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Tag Archives: Microsoft

Reduce Your Stress in 2 Minutes a Day

Bill Rielly had it all: a degree from West Point, an executive position at Microsoft, strong faith, a great family life and plenty of money. He even got along well with his in-laws! So why did he have so much stress and anxiety that he could barely sleep at night? I have worked with Bill for several years now and we both believe his experience could be useful for other capable, driven individuals.

At one time no level of success seemed enough for Bill. He learned at West Point that the way to solve problems was to persevere through any pain. But this approach didn’t seem to work with reducing his stress. When he finished his second marathon a few minutes slower than his goal, he felt he had failed. So to make things “right” he ran another marathon just five weeks later. His body rejected this idea, and he finished anhour slower than before. Finally, his wife convinced him to figure out what was really driving his stress. He spent the next several years searching for ways to find more joy in the journey. In the process he found five tools. Each was ordinary enough but together they proved life-changing and enabled his later success as an Apple executive.

Breathing. He started small by taking three deep breaths each time he sat down at his desk. He found it helped him relax. After three breaths became a habit, he expanded to a few minutes a day. He found he was more patient, calmer, more in the moment. Now he does 30 minutes a day. It restores his perspective while enabling him to take a fresh look at a question or problem and come up with new solutions. Deep breathing exercises have been part of yoga practices for thousands of years, but recentresearch done at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital document the positive impact deep breathing has on your body’s ability to deal with stress.

Meditating. When Bill first heard about meditation, he figured it was for hippies. But he was surprised to find meditators he recognized: Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Marc Benioff and Russell Simmons among them. Encouraged, he started with a minute a day. His meditation consisted of “body scanning” which involved focusing his mind and energy on each section of the body from head to toe. Recent research at Harvard has shown meditating for as little as 8 weeks can actually increase the grey matter in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and learning. In other words, the meditators had increased their emotional control and brain power!

Listening. Bill found if he concentrated on listening to other people the way he focused when he meditated his interaction immediately became richer. The other person could feel he was listening, almost physically. And when they knew he was listening they formed a bond with him faster. Life almost immediately felt richer and more meaningful. As professor Graham Bodie has empirically noted, listening is the quintessential positive interpersonal communication behavior.

Questioning. This tool isn’t about asking other people questions, it’s about questioning the thoughts your mind creates. Just because your mind creates a thought doesn’t make it true. Bill got in the habit of asking himself “Is that thought true?” And if he wasn’t absolutely certain it was, he just let it go. He said: “Thank your mind for coming up with the thought and move on. I found this liberating because it gave me an outlet for negative thoughts, a relief valve I didn’t have before.” The technique of questioning your thoughts has been popularized by Byron Katie who advocates what she calls “the great undoing.” Her experience and research show there is power in acknowledging rather than repressing negative thoughts. Instead of trying to ignore something we believe to be true, questioning allows us to see our thoughts “face to face” so to speak and to discredit them because they are untrue.

Purpose. Bill committed to living with purpose. Not so much his life’s purpose. It was easier than that. He committed to purposefully doing whatever he was doing. To be doing it and only it. If he decided to watch TV he really watched it. If he was having a meal he took the time to enjoy the meal. There is research to support Bill’s experience. In “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email” Gloria Mark and Armand Cardello cite evidence to suggest knowledge workers check email as much as 36 times an hour. The result is increased stress. Giving each activity your undivided attention ensures you’re in the moment and fully living that experience.

An important key for Bill in all of this was starting small—very small. It’s important because you can’t take on stress in a stressful way. Often we try to bring about change through sheer effort and we put all of our energy into a new initiative. But you can’t beat stress using the same techniques that created the stress in the first place.

Instead, the key is to do less than you feel you want to. If you feel like breathing for two minutes, do it for just one minute. If you are up for a day of really listening to people deeply, do it for the next meeting only. Leave yourself eager to try it again. What you want is to develop a sustainable habit: a stress-free approach to reducing your stress.

More like this? Get a free excerpt from Greg’s upcoming book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by subscribing here.

 

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Why Are Stocks Hitting All-Time Highs?

By Travis Hoium -

The year 2013 has been another great one for the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  is up 22.8% for the year, and it appears that nothing can upend the market’s momentum. Sequestration hasn’t made a dent, the government shutdown was brushed off, and even continued weakness in Europe hasn’t affected U.S. stocks.

You can see below that, not only has the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained a significant amount this year, but some of the most diverse and economically dependent companies have led the market. 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) has exposure around the world, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT  ) is a leader in all parts of tech, and Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) is dependent on businesses and consumers flying to increase profits. Yet, all three companies are up despite a pretty weak economic recovery.

^DJITR Chart

^DJITR data by YCharts

So, why is the stock market doing so well if unemployment is still 7.3%, and it doesn’t look like the recovery has reached all parts of the economy? Let’s take a look at what investors see.

The economy is improving
Believe it or not, the economy is getting better. Since the beginning of the year, the number of layoffs are down, the unemployment rate is down, and GDP is up.

US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance Chart

US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance data by YCharts

These statistics may not be as good as we want, but they’re improving, and that will help drive profits.

Earnings are up
Long-term, what drives stock prices is earnings. On that front, we’re doing quite well. Let’s take a look at those same three companies, and see how earnings have trended over the past three years.

You can see below that there are some dips and dives, especially for Microsoft, which wrote down $6.2 billion in 2012 because of a botched acquisition; but, generally, the trends are higher.

BA Net Income (TTM) Chart

BA Net Income (TTM) data by YCharts

The good news here is that there’s still fuel left to drive profits higher. A total of 7.3% of Americans are still unemployed and, as they get jobs, there’s more money flowing through the economy.

There’s also $1.48 trillion of cash just sitting in the bank accounts of U.S. companies. When they see significant economic growth, they’ll put that money to work, giving another boost to the economy.

The economic recovery may not be as fast as some had expected, but it’s happening slowly, and when it picks up steam, there will be room for profits to grow even more.

Flow of easy money
The final reason stocks are up significantly this year is the flow of easy money from the Federal Reserve. Not only are short-term interest rates near 0%, but the Fed is buying long-term bonds with an $85 billion per-month plan intended to keep interest rates low.

This pushes borrowing rates for companies down, and also pushes investors into stocks and away from low-yield bonds. The money flow alone is enough to push markets higher.

Foolish bottom line
It may not seem like a year when the market should be up as much as it is, but there are a variety of factors pushing stocks higher. The crazy thing about the stock market is that, short term, it may not make a lot of sense at all. Next year, we could see the economy boom, and stocks fall flat.

That’s why we tell investors to stick around for the long haul. There will be bumps along the road, but you won’t miss out on a booming market like we have had this year.

 

 

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The Varied And Virulent Breeds Of Hacker

hackersWhat is the one currency that is never devalued, destabilized, or inflated? Not gold, silver, or diamonds. Here’s a hint, although it may manifest itself on a computer screen or in a hard drive it is not even physical. In the modern world where everyone from the NSA to Edward Snowden to the crown prince of Nigeria wants to steal your data, it’s become obvious that information is the currency of the future. Sure, you can’t buy a big gulp by teaching the cashier at 7-Eleven how to solve a math problem, but anyone with a business can tell you that knowledge and data are the economic drivers of today and tomorrow.

Firewall? Please.

With knowledge commanding such a premium these days, it’s no wonder people are after it. The interconnectedness of our world just makes it tougher to hide the things that need hidden. The term hacker is certainly a loaded word, but the truth is all hackers aren’t third-world scam artists or guys living in their mom’s basement. Generally, a hacker is someone who tries to exploit weaknesses in a computer system. Accordingly, hackers are classified based on their motivations for exploiting those weaknesses. Let’s take a look at the types of hackers so you know what you’re up against.

Black Hat

If you’ve ever downloaded an attachment you shouldn’t have or replied to that lonely young woman in Russia, you are probably familiar with the concept of black hat hackers. In short, black hat hackers exploit weaknesses for personal gain regardless of laws or morals. Their techniques range from the usual stealing of credit card information to holding entire websites hostage until a hefty ransom is paid.

White Hat

White hat hackers are a lot like the white witch from The Wizard of oz. Except no one gets crushed by a house. White hat hackers usually contract with companies to expose and fix security threats before the black hats get to them. Many white hat hackers are even certified through the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants to prove they won’t steal your data.

Grey Hat

As you have no doubt guessed, grey hat hackers lie somewhere in the middle of the black and white hats. Grey hats usually hack into computer networks, then notify the administrator of the breach and offer to repair it for a small fee. Call it aggressive advertising or ransom, but it works.

Blue Hat

A blue hat hacker is broad term covering anyone outside a consulting firm who bug tests a system before it is launched. Blue hats are usually contracted by a company in addition to a standard security firm as an extra measure of safety. Microsoft actually hosts an annual Blue Hat Conference in which hackers and Microsoft’s developers exchange information and occasionally scream at one another.

Script Kiddie

Script kiddie (also known as “skiddie”) is actually something of an insult in the hacking world. Script kiddies are non-experts who use pre-packaged viruses that they downloaded (probably giving them a virus or six) from some sketchy website. While most legitimate hackers have a profound understanding of computers and programing, a skiddie is usually someone’s pale little brother with little to no knowledge of the concepts behind hacking. That’s not to say that they can’t completely wreck your computer system.

Hacktivist

While all of the aforementioned types of hackers hack for personal gain, hacktivists are slightly nobler in their intentions. If black hat hackers are sneaky thieves, hacktivists are a loud and rowdy group of protesters. They use technology to get noticed and spread some sort of political, religious, or ideological message. You are probably familiar with the group “Anonymous” that has launched massive DDOS attacks against everyone from PayPal to North Korea. Anonymous is a great example of a group of hacktivists. They have used hacks to spread an ideological message.

Nation States

That’s right. Hackers aren’t all just unaffiliated loners drinking mountain dew and stealing your identity. Many states, including the good ‘ol US of A run hacking programs. In fact, the US recently claimed responsibility for a virus that attacked centrifuges in Iran, setting their nuclear program back by years.

Friend or Foe

Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, famously said “Know your enemy.” Not all hackers are your enemies, but it does help to know them. Unless you are a multinational corporation, odds are low that you will come in contact with the many varieties of hackers. All the same, be aware and use caution. Consider how valuable your data is and think about implementing some extra security measures. Sure, having a firewall might sound cool, but it can be broken by an experienced hacker in a matter of seconds.

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  •  License: Image author owned

The author of this article is Dylan Jones. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on Twitter @JakabokBotch. When I’m not writing about hackers and their colorful hats, I’m usually analyzing the best risk mitigation assessment companies I can find.

 

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Facebook’s Advertising Is Starting To Spiral Out Of Control

Two weeks ago, Facebook FB -0.99%announced that it hit one million advertisers using the site for the first time ever.

And boy does it show.

Something has changed with Facebook in recent months, and it’s not just another redesign that has people up in arms writing chain letters and staging online sit-ins in the hopes of a reversion. Rather, the switch has been a dramatic increase in the volume of ads on Facebook, so much so that the site sometimes looks like a domain squatter landing page.

A common question asked of Facebook is whether it will be around five years from now, ten years from now, and so on. Though it’s seemingly a staple of life these days, the internet is fickle, and what once was popular can fall out of favor just as quickly. And Facebook appears to be trying its hardest to make that happen.

We can debate the functionality of the site another day. Facebook has tried to wear many masks in order to stay relevant over the past few years. It believes its chat and message systems can compete with Gmail. It was letting people upload videos and pictures before Vine and Instagram were cool, yet both are now more trendy than the site itself. You can follow celebrity or public figure posts now the way you would on Google GOOG -0.27% Plus. The site has even added Twitter’s hash tags now, so you can see what hundreds of other people who don’t understand their privacy settings are doing on #friday.

But this isn’t the topic of the day. Rather, it needs to be shown just how bad the advertising angle of Facebook is getting, particularly compared to its competition. All sites on the internet are in direct competition with each other, after all, and if one suddenly becomes overloaded with ads to the point of absurdity, the others will see their fortunes rise.

We’ll start out slow here with a few sites that are going after Facebook specifically. Here’s what the 100% ad free home page of Google Plus looks like.

Google can of course afford to do this because they make so much from advertising elsewhere, and truthfully, not that many people use G+ to make it worth their while to advertise. I’ve never been Google Plus’s biggest fan, but the lack of ads makes for a very clean, friendly homepage.

Then we have Pinterest (my fiancée’s homepage), also ad free:

Pinterest is still relatively new, and if it maintains its popularity, I imagine that one or two of these images may turn into ads someday. But still, it’s not much, and for now, there’s nothing intrusive at all.

Moving down the list, we have Twitter. Just like Facebook, there are sponsored Tweets in your view immediately when you pull up your homepage, but usually only one, and it takes up a tiny amount of real estate.

Then we have a site like Reddit, time-wasting capital of the internet. It too has a “sponsored” link across the top, and also a box ad on the side, though this time it’s advertising itself.

Here is Cracked, which I pulled to represent the millions of ad-supported internet blogs which do have banner ads, but again, they’re not taking over most of the screen.

And now we have Facebook:

The ad on my homepage is a “suggested post” from “JackThreads,” an outlet I’ve never heard of, nor one that Facebook claims is even liked by any of my friends to at least make it tangentially relevant to me. Perhaps I’m being shown it simply because I’m an 18-30 year old male in their target demographic, but that’s the only loose connection to me I can think of. Yet there it is, my number one news feed story, joining the fixed column of other ads on the right hand side of the page. As you can see, when I pull up my news feed, the amount of actual content I can see because of the ad is shockingly low.

I will admit it’s not always the case that an ad is my lead story when I pull up Facebook, but I’d say I see one a solid 40-50% of the time. And if it isn’t there immediately, it’s only a scroll or two down the list.

But it doesn’t stop there. Facebook has a secondary tier of ads based on pages you’ve dared to “like” over the years. Way back when, I listed some of my favorite TV shows on my profile so others could see what I was watching. Eventually, Facebook forced these “likes” to be linked to the actual brand pages of the show or product you were talking about, and as a result, any of their postings would not appear in your news feed. It’s what’s led to situations like this:

Yes, that’s right. My entire visible Facebook news feed is now 100% ads the moment I arrive on the site. I assure you this isn’t photoshopped. You could argue that it’s my fault for liking Parks and Recreation and Dexter publicly on my profile, and I could take them off if I wanted to, but I’ve hidden so many of these days “opt-out” ads at this point, I’ve just given up. I’m tempted to simply erase my interests from my profile altogether. And before you bring it up, I’m morally opposed to AdBlock as I make my living through (hopefully non-intrusive) internet ads. But I understand the appeal because of situations like this.

You see the point here. Facebook is going to start losing market share to sites that don’t treat their userbase like they’re products to be bought and sold. Advertising is absolutely a part of the internet, we all understand and accept that, but Facebook is starting to feel like it’s adopted ads as its primary purpose, losing functionality as a welcoming social network in the process.

It’s simply a turn off to arrive on the landing page of a supposedly “social” site and see a screen that’s anywhere from 60% to 100% ads. Facebook needs to do some soul searching and figure out whether it needs to be serving the needs of its million advertisers or its billion users first.

I’ve reached out for comment to see if they agree.

Update: At my editor’s request, we’re getting meta with it.

Not so bad, huh?

But our homepage needs some work, if I can be self-critical.

And that autoplaying video ad needs to go. Welp, hopefully I still have a job here…

 

 

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The Five Most Famous Rivals in Advertising History

Print and television advertising sometimes has little to do with a company’s product. Popular ad campaigns need to do little more than paint one brand as sexier and younger than another to gain traction among consumers. Every industry has its share of advertising rivals. From small town car dealerships or local sandwich shops to global powerhouse brands, there is no battle too large or too small for a healthy ad war. Read our list below for some of the most epic campaigns in the fight for consumer loyalty.

Pepsi vs Coke

Generally labeled the “cola wars,” this famous rivalry has tried to influence the taste buds of caffeine lovers around the globe. Who knew that a fizzy, syrupy-sweet concoction could spawn such a bitter war? This rivalry was born over one hundred years ago, and it still rages today. One defining moment in this ad war was the 1975 Pepsi ad campaign, “The Pepsi Challenge,” which prompted Coca-Cola to embark on their failed New Coke venture. Pepsi has kept their image young and exciting with a host of celebrity endorsements, and their “Pepsi Generation” slogan. Coke has tended toward more family-friendly and global themes. In 2011, Pepsi famously co-opted Coke’s beloved polar bears for a fun ad of their own.

Audi vs BMW

The battle between these German motor corporations has sparked ad wars that brought Subaru and Bentley into the mix. The highlight of this rivalry is the 2006 “Car of the Year” ads. This battle was tipped off by BMW’s campaign that congratulated Audi for winning the South African Car of the Year 2006. The ad was signed “From the Winner of the Car of the Year 2006.” A veritable tennis match of rival ads followed this playfully antagonistic campaign.

Apple vs Microsoft

Apple entered the world of television advertising with a bang in the form of their famous “1984” commercial. In an attempt to gain ground in the personal computer market, the company launched their successful “I’m a PC” ad campaign in 2008. The spots featured a boring, middle-aged square (as the Microsoft PC) juxtaposed against the hip, fresh face of the Apple brand. Microsoft fought back with a similar commercial featuring one of their own employees, along with a series of “Laptop Hunter” commercials in which consumers were given cash to choose the better computer. Needless to say, they chose Microsoft.

McDonald’s vs Burger King

The battle for America’s burger of choice goes back decades, as these two monoliths have been fighting it out as far back as most consumers can remember. McDonald’s family-themed advertising has most recently been countered by Burger King commercials that feature edgy humor and more adult interests, including pop stars and celebrities like David Beckham and Mary J. Blige. It seems their advertising dollars are not yet giving them the edge, though, since McDonald’s continues to dominate the market.

Ford vs Chevrolet

These American auto-makers wage constant war for the title of consumer favorite in their popular truck lines. A defining incident occurred in a Chevy 2012 Super Bowl ad that featured a Silverado driving through the ruins of the predicted Mayan apocalypse. Ford’s attorneys immediately followed with an angry letter to GM management. However, they were told that there would be no Chevy apology until “the end of the world”.

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Kate Simmons is a fresh graduate and occasional blogger currently working for a company specializing in outdoor banners. She is mostly interested in topics related to advertising, business and education.

 

 

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Why You Should Consider MS Office 2010 Online Tutorials

When it comes to computer programs like Microsoft Office 2010, most people limit their use to MS Word to help them write down important data, and perhaps MS Excel to fill in some columns and cells. However, they most commonly stop at beginner levels and open documents only to do the task they can actually accomplish and, more importantly, in the manner that is known to them. Now, there is nothing wrong with writing anything in MS Word and saving the document, there are so many features that wait to be uncovered, and that can make your usage of this handy and popular program a whole lot easier.

Let’s say you need a 500 word article – without the feature called word count, what would you do? Count the words one by one? You can adjust Microsoft Word so that it can tell you how many words, characters or words with and without spaces your document has. It is much easier this way, right? Now, MS Office 2010 is an improved version when compared to the previous one, and you are able to see how many words you write without turning on the word count feature, but only by looking at the bottom left corner. Naturally, even this has to be turned on by clicking on the Status bar with your right mouse button.

Why Should You Consider MS Office 2010 Online Tutorials?

One of the things that should urge you to consider online tutorials is the fact that you will use all the programs with MS Office much more easily. You will have better performance, and avoid those awkward ‘shortcuts’ in order to perform a fairly simple task. At the same time you will be able to manage your time much better, and have more time for other task in your daily schedule.

Reason Number Two – Professionals Know What They Are Doing

Although the joy that comes from discovering what a particular feature is used for on your own is immeasurable, getting an online tutorial to help you get a hold of MS Office 2010 is a much easier task. It is less time-consuming, as we have already mentioned, while the actual best thing about this tutorial is that training providers in this department have the knowledge to teach you in the way that will suit you. They are trained to help you learn everything there is to know about this program in a way that you can appreciate. As you make progress, the training will become more difficult, but only to the extent that you are able to follow it, and understand what a certain level of knowledge requires of you to know.

The Online Training Provider

Finally, there is the biggest advantage you should not take out of consideration, and this is the fact you are participating in an online course. This means that you don’t have to leave your home, and you will still get the knowledge you require. This will bring you another benefit, and you will have more time to practice, explore, and expand your gained knowledge.

MS Office is used by millions across the world. Having advanced knowledge of MS Office can be considered an asset. This article has been wrriten by Richa for a company engaged in offering online Microsoft Office 2010 training

 

 

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The Benefits Of Using Skype In Business

 

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Video communication is not just something you see in sci-fi films anymore; it is now all around us. Over 400 million people around the world have opened a Skype account, and around 30 million people use it concurrently. In 2005, Skype was sold to EBay for $2.6 billion – and then in 2011 Skype was sold to Microsoft for $8.5 billion. This gives a huge indication of the rate at which Skype is expanding; invading workplaces everywhere around the globe.

Even though Skype plays a big part in people’s personal lives (being able to contact family/loved ones who are far away) – it also plays a big part in the world of Business. Companies around the world are beginning to wake up and smell the Skype; beginning to understand the true power of the online communications giant. Here are the top benefits of using Skype for business.

Reducing Costs

On Skype, if you call another Skype user it is completely free – and the same applies for the video call functionality. If you are looking at Skype’s ‘no fee’ service; instant messaging & screen sharing are also free to use. However if you want to call a landline or mobile does indeed offer lower rates than other phone services; in 2007 Skype conducted a survey which revealed 95% of companies using Skype had reduced costs on telecommunications. Skype also offer a premium service which can be seen to benefit companies through extra features.

Premium Service

Choosing the premium service can be to the advantage of a company. With the premium service the user is entitled to zero advertising, live chat customer support, 30% off a HD webcam…and most importantly group screen sharing & group video calling.

Group screen sharing & group video calling are perhaps necessities for a business in the contemporary workplace, for sharing work with colleagues couldn’t now be easier; creating a more efficient workplace. In a survey of 250 companies which use Skype, a whopping 80% remarked that it improved employee productivity. Client proposals can be created online, designs and files can be pinged around from one employee to another – faster than ever before. On top of this, with Skype’s group calling it eliminates the need for another service’s conference calls – again, reducing costs.

Building Relationships

Creating relationships within your business is important; whether it be with colleagues, bosses, clients or even consumers. Face-to-face interaction is the best way to forge & nurture relationships, which is why Skype is seen as a completely valuable tool within a modern day business. Building lasting relationships through your business will always be financially rewarding in one way or another. By utilising Skype, you’ll be taking positive steps towards ensuring bridges are being built internally & externally through your business.

New-Age Interviews

It is becoming common practice through many industries to use Skype as a method of interviewing. Interviews can sometimes be a costly practice for companies, having to pay for travel & accommodation for many potential employees. However using Skype, interviews can be conducted to gain a very good idea of an employee without them having to travel; wasting time & money. Skype interviews also allow the employee to feel more comfortable, since they will perhaps be operating from their home environment and will not have to worry about getting nervous in a waiting room with potential sweaty palms.

The only downside to Skype is that sometimes you may experience some lag on calls (delay), or even calls which are rejected/broken up midway through. Also, there is plenty of information on the internet regarding security of your company; that privacy is potentially an issue with Skype. However, if you read up on being secure whilst using Skype; you should have nothing to fear. In the coming years, Microsoft, who now own Skype, will be seen to be doing their very best to keep Skype security-safe.

All in all, with so many different features Skype has to offer – it will able to help your business in one way or another. Reducing costs, increased efficiency and relationship building are just some of the ways Skype’s services could have a positive impact on your business. Skype is the future, and the future is now.

image source

Many thanks to Ladbrokes Online for their assistance in compiling together this article and helping us understand how communicating and interacting online helps further businesses.

 

 

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Software License Management And The Benefits To Your Business

The Impact of IT on Modern Business

Creating and maintaining competitive advantage in today’s business world is not just important; it’s an absolute necessity if a business intends to survive. Competition has never been so fierce in a world suffering from global recession, fluctuating fuel costs and spiralling inflation. Companies need to streamline their activities and become super-efficient if they want to stay ahead of the game.

No matter what business you’re involved in, whether it is manufacturing, service, retail etc. maintaining a solid IT infrastructure is paramount to achieving success. Researching and sourcing the right hardware, software and information system providers for your business is a complicated and time consuming process – but one which should pay dividends over time.

Making Sure You’re Covered

However, there is often an oversight within this scoping and purchasing process – software licence management.

You might think that keeping tabs on all the software that your company runs would be a doddle, but even a very simple example can show how a business can easily lose track of what’s what and more importantly – what isn’t.

Take a small business with 10 employees as an example. You have 10 desktop computers and 10 user licenses for MS Office. You also have 4 laptops that your sales team use when they’re not onsite. Do you need to extend your license for the sales team when they’re on the road? Will someone in the office use a sales team PC and therefore will your license cover it? Well, the simple answer is; no it won’t. But who really has time to keep track of this kind of thing when they’re trying to keep the business above water?

You may think this example is ridiculous in its simplicity – however it illustrates just how easy it is to infringe on your license agreement with just 14 machines and 10 license agreements. Imagine a business with 100 or even 1000 employees and then imagine how you would keep track of your software then. The implications of not managing your license are huge particularly in the current economic climate where software companies are increasingly imposing financial penalties on companies that have failed a software audit.

Keeping Control of Your software Licenses            

As illustrated above, even the smallest business can come unstuck with their license usage, but a simple spread sheet should suffice to keep these guys on the side of legality. However, larger businesses often hire software license management companies to take the pressure off this potential headache from the organisation. With the right systems to monitor your licensing and also appropriate experience, they can ensure that you stay within your agreements whilst saving you the cost of man hours you would otherwise spend doing an insufficient job.

As a manager of a medium sized business, Josh Hartley relies on Trustmarque Solutions’ software licence management service to ensure that his team don’t break their relevant licence agreements.

 

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Google: Bing Is Cheating, Copying Our Search Results

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Google has run a sting operation that it says proves Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then uses that information to improve Bing’s own search listings. Bing doesn’t deny this.

As a result of the apparent monitoring, Bing’s relevancy is potentially improving (or getting worse) on the back of Google’s own work. Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google’s test.

“I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” says Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”

Bing doesn’t deny Google’s claim. Indeed, the statement that Stefan Weitz, director of Microsoft’s Bing search engine, emailed me yesterday as I worked on this article seems to confirm the allegation:

As you might imagine, we use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we’re not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it. Clearly, the overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search, so we can guess at the best and most relevant answer to a given query.

Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites. This “Google experiment” seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate some of these signals.

Later today, I’ll likely have a more detailed response from Bing. Microsoft wanted to talk further after a search event it is hosting today. More about that event, and how I came to be reporting on Google’s findings just before it began, comes at the end of this story. But first, here’s how Google’s investigation unfolded.

Postscript: Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations is the follow-up story from talking with Bing. Please be sure to read it after this. You’ll also find another link to it at the end of this article.

Hey, Does This Seem Odd To You?

Around late May of last year, Google told me it began noticing that Bing seemed to be doing exceptionally well at returning the same sites that Google would list, when someone would enter unusual misspellings.

For example, consider a search for torsoraphy, which causes Google to return this:

In the example above, Google’s searched for the correct spelling — tarsorrhaphy — even though torsoraphy was entered. Notice the top listing for the corrected spelling is a page about the medical procedure at Wikipedia.

Over at Bing, the misspelling is NOT corrected — but somehow, Bing manages to list the same Wikipedia page at the top of its results as Google does for its corrected spelling results:

Got it? Despite the word being misspelled — and the misspelling not being corrected — Bing still manages to get the right page from Wikipedia at the top of its results, one of four total pages it finds from across the web. How did it do that?

It’s a point of pride to Google that it believes it has the best spelling correction system of any search engine. Google even claims that it can even correct misspellings that have never been searched on before. Engineers on the spelling correction team closely watch to see if they’re besting competitors on unusual terms.

So when misspellings on Bing for unusual words — such as above — started generating the same results as with Google, red flags went up among the engineers.

Google: Is Bing Copying Us?

More red flags went up in October 2010, when Google told me it noticed a marked rise in two key competitive metrics. Across a wide range of searches, Bing was showing a much greater overlap with Google’s top 10 results than in preceding months. In addition, there was an increase in the percentage of times both Google and Bing listed exactly the same page in the number one spot.

By no means did Bing have exactly the same search results as Google. There were plenty of queries where the listings had major differences. However, the increases were indicative that Bing had made some change to its search algorithm which was causing its results to be more Google-like.

Now Google began to strongly suspect that Bing might be somehow copying its results, in particular by watching what people were searching for at Google. There didn’t seem to be any other way it could be coming up with such similar matches to Google, especially in cases where spelling corrections were happening.

Google thought Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was part of the equation. Somehow, IE users might have been sending back data of what they were doing on Google to Bing. In particular, Google told me it suspected either the Suggested Sites feature in IE or the Bing toolbar might be doing this.

To Sting A Bing

To verify its suspicions, Google set up a sting operation. For the first time in its history, Google crafted one-time code that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain term (code that will soon be removed, as described further below). It then created about 100 of what it calls “synthetic” searches, queries that few people, if anyone, would ever enter into Google.

These searches returned no matches on Google or Bing — or a tiny number of poor quality matches, in a few cases — before the experiment went live. With the code enabled, Google placed a honeypot page to show up at the top of each synthetic search.

The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there. There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.

This all happened in December. When the experiment was ready, about 20 Google engineers were told to run the test queries from laptops at home, using Internet Explorer, with Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar both enabled. They were also told to click on the top results. They started on December 17. By December 31, some of the results started appearing on Bing.

Here’s an example, which is still working as I write this, hiybbprqag at Google:

and the same exact match at Bing:

Here’s another, for mbzrxpgjys at Google:

and the same match at Bing:

Here’s one more, this time for indoswiftjobinproduction, at Google:

And at Bing:

To be clear, before the test began, these queries found either nothing or a few poor quality results on Google or Bing. Then Google made a manual change, so that a specific page would appear at the top of these searches, even though the site had nothing to do with the search. Two weeks after that, some of these pages began to appear on Bing for these searches.

It strongly suggests that Bing was copying Google’s results, by watching what some people do at Google via Internet Explorer.

The Google Ranking Signal

Only a small number of the test searches produced this result, about 7 to 9 (depending on when exactly Google checked) out of the 100. Google says it doesn’t know why they didn’t all work, but even having a few appear was enough to convince the company that Bing was copying its results.

As I wrote earlier, Bing is far from identical to Google for many queries. This suggests that even if Bing is using search activity at Google to improve its results, that’s only one of many signals being considered.

Search engines all have ranking algorithms that use various signals to determine which pages should come first. What words are used on the page? How many links point at that page? How important are those links estimated to be? What words appear in the links pointing at the page? How important is the web site estimated to be? These are just some of the signals that both Bing and Google use.

Google’s test suggests that when Bing has many of the traditional signals, as is likely for popular search topics, it relies mostly on those. But in cases where Bing has fewer trustworthy signals, such as “long tail” searches that bring up fewer matches, then Bing might lean more on how Google ranks pages for those searches.

In cases where there are no signals other than how Google ranks things, such as with the synthetic queries that Google tested, then the Google “signal” may come through much more.

Do Users Know (Or Care)?

Do Internet Explorer users know that they might be helping Bing in the way Google alleges? Technically, yes — as best I can tell. Explicitly, absolutely not.

Internet Explorer makes clear (to those who bother to read its privacy policy) that by default, it’s going to capture some of your browsing data, unless you switch certain features off. It may also gather more data if you enable some features.

Suggested Sites

Suggested Sites is one of likely ways that Bing may have been gathering information about what’s happening on Google. This is a feature (shown to the right) that suggests other sites to visit, based on the site you’re viewing.

Microsoft does disclose that Suggested Sites collects information about sites you visit. From the privacy policy:

When Suggested Sites is turned on, theaddresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with standard computer information.

To help protect your privacy, the information is encrypted when sent to Microsoft. Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms might be included.

For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=0&FORM=QBMH1&mkt=en-US will be sent.

I’ve bolded the key parts. What you’re searching on gets sent to Microsoft. Even though the example provided involves a search on Microsoft.com, the policy doesn’t prevent any search — including those at Google — from being sent back.

It makes sense that the Suggested Sites feature needs to report the URL you’re viewing back to Microsoft. Otherwise, it doesn’t know what page to show you suggestions for. The Google Toolbar does the same thing, tells Google what page you’re viewing, if you have the PageRank feature enabled.

But to monitor what you’re clicking on in search results? There’s no reason I can see for Suggested Sites to do that — if it indeed does. But even if it does log clicks, Microsoft may feel that this is “standard computer information” that the policy allows to be collected.

The Bing Bar

There’s also the Bing Bar — a Bing toolbar — that Microsoft encourages people to install separately from Internet Explorer (IE may come with it pre-installed through some partner deals. When you install the toolbar, by default it is set to collect information to “improve” your experience, as you can see:

The install page highlights some of what will be collected and how it will be used:

“improve your online experience with personalized content by allowing us to collectadditional information about your system configuration, the searches you do, websites you visit, and how you use our software. We will also use this information to help improve our products and services.”

Again, I’ve bolded the key parts. The Learn More page about the data the Bing Bar collects ironically says less than what’s directly on the install page.

It’s hard to argue that gathering information about what people search for at Google isn’t covered. Technically, there’s nothing misleading — even if Bing, for obvious reasons, isn’t making it explicit that to improve its search results, it might look at what Bing Bar users search for at Google and click on there.

What About The Google Toolbar & Chrome?

Google has its own Google Toolbar, as well as its Chrome browser. So I asked Google. Does it do the same type of monitoring that it believes Bing does, to improve Google’s search results?

“Absolutely not. The PageRank feature sends back URLs, but we’ve never used those URLs or data to put any results on Google’s results page. We do not do that, and we will not do that,” said Singhal.

Actually, Google has previously said that the toolbar does play a role in ranking. Google uses toolbar data in part to measure site speed — and site speed was a ranking signal that Google began using last year.

Instead, Singhal seems to be saying that the URLs that the toolbar sees are not used for finding pages to index (something Google’s long denied) or to somehow find new results to add to the search results.

As for Chrome, Google says the same thing — there’s no information flowing back that’s used to improve search rankings. In fact, Google stressed that the only information that flows back at all from Chrome is what people are searching for from within the browser, if they are using Google as their search engine.

Is It Illegal?

Suffice to say, Google’s pretty unhappy with the whole situation, which does raise a number of issues. For one, is what Bing seems to be doing illegal? Singhal was “hesitant” to say that since Google technically hasn’t lost anything. It still has its own results, even if it feels Bing is mimicking them.

Is it Cheating?

If it’s not illegal, is what Bing may be doing unfair, somehow cheating at the search game?

On the one hand, you could say it’s incredibly clever. Why not mine what people are selecting as the top results on Google as a signal? It’s kind of smart. Indeed, I’m pretty sure we’ve had various small services in the past that have offered for people to bookmark their top choices from various search engines.

Google doesn’t see it as clever.

“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work,” said Singhal. “I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”

In particular, Google seems most concerned that the impact of mining user data on its site potentially pays off the most for Bing on long-tail searches, unique searches where Google feels it works especially hard to distinguish itself.

Ending The Experiment

Now that Google’s test is done, it will be removing the one-time code it added to allow for the honeypot pages to be planted. Google has proudly claimed over the years that it had no such ability, as proof of letting its ranking algorithm make decisions. It has no plans to keep this new ability and wants to kill it, so things are back to “normal.”

Google also stressed to me that the code only worked for this limited set of synthetic queries — and that it had an additional failsafe. Should any of the test queries suddenly become even mildly popular for some reason, the honeypot page for that query would no longer show.

This means if you test the queries above, you may no longer see the same results at Google. However, I did see all these results myself before writing this, along with some additional ones that I’ve not done screenshots for. So did several of my other editors yesterday.

Why Open Up Now?

What prompted Google to step forward now and talk with me about its experiment? A grand plan to spoil Bing’s big search event today? A clever way to distract from current discussions about its search quality? Just a coincidence of timing? In the end, whatever you believe about why Google is talking now doesn’t really matter. The bigger issue is whether you believe what Bing is doing is fair play or not. But here’s the strange backstory.

Recall that Google got its experiment confirmed on December 31. The next day — New Year’s Day — TechCrunch ran an article called Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Googlefrom guest author Vivek Wadhwa, praising Blekko for having better date search than Google and painting a generally dismal picture of Google’s relevancy overall.

I doubt Google had any idea that Wadhwa’s article was coming, and I’m virtually certain Wadhwa had no idea about Google’s testing of Bing. But his article kicked off a wave of “Google’s results suck” posts.

Trouble In the House of Google from Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror appeared on January 3;Google’s decreasingly useful, spam-filled web search from Marco Arment of Instapaper came out on January 5. Multiple people mistakenly reported Paul Kedrosky’s December 2009 article about struggling to research a dishwasher as also being part of the current wave. It wasn’t, but on January 11, Kedrosky weighed in with fresh thoughts in Curation is the New Search is the New Curation.

The wave kept going. It’s still going. Along the way, Search Engine Land itself had several pieces, with Conrad Saam’s column on January 12, Google vs. Bing: The Fallacy Of The Superior Search Engine, gaining a lot of attention. In it, he did a short survey of 20 searches and concluded that Google and Bing weren’t that different.

Time To Talk? Come To Our Event?

The day after that column appeared, I got a call from Google. Would I have time to come talk in person about something they wanted to show me, relating to relevancy? Sure. Checking my calendar, I said January 27 — a Thursday — would be a good time for me to fly up from where I work in Southern California to Google’s Mountain View campus.

The day after that, Bing contacted me. They were hosting an event on February 1 to talk about the state of search and wanted to make sure I had the date saved, in case I wanted to come up for it. I said I’d make it. I later learned that the event was being organized by Wadhwa, author of that TechCrunch article.

A change on Google’s end shifted my meeting to January 28, last Friday. As is typical when I visit Google, I had a number of different meetings to talk about various products and issues. My last meeting of the day was with Singhal and Cutts — where they shared everything I’ve described above, explaining this is one reason why Google and Bing might be looking so similar, as our columnist found.

Yes, they wanted the news to be out before the Bing event happened — an event that Google is participating in. They felt it was important for the overall discussion about search quality. But the timing of the news is being so close to the event is down to when I could make the trip to Google. If I’d have been able to go in earlier, then I might have been writing this a week ago.

Meanwhile, you have this odd timing of Wadhwa’s TechCrunch article and the Bing event he’s organizing. I have no idea if Wadhwa was booked to do the Bing event before his article went out or if he was contracted to do this after, perhaps because Bing saw the debate over Google’s quality kick off and decided it was good to ride it. I’ll try to find out.

In the end, for whatever reasons, the findings of Google’s experiment and Bing’s event are colliding, right in the middle of a renewed focus of attention on search quality. Was this all planned to happen? Gamesmanship by both Google and Bing? Just odd coincidences? I go with the coincidences, myself.

[Postscript: Wadhwa tweeted the event timing was a coincidence. And let me add, my assumption really was that this is all coincidence. I'm pointing it out mainly because there are just so many crazy things all happening at the same time, which some people will inevitably try to connect. Make no mistake. Both Google and Bing play the PR game. But I think what's happening right now is that there's a perfect storm of various developments all coming together at the same time. And if that storm gets people focused on demanding better search quality, I'm happy].

The Search Voice

In the end, I’ve got some sympathy for Google’s view that Bing is doing something it shouldn’t.

I’ve long written that every search engine has its own “search voice,” a unique set of search results it provides, based on its collection of documents and its own particular method of ranking those.

I like that search engines have each had their own voices. One of the worst things about Yahoo changing over to Bing’s results last year was that in the US (and in many countries around the world), we were suddenly down to only two search voices: Google’s and Bing’s.

For 15 years, I’ve covered search. In all that time, we’ve never had so few search voices as we do now. At one point, we had more than 10. That’s one thing I love about the launch of Blekko. It gave us a fresh, new search voice.

When Bing launched in 2009, the joke was that Bing stood for either “Because It’s Not Google” or “But It’s Not Google.” Mining Google’s searches makes me wonder if the joke should change to “Bing Is Now Google.”

I think Bing should develop its own search voice without using Google’s as a tuning fork. That just doesn’t ring true to me. But I look forward to talking with Bing more about the issue and hopefully getting more clarity from them about what they may be doing and their views on it.

 

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Why Apple, Google, Microsoft Won’t Streamline Video Chat

By Mark Milian, CNN
Apple CEO Steve Jobs pledged to standardize video calling with FaceTime. But the industry has since made little progress.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs pledged to standardize video calling with FaceTime. But the industry has since made little progress.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The prospect of tech giants uniting under one protocol for video chat seems unlikely
  • A Skype user cannot talk to a FaceTime user who cannot talk to a Google Talk user
  • Despite a promise from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, FaceTime still hasn’t been opened up
  • Microsoft’s purchase of Skype last week is evidence that video calling is a big business.

(CNN) — Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a bold gesture at the company’s annual developers conference last June when he pledged to unite the technology industry under one video-calling standard.

“FaceTime is based on a lot of open standards,” Jobs said, referring to Apple’s video-chat product. “And we’re going to take it all the way. We’re going to the standards bodies starting tomorrow. And we’re going to make FaceTime an open industry standard.”

That statement sparked thunderous applause when it was made 11 months ago. But Apple appears to have made no progress since then, according to experts in the fields of video calling and Web standardization. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

The prospect of tech giants uniting under one protocol for video that would allow, say, a FaceTime user to call someone on Google Talk seems even less likely today than it did when Apple first floated the concept last year.

Microsoft and Skype

Microsoft already had a mature infrastructure for video chat — through acquisitions and internal development for Windows Live Messenger, Lync and Kinect — when it bought Skype last week for $8.5 billion.

Skype has about 170 million active users. Microsoft gets access to that network, which Skype had closely guarded from developers looking to circumvent its fences.

The developers for a mobile video application called Fring found a way past the barriers, but Skype eventually locked them out. “We wanted to provide access across islands,” said Fring CEO Avi Shechter.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement last week that the company would continue to invest in Skype software for non-Windows platforms. But he made no mention of opening the platform to outside developers.

Qik, which first launched its mobile video app a year ago in a deal with Sprint Nextel, plans to add Skype integration, Qik co-founder Bhaskar Roy said recently. However, Qik is owned by Skype.

Skype’s business-exclusivity deals, like the one it has with Verizon Wireless, may be the motivation for its insular behavior, Shechter said.

Skype said last year in response to Jobs’ comments that it was not considering using Apple’s technology for its video-calling programs. Skype didn’t return requests for comment.

“I think that every player has its own motivations,” Shechter said. “Overall, they’re making a mistake by not opening up.”

The challenge of ‘bridging islands’

Google is often a proponent of openness and standardization. Andy Rubin, the head of its Android group, promoted that idea in an interview with reporters last Tuesday but declined to say whether Google would open its video-chat protocol, used in Android and Gmail, to outside users.

“You don’t want to artificially create islands,” Rubin said. “You want to bridge islands.”

In the early days of e-mail, an AOL customer could not send a message to a Compuserve user. Similarly, it took some time for cellular carriers to determine how picture or video messages would be delivered to phones on other networks.

AOL created another island last week with the launch of AIM AV, a video-conferencing tool that doesn’t require a login name. The company also announced plans last week to block Gmail from connecting to its AIM chat service but says it is working on a way to import buddy lists.

Logitech, another player in video conferencing, welcomes the idea of standardizing video communication.

“We know that openness and collaboration are critical to the adoption of video calling,” Joerg Tewes, a vice president for Logitech’s consumer video division, wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “Without interoperability, video calling will never reach its full potential and achieve mass consumer adoption.”

Apple, Google and others collaborate on some standards, such as with HTML5, the Web programming language. But there are downsides to the procedure.

Developing standards typically takes much longer than when one company takes the reins, because participants debate minute details, said Jim Zemlin, executive director for the Linux Foundation, who has been involved in such negotiations. But for consumers, the benefits of interoperability usually outweigh the extra wait time, Zemlin said.

Tech giants are usually the ones to kick off these talks, several experts say. Apple, Google and Microsoft are the few companies who have the clout to rally the industry, they say.

“If you’re a small company, it’s very difficult to push your standard yourself,” said Eric Setton, a co-founder of Tango, which makes a video-chat app for smartphones. “In terms of communication platforms, it’s very important to be ubiquitous.”

Apple’s change of heart?

Apple may have seen standardization as a way to quickly gain a foothold in the video-calling market, but executives may have had a change of heart once they saw the early success of FaceTime, Zemlin said.

“Maybe even Steve Jobs underestimated just how much he was going to kick ass,” Zemlin said. “As their market share increases, they probably have less incentive to open up the standard.”

Standardization is a very transparent process. Some of the largest standards groups — the Internet Engineering Task Force, the International Organization for Standardization, the World Wide Web Consortium and American National Standards Institute — have no public record of Apple filing for an open FaceTime.

Several people from the IETF started an initiative to ask Apple to disclose parts of FaceTime’s inner workings, but nothing appears to have come of that. An IETF spokesman said he was unable to verify Apple’s plans with members, and representatives for the other three organizations didn’t return requests for comment.

Several of the world’s cell carriers, including Verizon, are working together on a voice- and video-calling service to run on 4G networks, called VoLTE. Verizon doesn’t plan to sell a product running the service until next year, a spokesman for the company said.

Experts say VoLTE is too complicated for basic video chat on the Web. And Apple’s FaceTime still is not sanctioned by carriers to be used on 3G networks.

Apple not opening up FaceTime’s infrastructure is consistent with how the company normally operates, despite the surprise and confusion created when Jobs initially pledged to lead standardization efforts, said attorney Andrew Updegrove. He is a partner at the Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove, which has represented more than 100 standards development organizations.

“Apple has always been a proprietary play and not an open play,” Updegrove wrote in an e-mail. “It wants to hold all the cards and get all the benefits, and from an execution point of view, you can’t fault them. They’ve been brilliantly successful.”

With Microsoft now at the helm of Skype, people in the industry express even less optimism that an open video-calling discussion will be fruitful any time soon.

 

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