November 29, 2005

U2 Gets Business 2.0

U2 has always been a add to the reasons why this:

“We always said it would be pathetic to be good at the music and bad at the business,” said Paul McGuinness, the band's manager since the beginning. And while U2 hasn't become a Harvard Business School case study (at least not yet) it offers an object lesson in how media can connect with their customers.

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The New York Times
November 28, 2005
David Carr
Media Age Business Tips From U2

IN pop culture, nothing lasts forever. But U2 is coming close.

On the surface, the formula U2 used to send 20,000 fans into sing-along rapture at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday night was as old as rock 'n' roll: four blokes, three instruments, a bunch of good songs. Add fans, cue monstrous sound system, light fuse and back away.

But that does not explain why, 25 years in, four million people will attend 130 sold-out shows this year and next that will gross over $300 million and how their most recent album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” has already sold eight million copies.

For that, you have to look at U2 less as a band than as a multimillion-dollar, multinational media company, one of the smarter ones around.

“We always said it would be pathetic to be good at the music and bad at the business,” said Paul McGuinness, the band's manager since the beginning. And while U2 hasn't become a Harvard Business School case study (at least not yet) it offers an object lesson in how media can connect with their customers.

MEET THE CONSUMERS WHERE THEY LIVE For years, the U2 fanzine Propaganda was used to feed the tribe. The band's Web presence was restricted to temporary sites for specific tours. But in 2000, U2 opened an extensive Web site, with an index to every song and album, lyrics, tour news that is refreshed nightly and subscriber features - for those die-hards willing to part with $40 - that allowed them access to tickets, exclusive content and streaming downloads of every song and video the band has ever made.

APOLOGIZE, THEN MOVE ON With the Vertigo tour, it became apparent that some of those fans who had paid good money to join U2's Web site had been elbowed aside by scalpers in the scrum for tickets. The band's response was to apologize immediately and promise to do better.

“The idea that our longtime U2 fans and scalpers competed for U2 tickets through our own Web site is appalling to me,” the drummer Larry Mullen wrote in a statement issued by the band as soon as the problem arose. “I want to apologize to you who have suffered that.”

EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY While other big acts were scolding and threatening fans for downloading music or, in the case of Metallica, suing Napster, U2 was busy working on a new business model.

A collaboration with Apple yielded a U2 special edition iPod that was a smash hit and gave visibility to the band at a time when most radio station playlists don't extend much beyond a narrow selection of pop singers. With iTunes, U2 produced what may be the industry's first downloadable version of a box set, offering the band's entire musical history for $149.

“We thought it was an opportunity to be taken with both hands,” said Mr. McGuinness. Contrast that statement with anything from Hollywood on digital technology in the last three years.

DON'T EMBARRASS YOUR FANS Sure, U2 has recorded some clunkers (1997's “Pop” comes to mind) but the band works and reworks material until it has a whole album's worth of songs, no filler. Last Tuesday, the band played at least four of the songs from the current album, giving the songs a shot at entering the pantheon and affirming U2's status as a contemporary band, not a guilty pleasure or retro musical act that covers their own earlier greatness. (Quick, what's the last Rolling Stones' album?)

“Don't embarrass your fans,” Bono told The New York Times last year. “They've given you a good life.”

BE CAREFUL HOW YOU SELL OUT U2 has been offered as much as $25 million to allow a song to be used in a car commercial. No dice. They traded brands, not money, with Apple. Bob Dylan may wander around in a Victoria's Secret ad and The Who will rent “My Generation” to anybody with the wherewithal, but the only thing U2's music sells is U2. Just because it will fold and go in someone's pocket - The New Yorker publishing ads illustrated by its cartoonists comes to mind - does not mean it will be beneficial over the long haul.

EMBRACE POLITICIANS, NOT POLITICS I watched Bono, during the Republican Convention last year, hold Bill O'Reilly of Fox News rapt with a lengthy discussion of AIDS in Africa. Last summer, he posed for a photograph with President Bush, congratulating him for the work his administration had done for Africa.

“Their credibility is very strong,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a trade magazine covering the concert industry. “I don't think there is anybody who doesn't believe that they are sincere in what they are doing.”

(Bono came close to jumping the shark by donning a blindfold and miming a prison torture scene during “Bullet the Blue Sky,” the band's fatwa against United States military intervention and then saying at the end of the song, “This is dedicated to the brave men and women of the U.S. military.” Which of these things, Bono?)

IT'S CALLED SHOW BUSINESS FOR A REASON In 1980, I was standing with my sister at First Avenue bar in Minneapolis watching a then little-known band from Dublin take the stage. The Edge, the band's lead guitarist, kicked into a chiming, ringing salute, the opening chords of “I Will Follow.” Bono ambled out, absently drinking a glass of water and when the drummer kicked in, Bono tossed the water into the lights above him, a mist enshrouding him - and us - as he stepped to the mike.

Much theatrical and musical combustion ensued, on that night and in the decades since. The current show is a testament to reinvestment, with a huge lighting and stage structure that managed to make Madison Square Garden seem like a cozy church, the backdrop for a secular sacrament. The Vertigo tour included seven curtains of lights, consisting of 12,000 individual bulbs, and a heart-shaped runway that may have wiped out a few hundred prime seats, but allowed thousands more to feel engaged as The Edge and Bono strode out along it during songs.

SEIZE THE MOMENT, BUT DON'T STEAL IT For years, U2 declined invitations to play at the Super Bowl, but the first one held after the attacks of Sept. 11 had special significance. Bono, in the middle of singing “Beautiful Day,” slyly opened his coat to hundreds of millions of viewers and revealed it was lined with the American flag. The band adopted industrial and electronic motifs into their music in the 90's to give currency to their sound and then promptly stripped it down for the current tour. Not every gesture and instinct resonates: Let's not forget Bono's decision to go with a mullet in the mid-80's.

AIM HIGH As the central icon in the Church of the Upraised Fist - a temporary concert nation of gesturing frat boys, downloading adolescents and aging rockers reliving past glories - Bono can command his audience to do anything. During the concert last Tuesday, Bono asked the audience to send, via text message, their full names to One, an organization that fights AIDS and global poverty. They happily complied and their names were flashed on screen between encores. MTV's “Total Request Live” may attract a wider audience, but its members probably aren't made to think they are part of something bigger.

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November 28, 2005

Label's Approval Ratings

The way the record companies are currently dealing with the change that's occurring in their industry is sure to be the stuff of future business school case studies (if it isn't already...if it is drop a comment and let us know where). I've been ranting about this on and off for some time now but who am I...when the LA Times and the WSJ Editorial pages weigh in you know you're hitting more mainstream. Both articles are posted here for your reading pleasure...

“It's been six years since the entertainment industry loosed its lawyers on the makers of Internet file-sharing software, and two years since the industry began suing the people who use it. By and large, it's winning these legal battles -- including a court-ordered shutdown of Napster in 2001 and a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling against Grokster in June. But that doesn't mean it's winning the war...”

Written while groovin' to Naweye Toro from the album “In The Heart Of The Moon” by Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate

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November 26, 2005; Page A10

It's been six years since the entertainment industry loosed its lawyers on the makers of Internet file-sharing software, and two years since the industry began suing the people who use it. By and large, it's winning these legal battles -- including a court-ordered shutdown of Napster in 2001 and a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling against Grokster in June. But that doesn't mean it's winning the war.

In fact, Americans continue to download music and movies using these so-called “peer-to-peer,” or P2P, networks in record numbers. Through its trade association, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the music industry has sued more than 15,000 people in the past two years alone. Yet over that same period, traffic on file-sharing networks doubled, according to Big Champagne, a media company that measures P2P activity. Halfway through this year, volume had climbed to nearly nine million downloads, a new high and a 20% increase over last year.

Those numbers would seem to validate the findings of a 2004 paper on file-sharing trends by researchers at UC San Diego and UC Riverside. Using empirical data, it concluded that between 2002 and 2004, “P2P activity has not diminished. On the contrary, P2P traffic represents a significant amount of Internet traffic and is likely to continue to grow in the future, RIAA behavior notwithstanding.”

The industry has every right to continue this behavior; downloading the new Harry Potter movie or Black Eyed Peas CD tracks without paying for them should satisfy any definition of intellectual-property theft. The more interesting question is whether litigation is the best long-term strategy for combating digital piracy. How viable is a business model based on suing your customers, especially when the lawsuits appear to be having no deterrent effect?

It's too bad, but history shows that the entertainment industry is much more inclined to fight new technologies than embrace them. Songwriters tried to sue the player piano out of existence a century ago. Vaudeville performers sued Guglielmo Marconi for inventing the radio. Disney and Universal sued Sony for making the Betamax VCR. And cable entrepreneurs over the years have been dragged into court by everyone from television broadcasters to the Motion Picture Association of America. If music and movie moguls had their druthers, they would have monopoly control over any device or platform capable of reproducing sound or pictures.

Which is to say that we can expect this litigious war against the Web to continue for now. Content is king, and content providers fear disruptive new technologies that could pose a threat to the existing order. With Grokster, the plaintiffs were hoping the court would overturn its landmark 1984 Betamax decision, which held that VCRs did not violate copyright law because the technology was “capable of substantial noninfringing uses.” But rather than addressing this core issue of whether P2P networks meet the Betamax standard, the court chose to focus its ruling on Grokster's business plan. Because the company was actively promoting a product for infringing uses, Grokster was found liable.

“It's a bit disappointing that we didn't get any clarity about the Betamax test here,” says Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represented StreamCast Networks, a Grokster co-defendant and fellow file-sharing software company. “That's the more interesting and harder question that was put to the court. When can you be liable based on what your customers do with the technology?”

Companies may yet come up with more legitimate file-sharing models and better controls, so it's better that the court didn't rule P2P networks illegal as such. But by largely ducking this debate, the Grokster decision only adds legal uncertainty to the technology sector and could undercut innovation and investment in new products. There's a reason companies like Intel and every major Internet service provider sided with Grokster. They are worried about a situation in which lawyers replace engineers on design teams. And smaller companies who want to innovate, but find themselves in some grey area where customers could use their product for copyright infringement, better make sure they have a huge war chest for litigation costs before proceeding.

The lesson music and movie lobbyists take from their Grokster victory is to stay the course. But Tim Lee, a technology and intellectual-property expert at the Show Me Institute in St. Louis, says that suing tech companies and music fans ultimately is a fool's errand. “I don't think they fully grasp the size of the challenge they face,” he says. “It will be an arms race. P2P networks will improve. The recording industry will find a new way to catch people, and P2P networks will find better ways to avoid getting caught.”

The fundamental problem, says Mr. Lee, is that the Internet itself is a peer-to-peer network. If two willing people want to exchange files, you're never going to be able to limit their ability to do so in a nation of 290 million people. Besides, you wouldn't have time to sue them all even if you could catch them.

The copyright laws we live by today were written to go after commercial piracy. They are based on the idea that you can use control of the ability to make copies as a basis on which to remunerate content providers. No one envisioned a time when we would all be in possession of computers that can make copies as freely and easily as we now can.

Moreover, the copyright system is based on moral precepts that most people today accept. But will future generations raised with P2P technologies see piracy differently? “If I were a recording industry executive,” says Mr. Lee, “I would be looking very hard at business models that embrace P2P technology, not looking to lawyers to thwart it.”


Los Angeles Times
File under meek
November 11, 2005

CHALK UP ANOTHER HOLLOW victory for the entertainment industry in its crusade against piracy. This week, the major music and movie companies reached a legal settlement with longtime nemesis Grokster Ltd., ending a four-year court battle. But the industry's quest to choke off the supply of digital bootlegs remains as difficult as ever, and it's unlikely to succeed until it recognizes how the demand for music and movies has changed.

Grokster's software lets users tap into one another's computers over the Internet, enabling them to search through an ocean of digital files and make free copies of whatever they like. Although that sort of sharing isn't necessarily illegal, much of the activity on Grokster was - in particular, the copying of copyrighted songs, movies and games.

As part of the settlement, Grokster agreed to stop distributing the program and pay $50 million in damages. The company also announced plans to offer a new file-sharing service that does not violate copyright laws. The deal, however, won't have much affect on the people using Grokster software. Like angry words that can't be taken back, the software cannot be recalled or shut off.

Meanwhile, users have plenty of other sources for free downloads. It's true that the ranks of commercial file-sharing companies have been thinning since June, when the Supreme Court ruled that they could be sued for promoting piracy. But plenty of file-sharing networks remain, including noncommercial ones that could prove impossible to stop in court.

As long as there is a powerful demand for free downloads, the entertainment industry cannot hope to curb piracy by shuttering file-sharing companies one by one. Nor has it made much of a dent in online piracy by suing thousands of people on file-sharing networks for allegedly violating copyrights.

Instead, the industry needs to offer the millions of people on file-sharing networks something that's both legal and more compelling than Grokster. Apple's iTunes Music Store may have sold more than half a billion downloadable songs in the last year and a half, and RealNetworks may have signed up more than a million people for its subscription music services, but they're not converting the masses. Doing so will require more choices, and especially ones that look and feel like the most popular sources of free music on the Net.

One emerging alternative is file-sharing companies offering filtered networks that let users sample songs for free, then charge them for tracks they can burn onto CDs or transfer to a portable device. It's an idea that has promise, but the industry needs to do more than just change the way music is delivered. It has to change what it charges for that music and how it lets customers listen to it.

The enormous number of songs downloaded on file-sharing networks shows that the industry, with its slumping CD sales, isn't satisfying the demand for music. Cutting down the supply of free file-sharing software isn't as important as meeting the new generation of demand.

Los Angeles Times
Out of tune
November 28, 2005

SONY BMG, THE WORLD'S second-largest record company, shot itself in the foot so badly this month that it may have wounded the entire music industry. Its disastrous dalliance with invasive anti-piracy technology gives music fans yet another reason to view the major record labels as victimizers, not victims.

With its CD sales slumping and market share dwindling, Sony BMG has been unusually aggressive in its efforts to stop people from getting songs for free. This year it has focused on stopping CDs from being copied, a phenomenon that the Recording Industry Assn. of America recently ranked as the industry's biggest problem.

It's a tricky proposition, both technically and culturally. CDs were not designed to prevent copying, and music lovers in the U.S. have grown accustomed to copying music onto their computers, portable devices and recordable CDs. But Sony BMG was dazzled by new anti-piracy technologies that promised to stop computers from making more than a few copies of a CD. The company decided this year to put these technologies on every disc it released.

Unfortunately for Sony BMG - and luckily for everyone else - a computer whiz discovered that this new technology surreptitiously loaded programs onto a PC that hid themselves from view and resisted removal. This approach created an alarming vulnerability that hackers were quick to exploit. Sony BMG and its partner soon offered a program to fix that problem, but the software made it possible for hackers to hijack users' computers through the Web.

Finally sensing that the technology did more harm than good, the label recalled about 5 million CDs that used the controversial software - more than 50 titles. Anyone who bought one of the affected discs can exchange it for an untainted version.

The recall is costly, but it may be the least of the record company's worries. The Texas attorney general, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and several private lawyers have filed lawsuits against Sony BMG, arguing that the anti-piracy software violated consumers' rights or state laws.

Undeterred, Sony BMG continues to put out CDs carrying anti-copying software by another anti-piracy software outfit. According to the Freedom to Tinker blog, putting one of these CDs into a computer installs hard-to-remove software that alerts the company whenever a CD loaded with its technology is played.

This kind of invasiveness is mind-boggling, and what does it accomplish? It doesn't stop piracy. Anyone who wants to make a few hundred duplicates of a new Sony BMG release can easily find versions online that can be copied without limit.

In fact, Sony BMG's tactics might have the opposite effect. “Digital rights management” technology can be a boon to consumers, enabling new ways to experience music that are more flexible and personalized than 12 songs sold on a plastic disc. But Sony BMG used the technology to give CD buyers less than they're accustomed to, effectively treating every customer as a potential lawbreaker.

As a result, many music fans are more resistant to the whole idea of rights management. It's hard to blame them when its purpose is not so much to manage their rights as to reduce them.

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November 25, 2005

Chubby Vegan

If the monster truck rally advert guys created commercials for vegan restaurants they might look like this. Oh, and this doesn't appear to be a joke either.

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November 24, 2005

iTunes in the Top Ten

Apple's iTunes Music Store (within which many new homies work) has broken the top ten for music sales in America.

Understatement alert: “Music and movies industry analyst Russ Crupnick of NPD said he believed it was 'not inconceivable' to see iTunes taking a greater lead over retailers in the future.”

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November 23, 2005


Buy one for your kids here (out of stock at press time).

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An MPAA lobbyist spoke to group of UCLA students about pirating. They seemed to enjoy it, they responded with pirate sounds.

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November 18, 2005

Colored B ubbles

Colored bubbles might just be the coolest kids idea I've heard of in a while (the other being the air pumped balloons that fly all over the park like crazy, inevitably introducing us to a whole slew of curious park kids). The story of Zubbles is a fascinating one too. Read about the “holy grail” of children's toys.

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November 16, 2005

Borat's Busted

Borat got busted at the European VMA's. I have no idea why:

Introducing Coldplay:
“Next is one of the most famous bands in the world. We all love very much. Please enjoy... Green Day!

Following Madonna's performance:
”That singer before me. Who was it? It was very courageous of MTV to start the show with a genuine transvestite, he was very convincing. It was only his hands and his testi satchels that gave it away.“

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Investigation, Indictment (aka Rove & Libby)

Vera and Jim are very dear friends who win the costume contest in my estimation. As with many things in life, timing is everything...their was impeccable.

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Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

Chuck Norris is currently suing NBC, claiming Law and Order are trademarked names for his left and right legs.

This stuff's funny...
Written while groovin' to The Turn (Feat. Raekwon) from the album “Tical 0: The Prequel” by Method Man

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November 15, 2005

So Sue Me

As if we needed further evidence that the music industry (in this case the International Federation for the Phonographic-yes, phonographic-Industry) doesn't get it, we get the following quote:

“This is a shame for a country which has produced so much good music,” he said, referring to ABBA, Ace of Base and The Cardigans.

This was at the press release where “The Federationannounced they were gonna sue more international music lovers. Might I suggest a plan B at this point?

Written while groovin' to Bridge Over Troubled Water from the album “American IV: The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash

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November 14, 2005

Controlling the Internets

Dear administration: I thought you loved the internets (your words, not mine)? If so, why would you wanna control them so tightly?

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Bill Maher's Playlist

Who knew Bill Maher was a hip-hop head.

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November 13, 2005

Stop. Action!

I have a great deal of patience for anyone who's willing to invest the time to make a movie (or in this case video) using stop action photography. This song is stuck in my head and a big part of the reason is this inventive video.

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Grille Art

Picture 1-1
So it appears that the above is a theme for at least the last couple of days. Courtesy of MarkT. comes the article in the Sunday Times about trucks owners attaching old stuffed animals to the front of their vehicles. An interesting read:

“Like all adornments, of course, the grille pet advertises something about its owner. The very act of decorating a truck indicates an openness on the driver's part, according to Dan DiVittorio, owner of D & N Services, a carting company in Queens, and of a garbage truck with a squishy red skull on the front.”
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November 11, 2005

For A Couple Homies

You know who you are (props MG).

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November 10, 2005

Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene
Last San Francisco with the cool kids of Apple marcomm. My back as sore and I thought it was too loud at times. I'm getting old. Get off my front lawn you kids!

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November 06, 2005

Inappropriate Laughter?

You're talking to someone who's telling you a tragic story. They have a high-pitched voice that makes you wanna laugh. What do you do? I was there many a time as a kid...the room is dead quiet and your buddy (BuggaSG) is trying to make you laugh. You think this one's real?

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Two New York Times Articles

Google Scares Wal-Mart (among others)
Yahoo! [still] Matters

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November 05, 2005

10 Minutes...

...and I'm still mesmerized by it.

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November 04, 2005

Vanderslice Interviewed

I've been increasingly getting into San Francisco recording artist (and friend of multiple friends) John Vanderslice. If you haven't checked him out before you should. He's a talented song-writer and, as importantly, is a total musical gear head. The common man can access this gear at his local recording studio, Tiny Telephone. I'd like to record either there of at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio. Reading this interview confirms what I'd suspected, that JV is talented and well-balanced. He also gets the fact that his fans make him...and so the MP3's linked to above are full-length and come in very high-quality bit-rates. Listen to the new album on headphones to feel the beauty of the production. Hi- and Lo-fi at the same time...

“You listen to 1950s RCA Living Stereo Recordings or Rudy Van Gelder's Coltrane recordings: In many ways these are very, very hi-fi recordings probably made with U47 microphones and 48s and 49s, and you know a shitload of money was thrown into this room. So it's weird. What people equate with hi-fi is a careful, nattering L.A. nip-and-tuck kind of approach, like late-period Steely Dan would be everyone's clichéd idea of a painfully hi-fi record. But there's a lot of records I would call hi-fi. A lot of Clash records, for instance -- you wouldn't necessarily catch that they're in a four-million-dollar studio, but they are, and it really does sound that way.”

Written while groovin' to Ambition from the album “Mass Suicide Occult Figurines” by John Vanderslice

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November 03, 2005


Picture 1
Takayasu Tanaka takes the game of Yo-Yo to a whole new level. Seeing this reminds me of the first time I heard the Invisible Skratch Piklz. They took turntablism to an entirely new level...they literally changed the game. So much so, in fact, that they were barred from participating in international scratch competitions because they won so many times.

Written while groovin' to Final Day from the album “Peel Sessions” by Galaxie 500

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November 02, 2005

Da Politics

We try to stay politically neutral here and focus on the issues (tongue is bleeding). ErikH, he of left-leaning values, has passed along something too good not share. Tired of losing? Become republican.

Written while groovin' to Lyrical Swords (Featuring Gza & Ras Kass) from the album “Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture” by Think Differently Music & Gza & Ras Kass

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Star Wars

...presented as a 129x78 pixel animated gif.

Written while groovin' to The Story of Us from the album “The Loneliest Punk” by Fatlip

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