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Sony Music Entertainment Hardware

Sony Discontinues the Walkman 250

Posted by timothy
from the many-fond-memories dept.
Ponca City writes "Crunchgear reports that after selling 200,020,000 units worldwide since its inception over thirty years ago, Sony has announced that it is pulling the plug on the manufacture and sales of the Walkman, the world's first portable (mass-produced) stereo. Magnetic cassette technology had been around since 1963, when Philips first created it for use by secretaries and journalists, but on July 1, 1979, Sony Corp. introduced the Sony Walkman TPS-L2, a 14 ounce, blue-and-silver, portable cassette player with chunky buttons, headphones, a leather case, and a second earphone jack so that two people could listen in at once. The Walkman was originally introduced in the US as the 'Sound-About' and in the UK as the 'Stowaway,' but coming up with new, uncopyrighted names in every country it was marketed in proved costly so Sony eventually decided on 'Walkman' as a play on the Sony Pressman, a mono cassette recorder the first Walkman prototype was based on. The popularity of Sony's device — and those by brands like Aiwa, Panasonic and Toshiba who followed in Sony's lead — helped the cassette tape outsell vinyl records for the first time in 1983 as Sony continued to roll out variations on its theme with over 300 different Walkman models, adding such innovations as AM/FM receivers, bass boost, and auto-reverse on later models and even producing a solar-powered Walkman, water-resistant Sport Walkman, and Walkmen with two cassette drives." For now, at least, the Walkman brand lives on for some of Sony's media players and phones.
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Sony Discontinues the Walkman

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  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @11:54AM (#33996826) Journal

    Hard to believe something that was once the #1 format for music (late 80s and early 90s) is now foreign to anyone college aged or younger.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      The same thing has happened to floppy disks and VHS.

      • VHS was an inferior format anyways. BetaMax ftw (unfortunately it lost the format wars).

        • by JustOK (667959) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:14PM (#33996964) Journal

          pfft, wandering minstrels FTW!

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)
          Ah BetaMax, yet another another superior proprietary Sony format. I already feel so lucky that BluRay won this format war.
          • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:57PM (#33997198) Journal

            Bluray's not owned by Sony (like beta was). Bluray is owned by multiple companies under the umbrella organization called "Bluray Consortium" similar to the DVD consortium.

            BTW vhs was also proprietary. It was owned by JVC. I didn't see that our lives were harmed by that fact?
            And CDs and Cassettes are also proprietary.
            The world did not end when they were dominant.

            • by sznupi (719324)

              ...CDs which came out of cooperation of only two companies, one of them being Sony (the other Philips; "S" and "P" in S/PDIF, too). Which is also exclusively responsible for the most widespread FDD standard, DAT, Hi8; cooperating on MSX, DVD, miniDV or HDV.

              So many of those horrible Sony formats.

            • Still Sony is the head poncho when it comes to any developments in the blu-ray format, they already have an extra finger in the pie because Sony are also content producers.

              Its like saying Android isn't owned by Google
        • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:52PM (#33997178) Journal

          >>>BetaMax ftw

          Myth. VHS and Betamax have almost-identical specs (see below). In fact VHS has one advantage Betamax did not have: It could hold 10.5 hours per tape, while Betamax maxed-out at just 5.5 hours. VHS is the superior standard, and that's why it won.

          VHS Bmax feature
          yes yes Hi-Fi sound?
          250 240 Lines of horizontal resolution (420 for Super VHS)
          3.0 3.0 Luma Bandwidth in megahertz (5.5 for Super VHS)
          0.6 0.6 Chroma Bandwidth
          10+ 5.5 Hours of record time

          Oh and before you mention professional usage, that's BetaCAM not betamax. Completely different format (like Mac vs. PC vs. Amiga floppies). While Betacam was superior to VHS, Betamax was not. It was mostly identical, or inferior (in terms of record time).

          • Myth. VHS and Betamax have almost-identical specs (see below). In fact VHS has one advantage Betamax did not have: It could hold 10.5 hours per tape, while Betamax maxed-out at just 5.5 hours. VHS is the superior standard, and that's why it won.

            WTF? I have a VHS VCR, though I haven't used it for 10 or 15 years.

            The longest readily available tape was the T-120. At the standard settings, it was enough for two hours of video. You could record in Extended play mode for six hours, but the results were horrible, and often quite fatiguing on the eyes. I never used the EP mode, and was even a bit leery of the medium speed setting (4 hrs).

            10.5 hours per tape sounds like a security tape setting. "At 10.15 this morning, a grey blob entered the store, and subs

            • The longest readily available tape was the T-120.

              I have a stack of VHS tapes sitting behind me now (I am going to transfer some of them to DVD). Most of them are 4 hour tapes, but some of them are 5 hours in length (300 minutes). The 10.5 hours would be using the EP mode to double the length. Maybe they had 15 minutes extra tape to give it the extra 30 minutes to which the GP referred. I've never timed one to see.

              However, when the VHS/Beta wars first started Beta could do 60 minutes while VHS recorded 120 minutes. They both kept improving, but VHS always

              • T-120 (2/4/6 hour) and 160 (2:40/5:20/8 hour) tapes were common in the US. Betamax reached tape length parity when Beta II/III speed decks came out along with L750 length (1.5/3/4.5 hour) tapes.

                The primary quality advantage prior to the SuperBeta format extension was how it stored chroma information. Betamax had slightly higher chroma bandwidth then VHS and stored a reference color burst on the tape. The latter helps as the tapes age. I just digitized a nearly 30 year old Betamax home movie last night, and

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  >>>Betamax had slightly higher chroma bandwidth then VHS and stored a reference color burst on the tape.

                  That's BetaCAM not betamax. VHS and Betamax both used the same "color under" system, with just 0.6 MHz bandwidth. i.e. No difference. In fact some have claimed JVC simply stole a Betamax deck and copied its design, since they are near identical, but nobody's been able to prove it.

                  Another disadvantage Betamax had was the tape-handling system. In made rewinding and fast-forwarding a tedious pro

              • (Replying to self) I see now that the half hour difference noted was due to PAL/NTSC differences. See the VHS tape length table [wikipedia.org]. I also see that there is a difference between the definition of the tape speeds (SP/LP/EP) between PAL and NTSC. How confusing!

                • by Dogtanian (588974)
                  Well, only confusing given that PAL runs slower than NTSC to start with. Otherwise, it appears that SP = standard speed, LP = half standard speed, EP = one third standard speed.

                  EP wasn't common on PAL models, possibly because they ran slower to begin with (despite the fact the total number of lines per second is almost identical to NTSC... huh?). But I did have a late model that included it.
            • I had several T-160s - that works out to 10.6667 hours at EP.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Dogtanian (588974)

              The longest readily available tape was the T-120. [..] 10.5 hours per tape sounds like a security tape setting. "At 10.15 this morning, a grey blob entered the store, and subsequently pulled out a dark gray blob, and brandished it at the cashier."

              Well, you'd be surprised; I got a watchable 12 hours from my most recent (circa 2004) VHS recorder.

              To be fair, this was a PAL model, and PAL tapes ran slower for some reason (*). However, by the early-90s, E-180 and E-240 tapes (**) were already widely available and the most common.

              So I had a few E-240 tapes and used them on EP (one-third speed) which was actually quite watchable on a portable set; slightly inferior to standard play speed, but not as much as you'd expect. (***) 'Course even then I knew

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by dunkelfalke (91624)

                The reason is 50 Hz frame rate for PAL and 60 Hz for NTSC.

                The 50 Hz frame rate (half frames actually which leads to 25 full frames per second) is also the reason why cinema movies (which use 24 fps) are sped up on PAL video.

        • by westlake (615356)

          VHS was an inferior format anyways. BetaMax ftw (unfortunately it lost the format wars).

          Betamax was introduced in 1975.

          The color TV with RF input only - essentially every color set built since the introduction of color in 1954 - would have had a resolution no better than about 300 lines.

          The ability to record a movie or a football game on a single cassette was of more immediate value than video enhancements to be seen only on a static Indian Head test pattern.

          VHS manufacturers found a better solution to the

          • Sony always seemed to put a heavy emphasis on miniaturizing home camcorders. One could never figure out why though, since the market didn't really care in the 1980s. The BetaMovie was a technical masterpiece or a hack depending on who you talk to. It used a tiny 1 head high speed recording drum. The rest of the camcorder was pretty primitive though, the view finder was optical and employed a system similar to a SLR camera. This made it tough to judge lighting in a room, a problem when using a camcorder rate

    • by sznupi (719324)

      It might happen faster to iPod... (which itself is widespread only in few places)

      • by BrentH (1154987)
        The iPod isn't really a format, the format would be high capacity digital audio player I'd say, colloquially known as MP3-players.
        • by sznupi (719324)

          And cassette Walkman wasn't the only portable cassette audio player...so? (though it seems its trademark became more universally genericized)

    • by scottrocket (1065416) <loudfellow@gmail.com> on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:08PM (#33996916) Journal
      Yeah, they're actually more familiar with old-school vinyl than cassette. Life is strange.
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:58PM (#33997210) Journal
        I suspect that there are two phenomena at work, actually seen all over when it comes to deprecation of technology:

        1. Some formats/technologies are inferior even at the time they were made, but justified by the compromises of the time. In this case, analog cassette tape was relatively low-fi(gradually improved, but wow and flutter really sucked), had to be rewound, and was vulnerable to tape-chewing incidents. Even at the time, it was justified against reel-to-reel only by cost and portability(nice thing about tape is, for all its vices, you can always make it better just by making it bigger) and was at best sonically even with vinyl, but again smaller and cheaper. People who are into 'retro-chic' tech are rather less likely to latch onto the compromise tech, unless the good stuff was so wildly expensive that it remains unreachable to them to this day.

        2. The 'futuristic'-'contemporary'-'obsolete'-'retro'-antique' progression: As a technology ages, its appeal changes in a rather nonlinear way. During the 'futuristic' stage, it is lustworthy; but either absurdly expensive or not actually ready for the real world. High mindshare; but zero marketshare. The 'contemporary' phase marks the peak of a technology's marketshare, when it is the basis of the vast majority of whatever systems it is relevant to; but this actually weakens its appeal. People might value what it does; but it is common to the point of banality. 'Obsolete' is the nadir of something's appeal. Marketshare is still quite high, albeit with gradually declining install base; but it is perceived as actively inferior to whatever has become 'contemporary'. It is often still architecturally similar, so it has no exotic appeal; but is worse, slower, uglier, whatever. A wintel from 1995 would qualify. Architecturally, it is nearly identical to one of today, only worse in basically every respect. 'Retro' is a stage that only some technologies every achieve. Here, the technology has become sufficiently alien from whatever is 'contemporary' that its flaws and quirks are seen as charming, rather than directly compared against the present, and any unique advantages it had have rabid fanboys. Things like record players, c64s, anything BeOS(retrocomputing in general, really), are here. 'Antique' is somewhat similar to retro; but applies to technologies so old or esoteric that they have basically fallen out of the market. Only a few hardcore specialists or obscure hobbyists have them, production is either artisanal or nonexistent, and so forth. Edison cylinder machines, difference engines, Thinking Machines systems, and the like qualify.

        Tape is a poor contender on both points. Even during its time of greatest popularity, it was always the poor cousin to something cooler; but either more expensive or less portable. It also seems to have missed out on 'retro'(with the very limited exception of being a useful source for found-sound artists/musicians of various sorts); but still has decades to go before it has a shot at being antique.
        • by scottrocket (1065416) <loudfellow@gmail.com> on Saturday October 23, 2010 @01:25PM (#33997388) Journal
          "It also seems to have missed out on 'retro'(with the very limited exception of being a useful source for found-sound artists/musicians of various sorts);"

          That just reminded me of this [wikipedia.org]. It seems some indy film makers still enjoy "the look" this cassette camera generates.

        • by EdZ (755139)
          Then there are things like CED [wikipedia.org] (essentially a vinyl record storing video), which manage to skip right from 'futuristic' to 'antique'.
        • Tape lasted a lot longer then it should have because of car stereos. CD players were an expensive OEM option until the mid-90s. Even then, OEM car stereos came with a tape deck standard until just a few years ago. Most of them are used for those line-in adapters now, a much nicer solution then FM modulation if you don't have a dedicated line in.
        • by thegarbz (1787294)
          To say one is more familiar with vinyl because of some retro appeal is missing the true point. You want to see why the young ones today know what vinyl is you need only walk into a nightclub. The reason most popular albums are released on vinyl is to satisfy two people, audio enthusiasts and their $10000 turntables, and ravers scratching away on their Technics 1200 series. The "retro" following vinyl has would never stand up on it's own as a business that can afford to create new and wonderful pressings. Se
    • by couchslug (175151) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:10PM (#33996932)

      It was also the first convenient format for file sharing.

      Reel-to-reel tape decks were "servers" to which vinyl records were ripped. Sneakernet took care of the logistics.

      Now help me find my lawn...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hedwards (940851)
        Sneakernet was definitely better than the Internet in some ways. Sure latency sucked, but the bandwidth was amazing. Plus as long as you traded just with friends the likelihood of the BSA finding out about your pirated software was almost nothing.
      • by hcdejong (561314)

        Reel-to-reel != cassette. Reel-to-reel is the AEG Magnetophon system and all of its derivatives, where you have two reels that are placed on the machine separately, and you have to thread the tape manually from one reel to the other.

        Reel-to-reel decks were large and costly enough that I don't expect them to have been very popular for vinyl ripping. An 18 cm reel cost as much as an LP, iirc.

        Cassette tape decks were the instruments of the first large-scale music pirates.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "I don't expect them to have been very popular for vinyl ripping."

          I must have been hallucinating the many reel-to-reels we used at the time (early 1980s). Standard procedure was buy an album, play it once, then rip what you like. Store vinyl, play reel-to-reel for long listening sessions, and rip to (expendable) cassette for car or Walkman use. Typical processing included Burwen Research boxes for reducing noise on imperfect LPs.

          The home PC replaced a LOT of once-expensive equipment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:01PM (#33996864)

    Nowadays this would be called a Walkperson.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:04PM (#33996884) Homepage

    When Sony released the first Walkmans, they featured two headphone jacks and a "talk button." When pressed, this button activated a microphone and lowered the volume to enable those listening to have a conversation without removing their headphones.[2] Sony Chairman Akio Morita added these features to the design for fear the technology would be isolating. Though he "thought it would be considered rude for one person to be listening to his music in isolation" (Morita quoted in Patton[3]), people bought their own units rather than share

    (emphasis mine)
    Hm, maybe communicating across the wall, via IM, with the family/etc. isn't so bad after all...

    (the topic of "soundtrack to life" also worth noting, where the above quote came from [wikipedia.org])

  • I suspect if we look hard enough we could find some music industry comment freaking out about how this new technology was going to end the world...
  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:13PM (#33996950)
    ... without this link [cnet.com]: Finally after 20 years of court battles, the electronics giant agrees to pay the inventor of the device that made its success.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Almost sounds like a patent troll to me. What's the likelihood that between him receiving the patent in 1977 in Italy of all places and Sony pushing out the first walkman in 1979 that sony actually ever looked at that patent? Unless they found out within the same month about the patent, immediately begin research and development, while at the same time having the factory set up to produce them before they were even designed... it seems unlikely that they "stole" anything. More like coincidence that more tha

  • I remember buying this at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, Texas when it came out.

    Fresh out of college with no experience, and with a starting salary greater than what my uncle earned with 30 years experience as a skilled machinist, I paid $300 if I recall.

    Which was a lot of money at the time. I remember hesitating before buying it, but rationalized that after four tough years in college, and given my salary, I had earned it.

    It was robustly built and had many parts made from metal, and it lasted for many years. (Un

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:25PM (#33997040)

    Way back in the early 80's, an old, wise Princeton professor complained about this new trend of students constantly wearing Walkmans. His comment was, "They seem to think that life must have a soundtrack album, like a film."

    Another comment was about the trend to wear long black coats, or sectional down jackets: "They either try to look like Raskolnikov or hand grenades."

    Nowadays, when I'm out and about, most of the younger folks seem to be "tuned in." To the extent that they cannot hear a car honking at them when they ride their bikes through a red light.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      To the extent that they cannot hear a car honking at them when they ride their bikes through a red light.

      Darwin has something to say about this practice. It happens here a lot too, and I could not imagine anything dumber. Cycling is dangerous enough as it is without blocking one of your critical senses.

  • by johnw (3725)

    My favourite Walkman - and I've still got one - is the one which is exactly the same size as a compact cassette case. It uses just a single AA battery and is an utter masterpiece of miniaturisation. There is a slight trick to how they get all the guts and motors of a cassette player within the size of a standard case, but it's still very clever.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Also still have such late one...somewhere. One of the best things about it - battery life.

      I estimate around 90 hours. Once I popped in a new AA battery on Thursday, listened a bit that day; also during Friday, in the evening - on a train trip to home city, then a walk through it; and...I forgot to turn the thing off, when putting it into a wardrobe together with my coat. A trip back was Tuesday noon; it was still working. In fact, the battery was good for normal listening, around two hours each day, almost

      • The trade-off is size. AA batteries are pretty big compared to an iPod nano.
        • by sznupi (719324)

          iPod nano where the volume of battery is of course not that much different; nvm how the battery tech / energy densities supposedly improved greatly.

          Everything settled on 20-30 hours. And, somehow, mp3 players using AAA (yes, smaller - but with ratings easily compared, ~2.5x smaller) are fairly pathetic (much worse than iPod nano, less than 10h - so with AA one would expect at most 30, still far from my Walkman)

  • by houghi (78078) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @12:39PM (#33997118)

    I remember making copies for friends and receiving them as well.
    Once it was possible, the music industry was not able to sell any more music. Artists went to get real jobs and that is why all music you hear is only done by amateurs.
    The best you can compare is what VHS did to the film industry. A few obscure independent movie makers is all that you have left.

    And all this because of piracy. Right?

    • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Saturday October 23, 2010 @01:05PM (#33997264) Journal
      Trading tapes with a few friends is a little different than trading tapes with a thousands of people.
      • by sznupi (719324)

        And yet Sweden, the country which gave us The Pirate Bay, is the only place in the world with sustained physical sales.

        But execs don't want to hear that much, preferring to think in the categories of their "superstars" (while in Sweden it is simply a case of many great indy acts)

    • and before 'downloading' there were live shows, tapers (people who were allowed or not) and 'tape trees' where the parent or seeder gets 3 or more child nodes to send blanks and postage (B+P) 'up' and the parent copies the tape 3 times and mails it down. alternately, content is sent up in one cassette (or DAT, or later cd-r) and then content from the tree (what everyone wants for this particular trade, this show or whatever) is copied down to new tapes and exchanged downward to the child nodes.

      customarily,

    • by coldmist (154493)

      Let's try that again, to make a point:

      Once those player pianos were possible, the music industry was not able to sell any more tickets to performances. Artists went to get real jobs and that is why all music you hear is only done by amateurs.

      Same sea change. Music is still being done by professionals.

      As much as technology changes, the *situation* is still the same. Human behavior is the same. Supply/demand curve stuff. If they want to overcharge for it, I won't pay *their* price, and can either not get

    • by sco08y (615665)

      So back in the days of cassettes and VHS, everyone could share their entire music / video collection with anyone else in the world, more or less instantly, and there was no degradation in quality?

    • by mangu (126918)

      The best you can compare is what VHS did to the film industry. A few obscure independent movie makers is all that you have left.

      And all this because of piracy. Right?

      You joke, but unauthorized copies are causing losses to the film industry.

      After all, who would pay to watch shitty [imdb.com] remakes [imdb.com] when you can download [btjunkie.org] the original? [btjunkie.org]

  • The real news here is that it took until 2010 for them to discontinue it. Seriously, who in the world was actually buying a cassette player in the last 10 years?
  • I'm not surprised at the long persistence of tape, in general; but of Sony's persistence in the market.

    Even though the cost of a gig of flash and some cheapass SoiC may well have fallen below the cost of a tape transport, that only really helps in an environment where computers with which to load and reload the resultant low-end mp3 player are ubiquitous. Tape, while it imposes higher fixed costs on the player, allows extremely cheaply duplicated cassettes to be sold and swapped(and unlike cheap optical
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 0123456 (636235)

      In the first world, wearing a tape-player in public is practically a diagnostic signal of mental illness, now, that's how downmarket they are.

      I'm pretty sure that my DAT Walkman will still play music better than any MP3 player on the market (at least at typical 100-200kbps MP3 bit-rates).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rickb928 (945187)

        I'm pretty sure my Sharp MDS-702 plays better then most MP3 players. Your DAT deck is, of course, lossless, and similarly unappreciated.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Given that pretty much any player not sourced from 5 years ago or the bottom end of a flea market(and a few that were) will support one or more of FLAC, Apple Lossless, or WMA Lossless, your parenthetical statement seems like a rather glaring strawman.

        There is nothing particularly technologically wrong with DAT, particularly given its origins in a time when tape was pretty much the only economically viable way of storing substantial quantities of data(DV/mini-DV is in a fairly similar boat); but comparin
  • In 1976, a bunch of us who were skiing at Squaw Valley made home-built "walkman" devices. We took a small automobile cassette player and a 12v battery pack and put it into a small chest pack. These first were homemade but soon after someone started selling these under the brand "Astraltune". They patented it in 1977.

    I just Googled Astraltune and it appears that Sony paid them millions for the "idea" in 2004... stupid.

  • The blue model. It had that funky "hot line" button and a mic. I was convinced there was a way to make it record, but I was a child then and didn't realize that no record head, no recording.

    Good times.
    • by srussia (884021)

      The blue model. It had that funky "hot line" button and a mic. I was convinced there was a way to make it record, but I was a child then and didn't realize that no record head, no recording. Good times.

      Oops, I meant no erase head no recording.

  • by znerk (1162519) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @03:18PM (#33998232)

    Interesting... I would have thought that the massive virus/rootkit/audio CD thing would have killed them by now. Or their yanking the plug on advertised features of their products. Or suing their users for using their products in innovative ways.

    Whatever. Sony, you can pretty much do what you want. Anyone who is still a customer of yours evidently enjoys the pain.

  • Vertical assembly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @03:41PM (#33998396) Homepage

    In manufacturing, the Walkman was notable for its construction. It was designed for automated vertical assembly. In vertical assembly, all components are inserted by simple robots which move straight down to add a part to the base. The base is designed to support and align the parts so that this simple approach to assembly will work. It's fast, cheap, and fully automated.

    Apple tried vertical assembly briefly. The Macintosh IIci was designed for vertical assembly. The power supply went in vertically and clicked into the motherboard. No internal cables. Then they went over to outsourced manual assembly with cheap labor. Swatch watches also used vertical assembly. Simpler cell phones are often assembled in this way.

  • Oh no, so no more of those Plato ads [google.com]?

  • I've seen in other stories, though not here, that the Walkman was killed by the superior Ipod.
    I hope that myth doesn't proliferate here.
    There were hundreds of mp3 players out before the ipod, which was just a better (cleaned-up) and cheaper implementation of digital "medialess" technology.
    The walkman was wonderful for its degree of portability at the time it came out.
    What could possibly kill the mp3 player, or the music-streaming service? Envision your answer now.

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