Thursday, May 18, 2017

Friday Thinking 19 May 2017

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9


The Daily Word Counts Of 39 Famous Authors

The truth is that the Luddites were the skilled, middle-class workers of their time. After centuries on more-or-less good terms with merchants who sold their goods, their lives were upended by machines replacing them with low-skilled, low-wage laborers in dismal factories. To ease the transition, the Luddites sought to negotiate conditions similar to those underlying capitalist democracies today: taxes to fund workers’ pensions, a minimum wage, and adherence to minimum labor standards.

Those bargaining attempts were rebuffed by most factory owners. The Luddites then began months of “machine breaking” in 1811-1812, smashing the weaving frames, in a last ditch effort to bring their new bosses to the table. At the behest of factory owners, the British Parliament declared machine breaking a capital offense and sent 14,000 troops to the English countryside to put down the uprising. Dozens of Luddites were executed or exiled to Australia. The crushed rebellion cleared the way for horrific working conditions of the Industrial Revolution yet to come.

“The lesson you get from the end of the Luddites is: Do the people that are profiting off automation today want to participate in distributing their profits more widely around the population, or are they going to fight just as hard as they did back then?”

Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. Turns out, they were right

People who are able to live digitally enhanced lives, in the sense that they can use all the available tools to the fullest extent, are very much more productive and capable and powerful than those who are still stuck in meatspace. It’s as if you had a forest where all the animals could see only in black and white and, suddenly, along comes a mutation in one of the predators allowing it to see in color. All of a sudden it gets to eat all the other animals, at least those who can’t see in color, and the other animals have no idea what’s going on. They have no idea why their camouflage doesn’t work anymore. They have no idea where the new threat is coming from. That’s the kind of change that happens once people get access to really powerful online services.
So long as it was the case that everybody who could be bothered to learn had access to AltaVista, or Google, or Facebook, or whatever, then that was okay. The problem we’re facing now is that more and more capable systems are no longer open to all. They’re open to the government, to big business, and to powerful advertising networks.

The Threat - A Conversation With Ross Anderson

This is a great piece outlining some of the historical roots of neo-liberal economic ideology - especially as it pertains to the concept of human capital. It also has implications for thinking about knowledge management.

What is human capital?

Human capital theory was invented as an ideological weapon in the Cold War. Now it is helping to Uberise the world of work
With the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, human capital theory found hospitable political environments in the Anglo world. What followed in the UK, the US and other countries could best be described as a massive decollectivisation movement. Society no longer existed. Only individuals and their families did. Hayek in particular was a major revelation for the Iron Lady, who endlessly praised him.

The story of human capital theory in Western economies has been about divesting in people
In this new vision of the economy, workers can’t be seen as a specific class with shared interests. They didn’t even belong to a company … too communal. For sure, perhaps they weren’t even workers! Homo economicus qua human capital was instead somehow external to the firm, pursuing his interests alone and investing in his abilities to leverage the best deal. This ‘free-agent nation’ fantasy often bordered on the uncanny. Airport pop-management books from the 1980s and ’90s are hilarious for this reason. According to Charles Handy’s The Age of Paradox (1994), for example: ‘Karl Marx would be amused. He longed for the day when the workers would own the means of production. Now they do.’ Peter Drucker even felt comfortable announcing the arrival of the ‘post-capitalist society’, labelling the US the most socialist country around because all workers owned some capital after all.

What isn’t a joking matter, however, is the brave new world of work that has followed in the wake of neoclassical ideas such as human capital theory. Only when the employee is framed in such an ultra-individualist manner could the regressive trend of on-demand (or ‘zero-hours’) employment contracts ever gain a foothold in the economy. What some have called the Uberisation of the workforce functions by reclassifying workers as independent business owners, thereby shifting all employment costs to the employee: training, uniforms, vehicles and almost everything else.

That’s because it was born within an extreme period in 20th-century history, when many believed that the fate of humanity was hanging in the balance. It should therefore be approached as such, a rather eccentric and largely unrealistic relic of the Cold War. Only in that highly unusual milieu could mavericks such as Hayek and Friedman ever be taken seriously and listened to. In the face of communist collectivism, the Chicago school developed a diametrically opposed account of society, one populated by capsule-like individuals who automatically shun all forms of social cohesion that isn’t transactional. These loners are driven only by the ethos of self-serving competitiveness. Blindly attached to money. Insecure and paranoid. No wonder we’re so unwell today.

For anyone who wants a nice 9 min video refresher on a framework for sense-making and knowledge management - that addresses complexity.

The Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework is central to Cognitive Edge methods and tools. It allows executives to see things from new viewpoints, assimilate complex concepts, and address real-world problems and opportunities. Using the Cynefin framework can help executives sense which context they are in so that they can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred management style causes them to make mistakes.

Cynefin, pronounced kuh-nev-in, is a Welsh word that signifies the multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways we can never understand.

Sense making can also be shaped by language and metaphor. This is a fascinating study - which tends to focus on language difference - is inevitably also about the influence of metaphor.

Bilinguals experience time differently. This is why

Language has such a powerful effect, it can influence the way in which we experience time, according to a new study.
Professor Panos Athanasopoulos, a linguist from Lancaster University and Professor Emanuel Bylund, a linguist from Stellenbosch University and Stockholm University, have discovered that people who speak two languages fluently think about time differently depending on the language context in which they are estimating the duration of events.

The finding, published in the ‘Journal of Experimental Psychology: General’, reports the first evidence of cognitive flexibility in people who speak two languages.
Bilinguals go back and forth between their languages rapidly and, often, unconsciously — a phenomenon called code-switching.

But different languages also embody different worldviews, different ways of organizing the world around us. And time is a case in point. For example, Swedish and English speakers prefer to mark the duration of events by referring to physical distances, e.g. a short break, a long wedding, etc. The passage of time is perceived as distance travelled.

But Greek and Spanish speakers tend to mark time by referring to physical quantities, e.g. a small break, a big wedding. The passage of time is perceived as growing volume.

The ideas of family and how we live feel like an innate part of our human nature - we think the same that stage of life we call adolescence. Now that it’s official - more people over 65 years of age than under 15 years - we should be working to re-imagine how we live together in future cities. The future may look more like the past in terms of how we live together than the way we currently do.

The Hot New Millennial Housing Trend Is a Repeat of the Middle Ages

Communal living is hardly a departure from tradition—it's a return to how humans have been making their homes for thousands of years.
For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They lived in large camps, depending on one another for food, childcare, and everything else—all without walls, doors, or picket fences. In comparison, the number of people living in most households in today’s developed countries is quite small. According to the Census Bureau, fewer than three people lived in the average American household in 2010. The members of most American households can be counted on one hand, or even, increasingly, one finger: Single-person households only made up about 13 percent of all American households in 1960. Now, that figure is about 28 percent.

Belonging to a relatively small household has become the norm even though it can make daily life more difficult in many ways. Privacy may be nice, but cooking and doing chores become much less time-consuming when shared with an additional person, or even several people. Water, electric, and internet bills also become more bearable when divided among multiple residents. There are social downsides to living alone, too. Many elderly people, young professionals, stay-at-home parents, and single people routinely spend long stretches of time at home alone, no matter how lonely they may feel; more distressingly, many single parents face the catch-22 of working and paying for childcare. Living in smaller numbers can be a drain on money, time, and feelings of community, and the rise of the two-parent dual-earning household only compounds the problems of being time-poor.

It wasn’t always like this. Living arrangements have been changing for thousands of years, and the concept of the nuclear family originated relatively recently. Even as the economy has moved away from the sort of agricultural labor that would encourage large households, people still have just as much of a need for the support of friends, family, and neighbors. Perhaps that is why so many people today—from young coders to lonely septuagenarians to families—are experimenting with communal living, a way of life that, whether they know it or not, echoes how things worked for most of human history. This sort of experimentation is all too appropriate at a time when, for the typical American child, having two married parents is on the decline, and there is no longer a single dominant family structure as there was a half-century ago.

This is just the first of what will inevitable involve nations undertaking ‘gene censuses’ to understand the gene pool as our common wealth - as well as understanding the flows of human genome throughout our societies. Of course this won’t be without some controversies. Despite the inevitable challenges - the insights will be vital. The map is definitely worth the view.

What Saliva Reveals About North America

What do you do with 770,000 tubes of saliva collected from over 3 million AncestryDNA customers?

Ancestry scientists have an unusual answer: Create a ground-breaking map of North America’s history-based diversity using the genetic data from the analysis of the samples.

This unique map shows some of our migrations, the echoes of our pioneer ancestors in our genes today.
People moved east to west, less so north to south. See how the differently colored clusters form distinct horizontal bands? The red, blue, purple, and green dots fan out from right to left. This pattern means DNA confirms the descendants of immigrants to the East Coast moved westward.

While people certainly moved back and forth from the north to south as well, if people had moved in the same volume from north to south, you’d see the bands fanning downward and not just from east to west.
And not only can you clearly see the migration patterns westward, you can also see distinct communities of immigrants and their descendants.

This is a longish presentation and discussion about behavioral economics, with Cass Sunstein - author of ‘Nudge’ which explores concepts like ‘choice architectures’ - worth the watch.

Starr Forum: Behavioral Science and Nudges: Environmental Protection and Sustainability

Introduction by Rebecca Saxe, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT

Talk by Cass Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School

Cass Sunstein is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who was the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012.

It continually amazes me that governments have not shifted to a IT policy demanding government systems be open-source rather than proprietary. Here a signal of the growing power of open-source movement.
"Linux and open source development is thriving, and these innovations will continue to transform industries, like the automotive and mobile industries," said Keith Bergelt, Open Invention Network's CEO, in a statement. "This Linux System expansion once again shows how OIN keeps pace with open source innovation, promoting patent non-aggression in the core. We believe organizations that genuinely support Linux and open source software will be enthusiastic about this expansion."

Open Invention Network expands open-source patent protection beyond Linux

The Open Invention Network has protected Linux with strong patent consortium for more than a decade. Now, it's expanding its protection to other major open-source projects.
Today, everyone and their uncle -- yes, even Microsoft-- use Linux and open-source. A decade ago, Linux was under attack by SCO for imaginary copyright violations, and then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was claiming that Linux violated more than 200 of Microsoft's patents. So Open Invention Network (OIN) patent consortium was formed to defend Linux against intellectual property (IP) attacks. The stakes may not be so high today, but Linux and open-source software is still under attack from patent trolls and other attackers. That's where the Open Invention Network (OIN) steps up by expanding its patent non-aggression coverage through an update to its definition of the Linux System.

Under this new definition, OIN's Linux System, other core open-source system and middleware level programs are now protected. This includes software packages that support the growing use of Linux in industries that include finance (e.g., blockchain), automotive, telecommunications, and the internet-of-things (IoT).

The Linux System includes 395 new packages. Among those programs covered now are Android, Apache, Ansible, GNOME, KDE, Kubernetes, Nagios, ChromeOS, and container.

The flying car - has been promised for a long time - perhaps it was waiting for the self-drying autonomy. This is a nice interview aiming to answer skeptical questions.

Sebastian Thrun Defends Flying Cars to Me

The CEO of Kitty Hawk, the Larry Page-funded personal airborne vehicle company, explains why this isn’t the stupidest idea ever.
Some years ago, venture capitalist Peter Thiel made a famous complaint about what, in his view, was insufficient swashbuckling in Silicon Valley. “We were promised flying cars,” he wrote, “and instead what we got was 140 characters.” Well, better late than never: We just learned that Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google c0founder Larry Page, is working on the Flyer, a first draft of the flying car for which Thiel and other tech magnates have been so ardently pining. The prototype Kitty Hawk Flyer is a 220-pound ultralight aircraft (no pilot license required) meant to soar only over water. Still, Kitty Hawk explicitly frames the company’s overall goal as building the future of personal aerial transportation.

But could it be that in this case, never is better than late? You can boil down the problems of flying cars to seven factors: safety, cost, noise, sky congestion, parking, regulation, and the overall question of why we even need them. I could think of no one better to address these concerns than Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Kitty Hawk. Thrun is an AI scientist, a pioneer of self-driving cars, and an entrepreneur who also cofounded the online education firm Udacity. He cheerfully agreed to my proposal for an interview where I would act as the voice of brutal skepticism about the whole Jetson-esque enterprise, pitching him a series of cranky questions. Despite my best efforts, he remained upbeat and unflappable throughout. Whether he makes his case is up to you.

This is a great 15 min TED Talk by Sheila Nirenberg about another approach to machine learning as applied to visual systems - this is an important innovation with many application - a must view for anyone working with algorythmic intelligence.

What if robots could process visual information the way humans do?

Sheila Nirenberg, Professor of Neuroscience at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and founder of two startup companies – Bionic Sight LLC and Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC – explains the science behind a new kind of smart robot that she’s creating, drawing on the basic science of visual processing.

The topic of algorithmic intelligence and the displacement of humans from ‘jobs’ and even from certain domains of decisioning carries huge benefits and deep concerns. Here’s one interesting concern.

Sent to Prison by a Software Program’s Secret Algorithms

When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. visited Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last month, he was asked a startling question, one with overtones of science fiction.

“Can you foresee a day,” asked Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the college in upstate New York, “when smart machines, driven with artificial intelligences, will assist with courtroom fact-finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision-making?”

The chief justice’s answer was more surprising than the question. “It’s a day that’s here,” he said, “and it’s putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things.”

He may have been thinking about the case of a Wisconsin man, Eric L. Loomis, who was sentenced to six years in prison based in part on a private company’s proprietary software. Mr. Loomis says his right to due process was violated by a judge’s consideration of a report generated by the software’s secret algorithm, one Mr. Loomis was unable to inspect or challenge.

This is fascinating - an article on the fundamental nature of time and our capacity to measure it.

Clocks Hate Other Clocks – Thanks To Quantum Uncertainty, The More Accurate A Clock Is, The Less Accurate Nearby Clocks Are

As it turns out, science is complicated.
The closer you look at reality, the weirder it tends to look, especially if you're using the twin lenses of general relativity and quantum mechanics. It's thanks to the latter that we can build ultra-accurate atomic clocks (like this one). One of the most interesting features of high precision atomic clocks, is that they can actually measure something called relativistic time dilation effects – but when you add quantum theory to the mix, it turns out that the more accurate a clock is, the less accurate clocks around it can be.

How does that work? Well, relativity assigns an idealized clock – a non-physical one – to every "worldline," which refers to a timeline associated with a single observer, evolving in spacetime. However, as Einstein himself pointed out, not thinking of the clock as an actual physical object leaves some of the picture incomplete. Einstein wrote, " One is struck [by the fact] that the theory [of special relativity]… introduces two kinds of physical things, i.e., (1) measuring rods and clocks, (2) all other things, e.g., the electromagnetic field, the material point, etc. This, in a certain sense, is inconsistent…"

Indeed. As it turns out, if you look at what goes on with actual physical clocks things get weird, and if you add quantum theory to the picture, things get even weirder.

This isn’t quite the advent of Star Trek’s tricorder - but something pretty cool.

One Day, a Machine Will Smell Whether You’re Sick

Blindfolded, would you know the smell of your mom, a lover or a co-worker? Not the smells of their colognes or perfumes, not of the laundry detergents they use — the smells of them?

Each of us has a unique “odorprint” made up of thousands of organic compounds. These molecules offer a whiff of who we are, revealing age, genetics, lifestyle, hometown — even metabolic processes that underlie our health.

Ancient Greek and Chinese medical practitioners used a patient’s scent to make diagnoses. Modern medical research, too, confirms that the smell of someone’s skin, breath and bodily fluids can be suggestive of illness. The breath of diabetics sometimes smells of rotten apples, experts report; the skin of typhoid patients, like baking bread.

But not every physician’s nose is a precision instrument, and dogs, while adept at sniffing out cancer, get distracted. So researchers have been trying for decades to figure out how to build an inexpensive odor sensor for quick, reliable and noninvasive diagnoses.
The field finally seems on the cusp of succeeding.

Here’s some good news about developing new forms of antibiotic medicines.

New rules for cellular entry may aid antibiotic development

Tests show clues to fighting drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria
Like entry to an exclusive nightclub, getting inside a gram-negative bacterial cell is no easy feat for chemical compounds. But now a secret handshake has been revealed: A new study lays out several rules to successfully cross the cells’ fortified exteriors, which could lead to the development of sorely needed antibiotics.

“It’s a breakthrough,” says microbiologist Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston, who was not involved with the work. The traditional way to learn how compounds get across the bacterial barrier is to study the barrier, he says. “They decided to attack the problem from the other end: What are the properties of the molecules that may allow them to penetrate across the barrier?” The work describing these properties is published online in Nature on May 10.

Escherichia coli and other gram-negative bacteria — so described because of how they look when exposed to a violet dye called a gram stain — have two cellular membranes. The outer membrane is impermeable to most antibiotics, says Paul Hergenrother, a chemical biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Even if a drug might be really good at killing that gram-negative pathogen, it may not be able to get in the bacteria,” he says.

Many antibiotics that have been effective against gram-negative bacteria are becoming unreliable, as the bugs have developed resistance. To encourage drug development, in February the World Health Organization released a list of pathogens that are resistant to multiple drugs and threaten human health. All of the bacteria in the critical priority group are gram-negative.

The team synthesized a derivative of deoxynybomycin with an amine group and tested the compound against a number of gram-negative pathogens that are resistant to many antibiotics. The altered deoxynybomycin successfully killed all but one of the types of pathogens tested.

It’s possible other antibiotics that specifically target gram-positive bacteria could be converted into drugs that kill gram-negative bugs too by following the new rules, says Hergenrother. And keeping these guidelines in mind when assembling compound collections could make screening for drug candidates more successful.

This is actually very interesting for anyone concerned with safety, visibility and clothing for outdoor wear. The 2 min video explains everything.

Why We Should All Wear The World’s Most Visible Color

Pedestrian or cyclist, it’s the world’s most visible hue.

Thousands of pedestrians and bike riders are hit by cars every year in a terrible trend that’s only growing. It’s a problem of our infrastructure, but the best defense can simply be making yourself as visible to drivers as possible. Which is why the young athletic wear brand Vollebak is designed specifically to stand out.

Vollebak, the same company that brought us a pink hoodie designed for maximum relaxation, is launching something new: The Nano Meter 555 Midlayer, which features two details that hack human perception to make you, theoretically, as noticeable as possible.

The jacket is green, but not just any green. It’s a green that reflects with a 555-nanometer wavelength, which, according to the U.K. National Physics Laboratory, is the point at which the greatest number of cones of your eye are stimulated the most. Over a year of development and prototyping dyes and materials, the team tried to get this jacket as close to 555 as possible.

This is not only cool but is a great signal for an emerging ubiquitous interface for the digital environment - soon this technology will be available to everyone in designing their own environments.

A Cheap, Simple Way to Make Anything a Touch Pad

Spray paint and electrodes can add touch responsiveness to everything from a wall to Play-Doh.
How would you like a toy, steering wheel, wall, or electric guitar with a touch pad?

You probably encounter small touch screens every day—on phones and at store checkout counters, for instance—but chances are you don’t come across many touch-sensitive surfaces that are huge or aren’t completely flat. That’s because it’s expensive and tricky to add this kind of interaction to large and irregular surfaces.

That could change soon, as researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they’ve come up with a way to make many kinds of devices responsive to touch just by spraying them with conductive paint, adding electrodes, and computing where you press on them.

Called Electrick, it can be used with materials like plastic, Jell-O, and silicone, and it could make touch tracking a lot cheaper, too, since it relies on already available paint and parts, Zhang says. The project is being presented at the CHI computer-human interaction conference in Denver this week.

This 7 min video illustrates the power and ease of this technology - really worth the view.

Electrick: Low-Cost Touch Sensing Using Electric Field Tomography

We introduce Electrick, a low-cost and versatile sensing technique that enables touch input on a wide variety of objects and surfaces, whether small or large, flat or irregular. This is achieved by using electric field tomography in concert with an electrically conductive material, which can be easily and cheaply added to objects and surfaces through a variety of fabrication methods such as painting, 3D printing, injection molding etc.

Here is another nudge in the transformation of global energy geopolitics.
By 2022, India aims to have the capacity to generate 175 gigawatts of power from solar, biomass and wind energy. A draft report by the country’s electricity agency in December predicted that capacity would increase to 275 gigawatts by 2027.

Indian solar power prices hit record low, undercutting fossil fuels

Plummeting wholesale prices put the country on track to meet renewable energy targets set out in the Paris agreement
Wholesale solar power prices have reached another record low in India, faster than analysts predicted and further undercutting the price of fossil fuel-generated power in the country.

The tumbling price of solar energy also increases the likelihood that India will meet – and by its own predictions, exceed – the renewable energy targets it set at the Paris climate accords in December 2015.
India is the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, with emissions forecast to at least double as it seeks to develop its economy and lift hundreds of millions of citizens out of poverty.

At a reverse auction in Rajasthan on Tuesday, power companies Phelan  Avaada Power each offered to charge 2.62 rupees per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated from solar panels they hope to build at an energy park in the desert state. Last year’s previous record lowest bid was 4.34 rupees per kWh .

This is what so many people are waiting for - or should I say weighting for? This is not ready for primetime - but it seems to have interesting effects on mice - I for one am biding my time. :)

‘Exercise pill’ turns couch potato mice into marathoners

Drug tricks the body into burning fat like a trained athlete
An experimental drug touted as “exercise in a pill” has dramatically increased endurance in couch potato mice, even after a lifetime of inactivity. It appears to work by adjusting the body’s metabolism, allowing muscles to favor burning fat over sugar, researchers report in the May 2 Cell Metabolism.

Sedentary mice prodded into exercising ran for an average of about 160 minutes on an exercise wheel before reaching exhaustion. But mice given the drug for eight weeks could run for 270 minutes on average. These mice were burning fat like conditioned athletes, even though they had spent their whole lives taking it easy, molecular biologist Michael Downes and colleagues found.

Normally, running, cycling or other prolonged exercise eventually depletes available glucose in the blood, leaving the brain short of energy. The brain then sends an emergency stop signal. Athletes call this “hitting the wall.” Training and conditioning shift the body to burning fat for energy, leaving an ample supply of glucose for the brain and other organs.

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., developed the drug to activate a protein that regulates genes triggered during exercise. “We believe it’s tricked the body into thinking it’s done some training,” says Downes.          

Writing is hard - at least that’s my experience. Given the Internet there are probably more writers today (both in absolute numbers and proportionately) than ever before in human history. Plus with YouTube alone the number of people posting their efforts to communicate are unprecedented.
This next short article may be of comfort - a way to compare personal productivity with famous authors. The article presents the daily output of words in a concise table. Most writers produce between 2 and 10 pages a day.
Remember - Writing is mostly Re-Writing.

The Daily Word Counts Of 39 Famous Authors

If you want to be a published writer, you should cultivate a writing routine. Almost every writer I’ve interviewed has one.
Creating a habit of writing – even if what you are writing is not good – is vital. Many of them believe that you should write every day, saying that it helps them write with more confidence.
But how many words should you write every day?
Here are the daily word counts of 39 famous authors. (Please bear in mind that a double-spaced manuscript page contains approximately 300 words.)

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