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Heiko Hebig
internet dude.
internet dude.

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I'm beyond excited to announce that the Milk crew (+Kevin Rose +Daniel Burka +Chris Hutchins +Joshua Lane) is joining Google! It’s been a privilege to use Google products over the years (I still remember begging for a Gmail invite) and I can’t wait to be a part of the amazing team that is shaping the future of the web. :)

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Who is losing what battle?

Ansgar Heveling is a German politician (CDU) and an elected member of the German federal parliament (MP). He holds a seat at the parliament's Enquete Commission “Internet and Digital Society”.

He was born in 1972 so he is roughly my age and part of my generation.

This is my translation of Ansgar Heveling's guest post published by on Jan 30th, 2012 (see below).

His post sparked a controversy - not just across party lines but also within the Christian - Liberal coalition. Even many CDU/CSU party members fundamentally disagree.

And while many consider his post just plain "stupid" I actually think it is dangerous. This is why I decided to publish my translation to make it available to the international community.

In the aftermath Heveling has even defended his statements and said he would write the same text all over again. What is even more frightening than his original text is his defense:

"I think there will soon be a generation that will use the Internet in a different way. Then bloggers will not be relevant any longer." (source:
I am not sure what Heveling means when he claims the Internet will be "used in a different way". But I am very sure of what his fear is: free press and free speech. Why else could someone hope for "different" or "better" times without blogs (which are the symbol for free & unfiltered speech all across the world).

This battle has just begun.

Note: While translating I have tried to maintain the original text structure as much as possible. While some of the English translation might seem to be confusing, so is the German version.

Original source:

Net community, you will lose the battle!
by Ansgar Heveling

Dear "net community", Web 2.0 will soon be history. The revolution of the "digital Maoists" will pass - the only question is how big the damage will be.

The current discussions around the U.S. legislative plans "SOPA" and "PIPA" to regulate the Internet contain all elements to provoke - finally? - the “Clash of Civilizations” that has been long-awaited and that some people have maybe even longed-for. It is the battle between the brave new digital world and real life. While the "digital natives" declare that real people are dinosaurs they forget that this way of life is common for the vast majority of people. Revolutions have rarely taken into account majority stakes.

In the last couple of days the order of battle fought in the media has suggested that we have arrived in part three of "The Lord of the Digital Rings", and the final battle for Middle-earth was imminent. So this is an opportunity to publish an early obituary for the heroes of bits and bytes, the fighters for 0 and 1. Dear "net community": You will lose this battle. And that's not the revelation of a lonely seer, it is the perspective of a politician who is conscious of history. Even the digital revolution will eat its children. And Web 2.0 will soon be history. And this just raises the question of just how much digital blood is shed by then.

We have to be on alert. Even if the Web 2.0 concept as an imaginary life of a lost generation may soon be history, it definitely has plenty of power to be destructive. After the withdrawal of the digital hordes and the battle fog we should not want to stretch the ruin-like stumps of our society into the sun. If we don’t want to look at the scorched earth of our culture then we have to be vigilant now. So, citizens, watch out! It is worthwhile to defend our civil society online!

This civic society which values freedom, democracy and property has been formed through hard work from the barricades of the French Revolution - this is how the Citoyen was created. And the concept of intellectual property was born right there in the streets of Paris in 1789. A great achievement opposing the spiritual bondage of the Ancien Régime! Finally you were able to start something economically with just an idea - regardless of origin and status. This idea of intellectual property should prove to be an engine for innovation and development on the European continent. This concept should be preserved in the digital age.

On the Internet this concept is at risk. Not because bits and bytes are nibbling from within on the ideas and ideals of our civil society like little Pacmans. No, it's people sitting behind machines who want a different society. They apostrophise total freedom and what they ultimately mean is "digital totalitarianism” as proclaimed by Jaron Lavier. At work is an unholy alliance of these "digital Maoists” and financially sound monopolies. Even if they say they are the good guys - just claiming to be a good guy doesn’t actually turn you into one.

In the recent days Wikipedia and Google have shown their strong arm. But Googles and Wikimedias of this world, let me tell you: Even if Wikipedia is offline for a day and Google shows a censorship bar, that's not the end of human knowledge. Such a hubris! Let’s be clear: The knowledge and above all the wisdom of the world are still in the minds of mankind. So, people, climb the barricades and let’s quote Goethe, the Bible or Marx. And let’s do this reading out from a bound book!

Of course, the ongoing digitalization changes our society. Many tasks become easier. Even this text was created with the help of the achievements of digitalization. But we should begin to fight back if individual people behind the many machines start to dictate our way of life. It is still not too late.

We must not leave the shaping of the future to those who see themselves as a digital avant-garde and think they knew what was best for all those people in front of the machines. In any case, pirates are the worst counselor. They do not respect the property of others, only use their knowledge for their own benefit, are keen to pile up what they can get from others. And obviously, narcissism and “nerdzism” are twins. Of course nobody should be banned from living through his second puberty via Twitter. But you should not call this a political agenda. We still have time to stop this movement. We need the Citoyen who deeply cares about values such as freedom, democracy and ownership - even on the net.

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data visualization porn.

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I am kindly asking for your advice / input / feedback.

On Monday I am invited to attend an expert hearing at the German government's Enquete Commission "Internet and Digital Society". [1]

In short, the commission seeks to understand what media transformation means for Germany and what opportunities and challenges arise in Germany's information society.

The specific topic of Monday's expert hearing will be the underlying trends and changes in a digital economy and its impact on the employment landscape but also its impact on family life and social values ("Veränderungsprozesse in der digitalen Wirtschafts- und Arbeitswelt").

The entire set of questions is public (in German):

As I am writing my expert statement, I am wondering if would like to contribute ideas and opinions. (The final document will also be published on the commission's public website.)

Specifically I would love to read your thoughts on these two main questions:

- What is the German start-up ecosystem lacking and what (if anything) can be improved? (thinking along the lines of tax breaks or simplified accounting rules, social security insurance measures for founders and employees at start-up companies, employments models fostering home office and family time, ....)

- What specific challenges arise from co-working arrangements? (Is this truly a new trend? And if so, what would a career path look like? How should be dealt with "Scheinselbständigkeit"? etc.)

Thanks for any input!



[1] 12. Dezember 2011: 14. Sitzung der Enquete-Kommission

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maybe the best galao in sankt pauli.

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nice read.
Last week I accidentally posted an internal rant about service platforms to my public Google+ account (i.e. this one). It somehow went viral, which is nothing short of stupefying given that it was a massive Wall of Text. The whole thing still feels surreal.

Amazingly, nothing bad happened to me at Google. Everyone just laughed at me a lot, all the way up to the top, for having committed what must be the great-granddaddy of all Reply-All screwups in tech history.

But they also listened, which is super cool. I probably shouldn’t talk much about it, but they’re already figuring out how to deal with some of the issues I raised. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though. When I claimed in my internal post that “Google does everything right”, I meant it. When they’re faced with any problem at all, whether it’s technical or organizational or cultural, they set out to solve it in a first-class way.

Anyway, whenever something goes viral, skeptics start wondering if it was faked or staged. My accident was neither. While I have no proof, I can offer you what I think is the most convincing evidence: for the last six and a half years, I have never once ragged on Amazon publicly. Even just two months ago, in a keynote talk I gave at a conference, I was pretty flattering when I talked about my experiences there. I’ve always skirted any perceived shortcomings and focused on what they do well.

I still have a lot of friends at Amazon. In fact the place is chock-full of people I admire and respect. And up until now I have prided myself on my professionalism whenever I have talked about Amazon. Bagging on the company, even in an internal memo, was uncharacteristically unprofessional of me. So I’ve been feeling pretty guilty for the past week.

So. Without retracting anything I said, I’d like to paint a more balanced picture for you. I’m going to try to paint that picture via some true stories that I’ve never shared publicly. Nothing secondhand: it’s all stuff I witnessed myself there. I hope you’ll find the stories interesting, because it’s one hell of an interesting place.

Since Amazon started with Jeff, I’ll start my stories with one about Jeff.

Amazon War Story #1: Jeff Bezos

Over the years I watched people give presentations to Jeff Bezos and come back bruised: emotionally, intellectually, often career-ily. If you came back with a nod or a signoff, you were jumping for joy. Presenting to Jeff is a gauntlet that tends to send people back to the cave to lick their wounds and stay out of the sunlight for a while.

I say “presentations” and you probably think PowerPoint, but no: he outlawed PowerPoint there many years ago. It’s not allowed on the campus. If you present to Jeff, you write it as prose.

One day it came time for me to present to Jeff. It felt like... I don’t know, maybe how they swarm around you when you’re going to meet the President. People giving you last-minute advice, wishing you luck, ushering you past regiments of admins and security guards. It’s like you’re in a movie. A gladiator movie.

Fortunately I’d spent years watching Jeff in action before my turn came, and I had prepared in an unusual way. My presentation -- which, roughly speaking was about the core skills a generalist engineer ought to know -- was a resounding success. He loved it. Afterwards everyone was patting me on the back and congratulating me like I’d just completed a game-winning hail-mary pass or something. One VP told me privately: “Presentations with Jeff never go that well.”

But here’s the thing: I had already suspected Jeff was going to like my presentation. You see, I had noticed two things about him, watching him over the years, that others had either not caught on to, or else they had not figured out how to make the knowledge actionable.

Here is how I prepared. Amazon people, take note. This will help you. I am dead serious.

To prepare a presentation for Jeff, first make damn sure you know everything there is to know about the subject. Then write a prose narrative explaining the problem and solution(s). Write it exactly the way you would write it for a leading professor or industry expert on the subject.

That is: assume he already knows everything about it. Assume he knows more than you do about it. Even if you have groundbreakingly original ideas in your material, just pretend it’s old hat for him. Write your prose in the succinct, direct, no-explanations way that you would write for a world-leading expert on the material.

You’re almost done. The last step before you’re ready to present to him is this: Delete every third paragraph.

Now you’re ready to present!

Back in the mid-1800s there was this famous-ish composer/pianist named Franz Liszt. He is widely thought to have been the greatest sight-reader who ever lived. He could sight-read anything you gave him, including crazy stuff not even written for piano, like opera scores. He was so staggeringly good at sight-reading that his brain was only fully engaged on the first run-through. After that he’d get bored and start embellishing with his own additions.

Bezos is so goddamned smart that you have to turn it into a game for him or he’ll be bored and annoyed with you. That was my first realization about him. Who knows how smart he was before he became a billionaire -- let’s just assume it was “really frigging smart”, since he did build Amazon from scratch. But for years he’s had armies of people taking care of everything for him. He doesn’t have to do anything at all except dress himself in the morning and read presentations all day long. So he’s really, REALLY good at reading presentations. He’s like the Franz Liszt of sight-reading presentations.

So you have to start tearing out whole paragraphs, or even pages, to make it interesting for him. He will fill in the gaps himself without missing a beat. And his brain will have less time to get annoyed with the slow pace of your brain.

I mean, imagine what it would be like to start off as an incredibly smart person, arguably a first-class genius, and then somehow wind up in a situation where you have a general’s view of the industry battlefield for ten years. Not only do you have more time than anyone else, and access to more information than anyone else, you also have this long-term eagle-eye perspective that only a handful of people in the world enjoy.

In some sense you wouldn’t even be human anymore. People like Jeff are better regarded as hyper-intelligent aliens with a tangential interest in human affairs.

But how do you prepare a presentation for a giant-brained alien? Well, here’s my second realization: He will outsmart you. Knowing everything about your subject is only a first-line defense for you. It’s like armor that he’ll eat through in the first few minutes. He is going to have at least one deep insight about the subject, right there on the spot, and it’s going to make you look like a complete buffoon.

Trust me folks, I saw this happen time and again, for years. Jeff Bezos has all these incredibly intelligent, experienced domain experts surrounding him at huge meetings, and on a daily basis he thinks of shit that they never saw coming. It’s a guaranteed facepalm fest.

So I knew he was going to think of something that I hadn’t. I didn’t know what it might be, because I’d spent weeks trying to think of everything. I had reviewed the material with dozens of people. But it didn’t matter. I knew he was going to blindside me, because that’s what happens when you present to Jeff.

If you assume it’s coming, then it’s not going to catch you quite as off-guard.

And of course it happened. I forgot Data Mining. Wasn’t in the list. He asked me point-blank, very nicely: “Why aren’t Data Mining and Machine Learning in this list?” And I laughed right in his face, which sent a shock wave through the stone-faced jury of VPs who had been listening in silence, waiting for a cue from Jeff as to whether he was going to be happy or I was headed for the salt mines.

I laughed because I was delighted. He’d caught me with my pants down around my ankles, right in front of everyone, despite all my excruciating weeks of preparation. I had even deleted about a third of the exposition just to keep his giant brain busy, but it didn’t matter. He’d done it again, and I looked like a total ass-clown in front of everyone. It was frigging awesome.

So yeah, of course I couldn’t help laughing. And I said: “Yup, you got me. I don’t know why it’s not in there. It should be. I’m a dork. I’ll add it.” And he laughed, and we moved on, and everything was great. Even the VPs started smiling. It annoyed the hell out of me that they’d had to wait for a cue, but whatever. Life was good.

You have to understand: most people were scared around Bezos because they were waaaay too worried about trying to keep their jobs. People in high-level positions sometimes have a little too much personal self-esteem invested in their success. Can you imagine how annoying it must be for him to be around timid people all day long? But me -- well, I thought I was going to get fired every single day. So fuck timid. Might as well aim high and go out in a ball of flame.

That’s where the “Dread Pirate Bezos” line came from. I worked hard and had fun, but every day I honestly worried they might fire me in the morning. Sure, it was a kind of paranoia. But it was sort of healthy in a way. I kept my resume up to date, and I kept my skills up to date, and I never worried about saying something stupid and ruining my career. Because hey, they were most likely going to fire me in the morning.

Thanks to Adam DeBoor for reviewing this post for potential Career Suicide.

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must read.
Dizzying but invisible depth

You just went to the Google home page.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit of about how browsers work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play HTTP, HTML, CSS, ECMAscript, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just connected your computer to

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit about how networks work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play DNS, TCP, UDP, IP, Wifi, Ethernet, DOCSIS, OC, SONET, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just typed in the location bar of your browser.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know a bit about how operating systems work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play a kernel, a USB host stack, an input dispatcher, an event handler, a font hinter, a sub-pixel rasterizer, a windowing system, a graphics driver, and more, all of those written in high-level languages that get processed by compilers, linkers, optimizers, interpreters, and more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Let's simplify.

You just pressed a key on your keyboard.

Simple, isn't it?

What just actually happened?

Well, when you know about bit about how input peripherals work, it's not quite that simple. You've just put into play a power regulator, a debouncer, an input multiplexer, a USB device stack, a USB hub stack, all of that implemented in a single chip. That chip is built around thinly sliced wafers of highly purified single-crystal silicon ingot, doped with minute quantities of other atoms that are blasted into the crystal structure, interconnected with multiple layers of aluminum or copper, that are deposited according to patterns of high-energy ultraviolet light that are focused to a precision of a fraction of a micron, connected to the outside world via thin gold wires, all inside a packaging made of a dimensionally and thermally stable resin. The doping patterns and the interconnects implement transistors, which are grouped together to create logic gates. In some parts of the chip, logic gates are combined to create arithmetic and bitwise functions, which are combined to create an ALU. In another part of the chip, logic gates are combined into bistable loops, which are lined up into rows, which are combined with selectors to create a register bank. In another part of the chip, logic gates are combined into bus controllers and instruction decoders and microcode to create an execution scheduler. In another part of the chip, they're combined into address and data multiplexers and timing circuitry to create a memory controller. There's even more. Those are actually such incredibly complex technologies that they'll make any engineer dizzy if they think about them too much, and such that no single company can deal with that entire complexity.

Can we simplify further?

In fact, very scarily, no, we can't. We can barely comprehend the complexity of a single chip in a computer keyboard, and yet there's no simpler level. The next step takes us to the software that is used to design the chip's logic, and that software itself has a level of complexity that requires to go back to the top of the loop.

Today's computers are so complex that they can only be designed and manufactured with slightly less complex computers. In turn the computers used for the design and manufacture are so complex that they themselves can only be designed and manufactured with slightly less complex computers. You'd have to go through many such loops to get back to a level that could possibly be re-built from scratch.

Once you start to understand how our modern devices work and how they're created, it's impossible to not be dizzy about the depth of everything that's involved, and to not be in awe about the fact that they work at all, when Murphy's law says that they simply shouldn't possibly work.

For non-technologists, this is all a black box. That is a great success of technology: all those layers of complexity are entirely hidden and people can use them without even knowing that they exist at all. That is the reason why many people can find computers so frustrating to use: there are so many things that can possibly go wrong that some of them inevitably will, but the complexity goes so deep that it's impossible for most users to be able to do anything about any error.

That is also why it's so hard for technologists and non-technologists to communicate together: technologists know too much about too many layers and non-technologists know too little about too few layers to be able to establish effective direct communication. The gap is so large that it's not even possible any more to have a single person be an intermediate between those two groups, and that's why e.g. we end up with those convoluted technical support call centers and their multiple tiers. Without such deep support structures, you end up with the frustrating situation that we see when end users have access to a bug database that is directly used by engineers: neither the end users nor the engineers get the information that they need to accomplish their goals.

That is why the mainstream press and the general population has talked so much about Steve Jobs' death and comparatively so little about Dennis Ritchie's: Steve's influence was at a layer that most people could see, while Dennis' was much deeper. On the one hand, I can imagine where the computing world would be without the work that Jobs did and the people he inspired: probably a bit less shiny, a bit more beige, a bit more square. Deep inside, though, our devices would still work the same way and do the same things. On the other hand, I literally can't imagine where the computing world would be without the work that Ritchie did and the people he inspired. By the mid 80s, Ritchie's influence had taken over, and even back then very little remained of the pre-Ritchie world.

Finally, last but not least, that is why our patent system is broken: technology has done such an amazing job at hiding its complexity that the people regulating and running the patent system are barely even aware of the complexity of what they're regulating and running. That's the ultimate bikeshedding: just like the proverbial discussions in the town hall about a nuclear power plant end up being about the paint color for the plant's bike shed, the patent discussions about modern computing systems end up being about screen sizes and icon ordering, because in both cases those are the only aspect that the people involved in the discussion are capable of discussing, even though they are irrelevant to the actual function of the overall system being discussed.

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Earlier today I sent out my newsletter and in response received a lot of great feedback and valid discussion points. Encouraged by your feedback I am going to throw this out here to dissect. It's an experiment.

Just to make one thing very clear: No, this is not me applying for a job. I am doing fine. This is me fighting for product and against misguided product decisions.


Dear friends and colleagues,

I love watching these two videos. I could watch them over and over again. Those videos show Martin Winterkorn in action at the recent IAA (International Auto Show) in Frankfurt.

[1] at Honda - IAA 2011: Volkswagen BOSS studying new Honda
[2] at Hyundai - IAA 2011 Hyundai new generation i30 and Martin Winterkorn (Chairman of the Volkswagen AG)

Martin Winterkorn is not just some grumpy engineer. Winterkorn is Chairman of the Board of Volkswagen AG and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Audi and Porsche Automobil Holding SE.

So there you can watch him closely inspecting the new Hyundai i30 and the new Honda Civic. You immediately sense that he knows what he is doing. And you quickly understand why he is considered an obsessive product guy. He loves cars. He loves every detail and every screw. And as soon as he discovers that the competition is doing something new and innovative and is able to produce superior quality, you can witness his anger building up as he is challenging his team.

His entourage isn’t made up of random underlings either. There are Klaus Bischoff, Head of Volkswagen Brand Design, and also Ferdinand Piëch (Chairman of Volkswagen Group’s Supervisory Board and grandson of Ferdinand Porsche), among others. And in the center of all attention is Winterkorn repeatedly opening and closing doors, inspecting trunk lids, touching the interior, taking measure, noting that the windshield wipers aren’t visible from the inside, and getting upset when he discovers that the wheel of the Hyundai can be readjusted at ease. “How come, this car can do it?” he asks his team repeatedly. “How come the competition can do something we can’t? BMW can’t do it, we can’t do it… this one can!” Winterkorn is obsessed with product quality. He is a product maniac who totally gets product and pushes hard to make product better.

Why do I think these videos matter?

I have been building and running websites and Internet applications for well over ten years. I think it’s pretty fair to say that I consider myself a product guy, too. Product matters. And in the so-called “real world” (= cars) product matters as much as it does on the Internet (= websites, apps).

That’s why I would LOVE to be challenged by a guy like Winterkorn. “How come, this website can do this?” or “What are these two pixels doing here?” or “Why is this sign-up process so complicated?” or “Does this feature really improve usability?” or “Why is our load time so slow?” are just examples for questions every product guy (or girl) should care about on a daily basis. Closely watching what the competition is doing while caring about every detail with passion should be the rule, not an exception.

What is the difference between a good and a bad website? How can you tell the difference? It’s really quite simple: by using a LOT of websites and apps. Just like Winterkorn spending a LOT of his time behind the wheel driving many different cars throughout the year, you need to spend a LOT of your time using websites and services to get to the core of “good” and “bad”. Just like cars, good web design is not about color, it’s not about “green” versus “red”. You don’t see Winterkorn complaining about the color of the new Hyundai. You see him opening and closing doors, you see him using the car, touching and feeling it.

If you ever get caught up in a discussion about color when what you should be discussing are features and usability, chances are your opponent has no clue about what he or she is talking about. You don't want to argue about color. You want to argue with managers like Winterkorn. And fight for every pixel.

This is exactly why I think it’s actually dangerous that politicians discourage others from using certain websites. Not using something, not trying it out, not getting a sense of the “touch and feel” means they will remain clueless and unable to make any qualified judgement whatsoever. Why am I bringing this up?

In Germany, Ilse Aigner, the Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, recently sent out an open letter to fellow ministers, urging them not to use Facebook profiles or fanpages. Aigner has been very critical of Facebook’s data protection policies – which in itself is not a bad thing at all. And while criticizing Facebook is one thing, not using Facebook at all (or even urging others not to use it) is something very different, especially if you are a role model or an elected official or both.

Aigner could have said: “Be careful when using social networks like Facebook” and could have educated the general public about the potential risks of sharing too much personal information. And while it’s not in Aigner’s job description to encourage use of technology, she could have also taken a more balanced approach and highlighted some of the potential benefits of social networking as well.

Heck, she could even use Facebook just to share updates at (the recently launched consumer information portal) with the 20+ million Germans who are using Facebook on a regular basis. Instead remains unnavigable, uninformative, unsexy. With the help of Facebook, could actually matter. What the site clearly lacks? A product guy or girl. Someone who knows how to build a good and usable web service. Someone who cares about product, not color. Someone like Martin Winterkorn.


Interested in regular updates? Sign up here:

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As some of you might know, I have decided to leave Hubert Burda Media. When I made the initial announcement, I also created a little email list to stay in touch with friends and colleagues and to share ideas and trends in (mostly) mobile social media and related topics.

I am about to send out my first email to the list. In case you are interested, you can just sign up here: - and if you don't like it, you can also unsubscribe, no questions asked.
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