‘Man flu’ may be all a matter of evolution

‘Man flu’ may be all a matter of evolution, Cambridge scientists say - Anguished complaints from men afflicted with seemingly minor ailments are often attributed to “man flu”. Now scientists say that men may have been left by evolution less well-equipped to fend off disease.

In an evolutionary twist, it appears that there is a trade-off between high testosterone levels and being able to produce a robust immune response.

The theoretical study, by University of Cambridge scientists, looked at various scenarios to test whether environmental and behavioural factors could have led men and women to evolve slightly different immune systems.

Clinical studies have found that males are more susceptible to certain infections, such as malaria, and there is some evidence for men suffering more severe symptoms and higher mortality. However, until now scientists had struggled to find an evolutionary explanation for the apparent lower level of immunity in males.

‘Man flu’ may be all a matter of evolution

The latest study, published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, suggested that in some cases there could be a trade-off between developing a strong immune system and being reproductively competitive. Because males tend to compete more fiercely, this trade-off is likely to be exaggerated in men.

"If you are devoting a lot of resources to producing proteins and cells in the immune system, you may be limiting your resources for reproduction," said Olivier Restif, who led the research.

In particular, testosterone has been shown to interfere with the immune response, meaning that men with high testosterone levels are potentially at greater risk of infection. In theory, this should help females select the best men — only the strongest and healthiest would be able to afford the risk of producing lots of testosterone.

However, from time to time genetic mutations would arise that allowed males with the mutation to produce larger than normal amounts of testosterone. Although this would put carrier males at greater risk of infection, it would also make them more attractive, meaning that during times of fierce reproductive competition their genes could be passed on.

Over evolutionary timescales, the aggregate effect of such mutations could lead males to have a slightly less robust immune response than women.

“Women seem to be able to respond more robustly to immune challenges. Maybe men aren’t just playing sick, but really are more susceptible,” said Leslie Knapp, a biologist at the University of Cambridge.

There may be additional reasons why strong immune systems are selected for more strongly in women. Previous research has found that the female sex hormone oestrogen helps women fight off infection.

Kevin Maloy, an immunologist at the University of Oxford, said: “There could be a completely different explanation, like that women just have a higher pain threshold, possibly linked to pregnancy and the menstrual cycle." ( timesonline.co.uk )

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World's First Programmable Quantum Computer Created

World's First Programmable Quantum Computer Created. Using a few ultracold ions, intense lasers and some electrodes, researchers have built the first programmable quantum computer. The new system, described in a paper to be published in Nature Physics, flexed its versatility by performing 160 randomly chosen processing routines.

Earlier versions of quantum computers have been largely restricted to a narrow window of specific tasks. To be more generally useful, a quantum computer should be programmable, in the same way that a classical computer must be able to run many different programs on a single piece of machinery.

The new study is "a powerful demonstration of the technological advances towards producing a real-world quantum computer," says quantum physicist Winfried Hensinger of the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.

Researchers led by David Hanneke of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., based their quantum computer on two beryllium ions chilled to just above absolute zero. These ions, trapped by a magnetic field on a gold-plated aluminum chip, formed the quantum bits, or qubits, analogous to the bits in regular computers represented by 0s and 1s. Short laser bursts manipulated the beryllium ions to perform the processing operations, while nearby magnesium ions kept the beryllium ions cool and still.

Hanneke and colleagues programmed the computer to do operations on a single beryllium ion and on both of the beryllium ions together. In the quantum world, a single qubit can represent a mixture of 0 and 1 simultaneously, a state called a superposition. A laser pulse operation could change the composition of the mixture within the qubit, tipping the scales to make the qubit more likely to become a 1 when measured.

Both of the qubits together could be entangled, a situation where the two qubits are intimately linked, and what happens to one seems to affect the fate of the other. Different combinations of one- and two-qubit operations made up various programs. "We put all these pieces together and asked, what can we do with the circuit?" Hanneke says.

Hanneke and colleagues chose 160 programs for the quantum computer to run. "We picked them, quite literally, at random," Hanneke says. "We really wanted to sample all possible operations."

The researchers ran each program 900 times. On average, the quantum computer operated accurately 79 percent of the time, the team reported in their paper, which was published online November 15. "Getting this kind of control over a quantum system is really interesting from a physics perspective," Hanneke says.

Earlier research has estimated that to be useful, a quantum computer must operate accurately 99.99 percent of the time. Hanneke says that with stronger lasers and other refinements, the system's fidelity may be improved.

Experimental physicist Boris Blinov says that one of the most exciting things about the new study is that the quantum computer may be scaled up. "What's most impressive and important is that they did it in the way that can be applied to a larger-scale system," says Blinov, of the University of Washington in Seattle. "The very same techniques they've used for two qubits can be applied to much larger systems." ( sciencenews.org )

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Extreme Global Weather

Extreme Global Weather: ‘the Unprecedented Is the New Normal’ - A rising death toll, the catastrophic flooding and destruction of entire neighborhoods, and billions of dollars in property damage. The impact of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast earlier this week, will be felt for years, both in the United States and in the Caribbean region where it had earlier killed more than 70 people.

Sandy is being called the "Storm of the Century" but floods, droughts, heat waves and storms are only expected to get worse — with every part of the world facing deadlier and costlier weather disasters.

Much of the world has experienced devastating weather conditions this year. Across eastern and western Africa, a one-two punch of severe drought followed by torrential rains resulted in flash flooding and the deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands. Drought was also the worst it's been in a quarter century in the United States, shriveling corn crops and boosting prices worldwide. And over the last week, typhoon Son-Tinh has wreaked havoc on Southeast Asia, killing dozens and damaging homes and crops.

So what's causing these extreme weather events and their widespread devastation? A special report issued earlier this year by the IPCC — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — points to a combination of human-caused global warming, shifts in population, and poverty. And though political wrangling over global warming continues in the United States, 7 in 10 Americans now believe in the science behind climate change and how it can alter global weather conditions.

This week, Christiane discusses these weather extremes with Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University. He is also one of the authors of the IPCC report. ( yahoo.com )

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Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling turns 500

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling turns 500 - It is one of the most famous works of art in the world - so why isn't the Vatican making more of its big anniversary?

Perhaps second only in fame to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's magnificent frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel opened to the public for the first time 500 years ago this week in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

ukiegeneric.cm - Michelangelo's inspired imagining of the Creation of Adam 

This masterpiece of Renaissance art, at around 40 metres long by 13 metres wide (460 square metres), includes 343 figures with nine central panels depicting the stories of the Old Testament from the Creation to the fall of man. 

The narrative on the ceiling shows God creating the Sun, Moon and Earth, Adam and Eve, the temptation and expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the story of Noah's Ark. 

Enlightening: The Creation of the Sun and Moon

Adjacent to the main panels are massive portraits of Prophets and Sybils who foretold the coming of Jesus. And scattered throughout are cherubs and smaller nude figures. The frescoes (Italian for 'fresh') were created by painting directly onto wet plaster that was applied each day. Michelangelo's use of bright colours ensured that the scenes could be easily viewed from the floor 20 metres below.

Even if people haven't seen the frescoes live, they've certainly seen Michelangelo's imagining of the Creation of Adam - with the finger of God stretched out to give life to Adam - on a mug, a t-shirt or a poster. 

The Downfall of Adam and Eve 

So it is slightly surprising that the Vatican Museums, who administrate the Sistine Chapel, aren't making a bigger deal of the anniversary of this famous artwork. In fact, it's difficult to find any reference at all to the occasion on their website. This could simply be that the Chapel's administrators are trying to protect the artworks from what one Italian critic recently referred to as 'drunken herds', trailing in dust on their shoes and illegally using damaging flash photography. Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums probably wouldn't describe the visitors like that but he did point out that "such a crowd emanates sweat, carbon dioxide and dust", all of which are harmful to the frescoes. The Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with over 20,000 a day and 4 million visitors annually and the Vatican is probably torn between wanting to protect its precious artwork and the 15 euro admission charge from every visitor.

A portion of the great ceiling painting at the Sistine Chapel 

When Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) was commissioned in 1508 by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he was already famous as the sculptor of Pieta (1498) and David (1504).

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

He was initially reluctant to accept the commission as he considered himself a sculptor not a painter. But he was eventually persuaded when he was given leeway to deviate from the original assignment to paint the 12 Apostles, allowing him the artistic freedom to create something far more elaborate and time-consuming.

'The Agony and the Ecstasy', a 1961 book by Irving Stone made into a cheesy Hollywood film starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius, depicted the artist lying on his back high up on scaffolding toiling away almost single-handedly. In reality, Michelangelo painted standing and he had a constant stream of assistants to help him with his momentous undertaking. In essence, Michelangelo wasn't much different from contemporary artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons who have an army of assistants to execute their designs. However, no one would dispute the genius of Michelangelo or the masterpiece of his frescoed ceiling half a millenium ago or today. ( ukiegeneric.com )

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Return of the Master

Return of the Master: Halo 4 a hit with critics - Even more nerve-wracking? Halo 4 is the first core Halo game to be developed by a team other than longtime franchise caretaker Bungie Studios. The new crew, 343 Industries, doesn't just have the weight of the world on its shoulders. It has the weight of an entire sci-fi universe.

But like iconic Halo hero Master Chief, 343 thrives under pressure. Currently averaging a 90 on Metacritic, Halo 4 is already a big hit with critics, opening a thrilling new chapter for franchise fans and taking pole position as the premier shooter of 2012. Master Chief is back, and he's better than ever.

Microsoft's flagship shooter series hits the frontlines again with the next week's release of Halo 4. It's more than just another sequel, however. Microsoft claims it's the most expensive game the company has ever made, and considering how rough game sales have been in 2012, a lot is riding on its success.

Not that he starts out that way. When we last saw the Spartan soldier, he was floating through space in a demolished starship accompanied only by his AI companion, Cortana. Halo 4 picks up just a few years after Halo 3 left off, but quickly paves new ground with new enemies, new weapons, and new technical tricks that take it to impressive heights.

"Halo 4 is not only a success, but a bar-raising triumph for the entire first-person shooter genre," writes IGN reviewer Ryan McCaffrey, who was knocked out by the game's stellar single-player campaign.

"All throughout, the Halo 4 campaign is paced better than any first-person shooter this side of Half-Life 2, deftly mixing on-foot combat, vehicle sequences, quiet story moments, and key Chief-and-Cortana interactions." He gives it a 9.8/10.

"It possesses a striking sense of scale," agrees Polygon scribe Arthur Gies in a 9.5/10 review, who calls the game "a technological achievement that most have assumed was outside of the reach of Microsoft's now seven-year-old console."

"But it's more than that," he continues. "Halo 4 is a return to the series' roots of discovery, of wonder and, at times, of awe. It helps that it might be the most consistently great game of the series to boot."

While you'll still trade bullets with the Covenant, Halo 4 introduces new enemies -- the wickedly smart Prometheans -- and several impressive new locations, like the lush planet of Requiem. To Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann, the game is significantly better for it.

"Exploring the deserted, vibrant realms of Requiem is like walking through the matte paintings of an old sci-fi film," he writes. "The immense levels open up when Halo's mammoth vehicles come in to play, and subtly hem you in when it wants more claustrophobic shootouts…in terms of consistency, scope and player motivation, this is the best Halo campaign yet." His score reflects the love: a perfect 5/5.

Most Halo fans, however, save their love not for the campaign, but for the franchise's legendary multiplayer. And again, Halo 4 delivers. IGN calls the game's multiplayer "golden," its weapon-balancing "immaculate," and its level design "outstanding."

Others agree.

"Advancing your character is a joy, as you unlock armor pieces, customizable loadouts, and bonuses to boost performance in battle," gushes Game Informer's Matt Miller in a 9.3/10 review. He also digs the game's "smooth and streamlined" interface and calls the game's dozen new multiplayer maps "impressive."

But even Master Chief's MJOLNIR armor isn't impenetrable. Though Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann is quick to point out that the new developers didn't break Halo, he's also a little miffed that "the game plays it a little too safe."

"At the opening of the game it feels like Master Chief and Cortana could be set off onto some great new mystery…instead you spend a lot of time fighting old Halo enemies," he gripes, though the great gameplay and multiplayer lift it to a solid 4/5.

Perhaps Master Chief's biggest challenge, however, will come from its launch date of November 6. Releasing a game on Election Day? Pretty gutsy, though it's clear you shouldn't be undecided about picking up Halo 4 on your way back from the polls. (Plugged In)

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Top Ten Real Dangers of Halloween

Top Ten real dangers of Halloween - Straddling the season between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween has been a time of celebration and superstition. The holiday is thought to have originated with the ancient Irish as the Samuin festival (loosely translated as summer's end) and later adopted by the Celts who would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and spirits.

Halloween has evolved into a more secular event characterized by family friendly activities such as turning homes into spooky houses, hosting neighborhood parties, dances and trick-or-treating.

Today the popularity of celebrating Halloween has brought on an entirely new set of dangers and concerns for parents of young children. Here's how to keep your children safe from burns, falls, poisoning and other threats during Halloween.

Test any costume makeup you plan to use by placing a small amount on the arm of the person who will be wearing it several days in advance. (©iStockphoto.com/Gary Martin)

Safe Treats Or Deadly Treats? 

Razor blades in apples may be more myth than reality; still, parents should warn their children not to eat any treats before an adult has examined them carefully for evidence of tampering. That includes fruit, unwrapped baked items and virtually anything not in its original packaging. This is also a good time to remind children about any allergies or other health issues that may exist.

Look for a warning label and avoid juice that hasn't been pasteurized or otherwise processed. Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Normally, the juice found in your retail grocer's frozen food section, refrigerated section, on the shelf in boxes, bottles, or cans is pasteurized.

Smaller children are quick to put things in their mouth. It's best to carefully examine any toys or novelty items received by trick-or-treaters less than three years of age. Avoid any treats that are small enough to create a choking hazard, or treats including small parts that could separate during use and present a choking hazard.

Make Certain Costumes Are Safe 

Most purchased costumes are relatively safe if manufactured form flame retardant materials. Look for the words "flame resistant" on the label. Check the length of pants and sleeves to make certain they fit properly and will not become tangled as the child moves. Oh, and that draped ghost costume made from an old bed sheet may look cute, but it can cause a nasty spill if the bottom edges become entangled with a child's feet. To guard against trips and falls, costumes should fit well and not drag on the ground. The same caution applies to costume capes and fairy wings.

Costumes that include swords, knives and similar accessories should be made of soft, flexible material. Soft swords and knives help protect kids and their companions from accidental injuries.

Falls are a common occurrence on Halloween. Inappropriate shoes can contribute to the problem. Children should wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes. Oversized adult shoes or high heels can contribute to a fall.

Dangerous Masks To Avoid 

To remain safe, kids need to be able to see well. If the child's costume includes a mask, make certain it fits securely and provides adequate ventilation. Masks should feature eyeholes large enough to allow full peripheral vision. If not, a small pair of scissors or utility knife can be used to open up or enlarge the eyeholes.

Danger From Cars And Street Traffic 

Small costumed children are particularly vulnerable, in the street, during Halloween. For greater visibility at dusk and night, decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape that reflects in the beam of a car's headlights. Purchase or make costumes that are light colored, bright and clearly visible to motorists.

Bags or trick-or-treat sacks can also be light-colors or decorated with reflective tape. Reflective tape is usually available in hardware, building supply centers, bicycle shops and sporting goods stores.

Flashlights may not fit the theme of the costume, but they're important if children are to see and be seen in the dark. A simple spray can of colored paint can make the flashlight part of the costume color theme. This is another chance to be creative. Suggest to the kids a black and white flashlight for skeleton costumes, a black and red flashlight for pirate costumes, or a purple flashlight for fairy and princess costumes.

Dangerous Outdoor Halloween Decorations 
  • Homeowners are responsible for the safety of their property. Ensure that flame-lit decorations don't catch on fire, decorations don't fall out of trees that walkways and paths aren't littered with items that can trip kids and other guests. 
  • Yard decorations should always be stable and not easily tipped over. Keep decorations several feet back from pathways to avoid excited kids and costumes from becoming entangled.
  • Use decorative lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory. Examine each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets to avoid injuries. 
  • Electrical power cords should also be kept away from steps, pathways and standing water. 
  • Check overhead Halloween decorations to make certain they remain secure throughout the night and do not fall on unsuspecting kids and adults. 
  • Try to not go overboard when it comes to Halloween decorating. This is a good time to go ahead and fix up areas on your property that can be potentially dangerous. 
  • Fog machines should be kept away from stairs and steps to avoid causing trips and falls. 
  • Strobe lights can create another potential problem for homeowners. The Epilepsy Foundation states the flicker of strobe lights can cause light-induced seizures in children who are photosensitive. Long thought to be the stuff of urban legends, recent tests have shown flashing lights between the frequencies of five to 30 flashes per second are most likely to trigger seizures. In order to be safe, The Epilepsy Foundation recommends that photosensitive children and adults should not be exposed to flashes greater than three per second. If your decorations cause injury it's possible you can be faced with a lawsuit. 
Fire Dangers From Candles 

Halloween is one of the top five days for candle fires. Keep that carved pumpkin from turning into a firebomb. Decorations should be kept away from landings and steps where children's costumes could brush against the pumpkin or flame. In small porch areas consider swapping the candle for a battery-powered light.

Indoor decorations, candles and jack-o'-lanterns should be kept away from curtains and other items that could ignite. Never leave burning candles unattended.

Eye Safety
  • Masks that obscure eyesight are a continuing problem. Eyeholes should be checked to ensure a large enough area for full peripheral vision. 
  • Hats and scarves should be tied securely to prevent them from slipping over children's eyes and obstructing their vision. 
  • Don't wear decorative contact lenses unless you have seen an eye care professional and received a proper lens fitting and instructions for using decorative lenses. 
  • Vision experts warn that buying any kind of contact lenses without an examination and a prescription from an eye care professional can cause serious eye disorders and infections. Eye infections can lead to permanent vision loss. 
  • It's illegal to sell decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription. The FDA says many decorative lenses are sold on the Internet and in retail shops and salons -- particularly around Halloween. These present a very real danger. 
Allergy-Free Halloween Costumes 

Test any costume makeup you plan to use by placing a small amount on the arm of the person who will be wearing it several days in advance. If a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation develop where the makeup was applied, that's a clear indication of a possible allergy.

Check FDA's list of color additives to see if makeup additives are FDA approved. If they aren't approved for their intended use, don't use it.

Safe Pumpkin Carving
  • Use the right tools. One advantage of the pumpkin carving tools is that they can saw through rinds, poke holes and scoop out innards without being razor-sharp. The tools are generally small, which makes them easier for kids to control than knives. 
  • Carve the pumpkin before taking off the top. Stabilize the pumpkin by holding the top and pointing the blade down. 
  • Take precautions by carving in a clean, dry, and well-lit area. Keep hands and tools clean and dry, and take time to make this a family evening activity. 
  • Don't let small kids carve. Have them draw the pattern with a marker and clean out the pulp and seeds with their hands or a spoon -- but make sure an adult does the actual cutting. It's important to supervise older teens, too. Have them use pumpkin carving kits or, if they are responsible enough to use kitchen knives, make certain they use short-handled ones, and that they are kept clean and dry. 
Have a safe and Happy Halloween. ( idealhomegarden.com )

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Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Who's At Risk?

Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Who's At Risk? - There is a scary new twist in the national meningitis outbreak among patients who received a tainted steroid drug. As fungal meningitis deaths and cases rise across the US, the FDA has announced that two additional drugs could also be culprits in the outbreak.

About 14,000 people are thought to have been exposed to the contaminated steroid. So far, 15 have died and 214 have been stricken, mostly with fungal meningitis, the CDC reports, though some patients developed other fungal infections. The steroid was tainted with a fungus that causes a type of meningitis that can result in stroke.

Now, the FDA is investigating three additional cases of suspected fungal meningitis or other fungal infections in patients who received other injected drugs made by New England Compounding Center (NECC), ABC News reports. “The sterility of any injectable drugs ... produced by NECC are of significant concern,” the FDA warned.

Here’s a closer look at this frightening outbreak.

What is fungal meningitis?

Fungal meningitis is a rare disease that’s usually sparked when a fungus travels though the bloodstream to the spinal cord. Like other forms of meningitis, which can also be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, the disease causes swelling and inflammation of the meninges, membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Unlike bacterial and viral meningitis, fungal meningitis is not contagious.

What causes fungal meningitis?

The most common culprit is a fungus called Cryptococcus, with infections thought to result from inhaling soil particles contaminated with bird droppings. This form of fungal meningitis is among the leading causes of adult meningitis in Africa, according to the CDC.

Most cases in the current outbreak were caused by Exserohilum, which Tennessee state health commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner calls “a fungus so rare that most physicians never see it in a lifetime of practicing medicine,” according to the New York Times.
What are the symptoms?

Warning signs include headache, stiff neck, lower-than-normal temperature, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light, and hallucinations, reports Meningitis Foundation of America, which advises anyone with these symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

Unlike viral or bacterial meningitis, which tend to cause symptoms within hours of infection, the fungal form has an incubation period that can be as long as 43 days or more. That’s scary, since patients exposed to the tainted drugs before they were recalled could get sick in the next few weeks or even months.

Who’s at risk?

While anyone can catch fungal meningitis, it’s more likely to strike those with weak immune systems. Ironically, steroid drugs suppress the immune system—and are a known risk factor for the disease—so the combination of steroid medication and fungal contamination may have created a perfect storm of hazards in some patients.

Why didn’t everybody who got the tainted injections get sick?

That’s one of the more puzzling questions of the outbreak. Experts point out that some lots of the tainted medication may have been more contaminated than others.

FDA officials state that at least one vial of the drug had so much “foreign matter” floating in the liquid that the contaminants were visible to the naked eye, the New York Times reports.

In addition, some patients received multiple shots of the drug, while others only got one injection, so were exposed to less fungus. Yet another factor could be the injection technique, since some doctors administering the contaminated drug may have accidentally punctured protective membranes covering the spine, boosting risk for infection in those patients.
How serious is the disease?

Even with prompt treatment, fungal meningitis is a very dangerous disease that can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, speech impairment, seizures, paralysis, or death. Several of the patients in the current outbreak have suffered strokes and so far, 15 have died.
What’s the treatment?

Fungal meningitis is typically treated with long courses of high-dose antifungal medications. IV therapy with amphotericin B is the most common treatment, according to the Meningitis Foundation of American. An oral medication called fluconalzone can also be helpful at high doses.
What’s the best way to prevent fungal meningitis?

Currently, there is no vaccine for this disease. The CDC suggests that people with weak immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS) avoid activities that expose them to soil (such as gardening) or bird droppings. ( Healthline.com )

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