• Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    SketchFlow – Sketching and Prototyping in Expression Blend

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    I had a interesting discussion this morning with a business school looking at introducing Mobile App development one of the key things within their assessment is the proof of prototypes and wireframes we got onto discussing the opportunity and advantages of using Microsoft Expression, SketchFlow.

    SketchFlow addresses three pain points in software sketching and prototyping:

    It makes it easier to experiment with ideas for dynamic user interaction.
    It facilitates communication of design ideas and intent between designers and other stakeholders.
    It makes it easier to gather, evaluate and use stakeholder feedback on design ideas.

    Sketchflow is a fun, informal, flexible, quick and powerful way to sketch and prototype rich, dynamic interactivity with Expression Blend.

     sketchflow

    SketchFlow

    The mission of the Expression team is to help designers to create great user experiences. We believe that this mission needs to begin with the early exploration phases of design. SketchFlow,

    SketchFlow is a set of tools for Expression Blend to create sketches and prototypes of interactive content and applications, giving Blend a new role in pre-production and design phases of the development process.

    SketchFlow is informal and quick, enabling you to sketch out plentiful ideas for dynamic interactions in a cost effective manner. SketchFlow also supports the evolution of your rough sketches into living and breathing prototypes that can be as real as you need them to be.

    SketchFlow is part of Expression Blend so FREE from www.dreamspark.com

    Throughout the software industry, we historically have not spent much effort on the earlier stages of design. This lack of upfront investment in design often leads to increased cost due to a need for expensive rework at a later stage and to products that may not satisfy our customers.

    Great design for software needs a great design process, and ways to make the exploration, communication and evaluation of interaction and design fast and effective are an important part of great process.

    sketchflow1

    Sketching, and, at a slightly later stage of the design process, prototyping, are wonderful techniques to explore a multitude of ideas quickly, without excessive investment and emotional attachment. Software interaction is highly dynamic, and over the last years we have consistently have pushed more in the direction of rich, dynamic visuals and interaction methods. Expectations have risen greatly. However, it is far from easy to create meaningful design studies and sketches of dynamic interactivity entirely with traditional tools. There are many reasons for that, including the fact that most design tools have been created as production tools, focused on the creation of final production assets, where precision, quality and finish matter. Another reason is that most tools still treat UI as something that is just a small derivation from an otherwise static comp.

     

    Gathering feedback

    SketchFlow provides a way to showcase your prototype to others using the SketchFlow Player. The SketchFlow Player allows you to explore the prototype from the first moment on, even while it consists of nothing but a few rough sketches. The player lets you navigate your prototype, run animations that illustrate how your prototype might work, or switch into different states of your UI, all without wiring up actual UI elements. This lowers the cost of evaluating ideas in early stages before much expense has been incurred.

    But showing a prototype to others is only part of the review process, so the SketchFlow Player provides tools to collect feedback from reviewers. Reviewers can provide feedback either as text, like the comments in the Feedback tab in the screenshot below, or as ink, like the red arrow in the screenshot below. Then you can incorporate this feedback into the prototype using the Feedback panel in Expression Blend, allowing you to iterate on your design using suggestions from your team.

    Resources

    Tutorials on Sketchflow http://www.microsoft.com/design/toolbox/school/tutorials.aspx

    For more information, watch a video on Sketchflow

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    Microsoft Kinect SDK 1.5

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    k4w-sensorangle

    We are pleased to announce that we have released version 1.5 of the Kinect for Windows runtime and SDK. 

    Additionally, Kinect for Windows hardware is now available in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. Starting next month, Kinect for Windows hardware will be available in 15 additional countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. When this wave of expansion is complete, Kinect for Windows will be available in 31 countries around the world. 

    Go to our Kinect for Windows website to find a reseller in your region.

    We have added more capabilities to help developers build amazing applications, including:

    • Kinect Studio, our new tool which allows developers to record and play back Kinect data, dramatically shortening and simplifying the development lifecycle of a Kinect application. Now a developer writing a Kinect for Windows application can record clips of users in the application’s target environment and then replay those clips at a later time for testing and further development.
    • A set of Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) to guide developers on best practices for the creation of Natural User Interfaces using Kinect.
    • The Face Tracking SDK, which provides a real-time 3D mesh of facial features—tracking the head position, location of eyebrows, shape of the mouth, etc.
    • Significant sample code additions and improvements.  There are many new samples in both C++ and C#, plus a “Basics” series of samples with language coverage in C++, C#, and Visual Basic.
    • SDK documentation improvements, including new resources as well as migration of documentation to MSDN for easier discoverability and real-time updates.

    We have continued to expand and improve our skeletal tracking capabilities in this release:

    Kinect for Windows SDK v1.5 offers 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeletal tracking

    Seated Skeletal Tracking is now available. This tracks a 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeleton, ignoring the leg and hip joints. It is not restricted to seated positions; it also tracks head/shoulders/arms when a person is standing. This makes it possible to create applications that are optimized for seated scenarios (such as office work with productivity software or interacting with 3D data) or standing scenarios in which the lower body isn’t visible to the sensor (such as interacting with a kiosk or when navigating through MRI data in an operating room).

    • Skeletal Tracking is supported in Near Mode, including both Default and Seated tracking modes. This allows businesses and developers to create applications that track skeletal movement at closer proximity, like when the end user is sitting at a desk or needs to stand close to an interactive display.

    We have made performance and data quality enhancements, which improve the experience of all Kinect for Windows applications using the RGB camera or needing RGB and depth data to be mapped together (“green screen” applications are a common example):

    • Performance for the mapping of a depth frame to a color frame has been significantly improved, with an average speed increase of 5x.
    • Depth and color frames will now be kept in sync with each other. The Kinect for Windows runtime continuously monitors the depth and color streams and corrects any drift.
    • RGB Image quality has been improved in the RGB 640x480 @30fps and YUV 640x480 @15fps video modes. The image quality is now sharper and more color-accurate in high and low lighting conditions.

    New capabilities to enable avatar animation scenarios, which makes it easier for developers to build applications that control a 3D avatar, such as Kinect Sports.

    Kinect for Windows skeletal tracking is supported in near mode, including both default and seated tracking modes

     

    • Kinect for Windows runtime provides Joint Orientation information for the skeletons tracked by the Skeletal Tracking pipeline. 
    • The Joint Orientation is provided in two forms:  A Hierarchical Rotation based on a bone relationship defined on the Skeletal Tracking joint structure, and an Absolute Orientation in Kinect camera coordinates.

    Resources

    A video introduction to v1.5 is live on Channel 9

    The Kinect for windows website has been significantly updated, including new and updated developer resources:

    Updated docs which are now 100% on MSDN

    Human Interface Guidelines which helps developers get started with NUI interaction design

    Video how-to’s for an easy introduction to the SDK capabilities

    Download the SDK here

    Thank you all for your interest, enthusiasm, questions, and feedback – your contributions are a key part of making the product great.

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    Microsoft Research So.cl Social Networks for Learning

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    Developed by the team behind KODO, an elegant and simple visual programming language, So.cl is now open for registrations. So.cl offers a unique take on search and social networking and is designed to give students the ability to network with their peers and both share information and collaborate more easily online.

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    More importantly, So.cl is designed to offer a secure environment for students to discover new topics of interest and share this with their classmates and beyond. A global classroom or study group is potentially now only a click away!

    Users log in to the network with their Facebook or Windows Live accounts, and are then presented with a range of topic areas that they can learn more about and share with their friends and wider network. Search being a focal point of the service also makes it easy to find new content based around the topics they are currently studying or passionate about and add these to their So.cl profile page. Furthermore, the addition of a So.cl "bookmarklet" makes sharing additional content that users discover online to their So.cl network a simple and streamlined process.

    The ability to add and curate video parties and collaborate around this content with friends is a also a particularly compelling and interesting feature and look forward to seeing how this is embraced within the community.

    Ultimately, with research now primarily being carried out online So.cl offers learners an interesting aggregation tool to collect and share the resources they discover on Facebook and Wikipedia etc to fellow learners and likeminded connections on the site. We will be watching the service closely and will be sharing additional content on the blog over the coming weeks.

    In the meantime, you can learn more about So.cl over at http://www.so.cl/

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    FREE Ebooks from Microsoft Press

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    Microsoft Press have a number of FREE Ebooks now available covering topics from SQL Server 2012, Office 2010 and Windows Phone, there is something here for everyone. 

    Many of our free ebooks are offered in three formats - PDF, Mobi (Kindle) and epub. Hope you find them useful!

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    clip_image008 clip_image009 clip_image010Moving to Visual Studio 2010Programming Windows Phone 7

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    Windows Azure Conference 22nd June 2012

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    PosterAzure 

    Announcing the UK Windows Azure conference.

    If you building or considering building applications for the cloud, then the 22nd June is a date for the diary.  It’s a big day for Windows Azure as the first full day, multi-track conference supported by Microsoft and London Windows Azure User Group, featuring content for .NET, PHP, Java and node.js developers as well as device support in Windows 8, iOS, Windows Phone and Android.  Tickets are free until 20th May, register for the conference here: http://azureconference2012.eventbrite.com/

    Scott Guthrie speaking at UK Windows Azure conference 22nd June

    They keynote speaker for the conference on 22nd in London will be Scott Guthrie, the Microsoft corporate vice president in charge of the development platform for Windows Azure.  See more at http://azureconference2012.eventbrite.com/

    Microsoft Cloud Day: Windows Azure, Windows 8, Devices and Open Source innovations

    Follow the UK Azure usergroup @ukwaug on twitter for event info and surprise announcements...
    If you can't make TechEd in Amsterdam then come to Pre-TechEd in London!


    If your building or considering building applications for the cloud, then this will be a great place to spend a day. And until 20th May, the tickets are free! After the 20th they will charged at £25 per person.


    Tea and coffee will be provided throughout the day. And we'll have a selection of stands, some offering free software licenses and giveaway ebooks to every delegate.


    The conference opens at 8 AM in the morning for registration, tea and coffee.
    Talks will begin promptly at 9 AM, with a major keynote address. Then in the afternoon there will be 4 tracks, with some great speakers covering a lot of ground, from core conecepts though to support for different languages and frameworks through to building client apps backed by the cloud... along with real world expertise:

    • Track 1 includes details on all core platform services such as infrastructure, data, High Performance Computing and big data
    • Track 2 includes talks on PHP, node.js, Java and Office 365 and Sharepoint
    • Track 3 includes talks on developing for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Windows 8 backed by Windows Azure
    • Track 4 is an architecture forum with talks on Team Foundation Build, Agile, CI and Windows Azure

    Agenda

    For now, here's the outline agenda. We have some great announcements to come and will share more very soon.

    Morning Session

    • 8 AM - Registration opens
    • 9-9.15 AM - Introduction
    • 9.15 -11.15 - Special opening keynote from Microsoft Corp

    Breakout Sessions

    • Tracks go from - 11.30 AM – 6.30 PM

    Location

    The conference will take place in the Vue Cinema, Fulham Broadway, London with access to restaurants, bars and all amenities.

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    Learn to create Windows 8 apps with HTML and JS with UBelly

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    As we announced almost a month ago, the Windows 8 consumer preview is now available to download and develop for. However, the Windows Store won’t be open for apps until Windows 8 is available for consumer release.

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    Ubelly are offering the opportunity to get in early…

    Last week we on the Ubelly blog they discussed how to get started with Windows 8 development.

     

    Ubelly have announced that they will be also be hosting a series of Windows 8 Camps, where people will learn how to build a Metro Style app using HTML and JS, as well as a primer on the Metro design language, and getting your app ready for the Windows Store. Once you have the idea for your app, you can join the Windows 8 Developer Linked In Group to get your app into the Windows Store.

    The Ubelly team be holding the Windows 8 Camps across 4 different cities, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Brighton. The camps are free to attend, and will offer a hands-on approach to learning Windows 8 app development. Keen? Register below to come along!

    Register for the Birmingham Windows 8 Camp – 20 May 2012
    Register for the Manchester Windows 8 Camp – 22 May 2012
    Register for the Edinburgh Windows 8 Camp – 24 May 2012
  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    Big Data.. Big Opportunity

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    Last week I attended The 2012 Eduserv Symposium. The event was focused on 'Big Data' and discussed whether Big Data represents a challenge or an opportunity and how we can best make use of it. This year's event was held at the Royal College of Physicians.

    The key message from the introduction was the importance of uncoupling the issues of Big Data from the industry hype. Throughout the event the Gartner 3 V’s (velocity, volume and variety of data ) were discussed in depth.

    Volume as a defining attribute of Big Data

    Whilst it is fairly obvious that data volume is the primary attribute of big data, people often ask for a definitive quantity in GB, TB, PB etc. that would qualify as big data.

    Whilst simplest answer is to give a data volume, for example 50TBytes which today present represents a reasonably large and expensive dataware house –this answer of course changes as the technology changes over time due to Moore’s Law.

    But it’s also worth thinking about what it is you are looking as data, for instance for a large library of photographs the actual data contained in all the images themselves is very large for instance a RAW File from a Nikon D300 is about 25MB, so library with 2 million such images would be about 50TBytes , but the meta data describing those images isn’t that large perhaps 2GBytes.

    So to someone actually searching the images for content, e.g. using facial recognition find all the photos of Adele, then that is a big data problem, but if the photos have already been labelled and tagged as being of Adele then that isn’t really a big data challenge as you are only search the Meta data.

    Data Feed Velocity as a defining attribute of Big Data

    Big data can be described by its velocity or speed. Or you may prefer to think of it as the frequency of data generation or frequency of data delivery. For example, think of the stream of data coming off of any kind of sensor, say thermometers sensing temperature, microphones listening for movement in a secure area, or video cameras scanning for a specific face in a crowd. This isn’t new; many firms have been collecting click stream data off of Web sites for years, using streaming data to make purchase recommendations to Web visitors. With sensor and Web data flying at you relentlessly in real time, data volumes get big in a hurry.

    Technologies such as Stream Insight are well positioned for certain types of streaming data, whilst other applications may need specialist development or tools.

    Data Feed Variety.

    A proliferation of data types from social, machine to machine, and mobile sources add new data types to traditional transactional data. Data no longer fits into neat, easy to consume structures. New types include content, geo-spatial, hardware data points, location based, log data, machine data, metrics, mobile, physical data points, process, RFID’s, search, sentiment, streaming data, social, text, and web. The addition of unstructured data such as speech, text, and language increasingly complicate the ability to categorize data. Some technologies that deal with unstructured data include data mining, text analytics, and noisy text analytics.

    A key message was Big Data and the role of the Data Scientist, was not limited to the computer Scientist of the future as Big Data is of use to all disciplines.

    Please find below a quick overview deck of how we see the Big Data opportunity at Microsoft.

    Case Study

    A interesting case study is Klout Data Services Firm Uses Microsoft BI and Hadoop to Boost Insight into Big Data

    Klout wanted to give consumers, brands, and partners faster, more detailed insight into hundreds of terabytes of social-network data. It also wanted to boost efficiency. To do so, Klout deployed a business intelligence solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise and Apache Hadoop. As a result, Klout processes data queries in near real time, minimizes costs, boosts efficiency, increases insight, and facilitates innovation.

    Business Needs

    Klout helps clients make sense of the hundreds of terabytes of data generated each day by more than 1 billion signals on 15 leading social networks including Facebook and LinkedIn. The data that Klout analyzes is generated by the more than 100 million people who are indexed by the firm. This includes Klout members and the people that they interact with on social sites. Individuals join Klout to understand their influence on the web, which is rated on a scale from 1 to 100. They also sign up to participate in campaigns where they can receive gifts and free services. More than 3,500 data partners also join Klout to better understand consumers and network trends including changes in demand and how peoples’ influence might affect word-of-mouth advertising.

    To deliver the level of insight that customers seek and yet meet the budget constraints of a startup firm, Klout maintained a custom infrastructure based on the open-source Apache Hadoop framework, which provides distributed processing of large data sets. The solution included a separate silo for the data from each social network. To manage queries, Klout used custom web services, each with distinct business logic, to extract data from the silos and deliver it as a data mashup.

    Maintaining Hadoop and the custom web services to support business intelligence (BI) was complex and time-consuming for the team. The solution also hindered data insight. For example, accessing detailed information from Hadoop required extra development, and so mashups often lacked the level of detail that users sought. In addition, people often waited minutes, or sometimes hours, for queries to process, and they could only obtain information based on predetermined templates.

    Klout wanted to update its infrastructure to speed efficiency and support custom BI. Engineers sought technologies that could deliver mission-critical availability and still scale to meet big-data growth and performance requirements.

    Solution

    In 2011, Klout decided to implement a BI solution based on Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise data management software and the open-source Hive data warehouse system.  Based on employees’ previous experience with the Microsoft BI platform, Klout also knew that SQL Server offers excellent compatibility with third-party software and it can handle the data scale and query performance needed to manage big-data sets.

    In August 2011, engineers implemented a data warehouse with Hive, which consolidates data from all of the network silos hosted by Hadoop. In addition, Klout deployed SQL Server 2012 on a system that runs the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system to take advantage of Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services. Engineers use it to manage all business logic required to facilitate multidimensional online analytical processing (MOLAP). Data is stored in multidimensional cubes, which helps preserve detail and speed analysis. To provide high availability, Klout replicates the database to a secondary system using SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn.

    At the time that Klout was initially deploying its solution, SQL Server 2012 and Hive could not communicate directly. To work around this issue, engineers set up a temporary relational database that runs MySQL 5.5 software. It includes data from the previous 30 days and serves as a staging area for data exchange and analysis. Klout engineers are currently working to implement the new open database connectivity driver in SQL Server 2012 to directly join Hive with SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services. In addition, to enhance insight Klout plans to work with Microsoft to incorporate other Microsoft BI tools into its solution, such as Microsoft SQL Server Power Pivot for Microsoft Excel.

    Benefits

    With its new solution, Klout expects to boost efficiency, reduce expenses, expand insight, and support innovation.

    Speeds Efficiency and Cuts Costs By taking advantage of the Microsoft platform for BI, users will be able to get the data they seek in near real time.

    Facilitates Innovation

    Klout is implementing the flexible and scalable infrastructure it needs to continue to push the limits of data analysis.

    This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    FreeBSD Support on Hyper-V

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    Hypervfreebsd

    Microsoft and partners NetApp and Citrix announced upcoming native support for FreeBSD support on Windows Server Hyper-V.

    This move continues Microsoft’s commitment to extend support across platforms to the Windows Server Hyper-V solution, making it easier for more customers to realize the benefits of server virtualization and more easily adopt cloud computing.

    This will allow FreeBSD to run as a first-class guest on Windows Server Hyper-V. The drivers and associated source code will be released early this summer under the BSD license, and will initially work with FreeBSD 8.2 and 8.3 on Windows Server 2008 R2.

    You can read more about this on the Openness blog.

    You can read the full interview with Joe CaraDonna, the Technical Director of Core Operating Systems at NetApp, here.

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    University of Southampton sends a Nokia Lumia 800 to 105,000 feet

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    We have been working closely with Steven Johnston and András Sóbester members of the Astra Research team from Southampton University over the past year, since last April when the team ASTRA team launched the first Windows Phone device with huge success.

    Over the past year, the ASTRA Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft research team, are now using a number of Microsoft technologies including, Microsoft .Net Gadgeteer, Windows Embedded, Windows Azure and Windows Phone.

    The Astra team recently launched a new project which included Windows Azure and a Nokia Lumia 800 device, the device was mounted onto a weather balloon to carry out some experiments whilst in flight. The balloon and device reached a height of 105,000 feet, with a temperatures of -61C and maintained data connectivity at 8km above Earth with the Windows Azure cloud completing data capture and analysis of the flight, the results will be used to help create balloon flight trajectory prediction software that can then be used to guide other missions, like weather balloons.

    infographic

    The experiments completed by ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) project investigates new technologies for making low cost observations of the parameters of the atmosphere and their latest experiment, further details of the project can be found at Nokia Conversations blog,

    The balloon and payload travelled for 2 hours and 22 minutes on a journey over South Wales en route to Cornwall. It took some quite pretty pictures along the way too.

    2012-03-16-14-21-26 _DSC7969
    _DSC7972 2012-03-16-14-25-05
    2012-03-16-14-26-53 2012-03-16-15-25-28
    2012-03-16-15-35-35 2012-03-16-15-51-44
      

    A small selection of the 2GB image set is available to download.

  • Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

    Visual Studio Achievements Gamification in the classroom

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    Back in January this year, we announced Visual Studio Achievements for Developers – a fun way bringing Xbox LIVE-like points to everyday programming tasks. The fascinating program makes sure your students hard day’s work doesn’t go unnoticed and after over 80,000 downloads since the initial release, As your aware from my previous blog we have now extended the game to enroll developers working on Windows Azure.

    The Visual Studio Achievements Extension has now been updated to include fifteen new achievements, all focused on exercising features of Windows Azure. Using the extension, various achievements are unlocked based on your activity. When you unlock an achievement, Visual Studio lets you know visually with a pop-up. In addition, your Channel 9 profile is updated with any achievements you earn. So, head over to Channel9, sign up for an account and download the plugin.

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    There are 15 new Azure achievements, such as publishing to Windows Azure from Visual Studio (Heading into the Cloud), using page blobs (Attack of the Blob), using SQL Azure (Database Darling) and configuring start up tasks (It’s My Party). Two of the achievements – Phone in the Cloud and Game in the Cloud – require use of Windows Azure toolkits.

    You might also want to check Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – a Windows Phone app that allows you to view Visual Studio Achievements on the go.

    The Windows Phone application developed by Den Delimarsky allows viewing Visual Studio Achievements on the go. The source code for the application is available on Codeplex. You can choose to pull the source and compile a XAP yourself, and then side-load it on your phone.

    Interestingly, Den has authored a great series of blog posts about this project on DZone with details on each of the different areas, passing on some lessons learned in building this app.

    Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – Developing the core
    Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – What it looks like
    Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – User details & official project page
    Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – Storage
    Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – Basic User Comparison
    Visual Studio Achievements for Windows Phone – Final notes before the beta

    You can also Download the app directly from the Windows Phone MarketPlace the app is called VSA.

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