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The Programmable World

Wiring the physical world.  How we’ll live when everything is online.

Internet Splat Map (Flickr/Steve Jurvetson)

Internet Splat Map (Flickr/Steve Jurvetson)

All our digital devices are wired up now.  Next in line is the world of things.

Door locks that recognize you and yield at your approach.  Machines at the gym that know your Tuesday workout and go straight to it when you walk in.  Anything, anywhere with embedded intelligence and connectivity, responding to you and to other things around you.  A programmable world of objects, things.

It may sound like heaven.  It may sound like hell.  It’s happening.

This hour, On Point:  when the physical world is wired up, programmed, and responding to you.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Bill Wasik, senior editor of WIRED magazine. Author of this month’s cover feature: “Welcome to the Programmable World.” (@billwasik)

Jason Johnson, chairman of the Internet of Things Consortium. CEO of August. (@jcjohnson)

Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT. (@sturkle)

From Tom’s Reading List

WIRED: Welcome to the Programmable World — “This is the language of the future: tiny, intelligent things all around us, coordinating their activities. Coffeepots that talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats that talk to motion sensors. Factory machines that talk to the power grid and to boxes of raw material. A decade after Wi-Fi put all our computers on a wireless network—and half a decade after the smartphone revolution put a series of pocket-size devices on that network—we are seeing the dawn of an era when the most mundane items in our lives can talk wirelessly among themselves, performing tasks on command, giving us data we’ve never had before.”

ABC News: August Smart-Lock Turns Your Phone Into a House Key — “Our smartphone can control our house thermostat, our light bulbs and washer and dryers. Why not the lock on our front doors? That’s exactly what Jason Johnson and Yves Behar thought when they created August, a new technology company that will be selling a $199 smart-lock later this year. Similar to other smart devices, the idea behind August is that your phone communicates with an everyday object, in this case a device that you attach to your door.”

PC Advisor: What is ‘The Internet of Things’? — “As more and more devices are arriving embedded with sensors and the ability to communicate we are experiencing the birth of a new type of network. One that promises to usher in an automated future that will see the internet of people surpassed by the internet of things.”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    The picture at the lead-in spurred this tangential comment:

    I wonder how many of your listeners are aware of the famous mathematical problem known as “The many cities” problem also called the “The traveling salesman” problem : ? It is a problem that is thought to be in what is called NPSpace ( non-deterministic polynomial space ) and therefore called NPHard.

    For a relatively small number of cities ( connections) it is beyond the possibilities of even that most powerful computers to solve. There are many mathematical problems like this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travelling_salesman_problem

    If it could ever be shown that these NP-Hard problems could be solved in what is known a P-Time, polynomial time, ( in other words, like the equations you learned in school ) the advances in mathematics and computers speeds and computer abilities would advance by orders of magnitude ! This is a REALLY BIG concept and extremely interesting. I, as a hobbyist programmer have written a program that will find the max. and min. distance for a small set of coordinates (cities). I know it sounds strange, but it turns me on to watch the program run : ) . I would hope that many of your listeners would love to hear a show on the current state of mathematical research and progress. Who knows, maybe, in the spirit of Bourbaki, your listeners could collaborate on this thread and tackle a problem or two !
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Nicolas_Bourbaki.aspx

    • JobExperience

       Oops. Lanier is correct about another thing: Algorythmic Prediction is Pseudoscience that asserts it’s own outcome without regard to reality.

  • Jasoturner

    As we charge ahead into a world of connected devices and services, it might be wise to pause and ask if our quality of life is really being improved.  I mean, it was great waking up at 4:00 am and being able to read newspapers from Pittsburgh and Boston about the game last night, but was it more enjoyable than the eighties when I had to buy a Boston Globe and go to the doughnut shop to read about the Celtics?  Not particularly.

    Sometimes we worry so much about what we can do that we forget to ask whether we need or want to.

    I’m no Luddite, and I’ve done some serious programming in my time, but I really don’t care if my alarm clock ever talks to my coffee pot.  That’s supposed to be progress?

    • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

      I completely agree.

      Wired devices have made people wired. I look at people totally fixated on their smart phones, furiously engaged in keeping their cyber-presence current. It’s like they’re drug addicts rushing around cyberspace looking for their next fix of newness in virtual reality.

      I’ve been immersed in hi-tech since the days of coal-fired mainframes. At the end of the day, when I am not wired in, I am livin’ the dream. Smelling the roses. Walking on sunshine. Feeling the warm breeze on my face. Living right where I am or enjoying the ride to where I’m going in 3D reality.

      • Jasoturner

        “Coal-fired mainframes”   Excellent!

        • TomK_in_Boston

          Yes, excellent. I programmed my first PDP-11 with an editor that had a virtual cursor.

          I agree that when everything is online nothing is secure. Cyberwar is the war of the future.

          In 50 yrs we’ll see all this looking at screens as a crude transitional phase before the direct neural interface, and all the Neuromancer and Matrix stuff will start happening.

          Meanwhile, Go Broonz!

          • Jasoturner

            Funny.  I had a chance to take a PDP-11 in college when BU was getting rid of them.  They were fun, but my girlfriend nixed the idea when she saw the size.  Would’ve looked totally groovy in our apartment in my opinion!

            And Go Broonz back!

          • TomK_in_Boston

            Right, and those were the days of 50 lb monitors, one piece including the keyboard. I remember the first time I saw a monitor with a separate keyboard and thought, what a brilliant idea.

            The PDP11, a 16 bit machine, replaced the 8-bit PDP8, which was before my time. You had to write the slow steps in assembler or you couldn’t do anything interesting. That’s a procedure that never loses value. The fastest biomolecular simulator today, GROMACS, gets its performance via heavy use of assembler. The kids writing for iOS think this is dinosaur stuff, but, I’m happy to say, the ideas needed to crunch numbers or move lots of atoms haven’t changed. 

          • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

            I met a guy who helped design the PDP-8 and personally owned s/n 1 or was it 0? My history is not so storied, but half a century of sci-fi later and were seeing many visions manifest. Neuromancer is not that far off. The human race just has to survive its own worst enemy: itself.

    • JobExperience

       Jaron Lanier is correct about  one thing: Computing machines are not real but are a mask for the labor we extract from the world’s poor. (The Internet is a Black Hole of Cosmic Debt.)

      • Jasoturner

        Jaron Lanier is a pretty shrewd thinker.  Thanks for bringing him up.  I need to read his newest book.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Wired everything equates to secure nothing.

    Industrialists, bureaucrats, and consumers are making themselves ever more vulnerable to cyber mayhem in ways beyond the imagination of most people. Not everything should be wired into everything.

    Sadly convenience trumps safety I’m the minds of some.

  • JobExperience

    You should have asked the delusional Jaron Lanier these questions when he was plugging “Who  Owns the Future?”
    (He was among the first to sell cyberfood in an alternate reality.) The problem with programmability of reality is that the super geeks always defer to investors and settle for royalties on written code. They can’t eat wire transfers though, because their bodies remain carbon organic. (ie Monsanto-vulnerable) The radiation that prevents travel to Mars is like the Capitalism that prohibits Nirvana.

  • Gary Kay

    Given a choice between eras, I much preferred the 50s and 60s to what we have today. Someday life will be so complicated that people will be searching the internet for more novel ways of suicide. Younger people have no concept of a simpler (and perhaps happier) world. Everyday is not a matter of living, it’s just a mad scramble to survive until  tomorrow, which might be even worse.

    • Rick Evans

      No, thanks. I was born in 1950. I can do without the Jim Crow laws, the red scare, the nuclear war threat, the polluted air, the polluted water, the leaded gasoline and leaded pipes.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Just give me a knob!!

    I have entered code into computers by pushing buttons on the front panel of the machine. I’ve launched a thousand processes in a server farm to test it in ways God never intended.

    I grow weary of these programmable interfaces with two or three buttons, they inevitably are tedious and slow and designed by sadists.
    Just give me a knob!!!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      I used to dream of entering code by pushing buttons!

      Why, in my day I had to charge or discharge each little magnet by hand.

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      I miss radio knobs. They were so much faster than digital tuning.

  • geraldfnord

    What happens to the meaning of ‘schizophrenia’ when everyone and everything around you _does_ know who you are and you really _are_ being watched constantly? What then were a _false_ ‘idea of reference’?

    What were ‘magical thinking’ in an environment made by humans that knows who you are, what you want, what you fear?

  • DrewInGeorgia

    Ever read Snow Crash by Niel Stephenson?
    It’s always science-fiction until it becomes Science-Fact.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash

    • AC

      i LOVE him
      william gibson too

      • TomK_in_Boston

        Gibson invented the term “The Matrix” in Neuromancer and trust me, it’s coming, and will be the “singulatrity”.

        • J__o__h__n

          Doctor Who had the Matrix in 1976.

          • TomK_in_Boston

            You mean as in what you see when you plug your brain into a computer network?

            OK. i see….close

          • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen
          • J__o__h__n

            I don’t like the Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy years.

          • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

            I kind of love Sylvester McCoy, but that was when I was introduced to the show, so I may be biased.

          • Wm_James_from_Missouri

            I hear that they are coming out with a new version. Man in colorful jacket is attacked by scores of dead proctologists. Critics hesitate to call it a nail-biter.

    • AC

      hiro protaganist.
      wink

      • DrewInGeorgia

        Best character name EVER in my humble opinion.

        • Jasoturner

          Oedipa Maas?  Benny Profane?  Genghis Cohen?

          Pynchon has some good ones too…

    • Don_B1

      If you want to read some science fiction that deals with economic issues, real and imagined, see:

      http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/11/more-science-fiction-for-economists-seriously-time-wasting/

      Noah Smith’s list (linked) is fairly inclusive of all types of SF?

    • Peter Hardy

      If you’re interested in the relation of linguistics and/or philosophy to this area you would be interested in my recent article - http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2013/05/21/virtual-insanity-social-media-with-jacques-lacan-pt-1/ - there should be a second part on the same theme in the next week.

  • creaker

    It will get creepy when the monitors in stores start targeting ads specifically to you as you walk by.

  • bikengr

    Benign vision: these devices do what we want, when we want it — worst problem, lack of self control and insulation from thinking.
    But there is a malign possibility: all the records are available to your boss, your insurance company, your ex-wife, or the government. Therefore not watching TV during terrorist events will circumstantially suggest you to be a collaborator.

    • ExcellentNews

      Great idea. We at Central Command will program your toilet to electrocute you once you are tagged as suspect.

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    The Neste thermostat sounds like a gimmick.  $150.  Really?
     

  • Rick Evans

    This is all we need, 50 billion more reasons to be the physically weak and intellectual lazy slaves of the geeks.

     Think about it. Today fatties today waddle their fat minivans up to the drive-in window after talking into a intercom disguised as a clown. Now this will be done with their Googlemobile.

    They won’t even have to talk or text because the smartphone will dash off the fast food order based on smelling our body or breath odor.

    A robot arm feed the driver eliminating any need for burger/fries holding muscle memory.

    In the “internet of things” future there will be no need to mature beyond the toddler stage.

  • SjMills

    Help I’ve fallen and can’t get up!  Wait…I haven’t fallen and I can get up to change the thermostat in my own house.  This use of technology is frivolous and removes us from the immediacy of our lives.  

  • MarthainNW

    My new clothes dryer won’t let me set an amount of time I choose, but gives me 30, 60, or 90 minutes, or a choice of the kind of load I am drying.  But, the sensor doesn’t seem to work well enough to get the clothes dry, and I can’t add 10 minutes if I want.  Yes, clothes dryers have changed my workload for the better, but having the machine make decisions that are easier for me to make can be a real problem.

  • Jeff

    I just want to be able to make all commerce transactions on my cell phone…restaurants, hardware stores, gasoline…I just want to pay for it all with a press on my smartphone.

  • debhulbh

    All very well to have all of these quick easy access processes…. if you want to interact with computers.
    What about the human interaction?…walking into a coffee shop and your coffee is ready on the counter… no time to chat, bide a while, say hi. Also what about the bombardment of electromagnetic waves…
    smart boxes(utilities use these… (track ur usage etc) but u can now opt out) already proven to disrupt pace makers, disrupts sleep patterns, electro magnetic overload…see studies on same..
    Damage to health…a whole area not to be ignored…

  • AC

    i personally consider time worth more than money; the more of my time i own to do what i want (ponder, read, play video or any game, hang out) – the richer i am.
    i’ll take every second i can spare, so i’m not opposed, not at all….

    • AC

      plus i would love it if working from home meant sitting at the beach all day with my dog. Wellfleet needs to work on it’s signal. very spotty..

  • Justin Whittier

    In light of Cleveland kidnap story . . . What about the possibility of implanting small chips in children which would be GPS-locatable. Exists already for pets, but as yet too large to implant

    • AC

      they make kids watches and cells with this active feature. you can also get an app for the car that tells you how & where they’re driving, and one for school so you know what lunch choices they’re buying…

    • Peter Hardy

      Some people already do that in the UK. Actually, may not be implants, but yes, some people put tracking devices on which the child can’t remove.

  • gemli

    This discussion reminds me of the way we always tend to view the future from the past.  Futurism’s main benefit is not to predict the future, but to provide a good laugh for those who actually are consigned to live in it.  We could not even begin to predict what 2013 would be like from as recently as 1993.  More than that, we have to ask why we would automate every blessed thing around us.  There is a pleasure to interacting with the world that we will lose when our thermostats do our thinking for us.  If we can really make our coffee pot talk to our lawn sprinkler, we have to ask, why?  There is also a tipping point at which the sheer complexity of so many interacting systems becomes unpredicable.  I’m not a luddite, but I see us eager to enter a world that actually sounds quite unpleasant.

  • JohnAdams_1796

    If/then relationships?  I, for one, welcome the masses to the hell that is the computer programming world.

  • JL

    There’s a huge mismatch between the pace of technological change and the pace of infrastructure change. On the trivial end is the $70,000 BMW with an outdated iPhone dock. But what about retrofitting a city’s infrastructure at tremendous cost only to have the controlling technology become obsolete in short order?

  • Njoroge Kabugu

    What happens when I change my mind and the coffee had been served at starbuck or I was going for a burger and the coffee machine next door thought I also wanted coffee since I am a coffee lover? How to we account for the mistakes that technology makes as we move along. The modern slave “who” is not to make any mistake

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.l.dion Jessica Dion

    This entire subject embarrasses me.  As a white middle class American, I am mortified that we are spending so much time, technology, human power, on what amounts to the ultimate tree fort for adults.  Millions (billions?) of our people are living in abhorrent, heart-breaking conditions.  Societies who have this kind of intellectual capital to spare, should be spending it on minimizing human suffering, not programming toasters.  What happened to ‘live simply so others may simply live’ ?  Use this technology to help people who NEED help.  Don’t invent first world problems in order to solve them.  Recess is over.

  • Scott B

    When I started riding motorcycles the “emergency repair kit” was a leather bag with various hand tools, and I could fix most minor issues right there on the side of the road in a few minutes.  These days that kit is a cell phone and a credit card because the bikes have fuel injection, drive-by-wire throttles, and ABS brakes.

    • methos1999

      Not true. I have a 2008 SV650 – it has fuel injection, but it also still comes with a compact little tool kit which can do quite a lot. Also I would add that it is needed less frequently as my 1978 Honda CB550 broke down on me frequently, while my SV650 has never left me stranded.

  • debhulbh

    Cellphone Tower Exposure…
    What happens when human population centers are flooded with massive amounts of powerful wireless microwave radiation? Nobody knows completely …as yet. But we will. We absorb all of that stuff…
    Because we are exposed to 100 million times more Electromagnetic radiation than our grandparents were, and cell towers are making that number grow exponentially. If you can make a call on your cellphone, then you’re in an area that’s saturated with cell site microwave radiation.

    Some of the most powerful cell tower installations are on mountains and hilltops outside of urban areas. These EM fields have impacted humans, animals as well as the ecological balance. Studies of people and farm animals living around high voltage wires point to extreme hazards of living up-close to a powerful electromagnetic field (EMF) – exhibiting everything from stress and sleep disorders to birth defects, cancer and Alzheimer’s. EMFs from cell phone towers are impossible to escape. And a huge concern…..
    Health concerns, real and really interesting stuff.

    • Peter Hardy

      There’s no peer reviewed research that shows it does any harm to humans. Theoretically, the waves should just pass right through our bodies without effecting anything.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Not being challenged to do stuff, we won’t learn to new skills and be challenged to adapt… Our skills will atrophy and so we risk living a more challenging and less rewarding life. The calculator and then the spread sheet eroded my ability to multiply and divide in my head, but then I lost my calculator so I am at least routinely challenged to keep my skills as polished as they are. Thank God I don’t have to pull out my smart phone to add two numbers!

    Are we risking devolution by removing so many challenges from our lives?

    • JohnAdams_1796

      Yes, we are.  A simple example is how many people  – including many of my friends and relatives, and the Facebook generation in particular — are directionally brain-dead, lobotomized by their smartphone maps apps and the little Garmin devices stuck to their windshields.  

    • Peter Hardy

      With google and wikipedia accessible at any time in our pockets we don’t need to remember information anymore either.

    • TomK_in_Boston

      There was a very old sci fi story where one side in a war won because they discovered that it was possible for humans to do math, so they were able to replace their expensive machine-guided missiles with cheap human suicide guidance systems.

      I do think The Matrix is coming, and that’s a bigger change than some new app. The singularity. When we plug directly into the network, we’ll make up constructs for all the data and algorithms so it will look like some fantasy world to us, as Gibson said. If we try to break into a bank, their security will look like sharks or something, and if they stop us maybe we’ll die in the”real” world. As AI develops, they will look like superbeings and we’ll develop relationships with them…. 

  • Hutch Trugent

    (i love sherry turkle)… i will bring one thing about tech. 1982, Blade Runner – Dekkard calls Racheal on a public pay phone with pristine video. We predict technology – but we miss how they impact/conform our lives. Who would have guessed that pay phones would be obsolete? who would predict that the video technology would be mind blowing – but not the aspect of  the personalization of it. and that’s what all this talk reminds me of – all this cool stuff will aid us in minor activities but how does it impact us as humans – as an interactuive/communicaing society *(i love technology. i love gadgets. but i am not blind to their impact)

  • TyroneJ

    Living in a totally wired world only works if you are a total parasite with regards to the planet and environment.

    I’d rather spend my time in the woods hiking with my dogs or swimming in the pond near my house, than pretending by working out in a gym.

  • ianway

    Watch out, Julie Christie!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgxwOJn0Iz8

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      That was great :). I don’t remember this movie, thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1105573628 Peggy Spencer

    Here is a great application for this new kind of technology:

    http://animals.oreilly.com/can-technology-rescue-the-forest-elephant/ 

  • JohnAdams_1796

    In a way, this interconnectivity is nothing new.  Any car built within the last decade or so contains dozens or hundreds of interconnected electronic controls, not necessarily all a good thing.  For instance, the headlight aiming sensor in my Prius become corroded, and it insisted on aiming the lights sharply downward, and thus the lights would illuminate only about 20 feet ahead of the car.  Of course, Toyota wanted a fortune for this unit that probably only takes a few dollars to manufacture, and takes only a few minutes to replace.  As Scott B says below, be sure your repair kit contains a credit card.

  • Pamela VanDeursen

    Hi there,
    this topic made me think about a conversation I had with my 14 year old
    daughter yesterday. We were listening to the radio (Vermont Public Radio) specifically
    the news about the Supreme Court’s decision regarding DNA during the arrest phase
    of a person and the fourth amendment. I said Wow and she wanted to know about
    my reaction. I explained about privacy and that this could have potential
    implications for the future. She surprised me be saying that she thought that
    everyone should have a DNA test when they turn 18 and that everyone’s DNA
    should be in a large databank. In her mind this should be used for purposes of
    crime only so that when someone was arrested, their DNA would be run against a
    larger database resulting in more crimes solved.

     

    We continued to talk about it over dinner with a friend of
    our family. My friend and I realized that we come from an age with bumper
    sticker like Don’t trust anyone over 30 and Question Authority. My daughter is
    of a generation where there is already such a blurred line between public and private
    that she doesn’t have the same distrust (yet) of government and corporations. I’d
    be interested to hear other people’s reaction to her idea and where that might
    lead.

     

    Thank you and great show today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BrotherStein Brian Epstein

    Great.  I go to let myself into my house, and the batteries in my doorknob are dead.

  • petit

    I could not call in time, but this use of technology is so very not ok.  We have already taken so much of the adventure, surprise and fun out of life in the name of safety, security and convenience that we are all becoming desensitized to each other and the creatures that we share the world with. We are becoming insane with narcissism and addicted to “comfort”. 

    There is a short story by Ray Bradbury called the Veldt, which illustrates this beautifully.  You either get it, or you don’t.  I highly recommend it. 

    Melinda

  • Peter Hardy

    I am not so interested in the connectivity of household objects  themselves (what Kevin Ashton calls ‘the internet of things’) as much as their effect on the connectivity, or often the perceived connectivity, between humans. They will affect how we will relate to each other, particularly by furthering the process of the saturation of our selves into communications technology. If you’re interested in the relation of linguistics and/or philosophy to the latter, and related areas, you would be interested in my recent article - http://www.partiallyexaminedli… . There should be a second part on the same theme in the next week, too.

  • LoganEcholls

    Is it just me or does that splat map look like the beginnings of a brain??   Since consciousness as we understand arises from the complexity of our own neural networks, how much more complex will the internet have to become before it too is self aware?   It’s sounds crazy, but really it’s just as believable as a bunch of nerve cell’s electronic firings coalescing into a pattern that makes a sentient human mind.

  • tao101

    In the future you’re describing, I foresee the Jitterbug cell phone company breaking into lots of new markets.  Lol.

  • kenny smith

    Whoa! Listening to the OnPoint podcast about the Internet of Things on the same day I launched this…

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/483802388/benki-connected-devices-done-right

  • Robert Kluttz

    I work in IT and I get so tired of companies are trying to push “cloud” or “markets” into everything. I LOVE the idea of an automated, remotely controlled home and I love automation of many more systems, but I don’t trust running them an online cloud service that is outside of my control. When my devices can communicate to my own home servers and control systems outside of the influence and control of 3rd parties, I’ll be there. I simply don’t want or trust a third party, especially in the case of markets like Apple’s where they have more control over devices than the owner does. If that paradigm continues all the gains of the internet world of being able to deal directly with vendors will be lost. You’ll be forced to pay the extortion fee of the imposed middle man.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Electronic keys are good until power fails, the internet is under attack or you loose your cell phone key. I can’t bury a cell phone under a rock for emergency use.

  • Roy Merritt

    I can foresee a day when we are able to have something such as the holi-deck in the Star Trek series wherein an individual can take themselves into an imaginary environment and interact with holigraphs of people we know or don’t know but would appreciate knowing or perhaps individuals we don’t particularly like and wish to vent our dislike of them in some tangible way.  Perhaps even commit electronic violence against them without punishment for the distaste we have for them.  I know there are lots of people in the world of politics and punditry I would very much like to treat in this way if such was possible.  It is almost like dreaming without being asleep or fulfilling one’s fantasy.  This of course would no doubt become like a drug to some people and even addictive to the point that it could pose a danger to our well being.  And it could also lead to someone seeing violence as a viable option rather than something to act out as a result of having this option to act out such fantasies.  Alas at my age I shall never see it and so it will have to remain so and I will have to simply ponder upon as if reading science fiction.    

  • http://www.facebook.com/harold.chernofsky Harold Chernofsky

    scary

  • Regular_Listener

    Where is the link to download this show?  I prefer to listen with Winamp.

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