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Satellites tremble as Japan’s ‘space junk’ collection mission ends in failure

Why it matters to you

A cloud of space junk threatens satellites and future spaceflight. If you want to watch NASA’s Journey to Mars, we need to solve the debris problem ASAP.

There’s a lot of space junk orbiting Earth and it could make future space travel impossible. Unfortunately, one of the few projects focused on cleaning it up just failed.

Over 100 million pieces of space junk orbit Earth, 29,000 of which are big enough to cause major damage. Bits of retired satellites, metal expelled from rockets, and abandoned equipment make up this ominous cloud of debris. The danger is already very real. In 2009, American and Russian satellites collided and created thousands of large pieces of rubble. The International Space Station (ISS) had to pull an avoidance maneuver around that debris two years later.

More: Japan’s high-tech space junk collector isn’t doing what it’s told

Space junk has no easy cleanup, and it’s a problem that’s worsening exponentially. Every time satellites collide, they create debris that then crashes with other debris to create even more debris, and so on. If these collisions progress unchecked, the amount of debris in low Earth orbit will make spaceflight unfeasible.

Agencies around the world acknowledge this problem and a few have organized missions to combat it. In June, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Clean Space, an initiative to remove large objects of debris from orbit by using a giant net gun and robotic arm to snag pieces out of orbit.

A few weeks later the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) described its comparatively simple and cost-effective plan to magnetically “pull” debris out of orbit with an electromagnetic cable. The debris would then be directed toward Earth were it would burn up on reentry into the atmosphere.

Today, JAXA announced its experimental method failed.

“We believe the tether did not get released,” leading researcher Koichi Inoue told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “It is certainly disappointing that we ended the mission without completing one of the main objectives.”

JAXA had planned to test the technique on an ISS-bound cargo ship that had launched in December, according to the AFP, but a slew of malfunctions left JAXA technicians pressed for time. A week ago the agency admitted its cable was misbehaving. The cargo ship re-entered Earth’s atmosphere early Monday, effectively ending the experiment.


Snapchat bringing bite-sized version of BBC’s ‘Planet Earth II’ to mobile

Why it matters to you

Snapchat will offer users another way to engage with the acclaimed series. Meanwhile, the move signals the future for the platform’s video content.

Add BBC’s Planet Earth II to the list of programs heading to a second life on Snapchat. On Monday, Snap, the company behind the social network that now also serves as a short-form video platform announced it will unveil six mini-episodes of the acclaimed nature documentary series beginning February 17 — one day before the actual show is broadcast on BBC America.

These episodes will differ from the long-form Planet Earth II in a number of ways. First, they’re exclusive to Snapchat users in North America. Second, they’ll run about 4 to 6 minutes apiece, according to The Verge, and they have been formatted for a portrait-style viewing experience. The footage used will be completely unique to Snapchat, rather than a retread of what viewers will see on television. Finally, actress Sophie Okonedo will take over narration duties for Sir David Attenborough.

More: Snapchat updates its Discover guidelines to tamp down on fake news and photos

While the Snapchat edition won’t benefit from 4K resolution, it does have one added perk — 3D audio. Snap said these sequences were recorded using dual microphones, which will lend a more immersive audio experience to the documentary.

The addition of the upcoming BBC series also introduces changes to the app’s Snapcode system, the QR-like codes that can link to users and, most recently, websites. Those interested in Planet Earth II ahead of its release can follow a Snapcode to subscribe to the upcoming series, view a preview video, or catch previous installments when the show goes live.

Snapcodes have become a powerful, convenient, and useful tool for navigating Snapchat, and they’ll become even more important as the platform continues to expand the types of content available to its community.

Planet Earth II follows in the footsteps of shows like Watch Party: The Bachelor, which launched on Snapchat last month as the first product of a partnership with Disney-ABC Television Group. The platform is going all-in on bespoke video content after inking deals with Turner and NBC to bring programming like The Voice and last year’s Rio Summer Olympics to a mobile audience.

It’s been a busy week for Snap. Late last week, the company’s initial public offering was made available to the public, revealing some fascinating clues as to what’s next for the social network. The app itself also saw a major update, introducing a new universal search feature designed to make it much easier to navigate.


Apple accuses Australian banks of seeking a free ride in Apple Pay battle

Why it matters to you

Apple Pay may not come to Australia as four of country’s largest banks are fighting with Apple over access to NFC technology.

The battle down under over Apple Pay is raging on and it looks like Apple is ready to fight to the death. In its latest submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Cupertino, California-based tech giant claims that a group of Australia’s largest banks is looking to “delay or even block” the expansion of Apple Pay at the expense of customers and other card issuers who might be able to use Apple’s technology “as a means of securing a digital presence in competition with the big banks.”

For months, Apple has been arguing against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, Westpac Banking Corporation, and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank over whether or not these large banks can access the near field communication (NFC) antenna. In essence, these banks want to place their own digital wallets on iOS, for which they would need to use the iPhone’s NFC antenna. Apple, however, is saying no.

More: Look out, Apple Pay and Android Pay — here comes Target Pay

According to its most recent filing with the ACCC, Apple says that the banks are looking to avoid paying fees in order to use the technology. Indeed, the tech giant claims, these four financial institutions want to be “allowed to continue to free-ride on the significant investments’’ Apple has made.

The banks have already shot back at this charge, calling Apple’s assertions “incorrect and unsupported.” In a statement, the banks noted, “The application has never been about preventing Apple Pay from coming to Australia or reducing competition between wallets.” Rather, they continued, “It has always been about providing real choice and real competition for consumers and facilitating innovation and investment in the digital wallet functionality available to Australians.”

A full formal response from the banks will be filed later this week and the ultimate conclusion to this battle royale has yet to be determined.


Palit releases completely silent GeForce GTX 1050 Ti KalmX graphics card

Why it matters to you

Palit’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti KalmX card not only can fit into your low-end PC, but it can also provide you with blissful silence while you game.

If you’re stuck with an older PC, or just one with limited room and a smaller power supply, then your GPU upgrade options used to be pretty limited. Nvidia changed all that, however, with the introduction of the GeForce GTX 1050/Ti line, which provides good entry-level GPU performance with minimal space and power requirements.

We’ve seen the release of a number of low-profile graphics cards based on the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti GPUs, many of which don’t need more power than what the PCIe slot can provide. Now, Palit Microsystems has announced what could be the first GTX 1050 Ti card using a completely passive cooling system.

More: Nvidia’s new GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti aim to put your aging desktop back in the game

The primary benefit of a passive cooling system is that it uses no fans that can spin up and create noise. And according, Palit touts the completely silent, 0dB environment that the new GTX 1050 Ti KalmX card represents. Looking at the card, you can see how Palit has accomplished the feat: It has utilized a massive 182mm wide by 142mm tall cooler that’s connected to the GPU using a copper base and twin nickel-plated heat pipes.

The GTX 1050 Ti KalmX card does take up two slots, which is something for buyers to consider. However, it sacrifices nothing by way of performance, running at the usual 1290MHz base clock with a Boost Clock of 1392MHz. Memory runs at 3500MHz, and the card can throttle in response to excessive heat.

While the GeForce GTX 1050/Ti series aren’t the highest-performing GPUs on the market, being limited to running most modern titles at 1080p and missing out on the VR gaming craze, they nevertheless provide a significant performance boost to users with older systems that don’t have extra GPU power connectors or the space for larger cards.

Now, such users can gain not only a vastly improved graphics experience, but also one that’s completely silent. Palit hasn’t yet released pricing or availability information for the GTX 1050 Ti KalmX.


Nvidia debuts line of Quadro Pascal GPUs, including superpowerful GP100

Why it matters to you

Nvidia promises that its formidable GP100 processor “transforms the average desktop workstation with the power of a supercomputer.”

Nvidia unveiled a selection of new additions to its Quadro family of cards at the SolidWorks World conference that’s being held in Los Angeles this week. The crop of new GPUs is headlined by the powerful GP100, but also features several more accessible options for less demanding applications.

The company’s Quadro line is tailored toward users working in computer-aided design and other similar fields. That’s why the announcement was made at SolidWorks World, an event that centers around one of the most widely used pieces of CAD software.

Nvidia pledges that this new range of GPUs caters to the ever-expanding demands of design workflow. Today’s users might use virtual reality simulations or machine learning techniques to ensure that their designs are perfect, which means they need a workstation that’s capable of tackling resource-intensive tasks.

More: Nvidia GeForce Now gives PC and Mac users access to a cloud-based GTX 1080

The formidable GP100 boasts 16GB of high-bandwidth memory, and can provide more than 20 teraflops of 16-bit floating point precision computing. Bob Pette, Nvidia’s vice president of professional visualization, noted that the GPU “transforms the average desktop workstation with the power of a supercomputer.”

The GP100 is joined by the Pascal-based P4000, P2000, P1000, P600, and P400, which will replace cards based on Kepler and Maxwell architecture. The refreshed Quadro lineup is expected to preserve the range’s established hierarchy of price, feature set, and thermal design power specs, according to a report from AnandTech.

The new range of Quadro GPUs will be offered by distribution partners and workstation manufacturers starting in March — Nvidia named HP, Dell, Fujitsu, and Lenovo as some of the companies that are set to use the components. No pricing information has been made available at this time, but it’s safe to say that the power of the GP100 won’t come cheap.


InterContinental confirms hotels affected by malware that steals card data

Why it matters to you

Hackers have hit yet another hotel chain so customers need to be vigilant about fraudulent transactions on their cards.

Malware struck the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) with 12 of its locations reporting a possible breach of payment card data from August to December, KrebsOnSecurityReports.

Servers for hotels in the U.S. were infected with malware that was trying to find track data from a card’s magnetic strip. This includes card numbers, names, expiration dates, and verification codes that had been gathered by the hotels’ restaurants and bars. Hotel front desk transactions were not affected.

The hotel group has not publicly stated if any data was in fact stolen and the number of breached cards has not been disclosed either. Customers can check this list for the details on when a hotel was infected and the time period involved. If you were a customer at one of the hotels, the company urges you to check for suspicious transactions and to contact authorities as necessary. The investigation is ongoing to see if more hotels have been affected.

More: 20 major hotels were hacked by malware, including some Marriott locations

“IHG has been working with the security firms to review IHG’s security measures, confirm that this issue has been remediated, and evaluate ways to enhance IHG’s security measures,” InterContinental said in a statement.

It added that it is working with law enforcement to investigate the breach and is in contact with banks to help make customers aware.

This isn’t the first time that InterContinental has been targeted by malicious actors. Hotels have become popular targets for hackers trying to steal payment card data given the volume of transactions that occur at hotels like InterContinental. In August, a hacker campaign dished out malware for Starwood, Marriott, and Hyatt hotels with malware allegedly scooping up payments data for over a year before it was detected.

Point-of-sale malware like this is regularly seen in the retail and hospitality sector like the infamous breaches at Target and Home Depot. The stolen data can be potentially sold on for a profit on illicit online marketplaces.


Apple iPhone 7S and 7S Plus rumors and news

The iPhone 7S may not be due out until later this year, but we are already hearing a number of rumors about Apple’s next flagships. The latest rumblings characterize the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus as the follow-ups to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, respectively. Rumors hint that these 7S models will be mid-range alternatives to a rumored top-of-the-line iPhone 8.

It’s unclear how the naming will work or if we will get three new iPhones instead of two. If you want to read about the rumored high-end OLED iPhone with a curved screen and other game-changing tech, check out our iPhone 8 news post.

More: iPhone 8 news and rumors

Here’s everything we know so far about the new iPhone 7S and 7S Plus models coming in September 2017.

Release date

We’ve long expected the iPhone 7s to show up at Apple’s normal mid-to-late September event, however, new reports suggest that perhaps we’ll see the device a little earlier. According to a research note from BlueFin research that was picked up by Barron’s, Apple is ramping up production of the next iPhone (which it refers to as the iPhone 8, but could instead be called the iPhone 7s) a little earlier than usual.

While the beginning of production is reportedly scheduled for June, which is a little earlier than usual, the report notes this doesn’t mean Apple will release the phone sooner.


Put down your pitchforks: Windows 10 Cloud may allow apps outside its Store

Late last week, a leaked build of Windows 10 Cloud appeared on a Russian file hosting service. Potential users could download and install the build using a valid Windows 10 key. This is a slightly controversial unannounced version of Windows 10 slated to arrive later this year to compete against Google’s Chrome OS platform installed on Chromebooks. Curious, we downloaded the ISO file and installed the build on a virtual machine to see what the fuss was all about.

For starters, this specific leaked build will install Windows 10 Starter, Windows 10 Cloud, Windows 10 Professional Single Language, Windows 10 Enterprise G, or Windows 10 Enterprise Eval. We obviously chose the Windows 10 Cloud option, which installed Build 15025.rs_prerelease.170127-1750. The build number located at the bottom-right corner of the screen listed the platform as Windows 10 Pro Insider Preview.

More: An early build of Windows 10 Cloud has leaked, proving the new OS is no myth

The big stink regarding recent reports about Windows 10 Cloud is that it locks users to the Windows Store. That means users supposedly can’t install traditional (Win32) desktop programs like they would on a typical Windows 10 desktop or laptop. The reason for this “lock down” is to protect customers and devices from potentially harmful programs.

“The app you’re trying to run isn’t designed for this version of Windows,” a warning popup states when trying to install a desktop program on Windows 10 Cloud. “This version of Windows was made to help protect you and your device by exclusively running Windows Store apps.”

Not as restrictive as it seems?

Indeed, when we tried to install Steam on the Windows 10 Cloud virtual machine, that’s the error we received. But before everyone starts gathering in front of Microsoft’s front door with pitchforks and torches, there’s a little detail previous reports neglected to mention: Windows 10 Cloud is not locked to the Windows Store.

Here’s why. The Settings app in this build of Windows 10 is a little different than what we see on current Anniversary Update machines. It now includes new “Apps” and “Games” subcategories, the former of which contains settings that were originally listed in the “System” subcategory: Apps and features, Default apps, Offline maps, and Apps for websites.

Thus, when users go into Settings > Apps > Apps & features, the first setting they will see defines where users can purchase apps. There are two settings: Allow apps from the Store only, and Allow apps from anywhere. Did you catch that? Windows 10 Cloud will allow users to install apps from outside the Windows Store.

In this specific build, the option to install apps from outside the Windows Store wouldn’t “stick,” meaning no matter how many times we selected this option, Windows 10 Cloud kept us locked to the Windows Store. This may only be a temporary thing as Microsoft works to implement non-Windows Store support into Windows 10 Cloud.

Another previous report suggested that Windows Store apps that were converted from desktop programs wouldn’t run on Windows 10 Cloud due to their “Win32” desktop-based roots. That’s not entirely accurate, although running converted apps could be problematic for now.

For example, EdgeTile is an app offered in the Windows Store that was converted using Microsoft’s Desktop App Converter tool. The app was downloaded and installed, but Windows 10 threw up the rejection window when trying to run it. However, the app ran nonetheless, so it’s quite possible that Win32 programs, whether in desktop mode or app mode, will cause Windows 10 Cloud to activate the warning.

Ultimately, it’s clear there’s still some question as to how exactly Microsoft is going to treat applications outside of the Store. The rumored lock to the Store makes a certain amount of business sense, but could also cause a lot of ill-will and confusion. The leaked build suggests that Windows 10 Cloud will operate not all that differently from MacOS. It already warns users against apps from “unidentified” developers, but users can bypass that and install what they want.

This looks familiar

Outside the whole app lockdown issue, this build of Windows 10 doesn’t look all that different than Anniversary Update machines. The context menu is still present when right-clicking on the Start Button — a bit strange,  given this version of Windows 10 aims to be “lightweight.” In fact, we had a hard time finding any significant missing pieces.

The only change we saw with the context menu is that the Control Panel link was replaced with the Settings app, the Command Prompt was renamed to Windows PowerShell, and the Programs and Features link was replaced by an Apps and Features link taking users to the Settings app.

New Settings App

Again, the Settings app is slightly different, with two new categories. As promised, Microsoft has added the “Gaming” section for tweaking the settings for the Game Bar, Game DVR, Broadcasting, and Game Mode. This latter option is switched off by default, and according to Microsoft, this feature “ensures you play your games with the best possible experience.” This is not a Windows 10 Cloud exclusive feature, but rather an upcoming addition for all versions of Windows.

As for the new Apps subcategory in the Settings app, here is what users will find:

Apps & features
Default apps
Offline maps
Apps for websites
Choose the app source
Set app defaults
Download maps
Associate specific apps with websites
Uninstall or move an app
Contact support
Offline map storage location
Contact support
Contact support
Provide feedback
Switch metered connection on or off
Provide feedback
Access the Programs and Features panel

Automatic map updates

Provide feedback

Contact support

Provide feedback

Additionally, the “System” subcategory includes a Shared Experiences section. The description states that users can “open apps on other devices, send messages between them, and invite others to use apps with me.” Users can also access the Control Panel by going through Cortana, or through the Programs and Features link inside the Settings app.

One other small feature we noticed was that File Explorer was removed from the Start Menu side bar. This may simply be a Creators Update thing, and eliminates an unnecessary shortcut given that Windows 10 already supplies one on the Task Bar.

Minor changes make sense

The bottom line here is that, based on this specific build, Windows 10 Cloud doesn’t look much different than Windows 10 Pro. That doesn’t mean it won’t change, of course. This is a leaked build, so there’s all manner of possible complications. Perhaps this is what Windows 10 Cloud will look like — or perhaps Microsoft will remove features later in development.

Having said that, we speculate the final version of Windows 10 Cloud won’t look all that different. Why? Developing an OS takes a lot of work, and Microsoft doesn’t make a lot of money from Windows 10 on consumer devices. We don’t think it’d make sense for the company to develop a substantially different version for low-cost systems. A slight re-arranging of what’s already in Windows 10 makes more sense, and that’s exactly what we see in this leaked copy of Windows 10 Cloud.

Ultimately, Windows 10 Cloud may be similar to Microsoft’s former Windows 8 with Bing program, which was a full version of Windows 8 that has Bing set as the default search engine. It was free for OEMs to install on their devices, and users could simply change the default setting if they wanted to use Google or Yahoo.

Still, the Win32 error popup is curious, and something we will have to watch over the coming months. Windows 10 Cloud is expected to arrive later this year, and will probably make an appearance during the company’s BUILD conference in May.


Best Battery Cases for Google Pixel


Keep your Pixel’s battery topped up with these battery cases.

The Google Pixel has been out for a while now, and you might be finding its 2,770mAh battery struggling to make it through a full day of usage without needing a charge.

Battery cases are one option to consider, if you’re alright with the added bulk. Unfortunately, there isn’t much diversity in style or price, as your main decision here is besides the brand name on the packaging. Popular charging case brands such as Mophie, Tylt and Incipio don’t yet have an option for the Pixel, so you’re left with slim options to choose from.

Regardless, let’s take a look.

BEAOK Google Pixel Battery Case


This BEAOK case offers 4,000mAh of juice to provide power your Pixel through a heavy usage day, providing more than a full recharge for your phone for an added 13 hours of web browsing. Installing is rather easy — simply slide your phone into the bottom half of the case then pop on the top and you’re good to go. Pressing the button on the back of the case will light up the LEDs on the front and indicate that your phone is being charged.

All the important features such as the fingerprint scanner and camera are accessible and protected while only adding less than half an inch of bulk to your phone. The only issue here is that charging times are not going to be as fast as with the quick charging adapter that comes with your phone. This case regularly sells for $100, but you can get it for $60 from Amazon.

See at Amazon

ALCLAP Portable Charger Case


This case also features a 4,000mAh lithium-ion battery to power your Pixel, with a look and feel that’s essentially identical to the BEAOK case. ALCLAP offers dual charging capabilities, meaning you’ll be able to plug your case in at night and wake up to a full battery on your phone and the case.

Simply press the button on the back of the case to start the charging and you’ll get many hours of extra usage from your phone when you’d otherwise be stuck plugging into a wall. This case also adds about a half-inch of bulk, but will also keep your phone protected from drops, and also accommodates a screen protector for full protection. This case regularly sells for $100 but you can get it for $60 from Amazon.

See at Amazon

ICONic Pixel Battery Case


Another battery case, another nearly identical design and functionality. This case also features a 4,000mAh lithium-ion battery that will boost your pixel or charge up to 80% according to the manufacturer, which is not as much as claimed by the other cases on this list.

In terms of style, it’s nearly identical to every other case on this list, with 0.42 inches of thickness, clear access provided to the fingerprint scanner, and decent protection offered to the phone itself.

This case regularly sells for $80, but you can get it for $60 from amazon.

See at Amazon

iAlegant Google Pixel Charger Case


Last but certainly not least — because it’s pretty much identical to the other cases on this list — is this charging case from iAlegant. It, too, provides a 4,000mAh lithium-ion battery while also providing good protection for your phone from physical damage along with short circuit and overcharge protection. There’s also pass-through syncing so you’ll be able to plug the case into your computer and your phone will be connected.

This case is regularly priced at $90, but is available on Amazon for $60.

See at Amazon

Google Pixel + Pixel XL

  • Google Pixel and Pixel XL review
  • Google Pixel XL review: A U.S. perspective
  • Google Pixel FAQ: Should you upgrade?
  • Pixel + Pixel XL specs
  • Understanding Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Join the discussion in the forums!

Google Store


All about Android’s new, safer way of logging into apps


Android can now read 2FA codes over NFC and Bluetooth.

Google added support for wireless U2F cards in a developer version of Google Authenticator back in December. There was an unofficial demo at the Github website that showed how it would work (but it didn’t actually work) and the folks at Fidesmo, a company that sells U2F cards, found the APIs buried in the Google Authenticator app. We knew that something would be happening and we just needed to wait for it.

The authentication itself is done in the Google Authenticator app so it’s easier on developers who want to use the feature.

Well, such support has now been expanded, and you can use a wireless security key as a two-factor token when you add your Google account to a phone and U2F works in the Chrome browser independently even without the Google Authenticator app installed. This is a pretty cool thing!

And the way Google is handling it all is pretty cool, too, especially for developers. Rather than have a set of APIs that developers need to use to let users log into their apps and services with a wireless key, the routine is an intent built into the Google Authenticator app. All a developer needs to do is ask for the two-factor token and the Android system takes care of the rest. That means there is no waiting for developers to support anything and it will just work. It doesn’t look like the APIs to use the wireless signal for authentication have been opened up for other developers just yet, but we hope that’s in the works so apps like Authy will be able to support the feature, too.

What are you talking about?


These. A U2F key is a USB device that can be used as an authentication token. The name stands for Universal Two Factor because it’s a standard that anyone making the keys and anyone making a thing that can use them to authenticate is able to incorporate so everything works everywhere. They are a secondary authentication method for people who use two-factor authentication on their accounts.

Read: Two-factor authentication: What you need to know

You should already have two-factor authentication set up on accounts that have the option. It’s the easiest way to make sure that someone can’t get in and use services in your name without your password and another thing that proves they are you, like a time-sensitive code sent to an app on your phone. A lot of services use two-factor authentication, and setting it up on your accounts will be slightly different for each service. But in the end, it means that when you want to login to something the first time from a new place or a new phone or computer, you need to provide something in addition to your password.

How to set up two-factor authentication on your Google account

Using a security key can be your main way to authenticate, but even if you would rather use an app or SMS it makes for a great backup in case you lose your phone and need to log in on a computer you’ve never used to change your password. Adding a security key to a Google account that uses two-factor authentication is easy.

Adding a USB security key to your Google account is easy — and here’s how to do it

Once you have added a security key to your account, it works on Android as long as it is NFC or Bluetooth capable. We’re not sure if there are any plans to enable U2F over the USB port, but at the time this was written that didn’t seem to be supported. There are several different manufacturers of USB security keys that have a wireless option and they all should work the same as long as they use the U2F standard. The one we like and recommend is the YubiKey NEO.

It works as described here with U2F for your accounts, and it can also support OTP (One Time Password) for services that use it, like LastPass. And you can support both U2F and OTP at the same time by using a utility from YubiKey and these instructions.

See the YubiKey NEO at Amazon

Using an NFC or Bluetooth security key as your sole 2FA device on Android isn’t recommended. It can be done, but there is no reason to not use authenticator tokens through an app, too. But it is a secondary way to have access to all of your 2FA protected accounts and it looks like it’s going to be well supported on Android going forward.

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