AN ECLECTIC MIX OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, HISTORY AND THE ARTS

                            

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Oscar Reutersvärd and the Impossible Triangle

Oscar Reutersvärd, “the father of the impossible figures,” met with many challenges growing up, but that didn’t stop him from establishing an identity for himself in the world of art. Reutersvärd came into this world on November 29, 1915 in Stockholm, Sweden, and by 1934, he had pioneered in the art of 3D drawings. However, the world wouldn’t have heard of him if it wasn’t for his parents and his determination to overcome challenges. Reutersvärd was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, which prevented him from accurately estimating the size and distance of objects, but he was determined to follow in the footsteps of his artistic family who encouraged him throughout his life. So, he spent his youth practising painting and sculpting at home, overcoming his disability.

Reutersvärd’s efforts paid off and early on in his life, he created the “Impossible triangle” at the age of 18. The idea of creating the infamous figure came to him when he was sitting idle in Latin Class. Realizing the importance of the figure and historical impact, he continued to design thousands of impossible figures, which earned him the title of “the father of the impossible figures.” He left the world on February 2, 2002, but his collection of figures stayed behind.

Now, artists study his work to create more derivatives of his original creations and honor him in their own special ways. Reutersvärd’s artistic legacy has stayed behind, but what gave birth to his legacy was the “Impossible Triangle.” Via Oscar Reutersvärd and the Impossible Triangle – Optical Spy.

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This is now Earth’s largest ship—so big it can lift oil rigs off the sea

This is the Pieter Schelte, which is now the largest ship sailing the seas, surpassing even the Maersk Triple-E*. Built by Daewoo in Korea, this catamaran is so huge that it can lift entire oil platforms off their base, pick up the base itself, and then transport it all to port—which is exactly what it’s designed to do.

This is why this 1,253 x 384 feet (382 x 117 meters) $1.7-billion titan is powered by eight 11.2 megawatt engines connected to 13 Rolls Royce 5.5 megawatt thrusters. Via This is now Earth’s largest ship—so big it can lift oil rigs off the sea.

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How Jetlag Disrupts The Ticks of Your Microbial Clock

Your genome is the same right now as it was yesterday, last week, last year, or the day you were born. But your microbiomes—the combined genes of all the trillions of microbes that share your body—have shifted since the sun came up this morning. And they will change again before the next sunrise. Christoph Thaiss from the Weizmann Institute of Science has discovered that the communities of microbes in out guts vary on a daily cycle. Some species rise to the fore during daylight hours and recede into the background at night, while others show the opposite pattern.

These cycles are a lot like our own body clocks, or circadian rhythms. Over a 24 hour period, the levels of many molecules in our body rise and fall in predictable fashion. These rhythms affect everything from our body temperature to our brain activity to how well we respond to medicine. But these clocks tick by themselves. You can reset them by exposing yourself to light at different times of day (which is what we do when we cross time zones and get jetlag), but they are still self-sustaining.

Our microbiome clock is not. The microbes aren’t waxing and waning of their own accord. Their world is completely dark. There’s no way for them to tell what time of the day it is, except for clues provided by us. The most important of these clues is food. Thanks to our own rhythms, we eat at regular times of the day, and it’s these feeding patterns that drive the cycles in our microbiome. Diet is the gear that synchronises the ticks of our clocks with those of our microbes. More here How Jetlag Disrupts The Ticks of Your Microbial Clock

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Robots could soon perform brain surgery through your cheek

cheekrobot

Brain surgery for those suffering with severe epilepsy could soon be performed by robots through the cheek. The only way doctors can currently treat patients with uncontrollable epilepsy is through brain surgery, which involves isolating or removing the part of the brain that is responsible for seizures. The procedure is extremely invasive and dangerous, as it involves drilling deep into the skull. A team of Vanderbilt University engineers in the US were determined to develop a less intrusive method of surgery – and five years later they have successfully developed a robotic device capable of performing the procedure less invasively.

The device enters through the patient’s cheek, where it can proceed into the brain, avoiding the need to drill through the skull. The prototype was revealed by David Comber, lead designer of the device, in a live demonstration earlier this week at the Fluid Power Innovation and Research Conference in Nashville, US. The nifty device is a shape-memory alloy needle (a metal that ‘remembers’ its original shape) that is able to steer along the curved pathway from the cheek into the brain. When operating, the robotic platform steers the needle using compressed air, inserting it in tiny steps, allowing its position to be tracked by progressive MRI scans. The needle itself is 1.14 mm thick, and made of nickel-titanium, which allows it to operate inside the powerful magnetic field created by the MRI scanner. The researchers tested the needle in the lab and found it to have a very high precision for the required operation. Via Robots could soon perform brain surgery through your cheek.

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Top-secret space plane lands on California coast

The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle. It safely touched down at 9:24 a.m. Friday, officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base said. Just what the plane was doing during its 674 days in orbit has been the subject of sometimes spectacular speculation.

Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay. Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations or shadow China’s space lab. In a written release announcing the return of the craft, the Air Force only said it had been conducting “on-orbit experiments.” The X-37B program has been an orphan of sorts, bouncing since its inception in 1999 between several federal agencies, NASA among them. It now resides under the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office.

The plane that landed Friday is one of two built by Boeing. This is the program’s third mission, and began in December 2012. The plane stands 9 1/2 feet tall and is just over 29 feet long, with a wingspan under 15 feet. It weighs 11,000 pounds and has solar panels that unfurl to charge its batteries once in orbit. The Air Force said it plans to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next year. Via Top-secret space plane lands on California coast.

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Observing Comet Siding Spring at Mars

On October 19, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 88,000 miles of Mars – just one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon! Traveling at 33 miles per second and weighing as much as a small mountain, the comet hails from the outer fringes of our solar system, originating in a region of icy debris known as the Oort cloud.

Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.

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Greeks captivated by Alexander-era tomb at Amphipolis

The discovery of an enormous tomb in northern Greece, dating to the time of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, has enthused Greeks, distracting them from a dire economic crisis. Who, they are asking, is buried within. In early August, a team of Greek archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri unearthed what officials say is the largest burial site ever to be discovered in the country. The mound is in ancient Amphipolis, a major city of the Macedonian kingdom, 100km (62 miles) east of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city.

The structure dates back to the late 4th Century BC and the wall surrounding it is 500m (1,600ft) in circumference, dwarfing the burial site of Alexander’s father, Philip II, in Vergina, west of Thessaloniki.

“We are watching in awe and with deep emotion the excavation in Amphipolis,” Greek Culture Minister Konstantinos Tasoulas told the BBC. “This is a burial monument of unique dimensions and impressive artistic mastery. The most beautiful secrets are hidden right underneath our feet.” More here Greeks captivated by Alexander-era tomb at Amphipolis.

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Kepler’s Supernova

keplers supernovaOn this day in 1604 Johannes Kepler began systematically observing a new, very bright star that had abruptly appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus. For three weeks, the star outshone all other heavenly bodies save the Sun, the Moon and Venus. The star was even visible during the day. We now know that the star was a supernova, the most recent one to have exploded in our own galaxy. The drawing is Kepler’s own of the new star (the star is marked N on the right ankle of Ophiucus, the serpent bearer). The image shows (in false color) the infrared emission from supernova remnant; it was made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope four centuries after the supernova first appeared in the sky. Via Physics Today.

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Reheating your pasta reduces the rise in blood glucose levels by 50 percent

pasta-fresh

When pasta is cooled down, your body digests it differently, causing fewer calories to be absorbed and a smaller blood glucose peak. And reheating it is even better – it reduces the rise in blood glucose levels by a whopping 50 percent. Most of us are aware that pasta isn’t the most slimming meal around, but it’s too delicious to avoid. It sounds like complete nonsense, but does simply letting your pasta cool down before reheating it make it less fattening? Michael Mosley from BBC News decided to investigate.

The reason pasta is so fattening is that it’s a form carbohydrate, and when carbohydrates are digested in your stomach, they’re broken down and absorbed as simple sugars. These sugars cause your blood glucose levels to sky-rocket, and this prompts an influx of insulin from the pancreas as the body tries to even everything out again. If the insulin has done its job properly, the sudden rise in blood glucose will fall just as quickly, and once this happens, guess what? You’re hungry again. This is why nutritionists have been pushing wholemeal and multi-grain varieties of bread over white bread, because being very high in fibre, they promote a slower and more gradual release of glucose into our blood streams.

But is there a way to alter the pasta you’ve just cooked to make your body digest it more like fibre? Mosley looked into the results of an experiment that was carried out in a recent episode of the BBC 2 series, Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, and found that cooking pasta and then cooling it down changes its structure so it becomes a form of ‘resistant starch’. Continue reading

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Fast-track dieting can be successful long-term

People who lose weight quickly are no more likely to pile the kilos back on than dieters who lose them slowly, according to a new study. Weight-loss guidelines have long counselled that kilos shed too quickly are likelier to creep back than those lost at a slower pace. But a new Australian study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, found that over the long term, fast-track and slow-track dieters were equally likely to regain most of the weight they lost.

Research led by Joseph Proietto of the University of Melbourne divided 204 obese men and women into two groups. One group entered a weight-loss programme of 12 weeks, the other a more gradual 36 weeks. The 12-week group were restricted to a diet of 450-800 calories per day, while the other group had their energy intake reduced by about 500 calories per day. Those who lost 12.5 per cent or more of their bodyweight from both groups were then placed on a three-year maintenance diet. By the end of the trial, individuals in both groups had regained some 71 per cent on average of the kilos they had shed.

“By contrast with the widely-held belief that weight lost rapidly is more quickly regained, our findings show that regain is similar after gradual or rapid weight loss,” the team says. Dieters are generally told that a weight loss of no more than 500 grams per week is best. “Our data should guide committees that develop clinical guidelines for the management of obesity to change their advice,” they add. Via Fast-track dieting can be successful long-term

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Giant kangaroos ‘walked on two feet’

They roamed Australia while mammoths and Neanderthals lived in Europe – and it now seems they did so by putting one heavy foot in front of the other. According to new research, the extinct “sthenurine” family of giant kangaroos, up to three times larger than living roos, was able to walk on two feet.

Today’s kangaroos can only hop or use all fours, but their extinct cousins’ bones suggest a two-legged gait. The biggest members of the family may not have been able to hop at all.

The study, published in the journal Plos One, is a detailed comparison between the size and shape of the bones found in living kangaroo species and those of the sthenurines, which died out some 30,000 years ago. Via Giant kangaroos ‘walked on two feet’.

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This new nuclear reactor could bring carbon-free power to 80,000 homes, and fit in the back of a truck

reactor

Scientists in the US are developing a new nuclear fusion power source that’s smaller, cleaner and more powerful than current nuclear reactors, and they aim to have it on the market in 10 years. American aerospace and technology company Lockheed Martin has announced that they’re working on a new nuclear fusion reactor that’s 10 times smaller than any other reactor on the market. Their 100-megawatt reactor measures just 3 metres by 3 metres, which makes it compact enough to fit in the back of a truck.

Called a compact fusion reactor (CFR), researchers at Lockheed Martin say this small device will be able to power warships, spaceships, aeroplanes, and even a city filled with 80,000 homes. This means no more reliance on fossil fuels, which is significant, because according to Andrea Shalal at Reuters, it’s been predicted that there will be a 40 to 50 percent increase in energy use over the next generation.

“Crucially, by being ‘compact’, Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations,” says Guy Norris at Aviation Week. “It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling – ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.” Via This new nuclear reactor could bring carbon-free power to 80,000 homes, and fit in the back of a truck.

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Honeysuckle tea can treat Influenza A viruses, and possibly Ebola

honeysuckle

Researchers have discovered the world’s first ‘virological penicillin’ in a molecule found in honeysuckle. The sweet-smelling honeysuckle plant (Lonicera japonica) has been used for generations in traditional Chinese medicine to treat influenza infections. While it’s been known to block the replication of the influenza virus, the mechanism and active components in the plant have remained a mystery until now.

In a new study published in Cell Research, scientists from the Nanjing University in China studied the honeysuckle plant and identified a plant microRNA called MIR2911. MicroRNAs are small molecules found in plants and animals that play an important role in influencing the pathways responsible for many diseases. In clinical trials, this molecule was able to suppress deadly influenza A viruses such as swine flu (H1N1) and bird flu (H5N1). Continue reading

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Researchers find LEDs attract more flying invertebrates than conventional lighting

A pair of researchers with the New Zealand research institute Scion, has found that flying invertebrates are more attracted to LED lights than to conventional outdoor lighting. In their paper published in the journal, Ecological Applications, Stephen Pawson and Martin Bader describe a simple study they carried out to see how attractive lighting was to flying bugs and what they found in doing so.

LEDs are in the news of course, because the trio of researchers that invented the blue-light variety just won the Nobel Prize in physics. Their work has led to LEDs that are bright enough to use in regular lighting applications but use far less energy and last much longer. In this new effort, the research pair suggests that there is a side-effect of LED lighting that might cause ecological problems.

mortualisModern street lights are generally sodium vapor lamps—they’re more efficient than most other pre-LED lighting and emit yellow rather than white light. Insects, as we all know are attracted to light, white or yellow, but it seems they are even more attracted to blue light, and that’s the kind of light that is generated by LED bulbs—they only look white because of a phosphor coating that stretches much of the light into a longer wavelength. We may not be able to see the blue light, but bugs can.

To find out just how much more attractive moths, flies, etc., find LEDs (as compared to sodium vapor lamps) the researchers set sticky paper next to both types of lights out in a field for a period of time at night, then collected the results and counted how many specimens they’d captured. They found that the paper next to the LEDs had approximately 48 percent more bugs than those next to traditional lighting. This could be a problem they suggest because it could mean LEDs are interfering with food webs or drawing more flying critters into urban areas—in one extreme example they note putting LED lights at seaports could contribute to the spread of invasive species such as gypsy moths. Edited from Researchers find LEDs attract more flying invertebrates than conventional lighting.

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Earth’s magnetic field could flip much faster than previously predicted

A new study suggests that Earth’s magnetic field could take just 100 years to flip – and there’s evidence it could happen again in a couple of thousand years. We think of north and south as being pretty constant, but the Earth’s magnetic field has flipped many times throughout the planet’s history, generally without causing huge catastrophes.

The Earth’s magnetic field is dipole, like that of a magnet, which means it has two opposite poles. Usually this magnetic field maintains the same intensity for thousands to million of years, but for unknown reasons, it occasionally weakens and reverses direction, a process that scientists previously thought took thousands of years.

But now scientists have discovered that the last magnetic reversal happened 786,000 years ago, and it actually occurred very quickly, within around 100 years. This means north and south could swap positions in the span of a human lifetime, which is pretty crazy to think about. Via Earth’s magnetic field could flip much faster than previously predicted.

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Dark Flow From Other Universe Engulfing Galaxy Clusters

Our universe is becoming more mysterious with the attempts of understanding it deeply. The Galaxies are moving away from each other because of expanding universe which is now well accepted concept. Now, the astronomers have also observed that the galaxy clusters are constantly moving towards a point present in southern constellation Centaurus and Hydra. The source of this attraction is doubted to be present outside our observable universe. The astronomers have no idea what is causing this mysterious motion of galaxy clusters, they are just calling it “Dark Flow”.

The research led by Alexander Kashlinsky at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is based on the study of motion of large galaxy clusters which are present at very large distances ranging from hundred million light years to 6 billion light years. Evidences indicate that the galaxy clusters are heading outward with the tremendous velocity of 2 million mph along the line joining the Earth and the constellation Hydra. This motion is independent of the expansion of universe. The direction of motion is still not certain, outward motion cannot be neglected. “We detect motion along this axis, but right now our data cannot state as strongly as we’d like whether the clusters are coming or going,” Kashlinsky said.

The Dark Flow is mysterious because present distribution of mass in our universe do not account for this, it indicates presence of some external source outside our universe influencing and sweeping matter from our vicinity. These shocking results were obtained in study of Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation which is believed to be emitted 380,000 years after the formation of the universe. CMB is prevailed the whole universe, the study of fluctuations due to interaction between CMB and galaxy cluster provides information about the motion of galaxy clusters.

The X-ray emitting hot gases of galaxy cluster scatters the photons of the CMB which results in the decrease in the temperature of CMB in the direction of galaxy. This is called kinematic Sunyaev-Zel’dovich (KSZ) effect. The dipoles in CMB change in such a way that it indicates the motion of individual cluster. The measurement of wavelength of scattered photon can be used to calculate the speed and direction of motion of cluster. The shift in temperature of CMB due to one cluster is negligible and cannot be detected easily. In 2000, Kashlinsky along with Fernando Atrio-Barandela at the University of Salamanca, Spain showed that the noise from the signals can be removed if they study large number of galaxy clusters. Via Dark Flow From Other Universe Engulfing Galaxy Clusters | CosmosUp.

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This new battery charges to 70% in two minutes, and lasts for 20 years

Researchers have developed a groundbreaking new lithium ion battery that charges super quickly and lasts 10 times longer than today’s batteries. It’ll be on the market within two years. Sick of waiting an hour for your phone to charge before you leave the house? Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have come up with the best solution yet – a lithium ion battery that charges to 70 percent in just two minutes. Even better, it also lasts for 20 years, and will reportedly be available to the public within two years.

Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are already common in our mobile phones, tablets and laptops – but most only last around 500 recharge cycles, which is around two to three years of typical use. And at the moment batteries take around two hours to fully charge. The new battery drastically improves this process, and will allow you to charge your phone while you look for your keys on the way out the door. It would also help make electric vehicles a more viable alternative to fossil-fuel-powered cars, by reducing battery replacement costs and allowing drivers to recharge their cars in minutes.

“Electric cars will be able to increase their range dramatically, with just five minutes of charging, which is on par with the time needed to pump petrol for current cars,” said Professor Chen Xiaodong who led the study, in a press release. “Equally important, we can now drastically cut down the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries, since our batteries last 10 times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries.”

The breakthrough came after the scientists replaced the traditional graphite that makes up the anode (the negative pole of the battery) in lithium-ion batteries with a new gel material made from titanium dioxide nanotubes that they created themselves. Via This new battery charges to 70% in two minutes, and lasts for 20 years.

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Climate change: Models ‘underplay plant CO2 absorption’

Global climate models have underestimated the amount of CO2 being absorbed by plants, according to new research. Scientists say that between 1901 and 2010, living things absorbed 16% more of the gas than previously thought. The authors say it explains why models consistently overestimated the growth rate of carbon in the atmosphere. But experts believe the new calculation is unlikely to make a difference to global warming predictions.

The research has been published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Working out the amount of carbon dioxide that lingers in the atmosphere is critical to estimating the future impacts of global warming on temperatures. About half the CO2 that’s produced ends up in the oceans or is absorbed by living things. But modelling the exact impacts on a global scale is a fiendishly complicated business.

In this new study, a team of scientists looked again at the way trees and plants absorb carbon. By analysing how CO2 spreads slowly inside leaves, a process called mesophyll diffusion, the authors conclude that more of the gas is absorbed than previously thought. Between 1901 and 2100 the researchers believe that their new work increases the amount of carbon taken up through fertilisation from 915 billion tonnes to 1,057 billion, a 16% increase.

“There is a time lag between scientists who study fundamental processes and modellers who model those processes in large scale model,” explained one of the authors, Dr Lianhong Gu at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US. “It takes time for the the two groups to understand each other.” Via Climate change: Models ‘underplay plant CO2 absorption’.

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Quantum gas goes below absolute zero

Thanks to Phil Krause for suggesting this article.

It may sound less likely than hell freezing over, but physicists have created an atomic gas with a sub-absolute-zero temperature for the first time1. Their technique opens the door to generating negative-Kelvin materials and new quantum devices, and it could even help to solve a cosmological mystery.

Lord Kelvin defined the absolute temperature scale in the mid-1800s in such a way that nothing could be colder than absolute zero. Physicists later realized that the absolute temperature of a gas is related to the average energy of its particles. Absolute zero corresponds to the theoretical state in which particles have no energy at all, and higher temperatures correspond to higher average energies.

However, by the 1950s, physicists working with more exotic systems began to realise that this isn’t always true: Technically, you read off the temperature of a system from a graph that plots the probabilities of its particles being found with certain energies. Normally, most particles have average or near-average energies, with only a few particles zipping around at higher energies. In theory, if the situation is reversed, with more particles having higher, rather than lower, energies, the plot would flip over and the sign of the temperature would change from a positive to a negative absolute temperature, explains Ulrich Schneider, a physicist at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.

Schneider and his colleagues reached such sub-absolute-zero temperatures with an ultracold quantum gas made up of potassium atoms. Using lasers and magnetic fields, they kept the individual atoms in a lattice arrangement. At positive temperatures, the atoms repel, making the configuration stable. The team then quickly adjusted the magnetic fields, causing the atoms to attract rather than repel each other. “This suddenly shifts the atoms from their most stable, lowest-energy state to the highest possible energy state, before they can react,” says Schneider. “It’s like walking through a valley, then instantly finding yourself on the mountain peak.” Continue reading

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The World’s Heaviest Firework

A new world record has been set for the heaviest firework in the city of Konosu in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. The 460kg rocket was launched as part of a festival and exploded into a rosette of light measuring 800m in diameter.

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