Dave Smith Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk says his company is working on a wild idea for its car chargers: Instead of needing to connect the car manually, the charger would automatically come out of the wall and connect to the car like “a solid metal snake.”
Perhaps it will look like Titanoboa, the 50-foot mechanical snake built by the Vancouver arts collective EatArt, pictured here:

This futuristic car charger could work with Tesla’s current line of Model S sedans, but it’s more likely to work with future vehicles. We’ve reached out to the company and we’ll update this story when we learn more.
Other outlandish ideas from Musk and his various engineering teams at Tesla Motors and SpaceX: An interactive “Iron Man”-like computer interface that can be controlled with your hands, and the Hyperloop, a revolutionary transit system that could theoretically travel from New York to San Francisco in under two hours.

Stefano Pozzebon
Russia plans to build a new high speed railway, with trains that would speed from Moscow to Beijing in just 48 hours.
At the moment, it takes about seven days to commute between the two cities and the route requires changes.
According to Romanian website Glasul, the Kremlin has awarded the project to China Railway High-speed (CRH), a subsidiary of the state-controlled China Railway (CR), which is working in a joint-venture with the local firm Uralvagonzavod.
CR is famous in the train industry for operating the world’s only magnetic levitation train in an urban area, the Shangai monorail.
Previously, Russia had commissioned a French firm, Alstom, for the first work on the rail line between Moscow and Kazan.
Alstom is one of the leading high speed train manufacturers in the world: in 2007 they set up a new record for conventional-wheeled high speed trains, speeding up at 574 km/h (357 mph). It also operates the urban tram line in Nottingham.
But since France did not deliver its order of Mistral ships in late November this year, it appears the Russian government took it personally and decided to switch that branch of the construction of the high speed railway to CRH, which is now in charge of the whole line, from Moscow to Beijing.
Here is a map showing the different branches:
Russia New HS Train
The Moscow-to-Beijing direct route will measure about 7,000 km (4,340 miles), effectively three times further than the longest high speed railway in the world, the Beijing to Guangzhou train, which is also operated by CRH (in red, above).
Glasul reports that the new railway is a top priority for both the Chinese and Russian governments, having been discussed directly by the prime ministers of the two countries, Dmitri Medvedev and Li Keqiang, in recent bilateral meetings.
Glasul writes that other supporters include the German automobile corporations, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes, which are all more than keen to speed up the shipping of their vehicles from China to Europe.
The new route will probably replace the mighty Trans-Siberian railway, connecting St. Petersburg to Vladivostok (the blue line in the map above).
Firstly, the old route doesn’t go through Kazan, a city that in recent years has become more and more central to the Russian economy.
Secondly, and more importantly, it takes about 15 days to travel the Trans-Siberian route from start to finish, which compared to 48 hours for the new line, sounds like a heck of a long time.

Steven Tweedie 
The grand opening of Apple’s SoHo retail store.
When Restoration Hardware founder Stephen Gordon decided to expand his home goods store by purchasing a lease in New York City’s expensive SoHo district, it could have turned into quite the nightmare without the help of Steve Jobs.
Restoration Hardware was already doing big business with its New York City flagship store located in the Flatiron district, but SoHo is notorious for sky-high lease prices that require store’s there to rake in “mega-millions” in revenue to afford the space.
In a new interview with Fortune (via CultofMac), Gordon revealed how Steve Jobs bailed him out:
Mistakes happened along the way. Perhaps one of the biggest occurred in New York City, where we opened a successful store in the Flatiron district. We thought we’d do the same in SoHo but didn’t realise that SoHo was all about new, offbeat, and irreverent. We were in the old SoHo post office and did millions in sales, but in New York, you need mega-millions to afford the real estate. Fortunately, I was able to survive the mistake by selling the lease to Steve Jobs when he was just starting Apple stores and made quite a profit.
Jobs then turned the space into an Apple Store, which opened on July 18, 2002.
You can read Gordon’s full Fortune interview here, or you can check out more photos of Apple’s SoHo store below.
Apple Store SoHo
Apple Store SoHo
Apple Store SoHoThe store’s grand opening.

Bake your Apple.
A man managed to fix his struggling MacBook Pro by putting it in the oven and baking it.
Sterling Hirsh, a programmer for tech website iFixit, published an article on Dec. 29 chronicling his trials and tribulations over the last year with his MacBook Pro and the outlandish method that he used to try to fix it.
According to the post, Hirsh started noticing “heat issues” about a year ago. He explains that his particular model of MacBook Pro is notorious for running too hot. And because of his job, as well as his love for games and electronic music, he uses his laptop a lot.
Hirsh says he tried a few “simple fixes” on the MacBook to tackle the problem. He blew out the inside of it with compressed air, bought a laptop stand, and enabled a program that allows its fans to be run at maximum speed all the time.
But all of his efforts were fruitless: his beloved MacBook eventually died.
Hirsh recalls:
I was working on it when the screen suddenly went black. When I powered it off and on again, the power light lit, but I got no boot chime and the screen alternated between glitchy and black — it all screamed that something on the logic board was busted. Probably the water-boiling temperatures had caused the board to flex, knocking solder loose from its ball grid arrays. The likely fix? Reflow it: Heat it up until the balls of solder melt back into their assigned spots.
So Hirsh took drastic measures. Instead of sending his laptop off for repair (which can take a while), he decided to take it apart, disconnect some of the parts from the logic board, and turn the oven up to 170 degrees C. He applied some thermal paste (something that can be purchased in most hardware stores) placed it on a cookie sheet, and baked it for seven “nerveracking” minutes, he says.
And guess what? It worked!
“After it cooled, I reapplied thermal paste, put it all back together, and cheered when it booted. It ran great for the next eight months,” Hirsh says.
“The speed holes worked,” Hamish declares. “The boot chime rang. The screen glowed. The fans blew.”
But that wasn’t the end of Hirsh’s troubles. In the same post, he says that his laptop died 2 weeks ago. He tried all sorts of weird ways to bring it back to life. He used more thermal paste, a heat gun, and aluminium foil to doctor troublesome areas.
It all ended up with Hirsh putting his MacBook back in the oven, this time for for 7 minutes and 30 seconds. It was then he decided to “drill 60 holes in the bottom case, under the fans,” he explains.
It was fixed.
“The speed holes worked,” Hamish declares. “The boot chime rang. The screen glowed. The fans blew.”
And worked well:
There’s noticeably increased airflow — when I put a piece of paper on the bottom of the computer, it sticks to the case. Its average temperature is down in the 40s and 50s, lower than it’s been since before March.
It’s a little early for a final verdict, but the computer has now been running without incident for fifteen days. Unconventional electronics repair tools they may be, but that’s how I saved my MacBook Pro with a drill and an oven.
We applaud Hirsh’s efforts, but should note that while tech support people have special ovens to fix chips, it’s not a normal practice to put your laptop in a domestic oven. Proceed with caution, better yet, talk to Apple first if you’re having issues with your laptop.

Maya Kosoff 
Uber says it expects New Year’s Eve to be its biggest night ever. Uber plans to deliver 2 million rides on New Year’s Eve this year.
When there’s high demand for Uber vehicles on holidays like New Year’s Eve, though, there’s also bound to be surge pricing, a feature most Uber users aren’t crazy about.
Surge pricing happens when there’s a high demand for Uber vehicles in a particular area. During times of high demand — on weekend nights, on holidays, or during bad weather — Uber enacts surge pricing, which charges a multiplier on every fare during busy times. Uber says that by raising its prices, it encourages its supply — drivers — to get out on the road to keep up with increased demand.
Uber will never spring surge pricing on you without you consciously acknowledging what you’re paying for. When surge pricing is happening, you’ll be notified before you can even hail the car. Uber’s app puts it in big, bold print so you can’t miss it. And when surge pricing rates are more than 2x, customers have to type in the multiplier to make sure they know what to expect.
Of course, this doesn’t stop people from complaining about surge pricing.
Sometimes the complaints seem more justified than others: Earlier in December, Uber Sydney temporarily activated surge pricing during a hostage crisis in the city’s central business district. The company said it was an attempt to get more drivers into the area to pick up people who didn’t have a way home, but others saw it as opportunism, and took to Twitter to complain. Soon after, Uber made all rides home from Sydney’s central business district free.
However, people are far less justified in their complaints when surge pricing is introduced to get people home from bar crawls or holidays that encourage people to go out. Of course, that doesn’t stop irate customers from screenshotting their Uber bill and posting it on Instagram or Twitter in outrage.
On days after holidays when demand for Uber is high, sticker-shocked customers complain about their Uber bills. For instance, one woman in Baltimore awoke the day after Halloween to discover she had taken a $US362, 20-minute Uber ride the night before and didn’t have enough money to pay her rent. She posted a screenshot of her bill on Instagram and ended up crowdfunding $US512 on GoFund.Me the next day.
In light of complaints from angry customers, Uber is pulling out all the stops this week to let its customers know what to expect on New Year’s Eve. On Tuesday, Uber published a blog post telling customers when to expect to pay more for surge pricing.
Uber also sent out an email to customers in New York City (and presumably in other markets, too) called “Read Before You Ride: How to Avoid Expensive Fares on New Year’s.” In it, Uber pretty explicitly lays out how you should go about planning your Uber ride so you can avoid high surge prices.
It’s nice of Uber to do this, but the company shouldn’t have to apologise for surge pricing.
Uber is a relatively new and quickly growing business. It does not have any sort of responsibility to its customers to keep prices low. It is trying to make money, as companies often want to do, and tonight Uber will likely generate more than $US100 million in revenue.
Uber is by no means unique in its dynamic pricing strategy, either. Airlines have similar tactics to sell tickets and hotels use dynamic pricing to book rooms, especially during busy holiday seasons. As Matt Yglesias pointed out in Slate earlier this year, what makes Uber different is that the company is at least upfront and transparent about how much you’re going to pay when the price spikes.
If you don’t want to pay a crazy-high fare tonight, you’re in luck because Uber is not the only method of transportation available and nobody is making you use Uber (or Lyft, or any other ride-hailing service). You can walk. You can try to call or hail a cab. You can take a subway or a bus if you live in a city. You can just stay home and have a party with your friends. Or you can wait a few hours, since Uber expects the worst surges to be between 12:30 and 2:30 a.m.

Lisa Eadicicco 
The Galaxy S5
We’ve been hearing for the past several weeks that Samsung is preparing to roll out the Android 5.0 Lollipop update to its devices.
Now, one Redditor, who claims to be a Samsung employee, says the update will come to Samsung’s most popular phones in January.
The author behind the Reddit post says Samsung sent out an email to retail stores selling its phones about what to expect as the new year begins.
In the reportedly leaked email, Samsung writes that it will have to start preparing its devices for Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop update next month.
The Reddit post and Samsung’s email don’t include any specific dates, but the Galaxy S5 will be Samsung’s first priority. After the S5, the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge are likely to be updated to Lollipop. Then, Samsung will probably turn its attention to the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S4 before getting the update ready for its tablets.
It’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t an official statement from Samsung, and there’s no telling whether or not the information is legitimate.
But, if true, it would line up with other rumours we’ve heard recently. Samsung has already pushed the Lollipop update out to Galaxy S5 units in Spain and Poland, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the update spread to other regions within the next month.
Since November, blog SamMobile has been posting videos and screenshots that reportedly show Samsung devices running Lollipop. The biggest visual differences appear to be within the stock apps like the calculator and dialer apps.
When Google unveiled Lollipop, it called it one of its biggest Android updates yet. The latest version of the software includes a new visual theme called Material Design, which adds a bolder, flatter, and more colourful overall look to Android. There are also a ton of smaller features baked into the operating system that make it smoother and more secure.

James Cook
Vivino is a startup that is opening up the world of fine wine for everyone through a clever app.
If you see a wine that interests you, you take a photo of the label. That takes you to a page on the app for the wine, and you can see reviews and rankings on your phone.
Vivino isn’t a small, niche community. It told us that on an average Saturday, 400,000 wines are scanned using the app. And in total, almost 100 million bottles of wine have been scanned. Vivino also has over 7 million users using the network to scan and rate wine.
Lots of apps have tried to help people with ranking and collections, but what’s interesting about Vivino is that it’s built up a large amount of data through its app. That’s important when it comes to recommendations, which can turn apps into something that’s genuinely useful (as well as providing a revenue opportunity).
Another useful part of allowing users to rate wines is that Vivino can use that data. Yesterday it published a collection of rankings made using ratings input using the app.

Gurbaksh Chahal, former CEO of RadiumOne
It’s been a tough year for Gurbaksh “G” Chahal, who built advertising company RadiumOne into a few-hundred-million-dollar business before being ousted by his board in April.
Chahal, who was CEO of RadiumOne, was ousted after domestic violence charges against him were made public. The advertising entrepreneur was accused of beating his former girlfriend multiple times one evening last summer, but the charges were later dropped.
Now Chahal has offered to buy back his former company for an undisclosed sum, Recode’s Kara Swisher reports. Swisher says she’s reviewed a term sheet and her sources say Chahal may be offering as much as 9 figures to re-acquire RadiumOne. If Chahal were to buy back the company, it would join forces with his new startup, Gravity4.
It’s not clear how Chahal could afford a nine-figure buyout. He has accumulated significant wealth, however, from selling two previous companies for a combined $US340 million.
RadiumOne doesn’t seem interested in his offer. It gave the following statement to Re/code:
“While we are obligated to review all offers and will do so at the next board meeting, RadiumOne is not for sale and not with an offer that fails to reflect the value that has been built in the company. With a record second half behind it and the company poised for strong growth in 2015, RadiumOne will continue with its current plans to build an enduring and substantial company under the steady hand of existing leadership.”
Chahal fired back and told Swisher:
“RadiumOne is much better in the hands of a more sophisticated management team and a company with heavy investment firepower. Gravity4 has both, the capital, the vision and leadership. I can only hope the board realises the industry is going through its consolidation phase and accepts this offer for the sake of the employees of RadiumOne before it’s too late.”

Madeline Stone 
Pearl Street, downtown Boulder.
Google plans to nearly quintuple its presence in Colorado with the construction of a new, four-acre campus in Boulder.
The project, which was recently approved by Boulder’s City Council, includes three, four-story office buildings with all of the usual Google luxuries, including fitness centres, cafeterias, and a large underground parking lot.
The new campus will increase Google’s Boulder workforce from 340 employees to nearly 1,500.
That huge jump has some Boulder locals worried about the future of their city. An influx of high-salaried tech workers could worsen problems Boulder is already having, like traffic congestion and a shortage of affordable housing.
“Prices are rising. We are becoming less and less affordable to lower and middle income. We’re also seeing local businesses that have been here for decades being priced out,” City Council member Suzanne Jones said to the New York Times. “It puts a finer point on this issue of, where are we headed? Attracting big business is great, on the one hand, but it will be part of that change on the other.”
A set of nearby apartment buildings seems like the perfect spot to accommodate the incoming Googlers. Still, many worry that these high-paid workers will eventually look for housing beyond the immediately surrounding areas, leading to an explosion in home prices like that seen in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“Many of the eventual 1,500 employees and their families won’t choose to live in the monolithic apartment complexes that are right next door. Many of these high-paid techies will want houses with yards,” Boulder resident Judy Amabile writes in a letter to the Daily Camera, the city’s local newspaper. “They might drive: to work, to drop off kids at school, to grocery shop, to dine out on Pearl Street. Google’s expansion may well exacerbate rather than mitigate our affordable housing and transportation problems.”
The new campus will be located just a block away from the bus station currently under construction at Boulder Junction. When the city council approved Google’s project, it also asked that the company provide incentives for employees to use public transportation rather than drive to work. The campus will have only 600 parking spots, less than half the number of employees who will be based there.
Another concern voiced by residents and the city’s planning board regards the appearance of the buildings themselves. Google’s campuses tend to be rather contained environments, with luxurious amenities that employees can enjoy behind closed doors.
The new campus will be built in one of Boulder’s busiest commercial areas, but it won’t have any ground-floor retail space. It’s not exactly inviting.
Google boulderAn architectural drawing of the new Google campus in Boulder.
Four stories is also significantly taller than many of the other buildings in the area.
“It will be a very nice place for the employees, but, as far as addressing the public realm, especially the streetscape, I think it falls short,” planning board member Liz Payton said during a site review earlier in December. “I don’t think this is coherent, in that it is this very insular campus, but not relating to the context around it very successfully.”
Google will construct a path winding through the campus itself, with the hope that it will keep the complex relatively open to the community.
And some argue that a growing tech presence in Boulder would be a positive influence on the community.
Scott Green, site director for Google Boulder, emphasised the impact tech workers could have on the city’s innovative sector, citing the engineering team’s work on apps like Google Earth and Google Drive. There could be increased recruiting from the University of Colorado nearby.
The Google Boulder office also has sales and marketing teams.
“These are critical projects, and they’re big projects. They’re growing, and staying still is not really an option. We’ve grown quite rapidly, and we expect to continue to grow,” Green said to the planning board in December. “Our identity is tied to Boulder. We want to be in Boulder.”

Lisa Eadicicco
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California October 27, 2014.
Apple is being hit with a class action lawsuit over the amount of space its iOS 8 software takes up on its mobile devices, SiliconBeat, the San Jose Mercury News’ tech blog, reports.
The lawsuit, filed in the Bay Area’s federal court on Tuesday, alleges that Apple doesn’t properly inform its users about exactly how much space the software will take up on iPhones, iPads, and any compatible gadget that runs iOS.
This, in turn, could provoke users to purchase more iCloud storage space, according to the case.
The lawsuit is claiming that iOS 8 eats up as much as 23.1% of the advertised storage space on iOS devices.
The problem, however, is that users don’t realise this when they purchase a device or install the update, the lawsuit says according to SiliconBeat. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and changes to Apple’s policies.
On its website Apple calls iOS 8 its “biggest iOS release ever,” and plaintiff lawyers are attempting to use this phrasing against Apple for the case, SiliconBeat reports.
When Apple launched iOS 8 in September, many users had issues downloading the software partially because they didn’t realise it required so much storage space.
System updates generally require a lot of space because the entire contents of your phone is stored in a compressed file when you install an update like iOS 8. When the download is complete, your phone then starts unpacking that file, and it needs storage space for that process.
We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will update this story accordingly when we hear back.

Lisa Eadicicco
Seth Rogan The InterviewCast members James Franco (L) and Seth Rogen pose during premiere of the film ‘The Interview’ in Los Angeles, California December 11, 2014.
Sony has just announced that “The Interview” will be available to rent through various video-on-demand services including Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and others.
The announcement comes one week after Microsoft and Google said that the controversial film would be available through Google Play and Xbox Video.
“The Interview” will hit video-on-demand services from all of the following cable and satellite providers: Bright House Networks, Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner, Cablevision, Charter Communications, AT&T U-verse TV, Verizon FiOS, Direct TV, Vudu, and Walmart’s digital video-on-demand.
Verizon and Vudu customers will be able to buy the film in addition to renting it.
Sony says “The Interview” will hit these platforms starting Wednesday and will roll out to other markets over the weekend.
Sony initially pulled “The Interview” from its theatrical release after a group of hackers known as the Guardians of Peace threatened the company. Soon after, President Obama said in a news conference that Sony made a “mistake” by giving into the hackers and cancelling the film’s release.
Since “The Interview” was released on Dec. 24, it has been purchased and rented more than 2 million times. 

Eugene Kim 
Yuri Milner, the Russian investor worth roughly $US2 billion, believes Xiaomi will eventually become a $US100 billion company.
Xiaomi was most recently valued at around $US45 billion, after raising over $US1 billion earlier this month. Milner is an investor.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Milner said it’s Xiaomi’s unprecedented growth rate that makes him believe the Chinese smartphone maker will get to that valuation soon.
“I don’t think there’s any company that has reached $US1 billion in revenue as fast as Xiaomi. In every conceivable benchmark, it’s almost unprecedented in terms of its speed of growth,” Milner said.
He explained Xiaomi’s global reach spanning Asian markets like India and Malaysia to emerging countries in Brazil and Turkey, as well as its diverse product offerings in smartphones, tablets, and TVs could make it China’s “first global consumer brand.”
“Xiaomi can take significant market share globally, but that doesn’t cover the whole opportunity. There are a number of other interesting categories that Xiaomi can target,” he said.
Of course, Milner is one of the early investors in Xiaomi, so his comments should be taken with a grain of salt. His investment firm Digital Sky Technologies first invested in Xiaomi back in 2012, when it was valued at $US4 billion.
But it’s also worth noting that Milner has a successful track record of investing in companies like Facebook and Alibaba early on before they became worth hundreds of billions of dollars. He invested in Facebook in 2009, when it was a $US10 billion company, and in Alibaba back in 2011.
Then again, he also invested in Groupon, which was hailed as the fastest growing company in history when it was skyrocketing. He probably made money on that investment, but ultimately Groupon never reached the heights some thought it would.

Dave Smith Venture capitalist Fred Wilson believes “the social media phase of the internet ended” this year. He says messaging apps have replaced social media apps, where families rely on apps like WhatsApp to communicate with each other instead of Facebook.
Data seems to support this idea: Based on the various messaging and social networks charted for us by BI Intelligence, messaging apps added users faster than the social networks over the last two years, and will probably eclipse social networks by early 2015. That’s great news for Facebook, which owns two of the most popular messaging apps right now, including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as two of the biggest social networks, Facebook and Instagram.

Caroline Moss It was not a very merry Christmas for parents who purchased the Play-Doh Cake Mountain set for their kids.
That’s because the set comes with an icing applicator that looks, undeniably, like a penis.
It started getting a lot of attention when this tweet made its way around Twitter.

View image on Twitter

 After inspecting the toy (many of which were purchased for kids for Christmas), parents flooded the Facebook page for Play-Doh, commenting with photos of the phallic toy they had purchased.

View image on Twitter

 In response, Play-Doh deleted posts, which BuzzFeed pointed out was not the smartest idea.

View image on Twitter
 View image on Twitter 


“We have heard some consumer feedback about the extruder tool in the Play-Doh Cake Mountain play set and are in the process of updating all future Play-Doh products with a different tool,” a Hasbro spokesperson told KTUL reporters.

Dave Smith
This is my iPhone 6. Thanks a lot, EarPods.
Rushing down the stairs of the subway station, I am sure I am going to catch this train. The doors just opened, and people had only begun filing out. Perfect timing.
But then I hang a right around the bottom of the staircase, and my headphones catch the railing.
My iPhone 6 immediately disconnects from the headphones, and gets flung backwards onto the ground.
The train doors close, and I turn around and reach for my iPhone, sitting face down on the hard tile.
I pick up my phone, and to my horror, the front display is completely shattered.

Despite all the improvements Apple has made to its smartphone line, some things never change. Thousands of iPhone customers over the years have had similar experiences, unfortunately.
But I can’t really knock Apple for this particular issue: At least the company has tried to improve its glass screens without sacrificing any of the quality, and they have largely succeeded, too.
Broken iphone
Corning’s Gorilla Glass has helped the iPhone become more shatter-resistant over the years, and Apple even enlisted the help of GT Advanced to try to make the iPhone’s display crack-proof this year by replacing Gorilla Glass with sapphire, the second-hardest material known to man. Unfortunately, the latter partnership did not work out, and it’s unclear if Apple will ever attempt a sapphire phone again.
Maybe the glass isn’t the problem. After all, it’s not easy to shatter the phone unless you’re being careless.
Maybe the problem lies with those tiny white headphones that come bundled with every new iPhone purchase.
To me, the key to keeping the iPhone safe is to reduce the number of times you need to take it in and out of your pocket. The Apple Watch will certainly help with that, since you can perform most iPhone functions from your wrist — but I’d argue Apple’s wired headphones, the EarPods, are vastly more important to improve.
Apple introduced the EarPods in September 2012 — they have shipped with every iPhone since the iPhone 5. But wires are wholly inefficient:
  • Wires can be frayed or severed
  • Wires can catch onto clothes and various surfaces, which can yank you or your device if they get tripped on something
Apple’s clever MagSafe design for MacBooks probably wouldn’t work with the iPhone, since it would likely be too easy to disconnect while it’s just sitting in your pocket. The answer seems to be to go wireless.
Tangled earbuds earphones iphone
There are plenty of readers probably thinking, “C’mon Dave, just buy yourself some wireless headphones without an Apple logo and call it a day.”
I understand that point. But I also disagree that Apple should basically do nothing, as if the EarPods are a flawless design. They’re not.
Here’s one little known fact about Apple: It’s actually one of the biggest maker of speakers in the world, having produced over 1.2 billion tiny speakers in for its earbuds, and now EarPods. So why not make that product into something people will love?
In 2012, the EarPods were a dramatic improvement over the previous earbuds; but now, competitors have caught up. Amazon even offers a similar product to EarPods that’s $US10 cheaper. So it’s up to Apple to really make its headphones shine again, just like they did in the heyday of the iPod with all of those slick commercials that inspired a generation to wear white in-ear headphones.
While going wireless seems to be the eventual solution, it’s not quite clear how to get there.
By removing the wires, you can still connect to the device you’re listening to without needing to worry about tangling, thanks to Bluetooth. There’s a big downside, though: You’d have to charge these headphones. And that’s not good — most consumers simply want to grab their headphones and go, and they’d be livid if the headphones stopped working at any time, for any reason.
Still, companies are coming up with clever ways to charge wireless headphones and earbuds. Maybe at some point, Apple will get into wireless charging, and bring that solution to its tiny in-ear headphones before bringing that technology to a larger device like an iPhone or iPad.
IPod Silhouette Gif
Wireless EarPods would be great, and they would have saved my iPhone 6 from some major trauma this morning, but why stop there? Apple doesn’t just do “good” products, it does “insanely great ones.”
So if Apple is serious about its headphones — and if it’s serious about helping its users “get healthy” beyond the Apple Watch and Health app — Apple should introduce EarPods with sensors for heart rate and blood pressure.
Heck, Apple even patented this solution in 2008. It just needs to become a reality.
The Apple Watch will reportedly measure heart rate and blood pressure — but not everyone will buy an Apple Watch. So why not offer an alternative way for customers to get in on the health action without needing to throw down at least $US350 on a smartwatch?
EarPods cost just $US30, but Apple could easily jack the price of the product if it can actually do more than rival headphones — especially if they actually make the wearer healthier.
Consider this: Physicians have long tried to develop similar in-ear monitoring systems
that can inform doctors about cardiovascular risk factors, which would allow them to provide vital preventative care. Researchers believe the ear is the “[ideal] location for an integrated wearable vital signs monitor … for both physiological and mechanical reasons.”
And yet, no company has yet to produce a health-oriented in-ear solution, especially at a mass scale. One major reason: Fitness devices need to be sexy if they’re going to be worn — it sends the message that you’re taking care of yourself. Unfortunately, medical device manufacturers aren’t really known for their fashion sense.
Apple could deliver in this respect, offering headphones that are stylish and comfortable but also extremely functional, in that they can play music and carry phone calls, but also receive data from our ends, capturing information from our own bodies to tell us about our health.
If EarPods could be wireless and health-oriented, Apple might quietly become the king of wearable devices for the foreseeable future.

Julie Bort 
You can earn a lot of money these days as a high tech “bounty hunter” who locates hard-to-find software bugs and turns them into the vendors for reward money.
Just this week, a team of security researchers in Poland got a hefty $US50,000 prize from Google for uncovering some holes in Google’s App Engine cloud, Google confirmed.
The researchers say this is the largest prize Google has ever awarded through its “Vulnerability Reward Program,” more commonly known as a “bug bounty” program.
That’s when hackers report the software holes they find to the makers of the software in exchange for prize money. They do this instead of using them or selling them on the black market for nefarious reasons.
This isn’t the biggest award Google has ever given out. Hacking contests often pay even bigger rewards. For instance, Google set aside $US2.71828 million in prizes for its fourth annual Pwnium, a contest where hackers all try to hack Chrome. (The amount was a geek joke. That number is known as “the mathematical constant e,” an important concept to understand when writing algorithms.)
Google was prepared to pay $US150,000, a nice year’s salary, for a hack delivered by a web page that let the hacker control a Chrome OS PC even after it reboots.
And Google confirmed that it did give out one $US150,000 prize to a hacker who did such a thing on an HP Chromebook 11.
Google isn’t alone. Microsoft has given out $US300,000 to date, including two $US100,000 prizes in 2013, and a bunch of undisclosed prize amounts in 2014.
Meanwhile Bugcrowd, a startup that helps hackers find bug bounties (and earn prize money), list dozens of bounty programs that will pay $US1,000-$US5,000 per really bad bug.
All this to say that even though it looked like the bad guy hackers (known as “black hats”) were winning in 2014, the white hats still have some tricks of their own.

James Cook 
Wolf Blitzer
A confidential bulletin sent by the FBI to companies across the US warning of further cyberattacks by the Sony hackers may have been based on fake posts and messages created by a prankster.
Earlier today we reported that the FBI sent a bulletin on Dec. 24 that warned companies of further threats made by the Guardians of Peace hacker gang. That’s the group that targeted Sony Pictures, but the FBI warned that it was threatening a media organisation as well.
A cached PasteBin post revealed the threat the FBI was referring to was targeting CNN, and even included a reference to anchor Wolf Blitzer.
Here’s the post that the FBI was referring to in its bulletin:
The result of investigation by CNN is so excellent that you might have seen what we were doing with your own eyes.
We congratulate you success.
CNN is the BEST in the world.
You will find the gift for CNN at the following address.

P.S. You have 24 hours to give us the Wolf.
But hours after the story published, a journalist who writes about cybersecurity stepped forward and claimed that he wrote the threat to CNN as a prank, copying another message that he found online and simply swapping some of the words.
Mediaite reports that David Garrett Jr., a writer for Homeland Security Examiner, took to Twitter and posted screenshots which appear to show that he was the author of the threat to CNN.
Here’s one of the posts that Garrett offered up as proof that he was behind the message:

It’s important to note that there’s no proof that the PasteBin post mentioning CNN was a prank. Neither Garrett nor the FBI has posted definitive evidence about the threat.
The FBI issued the following statement to Business Insider when asked about the Dec. 24 bulletin:
As part of our commitment to public safety, the FBI routinely shares information with the private sector and law enforcement community. We take all threats seriously and will continue to disseminate relevant information observed during the course of our investigations, in order to help protect the public against any potential threats.
But if Garrett is to be believed, then the FBI may have been fooled by a simple prank. If the FBI published a security bulletin based on anonymous and unauthenticated internet posts, that’s going to make it more difficult for people to believe its other claims.
Along with the threat against CNN, the FBI also mentioned another PasteBin post that mocked the bureau’s own investigation. If the prankster is to be believed, that second post could also be fake.
Some security experts have cast doubt on the FBI’s claim that North Korea was behind the hack of Sony Pictures. If the FBI has been fooled by an online prankster, that could make its claim that North Korea ordered the hack more difficult to believe.

Eugene Kim
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel
Snapchat raised some major funds on New Year’s Eve.
The mobile messenger app has raised another $US486 million, according to an SEC filing made Wednesday. The filing says 23 investors joined the offering, but it’s unclear who’s leading it.
The funding brings the total raised by Snapchat to more than $US649 million. It comes just four months after raising $US20 million at a $US10 billion valuation in August. Its previous investments came from VCs including Benchmark, Kleiner Perkins, and General Catalyst Partners.
Although it’s unconfirmed, Techcrunch reports that Snapchat could now be worth as much as $US20 billion. If true, that would make Snapchat the third most valuable startup behind Xiaomi and Uber.
Founded in 2011 by a group of Stanford students, Snapchat is an app that lets users send self-destructing messages. It currently has over 100 million users, mostly between the age of 13 and 25, and is used by nearly 9% of US mobile users.
Despite its popularity, however, Snapchat has almost no revenue. It has just started rolling out new features that could lead to more money-making business.
Earlier this month, a bunch of emails between Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and Sony CEO Michael Lynton were exposed through the Sony hack. The emails revealed that Snapchat had paid $US30 million to acquire a video startup AddLive, while blowing a chance to raise money from the Chinese messenger company Tencent. The emails also suggested that the acquisition offer Snapchat had received from Facebook was more than the reported $US3 billion amount.
Snapchat confirmed the filing but declined to make any further comment.

Jay Yarow 
Tumblr CEO David Karp
Fred Wilson says “the social media phase of the Internet ended” in 2014.
Wilson, perhaps more than any other venture capitalist, spotted the emergence of social media early and profited from it. His firm, Union Square Ventures, invested early in Twitter, Tumblr, Zynga, Foursquare, and a few others.
In a post looking back at what happened in 2014, he says social media is pretty much dead.
“Entrepreneurs and developers still build social applications,” says Wilson. “We still use them. But there isn’t much innovation here anymore. The big platforms are mature. Their place is secure.”
Messaging apps have replaced social media apps, says Wilson.
“Messaging is the new social media … Families use WhatsApp groups instead of Facebook. Kids use Snapchat instead of Instagram. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in February of this year was the transaction that defined this trend.”
Wilson thinks messaging and mobile moved into the enterprise in a big way in 2014. He says Slack, the fast growing group chart, is the “poster boy” for this trend.
Here is Wilson’s complete list of what happened in 2014:
1/ the social media phase of the Internet ended. this may have happened a few years ago actually but i felt it strongly this year. entrepreneurs and developers still build social applications. we still use them. but there isn’t much innovation here anymore. the big platforms are mature. their place is secure.
2/ messaging is the new social media. this may be part of what is going on in 1/. families use whatsapp groups instead of facebook. kids use snapchat instead of instagram. facebook’s acquisition of whatsapp in february of this year was the transaction that defined this trend.
3/ the “sharing economy” was outed as the “rental economy.” nobody is sharing anything. people are making money, plain and simple. technology has made renting things (even in real time) as simple as it made buying things a decade ago. Uber and Airbnb are the big winners in this category but there are and will be others.
4/ the capital markets have moved to the internet. we call it crowdfunding but what is really going on is raising money is a great application of a global platform that connects billions of people in real time. i don’t know the total amount of capital that was raised on the internet across all sectors (equity, debt, creative projects, charity, helping a person in need, real estate, energy, etc, etc) in 2014 but i am sure it is in the tens of billions.
5/ mobile OS has become a stable duopoly around the world. but android is splintering into google android and non google android and that may lead to new large players. 2014 was a big coming out party for xiaomi. if and when they come to the US, things will get interesting. they are the new (and better) samsung.
6/ mobile and messaging has started to impact the enterprise. slack is the poster boy for this trend in 2014.
7/ youtube became a monster. it always has been. but in 2014 youtube emerged as the place for entertainment consumption for anyone under 16. and these youngsters are going to grow up quickly. watching The Interview on YouTube was a fitting end to an amazing year for the king (and queen and joker too) of Internet video.
8/ we finally got rid of files. dropbox, google drive, soundcloud, spotify, netflix, hbogo, youtube, wattpad, kindle, and a host of other cloud based services finally killed off three letter filenames like mp3, mov, doc and xls. spending a week in the caribbean with young adults and bad internet was the tell on this one for me. they don’t even have mp3s on their iphones anymore!
9/ the net neutrality debate emerged as a national political issue with Obama’s endorsement of Title II regulation of the last mile of the internet. it is unclear how this issue will resolve itself but the public has spoken loudly and clearly and politicians understand that the internet needs to remain open for innovation and we can’t let the monopoly carriers and cable companies mess that up.
10/ cyberwarfare, cybercrime, cyberhacking, and cybersecurity was by far the dominant theme of 2014. if anyone had their head in the sand on this one before this year, they don’t anymore. this is our new normal. the US takedown of North Korea’s internet last week, and the state department official’s comment that “i guess accidents can happen” is a moment to remember as we head out of 2014 and into our future.

Apple offers help with reviews and rejections
  App Review Team contact form
A week ago, Apple informed developers that iTunes Connect would undergo the usual shutdown for the holiday season, during which developers are not able to get new apps or updates approved.
Developers can, nevertheless, submit new binaries during this timeframe. However, the submissions are queued and subsequently approved in a chronological manner, when the outage is over.

That day has come, according to a memo posted by the Cupertino tech giant. On its developer portal, Apple states loud and clear that iTunes Connect is now back online and ready to accept new submissions.

The Mac maker urges developers to remember that the fastest way to appeal an app rejection or request an expedited review is to contact the App Review Team through the Contact Us form. The Resolution Center in iTunes Connect is also available to view app rejection details and further clarification. Users who are testing or have been invited to test pre-release apps with TestFlight should not be affected.

“We look forward to seeing the innovative new apps you'll create in 2015,” Apple concludes.

The contact form can only be used after developers select a topic. These include getting the status of an app, getting clarification for a rejections, appealing a rejection, providing requested information, asking a technical question, asking about iTunes Connect itself, and others.

It will be powered by a GM206 graphics processing unit
  An NVIDIA Maxwell GPU die
The GeForce series of graphics cards is in an odd situation right now, expected to not advance that much by 2016. But the GeForce GTX 960 is still set for release in January 2015, so here are the things we know about it from all the reports that reached the web thus far.
The GeForce series of graphics cards is in an odd situation right now, expected to not advance that much by 2016. But the GeForce GTX 960 is still set for release in January 2015, so here are the things we know about it from all the reports that reached the web thus far.
The GeForce GTX 960 is expected to be the first video board based on NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture that actually qualifies for the mainstream market. Barely.

True, you might say that the GeForce GTX 750 (Ti) already covers that base. But the GPU acting as their heart, the GM107, was a pretty hasty retrofit of a technology that was supposed to be designed on TSMC's 20nm node.

True, the other Maxwell chips revealed since then have been redesigned for 28nm as well, but NVIDIA could at least have taken some time while it bled Kepler dry.

The GeForce GTX 980 and 970 were the results of Maxwell being properly reengineered for an older, larger fabrication process. And they've been doing well, beating even GTX 780 Ti boards and the Titan, as well as AMD's Radeon R9 series.

The GeForce GTX 960 is expected to cover the bulk of the consumer market, the mainstream as it were, or at least the upper level of that massive customer base.

The GeForce GTX 960

High-end video cards like the GeForce GTX 980 and 780 Ti sell in much smaller numbers than the mid-range cards, despite their superior abilities. The price is the obvious reason for this, as are the power requirements.

The GeForce GTX 960 will only barely fall below the high-end mark, but if it manages to secure a $250 - $300 / €250 - €300 price, it could become quite a bargain.

After all, from all reports and leaks so far, the adapter is set to boast a Maxwell GM206 GPU with 1,280 CUDA cores and a memory interface of 192 bits.

True, it's possible that the chip will actually have a 128-bit interface and 2 GB of GDDR5 VRAM backing it, rather than 3 GB, but even then the performance should be considerable for its product class.

The CUDA cores would be stacked in 10 Maxwell Streaming Multiprocessors (SMM), while power would be provided through two 6-pin ports. Without the advantages of 20nm or 16nm transistor size, and the power efficiency that comes with it, we hesitate to hope for a single-port power delivery.


Since the GeForce GTX 960 is expected to come out during the CES 2015 trade show (Consumer Electronics Show, January 6-9), the sales should begin immediately afterwards, or maybe a week or so later.

The new version of the open world game shines
  GTA 5 has the best gameplay

Next up in our Softpedia Game of the Year 2014 awards is the best gameplay winner – Grand Theft Auto 5 on new-generation consoles – made and published by Rockstar Games for PS4 and Xbox One.
Grand Theft Auto 5 impressed tens of millions of gamers, us included, last year when it appeared for the PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms. The game represented, more or less, the swan song of the old generation of devices, proving that they were able to produce decent visuals even with their outdated hardware.

This year, Rockstar Games finally brought the experience to other platforms, more specifically to the PS4 and Xbox One new-generation consoles, while the PC version is still in the works and set to appear next month.

While the studio could have easily just ported the experience for the new devices, it did go the extra mile and added quite a few new features, not just better visuals but also enhanced mechanics and even a first-person view that drastically alters the traditional Grand Theft Auto gameplay experience.

There have certainly been plenty of great open world titles launched these years, and while some did things better than previous Grand Theft Auto games, GTA 5 proved once again that Rockstar's franchise is still the benchmark for the whole genre.

With the new versions of the game, the studio also proved that it could get off to a great start on the fresh home consoles, avoiding some of the controversial aspects seen in GTA 4 when it first appeared many years ago.

Varied gameplay and great additions make GTA 5 stand out

The actual gameplay is extremely varied, and while it still mostly boils down to driving cars, shooting guns, and getting in elaborate adventures filled with crime and misdeeds, it's still a joy to go through.

The first-person view in particular is quite impressive, and while it certainly takes some time to get used to, especially if you jump from GTA 5 on PS3 or Xbox 360, it can make the whole title feel refreshing and (almost) new.

Combine these new elements with the fantastic dedication Rockstar has to the GTA Online multiplayer mode, even if its strive for perfection has led to yet another delay of the online heists, and Grand Theft Auto 5 on new platforms deserves to be crowned with the best gameplay of the year award.

You can check out our review of Grand Theft Auto 5 on the Xbox One. Expect some even better impressions next month, when the title debuts on PC and might even get the aforementioned online heists.

Redmond is developing a new browser for its OS
  Mozilla Firefox for Windows

Windows 10 is very likely to ship with a new version of Internet Explorer, intuitively called Internet Explorer 12, but it appears that Microsoft is also preparing a little bit of something for those who want to get Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox-like performance on their desktops.
According to reports, Microsoft might actually introduce two different browsers in Windows 10, so in addition to Internet Explorer 12, PCs running this new version of the operating system could also get what's currently known as Spartan.

This isn't the first time that we're hearing about Spartan and it's worth knowing that at this point it's still a codename, but it appears that Microsoft is going forward with its plans to develop a new browser and this could see daylight in Windows 10 in fall 2015.

Spartan browser details

Microsoft's plan is as simple as it could be: the company hopes that, by offering two different browsers, users would also be provided with a new application that can easily compete with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox and, at the same time, have Internet Explorer in case of compatibility issues with company apps or services.

Spartan, on the other hand, will still be based on Microsoft's Chakra JavaScript engine and Microsoft's Trident rendering engine, so similar performance to that in Internet Explorer is likely to be offered.

But what's entirely new is the functionality of the browser. Microsoft wants to make Spartan a more powerful rival for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, so the new app could come with support for themes, extensions, and other add-ons. Internet Explorer already supports plug-ins, but Microsoft's browser is years behind what Chrome and Firefox can offer right now.

It appears that Spartan will be available on both desktops and tablets, so a touch-based version of the browser could also be offered, but this thing is not yet decided. On the other hand, Spartan is supposed to be a lightweight browser available for all Windows users, no matter the platform, so the question is simple. Could Spartan arrive on Windows Phone as well?

First preview version

Naturally, most users are wondering when Microsoft plans to show us Spartan, but as far as the company is concerned, that's not going to happen anytime soon. Instead, it appears that Redmond only wants to unveil Spartan at a later time, possibly in a more advanced technical preview build of Windows 10, so do not expect to see the app integrated in the JTP version prepared for January.

Spartan and Internet Explorer 12 are both expected to be part of Windows 10, which, according to sources, should ship in late summer or early fall 2015. Preview builds, however, could also be included in the consumer preview build likely to be released in spring 2015.

Unity is actually a very customizable desktop environment
  Ubuntu Tweak

Ubuntu can be easily tweaked and it's not all that difficult to make some visual changes to it. People think that Unity is not all that flexible, but that's definitely not the case and users need just two apps to make all the changes they want.
Unity is usually regarded as a rather closed desktop environment and people don't know that it can be customized in a number of ways, well beyond what you might think. In fact, with very few exceptions, Unity can be modified to a great extent.

The first thing that people will ask is if you can move the launcher to another part of the screen and that needs to be dealt with right from the start. The simple answer is no. You can't move the launcher to the bottom or to the right. You can set it to hide and you can install a dock, if you really want to, but that's pretty much it.

Unity Tweak

This is one of the best apps you can use to tweak Unity and Ubuntu. You can find it in the official repositories and it can be installed via the terminal or through the Ubuntu Software Center. Once you open it, you will find an entry called Unity right at the top.

From there you can modify the behavior of the launcher, you can set the transparency, and you can even change the animations of the icons. And that's just the first tab. From the next tabs, users will be able to change the background of the Dash search, what type of entries are displayed, change various settings for the panel at the top of the screen (including the indicators), modify the settings for the desktop switcher, disable the default webapps, and tweak the shortcuts.

Below the Unity settings, users will also find a few more changes for the Window Manager, like hot corners, windows spread, hardware acceleration options for the textures, and even a few window animations to choose from.

CompizConfig Settings Manager

This is a tool for people who usually know what they are doing. You can download it with the Ubuntu Software Center. It's not something that can be messed with, so be sure you check two times before making any changes. This application houses a lot of options and not all of them are about customizing the OS, but you can access Desktop from the left and then Unity.

You will get access to a ton of features and everything you change here is translated in real time in Unity. It's also important to mention that under no circumstances are you to uncheck the "Enable Ubuntu Unity plugin" on the left side. Feel free to experiment with all the options, but remember that it's a trick app and you can mess your system.


Don’t hold your breath for the latter is all we're saying
  iPhone concept

Several rumorists have reported on a less-than-likely scenario where Apple fans will witness the introduction of the iPhone 6 "S" upgrade in early 2015, or several months earlier than expected. This so that Apple can ultimately deploy the iPhone 7 a full year earlier, in the fall of 2015.
No need to gasp for air just yet. It’s one of the more feeble Apple rumors of 2014, but it managed to fledge enough to pick up some steam, so we’re stuck with it now.

The Apple tradition

Tim Cook and his troops are as fanatical about their practices as the fans are about their products, but some things can only withstand the test of time for so long. Like many leading Wall Street analysts, we’ve long argued that the incremental S-upgrades churned out by Apple every other year don’t seem to be doing much for the company’s image.

Sure, every new iPhone sells millions upon millions of units with even the smallest upgrades added (like the iPhone 5S with its Touch ID sensor), but Apple knows it’s not all about the money. Or it is, but you have to save face. So, from that perspective, the iPhone 6S launching in early 2015 is plausible.

Muffling competition with an early iPhone 7

As every year goes, Samsung and everyone else rooting for Apple to perish will unleash an onslaught of smartphones in 2015. Although Apple can hold its own with just three different versions of the same phone, next year it’s said to bring out the big guns.

After releasing the 6S in spring, the Cupertino behemoth will go about its business for a few more months and then completely silence competition with the iPhone 7 announcement in fall. We can see the tagline now: “It’s so great that we couldn’t wait another year to show it to you.”

So, that’s:

iPhone 6S ETA: Q1 2015
iPhone 7 ETA: Q3 2015

The new RPG from BioWare is the best of the year
  Inquisition is the best game of 2014

Next up in our Softpedia Game of the Year 2014 awards is my choice for the Game of the Year award – Dragon Age: Inquisition – made by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts for the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One platforms worldwide back in November.
A lot of stellar titles have appeared in the last 12 months, with solid games launching right from the get go, such as Titanfall, and continuing with many other amazing experiences. There have been surprises, like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, disappointments, like Destiny, but also a lot of decent showings from both the triple-A scene as well as the independent one, as more and more outstanding experiences have cropped up across the PC, PS4, or Xbox One.

Dragon Age: Inquisition wins my heart

However, for me at least, there has been just one Game of the Year, and that is Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I spent an ungodly amount of hours with BioWare's games from the past and, while I enjoyed more or less Dragon Age 2, I knew it wasn't up to par with the studio's pedigree and hoped that Inquisition wouldn't follow in its misguided footsteps.

Fortunately, Inquisition was one of the most impressive experiences of the year, delivering an absolutely massive world split into huge sections that looked flat out stunning thanks to the Frostbite 3 engine.

The gameplay was also really good, allowing for all types of players to enjoy its combat, whether you were a warrior with a penchant for a sword & shield or a giant two-handed weapon, not to mention a rogue with an emphasis on dual-wielding daggers or a bow, and, of course, a mage with a penchant for destruction from afar.

The story was really impressive and, thanks to the Dragon Age Keep website, I was able to jump replay it several times using different choices for previous games just to see what characters pop up and what new things can happen. Throw in the array of stellar romance options and I'm certainly going back for more in the campaign.

Multiplayer enriches the experience

However, I'm also going to enjoy the multiplayer mode, as after spending plenty of hours with the cooperative mode in Mass Effect 3, I've found a great new love with Inquisition, going on all sorts of adventures with the different classes and specializations included in its own online experience.

Overall, even if I've complained of bugs and glitches, I'm still having a blast in Dragon Age: Inquisition and it's certainly my Game of the Year. Here's to more great add-ons and updates for the title from BioWare.

In case you missed it, check out our Dragon Age: Inquisition review on PC.


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