Another Milestone for Bitcoin

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Bitcoin soared past $4,000 for the first time on growing optimism faster transaction times will hasten the spread of the cryptocurrency.

The largest digital tender jumped to a peak of $4,187 Monday, a gain of nearly 17 percent since Friday, after a plan to quicken trade execution by moving some data off the main network was activated last week. The solution — termed SegWit2x — had been so contentious that a new version of the asset called Bitcoin Cash was spun off earlier this month in opposition.

The split grew out of the tension between growing demand for the virtual currency and some of the design features that had fueled that popularity — the decentralized verification procedures that ensured against hacking and government oversight. While this month’s confrontation ended up as little more than a speed bump in bitcoin’s more than 300 percent rally in 2017, concerns remain around the capacity to increase transaction volumes.

Bloomberg

Risk Appetite Slowly Returning

Safe Haven Fears Abate, Dollar Capped on Fed Hike Doubts

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The Definitive Report About the Best Times to Post on Social Media [Infographic]

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We’ve all been there: You read a study and learn a new best-practice, only to see another study that contradicts the first one.

Bang your head against the keyboard no more. Marketing calendar company CoSchedule has compiled various reports about the best times to post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+ into one helpful infographic.

The infographic also provides tips for each of the social media platforms, as well as tips on how to apply all the findings.

Some highlights:

  • Posting on Facebook at 3 PM will get you the most clicks, but a 1 PM post will get you the most shares.
  • B2B Twitter accounts perform 16% better during business hours, and B2C accounts perform 17% better on weekends.
  • LinkedIn is still considered the professional social media, but the best times to post are before and after work.

To get the whole picture, check out the infographic. Just tap or click to view a larger version:

Laura Forer is the manager of MarketingProfs: Made to Order, Original Content Services, which helps clients generate leads, drive site traffic, and build their brands through useful, well-designed content.

LinkedIn: Laura Forer

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Alternative Medicine Doesn’t Work for Cancer Treatments

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Image: Dennis Yang/Flickr

You have, as of today, a one hundred percent chance of dying. But a lot of people would like a little more time to do things, like eat interestingly-shaped pastas, or play catch with their grandchildren. That makes sense. I’d also like to do those things. But sometimes, our pursuit to eat lots of pasta or die trying leads some of us to make decisions that don’t actually help—like taking alternative, instead of conventional, cancer treatments.

A team of Yale researchers had seen data about folks who opted for alternative medicine in lieu of the peer-reviewed stuff, but noticed there wasn’t much research to actually compare the outcomes. The researchers found data on 280 patients who made the choice, and compared them to 560 relying on the usual treatments. Overall, those taking conventional treatments were more likely to survive the five years after treatment.

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“Improved communication between patients and caregivers and greater scrutiny of the use of [alternative medicine] for the initial treatment of cancer is needed,” the study’s authors wrote in the paper published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers sifted through the United States’ National Cancer Database to find folks who opted for at-home cancer treatments from non-medical professionals and refused the conventional treatment for four cancers: breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal. They also found matching cases to compare, based on diagnosis, race, insurance type, cancer type, and when they were diagnosed. After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that those who opted for alternative medicine treatments alone were more than twice as likely to be dead before the end of the follow-up period.

These results held for colorectal, lung, and especially breast cancer, where over 75 percent of patients receiving standard medical treatment were alive after 5 years, but more like a third of those who opted solely for alternative treatments made it that far. The results were unclear for prostate cancer, which was unsurprising as the disease tends to progress more slowly, write the study authors.

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This study isn’t perfect, of course—the whole thing is based on observational data, not patients recruited and closely watched. The team didn’t know exactly what alternative treatments the folks took, and there were several other sources of bias. The survival rates of those taking alternative treatments could be too high, since those turning away from conventional medicine tended to skew younger and wealthier.

Before you get upset, please realize that this study is only focusing on those who opted solely for alternative treatments, not those who supplemented their cancer treatment with other things. Of course, there are problems with the way cancer is treated today, cancer is terrible, no one wants to die. We all want to try anything that will help. There’s no problem with that.

Foregoing the actual treatment for a disease in favor of a treatment not proven to work, though, will only lead to heartbreak.

[JNCI]

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“Dear President Trump: What The F**k Business Is Venezuela Of Ours?”

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Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk.com,

Dear President Trump, forgive my harsh language, but since you and your staff can use harsh language, why can’t anyone else?

That’s a minor question. Since you are busy, I prefer an answer to this question: What the F Business is Venezuela of Ours?

I ask because you stated: “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”

Dear President Trump, here are some additional questions that I am sure are on the minds of nearly everyone familiar with the story.

Ten Questions for Trump

  1. Are you willing to “own” the problems in Venezuela?
  2. What does “necessary” mean?
  3. Did US nation building in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan work?
  4. Did not Vietnam turn out OK starting the moment we left?
  5. Did the US intervene to stop hyperinflation in Zimbabwe? Argentina?
  6. Are there not more repressive regimes in Africa?
  7. What’s different about Venezuela?
  8. By any chance is this about oil?
  9. Other than oil, what the F business is Venezuela of ours?
  10. Regardless of your threats and concerns, when has US nation building ever worked?

I thank you in advance for your answers.

Bonus Question

Dear Mr. President, I almost forgot: How do you propose we pay for a military solution in Venezuela?

I voted for you and would appreciate some answers.

Unless you can provide answers, I strongly suggest we do not need another quagmire, we cannot afford another quagmire, and we should stay the F* out of it.

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The Logic Of War

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Authored by James Rickards via The Daily Reckoning,

This was the week that the logic of war collided with the illogic of bubbles. So far, the bubble is winning, but that’s about to change.

The “logic of war” is an English translation of a French phrase, la logique de la guerre, which refers to the dynamic of how wars begin despite the fact that the war itself will be horrendous, counterproductive, and possibly end in complete defeat.

As applied to North Korea, the U.S. has made it clear that if it is forced into a preemptive attack to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, it will not stop there. The U.S. will aim to decapitate the regime and replace it with something more reasonable.

This could be the start of a gradual reunification of the Korean peninsula on terms favorable to the U.S. In effect, we would be winners in the original Korean War fought from 1950 to 1953.

North Korea has made it equally clear that any attack by the U.S. will result in massive artillery and missile bombardment of South Korea, and possibly Japan and U.S. bases in the region.

Even if North Korea has not yet produced nuclear armed missiles, it does have enormous conventional firepower and missiles. It could possibly detonate a nuclear “device” even if it does not yet have a miniaturized nuclear warhead.

The bottom line is that the U.S. and its allies will suffer enormous casualties and economic damage, China may find a pro-U.S. regime on its doorstep, and the North Korean regime will face annihilation.

Given these outcomes, “logic” says that war should be prevented. This would not be difficult to do. If North Korea verifiably stopped its weapons testing and engaged in some dialogue, the U.S. would meet the regime more than halfway with sanctions relief and some expanded trade and investment opportunities.

The problem is that the logic of war proceeds differently than the logic of optimization. It relies on imperfect assessments of the intentions and capabilities of an adversary in an existential situation that offers little time to react.

North Korea believes that the U.S. is bluffing based in part on the prior failures of the U.S. to back up “red line” declarations in Syria, and based on the horrendous damage that would be inflicted upon America’s key ally, South Korea.

North Korea also looks at regimes like Libya and Iraq that gave up nuclear weapons programs and were overthrown. It looks at regimes like Iran that did not give up nuclear weapons programs and were not overthrown. It concludes that in dealing with the U.S., the best path is not to give up your nuclear weapons programs. That’s not entirely irrational given the history of U.S. foreign policy over the past thirty years.

But, the U.S. is not bluffing. Trump is not Obama, he does not use rhetoric for show, he means what he says. Trump’s cabinet officials, generals and admirals also mean what they say. No flag officer wants to lose an American city like Los Angeles on his or her watch. They won’t take even a small chance of letting that happen.

The Trump administration will end the North Korean threat now before the stakes are raised to the nuclear level.

Despite the logic of diplomacy and negotiation, the war with North Korea is coming. That’s the logic of war.

Meanwhile, the stock market continues its run of new highs. There was a pullback over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, and volatility spiked. But nothing significant relative to the recent record run.

The stock market, which is deep into bubble territory, shows no sign yet of repricing based on a horrendous war that’s coming soon.

And of course stocks bounced back today after yesterday’s swoon, as they have typically done during this bull run.

But like I said earlier, “buying the dip” has been a winning strategy — until it isn’t.

Stocks are being driven higher by double-digit year-over-year gains in revenues and earnings and by the percentage of companies beating expectations. But, the expectations game is just that — a game.

Companies lower expectations and then routinely “beat” them to give a pop to the stock. Year-over-year comparisons are good, but that’s only because 2016 was a notably weak year for stocks.

What’s really driving stock prices are expectations of higher earnings year after year. This is the stuff of bubbles. These Wall Street extrapolations assume no war, no recession, no unexpected shocks, and no continued central bank tightening. All four of those assumptions may be wrong. It only takes one of these events to disrupt the rosy scenarios Wall Street analysts are peddling.

I hope I’m wrong, and there’s always a chance that peace may prevail. But all the current warnings and indications point to war.

You may not be able to control the logic of war or the illogic of bubbles, but you can control your own portfolios.

This may be the last opportunity to reduce stocks positions, increase cash allocations, buy gold (not more than 10% of your investible assets), and consider other hard assets such as land, museum quality collectibles, silver, and natural resources.

A few strategically placed bets in the form of select put options are another way to enhance returns while avoiding the deluge to come.

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Americans Spend More On Lottery Tickets Than On Movies, Video Games, Music, Sports Tix And Books Combined

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It’s that time of the year again: with both the Mega Millions and the Powerball lotteries accumulating jackpots greater than $350 million, countless Americans – mostly those in lower income groups – are splurging on lottery tickets, hoping to get rich quick.

Unfortunately for virtually everyone, it will never happen: the odds of winning both (or either) are absolutely staggering, a bit worse than 1 in 75.6 quadrillion, or 1 in 75,648,252,765,957,300 to be precise. On a percentage basis, one only has a 0.000000000000000013% chance of holding both winning tickets. Putting these odds in context, they are about 6,000 times worse than the odds experts have calculated of being killed by a meteorite strike — at the same time you’re being attacked by a shark. The odds of winning "only" one jackpot are not much higher: the Powerball winning odds are 1 in 292 million, while those for Mega Million are slightly better: 1 in 259 million. 

Here is an even more stunning statistic: in 2016, Americans spent more than $80 billion on lottery tickets last year, more than they spend on movies, video games, music, sports tickets and books – combined.

Some enjoy mocking American stupidity: "If you buy both tickets, you’ve doubled your odds of winning," said Ben Auerbach, lead data strategist for Allstate, which technically is correct; the odds are still pretty much zero.  Auerbach, who said he never buys lottery tickets himself, calculated the very long odds of a double win not for work but because "it’s fun to do this rather than run numbers about premiums and insurance."

Still, for many Americans in the declining middle class and growing lower class, this remains the only hope of success: "You see more people in line buying both tickets when both games are over $300 million," Jeff Lenard, spokesman for National Association of Convenience Stores, whose members sell about two-thirds of the nation’s lottery tickets told CNNMoney.

Yet while for actuaries the numbers above may be a joke, across the US they are another example of what is has become a social tragedy.

As ConvergEx’ Nicholas Colas previously explained, "Lotteries essentially target and encourage lower-income individuals into a cycle that directly prevents them from improving their financial status and leverages their desire to escape poverty.  Yes, that’s a bit harsh, and yes, people have the right to make their own decisions.  Even bad ones…  Also, many people tend to significantly overestimate the odds of winning because we tend to assess the likelihood of an event occurring based on how frequently we hear about it happening.  The technical name for this is the Availability Heuristic, which means the more we hear about big winners in the press, the less uncommon a big payday begins to seem." Call it that, or call it what one wishes, the end result is that the lottery is nothing but society’s perfectly efficient way of, to use a term from the vernacular, keeping the poor man down while dangling hopes and dreams of escaping into the world of the loathsome and oh so very detested "1% ers". Alas, the probability of the latter happening to "you" is virtually non-existant.

Full explanation from Convergex’ Nick Colas on how and why Americans are lining up in lines around the block to… pay more taxes.

What Seems To Be Is Always Better than Nothing

Summary: American adults spent an average of $251 on lottery tickets.  With a return of 53 cents on the dollar, this means the average person threw away $118 on unsuccessful lotto tickets – not a great investment.  So why are we spending so much?  Well, lotteries are a fun, cheap opportunity to daydream about the possibility of becoming an overnight millionaire (or in this case billionaire), but on the flip side people tend to overestimate the odds of winning.  Lower-income demographics spend a much greater portion of their annual earnings on lottery tickets than do wealthier ones

Since lotteries are state-run, that effectively means that the less affluent pay more in taxes (albeit by choice) than broadly appreciated.  And even winning the lottery doesn’t guarantee financial success.  More than 5% of lottery winners declare bankruptcy within 5 years of taking home the jackpot.  Despite their drawbacks, though, lotteries are no doubt here for the long haul – in states that have lotteries, an average of 11% of their total revenues come from lottery ticket sales, and the number is even as high as 36% in 2 states (West Virginia and Michigan).
 
Consider the following credit-card-advertisement style sequence of statistics:

  • Lottery ticket sales in the US in 2010:  $59 billion
  • Average spending per person:  $191
  • Average spending per adult:  $251
  • Chance at hitting the jackpot:  (Apparently) priceless.

I have never bought a lottery ticket and honestly don’t even know how.  And as far as I’m aware, I don’t know anyone who spends north of 200 bucks a year playing the lotto.  The only lottery my friends play is the NYC marathon lottery, where they’re gambling for maybe a 1 in 13 chance to fork over $255 for the privilege of slugging out 26 miles through the city’s streets.  Not quite hitting the jackpot in most people’s minds.

But someone, somewhere is buying all those tickets.  In Massachusetts, where the lottery is more popular than in any other state, people spend an average of $634 a year on Mega Millions, Powerball and the like.  Delaware comes in at number 2 with $504 spent per person, while Rhode Island ($469), West Virginia ($388) and New York ($357) round out the top 5.  North Dakota brings up the rear with per capita lottery spending of $34.  You can see the full list in the table following the text.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who is investing so much money in a product that provides poor returns, but numerous studies show that lower-income people spend a much greater proportion of their earnings on lotteries than do wealthier people.  One figure suggests that households making less than $13,000 a year spend a full 9 percent of their income on lotteries.  This of course makes no sense – poor people should be the least willing to waste their hard-earned cash on games with such terrible odds of winning. (http://aol.it/2vx5Rnk…).

Why bother?  Well, one answer is obvious enough and applies to just about everyone who plays.  For a buck (now $2 for Powerball) we have a cheap opportunity to daydream what could happen if we suddenly won millions of dollars.  But lotteries return 53 cents to the dollar.  So why are poor people irrationally buying tickets when the probability of winning is so slim?  One study by a team of Carnegie Mellon University behavioral economists (Haisley, Mostafa and Loewenstein) suggests it isn’t being poor but rather feeling poor that compels people to purchase lotto tickets.

By influencing participants’ perceptions of their relative wealth, the researchers found that people who felt poor bought almost two times as many lottery tickets as those who were made to feel more affluent.  Here’s how they did it:

  • Participants were asked to complete a survey that included an item on annual income.  One group was asked to provide its income on a scale that began at “less than $100,000” and went up from there in increments of $100,000.  It was designed so that most respondents would be in the lowest category and therefore feel poor. 
  • The other group, made to feel subjectively wealthier, was asked to report income on a scale that began with “less than $10,000” and increased in $10,000 increments.  Therefore most participants were in a middle or upper tier.
  • All participants were paid $5 for participating in the survey and given the chance to buy up to 5 $1 scratch-off lottery tickets.  The group who felt wealthier bought 0.67 tickets on average, compared with 1.27 tickets for the group who felt poor.

Lotteries essentially target and encourage lower-income individuals into a cycle that directly prevents them from improving their financial status and leverages their desire to escape poverty.  Yes, that’s a bit harsh, and yes, people have the right to make their own decisions.  Even bad ones…  Also, many people tend to significantly overestimate the odds of winning because we tend to assess the likelihood of an event occurring based on how frequently we hear about it happening.  The technical name for this is the Availability Heuristic, which means the more we hear about big winners in the press, the less uncommon a big payday begins to seem.  

Not that hitting the jackpot is guaranteed to substantially improve the winner’s life.  Economists at the University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt University collected data from 35,000 lottery winners of up to $150,000 in Florida’s Fantasy 5 lottery from 1993 to 2002.  Their findings are as follows:

  • More than 1,900 winners declared bankruptcy within 5 years, implying that 1% of Florida lottery players (both winners and losers) go bankrupt in any given year, which is about twice the rate for the broader population.
  • “Big” lottery winners, those awarded between $50,000 and $150,000 were half as likely as smaller winners to go bankrupt within 2 years of their win, however equally likely to go bankrupt 3 to 5 years after.
  • 5.5% of lottery winners declared bankruptcy within 5 years of bringing home the jackpot.
  • The average award for the big winners was $65,000 – more than enough to pay off the $49,000 in unsecured debt of the most financially distressed winners.

Lottery players tend to have below-average incomes, so they are probably less accustomed to budgeting when they receive a windfall.  There’s also a psychological term called Mental Accounting that explains how people might treat their winnings less cautiously than money they’ve worked for.  Money has come into their possession through luck, which similar to bonus payments, often induces an urge to purchase unnecessary items.

But whether you think state lotteries are awful or great, there’s another word for them: essentialIn both West Virginia and Michigan, for example, lottery sales accounted for 36% of total state revenues in fiscal year 2010, and on average state with lotteries take in 11% of total revenues in the form of lotto ticket sales.  We’ve included the full list in a table following the text.  There are still 7 states that don’t have their own lottery systems, so the national average would be lower.

A couple of closing thoughts on what this all means:

  • Don’t make investment decisions when you are feeling poor.  The study we cited earlier clearly shows that you are likely to buy more “lottery tickets” (think of that as a metaphor for any long shot investment) when you feel less affluent than those around you.
  • Lower income individuals likely pay more in “Taxes” than most economic commentators realize.  Assuming that the 80/20 rule applies to lottery participation, the bulk of that $59 billion in annual receipts likely comes from 20-25 million less affluent households.  That would be about $47 billion from this demographic, or roughly $2,400 per household.  Yes, I get the notion that this money is handed over in the hope of a payoff.  An ill-advised and mathematically unlikely hope, as it turns out.  But does that mean it doesn’t count as a societal contribution?
  • Maybe the U.S. needs a national lottery.  Yes, these games don’t necessarily encourage the best financial planning among the less affluent.  But there is no denying that playing the lottery is entirely voluntary.  There are probably some anti-gaming factions in government who wouldn’t like this approach, to be sure.  But there’s also no doubt that the Federal budget could use the money.  And, hey, you never know…

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Become a kickass photographer with these easy-to-learn tricks

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Become a kickass photographer with these easy-to-learn tricks

Image: pixabay

Shooting great photos can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be reserved for the Insta-famous Gray Malins of the world. You too could learn to take photos that will have people oohing and aahing.

But where do you start? Thanks to the internet, you can easily learn skills from the pros themselves at an affordable price. There are tons of great online courses out there, like the ones included in this Pay What You Want: Expert Photography Bundle

These courses will teach you how to improve your photography game and capture professional-quality shots from the comfort of your home. The bundle includes a mixture of online courses and photography assets from amazing photographers from around the world. Here’s what you’ll learn:

1. Learn the Basic of Manual Shooting and Editing

Your camera has a lot of power, and these courses will teach you how to harness it. You’ll learn basic editing techniques and how to go from automatic shooting to manual shooting.

2. How to Compose the Perfect Shot

Whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors, you’ll learn how to shoot manually and craft well-composed shots. You’ll even learn how to select the right camera for what you want to do.

3.. How to Be a Professional Outdoor and Nature Photographer 

Nature photography doesn’t have to just be a hobby: it can become a career. You’ll learn how to set up a successful business and snap gorgeous, marketable images of the great outdoors.

4. The Art of Black & White Photography 

There’s more than one way to transform a digital image into a black-and-white image. You’ll learn the best ways to do that and how to avoid the common pitfalls.

5. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Lightroom 

Lightroom is an essential image editing tool for photographers and you’ll learn how to master the tools that it provides.

6. Unlock the Secret to Night Photography

It’s hard to take a good photo at night, but it’s not impossible. Learn to shoot in difficult, low light situations and capture stunning images.

7. Learn to Use Off-Camera Flash 

You can’t always rely on natural light to take great photos. You have to master the flash, and you’ll learn the best way to use it to your advantage with these courses. 

In addition to the courses, you’ll also gain access to photo asset packs, like food pictures from The Baking Man, killer stock photos from Viktor Hanacek, nature and lifestyle photos by Pawel Kadysz, and more.

The Pay What You Want: Expert Photography Bundle normally costs $2,365, but you can get two essential courses from the bundle for whatever price you want. Beat the average price, currently under $20, to take home everything! Buy it here.

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How Mazda’s ‘Holy Grail Of Gasoline Engines’ Actually Works

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Leave it to a tiny car company like Mazda to pull off something the big players have been trying to figure out for years. That’s the deal with the new “SkyActiv-X” series of engines, which use revolutionary technology to achieve diesel-like fuel economy with gasoline. If you want to see how it likely works, Engineering Explained is here to help.

The trick to these new supercharged engines is all about compression. Mazda seems to have finally figured out homogeneous charge compression ignition—but only some of the time. The SkyActiv-X uses a form of compression ignition similar to a diesel at times, but it can also seamlessly change over to a regular spark ignition like any gasoline engine when needed. Mazda calls this Spark Controlled Compression Ignition. The result, the automaker claims, is 20 to 30 percent more powertrain efficiency than their conventional gas engines.

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Jason from Engineering Explained breaks down how, if this works, you get the best of all worlds: tons of efficiency and tons of torque.

The major challenges, he says, are of course how to switch between spark and compression ignition. Mazda hasn’t yet stated how this works, but Jason theorizes they found a way to use the spark plug itself to control the timing of compression ignition—which is where the SPCCI name comes from.

And if you want to learn more about how homogeneous charge compression ignition engines work in general, he has this explainer too:

Why does this matter? Because as the automotive world seems poised to put all of its eggs in the electric car basket, Mazda is proving the gasoline internal combustion engine still has plenty of untapped potential. The future of energy and transportation should be a future full of choices, so this is an exciting moment for anyone who’s a fan of gas engines. Electrification is likely the future, but we won’t get there overnight, and it won’t mean much until our grid runs on renewable energy. Anything that makes ICE engines better in the meantime is a positive.

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And it’s more cool shit from a company with a track record of cool shit. I’m excited to see where it goes.

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