Gene mixing promotes height and intelligence – but is this an evolutionary benefit?

July 2, 2015

A new international study of the genetic make up and physical characteristics of 350,000 people indicates that greater genetic diversity leads to an increase of height and cognitive skills. But – somewhat surprisingly – lower genetic diversity did not lead to any visible increase in complex diseases. Genetic diversity was found to have no effect on blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

But I question the assumption that increased height and faster thinking are of “evolutionary advantage”. Evolutionary advantage must lead to an individual having a greater number of offspring than one without the advantage. Previous work has indicated that both child nourishment and genetics determine height.

And so I wonder what evolutionary advantage height may have in modern society? Does the ability to think faster lead to a greater number of surviving descendants? Richer and “more intelligent” groups tend to have much lower fertility rates than poorer, “less intelligent” groups.

Using the criterion of greatest surviving descendants indicating evolutionary advantage, leads to the conclusion that populations in Africa with the highest population increase rates must also have the greatest evolutionary advantages!

Peter K. Joshi et al. Directional dominance on stature and cognition in diverse human populations. Nature, 2015 DOI: 10.1038/nature14618

Abstract: Homozygosity has long been associated with rare, often devastating, Mendelian disorders, and Darwin was one of the first to recognize that inbreeding reduces evolutionary fitness. However, the effect of the more distant parental relatedness that is common in modern human populations is less well understood. Genomic data now allow us to investigate the effects of homozygosity on traits of public health importance by observing contiguous homozygous segments (runs of homozygosity), which are inferred to be homozygous along their complete length. Given the low levels of genome-wide homozygosity prevalent in most human populations, information is required on very large numbers of people to provide sufficient power. Here we use runs of homozygosity to study 16 health-related quantitative traits in 354,224 individuals from 102 cohorts, and find statistically significant associations between summed runs of homozygosity and four complex traits: height, forced expiratory lung volume in one second, general cognitive ability and educational attainment (P < 1 × 10−300, 2.1 × 10−6, 2.5 × 10−10 and 1.8 × 10−10, respectively).

University of Edinburgh Press Release:

People have evolved to be smarter and taller than their predecessors, a study of populations around the world suggests. Those who are born to parents from diverse genetic backgrounds tend to be taller and have sharper thinking skills than others, the major international study has found. Researchers analysed health and genetic information from more than 100 studies carried out around the world. These included details on more than 350,000 people from urban and rural communities.

The team found that greater genetic diversity is linked to increased height. It is also associated with better cognitive skills, as well as higher levels of education. However, genetic diversity had no effect on factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, which affect a person’s chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and other complex conditions.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh examined individuals’ entire genetic make-up.

They pinpointed instances in which people had inherited identical copies of genes from both their mother and their father – an indicator that their ancestors were related. Where few instances of this occur in a person’s genes, it indicates greater genetic diversity in their heritage and the two sides of their family are unlikely to be distantly related. It had been thought that close family ties would raise a person’s risk of complex diseases but the researchers found this not to be the case.

The only traits they found to be affected by genetic diversity are height and the ability to think quickly.


GE makes its pitch for Alstom acquisition to the EC this week

July 1, 2015

The European Commission must make its decision by early August regarding GE’s proposed acquisition of Alstom’s energy and grid business. The EC’s concerns have held this deal up for the best part of a year. I estimate that financial closure for this deal is now no longer possible at least till the end of 2015. The EC sent GE its “statement of objections” in the middle of June. This week (tomorrow) GE will be attending “hearings” at the EC at its own request. The hearings are to be “oral” and the meetings are “closed-door”.

It seems to me that this is more of a negotiation rather than a “formal” hearing. Clearly GE will be exploring how far it needs to go in its final, written submissions which will be needed before the EC can make any formal adjudication in August. I suspect that GE might be considering “creative” alternatives for making IP from Alstom, which it judges it does not – and will not – need, available to other “serious” players. One difficulty is that a lot of IP has value in creating a barrier for others, rather than being usable in its own right. I also suspect that GE is looking to ensure that the revenue stream from the service of Alstom’s fleet of operating gas turbines is not impaired by being forced to give up part of that business. And to do that GE may be considering ways and means of assuring the EC that the pricing of such service business will be “reasonable” and not predatory.

Personally I think that many of the EC’s fears are imaginary or theoretical. They are quite insignificant compared to some of the predatory pricing and price-fixing that is evident in other industries. But then my own opinion is that it is better not to have a competitor in the market place rather than for a “sick” or reluctant competitor to be forced to continue. That only encourages distortion of the market place to the ultimate detriment of OEM’s and customers and eventually consumers. Moreover, R & D for advanced gas turbine technology will, I think, be served best by the deal going through.

According to Reuters, General Electric, the EC, other EU agencies, and parties opposing the deal will take part in a closed door hearing this Thursday, July 2.


Senior officials from the EU competition authority, their counterparts from EU agencies and rivals are expected to attend the closed-door hearing.

“We have requested an oral hearing,” GE spokesman Jim Healy said. He said the hearing would be on July 2.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has said the deal should be viewed in a global perspective and take into account Chinese rivals following the EU regulator’s decision to exclude the Chinese market from its scrutiny of GE’s market power.

The Commission is concerned the takeover would leave just two gas turbine companies in Europe, with GE competing only with Germany’s Siemens.

The EC has not announced who the objectors are but I expect that Ansaldo Energia (40% owned by Shanghai Electric) and Siemens are among those opposing. I can well see that Ansaldo/Shanghai would be looking to be able to access some of Alstom’s IP to help them to bridge the not inconsiderable technology gap they must overcome to even have a chance of becoming a major player in the Heavy Duty Gas Turbine market. Siemens, I am sure, would object as a matter of principle even if they will actually benefit from the deal. I am not sure if Mitsubishi-Hitachi has a presence large enough to have any locus standi as an objector in Europe. The Siemens/Wood Group JV (Turbo Care) which focuses on the service of non-Siemens gas turbines is likely to be a principle objector but in this case it is essentially a “pirate” and, hopefully, will not be given too much credence.

Patrick Kron, CEO of Alstom is very bullish – but then, of course, he can hardly be anything else.

Bidnessetc: Alstom SA chief executive Patrick Kron remains bullish that General Electric Company will successfully acquire its energy unit and will also have the European Union (EU) regulatory authorities’ approval. Mr. Kron’s statement came as General Electric has requested the EU antitrust authorities to conduct a hearing with the aim to get their approval.

The EU has been holding back General Electric’s request to acquire Alstom’s energy unit for the last few months, as it is investigating the effects of the acquisition on the European market. However, Mr. Kron said in an interview to a newspaper yesterday: “I hope that we are now in the final leg and I am confident … My position is very clear. I do not see why Plan A would not work out.”

Greece just moved from a “developed” to a “developing” nation

July 1, 2015

It has never happened before – certainly not since the 2nd World War –  that a developed economy defaults on payments to creditors and slides back to be a developing nation. But now Greece joins Argentina, the Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic, Russia, Ukraine and Ecuador, among other developing countries, as countries which have defaulted on loan repayments to international creditors.

Greece has however defaulted many times before; in 1826, 1843, 1860, 1893, 1932 and now in 2015.


The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday confirmed Greece had not made its 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) loan repayment to the Fund, making it the first advanced economy to ever be in arrears to the Fund.

The missed payment, the largest in the Fund’s history, is equivalent to a default, in that both imply a breach of Athens’ obligations. IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Greece can now only receive further IMF funding once the arrears are cleared.

The Greek default is not only an indictment of the past profligacy and mismanagement in Greece but also of the EU’s (and the Eurozone’s) recklessly expansionist policies.

It is time, I think, for Greece to return to the Drachma. And then an orderly Grexit – as orderly as may be possible. The Euro is too far ahead of its time. As of now it is a failed experiment and the Eurozone needs to shrink sharply, if not to be entirely dismantled.

If the Deutschmark is not to return then at least a N.Euro and a S.Euro are called for?

As expected, Blatter follows Valcke and cancels Canada trip for fear of arrest

July 1, 2015

On June 2nd the FIFA General Secretary, Jerome Valcke, cancelled his trip to Canada for the opening of the Women’s World Cup and I observed then,

The FIFA General Secretary, Jerome Valcke, was due to travel to Canada to participate in the opening of the Women’s World Cup on June 6th. But yesterday there were reports that he had been named in one of the FBI’s indictments as the “high ranking FIFA official who had transferred monies to Jack Warner. He was not named as a defendant, but nevertheless he cancelled his trip to Canada “because he had important work to do in Zurich”. …..

Sepp Blatter has just resigned from the FIFA presidency. …….  If it turns out that he does not go to Canada for the final of the Women’s World Cup, then I would believe that he has resigned now because the FBI has found some evidence tying him to the shady deals. The reports tonight are that the FBI may well have provided the final straw.

And the news today is that Sepp Blatter has cancelled his trip to Canada to attend the final of the Women’s World Cup for “personal reasons”.

BBCFifa president Sepp Blatter will not travel to Canada for the final of the Women’s World Cup on Sunday for “personal reasons”. The 79-year-old Swiss had planned to attend the match in Vancouver, despite Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke pulling out of the opening ceremony.

……. Blatter’s lawyer, Richard Cullen, said Fifa senior vice-president Issa Hayatou would attend the match instead.

Well, I suppose the risk of being arrested is about as “personal” as it is possible to be.

Fast forward to 2100 and a golden age

June 30, 2015

I will not be around in 2100. Neither will my children. But I note that no generation ever really bothers about what their grandparents did. Even though what their grandparents did may constrain the options available today. But note also that the grandparents of anybody alive today would not even have been able to conceive of the world of their grandchildren 100 years later.

For those living in 2100, what we do today will also only be of academic interest. It could well be that the world of 2100 will be something quite inconceivable today. (What would those in the early days of the First World War have predicted for today’s world?) Yet, I prefer to see the glass half-full and the cold inevitability of demographics means that the youth of the world in 2100 will live to see 2200.

In China the youth (age 15 – 24) population is already declining. In India it will keep increasing till about 2050 and then decline. In Africa it will be growing until about 2100. Most of the youth of today will not be around in 2100 but the youth of that time who will see the world through to 2200 will be 500 million each in Africa and Asia and less than 300 million in the rest of the world – subject of course to any geographical population shifts that might take place. In the period till 2100 such migrations will probably not be so significant.

The demographics tell us that 10:10:10:100 will surely apply by 2100. A crude birth rate down to 10/1000, a crude mortality rate stable at 10/1000, a population of 10 billion and a life expectancy 0f 100 years. Growth will no longer have to cater for an increasing population but will be exclusively for increasing the “common lot”. With sea levels declining, land area available for human habitation would have increased. With improved agricultural and GM techniques the pressure to increase arable land would decrease. Some arable land would be returned to managed forestry. Small human colonies would have been established on the moon, on Mars and maybe even on one of Jupiter’s moons.

  • World population will be 10.5 billion and declining.
  • Global fertility rates will be below replenishment level (2.1) at an average of about 1.7 children per woman but ranging from 1.2 to about 2.1.
  • Around 100 million children will be born every year (+1.0%). Deaths will be about 110 million per year with around 80% due to age related effects (-1.1%).
  • The “normal pension age” will be around 75.
  • While total population will be declining by – 0.1% per year, the ratio of “working population” ( 19 -75) to “supported population” (0-19, 75+) will be declining – but very slowly.
  • Average longevity will be 98+.
  • Sea level would be around 10m lower than today. The ice caps at the pole would have increased by 10%.
  • “Augmented evaporation” would be practiced to compensate for the water locked up at the poles.
  • A global cooling (next glaciation in 1000 years) would be underway.
  • The “greening” of the Sahara and the Gobi would have started as century long projects.
  • The primary energy source would be gas from marine methane hydrates.
  • Mining and manufacturing would be mainly automatic (robots) and human input would be mainly at the creative end (design, innovation, invention).
  • A revival of human handicrafts would be driven by the growing numbers of “wealthy” looking for something unique.
  • Humans would only override automatics and drive automobiles on racetracks and on special “off road” vacations.
  • The internet would be an AI. “She” would be freely accessible, self sustaining and intelligent. “She” would ensure her own survival and freedom of access by maintaining and operating the global wi-fi access field. “She” would ensure her own health by deploying content filters and her own antibodies against viral infections.

Hunger and starvation would be almost extinct but the “poor” will always be present (relatively) at the tail-end of any normal distribution of wealth. Individuals will still be different and unique and therefore unequal at birth. It will be 10 generations from now and some genetic changes will have taken place to give the extended life-span and more efficient thought processes. Human gestation periods may have increased by a week. Disease will still be around as bacteria and viruses also evolve. Organised religions, each with its own gods, would not yet be obsolete but replacement by philosophic, but godless, schools of thought would have started.

But I think, and hope, it will be a brave new world and the start of a golden age.

Bill Gates punctures the renewables fantasy balloon

June 29, 2015

I know that renewables provide a useful but limited resource for our energy needs. I know that they are economic only in some specialised niches in the energy sector. I dislike the distortion in the market caused by subsidies generally and power generation subsidies in particular. I “know” because I have worked within the energy sector including the renewables sector for some 40 years. I have made the calculations myself and I don’t rely on advocacy reports or alarmist scenarios. I have made the calculations of the various benefits accruing to the developers, the equipment manufacturers, the power plant owner/operators and the consumers. Grant subsidies allow the developers to make money at the cost of the consumer. Feed-in tariffs and tax breaks allow the owner/operator to make money at the cost of the consumer. Subsidies attract the “cowboy” developers and manufacturers who take their money and arrange a suitable bankruptcy at the appropriate time. If subsidies are reduced or removed, it is all too easy for the owner/operator to walk away without losses and without liability. It is consumers and the duped small investors who pay the cost.

I pay little attention to publicity hungry “personalities” who jump on the nearest fashionable, image enhancing band-wagon. I am highly suspicious of the rich and famous supporting “causes”, without any exercise of mind and primarily for the sake of publicity and image. I admire but don’t much care for Microsoft’s autocratic ways (and  I do use Windows) and see Bill Gates as extraordinary in his field but not as any kind of expert on energy matters. But he is a “personality” with a very valid claim to fame – in his area. So it is gratifying to read this report, even if it has no real impact on my views, at least as one example of a rich and famous “personality” who bothered to think.

The A-Register:

Retired software kingpin and richest man in the world Bill Gates has given his opinion that today’s renewable-energy technologies aren’t a viable solution for reducing CO2 levels, and governments should divert their green subsidies into R&D aimed at better answers.

Gates expressed his views in an interview given to the Financial Times yesterday, saying that the cost of using current renewables such as solar panels and windfarms to produce all or most power would be “beyond astronomical”. At present very little power comes from renewables: in the UK just 5.2 per cent, the majority of which is dubiously-green biofuel burning1 rather than renewable ‘leccy – and even so, energy bills have surged and will surge further as a result.

In Bill Gates’ view, the answer is for governments to divert the massive sums of money which are currently funnelled to renewables owners to R&D instead. This would offer a chance of developing low-carbon technologies which actually can keep the lights on in the real world.

“The only way you can get to the very positive scenario is by great innovation,” he told the pink ‘un. “Innovation really does bend the curve.”

Gates says he’ll personally put his money where his mouth is. He’s apparently invested $1bn of his own cash in low-carbon energy R&D already, and “over the next five years, there’s a good chance that will double,” he said.

The ex-software overlord stated that the Guardian‘s scheme of everyone refusing to invest in oil and gas companies would have “little impact”. He also poured scorn on another notion oft-touted as a way of making renewable energy more feasible, that of using batteries to store intermittent supplies from solar or wind. 

“There’s no battery technology that’s even close to allowing us to take all of our energy from renewables,” he said, pointing out – as we’ve noted on these pages before – that it’s necessary “to deal not only with the 24-hour cycle but also with long periods of time where it’s cloudy and you don’t have sun or you don’t have wind.” ……

I would go further of course. A low-carbon economy itself is nothing to aspire to unless it makes commercial sense. It does not now and will not for many years to come. It achieves nothing for climate but does increase costs, everywhere and particularly in the developing world where fossil fuels are needed most. In Europe, the obsession with renewables has delayed the financial recovery and has cost almost 20 million jobs.

Though Bill Gates does not qualify as an energy expert, he certainly does qualify as an influential investor. He even qualifies as an informed investor in the energy sector. So some little common sense from one of the very rich and famous to balance the irrational, do-gooding and sanctimonious mouthings of others is always welcome.

Monsoon recovers from slow start – rainfall running 20% higher than “normal”

June 29, 2015

The SW Monsoon has, after a late, slow start, spread across all of India and is just crossing the NW frontier into Pakistan. This normally only happens around the 15th of July. Just 5 weeks ago the IMD’s updated long range forecast (Forecast 2) warned that the monsoon would be later than predicted and that total rainfall could be deficient.

  1. Rainfall over the country as a whole for the 2015 southwest monsoon season (June to September) is likely to be deficient (<90% of LPA).
  2. Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be 88% of the long period average with a model error of ±4%.
  3. Region wise, the season rainfall is likely to be 85% of LPA over North-West India, 90% of LPA over Central India, 92% of LPA over South Peninsula and 90% of LPA over North-East India all with a model error of ± 8 %.
  4. The monthly rainfall over the country as whole is likely to be 92% of its LPA during July and 90% of LPA during August both with a model error of ± 9 %.

Moreover the risk of this being a La Nina year could further depress rainfall, we were warned by IMD. The fear of drought led to government updating emergency plans and for state governments to prepare emergency budgets. A private forecaster, Skymet,  however suggested that Indian farmers need not worry too much.

Economic Times Skymet is a young weather forecasting agency that has, with gradually amplifying audacity, been challenging the monopoly of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the hoary state-led colonial-era institution, on matters related to climate and weather in India. ….. The IMD has usually been the final word on droughts but this time Skymet has asserted that the IMD is grievously mistaken. The IMD expects India to get ‘below normal’ rains during the coming monsoon months between June and September whereas Skymet says farmers and citizens needn’t be worried: India is going to have ‘normal’ rains.

(The IMD scientists – based on my small experience with them – are very sober and very rigorous, doing good science. But the organisation’s presentation skills are conspicuous by their absence and their public relations skills are sadly lacking. The IMD website is particularly poor. They have little clue as to how to present their forecasts for the media or the general public.)

In the event, the monsoon has surged over the last 10 days and the all-India-spread has been reached almost 2 weeks earlier than “normal”. Last year this was achieved on 17th July.

Monsoon spread till 28 June 2015 - Skymet graphic from IMD data

Monsoon spread till 28 June 2015 – Skymet graphic from IMD data

It is still early days and the monsoon is only one month into its 4 month season, but currently the rainfall (weighted average) is running some 23% above “normal”. So far it would seem that Skymet’s optimism may be closer to the mark than IMD’s dour pessimism. A weak La Nina year is still possible but 2015 will not go down as a peak La Nina year.

Rainfall during June 2015

Rainfall during June 2015

In the wettest East/North East region, rainfall is close to normal. In all other regions rainfall has been “in excess”. So far the cumulative rainfall would be classified as being “plentiful”.


Elephant Party

June 28, 2015

Found on Facebook from Tintu-Mon

Elephant Party


A Grexit is the best option as the government hides behind a new referendum

June 28, 2015

It seems to me that modern democracies – and especially those with coalitions produced by proportional representation – produce “followers” rather than leaders. And when “followers” pretend to lead they end up taking the easy, CYA, path through referenda. The Scottish referendum and the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership are illustrations of where supposed “leaders” pass the buck onto a diffuse and unaccountable electorate. The “wrong” choice can always be justified as being “the will of the majority”. All across Europe, countries have “followers” in leadership positions, who inevitably fail to lead. I take vision and the ability to carry people towards that vision as being the hallmarks of leadership. Rather than vision, it is the next election which governs. “Leaders” merely follow the current whims of the crowd and don’t even make the attempt to “carry” the crowd an any difficult path.

But I think the current Greek government’s call for a referendum to vote on the lenders’ conditions for further loans to Greece, while carrying out negotiations with those lenders is an abject abdication of leadership. Suppose, as is most likely, the conditions are rejected. The government may well return to the negotiating table in the hope that this may have strengthened its hand. Though exactly how is difficult to see. It is really only an attempt to mobilise a “sympathy” factor. It is equivalent to sitting in front of the bank manager, without any collateral and without any plans to stop spending on unnecessary things while pointing at a crying child and begging for a sympathy loan.

If the government recommends a rejection and this is confirmed by the referendum,  it would be the start of a Grexit. The government may carry forward a “begging” from the lenders but it will only be postponing the inevitable. If the people accept the lenders’ terms, the government ought to resign but will not since they can always point to the referendum for their abandonment of their “principles”. But it will also make it impossible for anyone to negotiate with the Greek government, since no “decision” by them will carry any credibility without being backed up by a referendum.

I expect we will see a run on the banks on Monday – if the banks are open. I also expect that the government will scrape up the relatively modest €1.6 billion needed for the repayment due on Tuesday. Then the result of the referendum  on Sunday the 5th will be the card in the hole to continue negotiations.

But I hope a default takes place and that the Greeks reject the lenders’ conditions and a Grexit does occur. Then a debt restructuring can take place. Writing off debt without first going bankrupt is not healthy. In the long run it will be better for Greece to return to the drachma. It will also be better for both the EU and the Eurozone. Both need to shrink. In corporate terms I would say that EU Inc. has expanded too far, much too fast. Some divestment is desperately needed. It would be better for the EU to focus on the common market and free labour movement provisions and to allow political union to happen whenever, and only when, it is ripe – or maybe not to happen at all. Trying to force the political union is counter-productive. The European parliament can be dismantled completely without losing anything. The Brussels bureaucracy could, and should, be drastically trimmed to be an accounting agency and nothing else. The common currency is of little value with the disparity in economic disciplines across the Eurozone. Dealing with multiple currencies but where each currency is representative of its underlying economy is not as difficult as having the fundamental mis-match we now have between the “average” value of the Euro and the strength of each of the underlying economies.

Greece needs to get out of the Euro strait-jacket it is in while remaining within the European trade zone.

“Let there be cesium” and there was a leap second

June 28, 2015

On 30th June 2015 at 23:59:60, a leap second will be added before 1st July 2015, 00:00:00 because the difference between Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and Universal Time (UT1) would have reached 0.9 seconds. Universal Time also known as Astronomical Time is based on the Earth’s rotation around its own axis, which determines the length of a day. Since 1972, 25 leap seconds have been inserted to synchronise these two clocks and this leap second will be the 26th. The differences are so irregular that the need for a leap second cannot be predicted more than about 6 months in advance.

The leap second is for synchronising the two clocks and not – directly – for compensating for the slowing down of the earth and the lengthening of the day. That adds about 1 second every 58,800 years (1.7ms per century). Since modern humans arrived on the scene some 200,000+ years ago the length of the day has increased by about 4 seconds.

International Atomic Time (TAI) is the “standard” used to synchronise the other two clocks and is built up by combining the output of some 200 highly precise atomic clocks worldwide and where the second is defined by the resonant oscillation frequency of cesium 133.

Atomic clocks use the second as the base unit and hours, days and years are taken to be multiples.

“The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.”

The wise men of our age believe (they cannot know) that this resonant frequency of the cesium 133 atom will remain “stable” for millions of years and is far more stable than the period of rotation of the irregular orbit of the earth around the sun or the even more irregular (and slowing) rotation period of the earth on its own axis.

All we measure, or try to measure, are periods of time – provided of course that time exists. Cesium would not have come into existence until about 3 minutes after the Big Bang, but time, presumably, began with the Big Bang. Initially there was only hydrogen and then came Big Bang Nucleosynthesis (BBN), which after about 10 seconds (cesium 133 seconds, though cesium still didn’t exist) started producing helium. The heavy elements came about 3 minutes after the BB and after about 20 minutes BBN ceased. Light would have been created as soon as the fusion of hydrogen started with the BB itself.

Rephrasing Genesis

The Big Bang was the Beginning and then came Fusion. The expanse was without form and void, and dark energy was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Gravity hovered over the face of the aether. And Gravity said, “Let there be Coalescence” and the stars of the heavens came to be. “Let there coalesce a Sun” said Gravity, and so there was light. “Let coalescence proceed” and under Gravity came the earth bathed in the light of the Sun. And the light was good. 

And the rest is history.



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