John Payne (satyr) Sun 30 Dec 12 19:10
On a more hopeful note, the field of robotics is (finally) coming into its own. See the below-linked article about robotics news from the last year... http://robohub.org/robotics-year-in-review-top-10-stories-of-2012/ Oh, and as host of the Augmentation & Robotics conference <augbot.ind>, I appreciate the mentions of augmented reality in <16>, <29>, and <30>. Check out the essay in the right column of this, last modified nearly a decade ago... http://www.well.com/user/satyr/755/augbotics.html
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 30 Dec 12 20:28
Resilience: I'm in New Orleans, and I was thinking today how laughable it is that, post-Katrina, some believed this city was done. Everywhere we go in New Orleans, it's packed, and everybody's spending money hand over fist. We had a chance to tour the city today and see some of the still-obvious evidence of the flood, especially in the 9th Ward, where many houses are still boarded and empty. Many others have been recovered, though. One great project: Musicians' Village (http://www.nolamusiciansvillage.org/about/), conceived by Harry Connick, Jr., and Branford Marsalis. Cheerful rows of affordable houses built by Habitat for Humanity, housing local musicians. I was impressed by how few of the people I'm seeing in the streets here have their noses buried in electronic devices, though they carry them and occasionally consult them. There's just too much life on the streets, boredom's unlikely if not impossible.
Gary Gach (ggg) Sun 30 Dec 12 20:30
<slippage> &, taking stock of the world that seemingly didn't end in 2012, might anyone find bearings on the current American experiment called economy?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 31 Dec 12 02:40
On the subject of this Catalonian secession movement, I'm not intimate with the many details, but I do have some thoughts on the matter. I get it about the national aspirations of submerged minorities. Generally speaking, Americans have been in favor of nations breaking free from other people's Evil Empires. It's very Woodrow Wilson: let them speak their minds, let them have a vote, let a free people stand alone and chastely independent, etc... Of course, that's kind of easy for Americans to say, as by European standards the USA is scarcely a "nation" at all. The USA is more like some johnny-come-lately empire of multiethnic emigres who are unified by ideology, law and the dollar rather than by a European-style national identity. So I sympathize, and can understand why the Catalans would want to be more Catalan. It's a great area, beautiful, thriving (not now, but most of the time), super architecture, awesome furniture, the food's great and the women are good-looking, it's been a nation before, etc etc; they've got as much right and reason to be a nation as most anybody else. However, as somebody who's spent a lot of time in a region where such a devolution was actually carried out in real life, I need to warn Catalans about a few consequences of such a victory. First, you're never going to unite all the ethnic Catalans on some definite patch of ground. You're sure to create new minorities who share your ethnicity outside whatever patch you successfully claim. These abandoned guys are going to be a lot of trouble for you. There's also going to plenty of woe from multi-ethnic families, families newly divided by new borders, and so on. Also, you'll have new non-Catalan national minorities inside your own area. Naturally you think you're going to be really nice to them, much nicer than they were to you when they were the majority, and ruling over you. That isn't true. In a national secession, the sweet-tempered, nice guys are not going to win. Otherwise they would have already been nice and sensible in the statehouse in Madrid. Your former fellow-citizens are suddenly going to become foreigners. Places that you used to visit casually, properties you own, will become alien territory. Towns and cities on the new national borders will be economically strangled. Long-established businesses will pull out or shrink in size. Expect property courts clogged for decades. Even though you're finally getting your own way politically, you're going to be a small country with a small ruling class. You're just not going to have the manpower to behave like a major power -- like Spain for instance -- and the long-term debilitating effects of this are wicked. Who will man your new embassies? What about your health system, transportation network, your military? What happens when you're trying to arrange a simple business deal with Norway or Nicaragua? Nobody answers the phone. Your political parties are going to be county-sized cliques of a few dozen ward-heelers. Your pundits will all know each other personally and all meet in the same cafe. As soon as you're a nation, you'll have a new "national language." You'll have to change all the names on the street-sign, the school textbooks, re-write and republish the ancient classics, harass guys who blog without the proper spelling, insist that the EU translate all previous documents into your lingo, and so forth. You will never complete this orthographic reform work. It's impossible. The more energy you waste on it, the more you're going to look like chintzy, niggling fanatics. Imagine your relationship with your fellow citizens in the brand-new Basque Republic, who are naturally going to follow your example as soon as they can. Are these guys gonna become your best pals? Will you respect them and tenderly look after their fraternal interests? Or are you going to consider them a bunch of insular weirdo hillbillies? Well, that's exactly how they're going to think about you. In fact, the whole world will think that about you. And them, too. You imagine that Brussels and the EU are going to look after your national interests. Have you ever talked to a small European EU state about how this works out in practice? Like Slovenia, for instance. You're about to become Slovenia. Do you take Slovenia really seriously? Do you think they matter a lot, do you ever ask their advice on big problems? Should they get lots more money? Are you keen to give them some? Let's imagine you have some military problem, like say, a bunch of Catalan tourists get kidnapped by Colombian drug gangs. Do you plan to send in your own SWAT team? Who do you plan to ask for help in these matters? It's not going to be Madrid or Brussels. You might need to ask the Americans. Do you know what the Yankees are going to say to you? Oh, they'll shoot them dead for you, all right, but before that and after that, they'll say: "What's in it for us?" They always say that. Barcelona is a cool tourist town. Have you ever seen what happened to Venice, which also used to be a cool tourist town? How many people in your tiny, newfangled government do rich guys have to bribe to just buy all of Barcelona? Mexicans, Venezuelans... there are some pretty rich oil guys in those countries, quite keen on their Spanish heritage, only you're not Spain, you're much smaller and prettier. Are you sure you've got enough clout and smarts to avoid just being picked up and put in their pocket? And, last of all, there's something morally repulsive about rich areas of a country wanting to secede from the poorer areas. You've got plenty of company in that regard: the Italian Northern League, for instance. Do you Barcelona lefties like the Lega Nord? You trust them as political allies, you think they're your kind of European movement? Your economic scheme is basically Mitt Romney talking. It's all about freeing yourself from that shiftless 47% of the lazy drifters and the ethnic dross. I'm sure we can all admire you for being rich, but are we supposed to admire you for that attitude? Do you love your new gated community that much? What is going to happen to you, when you blow a tire on your station wagon somewhere out in Cricket-Chirping Land? Are those strangers gonna be your friends out there, in that world you abandoned to beggary? Did you pack your prepper arsenal? I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't secede and form a new nation. It's not a new story or a new aspiration. If the euro collapses and the EU comes apart, anything's possible. We'll be looking at a Depression Europe of the kind nobody's seen since the 1930s. So: do you remember those 1930s? The Spanish Civil War? Did the good guys win during that business, a hundred years ago? Were the aspirations of Catalonia crowned with victory in the 1930s? What exactly do you think has changed in your peninsula since then? Have you thought that all through?
Via E-mail from Rui Carmo (captward) Mon 31 Dec 12 04:21
Living in Portugal and watching the middle class slowly dissembling, impoverishing or fleeing (especially the qualified workers), I find it awkward to read about Central and Eastern Europe with optimism. We seem to be by and large slowly subsiding into cultural irrelevance, and I wonder how (if ever) we'll bootstrap creative thinking to get out of this mess. Case in point: <http://the.taoofmac.com/space/blog/2012/08/24/2240>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 31 Dec 12 06:49
Again, resilience: the question is how much the system in question can be changed before it's no longer able to recover. New Orleans, slammed by Katrina, had so much that was unchanged and recoverable, that recovery was imminent despite predictions (or at least concerns) at the time. The resilience of the human species is suggested by the 7X population growth over two centuries... and the 2X population growth over four decades. However that same population growth, if sustained, might prove to be a systemic change from which recovery is difficult, if not (ultimately) impossible. Political leaders respond to 21st century scenarios with 20th century thinking; that's not helpful. Substantial innovation in technology is unmatched by political innovation. Political innovation will depend on individual and social rethinking, and adjustment that diminishes our attachment to so much that is inarguably unreal. We have to be mindful. I'm not talking about being mindful of anything in particular - mindfulness is a practice, the state of being present and seeing the world as it is right now. The past is gone and persistently misremembered. The future doesn't exist. Our deepest neuroses are fueled by attachment to imperfect memory and speculation. Clearly we depend on memory and speculative thinking to live in the world, but amplification of and attachment to our memories and our fears are a misuse of the equipment, voiding the warranty.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 31 Dec 12 07:14
The year 2012 in Korean pop music. I suppose I should qualify that and say "South Korean pop music." http://www.markjamesrussell.com/2012/12/31/the-year-in-korean-music/
By E-Mail from Julian Bond (captward) Mon 31 Dec 12 08:45
Longer and IMHO more complete article about K-Pop in The Quietus. <http://thequietus.com/articles/11001-psy-gangnam-style-k-pop> Really funny to see AKB48 recapitulating Sterling's Zeitgeist and Gibson's Idoru. I wonder, is Yasushi Akimoto enjoying playing his part as Leggy Starlitz and is he consciously stealing ideas from the books? Is this Anthropophagy, Neophagy or Retrophagy? (to coin some fairly horrible neologisms!) Meanwhile, I'm waiting for C-Pop, M-Pop and I-Pop (China, Malaysia, Indonesia, natch) to become a global thing, not to mention Khazakhstan. Maybe one day, the EU will become a country or some kind of federated republic states of Europe and it will become possible for regional sub-divisions like Basqueland, Catalonia or the Scottish Lowlands to have autonomous self rule within the federated EU and apart from their current countries. But that feels further away now than it did even a year ago. First we probably have to deal with the pressure of the next set of recruits. Does the EU still have the stomach for Turkey, never mind places like Lebanon or Tunisia?
John Payne (satyr) Mon 31 Dec 12 09:04
> <81> (jonl) However that same population growth, if sustained, > might prove to be a systemic change from which recovery is difficult, > if not (ultimately) impossible. > <65> (bruces)There are mountain guys in Pakistan and Afghanistan who > think just like Mr Njegos now. They're not going away. They're not > even losing their wars, and they've got the highest birth-rates on > Earth. If population growth were evenly distributed, that would be cause for concern in that an increase in the population of the developed nations places a disproportionate pressure on resources. On the other hand, being as unevenly distributed as it is, we risk a future in which belief systems which would not otherwise stand a chance of dominance win through fecundity.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 31 Dec 12 09:25
Places to look for stuff you might want to 3dprint. Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com 3Dpartsource: http://www.3dpartsource.com/search Turbosquid: http://www.turbosquid.com/3d Grabcad: http://grabcad.com/library 3Dvia: http://www.3dvia.com/search/
J. Eric Townsend (jet) Mon 31 Dec 12 09:30
There is a mess of legal stuff going on with Thingiverse that I don't really understand so I've been not posting stuff there. However, there's also a lot of people posting objects/models to github and sourceforge, and shapeways is a nice commercial site for distributing your designs to people who don't have a personal 3d printer. (I can go on far too long about home-based 3d printing, but not in this thread.)
By E-Mail from Roger Weeks (captward) Mon 31 Dec 12 13:23
<81> "The past is gone and persistently misremembered. The future doesn't exist. Our deepest neuroses are fueled by attachment to imperfect memory and speculation. Clearly we depend on memory and speculative thinking to live in the world, but amplification of and attachment to our memories and our fears are a misuse of the equipment, voiding the warranty." I would suggest that everyone read a talk given by Warren Ellis earlier this year at the Improving Reality conference. It's very pertinent to a number of things in this discussion, and as always, Bruce and Jon, thank you for this. <http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=14314>
Roland Legrand (roland) Mon 31 Dec 12 17:09
Another example of European regionalism is my country Belgium (small country, but rather core in the Union, Brussels being the HQ of the Commission, of NATO...). For some reason financial markets are pretty satisfied with our politics. However, everybody in Belgium knows that 2014 will be the mother of all elections, the flemish-nationalist party N-VA is tremendously popular in Flanders - the discourse is similar to that of Catalan regionalists. The issue is that social realities evolve much slower than technological ones. In Sweden there are still regional tensions related to old industrial regions which feel discriminated vs. the merchant regions - an old history which still has huge political implications. In Belgium there's a similar story of a rich industrial region (Wallonia) which got hit by a structural downturn in the coalmine and steel-industries and which turned politically leftist while the former poor region of Flanders turned more right-wing because of the importance of small family companies, important harbors and concentrations of the chemical industry. These developments often take tens of years or rather a century to work through the political and cultural dimensions of a society. My feeling is that we'll end up with huge groups in society moving too slowly to catch up with tech and structural changes, and a kind of super class of cosmopolitan people disconnecting themselves from regional loyalties.
John Payne (satyr) Mon 31 Dec 12 22:54
I was about to ask whether Flemish is a Celtic dialect, like Breton in Brittany, but thought better of it and consulted Wikipedia, which states that Flemish is actually Dutch. Now, my question is how long has it been since it wouldn't have seemed gauche to simply ask the question, rather than look it up, and what impact has this application of the RTFM meme to online resources had upon the art, quality, and content of conversation, online or otherwise.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 13 01:17
In 2012, Oscar Niemeyer the architect died at 104, while Rita Levi-Montalcini the scientist, a Nobelist chick so entirely with-it that she was a cover girl for WIRED ITALIA, has died at 103. When we'll see the first famous super-centenarian, a celebrity who lives past 110? The author Ernst Juenger lived to be 102 -- a German veteran of World War I, later seen dropping LSD in a psychedelic caftan, and at that point ol' Ernst was just cruising along -- he started a new magazine at 80, and lived to see Germany re-unified. The world's currently oldest person, 115-year-old Jiroemon Kimura, is the oldest male human being in history. He lives in Japan, where he's being looked after by his grandson's widow. I envy this profound ability to time-travel into a distant and quite alien future, at the placid rate of one second per second. It's not so much the mundane pleasure of not dying that I admire, as it is the breadth of the historical experience. Meanwhile, work continues on that ten-thousand-year clock. http://longnow.org/clock/
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 13 01:29
In a rare episode of random Belgrade street-violence, it seems that half a dozen people were stabbed in Belgrade's most popular square during New Years' celebration. None are dead but three are badly off. Good thing that this lunatic, who is still at large, apparently lacked an automatic weapon. The wife and I might have been there in Republic Square, if we hadn't decided, in our ivied, contemplative, literary fashion, to venture up into the mountains rather than partying. Things couldn't be prettier and more peaceful up here in the snow-covered forest. Of such disjunctures of fate is a human life made.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 13 01:42
"Longplayer" has been playing for 13 years. http://longplayer.org/
By E-Mail from David Dodd (captward) Tue 1 Jan 13 02:56
<roland> "My feeling is that we'll end up with huge groups in society moving too slowly to catch up with tech and structural changes, and a kind of super class of cosmopolitan people disconnecting themselves from regional loyalties." I moved from the NYC area to a small city in Wisconsin a couple of years ago, and while the difference in economic opportunity is dramatic, it's not the result of differences in access to technology. The jobs in Wisconsin rely just as much on cutting edge information tech as those in the big cities, but they're just less desirable jobs. Call centers, logistics services, contract business services. Move the jobs that you don't want to pay as much for to the more economically marginalized areas. The Market (or Business or Capital or whatever you want to call the trade aspect of production) uses technology to extract profit from variations created by social disparity. In that sense technological development can become a conservative social force. In the US, the one-party politics developed to institute Jim Crow oppression of Blacks has moved smoothly to promote the anti-union, anti-tax, and anti-regulation policies that appeal to non-racist global corporations. Rather than the South becoming like the rest of the nation, we've seen policies and tactics developed in the South spread north to states like Wisconsin and Michigan, in the name of modern economic development. So it seems more like the changes in technological realities and changes in social realities are moving on different tracks. In the US, the changes in technology spread pretty evenly because of educational infrastructure and well-developed markets and so forth. But there are still plenty of formal and informal limits on how easily any person can get themselves into a position to derive the best economic benefit from their ability to use the tech. Ethnicity, regionalism, nationality, and religion are just some of the social tools that groups have used to create and preserve disparities in economic opportunity, for thousands of years. They will continue to be salient unless they are actually replaced by social institutions expressly designed to spread economic opportunity more evenly. Obviously egalitarian social institutions will be most effective using cutting edge technology. But Christianity did significant damage to the social order of the Roman Empire, just using papyrus manuscripts and institutions of communal dining. The Christianity parallel presents another interesting element, in that the Christians actually practiced ideas of equality and cosmopolitanism that a well-educated Stoic like Seneca would pay lip service to, but they had plenty of beliefs and practices that would have kept said Stoic from letting any Christians into his house. What if the strongest force for more economically egalitarian and geographically open social arrangements ends up being Nigerian Pentacostal exorcists, leaving idealistic technophiles of the cities of the US, Europe, and Japan looking like a bunch of elitist philosophers?
By E-Mail from Cole (captward) Tue 1 Jan 13 02:58
To Bruce Sterling: How will India and Bollywood respond to the gang-rape/murder and current protests? What is your take?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Jan 13 08:39
We walked down Bourbon Street in New Orleans last night, if you can call it walking. It was more like swimming through a human stream, filled with chaotic eddies and vortices. High volume controlled insanity; pretty wonderful, actually, My brother commented later that it would've been a far different experience "if the crowd wasn't happy." Indeed. But the crowd was elated and, on average, quite drunk on microbrews and hurricanes. It was diverse; you couldn't image where they all came from. At the dropping of the fleur de lis, one of the voices onstage asked who all was having their first New Years' Eve in New Orleans, and there was a huge roar. I suspect the locals not working the French Quarter stayed home. I'm always amazed to see civil gatherings of such intensity - amazed at the level of friendly cooperation - no evidence anywhere of anger or hostility. Our theoretical and conceptual interpretations of the world - various screeds about the political and economic realities and what it all might mean - seem shallow and empty compared to the complex mess we have before us. But we have these moments of grace, where anonymous and autonomous people come together in crowds and beam at each other, help each other along. Someone was talking about the economics of south bleeding into the larger body politic. There's something to that - so much of the economics and the politics of the U.S. is about getting work done and distributing resources, who does and should benefit at what level. Slavery was about free labor, and the labor movement was about making labor more expensive, so there's a connection between business/labor and the business/slavery. I'm not an economist but I don't think it's hard to understand why businesses want to keep labor costs as low as possible, which creates all sorts of sociopolitical issues and opportunities for exploitation. This is why I'm exploring the possibility of an economy based on a proliferation of worker-owned cooperatives, which I think can be more fair and more resilient.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 1 Jan 13 09:46
The worst Hindi films of 2012. http://rajasen.com/2013/01/01/the-worst-hindi-films-of-2012/ The Bollywood community is very upset indeed about the ghastly rape-murder scandal, especially since it's apparent that the dead woman and her male companion were innocently coming back from a movie when they were tortured in a bus and thrown on the side of the road. This was a particularly brutal crime, but the six men who committed it are all in police custody, and I rather imagine they are doomed. There's a great deal of "we must never forget" sentiment in India right now, but people in Bollywood are pop stars; of course they will forget. Maybe some of the young people in the protests won't forget; they'll forget that crime in particular because there will be others, but maybe they won't forget meeting each other. They are learning who the problem is, too, because there are plenty of scaly crocodiles in the Indian establishment who really don't much care that female college students sometimes get killed inside slum buses. It can be a little hard to get sentimental about a medical student when your core demographic of voters are Untouchables. It can be motivating when somebody in power casually alerts you to the political fact that your own life is cheap. "But wait! My life isn't cheap! My life is sacred!" "Sorry, girlie, but this is India. You're an Indian woman and your life is, in fact, pretty cheap. Be glad you're not Afghani." "Why, how dare you! You shouldn't even be a Congressman." "They all say that. Come back with some voters, or else just move along." That's the story as it stands at the moment. It really is a lot like watching the furor over American gun crimes.
By E-Mail From Tenaya Wright (captward) Tue 1 Jan 13 14:11
Bruce Sterling, looking back at your year 2000 conversation (Item number 61 in the forum list at http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/ ) -- this quote came up: There will probably be Big Corporations selling Big Wind and Big Solar sometime soon. Shell and BP-Amoco probably in the foremost among them, because they see themselves as energy companies, not oil companies. If there are thousands of wind-derricks offshore in the the North Sea. it'll be big business like other kinds of big business; sweetheart deals, subsidies, dumping, white-collar crime, substandard materials, embezzlement, stock-jobbing, whatever. The advantage is that they won't be selling poison. All that doesn't seem to be happening fast. (There seems to be a company in California that pays to put solar cells on your house then sells the power to you at a better rate than the utility would pay, but that's one of the few business innovations we've seen around this. How has your sense of the future (energy future and other stuff too) gotten changed from back then?
By E-mail From Justin Pickard (captward) Tue 1 Jan 13 15:56
Following on from John Payne's comments in <76>, are the robots coming for our jobs? Is a certain amount of unemployment going to end up as part of the system and, if so, what happens next?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 2 Jan 13 01:23
Well, back in 2000, nobody had invented "fracking." Also, it was hard to get it that the Chinese would underprice everybody on solar -- so drastically that the domestic solar industries collapsed. If, in 2000, I'd managed to speculate accurately about the upshot of the Iraq War, the failure of Kyoto and the Finance Crisis, people would have thought I had a death-wish. We're in a worst-case scenario situation with climate, by the standards of 2000. But we're in a Peak Oil best-case scenario: fracking, the technical miracle cure that every oil-doomster scorned. I think what you're seeing from me there is an example of the kind of "futurism" that Jamais Cascio complains about in this essay: http://www.openthefuture.com/2012/01/the_future_isnt_what_it_used_t.html In other words, that is narrowly focussed techie-talk that's trying to handicap some of the big industrial players in a race of tech development. It has nothing much to say about the giant aspects of modernity that a historian might tackle in the humanities department some day. As Jamais puts it: " ... while those of us in the futures world have been talking about nanotechnology, fast mobile networks, bioengineering and such over the past decade, very few of us even came close to imagining back in the late 1990s/early 2000s that by the early 2010s we'd see: "The effective collapse of American hegemony. "The inability/unwillingness of world leaders to respond to global warming. "The death spiral of the European Union. "Accelerating economic inequality. "Major changes to global demographics, especially population forecasts. "The unregulated expansion of financial instruments based on little more than betting on other financial instruments. "That the Koreas would remain divided. "That there hasn't been a major biological, radiological, or nuclear terror event. "The speed of urbanization, especially in the developing world. "The Arab Spring, Occupy, Tea Party, and similar bottom-up political movements. "And on and on. If futurists have become almost too good at technological foresight, we remain woefully primitive in our abilities to examine and forecast changes to cultural, political, and social dynamics." *We futurists are still pretty good at jumping the gun there, because American hegemony hasn't collapsed yet, and Europe isn't in any death spiral. *Also, if we ever get around to taxing carbon, I'm betting that my remarks up there will still be rather prescient, merely premature: "It'll be big business like other kinds of big business; sweetheart deals, subsidies, dumping, white-collar crime, substandard materials, embezzlement, stock-jobbing, whatever. The advantage is that they won't be selling poison." *It'll be much worse big business than it might have been, because we wasted a decade damaging the middle class and wrecking every ecosystem from pole to pole, but a clean energy business will still be a big, relatively cleaner, energy business. It will not be a mindful reform carried out through acts of enlightened conscience by green communards in geodomes with personal energy decks.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 2 Jan 13 05:52
That post reminds me of "The Gernsback Continuum" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gernsback_Continuum, http://lib.ru/GIBSON/r_contin.txt): "During his assignment to photograph 1930s era futuristic architecture, Parker begins to realize a "continuum," an alternative reality containing the possible future of the world represented by the architecture he is photographing a future that could have been, but was not, thereby contrasting modernism to postmodern reality. Parker's glimpses of this fantastical utopian future, characterised by massive multi-lane highways, giant zeppelins and Aryan inhabitants become increasingly frequent and disturbing until, on the advice of a friend, he immerses himself deliberately in the grittiest 'realities' of our world (such as pornography and news stories about crime and war) that are at odds with the idealised world of Gernsback and others. Slowly the images fade to insubstantiality and the story ends with Parker able to ignore the sight of a nearly transparent flying wing. Parker realizes that he would rather live in a world characterized by pornography, crime, and random events than that of the Gernsback continuum."
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