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January 31, 2008

Good2gether demo at DEMO

As I mentioned a few days ago, good2gether presented at DEMO today.  Greg did a nice job with the demo.  You can't ignore a company that has the traction they have with media partners, consumer brands, and non-profits.

January 30, 2008

By the Time I Get to Phoenix...

I'm heading off to Phoenix tomorrow for Super Bowl XLII.  It should be an awesome trip, and hopefully I'll come home happy.  I'll post a bit from there, and will try to get some good pictures, too.

U23D

I saw the U23D movie tonight.  I loved it.

I am not a huge U2 fan, but I have always liked them.  I remember hearing them for the first time in my freshman year in college in 1980.  One thing I like about them is the clean sound with just the four band members.

The movie is a 3D version of a concert in a huge venue (looks like a soccer stadium in Buenos Aries, Argentina).  The 3D effect is used very well.  It makes you feel like you are there, but there are very few gratuitous 3D things reaching out to you from the screen.

The sound at the IMAX theater was fantastic.  The bass was thumping through the theater seats the whole time.  It was pretty loud, but certainly not as loud as a real concert.

My favorite songs from the film were New Year's Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride (In the Name of Love), and With or Without You.  If you like U2, you should really see it.  It's only playing in IMAX theaters and there are no plans for a DVD release.

 

January 27, 2008

Good2gether launches

I've written about Good2gether a few times before.  Tomorrow is their offical launch at DEMO.  If you check out their web site, you can see all the official positioning.  I really like what Greg is doing.  He developed the concept by talking to all of his potential partners, then partnered with a great development team to get the initial implementation done.  He's raised enough money to get the company launched, but he's been frugal about spending it.  He's done everything right.  And, he's a tireless traveler, building partnerships across the country.

It's great to see all the traction he has with large media properties and non-profits.  I think that good2gether will really change how non-profits communicate with their constituents, and will also provide another significant source of revenue to the large local web sites.

Greg spent a long time developing his business model so that everyone wins.  The non-profits get exposure on large local web sites which have reach that the non-profits couldn't get on their own.  And, at no cost.  The media properties get unique local content that will engage users and get sponsorship revenue from large consumer brands who want to be associated with Doing Good.  And, these brands get the halo effect from associating with good causes, but also get a way to connect with consumers and tie their brand and promotion to the users interests and activities.  There is no direct competition today, and no one 'loses' if good2gether succeeds.

There's a lot of execution ahead for good2gether.  But, this is an exciting start.

January 24, 2008

Freecycle.org

As a good consumer, my family and I buy lots of stuff.  And, we end up with old stuff that we don't need.  We've given lots of stuff away over the years, either donating to local charities who need it or giving it to strangers we contact via Craigslist.

I recently discovered Freecycle.org.  Their mission is simple.  It's a local non-profit network of users who exchange items for free.  If you can give away something to someone who needs it, that item will be kept out of the local landfill.  Not really recycling, Freecycle is more in the realm of 'reduce and reuse.'  By giving away something, you not only keep it from taking up space in the trash, but you also allow someone else to benefit from this item without consuming additional resources to build something new.

Of course, there are lots of ways to swap things on the Web.  I recently met the President of Swaptree.  Swaptree is nice if you want to get something back when you give away a book, CD, or DVD.  But, you have to set it up with what you have an what you want in order for it to figure out what you need to give up to get the item you want.

When you just want to clean out the basement of unused stuff that you would otherwise throw away, try Freecycle.

January 22, 2008

Johnson and MLK

After writing yesterday about Martin Luther King, Jr., I was intrigued to hear this NPR show that included recordings of several telephone conversations between President Johnson and MLK in the early 60s.  The show is timely because of some of the squabbling between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about who actually 'got things done' when it came to civil rights.

The argument is ridiculous.  The recordings you'll hear if you listen to the show indicate some strong collaboration between Johnson and King.  Johnson needed King to continue to mobilize the public and create public awareness of the inequities of racism.  King needed Johnson to push legislation ahead through Congress.  I don't think that either could have been successful without the efforts of the other.

This issue has also brought a new focus to Johnson's efforts to improve civil rights in the US.  Johnson went down in flames due to getting us stuck in Vietnam.  But, he also needs to get credit for driving civil rights legislation.

January 21, 2008

MLK

Today is Martin Luther King Day, our most recently adopted national holiday.

To me, Dr. King's legacy is the inspirational way he spurred change through non-violent means.  That's a fundamental principle of America and a key liberty that we must maintain.  Obviously, racism still exists in our society, but the protests and efforts of Dr. King led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which was the first real effort to break down some do the institutional racial barriers.

It takes a strong leader to harness forces for change without having it lead to violence.  I've often felt that the Palestinians would have a much better chance to pressure Israel for a permanent homeland if they had a leader like Dr. King who could lead them in non-violent protests.  The Israelis would be less threatened and international pressure to solve the problem would really build.  And, many fewer lives would be lost.

I found it ironic today when I read about the plan for a 'designated protest area' in Washington, DC.  On a day when we should be honoring how Dr. King had the patience and determination to create change within our system, we are also considering putting protesters in a convenient compartment that doesn't cause us too much trouble.  This is a bad idea, no matter what the protesters are fighting for.  Washington, DC needs to be a place where those who aren't happy can show their displeasure.  The residents and municipal works should be proud to be inconvenienced in the name of our freedom.

For more on inconveniences that occur for Washington, DC residents, check out this video from the Daily Show last week.

 

Patriots Dynasty

Pats champs

A lot has been written about how great this year's Patriots are.  With their win yesterday, they are now 18-0 and can become the only team to complete a perfect season at 19-0.  The 1972 Dolphins are certainly great, and this Patriot team's success doesn't take anything away from the '72 Dolphins.  They played in different eras, and can't really be compared. 

But, I took a look at relatively recent Super Bowl history.  Looking back through Super Bowl XXIV in January 2000, here's the number of times that teams have been in the Super Bowl:

Patriots:  4

Rams: 2

Giants: 2

Titans, Ravens, Buccaneers, Raiders, Panthers, Eagles, Seahawks, Steelers, Colts, Bears: 1 each

The Rams were a strong team for a few years, but they have faded away.  The Giants of 2000 season doesn't have a lot in common with this year's Giants.  The Patriots have the same coach, quarterback, and a significant core that has been there all the way through.  Only the Colts have been as consistent as the Patriots through this whole era, and the Eagles have been almost as consistent.  Every other team has been up and down, which is a testament to how tough it is to maintain a competitive team in the salary cap era.

It's great for the NFL.  13 different teams have filled one of these 18 Super Bowl slots.  Every team has a chance to get there.  In that environment, to have the Patriots go to the Super Bowl 4 times in 7 years clearly makes them the best team of the salary cap era.

This is a darn good Patriots team.  Is it better than the '72 Dolphins or the '85 Bears?  I don't know.  Those teams could hold their talent together in a way that isn't possible nowadays.  What has been most impressive of the Patriots through this whole run is how they find ways to win almost all of the close games.  When you see how the Colts, Cowboys, and Packers lost this year in the playoffs, you have to appreciate how the Patriots have done what no other team has done -- beat close competitors, over and over again.

I'll be in Arizona, hoping to witness some football history.  Go Pats!

January 19, 2008

Getting Startup IT Started

After reading this post from GigaOm on collaboration tools, I thought it would be worth sharing some of what our new firm, Sempre Management, has done to get our own IT infrastructure off the ground.

We have four people working in our firm, with a shared office that we use part of the time.  We also all currently work part time from home or elsewhere.  We are still funding this out of our own pockets, so we are sensitive to fixed expenses.  Of the four of us, I have taken on the role of interim IT Manager.

In our little group of four, we have 2 PC guys, one Mac guy, and one guy who has both.  We also have a mixture of Blackberry and Windows Mobile PDAs that need to get their Sempre email and their personal email.  All of us also have personal email addresses where we get the bulk of our email as the sempremanagement.com email is new.  We also all have some existing email, calendar, and contact data that needs to get integrated into whatever new system we pick.  Lastly, we wanted to pick something that would be easy to migrate away from if we ended up going in a different direction later.

We decided to go with a hosted Microsoft Exchange service.  I checked out a few providers, but decided to buy the service from SherWeb.  After using this type of service for a while now, I can't imagine why any small company would buy and host their own Exchange server for email.  SherWeb has lots of features and is very flexible:

  • Only $8.95 per month per user, with a month to month contract.  No minimum commitment, other than they will want to make the first charge to your credit card $50.
  • 3 GB of Exchange 2007 storage per user
  • Free Windows Moble synchronization, free anti-virus and anti-spam, free public folders, free SharePoint, free Outlook Web Access, and one free copy of Outlook 2007 or Entourage for each user.
  • Optional Blackberry synchronization for an extra $9.99 per user per month (expensive compared to the rest of this service)
  • No initial set-up fee.
  • Very detailed FAQs on how to get everything set up.
  • Support so far has been good, by both email and phone (rarely).

After we bought our domain, we redirected the mail to SherWeb (as they described) and got everything setup.  The SherWeb admin web application is pretty basic, but covers everything you need.  I would definitely recommend this hosted service.

In addition to giving each other access to each of our Outlook Calendar and Contacts, we set up some common Exchange public folders for some shared contacts and a shared calendar.  I also set up SharePoint as a way to organize and manage shared documents.  I had never used SharePoint before, but it is pretty full featured as a collaboration tool -- shared documents, discussion groups, shared calendar, task assignment and tracking, synchronization with Outlook, etc.  We don't use much of this yet.

It took some tweaking to get everyone's data from their stand-alone setups to the Exchange server.  We had several bouts of data duplication when we made mistakes, but there are some nice free tools to fix this.

Overall, it feels like we have an enterprise-class Exchange infrastructure, with minimal management and a low, variable cost.  One more reason why start-ups today need less money to get going without having to sacrifice functionality.

January 18, 2008

The End of an Ice Cream Era?

tosci 

One thing that kept my spirits up during tough days at MIT was walking up Mass Ave to Toscanini's ice cream.  As the New York Times said, it's the "best ice cream in the world".  They have unique flavors.  I loved the Belgian Chocolate and Hazelnut.  The ice cream was smooth and very flavorful.  The inside was funky and fit in perfectly in a college scene.

They also sold ice cream at Whole Foods and other local supermarkets. 

Unfortunately, it appears that the state has shut down Toscanini's due to non-payment of taxes.  The Globe also has an article on this with more details.  The Globe article was more pessimistic about Toscanini's re-opening, but hopefully the Bostonist is more accurate.

I hope Toscanini's stays in business.  The guy may not know how to run his business well, but he makes some damn good ice cream.

 

Updated 1/19/2008 with correct link to Globe article.

January 16, 2008

Sempre

Today I updated my bio to include our new investment firm, Sempre Management.  Although we are still somewhat stealthy, we are starting the formal process of raising money.  No web site yet.

My partners and I are not going to be doing typical venture capital investing, but we intend to create value as VCs do, through direct action.  We'll do this in investment segments that are much less served than venture capital, and in a market segment that is inefficient -- prices don't always match inherent value.  More details to follow.

Why Sempre?  Here's our definition:

Sempre  (sĕm'prā) adv. Music.    Always. Without varying. In the same manner throughout. To perform in a consistent manner.

We like Sempre because it connotes steadiness and consistency, performance we strive for.

As our strategy becomes more widely known, I'll steer the investment focus of this blog to line up with Sempre's focus.  But, I continue to be interested in entrepreneurship and will still comment on the VC and entrepreneurship space, particularly in the Boston area.

January 15, 2008

Critical Patriot

When I wrote recently about personal liberties, I got an email comment from a friend of mine who brought up an additional point.

In addition to the constraint on our freedoms that our government has been imposing lately with things like the USA PATRIOT Act, there has been a tone in the country against criticism of the government, and particularly the President.  If you criticize, you are seen as being unpatriotic.  Now, in times of crisis, we rally around our government and our President.  After September 11, 2001, I was one of many Americans who supported the actions that the government took and was sympathetic to some of the initial responses by President Bush.  But I never wanted a significant long-term infringement of our liberty.

But, dissent is what makes our country great.  Dissent is what is patriotic, not quashing dissent.  We were founded by dissenters, and we need to give dissenters their proper forum and hearing.  Stifling dissent is what kept us from questioning the rationale behind invading Iraq.  Even the mainstream press has pulled back from critical commentary, although Internet media is making up for it.

This famous quote is often attributed to Voltaire:

'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,'

If you don't like what the government is doing, be a patriotic dissenter.  We should all come to your defense.

January 14, 2008

Peyton Manning's Commercials Have Gone Too Far

DSRL

If you haven't seen it yet, here is your chance to win an opportunity to have a lick race against Peyton and Eli Manning.  Yuchh!

Web-based marketing is the trend, and getting celebrities to participate is also big.  This campaign isn't so innovative, but the fact that the Mannings are being shown licking the stuffing out of Oreos is pretty bizarre.  I like the pseudo-realistic video interviews, but I think that they should have more self-esteem than this.  We may be too prim and proper, but we taught our kids better manners than this!

January 10, 2008

Entrepreneurship Alive and Well

Last night I was on the panel at the MIT Enterprise Forum Start-Up Clinic.  One of the companies I advise, Zync, was presenting as well.

I came away feeling very good about the spirit of enterpreneurship in the Boston area.  Despite all the concerns about the market being overfunded and not having strong anchor companies in the technology sector, there is no question that entrepreneurs remain optimistic and are continuing to try new ideas and get new companies off the ground.

It is great that it takes relatively little capital to get a new company going.  Both companies last night had developed their initial technology with less than $500K each.  That gives them a shot to find out of their ideas will click with some market segment and become worthy of more significant capital for scaling.

Despite the forecasters predicting an economic downturn, I think that the technology sector will remain solid, particularly for smaller companies that are more nimble and able to attack emerging niches.  Informal indicators like traffic on Route 128 and how full parking lots are in start-up haven office parks still seem robust.

Like the New Hampshire primary, I expect the 'experts' to be wrong.

January 09, 2008

Just Getting Started

Although Hillary is not my first choice for President, I am thrilled that she won the NH Primary yesterday.  I don't want the process to be over before it gets started.  I think that voters are just starting to pay attention, and it's good that neither party's nomination is wrapped up.  Let's at least get through Super Tuesday on February 5 before any of the top 2-3 Democrats and top 3-5 Republicans drop out.

There has been an interesting side-effect from the early starting Presidential campaign.  The candidates had lots of time to raise money, build an organization and generate interest.  Then, there is a hard sprint for four weeks from Iowa through Super Tuesday.  That's when the voters are just starting to watch the race and make decisions.  A lot of voters in NH decided yesterday who they were going to vote for.

I couldn't believe that the pundits were speculating that Hillary would have to drop out if she didn't win NH.  Yes, Obama would have had momentum, but Hillary still has plenty of money and a strong organization with broad support.  If she had lost to Obama, she'd have to make a comeback, but only two small states would have voted.  She certainly would have carried on through Super Tuesday.  By then ~30 states will have voted, and the race should be winnowed down.

I'd love to have split races through the Conventions.  I think it would be great political theater and may captivate more voters.  It may get very negative, but I think that we would really get to understand the candidates with some small scale, more detailed debates.  I hope that some intrigue would get voters more interested and get people to turn out.  If that happens, and two inspiring candidates emerge, we may get an interesting election with high turnout.

Call me an optimist, but I think we could have an election that could be interesting and end up being good for the country.

January 07, 2008

Roger Clemens - Undecided

I watched Roger Clemens last night on 60 Minutes, denying his use of performance enhancing drugs.  I really want to believe that Roger is clean.  He's the greatest pitcher of our time, and is an inspiration to all of us over 40 athletic wannabes.

Unfortunately, we've become so jaded by athletes' denials in this area.  Too many times an athlete who denied taking performance enhancing drugs has admitted it later.  If Roger is guilty, he'd be denying this just as vigorously as he could, until he had no choice.  After all, he isn't likely to get into legal trouble, and his career is probably over.  He's fighting about his legacy, not his freedom.

But, if Roger is innocent, I feel bad for him.  In court, there is a presumption of innocence.  In the court of public opinion, there is a presumption of guilt.  He can complain about this, but he can't change it.  So, he needs to build up the perception that he is innocent.  He's started doing some of these things:

  • He has filed a suit against his accuser, Brian McNamee.  More likely to be a move that an innocent person would take than the action of a guilty person.  According to the suit, McNamee says he was pressured to implicate Clemens by some of the BALCO prosecutors.  The proof of this part of the suit should be interesting.  Clemens should reveal this information right away.
  • He's going to testify in Congress.  That raises the stakes.  If he lies there, it's a federal offense.  McNamee will testify, too.  Unless someone changes their story, one of these guys is going to be in legal trouble.  And, McNamee seems to be boxed in.  If he lied to the Mitchell Commission, he also faces felony charges.
  • He should continue to demand that someone come up with evidence showing where he got the performance enhancing drugs.  According to McNamee, Clemens supplied these, but they had to come from somewhere.  If there is a paper trail, it shouldn't be that hard to find.  If someone wants to investigate this, Clemens should assist them.
  • I think that he should take a lie detector test.  It's not proof, and it's not reliable.  But, it would give him another thing to pound home when he talks about his innocence.
  • He should continue to talk to the media.  If he has nothing to hide, he should remain accessible.  It's a pain, but his reputation should be worth fighting for.

Taking a low profile and waiting for this to blow over is what a guilty person would do.  If Clemens can build up some momentum that takes credibility away from the Mitchell Report, he has a chance of reversing public opinion.  Right now, I am on the fence.

Politics - Liberty and Tolerance

If you read your kids' American History text books, they will describe how America was so different from other countries at the time of its founding because of its commitment to personal liberty.  Yes, it was flawed as the original personal liberty applied primarily to white men.  But, over 230 years, liberty has been extended to all Americans.  There are surely still inequalities, but those are now news items that receive debate rather than prejudices that are taken for granted.

The scariest change for me over the past seven years has been the erosion of our personal liberty and reducton of our tolerance.  The most glaring has been the USA PATRIOT Act.  In response to the September 11 attacks, many Americans were willing to give up personal liberties in exchange for safety.  But, we have seen that this has been just the tip of the iceberg, with strong evidence that the Bush Administration has been circumventing the FISA Court to obtain wiretaps on US citizens since 2002.

I have two big problems with these types of actions:

  1. The blatant reduction in our personal liberty and privacy by US government action, and
  2. That so few people seem to be up in arms about it.

I think that the theme of invasive government is one reason why Ron Paul has attracted a hard core of support among people of various political stripes.  His Libertarian philosophy is too much for me, but I can certainly appreciate his immediate reaction that the US government has gotten too big for its britches.  Ironically, this problem has accelerated during a time period of strong Republican leadership in the Executive and Legislative branches.  Is this really the party of Ronald Reagan?

I would like to see all the candidates commit to restoring some of our personal liberties, even as we fight terrorism.  Today's NY Times has a story that shows that we are now vulnerable to having our laptops scanned when we enter the country.  Now, we are all ready to be checked out when we cross into the US.  And, I have no problem with searching all of the possessions of someone who gives border agents probable cause.  As much as I detest the child pornography that was found on the laptops of the people searched in the story, I don't want the US government checking out my laptop to see what's in my email, what web sites I visited, or what type of music I listen to.  It's a small step to this sort of electronic eavesdropping being extended inside of our borders, and we shouldn't stand for it.

Another aspect of personal liberty is allowing people to live their lives as long as they don't harm others.  For all the people who tout their family values, we seem to have lost the value of tolerance for those who are different than we are.  Gay marriage is a great example.  Although I am sure that there are some people who are disgusted by homosexuality, that doesn't give them the right to stop other people from living their life the way they want to.  I'm happy to live in Massachusetts where we can show the country that our society has not fallen apart since the advent of gay marriage.  In fact, it's a non-issue and, I believe, our divorce rate is actually one of the lowest in the country.  I know that my marriage isn't under siege. 

As you think about who to vote for this year, consider who will protect our personal liberties.  It's up to all of us to protect everyone's liberty, not just our own.  This includes being tolerant of those who are different than we are.  Who knows, you might be the 'different' one on the next issue.  Then, you'll appreciate tolerance on the part of others.

January 04, 2008

Politics - Open Up

With the Iowa Caucuses behind us, the Presidential season is well underway.  And, it has been for about two years.  I have hesitated at times to discuss politics on this blog, but I think it is time to talk about some things I hope can happen with a new President and new Congress in 2009.

Although the focus is on the Presidential race, Congress will also change quite a bit in the 2008 election.  Quite a few incumbents (mostly Republicans) are retiring.  I think that Congress will shift further in whatever direction the Presidential election goes.

The first thing I want to see is more openness and transparancy in our government.  At Gettysburg, Lincoln called our system a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."  I am not naive enough to think that we are purely populist.  Of course, corporations and special interests have their sway.  But, I think that the decline of transparancy  and checks and balances in our government has been scary.

I think that this has come from both the increasing power of special interests and misplaced national security concerns.  Anyone who tries to get a special deal from government has a great interest in not having this become widely known.  It's in all of our interest that we make everything in our government as transparent as possible.  If a 'special deal' has some level of public interest behind it, it should stand up to scrutiny.  Even special interests need to keep in mind that there is probably some other special deal in the government that is going against them.  The best thing is to make it all open and subject to review.

National security has also been claimed as a reason to keep things secret.  What a crock.  There certainly are some things that need to be kept secret for national security purposes.   But, these are probably in a fairly narrow area and cover a fairly small range of information.  More and more government information has been classified as Top Secret in the name of national security when it is more likely to be in the name of obfuscation.  This is a direct infringement on our freedom.  We've fought and won many wars with much more openness than we have now.

Congress has lost a lot of its oversight capability, perhaps because one party controlled the Executive and Legislative branch.   But I think that even some Republicans realize now that they have suffered by ceding their independence to the President.  With Bush's drop in popularity, Congress has dropped, too.

My sympathies may be pretty transparent here, but I am trying to be objective.  I think that one reason for the 'change' theme to be so strong in the 2008 election is a reaction to a lack of transparency and openness.  No matter what your political leanings are, you should be in favor of getting back to a higher level of openness.  It's your government, after all.  Act like an owner.

January 02, 2008

Response to Bijan

Bijan Sabet responded to my recent post about non-competes with his thoughts on unilateral disarmament -- companies no longer requiring their employees to sign non-competes and using that as a competitive hiring advantage.

I think that philosophically the environment will be better when non-competes are gone and companies can take advantage of the freer movement of employees.  However, until then, investors still have to take advantage of local laws to protect their investments.  I think that a narrowly crafted non-compete should be something you can sell to a prospective employee.  Until that becomes impractical in the marketplace, I would stick to that to protect my investment.  If Bijan and Nabeel are at the forefront of a wave of the lowering of the non-compete bar, things may change quickly.

New Years Hopes

As we head back to work to start 2008, I've been thinking about what I want to accomplish this year.  I don't usually make New Years Resolutions, but this year really feels like the start of a new phase of my life and is worth some reflection.

  1. I am in the process of starting a new investment firm with three other people.  More details will follow soon, but I can say that it is something different than the early-stage venture capital investing I have done for the past nine years.  There are market segments that are less efficient and less crowded than VC, and I plan to take my skills there.  My top business goal for the year is to get this new firm off the ground successfully.
  2. I have found that the Internet has become a great source of distraction.  Email, RSS feeds, social networks, podcasts, and more take up a great deal of time.  I'm going to be more disciplined as to when each day I pay attention to these things and manage the time I spend on them more effectively.  I have to put more time into things that are important rather than just interesting.
  3. A side-effect of the problem in #2 is that I am reading fewer books.  I'm going to be sure to at least do some reading before bed every night, and hopefully more than that.  I think that overall I am reading more than ever before, but the content has shifted to shorter form Internet content.  Good stuff, but not a substitute for books.
  4. I need to get more sleep.  I have always needed less sleep than the average person.  I typically get six hours per night, maybe seven on the weekends.  But, as I get older, I think that my body needs more than this.  Getting plenty of sleep this past week has refreshed me, and I am going to get more sleep each night.
  5. One reason I only sleep six hours per night is that I get up early to exercise.  I love working out first thing in the morning.  It gets my exercise in, and gets me fully awake.  If I get busy or have a late night commitment, I've sacrificed sleep in favor of getting my work-out in.  In 2008, I'll make this trade-off in the opposite direction, but still making sure I get 4 workouts in a week.  Since I generally haven't worked out on the weekends, I'll probably change that so I can get enough sleep during the week.
  6. OK, like a lot of people, I need to lose (at least) 15 pounds.  More like 25 really.  I'll start with having a salad for lunch every day...Boring, but necessary.

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