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Communications Software

Using My PC For Plain Old Telephone Service? 248

Posted by Soulskill
from the pots-and-plans dept.
TheJerbear79 writes "I recently accepted a work-from-home job that will involve using my landline to talk to customers. When I log into the phone queue, my landline will ring, I'll put in a three digit code, and then calls are routed to the phone line I'm on. It essentially turns my landline into a softphone. Rather than using a regular handset or obtaining a nice business phone with a headset and speakerphone, I would like to use my PC's modem in conjunction with a normal PC headset and soundcard. I know the hardware is capable, but the modem didn't come with appropriate software. Has anyone found anything cheap/free that would suit this kind of usage? Just for clarity, I don't want to use a VOIP solution; I need to use my plain old landline. My reason is this: if I'm watching a movie or listening to an MP3 while I'm waiting for a call, I don't want it to ever be apparent to the person who is on the phone with me, and I want to route all the audio I use through a single headset. I've scoured Google for anything close to this application, and all I've managed to find is information on VOIP software or programs that turn my PC into an answering machine, neither of which will work."
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Using My PC For Plain Old Telephone Service?

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  • by Guido del Confuso (80037) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:11AM (#24552457)

    This is probably better to do in hardware than in software. Here's what I'd try:

    Get a phone that has a jack for a headset. These are usually a 3/32" connector that carries both microphone and audio. Connect to this an adaptor that splits it into two 1/8" connectors, one for headphones and one for mic. You probably have some headphones with a boom mic attached that has separate lines for audio and microphone. Just run the mic line into the mic port on the splitter, or use a lapel mic. Take the audio from the telephone, and feed it into a hardware mixer--just pick up any cheap mixer from Radio Shack. Then you can mix your computer's audio into the headphones as well. That way, you're not dependent on the computer working properly to be able to do your job, you can control audio source volumes quickly and independently from each other, and you could even add something like a DVD player or stereo to your mixer and be able to listen to that as well.

    If you wanted to get really fancy, you could throw an audio compressor with sidechaining, such as the Alesis 3630 [alesis.com], into the pipeline. Route the telephone's output so it goes through the compressor's sidechain channel, and run the computer's audio through the main input on the compressor. Then, whenever audio comes in through the phone line, the sound of the computer will automatically lower.

    • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Monday August 11, 2008 @03:05AM (#24552697) Homepage

      Yeah, that's what I'd do as well. Keep It Simple, and all that. Of course, another solution would be to mute the speakers before answering the phone...

    • Just one more to back it up, that's the easiest and best solution.
      You probably want to have as much security and redundancy as possible, and hardware phones are simply more reliable. You can get a second phone for cheap if one should fail for redundancy.
      And if you get a wireless set, you don't have to sit in the same spot all the time and can walk around with the phone on your belt. Have another wired phone switched in parallel so you can pick that one up should the batteries be running low.

    • Is this a troll?

      Get a phone that has a jack for a headset.

      and plug the headset in. You can't really think there's an actual need for any other equipment for a work-from-home phone-jockey job?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Blakey Rat (99501)

      He could use the Mute button on his keyboard and a normal phone. Isn't this request pretty much just, "I want to solve a trivially-easy problem in the most complex way possible?"

  • Asterisk? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:15AM (#24552469) Homepage

    Maybe you should run Asterisk at home where you have a lot of flexibility available to do just about everything you ever wanted (and some more too)

    As an added bonus you can even blacklist callers so you can get rid of the telemarketers.

    • Re:Asterisk? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:21AM (#24552517) Homepage

      Addition:

      I suggest that you take a look at http://www.asterisknow.org/ [asterisknow.org] for Asterisk as an appliance.

      Add a TDM410 [digium.com] card to be able to connect your POTS line.

      The use of a softphone like Express Talk [nch.com.au] will allow you to use your headset. Some softphones will automatically mute your movie or music when a call arrives.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The hardware hack in the first post is the way to go, but you'll learn something from using Asterisk (this means it's hard to use... incredibly cool, but with great power comes the occasional configuration headache: it does not know what you mean). If you use it, you don't need an external softphone. You can dial or receive calls from the Asterisk console.

        If you don't want to do this in hardware and you don't want to buy a digium card (or its equivalent) and discover The Future of Telephony, consider cal

    • Re:Asterisk? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dch24 (904899) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:42AM (#24552627) Journal
      Just a quick note, though. The audio that has already been put through your work's phone system will pick up a significant delay going through a Digium card.

      The latency can introduce noticeable echoes (probably only on your speaker, not the other end) and make the call quality unacceptable.

      YMMV
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Baloo Ursidae (29355)
        Most people using computers for telephony don't bother with speakers and a desktop mic and go straight for the headset, thus eliminating the possibility for that problem.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You are new to telephony aren't you. Echo is not always between speaker and mic.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      As an added bonus you can even blacklist callers so you can get rid of the telemarketers.

      That might not be useful in this case. My immediate assumption was that the article was about someone logging into a predictive dialer... I hope I'm wrong, otherwise we're going to have pages of posts helping a telemarketer do his or her job :)

      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        I hope I'm wrong, otherwise we're going to have pages of posts helping a telemarketer do his or her job :)

        That's a risk that we have to take. But don't forget that there are other people reading this too.

        Just take a look at the Asterisk Telemarketer Torture [voip-info.org] if you have problems with Telemarketers.

        And even if this is a single telemarketer, the catch is to make it impossibly ineconomical to run a telemarketing company. Many that are employed may have had to chose between being unemployed or be a telemarketer.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by krazytekn0 (1069802)
        Whether we like it or not, the world needs telemarketers, and they have families to support and cute little puppies too. I tried it just out of high school for about a month, I couldn't do it, but I met a lot of great people that sit on the phone and get yelled at all day for those two or three sales, just because that's what they need to do to support their families.

        Telemarketers don't have anything I'm interested in buying (partly because my budget can't take it) but from experience I know that it's be
        • Telemarketers ... it's better to just hang up and let them get on to the next call than to sit there and yell at them or worse, give them false hope that they are about to get a sale.

          But wasting their time is both fun and productive. If nobody ever does this [boreme.com] to telemarketers, the world will be an emptier place.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DragonWriter (970822)

          Whether we like it or not, the world needs telemarketers,

          Only in the sense that, absent enforced rules prohibiting them, they will spring up because someone can make more profit, at a social cost, through them; i.e., in exactly the same way that the world "needs" muggers and pickpockets.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          What exactly does the world need telemarketers for? If it's just to provide a job to feed their children, you might as well say the world needs people to dig holes and fill them up all day. Frankly, that would be less wasteful and less annoying.

          If there were no telemarketing jobs, yeah some people might end up on welfare. But at least then they're honest about being a drag on society, and not pretending to add value.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jamesh (87723)

          Whether we like it or not, the world needs telemarketers

          I think you have a different definition of the word 'need' than I do.

          Next time a telemarketer calls during a nice dinner with your family, remember, you don't have to answer the phone, so if you do, you're the one interrupting your dinner

          Now you are just being silly. Whether you answer the phone or not, it's still an interruption. And if someone calls around dinner time there is a certain expectation that it's probably an important call (eg 'help! i've

      • by Zerth (26112)

        >My immediate assumption was that the article
        >was about someone logging into a predictive dialer...
        > I hope I'm wrong, otherwise we're going to
        > have pages of posts helping a telemarketer do his or her job :)

        Nah, what the poster is writing about is obviously either a psychic hotline or a phone-sex line:)

        Never done it myself, but I knew a guy who paid for college working for a phone-sex service aimed at women. You never see them on late-night commercials(vastly smaller market) but if you can pas

    • Re:Asterisk? (Score:4, Informative)

      by diego.viola (1104521) on Monday August 11, 2008 @05:45AM (#24553329)
      I recommend FreeSWITCH instead of Asterisk.

      Works better, it doesn't have deadlocks, it's SIP stack is 100% RFC compliant, complete, all follow all the standards.

      FreeSWITCH developers also don't re-invent the wheel every time they add something, they re-use stuff, like PCRE, Apache Portable Runtime (APR), SQLite, Sofia-SIP, etc.

      I highly recommend FreeSWITCH instead of Asterisk.

      http://freeswitch.org/

      How does FreeSWITCH compare to Asterisk?
      http://freeswitch.org/node/117
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by senor_burt (515819)
      If he wanted to use a modem, he could probably get a cloned Wildcard. Otherwise, he'll have a hard time getting his modem to work as a Zap device (sorry, they're called DAHDI now...).

      This is overkill as a solution, and does involve VoIP, but since it runs on Linux, and this is /., well, why not.

      I'd recommend PBXinaFlash [pbxinaflash.com]. It's the best way to get up and running in an hour or less. Very painless install, and a solid solution that does everything and more out-of-the-box.

  • Not a softphone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:16AM (#24552475)

    It doesn't turn your landline into a softphone, it turns your landline into a landline, which works just as any other landline.

    So you want to mute your computer when the POTS phone rings; why can't you ask that question instead of pretending that you have some magically non-VoIP softphone?

    That being said, I think an standard audio compression and mixer is the right choice; prioritize the POTS audio and the computer will automatically be reduced in volume when the POTS line is active.

    • Re:Not a softphone (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0xygen (595606) on Monday August 11, 2008 @03:59AM (#24552883)

      The reason he didn't ask your suggested question is simply because that is not what he wants to know.

      He is asking what software is required to route the internal modem's POTS audio to the speakers and mic.
      Most decent modems used to come with the necessary dialler software, however it is rapdidly disappearing.

      He is NOT asking for external hardware to manage the relative levels of the PC audio and a separate POTS system.

      • Re:Not a softphone (Score:4, Insightful)

        by BLAG-blast (302533) on Monday August 11, 2008 @05:38AM (#24553305)

        He is asking...

        I read his guy's "question" a few times, I've got no idea what he's asking, you could both be right, for all I know. I'm not even sure how what he's asking for will solve the problem ("no body should know I'm slacking off and watching TV when I'm supposed to be working").

        I think this guy's just bragging about having a work from home job, while trying to act all old skool and cool by dissing VOIP.

    • Or get a softphone. My home line is Skype on my Mac. When I take a call on Skype, iTunes is automatically paused. Works great.

  • by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:21AM (#24552515) Homepage

    My reason is this: if I'm watching a movie or listening to an MP3 while I'm waiting for a call, I don't want it to ever be apparent to the person who is on the phone with me,

    It won't be.. because you'll have paused it before answering the phone because you can't hear what they are saying if it is still playing.

    • by Samah (729132)
      I don't see that as unacceptable. Sounds sensible to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Heembo (916647)

      I don't agree - the poster is smart to want the entertainment audio to *forcibly, automatically* lower when his (money making) phone call arrives.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ByTor-2112 (313205)

      Even better, write a script that looks for the good old "RING" text coming down a serial port and automagically mutes the audio. Problem solved.

    • by R2.0 (532027) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:20AM (#24554629)

      It sounds like you are doing customer service work at home, which is exactly what my wife does. So here's a hint regarding watching or listening to other media during your scheduled work hours - don't. First, your call volume is likely to be such that, unless you can comprehend media in 5 second increments, the experience is likely to be unsatisfying. Second, assuming you do run into some slack time, changing over from media to active customer service can be mentally jarring, and you are likely to fumble through your first few seconds of the call while you reorient yourself. My wife sticks to diversions on the computer - [alt-tab] is like a mental switch for her, and she doesn't get into anything too in depth.

      As for hardware, buy the best CONVENTIONAL setup you can afford. A decent wireless handset and good headset isn't really that expensive, and it is equipment you are relying on to make your money - your customers (and employer) aren't going to take "hold on while I fix my software config" as an excuse. You emphasized that VOIP is NOT an option - my guess is that's an employer mandate? the reason for that is that they do not want their users to get to cute with the fancy getups.

      There's a reason it's called PLAIN Old Telephone Service - running it through hardware and software so you can fill time with entertainment sort of defeats the purpose, does it not?

  • Hardware maybe? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scdeimos (632778) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:22AM (#24552523)
    A lot of speakerphone capable modems have a set of line-out/speaker jumpers on the board as well as the 1/8" jacks on the back panel. Can't you just link that to the line-in jumpers on your sound card and then run it all through the Volume Control mixer of your choice?
  • by deft (253558) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:30AM (#24552573) Homepage

    You know, as a voice actor/actress, a little mp3 music in the background might not be a bad thing, maybe set the mood. Perhaps you dont need all the fangled gadgetry.

    best of luck with the new job!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:38AM (#24552607)

    "Dear slashdot, I have a work at home job and want to watch porn during business hours. How do I stop callers from listening in? My budget is exactly $0."

    *sigh*

    You probably can't get the raw audio from your modem. Hardly any modems do full-duplex audio.

    Get a phone with a headset jack and an automatic audio switch.

    If you really want to go ghetto you could have one earphone connected to your PC and the other to the incoming call. That's probably the cheapest way to make sure the callers never hear you listening to porn.

  • you can get a Linksys 3102 voip adapter. You plug in the land line and network cable to the adapter and connect with a softphone like X-Lite from the PC to the adapter to get the calls.

    • by kwark (512736)

      That would be my suggestion: just use voip already, your reason for not using voip is just silly. Good softphones will let you run scripts to mute/pause your mediaplayer.

      Added bonus of a spa 3102 is you can still use a plain old telephone if you want to.

  • Which OS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bloodninja (1291306) on Monday August 11, 2008 @03:17AM (#24552727)

    Is this for your Amiga box, or the C64?

    Really, if you don't tell us what OS you are using, it will be hard to suggest software. Not all /.ers still run slackware.

    • by pla (258480) on Monday August 11, 2008 @05:28AM (#24553261) Journal
      Really, if you don't tell us what OS you are using, it will be hard to suggest software. Not all /.ers still run slackware.

      Well, sure, not on all of them... Gotta admit, that young upstart Debian makes a heck of a desktop machine. But still Slackware on all the "important" machines, naturally.
  • by subreality (157447) on Monday August 11, 2008 @03:52AM (#24552845)

    ... But as someone who dabbles in both sides, I'd suggest you look into hacking some hardware.

    I don't have enough details to give you the specifics, but here's a generic solution in general terms:

    First, look how you can simplify your problem. Does the music really need to be through the same headset? If you can play it through speakers, you can eliminate mixing, which makes things easier. If you need to mix, it depends what kind of headset you have. USB? Line out/mic-in? USB will limit your options.

    I'll assume it's analog, so we need to mix a line-level out from your sound card with a line-level out from the phone. Many cheap phones provide a line-out, or you can just add an amp to the handset connection of your existing phone, or perhaps even get away with just a transformer or even wiring straight in. Experiment and see what works.

    Mixing can be done with a DJ-style mixer. This also gives you convenient knobs to turn up and down your music and callers' voices. So just plug the sound card line out and the phone's line out into the mix board and you're ready to go.

    You'll need some sort of switch to answer your phone. Buy a DPDT toggle switch. Wire one half into the phone's hook switch. Use the other half to control a mute button / kill switch / input select / any other control on your DJ mixer which can be used to cut out the music input. If your mixer doesn't have this, or you mix some other way, you can use the second half of the switch to control a pair of relays, which cut out the signal from the sound card. Now you can answer without picking up the handset, and the music will cut out at the same time.

    Possible variations on this theme: Wire the phone line-out to your computer's line-in, and wire the second half of the DPDT to control a pin on your parallel port, then write a small program to poll the port and mute the line-in or pause the MP3 playback when the bit toggles. This moves some functionality into the computer; I'm sure you can figure out the tradeoffs.

    The advantages of a hardware solution like this are: Your phone no longer depends on the computer to work; you get convenient hardware knobs to adjust the audio; you can answer the phone with a hardware switch instead of trying to find your phone app; and you hopefully have fun hacking together a simple but useful electronics project.

    Good luck with your new job, and whatever phone solution you create!

  • How about turning the music/movie off when a call comes in? Or just on hold.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think the info you're looking for is here: http://www.modemsite.com/56K/voice.asp
    Quoting: "Voice modem chipset makers include in the driver or firmware code to interface to the wave device, but do not develop the software that provides voice functionality. The modem makers generally bundle "compatible" third-party voice modem software. Some voice modem software offerings: Ring Central, BVRP, and Messaging Software."

  • I bet OP is in his 50s and listens to Spice Girls cover songs of Metallica, AC/DC and Eminem songs. Its not just the swear words that are embarrassing, its the music itself.

    Or maybe he's listening to mainstream movies with suggestive titles: Die Hard, Dirty Harry, The Italian Job.

    So listen to some New Age Mediation music and watch Fried Green Tomatoes.

    Problem solved!

  • Maybe I am dating myself here, but I remember doing this all the time in the late 80s/early-90s, using my franken-puter and the software bundled with the stupidly expensive modem. Variations on the WinFax line up of software could accomplish this, despite having "fax" in the name, leading one to believe it was only for faxes.

    As some of the whippersnappers on here may or may not recall, a "fax" was the way we used to "send pages" to other folks, magically transforming hard-copy on one end, into sounds tr
    • "Maybe I am dating myself here"

      Aren't most Slashdotters?

      Personally, for the problem the poster has, I'd just hit the pause button on the media player. Muting audio automatically is all very good but annoying if the video keeps playing and you lose track of where you are, so you definitely want to pause it. PC audio out of desktop speakers which you can hear quite well despite wearing a phone headset for the phone calls.

      • I tend to agree that some overthinking is happening here with the original poster. It seems to me there those who often use a modern bit of technology, such as a VoiP app like Skype, which does more or less what he is asking regarding media control when a call comes in, and then expect all apps to do the same, whether they are of this century or not. Sometimes, ya just gotta pause the thing manually.
      • "Maybe I am dating myself here"

        Aren't most Slashdotters?

        It's not as if anyone else would. (Apologizes to Scott Adams ... )

  • Why? Overkill? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilviper (135110) on Monday August 11, 2008 @06:37AM (#24553597) Journal

    Rather than using a regular handset or obtaining a nice business phone with a headset and speakerphone, I would like to use my PC's modem in conjunction with a normal PC headset and soundcard.

    What?

    You find yourself in need of a $10 headset for your telephone, so, of course, your first reaction is to dedicate your far more expensive, terribly power wasting, and necessarily less-reliable computer to the otherwise unimaginably simple job... It makes perfect sense!

  • by rikkards (98006) on Monday August 11, 2008 @06:47AM (#24553647) Journal

    I recently accepted a work-from-home job that will involve using my landline to talk to customers.

    Please take me off your call-list :)

  • by quetwo (1203948) on Monday August 11, 2008 @07:46AM (#24553955) Homepage
    Ok, I know /.ers love to involve their computer with everything. The suggestions of using modems and pinning out the audio seam pretty innovative, but in all reality when you start to mix non-phone equipment with the phone you will loose quality. Just trust me on this one. What I would suggest is that you get a nice Uniden or Cortelco phone. Uniden's you can find at pretty much any Best Buy or Target. Cortelco's are available at Greybar or similar contractor stores. Most of these phones have speakerphone and a headset plug. In the phone world, headset plugs come in pretty much three styles -- separated MIC/LINE (used mostly with computers), Cell-Phone combined (mini, mono connector that carries both in one plug), and a QuickDisconnect (flat, 4-connector headset used by people in the PBX world). Unidens and Cortelco's will most likely have the cell-phone combined connector. You can walk over the the cell-phone side of whatever store you are at and get a descent headset. All of these phones have mute buttons, that are usually very easy to find. There is no need to add the complexity and unreliability of adding in components that aren't designed to do this task. Remember, it is your job on the line, so you may want to spend the $25 for the solution above and do it right.
  • you work for dell

    ;)
  • VoIP router (Score:2, Informative)

    by clik (1342551)
    Hi, do you know this? _http://www.avm.de/en/Produkte/FRITZBox/FRITZ_Box_Fon_WLAN/index.html this device work as a pbx\asterisk and you can plug in traditional phones and ip phones as you need and route plain old landline to ALL devices connected to. I dont know if work on USA landlines (is a european product) but is a great device I use with satisfaction. Sorry for my little english
  • Telephony Box (Score:2, Informative)

    by rabun_bike (905430)
    This solution is not cheap but it is a true solution to your problem. A few years ago I built an automatic voice system for doctors offices. What I found is that although a lot of voice modems have some voice capability but they generally suck when it comes to building a telephony solution. You can read more about that here.

    http://www.exceletel.com/support/hardware/VoiceModems/index.htm [exceletel.com]

    Telephony cards are not cheap but I finally found a company that makes a external telephony box that did exactly wh
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CharlieHedlin (102121)

      The HiPhone desktop at way2call works for what you want to do. They have a very good SDK as well.

      Having used modems with Asterisk you really want a purpose built product, and even the HiPhone is pushing it. After a few years of use the HiPhone will develop hiss and the sound quality decreases.

      We migrated to VoIP (I could get you a deal on the HiPhone having many many of them), but we keep all the IP on our Lan.

      Good luck.

  • Get an FXO device (Score:3, Informative)

    by kriston (7886) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:42AM (#24555633) Homepage Journal

    I had previously done research on this for a contract and the fact was the only modem that supported voice on POTS was discontinued some years ago. Probably the best solution you will be able to find that is supported, especially on Linux, is the Grandstream HandyTone HT-503 device.

    The non-obvious secret to these devices is that there are two kinds of PSTN connection devices. The first is the simple dial-out-only devices called FXS. You don't want those because they are unable to accept incoming phone calls--they just hook to your telephone desk sets.

    What you want is an FXO device, but be careful. Some devices only accept incoming calls and some only dial out. You want the one that does both, and one that has both FXS and FXO ports on it so you will only need one device for everything you want. The Grandstream HandyTone HT-503 device is that device. (This is the new version of the discontinued HandyTone 488.)

  • I don't think the OP is interested in VOIP or anything like that. It sounds like he would like to loop the audio through his modem up to his headset. This is possible with "speakerphone voice modems" They aren't oem in many PCs, so unless you bought one you may be out of luck. To tell if you have one fairly easy, take a look at the modem and see if it has a headphone jack on it. If so, yeah! For software, try the free trial of ExpressDial from NCH software. http://www.nch.com.au/dial/index.html [nch.com.au]

    Good L

  • Try CallClerk. [callclerk.com] This is a little program whose main function is to receive Caller ID info and do useful things with it, like pop up info from Microsoft Outlook. It implements a speakerphone, which is what you need. It can invoke other programs on call receipt, so you can tie it to a "turn off entertainment" script.

    There are other programs like this, intended for people who make and receive many phone calls and need to log and track them.

  • by Benanov (583592) <brian@kemp.member@fsf@org> on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:58AM (#24555863) Journal

    Up in my closet somewhere I have a PC/POTS switch. It allows you to flip a switch between receiving audio input from the PC and audio input from a POTS system, all on the same headset. It's really simple and I've never used it but I recall that it does work.

    It's remarkably simple and I can't remember the name of it for the life of me.

    If you want it, my email address has been unmasked enough for you to email me. I'll send it to you for cost of shipping.

  • I had this old compaq PC way back when a 33.6kbps dial-up was a fast modem. It came with a software phone which turns the PC and it's modem into a virtual phone. It was an interesting feature, but I soon realized I was much better off using a separate device for audio calls. They aren't expansive anyways.

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