0aamakingthingsjat.jpgMaking Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects, by Tom Igoe (whom i interviewed over a year ago). Available on Amazon USA and UK.

Publisher O'Reilly says: Building electronic projects that interact with the physical world is good fun. But when devices that you've built start to talk to each other, things really start to get interesting. Through a series of simple projects, you'll learn how to get your creations to communicate with one another by forming networks of smart devices that carry on conversations with you and your environment. Whether you need to plug some sensors in your home to the Internet or create a device that can interact wirelessly with other creations, Making Things Talk explains exactly what you need.

This book is perfect for people with little technical training but a lot of interest. Maybe you're a science teacher who wants to show students how to monitor weather conditions at several locations at once, or a sculptor who wants to stage a room of choreographed mechanical sculptures. Making Things Talk demonstrates that once you figure out how objects communicate -- whether they're microcontroller-powered devices, email programs, or networked databases -- you can get them to interact.

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Image stolen from Ti.mo's photo stream

Making Things Talk is a cookbook for people who want to connect objects. There are step-by-step explanations, a clear language and plenty of illustrations to make it all simple and approachable but beware! That doesn't mean that anyone can find their way around. You need basic knowledge of electronics (if you don't, Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers, a book that Tom wrote together with Dan O'Sullivan is made for you), as well as some understanding of programming (if you have none, then run to Processing).

Favourite quotes:

"This is not a book for those who are squeamish about taking things apart without knowing whether they'll go back together."

"Networking objects is a bit like love. The fundamental problem in both is that when you're sending a message, you never really know whether the receiver understands what you're saying , and there are thousands of ways for your message to get lost or garbled in transmission."

Tom takes you by the hand to make sure that everything will go right. Starting with the basics: pictures and explanations to tell you what a soldering iron is, a comparison between Wiring and Arduino, clear indications on where the hardware suppliers and the software sources are, etc.

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Uncommon Projects: The Ybox

And you'll learn through practice:
- While making a wireless Monski pong, you'll be introduced to data protocols, flow control and addressing, switching cable connection with a Bluetooth one and other things to better understand data communication.
- By building a cat-email camera system, you'll get to understand better the structure of the internet, how it is organized and how things works on the net and in networked applications.
- the next chapter is about doing projects like the networked kitten but without having to connect to a computer. That's how you'll get the lowdown on connecting a microcontroller to the internet through a simple module. A networked air quality meter will walk you through the theory.
- Creating a networked game, complete with a physical client that works like a seesaw, will teach you how to work with real time connection.
- Chapter 6 explains the basics of wireless communication -whether radio or infrared- between objects.
- With chapter 7, things are starting to get serious as it shows you how to make multiple devices on a network talk to each other directly or talk to all the other devices at once, without having to pass through a serial port. That's where my favourite project from the book enters: a monkey toy that plays cymbals to warn you when you might be breathing too much fumes of toxic chemicals.
- Now that you're a master of packets, sockets, clients, servers and all sorts of protocols, it's time to get acquainted with location technologies and identification technologies. First you'll see what it takes to develop projects that use location systems and finally you'll learn some methods for giving physical objects network identities.

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Perform-O-Shoes, by Andrew Schneider (image Yodel Anecdotal)

Each chapter is illustrated with images of projects developed by some of Tom's students at ITP in New York.

Appendix A and B are the icing on the cake. The first one contains pieces that never made it to the main text but you might still find useful. The last one sums up where to find the necessary hardware and software.

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0aakibuu.jpgKitchen Budapest is a brand new media lab for researchers who are not only interested in the convergence of mobile communication, online communities and urban space but who are also ready to get their hands dirty creating experimental projects in cross-disciplinary teams.

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"Evil Gingerbread man" grabbed from the Kitchen Budapest photo stream

The Kitchen Budapest have released their Summer 2007 catalog. Edited and commented by Eszter Bircsak and Adam Somlai-Fischer, it is yours to download in PDF form. Trust your dear Aunt Régine, the booklet is worth leaving aside whatever you're doing right now.

The catalog highlights some of the projects developed at the Hungarian media lab.

The chapter on Mobile Expressions demonstrates the kind of playful content that can be created using mobile phones; Intelligent and Charming Things is about the way that objects around us can interact with us and even create a culture of their own; Dynamic Media Interfaces shows compelling new ways to explore (or perform) digital content; i guess i've lost everyone here and you're already busy reading the book but i'll keep on describing the catalog just in case. So, we're now at the chapter called Community Technologies which comes up with ideas for a better support for communal interaction and communication. The remaining pages are dedicated to a brief presentations of some of the workshops which took place at Kitchen Budapest (aka. KiBu).

Some of the projects developed are simples, other are quite sophisticated, some will appeal to the hacker, others have a clear interaction design feel, they are sometimes poetical, often thought-provoking and always interesting.

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One of my favourite is the Landprint project which uses a lawnmover to cut text pattern into the grass (so far) or even an image that looks like the print of a photograph when viewed from above (that's the ultimate plan.)

Related: also written by Adam Somlai-Fischer together with Usman Haque this time, Low Tech Sensors and Actuators handbook; Interview of Adam Somlai-Fischer.

Do you want to replace the existing normal?, a collaboration between Fiona Raby, Anthony Dunne and Michael Anastassiades, looks at designing for complicated or irrational needs... Just like their previous Anxious Times project did a few years ago, but this time, the designers focused on electronic products rather than furniture.

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S.O.C.D

The work, which was partly supported by the Arts Council is currently part of Wouldn't it be nice, an exhibition, curated by Katya Garcia-Anton and Emily King, which addresses the application of wishful thinking in art and design today. You can visit the show until December 16 at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva, then at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich. After their litle Swiss tour, the objects will fly to New York to be part of MOMA's upcoming exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind (February 24–May 12, 2008).

There will be 5 objects altogether, here are the first ones:

S.O.C.D* is for people who enjoy porn but feel a bit guilty watching it, or think that it's wrong. You put a dvd into the black box and hold onto the rubber part of the object. The long bit is made of rubber, it's shiny and soft like a dildo, except that the section is square. The metal bits sense your level of arousal and pixelate the image accordingly in real time. The more you get aroused, the bigger the pixel size, and the more distorted the sound gets. If you let go the film goes blank.

To enjoy your porn video, you need to hold on but try to de-arouse yourself at the same time, which parallels your contradictory feelings.

Electronics: Erik Kearney, software: David Muth.

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The Statistical Clock checks the BBC website for technologically mediated fatalities: car, train, plane, etc and pulls them into a database. The clock checks it every minute or so, and each time it finds a new one it speaks it out loud... 1, 2, 3, etc. The way the object works was partly inspired by the Number Stations', you pick them up on short wave radio and can hear usually a female reading streams of numbers, words, letters, tunes or morse code. They were probably used by spies in conjunction with one-off code books that could only be used on a specific day with a specific chain of numbers.

Each technology has its own channel on The Statistical Clock. You can select the channel you want to listen to. The object is meant to re-sensitise you. When you read about deaths or see them on the news they don't really have any impact. But if the clock suddenly says '1' and you are eating your dinner, you are much more likely to find it disturbing. That feeling reconnects you with the reality behind the statistics. It's not intended to be morbid, but to genuinely give meaning back to something we just take for granted.

The object is made from acoustically transparent foam, like the material used for speaker covers, it's 600 mm long and 400 mm diameter at its widest.

Electronics and programming: Chris Hand.

The Risk Watch speaks a number when you place it to your ear, the rubber deflects and activates a specially built device inside. The number corresponds to the political stability of a country.

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This watch is not connected to the telcoms network right now, but if it was, it would subscribe to one of several commercial providers of up-to-date risk assessments usually beamed to employees' blackberrys. There are 5 levels. It's meant to be reassuring when in an unstable country and relates to local geographic position.

Electronics: Erik Kearney.

The Herald Tribune has a review of the exhibition.

All Images courtesy of Anthony Dunne.
* s.o.c.d stands for sexual obsessive compulsive disorder.

Time for a lazy post.

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Bra Trainer is a fictional teaching aid designed by Noam Toran to instruct adolescent boys to overcome the intricacies of opening the brassiere. When initiated the machine mechanically demonstrates the basic principles of clasp disengagement. Following a short pause the machine then re-secures the bra ready for the next demonstration.

The piece is inspired from accounts of repressive post-war institutionalised sex education in the UK in which teachers were not allowed to touch any of the props (prophylactics, physical models of reproductive organs) unless using gloves or a stick. In collaboration with Nick Williamson.

See also: a bra-less Interview with Noam Toran.

Via sexblogs.

The only thing i had ever seen of Ujino Muneteru was the poster of a rather fascinating sonic sculptural instrument he calls the Love Arm. It was 2 years ago at ars electronica. I keep hoping i'll see more of his work one day but in the meantime, lucky me! Vicente Gutierrez managed to meet the artist and together with photographer Martin Holtkamp visited him in his studio. Here's the result of their meeting:

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Muneteru in his studio, by Martin Holtkamp

Tokyo based sound sculpture artist and performer Ujino Muneteru's Rotators is a giant tweaked-out jewelry box of modern and out-dated technology. While many old objects are ubiquitous in Muneteru's work, its not the same old story of trash art. Muneteru works to discover new histories in material objects once discarded only to delicately care for them in hopes of restoring any sentimental value once lost. Tangled in Pop Art, Noise and some Dada, his conversions, performances and arrangements of junk and vintage are an insight into the role of materialism and what is of value in our lives- what is deemed junk or vintage or valid pop-iconography is largely up to the viewer. WMMNA caught up with Muneteru in his Tokyo studio to discuss the 'Japan-ness' of his work, all things junk and vintage and how dance culture fits into everything he does.

"my work is like plastic ikebana."

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The Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru.

You just returned from the Beautiful New World exhibition in China...how was it?

Well, I was in Beijing for two weeks setting up an installation of the rotators for an exhibition at the Long March space as part of Beautiful New World, it was to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the relationship of The Japan Foundation with China. So I had set up the rotators to be there playing automatically. Before the exhibit, I did some shopping in China for some old materials for this exhibit to make it a little unique for China, like I did before in Vancouver. So, just like 10 days before the exhibit, in Beijing I bought an old drill, blender, vacuum cleaner and lots of lamps. I'd say that about 50% of the items were bought in China. In Vancouver, I bought 95% of the items for the rotators exhibit.

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The Rotators 'Robertson and Phillips' at The Western Front, Vancouver,Canada. Courtesy of Munteru.

A lot of your work relies on old things, so was it easier to buy things in China or Vancouver?

I think it was easier in Vancouver. There's just a longer sense of history of material things there. The part of people's lives that is concerned with material things is longer in western culture, I feel. In China, there weren't many second hand things- it was so hard to find old things or anything with sentimental value. Everything was so new and as soon as anything gets old, its thrown away or people sell whatever is metal to a steel company for melting these days. So a lot things are made of plastic. I mean, I've been to many modern cities in the east and west and that being my first time in China, everything was different and it was a challenge to collect older materials for my work.

Maybe in the future, in about 10 years or so, there will be more older things laying around to be used by someone else.

So how about in Japan?

Well, compared to western countries and China, both being foreign to Japan, well, I think we have a longer history of westernization. Westernization in Japan has been in effect longer so I think we've developed more of an appreciation of material things. Its a gradual process that takes years. With the way the cultural revolution went in China, I feel China's economy boom is like catching up- they are quickly developing western sensibilities for western things. You can see that in how fast Shanghai developed into a major international city.

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Platform for the Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesty of Muneteru

Ah, so how did Chinese people react to the rotators installation?

Well, people approached and looked at it as a mechanical piece. Like some strange kind of robot.

How does that compare to the way a Westerner would?

In Vancouver, visitors to the exhibit thought it was like someone's grandmother's home. I think their reaction was a bit more sentimental. Younger Chinese visitors seemed to be a lot more concentrated and their eyes were a fixed. I mean, they read more contemporary art related media like magazines and blogs and stuff- they tried to understand it or understood it and were at least sensitive to it but I thought that older people, especially those in the art world or 'industry', didn't seem to care so much. The same is true for Japanese older generations, too. But anyways, one night, I had wanted to do a performance at the gallery but I couldn't so we set up the rotators at a club- it was great, a great space too. You know, it was like a cool club in any big city but it felt like- well, in other cities, I feel that some spaces are divided by scenes, like a rock club is for rock and a house club is for house, etc, but this place was like a beautiful fusion of it all. What added to it all was that it was really small like a Japanese live house.

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'The Savage's Plastic Ikebana Session' 2007. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

You've adapted a new title for this particular installation of the rotators in Beijing, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ah, the name, well, 'the savages' has a couple meanings, the first is referring to media art. A lot of the artists that were part of the Beautiful New World exhibit use computers or newer technology in their works and well, I don't. The technology I use is pre-1985 so it's a reference to being somewhat archaic, uncivilized and to a point- savage.

The other way of looking at the name is that it is a reference to an ancient tale of China and Japan, like 2000 years ago, it's kind of a long and messy story, but it really did influence the naming of this particular exhibit.


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The Rotatorhead which controls it all. Photo Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

Great, back to rotators for a minute...a majority of the materials in your work are western, and if I didn't know you were Japanese upon viewing your work, how would I know this was done by a Japanese artist? What is Japanese about your work?

Well, It's really easy to get lots of objects for my work in Japan because there's so much old technology laying around in old recycle electronic shops. Every time i find and buy old junk things, I want to clean them up and polish them, make them nice again- presentable. The fact that there are many western things in the rotators, clicks with the idea of it being like a grandmother's room- you can get the sense that these things are or were precious because they had a home, they were once loved.

I think I put some love into combining and assembling them in such a way that in the end it's a sound sculpture. But I think my work is very neat, clean, organized and the layout is very proper. It's like a japanese bento, ya know? [laughs] Very organized, its own structure and aesthetic is present there. When I have assistants helping me, I tell them, "make it like a Japanese bento." Sometimes I say my work is like plastic ikebana because of its precise arrangement.

You said it so easy to get things in Japan because of a high turnover and I'm thinking- is there a relationship in your work to the record levels of mass consumerism in Japan?

Japanese people want to have the latest thing so they buy what's new and ditch the old at recycle shops. In this area, there are so many recycling shops that are formal companies, they have many trucks and assemble and gather peoples old goods for sale in shops, there is so much recycling going on here and that works out for me. I like to take that junk and re use it.

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Another shot of The Rotators. Courtesy of Muneteru

So do you see a difference in what is junk and what is vintage?

Some junk or cheap things may be vintage in a few years as they appreciate over time, but thats an interesting point, I will say that everything in the rotators is junk!

I read on your website, "the neatness and cleanliness are a very core of Japanese authentic beauty...a wild chaos can only exist as the subject of exoticism."

Yeah, thats true, I like it, I need it.

Ok. what's the message in rotators?

Well, its DIY. With an emphasis on physical means- just using your hands and body to make your own things- sculptures or instruments- using technology in your own way and not letting it dictate function. You know, its like a computer, the keyboard is made for your fingers, and we shouldn't limit our thinking to that way. I try to find the opposite way and do it. With the rotators, I feel I am reversing that relationship, that I am in control of technology, not vice versa.

But everywhere I look technology is getting more function specific and smaller? that's good, no?

Well, especially, in Japan! Japan excels at making things smaller and for now, thats the direction most technology is going, smaller and smaller, micro and nano. But I think it's too small for people and we're leaving something out. I remember in 1978, at a video game arcade, I saw an arcade game booth drop set into a table, like a sit down cabinet and that changed video games forever, since then, things have been getting smaller and smaller, but there are ergonomic limits, you know? I don't like using small buttons, I like older stuff, things that truly follow the human form for function. I mean, in the cyber world, there is no weight, nothing physical, no heaviness, and I like using real, bulky things, I don't want to lose that.

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Ozone - So Provided by Mizuma Art Gallery. Courtesy of Munteru

So is rotators a toy or musical instrument? Is it interactive?

No, it is not interactive, but I want to make it more interactive in the future and work in that direction, I am planning and working on a human-scale, ergonomic, drum machine. Interactive is next!

Ok, I have to ask you, you mentioned dance culture as an influence in your work, please explain!

Well, I like drum machines. I love the beats. And I'm interested in making sounds, especially sounds with a groove. I want to make music and do live performances and its all about the beat in dance so I like to use low frequency sounds, like using a blender- it gives off a nice low sound. And about dance music, well, I like thicker, more embellished beats like Prince- he had an influence on me in terms of the music.

I wanted to make, I wanted a groove.

Great! So what's next for you and rotators?

Well, I've got a live performance coming up soon, with Chim Pom, this young art collective. Two of the members used to be my assistants a few years ago when I was making Ozone-so, Ryuta Ushiro and Yasuyaka Hayashi. Other members are students of Aida Makoto. That's Chim Pom and they have a different way of making music but its really physical and focuses on objects too, in a realistic way. So we're going to have a live performance together. I'm thinking of a Berlin exhibit next year.

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Flyer for Sunday's performance. Courtesy of Muneteru

And any news on the Love Arm series or ozone-so for fans out there?

Well, I am not working on it now because i've been so busy with the rotators but in the future I will for sure continue it and work on Love Arm number 5, haven't started yet, but I will. And ozone-so is currently being exhibited in Germany now, and it will be exhibited in Berlin next year, in March, I'll go there to do a live performance too.

The live performance with Chim Pom will be Sunday the 28th!
at Open studio *3.0 in Tokyo. And on December 22nd, I'll be performing in Harajuku at the LaForet museum with several other performers.

Thanks so much Ujino for sharing and discussing ideas in your work- we had a great time at your studio! Thanks!

When Ingeborg van Lieshout from Bright magazine told me that she had a list of talented young graduates whose works would be shown during the BrightLive '07 exhibition in Amsterdam, i asked her if i could have a peek of her list.

The work of Dennis de Bel particularly stands out from the pack. Not because of one of his work in particular but because most of his projects are extremely well-designed, witty and playful.

Dennis graduated in June'07 as an Interactive Media designer at the Willem de Kooning Art Academy, in Rotterdam. He is currently following the master-course Media Design at the Piet Zwart Institute, also in Rotterdam.

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I love the Naaitafel. Does it really play music? What inspired this association of music with sewing? Some kind of textile fetishism?
What was the most difficult aspect you encountered while working on this project?

The naaitafel was actually the last one in a series (of three) associative-objects. When I look at (everyday) objects I associate them with other objects and their similarities in form and/or function.

I also work going out from words or combination of words such as with the mijsjes to come to a new object..

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mijsjes

For the sewing machine, I found it looking very much like a retro-futuristic record player and of course the fact it works with a
needle also helped forming the idea (naai-tafel = sew(ing)-table, instead of turntable). I tried to make it work using the already existing needle but then the record wouldn't fit in nicely, then I tried mounting a needle underneath the record using some kind of slider mechanism (like the laser lens in a cd player) but that proved to be too time consuming as I had to complete the project on time for the graduation exposition (in Las Palmas, Rotterdam). So I decided to just fit in a dc motor, a record player-platter and 'faked' the sound using a small mp3 player and amplifier with a speaker. It's too bad it's not really working with the original needle, but the naaitafel as an object suggests enough in my opinion. The hardest part was de-constructing the sewing machine to make place for the dc motor, mp3player and amplifier, as the bottom part of the sewing machine was full with heavy iron axles to transport the sewing thread and was put together with weird, i guess sewing-machine-only-screws, so none of my screwdrivers would fit and had to drill out some of them.

What exactly is a Nootzuiger? It produces sound as well, right? How does it work? Once again you have associated a retro-looking device with a more contemporary and musical function. Are you particularly attracted to old objects?

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The nootzuiger (noot=note, zuiger=sucker, as in 'dustsucker') is a harmonium (air-organ) build into an old Miele vacuum cleaner. So again, form and function of two (household, everyday) objects are associated and literally combined. It makes a really nice sound, but its too bad I had to get rid of the vacuum-cleaning function to fit in the keyboard. As with most of the other objects (naaitafel, stratenspeler) this one is constructed from stuff I found in the garbage. The old harmonium and vacuuum cleaner were lying around in my studio and one day I saw the connection between them and started building. I love to build.

I'm also in love with aesthetics of 60s and 70s plastic design stuff and it was pretty hard to find a nice looking sewing machine for the naaitafel.

The association between vintage and contemporary is coming form the very utopian thinking designers from the 60s and 70s whose designs I still find very futuristic thus quite 'contemporary'.

How does the Stratenspeler work? Which technology did you use?

aaa0strat.jpgStratenspeler stands for streetplayer, street- instead of record-. I wanted to use urban textures to make music, or at least convert them into sound.

It consists of a little box made from wood from a kitchen cabinet and contains a 12volt dc motor which is hooked to three 1.5volt batteries so it turns about as fast as a regular record player (I also fitted a variable resistor, potentiometer to influence the 'playing' speed and thus the pitch of the sound. The dc motor turns around the arm of an old record player which is fitted with a small condensor mic instead of a regular needle. The mic is ingeniously connected to an small amplifier and speaker which amplifies the sound of the texture where the stratenspeler is standing on. It works on batteries for mobility. You can place anywhere and so create a loop of the sound of the place it's standing on.

While some of your works are clearly art pieces, others look more something you would expect from an interaction designer, where does your work stand exactly?

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Kijk_die_abolo

I'm not sure where my work stands at the moment. Maybe it fits in the straightforward 'Dutch-design'?

I find most of my pieces to come out best in an art context (gallery, etc.) Although I'm aware of the fact some objects I design are more products then actual 'art'.

When an idea is just an aesthetic one, it will be 'design' and when it's, for example, a critique on massmedia its 'art', but i find both art and design interchangeable, exchangeable and compatible.

I like both aesthetic art and design as well as, for example, activist or critical art and design. I try to use either 'style' or way to make my point, whatever is relevant to communicate my vision and ideas.

My main point being is to astonish people and/or give them a laugh.

Thanks Dennis!

You can see Dennis' work on November 30 and December 1 during the BrightLive '07 exhibition. organized by independent magazine Bright at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam.

Related: Textron, the Sewing Machine VJ, Vacuum Bag furniture, Vacuum cleaner music, Vacuuming digital trash (and interview with Martin), Vacuum cleaner to capture goblins, Sale Away, Hoovering the carpet away, and Free Range Appliances in a Light Dill Sauce.

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