New Book Chapter in Immersed in the Media

Both the ebook and print version of Immersed in the Media (Editors: Lombard, M., Biocca, F., Freeman, J., IJsselsteijn, W.,Schaevitz, R.J.) are now available.

Our chapter:

The full chapter list is available on the Springer Website.

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Moving to Luxembourg?

This is a revised version of an article published in 2012, revised August 2015.

 

Luxembourg? That’s just a city with lots of banks right? Surprisingly that view still holds in the eyes of many. If you are moving to Luxembourg it is worth noting it’s small size, but like any other country it has a capital and yes other cities, towns and villages too! If you are moving here you can decide on city, town or country living. The capital Luxembourg is like a mini-version of any other main city being full of shops, bars and nice cafes. Other places worth checking out are Esch, Echternach, Vianden, Bettembourg and Diekirch. If you fancy a more rural life style the North of Luxembourg city offers some stunning countryside and the South-West some nice farming towns and villages. This article will focus on the tips which are based mainly on experience rather than rules.

Basic Information

Here are some tips and advice if you are moving here:

  • Luxembourg city is small enough to get around in using public transport, you can easily get from one side to the other in under 30 minutes by bus. Travel cards are €25/€45 per month for city only or national and cover all buses and local trains. Many employers offer these at a discount for their staff, for example I currently receive the €45 pass for around 50% off.
  • You must register at the local commune within 7-days of arriving
  • Luxembourg is small and news travels very fast. As  a result reputation is everything this “trust” aspect is also reflected in how banks operate.
  • Food is certainly more expensive than Germany, France or Belgium. Comparing it to Bonn where I lived before you can add 20% or more to anything except coffee, wine and certain other items.
  • You will hear Luxembourgish, French, German and Portuguese and no doubt many other languages too. English is also quite widely spoken.
  • The natives I personally know prefer to speak Luxembourgish (naturally), as a second choice it seems they prefer German over French. For the rest of the population it probably varies quite widely.
  • Most Government documents are in French and German, although increasingly English is available as well.
  • So far most contracts I have seen have originally been in French with an English translation. However, on my bank documents atleast they clearly state the French version is the one that stands in the case of a legal dispute.
  • French is most widely used in shops, bars and restaurants.
  • While you can probably survive with English although a basic knowledge of French or German makes life much easier.
  • The country is extremely international.
  • Luxembourg is NOT a low tax country if you are an individual, it would be fairer to describe it as a lower tax country.

Banking

Luxembourg is famed for it’s banking and rightfully so. If you are coming from the UK  where the concept of service in banks was abolished by people such as (the artist formerly known as Sir) Fred Goodwin then be prepared for a surprise. I have heard from insiders at various banks that services have started to deteriorate (mainly due to the change of ownership of the various banks) which has led to an investor-owner rather than just owner culture which sort-of prevailed prior to 2008. That said BCEE has not changed ownership and remains one of the most secure banks in the world. To date though I have to say I have been pleased with the standard of service I have received from BGL BNP Paribas.

  • Set up your bank account before you arrive, this is easily done and BGL BNP Paribas offer this service, others such as BIL and BCEE may do so as well. If you do not do this then organising your salary payments or even renting an apartment can become more difficult.
  • The larger banks such as BCEE, POST, BIL and BGL have extensive cash machine networks throughout the country. Smaller ones such as ING do not, which means you end up paying if you have to use another banks ATM. Although some accounts offer a set number of free withdrawls across the EU in the basic package.
  • Opening accounts in other currencies is quick and simple at most banks.
  • ATM fees if you use machines outside your own bank’s network can vary massively from €0.75 to €2.
  • Most leading banks now offer some kind of free bank accounts, these are often online only and require that you also pay in a set amount per month and/or maintain a deposit.
  • Most banks let you make a set number of free transfers to other SEPA compliant banks in the EU. Post charges a small fee per transaction.
  • You can survive easily with a Euro account from banks in other countries but sometimes certain things can only be set up or based on Luxembourg accounts. For example rental bonds or direct debits for local companies. POST does not offer rental bonds, so keep this in mind if you are looking for an account.
  • Many banks offer free banking for students (within certain limits).
  • Setting up an account and credit cards can be done quickly and easily, credit scoring etc is increasingly being used but not to the same degree as in many other countries.
  • Credit cards are paid back in full at the end of each month unless you agree another plan with the bank. There is no interest to pay if the account is settled within a few days at the start of the following month.
  • If you require basic banking services only then Luxembourg Post Offer a good and quick set up service which is free. The service is however basic, it’s really an account and that is all.  You do however need to pay for all transactions and any debit or credit cards. However, it can be good value for money if you need only basic services and have a low number of monthly transactions. Also note that POST offers nothing in the way of financial services or advice, not even deposit accounts!

If you are likely to be moving frequently between different countries, as I was for a while. Then in the longer term an international provider such as American Express (AMEX) may be a good idea. While they are often not good value for money they do allow you to bring your credit profile (and credit limit) with you between countries; even if you physically end up changing the registration country and card. Amex is not as widely accepted in Luxembourg but is in all major supermarkets and many shops. They have the advantage (unlike if you keep the card account in your home country) that you can pay directly from your Luxembourg account thus avoiding the need to remember to wire or send the cash to another country.

An additional useful service is Digicash which lets you pay bills and other items by simply scanning a QR code. Many banks offer Digicash payments as a service to their customers.

Renting a Property

If you moving to the city then be prepared to experience high rents; although if you are coming from London they will appear cheap. A few tips on flat hunting:

  • The main website is: www.athome.lu
  • Try to look for a rental agency which is smaller and does not have hundreds of apartments. In general their standard of service is higher. I can personally recommend Bricks and Sylvie Becker – so far anyway!
  • You will most likely need one months rent for the agency fee plus two months deposit. You can avoid paying in advance for the latter with a deposit bond or bank guarantee, these are sometimes offered for free when you open a bank account, otherwise expect to pay a fee per month plus an initial fee. A bank guarantee from a foreign bank is not usually accepted.
  • The magic rental number if you are living in the city is €1200 per month, below this the size of the apartment drops and the cost per square meter is extremely high. Studio apartments are around €800 p/m for anything from 20-40 m2.
  • A room in the city will set you back €600 per month or more. The university however does offer cheaper student accommodation, although this is increasingly more widely available in near the Belval campus which is not even in Luxembourg City.
  • If you want more for your money check out Bonnevoie a “working class” neighbourhood which is nothing like it sounds. Pleasant, near the railway station and with shops etc.
  • Parking is available in the street for free in some zones if you are a resident there, otherwise you can pay up to €200 per month in addition to your rent for a space.
  • Look out for the communal charges which are added to your rent, these can include as little or as much as the owner likes and vary quite significantly. Always ask specifically what it includes.

Like anywhere con artists and bad service are problems in the rental sector, common problems include:

  • The same apartment advertised by many agencies, not always a scam but it makes it very hard to even find out if the property exists at that agency or is still available.
  • Agents will sometimes not turn up  and will often not even not even bother to call you to say the apartment has gone or that they are not coming.
  • Never, I repeat NEVER pay for any of the charges, fees or deposits in cash or via services such as Western Union. Always insist that all fees are paid or assigned to a bank account registered in Luxembourg.
  • It is possible to rent apartments without resorting to agency fees but frankly this is  more difficult and can be more risky. Although this risk can be avoided if you are moving in and already know the people from before. In general though trust your instincts.
  • I am not sure if it is a legal requirement but many larger agencies try to bend the rules. Insist on the full name, real address and telephone number of the property owner. Many agencies refuse to provide the latter as a way of preventing you from getting help if something goes wrong.
  • Many agencies are unresponsive, they do not answer emails even if they list that as an option. A phone call is always best, it is worth noting that some agents cannot speak English or even German.
  • Even if a property is via an agency it is often the case that only one person deals with that property. If they are on holiday expect absolutely no service from that agency when it comes to viewings or help.
  • You can ask for a “clause diplomatique” to be inserted into your rental contract. This means that if you have to move out of the country for work then you can cancel the agreement with three months notice. The agent will however query why you have asked for this if you have a local employer so it can be a black mark.
  • Most contracts are for one year with automatic annual extensions there after, although the owner can ask you to leave if they intend to move into the property themselves.
  • Property moves quickly so you do not normally get more than a couple of days to decide. However, there is usually a reasonable supply of property so don’t panic if you  miss out.
  • A good agent and landlord will “decide” if you are the right person to rent their property. This is also the case in many other countries, so do expect to be asked to provide  documents e.g proof of employment. If they ask for nothing then I personally would be a little suspicious.
  • Agents should not ask for fees to view or express an interest in an apartment. The only agency fee you should pay is when you agree to rent the apartment.
  • Try to put yourself in the owners shoes and keep your proposition simple. They generally prefer an individual renting a property to two friends being on the lease as the latter shows no one person can perhaps afford the property; a problem if one moves out. Sub-letting is however in general forbidden.
  • If possible pay the two months deposit/caution using the bank guarantee system or some form of held deposit at a bank. This makes it harder for the agent or owner to run off with your money.
  • Outside of Luxembourg the prices fall quite a bit and you can get some excellent deals on larger houses in the North etc.

It is probably also a good idea to join the Union of Luxembourg Consumers who can provide you with early advice in the event of rental disputes. They also offer some assistance with legal costs, my understanding is that they can offer cheaper advice from a lawyer. The membership fee is very low and probably worth it in the long term.

Telecom and Internet

Such services are more costly than in many countries, in general mobile contracts from POST, Tango, Orange and JOIN all seem far less advantageous than what customers receive in the surrounding countries. The big thing to watch out for is roaming, Luxembourg is quite small so talking a step to y0ur left near the border can result in being in data roaming. Therefore if you are planning to use your phone a lot outside of the borders it is worth exploring what roaming tariffs they offer. Join for example offer a flat rate and pay-as-you-go option across Europe.

Home phones provision and Internet is also much more expensive, although to date I have been with POST (probably the most expensive of all three) but the quality of service has been excellent so you probably get what you pay for. There is increasing competition in the market with others such as Eltrona and Numericable offering highly competitive deals.

Closing Remarks

Moving to any country can seem a bit intimidating but in general the authorities in Luxembourg plus many private sector organisations make the process relatively quick, simple and pleasant. Luxembourg is very international so it is geared towards the immigrant.

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New book chapter in process…

Ethics, Privacy and Trust in Serious Games. McCall, R., and L. Baillie  Handbook of Digital Games and Entertainment Technologies, edited by Ryohei Nakatsu, Paolo Ciancarini and Matthias Rauterberg. Springer.

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Publications page updated

I’ve added some new publications to the relevant page.

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Off to The Human System Interaction 2015 in Warsaw

Along with other colleagues from the eGlasses project I will attending the Human-System Interaction Conference in Warsaw. There are quite a few eGlasses related publications there and we will be presenting some work from our team. Also look out for the keynote talk from Michael Haller.

We will be championing the eGlasses alternative to Google Glass, really it’s designed for use in research labs but has many more features than the commercially available platforms.

 

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Review Localbitcoins.com

If Bitcoin.de is the paragon of simplicity be prepared for the altogether more confusing world of Localbitcoins.com. But it’s only confusing as you have so many options!

Localbitcoins does exactly what it says, it lets you trade Bitcoins both locally (i.e. cash face to face if you like) and also like other exchanges with people located elsewhere. It lets you buy and sell your Bitcoins via anything such a cash all the way through credit cards and finally  to bank transfer (including SEPA). You can also trade in a variety of currencies, indeed whatever the other trader is offering. In common with Bitcoin.de this is an over the counter exchange which means payments are conducted between parties directly while the trade is held in escrow until the seller releases the bitcoins. This of course has its inherent risks.

As a buyer or seller you set up an advert with a floating price, i.e. at a fixed percentage above or below the Bitfinex market rate. This means unlike Bitcoin.de the price reflects the going rate more accurately however it does mean you need to constantly check any listings you make sure you don’t lose money on a sale. Also important to note is that you define your own terms of sale (including payment method and dates). Other features worth noting are that you can define levels of trust and also the ID requirements of your fellow traders. Adverts can also have an opening time, much like a physical shop. Note however that  if you place an advert you are responsible for 1% fee, whereas if you respond to an advert or use the quick sell feature you pay nothing. Quick sell is nice in that it finds the best price from all available adverts given the criteria you specify.

Trust is is important in such markets and you can leave a variety of ratings and even comments relating to other people you have traded with. You can even block or mark them as trusted – with trusted traders being given access to specific adverts you have listed for them only. In general this is a much more important feature than on bicoin.de. For example I have had far more problems with others cancelling trades or not abiding by trade terms that I have specified. There is a forum attached to the site where you can find lively discussions about potential scammers and common problems others have encountered.

Other features worth noting are the live chat assistance from members of their customer support team. Which can be reached in the darkest hours of the night. You can also mark trades as in dispute and their team will normally respond to the request and resolve the situation within 1 working day. My experience of this was that they were thoroughly professional and quick.

In general I find Localbitcoins requires much more active involvement that Bicoins.de also the number of scammers and untrustworthy people on it seems to be much higher. This not the fault of Localbitcoins but it is something you should take into account if you are planning on using the site. It is also a problem which has been noted on in other reviews and forum posts.

Would I recommend the site? Yes in short but only if you are prepared for the ride. Their customer service is very good and the range of options you can set up for trades is impressive. However, for the newbie I’d stick to bitcoin.de.

 

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Review: Bitdefender Total Security 2015

Image copyright Bitdefender

Image copyright Bitdefender

A good solid tool which is  worth buying.

Bitdefender is certainly one of the better known anti-virus solutions out there and the Total Security package brings together a whole range of features including:

  • Virus scanning and removal.
  • Firewall.
  • Safepay.
  • Website screening

Current retail price: €69.95

From: www.bitdefender.com

Installing

I tried installing Bitdefender twice, first on a system which was infected  and secondly on a clean machine. To put it bluntly only install this software on a clean machine (i.e. no malware etc) otherwise whatever was on there before will simply block Bitdefender from working effectively and your computer will become incredibly slow and unusable.

Effectiveness – Viruses and Malware

You can select a number of different scanning options, including a quick scan which does at it says on the tin. You can also set up scanning for particular folders or do a full system scan. The latter can take a while though! You can also set the level of aggression that Bitdefender has against threats although this will increase the risk of false positives. This along with setting folder and programme exclusions can be done easily.

If the computer becomes infected overall performance is similar to  my old tool Panda Cloud anti-virus, however what was strange was that it failed to detect a number of issues until a full scan was run (again like Panda). Also I tried downloading the Eicar test virus and only when this was in its original form (i.e. not zipped or double zipped) was it detected. Again though detection only occurred when I specifically scanned the system. This led me to question the effectiveness of the real-time scanning features but other more scientific reviews have rated the product highly in this regard.

In general I found that Bitdefender is good at detecting more obvious threats however, it still falls short of detecting as many bits of malware as say Malwarebytes.  It’s main weakness seems to be real-time scanning which could be better.

Although not strictly for viruses and malware the useful vulnerability scan lets you check your system to make sure everything is up to date and not open to attack.  It also checks for weak passwords which is useful. Given the number of issues with out of date software and passwords these are good features.

Good for Online Banking Websites

Bitdefender protects you when you visit your bank or credit card company website as it can be set to only show that particular webpage  – all other software and even the Windows environment are hidden. Additionally it gets round problems with keys being logged while visiting these websites by encouraging you to type in the details via an onscreen keyboard. This feature is very good but can be very slow on low end machines.

Website Screening

This is the biggest problem area; especially on low spec hardware. While I am sure it works it slows down web surfing so much that you end up turning it off. Also such anti-fishing and anti-fraud systems mean that in theory Bitdefender (or any other company which offers something similar) can easily collect information on your browsing habits.

Firewall 

I ended up using the firewall in mainly permissive mode which is probably not a good thing, however on higher settings it can get infuriating with it ending up blocking too many things. That said altering the settings is quick and simple so I have increased the settings again. You can also set up exclusions for particular applications, use this with caution as saying yes could invite in some nasty software.

Long-Term Use

It’s easy to review something over an afternoon but really virus scanners are a long-term tool which should just sit in the background and work. I have now been running this for about six months and with the exception of the issues noted it has been stable, reliable and reasonably effective. Certainly on a par with and often more effective than Panda Anti-virus.

So far I have had no viruses which can perhaps speak of me either being security aware or just lucky. However, some Malware and unwanted programmes got through. As usual the Ask toolbar managed to install itself – neither Malwarebytes or Bitdefender spotted this until the files had made their way onto the computer. To be fair though I suspect a recent Java installation was responsible for this as Oracle are/were bundling the dreaded Ask toolbar. I probably pressed agree by mistake during some late night work session. That said though I would expect Bitdefender to atleast alert me to the fact that this rubbish is running on the computer.

Summary

This is overall a good piece of software and ignoring the website scanning functionality it has minimal overhead when run on a comparatively low-spec system. Like nearly all virus scanners I have used on it’s own it is not 100% effective and it is best partnered with Malwarebytes if you really want to clean up your system after an infection.

Good points

  • Lots of good protection features.
  • Range of scanning options.
  • Minimal system overhead for standard real-time scanning.
  • Easy to use.
  • Has good detection reputation.

Bad Points

  • The website protection feature is slow on low end hardware.
  • Malware protection and removal not always the best.
  • Let the Ask toolbar slip through.

Overall I would give this product a try its reputation and so far my experience has been positive.

Note: Panda Cloud anti-virus has now been discontinued and replaced with another product. Also the author while offered a free review copy of Bitdefender refused to accept it as he had already purchased a full licence.

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Review: Bitcoin.de

Image

Overview

Bitcoin gets a somewhat bad reputation in the press with it being described as dirty money for criminals and Russian tax-dodging billionaires (who used it to get their money out of the Cypriot banks). Therefore if you are looking to give it a go and don’t want to be tarnished with this kind of dodgy reputation it is important to find a more legitimate way to trade in it. With that in mind companies such as German based Bitcoin.de may offer a way forward. It also claims to have more than 220,000 users, although I have yet to see anywhere near this number of active participants.

Why use bitcoin.de?

Bitcoin.de appears on the face of it to be a cleaner market place than some of the others which are around. Indeed it’s main advantages are that it is registered in Germany and works with Fidor Bank which is also based there. This means that it is at least partially regulated by the German authorities. Other advantages include that they do not hold your money as all trades are conducted “over the counter” (or peer-to-peer). As a result payments are made directly between market participants (bank to bank) meaning that Bitcoin.de does not hold your cash. However, they hold your Bitcoins in an escrow account; meaning that the seller must actually hold them in order to sell them.

Bitcoin.de uses a third party auditing firm to check of the coins it holds on behalf of customers are in its possession. Once you are fully identified as a user you can download this report and check it yourself. It was last undertaken in 2014.

Features

Bitcoin.de only offers simple buying and selling, there are no derivatives or other complex instruments. You either place a buy or sell order or respond directly to an advert. If you purchase via an advert you pick the one you want, indicate how many coins you wish to buy then within a set period of time you must mark the transaction as paid. Once the seller receives the money they acknowledge this and the coins are released. You must mark a purchase as paid within a set number of hours or you risk getting black marks. Selling is also straight forward you can either sell directly to a person who already has an advert or list your coins for sale. In both cases the other party (buyer) must respond within a set number of hours, issue payment then you release the coins on receipt of the cash. The  minimum purchase or sale is just 0.1 Bitcoins which makes it very easy to dip your feet in the water.

The only downside of the system is that it can take several days for a buyer to receive funds, this increases over weekends and bank holidays. Therefore if you are an active trader this delay can mean you lose some opportunities. There is one option round this and that is Fidor Bank in Germany who offer a so-called “express trade” system where if both parties use them then payment is cleared and the coins are released instantly. For now this option is only available to German residents but it would certainly improve the experience.

Trusting Others

All participants in the market are rated bronze, silver or gold. Their status depends on the number of trades and positive responses from others. In addition after a certain volume of trades traders must go through an identification procedure in order to be able to continue to use Bitcoin.de. For this you need to provide identity papers and get them witnessed by a lawyer or financial institution. You must  pay a small fee for doing so. It remains to be seen how effective this process is but it should mean that the participants can be easily traced in the event of anything going wrong.

You can also specify your minimum trust levels when trading with others this can include being gold, silver or bronze, which country their bank is registered in or even if you will only accept transfers from within the same banking group. To date I have undertaken quite a lot of transactions and had no problems with trust.

Security

From a security point of view you can add on two factor authentication for example by using Google Authenticate on your phone. There is also a fifteen minute auto logout in case you do nothing and a list of previous login attempts (successful or otherwise).

Like any exchanges which store some coins online there is a risk that a hacker could make off with them. However, Bitcoin.de promise that your coins are stored away from the Internet’s prying eyes. Also it is very quick and easy to transfer your bitcoins either to your own local wallet or to another online place.

Costs

The overall cost is 1% which is absorbed equally by the buyer and seller (0.5% each so it is reasonably cheap). Other costs to be aware of are those of your bank who may charge for transferring money. There are no fees for joining Bitcoin.de and the only fixed fee comes when you have to complete the identification process. This helps make the barrier to entry small.

Summary

Trading or investing in bitcoins is not something you should probably do to make a profit. The price is so volatile that you would have to be mad to gamble your fortune on it. However, if you are aiming to take the plunge Bitcoin.de makes buying and selling bitcoins quick and simple. The trust system also improves confidence plus it has links to a registered German bank.

Should you try it? I’d say yes, so far it has been the easiest and quickest way I have found to get into the world of Bitcoin.

A note about Bitcoin

As for Bitcoin itself, I am not sure if this is anything more than hype and indeed it has more than it’s fair share of eccentric followers. That aside though it represents a very good way to get funds to people in countries where banks and governments are corrupt (Zimbabwe for example). Also the underlying technology (blockchain) is an excellent way of allowing fast, low cost transfers of small amounts of money between friends and family members across countries with different currencies. In essence it could become the “friends and family” currency. More on this in a future article.

In the longer term I am hoping that there is more oversight of Bitcoin exchanges in particular to prevent the kind of dirty money image that it currently has. However, such regulation should not be put in place to simply prop up the current financial services sector. After all UK banks have paid billions in fines for drug money laundering, mis-selling insurance products, fixing interest rates and manipulating currency markets it would therefore seem strange to hand over Bitcoin to them! Just keep in mind that the UN itself said that during the 2008 banking crash $350bn in dirty money made it’s way into the banking system in London, New York and other major financial centres. I am sure that to date Bitcoin has come  nowhere near to this amount in such a comparatively short space of time…

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Streaming Music Services in Luxembourg

If you are in Luxembourg or indeed thinking of moving here, then here is a list of music services that are currently available. If you are aware of others please let me know.

  • Tidal (CD quality hifi streaming and videos)
  • Qobuz (offering MP3 and CD quality – high res purchase options too)
  • Napster (relatively low quality)
  • Spotify (average quality)
  • Google Music (average quality)

You should check out if your device supports the above services. While IOS and Android devices tend to work without any problems hifi equipment is a bit more tricky. For example Raumfeld and Sonos may have country-by-county licencing agreements. This can mean that while the nice app may run on your phone you may not actually be able to stream any music to your hifi (now that is annoying). If you have Raumfeld system there is an imperfect way round this.

For something a little different, if you are into ultra high-end audio that you would rather own (and store them yourself) than stream then check out HDTracks.com. It is possible to buy tracks as a Luxembourg resident although overall the range can be a bit limited. In general you get CD quality and up… just make sure your hifi can handle it! As I mentioned Qobuz also lets you buy tracks at CD (16-bit) and higher. Again though not all high quality tracks are available in Luxembourg.

Looking for something a little more visual? Then to answer your questions, yes Netflix does work in Luxembourg.

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Magnetic Interaction with Mobile Devices

A short video of the work undertaken by my colleague  Saeed Afshari mainly as part of his MSc thesis and was presented at NordiCHI 2014. The work was supervised by myself, Andrei Popleteev and Thomas Engel. The video contains some work that was carried out after the thesis  (in particular the use of two mobile phones).

For more information you can download the paper.

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