Transportation

Virgin Hyperloop One Eyes India For Possible High-Speed Routes (theverge.com) 37

India is officially being added to the list of nations that have expressed interest in near-supersonic, tube-based travel. Virgin Hyperloop One "signed agreements with the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to begin studying the impact of a hyperloop in the region," reports The Verge. "The feasibility studies have implications for India's giant cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as fast-growing urban centers like Pune and Nagpur." From the report: The agreements are signs that despite its lack of a commercial product or human-ready testing, Virgin Hyperloop One has shown a tenacity for securing agreements with willing government partners. The company recently announced 10 winning submissions in a long-running contest to find what it believes to be the best places to build the first hyperloop routes in the world. Ten teams across five countries (Mexico, India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada) were picked from the original 2,600 submissions, and the routes range in size from about 200 to nearly 700 miles, depending on the location. Virgin Hyperloop One hasn't specified the length of the routes it would build in India -- to be sure, it remains possible that none of these proposed routes get built -- but it did tease some of the possibilities in terms of reduction in travel time. For example, it would take just 14 minutes to travel between Mumbai and the fast-growing city of Pune, a journey that currently takes up to three hours by car. Also, it could look at connecting Nagpur, which is in the easternmost part of Maharashtra, with Mumbai and Pune to vastly improve passenger and freight transportation.
Space

Astronomers Find An Earth-Size World Just 11 Light Years Away (arstechnica.com) 171

Astronomers have discovered a planet 35 percent more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. "The planet, Ross 128 b, likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star's habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun," reports Ars Technica. "The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius." From the report: This is not the closest Earth-size world that could potentially harbor liquid water on its surface -- that title is held by Proxima Centauri b, which is less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and located in the star system closest to the Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86. In the new research, astronomers discuss another reason to believe that life might be more likely to exist on Ross 128 b. That's because its parent star, Ross 128, is a relatively quiet red dwarf star, producing fewer stellar flares than most other, similar-sized stars such as Proxima Centauri. Such flares may well sterilize any life that might develop on such a world.
Businesses

Germany Is Burning Too Much Coal (bloomberg.com) 440

Several readers share a report: Germany is widely seen as a world leader in the fight against climate change. Thanks to its investments in renewable power, wind and solar energy provide a third of its electricity, more than double the U.S. share. Germany's goal to lower carbon-dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2020 is significantly more ambitious than that of Europe as a whole or the U.S. After the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed even greater determination. "We can't wait for the last man on Earth to be convinced by the scientific evidence for climate change," she explained. But there's another, troubling side to the German story: The country still gets 40 percent of its energy from coal, a bigger share than most other European countries. And much of it is lignite, the dirtiest kind of coal. As a result, Germany is set to fall well short of its 2020 goal. This dependence on coal is partly a side effect of Germany's abandonment of emissions-free nuclear power and partly foot-dragging on the part of a government wary of alienating voters in German coal country. During the summer election campaign, Merkel largely avoided the subject.
Earth

More Than 15,000 Scientists From 184 Countries Issue 'Warning To Humanity' (www.cbc.ca) 405

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBC.ca: More than 15,000 scientists around the world have issued a global warning: there needs to be change in order to save Earth. It comes 25 years after the first notice in 1992 when a mere 1,500 scientists issued a similar warning. This new cautioning -- which gained popularity on Twitter with #ScientistsWarningToHumanity -- garnered more than 15,000 signatures. William Ripple of Oregon State University's College of Forestry, who started the campaign, said that he came across the 1992 warning last February, and noticed that this year happened to mark the 25th anniversary. Together with his graduate student, Christopher Wolf, he decided to revisit the concerns raised then, and collect global data for different variables to show trends over the past 25 years. Ripple found: A decline in freshwater availability; Unsustainable marine fisheries; Ocean dead zones; Forest losses; Dwindling biodiversity; Climate change; Population growth. There was one positive outcome, however: a rapid decline in ozone depletion. One of the potential solutions is to stabilize the population. If we reduce family size, consumption patterns don't rise as much. And that can be done by empowering girls and women, providing sexual education and education on family planning.
Earth

New Study Suggests We Don't Understand Supervolcanoes (sciencealert.com) 105

Better microsampling (and analysis) are revealing "previously obscured" clues about how super-hot molten lava behaves, according to a Science Alert article shared by schwit1: "The older view is that there's a long period with a big tank of molten rock in the crust," says geoscientist Nathan Andersen from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "A new view is that magma is stored for a long period in a state that is locked, cool, crystalline, and unable to produce an eruption. That dormant system would need a huge infusion of heat to erupt." Such a huge infusion of heat is what's thought to have unleashed a violent supereruption in California some 765,000 years ago... [A]s awesomely destructive as the supereruption was, lingering evidence from the aftermath can tell us about the magma conditions deep underground before the top blew so spectacularly.

Specifically, an analysis of argon isotopes contained in crystals from the Bishop Tuff -- the large rocky outcrop produced when the Long Valley Caldera was created -- shows the magma from the supereruption was heated rapidly, not slowly simmered. Geologically speaking, that is -- meaning the heating forces that produced the supereruption occurred over decades, or perhaps a couple of centuries. (A long time for people, sure, but a blink of an eye in the life-time of a supervolcano.) The reasoning is that argon quickly escapes from hot crystals, so it wouldn't have a chance to accumulate in the rock if the rock were super-heated for a long time... Unfortunately, while scientists are doing everything they can to read the signs of volcanic supereruptions -- something NASA views as more dangerous than asteroid strikes -- the reality is, the new findings don't bring us any closer to seeing the future.

"This does not point to prediction in any concrete way," warns geologist Brad Singer, "but it does point to the fact that we don't understand what is going on in these systems, in the period of 10 to 1,000 years that precedes a large eruption."
Space

Asgardia Becomes the First Nation Deployed in Space (cnet.com) 176

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: An Orbital ATK Antares rocket carrying a cubesat named Asgardia-1 launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia early Sunday. The milk carton-sized satellite makes up the entirety of territory of the self-proclaimed "Space Kingdom" of Asgardia... Over 300,000 people signed up online to become "citizens" of the nation over the last year. The main privilege of citizenship so far involves the right to upload data to Asgardia-1 for safekeeping in orbit, seemingly far away from the pesky governments and laws of Earth-bound countries...

As of now, Asgardia's statehood isn't acknowledged by any other actual countries or the United Nations, and it doesn't really even fit the definition of a nation since it's not possible for a human to physically live in Asgardia. Not yet, at least. The long-term vision for Asgardia includes human settlements in space, on the moon and perhaps even more distant colonies.

On Tuesday Orbital ATK's spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station for a one-month re-supply mission -- then blast higher into orbit to deploy the space kingdom's satellite. "Asgardia space kingdom has now established its sovereign territory in space," read an online statement.

Next the space kingdom plans to hold elections for 150 Members of Parliament.
Bitcoin

One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses As Much Energy As Your House In a Week (vice.com) 225

Long-time Slashdot reader SlaveToTheGrind quotes Motherboard: Bitcoin's incredible price run to break over $7,000 this year has sent its overall electricity consumption soaring, as people worldwide bring more energy-hungry computers online to mine the digital currency. An index from cryptocurrency analyst Alex de Vries, aka Digiconomist, estimates that with prices the way they are now, it would be profitable for Bitcoin miners to burn through over 24 terawatt-hours of electricity annually as they compete to solve increasingly difficult cryptographic puzzles to "mine" more Bitcoins. That's about as much as Nigeria, a country of 186 million people, uses in a year.

This averages out to a shocking 215 kilowatt-hours (KWh) of juice used by miners for each Bitcoin transaction (there are currently about 300,000 transactions per day). Since the average American household consumes 901 KWh per month, each Bitcoin transfer represents enough energy to run a comfortable house, and everything in it, for nearly a week.

Earth

How Two Scientists Accurately Predicted Global Warming in 1967 (medium.com) 216

Slashdot reader Layzej shares an article from this spring marking the 50th anniversary of the first accurate climate model: Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel looks at a climate model (MW67) published in 1967 and finds "50 years after their groundbreaking 1967 paper, the science can be robustly evaluated, and they got almost everything exactly right."

An analysis on the "Climate Graphs" blog shows exactly how close the prediction has proven to be: "The slope of the CO2-vs-temperature regression line in the 50 years of actual observations is 2.57, only slightly higher than MW67's prediction of 2.36" They also note that "This is even more impressive when one considers that at the time MW67 was published, there had been no detectable warming in over two decades. Their predicted warming appeared to mark a radical change with the recent past:"

NASA

NASA Discovers Mantle Plume That's Melting Antarctica From Below (newsweek.com) 241

schwit1 shares a report from Newsweek: Researchers at NASA have discovered a huge upwelling of hot rock under Marie Byrd Land, which lies between the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ross Sea, is creating vast lakes and rivers under the ice sheet. The presence of a huge mantle plume could explain why the region is so unstable today, and why it collapsed so quickly at the end of the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago. Mantle plumes are thought to be part of the plumbing systems that brings hot material up from Earth's interior. Once it gets through the mantle, it spreads out under the crust, providing magma for volcanic eruptions. The area above a plume is known as a hotspot.

[I]n a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, Seroussi and colleagues looked at one of the most well studied magma plumes on Earth -- the Yellowstone hotspot. The team developed a mantle plume model to look at how much geothermal heat would be needed to explain what is seen at Marie Byrd Land. They then used the Ice Sheet System Model (ISSM), which shows the physics of ice sheets, to look at the natural sources of heating and heat transport. This model enabled researchers to place "powerful constraint" on how much melt rate was allowable, meaning they could test out different scenarios of how much heat was being produced deep beneath the ice. Their findings showed that generally, the energy being generated by the mantle plume is no more than 150 milliwatts per square meter -- any more would result in too much melting. The heat generated under Yellowstone National Park, on average, is 200 milliwatts per square meter.

Biotech

EPA Approves Release of Bacteria-Carrying Mosquitoes To 20 States (nature.com) 133

schwit1 writes: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika, Nature's news team has learned. On November 3rd, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Lab-reared mosquitoes will deliver the bacterium to wild mosquito populations. The decision -- which the EPA has not formally announced -- allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 U.S. states and Washington DC.

MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don't bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.

Earth

New Technology Should Be Neither Feared Nor Trusted (bloomberg.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: How should we think about new and future technologies? The two main stances seem to be extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. A better approach would be careful planning and management. Optimists tend to overlook the fact that the technological successes of the past required a lot of social engineering before their benefits became widely shared. Countries like Maoist China and North Korea implemented perverse economic systems that withheld the bounty of modern technology from most of their citizens. And poor countries didn't really begin to beat poverty until decades after colonialism ended. Pessimists, meanwhile, often assume that new technologies can be stopped in their tracks by act of popular will. They probably can't. Even the most impoverished, repressive regimes of the 20th century adopted new technologies, and often suffered their worst consequences. Scientific research and invention, meanwhile, can be forbidden in one country or another, but probably not at the global level: Someone, somewhere, will study even the scariest ideas.

A better approach, then, is technology management. We should be as realistic as we can about each innovation's potential benefits and dangers. And instead of thinking about how to suppress new technologies, we should think about how to regulate them and channel them toward broad social benefit. Emerging technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence are at our doorstep, and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. But letting them develop haphazardly entails large risks. Instead, government and industry need to be funding proactive efforts to bring them into widespread, well-regulated use. In the end, technology is what we choose to make of it.

Earth

The US Is Now the Only Country In the World To Reject the Paris Climate Deal 717

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, Syria announced that it would sign the Paris climate agreement -- a landmark deal that commits almost 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming. With Nicaragua also joining the deal last month, the United States is now the only country in the world that opposes it. In June, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, unless it is renegotiated to be "fair" to the United States. But other countries in the deal, such as France, Germany, and Italy, said that's not possible. The Trump administration is also taking steps to roll back regulations passed under former President Barack Obama to achieve the emissions reduction goals set under the Paris deal. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the world after China. "With Syria's decision, the relentless commitment of the global community to deliver on Paris is more evident than ever," Paula Caballero, director of the climate change program at the World Resources Institute, told the Times. "The U.S.'s stark isolation should give Trump reason to reconsider his ill-advised announcement and join the rest of the world in tackling climate change."
AI

Hawking: AI Could Be 'Worst Event in the History of Our Civilization' (usatoday.com) 243

An anonymous reader shares a USA Today report: Elon Musk isn't the only high-profile figure concerned about the rise of artificial intelligence. Scientist Stephen Hawking warned AI could serve as the "worst event in the history of our civilization" unless humanity is prepared for its possible risks. Hawking made the remarks during the opening night of the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. Hawking expects AI to transform every part of our lives, with the potential to undo damage done to the Earth and cure diseases. However, Hawking said AI could also spur the creation of powerful autonomous weapons of terror that could be used as a tool "by the few to oppress the many." "Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization, or the worst," he said. Hawking called for more research in AI on how to best use the technology, as well as implored scientists to think about AI's impact. "Perhaps we should all stop for a moment and focus our thinking on not only making AI more capable and successful, but maximizing its societal benefit," he said.
Earth

Florida Attempts the Largest Hydraulic Restoration Project In the World To Save the Everglades (vice.com) 98

New submitter ar2286 shares a report from Motherboard: Florida is defined by its water -- the water flowing around it, through it, increasingly over it. But throughout the twentieth century, its major arteries of fresh water, which flowed from the Kissimmee River south of Orlando to Lake Okeechobee and down to the swampy Everglades, were permanently rerouted by the federal government and landowners to stop flooding, and make room for agriculture and housing in the southern part of the state. Now the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers -- the government agency partly responsible for rerouting and draining water to begin with -- and the South Florida Water Management District to attempt the largest hydraulic restoration project in the world. And while some say the effort has turned Florida into a battleground, pitting sugar farmers against legislators and environmentalists, others are hoping this will finally right certain man-made wrongs and restore some balance to the state. If the government is able to fully fund the plan, and should dozens of contractors and state forces successfully carry it out, it could permanently change Florida. And set a precedent for inevitable restoration projects around the world, which are becoming increasingly crucial as climate change manifests in stronger storms and sea level rise. The state is embarking on such a massive restoration project because the aging levees and control gates surrounding Lake Okeechobee are at risk of failing during large storms and/or heavy rainfall. "The more rainwater that increases in Lake Okeechobee, the more pressure is on the lake, and that pressure can continue to build up and build up and build up and one day the levee can go," said Tammy Jackson-Moore, a Belle Glade resident who co-founded Guardians of the Glades, a nonprofit focused on community advocacy. "And we're talking about wiping out entire communities here." The rerouting has allowed for bursts of economic growth, but it does have its consequences. "The Everglades, the largest swath of subtropical wilderness in the country, is now half of its size circa 1920, and the ecosystem has deteriorated, losing wildlife and native flora," reports Motherboard. "Without a natural place to flow, stagnant water pushes toxic algae blooms into the rivers, and turns pristine ocean into sludgy waste."
Businesses

Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Apple's Secret Tax Bolthole (bbc.com) 174

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: The world's most profitable firm has a secretive new structure that would enable it to continue avoiding billions in taxes, the Paradise Papers show. They reveal how Apple sidestepped a 2013 crackdown on its controversial Irish tax practices by actively shopping around for a tax haven. It then moved the firm holding most of its untaxed offshore cash, now $252 billion, to the Channel Island of Jersey. Apple said the new structure had not lowered its taxes. It said it remained the world's largest taxpayer, paying about $35 billion in corporation tax over the past three years, that it had followed the law and its changes "did not reduce our tax payments in any country."

Leaked emails also make it clear that Apple wanted to keep the move secret. One email sent between senior partners at Appleby says: "For those of you who are not aware, Apple [officials] are extremely sensitive concerning publicity. They also expect the work that is being done for them only to be discussed amongst personnel who need to know." Apple chose Jersey, a UK Crown dependency that makes its own tax laws and which has a 0% corporate tax rate for foreign companies. Paradise Papers documents show Apple's two key Irish subsidiaries, Apple Operations International (AOI), believed to hold most of Apple's massive $252 billion overseas cash hoard, and Apple Sales International (ASI), were managed from Appleby's office in Jersey from the start of 2015 until early 2016. This would have enabled Apple to continue avoiding billions in tax around the world.
The report notes that Apple paid just $1.65 billion in taxes to foreign governments, despite making $44.7 billion outside the U.S. That's a tax rate of 3.7%, which is less than a sixth of the average rate of corporation tax in the world.
Earth

The US Has Destroyed A Critical Sea Ice-Measuring Satellite (scientificamerican.com) 283

"A key polar satellite used to measure the Arctic ice cap failed a few days ago, leaving the U.S. with only three others, and those have lived well beyond their shelf lives," writes long-time Slashdot reader edibobb. The Guardian reports that all three of the remaining satellites "are all beginning to drift out of their orbits over the poles" and will no longer be operational by 2023. This could put an end to nearly 40 years of uninterrupted data on polar ice, notes the original submission, adding "It seems like there would be a backup satellite, right?

"In fact, there was a backup satellite ready to go." The $58 million satellite was dismantled in 2016 when the Republican-controlled Congress cut its funding. (The Guardian reports that many scientists "say this decision was made for purely ideological reasons.") Now Nature reports: The U.S. military is developing another set of weather satellites...but the one carrying a microwave sensor will not launch before 2022. That means that when the current three aging satellites die, the United States will be without a reliable, long-term source of sea-ice data... For now, the the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center is preparing for those scenarios by incorporating data from Japan's AMSR2 microwave sensor into its sea-ice record. Another, more politically fraught option is to pull in data from the China Meteorological Administration's Fengyun satellite series... Since 2011 Congress has banned NASA scientists from working with Chinese scientists -- but not necessarily from using Chinese data. One final possibility is finding a way to launch the passive-microwave sensor that scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory salvaged from the dismantled DMSP satellite. The sensor currently sits at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, where researchers are trying to find a way to get it into orbit.
Space

China Plans to Also Launch Reusable Spaceplanes by 2020 (arstechnica.com) 92

Slashdot reader hackingbear writes: According to a statement from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China's reusable spaceplane will launch in 2020. The spaceplane will be launched vertically by a winged rocket to orbit and each of them will be returned to the ground horizontally, according to Chinese media reports. The system is designed to be reusable in 24 hours and for at least 20 times, cutting launch costs to 1/10 of the current price... "Currently China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally," Liu Shiquan, vice director of the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, said. "We have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements."
Earth

Hole In The Ozone Layer Smallest In 29 Years (weather.com) 181

An anonymous reader quotes the Weather Channel: The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is the smallest it's been since 1988, NASA said. According to a press release, the hole in the Earth's ozone layer is 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year and 3.3 million square miles smaller than 2015... This year, the hole grew to 7.6 million square miles. NASA and NOAA scientists said warmer temperatures and a stormier upper atmosphere helped keep damaging chemicals chlorine and bromine from eating ozone from the layer that protects the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet rays... The hole that hovers over Antarctica has been slowly recovering, scientists say, due to an international ban on harmful chemicals that were previously used in refrigerants and aerosols.

The hole was its largest in 2000 and measured 11.5 million square miles. Although recovery is underway, the size of the hole remains large compared to the 1980s, when the hole was first detected, NASA noted. And while there has been significant healing of the ozone layer in recent years, some scientists say full healing is a slow process and will not occur until sometime in the 22nd century, Yale Environment 360 reports. Others expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels around 2070, NASA said.

Space

Laika, the Pioneering Space Dog, Was Launched 60 Years Ago Today (space.com) 74

sqorbit writes: Sixty years ago, the space race was in full swing. Russia had sent Sputnik into space with much success. In an effort to push farther, they rushed sending a dog into space in a re-purposed Sputnik rocket. The mission launched with no clear solution to a safe re-entry. Within a few hours of launch, temperature controls failed, killing the female dog named Laika. Launched on November 3, 1957, it did not re-enter the earth's atmosphere until April 14, 1958. Laika was the first living creature to fly into orbit, Space.com reports. While Soviet publications at the time claimed that Laika died, painlessly, after a week in Earth's orbit, Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com writes that several Russian sources revealed decades later that the dog actually survived in orbit for four days and then died when the cabin overheated. "According to other sources, severe overheating and the death of the dog occurred only five or six hours into the mission," he writes. "With all systems dead, the spacecraft continued circling the Earth until April 14, 1958, when it re-entered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits (2,370 orbits according to other sources) or 162 days in space. Many people reportedly saw a fiery trail of Sputnik 2 as it flew over New York and reached the Amazon region in just 10 minutes during its re-entry."
Earth

Timber Towers Are On the Rise in France (citylab.com) 202

A reader shares a report: Spurred by concerns over climate change and the negative impacts of concrete manufacturing, architects and developers in France are increasingly turning to wood for their office towers and apartment complexes. Concrete was praised through much of the 20th century for its flexibility, functionality, and relative affordability. In France, the material ushered in an era of bold modernist architecture including housing by Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier. Today, however, wood is lauded for its smaller environmental footprint and the speed with which buildings can be assembled. "Wood had largely disappeared and was seen as a quaint material," says Steven Ware, a partner at the architecture firm Art & Build, whose latest wooden office building opened in Paris's 13th arrondissement earlier this summer. "[But] the energy it takes to put a concrete building up, to run it, and then dismantle it when it becomes obsolete was too much. Using mass timber in office buildings seemed like something we had to do." The production of cement, one of the main ingredients in concrete, generates an estimated 5 percent of the world's carbon emissions. Trees, in contrast, capture CO2, helping offset emissions produced by a typical building process. And then there's the string of other construction advantages that make wood economically appealing. It's lighter, which means digging smaller foundations in the ground. Crane costs come down, as they're no longer hauling blocks of cement hundreds of feet in the air. Driving a nail into a slab of wood requires a lot less energy than driving one into concrete. Months can be knocked off the construction timeline.

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