Friday, February 24, 2017

‘Skullgirls’ heads to iOS and Android this spring

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Popular fighting game Skullgirls has been released on almost every other modern platform; now it's time to play it on your smartphone. Originally teased last July, the free-to-play version of this fan-favorite title is slated to arrive in Spring 2017 for both iOS and Android devices.

The mobile version of Skullgirls was developed by Hidden Variable Studios (best known for its hit number puzzle game Threes). The new iteration was designed as a pared-down experience compared to the the console version, which should match the more truncated playstyle of mobile gamers. Skullgirls mobile will include leveling systems (like an RPG), team and deck-building mechanics and a Fight Assist mode that will allow players to take on more of a tactical, bigger-picture role using these auto-battle settings.

The original Skullgirls title, released by developer Lab Zero in 2013, was a more traditional fighting game that could be played using specialized controllers. It received high review scores from both critics and gamers. Even if a free-to-play version might not please fans of the more hardcore original, Skullgirls could in fact do well on mobile. Its developer has a proven track record and the IP has solid indie cred.

As for when exactly the game will show up on your phone, the developers are playing it safe. Even though they've said it would be available this spring, they've declined to share specific launch dates or even which markets Skullgirls mobile will appear in first.

Source: Hidden Variable Games

Alphabet sues Uber over Waymo’s self-driving car tech

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Waymo, Alphabet's autonomous car business, has sued Uber for stealing crucial technical information about its self-driving technology. Waymo's lawsuit targets Otto, a promising self-driving truck startup that Uber acquired in mid-2016. As we noted in August, Otto was founded and staffed by former Google employees, including Anthony Levandowski.

"We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo's various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo's LiDAR and circuit board," Waymo writes.

Waymo argues its self-driving car technology hinges on a custom-built LiDAR -- "Light Detection and Ranging" -- system, which allows the vehicles to "see" the world in 3D. Building this tech apparently took millions of dollars and thousands of hours.

As Waymo tells it, the company recently received an "unexpected" email from one of its LiDAR suppliers.

"Waymo was recently -- and apparently inadvertently -- copied on an email from one of its LiDAR component vendors," the company's lawsuit reads. "The email attached machine drawings of what purports to be an Uber LiDAR circuit board. This circuit board bears a striking resemblance to Waymo's own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets."

Waymo claims that just before he left the company, Levandowski snuck into the design server and downloaded 9.7 GB of "highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation." That's 14,000 files in total.

Levandowski didn't act alone, according to Waymo.

"A number of Waymo employees subsequently also left to join Anthony Levandowski's new business, downloading additional Waymo trade secrets in the days and hours prior to their departure," the lawsuit alleges.

Levandowski is the founder of 501 Systems, a self-driving startup that Google bought in the early days of its own self-driving car project. After leaving Google, he co-founded Otto with Lior Ron, who was the head of Google Maps for three years. The pair launched Otto in May 2016 and Uber bought it in August of that same year for $680 million. Waymo claims theft of its proprietary LiDAR files earned Otto employees more than $500 million.

We've reached out to Uber for its statement on the lawsuit.

Source: Waymo, Complaint

Transgender protection rollback sparks opposition from tech

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On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it would roll back federal protections for transgender citizens and require states and local school boards to decide how (or, more accurately, whether) they would enforce these people's civil rights. Given that Silicon Valley tech companies routinely portray themselves as paragons of diversity and tolerance, these companies would surely be equally incensed at the government's current attempts to regulate where children can pee. However, the responses so far have failed to directly address the president's recent actions, instead generally relying on passive statements that extol their valuation of diversity and inclusion.

When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson replied "We've long advocated for policies that provide equal rights and treatment for all. We're deeply concerned to see a roll-back in transgender students' rights."

Facebook, which gently chastised the Trump administration over its immigration ban, told us that it "is a strong supporter of equality. We stand for ensuring equal rights for everyone, including transgender students, and will continue to advocate for more rights instead of fewer."

AirBnb, which vowed to help 100,000 people stranded by the Republicans' immigration ban, simply pointed us to a recent tweet by Chris Lehane, the company's head of policy.

Similarly, PayPal's CEO, Dan Schulman provided this stock response, despite cancelling the construction of a 400-job Ops Center in North Carolina following the passage of HB2.

PayPal is committed to preserving human rights and advancing the principles of inclusion and equality that are at the core of our values. We seek to defend against discrimination and actions that violate our values, and we work with communities, regulators, and governments around the world to foster inclusion, understanding and empower the best of human potential.

An IBM spokesperson simply noted that "IBM has had an explicit policy of non-discrimination based on gender identity or expression since 2002, and we are opposed to discrimination in all its forms, including any policies that discriminate based on gender identity in education." The company was one of hundreds that signed a letter disavowing the government's immigration ban.

Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich posted this tweet:

Finally, a GitHub spokesperson told Engadget,

GitHub is dedicated to the creation of safe, inclusive spaces and communities--both in the digital world, and in the real world. We are committed to supporting our community including the transgender community and enabling others to support as well. For those looking for resources, or a way to contribute, Refuge Restrooms is an open source project being built on our platform to index safe restrooms for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals.

We also reached out to Apple but did not hear back. However the company did tell Axion yesterday, "Apple believes everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination. We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals. We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections."

We also contacted Twitter for comment as well as Lionsgate films, the NBA and NCAA -- all of whom were vocal opponents of the HB2 legislation -- but have yet to hear back as of the time of this post's publication.

These statements are noticeably less forceful than those following the passage of HB2 in North Carolina, a law that required people to use the restroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in government buildings. In the wake of that controversy, everyone from the NCAA to Bruce Springsteen, PayPal to Apple vowed to boycott the the state.

There is little indication that these companies, aside from GitHub, have plans to take proactive steps in response to this announcement. Granted, pushing back against a piece of state legislation is more straightforward than taking on a White House announcement regarding the interpretation of an existing law. It's one thing to boycott the state of North Carolina but another entirely when the federal government itself decides to take a laissez faire approach to civil rights.

Spotify gets into podcasting with three music-themed shows

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Spotify dipped its toes into podcasting in 2015 by adding pre-existing programs to its lineup. Now it's getting into content creation and rolling out its own shows. The company is launching three original podcasts, and it says that's just the start.

The first of the new programs, Showstopper, is available now and features The Fader editor in chief Naomi Zeichner talking with music supervisors from TV shows like Stranger Things and Scrubs. The bi-weekly podcast offers commentary and insight on noteworthy music moments in television history.

A second show, Unpacked, will debut on March 14. Broad City music supervisor Matt FX and Spotify Studios' Michele Santucci will host and travel to festivals across the US for interviews with "all manner of creative folks." The third show, which follows a more narrative format, premieres in April and has the working title The Chris Lighty Story. The subject is an executive who worked with rappers like 50 Cent and LL Cool J before passing away due to an apparent suicide.

Spotify is trying to differentiate itself in a crowded streaming market. In recent months, Pandora started offering a Spotify-like premium service, while Tidal introduced audio editing tools and Apple Music is working on original video series like The Late Late Show with James Corden spinoff Carpool Karaoke.

The company has recruited established entities in the podcasting world to help their new venture go smoothly. Showstopper is produced in partnership with Slate and Panoply Studios, the latter of which is home to shows like Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History and many others. Meanwhile, The Chris Lighty Story got a helping hand from Gimlet Media, a self-described "narrative podcasting company," and Loudspeaker Network, which features shows about hip-hop, geek culture, sex and other topics.

Spotify says that more programs will be announced later this year. Although this is its first concentrated push into original podcasts, Spotify is no stranger to the format. The streaming service previously partnered with Mic and Headcount.org last year for Clarify, an audio and video series that explored the relationship between music and political issues.

Source: Spotify

Facebook is inserting ads midway through videos

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Facebook's ambitions for video have been pretty explicit. And now the social network is (officially) introducing a way for its publishing partners to get paid for them. Rather than front-loading ads the way YouTube and so many others do, these will appear in the middle of videos, according to Recode. Said sales pitches will be 20 seconds long, can't run until a video has been playing for at least 20 seconds and must be spaced two minutes apart.

Live video won't be left out either. If a publisher has at least 2,000 followers and has hit 300 concurrent live viewers in a "recent live video," they'll be able to insert ads as well -- assuming the broadcast has been running for at least four minutes and has 300 viewers.

As far as revenue split goes, like the rumors predicted, publishers will net 55 percent of proceeds while Facebook grabs the rest. That's quite a bit different versus the social network's ad split for instant articles where the publisher would get between 70 and 100 percent of the cash.

With Facebook pushing into the TV space, expect to see even more of this in the future as it tries courting additional professional video producers.

Source: Recode

The Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $100 on a Dell UltraSharp monitor

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This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer's guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their continuously updated list of deals here.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we'll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot -- some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

RAVPower 22000 mAh Ace Series portable charger

Street price: $40; MSRP: $60; Deal price: $28 w/ code RAV22000

This is a nice deal on our super powerful USB battery pick, and a new lowest price ever. Just make sure to use code: RAV22000 in order to get the best deal price of $28.

The RAVPower 22000mAh Ace Series is our more powerful pick in our guide to the best USB battery packs. Mark Smirniotis wrote, "If you require a lot of power—say, you need to charge your smartphone every night on a weeklong camping excursion, or to keep a couple tablets or large smartphones fully charged throughout an international flight—you should get the RAVPower Ace Series 22000mAh Power Bank. Though only about 85 percent of the capacity of our previous large pick from RAVPower, the RAVPower 26800mAh Xtreme Portable Charger, this newer pack can charge more devices faster than any other contender in our test group. Even though it was second place in overall capacity, it still had enough power to charge a smartphone every night for a week, and when it's dead, it recharges faster than any other pack we tried."

Dell UltraSharp U3415W 34-Inch curved LED-Lit monitor

Street price: $700; MSRP: $1,200; Deal price: $600

This is a great deal on our ultrawide pick for the best 27-inch monitor, and the best price we've seen so far. This comes in at over $100 below the average street price we've been seeing for this ultrawide monitor from Dell and is overall a great price to pick up this monitor. While there is a newer version of this monitor available, the improvements seem very small and we've seen quite a few mixed reviews on it, so we suggest sticking to the U3415W.

The Dell UltraSharp U3415W is our ultrawide pick in our guide to the best 27-inch monitor. David Murphy wrote, "If you need a lot more space than our 27-inch 1440p pick provides but don't want to mess with 4K's screen-scaling issues, or if you don't have a computer powerful enough to run a 4K monitor, consider an ultrawide monitor instead. Our favorite is the Dell U3415W. Its factory-calibrated display wasn't as color-accurate as our other picks on our tests, but it still works well for everyday use. Its display connections and stand are just as good as the P2715Q's."

Lewis N. Clark umbrella

Street price: $17; MSRP: $20; Deal price: $10

A new low on an already very affordable umbrella. This $10 deal now means you have no excuse for getting caught out in the rain without an umbrella.

The Lewis N. Clark umbrella is our top pick in our guide to the best umbrellas. Tim Heffernan wrote, "The Lewis N. Clark Umbrella is our overall pick as the best umbrella for most people because it offers more features and durability for the price than anything we've tested in the past three years. At 10 ounces, it's the second-lightest in our test, and the shortest (when closed) at 11 inches (the company lists it at 10.25 inches; it's not). Its 38-inch canopy (the company underestimates it as 37 inches) is right in the sweet spot for full-size umbrellas, and it performed satisfactorily in last year's mannequin-in-the-shower test, keeping the head, shoulders, and upper torso dry. This year, it survived the battery of 20 consecutive inversions and continued to open and close without problem (though one arm appeared slightly bent afterward), and it has a handle that stays grippy when wet."

Refurbished Samsung Gear Fit2 fitness tracker

Street price: $150 (new); MSRP: $180 (new); Deal price: $85

While we've seen the Gear Fit2 as low as $130 new, an $85 refurbished large size wearable is a nice discount if you're in the market for an Android-friendly fitness tracker. Only the black color in large is available for this price (if you're seeking the small size in black it is also available refurb for $95, but that's less of a bargain relative to the previous deal pricing we've seen). This model, as a Geek Squad refurb, carries a 90 day warranty.

The Samsung Gear Fit2 is our best for Android users pick in our best fitness trackers guide. Amy Roberts writes, "If you're an Android user, the full-color Gear Fit2 might be the better pick, especially if you value sleekness. It's noticeably thinner than the Vívosmart HR+ even though it also has GPS, a heart-rate sensor, and automatic activity detection. It's much cheaper too. However, it is Android-only and is held back by an extremely short battery life of just 2 days, so you have to charge it almost daily. The activity auto-detection is particularly impressive: Once it recognizes a walk, run, or bike ride lasting 10 minutes or longer, the screen changes to a timer recording your effort, and once it detects you're done, congratulates you on a job well-done."

Because great deals don't just happen on Thursdays, sign up for our daily deals email and we'll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

Indie devs with disabilities win full ride on Train Jam to GDC 

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Two game developers with disabilities are headed to the 31st annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) this year via Train Jam, a four-day rail excursion from Chicago to San Francisco that was founded in 2013. Train Jam participants collaborate to create new games during the trip, which they can debut at GDC. Both developers are being sponsored by the AbleGamers Foundation, a nonprofit that provides access to video games for people with disabilities via assistive technologies like adapted controllers.

Veve Jaffa and AJ Ryan, two talented indie developers who experience disabilities, were chosen to receive accessible rooms on the train along with airfare, lodging and Train Jam event tickets, thanks to the sponsorship of both AbleGamers and GDC itself. They'll also get All Access passes for the following week's GDC events in San Francisco, which include development panels, technology showcases and demos of new and upcoming video games. GDC is the largest and longest-running conference of its kind, and has become the place to be for anyone working or writing about the gaming industry.

Veve Jaffa experiences chronic pain with sensory and ambulatory challenges. They (their preferred pronoun) are looking forward to the train ride itself, and feel included rather than tokenized. Train Jam is something they've always wanted to participate in, but needed accommodations to do so. They're also speaking at GDC this year about urban exploration and photogrammetry in game design, as well as demonstrating their latest game prototype, Nakam.

"I often strive to meet accessibility standards in my games," Jaffa told Engadget in an email, "whether it's unimodal interfaces, text descriptions or accessible colour palettes. I want to demonstrate that you can make complex and engaging games while accommodating a variety of players and abilities."

Ryan has muscular dystrophy, a progressive disease that affects motor strength. He's not been to GDC before but wants to prove to the game industry that there are game developers with disabilities who can do great work.

"I've successfully done this (created an accessible game) before during multiple game jams but being on a train will bring unique challenges such as no internet access and a bumpy road to code on," he said in an email.

AbleGamers founder Mark Barlet is proud of his foundation's sponsorship. Sending two indie developers to both Train Jam and GDC is a move designed to help raise the visibility of people with disabilities in such a culturally significant industry. "We can't wait to see what Veve and AJ cook up while touring across the country," he said in a press release, "and are eager to hear about their experiences and opportunities encountered while at GDC in San Francisco."

Source: Able Gamers

It will cost $670 to get 90 percent of 2017’s ‘Hearthstone’ cards

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Since it launched in 2014, Blizzard's free-to-play digital card game Hearthstone has dominated its niche. To keep gameplay fresh, the studio has alternated new content additions between Adventures, which guarantees some cards for a $20 flat fee, and larger expansion sets that dole out cards in randomized packs bought with in-game gold or real-world currency. Last week, the studio announced it will forgo any Adventure releases in 2017, instead launching three of the latter full-size content blocks for 2017. While this means a record amount of cards will be added, it will be harder -- and more expensive -- to get all of them.

How pricey does that make Hearthstone now? If players only spent real-world money buying enough packs to get 90 percent of this year's content, it would cost them about $670 up front.

That's the number Redditor FliccC arrived at in a post they published shortly after Blizzard's announcement, a total that is significantly higher than the $440 or so it cost to buy the same percentage of last year's content. While casual players can coast along, picking up a pack every so often with in-game currency awarded for daily playing, competitive online and tournament play relies on high-performing decks filled with many of the latest cards. And if you imagine yourself a Hearthstone innovator, the only way to workshop new strategies is to personally try out novel combinations in live matches against real opponents who are also packing the newest and coolest toys.

This level of ranked online and tournament competition is kind of like Hearthstone's end-game content, the challenge lying beyond the casual-mode bunny slopes. As with any statistics-driven scenario, science points to an arbitrary threshold before pouring more money into the card-pack slot machine gives diminishing returns (e.g., duplicates). According to FliccC's calculations based on this BlizzPro guide, purchasing 200 packs should net a player around 90 percent of any given 130-plus card expansion set. Despite strategically choosing the pre-order deal and bulk buys, this comes out to $223 when shopping straight from the studio's online store. Even the slick trick of using Amazon Coins for cheaper packs nets a maximum discount of 25 percent off.

While players faced this pricey pack roulette for two of last year's content releases, they caught a break with last August's Adventure, One Night In Kharazan, which provided every card in its small set for $20. In its announcement, Blizzard, which has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story, committed to adding Adventure-style single-player content to the second of this year's expansions, which will reward free packs. But as far as we know, it won't also offer cheap packages that guarantee cards. Basically, then, if you're paying up front and want most of this year's Hearthstone content, for completionist satisfaction or to play competitively, you'll probably have to spend a little over $200 more than you did last year.

Frankly, that's kind of nuts. That kind of money spent on a single expansion could buy 13 more months on World of Warcraft or three more $60 major studio games. Heck, purchasing most of all three expansions at that $670 figure could sponsor your 20-person WoW raid group for two months.

Not everyone buys the whole set up front, of course, and most don't spend much more than a WoW subscriber. Redditor FliccC has spent $800 since the game launched, or about $20 per month. That's not uncommon: A SuperData report noted that digital collectible card game (CCG) players spend an average of $34.22 per month on those titles. Given that Hearthstone earned four times as much as its next competitor, it will likely take the lion's share of the $1.4 billion digital CCGs are expected to rake in this year.

There are irregular straw polls on the r/Hearthstone subreddit asking how much total money users put into the game, and one last April found that 24 percent of the more than 25,000 vote sample size hadn't spent a dime. There will always be the few whales in the ecosystem paying thousands of dollars, like in mobile gaming. But a combined 32 percent -- 8,000 -- had dropped between $100 and $400 over Hearthstone's lifetime. That percentage was almost identical in the latest poll, released two months ago.

The question is whether you need all of those cards. Having every option on hand is obviously helpful when tinkering, but the quality of cards in any given set follows a bell curve, with useless junk at the bottom and powerful cards at the top. FliccC, a player since the game was in beta, pointed out that only a small selection of the 901 total cards in Standard format are used at the competitive level.

"If you look at the decks that are competitively played on ladder and in tournaments, the number of viable cards is relatively small. Simply due to the fact that there are currently some cards which are so strong, that if you didn't include them in your deck, your deck would be considerably worse," FliccC told Engadget. "In the current meta, people are building decks around mainly two very strong cards: Kazakus and Patches, the Pirate. This leads to many different decks, but since they share a lot of the same cards, the overall competitively viable card pool is rather small."

For the cash-strapped, Blizzard is a merciful game custodian, and there are mechanisms in Hearthstone to help players chisel away at new content's sticker price. Completing daily quests and wins nets them, on average, enough in-game gold to buy about 1.5 packs per day. But they'll still deal with the random results of opening packs, which could hand out dominating legendary-rarity cards or poor-quality "pack fillers." In many ways, Adventures leveled the playing field, doling out the same cards to everyone who paid its entry fee, including a handful that still make it into top-tier decks today.

That's where Hearthstone's free-to-play tier will veer even further from competitive viability in 2017. There's always been a divide between free-to-play casuals and players committed enough to drop cash on the game, but ditching Adventures also makes the game more expensive, period. Those small sets were not only fun single-player experiences but also affordable and cost-efficient. The most recent, One Night In Kharazan, cost $0.40 per card, while a standard expansion (not considering freebies given out by Blizzard) costs about $1.90 per, according to FliccC's numbers.

You might notice the former rate is far lower, which is what happens when comparing flat-fee sets giving guaranteed cards with the randomness of the pack roulette. The latter ends up providing players with many duplicates that can be refunded via "disenchanting" for a miserly amount of dust, a secondary resource that can be spent to make any card at a cost that ratchets up based on rarity. Obviously, more extra cards means more dust to go around, making it easier for higher-paying players to afford crafting missing cards. This largesse lets them build out the highest-rated decks listed online, which all cost at least 3,000 dust to make from scratch. A single legendary-rarity card like the game's current scourge Patches, The Pirate costs 1,600 dust to craft.

There are some unknowns that affect whether paying players will get a bigger competitive edge over their free-to-play peers in 2017, but the most significant x factor is Blizzard's generosity. While it only gave out six free boosters as quest rewards when the latest expansion, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, launched, the studio promised daily giveaways of gold, dust and free packs leading up to the first new content release in 2017.

If you're good and scrappy, you can get pretty far on free stuff: Popular Hearthstone streamer Trump (mayor of value town, not president of the US) infamously almost made it to Legendary rank with a free-to-play account after 2016's first expansion. If we're lucky, the fountain of gratis goods coming with the year's inaugural set will soothe the growing gap between the game's low-spending and high-paying players.

Source: r/Hearthstone (post)

Twitter and PBS will livestream Trump’s speech to Congress

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Twitter has been livestreaming everything from Presidential debates to boxing matches and NFL games to see what sticks. And just like it did with the inauguration, Twitter will once again pair with PBS to broadcast President Trump's address to a joint session of Congress on February 28th.

This time PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff will host the live coverage alongside a team of analysts and PBS correspondents. Because there's traditionally no State of the Union address in a president's first year, the joint session address is a less formal affair, but is expected to cover similar topics. The Democrats will also have the opportunity for a post-speech response that will be streamed live on Twitter and PBS as well.

When Trump takes the stage on the 28th, the livestream will be available at jointsession.twitter.com, on NewsHours Twitter page or pbs.org/newshour.

Via: CNET

Source: jointsession.twitter.com

Acer is making an air quality monitor

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Acer's next project is a different type of monitor than you might expect from the company. It's an air quality monitor, actually. No, wait; where are you going? "The Acer Air Monitor features a sleek and simple design, the device allows real-time monitoring of key air quality indicators through a dedicated app for smartphones, and by the changing colors of a breathing LED light embedded on the chassis," the company said in a press release. It all sounds very exciting.

As far as looks go, the device is pretty unobtrusive. It's square, relatively small, white and has a ring that changes color based on the air quality. Speaking of which, the gizmo will send push notifications or even integrate with IFTTT so you can do something when the air quality in your home changes. How it'll stand out in the admittedly crowded space remains to be seen. Acer expects the device to go on sale sometime between April and July of this year.

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