Tech Testimonial – Sonny Swann

Halo likes to highlight customers who are taking advantage of new technology with the help of Halo Information Systems. This month, I spoke with Sonny Swann of Climatic.

Technology is changing the way Climatic provides HVAC services
For nearly 25 years now, Climatic Heating and Cooling Inc. has been providing HVAC services to the D.C. Metropolitan area. They don’t just install and maintain air conditioners and heaters. Climatic’s team are also experts when it comes to the quality of air in homes and businesses. Sonny Swann is the Vice President of Climatic. He is a former IT systems engineer, so he knows the value of having a quality, cutting-edge IT infrastructure to run a small business. I had a chance to ask Sonny a few questions about the technology he uses at Climatic.

Sonny, the work that your team does is considered “blue-collar”, but how important is it for Climatic to have computer and network systems in place to run the operations back at the office?

SonnySwan Our customers count on us to always be available, so we have had to build redundancy into all of our systems. We have backup plans in place for loss of Internet, server failure, phone system issues, and inclement weather. Those systems are key to our operations and providing service to our clients quickly when their heating or cooling fails.

What sort of new technology have you evaluated and adopted in the past 12 months to improve your team’s efficiency?

We recently implemented a new dispatching software that gave us the ability to interface directly with our accounting software. We were also able to go completely paperless in the field. Before we were spending about 20 minutes to process each paper ticket into our systems. Now that takes about 30 seconds and can be done as soon as the truck pulls out of the driveway, rather than the next day when the ticket is turned in.

How has that changed the workflow of your employees?

Technicians can spend more time diagnosing and repairing, which is what they do best, Rather than spending 30% of their time writing paper tickets. Information is available for our customers and office instantly upon completion of the service visit.

What sort of new technology are you offering to your clients that you didn’t have a couple of years ago?

We have a large variety of new products. Internet connected thermostats are the latest, allowing us to control our systems when away from home. The more advanced models also allow the contractor to be notified if there is an issue and to complete basic troubleshooting remotely. Another new addition to our lineup are ultraviolet air scrubbers. They use an oxidizing process to create Ionized-Hydro-Peroxides that actually clean the air and sanitize surfaces inside your home.

If anyone reading this would like to get in touch with Sonny’s team at Climatic for a quote on Heating and Air Conditioning service and installation, you can reach them at www.climaticva.com.

Sonny, thank so much for your time for this interview, and thank you for reaching out to Halo Information Systems for our expertise with iOS devices. Halo was happy to help Climatic with its transition to an iPad based system for its field technicians, and we can do the same for other HVAC and service companies!

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Internet Explorer Security Flaw

Last week a security flaw was found in Internet Explorer that allows a remote user to control one’s computer without one’s permission or knowledge.  How is this possible?  Well, for starters, FireEye’s (an antivirus company) blog reports that the exploit is more easy to perform on XP than on Windows 7 or 8 (another good reasons to upgrade to Windows 7, folks!).  Secondly, they say that it also requires the corruption of some code in Adobe Flash.  This makes it even more unlikely that one’s computer will be compromised, but the possibility exists and should be remedied with the patch provided by Microsoft.Corrupt IE

Software development is always a delicate balance of security and usability.  Microsoft is doing its best to support its new line of products and the Windows 8 platform, but in the case of this critical security patch they decided to provide support to Windows XP users who are affected by the security flaw.  Many times, a program’s intended function can be used by hackers to do things that compromise privacy and security.  This is why it’s important to either turn-on Automatic Updates on your software (Microsoft updates, Adobe updates, Java updates, etc.) or make sure to respond quickly to new patch notes.  You know what those are don’t you?  There the annoying pop-ups that you get at the opening of Windows saying “A new update is available!”  Be wary though, some updates can also do harm to your computer.

Halo’s Guardian Angel service provides intelligent updating to our clients.  We read the patch notes on all updates, and we wait a few days after their release in order to allow the general public who Automatically-Update to test the patches before we release them to our clients.  One thing is for certain:  If you use Internet Explorer you need to install the patch!

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Out with Windows XP and in with Windows 8.1?

Windows XP was the second most popular operating system (OS) from Microsoft.  As of 2006, Microsoft had sold 400 million copies, and no one knows how many pirated copies of the OS were illegally installed in that time.  But all good things must come to an end.  As of April 2014, Microsoft has officially discontinued software updates to Microsoft XP.

XP_Round

Now, if you do still have this archaic OS installed (XP came to market in August of 2001, that’s like the Middle Ages to us computer nerds!) there is hope for you to keep using XP.  In January of this year, Microsoft revealed that its Anti-Virus product (MSRT) would continue to be updated for XP until July 2015.  This is a good thing for people who still have to use XP.  I have clients in the printing and machining industry who have machine-controllers that only run on XP.   It’s one thing for a small company to replace a computer for $500-$1000, but it’s another thing altogether for a machine shop to change out a giant piece of equipment for $20k-$100k!

The problem that IT professionals are running into is that the latest OS from Microsoft isn’t quite ready for prime time in the professional environment (and many IT professionals doubt if it ever will be!).  Just the other day I was advisingone of my older clients that they should only get Windows 8.1 if they’re going to be using the touch interface.  Every time I’ve used Windows 8.1 in the office environment, the new Start page simply gets in the way of me being able to do my job quickly and efficiently.

Windows_8_banner

So what are the advantages of the new Windows 8.1?  Well, if you find that you need to have a tablet with a touch interface that can run Windows applications, then this is the system for you.  If you’ve always wanted to run Office (or other typical, Windows-compatible programs) on an iPad, then this is the product for you!

What are the disadvantages of the new Windows 8.1?  Compatibility.  Not all of the major business software packages work on Windows 8.1 (especially older versions of software).  For example, older versions of Quickbooks are not compatible with Windows 8.1.  If you want a keyboard and a mouse to create documents, or to enter numbers into spreadsheets then there’s no real advantage to Windows 8.1 for you.

Halo Information Systems recommendation:  Stick with Windows 7 Professional for your business needswindows7prof

If you, or someone from your company needs further advice on new computer systems, or if you have any comments about the newsletter, please email us at:

feedback@haloinfosys.com

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Tales from Tech Support

This guest blog post was written by Sheenika Wilson and originally appeared on the ZCorum blog. It is used with their permission.

Most people usually share tales of endearment around Valentine’s Day, so I thought that I’d share some of those sentiments….tech support style. Using the famous word of one of ZCorum’s Affiliates, I hope you’ll be “tickled” by the stories that I’m bringing to you! Enjoy!

A customer that was unable to get online called in and spoke to me. She and I were troubleshooting her Internet connection issues, and she started to frantically say, “My cookies are burning!” Thinking they were a treat for her children, I told her that I didn’t mind holding while she went to the kitchen to check on them. She revealed to me that she wasn’t baking cookies in her stove. The cookies that were burning were on “Yo-ville”, a virtual world in Facebook she spends time in. She did manage to save them, however.

An elderly woman called in and said that her television would not turn on with the remote. She had just put new batteries in the remote, so she wasn’t sure why it wasn’t working. I began asking her questions about her television, including the brand, so that I would be able to help her. She told me that the brand was Dell. I asked her to describe the television, and sure enough, she provided me a vivid description of her computer monitor. I asked that she press the power button on the monitor, and it came on! She asked me why would her remote not work for her Dell television, and I explained to her that unfortunately, the remote wouldn’t power on her computer monitor.

A woman’s teen-aged daughter called in to Support with dial-up connection issues. Each time she tried to connect, she received a no dial tone error, so I asked that she check her phone cable and ensure that it was securely connected to the modem and phone jack. She looked in the back of the computer and noticed the phone cable had been chewed. The girl started yelling at her mom saying how her mom should have bought rat traps because the rats chewed through the the phone cable! The girl then asked me how would I get rid of rats, so I suggested that she get a cat. She said that she’d try that!

A gentleman called in and was unable to connect to the Internet. I asked him to let me know the status of the LEDs on his cable modem. He asked me to hold, and I heard him tell the kids to find a flashlight.  When he came back on the line, I was curious as to why he needed a flashlight, and he said that they were in the middle of a power outage. He needed to get the computer working because the kids were driving him nuts! I informed him that the computer and Internet were not going to work during a power outage. He seemed a bit distraught and asked me what I suggested he do with the kids, so of course I provided him with some games and ideas for the kids to play.

A woman called in with computer issues that could not be resolved on the phone. After some troubleshooting, I determined she had a virus on her computer. She asked me how she could clean her computer, and I gave her the names of several anti-virus software vendors she could try. She then replied, “No, I need something to kill the virus on my computer. Would it be better to use Lysol or bleach?” I was almost tempted to say bleach, but I explained to her what anti-virus software is and how to use it. I then assisted her in downloading software that would help with her issues.

Do you have a tale from tech support that you’d like to share?  Tell us about it!

 

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IT Support Review: 9 Checkpoints to Save Money (and Possibly Be Amused)

When it comes to providing IT support, we’ve seen a lot of things through the years. And, well, we’ve been paid for some efforts that, quite frankly, could have been avoided.  They’ve provided us with funny memories, and the checkpoints below we give free of charge. We also realize that revealing these behind-the-scenes stories may cut us out of some additional revenue, but that’s a risk we’re willing to take.

A customer stated that their computing device wasn’t working and started waving it in the air. The plug was waving just below it as well. A member of our team walked over and plugged it in. Problem solved.

Checkpoint 1: Is your device plugged in?

Similarly, a common call we receive is for a broken mouse. One of the first questions we ask is, “Is it wireless?” If the answer is “yes”, our advice is to check the battery. They don’t work on magic.

Checkpoint 2: Are the batteries charged?

We’ve gotten calls regarding new monitors that have seemingly gone dead. If you’ve already gotten past checkpoint 1, there’s a good chance it’s the brightness button. Sometimes during cleaning, they get turned down all the way.

Checkpoint 3: Have you checked the brightness setting?

You wouldn’t believe the thousands of dollars we’ve made by rebooting computers. So, if you’re experiencing a problem that seems- how shall I say- “glitchy” (Is this a word? Could someone look this up… please?), try going to the start button on the lower left-hand side of your screen. Select “turn off computer” and then choose the “restart” option. This really is a miracle worker. Really, it is.

Checkpoint 4: Is this a problem I could solve myself by simply rebooting?

While we have a lot of power, there are also some things that we don’t control… like the internet.  If the internet is down in your entire office, it’s best to start with Verizon, Comcast, Earthlink, or another internet service provider (ISP). That’s where we’re going to send you anyway. Similarly, we don’t have anything to do with the signal on your mobile phone. Check with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or another communications company if you’re experiencing more than the standard “dead zone” areas.

Checkpoint 5: Is this really an IT support issue?

Speaking of “Is this really an IT support issue?” we’ve also had some rather- how do I say this?- “unusual” requests through the years. Take the guy who had two PS2s set up in his garage. He and his friends would wager on video games, but I digress. He called us to troubleshoot a problem with one of them (one of the PS2s, not one of the friends- stay with me now). Our diagnosis after going out on the call was that there was a problem with the ethernet port and he needed to replace the PS2.

Checkpoint 6: Is this really an IT support issue (part deux)?

We don’t do programming or web design. We’ve been asked to program Bluetooth devices, TV remote controls, and garage doors. Okay, Bluetooth devices I sort of get, but really… they’re easy, so save some money and do it yourself, but garage door openers… really?! They have specialists for these kinds of things.

Checkpoint 7: Do I have to repeat myself… Is this really an IT support issue (part trois)?

As is true in most of life, information technology comes with its fair share of cause-and-effect scenarios. Adolescents are famous for virus-inducing downloads of pirated games, ringtones, movies, and music. Additionally, if you have porn on your computer, it came from somewhere. The “porn fairy” didn’t just magically leave it. It could be your 14-year-old son who has just discovered that girls (and particularly naked ones) are suddenly attractive to him.

Checkpoint 8: Who has access to my computer? And if they’re in puberty, why do I let them use my computer without my supervision? What is wrong with me?

Of course, porn could be accidental, the result of a bad search command. A search on “recipes for chicken breast” will certainly yield some porn results. Or it could have been that email from Aunt Sally. Okay, so the subject line didn’t make sense, and there was hardly any text; but you thought, “What could the harm be in clicking on this link?” Now your computer has a virus.

Checkpoint 9: Why am I not more careful with search terms? And why, oh why, do I click on links that look suspicious?

Save this page as a favorite. Print and post it next to your computer. Share it with friends who may be… ummmm… less well-informed. And, next time before you call Halo Information Systems with an issue, please review any and all of these nine checkpoints. You may solve the problem yourself and save some money or at least be amused before determining that an IT support call is necessary.

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5 Ways To Integrate Social Media Into Your Company’s DNA

This guest post is by Jeff Bullas and originally appeared on his blog.  It is being used here with his permission.

Social media is embedding itself in the human DNA as we connect and interact globally in an increasingly mobile social web. We have it wherever we go, on our iPhone, iPad or laptop.  If we aren’t connected we feel isolated, not in touch and feel like we are missing out. We are are social and the companies that we work for are social and there is a growing awareness that we need to weave the social media DNA into the fabric of the corporation.

The benefits include:

  • Crowdsourcing of technical assistance with customers providing  answers to questions from other customers on forums and blogs.
  • Leverage of your brand name through your content being shared on social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube
  • Product development ideas provided on blogs by customers for free
  • Becoming aware of  issues before they become PR disasters

Companies that are operating like islands are missing out on opportunities to connect with their customers, increase sales, provide superior customer service and educate their customers with blogs, forums and online video.

One company that is integrating social media into its corporate DNA with great results is Dell which is weaving social media into its business in the following areas.

  1. Customer Service – Monitoring of online conversations and responding in real time. In 2005 Dell had a customer service issue that turned into PR disaster  and is still known today as “Dell Hell“. After this debacle Dell started weaving the social web into its DNA with online listening tools like Visible Technologies and Radian6.
  2. Customer Engagement – It initiated forums  and corporate blogs that have now grown to six in total including healthcare and education that are targeted at their core vertical customer demographics and that fix problems before they turn into a firestorm such as happened with Dell Hell
  3. Marketing – It has many Twitter channels including Dell Outlet on Twitter (with sales approaching $6.5 million in 2009). Dell has also woven social media into the corporate website with share, comments and reviews permeating the website from the homepage to the product pages. Dell has created active advocate engagement through its Customer Advisory Panel that engages with power bloggers and influential online personalities.
  4. Public Relations – The public relations is better managed through its online monitoring and its active participation on Twitter and forums
  5. Product Development – Dell started a  blog style website called Ideastorm where they capture ideas from their customers and rank them and then implement the ones that make sense.

So how can you integrate social media into your company?

 

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So you think you know Social Media?!

So, you’re using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You’ve even posted a few photos to Flikr and a video or two to YouTube.

You may be asking, “What’s beyond these? Are there tools that will help me to get the most from these platforms?” Or perhaps you’ve never even thought of these questions, but you’re still reading. That’s a good place to be. If you’re willing to step through the door, we’ll open a whole other world for you.

Or as Morpheus said in The Matrix: “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Taking the blue pill would be easier. But are you ready to take the red pill?

What if you want to know what people are saying about you, your business, your industry, etc. on social media?  One tool is Social Mention. Enter any key word into their search and get real-time results, including the source such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and more. Through Social Mention receiving daily social media alerts on these same topics of interest is also an option.

If you want more of a social media dashboard, HootSuite and TweetDeck can help you manage and post to multiple social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook), publish to WordPress (with HootSuite), and monitor key words or hashtags related to your business.  In other words these are tools for all of your social media and blogging engagement from a single screen without having to log in to various accounts.  It should be noted that both have mobile applications and that TweetDeck was recently acquired by Twitter.

Similarly, Sprout Social is a platform which is designed specifically to help small businesses better manage social media.  First, updates can be scheduled on a recurring basis.  This feature would be most powerful for restaurants and retail establishments that have weekly specials or announcements.  Second, it’s easy to keep track of the organization’s social media progress and impact with Sprout Social’s use of colorful graphs and charts and to organize Twitter followers with their baseball card-style profiles where you can add notes regarding individual contacts.

Are you still with me or wishing you had chosen the blue pill instead?

Another useful tool is Gist.  Gist is a site to manage all of your contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and email in one place. With what essentially is a web-based database, you can see your contacts and level of interaction you’ve had with with them. One can also sort based on importance scores and/or social media platform or email.  You may also review news items and blogs associated with this individual and begin to assimilate profile photos or other sources in one place for a given contact. The search function on Gist is also especially powerful.

You may also want to look into location-based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, or SCVNGR for check-ins or activities.  These mobile applications generally put a new vantage point on restaurants, stores, airports, sports arenas, theaters, colleges- really, anywhere people gather.  They can be used as a way to meet friends, play games, earn discounts, points, or rewards, make discoveries, give or receive recommendations, etc.  While the mobile world is exploding, these types of applications will represent more and more the ways in which people are connecting online and in the real world.

I hope you’re not regretting taking the red pill. If you’ve finished reading this post all the way to the end, you’re already pretty deep into the rabbit hole of social media. Be careful… it’s only going to get deeper in the years ahead.

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Basic Computer Security Tips

This guest blog post is by Howard Sherman and originally appeared on his RoyalGeeks.com blog.

With the recent hacker activity leading to arrests across the USA, the UK and even Russia and Ukraine on the heels of more and more virus infections and security breaches RoyalGeeks.Com declares October Computer Security Awareness Month.

To expand awareness of computer security here are some tips every computer user should follow:

Use strong passwords. Choose passwords that are difficult or impossible to guess. Use different passwords to each accounts. Never use your date of birth, vehicle number, license number, parents name, spouse’s name as passwords. Try to use a mixture of alphabets, numbers and symbols.

Make regular backups of critical data. Backups must be made at least once each day. Larger organizations should perform a full backup weekly and incremental backups every day. At least once a month the backup media should be verified. You can use one touch backup facilities provided by some of the storage technology vendors. RoyalGeeks.Com heartily recommends Carbonite for easy, automatic, painless and totally secure online backup. Sign up for a free trial of Carbonite.

Use Internet security software. That means three things: having it on your computer in the first place, checking daily for new virus signature updates, and then actually scanning all the files on your computer periodically. We’ve found that Internet Security by PC Tools works best and you can install it on three different computers for one low price. Get your copy of Internet Security here.

Use a firewall as a gatekeeper between your computer and the Internet. Firewalls are usually software products. They are essential for those who keep their computers online through the popular DSL and cable modem connections but they are also valuable for those who still dial in.

Do not keep computers online when not in use. Either shut them off or physically disconnect them from Internet connection.

Do not open e-mail attachments from strangers. Regardless of how attractive the Subject Line or attachment may be. Be suspicious of any unexpected e-mail attachment from someone you do know because it may have been sent without that person’s knowledge from an infected machine.

Regularly download security patches from your software vendors.

Use site advising software. Try installing site advising software and plug-ins for your browser. Browser Defender seems to be the best and it’s 100% free. Download yours here.

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Bad Guys are Everywhere: The Basics of Computer and Network Security

Bad guys are everywhere. So let’s talk about the basics of computer security.  There are a few primary objectives with computer security: to protect assets and information from any sources that would seek to compromise the computer or the network.  Security should be addressed from the network, computer, and application levels.  The enemies are many, and there are a few things that you should be paying attention to.

Authentication is the first step toward network security.  Authentication is the utilization of a username and password by all authorized users of a system to ensure that who gains access is controlled.  Make sure that passwords are not easy to decipher and are not shared with others.  Where possible create passwords either using a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters and/or by making them longer than eight characters.

Layered security focuses on security points, filtering, and monitoring to defend the system.  A layered approach will help to protect personal and financial information from theft and your computer and network from damage.  Ensuring that solutions are integrated as a part of a comprehensive security strategy will help to prevent vulnerabilities or weaknesses in an attack.

First, a firewall should monitor what is coming in and out of your system.  It adheres to the policies of the company in terms of what can be accessed from a given computer.  Firewalls stand against attack and intrusion.

Using updated software also decreases vulnerabilities.  All software has vulnerabilities.  Developers are aware of this and are continually trying to release updates to stay ahead of the bad guys exploiting them.  Make sure you update software as you become aware of new releases.

Antivirus software should be installed to regularly scan your computer(s) for malicious files.  Antivirus software can search for various types of malicious software, also known as malware.  Antivirus software can also approach this from various angles, including looking for known code patterns and/or variations in these codes.  Some antivirus software can also operate a file in a sandbox to test it for malicious intent.

Similarly, spyware is used to monitor the activities of a computer’s user and gather personal information without them knowing about it.  Anti-spyware programs can protect you from software intended to determine your browsing habits or keyloggers that can record passwords and login information for financial and other personal accounts.

In general, you should have malware protection software that protects your computer(s) from viruses, spyware, and other forms of malicious code.

So remember: bad guys are everywhere. Sometimes they’re in other countries… sometimes they’re well-organized and have sophisticated operations… sometimes they’re clocking into a job, logging into a computer for 8 hours day just to bring about evil purposes.  It doesn’t matter if they’re after your habits, your money, or your identity or to severely disrupt your business… whatever it is, it most likely has great value to you and should be fully protected.  If you’re not making your computer and network security a top priority, who will?

If you have questions or need assistance with computer and network security, please contact the helpful staff at Halo Information Systems.

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IPv6 – Should You Take the Leap?

This guest post is by Stephane Bourque, founder and CEO of Incognito Software, and originally appeared on the Incognito blog.

A few months ago, I decided to try skydiving. I had been curious for years and figured it was time, but I didn’t want to do it alone, so I “convinced” a number of co-workers to go with me. On the ground, we decided the order in which we would jump out. Nobody wanted to be first, so I volunteered. Once we got on the plane, however, the order was rearranged by the flight crew according to their requirements. I ended up going last. Once I saw everyone out of the plane, floating away and the first chutes opening, I knew I would be ok. Off I went and since I am writing to you today, you can guess nothing drastic happened.

I am bringing this up as I think about IPv6. Should you take the leap? Should you be the first? Do you want to see everyone else in it before you? Unlike skydiving, you won’t have a choice about going to IPv6. It will happen. We know that IPv4 addresses are running out (check http://www.potaroo.net/tools/ipv4/). There are only 4 billion IPv4 addresses (give or take a few), but there are over 6 billion human inhabitants on the planet and we all have multiple IP-aware gadgets. You do the math.

IPv6 promises a lot more addresses. How many more? 2128 to be exact. That means 5×1028 IP addresses per person alive!

When we are out of IPv4, what happens? Depending on who you talk to, several scenarios emerge. One says that we are a resilient bunch and we will find a way to do things like carrier-grade NATing and this will buy us a few more years. Others say it’s the end. I tend to think it’s somewhere in between.

One thing that needs to happen is that subscribers need to upgrade their home devices. You know, the cable modems and the home router-firewall-gateways people are using. You will also need to have a PC and an operating system capable of IPv6. Sure, the latest versions of Windows and Mac software all support IPv6, but the Internet runs a large number of devices that are just incapable of running IPv6. There will be a price to pay. Who will foot the bill? The subscribers or the providers? I think the providers will need to subsidize the move in large part. Now is the time to make some friends in the home gateway and CPE realms.

But this switch will not happen overnight. There will be a long period where you will need to run a dual stack network. And more than likely, governing authorities will at some point declare the day where all IPv4 traffic must die, much like how the analog TV signal went. This is still years away though.

So now is the time for providers, hardware makers and software developers to get together and plan this well. There is a certain “I do not want to be the first out of the plane” attitude right now. But with a concerted effort and the right partnerships, we’ll all be safe when we land.

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