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Laptop Computers Detect and Monitor Earthquakes

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the we're-gonna-need-more-granularity-in-here dept.

Science 78

Pickens writes "Live Science reports that 1,000 people from 61 countries have signed up with the Quake-Catcher Network to take advantage of built-in accelerometers in newer laptops that transmit data about earthquakes to researchers at UC Irvine and Stanford University. 'It's providing additional data that can be fed into the seismic networks,' says Elizabeth Cochran, a UC Irvine geoscientist. 'It also allows us to record earthquakes at a scale that we haven't been able to before because of the cost.' Cochran came up with the idea for the Quake-Catcher Network when she learned that most new laptops come equipped with accelerometers designed to switch off the hard drive if the laptop is dropped. 'I figured that we could easily tap into this data and use it to record earthquakes.' While traditional seismic monitors can detect earthquakes of magnitude 1.0 or less, the lowest magnitude the Quake-Catcher Network can detect is about 4.0, a moderate quake much like the one that hit LA on March 16. But what the network lacks in sensitivity, it makes up for in price as traditional seismic sensors cost $5,000 to $10,000 apiece. 'Ideally we would have seismometers in every building, or at least on every block. And in tall buildings, we'd have multiple sensors [on different floors],' says Cochran. 'That way, we would be able to actually get much higher detail images of how the ground shakes during an earthquake.'"

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78 comments

*Faaaaaart* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588428)

*faaaaaaaaaart*

Oops, I farted. Hehehe *snicker*

"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588468)

"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? That's the cost of a low-end Apple laptop. So where exactly are the cost savings coming from?

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (2, Informative)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588512)

From not having to buy them at all. Users would buy them and sign up to install software and send back data. And not everyone uses a Mac, BTW. Shocking, I know.

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588846)

From not having to buy them at all. Users would buy them and sign up to install software and send back data. And not everyone uses a Mac, BTW. Shocking, I know.

I have only one thing to say about this:

Why do nigger women dye their hair blonde and wear blue contacts? So nigger men will date them!

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (2, Insightful)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589206)

What is with the Mac hate?

IBM/Lenovo ran an ad a long time ago talking about his new Thinkpad stopping the drive when the laptop was falling. The other guy grabs the laptop drops it on the ground and says so the hard drive is fine.

The other guy says that's not my Thinkpad, hilarity ensues.

But if all you need is an accelerometer, somebody needs to tell this guy to write an app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, my Droid, and probably a lot of other phones.

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (1)

cjcela (1539859) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589480)

That is a good idea. Still, a lot of phones will be in pockets, hands, etc.. and my guess is that human bodies will make pretty good damping mechanisms. I wonder if that will work...

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588518)

From sticking my dick in your dad's ass.

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (1)

Elros (735454) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588528)

Funny, I can get one for a round $1000. I'd say a savings of 80-90% per unit is fairly significant. Since most of these computers are purchased for other reasons, the cost becomes very low.

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31589232)

Sorry, not all of us have connections like yours within the gay community. We can't acquire Apple products that cheaply. We have to go to the Apple Store or order online, and pay the full Apple price. So we're looking at at least $4000 for a typical MacBook that isn't complete shit.

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589434)

So we're looking at at least $4000 for a typical MacBook that isn't complete shit.

You said entry-level, not 'cheapest decent'. An entry-level MacBook is $1k, end of story. Similarly, a new entry-level video card costs about $100. It's not determined by whether it runs Crysis or is suitable for a power-user, entry-level is meant to be lowest cost that meets some minimum requirement to be a part of the group (ie, it's a laptop and not a netbook).

Re:"$5,000 to $10,000 apiece"? (1)

mschuyler (197441) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589754)

'$5,000 to $10,000 apiece' is the cost of a traditional seisometer--not a computer. I know, you actually have to read the post to understand that, but just sayin'

Take this! (1)

ijustam (1127015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588476)

*shakes laptop vigorously*

Re:Take this! (4, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588718)

In all seriousness, they use the laptops to provide supplementary data to model the shaking of the ground and the buildings, not as primary earthquake detectors. People deliberately shaking their laptops are their least concerns. (Normal shaking, like from typing, is more important.)

Re:Take this! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588862)

(Normal shaking, like from typing, is more important.)

Just wait until someone releases a paper on how to detect exactly what someone is typing by examining the accelerometer. That would be a very interesting research project and have possible consequences for anyone just randomly giving out data like this (not that I have anything against this project, I would use it on my play laptops but not my work laptops).

Re:Take this! (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588950)

I would think that there would be enough of a variation between models that any software attempting to obtain such information would have to be tailored for specific models. The surface that the laptop is rested on may also come into play.

There are simpler ways to obtain the same result.

Re:Take this! (1)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589970)

(Normal shaking, like from typing, is more important.)

Just wait until someone releases a paper on how to detect exactly what someone is typing by examining the accelerometer. That would be a very interesting research project and have possible consequences for anyone just randomly giving out data like this (not that I have anything against this project, I would use it on my play laptops but not my work laptops).

Is not the accelerometer a component of the laptop? In that case, if an adversary can obtain the readings from the accelerometer, they should have enough access to the machine to just install a keylogger. Therefore this technique, while technically interesting, seems rather pointless as a realistic attack vector.

Re:Take this! (1)

greenguy (162630) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588866)

I thought of this, too, as I sit here in a coffeeshop, feeling the floor shake as people walk by. However, I'm going to guess that most people's typing wouldn't register 4.0 on the Richter scale.

Re:Take this! (3, Funny)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589800)

You're in a coffee shop. Try it at McDonalds, and I think you'd find a different level on the scale.

Re:Take this! (2, Informative)

troll -1 (956834) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588900)

1) FTA: "[t]he Quake-Catcher software program ...... runs in the background on the laptop and becomes active when the user is idle."

2) The data is supplemental and used only for additional info gathered at the time of an earthquake.

How about using Wii hardware? (3, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588480)

There was a report here on slashdot that the balance board hardware was actually VERY good. Maybe the MotionPlus could be useful.

Nah. Mobile phones (4, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588828)

Many mobiles have accelerometers these days in addition to gps. So you can get the gps positions of the wave as well as the gps timestamp and the accelerometer values.

They are even connected to a network. The tricorder in startrek... Mobile phone...
 

Re:Nah. Mobile phones (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588984)

I suspect, though, that substantially fewer mobile phones are well coupled to the earth at any given time.

Laptops aren't fantastic in that regard; but they are substantially better. Most of a laptop's "on time" is spent sitting on some more or less solid piece of furniture. There are the "user wandering around holding the thing" and "sitting in user's amply padded lap" and "on top of cushion on top of pile of blankets on top of bed, overheating" data points that you have to be able to filter out; but those are the exceptions.

With phones, they spend most of their lives in a pocket or bag, or in somebody's hand. Amount of time spent sitting, laptop like, on a solid surface is pretty small. And, when there is a human between you and the ground, you lose a lot of detail at the low and high ends of intensity(and, perhaps even more serious, since resolution depends on accurate detection of low intensity stuff, you always lose that). The body of a standing human is really good at compensating for small vibrations. Our balance depends on it. On the high end, the accelerometer trace of "falls over, runs around screaming" is probably pretty dramatic; but ill correlated with what the ground is doing.

prepay sim, superglue, custom python app (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590210)

Nokia 5500 £20 on Ebay with accelerometer, no gps but if you're glueing it down you know where it is.
N82 with accelerometer & GPS. £50

It's really ridiculous how much computing power is being virtually thrown away these days. You even get premade accessories like solar chargers if you want to place them somewhere off grid.

 

Re:prepay sim, superglue, custom python app (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31592618)

Oh, I totally agree that for "purchasing off-the-shelf-tech as a cheaper substitute for purpose-built seismometers" cases, mobile phones are the way to go. Cheaper, lower power, smaller, solid state, even the ghastliest of them can do SMS to report back to HQ. Buy 'em in bulk, glue them to stuff, get bulk rate on SMS from whatever local telcomm is hungriest. Game over. Laptops don't even compare.
br> However, my impression was that this project was looking to piggyback on equipment that is already in the field because people are using it. Under those conditions, cell phones aren't nearly as good for the reasons above stated(plus, given the way people buy bandwidth vs. the way they buy cell service, most people have some "free" bandwidth, they are paying a flat rate per month, or using an open hotspot, or whatever. Fewer people have "free" SMSs or cellular bandwidth, since many don't have any monthly allocation at all, and are paying piece rates, and the rest tend to have fairly low caps).

In terms of sheer technology per dollar(and per cubic centimeter per dollar), it is hard to beat cell phones. However, if you are piggybacking, I'd argue that laptops are a better bet.

Re:Nah. Mobile phones (1)

shadowbearer (554144) | more than 4 years ago | (#31591694)

  Couldn't they filter noise of that nature out with the same software they use for seismometers?

  SB

Re:Nah. Mobile phones (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31592782)

The trouble isn't noise per se(cellphones would definitely be noisy; but laptops have things like typing to consider, so they are both noisy); but lost signal.

If a laptop is sitting on the table, on, it is fairly well coupled to the ground(not as well as a pro seismometer, where phrases like "located on concrete piers attached to bedrock" tend to crop up); but reasonably well. The actual accelerometer chip is soldered onto the board, which is bolted into a rigid frame, which has a few thin, non-skid rubber feet between it and some large piece of furniture.

Some signal is going to get eaten; but a lot is going to make it through. You then have to filter out the noise from typing(incidentally, I would award 10,000 internet points to any security researcher who can infer what a user is typing from their computer's accelerometer data...) HDD spinning, computer audio, and the like. Not ideal; but free and numerous.

The trouble with phones is that they are loosely coupled. If a phone is in my pocket, it is suspended in a fabric pouch from my waist, loosely held against my thigh by the outer fabric layer. Any competent signals dude can probably filter out my gait, and any swinging of the pocket. However, only an Oracle can infer back in the subtle vibrations that the nerves and muscles of my feet and legs are automatically damping in order to help me keep my balance(also incidentally, your insurance company will award 100,000 internet points to any security researcher who can use accelerometer data to make early diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis or similar based on accelerometer data from the user's cellphone so that they can have their coverage cancelled). And, in the case of more dramatic shaking, a competent signals guy can probably infer something from which direction I fall over; but my body will still be eating the fine detail.

Re:Nah. Mobile phones (1)

shadowbearer (554144) | more than 4 years ago | (#31593678)

  Ah, so the real problem is too many levels of noise (laptop-rubberfeet-frame etc) Thanks :)

  It's amazing what noise filtering software can do nowadays, but I don't have time to keep up with the field and couldn't hope to keep up with the math, so have to ask :)

SB

Re:Nah. Mobile phones (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589950)

The tricorder in startrek... Mobile phone...

There's an actual tricorder app for the Android (don't know about the iPhone). Best app ever - comes complete with acoustic, accelerometric, magnetic and solar data, and the all important sound effects. Now if I could just flip it and talk into it like in Star Trek.... geek bliss.

Re:How about using Wii hardware? (2, Interesting)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589550)

The balance board uses strain guages, which can't detect earthquakes to my knowledge. Similarly, motionplus is gyroscopes, which in this case are not accurate enough to determine the very small displacements from an earthquake.

However, I'm very surprised they're not just going for a bulk purchase of unlocked smartphones, it must be cheaper and just as accurate as laptop accelerometers. Laptops seem very roundabout...

Re:How about using Wii hardware? (3, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589942)

However, I'm very surprised they're not just going for a bulk purchase of unlocked smartphones, it must be cheaper and just as accurate as laptop accelerometers. Laptops seem very roundabout...

Price, Quality, Speed. Pick two.

Laptops are "free", have "free" internet, get recharged for "free", are usually on a solid surface, and the reporting software is downloadable. And by "free" I mean "free to the scientists"

OTOH, do you want to be the guy who has to get permission from XYZ building owners in order to distribute and plug in an endless number of smart phones?

Software on laptops seem to be a lot better than smartphones when it comes to price and speed.

Re:How about using Wii hardware? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31595496)

let's not forget that laptop are generally not good at gps positioning, plus you have to ask permission to the user to detect the laptop's position, and report it to a server somewhere.
When I say a laptop is not good at gps positioning, I mean that most of the times it's indoors ...
and when it's outdoors, it will get shaken often, so not a reliable detector for earthquake when it has good gps recpeption ...

oh well, nice try anyway

Re:How about using Wii hardware? (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31596562)

Ah, I fail at reading comprehension. It's a distributed computing measure, meaning that yes, the laptops are already in the field doing someone else's work, they just happen to be earthquake sensors as well.

Re:How about using Wii hardware? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590376)

The balance board uses strain guages, which can't detect earthquakes to my knowledge

Sure they can - just put a 200-pound weight on it, and place it on the floor. Look at the design of some of the old seismographs - or even gravity wave detectors.

Call from Quake-Catcher (3, Funny)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588486)

[phone rings, Quake-Catcher volunteer answers]
Volunteer: "Hello?"
Quake-Catcher Scientist: "Hi, Mr. Jones. We'd like to ask you some questions about a highly-localized event last night."
V: "What?"
S: "We clearly read a 8.8 Richter reading in your apartment last night around 10PM, but we can't confirm this with any other data."
V: [puts hand over handset] "HONEY?! DID YOU LEAVE THE LAPTOP IN THE BED LAST NIGHT?!"

Re:Call from Quake-Catcher (3, Funny)

furby076 (1461805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588602)

S: "We clearly read a 0.1 Richter reading in your apartment last night around 10PM, but we can't confirm this with any other data."

fix't

Re:Call from Quake-Catcher (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588654)

That definitely wouldn't be a problem if they kept them in the basements that slashdotters live in.

Re:Call from Quake-Catcher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588794)

The laptop is more likely to detect a possible "quake" due to the user all of a sudden switched to using one hand.

Realism filter: Fixed (1)

shadowbearer (554144) | more than 4 years ago | (#31591764)

  "Honey, what happened in the apartment last night when I was at work? The geo-survey people tell me they recorded a 9 richter scale earthquake here."

  "Nothing, dear."

SB

Flash-Group Earthquakes are fun! (4, Funny)

uncledrax (112438) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588572)

I can't wait for Facebook group 'laptop drops' to simulate earth quakes.. the winner being hte person that can get the highest on the Richter scale w/o braking their laptops..

Re:Flash-Group Earthquakes are fun! (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590768)

If you could actually coordinate a mass shaking of laptops, with appropriately staggered times and shaking characteristics, I would be very, very impressed.

Re:Flash-Group Earthquakes are fun! (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590792)

Not to mention that you'd have to do it at exactly the same time as an actual earthquake, since afaict they plan to use the laptop data only as supplemental data to get more detail about events that they detect with the traditional seismometer network.

Re:Flash-Group Earthquakes are fun! (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590822)

the winner being hte person that can get the highest on the Richter scale w/o braking their laptops..

Sudden deceleration without applying braking? Physical impossibility, I think.

Mobiles? (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588580)

Didn't I see something just the other day about doing the exact same thing but with smartphones?

Re:Mobiles? (1)

penguinchris (1020961) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588836)

This specific implementation (the quake-catcher network) has been around for several years already, so this is already old news - and I believe there was indeed an article on slashdot about a similar idea for smartphones. I think I posted information about this in that article's comments, actually.

Easily? (1)

jamesl (106902) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588656)

I figured that we could easily tap into this data and use it to record earthquakes.

Sounds like someone from marketing. "Oh yeah, that's easy. It's only software."

Re:Easily? (3, Informative)

penguinchris (1020961) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588906)

Well, it is actually quite easy... there is a lot of software available that will capture the data from accelerometers and display it to you. The hardware is pretty simple and I guess the APIs are easy to use (I'm not a programmer I'm just assuming based on the software I've seen). When I first got a computer with an accelerometer (a Thinkpad from a couple years ago) I was even able to set it up to use the accelerometer input as a joystick in linux. Not practical, but kind of amusing to try to play a flying game by moving the whole computer around :) There are also several programs for iphones and Android devices that will output all of the accelerometer data to you (on android I recommend the free "Tricorder" program, it shows you data from all the sensors and more than you probably thought possible).

Therefore it should be - and apparently was - fairly trivial to set up a program to run in the background logging and monitoring the data

The neat thing is that the accelerometers really are quite high-resolution, and there is one measuring each direction (x, y, and z) which real seismometers also do.

HAARP@Home - rocking the trojan horse boat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588710)

Sounds like a great idea for a new distributed computing project screensaver!

It could be grafted to the Seti@Home project! Unless that is what Seti@Home really is for! Who cares, say the coincidence theorists, we love the pretty screensaver!

Re:HAARP@Home - rocking the trojan horse boat (1)

djsmiley (752149) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588958)

love the haarp but this is already "part" of seti at home... as in it runs under boinc, which is from the creators of seti...

Prank time! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588746)

Time to install an SSD, and leave my laptop idling on top of my washing machine. =3

Re:Prank time! (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589038)

I hope you like replacing small proprietary fans. And reseating mini-PCIe cards buried deep within the guts of the system. And generally getting to know all the horrid little connectors that infest the modern laptop.

Re:Prank time! (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589202)

Well, maybe that would make a nice new laptop test. How long does it survive a washing machine's spin cycle?
For ruggedized laptops, put them into the drum :-)

How about using the sensor data to .. (1)

roguegramma (982660) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588874)

How about using the sensor data to tell what keys the person has pressed on the keyboard?

One other advantage (2, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588888)

They are also taking advantage of the fact that most laptops seldom (if ever) move much. Many people buy them more to save physical space on their desk than they do to actually go somewhere with them.

Hasn't Apple had this for years? (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31588910)

Haven't some Apple machines had this for a few years now? IIRC, it was called "SeisMac" or something like that.

My laptop is better (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31588990)

Earthquakes? Phaw. My laptop can tell both the weather and earthquakes!

When it's wet, it's raining. When it blows over, it's windy. And if it jiggles, there's an earthquake.

Captcha: goatse. Has someone been fooling around with Slashdot again?

drive-by download (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31589016)

second link takes you to a drive-by download site

AFRICA?? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31589270)

African internet presence is saddening, indeed.

The first link in TFS has a Google map. The google map shows a single laptop for Africa, located in Cairo. Zoom out and you can see it's not a fluke, because the other continents have plenty of entries of either laptops or USB sensors (compare to Puerto Rico or US presence)

Re:AFRICA?? (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 4 years ago | (#31591690)

Yeah but by that measure Australia and India are both pretty damn empty too. It may just be a question of awareness or interest.

Sounds fishy... (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589284)

Even by averaging the data, I can't see how they expect to see anything as small as a scale 4.0... Laptops are mobile things, they usually stand on the lap, which is not an ideal stable platform...

Re:Sounds fishy... (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 4 years ago | (#31593140)

It's not for primary detection of earthquakes, so they know exactly when to look for interesting data from the laptops, and they can look at the motion of the laptop before and after the earthquake and throw out any results from laptops that were moving about at the time.

What about mice? (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31589634)

My optical mouse often turns on its LED for no apparent reason. This is in SoCal so I have a feeling it's just damn sensitive.
It always turns on when I walk into the room.

I don't use a mouse pad (which are usually a bit sticky so they should introduce a hysteresis) but the mouse just sits on the smooth desktop.

Re:What about mice? (1)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31594432)

That's just a new part of Superfetch. Windows 7 knows you're about to move the mouse, so it warms it up.

Seriously though, how flexible is your floor, could easily be shifting the floorboards. Dunno about its usability for quakes though, you're missing at least one axis of movement and probably magnitude in the remaining ones.

Re:What about mice? (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | about 4 years ago | (#31652658)

If I ran Windows I might look into this hypothesis :)
My point is, it sometimes also turns on when I don't walk around. Of course it could be just a fat neighbor,

unanswered questions (3, Interesting)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590104)

most new laptops come equipped with accelerometers

So how do I determine if my laptop has one? And if it does, how can I get access to it by software? Even if the is one or more accelerometers in there for protection of the hard drive, it will require a presence in the I/O address space, I assume, for it to be used by this or any other software. Apparently this exists, or the software would be as useful as Duke Nuken Forever, but I have not found any insight in the articles on how accelerometers can be accessed. Can anyone provide some technical details? I would like to use this for other applications, but would gladly share any earthquake data that the system captured while it was idle if I had the hardware.

Re:unanswered questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31592432)

Such a long post and you didn't say what kind of laptop you have?!

/.'d (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 4 years ago | (#31590700)

Never was a statement rendered so inaccurate no that this has been slashdotted. "1,000 people from 61 countries have signed up with the Quake-Catcher Network" More than that by now.

Many laptops in single building (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31598056)

This could also provide interesting data in the case of a large office building, allowing better analysis of how the structure reacted to the motion. Hundreds of points of measurement, in a real-world structure, during and even, could lead to even better understanding of failure modes for structures.

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