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Gillmor Gang: Unsuppressed

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Not just the future of civilization is up for grabs this November. In this age of mobile social computing, we’re figuring out how to vote, entertain, teach, learn, and commit to meaningful change. Thanks to the pandemic emergency, our plans for transforming our country and planet are subject to immediate recall.

Much of the current political dynamic is expressed through the lense of “how much change can we afford to make?” The swing states in the race for the electoral college are those most profoundly affected by the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy. The choice: how many jobs will we lose by shifting away from oil and gas to wind and solar. Workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan are fearful of losing their livelihood to a future of retraining and disruption.

Regardless of where we sit along the left/right spectrum, we share the increasing understanding that government doesn’t work. Running for office is a gauntlet of fundraising and promises you can’t keep; legislating is a lobbyist playground where special interests are neither special nor in our interests. The courts are overwhelmed by political power plays timed to inflame and suppress voting turnout. It’s no wonder that the common reaction to this week’s final presidential debate was relief that the campaign is almost over.

The most important fix to the body politic is the mute button. For a brief moment in the debate, we got to experience a few seconds of not talking. Time seemed to stand still, as if we were being handed down a digital tablet of things to not do: don’t interrupt, don’t disrespect, don’t mock, don’t waste our time. Above all, don’t forget the people we’ve lost to the virus. Remember the days when our biggest problems were what show to watch, what music to play, what jokes to tell. It’s amazing what you can hear when the agenda is turned back to ourselves.

In that moment, you can hear things that smooth the soul. In that moment, you can hear the words leaders will have to speak to get our vote next time. I feel much better about the next election no matter how this one turns out. The explosive numbers of early voting tell us a lot about how this will go. The genie is out of the bottle and people are beginning to connect the dots. If the vote is suppressed, it only makes us try harder.

Mobility is about a return to value, to roots, to resilience. Working from home is a big step toward living from everywhere. AR stands for accelerated reality, VR for valued reality. If we want to know what social is good for, switch on the mute button and listen to what you’ve lost. If you can mute the sound, you can unmute it and find your voice.

At first, the mute button was a defensive move. It counteracted the business model of the cable news networks, the repetitive time-filling of partisan perspective mixed with not listening to the grievances of the other side. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is be open to the truth emanating from the least likely location. We are taught to attack our opponent’s weaknesses; a better strategy might be to respect their strengths and adopt them as your own. Don’t worry, though. You probably won’t find too much there to reflect.

Once you experience the mute button envelope, you can hear it even if it’s not there. The rules of the revised debate were that the first two minutes of each candidate’s response used the mute button, then the old rules returned. Even then, the experience of using the mute button informed the rest of the debate. Particularly noticeable was Joe Biden’s response to a series of back and forths when the moderator asked if he had any further response. “… … … No.”

There have been other mute buttons in history. The 18 and a half minute gap spoke loudly when Rose Mary Woods erased a crucial Watergate tape. Before that, we assumed there might be a smoking gun. After that, we knew there might be others, too. Throughout the campaign, we could learn more about what was really going on by listening for the moments when key questions were left unanswered, ducked, or bounced back to the opponent like some Pee Wee Herman playground retort.

Soon we’ll know the answer to the important question: how do we confront the virus? I vote for listening to the science, wearing a mask, socially distancing both off and online, rapid testing, and contact tracing. And the candidates who agree.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, October 23, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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Gillmor Gang: Home Stretch

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On this edition of the Gillmor Gang, the live recording session was briefly interrupted by a rolling upgrade from Zoom. We’ve been using Zoom to virtualize what we’ve been doing for years with a combination of video switching hardware (Newtek’s TriCaster), a bunch of Mac Minis hosting Skype, an audio mixing board, and a backchannel pushing the switched Program Out to the members of the group. At first, we partnered with Leo Laporte on his fledgling video network. Subsequently, I copied Leo’s early studio setup to make the transition to streaming.

At that point, streaming was an emergent model. No Netflix, no Facebook Live, certainly no transition from RSS and podcasting to what we see now as Streaming From Home is adopted. Not just by the technocrati but mainstream cable networks, the remnants of broadcast television, and commercial streaming networks like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and even Apple TV +. Cable news uses a version of our studio model to bring together roundtables where even the hosts are using Zoom’s background replacement feature or the like to simulate their usual broadcast locations. The 4 or 5 second delay over TCP/IP gives away the tech, but just as with the smaller delay we’ve gotten used to with the translation from landline to satellite and now to cell service, we accommodate this seeming lack of attention being paid.

There are limitations with this new virtualized studio, but with a great deal of tweaking, the relative ease of onboarding Zoom offers, and the ubiquity of use that the pandemic has mandated, a new experience has emerged with recording the show. It’s more relaxed, a subtle hybrid of a “show” and a conversation among friends. As I’ve mentioned before, we use a multi-streaming service called Restream to do just that with the edited Zoom feed to broadcast the live session on Facebook Live, Twitter/Periscope, and via an embedded YouTube window, to our newsletter feed on Telegram. After postproduction, we release an edited, sweetened, titled version on TechCrunch.

From the beginning of the Gang, back in 2004 when it was an audio production only, we leveraged an early social network called FriendFeed, to engage listeners in a realtime chat. FriendFeed was essentially a blend of Facebook and Twitter, so much so that Facebook ultimately acquired the startup and made co-founder Bret Taylor CTO. Those playing along at home might recognize Bret now as President and COO of Salesforce, where he went after his next startup, Quip, was acquired. The FriendFeed backchannel lasted for a few years, opensourced at the time but eventually shut down by Facebook.

To explain the magic of the backchannel, I refer you to a book by an old friend, Harvey Brooks, bass player and right-place-right time musician who recorded with a dazzling set of greats from Miles Davis to the seminal first stop on his journey, Bob Dylan. In an age without liner notes, he’s a living example of the magic of producing the right notes at the moment of creation in the studio. With Dylan, that moment came in the recording of Dylan’s first fully electric record, Highway 61 Revisited. He’d just recorded the single Like A Rolling Stone when Harvey was recommended by his friend Al Kooper, who had famously sat down in front of an organ he’d never played before and survived Dylan’s recording process.

Dylan would run down a song with the musicians a couple of times and then begin recording. The players would glean the structure of the song by watching the artist’s hands; Harvey quickly made notes of the chords in the first couple of run throughs. Then it was off to the races with tape rolling. Often that first take would be the keeper. To break it down further, my analogy would be that this was Dylan’s version of the backchannel, where each player’s intuitive feel would be communicated not just to Dylan but to the other musicians, who often were strangers to each other as well.

In recording the Gang, the trick if you will is to capture that moment between the first time you hear something to the time where other takes don’t improve on that spark of creation. A later take may be more studied and practiced, but it may lose that magic of the spark. In the case of the conversation, it’s not quite an improvisation, but what takes it somewhere else is the backchannel, where we all live and communicate between sessions. It’s not quite a newsletter, where the goal (or at least my goal) is to provide stepping stones between rocks in the stream and not the pebbles that form the rush of news and attitude that overwhelms us.

These days Trumpstock is everywhere, not to be avoided but necessary to be survived. Then there are the glimmers of tech, like the media story about Disney’s reorganization around streaming. The ripple effects of surviving the pandemic’s direct hit on Disney’s park revenue and the need to shift investment to Disney + content production are a major signal of where winners are going to emerge in the entertainment industry’s move to a direct relationship with consumers. The backchannel is a powerful tool for giving us direct access to the underlying information required to make strategic decisions about where and how we live as we recover.

Sometimes the winging-it approach bears fruit; sometimes it crashes and burns as elements of this loosely-coupled cloud mashup unexpectedly shift. In this case, our carefully constructed production flow broke down just as we went live. It took some time and a restart to regroup, and a post show debugging to figure out what had changed in a Zoom autoupdate. This is the process. It’s not perfect, but it works when it works. When it doesn’t, it gets better. Join us on the backchannel.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, October 9, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

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Gillmor Gang: Airborne

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Lorne Michaels is the showrunner, to use a binge term, for Saturday Night Live. The show returned for its first season under the watchful gaze of pandemic rule, and the results were thankfully successful. Last season struggled in the early days of the virus, turning into a Zoom-heavy series of audience-free college tries. We appreciated the effort, but not really the lack of comic relief. This time, things have changed.

Michaels has said he’s not sure whether the rigorous safety procedures will hold up for the next five weeks until the election. The possibility of having to shut down makes every moment count The opening replay of the first (perhaps only) debate was exciting not just for its pairing of Jim Carrey and Alec Baldwin but for the foreshadowing jokes of the President’s hospitalization. Carrey’s careful tape measuring and repositioning. of the distance between the candidates’ lecterns efficiently underlined our mistrust of everything Trump says. It felt good to see a slightly altered version of the nightmare we’ve been living.

The SNL band’s music was joyous, relief for those who long for the sound of musicians working together rather than in assembled overdubs. The individual players’ isolation baffles bridged the studio feel of the performance with a sense that this version of a new now could actually work moving forward. The band felt slimmed down somehow, but tighter and funkier in the rhythm section. Weekend Update and Chris Rock’s opening monologue delivered some edgy balance to the show’s disposable set pieces. Success here was relief, not salvation.

Meanwhile, television and social notifications continue to joust for control of the horizontal. Reality shows like the Supreme Court Nominee pageant in the Rose Garden opened the week with the musical question “Is that really safe?” and ended with the thunderous “No!” of Thursday and Friday. Inevitably, the media began to stir as the Walter Reed press conferences betrayed more in unanswered questions than medical details. And so the question begets: how will we triage the final 30 days of the campaign?

A rolling set of experiments in how to fashion a new normal. Regardless of who wins the actual election, the country seems united on what to trust as a workable strategy for surviving this toxic political moment. The actual mechanics of the vote and the relative margin of the victory seem within a range of too close to call for a week minimum, and a 4-5 % margin for Biden. That presupposes no October surprise, or not any more. A court challenge seems likely, but how seriously it will be prosecuted seems unlikely given how fed up the population has become.

For the hybrid cable/online audience that will decide the election, it’s no longer about undecided, which have fallen to lower levels than typical for this time in the campaign. The only real question left is whether there is still a hidden Trump vote that will materialize 2016-style, or a 2018-style change wave that will sweep the Senate majority as well. The good news is that we’re 30 days from beginning to count that vote.

That means 4 more Saturday Night Lives in a row, and whether the virus will permit it. This isn’t about whether we can do this nationally, expand the NBA bubble coast to coast. Not as long as the campaign mandates conflict about the very procedures needed to make a real difference. The Rose Garden wave of infections makes it much more difficult to ignore masks, social distancing, and contact tracing, but real change will likely wait on the end of, if not the results of, the election. Either way, the trend will be toward limiting the spread by controlling super spreader events.

Even if back to school measures are rolled back, some SNL-like strategies will work to produce hybrid solutions. Efficient testing will combine with distancing, behavior, and tracing to localize the data and interact with the results of down-ballot elections. The November surprise may be that the power of partisan politics is reduced by practical mitigation, successful therapies, and a less heated preparation for vaccine distribution. A leading indicator of this trend can be seen in the streaming studios as they go back into adjusted production scenarios for the delayed fall season.

In that context, the successful SNL reboot included a healthy dose of advertising production values in its full roster of ads. With the holidays teed up, the move toward stay-sheltered e-commerce and food delivery will blend with the marketing campaigns of streaming network realignments like the one Chris Rock was promoting with his FX/Hulu Fargo project. As he channeled James Baldwin at the end of the monologue: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, October 2, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

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Gillmor Gang: Table Stakes

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I quite like the iPad Pro 11 inch with the Magic Keyboard. In the Land of Pandemic, where every day is Saturday, the tablet is king. With no real purchase on the chaotic flow of life, the rules — any rules — of the road are very dear to me. Structure is arbitrary but mandatory. Strategy is Niagara Falls: slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch. What exactly do I mean?

First, the tablet is a strange beast. Caught between the laptop and the phone, you’d think it would be a constant compromise. It’s not. Each time I add a step to the workflow, it re-cements itself as a coherent whole. In a world ruled by the next notification, context switches are disruptive; hand-offs are not. One minute the iPad is a media grazer. The phone rings. Answering it on the Watch frees me from the tether, answering on the iPad offers a click of the phone icon in the upper left to move to the phone.

I know it sounds a bit nuts to explain or even discuss, but add up the iterative improvements of this platform and you achieve some real productivity. Not the enterprise kind, nor the media hacker kind, but the palpable sense of progress in fashioning a place in this new digital world. Slowly but surely I’ve moved process after process to the iPad Pro. Gillmor Gang production, or more precisely editing, mixing, rendering, posting, annotating, testing, now all on the single device.

To begin with, I decided to junk Final Cut Pro as the editing platform, simply because it ran only on the Mac. It’s much more powerful than its replacement, LumaFusion, but once I plug the software into the iPad, it lights up the improved features of iOS 13 and the Files app. The Magic Keyboard peripheral adds a USB connector to plug in an external drive, and while it’s a bit of a trudge to get it to work almost like OS/10, soon it’s easy to move files over from Zoom on the Mac where the camera is positioned better in the center of the display.

I used to doubt Apple would provide remedies for these weird design gotchas, like the camera on the side of the display in landscape mode. The Magic Keyboard doesn’t let you position the iPad in portrait mode, and it wouldn’t work anyway with Zoom in 16:9. But then again, the keyboard cases up until the Magic Keyboard don’t support backlit keys. Now the iPad Pro is my main writing tool, its slightly underpowered keyboard winning out over my MacBook Air. The Magic Keyboard is expensive ($300), but Apple’s attention to detail reinforces my commitment to the evolution of the platform.

The Keyboard’s trackpad is similarly goofy in its implementation, sitting uneasily between the touch platform of the screen and the keyboard alts and text editing precision of the Mac. You learn quickly how to navigate between the two worlds, however, intuiting that future implementations should build on the elements of the hybrid that work. I’ve followed the press musings about the future of Mac OS and iOS, but now I’m growing comfortable with the assumption that inexorably the shift in power has tipped over. Perhaps it’s the price performance in the move off of Intel to Apple’s in-house chips.

Or perhaps it’s the feeling that momentum patches problems out of a desire to keep locked in to the process flow of modular apps and services. I’m using Quip to write this, knowing the iPad version doesn’t yet provide a word count feature like the Mac version does. So I went searching for Apple’s bundled Pages app and got the answer. My assumption is that these common services will soon become table stakes.

Beneath the tech veneer, the iPad reminds me of the power of directed evolution. As trivial as a backlit keyboard seems in the overall scheme of things, that Apple knew all along what the blocker was on this platform augurs for the future extensions we know are coming in this Work From Anywhere moment. Not just the big ideas but the little ones, that grow through steady adoption into giants of a shift necessary to contain unexpected catastrophes and minor scrapes of the regular kind. I wasn’t sure why I felt driven to spend so much time unifying my tools and strategies for virtualizing my computing experience. Now that we live full time in this moment, it’s these little things that count.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, September 4, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

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Gillmor Gang: Platforming

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Much was made during the Republican Convention of the lack of a party platform. The media characterized this as a capitulation to the Cult of Trump phenomenon, but the questioned begged was: so what? If you’re running as a candidate to disrupt the status quo…. But beneath the media framing, an important question emerges. What exactly is the platform we need to emerge from the toxic situation we find ourselves in?

For months, if not years, the technology industry has been working on a new platform to succeed the previous one. Mobile would seem to be that fundamental shift from the desktop world of Windows and PCs. The twin dominance of powerful phones by Google and Apple has created a new language of notifications and streaming video perfectly timed for the devastating pandemic. Our devices are now the front lines for managing the struggle to stay alive for our loved ones, the economy, and our future.

Zoom is of course the poster child for all that it enables, and certainly what it doesn’t. The notion of work from home is more likely a question of what is home and what’s the difference with work? The routines of life are congealing around the interactions with phone, watch, iPad, laptop, and TV. When I wake up, the first dive is for the notification stream built up overnight from overseas and then the East Coast. The rhythm varies from day to day: intense on Monday as the weekend cobwebs dissipate, more issue oriented through the middle of the week, and finally a thank-god-it’s Friday feel. Email, text messages, media updates, and work calendar reminders.

And then there’s the outline of the new platform — live streaming notifications from what some call citizen media, or the influencer network, or the loyal opposition. That last one refers to the decline in trust of the mainstream media. Maybe it’s just me, but the cable model of host-driven cyclical repetition of the headlines, talking heads, and medical ads adds up to a trip first to the mute button and eventually the off switch. Which plugs me right back into the notification stream and a new contract with us based on whether we click on the link or even allow the notification in the first place.

And these new voices are networks of one or a few, broadcasting on a global reach pastiche of cloud services that begin with the ubiquity of Zoom and its click and you’re there ease of on boarding. Then there are the key networks of record as it were: Facebook Live, Twitter/Periscope, YouTube, and maybe LinkedIn if you’re Brent Leary and got an early invite. There’s a whole bunch of streaming accelerators like Restream and StreamYard and Just Streams (I made that up) to use software and a dash of hardware to do what it took many thousands of dollars and cables just a few years ago. Right now it’s early days, but soon you’ll be seeing something that looks like the media it’s replacing as the OG buys in.

Don’t believe me? Just look at how streaming has disrupted the television industry. Or the music business. Or the reemergence of podcasting and newsletters. Or how messaging is growing rapidly as a preferred digital commerce and marketing channel. The pandemic has certainly had a devastating effect with the loss of theaters, events, and travel that drive so much of our economy and the emotional underpinning of our lives. But as we learn to respect the power of the virus to force this digital wave of transformation, we fuel the winners that emerge from a new hybrid blend of evolution and adaptation.

Technology has often been seen as impersonal and cold to the touch. But now we should be making friends with robots for touchless shopping, At the beginning of this Gillmor Gang session, Frank Radice seemed stunned by the administration’s takeover of the symbols of our Washington monuments for political purposes. By the end, he seemed more hopeful of a different result. We have more ways now of making our voices heard, broadcasting our own names in fireworks above and beyond the fake news and suppression. Our platform: suppress the virus, not the vote.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, August 28, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

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Gillmor Gang: VP Live

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Tuesday, August 11, 2020. For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
The Gillmor Gang on Facebook
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Gillmor Gang: Tic Talks

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Sunday, August 2, 2020. For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the notification feed here on Telegram.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

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Gillmor Gang: 3 Weeks Ago

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Saturday, July 11, 2020. For more, subscribe free to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

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Gillmor Gang: Love & Fear

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Sunday, May 31, 2020. For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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Gillmor Gang: Zoom Normal

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Brent Leary joins the Gang as we blend streaming, Zoomcasting and sheltering from the storm.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Liner Notes

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