Archive for the ‘design’ category

Finding an Android browser that works without fuss is harder than you think


With my last two cellphones, I’ve not used the default browser. I usually opted for Firefox, and in December 2018, I believe that’s what I did on my then-new Meizu M6 Note.
   I don’t recall it being too problematic, but the type on some sites displayed a tad small, so I sampled a few others. I must have tried the usual suspects such as Dolphin and definitely recall seeing the Brave icon on my home screen, but my friend Robin Capper suggested Edge.
   You might think that that’s a ridiculous option given what Edge’s (and IE’s) reputation has been like, but it actually worked better than the other browsers I sampled. It played the videos I loaded on it, and it displayed type generally well, but there was one very regular bug. If I left a session and came back to it later, or let the phone go to sleep or standby, Edge would almost always falter when I tried to pick up where I left off. It would stutter and close. When I opened it up again, it was fine.
   The latest version began displaying in my notifications that it wouldn’t work properly without Google Services, which was a blatant lie, since it was still stable other than the bug above, and all previous versions were absolutely fine. I wonder if this was some leftover from the Chromium base, but, as with the overwhelming majority of Android apps, Google Services are unnecessary.
   The other bug that began happening on a more recent version was Edge getting confused by stylesheets and not knowing what size to display type at. It might change as you browsed, and when you scrolled back up the page, the text that was legible before had turned minute. It did this on Lucire, and it is serious enough for us to redevelop a template for the site.
   I began wondering if there was life outside Edge. I returned to Firefox to find it stable but utterly incapable of playing videos. I don’t remember it being like this when it was my default, but like so many software programs, the more they upgrade, the crappier it gets. I also believe that a lot of these boffins don’t test with older gear, for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere on this blog.
   Four browsers were suggested to me as replacements: Vivaldi (which I went to anyway, since I use it on the desktop), Duck Duck Go (which I had heard was slow, but I downloaded it anyway), Brave (they have a programme where they claim to give money to publishers but it’s impossible for a publisher like me to sign up to), and Bromite (hadn’t heard of it before today). I had already tried, and rejected, UC Browser on another occasion.
   Vivaldi has been and gone from my phone as I write this post. It’s buggy as heck. Twitter displays about half a centimetre off, so you think you’re clicking on one thing you see on the screen but you’ve just activated the link that’s 0·5 cm above. YouTube will crash the browser (two out of four times). It loses the tab you were browsing on when you come back to a session. It gives the same BS about needing Google Services when it doesn’t. I was very disappointed considering it syncs with Vivaldi on the desktop, the settings seem comprehensive, and the interface looked pretty good.

Vivaldi struggles to display YouTube before crashing

Vivaldi displays everything a bit low (though it functions as though everything is fine, leading you to click on the wrong things), and the tabs I set it to show have gone

   Duck Duck Go has been working quite well. Other than the pop ups that tell me about things I already know as a decade-long user of the search engine, I haven’t noticed the slowness that I’ve heard from a very reliable and knowledgeable source.
   Brave was back, still telling me about their rewards’ programme, but I haven’t experimented with it enough to form a proper opinion. But it has sent a notification about my first Brave advertisement, which I actually can’t see. I admire what they’re trying to do but if only they’d let me sign up as a publisher—yet their site doesn’t permit it. It might be short-lived on my phone, too.
   Bromite, so far, has worked in a standard fashion with nothing too remarkable, and I’ll be investigating further.
   The day has ended rather differently on the cellphone—a whole lot of time invested on a device I barely use. But it’s been a fun exploration of what’s out there and how some fall well short of the basics of stability, consistency and compatibility. Duck Duck Go has so far won the default slot but the jury is still out on Bromite.

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Posted in cars, China, design, technology, USA | No Comments »

Google isn’t working


I’ve done several Zoom meetings since the pandemic was declared, and two Google Hangouts. While I’m not thrilled at having to use two companies with patchy (to say the least) records on user privacy, the meetings (three for Medinge, one for another board I sit on) have been productive, and the only bottleneck has been, of course, Google.
   I’ve never known what to do with those meeting.ics files that come in but I assume they are digital diary entries for those who don’t like paper. But I can open them in a text file and figure out when meetings start and end and with whom I’m having them.
   If someone sends me a Zoom or Google Hangouts’ link then I’m all good, as I can head straight there and attend the meeting. But for one organization, which has been on Google for longer than I’ve been on their board, I’m expected to get this from the ICS file itself. Fortunately they have an excellent secretary and convener who sends me the link privately since I’m the only one out of the 10 or so who attend these Google-based meetings who can’t figure out how to use this technology.
   Apparently, for everyone, they receive the email and they get a Google Hangout link inside a Calendar entry like this:

and for me, and I’ve spent two hours on this, this is all I get:

   I can tell you it’s not inside the ICS file. There’s no link at all.
   Before you say, ‘Jack, you have non-standard privacy settings on your browser and computer,’ let me answer that now: I’ve downloaded a fresh copy of Opera with no privacy blocks whatsoever, and instead of retrieving the ICS from my usual Eudora email client, I’ve gone into Gmail, where they’ve sent the same invitation, and pretended to like Google and tried to do everything within their ecosystem. This is my only Gmail account, which we are all required to have on this board.
   I’ve opened the email containing this link. If I click on ‘Add to calendar’, I get the screenshot of mine above. Next to the meeting.ics attachment is ‘Download’. If I click on that, I download exactly the same file I had on my regular email, with no Google Hangouts’ link. Surprisingly, there is no way to add an ICS file from Gmail to your Google Calendar—not even a customized right-click option—which must rank as one of the stupidest things that Google could do if they expect us to use their products as a suite.
   There is no obvious way to open meeting.ics from within Google Calendar. However, you can import (Settings, then Settings, then Import/Export) the file, and the result? Same as before.
   Our notifications are sent through a service called Our Cat Herder, and when I click for the full meeting details, I just get taken to that site, again with no Google Hangouts’ link.
   I get that our brains are all wired differently, but there must be a simple, logical explanation on why everyone else can see this link and I can’t.
   I realize that when I spot something Google does, and write about it on this blog, I usually go, ‘That’s dodgy. These guys are a bunch of wankers,’ and 99 per cent of people go, ‘That’s dodgy but I’ll put up with it because free stuff,’ so I know we are different. However, I’m struggling to think how anyone has managed to navigate Gmail, Google Calendar and all their non-search crap to find this link.
   I’ve asked the person convening the meeting to show me in person how they get to their Google Calendar window after we come out of lockdown, but I really have clicked everything under the sun in Gmail, Calendar, Google Account, my profile, and anything else they let me access. I spent 90 minutes one morning and another half-hour today: two hours of letting this Big Tech crowd know all about my computer and invade my privacy. It just cannot be done. Except logic tells me if nine other people can, then their brains must be wired so differently that they are clicking on something that I obviously cannot see. That Google has made it that invisible or that illogical to my 1 per cent brain. But, Gmail users, what else should I click on? There isn’t anything else. I’ve clicked on everything that’s obvious and even on things that were obvious dead ends.

Above: I’ve clicked on what I thought are the obvious links, so where’s this mystery Google Calendar file that reveals a Google Hangouts’ link?

   But logic also says that if we are all receiving the same emails and the same meeting.ics file then why are they different? Even the time is different (theirs is 4.30 to 6 p.m., mine is 4.30 to 6.30 p.m.) as is the title (theirs has the name of the organization in it).
   This is yet another case where Google doesn’t work. I’ve written plenty about why this company’s products are bad for us, their record of censorship, their exercise of a monopoly, their taking and exposure of user data, and their general incompetence. We all know about their failure to be transparent, especially with the one product which makes the most money—their (independently unaudited) advertising. Recently I wrote about how Google Drive does not work, and now you can add Gmail and Google Calendar to the list. Conclusion: this hodgepodge of services is a waste of time. Like Microsoft Word, I’m glad I didn’t get laboured with them early on—and know to stay well away from them in the general course of my work.

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One more COVID-19 post: graphing and animating the data


Russell Brown linked this COVID-19 trend page by Aatish Bhatia on his Twitter recently, and it’s another way to visualize the data. There are two axes: new confirmed cases (over the past week) on the y and total confirmed cases on the x. It’s very useful to see how countries are performing over time as it’s animated, and to get a handle on what trajectory you’re on.
   I’ve plotted us against some Asian countries and territories in the first graph and western countries in the second. South Korea is doing quite well and Taiwan is really bending its curve down. Try it yourself by clicking on either of the screenshot graphs below.

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Posted in design, globalization, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Sweden, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »

Z cars


I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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Reconnecting Facebook on IFTTT


A few days ago, Facebook became disconnected with my IFTTT applet, which takes the Tweets made on the Lucire account (which themselves are fed through another service) and reposts them to Lucire’s Facebook page, so that none of us have to visit either.
   IFTTT is good enough to send an email to tell you things are broken, but all their ‘Fix it’ links that you get taken to do not remedy the problem. You’ll just get IFTTT’s ‘There was an error during check process.’
   After an hour, which actually necessitated my visiting that horrid Facebook site to see if there was anything there (there isn’t), I found the solution. This is from my reply on Reddit to someone asking something similar, when they got stuck (it seems with both Twitter and Facebook). Italics added other than the one in the last sentence.

Head to
Go to Linked accounts
Click on Link your account

This should show what you need to link, in my case, Facebook—I clicked on that, it took me to a verification page on Facebook, I allowed it. Twitter will be the same, and I think you’ll have to select Twitter as well.

Then head to
Select My Services
Choose Facebook pages
Go to Settings
Select Edit your account info

This will take you to and the page will ask: ‘Which Facebook page would you like to use with IFTTT?’ Select the one you want, then click Update.

For Twitter, I imagine you would have to go to the My Services page again and choose the Twitter account you want to connect, and tinker with the settings.

Then if you head back to your list of applets, run the check again, and it should work.

   I’ll leave this here for anyone else who might come across this problem. It may well be me, since this is the third time I’ve had to do it in the last few months, once because I tried to delete my Facebook account and this was holding me back.

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Directwrite isn’t the culprit


That was confusing. Yesterday’s blog post was representative of my thinking: given that certain people were upset when Chromium took away the Directwrite toggle in 2016, and type rendering on Chromium-based Vivaldi deteriorated significantly for me with v. 2.10 (it turns out v. 2.9 was the turning-point), then did Chromium only switch fully to Directwrite for me earlier this year? Luckily I wrote a caveat: ‘There’s a possibility that what I saw from 2017 actually was Directwrite, and whatever they’re using now is yet another technology that no one has made any note of.’
   Snowie2000, one of the developers of MacType, suggested I try Cent Browser, arguably the only Chromium browser that still has a Directwrite toggle: you could still disable it in favour of GDI.
   Cent Browser by default is marginally better than what I was seeing on Edge, Vivaldi 2.10 and others, but once I turned Directwrite off, I saw a very different display, with far heavier type.

Cent Browser, Directwrite switched off

Cent Browser, default


   It wasn’t what I expected to see, and without taking issue with those who support GDI rendering in Chromium, it lacked fidelity (at least for me) with what the type looked like in print. I can see clearly why it has its adherents: it is superior to the default. But, in other words, what I experienced on Vivaldi between 2007 and January 2020 was using Directwrite, and whatever is going on now is using something else, or ignoring other settings on my PC.
   Yesterday I theorized that if the change happened between Chromium 77 and 78, then I should see that in the source browser. I installed a v. 77 from the repository. As you know, these are stand-alone and can run without a full installation. What I saw was the inferior rendering, so the “switch” didn’t happen then. It may have happened, as I was told on the Vivaldi forums, with Chromium 69, something I am yet to confirm.
   Therefore, whatever Chromium is doing isn’t something that’s been documented, to my knowledge, except for here. And Opera and Opera GX, if they are based on Chromium 79, seem not to be afflicted by this bug. Or they are interacting with other programs I have in order to keep the type rendering faithful, with decent hinting and contrast.
   The question is: what is causing the far inferior type display on Chromium today?

PS.: Trials on Chromium 68 and 69—they’re the same (i.e. poor type display). This may have gone on for quite some time.—JY

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Has Directwrite arrived on my Chromium-based browsers four years after everyone else?


After considerable searching, the bug that I reported to Vivaldi, and which they cannot reproduce, appears to be one that the general public encountered back in 2016, when Chromium took away the option to disable its Directwrite rendering. I don’t know why I’ve only encountered it in 2020, and as far as I can tell, my experience is unique.
   It’s a good position to be in—not unlike being one of two people (that I know of) who could upload videos of over one minute to Instagram without using IGTV—though it’s a mystery why things have worked properly for me and no one else.
   When I switched to Vivaldi in 2017, I noticed how the type rendering was superior compared with Firefox, and it was only in January this year when it became far inferior for me. Looking at the threads opened on type rendering and Chromium, and the screenshots posted with them, most experienced something like this in 2016—a year before I had adopted Vivaldi. If my PC worked as theirs did, then I doubt I would have been talking about Vivaldi’s superior display.
   There’s a possibility that what I saw from 2017 actually was Directwrite, and whatever they’re using now is yet another technology that no one has made any note of.
   I’ve posted in the Vivaldi and MacType forums where this has been discussed, as my set-up could provide the clue on why things have worked for me and not others. Could it be my font substitutions, or the changes I’ve made to the default display types in Windows? Or the fact that I still have some Postscript fonts installed from the old days? Or something so simple as my plug-ins?
   Tonight I removed Vivaldi 2.11 and went to 2.6. I know 2.5 rendered type properly—Bembo on the Lucire website looks like Bembo in print—so I wondered if I could narrow down the precise version where Vivaldi began to fail on this front. (As explained earlier, after 2.5, no automatic updates came, and I jumped from 2.5 to 2.10.)
   It was 2.9 where the bug began, namely when Vivaldi moved from a Chromium 77 base to a 78 one. This is different to what Ayespy, a moderator on the Vivaldi forums, experienced: version 69 was when they noted a shift. Yet Opera GX, which works fine, has a browser ID that claims it’s Chrome/79.0.3945.130 (though I realize they can put whatever they like here). Brave, Chrome and Edge look awful.
   We can conclude that not all Chromium browsers are created equally (goes without saying) but I understand that the rendering isn’t something that each company (Vivaldi, Opera, etc.) has fiddled with. Therefore, something I’m doing is allowing me to have better results on Opera, Opera GX and Vivaldi versions up to 2.8 inclusive.

Vivaldi 2.8

Opera GX

Firefox Developer Edition 74.0b9

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 1 Comment »

One News is hard to miss on TV, but hidden on the internet


I wanted to see what TV1 news (I can never remember its official name with all its rebrands over the years—is it One Network News, TVNZ1 News, One News, or something else?) had on GM’s decision to shut Holden, but I missed both the six o’clock and the Plus One screenings. I headed online with some trepidation because I recall that I could never find the most-watched programme on the channel on previous occasions. This time I decided to document my attempt.
   Usually I would get stumped by the log-in process that made me lose my place, so this time I decided to log in first.

Nowhere to be seen. Ah, but it’s a TV1 show, so what if I go to the TV1 page?

Nope. Under news and current affairs, we have Breakfast, Seven Sharp, Fair Go and Te Karere. There’s a 1 News link at the top, what if I go there?

No joy, at least not for the full six o’clock broadcast. I did spy a Kiwi category, and surely TV1 news is Kiwi-made. Let’s see …

Apparently only the Tonight and Midday bulletins count as Kiwi-made.
   Despite my searching for it around 8 p.m., it wasn’t under ‘What’s new on TV’ either. Something that finished broadcasting an hour ago isn’t new.
   By this time what I do is go on Twitter to ask for help and eventually someone finds it for me, which isn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but in the past that’s how I’ve solved it.
   Tonight I put news into the search box and got it there after doing all the above, but why does TVNZ make it this hard? It’s their flagship news programme.
   And Conan Gorbey on Twitter found it for me tonight. Thanks, Conan!

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Asus ROG Strix Evolve: a gaming mouse for a non-gamer


My early 2000s Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1 is still the perfect shape for me. After getting the second-hand one into service last year, I thought that I needed a spare. I’ve several other mice, including no-brand ones, that are a decent size, but I got used to having the forward and back buttons on either side.
   Microsoft makes a Classic Intellimouse these days, but it’s based on a later design, and it appears the side buttons are on the left only, which seems to be the convention in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s also had some reviews criticizing the quality, so I knew I couldn’t go with the latest.
   I headed back to Recycling for Charity, where I sourced this Intellimouse, but judging by the stock, I’m not alone in my preference. All that were left were smaller mice, making me wish that I bought multiple Intellimouses a few years ago and stocked up. This surely is a massive hint to mainstream mouse makers on a latent, forgotten market.
   After sampling some during spare time at Noël Leeming in Porirua, which did fit my hand, I opted to look online. The Noël Leeming ones were mostly Logitech, and my experience is that their mice last about two years. I wanted quality.
   After much searching, one mouse that matches the dimensions of the Intellimouse (125 mm × 65 mm × 40 mm) with one millimetre out on the height is the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Evolve, and our old friends at Just Laptops in Albany had them on special at under NZ$70 plus freight. That’s a lot more than the NZ$3 I paid for the used Intellimouse and the NZ$25 I paid for the Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 in 2015, but with Asus claiming that the switches were good for 50 million clicks—probably 10 times more than regular mice—I decided that three times the price for ten times the longevity (at least in one respect) was acceptable. And it had two switches on each side, which I could program.
   It arrived a (working) day later. A lot of the gaming features are lost on me: the option to have lighting effects, choosing your own colour or having it cycle, for instance. I don’t necessarily need DPI switching. It’s simply vital that I have something my right hand is comfortable with.

   The mouse comes with a second set of covers, so you can raise it slightly to suit your hand. I tried all permutations: left high, right low, vice versa, both low, both high, before deciding on having both sides in the raised position. The rubber side panels help with grip, and they aid comfort.
   The first negative is that the forward end isn’t as wide as I was used to. The Microsoft mice are a reasonable width all the way down, and the Evolve is slightly narrower. That means my ring finger touches the mouse pad more on the side, as it did with an earlier Lenovo (plenty of those at Recycling for Charity, incidentally). I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to it, as I didn’t with the Lenovo, and it does continue to be a slight problem. In other words, I haven’t quite got the perfect mouse and it’s a lesson about buying online when your requirements are this strict (though again I wouldn’t have considered this a major problem if manufacturers weren’t skimping on materials and giving people repetitive strain injuries).
   Asus hasn’t deceived about the measurements: it is 125 mm wide at its greatest width, just as Microsoft has it on theirs.
   I may put up with letting my ring finger drop and go along the mouse pad for the time being just for comfort’s sake and see if I’m OK with washing the pad more regularly. Or adjust my hand positioning slightly. But I know I cannot use the modern mice.
   One Tweeter noted that maybe the mouse manufacturers are finally appealing to women, and I had to agree it was nice for us men to experience just once what it’s like for them in a usually male-designed tech world.
   The other features are excellent: the ability to program the switches, which I did very early; and I can turn the lighting off as I see no point to it if my hand is on the mouse obscuring most of it. Then again, I’m not a gamer.
   The mouse wheel and switches are far more solid than anything I’ve encountered, making the 50 million-click claim believable. I do occasionally hit the right button inadvertently, probably out of unfamiliarity, and I must hit the DPI switch from time to time, again accidentally.
   Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for second-hand Intellimouses. Mine has become the back-up again, and really I didn’t think I was asking for much. Microsoft had a perfect design for which the tooling must be long amortized, so it makes you wonder why they don’t just trot it out again and make a bundle more off us.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »

Returning to Firefox?


I wonder if it’s time to return to Firefox after an absence of two years and five months. After getting the new monitor, the higher res makes Firefox’s and Opera GX’s text rendering fairly similar (though Chrome, Vivaldi and Edge remain oddly poor, and Vivaldi’s tech people haven’t been able to replicate my bug). There’s a part of me that gravitates toward Firefox more than anything with a Google connection, and I imagine many Kiwis like backing underdogs.
   Here are some examples, bearing in mind Windows scales up to 125 per cent on QHD.

Vivaldi (Chrome renders like this, too)

Opera GX (and how Vivaldi used to render)


   Opera renders text slightly more widely than Firefox, but the subpixel rendering of both browsers is similar, though not identical. Type in Firefox arguably comes across with slightly less contrast than it should (especially for traditionally paper-based type, where I have a good idea of how it’s “supposed” to look) but I’m willing to experiment to see if I enjoy the switch back.
   In those 29 months, a lot has happened, with Navigational Sounds having vanished as an extension, and I had to get a new Speed Dial (FVD Speed Dial) to put on my favourite sites. FVD uninstalled itself earlier today without any intervention from me, so if that recurs, I’ll be switching to something else. I don’t like computer programs having a will of their own.
   A lot of my saved passwords no longer work, since I change them from time to time, and it was interesting to see what Firefox remembered from my last period of regular use. I’ll have to import some bookmarks, too—that file has been going between computers since Netscape.
   The big problem of 2017—Firefox eating through memory like crazy (6 Gbyte in a short time)—could be fixed now in 2020 by turning off hardware acceleration. It’s actually using less right now than Opera GX, and that’s another point in its favour.
   I also like the Facebook Container that keeps any trackers from Zuck and co. away.
   I did, however, have to get new extensions after having resided in the Vivaldi and Opera space for all that time, such as Privacy Badger.
   If I make Firefox the default I know I’ll have truly switched back. But that Opera GX sure is a good looking browser. I might have to look for some skins to make common-garden Firefox look smarter.

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