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Empowering Women Through Technology

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August 2017

Tales from the Orchard: Lawsuit revived over Apple retail workers’ pay during security checks

 

 

By Dave Kravets of Arstechnica

Dispute has widespread ramifications about pay for time spent in security checks.

Should Apple retail workers in California be paid for time spent having their purses, backpacks and other belongings checked to make sure they didn’t steal any of Cupertino’s goods—after they have punched out?

Ruling in a class-action lawsuit brought by Apple retail workers, a federal judge answered “no”—California law doesn’t require Apple to pay for that time, even though it’s mandatory that employees who bring purses or other bags to work get them searched while they’re off the clock.

The worker-wage dispute with one of the world’s richest companies didn’t end there. Lawyers for the class-action lawsuit representing thousands of Apple retail workers in California appealed that 2015 decision to the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. On Wednesday, the appeals court said it couldn’t come to any conclusion in a dispute that the court said had widespread ramifications for California workers who go through security checks at companies like Marshalls, Nordstrom, Federal Express, Best Buy, and other workplaces. The federal appeals court said the answer to whether California wage laws apply to time spent on security checks should be decided by the California Supreme Court.

So the appeals court on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in. It’s a rare practice for the nation’s appeals courts to request—in what is known as a certified question—that the top courts in states interpret controversial issues involving state law.

“The consequences of any interpretation,” the appeals court wrote
the California Supreme Court, (PDF) “will have significant legal, economic, and practical consequences for employers and employees throughout the state of California.”

In short, the suit claims that Apple retail employees spend as much as 20 minutes off the clock having their bags searched to combat employee theft every time they leave work. Apple claims that the searches only take seconds and that they are not “required” for workers who don’t bring purses, backpacks, briefcases, or other bags to work. Apple retail workers, in a 2012 letter to Apple chief Tim Cook, said the policy amounted to treating employees like “criminals.”

The appeals court said the issue was a close call and best left to the California Supreme Court.

The case at issue involves only those employees who voluntarily brought bags to work purely for personal convenience. It is thus certainly feasible for a person to avoid the search by leaving bags at home. But, as a practical matter, many persons routinely carry bags, purses, and satchels to work, for all sorts of reasons. Although not “required” in a strict, formal sense, many employees may feel that they have little true choice when it comes to the search policy, especially given that the policy applies day in and day out. Because we have little guidance on determining where to draw the line between purely voluntary actions and strictly mandatory actions, we are uncertain on which side of the line Plaintiffs’ claim falls.

Workers in California enjoy more employee-friendly regulations than those of the federal government or many other states. The US Supreme Court, for example,ruled in 2014 that warehouse workers for Amazon.com in Nevada could be forced to spend as much as 25 minutes off the clock to undergo security screenings at the end of their shift.

The wage dispute is on hold pending an answer from California’s top court.

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WIT: Ellen Ullman’s New Book Tackles Tech’s Woman Problem

 

 

 

By J. D. BIERSDORFER of NYTimes

LIFE IN CODE
A Personal History of Technology
By Ellen Ullman

As milestone years go, 1997 was a pretty good one. The computers may have been mostly beige and balky, but certain developments were destined to pay off down the road. Steve Jobs returned to a floundering Apple after years of corporate exile, IBM’s Deep Blue computer finally nailed the world-champion chess master Garry Kasparov with a checkmate, and a couple of Stanford students registered the domain name for a new website called google.com. Nineteen ninety-seven also happened to be the year that the software engineer Ellen Ullman published “Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its
Discontents,” her first book about working as a programmer in a massively male-dominated field.

That slender volume became a classic of 20th-century digital culture literature and was critically praised for its sharp look at the industry, presented in a literary voice that ignored the biz-whiz braggadocio of the early dot-com era. The book had obvious appeal to technically inclined women — desktop-support people like myself then, computer-science majors, admirers of Donna J. Haraway’s feminist cyborg manifesto, those finding work in the newish world of website building — and served as a reminder that someone had already been through it all and took notes for the future.

Then Ullman retired as a programmer, logging out to go write two intense character-driven thriller novels and the occasional nonfiction essay. The digital economy bounced back after the Epic Fail of 2000 and two decades later, those techno-seeds planted back in 1997 have bloomed. Just look at all those smartphones, constantly buzzing with news alerts and calendar notifications as we tell the virtual assistant to find us Google Maps directions to the new rice-bowl place.

What would Ullman think of all this? We can now find out, as she’s written a new book, “Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology,” which manages to feel like both a prequel and a sequel to her first book.

Don’t panic, non-nerds. In addition to writing code in multiple computer languages, Ullman has an Ivy League degree in English and knows how to decode her tech-world adventures into accessible narratives for word people: “Time went on; I graduated from Cornell and moved to San Francisco, where, one day in 1979, I walked past a Radio Shack store on Market Street and saw in the window a microcomputer called the TRS-80. Reader, I bought it.”

Her work as an active programmer spanned about 20 years, ending in the 1990s, but some experiences stay with you forever. “The role they assigned to me, translator, is perhaps the most accurate description of everything I have ever done concerning technology,” she writes of one gig. As I’ve found in my own scribbling about tech, language skills and accurate translation are essential to understanding in both human and computer systems. The most useful bit of prep I had for that came from the two years of Attic Greek I once took to fulfill a curriculum requirement for a theater degree. Converting text into plain language for the inquiring masses is vital, whether it be wrestling Xenophon’s “Anabasis” or Linux engineer notes into English.

The first three-fifths of “Life in Code” is primarily composed of essays published elsewhere between 1994 and 2004, while newer material from 2012 to early 2017 fills out the rest. The technology mentioned within those early chapters often recalls quaint discovery, like finding a chunky, clunky Nokia cellphone in the back of the junk drawer. The piece on preparing computers for the Year 2000 has a musty time-capsule feel, but the philosophical questions posed in other chapters — like those on robotics and artificial intelligence — still resonate.

While the electrified economy had yet to complete its first dramatic cycle of boom and bust when her first book came out, a 1998 essay in “Life in Code” shows Ullman, Cassandra-like and ever the pragmatic pessimist, already bracing for the coming storm. “I fear for the world the internet is creating,” she wrote. “Before the advent of the Web, if you wanted to sustain a belief in far-fetched ideas, you had to go out into the desert, or live on a compound in the mountains, or move from one badly furnished room to another in a series of safe houses.” These days, she’s still concerned about the damage the internet is doing to culture, privacy and civility.

What hasn’t changed in the past 20 years is the dominant demographic of the technology industry and its overall lack of diversity. Ullman addresses these topics in the latter part of the book, as she observes online classes for newer programming languages like Python and feels put off by the “underlying assumption of male, white, geeky American culture” with science fiction TV shows woven into the course material. She worries that this approach may alienate people who aren’t familiar with it, and imagines a time when the general public is writing their own code for the world they need.

“What I hope is that those with the knowledge of the humanities break into the closed society where code gets written: invade it,” Ullman writes. But, she warns, be prepared for an environment of “boyish men who bristle at the idea of anyone unlike them invading their territory.”

She has many stories of her own to share on the topic of gender relations in the office and points out that not all of them were bad. In one case, she tolerates frequent comments about her hair from one addled man in order to learn more about various aspects of computing from him. “I did have pretty hair; I went on to become a software engineer.”

As then, not all men today are hostile to women and many are quite accepting, but the misogyny Ullman experienced in her programming days seems to have escalated in some places. Perhaps this is because of the antler-whacking nature of today’s hyper-driven culture, as illustrated in the situations of women like Susan J. Fowler, who set the executive dominoes cascading at Uber earlier this year with a blog post detailing overt and unchecked sexual harassment by her male manager. A recent 10-page internal memo (by a male Google engineer) that lambasted the company’s diversity efforts also shined a light on workplace culture for some. The abuse of women, the L.G.B.T. community and racial, religious and ethnic minorities on social media is also well-documented — and much more vitriolic than flare-ups like the recent bout of androcentric caterwauling over the casting of a woman in the lead role on “Doctor Who.”

As noted by Anna Wiener in an interview with Ullman for The New Republic, Twitter “would look a lot different today if it had been built by people for whom online harassment was a real-life concern.” When reading “Life in Code” later, I thought of Ullman’s musings about interface design in general: “To build such a crash-resistant system, the designer must be able to imagine — and disallow — the dumbest action.” Let’s face it, a queer female gamer of color is going to have a very different idea of “the dumbest action” than a 23-year-old white brogrammer and we need that perspective. (As for Twitter, Ullman considers the service a broadcaster of “thought farts.”)

It may take a generation, but progress to find balance and representation in the tech and tech-driven world is happening. And the invasion is underway, with women-in-tech groups like Girls Who Code, Project Include and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (the latter named for the Navy rear admiral, herself a programming pioneer) striving for diversification on multiple fronts. Because, as Ullman observes, “the world of programmers is not going to change on its own.” One hopes she’ll check back in 20 years to comment on how it’s going.

Any women in the tech field who get your vote of confidence? Tell us about them in the comments below!

App of the Week: Dayone: Superb journal app trades simplicity for sophistication

The new version loses some of its predecessor’s gorgeous simplicity, but compensates with powerful and useful new features.

 

By Nathan Alderman of MacWorld

It’s hard to improve upon perfection. The original Day One made keeping a journal on your Mac easy and fun. Day One 2 wants to do even more, but to fulfill those ambitions, it’s partly sacrificed the original’s beautifully simple design.

 

What’s changed, and what hasn’t

 

It’s still a snap to start typing a new entry in Day One 2, either from the app itself or its convenient menu bar widget. The latter also provides customizable reminders to write down your thoughts at a given time. Day One 2 tags entries with the date, time, any custom tags you care to create, the current weather, and your GPS-based location.

Don’t want your journal knowing too much about you? You can deactivate location info when crafting a new entry.

Don’t want anyone else reading your journal? A password-lock feature will keep it safe from prying eyes.

Day One 2 adds the ability to keep up to ten separate, color-coded journals at once; for example one to serve as your personal diary, another for business notes, and a third to jot down ideas for that novel you’ve been planning. And where its predecessor only allowed a single photo per entry, Day One 2 supports up to ten, dragged and dropped from Photos, Safari, or the Finder. Paste in a YouTube or Vimeo URL to embed that video in your finished entry, as well.

The Mac version adds a Photos view (previously an iOS-only feature) to the existing Map, Timeline, and Calendar views, and now lets you edit multiple entries at once. You can also view and search by additional information gathered by Day One 2’s iOS versions, including motion and step data and the songs you had playing while you composed a given entry. (The Mac app doesn’t include these features, which at least partly makes sense, unless you frequently take long hikes while typing on your laptop.)

To accommodate these new features, Day One 2 sprawls across greater screen space, stuffed with more, smaller icons. While Bloom Built has clearly worked to keep the interface clean and appealing, it’s definitely more cluttered than its predecessor’s. Figuring out each of the many new buttons remains fairly easy, but still not as easy as in the old version. Editing multiple entries particularly threw me, until I spotted a series of related icons that quietly showed up in an unexpected corner of the window.

 

That syncing feeling

 

Version 1 relied on Dropbox or iCloud to sync journal entries across its Mac and iOS iterations, but version 2 uses Day One Sync, Bloom Built’s own free, proprietary system. This has alarmed some iCloud-loving users, but Bloom Built argues that the new service works better, faster, and more securely than either of the old solutions.
I had trouble getting Dropbox to work with the original Day One, but I have no such complaints about Day One Sync. Setting up an account took mere minutes, and synching entries between my Mac and iPad happened almost instantly. Though any data you sync via Day One’s system is already securely encrypted, Bloom Built says it’s planning to add even stronger private key encryption in the months ahead.

Day One 2 also temporarily lacks its predecessor’s Publish feature, which automatically turned entries into blog pages, although Bloom Built says it’s rethinking that ability, and will add it in a future update. I can see how Day One 2 might evolve into a powerful online publishing platform, especially if its makers keep their other on-the-horizon promises of stronger social media integration and the ability to turn your journal entries into a printed book.

 

Bottom line

 

In my tests, Day One 2 offered speedy searching, excellent online help files, and responsive, bug-free performance. It’s become slightly more complicated than its predecessor and it costs four times as much. But this superb journaling app remains pleasant to behold, easy to use, and a tough act for any rival to follow.

Download DayOne for iOS here.
Download DayOne for Mac OS here.

App of the Week: Trusted Contacts

 

Google brings it’s emergency location tracking app to iOS.

 

 

By Brett Williams of Mashable

Smartphones allow us to stay in contact with our loved ones more closely than ever before, but some of the most important features, like location sharing, are only functional when everyone uses the same operating system on their devices.  

That’s about to change. Google is bringing its Trusted Contacts location sharing app to iOS, making it even easier for families that span the Android-iPhone divide to keep track of each other during emergencies. 

The app comes to iOS after debuting for Android last year. Users can now proactively share their location with their in-group or search for the last place a friend or loved one was active on their phone if they suddenly go silent, no matter their OS. 

iOS devices already have a similar feature with Find My Friends, but Trusted Contacts expands the scope of the tracking abilities across operating systems. That means a loved one with an iPhone can pinpoint the last active location of a Samsung Galaxy S8, for example, and vice versa.

The new iOS Trusted Contacts app comes with a round of updates for the service for all users. You can now add people to your “trusted contacts” list by their phone number, and the app sends an SMS to them to connect. 

Users can also choose how quickly their location will be automatically shared if they know they’ll be away from their phone and unable to answer. The default setting had been five minutes, but now the response time can be set at any time from immediately to an hour.   

Privacy might be a concern for people who don’t want their loved ones to have a constant bead on their location — but if it’s that big of a deal, those people don’t have to download the app. Google told Mashable last year at the launch of the Android version that Trusted Contacts is “necessary” no matter the privacy concerns, since emergency situations can make it impossible for people to respond to messages.  

The Trusted Contacts expansion follows Google’s new SOS alerts, a set of features for Search and Maps designed to make emergency information more accessible to all in the event of a crisis. Google might not be able to prevent disasters, but it’s taking steps to help those affected. 

What steps have you taken on your phone to ensure your family can reach you in an emergency? Tell us about it in the comments below!

How to: Reset your Brightness in iOS 11

Apple doesn’t want you to set your own brightness in iOS 11

 

By Napier Lopez of the Next Web

It seems there are still a few small surprises in store for Apple’s iOS 11, and not all of them good: the latest developer beta of the OS makes it a pain to manually set brightness.

Previously, you could toggle automatic brightness on and off right from the Display & Brightness section of Settings – you know, where it should be. Now the option is buried all the way under General>Accessibility>Display Accommodations, where pretty much no-one will find it.

To be clear, Apple’s version of auto-brightness does allow for some flexibility. Similar to adaptive brightness on Android, you still get a brightness slider, but instead of setting a fixed brightness, it roughly establishes a brightness range.

The idea is that even if you set your brightness low, the screen will still brighten when you step outside into the sunlight. But sometimes auto brightness gets it wrong, and the subtle adjustments in brightness can be annoying for some activities like watching a long movie.

Sure, it’s a bit of nitpicking. For most people, auto-brightness is fine. But I frequently alternate between auto and manual brightness depending on what I’m doing, and I’m not the only one. Moreover, there’s just no reason to bury such an inoffensive and commonly used setting under several non-intuitive menus.

Do you have work arounds for automated settings on your device? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Tips & Tricks: How To Set Up Your Medical ID On Your iPhone

 

By Charlie Sorrel of Cult of Mac

Inside the iPhone’s Health App, the app that counts your steps and hooks up with other apps to monitor your activity and health, lives your Medical ID. This is a page containing everything important that you might want a doctor or first responder to know in an emergency, and is accessible from your iPhone’s lock screen without a password.

By default, the app only contains your name, and a few details automatically culled from your address book, but fleshing it out is quick and easy. Here’s how to set up your Medical ID with any and all the information you want to make available.

How to Edit your iPhone Medical ID

Inside the iPhone’s Health App, the app that counts your steps and hooks up with other apps to monitor your activity and health, lives your Medical ID. This is a page containing everything important that you might want a doctor or first responder to know in an emergency, and is accessible from your iPhone’s lock screen without a password.

By default, the app only contains your name, and a few details automatically culled from your address book, but fleshing it out is quick and easy. Here’s how to set up your Medical ID with any and all the information you want to make available.

Even if you don’t have a medical condition, you might like to have the contact details of your next-of-kin in your Medical ID, just so they can be informed if/when the worst happens.

To add information to your Medical ID, the easiest option is to open up the Health app and tap the Medical ID tab at the bottom right. Then tap Edit to see all the options. You can enter any medications you take, list allergies, add medical conditions, and input your weight and height (perhaps already entered from other Health app info), along with a list of emergency contacts, blood type, and organ donor information. As you can see, there’s a lot of info that you might want to give to emergency personnel even if you don’t have a specific condition or allergy.

Accessing your Medical ID in an emergency

 

All first responders know what a Medical alert pedant looks like, but perhaps not all of them know how to get the information out of your iPhone. Luckily, the iPhone is the most popular phone in the world, so that makes it fairly familiar to anyone. And getting to the info is easy — for other people anyway.

The Medical ID is accessed from the iPhone’s lock screen. When the passcode entry panel comes up, you can tap the word Emergency to get to a phone keypad. Below that keypad is the button for your Medical ID. If you try this on somebody else’s phone, it’s easy. On your own iPhone it’s almost impossible, because Touch ID unlocks your iPhone before you can get to it.

It only takes a few minutes to set up your Medical ID, and then you can forget about it.
So why not do it right now?

Weekly Round Up 8/18

 

 

Maybe they should ask Trump for advice on how to deal with them…. Too Soon?
Tech is not winning the battle against white Supremacy


Guess they didn’t read the fine print…

Here’s why Tech Execs can’t quit Trump’s technology council

It’s all fun and games….
The US Government must work with tech companies if it wants to remain competitive in AI

….Until the subpoenas start flying around.
Tech firm is fighting a federal demand for data on visitors to an anti-Trump website.


Leave the old people alone!!

Robocall scams get craftier as tech industry tries new ways to block the practice.


When I was in 4-H, all we got to do was cook $hit and shovel $hit.

Google continues to push diversity in tech — now with the 4-H club

…But they didn’t have any problem approving them to begin with?!
Apple pulls Apple Pay support from selling White Nationalist and Nazi Apparel.

Tales From The Orchard: What Happened to Apple’s Moral Backbone?

 

 

By Joseph Holt of Fortune.com

Last year, Apple was on a moral high in its defiant standoff with the FBI over whether the company would help the agency unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The company was hailed as a hero in the fight against government intrusion.

But the company is no longer being hailed as a privacy rights hero. In January 2017, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information adopted a new regulation requiring virtual private network (VPN) developers to obtain a license from the government. VPN apps are one of the few ways that someone living in or visiting China can bypass the “Great Firewall” that restricts access to foreign websites—including perennial favorites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In response, on July 29, Apple announced that it was removing all major VPN apps—which help Internet users circumvent censorship systems—from its App Store in China (the apps remain available in all other markets).

I can personally attest to the effect of this change. I am writing this piece from a hotel room in Beijing, where I was unable to access my Gmail account for the first two days here, even with a VPN connection. I eventually found a work-around, but the experience has left me sensitive to the importance of readily available means for getting around laws that unduly restrict the availability and flow of information.

Apple has explained that it is legally required to remove some of the VPN apps that do not meet this new regulation. But critics charge that Apple’s removal of many VPN apps from the App Store in China is inconsistent with its defiant stance against the FBI last year. On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to this critique. He correctly explained that the two situations are not the same, because, “ In the case of the U.S., the law in the U . S . supported us. It was very clear.”

But Apple’s argument—that submission to censorship laws in China is necessary and that the company has to follow local law wherever it operates—is flawed.

The argument is presented as if a company has no choice but to follow local law. History shows that not to be true.

During the apartheid regime in South Africa, for instance, some U.S. companies committed to the Sullivan Principles—corporate codes of conduct developed by Rev. Leon Sullivan that became a framework for dismantling apartheid—and engaged in what Sullivan called corporate civil disobedience.

These companies integrated their workforces and appointed blacks to supervisory positions in a way that defied apartheid laws. And as Sullivan explained, “Once we changed the practices in the workplace, then changes in the laws followed.”

Corporate civil disobedience is probably not the right way for Apple to go in China now, but it remains a viable option should the privacy situation worsen.

Similarly, Yahoo lost a great deal of respect from human rights groups, news organizations, and American political leaders—and its stock shares plunged—when it offered the same defense for providing Chinese government authorities information that was used in a legal case against Chinese journalist Shi Tao in 2005.

Shi was convicted of sending to a Chinese-language website based in New York a message from Chinese censorship authorities warning Chinese journalists not to report on pro-democracy demonstrations on anniversary of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Yahoo Co-Founder Jerry Yang sounded very much like Cook in explaining that his company had no choice but to comply with Chinese law: “To be doing business in China, or anywhere else in the world, we have to comply with local law.

I am not equating Yahoo’s actions in China in 2005 with Apple’s recent VPN app removal. But I am saying that there are times when the legal argument is morally inadequate.

How do you feel about American Tech companies compromising American beliefs in order to sell more of their products? Let us know in the comments below.

WIT: Sexism in tech impacts women everywhere. YouTube’s CEO just made that clear.

“Is it true?” Even Susan Wojcicki’s own daughter is grappling with that Google memo.

 

 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has spoken out about her experience with sexism in Silicon Valley in response to the controversial memo circulated by now-former Google employee James Damore and the broad ideological debate that has ensued.

Wojcicki has been with Google since its humble beginnings — the company’s first office was her garage. She became the CEO of YouTube in 2014, eight years into Google’s ownership of the video-sharing platform and after 15 years of overseeing various aspects of the company’s marketing departments and advertising services.

But Wojcicki, the woman who oversaw the development of Google’s now-ubiquitous AdSense product, spearheaded the implementation of Google Doodles, and suggested that Google purchase YouTube to begin with, has experienced seemingly all of the now well-known stereotypes of women in tech. Now Wojcicki has detailed a few of those experiences in a short essay for Fortune.

“Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question,” she wrote. “‘Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?’”

The topic has been the subject of much debate since Damore’s memo — which argues that women are biologically less capable or willing than men to perform a wide range of engineering and tech industry jobs, and that’s why they are underrepresented in the field — first became public.

“Time and again, I’ve faced the slights that come with that question,” she wrote, explaining:

I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men.

No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.

Wojcicki then offered a succinct and clear bird’s-eye view of how she suspects many women in tech are feeling right now:

When I saw the memo that circulated last week, I once again felt that pain, and empathized with the pain it must have caused others. I thought about the women at Google who are now facing a very public discussion about their abilities, sparked by one of their own co-workers. I thought about the women throughout the tech field who are already dealing with the implicit biases that haunt our industry (which I’ve written about before), now confronting them explicitly. I thought about how the gender gap persists in tech despite declining in other STEM fields, how hard we’ve been working as an industry to reverse that trend, and how this was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science. And as my child asked me the question I’d long sought to overcome in my own life, I thought about how tragic it was that thisunfounded bias was now being exposed to a new generation.

Wojcicki ultimately echoed Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s message to all Google employees (in which Pichai stressed that parts of the memo violated Google’s code of conduct), noting that “while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender … the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.”

Significantly, Wojcicki did not attempt to offer solutions, or to praise Google effusively for doing the right thing in firing Damore. Her essay primarily seems to be an attempt to show solidarity with her fellow women in tech. And her underlying message is clear: Silicon Valley’s sexist culture impacts women at all levels of the industry — and even their daughters.

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