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Saturday, November 23, 2013

X-Prize - McKinsey Report

   This links to an extensive report by McKinsey & Co on X-Prizes along with prizes of all sorts. It is a few years old now and not quite as enthusiastic as I am. This is largely because it doesn't foresee the sort of mass spending on prizes I do. Also by not concentrating on technology prizes it is concerned about how much the prize reflects glory on the awarder and worries that 2 much money spent on prizes will mean some go unreported. I see X-Prizes purely as a way of stimulating innovation - if it also makes the field more respected that is gravy.

   However the graphs are valuable.

Увеличение количества призов по данным McKinsey & Company

     This is the recent increase in prizes in recent years. However it includes more conventional prizes like the Booker and other arts prizes which have barely risen so it considerably understates the rise in technology prizes.

  The report also says that 52% of prizes by value comes from foundations, 27% from corporations and only 17% from government, a ratio we should be prepared to work with.
   As part of McKinsey's concern about numerous prizes it calculates that there is an average 0.0275 rise in publicity for prizes per $1,000 in value but that this average varies widely. I'm happy with that - it suggests that good prizes will get publicity, that there is a major place for even quite small prizes but that even so multi-million £ prizes are not going to go unnoticed.
   It also has a choice tree which concludes that prizes alone are the optimum when there is a clear definable target and many possible winners willing to take a risk which applies in technology cases unless the project is so big only 1 company/conglomerate can undertake it.
   I am comfortable with that, bearing in mind that when such a conglomerate says this (& says it should get a grant) it may not be unbiased and if a prize is offered to the rest of the world it will do no harm - if the conglomerate come in first the prize isn't won. By this rule the best way to promote virtually any technology is through prizes, occasionally with a grant to a preferred bidder (which should never exceed the prize value and be repayable out of prize money if the bidder wins).

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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Return Of the Airship

It appears that the world's first rigid airship since the 1930s will soon take to the skies for flight trials: and better still, this ship has a new piece of technology which could actually change the existing landscape and permit the leviathans of the skies to return.
Rigid ships set to return to the skies - first time since August 1939*
We refer to the Aeroscraft, brainchild of Ukrainian airship visionary Igor Pasternak, and its proprietary Control of Static Heaviness (COSH) tech which apparently lets it do what no other airship has ever been able to. The "Dragon Dream" half-scale demonstrator, which carried out hangar trials earlier this year, has now been certified by the FAA for R&D outdoor trial flights and the first crew to take the ship up has been named.

   From the Register some time ago.
   The great advantage of this sort of airship is that it can pump in its helium, and by becoming heavier than air, land vertically. That means it can compete in transportation, at least to remote areas and islands. Also that it can transport units to large for road or rail - the Register article mentions a 600 man battalion with heavy weapons but I am thinking, less extravagantly, of prefabricated houses or nuclear reactors.

Latest news is that the testing has been successful and that they expect to have it commercially available by 2016.

"Though the initial fleet will have 22 vehicles, he says there is a market for 2,500. NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense are betting on the Aeroscraft’s success, having given development funding to Aeros. “The demand’s so huge, and if we’ll be able to build today or bring to the market today 22 vehicles, it will be not enough,” Pasternak says. “It will be just not enough because people are so struggling with logistical issues.”
Aeroscraft hopes to be ready for market by 2016 and its beautiful.

I wrote previously of how the R100 (the "capitalist airship") and therefore the future of airships was scrapped not because it was a failure but because it was a success which had worked perfectly. The 101 (the British government's "socialist airship") was a failure despite, or because of the ministry's total support whereas the R100 worked fine. This could not be allowed to be understood by the public so the R100 was sold for scrap.

Glad to see this technology has only been held up for 80 years by government parasites.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Most Powerful Thing A Genuine Lobby Group Could Do Is Something a Government Sock Puppet Couldn't

    This is a rather interesting idea on Mark Pack's "Lib Dem" blog:

A few years back, candidates wanting to stand as Labour/Co-operative Party joint candidates ran into a legal problem, despite the tradition of such joint candidates stretching back many decades. The Electoral Commission decided that, on close reading of election law, it was not legal for such joint candidates to have a logo appear next to their name on the party ballot.

Cue a flurry of election law changes to remedy the situation .....But in that mis-reporting is a germ of an idea which a pressure group could adopt.

A candidate for a political party could stand as a joint candidate, with a joint description and special logo on the ballot paper,* reminding voters at the most crucial key final moment before voting that this candidate is the one which gets their approval.

This idea of pressure group acting as minor political party in order to win coverage on the ballot paper and hence increase its electoral leverage – both to get candidates to agree to its policies and then to win votes for those candidates who do – is something aficionados of American politics may

It is what US political parties such as the Working Families Party do, with a few wrinkles due to the different electoral law their but the same underlying purpose and method.

Imagine, for example, a group of environmental lobby groups setting up their minor political party and offering its ballot paper endorsement to candidates who back its policy.

Agree with them and you’re Labour? Fine, you get to stand as the Labour Party / Green Coalition joint candidate, so described on the ballot paper. Agree with them and you’re Lib Dem? Then it’s the Liberal Democrats / Green Coalition you appear as and so on.

This would simply extend the existing tactic of a pressure group asking candidates in a constituency their views on some set questions and then publicising the answers back to a relatively small number of voters signed up to the organisation in that constituency. Extend however in a crucial way.

Because by getting the answer as to who is most favoured on every printed ballot paper, it would take their message not to a small audience, but to the whole electorate.

Now that really would be a pressure group putting on the pressure.

     I think that is a pretty good idea, but not particularly for the LDs for reasons I explained in a comment I placed. It is clear from the way he describes it he is thinking of lots of right on politically approved pressure groups could pile on to the LDs forming a band wagon.

The main one, mentioned in another comment, is the Electoral Reform Society, which has long been the LDs in academia. However as I commented  the LDs are no longer the most electable supporters of proportional representation. I would be quite comfortable with an ERS logo added to LDs or Greens in those areas where the Electoral Calculus said they were the main contenders and added to the UKIP logo where we are (& conceivably also a few Labour and Tories who had a genuine record of rejecting the whip to support PR).

With public support for PR running at about 70%:20% that could indeed be enough to make PR supporting parties a majority. I trust Mark would still support this, as a matter of principle, even though the main beneficiary would be UKIP.

The other advantage for opponents of overweening government (but disadvantage for LDs) would be that the Electoral Commission could never legally allow a government financed sock puppet to thus register itself as a party.

With almost every "Green" charity except Greenpeace, funded 70% by the EU and most of the rest by the British state no "group of environmental lobby groups setting up their minor political party and offering its ballot paper endorsement to" LibDems would be lawful.

But real organisations which aren't government funded fakecharities could. Who would the Migrationwatch Party or the Taxpayer's Alliance Party be likely to endorse? That's what I thought too,

Incidentally, with the typical commitment to free speech of the Pseudoliberal party my comment, when, after a undue delay, my comment appeared, mention of the government sock puppet problem had been removed ;-)

Another commenter had, quite independently, mentioned the Electoral Reform Society, which is not surprising.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big Engineering 55 Rail Braking

     The latest PR for HS2 is concentrating on how crowded the south of England's railways are and how being able to go to Leeds at speed will, in some inexplicable way, reduce this.

      The previous arguments that it made economic sense were ludicrous and have had to be dropped. At about £80 bn, if it had to make a 10% return on capital as is normally expected that would cost £300 per ticket plus the natural running cost - this clearly does not make economic sense.

      So back to overcrowding.

      Rail's problem is that while road vehicles only have to stay a couple of car lengths apart, trains have to be about a mile apart. This is because the stopping distances are so much longer - rails being slipier than tarmac and carriages much heavier. For a long time John Redwood has been saying rail should learn from bus technology and build much lighter vehicles. This is also obviously far more fuel efficient. He is right on that . I also think we should be building automated rail which, by allowing single carriage units running 24/7 would increase capacity.

     But here is another idea. A new magnetic braking system:

Here is a summary of the changes needed:
The problem with existing railways-poor grip when braking
Railway train wheels have a poor grip on steel tracks, compared with rubber tyres on roads. This severely reduces the ability of trains to climb inclines, accelerate or brake rapidly.
The minimum safe time interval between high speed trains using the same length of track is about 3 minutes, but for a car travelling at the same speed it is only a few seconds.
A solutionWe propose an electromagnetic traction and braking system for trains. Ina addition to significantly reducing braking distances, it will eliminate nuisance traction problems caused by "leaves on the lines".
Maglev trains are hover trains. They were invented in Britain in the 1960’s by Professor Eric Laithwaite and are now running in China.
They offer several advantages: Wear on the track is minimal and acceleration, braking and fuel economy all improve,
these benefits are outweighed by the high track building costs.
Magtrac is simpler and cheaper than Maglev.
Our breakthrough:We reduce costs by mounting the electromagnets on the trains instead of the tracks.
The electromagnets are suspended under the train and interact with soft iron rails mounted on the existing railway track sleepers.
The braking and acceleration benefits of Maglev are maintained, but Magtrc’s levitation effect is not sufficient to support the weight of the train.
Figure 2, Magtrac.
Q. Why are iron rails required?
A. Iron rails are better at amplifying the strength of the electromagnets but they rapidly lose their magnetism when the train passes. This eliminates the problem of steel cans and other ferromagnetic junk sticking to the rails.
1          HOW IT WORKS
            We will build the Magtrac principle up in stages

1.1 The key concept
First we consider what happens when an electric current is passed through two solenoids resting on a soft iron bar.
[A solenoid is a cylindrical coil of wire that acts as a magnet when an electric current passes through it. The magnetic effect is weak if the interior of the solenoid is filled with air, but strong if the air is replaced by iron.]
The solenoids become electromagnets and either mutually attract or repel, depending on their polarities.
Figure 3. In addition to attraction or repulsion between the two solenoids, each solenoid experiences a repulsive force between itself and the enclosed soft iron bar. This provides a small levitation effect.
The law of conservation of energy has to be respected so we do not get "free" energy out of either of these arrangements. For example in Fig. 3 (a), after the solenoids have moved together, work has to be done against the magnetic attraction, to restore the magnets to their original positions.
We can't cheat nature by switching the magnets off and then moving them apart because when we switch the magnets back on again work has to be done against the back EMFs as the magnetic fields are rebuilt.
1.2 A load carrying platform
Plan view:
Figure 4. To move a lightweight platform along a short length of track, the soft iron bar needs to be bent into a U shape.
1.3 A practical traction unit
For the platform to move along a track of indefinite length:
(i) A long chain of U shaped iron bars is required.
(ii) “Half solenoids” that can “jump” from one iron bar to the next are used.
Figure 5. The platform and supporting half solenoids can move along an indefinite length of track
Figure 6. This is a “half solenoid”, with all of the windings connected in parallel. When an electric current flows through the windings, a magnetic field similar to a full solenoid is produced. But its asymmetry results in a net upward force when it rests on a soft iron bar.
Figure 7. An alternative, series winding. The neutralising effect of the upper half solenoid is minimal, because of its greater distance from the soft iron rail.
Figure 8. Further details of the electromagnetic coupling.
The up thrust is a useful bonus but it cannot be relied upon to support the weight of the train because it varies with the current passing through the half solenoids.
The up thrust on the train produces an equal and opposite down thrust on the iron rails. This improves the friction grip between the rails and underlying sleepers.
We will refer to the activated half solenoids as runners and the lengths of soft iron tracks as stators.
It is not necessary for the runners to be in close contact with the stators and large clearances between them are possible to avoid fouling by small items of debris. (Large clearance gaps require large diameter half solenoids. So the total length of conducting wires generating the magnetic flux increases, compensating for the larger air gap.)
Large clearances will allow wipers to be added, to periodically clean the under surfaces of the runners.
The conducting wires can be made from superconducting material and the half solenoids immersed in very cold chambers protected by Dewar insulation.
Skilled engineers will recognise that some technical details relating to back EMFs, current changes and the fate of kinetic energy lost during emergency Magtrac braking have been omitted. Nor has the configuration for regenerative Magtrac braking been revealed.
This is for intellectual property protection reasons.
1.4    Explanation: Why the size of the air gap, ice and leaves on the rails do not affect performance
Figure 9. Icing of the iron rails will be a rare event because Magtrac has a built in de-icing mechanism.
When an iron rail goes through a magnetisation-demagnetisation cycle, a small amount of heat is generated. (Hysteresis loss.) This will help to melt any ice or snow in winter.
The only downside of a large air gap is that the half solenoids are slightly bulkier, heavier and more expensive to build.
Q. How effective will Magtrac braking be?
A. Braking and traction increase with the total number of turns in all of the half solenoids, the currents passing through the wires and the cross section area of the iron rails. In principle, Magtrac braking could be as efficient as the braking on a Formula One racing car. In reality, a far more modest braking system should meet commercial, safety and customer needs.
2          Reducing stray magnetic fields
Stray magnetic fields can attract ferromagnetic debris such as nuts, bolts and nails. A number of steps can be taken to design this problem out of the system.

2.1      Superconducting shieldsFor superconducting systems the runners are lodged in cold chambers. Magnetic flux cannot penetrate a sheet of superconducting material, so by lining the out facing walls of the cold chambers with superconducting material, magnetic flux shields can be created.
Figure 10. Superconducting shielding.

To prevent the outer faces of the Dewar flasks icing up in winter they can be fitted with heating elements to keep their temperature just above 0oC.
2.2      Bury the poles of the soft iron magnets
Figure 11. A vertical cross section at track level.
2.3Additional measures to prevent damage by small items of debris include mounting miniature "cattle fenders" and scavenging electromagnets ahead of each item of rolling stock.
3          Keeping the runners and flux shields cold
Runners and flux shields can be chilled using liquefied gases or dedicated refrigerators. A combined system may be best.
New designs of cryocoolers (low temperature refrigerators) created for use with rolling stock are published on our superconductors and cryocoolers web page.
4          Powering Magtrac trains
Don't get can carried away with the idea of a free ride. If the electromagnets are superconducting there are no heat losses but energy still has to be expended driving the electric currents against the back EMFs produced as the train moves.
Electrification is one option, but burning hydrogen is preferred because the fuel can be used twice. First in liquid form, as a superconducting temperature coolant; then as a fuel to generate electricity.
To burn the hydrogen fuel efficiently onboard we propose using our Latent Power Turbines.
5          The copper alternative to superconducting windings
The argument in favour of superconducting windings is that they eliminate electrical resistance (Joule) heating losses. Copper is not a superconductor at liquid hydrogen temperatures but its resistivity is les than 5% of its value at UK average temperatures. If copper is used for the windings there will still be some Joule heating losses at low temperatures but the thermal energy can be used for warming the hydrogen prior to its use as a fuel.
Copper is easy to handle when manufacturing the half solenoids and has the safety bonus that it can still be used for effective braking, even if the hydrogen cooling system fails.
6   "Belt and braces" braking systems
6.1 Friction brakes would still be used as a backup and to prevent stationary trains rolling down hills.
6.2 Each carriage would have wheel axles coupled to motor/generators, to provide regenerative braking during normal journeys. This energy could be stored in lithium batteries.
6.3 Each carriage would also be fitted with its own Magtrac electromagnets. In the event of the principle Magtrac power supply failing, power from the batteries would be used as a backup.
6.4 Remote braking On the approaches to potential accident spots such as railway crossings, active Magtrac rails can be installed. These would include externally powered solenoids that converted attraction into repulsion. This would allow remote braking by an external operator or an intelligent CCTV system.
Figure 12. Active Magtrac rails include current carrying solenoids that can be switched on remotely. These instantly convert traction power into braking power.
Braking solenoid off: Axle mounted N attracts second 1/2solenoid axle mounted S. Traction power is generated.
Braking solenoid on: Axle mounted N repelled by Magtrac rail mounted N. Braking power is generated.
If the track based system detects that the trains half solenoid currents have been changed to initiate braking, the track solenoid current can be switched off.
The UK mainline Health and Safety report for 2012 records four pedestrian and five car deaths on level crossings.
Protection for maintenance staff Portable half solenoid versions of the the remote braking system could be installed on lengths of track where maintainable work is being carried out while the track is still in use.
7    PointsThere would be no Magtrac iron rail in close proximity to points. If necessary, the axle coupled motors would be used to shift stationary trains away from these sections.
8   Noise reduction bonus
The elimination of friction as the primary source of braking, combined with the reduced wheel on track loading, thanks to the Magtrac up-thrust, will significantly reduce train noise.
Magtrac eliminates the squealing of friction brakes and the vibrations caused by uneven wear on the steel tyres resulting from friction braking.
     Braking "like a Formula One car" is indeed unnecessary but if it were even equal to normal road transport, 10 times faster than currently, the capacity of the rail system would increase massively. Presumably not 10 fold because the new bottleneck would be the size of stations (which could be expanded)  but easily enough to increase rail traffic several fold which would work for the foreseeable future.
     This would be far cheaper and installed far faster than HS2 and would improve rail transport for the entire country.
     I recently described shale gas as being an example of the second generation of technological breakthroughs stifled by politics (nuclear being the first) and this is the 2nd (or perhaps 3rd) generation of technological progress in rail transport (lighter vehicles and automation being the first two).
      Once again we see we have non unsolvable, or even particularly difficult problems except getting rid of the government parasites whose continuing power depends on keeping us fearful and eager to be led by making the problems seem worse.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Scotland is Not Like Scandinavia

  As a result of the recent report pointing out the obvious facts that Scottish oil will reduce run out and that our demographics mean we will have a significantly larger pensioner population and lower pre-pensioner one (both points I have made before) the separatists are reduced to saying that if we get faster growth this will far exceed the losses from these.

   In that the SNP are absolutely right. If we had non-EU world average growth (6%) we would be twice as well off by 2025.

   And if the SNP were going to do it I would be for them. Indeed back when Jim Mather was their intellectual light I thought they at least intended to do so.

   The SNP have had a term and a half to produce growth and sweet absolutely nothing. Well nothing positive. They have wasted billions on windmills and committed us to be "100% renewable by 2020" which is a commitment to economic collapse and deaths. When their Green partner in the Yes campaign promised that separation would mean the joys of recession for at least 10 years and hopefully forever, they said not one word in disagreement. They still haven't. Their numerous promises of lower taxes and higher government spending do not suggest that economic competence is anywhere on their radar.

    The latest SNP spokescritter wheeze is to say that high taxes and government interference works in Scandanavia. Lesley Riddoch was squeaking this line last night. Well no they have a wrinkle our government doesn't. Their governments spend relatively effectively on doing things and don't regulate wealth creation out of existence,

Why does Sweden have so many billionaires ?

Billionaires per capita.

 Here's the top 10 (number of billionaires/estimated population):
 1. Monaco (3/35,427)
 2. St. Kitts and Nevis (1/53,051)
 3. Guernsey (1/65,573)
 4. Hong Kong (39/7.1 million)
 5. Belize (1/356,600)
 6. Cyprus (3/1.1 million)
 7. Israel (17/7.8 million)
 8. Singapore (10/5.2 million)
 9. Kuwait (5/2.8 million)
 10. Switzerland (13/7.9 million)
 12. Sweden (14 billionaires, population 9.56 million)
 But one country stands out on the list: Sweden.
 How does a famously socialist and left-wing country like Sweden get so many billionaires ?

Why are billionaries a good sign ? Because usually they created a great company.....The good news about Sweden is that it’s exactly that kind of place. High taxes go to finance cheap health care and education, an excellent system of public transportation, and relatively generous subsidies to low-income households that keep the poverty rate and inequality low. But they haven’t stopped Swedish entrepreneurs from building giant firms like H&M, Ikea, and Tetra Pak.

 The Scandinavian success stories show that great companies can be born and innovate amid generous welfare states, they do have some cautionary tales for left-wing thinking. The Swedish tax code was substantially reformed in 1990 to be friendlier toward capital accumulation, with a flat rate on investment income. Sweden has no taxes on inheritance or residential property, and its 22 percent corporate income tax rate is far lower than America’s 35 percent. Even after spending cuts by the current center-right government, the Swedish public sector is still about half the total economy (much higher than here), but the taxes that finance it fall more heavily on consumption and less on business investment than in the U.S.

 Sweden also has a relatively lightly regulated economy. There are rules about public health and environmental protection, of course. But Sweden is arguably further down the neoliberal path of dismantling purely economic regulations than the U.S. In Stockholm, for example, taxi fares are completely unregulated and for-profit charter schools are common. All things considered, international surveys rank Sweden as a place where it’s easy to do business. Within the U.S., surveys show that licensing rules rather than tax rates are the main driver of local business-friendliness.
If you have a high income tax rate but low corporate, property and capital gains taxes and light regulations for other aspects of business then you can still generate a lot of billionaires.

     Norway cuts hundreds of km of tunnels at £4m per km whereas the SNP, with support from the other useless Holyrood parties, spent £2,300m on a new Forth bridge (8 times more than it should have been) and said that a £30m tunnel would have cost £6,600m if built by them.

    Finland, as well as Sweden, are willing to use nuclear power.

    Iceland, in proper free enterprise style, let their banks go bust.

    Norway and Iceland refuse to be part of the EU zero growth zone.

   Yes the Scandinavian  countries prove that with only a bit of common sense and very little free marketism it is possible to do rather well. Estonia, which started much poorer because it had been in the USSR went ideologically free market and is thus doing remarkably well.

    But none of the current Holyrood parties have any commitment to Scandinavian common sense. All are committed to massive state parasitism. Worse than that, our media institutions are also committed to it. Not one paper or broadcaster was willing, at any time, to report that the 7/8th of the cost of the Forth Bridge is either state parasitism or simple theft.

     Government economic parasitism (ie taxes) is important (it costs 50% of our gdp, possibly 55% in Scotland) but regulatory parasitism is worse in that it costs at least another 100% of current gdp, and the latter is the bit the Swedes have beaten.

    We wouldn't have to be run that well to achieve growth that would end all our problems (Zimbabwe recently managed 9.3%) either in Holyrood or Westminster, but it is absolutely certain that the Holyrood parties have neither the competence nor desire to do so.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Ultra Automated Transport Takes Another Step

    This is good news combining my previously expressed interest in automated rail, driverless cars & my rejected proposal that it would be better for the Scottish government to spend £20 million building an automated rail link to Glasgow airport than start a £300 million conventional rail project and then cancelling it for £40 million.

      The same company is now using the same equipment to provide driverless cars (on rail) to provide a public transport system in Milton Keynes

       This is my previous article on the subject. The Ultra system is also in use at Heathrow now. But not Glasgow.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

More Current Than When He Wrote It

    In a country ruled by the Sir Humphreys and amiable nincompoops like Cameron Hacker, with the unelected EU bureaucracy presiding over all this poem seems much more current than when it was then.

Rudyard Kipling

The Servant When He Reigneth

"For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear. For a servant when he reigneth, and a fool when he is filled with meat; for an odious woman when she is married, and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress." -- PROV. XXX. 21-22-23.

Three things make earth unquiet
And four she cannot brook
The godly Agur counted them
And put them in a book --
Those Four Tremendous Curses
With which mankind is cursed;
But a Servant when He Reigneth
Old Agur entered first.
An Handmaid that is Mistress
We need not call upon.
A Fool when he is full of Meat
Will fall asleep anon.
An Odious Woman Married
May bear a babe and mend;
But a Servant when He Reigneth
Is Confusion to the end.

His feet are swift to tumult,
His hands are slow to toil,
His ears are deaf to reason,
His lips are loud in broil.
He knows no use for power
Except to show his might.
He gives no heed to judgment
Unless it prove him right.

Because he served a master
Before his Kingship came,
And hid in all disaster
Behind his master's name,
So, when his Folly opens
The unnecessary hells,
A Servant when He Reigneth
Throws the blame on some one else.

His vows are lightly spoken,
His faith is hard to bind,
His trust is easy broken,
He fears his fellow-kind.
The nearest mob will move him
To break the pledge he gave --
Oh, a Servant when he Reigneth
Is more than ever slave!

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