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Computer History Museum Wants to Preserve Minitel History

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the barn-full-of-compuserve-artifacts-too dept.

The Internet 58

coondoggie writes "It's been almost a year since France Telecom shut down its once widely popular Minitel online services and historians are worried that its legacy from a preservationist point of view is being lost forever. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA., naturally wants to collect and preserve all manner of industry historical artifacts, and Minitel is one of the central components of its 'Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing' exhibit."

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Warning about Computer History Museum (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124719)

This is a very elitist/snooty organization. Research very carefully if you have anything of value to "donate" to this museum. Chances are you will never have access to it again -- but rest assured an MBA will.

Re:Warning about Computer History Museum (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124743)

Instead, donate to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park (www.tnmoc.org), and help preserve the legacy of Alan Turing and the rest of the brilliant minds that cracked the Enigma code and helped shape digital computing as we know it today.

Re:Warning about Computer History Museum (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124917)

World War Two was a war fought between Russia and the US to carve up land which previously belonged to the British and German empires.

Why would I want to celebrate the life of a dissident anti-unionist in the context of this lost war? He was a great mathematician, but the Enigma cracking is nothing to be proud of. Hell, we should celebrate Poland if we're going to do that. And I'm still wondering why there's so much debate over his death - the fact is that we know far too little about the circumstances surrounding it to determine whether it was murder or suicide, and it's quite possible that he was David Kelly'd. People banging the gay rights drum do themselves a disfavour by discussing "why he killed himself".

Re:Warning about Computer History Museum (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124879)

This is true of most museums, technology or otherwise - unless your donation includes large sums of money, its simply that - a donation, not an invitation to come and 'play' with whatever you 'donated'.

If you want to play with your artifact, keep it. If you want to see it preserved, donate it. But don't expect the curators to be your personal artifact babysitter, thats not how museum donations work.

Re: Warning about Computer History Museum (1)

kerohazel (913211) | about a year and a half ago | (#43126047)

But why isn't there a model for people who want to share their toys without losing access to them?

You can't really compare most museums to the CHM because the items in most museums aren't interactive. Or at least, you can appreciate the items without necessarily "using" them.

I wouldn't expect to have *unrestricted* access, but it would be nice if they at least gave donors certain days when they could come play with their stuff for free, provided it didn't interfere with other patrons' enjoyment.

Re: Warning about Computer History Museum (1)

Rational (1990) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125135)

Sounds about right. What's the problem?

Re: Warning about Computer History Museum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43126575)

Once you give it to them,
its THEIR toy. Not a lot of room for interactivity,
and I am not talking about the older stuff,
but they have **loads** of stuff
that they could let you interact with,
but they dont.

They ran the place out of cardboard boxes for decades.
And they now have some very good sponsors,
but its a closed group. Your not going to get in anytime soon,
unless you give them a lot of money.

Re:Warning about Computer History Museum (3, Informative)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125179)

I guess that's the general problem with giving stuff away; it's no longer yours.

Re:Warning about Computer History Museum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43127789)

If your in the UK - take a look at www.retrocomputermuseum.co.uk - a registered charity - all donations welcome and a great bunch of guys running it. Why not get in touch if you have something to donate - or if you want to donate your time - get behind the scenes and help out !!

Minitel and trumpet winsock. (4, Interesting)

ls671 (1122017) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124741)

Minitel and trumpet winsock remind me of a time when the French government, Microsoft and others believed that Internet competing networks would emerge and that they should create their own. Minitel actually had a competing network for quite a while and Microsoft did not believe into the need to include a IP stack in their product.

Who would redo the same today?

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (4, Informative)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124847)

The German Post Office and Telecom offered a similar service called Bildschirmtext (Btx): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bildschirmtext [wikipedia.org]

That system eventually evolved into the T-Online ISP in Germany. So it wasn't entirely a dead end.

. . . and the access nodes for the system were running . . . wait for it . . . OS/2!

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43125023)

OS/2? When was that? BTX was introduced in 1983, long before Os2...

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#43126079)

OS/2? When was that? BTX was introduced in 1983, long before Os2...

The first Btx system had IBM Series/1 machines as access nodes. The Btx 4.0 system development was started in late 1989, and rolled out somewhere around 1991-1993. This system had rack mounted industrial PCs from IBM. The Chaos Computer Club would probably have more detailed information.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124923)

You should understand that the internet in those days was a research network resulting from a defense project.
It was not a network that was built for the general public, and it was only obvious that a new network was to be built for that purpose.
Suggesting that the general public was to be connected to that network was like suggesting that john doe would use the defense satellite network
or would get books from the university library.

What the internet is today has little resemblance to what it was back then.
The surprising thing is that the internet of today uses the protocols created for that early internet, and not the attempts to create
standard protocols made by some companies and authorities.

Re: Minitel and trumpet winsock. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43125625)

I don't know what it's like in your state...but anyone with a valid driver's license from our state with $10 can have lifetime access to the Univeristy library here. Knowledge to the people!
Now, if you're talking about Ivy league BS, that's probably true.
MIT's libraries are open to the public, though.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (2)

funkboy (71672) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124939)

Who would redo the same today?

Iran & North Korea.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124991)

Actually, before Windows 95, there wasn't enough on the Internet to justify the inclusion of a SLIP/PPP "stack" for dial-up Internet connections. (This was back in the days when paid online services like CompuServe dominated the scene.) That's why Windows 95 was such a huge breakthrough for Internet usage--you didn't need to add a program to get the SLIP/PPP "stack" for dial-up Internet access, and a lot of people have said that the commercial usage of the Internet really took off from 1995 on when millions of computers with Windows 95 arrived on the scene.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

muon-catalyzed (2483394) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125091)

The Trumpet Winsock software plus the early Nestcape Navigator made the early internet possible on Window >=3.0 and there were a lot of Internet even in those days.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year and a half ago | (#43127171)

This must be where I get declared officially old...

Because I distinctly remember those days in the early 90s, and routinely used Trumpet Winsock with Netscape Navigator 2 and (and later 3) on my win3x machine. (ahhh... old school 486es..) There was quite a bit on the internet then. About all it was missing were internet Venerial Diseases, like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and pals, and the ubiquitous adverts that sustain said ilk.

BUT, if you REALLY wanted services like those, there were plenty of messageboards, IRC chat was very hot, and newsgroups were still very much alive. (if doomed to the beginnings of eternal september.)

In many ways, I deeply miss that old internet.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43128471)

True, but because the Trumpet Winsock software had to be installed before you got on the Internet, that kind of cut its appeal to many less-experienced users. But with Windows 95 offering SLIP/PPP "stack" built in, that made it very easy to configure the computer for real Internet access, and this opened the door for a huge leap up in commercial Internet access.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

LinuxIsGarbage (1658307) | about a year and a half ago | (#43131369)

True, but because the Trumpet Winsock software had to be installed before you got on the Internet, that kind of cut its appeal to many less-experienced users. But with Windows 95 offering SLIP/PPP "stack" built in, that made it very easy to configure the computer for real Internet access, and this opened the door for a huge leap up in commercial Internet access.

In my case at least it was cost. From 1993-1995 we used a shell account on a local freenet for internet access. Because it was, err, free. The cost of dialup SLIP/PPP providers was dropping, but early on you were paying high cost per hour / minute (hence all the "free" hours... not months... of AOL service on floppies). As it was the ISPs would supply a disk that would install and configure trumpet on a win3.x computer, or just configure the built in stack on Win95, so configuring wasn't that hard.

So for us the move to PPP coincided with Windows 95, only because the cost of the service dropped, not because of the bundled TCP/IP stack. It was a lot of included hours in 1996, and by 1998 we had unlimited hours, and a dedicated modem phone line, then in ~2000 jumped over to broadband.

For quite a while (10-12 years I'd say) the community net has also offered low cost PPP access ($10/mth) in addition to free shell access.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

Sique (173459) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125127)

Actually, before Windows 95, there was already so much Internet, that MSN (which was introduced at the same time and launched as a dial up network for Windows users) never gained any relevant marketshare, and AOL acquired the failing CompuServe. Not to mention eWorld... (anyone remembers Apple's network?).

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (4, Interesting)

mad flyer (589291) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125139)

For god sake, when you have no fracking clue on a topic at least be kind enough to keep away from writing aboot it.

The minitel was never design for competing against the internet. It was put in place in the early 80' way before even rtc modem became affordable at times were few people had computers and barely anyone had heard aboot BBSs.

In fact, the minitel allowed with a serial cable to be used as a 1200/75bps modem for your computer. At the military/scientific level sure it appeared after tcp/ip networks, but for the public, it was here first and stayed there alone for a long time...

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (2)

phayes (202222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125593)

When France Télécom decided to kill off the Cyclades network, maintained artificially high prices on modems & point-to-point links, foisted Transpac (their X25 Network) & the Minitel as the solution to all problems it was because they wanted to impose an economic model completely opposed to the Internet. FT was a monopoly back then and wanted a centralized network with FT at the center so that they could tax & control all exchanges between members.

The Internet, based on decentralized control, peering & no centralized entity to tax every exchange already existed & the Minitel was set up in a completely different manner. Thus the Minitel was setup to compete with the Internet & for years the IP networks I set up were "temporary until we can migrate the applications to an OSI model". France Telecom's belated conversion to IP came almost a decade after people like me had seen the light & moved to the Internet.

Part of the reason modems used to cost so much in France is because FT didn't want them on the market. I shared a building with the founders of what was for 5 years the biggest company in sales of modems in France. FT's directives on keeping dialup slow & expensive was very profitable for them.

Re:Minitel and trumpet winsock. (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about a year and a half ago | (#43126697)

Agreed minitel is a french take on videotex systems which PRESTEL was the first work started back in the late 60's by the BBC and the GPO. Back in the day i had a minitel in my collection of odd terminals when I worked for Tymnet.

Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124773)

From Wikipedia: "In the late 1990s, Minitel connections were stable at 100 million a month plus 150 million online directory inquiries, in spite of growing Internet use."

I'm actually very surprised by that number. We had a similar system in Australia, but I don't know the number of connections it supported, but I really would have guessed the total users for such a system would have been 100000 at the most.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124811)

Use of the minitel was mandatory for a number of administrative things, like getting exams results. So pretty much every home in france had one.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

omz13 (882548) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124825)

That 100 million is connections per month... not users. Plus, don't forget that Minitel was heavily used by the French as it was in a lot of homes and readily available. And from a technical viewpoint it was quite sophisticated for its time.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124831)

The nationalised telephone company decided to use minitel as a way to look up phone numbers rather than issuing phonebooks 3 times a year. As a consequence the equipment was free and everyone with a telephone had one.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124861)

The nationalised telephone company decided to use minitel as a way to look up phone numbers rather than issuing phonebooks 3 times a year. As a consequence the equipment was free and everyone with a telephone had one.

This is really what drove the use of Minitel. Anyone with a phone line had a choice: printed telephone books . . . or a free funky terminal. The better choice for most was quite obvious.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124839)

Well, I am French and these numbers are possible as Minitel was very popular at the time.
Many people were using it for banking, directory search, exam results and of course "Minitel rose".

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Psychotria (953670) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125219)

Well, I am French and these numbers are possible as Minitel was very popular at the time.
Many people were using it for banking, directory search, exam results and of course "Minitel rose".

I certainly didn't mean to cast doubt upon the figures and that was not my intention at all. I merely express surprise at the number. My original response should not be read as a negative thing; my surprise was meant to read as "wow."

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (2)

phayes (202222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124841)

Above & beyond the sex chat sites that made the most money on the Minitel, much of the French government (including education, taxes, trash removal, reimbursement for doctors & dentists, etc) was only available over a minitel connection. When the only way to find out whether you passed an exam or to get an old couch taken away is by using a minitel, you kept using it, all the while hoping they would at last get beyond the tiny 24x40 or 24x80 window the minitel imposed.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (2)

ls671 (1122017) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124911)

At some point, somebody must have built a bridge and a terminal emulator program so you could use Minitel from a personal computer.

Was the technology that proprietary or what ?

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Saffaya (702234) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124945)

Minitel usage, apart from a few services and for a a very limited connection time, was on a pay per minute (seconds ?) basis.
A bridge to Minitel would had to include a billing system.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124959)

It did exist, and was usable only for free services (so not the 36-15 and the like which used the telco payment system to bill). The problem that Minitel had solved and a terminal hadn't was payment mechanisms.

Vice-versa: you could telnet from a Minitel. Given the first "web clients" would run as shells of a shared account you'd telnet to, you could actually surf the web ca. 1994 using a minitel. I used to read my e-mail using pine from any Post Office free access minitel.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43125215)

No, it was also available for the non free services as you are still using the telco payment system bill with the modem. You were just required to use a modem and the emulation software like xtel.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (3, Informative)

remi2402 (816874) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125015)

The core network of Minitel was owned and operated by the company now known as Orange. However, the device itself is a really dumb text terminal based on ITU-approved standards: V.23, ASCII, videotex, etc. Most Minitel terminals even have a serial port and thus can be hooked to recent computers [lozi.org] .

Even back when the core network was still being operated, nothing prevented people from operating their own Minitel server/service. You could directly dial any standard number (not just the short 36xx ones).

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43125189)

Yes, my parents have used such software and a modem for quite a while before they had internet.
For Linux, the software was called "xtel" : http://pficheux.free.fr/xtel/ (french page)

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125741)

It was possible to successfully connect and use it with Microsoft Hyper Terminal (and get garbage if you got one configuration parameter wrong)
The main issue with it is the phone directory was free (as long as you stayed less than three minutes on it) but everything else would be a commercial service that costs the equivalent of $0.45 per minute, or $0.72 per minute or even more.

So, there's no way you would random browse stuff for a hour, nor have the general population use some e-mail system even though the terminal itself was very widespread ; in my family it was pretty much used for looking up phone numbers or addresses only then further usage was once-in-a-year stuff like a train reservation or something.

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

phayes (202222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43142689)

The minitel was built on everyone calling specially taxed numbers that bridged into connections over Transpac, France Telecom's x25 network. Using these 36XX Numbers meant that FT would bill users for per minute fees based on which number was used & then pass some of the money onto the service providers. There were a number of numbers, some where users paid no more than FTs normal per minute connection rate, others where users were billed at a rate which just paid the service providers back for the traffic & other numbers where the uses paid higher & higher rates.

Service providers could see which 36XX number was used for each connection in order to accept/refuse service.

In many ways all this reminds me of what has become known as the AppStore model with FT in the place of Apple/google/...

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

citizenr (871508) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124863)

Look at it this way - people still used Pagers recently (at least couple of years ago).

Re:Wow. Quite a lot of users, really. (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125191)

It's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
As I understand it, most of those connections were serious users; businesses or people using newsfeeds, stocks, etc.
The internet could handle all those things just fine. But so could Minitel, and people were already using Minitel.

It will be hard to capture the spirit (1)

descubes (35093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124785)

Minitel was all about a network of services, from phone directory to Minitel Rose (ASCII pr0n). Without recreating the network, the exhibit will show dead hardware, not its original soul

Re:It will be hard to capture the spirit (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124877)

Minitel Rose (ASCII pr0n).

The so-called "Pink Pages" generated something like 50% of the revenue for Minitel. It wasn't just ASII p0rn, other . . . um . . . "services" were offered, as well.

If you want to drive acceptance of a new technology . . . offer p0rn on it. Folks will flock to it.

Re:It will be hard to capture the spirit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43127989)

I've got 3615 Ulla stuck in my head forever.

Good times (2)

mars-nl (2777323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124803)

The Dutch version of this, Viditel [wikipedia.org] , let me do online banking way before there was internet and when people were still going to big bank buildings to fill out forms to do anything with their account. Can't really remember what else I did with it... What could you do with 1200/75 baud [wikipedia.org] speeds anyway?

Re:Good times (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43124925)

The difference between Viditel and Minitel is that Viditel was launched as a supplementary service to be used by
people with specific information demands, while Minitel was an electronic replacement for the telephone directory
that later was also used to provide other information services.

I.e. Viditel was created for a need that didn't exist and didn't develop, hence it was a failure.
Minitel filled an instant demand, and it took off like lightning. That would have happened with Viditel as well when
it had been positioned the same way as Minitel was.

Memento style minitel browser (2)

futhermocker (2667575) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124805)

Having all this Minitel page data is nice, but would only be useful if they would use a memento style interface where you can browse through time.

I remember Minitel was used several times to organise rallies against the government, as a type of social media if you like.

No security problems with Minitel (2)

chezbunch (2861303) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124915)

I remember the time I was using the Minitel, there was no security problems: no viruses (contrary to my Amiga computer), no password or credit cars number stolen, no fake "sites" (services), no porn for the kids. The services themselves were not crackable (the administration interface was generally not available thru the Minitel). It was very convienent to get phone numbers from the other side of the country, since at that time phonebooks were limited to the "département" (subdivision of France). It was also handy to do online banking, get exam results. But the most used services were "Minitel Rose" (like "3615 ULLA"), were you could have sex chat with (presumably) girls. In fact one of the major french telecom groups (Free.fr) was founded by Xavier Niel, who earn a lot of money during the golden age of the Minitel Rose. But it was very expensive (even if the terminal itself was given for free), since you had to pay per the connection duration (around 0.15$/min for the 3615 services). And it was slow. Soooooooooooooo slow. And ugly too!

Re:No security problems with Minitel (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125225)

The security problems just weren't exploited, that's all. I'm pretty damn sure applying today's knowledge, there'd be lots of holes that could be found. Buffer overruns, I'm sure, unless all of the service developers used some secure framework that prevented all that. It's naive to think that all of the service developers back then could pull off what somehow eludes the most today -- namely, code free from exploitable holes.

Re:No security problems with Minitel (1)

chezbunch (2861303) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125809)

Well, I don't say there was no hole. There probable was some holes, as for every system. I just said there was no security problems.
First, someone had to pay while you were connected to the service, and at 75bps (upload speed) it whould have been very expensive to try to crack a service.
Secondly you had strictly no information about the server behind the service. It was like a telnet interface, but wrapped by Frante Telecom to a X25 network.
Finally, there was no such things as open proxies, Tor network or bouncing servers, so France Telecom was able to track every connection to the Minitel service to the phone line which did the call.

But I remember there still was a problem with some specific game services. In those services you could win stuff like hi-fi system, TV sets, etc. by just staying connected to the service (without really playing). These services sent some special escape codes to the Minitel to prevent automatic disconnect when no user activity was detected (even if such use was forbidden by France Telecom). And some people were connecting Minitels all day long from vacant offices at their work. But ultimetely, their company had to pay for the game.

Re:No security problems with Minitel (1)

Solozerk (1003785) | about a year and a half ago | (#43127063)

Actually, there was at least one occurence where someone hacked a service through the Minitel.
The guy that did it is named Laurent Chemla and was at the time charged with "stealing energy" because there wasn't even any law against hacking at the time :-)

He went on to create Gandi, and also wrote an essay called "Je suis un voleur" (I'm a thief), where he compares what he's doing (selling DNS) with simply stealing money as he is/was selling the simple procedure of adding a record into a database for ludicrous amounts of money. He also draws a pretty interesting parallel between the avent of the Internet and the fictional invention of a teleporter to describe how the emergence of a global network has/should impact society. A very interesting read: http://www.confessions-voleur.net/confessions/ [confessions-voleur.net]

no French computer museums? (1)

nozzo (851371) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124919)

Surely they would have better access to archives etc?

Re:no French computer museums? (2)

ze_jua (910531) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125061)

In fact there _IS_ one [museeinformatique.fr] . At the top of Grande Arche de La Défense, Paris [wikipedia.org]

But it's closed since 2010 because of political bullshit/jealousy.

All the collections are still in place at the top of this bulding, but it's closed.

Re:no French computer museums? (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about a year and a half ago | (#43125951)

There's a nice association in southern France that serves as a museum, called Silicium.

Their site is under heavy rewriting but you can check their inventory, full of nice computers and not so nice or terribles ones, each with an article.
Here's the French stuff specifically :), you may check out the Matra Alice as an example of a terrible computer with almost no software, and maybe learn a few derogatory terms in French. Some stuff looks pretty classy such as the Exelvision and Goupil. And, there's an entry on the minitel.

http://silicium.org/site/index.php/Table/Catalogue/France/ [silicium.org]

It's the future of internet (2)

BlueTak (1218450) | about a year and a half ago | (#43124933)

We have been lucky enough, here in France, to get the future of internet before everyone else : minitel ! ( music from star wars playing in the background ). Everything in the "cloud" , nothing in the computer. I think that google, microsoft and facebook should preserve and worship the remains of the late minitel amen.

If Minitel history was lost (1)

dadioflex (854298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43129899)

That would be a lot of prostitution ads forgotten forever.
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