Hello, hello! It seems that i'll be part of the ars electronica jury this year in the Digital Communities category. As such i'm invited to recommend projects. I might have a couple of ideas but i thought that some of you could help me out with better suggestions.

Deadline is soon-ish, it's March 6, 2009. All the details are here. Please do send your tips to my email address, as a comment to this message or as a del.icio.us link ( using /for:regine).

Muchas gracias.

Photo on the homepage shows the new Ars Electronica Center. Found on magrolino flickr stream.

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Yesterday i met with the other members of the jury for the fifth edition of the ARCO Beep Award. The aim of this Award is to promote the research, production, and exhibition of art linked to new technologies, or new media art. The art pieces are submitted by commercial galleries participating to the Madrid Contemporary Art Fair ARCO.

It was a real pleasure to discuss with the other members of the jury: curator and art critic Domenico Quaranta, Fernando Castro from the Reina Sofía National Museum, the mythical art critic Arnau Puig and the charming artist Marie-France Veyrat. It was the fastest jury deliberation i had ever attended in my life. Although most entries were of remarkable quality, the work that stood out was a triptych part of the EKMRZ-Trilogy, by UBERMORGEN.COM.

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Presented for the first time as a single installation on view until the end of the art fair at the booth of Fabio Paris Gallery, this "e-commerce trilogy" is the outcome of almost four years of work which i'm sure most of you are quite familiar with. Its episodes are called:

- GWEI - Google Will Eat Itself, an operation aiming at buying Google with Google's own money (in collaboration with Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio)
- Amazon Noir - The Big Book Crime steals books from Amazon and distribute them free on the web (in collaboration with Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio)
- and The Sound of eBay which generates music using eBay user data.

Fabio Paris Gallery had made a rather audacious challenge in choosing to present the EKMRZ-Trilogy and i'm delighted to see that audacity pays once in a while. The ARCO installation presents the iconography and mythology of the trilogy by means of prints, a google cheque, projections, music, animations, etc. You can visit it at the Pavilion 6 of ARCO, it is part of Expanded Box, the section dedicated to the intertwining of technologies and art.

On occasion of the event, FPEditions is publishing the book UBERMORGEN.COM.

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And if you live in the area of Milan, you might want to check out the Fabio Paris Art Gallery itself which is showing the world preview of the Austrian duo's latest project Superenhanced, which is dedicated to the issue of torture.

Spaces showing and/or supporting contemporary art which engages with digital and electronic media have started to pop up all over Europe. Very. Slowly.

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[plug.in] is one of them but i see at least two reasons that makes [plug.in] stand out from the thin crowd of media art spaces.

First, the Basel gallery exists for much longer than most (it opened in 2000). Second, and more interestingly, its programme is one of the most appealing i've ever seen in the field. [plug.in] exhibits and often commissions new internet, sound, interactive and software art; organizes events on media art and digital culture; offers visitor a library and a bar.

So far i had been following their programme through the newsletter, but when i read that [plug.in] was hosting the first solo exhibition in Europe of Tokyo-based artists Exonemo, i decided it was high time to go up North and visit the gallery.

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2008, [plug.in] Basel, Foto: Stefan Holenstein

The main piece is an installation which unfolds over two floors:

UN-DEAD-LINK explores questions of digitized and symbolized death between the physical and virtual world. The audience can see, feel and hear the effects that a symbolic death in a computer game can have in the physical exhibition space.

You're welcome in the gallery by a bunch of objects the artists found on flea markets in Basel. An old sewing machine, a piano, reading lamps, a paper shredder on top of a mountain of paper ribbons, a turntable with a plastic dog sleeping on a spinning disk, an old recorder playing crap music, etc. Each of them is animated by an invisible actor.

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2008, [plug.in] Basel, Foto: Stefan Holenstein

0aaplugutooton.jpgThe explanation lurks downstairs in a dark room. There, soldiers on a screen do what they are supposed to do: they run after each other, they shoot and sometimes they kill. Each time one of them is killed, its death is given an almost tangible echo upstairs by one of the devices: more paper is shred, a light goes on, the sewing machine makes a few stitches. When visitors push the red button in front of the screen, all the avatars die and upstairs every single device seem to 'scream.'

Sembo Kensuke and Yae Akaiwa from Exonemo modified the game Half-Life2 and connected the mod to the piano upstairs. The electrical objects are connected by midi/dmx (protocol) with custom devices.

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2008, [plug.in] Basel, Foto: Stefan Holenstein

The work is extremely uncanny: Seeing and hearing the 'consequences' of a virtual death in the real world gives them a sinister weight. It's more disturbing then seeing a real war massacre on television, probably because today tv death seems almost as virtual as the death of an avatar.

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2008, [plug.in] Basel, Foto: Stefan Holenstein

[plug.in] is also showing DanmatsuMouse, a sort of geeky snuff movie in which computer mouses (or should i write 'computer mice'?) are happily destroyed using all sorts of tools on hand: the mouse gets fried in a pan, another one is swirled and crushed in a blender, etc. But something subsists beyond the death of the plastic mouse: its cadaver (a couple of tortured mice were exhibited in the gallery) and the cursor, or rather the data. The motions of the mouse and the cursor were recorded simultaneously by a video camera and a computer programme.

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A DVD, available in the gallery space (did i mention that they also have a shop selling artists' editions and electronic gadgets), allows you to play back the sinister event: the movie of the mouse murder unfolds in parallel with the movements of its cursor that takes over the ones of the cursor on your own desktop.

exonemo - UN-DEAD-LINK is on view until September 14 at [plug.in] in Basel, Switzerland.

Previously on exonemo channel: Interview with Exonemo, MobLab presentation - Transmediale, Origami bus pattern, their installation at Synthetic Times, Ryota Kuwakubo, exonemo and ressentiment in Liverpool, etc.

You might remember that a year ago Marc Owens designed the Avatar Machine, a system which replicates the aesthetics and visuals of third person gaming, allowing the user to view themselves as a virtual character in real space via a head mounted interface.

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His reflections on identity and gaming didn't stop there, during the Royal College of Art Summer show, the Platform 11 graduate was exhibiting his latest game-inspired works.

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A study by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University has found that 54 percent of all males and 68 percent of all females "gender swap"--or create online personas of their opposite sex.

A real life manifestation of that practice, the Virtual Transgender Suit replicates the aesthetics of the typical virtual female form and catapults them within a real world context. The piece was specifically designed for men to wear in the real world, creating a bridge between real (where cross-dressing is not really socially accepted) and virtual.

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Another of Owens' projects, Sabre & Mace - Second Death, was concerned more specifically with the online environment Second Life.

Collaborating with Tony Mullin, he created SABRE & MACE, a company that offers virtual characters the opportunity to experience death as a way to close their user account permanently. The project examines the notion of feeling sentimental toward a virtual character and examines the link between sentimentality and tangibility.

While researching the project, the designers discovered that a great deal of second life residents have multiple avatars, some stay in favour for a long time while others lose their interest. One guy who they spoke to had 14. He said that he used a many of them as platforms for different sides of his real life personality, and for others he invented entirely new fantasy personalities. However he admitted that some of his created avatars had fallen by the wayside and he no longer used them.

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The service works as follows: Having discovered the Sabre&Mace site on-line (unfortunately the website had to be taken down after the show) or through one of the virtual adverts in Second Life, the prospective customer teleports to the company headquarters.

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There, the client meets a manager who explains the full process and guides him or her through the signing of two contacts. Contract 1 - states that at some point (completely random) in their second life the avatar will be collected by a Sabre & Mace officer and taken back to the headquarters for termination.

Contract 2 is in fact the client's 'Last will and Testament' where he or she outlines how they wish their virtual moneys, land and assests to be distributed once they have been terminated.

The client continues to live their second life until one day, a Sabre & Mace officer appears and informs them that the final proceedings are about to begin. The client is collected and taken to the Sabre & Mace HQ.

The client meets again with the client manager, to discuss the final process. At this point the client reveals their 'account password', which is the means by which the avatar is terminated.

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The client is led through the cryogenic chamber, where the virtual physical forms of past clients are stored. Upon arrival at the 'Termination Room', the client is instructed to walk through the 'white noise' door. Once he crosses the threshold of the door his Second Life game crashes, giving a Sabre & Mace member of staff time to change the clients password - effectively terminating the character.

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The client's former avatar is immortalised as a golden statue. Information about the avatar can be read on the plaque which sits on the monument. Should the client visit the Sabre & Mace memorial gardens he would see his own statue as well as the monuments of previous clients.

Images courtesy of Marc Owens (except the shot of his works at the RCA show.)

Related stories: Mourning and digital culture.

It's not everyday that Dick Cheney gives its title to an art exhibition.

In the weeks following September 11, the U.S. Vice President justified a steep increase of surveillance measures by explaining that "Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life. They represent an understanding of the world as it is, and dangers we must guard against perhaps for decades to come. I think of it as the new normalcy." Almost 7 years later, the collection and sharing of personal data by governments, luggage searches, Internet monitoring, and wiretaps have indeed become part of a "new normal" in American life.

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View of the exhibition space

The New Normal brings together thirteen artworks which explore private information. All the works have been developed after 2001, the year that ctrl[space] : Rhetorics of Surveillance, a major exhibition on privacy and surveillance opened at the ZKM center in Karlsruhe, Germany. It's not a redux of the exhibition: new factors have changed the surveillance panorama since the ZKM exhibition opened. There's President Bush signing the Patriot Act on October 26, 2001, the number and efficiency of technologies of surveillance have skyrocketed and we have come to accept the new state of "normality".

The New Normal reveals how difficult it is to set clear boundaries around the concept of privacy. The private sphere encompasses domestic spaces, personal data, the content of your pocket, bodies, thoughts, communication, and behaviors--contexts that are usually rendered inaccessible to the public eye by legal, social, and physical boundaries.

What is most remarkable about the show is the subtle way it engages with the complex concept of privacy. The videos and installations do not hammer their messages on your head, you're not told what to think and what to be very afraid about. Instead, the exhibition argues that today's society is indeed living Cheney's new normal life but this doesn't meant that the new condition of public disclosure cannot be harnessed in the service of artistic endeavours and the creation of "tactics for political critique."

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Videostill

Submitting oneself to security measures can be turned upside down by adopting what Hassan Elahi calls an "aggressive compliance". Elahi daily points a mocking finger to absurd security measures with the real-time self-tracking website he set up in a bid to demonstrate to the FBI investigator that he's not spending his time traveling to the Middle East and plotting some attack in the U.S. The models features in Sharif Waked's Chic Point Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints video seem to have adopted a similar strategy.

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Videostill

Sharif Waked's video features male models catwalking in clothes designed to expose the flesh of body parts such as chests and abdomens. It would be hilarious and cheeky were the images not juxtaposed with stills taken from recent years displaying Palestinian men having to lift their shirts, take off their pants and kneel shirtless in order to be authorized to cross Israeli checkpoints. The absurd pieces of clothing evoke the bodily humiliation experienced by Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints.

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Six CIA Officers Wanted in Connection with the Abduction of Abu Omar from Milan, Italy. Courtesy the artist and Bellwether Gallery, New York

Equally politically-loaded is the series of badly photocopies of passports of CIA agents researched by Italian authorities in connection with the abduction of radical Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. On February 17, 2003, Abu Omar disappeared off the streets of Milan. The man had been kidnapped by the CIA, transferred to Cairo, where he was secluded, interrogated and allegedly tortured and abused. He was released 4 years later. The Imam Rapito (or "kidnapped Imam") affair prompted a series of investigations in Italy.

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Twenty-six Americans were submitted to a trial in absentia along with several former Italian intelligence officials for their role in this case of extraordinary rendition. Trevor Paglen managed to get a copy of the photocopy of the fake passports that the agents had to deliver while they were checking in posh hotels in Italy in preparation for the kidnapping. The documents were released by Italian prosecutors in 2005. Although every element appearing on the identity document is fake, the picture had to be authentic. This ensured that the cover of the agents was blown and that the surveillance tools used by a government to achieve questionable goals can also become an instrument of justice.

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James Thomas Harbison (CIA Officer Wanted in Connection with the Abduction of Abu Omar from Milan, Italy). Courtesy the artist and Bellwether Gallery, New York


Relationships feed on bits of private information, it's a currency we exchange with other people. Jill Magid's performance, photos and video Lincoln Ocean Victor Eddy not only illustrates this concept but it also put a human face on the surveillance we are submitted to every day.

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Jill Magid, His Shirt, Cropped (from Lincoln Ocean Victor Eddy), 2007. Courtesy Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York.

Back to New York City after five years spent in The Netherlands, Magid kept hearing this announcement in the subway "You may be a subject to searches "for security reasons"." She approached a police officer and asked him to search her. He refused because only women officer had the right to search a woman but she managed to convince him to call her and tell her each night where he was on shift. She'd join him to be "trained" and kept record of the meetings in different forms: diary (read excerpts), photos, objects, etc. He would lend her his duty shirt, she'd give him a picture of her wearing it in return. She makes him tuna sandwiches, one day he allowed her to hold his gun. The relationship they build bit by bit is both intimate and somehow doomed: they are so different, the officer has never been to an art museum, Magid is "one of those liberals".

Several works show that the intrusion into the private sphere is not just made of CCTV systems and biometric apparatus, it can also be voluntarily self-inflicted now that new online platforms called blogs, Facebook and image sharing call for self-disclosure.

As curator Michael Connor writes, Private information has never been less private.

The best example of this is probably the collection of videos that Guthrie Lonergan archived on you tube under the title MySpace Intro Playlist. Although they were made to be viewed by others, they convey an embarrassingly intimate echo once they have been decontextualized and exhibited in an art exhibition.

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Developed by Michael Frumin during the 2004 Campaign in the U.S., FundRace is back. The website maps donation made to the candidates of the Presidential Election in the U.S. and enables you to search by name or address to see who your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are supporting. You can also search by profession and discover who celebs and museum curators are donating to.

0addickcheney.jpgThe revelation of famous people's private requests almost makes you say thank you for a society which is so obsessed by the mundane facets of celebrities. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's contribution to the exhibition is part of a series of sculptural displays of the products that musicians contractually require to be present in their dressing rooms after a performance. That's where the loop closes and we get to cross path with Dick Cheney again. Band Rider Series (Dick Cheney) gives a glimpse into the very lack of spectacularity of Vice President's desires when he travels to a new venue to give a talk: all tv sets have to be turned on FOX news, the hotel restaurant menu must be in his room along with bottles of water, etc.

THE NEW NORMAL is a traveling exhibition co-organized by iCI (Independent Curators International), New York, and Artists Space, New York. It is on view at Artists Space until June 21, 2008.

Hasan Elahi at The Colbert Report:

Related: Sousveillance culture, Orwellian Projects, Book review - ctrl[space] : Rhetorics of Surveillance, Transmediale exhibition: Conspire, Trevor Paglen's talk at Transmediale, etc.

Apart from Joshua Davis' talk, the other main highlight of OFFF, the software and visual communication conference which took place last week in Lisbon, was the panel on Data Visualization curated and moderated by the European evangelist of the discipline: Jose-Luis de Vicente.

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Lounge at the LX factory where OFFF took place this year

As the abstract of the panel reminds: data visualization is a transversal discipline which harnesses the immense power of visual communication to explain, in an understandable manner, the relationships of meaning, causes and dependency found among great abstract masses of information generated by scientific and social processes.

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Aaron Koblin, Manuel Lima, JL de Vicente and Santiago Ortiz (image JL de Vicente)

Interaction designer, information architect and design researcher Manuel Lima discussed the story of the website Visual Complexity and the lessons he learnt since he launched it 3 years back. Visual Complexity is not a blog, it is a collection of (so far) over 570 projects of data viz, it is also a space for people to discuss about what is happening in this area.

The project started while Lima was following an MFA program at Parsons School of Design. While working on his thesis project Blogviz: Mapping the dynamics of information diffusion in Blogspace, he had to research extensively the visualization of complex networks, and found out that there was a need for an integrated and extensive resource on this subject.

Lima's presentation was very very fast with a lot of information crammed in a small amount of time. But here's a few elements from it:

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South-East Asia detail from Ptolemy's geography. Redrawn in the 15th century

The transmission of information started with the wall paintings, got more sophisticated with the oldest registry of a written language (the Sumerian cuneiforms) and later with Ptolemy's world map. More key landmarks for data viz can be found in Alfred W. Crosby's essay The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600.

One first important factor for the development of data viz is computer storage.
Our ability to generate data has by far outpaced our ability to make sense of that data. As someone at Razorfish said, everything that can be digitalized will be. When Lima started Visual Complexity, data viz blogs were just a handful. Today there are dozens of them. Kryder's Law draws from Moore's law and declares that magnetic disk areal storage density doubles every 18 months. In 2001, iPod storage capacity was 5 GB, in 2007 it was 160 GB.

A second key factor for the development of data viz is Open Databases. Data has never been so widely available at minimal cost (not to say free).
See Swivel and IBM's Many Eyes.

A third factor is online social networks.
Not as tools for mapping relationship between people but as instruments which help disclosing patterns within the abundance of shared content. Examples: uncovering music affinities like TuneGlue does; discovering how humans categorize information del.icio.us-like; human curiosity.

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Over his three years observing dataviz, Lima spotted a number of trends: mapping blogosphere relationships, visualizing del.icio.us tags, terrorism, air routes, gps data, etc.

Next spoke Santiago Ortiz who started by presenting the spectacular website that Bestiario has put online a few days ago. The website gets a third dimension as you can "twist" and manipulate it in order to see its full length. The nicest feature is the navigation: you can browse Bestiario's projects anti-chronologically of course but also according to the number of hours they spent working on the projects, by keywords, combination or exclusion of keywords, etc.

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Bestiario's brand new website

Founded 2 years ago, Bestiario is a small Barcelona/Lisbon-based company with a very impressive portfolio. Combining art and science (Ortiz is also a mathematician) they design interactive information spaces which follow their own moto: 'making the complex comprehensible.'

It wasn't the first time that i got to be impressed by Bestiario's work and Ortiz' thoughts on dataviz. One of Bestiario's project was exhibited recently at LABoral as part of the Emergentes exhibition which closed a few days ago. The imaginary biological universe Mitozoos encodes and creates virtual organisms called "mitozoos" which interact among themselves. You can watch their life in a 3D environment that simulates birth, existence of a genetic code, the quest for food, energy dissipation, reproduction and death. Each variable and parameter of the model has a graphical representation.

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Mitozoos

One of Bestiario's latest projects was developed together with Irma Vila and JL de Vicente. The Atlas of Electromagnetic Space is an interactive representation of the services that use our electromagnetic radiospectrum, ranging from 10Khz "radio navigation" to 100Ghz "inter-satellite communication". The activities which unfolds throughout the spectrum (e.g. mobile, satellite, wireless internet, broadcasting) are sorted by electromagnetic frequency. What totally won me over was the features showing the artistic interventions that are commenting on and/or taking place in the spectrum.

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City Distances illuminates the strength of relations between cities from searches on google. The main idea is to compare the number of pages on internet where the two cities appear one close to the other, with the number of pages they appear isolated. This proportion indicates some kind of intensity of relation between the cities. The "google proximity" is then divided by its geographical distance. The result indicates the strength of the relation in spite of the real distance, a kind of informational distance between cities.

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Finally, Aaron Koblin took the stage to present his own work. Crap! this guy is so talented it's scary. Aaron studied Design and Media Art with Casey Reas at UCLA and used processing a lot in his projects which not only represent huge amounts of data, but are also producing data to raise questions about a series of issues.

Narrative made sense for cultures based on tradition and a small amount of information circulating in a culture - it was a way to make sense of this information and to tie it together (for instance, Greek mythology). Database can be thought of as a new cultural form in a society where a subject deals with huge amounts of information, which constantly keep changing, said Lev Manovich whom Aaron quoted to further ask the audience:

If the database is the new narrative, then what is the role of visualization?

A first answer is that visualization help us understand what it means to have dozens of thousands of planes flying above North America every day. Video demonstrating how Flight Patterns does exactly that:

Data from the U.S. Federal aviation administration is used to create animations of flight traffic patterns and density.

The Sheep Market is one of my favourite projects ever. The very Petit Prince work manages to be critical and poetical at the same time. Thousands of workers on Amazon's Mechanical Turk webservice were paid two cents to "draw a sheep facing to the left." Their sheep drawings were collected over a period of 40 days, selected and printed on stamps. You can also head to the project website and spend the evening counting the animals.
Video showing Aaron Koblin explaining The Sheep Market:

Aside from his purely artistic works, Aaron also works for Yahoo and collaborate on research project. For example, he developed the visualizations for the New York Talk Exchange, a project by the Senseable City Lab at MIT.

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Based on a principle similar to The Sheep Market, Ten Thousand Cents has thousands of individuals working in isolation from one another painted a tiny part of of a $100 bill without knowledge of the overall task. Workers were paid one cent each via Amazon's Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The total labor cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the reproductions available for purchase are all $100. The project, which has been developed in collaboration with Takashi Kawashima, explores the circumstances we live in, a new and uncharted combination of digital labor markets, "crowdsourcing," "virtual economies," and digital reproduction.

Video of Ten Thousand Cents:

The panel ended with JL de Vicente reminding the audience of the Visualizar workshops he periodically organized at Medialab Prado in Madrid. A new call for project proposals will be launched later this year.

Related: Coverage of Visualizar workshop.

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