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Not just another pretty map

Earthmine, presenting at Demofall last week in San Diego, just seemed, at first, to be a rip-off of Google StreetView, ho-hum. But there turned out to be a lot behind those pictures of a San Francisco street. In fact, company senior vice president Kris Kelsay told me later, the pictures are really just an overlay, the user interface to a powerful geospacial database.

In the demonstration, a few mouse clicks outlined a building and the software instantly brought up calculations of the buildingâ''s volume; useful, perhaps, in calculating material volume for teardowns, or, perhaps, scaffolding needs for a renovation. The company also expects customers to include insurance and real estate companies. The software can tag the map to note the exact location of manhole covers; this is not exciting to me, for the average user, itâ''s probably more fun zooming in your neighborâ''s window on Google StreetView, but to city planners and others who have to deal with the city infrastructure, this info is really useful.

Earthmine does a drive-by, using GPS locators and a bank of high resolution SLR cameras, to gather the data; a city the size of San Francisco takes the company three weeks to map. That data can be manipulated or exported to other applications.

But Earthmine is easier to understand when youâ''re looking at it. So Iâ''ll tell you more about the technology while you watch this minute or so of video.

Nanoethics gets some ethical scrutiny

An essay that appeared in the Spring 2007 edition of The New Atlantis entitled â''Nanoethics as a Discipline?â'' is one of the most clear and insightful reports I have yet seen on the state of the all the social, ethical, legal and environmental hullabaloo that has been surrounding nanotechnology for the past few years.

It spares no one, nor should it, in revealing all the weirdness that has transpired in this newly emerging â''disciplineâ''.

This, of course, has raised the measured ire of those who are either directly or indirectly the target of this probing essay, with telling titles to their rebuttals like â''A Necessary Absurdityâ''. Personally, the only necessary absurdity I can think of is a Monty Python sketch.

But I suppose itâ''s all fine and good if people want to set up â''think tanksâ'' to muse over thought experiments about what might, or might not, happen and how to best handle these various scenarios, but is this really the best use of time and resources in an emerging field?

The author, Adam Keiper, rightly emphasizes the lack of progress in determining the safety of engineered nanomaterials, quoting the Royal Societyâ''s disappointment that their recommendations made in 2004 have not been pursued in greater earnest.

However, I am not sure that the research into the toxicology of nanomaterials is quite as â''fundamentally disorganizedâ'' as he claims. I think the appearance of disorganization may be the product of this being an international issue with the need to take many regulatory bodies into accountâ''not just the US ones.

But Keiper finds hope in a group of toxicologists proposing a research agenda that will focus these efforts:

â'¢ Development of instruments for detecting nanomaterials in air and water

â'¢ Methods for evaluating the toxicity of nanomaterials

â'¢ New ways to predict and evaluate the effects of nanomaterials â''from cradle to grave

Pursuing this agenda may or may not bring order to the chaos Keiper perceives. It seems the issue is as much bureaucratic as anything else. But these tools are needed, and it seems to be one of the best places to start for determining the real hazard of engineered nanomaterials.

It seems a more fruitfulâ''and perhaps more ethicalâ''course of effort than considering the ethical challenges of some technology that may not even come into existence.

Remembering Sputnik: Charles A. Fowler (Part 2)

Yesterday, we introduced you to one of our online guest columnists, Bert Fowler. Today, we share some thoughts on the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik from this eminent IEEE Fellow.

In an e-mail post this morning, Fowler alerted us to the fact that he first met Sir Arthur C. Clarke in 1943, when the two of them were young men working on Britain's top-secret radar program. On "loan" from the MIT Radiation Lab, Fowler participated in Europe in the effort to guide Allied pilots to their targets and get them safely home again. He notes that Clarke years later introduced him to Frederick C. Durant. So, it seems, the early days of radar and space flight were a time when the engineers and scientists who launched a revolution were a close-knit society of kindred thinkers and doers.

As mentioned yesterday, Fowler has pursued a lifelong interest in electronics, with a particular emphasis in military applications. In a well-honored career, he has served variously as an advisor to (in part): the Military Aircraft Panel of Presidents Science Advisory Committee (1962-66); the Journal of Defense Research (1969-86); the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (1971-77); the Defense Intelligence Agency Science and Technology Advisory Board (Member 1971-2000, Chairman 1976-1982); the Defense Science Board (Member 1972-1998, Chairman 1984-1988); the Strategic Defense Initiative Advisory Committee (Member Ex Officio 1985-88); the Journal of Electronics Defense (1982-92); the DARPA Ultra Wideband Technology Study Panel (Chairman 1990); and the DARPA Airborne Radar Study Senior Review Group (Chairman 1997).

He is not only an IEEE Fellow, but holds the same distinction from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

About a month ago, we asked Fowler to comment on the impact of Sputnik, and his answers were quite thought provoking, even surprising. We share them with you today, fifty years to the day after the first satellite orbited our planet.

SPECTRUM: What are your thoughts on the big anniversary of the launch of Sputnik?

FOWLER: I well remember its sudden appearance and my mixed feelings of being tremendously impressed by the Soviets' accomplishment and of anger/outrage about our, the U.S., allowing them to be first. The latter was amplified by a strong belief by many of us that the administration had been seriously under-funding science and technology. There was also national concern about the small number of U.S. students entering science, engineering, and math careers.

The Presidentâ''s responses, however, were impressive. The creation of the position of Science Advisor, filled so ably by MITâ''s Dr. Killian; the Presidentâ''s Science Advisory Committee; and ARPA [the Advanced Research Projects Agency]. I'm not sure of the chronology, but somewhere in there was the establishment of the office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, an important change in the Defense Department.

SPECTRUM: So you were concerned that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviets in the development of its intellectual capital in the areas of science and engineering, that we were not investing in it sufficiently, which all turned around after Sputnik?

FOWLER: I was, but I was also very pleased by the impact on education with its great emphasis on science, math, and foreign languages. I was a member of a three-person school board in a small, very education-oriented community on Long Island, N.Y. This new thrust was eagerly received by us and many other school boards. Emphasizing this aspect, the banquet speaker at that yearâ''s [1958] New York school board convention was Prof. Ernst Webber, a widely known and respected electrical engineer and president of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, who spoke on the importance of science education in the public schools.

Since those days defense and space R&D has been reasonably well funded as has, with the exception of recent years, the national science budget. However, with its grossly inefficient acquisition system compounded by a near total absence of cost control during recent years, the Defense Department has been getting few new capabilities for its sizeable R&D budgets.

SPECTRUM: How do you feel about the job the U.S. has been doing recently in terms of keeping itself at the forefront of science and engineering?

FOWLER: "What goes around comes around." The recent Augustine Report for the National Academies, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm", once again notes the serious limitations in our K-12 school programs in science and mathematics and the dwindling number of U.S. students entering the fields of science, engineering, and math in our colleges. National attention to the problem is urged. It is fervently hoped that the U.S. will get behind the recommendations of this report.

SPECTRUM: What do you think it will take to get the [U.S.] public to come around to that way of thinking?

FOWLER: Perhaps another Sputnik would help?

[Editor's Note: For a recent article on the report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," please see "Power Up" by Sarah Adee in our September issue.]

CEATEC Japan Day 3

from the desk of Spectrum's Japan correspondent John Boyd:

Downsizing the Cell chip for consumer use

Having put so much time and sweat, not mention resources and cash, into developing the Cell chip, more formerly known as the Cell Broadband Engine, Toshiba Corp. is searching for ways to use the darn thing. Same goes for Toshibaâ''s two co-developer partners IBM Corp. and Sony Corp. The latter, of course, uses the powerful Cell chip to produce the fantastic graphics on its PS3 video game console, but as for Toshiba, it has only been able to produce off-beat prototype applications at industry trade shows in an effort to demonstrate the chipâ''s impressive processing muscle. At CEATEC Toshiba did much the same thing, but this time on a newly unveiled, pruned down derivative of the Cell chip called the SpursEngine, the moniker coined from Synergistic Processing Unit Real Time Streaming.

As Spectrum's Sam Moore explained last January in his article "Multimedia Monster," the Cell chip incorporates eight RISC processing cores that go by the name of Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs) and these work together with a controlling main power-processing element (PPE). But this is serious overkill for say incorporating into a notebook PC or for use in consumer electronics goods. So with an eye on major markets Toshiba has ditched the PPE and four of the SPE core elements, while at the same time

has added an MPEG-2 encoder and decoder, as well as a H.264 encoder and decoder to come up with a next-generation graphics co-processor the SpursEngine.

Cell%20Refrence%20Set%202.jpg

When this device is fully adapted to work with any standard microprocessor Toshiba says it will enable end users and consumers to enter the emerging era of stream processing: essentially the world of parallel processing at far greater efficiencies and speeds than can be achieved with todayâ''s graphics processor and standard CPU combinations. Toshiba is betting that stream processing will soon become the norm as more products and applications go high definition and the use of 3D images increases.

Toshiba has fabricated the SpursEngine on a single chip and expects to begin sampling by the first half of next year. The current prototype operates at a clock speed of 1.5 GHz, consumes between 10 and 20 watts in power and utilizes the speedy Rambus XDR DRAM memory designed to handle high data high volume transfer rates. It is also designed to work with the PCI Express computer expansion card standard.

At CEATEC Toshiba had the prototype chip incorporated into several of its laptop PCs to demonstrate a number of SpursEngine applications. One of these was the use of hand gestures to control the PCâ''s interface. Sitting in front of a webcam mounted on the PC, I made a fist and image recognition software processed the image then in real time I could select (but not activate) video control icons on the PCâ''s display such as play, forward and backward simply by moving my fist. In order to â''push an icon buttonâ'' I then made a thumb up gesture, and the video began to play. A third gesture of an open palm, would cause the video to stop.

SpursEngine%20face%20morphing%20a.jpg

Toshiba muses that possibly one day, with SpursEngines and webcams incorporated in selected appliances, we would be able to throw away our remotes and simply use hand gestures to control TVs, air conditioners et al. No doubt this news will excite remote-use challenged couch potatoes around the globe.

Another demonstration produced real-time face morphing. Again, sitting down in front of a webcam mounted on a PC, an image of my face appeared on the screen and then my hair was transformed into various styles and colors. I could move my head from side to side to admire the beautiful images and the morphed face also moved accordingly, if a little jerkily. The same application also overlaid makeup on my face with the same affect.

All this doesnâ''t mean that Toshiba is lessening its interest in the original Cell chip. On the contrary, it will shortly be shipping an upgraded version of the Cell Reference Set first released in September 2005. It consists of the Cell chip, a circuit board with peripheral chips and peripheral devices such as DVD and hard drives, a power supply, as well as operating systems, middleware and software development tools. It aims to cut development time, simplify testing and reduce costs for developers of Cell chip applications. They clearly could do with a little help.

Remembering Sputnik: Charles A. Fowler (Part 1)

In preparing our package of interviews recalling the significance of the launch of the Sputnik satellite a half century ago, we had to leave one account on the cutting-room floor. In "Sputnik: 50 Years Later", we focused on three early leaders in the field of space exploration who happened to be in exactly the same place at the same time in the days after the world's first artificial object was launched into orbit.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke was the past-president of the British Interplanetary Society. Frederick C. Durant III was the past-president of the International Astronautics Federation. And Ernst Stuhlinger was the representative of the U.S. rocketry team led by Wernher von Braun. They all were in Barcelona, Spain, on 5 October 1957, for the 8th International Astronautics Congress when news of Sputnik struck the world like a comet. We found this remarkable coincidence to be so compelling that we had to concentrate on their mutually shared experience.

Originally, though, we had planned on scanning for recollections from many people in the world of high-tech affected by the event; but we quickly learned that three of the first we contacted unexpectedly had something in common. That changed our approach. One of the folks we asked for a comment early on has been a contributor to Spectrum Online in the past, and it seems only fitting that we let him have his say in this Web portion of our publication.

IEEE Fellow Charles A. "Bert" Fowler, now semi-retired, served in many capacities over the years in research and development in the defense sector. Born in Centralia, Illinois, in 1921, he received a degree in engineering physics from the University of Illinois in 1942. During World War II, he worked for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Radiation Laboratory, where he served on a team that developed a radar landing system for the Royal Air Force in England. As a technical observer in uniform, he helped install and operate the system in Europe until the end of the war. Fowler then returned to the Radiation Lab as a project engineer, working on developing the first radar air-traffic control system.

From 1946 to 1966, Fowler worked for the Airborne Instruments Laboratory (later AIL Systems Inc.) in Deer Park, N.Y., where he was involved in air traffic control and played a lead role in bringing about the use of radar for control of civil air traffic. From 1966 to 1970, he served as the Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering for Tactical Systems in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with responsibility for all tactical aircraft, helicopters, ships, combat vehicles, weapons, and sensors. In 1970, he accepted an offer from the Raytheon Co. to work as its vice president and manager of its Equipment Development Laboratories. In 1976, he moved to the MITRE Corp., where he served as its senior vice president and general manager of the company's Bedford (Mass.) Operations.

Fowler opened his own consulting firm, C. A. Fowler Associates, in Sudbury, Mass., in 1986, advising corporate clients on aspects of electronics, with specialties in radar; command, control, and communications (C3); counter-C3; intelligence; and military systems. He has served as a member of the Defense Science Board (Chair 1984-1988) and the Defense Intelligence Agency, Science and Technology Advisory Board (Chair 1976-1982); and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

In recent years, he has penned a number of essays for IEEE Spectrum, some on the serious side (such as "Asymmetric Warfare: A Primer") and some on the lighter side (such as "The Indefatigable Inventor").

In early October of 1957, he was "trying to run the Radar Department at AIL [Systems], doing radar R&D, mainly advanced signal processing and phased array technology," he told us. He heard the news about the launch of Sputnik on the weekend at his Long Island home.

Tomorrow, on the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, we'll share his thoughts on what Sputnik meant to him and to the United States (particularly in the field of education).

If CMOS is the future, do nanotechnologies stand a chance?

IEEE Spectrum has a fascinating article this month on how Intel scientists and engineers overcame the loss of electrons through the ever-thinning insulation around the transistor gate. This thinning insulation has caused the latest generations of chips to be power-hungry and heat generating little trouble makers. By 2001, they could make them smaller, but not without a price.

The article entitled â''The High-k Solutionâ'' is the story of how this team went about developing a completely new gate stack for transistors. The result is that the next generation of 45-nm chips, wonâ''t suffer the same ills of power loss or heat production as previous generations.

The scientists are pretty confident that their solution will be useful as the next generation of chips get down to 32-nm dimensions. Whether this new transistor structure will work for the next two generations after that: 22 nm and 16 nm is a question that they are not ready to answer.

But CMOS remains alive and well in its endless fight with Mooreâ''s law. So, with CMOS' dominance of integrated circuits (ICS) will nanotechnologies ever play a part?

Not for a while. CMOS will remain the dominant technology for ICs. It seems the proverbial wall wonâ''t be hit by until 2020, or before the â''show stopperâ'' is met as the article terms it.

Research in carbon nanotubes and nanowires are exhibiting promise in creating basic logic elements. And there are even organic transistors that may be somewhat further off.

But the problem, of course, is not just making a carbon nanotube transistor, but connecting millions of them together, not to mention making each one of these types of transistors is a laborious and expensive process.

But over the next decade nanotechnology-based solutions may be able to lend a hand to CMOS. Over the next decade we may see hybrid systems where nanotubes (or other nanotechnologies) are combined with CMOS.

Who knows, maybe the next article we receive from the Intel scientists will be about how they were able to create such a hybrid system and keep up the good fight with Mooreâ''s law.

CEATEC Japan Day 2: Very, very thin TVs

From our Japan correspondent John Boyd:

It was Sony Corp. that got the ultra-thin television bandwagon rollingâ''something very much of a theme at this yearâ''s CEATEC. This happened when it unveiled an 11-inch prototype organic light emitting diode (OLED) TV with a depth of just 3 mm last January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and said that it would launch a commercial model later this year. Despite a Samsung Electronics executive publicly voicing skepticism this would actually come to pass, Sony chose CEATEC Japan to announce a launch date of 1 December, just about in time for the holiday buying season. But carrying a price tag of Y200 000 (US $1,750) as it does, even Sony is under no illusion that hordes of consumers will be forming lines to snap up this elegant little beauty. So the company is geared up to produce just 2000 units monthly. As a Sony staffer at CEATEC put it, â''This is a product for Sony lovers and geeks who want to be the first to own the latest gadgets.â''

Sony%20OLED%20TV.JPG

Well, the XEL-1 is the worldâ''s first OLED TV to ship, even though a number of competing display manufacturers, including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, and Seiko Epson Corp. have demonstrated prototype OLED TVs of their own during the past several years. Alas, all have failed to make it to market because of the short lifetime of the actual organic materials that emit light when a current is passed through them, production issues, high costs compared to LCD and plasma TV competitors, or some combination of those problems.

Sony%20OLED%20TVs.JPG

So the XEL-1, despite its small size, can be considered a feather in Sonyâ''s rather denuded cap of late and it makes up somewhat for missing the LCD TV boat. In fact, Sony was metaphorically drowning just a few years ago and required Samsung Electronics to throw it a life belt by agreeing to form the S-LCD panel manufacturing joint venture. The output from that collabration has allowed Sony to reassert its prowessâ''an impressively fast turnaroundâ''in television manufacturing with its Bravia brand.

Sony is claiming a lifetime of 30 000 hours for the XEL-1, or a viewing time of 8 hours a day for 10 years. Other specs include an impressive contrast ratio of greater than 1 000 000: 1, 8-bit RGB color and a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels or QHD (quarter high definition). Power consumption is a low 45 watts and because the display is self-emissive, you can expect to watch fast action such as sports games and movie car chases without the blurring that can afflict LCD TVs.

Meanwhile, Sharp Corp., the company that launched the LCD TV boat around the turn of the millennium, has been doing its own product shrinking. At CEATEC it made much of a prototype 52-inch LCD TV it first revealed in August. The LCD module (LCD panel, backlight unit, and bezel) section measures just 20 mm at its thinnest point and 29 mm at its thickestâ''about one-quarter the thickness of a standard LCD TV module this large.

Sharp%20ultrathin%20LCD%20TV.JPG

While keeping deliberately vague on its manufacturing methods, Sharp does say it has achieved these remarkable dimensions by employing new materials, components, and designs. A Sharp official said the prototype consumes about half the power of a conventional LCD TV of the same size and just one quarter that of a plasma TV of similar size. Still, it is a prototype and Sharp says the product wonâ''t be on the market until 2010. By that time, the company also aims to shave a few kilos off the 25 kg weight of the current product.

Beating Sharp to the market by miles if not in millimeters is Victor Company of Japan Ltd., better known as JVC. It exhibited a 42-inch LCD TV with module thickness of 20 mm overall. JVC says it will start shipping its product, first to the European market, in spring next year. The TV seemingly floats in the air, mounted as it is on a central stand, somewhat similar to Apple Inc.â''s iMac desktop computer, though obviously on a grander scale. Despite the early shipping date, JVC is refusing to give out any specs except to say the prototype is full high definition.

JVC%20ultrathin%20LCD%20TV.JPG

Hitachi Ltd. too has caught the thinness bug and it is demonstrating a 32-inch LCD TV with module thickness of just 19 millimeters. It also goes one better than JVC in that it is revealing absolutely nothing else about the prototype. Amazing, and that is literally all that can be said.

Hitachi%20ultrathin%20LCD%20TV.JPG

So the promise of large thin TVs light enough to hang on the wall is about to be fulfilled. All in all, judging by the CEATEC displays, Iâ''d say itâ''s been worth the wait.

IBM extends outsourcing business to R&D

From reporter Morgen Peck:

Nokia Siemens Networks has entered into an outsourcing deal that will hand over research and development activities in Munich and Berlin to IBM for the next six years. Both sides expect the transfer to begin by December of this year. The deal encompasses efforts in the development of NSNâ''s next generation voice and multimedia services, mobile Internet connections, and voice-over-internet services.

The announcement falls in line with a strategy that NSN has had since the companyâ''s birth in April, 2007 as a joint venture between Nokia and Siemens. At that time, NSN expected almost ten thousand of its employees to either lose their jobs or be handed over to business partners.

After December, IBM will control 235 NSN employees, about five percent of NSNâ''s workforce in Munich and Berlin, according to Stefan Mueller, an NSN spokesperson. IBM has not yet disclosed what specifically will happen to these jobs, although it says it will transfer entire developments teams.

In their new roles, the two companies will collaborate on product management, architecture, and technical support.

If the deal really transfers significant portions of NSNâ''s R&D over to IBM, it would be an unprecedented move and provide an interesting indication that NSN doesnâ''t consider its research and development to be a core function anymore, says Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy and corporate R&D expert at Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York.

But Martin Kenney, a professor at the UC Davis Center for Entrepreneurship, doubts this is the case. More likely, he says, itâ''s a way for NSN to cut production costs without being directly responsible for lay-offs and economic restructuring. â''I donâ''t see anything dramatic at all,â'' he says. â''It looks to me like this is a way of moving these German, relatively union-labor protected, folks out of the company.â''

This latest deal comes on the heels of a larger restructuring in July when NSN shaved off 2290 employees in Germany.

IBM has stated that it will eventually offer R&D outsourcing to other companies moving in the same direction as NSN.

Follow this link to see where IBM's R&D spending ranks amongst its corporate competitors.

All the cool entrepreneurs hang out at Moffett Field

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The hottest spot in Silicon Valley, these days, appears to be Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif. First, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin got permission to use the Moffett airstrip for their personal jet, a 767-200. The place couldnâ''t be beat for convenienceâ''Google headquarters is practically across the street. And it is only going to cost them $1.3 million a year, plus an agreement to carry scientific research instruments and fly the occasional scientific mission. (This isnâ''t the first time the jet has gotten the Google boys in the news, you might remember the argument over outfitting the plane that led to the famous intervention by CEO Eric Schmidt, in which he reportedly settled a bitter argument by stating, â''Sergey, you can have whatever bed you want in your room; Larry, you can have whatever bed you want in your bedroom. Letâ''s move on.â'')

Now, a Los Gatos sightseeing company, Airship Ventures, is looking to park a Zeppelin at Moffett Field. That won't happen, however, in the famous Hangar One, built to house the USS Macon in 1934. usn5.jpg Hangar One, a Silicon Valley landmark, will either face a wrecking ball or be preserved as an aviation museum, its fate is being contested. You can follow that debate on the website of the Save Hangar One committee. usn2.jpg

Instead, Airship Ventures has its eyes on Hangar Two, built in 1943 to house U.S. Navy blimps. The company has an option on a Zeppelin NT07, now being built by Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The 75-meter helium-filled airship will be able to carry up to 12 passengers; itâ''s 15 meters longer than the largest blimp flying in US skies today. Tickets for sightseeing trips will cost around $250 to $300 each for a one-hour (or less) tour.

When Nanotech Disappears

A recent article in Industry Week posed the question: Nanotech: The Next American Revolution?

Okay, to start nanotechnology is better thought of as â''evolutionâ'' rather than as â''revolutionâ'' in that it essentially is the next step in fields such as material science, exploiting microscopy tools developed over the last 20 years to get new functionalities from materials, but I suppose this is just quibbling.

Another implicit question is posed in the article, if the US has such pressing challenges like energy, materials and labor costs that are making it difficult to remain competitive in the global economy, can nanotechnology fix these problems?

Sure, nanotechnology could fix some of these problems, although I am not too sure about how nanotechnology could directly fix the issue of labor costs.

But it will likely reach these goals when nanotech is no longer used as a term to describe a panacea for the worldâ''s ills.

As the article finally notes in commenting on a quote from Scott Rickert of Nanofilm: As nanotechnology moves from being cutting-edge to being a general-purpose technological process, the term itself could ultimately disappear from general use. "After all, nobody buys our products because they're nanotech based," Nanofilm's Rickert says. "They buy them because they do amazing things."

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