Archive for the ‘Q and A’ Category

Obsessed! Facebook’s Fanatic

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Since its 2004 inception, Facebook has become much more than just another site to post your picture and hype your candidate. To prove it, Saudia Arabia-born student and Royal Canadian Army Cadet Imran Khan wants to take his love for the social networking site all the way to the Guinness Book of World Records. With over 48,000 members and counting in his Largest Facebook group in the Guinness Book of World Records club, the group has a long way to go in order to beat the current largest group, which already has over a million members. Via inbox posts, SMITH talked to this Facebook fanatic on why he’s hopeful he’ll take his group all the way to the top.

SMITH: When did you first join Facebook?

Imran Khan: I joined Facebook back in November of 2005.

Why are you trying to get the group into the Guinness Book of World Records?
I was speaking to a friend of mine on MSN, and we felt that since we couldn’t find a record regarding the largest group on Facebook in the books, we should create one of our own. Honestly, we didn’t know we would do so well in such a short period of time.

So is this group, then, really, about nothing? Just a large group for the sake of a large group?
No, this group has a reason for being what it is right now. This group represents a committed group of people that are willing to be noticed as they create the largest Facebook group. To me, each and every member deserves to be noticed. For some people, this may just be a large group; but for others, no!

Even so, you’ve got some stiff competition. There’s already another group on Facebook that has a lot more members than yours, not to mention the frenzy around the 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert group. How do you expect to catch up and surpass groups with these huge numbers?
There are several groups on Facebook that have a lot more members than mine, but I do believe our group can increase. Knowing that the group just started a little over a month ago, I feel it won’t take long for it to get into the record books.

You don’t have a whole lot of customization on your own page. That seems surprising given how into Facebook you are.
There was a time when I was really addicted. But now that school started, I’m trying to tone it down a bit. Exams are here, so I can’t go on Facebook as much.

Fair enough. Back when you were addicted, what was your obsession like?
It was just a crave. I didn’t want to leave my house and whenever I left, I just wanted to go on Facebook. There were times when I was just irritated to leave my home and I would be on Facebook from morning to midnight. But since school’s started, I’ve taught myself to tone it down on Facebook. Life is just too busy now.

With so much going on, do you ever feel an urge to send notes and tell people about your hectic life?
Sometimes. Whenever I was doing something, I would always leave a message on my status board. But now I just try to keep my personal life away from Facebook. I mean, even now I think I have too much personal information on there, like my number and all that jazz.

But what about what’s going on in the Cadets? Do you ever want to tell people what training is like?
Being in the Royal Canadian Army Cadets is more like a leisure activity for me. I’ve been in the Cadets since 2004, and I’ll be done in 2008. I go on my usual Tuesday night trainings and attend parades in downtown Toronto for special events like Remembrance Day or Regimental parades. We go on weekend trainings to Base Borden, where we do some skill work for living in the bushes. There is an annual summer camp for cadets and I had been chosen to attend an advance course to the Rocky Mountains, all expenses paid.

That’s pretty interesting. So how come you didn’t put something like that on Facebook?
Even though I spend most of my time chatting on MSN or talking to people on Facebook, I find it a bit too much work to write about myself on Facebook.

So what about the videos you posted, like the guy on the subway train. Why did you to decide to post that one?
I was fooling around with friends at school so we decided it would go up on my Facebook. I was coming from Rogers Centre when my brother, a few friends, and I encountered him. He wanted to tell us a story, so we said, “Sure, go ahead.”

Before he started, though, my brother took out his camera and asked to record him. He refused at first, but then my brother said, “Well, you can’t tell your story then.” So then he agreed to it. We were coming from the Argos game.

How do you think society has changed since community sites like Facebook first starting making waves? Do you think it’s made the world a smaller place or a larger place?
I believe it’s made my world much smaller. I couldn’t believe how many people I’ve found so easily on Facebook. I’ve found many friends that I haven’t spoken to for several (as many as 10) years. At times, I feel that Facebook is something positive because it brings old friends back together again.

What do you think of all the recent aesthetics and additions to Facebook? Love ‘em or loathe ‘em?
I LOVE THEM! Modifying Facebook only makes it more obsessive!

What are you going to do if you do make the Guinness Book of World Records?
I will put all the members’ names in the book. It would not happen without the members. If I can, I will ask the Record Book to send everyone a certificate because this would be a group record, not an individual record…Even if the members just receive a certificate by email, I would want them all to be recognized.

What’s your six word memoir?
Get off Facebook and do something!

Previous Obsessed! with Web 2.0 Articles

Rosemea de Souza Smart MacPherson, Flickr
Steve Ratner, Ebay.
Chris Thomas, Newsvine’s Newshound
Richard Farmbrough, the Wizard of Wikipedia.

Obsessed! Flickr’s Favorite

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Back when photo-sharing site Flickr launched in 2004, Rosemea de Souza Smart MacPherson was all over it. But she wasn’t just another obsessive uploader of pictures from her daily life. The 57-year-old Northern Virginia attorney had a photographic eye that won fans from the online photo community—they voted her images best on the site in 2004. SMITH spoke with the Flickr favorite member via email. —Rich Knight

SMITH: How did you first get into Flickr?
Rosemea: I started on Flickr because I used to publish my photos at Fotolog. I still have an account there, but I don’t have time for it, so I seldom publish. I had started on Fotolog was because my niece had an account there and I just wanted to be a part of her life—just chat and see her face. But Fotolog had too many technical problems and Flickr started about that time and a lot of people from Fotolog moved to Flickr.

What kind of camera are you using?
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT 350


  1. Sigma: macro, 50mm.
  2. Sigma 70-300 mm.

I just bought a Nikon / Coolpix S10 because it has lithium battery and substitute the Nikon Coolpix 2220 because I needed to keep changing batteries. I still have it and post old photos that I took when that was my primary camera.

Have you ever done photography full time?
Photography is just a hobby. Even so, it has taken over my life in many ways. Full time, I am a researcher/attorney/writer, but wife is my favorite title. And right now, I’m enjoying my life more than pursuing a career at this stage in my life. But yes, it would be fantastic to be a professional photographer and get paid to just have fun!

Say somebody read this article and decided that they wanted to take your title away and have the best photos on Flickr. Would you feel the urge to compete with them?

Flickr has many other popular people and sites, and I am personally friends with many of them, such as Gary*.

But I think my popularity has to do with my sense of humor and creativity. One has to be willing to visit other people’s sites and be fair on the comments and give favorites with fairness.

I am the best that I can be, and that is all that I can do. Other people can be the best of who they are, but I don’t compare myself with other people, and people shouldn’t compare themselves with me. And let it be known that I didn’t choose the title: The best pictures on Flickr. But I am very flattered and humbled by it. Mostly because there are a lot of very talented people on Flickr. A lot.

But there is also a lot of friction about who has the most pictures on Explore, and people fight all the time to be in the top four in different groups. Personally, if I feel a hint of hostility, I quit the group and remove all my pictures. I am on Flickr to have fun and laugh with my friends—and not to compete.

Would you say you’re obsessed with Flickr?
I used to be obsessed with Flickr. I’ve read your piece on eBay and think Flickr is just as addicting as eBay. I am less and less obsessed about Flickr now, but more obsessed than I would like to be. Flickr is more than pictures. I get hundreds of emails, and people share their personal problems with me. Sometimes I feel like a therapist, and that takes a lot of time. But Flickr is a community very similar to a family. Now, I’m not saying it’s a perfect family, but it is a family, nonetheless.

Do you use Flickr as a way to tell personal stories?
That is not my goal, but sometimes I tell personal stories. If I think I have a funny story to tell I will share it. And when a photo reminds me of a situation, a line of music, or a famous line from a movie, I’ll use that, too. I have a self-depreciating sense of humor sometimes, and I usually laugh when I am writing something I feel people will also laugh about.

How do you use Flickr to document your life?
I try not to use Flickr to document my life at all. Actually, I try to avoid it. But photos do tell a lot about who we are, places that we’ve gone to. I love the change of seasons, like Christmas, and in that way, a lot of my life is revealed through my pictures.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I was born drawing and painting, and I get my inspiration from the same source. Sometimes, I might see a shadow on the wall while I’m eating breakfast and it will result in a creative picture with good composition. I feel that taking pictures of famous mountains, or rivers, or buildings is not as creative as a macro, a reflection, or a shadow. Because anybody can see a mountain, but not everybody notices reflections.

Also, my husband and I go out taking pictures over the weekend. I love where I live, I love my surroundings, I love life. I don’t even think much when I’m taking pictures. I can take over a thousand in just one afternoon and not even notice it.

Was there a photo that you ever wanted to take but got away?
Yes. I have been involved with The James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness in the last 10 years, and last year, my husband and I were supporters of the fundraising at Sundance, Utah.

Here’s the scenario: I am in line waiting to be introduced to the press and talk to James Redford, Bob’s son who had two liver transplants and we were told not to take pictures of people, you know, to just stick to the trees and nature. Well, suddenly Bob and his daughter Amy Redford came and stood right before me. One of the people from the Institute apologized and said: This woman has someone in their family just going through a transplant. I was staring at Robert Redford’s neck. When he turned, we were face to face. I pointed my camera at him and said to myself: “I’m stupid if I don’t try.” But as I tried to take the picture, I go, “Oh, no! Battery exhaustion.” Bob said: “Too bad!” I spent hours laughing, as it was such an ironic moment.

What’s your six word memoir?
She laughed about everything, especially herself.

Previous Obsessed! with Web 2.0 Articles

Steve Ratner, Ebay.
Chris Thomas, Newsvine’s Newshound
Richard Farmbrough, the Wizard of Wikipedia.

Obsessed! eBay’s Big, Big Winner

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Steve Ratner, the 52-year-old principal of creative service agency, Ivy Creative, is many things to many people—a father, a husband, a commercial producer, a print designer, a brand builder, and more. One other title to add to Ratner’s robust resume: PayPal frequent buyer. Ratner has been purchasing products on eBay since 1998. In fact, Ratner’s collection is so vast that the inside of his entire house is almost completely stocked with products bought from eBay and other consumer-based websites. SMITH talked to the Southborough resident via phone.

SMITH: Why the urge to purchase everything in your house off of eBay?

Steve Ratner: It wasn’t everything. My wife Amy and I purchased many things, but it certainly wasn’t everything. We were building a modern house, and I wanted to have a shot at putting the best quality stuff in it for the first time around. In order to do that, I went on eBay to save as much money as I could, so it was a monetary thing. You can spend $100 on a faucet at Home Depot, or, you can get a really good deal on eBay and put in a $70 faucet instead.

What drew you into the world of eBay?

I’m into modern design, and it was a way of finding items that you couldn’t find anywhere around here in Southborough. And by modern design, I’m talking about chairs, tables, stuff like that. And that’s how I started out.

What do your friends think of all the stuff you buy off eBay?

Oh, they’re fascinated. All my friends say that if they were ever going to be buying a new house, they’d ask for my help. In fact, I have a good friend in New York who’s building a house and asked me for some of the online companies I dealt with when I was building my own house.

So, what would you do if somebody read this article and saw what you did with your house and then decided that they wanted to do the same thing with theirs?

I’d think it’s a great idea. Look, eBay has really made inroads in our society and the way people buy things. I mean, you wouldn’t buy a $50 dresser on eBay and pay 100 bucks to ship it from California. You just wouldn’t do that. But, you would if, say, the item you were buying was something that you couldn’t get anyplace else. I don’t know how familiar you are with modern designers, but there’s a guy named George Nelson who created a bunch of items in the 50s and 60s and these items are the new antiques if you’re into modern design. So, eBay’s a great place to find items like that. You know, very special items.

Would you say you’re obsessed with eBay?

No. It’s just another way of purchasing. There was an incident where my wife and I went shopping for a high-end couch for the house and it was very expensive. There was only one place in Boston that sold this particular couch, and when we went there, the customer service wasn’t great. We didn’t get treated well, and it was just a bad experience. So I went home and knew I would be able to get it someplace else, even if I went to New York. So I went online and found a place in London where I could buy it, and it ended up being one-third cheaper than buying it in Boston. So I bought it in England and had it shipped here. That was a good experience.

Might you know what your next purchase on eBay will be?

You know what’s interesting? I bought some art on eBay—high-end black and white photographs—and it might be something like that. Maybe a black-and-white photograph landscape or something. There are a certain a number of galleries I’ve visited.

What’s your six word memoir?

I don’t need six, all I need is three…less is more.

Previously Obsessed with Web 2.0 Articles

Chris Thomas, Newsvine’s Newshound.
Richard Farmbrough, the Wizard of Wikipedia.

Obsessed! Newsvine’s Newshound

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Newsvine launched in March 2006 as a new kind of community news site, one in which its readers suggest news stories, and even write them. The stories range from Iraqi bombings at an all time high to a principal throwing feces as students. No surprise then that Newsvine quickly became populated by frequent posters. And none post with the fervor of Chris “Killfile” Thomas, a 27-year-old web application developer from Christiansburg, Virginia. SMITH chatted with the newshound via email.
—Rich Knight

SMITH: What’s Christiansburg, Virginia like?
Chris Thomas: It’s a small town just outside of Blacksburg (home of Virginia Tech). For me, this is “enemy territory” in a sense. I graduated from UVA (Tech’s big rival) in 2002 and find myself introducing myself as the guy who went to the “other” Virginia University a lot. Old collegiate rivalries notwithstanding, it’s a nice little town.

Why the urge to write so many entries on Newsvine?
ChrisThomas.jpgWhen I graduated from UVA with a BA in History, I’d completed a degree in what I loved doing—writing and learning. But as I learned shortly thereafter, no one will pay you to write about the economic development of the post-Lenin Soviet Union unless you have a PhD. So, I went back to school and got a degree in computer science so that I could program, which, as it turns out, people will pay you for.

But, I still loved writing. For a while there, I had my own blog that no one really read. But when I stumbled upon Newsvine back in 2006, I found a community that enjoyed the same things I did. In that sense, it is not so much that I write many articles for Newsvine as that I write a lot and Newsvine has given me a place to put them and an audience to read them. I even get a cut of the ad proceeds from my column.

What kept you coming back to Newsvine?
The communal aspects of the site are more than a little bit addictive. Getting immediate feedback on everything you write, even comments and off the cuff remarks, really cements the notion of community and encourages participation. For me, that and the discovery of a group of similarly inclined writers, was enough and I was off to the races.

What was the first entry you ever wrote? Can you remember?
I can’t, but Newsvine can. It was entitled The Myth of Modern Communism (a rebuttal) and is still available on Newsvine. In a sense, it’s fitting that my first entry on Newsvine was a clarification of Marx, as that has been a battle I’ve fought over ever since. A lot of people have some very strong opinions about Marx and Marxist thoughts, but very few have actually taken the time to read his work. I don’t claim to be an expert on the matter, but I know enough to be dangerous.

What do your friends think of all the time you spend on Newsvine?
They’re very supportive and at least pretend to read my articles. I think they’re a little amused and a little curious about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I used to think they didn’t really take my writing seriously or pay that much attention. But when the Virginia Tech shootings happened on April 16, I did a running column as events broke on the scene. Most of my friends remembered that I write for Newsvine and expected that I’d be covering the shootings given my proximity, and they checked in on my column to see if my wife (who’s a post-grad at Tech) was OK. My friends outside of Blacksburg checked it throughout the day for information—often well ahead of the mainstream media. My friends in Blacksburg kept me posted on what they could see on Tech’s campus. I think we all saw some of what social media is capable of that day.

If somebody found out you had the most entries and wanted to beat your record, what would you do? Would you pull all-nighters to retain your crown?
That’s already happening. Newsvine recently absorbed the regulars from the New York Times‘ forums and one of the new users from that influx, epiphany sorbet, is setting new standards for volume of work. It won’t be long now until she blows past me at her current pace, and honestly, I don’t mind. Newsvine consists of two types of user submitted content—seeds and articles. Articles are where I feel I’m strongest at and where I get to really have fun. Seeds are more of a “I found this, and it’s important” type of thing—like a link to a web site or a breaking news story covered elsewhere.

Since epiphany sorbet showed up on the scene, I’ve been slacking off on my seeding since she gets to most of it first anyhow. So I’ve been concentrating more on my writing instead. In the long run, that’s probably best for Newsvine; even though it will probably see me dethroned as #1 on Newsvine’s leaderboard in a few months. On the other hand, obsessive seeding is what put me at the top of the leaderboard in the first place. So, yeah, it’s a little frustrating to see everything I encounter in my morning news sweep already tagged, cataloged, and posted. Que sera sera.

Do you have any obsessions besides Newsvine?
I’d say no, but my wife will tell you “yes.” I’m a PC Gamer, but I refuse to get into the Massively Multi-Player stuff like World of Warcraft. I still love and enjoy history, particularly Cold War history, enough so that my cats are named Nikitty Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. I also work a lot with a group called Special Love that provides services to children with cancer. Given how far I drive for that and how often I find myself going, that might count as an obsession too.

Do you think Newsvine is a better source of information than your nightly news?
There’s an old acronym from the early days of computing that really sums up Newsvine. GIGO—Garbage In, Garbage Out. You get what you put in. If you just show up, read the front page and read some stories, you’re likely to get something on par with the nightly news though differently focused. If you really participate, argue, comment, write, seed, and get involved in the community, though, you’ll vastly expand your awareness.

That said, a huge chunk of Newsvine’s content comes from mainstream media. For every citizen journalism story that breaks something big, there are a thousand seeds to media outlets and stories by professional reporters. A lot of people will tell you that that social media is going to change the world, and that might happen someday. For now sites like Newsvine aggregate the news. They don’t often break it.

To that end, Newsvine serves much the same roll as the nightly news—a roundup of the day’s stories. But unlike the nightly news, if you want to dig deeper, you can.

Tell us a story about yourself that you haven’t told anybody in a long time.
Some time back, I used to work phone support for DISH Network. The discount satellite TV provider has a technical call center located in Christiansburg, VA. For a year and a half, my 750 best friends and I staffed the place, typically for the evening shift. If you or someone you love is considering a career in phone support, let me urge you to reconsider. I have never worked a more unpleasant and spiritually draining job in my life.

What’s next for you on Newsvine?
That’s a tough one. With the Democratic Congressional victory in ‘06, I find myself leaning pretty hard into the Democrats to keep their campaign promises and that’s making me an agitator from the far political left. I’m not sure how I feel about that status. At the same time, there are the primaries coming up and the race of ‘08 is starting to heat up now, too. Honestly, I don’t have a plan. I respond to things as they happen and, if something comes my way, I’ll address it as best I can. News is, as they say, the first draft of history. Being in the middle of it all, it’s very hard to see the big picture. Looking back over my work as part of this interview, I’m struck by the sort of meandering path I’ve taken thus far. I think trying to plan it would take some of the spark out.

What’s your six word memoir?
Life is short; eat dessert first.

Image Source Courtesy of New York Times

Previously Obsessed with Web 2.0 Articles

Richard Farmbrough, the Wizard of Wikipedia.

The Wizard of Wiki

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Ever wonder who those people are who leave all those reviews on Amazon? Or who seem to find time to post 25 new YouTube videos a day, or link to story after story on Digg? In a new series of interviews, SMITH unearths some of the people who have made many, many contributions to the Net, each in their own particular way, while remaining mostly under the radar. Where better to begin than the wild, unwieldy, and wonderful world of Wikipedia? Meet Richard Farmbrough, a 45-year-old technology project manager living in Stamford, England—and the man with the most Wiki entries since its launch on January 15, 2001. SMITH contacted him via email.

SMITH: What’s Stamford like?
Richard Farmbrough: Stamford is a pleasant market town in the East of England region, it is generally affluent, and near the city of Peterborough. It has good transport links and an interesting history—see the Wikipedia article of the same name.

Why the urge to write and edit so many entries?
Wikipedia is such a good resource, it seems a shame to let gaps remain unfilled, or errors go by uncorrected. This is also in keeping with a community value indicated by the neologism “sofixit”—in other words, on Wikipedia, you are empowered to resolve problems, rather than relying on someone else to do it for you. Of course, some things require collaboration through talk pages and the many wiki-projects that cover everything from specialist subjects to article clean-up and helping new editors find their feet.

How did you get involved with Wikipedia?
Like most Wikipedians, I started with a minor edit, on a “talk page” (a page where an article is discussed). In my case, I increasingly found that I was, at that time, in a position to add to, correct or create many articles. After some time, I started reading the documents about Wikipedia and how it works, and realized that we were creating good content but with lots of stylistic, spelling, grammatical and other gaffes.

Wikipedia has a Manual of Style, so I read that, and started fixing “violations” wherever I came across them—such as by effectively proofreading, and to some extent, sub-editing. I became frustrated with finding the same errors again and again, and created tools to help find and eliminate them. Round about then, I came across Wikipedia “bots,” or robots, and started using one to fix common errors. That’s under a separate account and is, I believe, the Wikipedia editor with the most edits.

What was the first entry you ever wrote or edited?
My first article edit was to Modafinil a keep-awake drug I was investigating at the time. It’s pleasing to see the short article that was there then is now a substantial overview of the drug. The first article I created (you can’t really say you “wrote” an article on Wikipedia, since they are never finished, and have many editors) was Projective frame which is about a mathematical concept that has also been improved substantially–and the same day (I must have been getting into my stride) Ohio House of Representatives with a couple of lines, that are now a reasonable article, Spaghetti House siege substantially as it is now, and Black Liberation Army which again has grown to a reasonable article from my couple of lines.

What do your mates think of how much time you spend on Wikipedia?
Actually, I don’t spend all that much time on Wikipedia. I rarely get involved in the behind-the-scenes stuff; although, as an “administrator,” I get asked to help deal with vandals and disruptive behavior. Nor am I involved, at the moment, in anything that takes extensive research. Most of my edits (but by no means all) are minor clean-ups that take a few seconds—that’s the main reason I have so many edits.

If somebody were to find out that you had the most entries and wanted to beat your record, what would you do? Would you pull all-nighters to retain your crown?
I would encourage them to make sure that their edits were adding something of value. “Editcountitis” is a well-known affliction in the Wiki community, and to try and reduce it, I would freely state that I consider many editors have made more valuable contributions to the ‘pedia than I have. Of course, it’s “nice” to be at the top of the (human) list—especially as I considered it completely out of the question to be in the top 100 when I first saw it. But really, it’s not that big a deal; I don’t mention it on my user page, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to my family or friends.

Do you have any other obsessions besides Wikipedia?
Well, I am not actually obsessed with Wikipedia, despite appearances! If I am obsessed with anything, it is continuous improvement. I see Wikipedia as an example of this, as well as my own personal and family development. And the charity I’m involved with, which is trying to improve the education system.

Do you think Wikipedia is a better source of information than going to the library?
In some ways. The question only makes sense if you state who is looking for what, and which library is involved. For example, if you have a university library available to you, you will get more and better information on most subjects, except, perhaps, popular culture. If you only have a small-town library, you can probably find out as much or more from Wikipedia on many subjects, but it will be “chunked” differently—it might not be easy to learn calculus, certainly not Linux or Anglo-Saxon from Wikipedia (although, there are sister wikis which address these types of needs). The Wikipedia community has a strong belief in maintaining the goal of building an encyclopedia, rather than a how-to resource, a dictionary (though there is also Wiktionary) or “an indiscriminate collection of information.”

Tell us a story about yourself that you haven’t told anybody in a long time.
When I was about eight or nine, I was given a Junior Pears Encyclopedia–a single volume of about 600 pages. Not long after that, I decided it would be extremely useful to have a “book of everything,” since there was clearly a lot of ground missed out in this one. My book would probably have to run to several volumes, perhaps five or ten. I started by preparing some re-cycled envelopes where I could collect information, “The Elements” “The Solar System” “Napoleon” and “Nelson” were a few. Realizing I knew very little about Nelson and Napoleon, I made a trip to the largest local library I could get to, took one look at the biography shelves, and realized the futility of my endeavor. Twenty something years later, the Internet in general and Wikipedia in particular have re-awakened that boyhood dream.

What’s next for you on Wikipedia?
I’d like to create a mathematical model of the trends, to investigate how we best go about keeping the vitality of the enterprise without compromising content. It seems to me that while Wikipedia may be the embryonic form of something we don’t yet understand, it may also suffer from stultification and rot; when all the “easy” articles have been written and polished, who will keep an eye on minor jazz singers dates of birth.

If you could describe your experience as a Wikipedia writer in six words, what would they be?
Cool, frustrating, satisfying, friendly, challenging, educational.

What’s your Net obsession?

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