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1
Apr

CNN brings 360-degree videos to its Android app


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CNN has enhanced the video experience in its Android app by adding support for 360-degree video. Now, when you see a video story with a 360-degree video icon, you can just tap, then slide your phone into a Google Cardboard headset and look around for a full experience.

Coinciding with the launch of 360-degree video in its app, CNN has produced a look back at its coverage of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger back in 1986. Created by the news organization’s CNNVR division, the look back reenacts the coverage from that day in virtual reality.

You can start watching CNN’s new VR-friendly video by grabbing the app from the Google Play Store.

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1
Apr

A deeper look at themes on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge


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Samsung’s theme engine has been improved dramatically on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, completing the concept from the previous generation.

Theming your phone can be a complicated but deeply rewarding project. Even with in-depth instructions and a tutorial video, a frequent response to some of the incredible themes assembled by our own Ara Wagoner is asking why there isn’t a one-button solution that applies the theme automatically. Last year we started to see that exact feature roll out in various forms from Samsung, HTC, LG, and Cyanogen. Each system presented their own unique set of problems, but Samsung’s has shown the most growth and improvement from the early days.

Here’s what you need to know about Samsung themes on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge.

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At first glance, Samsung’s theme system doesn’t appear to have changed much. All of the buttons are in the same place, which means you can access themes from the home screen or the settings panel, and once you’re there you can set a launcher icon if you really want it. The UI for the theme engine itself is still designed to let you browse and install anything published to the store by Samsung’s partners, with a smaller section for themes you’ve already downloaded should you be the kind of person who wants a selection of themes to quickly switch to. There’s still no search button, but there are way more curated collections to search through and a new color-based theme browser if you know what aesthetic you’re going for from the beginning.

The most significant change you’ll see at first is the volume of themes, and how different they are from what was available on the Galaxy S6 a year ago. Last year there was an overwhelming amount of sponsored themes from Samsung’s partners to get people interested in the store, but it’s clear that is neither necessary nor a priority anymore. Gone are the Avengers themes from Samsung’s partnership with Marvel, and instead there are pages and pages of hand-drawn wallpapers and custom icon packs to match them. There’s still plenty of fairly tacky themes, in fact the top installed themes according to the store are metallic gold and silver offerings, but the sheer volume of options is impressive. You’ll even find a couple of “Material Design” themes, though like last year they’re not exactly what you’d think by the descriptions.

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Downloading and applying a theme is quite similar to the original setup, with one key difference now. Since Samsung is allowing them creators to charge for their themes — the most expensive we saw was $3.99 — there’s now a trial option for themes. You can download a paid theme without actually paying for it, and try it out on your phone for five minuted. When that five minutes expires, you’re no longer able to use that theme without paying for it. Whether pair or free, the application process is still basically the same. You see a progress bar, and when it’s finished all of the new theme elements are in place.

Themes on the Galaxy S7 are still an all-or-nothing experience. You can’t pick an icon pack and mix it up with a settings theme from somewhere else, which still feels quite limiting. That having been said, Samsung has extended the functionality of themes considerably. Creators can give you custom designs for the Always-On Display that match the theme, and there are no more errors with themes making parts of the interface unreadable from the research we’ve done so far. Samsung does a great job of making sure the design elements don’t break anything anymore, which means the nicer themes you find in the store feel much more like a complete thought.

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Nothing about the theme engine screams “must have” in any new or exciting way, and if you’re using Samsung’s new Good Lock UI you’ll find things like the notification tray don’t theme correctly, but overall this is a great option to have. Samsung has clearly been improving over time, and with that comes a more mature ecosystem and tons of options to choose from. If you’re inclined to get a little creative with the look and feel of your phone, Samsung themes are clearly going to be a solid option for quite a while.

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

  • Galaxy S7 review
  • Galaxy S7 edge review
  • Galaxy S7 edge with Exynos: A Canadian perspective
  • Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
  • Details on the Galaxy S7’s camera
  • The SD card is back on the GS7
  • Join our Galaxy S7 forums

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1
Apr

BlackBerry exec hints at an upcoming Marshmallow beta test for Priv


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While BlackBerry has confirmed that the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update for the BlackBerry Priv is coming by early May, it looks like that the company might offer owners of the smartphone access to a beta test for the OS upgrade.

Michael Clewley, the director of Handheld Software Product Management at BlackBerry, hinted about the beta in his personal Twitter feed:

I’d talk about a #PRIV Marshmallow beta today but given #AprilFools you might not believe me! Gonna have to wait for next week

— Michael Clewley (@MichaelClewley) April 1, 2016

You can learn all about what Marshmallow will bring to the Priv in our full review over on Android Central.

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1
Apr

Kanye West brings The Life of Pablo to Google Play Music All Access and Spotify


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Alright folks, this isn’t an April Fools’ Day prank: Kanye West has brought his latest album, The Life of Pablo, to the major music streaming services, including Google Play Music All Access and Spotify. The album was initially released as an exclusive to the Tidal streaming service, and West had previously stated that it would remain that way.

The Life of Pablo is West’s seventh studio album, and features several guest vocalists, including Rihanna, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd. Interestingly, while the track listing for the album remains the same, a number of people are reporting that the tracks themselves have been updated and tweaked since their initial release on Tidal.

If you like to purchase your music, unfortunately you can buy The Life of Pablo from Google Play, though it is available for $20 directly from Kanye West’s website.

  • Check out The Life of Pablo on Google Play Music All Access
  • Check out The Life of Pablo on Spotify

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1
Apr

Muzik wants its smart headphones to do more than just share


Muzik’s smart headphones are set to arrive this spring, and the company is looking for more apps to integrate with its newfangled cans. Thanks to a hand from Microsoft, Muzik launched an SDK for Windows 10, iOS and Android that will allow apps and services to make use of the headphones’ smart keys. Muzik already announced the audio gear would allow to you share what you’re listening to via social networks, and the folks at Microsoft used the SDK to allow sharing to Slack as well.

“Muzik and Microsoft aim to create integrated user experiences between applications, games and hardware, which has not previously existed in the headphone category,” the SDK announcement explains. The headphones were announced back at CES, touting the ability to share tunes, photos and location info to social channels like Twitter. In fact, Twitter invested in the company, but details on the partnership have been rather scarce. Hopefully we’ll hear more about what the two have planned, and the fruits of the SDK release, when Muzik’s $299 over-ear model launches in the coming weeks.

1
Apr

Uncovering the glory and gore of a 1970s South American cult


It’s 1970 and you’ve abandoned the cruel machinery of modern society and started fresh in a South American jungle. You’re surrounded by like-minded folks — people fed up with wars, poverty, segregation and corruption — and you all contribute in some way to the fledgling commune. It’s led by two charismatic leaders with grand ideas about the future of humanity. Outsiders call it a cult.

Everything goes well, until one of your comrades is repeatedly caught stealing food from the storage unit — a heinous crime in such a small, tightly knit community. If the commune were still a part of larger society, its leaders would throw the thief in jail. But there is no jail in the jungle, and your leaders have no plans to implement a costly prison system. What do you do with the rule-breaker? How do you make him fall in line so the entire commune doesn’t come apart at the seams?

A fellow member suggests an option that would not only teach the thief a lesson, but send a message to the entire community: Chain him up and publicly beat him until the dirt runs red.

“It’s not that I condone that behavior, but you could see how, in that sort of environment, there would be an ethical debate about, should we torture people? How much should we torture them?” asks Richard Rouse III, a veteran game developer who’s spent a lot of time pondering questions about commune life.

Rouse isn’t a fledgling cult leader, but he is intrigued by the mechanisms of alternative societies. His latest game, The Church in the Darkness, is set in a fictional South American commune called Freedom Town in the 1970s. Its leaders, Isaac and Rebecca Walker of the Collective Justice Mission, preach socialism and sustainable agricultural living in a Christian society.

On the surface, the Walkers’ commune doesn’t sound like a terrible place to live. It’s on the fringe and extreme, to be sure, but its systems aren’t inherently evil, exploitative or dangerous. At least, not at first.

Playing as Vic, a former law enforcement officer, you sneak around Freedom Town in a top-down perspective, attempting to locate your nephew, Alex, who voluntarily left the United States to join the commune. Freedom Town isn’t particularly friendly to visitors, so Vic treads lightly, sticking to the shadows behind dusty, tin-roof huts and steering clear of any red-adorned elite guards. Players get to choose their play style: conduct a nonlethal, stealthy invasion or go in guns blazing.

The commune is different in every play-through. Sometimes Isaac and Rebecca are harsh, authoritarian rulers inflicting punishment on their followers for the slightest of missteps, and other times they’re fun-loving, understanding leaders. Half the game is figuring out which kind of commune you’re sneaking around.

Each story unfolds mainly through Isaac and Rebecca’s regular updates over the camp’s PA system — and these should be infinitely entertaining, considering the couple is voiced by celebrated husband-and-wife voice actors Ellen McLain (GLaDOS in Portal) and John Patrick Lowrie (The Sniper in Team Fortress 2).

Rouse met Lowrie back when he was building the 2004 horror game, The Suffering, and Rouse thought he’d be a great fit for The Church in the Darkness — after all, Lowrie was once a “traveling hippie musician” with friends who once belonged to communes. Though they’ve lent their skills to numerous titles, this is Lowrie and McLain’s first gig in which they’re portraying a married couple in a game, and they’ve been providing input from the beginning of development.

“That’s the cool thing I find about being indie like this, is you can just go try to get this creative person and this creative person, and [collaborate],” Rouse says. “That’s not always as possible when you’re working on the bigger projects.”

On top of the announcements, the game’s scenery is packed with clues about each commune’s systems. Documents, sounds and landmarks shed light on Freedom Town’s true purpose every time you load a new game. In one play-through, Isaac may thank his followers for constructing a basketball court (he’s a huge hoops fan), and in others, he might growl through the PA system, demanding to know who destroyed his court. You may spot a wooden pole surrounded by chains and blood, or see “HELP US” spelled out with tree branches in a secret clearing — signs that your nephew, Alex, could be in trouble.

“The game has a lot of immersive SIM-type of qualities you might find in Dishonored or something like that, but it’s trying to be grounded in reality as much as possible,” Rouse says.

Freedom Town takes inspiration from real-life cults, communes and fringe groups. Rouse is particularly intrigued by the Source Family, a spiritual commune that took root in the Hollywood Hills in the late 1960s. Led by James Edward Baker, known as Father Yod, the Source Family attracted more than 100 followers and valued nature, organic vegetarian diets and communal living (and copious amounts of sex, as it happens). Eventually, the group moved to Hawaii — and that’s when Baker realized how difficult it was to run a utopian society, Rouse says.

In 1975, Baker, by then a self-declared god, attempted to hang-glide with no previous experience. He crash-landed and died that day. After mourning his death, some of his commune members remained in Hawaii, while some joined other fringe groups and still more reverted to traditional lives, working at places like Goldman Sachs, Rouse says.

The Source Family was passionate, innovative and wild, but it wasn’t evil.

“You hear less about those types of groups, where it’s like they tried to do something just as progressive and radical, but then they pulled back before oblivion,” Rouse says. “That was what interested me: How do you know which type of group and how do you interpret it?”

Another community that inspired Rouse was Rajneeshpuram, a mystical, sex-focused community that attempted to settle in Oregon in the 1980s. After arguing with locals over land, Rajneeshpuram followers ended up carrying out the largest biological warfare attack in US history: They sprayed the salad bars of local restaurants with salmonella, poisoning 750 people.

Rouse recognizes the strangeness and corruption that often seeps into communities like the Source Family and Rajneeshpuram, but he also sees their ingrained humanity. In researching communes and cults, he discovered a common thread among many former followers: They repeatedly claimed they weren’t brainwashed or crazy, and they looked back fondly at their time in the communes. Their intentions were noble, even if ego and power eventually won out.

“You don’t join a cult because you’re a weak person,” Rouse says. “You join it because you want to change the world or you have a really strong viewpoint or you can imagine the world could be better. So, you’re going to join this group and see if you can make a go of it.”

That’s something Rouse wants to inject into The Church in the Darkness when it launches on Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One early next year: humanity. Isaac and Rebecca are extreme, but they can also be compassionate and caring. Or they can be power-hungry monsters. It all depends on which story you see.

1
Apr

Egypt blocked Facebook’s Free Basics over surveillance requests


Facebook was forced to abandon its Free Basics program in Egypt after refusing to facilitate government surveillance, according to a report by Reuters. The news agency refers to two unnamed sources who are supposedly familiar with the matter, each confirming the disagreement and its relation to the shutdown last December. Free Basics had only been available for two months, through an agreement with the domestic carrier Etisalat. The service is part of Facebook’s internet.org, an initiative which provides free access to some “basic” applications including Facebook.

Reuters’ report is light on detail. It doesn’t mention when the talks took place or what type of access the government was requesting. What is clear, however, is that Facebook refused to comply with the demands. Facebook and Etisalat are yet to comment on the matter. Mohamed Hanafi, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Communication, gave Reuters a different explanation, however. He said it was a regulator’s decision:

“The service was offered free of charge to the consumer, and the national telecommunication regulator saw the service as harmful to companies and their competitors.”

Since the closure, Facebook’s internet.org has been forced to pull out of India too. That decision, however, was due to wider criticisms about Free Basics and its effect on net neutrality. By supplying free access to a select group of services, the argument goes that Facebook was discouraging alternative sites and apps. As a result, not all data was being treated equally — an action that breaks the spirit of net neutrality. India and Egypt are massive markets, but it doesn’t spell the end of Free Basics just yet. The service is still live in 37 countries, including Thailand and Mexico.

Source: Reuters

1
Apr

Hacker claims he helped swing Mexican election


A Bloomberg Businessweek report centered on a Colombian online campaign strategist alleges he hacked political rivals to engineer results in elections across nine Latin American countries.

The man, Andrés Sepúlveda, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for offences related to hacking during Colombia’s 2014 presidential election. But talking to Bloomberg, he alleges that his involvement in politics in the region runs far deeper. The full article runs almost 5,000 words, exposing a vast array of hacking activity.

Sepúlveda alleges that the money for these operations came from Juan José Rendón, a Venezuelan political consultant based in Miami. Rendón vehemently denies his involvement, and says emails provided to Bloomberg as proof were faked.

Assignments that Sepúlveda claims he was handed range from mundane activity like protecting a Honduran candidate from other hackers, or stealing opponents’ email databases to spam accounts with disinformation. But some are far more nefarious. Perhaps the most ostentatious allegation he makes is that he was paid to ensure Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) candidate, Peña Nieto, won the country’s election in 2012.

Sepúlveda claims he was given a $600,000 war chest to ensure victory, and assembled a team of hackers to make it happen. The team, he says, installed router malware at the headquarters of PRI’s main opponents. and used that to tap into phones and computers in the buildings. With this link established, he could read campaign schedules and speeches before they were even finished, and read confidential emails between campaign team members.

He then used both fake, hand-written accounts and an army of 30,000 Twitter bots, using this confidential information to give his candidate the upper hand. In one example of it all coming together, Bloomberg says Sepúlveda discovered a candidate’s weaknesses among voters in an internal staff memo, and started stoking that fear to make the topic trend on Twitter.

Other tactics allegedly used during the campaign include faking 3am robo-calls from political rivals on election eve, or starting a (fake) movement of gay men backing a candidate to alienate his heavily Catholic voter base.

Rendón acknowledges that he has worked with PRI candidates for 16 years, but says his working relationship with Sepúlveda never extended past website design. Sepúlveda, for his part, admits that candidates in some elections may not have been aware that he was even involved, let alone breaking the law. Since being incarcerated, he says he’s been working on behalf of the government to “track and disrupt drug cartels” using a modified version of the software he created to hack campaigns. He also claims he can identify ISIS recruiters on Twitter within minutes of them signing up, and says he wants to share the software he uses to do it with the US and other countries fighting the terrorist organization.

Sepúlveda’s story is truly stunning, and Bloomberg was able to corroborate parts of the narrative, although admits that not all details could be independently verified. One anonymous source in the Mexican campaign “substantially confirmed Sepúlveda’s accounts of his and Rendón’s roles in that election.”

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

1
Apr

The best standing desks


By Mark Lukach and Nathan Edwards

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

Three years ago, The Wirecutter was the first publication to pit all of the major standing desks against one another in a head-to-head test. After spending hundreds of hours testing 13 desks over the years, we can say that the Ergo Depot Jarvis Bamboo (configured with a 60-inch bamboo desktop, cable management, and the handset upgrade) is the best standing desk for most people. It’s as reliable as desks costing more than $1,500, but it provides more stability, sells for half the price, and comes with a seven-year warranty that eclipses the one- to five-year policies its competitors offer.

We also recommend getting our pick for the best standing-desk mat, which will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, neck, and shoulders to help you stand longer and mitigate injury risks.

Who should buy this and why

If you have a desk job, making sure you move around during the day and alternate between sitting and standing can help keep you healthy and injury-free. (But if you’re reading this, you probably already knew that.) You can find a staggering amount of convincing research about the perils of sitting, though as more data comes in, it’s beginning to look like the problem isn’t sitting per se, but the opportunity cost of sitting, namely a lack of physical exercise (standing all day isn’t any better for you).

You should consider an adjustable standing desk if you spend most of your day working at a desk—especially if you have some control over what kind of desk you work at, and particularly if you work from home, as a growing number of people do.

Before you buy it, try it

We’re big believers in starting cheap: One of our testers worked at his kitchen counter for a year before he bought anything. You could also stack boxes or books on your desk so that you can give it a shot—just make sure the ergonomics are right.

You can easily piece together a makeshift standing desk, like Colin Nederkoorn’s $20 IKEA hack, the Standesk 2200. Mat Honan, BuzzFeed’s Silicon Valley bureau chief, built one at his office when he worked at WIRED. “I think I may have been the first person at WIRED to build one, and now there are eight people at the office who have one, too,” Honan told us. “It’s cheap and easy and it looks good.”

What to do if you have a laptop

Whether you’re sitting or standing, the ergonomics of a laptop are awful. The screen is right by the keyboard, rather than up at eye level, so either your hands are in the wrong place or your neck is at the wrong angle. If you work at a laptop, get a stand to raise the screen to eye level, and purchase a separate keyboard and mouse so that your forearms are parallel to the floor; otherwise you’re going to end up with neck or wrist issues. If you use the IKEA hack linked above, put your keyboard and mouse on the lower shelf and your laptop on the top one. For more options, check out our full guide.

How we picked and tested

We tested the Chairigami (left) and VARIDESK (right) standing desks, among eleven others. Photo: Mark Lukach

After deciding to focus primarily on electronic adjustable desks (thanks to their positive effect on your long-term health, as well as their popularity, reliability, and cost-effectiveness), we brought it in a total of 13 standing desks for testing.

Testing began as soon as the packages arrived. Before using the desks, we factored in how long it took to arrive, how many boxes it came in, and ease of assembly. One of our testers set up desks in his garage on concrete and also on a piece of carpeting, to best emulate most offices. He tried to work at each desk for several hours a day over the course of a week, and varied the height multiple times each hour to see how consistently responsive each desk was. He also paid attention to the subjective category of aesthetics, which in the world of furniture clearly matters.

Our pick

The Ergo Depot Jarvis is a great (and great-looking) desk for the money. Photo: Kevin Purdy

The Ergo Depot Jarvis Bamboo has all the essential features of a great standing desk you’d expect to cost more than $1,500, but for about half that. It has the most stable frame of any desk we’ve tested because Ergo Depot redesigned the frame so that the larger, heavier end of the lifting column is on the bottom—most desks using the original design have the opposite arrangement. This results in minimal wobble, even when fully extended up to 50 inches (which includes the height of the desktop itself). That’s high enough to fit people as tall as 6’7″ or so—whereas most desks top out at either 45 or 48 inches.

The height adjustment is controlled by a wired remote that has four presets; that means you can customize ideal sitting and standing heights for up to two people. It’s driven by a reliable electrical motor that can raise or lower at 1.3 inches per second (in line with other desks in this price range). Additionally, Ergo Depot also offers an array of functional, unpretentious accessories, like a wire-management bundle that contains a six-outlet power strip, a raceway for cable organization, and a bunch of zip ties (and mount points for those zip ties). The desk comes with a seven-year warranty and ships quickly. And if you already have a desktop you like, you can buy the frame by itself—it adjusts to work with desktops of many different sizes.

For converting your existing desk

04 – For converting your existing deskWirecutter editor Zhao uses this desk at home. His cat approves. Photo: Michael Zhao

If you already have a desk that you like and you don’t want to commit to a full-size sit/stand desk, consider the Ergo Desktop Kangaroo Pro Junior. It sits on top of your existing desk and converts from sitting to standing position in seconds without electricity. Instead of motors, the Kangaroo uses pneumatic springs to lift its work surface, and you lower it by pushing it down manually. It’s much lighter and less bulky than other conversion options like those from VARIDESK, and you can easily move it around your desk if you need to.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

1
Apr

Microsoft’s diversity should mirror its keynote


At Build 2016, Microsoft offered a glimpse at the company’s future. We saw a preview of new universal apps, Linux development within Windows 10, a HoloLens update and its brand new Cortana-fueled AI strategy. But we might have also had a peek at another side of Microsoft, one that is attempting to acknowledge and perhaps overcome its diversity issues.

During the company’s keynote, four out of 11 Microsoft employees who presented on stage were women (there was one non-employee: Pamela Davis, Case Western Reserve University medical school dean). That’s not quite 50 percent, but it’s still an impressive number. Especially when you consider that most tech keynotes don’t usually have so many women on stage. Apple’s keynote a couple weeks ago had one woman out of five presenters; its iPhone event last year had three out of 14. Last year’s Google I/O featured three women out of nine.

It’s even more noteworthy when you consider Microsoft’s latest faux pas. A couple weeks ago, it hired several scantily-clad women to dance at a company-hosted party during the annual Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. It was a bad look for a company that has made public statements pledging to increase diversity within its ranks.

Microsoft admits it, too: Shortly after it received criticism for the party, head of Xbox Phil Spencer apologized, stating: “We must ensure that diversity and inclusion are central to our everyday business and core values. We will do better in the future.”

The fact that four out of 11 — that’s 37 percent! — of presenters at the firm’s developer conference are women is certainly better. It’s also great to see that these women on stage were not necessarily marketing executives, but engineers and product managers, people who are immersed in the day-to-day technological side of creating a product. Ashley Speicher is an Xbox game dev, Lilian Rincon is the principal group manager from the Skype team, Lili Cheng is an engineer and Cornelia Carapcea is a senior product manager for Microsoft’s cognitive services.

That said, Microsoft’s efforts shouldn’t stop there. It’s all well and good to make a show of diversity at a keynote, but it’s more important to increase diversity efforts within the company as a whole. At last check, 26.8 percent of Microsoft’s global organization are women, while only 17 percent of both tech and leadership positions are filled by women.

But it’s good to see Microsoft at least make an attempt. If the company cared enough to increase gender diversity on stage, perhaps that’ll translate to the rest of the firm. And, hopefully, to the tech industry as a whole.

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