Wednesday, March 16, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [March 15th]” plus 8 more “Cool Websites and Tools [March 15th]” plus 8 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [March 15th]

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 08:31 PM PDT

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. You can make use of them without spending a dime. If you want to have similar cool websites round-ups delivered to your email daily email subscribe here.

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Alert Map – If you think that disasters only come a few times a year, this tool will make you think again. Alert Map is a real-time disaster map that logs and plots emergencies and tragedies happening around the world. Various kinds of disasters are plotted on this Google-based map such as epidemic hazards. Read more: Alert Map: A Real-Time Disaster Map


World Time Buddy – How many times have you paused for a moment trying to figure out the current time in Chicago in the US or Sydney in Australia? Despite knowing the difference in hours, it is not easy figuring out if it's currently 1.00pm or 2.00pm in Chicago. That's exactly why World Time Buddy is really cool. Read more: World Time Buddy: Comparing Time Zones Made Easy



YTPlaylist – is a nifty YouTube playlist maker that helps you effortlessly create playlists out of different videos, and then share them with friends or embed them on your website. What I like about this tool is its user interface and the various options it provides. When you search for videos, they appear on the right sidebar. Read more: YTPlaylist: Create, Share & Embed YouTube Playlists – If you are into creating crazy or funny looking avatars then you will like this new service called It helps you create an 8 bit avatar of yourself. You need to sign up with them via Twitter (uses OAuth) and then you can create a full-body avatar that shows a slight movement too. Their homepage displays some examples of user avatars. Read more: Create An 8-Bit Avatar of Yourself



Talkwebby – While streaming online videos, most people do not bother scrolling down the page and reading the comments left for the video. This is why it would be best to let the users read the comments right there on the video. Talkwebby is a tool that helps you achieve this. Talkwebby is a plug-in and widget for various blogging platforms. Read more: Talkwebby: Adds a Shortcut To Comments On Your Embedded Videos


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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The 10 Toughest Tech Questions [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 06:31 PM PDT

tough questionMakeUseOf Answers has helped hundreds of people with their tech challenges and we want to help thousands more, solving one question at a time. Below are ten questions that have yet to be solved. Maybe you know the solution?

Your contribution could be rewarded with cash in our Best Answer of the Week contest. The best answer wins $50 and two runners-up win $30 and $20, respectively. To enter the contest you must submit a comment and use valid login details.

The following questions are still hoping to be answered:

MakeUseOf Answers comes in three different flavors: Latest Questions, Most Popular Questions, or Unanswered Questions. For regular updates subscribe to the Answers RSS Feed.

Need help? Ask A Question at MakeUseOf Answers.



8 Best Mobile Video Players For The Android Phone

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 02:31 PM PDT

mobile video playersAndroid has quite a few mobile video players available, so as users, it can be difficult to choose the best without trying them all one by one. There are so many things to be considered – and you can’t always rely on ratings alone.

To help narrow down the choices for you, we’ve collected a list of Android’s top mobile video players, so you can just get on with the fun of watching your videos.

1. VPlayer

VPlayer is my personal favourite simply because it’s so versatile and can be kept on the SD card, which is handy since it’s over 3MB. It plays all the major video formats, plus it can handle a variety of streaming video types. The free trial is fully featured, and the paid version is only a few dollars if you choose to upgrade.

mobile video players

2. RealPlayer

RealPlayer is an audio player as well as a video player. It has a handy interface to navigate between media types easily and can even display your photos. Sadly, it’s 3MB and can’t be moved to a SD card, so it’s only useful for users without space issues on their phone. It doesn’t say exactly which files it will play, but it couldn’t play my MP4′s. It played my home videos beautifully though.

android video player

3. Act 1 Video Player

Act 1 Video Player is designed to play iPhone formats like 3gp, h263, and h264 baseline profile. It also claims to play some baseline MP4 files, but not all (it had no problem with mine). Other files will need converting, but the developer page does point you in the direction of some free software that will do the job nicely. Act 1 is not only a tiny 500KB, but it can also be moved to your SD card.

android video player

4. Arc Media

Arc Media player can support a wide variety of video formats, including AVI, DIVX, MKV, MOV, MP4, RMVB, WMV, VOB and XVID. It’s still in beta, but is widely appreciated by testers so far.

android video player

5. Meridian

Meridian is a huge 2.5MB, but can easily be moved to the SD card. It asks where your media is kept and quickly finds all of it. Gestures for navigating are intuitive and quick to use.

best android video player

6. mVideoPlayer

The mVideoPlayer app comes with rave reviews in the Android market. However, this app will only play whichever formats are already supported by your phone. Its 2.6MB install can be moved to the SD card, which is good news. The first search for video files will take a while, but it should load quicker in the future.

best android video player

7. RockPlayer Lite

RockPlayer is an ad-supported media player which at a massive 13MB fails to live up to the light impression. Thankfully, it can be moved to the SD card. Plays video smoothly and well.

best android video player

8. VitalPlayer

VitalPlayer’s 5MB install can be automatically installed to your SD card. Sorry, VitalPlayer isn’t yet supported on Gingerbread.

mobile video players

More Android Apps

For more neat Android apps, read these articles:

If you’ve had a go using some of these mobile video players, let us know what you thought and which ones you think are best!

Got Questions? Ask Them Now FREE on MakeUseOf Answers!



Hot Tech Deals [Mar 15th]

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 01:30 PM PDT

If you’re in the market for a new computer, laptop, mobile phone, games and other accessories; don’t waste your time searching online. We’ve taken the liberty of locating the best tech deals and unifying them into a single post for your convenience.

For more fresh hot deals, visit our Hot Tech Deals page, which is constantly updated.

  1. Dell Inspiron 15R Intel Core i5-460M 2.53GHz 15.6in Laptop (6GB/640GB/Radeon HD5650) w/ Netgear Push 2 TV $649 via code 0CQ6F64K$ZCPV$ (Exp Soon)
  2. Dell Inspiron One 2305 All-In-One Desktop Computer w/ 23in Touchscreen LED LCD, 2yr Warranty, $50 Gift Card $699 via code 39PZGRRWQN?VT4 (Exp Soon)
  3. Dell XPS 8300 Intel Core i5-2400 Quad-Core Sandy Bridge Desktop (8GB/1.5TB/Blu-Ray/Radeon w/ $100 Gift Card $899
  4. Dell XPS 17 Intel Core i7-2630QM Quad-Core Sandy Bridge 17.3in 1080p Laptop w/ 3D Capability & Blu-Ray $1299.99 via code 932N$0ZCCHWZB9 (Exp 3/31)
  5. Dell XPS 17 Intel Core i7-2630QM Quad-Core Sandy Bridge 17.3in Laptop (6GB/640GB/Geforce GT550M) $929.99 via code 932N$0ZCCHWZB9 (Exp 3/31)
  6. Dell Streak 7 7in Touchscreen Smartphone (T-Mobile’s First 4G Tablet) $179.99 w/ Contract via code VR9M094JL?RXBK (Exp Soon)
  7. Lenovo G460 Intel Core i5-480M Dual-Core 2.66GHz 14in Laptop (4GB/500GB/Win7) $549 via code EMERALDISLE (Exp Soon
  8. Lenovo IdeaPad Y560 Intel Core i5-480M 2.66GHz 15.6in Laptop (4GB/500GB/Radeon HD5730) $699 via code LEPRECHAUN (Exp 3/17)
  9. Lenovo IdeaPad U260 Intel Core i3-380UM ULV 12.5in Laptop/Netbook Hybrid $699 Free Shipping via code LUCKYDEAL (Exp 3/16)
  10. Lenovo IdeaPad U460 Intel Core i3-380M 2.53GHz 14in Laptop (4lbs/4GB/500GB/8-Cell Battery) $549 via code SHAMROCK (Exp 3/17)
  11. Lenovo Y560p Intel Core i7-2630 Quad-Core Sandy Bridge 15.6in Laptop (8GB/500GB/Radeon 6550) $8 via code POTOFGOLD (Exp 3/17)

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Blogs For Stunning Infographic Collections

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 12:31 PM PDT

infographic blogsInfographics could be a cool solution for information overload. What makes them cooler and eye-catching are of course, the nicely done visuals.

Information graphics (i.e. inforgraphics) takes boring data and statistics and dresses them up with graphics, illustrations, and colors. The advantage is that with a quick glance you can grasp the essence of the information being dished out.

But infographics aren't about data visualization alone; they are also a lot about creativity.  Angela's post on 10 Awesome Free Tools To Make Infographics shows that there are enough tools for the job, but crafting an infographic is an art form in itself.

At MakeUseOf, we frequently showcase infographics which simplify the complex technological world. If you have already fallen in love with this visual language, then let's feast our eyes on some of the best infographic blogs and websites that showcase the coolest ones.

Cool Infographics

infographic blog

See the popular caffeine poster, and thank Randy Krum for making it and the blog that highlights some of the best examples of data visualizations and infographics found in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet.

Daily Infographic

infographic bloggers

The site says it's about an infographic each day. You can subscribe to their feed or get one delivered to your inbox each day. The infographics are collected from different sources on the web and categorized. The collection is growing and you can find quite a few good ones in it. I liked the one on Steve Jobs.

Chart Porn

infographic bloggers

It's not only infographics the way we usually see it, but also colorful charts, maps, graphs, and other forms of visual data displays that makes up this site. If you go by the categories, then this site has a very large collection which originally started out with the mesh of economics and graphic design, but now has a diverse range of topics. Some categories are devoted to well known sources of infographics like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. My recommendation: go over to the Humor section first (e.g. The Procrastination Flowchart).

Visual Complexity

infographic bloggers

The site gives you a more 'visual' way of going over a collection of information graphics. The site looks at these data charts as projects and currently indexes around 751 of them. The site has a more scientific bent because it seeks to understand the visual language by studying different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web.

Simple Complexity

infographic blogosphere

Simple Complexity is an individual blog that has posts and resources aiming to reduce the complexity of data. A lot of it deals with the visual representation of data. The Visualization Gallery has a large collection of graphics arranged as thumbnails which you can click and go to the larger versions.

Submit Infographics

infographic blogosphere

Again, a collection of infographics scouted out from the corners of the web. But here, you can also submit your own creations via a submission form. The site is fairly new, but is building up with a small but interesting section on video infographics.

Information Aesthetics

infographic blogosphere

This is a nicely done professional site that seeks to collect projects that represent data or information in original or intriguing ways. True to their words, some of the infographics on the site are really unique as the site is not simply about the colorful chart type of infographic but also any form that relates to creative design and information.

Flowing Data

This is a blog by Nathan Yau who is a visual and social data enthusiast. He has his own projects on the site along with the ones collected from other websites.

Column Five Media

The interactive design company behind this website is also into design and creation of infographics so you can expect to find a lot of original stuff here for some well known clients. The best way to explore this site is through the categories and tags on the right sidebar.

All Top – Top Infographics News

infographic blog

AllTop is an online aggregator and thus a more efficient way of keeping up with all the great infographic links on the web. Most of the above sites also get a space here and you can catch all the updated headlines here. So, if you like infographics do bookmark this site for infographic news.

Infographics are not only about creating stunning graphics from statistical information. They are also a handy tool to make all that boring data a bit more interesting. Also, as I have found out from my browsing, an infographic is a better retention tool when you want to remember a whole lot of data and correlate it with each other.

Do you see the value of infographics? Let us know about any nice ones you might have come across.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Blogger Finally Gets An Overhaul With New Dashboard & Features [News]

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 11:31 AM PDT

Google announced an overhaul of Blogger yesterday, which vastly improves the user interface for its many users worldwide. Google has been steadily improving Blogger’s service over 2010, adding features like template designer, comments spam filtering, web fonts and more, yet Google says the Blogger revamp is just the beginning of a big year of upgrades to Blogger in 2011.

The dashboard interface has been redesigned to be more modern and user-friendly, giving easy access to statistics, layout editing and useful features for writing new blog posts. Google used their Google Web Toolkit to create the new interface, showcasing just how powerful the Web Toolkit really is.

Compare these screenshots of the old Blogger dashboard and the new dashboard.

See also the difference between the old Blogger post editor and the new post editor.

Google has also released a content discovery tool, which determines the content of the Blogger page you’re reading and suggests related material you might also enjoy.

Check out Blogger’s promotional video to see examples of some of the new features in action.

In a recent study of popular blogging platforms, Blogger was praised for flawless uptime statistics and therefore proving itself to be the most reliable free blogging platform. Do you agree? Or do you think that WordPress can’t be beaten?

Source: TechCrunch

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Make Your Videos Compatible With All Devices With The Help Of [Unlimited Invitation Code]

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 10:31 AM PDT

video compatibilityWorldwide Internet connection speeds used to be the biggest problem when it came to distributing videos in the virtual world. The dial-up modem speed limited the web to only text and minimal graphics. Now however, downloading gigabytes of files is no problem to web users.

But today’s high speed Internet brings a new problem to the video distribution world: video compatibility. There are many ways and devices that you can use to access video on the net but each requires a specific format of video. If you have videos that you want to share with the world, transcoding them to be compatible with all the devices and browsers out there could be a very tedious process.

Meet, a web service that promises to do all the hard work for you, so you can concentrate on producing great videos to share.

One Link To Rule Them All

The basic workflow is this. You provide a video, will transcode it into several versions, store the results on their server, then give you the link to the video for you to share. will detect every browser and every device that visits the link and then matches them with the appropriate video format.

You can see on the table the various formats that are supported by Not only browsers and mobile devices, also supports video streaming to game consoles.

video compatibility

Before you can use, you will need an invitation code as the service is currently in beta. The developer has been kind enough to give MakeUseOf readers an unlimited invitation code (thanks, Jeff!). The code is HNY2011. Just enter that code into the box provided on the main webpage.

make video compatible

Then after getting access to the service, click “Start” on the right.

make video compatible

You will be asked to locate the video that you want to convert. You can provide the link to videos stored on the web – either in FTP or HTTP, Amazon S3 services or another cloud service. You can also upload any video stored inside your hard drive. Click “Next” and that’s it.

make video compatible

The next step is to wait. Provide with your email address so that you can be notified via email when your video is ready. Click “Finish” after writing down the address.

software video compatibility

If you want to know the progress of your video conversion, you can monitor the progress status box where the service logs each and every step along the way.

software video compatibility

If you choose to upload video from your hard drive, you can also see how utilizes almost all the screen area as the uploading progress bar.

software video compatibility

Sharing The One Link

After the process is finished, you will get a video link. You can share this one link to your friends without worrying about the technicalities.

There are many sharing methods supported by including several major social networks.

04a Share  Social

If you prefer to share the link directly to your friends’ mobile, you can send them a text message by entering their phone number and clicking the “send sms” button.

05b Direct Mobile

You can also embed the video to your blog or website simply by copying and pasting the provided script. If needed, you can change the video size by proportionally modifying the width and height tags in the script.

05c Embed Code

For those who still utilize legacy flash players on their site, also has your back by providing a method to do direct FLA plays.

05d Direct FLA

After The Links

Aside from making your own videos available, you can also utilize to transcode interesting online videos that you stumble onto so that those videos are also available for your other devices and can be shared with your friends. All you need is the direct address of the video (the one that ends with the video format). Unfortunately, this method does not work with YouTube videos.

Please note that the success rate of the transcoding process during my experiment is not 100%. Maybe it’s because the service is still in the beta stage. Hopefully everything will be tuned to perfection for the final stage when they open their doors to the general public.

I would like to point out one other thing. Even though the invitation code I provided above ( HNY2011 ) should be enough for everybody, there’s the possibility that the code will be expired. So I would like to ask for help from those of you who have already got in to share your own invitation code using the comments below (you can view your invitation code by emailing them to yourself).

video compatibility

After you have tried, please share your thoughts and opinions about the video compatibility service using the comments below.

Got Questions? Ask Them Now FREE on MakeUseOf Answers!



8 Spectacularly Wrong Predictions About Computers & The Internet

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 09:31 AM PDT

wrong computer predictionsPredictions are a risky business. Even more so if they are about the immediate future. Once shown to be wrong, the words return to their origin like a boomerang and the quotes will forever haunt the speaker.

Over the past century, technology has advanced at a pace that almost makes Gene Roddenberry and other ‘futurists’ look like prophets. However, they were dreamers and many of those that made serious forecasts lacked both imagination and foresight. In this article I will review 8 famous predictions about computers and the Internet that, in hindsight, proved to be incredibly wrong.

1. Popular Mechanics, 1949

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.

- Popular Mechanics, 1949

The first general-purpose electronic computer, the ENIAC, was completed in 1947 and weighed almost 30 tons. [Source: Wikipedia] The prediction is actually correct, but maybe a tiny little bit too conservative.

2. Editor of Prentice Hall business books, 1957

I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year.

- Editor of Prentice Hall business books, 1957

The Editor had turned down a manuscript discussing the science behind data processing and the above was his explanatory statement. The New York Times comments: “Fads have a way of sticking around long after those who call them that are gone.” [Source: The New York Times]

3. Ken Olsen, 1977

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.

- Ken Olsen, 1977

Ken Olsen was the president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation. Besides mainframe systems, the company also developed minicomputers for science and engineering. Olsen, who himself had a personal computer at home, could not imagine that one day computers could be used to run the house, i.e. control doors, windows, and other electronics. [Source: Wikipedia] While this is not yet a reality for everyone, the technology has been around for a couple of years now.

4. Bill Gates, 1989

We will never make a 32-bit operating system.

- Bill Gates, 1989

No one knows why Bill Gates felt compelled to make such a statement, given the fact that an advance from 8-bit to 16-bit had just been made, and subsequent developments were only logical. Subsequently, ‘never’ must have come and gone as the 32-bit Windows NT 3.1 was launched only four years later, in 1993.

wrong computer predictions

5. Bill Gates, 1987

I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time.

- Bill Gates, 1987

This quote originated from a foreword written by Bill Gates for the OS/2 Programmer’s Guide. OS/2 is an operating system created by IBM and Microsoft. It was later developed by IBM alone and supported until 2006. [Source: Wikipedia] Although it allegedly ran Windows programs better than Windows itself, calling OS/2 the most important program of all time certainly was a gross exaggeration.

6. John Allen, 1993

One would think that if you’re anonymous, you’d do anything you want, but groups have their own sense of community and what we can do.

- John Allen, 1993

7. Bill Gates, 2004

Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time.

- Bill Gates, 2004

Bill Gates made this statement at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The technology he suggested was the electronic equivalent of a stamp, payable only when an email is rejected. At the same event he also announced that Microsoft’s search technology would soon outpace Google. [Source: BBC] Soonish 7 years later and we’re still waiting for any of that to happen.

8. Sir Alan Sugar, 2005

Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.

- Sir Alan Sugar, 2005

Sir Alan Sugar is the founder of the electronics company Amstrad. Over the years he has also become a celebrity in the United Kingdom and he is a member of the House Of Lords. Apparently, he should not be consulted when it comes to the evaluation of the potential of modern day electronics. [Source: Wikipedia]

There are two very famous quotes that are actually urban myths and hence did not make the list above. Thomas J. Watson, former president of IBM, is often quoted for having said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” The truth is that there is no record of Watson ever making this statement. However, the quote was traced back to a British professor, who said something slightly similar. [Source: Wikipedia]

Bill Gates is often mocked for supposedly saying “640KB ought to be enough for anybody.” Mr. Gates himself denies having said something so utterly stupid and until sufficient proof is provided, we have to believe him. [Source: Wikipedia]

Current Prediction

The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That’s where we come in; we’re computer professionals. We cause accidents.

- Nathaniel Borenstein, co-creator of MIME

Let’s not let that last prediction come true!

If you liked this one, you should also check out 55 Geeky One Line Jokes and The History of Operating Systems.

What is your favorite computer or internet quote?

Image credit: Gunnar Pippel

Got Questions? Ask Them Now FREE on MakeUseOf Answers!



Convert Text To Speech For Free With Balabolka [Windows]

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 08:31 AM PDT

free text to speechText is one of the pillars supporting modern civilization. The ability to write – and now type – text provides a way to encapsulate information and share it with others. There’s just one problem with text, and that’s the fact that it is a purely visual means of communicating. Trying to jog down the street with a Kindle isn’t easy both because it’s hard to see the text while moving about and also because you need a fairly large format on which to read the text.

The solution to this problem is text-to-speech, a task that’s becoming increasingly useful as digital books and other forms of electronic text become more popular. There’s options about, one of which is Balabolka, a free text-to-speech program for Windows.

The Basics Of Balabolka

free text to speech

Getting started with Balabolka doesn’t require much instruction. When you start up the program, you are presented with a large, blank text area and a few audio controls. The text area will accept text straight from your clipboard, and you can start hearing text-to-speech by placing your cursor where you’d like the speech to begin. The controls at the top of the text area focus on volume and rate. The function of the volume control is obvious, of course, and the rate control determines the speed at which the voice will move through the text. Faster speeds will reduce the time required to move through a piece of text, but may make the text-to-speech conversion harder to understand.

Balabolka relies on the Microsoft Speech API for its output, which is why it has tabs for SAPI4 and SAPI5. The version of Windows you are using will determine the quality of the speech output. The latest version, SAPI5, is called Microsoft Anna. It is a female voice that is clear and generally easy to understand, although acronyms and unusual proper nouns can trip it up, a common flaw among text-to-speech programs.

Advanced Text-To-Speech Features

text to speech software

Besides the ability to change the rate and volume of the speech rendered with Balabolka, there are also some more advanced features available, which can be found under the Options menu tab. From here, you can make some minor changes to the pitch of the voice, or you can open a Settings menu.

In the Settings menu you’ll find a few options that can prove helpful. Under the Reading tab you will find the option to ignore certain characters while reading. This can be helpful if you have a piece of text with erroneous or strange characters that are tripping up the text-to-speech translation. Under the Pauses tab, you can force the voice to pause for a specified period of time at the end of a paragraph or sentence. In the Text tab, you can automatically remove certain formatting features in order to alter the way the text-to-speech translation sounds.

Batch File Conversion

free text to speech

Although you may want to listen to text-to-speech while at your computer, chances are that you’re interested in taking text-to-speech files with you so you can listen to them on your smartphone, MP3 player, tablet or other portable device. That’s while Balabolka’s batch conversion comes in.

Available under the Tools menu, this feature lets convert a large number of text files to audio recordings quickly. Doing this is quite simple by clicking the Add Files button and then finding the appropriate text files. Balabolka supports common text formats including DOC/DOCX, TXT, and ODT. The text-to-speech translation will follow the settings you determined in the main text area – for example, if you set the rate to -3 to make speech slower and easier to understand, all of the text documents you batch convert to speech will be converted at the -3 rate of speech. The output formats are numerous and include WAV, MP3 and MP4.


Balabolka is simple and free. It’s also fairly quick and lightweight – there is even a portable version of Balabolka that will run from an .exe without the installation of any files. There are other options that provide better text-to-speech quality, but you’re generally going to have to pay for them, and most people won’t have trouble understanding the text-to-speech translation Balabolka is capable of providing.

If you have any text-to-speech favourites of your own, let us know about them in the comments.

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