already copying the tactics, many politicians and public health experts have chided the FDA for not rolling out regulations faster. The agency first proposed rules back in 2014.

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Dropbox will now show all your files locally without using any disk space

4/26/2016 3:26pm

Dropbox will soon be adding support on both Windows and OS X for placeholder files that create a full view of your cloud-synced files, even if they're not available locally.

OneDrive (or rather SkyDrive, as it was called then) in Windows 8.1 was a significant step forward in improving the cloud storage experience for desktop users thanks to its novel handling of cloud-synced files. Within Explorer and at the command prompt, every file stored on OneDrive was shown, even if it wasn't synced locally. Double-clicking a file (or using File... Open within an application) would automatically download it so that it could be read and edited as normal.

This system provided a great increase in usability, especially on machines with limited local storage. Instead of requiring you to pick and choose which files or folders to sync manually in order to avoid filling the local disk, you could see all your files and folders in your OneDrive folder. Only the ones that you actually opened locally would occupy their full size; everything else was shrunk to a few bytes of metadata.

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Time Warner Cable’s bad behavior helped Charter win merger approval

4/26/2016 2:47pm

Charter's footprint after the proposed merger. (credit: Charter)

With Charter Communications set to receive approval for its acquisition of Time Warner Cable (TWC), regulators plan to impose a series of conditions designed to stop anti-competitive and anti-consumer policies pursued by TWC.

Conditions proposed by the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission would prohibit the combined company from imposing data caps and overage fees on Internet customers, charging large online content providers for network interconnection, and stifling growth of online video by demanding restrictive clauses in contracts with programmers. Time Warner Cable has more aggressively pursued these types of policies than Charter.

Charter doesn't have a sterling reputation, ranking nearly as low as Comcast and TWC in consumer satisfaction rankings. But Charter seized on the differences between itself and TWC while arguing its case and suggested some of the merger conditions that ended up forming the basis of the DOJ's and FCC's final proposals.

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Titan’s great lakes appear to be filled with clear, colorless methane

4/26/2016 2:32pm

Organic compounds in Titan’s seas and lakes. (credit: ESA)

Liquid seas exist on the surface of just two worlds in the Solar System: Earth and Saturn's moon Titan. Discovered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft about a decade ago, the hydrocarbon seas of Titan are more exotic, of course, as they exist in liquid form at temperatures around -180 degrees Celsius.

Now, after the Cassini spacecraft has made a number of flybys of Titan, scientists assessing light and other radiation emanating from the moon's surface say they have a better handle on exactly what is in one of those seas. And to their surprise, they have found that the second largest lake on Titan, Ligeia Mare, is composed of nearly pure methane.

“We expected to find that Ligeia Mare would be mostly ethane, which is produced in abundance in the atmosphere when sunlight breaks methane molecules apart,” said Alice Le Gall, lead author of the new study. “Instead, this sea is predominantly made of pure methane."

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Hubble spots a Makemake moon

4/26/2016 2:20pm

Enlarge / The arrow points to the very faint moon near Makemake. (credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Parker)

Today, NASA announced that images it has been sitting on for a year show a moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt. The moon, formally known as S/2015 (136472) and going informally as MK 2, is in orbit around Makemake, a dwarf planet two-thirds the size of Pluto that spends most of its time more than 40 Astronomical Units away from the Sun (1 AU is the typical Earth-Sun distance).

MK 2 is more than 1,300 times fainter than the planet it orbits, largely because it has a very dark surface compared to Makemake's icy white color. It also appears to orbit within the plane of the Solar System, which means it's indistinguishable from Makemake for much of its orbit—Hubble managed to catch it when it was more than 20,000km from the dwarf planet. Estimates are that MK 2 is about 160km across compared to Makemake's 1,400km.

Early observations show that the orbit takes at least 12 days, and the shape of the orbit is roughly circular. This data suggests that MK 2 formed from debris liberated from Makemake by an impact; passing objects that are captured by planets typically have eccentric orbits. Detailed observations of MK 2's orbit will allow us to determine the density of Makemake, which will then tell us something about its composition, so NASA will continue observing the new body.

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Google introduces quick-swap watchbands for Android Wear

4/26/2016 2:10pm

Enlarge / Slide the button and remove the watchband. Simple! (credit: Google)

One of the things the Apple Watch has been able hold over its Android Wear competitors is the ability to easily swap watchbands. Today Google hopes to catch up with a new line of easily changeable watchbands called "Mode." The design is pretty simple. Lugs on the watch body hold a permanent bar, and the band has a trapdoor for the bar that opens and closes via a little switch.

The bands are made in partnership with watchband company "b&nd by Hadley Roma." They come in four different widths, so they should fit most of the existing Android Wear devices out there. The Android Wear website has a sizing chart for existing devices. For what Google calls the "first collection," there are ten leather bands and six silicone bands in a rainbow of colors, but no options for a metal version.

In the past, Android Wear OEMs have recommended going to a jeweler to have watchbands swapped out, so easily removable bands are a big improvement. Google says it's sharing the Mode mechanism design, instructions, and specs with other brands in the hope that a whole ecosystem springs up. The bands are available at the Google Store (US), Amazon, and Best Buy. Leather goes for $60, silicone for $50.

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Human history traced via the Y chromosome

4/26/2016 1:48pm

The Y chromosome (right) is pretty minimalist compared to the X, but it holds much more history. (credit: MIT)

The history of humanity, as we've read it through DNA, has been written largely by females. Mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from our mothers, is short and easy to sequence, so researchers have frequently relied on it to study human DNA, both in present populations and in old bones.

But as DNA sequencing technology has improved, it has become progressively easier to sequence all the DNA that an individual carries. If said individual is a male, the resulting sequence will include the Y chromosome, which is inherited only from fathers. With more data in hand, researchers have been able to perform an analysis of the Y chromosome's history, and they've found that its sequence retains the imprint of both the migrations and technological innovations that have featured in humanity's past.

How to read a Y

Most chromosomes in the cell are present as two copies, which allows them to swap genetic material. Over time, this swapping will mix up the mutations that occur on the chromosome, making their history difficult to untangle.

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Judge rules in favor of “likely guilty” murder suspect found via stingray

4/26/2016 1:30pm

(credit: Artondra Hall)

A Baltimore judge has tossed crucial evidence obtained via a stingray in a murder case—the trial was set to begin this week.

According to the Baltimore Sun, local police used the device, also known as a cell-site simulator, to locate the murder suspect in an apartment near his victim’s. In 2014, investigators used the stingray to locate the suspect, Robert Copes, who allowed them into his apartment. There, amid cleaning supplies including bleach and the phone they were looking for, police found the blood of Ina Jenkins, 34, in Copes' apartment. Jenkins' body was found “dumped across the street.”

The Baltimore police had a court-approved pen register, a legal authorization, to use the stingray. However that is not the same as a search warrant that requires probable cause.

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Jurors caught using social media could be fined up to $1,500

4/26/2016 1:15pm

(credit: Renzo Stanley)

Jurors who don't obey a judge's admonition to refrain from researching the Internet about a case or using social media during trial could be dinged up to $1,500 under proposed California legislation.

The first-of-its-kind measure, now before the California Assembly, would give a new weapon to judges in the Golden State who can already hold misbehaving jurors in contempt. But under the new law, designed to combat mistrials, a judge would have an easier time issuing a rank-and-file citation under the proposed law instead of having to go through all of the legal fuss to charge somebody with contempt.

Judges routinely warn jurors not to research their case or discuss it on social media. Normally, errant jurors are dismissed without any penalty, and sometimes a mistrial ensues. Under the new law, levying a fine would be as easy as issuing a traffic ticket.

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Mitsubishi outdoes VW, admits 25 years of falsified economy tests

4/26/2016 12:25pm

The cars in question are tiny Japanese-market "Kei" cars. (credit: Wikimedia)

We've written extensively about Volkswagen Group and its attempt to pull a fast one with regard to diesel emissions here in the US and elsewhere. But VW isn't the only car maker to play fast and loose with regulators when it comes to emissions. VW's diesel scandal has resulted in increased scrutiny abroad; French authorities raided Renault in January and PSA Peugeot Citroen in April as part of ongoing investigations into diesel emissions. But the most breathtaking example must belong to Mitsubishi.

On April 21, we learned that the Japanese car maker had been falsifying fuel economy tests in its home market. This came to light after Nissan (which rebadges some Mitsubishi cars) discovered the engines couldn't match Mitsubishi's numbers. That alone would have been bad enough—indeed, it wiped out a third of Mitsubishi's share price—but it seems it was just the tip of the iceberg.

On Tuesday, Mitsubishi revealed it had been using the wrong fuel economy tests for "Kei" cars—small 0.6L cars made just for the Japanese domestic market—since 1991. More than 600,000 affected cars have been sold in Japan during that time.

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JLENS program’s “blimp gone wild” prompts House to slash funding

4/26/2016 11:34am

One of the two JLENS aerostats on the ground at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Two aerostats make up a JLENS "orbit."

The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) system program has been savaged by the House Armed Services Committee in its markup of the Defense Department's 2017 budget. The proposed cut in funding—from the $45 million requested by the Army to a mere $2.5 million—may signal the end of a program that was a source of controversy well before one of the program's radar aerostats broke loose and drifted hundreds of miles. But that incident, which caused power outages and property damage as the wayward blimp dragged its broken tether from Aberdeen, Maryland, into central Pennsylvania, was likely responsible for the program finally being brought to heel.

JLENS was originally intended to be a collection of paired radar dirigibles, tethered to the ground while floating at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. Of each pair, one aerostat would be equipped with a sensitive "look-down" phased array search radar; the other would have a targeting radar for tracking targets and guiding weapons to them.

The system was intended, as the program's name suggests, to defend against submarine-launched and ship-launched cruise missiles, but it was also advertised as a way to spot low-flying aircraft, drones, swarms of small boats, and even some ground vehicles. Raytheon, the prime contractor for JLENS, and the Army tried to dispel concerns that JLENS could be used for domestic surveillance.

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Blizzard: Allowing pirate WoW servers would “damage [our] rights”

4/26/2016 11:26am

Artist's conception of Blizzard defending its legal rights.

Weeks after forcing the shutdown of a popular, fan-run "pirate" server that ran a classic version of World of Warcraft, Blizzard now says it basically had no choice but to go after Nostalrius to protect its legal rights.

"Why not just let Nostalrius continue the way it was? The honest answer is, failure to protect against intellectual property infringement would damage Blizzard’s rights," World of Warcraft Executive Producer and Vice President J. Allen Brack writes in a post on the official WoW forums. "This applies to anything that uses WoW’s IP, including unofficial servers. And while we’ve looked into the possibility—there is not a clear legal path to protect Blizzard’s IP and grant an operating license to a pirate server."

In the narrowest sense, Blizzard's copyright wouldn't suddenly be invalidated if the company decided to look the other way for one popular "vanilla" server; you can't lose a copyright just by failing to defend it legally. Still, failure to go after Nostalrius would have done some damage to the idea that Blizzard is in full control of the World of Warcraft IP and could have encouraged others to think that such unofficial servers were OK. Even now, there are plenty of other pirate servers out there running previous, current, and/or modified versions of World of Warcraft, most of which have yet to draw Blizzard's legal fire.

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Copyright chaos: Why isn’t Anne Frank’s diary free now?

4/26/2016 10:23am

(credit: Anne Frank House)

Anne Frank was a teenager who is now known the world over for her diary of life in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. She died in February or March 1945, at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where was she held, shortly before it was liberated. Since the applicable term of copyright in the EU is 70 years after the death of a writer, this means that her famous diary should now be in the public domain.

That is the supposed deal of copyright: in return for a time-limited monopoly enforced by the state, a protected work passes into the public domain after the copyright term expires, after which it can be freely used by anyone for any purpose.

So why isn't The Diary of a Young Girl free now? The answer to that question reveals the patchwork nature of copyright in the EU, and the absurdly long duration that makes it unsuited for a digital world where sharing and reuse is the norm.

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Facebook mulls standalone camera app to keep users from wandering

4/26/2016 10:16am

(credit: Maria Elena)

Facebook doesn't like the fact that most users don't dwell in the social network; they just passively visit on a daily basis. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company may be looking to change this "bad" habit by developing a standalone camera app that would encourage creating and sharing photos and videos all within Facebook.

"People familiar with the matter" claim that Facebook's "friend-sharing" team has developed a prototype for an app that would open to a camera and allow users not only to take and share photos but also to record video and start livestreams as well. If the app opens to a camera, it would make it much like Snapchat. Facebook has tried in the past to make a Snapchat-like competitor app called Slingshot that lets users share photos and videos that disappeared after 24 hours. Facebook also dabbled in photo editing and sharing apps—the company developed the aptly named Camera app only to abandon it and Slingshot when neither caught on with users.

Facebook-owned Instagram certainly doesn't have a problem with users just passively visiting the app. That social network has become a place for the most manicured photos, but Facebook is focusing on spontaneous image and video capturing with this latest effort. While Instagram makes users go through multiple steps before posting an image (upload, crop, add filter, edit, write caption, etc), it's likely that Facebook's standalone camera app would encourage users to post without thinking twice.

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