August 21, 2014

High Design: Meet Baxter, a New Kind of Industrial Robot

by @ 10:03 am. Filed under Cybernation, High Design
A smarter, safer new industrial robot could bring automation to new areas of manual work and help many U.S. manufacturers regain a competitive edge.


August 18, 2014

Why Can’t the United States Build a High-Speed Rail System?


The problem isn't geography, demographics, or money—it's federal will.

By Yonah Freemark via

Aug 13, 2014 - Virtually every wealthy nation in the world has invested in a high-speed rail network—with the striking exception of the United States. From Japan to France, even from Turkey to Russia, trains travel through the country at speeds of 150 miles per hour or above, linking city centers and providing a desirable alternative to both air and automobile travel. Meanwhile, outside Amtrak's 28 miles of 150-m.p.h. track in rural Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the American rail network is largely limited to speeds of 110 m.p.h. or less. There are few reasons to think the situation will change much in the coming decades.

So why has the United States failed to fund and construct high-speed rail?

The problem is not political process. Most of the countries that have built high-speed rail are democratic, and have submitted the projects to citizen review; others, like Germany and Russia, have federated governments similar to ours that divide general decision-making between levels of authority.

Nor is it geography. The British and French completed a 31-mile tunnel under the British Channel 20 years ago, while many American cities are located in flat regions with few physical construction obstacles.

Nor is it the characteristics of our urban areas. While U.S. cities are less dense than those of many other countries, the Northeast is denser, more transit reliant, and more populated than most areas served by high-speed rail abroad. Nor still is it money. Though the United States invests less in infrastructure than other developed countries do, America nevertheless remains an immensely wealthy nation perfectly capable of spending on new rail links if desired.

What's missing is a federal commitment to a well-funded national rail plan.



August 12, 2014

Low-Road vs. High-Road: The Carbon Burners Blocking Solar Energy

by @ 9:32 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Road Economics, Solar


No solar, please — we’re Florida

By Heather Smith via Grist

At the beginning of this year, I made a short list of predictions about what the future held for environmental activism in 2014. I was right about a few of them —  divestment has gone mainstream, environmental organizing has shifted from big infrastructure like Keystone to regional infrastructure like power plants and coal terminals. But there’s one huge thing that I missed: solar.

So far, this has been a precedent-setting year for how solar power is going to play out in this country. The technological breakthroughs in storage and affordablity began a few years ago – but this year is all about figuring out how to fit this new technology into the hairball of regulations that surround American utilities.

Examples have ranged from the laid-back and sensible (the state of Washington developing streamlined statewide rules for solar, which lowered the cost of installation by up to $2,500 in some communities) to  the litigious (a long-standing court case in Iowa was resolved in favor of solar power, possibly setting a precedent for the rest of the midwest).



August 6, 2014

The Emerging ‘Clean and Green’ Majority

People want smarter energy choices

By Lesley Hunter via The Hill

Aug 5, 2014 - If you think backing renewable energy might be a good idea for the U.S. economy, then you’re not alone—not by a long shot.

A slew of studies have emerged recently, painting a clear picture of public opinion on renewable energy. Though the positive findings from both the public and business leaders are not surprising to many, the broader conclusions tell a great deal about the growing prominence of the clean energy economy: renewable energy deployment in the U.S. is now drawing overwhelming support.

Let’s take a quick look at the latest numbers:

A poll recently conducted by Stanford University and USA Today found that 91 percent of U.S. adults say it’s a “good idea” to generate electricity from sunlight, and 84 percent say the same for generating power from wind. A much smaller number—only 21 percent—say producing electricity from coal is a “good idea.” And in the same study, a majority— 55 percent —back the EPA plans to cut carbon pollution by proposing limits to greenhouses gases emitted by power plants.

National polling firm, Gallup, released research earlier this year that discovered 67 percent of Americans favor spending more government money on developing renewable energy technologies. Echoing these findings, a July survey conducted by the University of Michigan found 60 percent in support of a cost-effective carbon tax. An impressive 51 percent of Republicans lent their voice to the majority, if such a proposal used its funding for renewable power programs.



August 5, 2014

A High Design Boost for Electric Cars and the Highways

by @ 9:53 am. Filed under Green Energy, Green Industry, High Design

Batteries for EVs like this Tesla Model S could be getting cheaper and more plentiful, onc...

Batteries for EVs like this Tesla Model S could be getting cheaper and more plentiful, once the Gigafactory is in full swing

Tesla and Panasonic sign agreement on battery-making Gigafactory

By Ben Coxworth via Gizmag

August 1, 2014 - If electric vehicles are to ultimately become as popular as Tesla hopes they will, then a whole lot of cost-effective batteries are going to be needed. That's why earlier this year, the automaker proposed a "Gigafactory" where it could crank out huge quantities of batteries. By making so many, it could drive down the price per battery via economy of scale. Yesterday, the company announced that it and Panasonic had signed an agreement to build that factory.

As mentioned in our previous article, Tesla plans for the Gigafactory to produce 500,000 batteries per year by 2020, with expected battery cell output of 35 GWh/yr and battery pack output of 50 GWh/yr. Current global battery output, from a variety of manufacturers, sits at just under 35 GWh/yr.

According to yesterday's announcement, "Tesla will prepare, provide and manage the land, buildings and utilities [while] Panasonic will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and invest in the associated equipment, machinery, and other manufacturing tools based on their mutual approval."

The factory will be be located somewhere in the US and managed by Tesla, with Panasonic occupying about half of the manufacturing space and taking the role of principal partner. Although the cells will be made by Panasonic, Tesla will be incorporating them into battery modules and packs that it will be assembling.



July 23, 2014

Jobs: Fighting for the Future in a Crisis-Ridden Present

5 Reasons It’s Time for the 4-Day Work Week

By Lynn Stuart Parramore via alternet

July 21, 2014 |   Psst: Working less is the key to success.

Want to make employees happier and more productive? Give them a four-day work week.

The concept was introduced in the 1950s by American labor union leader Walter Reuther, but it’s taken a long time for the country to come around to his way of thinking.

There are signs that things are changing. Treehouse, an online education company, has a four-day work-week policy, and CEO Ryan Carlson has never looked back, saying it increases both output and morale. Other forward-thinking companies, like Slingshot SEO, are jumping on board.

Several states have been experimenting with having public employees come in four days a week, a trend which made headlines in the Washington Post [3] when the Virginia legislature let state employees take Fridays off in 2010.

The corporate world is warming up to the idea. Google co-founder Larry Page advocates flexibility and says the idea that everyone needs to work frantically is "just not true." Interestingly, polls show that 70 per cent of millionaires think the four-day work-week is a “valid idea.” Recently, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim actually called for a three-day work-week.

Let’s take a look at why a shorter work-week is a good idea whose time has come.

1. Makes workers more productive.

A lot of people automatically think that reducing the work-week to four days will crash productivity. But there’s evidence that this is far from true. American Online and found in a survey that the average worker wastes about two hours every eight-hour workday, doing stuff like making personal calls or surfing the web. If given the choice, most of these employees would gladly drop those behaviors in exchange for a four-day work-week.

Experiments with shortening the work-week have yielded positive results on the productivity front. When the state of Utah put public workers on a four-day schedule in the wake of the recession, worker productivity increased, along with customer satisfaction. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Jason Fried, who runs the software company 37signals, reports that his employees do better work during their four-day weeks. As he puts it,

“When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

2. Good for the environment.

One day less at work means reduced electricity use and less time spent driving. Fewer commuters during the traditional rush hours makes travel quicker for everybody, which means less time spent idling in traffic and churning out less greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

According to a report [4] from the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, a global shift to shorter working hours could reduce carbon emissions enough to halve additional expected global warming between now and 2100.

3. Makes employees happier.

Let’s be honest. Being on a treadmill where all you do is work, eat and sleep, is a crappy way to live. That’s why the four-day work-week is good for morale and worker happiness. Spending more time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies and interests outside of work, and engaging with the community are all things that boost well-being and keep employees, sane, focused and committed to their jobs.

Ryan Carlson of Treehouse says he finds his workers “invigorated and excited” when they come in after a three-day weekend. He also finds that it’s easier both to recruit and retain workers with a four-day work-week policy, because their lives are more balanced and they feel much happier.

4. Creates a healthier workforce.

For many Americans, going to see a doctor involves sneaking off in the middle of the workday, because there's no time outside of work to do it. Ironically, they probably need the doctor more because they spend so much time in the office.

John Ashton, a prominent physician in the U.K., has called for a switch to the four-day work-week [5] to reduce stress. Citing what he calls a “maldistribution of work” that is damaging people’s health, Ashton notes that problems like high-blood pressure and addiction could be improved by going to the four-day work-week.

Many of the health problems Americans face, like obesity, joint pain, sleep problems, and heart-related illnesses, are linked to too many hours spent sitting in chairs. Healthier workers means fewer sick days and a workforce that feels better and more energized.

5. Brings America into the 21st century.

The U.S. is out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to work. Our culture promotes overwork, which is why we rank 11th out of 33 [6] developed countries in how many hours we work each week.

We work longer hours than the Germans, Canadians, Dutch and Swedes, and yet somehow those countries manage to be highly productive. In the Netherlands, four-day work-weeks are pretty much the rule. Even the tiny African country of Gambia has public workers clocking in Monday through Thursday.

It’s high time Americans figured out what much of the world already knows: the shorter work-week is the wave of the future.


July 22, 2014

Green High Design: More Steam for Less Solar

by @ 9:40 am. Filed under Green Energy, High Design, Solar

Sponge-like structure generates steam using lowest concentration of solar energy yet

A composite of graphite flakes and carbon foam is claimed to convert 85 percent of solar e...

A composite of graphite flakes and carbon foam is claimed to convert 85 percent of solar energy into steam

Image Gallery (2 images)

By Colin Jeffrey via Gizmag

July 22, 2014 - Researchers working at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering claim to have produced a sponge-like substance that helps convert water to steam using sunlight one-hundredth as bright as that required by conventional steam-producing solar generators. A composite of graphite flakes layered on a bed of carbon foam, the new material is reported to convert as much as 85 percent of received solar energy into steam.

In practice, the scientists say that the graphite flakes and carbon foam composite that they've created forms a porous insulating material structure that floats on water. After a number of experiments, the scientists found that the best method to maximize heat retention properties in the top layer was to exfoliate (expand a material by heating so that it increases in volume and lowers in density) graphite by cooking it in a microwave, causing it to bubble and swell. The outcome is an exceedingly permeable top layer able to maximize absorption and retention of solar energy.

The bottom layer is fashioned from carbon foam containing hundreds of tiny pockets of air that keeps the material floating on the surface of the water, while also providing insulation that prevents heat escaping to the water underneath it. Most importantly for the generation of steam, the foam is also riddled with tiny pores that allow water – through capillary action from applied heat – to make its way up through the material.



July 9, 2014

China: Gender Equality and Climate Change

by @ 4:52 am. Tags: ,
Filed under China, Climate, Environment, Women

By Liu Bohong via Women of China

July 9, 2014 - We must take a gender perspective in making policies, measures and strategies to deal with climate change. We must empower women to ensure they exercise their full potential as we deal with climate change. Why? That will help women move beyond their insecurities, and it will help increase society's ability to cope with climate change, so that we can guarantee society's sustained development.

Climate change is a hot issue globally; in fact, it is an issue that affects all of us, even in daily life. Climate change knows no boundaries; many suggest it harms people, regardless of race and gender, while others suggest climate change, at least in part, contributes to the rising number — and severity — of natural disasters.

The effects of such disasters are not limited by gender. However, bias embedded in society emerges during such disasters; for example, in the movie Aftershock (2010), a mother chooses to save her son when asked by rescuers if she wants them to rescue her son or daughter first.

In China, most of the governments' statistics regarding victims of natural disasters fail to identify the victims by gender. That may be the result of ignorance about gender perspective when dealing with climate change and natural disasters.


Gender inequality — especially in terms of accessing social resources, enjoying opportunities and rights, participating in social development, and having fair access to salaries and benefits — still exists in most regions of the world.



July 8, 2014

Robot Economy: 20 percent of the World’s Robots are in China

by @ 4:49 pm. Tags:
Filed under China, Cybernation, High Design, Socialism

(People's Daily Online)  

July 03, 2014 -At a price of not much more than 10 thousand yuan, with at least five years’ work expectancy, no salary, no social welfare, no quarrels with the boss, no days off, no resignations and can meet the workload of three people... As a boss, would you not want such employees?

As industrialization progresses, China has become recognized as a major center for the global manufacturing industry. But increasing labor costs pose a problem for China's industry. Experts believe that developing intelligent manufacturing technology that focuses on industrial robots is essential. In the next 30 years, China’s robot market will grow by at least 30 percent.

Around the world, robots are mainly employed in the car and electronics industries. In China, they account for 80 percent of the workforce in the car industry.

Continuous growth of labor costs and labor shortages are the main incentives behind factories employing robots instead of people, according to Liu Changyong, vice dean of the research institute of Shenyang Xinsong Robot Automation Co. “Robots used to be very expensive. Companies would not consider using them. But in the past few years, prices have dropped by 4 percent every year.”

In 2013, China overtook Japan as the world’s largest robot market, purchasing 20 percent of the world’s robots.

Nevertheless, China’s domestic robot market is dominated by producers from Japan, Europe and the United States, while Chinese companies take less than 10 percent of total sales.

Despite its rapid growth, China’s robot technology still lags behind that of advanced countries, according to Zhao Jie, director of the Robot Research Institute of Harbin Institute of Technology.

Zhao Jie is concerned that rising demand for industrial robots might lead to cutthroat competition and duplicate construction of industrial parks among domestic enterprises.

In spite of these misgivings, some experts are optimistic about the robot industry. Cai Hegao, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and professor of the Harbin Institute of Technology said that Japan had gone through a similar process and has now formed several major robot enterprises through merger and acquisition. “The number of robots is too small in the manufacturing industry. I hope that after years of development, competent enterprises will prosper and promote the sound development of China’s industrial robot industry. ”


June 25, 2014

Hell No, We Won’t Pay: How Technology Transformed Our Perception of Value

by @ 11:41 am. Tags:
Filed under Capitalism, Cybernation, High Design, Socialism

Photo: Workerless Factory

Summary: What does this culture and technology of anti-spendism mean for the future consumption and valuation of goods and services?

[Editor's Note: The author skims the surface of capitalism's endemic problem of the growing organic composition of capital (better tools) in relation to the decrease in living labor (fewer workers and less labor time). One reason noted by Marx is that it has no strategic reform solution , but it does set the conditions for socialism, and beyond that, the classless society of communism].

By Jason Perlow via Tech Broiler

Open Source. The backlash against Software Patents. Cloud Computing. Bitcoin. 3D Printing. Post-PC. Cord-Cutting. Electric Vehicles and Alternative Energy.

There are ideological and social drivers that are unique to every single one of these things, and yet there is a common thread that ties them together. I call this trend "anti-spendism".

Anti-spendism is not necessarily a social movement that is tied to the betterment of society as a whole. It's not like socialism or communism, where we are talking about a desire to more equitably distribute wealth to the have-nots.

It is by definition, the personal, self-centered desire not to expend capital at all. Or to put a more modern take on it, rapid advances in technology have so lowered our perceptions of what things should cost, that ultimately many goods and services have become devalued far below what people are willing to pay for them.

To put it bluntly, anti-spendism is "Hell no, we won't pay" syndrome.

And while a case could be made that thriftiness in the trade of goods and services has always existed, even before money itself existed, there has never been a time in our history where thriftiness has overwhelmingly been driven by technology itself, or vice-versa.

The rise of FOSS

It is difficult to say where this all began, but I suspect that it emerged as a confluence of events beginning with the rise of the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) movement in the late 1990s which planted the seeds among the technorati that you could get something of value (Software) for free.



June 24, 2014

New Castle, PA Firm Takes the Green High Road

Battery technology grows to meet demands of renewable energy

By Michael Sanserino
Beaver County Blue via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 24, 2014 - Those skeptical of renewable energy as a viable power source often note that the wind doesn't always blow nor does the sun always shine.

But advancements in battery technology are helping keep energy flowing on those dark, windless days.

“It’s happening at a record pace,” said Lisa Salley, vice president and general manager of energy and power technologies at Underwriter Laboratories, a Northbrook, Ill.-based independent safety consulting and certification organization.

The goal is to increase the usability of renewable energy, which currently accounts for 21 percent of all electricity generated worldwide but just 11 percent of consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“One of the areas that’s been neglected in the past has been the storage component of renewable energy sources, and that includes wind and solar, of course,” said Tom Granville, CEO of Axion Power International.

That, however, is changing. Power, chemical and material science companies, locally and elsewhere, are investing heavily in battery technology. Some are improving existing technology while others are developing new chemistry to create entirely new battery structures.



June 5, 2014

Syria and Other Dilemmas Reveal US Frustration as Its Hegemony Declines

by @ 5:48 am. Filed under Anti-War Movement, China, Middle East, militarism

By An Huihou

(People's Daily Online)  

June 5, 2014 - The Syrian authorities opted to hold a presidential election on June 3. Bashar al-Assad is one of the three candidates. The international media generally assume that there is no doubt that Bashar al-Assad will win re-election. In spite of public discontent with the current situation and a desire for change, the essence of the Syria crisis is that foreign forces have tried to interfere in Syria's internal affairs, provoking a civil war in an attempt to overthrow the Syrian government.

The US President Barack Obama announced on August: "The rule of Bashar al-Assad has lost its legitimacy and he must step down." However, far from falling, Bashar al-Assad has secured another three years in power, for many reasons. Most importantly, the United States has made no direct military strikes against Syria. Why did the U.S. military decide not to wield the big stick this time?

Boogged down by its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the peak of the United States hegemony is past. The U.S. economy crashed during the 2008 financial crisis, triggering further domestic issues. Coupled with the rise of the emerging economies, it is an indisputable fact that the dominance of the U.S.A. is in decline. Increasingly powerless to halt this decline, the United States is at a loss.Through his implementation of the "Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy" in 2011, Obama adjusted his Middle East policy by reducing investment in the Middle East, slowing down the implementation of the "new interventionism” and seeking shelter in stability.

A war in Syria is now contrary to its global strategy, and it would leave the U.S. facing too many associated difficulties. In August 2013, the West contrived the Syrian 'chemical weapons' crisis. The United States schemed with the United Kingdom to threaten Syria, declaring its intention to carry out a limited military strike. But 59% of Americans were opposed to aiding the Syrian opposition.



June 4, 2014

Vermont’s Socialist Senator Leads on Worker Coops

Black Start Co-op Members Gather for the Unveiling of their New Space in Vermont

Sanders Unveils Employee Ownership Legislation

Monday, June 2, 2014

BURLINGTON, Vt., June 2 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was joined this morning by representatives of Vermont-based, worker-owned businesses and an employee-ownership expert at a news conference to announce legislation to help workers who want to form their own businesses or worker-owned cooperatives.

Sanders said employee ownership increases employment, productivity, sales and wages. The federal government, however, has not done enough for employee ownership to realize its full potential.

“At a time when corporate America is outsourcing millions of decent-paying jobs overseas and with the economy continuing to struggle to create jobs that pay a livable wage, we need to expand economic models that help the middle-class,” Sanders said.  “I strongly believe that employee ownership is one of those models.”

Under one bill in Sanders' package, the U.S. Department of Labor would provide funding to states to establish and expand employee ownership centers. These centers would provide training and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership and participation throughout the country. This legislation is modeled on the success of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center which has done an excellent job in educating workers, retiring business owners, and others about the benefits of worker ownership.

A second bill would create a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide loans to help workers purchase businesses through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative.  Sen. Patrick Leahy is a cosponsor of Sanders’ legislative package.

Vermont is a national leader on employee ownership.  Today, there are more than 30 ESOPs in Vermont and about a half dozen worker cooperatives.  Nationally, there are more than 10,000 employee owned businesses throughout the country with about 10 million employees.

At the news conference in his Senate office, Sanders was joined by Mary Steiger, president and founder of Williston-based PT360; Jim Feinson, president of Burlington-based Gardener’s Supply; and Nicole LaBrecque, an employee owner and corporate director of business development at South Burlington-based PC Construction Co .

Joseph Blasi, a professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, also joined Sanders to speak about the merits of employee ownership. Blasi has written 13 books, including one titled “Employee Ownership.”

“By expanding employee ownership and participation, we can create stronger companies in Vermont and throughout this country, prevent job loss, and improve working conditions for struggling employees,” Sanders said.

“Simply put, when employees have an ownership stake in their company, they will not ship their own jobs to China to increase their profits,” Sanders said. “They will be more productive. And, they will earn a better living.”


May 26, 2014

High Design: Turning the Tides into Green Power

by @ 1:54 pm. Filed under Economic Democracy, Green Energy, High Design


World’s first community-owned tidal turbine comes online

By Emma Fitzpatrick

The world’s first community-owned tidal power turbine has come online, exporting electricity to the local grid in Scotland.

Scotland Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said last week that the turbine will power up to 30 homes, a locally owned ice plant and the Cullivoe Harbour Industrial Estate on North Yell, Shetland.

The turbine sits on the seabed at a depth of over 30m and is driven by the power of the tide as it flows past. The rotating turbine drives a generator that produces electricity, which is transmitted onshore via a 1km subsea cable.

The project, developed by Leith-based tidal energy company Nova Innovation in partnership with North Yell Development Council, was funded by the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES), Shetland Islands Council and North Yell Development Council.

The project is 100 per cent owned by the North Yell Development Council (NYDC) a company limited by guarantee and a charity.



May 22, 2014

Mexican Workers Doing Well After Winning Ownership of Tire Plant with Three-Year Strike

By Jane Slaughter via Labor Notes

April 2, 2013 - On the 879th day of their strike, Mexican tire workers sought help in Germany, where the multinational that wanted to close their plant was based. After a determined 1,141-day campaign, the company sold them the plant, which they now run as a cooperative.

“If the owners don’t want it, let’s run it ourselves.” When a factory closes, the idea of turning it into a worker-owned co-operative sometimes comes up—and usually dies.

The hurdles to buying a plant, even a failing plant, are huge, and once in business, the new worker-owners face all the pressures that helped the company go bankrupt in the first place. Most worker-owned co-ops are small, such as a taxi collective in Madison or a bakery in San Francisco.

But in Mexico a giant-sized worker cooperative has been building tires since 2005. The factory competes on the world market, employs 1,050 co-owners, and pays the best wages and pensions of any Mexican industrial plant.

Aware that this unusual victory is virtually unknown in the U.S., friends in Guadalajara urged me to come down and see how the TRADOC cooperative is working.

Its president—who was union president when the plant was owned by Continental Tire—spoke in a workshop at the 2010 Labor Notes Conference. Jesus “Chuy” Torres is one of the more impressive unionists I’ve met—though he’s no longer officially a unionist. Still, “our class is the working class,” he told me.

Far from indulging in a “we’ve got ours” mentality, the TRADOC workers are intent on maintaining solidarity with workers still cursed with a boss.

It’s hard to decide which is more remarkable—how the Continental workers turned a plant closing into worker ownership through a determined 1,141-day campaign, or how they’ve managed to survive and thrive since then.

In any case, we need to celebrate such victories. I’ll tell the tale in two parts.

Opening the Factory’s Closed Gates

Taking over their plant was not the workers’ idea. Continental Tire proposed to sell it to them—after the union backed management into a corner so tight the owners wanted nothing more to do with it.

But to get to that point workers had to wage a three-year strike and what we in the U.S. call a “comprehensive campaign.” Workers say it was not just one tactic that won the day, but a combination of relentless pressures.

Continental Tire, based in Germany, is the fourth-largest tire manufacturer in the world. It bought a factory in El Salto, outside Guadalajara in western Mexico, in 1998, intending to produce mainly for the U.S. market. When it was first built by the Mexican company Euzkadi in 1970, this was the most advanced tire-making plant in Latin America. It was still the most modern in Mexico by the early 2000s.



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