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HackerRank acquires Mimir, an online platform for computer science courses

17:00 | 17 December

HackerRank, a popular platform for practicing and hosting online coding interviews, today announced that it has acquired Mimir, a cloud-based service that provides tools for teaching computer science courses. Mimir, which is HackerRank’s first acquisition, is currently in use by a number of universities, including UCLA, Purdue, Oregon State and Michigan State, as well as by corporation like Google.

HackerRank says it will continue to support Mimir’s classroom product as a stand-alone product for the time being. By Q2 2020, the two companies expect to have an initial release of a combined product offering.

HackerRank will work closely with professors, students and customers to help student developers learn, improve and assess their skills from course work to career,” Vivek Ravisankar, the co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, told me. “Ultimately, we envision a combined product that allows students to obtain both a formal academic education as well as practical skills assessments which can help build a strong and successful career.”

The two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, but Indiana-based Mimir previously raised a total of $2.5 million and had eight employees at the time of the acquisition, including the three-person executive team.

As the companies stress, both focus on allowing developers for a variety of backgrounds to successfully vie for jobs, no matter where they went to school. HackerRank argues that the combination of its existing services and Mimir’s classroom tools will “provide computer science classrooms with the most comprehensive developer assessment platform on the market; allowing students to better prepare for real-world programming and universities to more accurately evaluate student progress.” The idea here clearly is to expand HackerRank’s reach into the world of academia and expand the talent pool for its customers who are looking to recruit from its users, but Ravisankar also noted that he hopes the combines strengths of HackerRank and Mimir will allow students to combine their academic learning with market learning. “This will ensure that they’re equipped with the skills that their future workplaces require,” he said.

Mimir isn’t so much a tool for massive online courses but instead focuses on helping teachers and students manage programming projects and assignments. To do so, it offers a full online IDE, as well as support for Jupyter notebooks, as well as more traditional teaching tools for creating quizzes and assignments. The built-in IDE supports 40 programming languages, including Python, Java and C. There’s also a tool for detecting plagiarism.

Currently, about 15,000 to 20,000 students are using Mimir’s platform for their course work. That’s dwarfed by the 7 million developers who have signed up for HackerRank so far, but not all of those are active, while, almost by default, all of Mimir’s users will be on the job market sooner or later.

“Mimir has made a name for itself by becoming a secret weapon for computer science programs – Mimir equips them with the tools to make a real difference in the education of developers,” said Prahasith Veluvolu, co-founder and CEO of Mimir. “Working with HackerRank is a natural evolution of our mission, allowing our customers to scale their programs while simultaneously giving students an unmatched classroom experience to prepare them for the careers of tomorrow.”

 


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Google has fired another worker-activist

17:00 | 17 December

Google has fired another worker-activist, Kathryn Spiers. Spier, who worked on the platform security team, was generally tasked with writing code for browser notifications to automatically notify employees or guidelines and company policies while surfing the web.

According to Spiers, Google fired her because she created a browser notification to educate her colleagues about their labor rights. What prompted Spiers to create the tool was the news of Google working with a union-busting firm, as well as Google’s alleged retaliation against employees for organizing.

The notification read, “Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities.”

“Over my time at Google, I saw people go from full trust in Google — always giving them the benefit of the doubt — to [Google] using blanket excuses to target workers.” Spiers told TechCrunch. “The company has lost that sentiment from workers, and have repeatedly taken actions to reduce trust in Google, and as I said in my blog, ‘A less transparent Google is a less trustworthy Google.'”

In response to Spier’s browser tool, Google allegedly suspended Spiers without warning. This happened the same day Google fired the Thanksgiving Four, who say Google fired them for organizing. Spiers says Google interrogated her three separate times about organizing activities and if she had any intention to disrupt the workplace.

“The interrogations were extremely aggressive and illegal,” she wrote on Medium. “They wouldn’t let me consult with anyone, including a lawyer, and relentlessly pressured me to incriminate myself and any coworkers I had talked to about exercising my rights at work.”

Fast forward to Friday, December 13 and Google terminated her for violating the company’s security policies.

“We dismissed an employee who abused privileged access to modify an internal security tool,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch. “This was a serious violation.”

Now, Spier is working with a lawyer to file an unfair labor practice claim. In the claim filed with National Labor Relations Board, her lawyers states that Google’s interrogation and termination of her “was done to attempt to quell Spiers and other employees from asserting their right to engage in concerted protected activities.”

As she outlined on Medium, other Google employees have modified code to make their jobs easier, and to share hobbies or interests. She also pointed to how, during the walkouts last year, someone changed the default desktop wallpaper to the Linux penguin holding a protest sign.

“The company has never reacted aggressively in response to a notification such as this in the past,” Spier wrote. “It’s always been a celebrated part of the culture.”

Kathryn Spier

This all comes after the Thanksgiving Four filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing Google fired them for organizing, which is a protected activity. In November, Google put Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland on leave for allegedly violating company policies. At the time, Google said one had searched for and shared confidential documents that were not pertinent to their job, and one had looked at the individual calendars of some staffers. Following a protest in support of the two, Rivers and Berland, along with two other employees, were fired.

The Thanksgiving Four all organized around a variety of topics, including Google’s treatment of its temporary, vendor and contractor workers, Google’s alleged retaliation against employees who organized, the company’s work with Customs and Border Protection and more.

Spier similarly organized around a variety of issues. In her first week at Google, she signed the letter demanding Google not renew its military drone contract. She has also organized around Google’s relationship with CBP.

“Google should not be helping CBP enforce racist and xenophobic immigration policy,” Spier said. “I posted some comments internal to Google about its relationship with CBP, which were removed by the community moderation team.”

Since the walkout last year, a number of employees have reported retaliation from Google in light of organizing. Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, two key organizers of the walkouts, reported retaliation. Both Whittaker and Stapleton have since left Google on their own terms.

 


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Satori Cyber raises $5.25M to help businesses protect their data flows

17:00 | 17 December

The amount of data that most companies now store — and the places they store it — continues to increase rapidly. With that, the risk of the wrong people managing to get access to this data also increases, so it’s no surprise that we’re now seeing a number of startups that focus on protecting this data and how it flows between clouds and on-premises servers. Satori Cyber, which focuses on data protecting and governance, today announced that it has raised a $5.25 million seed round led by YL Ventures.

“We believe in the transformative power of data to drive innovation and competitive advantage for businesses,” the company says. “We are also aware of the security, privacy and operational challenges data-driven organizations face in their journey to enable broad and optimized data access for their teams, partners and customers. This is especially true for companies leveraging cloud data technologies.”

Satori is officially coming out of stealth mode today and launching its first product, the Satori Cyber Secure Data Access Cloud. This service provides enterprises with the tools to provide access controls for their data, but maybe just as importantly, it also offers these companies and their security teams visibility into their data flows across cloud and hybrid environments. The company argues that data is “a moving target” because it’s often hard to know how exactly it moves between services and who actually has access to it. With most companies now splitting their data between lots of different data stores, that problem only becomes more prevalent over time and continuous visibility becomes harder to come by.

“Until now, security teams have relied on a combination of highly segregated and restrictive data access and one-off technology-specific access controls within each data store, which has only slowed enterprises down,” said Satori Cyber CEO and Co-founder Eldad Chai. “The Satori Cyber platform streamlines this process, accelerates data access and provides a holistic view across all organizational data flows, data stores and access, as well as granular access controls, to accelerate an organization’s data strategy without those constraints.”

Both co-founders previously spent nine years building security solutions at Imperva and Incapsula (which acquired Imperva in 2014). Based on this experience, they understood that onboarding had to be as easy as possible and that operations would have to be transparent to the users. “We built Satori’s Secure Data Access Cloud with that in mind, and have designed the onboarding process to be just as quick, easy and painless. On-boarding Satori involves a simple host name change and does not require any changes in how your organizational data is accessed or used,” they explain.

 

 

 


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New media investment firm Attention Capital acquires Girlboss

16:01 | 17 December

Attention Capital, a new outfit that buys, builds and scales media brands, is acquiring Girlboss, the female-focused multi-media business founded by Sophia Amoruso, who will join the firm as a founder partner.

A spokesperson for Girlboss declined to disclose terms of the deal but said Attention Capital has acquired 100% of the business. Girlboss had raised $3.1 million in venture capital funding in 2017 from Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Today’s announcement represents Amoruso’s second exit, though her first M&A deal was more of a rescue operation. She previously founded and led the millennial retailer Nasty Gal, growing it from a small eBay store to a fashion giant that observed more than $300 million in sales at one point in time. Ultimately, Nasty Gal lost its way. Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2016 after raising $65 million over its 10 years of operation.

In 2017, the company was acquired for $20 million in February. Meanwhile, Amoruso was on to a new and similarly venture-backed business, one born out of the success of her book, #GIRLBOSS, which the company said has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was published in 2014.

“Girlboss is built on the idea of powering growth through community,” Girlboss chief executive officer Amoruso said in a statement. “The Girlboss movement’s viral success makes evident that women are more successful if they have access to each other and can share their experiences.”

Attention Capital, founded by media heavyweights Joe Marchese, Nick Bell and Ashlyn Gentry, seeks to acquire media and technology platforms that “properly measure and value attention and are positioned to exponentially benefit in a market correction of the attention economy.”

“Girlboss is an internationally known brand that is redefining what it means to be entrepreneurial—it’s not just starting your own business, it’s taking a risk, looking for that next role, making a career switch and taking a step into the unknown,” Gentry, the former senior vice president of commercial growth and business strategy at Palantir, wrote in a statement. “Millions of women feel more comfortable going on this journey because they know they have Sophia and the global Girlboss community right there with them. The loyalty and passion that this brand captures makes it a massive market opportunity and at Attention Capital we’re looking forward to working with the team on Girlboss’s expansion.”

 


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Lime now offers weekly subscriptions

16:00 | 17 December

Following in the footsteps of Lyft and its partner Uber, Lime is launching a subscription plan for its shared electric scooters. Called LimePass, riders who subscribe get access to unlimited free scooter unlocks, instead of paying $1/€1 per unlock, for a week at a time.

LimePass is now available in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Lime plans to roll out the pass to additional markets early next month. The cost of LimePass varies by market but Lime says most U.S. cities will cost $4.99. That means, in order for it to be worth it, you would need to ride Lime scooters at least five times a week. It’s a smart move for Lime to do it this way because it will still make money on each ride, and perhaps incentivize people to even ride more.

“We know that more than 50% of our riders worldwide trust Lime for their commutes and personal daily trips around the city,” Lime Product Manager Kevin Shi said in a statement. “With our new LimePass service, we’re proud to offer them a more cost-efficient way to get around town and manage their busy schedules.”

Early next year, Lime plans to become the first company to offer shared electric scooters in Africa. Unlike its model in the U.S. and Europe where it deploys scooters on public sidewalks, Lime will deploy its initial fleet of scooters at privately-owned locations throughout the city.

Earlier this year, Lime raised a $310 million Series D round led by Bain Capital. That round brought its total funding north of $800 million.


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Rebank raises $2.8M to build a better banking experience for high-growth companies

15:00 | 17 December

Ask almost any startup founder and they’ll tell you that business banking is mostly broken. Legacy banks typically provide a clunky user experience trapped in the past. New challenger banks show a lot of promise on the UX front but often come with an immature feature set that hits a wall as soon as a company grows larger.

The solution, says Y Combinator graduate Rebank, is a new digital business banking platform that runs on top of existing business bank accounts. The idea is to provide a single, consolidated view of your business banking activity, coupled with various day-to-day functionality, to enable you to speed through business banking tasks and spend more time actually growing your business.

To continue building out its product and move beyond the current invite only launch, the U.K. startup has raised $2.8 million in seed funding. Leading the round is ADV, with participation from YC, Oriza Ventures, and angel investors including Jude Gomila.

“Companies today face two major problems; janky banking interfaces and unnecessarily expensive payments,” Rebank co-founder and CEO Juan Andrade tells TechCrunch.

“Despite this, very few actually want to switch banks – it’s just more time wasted. They don’t have to anymore with Rebank because we work in connection with their existing banks. This means it’s easier and faster to start using Rebank than other options out there”.

Andrade started his career in insurance before moving into payments and building new card products for Ukash, the payments startup based in London that was acquired by Skrill in 2015. He was also most recently Head of Payments at Secret Escapes, the Google Ventures-backed travel company.

Rebank’s other co-founder, Simon White, started his career as a systems engineer at Unisys and Thales, working with the Australian government on large scale defence and military projects before relocating to London. He was also an early engineer at Fincluster before joining the founding team at Soreto, the e-commerce rewards startup backed by New Look founder Tom Singh.

Andrade says it was while at Secret Escapes that he saw up close many of the pain-points of business banking, especially for a fast-growing company. “We founded Rebank back in Jan 2018 after Simon and I had shared the pains of working with various business banks during our previous roles. Every subsequent conversation with founders and finance teams only fuelled the desire to work on this problem more,” he tells me.

Specifically, Rebank has been built to address two main issues faced by companies today: “unintuitive interfaces and complicated payments”. The platform offers a consolidated and real-time picture of money going in and out across multiple connected bank accounts and can also be used to initiate payments.

Andrade says finance teams are already preferring it to their existing banking apps and that Rebank has customers in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., amounting to 70 startups and mid-size companies generating $50 million in transactions. For the time being, the business model remains straightforward, too. Rebank charges a subscription fee, starting at $50 per month.

“We bootstrapped the first year; setting up a regulated company as a team of two was demanding. Despite having to split legal, compliance, tech, and product between two people we made good progress and were accepted into Y Combinator at the end of 2018. After graduating from YC we raised our seed round from U.S. and U.K. investors. Things have been moving pretty quickly since then!”

 


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1-800 Contacts buys the at-home eye exam provider 6over6 Vision

15:00 | 17 December

New developments in sensor technologies, computer vision and machine learning technologies are combining to drive medical diagnostics further into the home and the latest company to make a move to push services deeper into the home is the online contact lens retailer, 1-800 Contacts.

The Utah-based company has acquired 6over6 Vision for an undisclosed amount.

Based in Israel, 6over6 Vision, previously raised $15 million to commercialize its in-home eye exams based on a combination of machine learning and sensors. The basic eye exams can be performed with nothing more than a smartphone or computer and camera.

Investors in 6over6 Vision included: Rimonci Capital, Alumot VC, the Indian online eyeglasses company Lenskart.com, and TriVentures.

Companies including Lenskart, NovaVision, Kede Optics, SmartBuyGlasses, EyeRim, Liingo, Magic Leap, and Glasses USA use the company’s technology to retrieve optical parameters from existing lenses and measuring pupillary distance. The idea is to let consumers renew their prescriptions without needing a follow-up exam or appointment.

“We have long admired the innovations 6over6 Vision has built and have been using their technologies to serve our customers. This acquisition allows us to continue our 25-year commitment to pursuing a better way in vision care,” said John Graham, CEO of 1-800 Contacts, in a statement. “People deserve simple and affordable eye care solutions and combining with 6over6 allows us to deliver this for our customers on an even larger scale.”

The companies expect to offer additional services, like virtual check-ups for new eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions.

“It has been our life’s mission to create ground-breaking technology that would allow consumers the ability to take control of their own vision care and reach communities around the globe without access,” commented Dr. Ofer Limon, co-founder of 6over6 Vision, in a statement. “1-800 Contacts shares our drive to change what is broken in this industry, and we know that this acquisition will bring our vision to life on a global scale that can make real change.”

 


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Alchemy is secretly fixing blockchain’s node nightmare

15:00 | 17 December

The top cryptocurrency companies have quietly begun to outsource their infrastructure problems to a tiny stealth startup. It’s called Alchemy. Today it’s making the big public reveal of it’s technology that could help developers finally build the killer use case atop Bitcoin or Ethereum.

If the operating system connected computers and software, and if browsers connected HTTP to web apps, Alchemy wants to the bridge enabling the blockchain ecosystem. It’s this middle layer that’s produced Microsoft, Apple, and Google — some of the most valuable companies in the world.

Alchemy replaces the nodes that businesses use to read and write blockchains with a faster, more scalable decentralized architecture. It also offers tools for analytics, monitoring, alerting, logging, and debugging for cryptocurrency-connected software. The two-year-old startup already powers infrastructure for hundreds of businesses serving over one million customers in 200 countries per week, including big names like Augur, 0x, Cryptokitties, Kyber, and the Opera browser.

“Right now people are trying to build skyscrapers with picks and shovels. We need to give them construction equipment” Alchemy co-founder and CEO Nikil Viswanathan tells me. “None of this exists for blockchain.”

Investors are lining up to see that it will. Alchemy revealed to TechCrunch that it secretly raised $15 million through a seed round and now a Series A led by Pantera Capital, and joined by Stanford University, Coinbase, Samsung, SignalFire, plus angels like Charles Schwab, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Google chairman John Hennessy, and more.

“For any new technology, developer infrastructure and tools are required to enable broader application development and adoption.  We’ve seen this happen in previous tech waves like PC and the web” says Yang, who rarely does interviews. “Alchemy is trying to do the same thing for the blockchain space . . . they have the opportunity to meaningfully accelerate the entire blockchain industry.”

From Down To Lunch To Decentralized Apps

Yet despite its momentum, it’s immediately clear that Alchemy doesn’t want to become some overhyped blockchain promise that doesn’t deliver. “There are two vanity metrics in Silicon Valley” Viswanathan says. “How much money you’ve raised and how many people you have on your team. In reality, you want to keep both of these as low as possible while being a big success.”

Viswanathan and co-founder and CTO Joe Lau already had a shot at the startup big leagues. For a brief moment, their simple social app for finding out where friends were around to hangout, called Down To Lunch, topped the app rankings and had VCs knocking down their door with term sheets. But the pair of Stanford computer science grads got knocked off the charts by a viscious rumor that their app helped kidnappers, which they call a purposeful smear campaign.

The two were resilient, though, drawing on Viswanathan’s time in product management mentored by executives at Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. He sat next to Mark Zuckerberg, brought Steve Ballmer to campus, and had meetings with Larry and Sergei. His takeaways was that “You can have massive impact on the world. If they can do it we can do it to.”

So when cryptocurrency hit the zeitgeist in 2017, they cast aside the successors to Down To Lunch they’d built, and dove in head first. Through the frustration of spinning up nodes to build anything decentralized, they spotted the opportunity to start something with more potential than college kids’ social app. They saw the chance to seize bridge layer of the next computing platform — the blockchain.

 


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French startup EfficientIP secures $11M from Jolt Capital to fight DDoS attacks

12:59 | 17 December

French startup, EfficientIP, a network security and automation specialist, has secured an $11 million Series B investment from Jolt Capital in Paris. The investment will drive international expansion.

EfficientIP’s software discovers the DNS issues which are the primary cause of DDoS attacks. These are typically the largest types of attacks.

It’s platform is designed to make the IP infrastructure foundation more reliable, agile and secure.

David Williamson, CEO of EfficientIP commented, “Today’s investment will enable us to accelerate our expansion on a global scale. The market opportunity for DDI solutions is growing, and we look forward to capitalizing by increasing our sales force to meet current demand, and driving further innovation that really matters to continue satisfying tomorrow’s customer needs. Given Jolt Capital’s strong record in scaling tech companies globally, they are the ideal partner to support this growth phase.”

EfficientIP will also now enhance its ecosystem partnerships with companies like Cisco, VMware and ServiceNow.

It competes with US firms like Infoblox ($740m valuation and raised $120m) and BlueCat (also Series B) and new player NS1 ($78m Series C).

Guillaume Girard, a Partner at Jolt Capital, commented: “We’ve been tracking EfficientIP for some time, and have been impressed with their continued ability to deliver on ambitious growth plans. EfficientIP fits perfectly in our target scope, combining deeptech assets enabling leading-edge solutions and a highly motivated top-tier team in a market which is expanding quickly. Given its increasing market footprint with Fortune 500 customers, EfficientIP is well poised for strong growth.”

 


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Payment startup Chipper Cash raises $6M for Southern Africa expansion

08:21 | 17 December

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $6 million seed-round led by Deciens Capital.

The San Francisco-based company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in six countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya.

Chipper Cash will use the capital to grow its team and move into new geographic areas, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi.

“Southern Africa is an area we’re looking to expand to in 2020,” he told TechCrunch on a call. Chipper Cash won’t yet disclose which countries that could entail.

The digital finance startup’s had a busy 12 months in an eventful year overall for Africa’s fintech scene. After going live in 2018, Chipper Cash raised $2.4 million in May 2019 in a seed round that included support from 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football icon Joe Montana.

In September, Chipper Cash expanded into what is now arguably Africa’s largest fintech market, Nigeria. With its latest round, the startup has raised over $8 million in seed capital. Participants in the $6 million financing include previous investors, and a few new backers, such as Boston based Raptor Group.

Deciens Capital Co-Founder Dan Kimerling confirmed the fund’s lead on the latest round and that he will continue his role on Chipper Cash’s board.

The fintech company, co-founded by Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled, now has more than 600,000 active users and has processed over 3 million transactions on its no-fee, P2P, cross-border mobile-money payments product, according to Serunjogi.

Maijid Moujaled and Ham Serunjogi

The startup also runs Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, fee-based C2B mobile payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business.

The startup’s planned move to Southern Africa — home to the continent’s second-largest and most advanced economy of South Africa — will place Chipper Cash in all three corners of the Africa’s triangle of leading digital finance markets.

There are hundreds of payments startups across Africa looking to bring the continent’s large unbanked and underbanked populations onto mobile finance applications.

Some products, such as M-Pesa in Kenya, have succeeded in reaching tens of millions. However, one characteristic of successful African fintech products is their use has been geographically segregated, with few apps able to scale widely across borders.

Chipper Cash touts its ability to grow its P2P product in several countries in 2019, including Nigeria.

Serunjogi explained the imperative to move to the West African country earlier this year. “Nigeria is the largest economy and most populous country in Africa. Its fintech industry is one of the most advanced in Africa, up there with Kenya and South Africa,” he told TechCrunch in May.

Apparently a number of actors were on the same wavelength when he said that, as Nigerian fintech gained $360 million in VC in November — the equivalent of roughly one-third of all the startup capital raised in Africa in 2018, according to Partech stats.

Part of this venture influx was directed to potential Chipper Cash competitors.

In two separate rounds, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay and PalmPay — two fledgling payment startups with plans to scale in Nigeria and the broader continent. That money dwarfs rounds raised by other P2P focused fintech companies, such as Chipper Cash.

On how the startup will compete with the these new players with big coffers, Serunjogi points to Chipper Cash’s gratis-payment structure, among other factors.

Money doesn’t buy product market fit. It doesn’t buy ultimate success in this space,” he said.

“By offering our product for free, we’re not in a pricing war or competing on a dollar-to-dollar basis. We’re in a pure utility war on who can provide the most value to our users. We’re quite comfortable with our position, and our long-term value proposition will speak for itself over time,” Serunjogi added.

At the end of 2020 we can review where Chipper Cash and competitive platforms stand on country reach and volumes in the startup race to scale digital payments across Africa’s 1.2 billion people.

 

 


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