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Marketplace’s most viral stories of 2013

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 13:35

Thoughts, disclaimers, bad jokes, etc.: This is our look back at Marketplace’s top stories on, Facebook, Twitter, reddit and Stitcher in 2013. Like Katherine Goldstein at Slate pointed out in her article on Slate's most viral stories, one of the most interesting takeaways was the lack of overlapping stories between platforms. The only stories to appear on different lists were Income Upshot and a story on curing alcoholism in Russia.

Most viewed on These were our most visited stories in 2013, even if the article was posted before this year. A years-old story on alcoholism in Russia made our most-viewed list in 2013, probably due to hitting the front page of reddit (you can see the rest of our top reddit stories below). Timothy Geithner's signature is still ridiculous looking, even though that story came out in 2012.

  1. Income Upshot: Your income ranked nationally
  2. No more working at home for Hewlett-Packard employees?
  3. Timothy Geithner's signature not fit for print
  4. The killer cure for alcoholism in Russia
  5. What do employers really want from college grads? 

APM Marketplace on Facebook: Facebook posts are sorted by “biggest reach,” basically the total number of people who saw that post, whether because they like Marketplace on Facebook or saw the post through their friends. This list includes Facebook posts from 2013. Every top Facebook story included questions to spur discussion from our audience. None of these five stories were top stories on other platforms. Our Facebook post on unemployed millennials was Marketplace’s best Facebook story this year by far — which isn't surprising because if you're an unemployed millennial, you may be spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.

  1. Economically frustrated Millennials have a new meme for out-of-touch Baby Boomers. Whose side are you on -- and why?
  2. Do you agree with the TV show chosen to represent your state in this map?
  3. Are you ready to retire? Be sure your retirement is on track, no matter what your age.
  4. McDonald's offers employees sample budget that doesn't list 'food' or 'heat' as monthly budget items, and assumes workers have two jobs to make yearly income. Do you think the budget is realistic? Does it line up with your expenses?
  5. Michael Pollan says "We don't value cooking... We've fallen into this mode where we let the corporations do the cooking for us. The problem is, they don't do it very well." Do you agree? Why or why not?

@MarketplaceAPM on Twitter: Twitter stories are ranked by most clicks of links in tweets to read the article, and only include stories from 2013. These titles are the headline of the story, not the actual tweets themselves. Take homes? Twitter loves Rob Delaney, everyone loves Sriracha, and "1234" is a mediocre PIN choice.

  1. Exclusive: Sriracha founder reveals the 'secret' wholesale price of his sauce
  2. The funniest man on Twitter
  3. Income Upshot: What does your income say about you?
  4. Is your PIN code one of the easiest to figure out?
  5. How one family went bankrupt spending $100,000 on Beanie Babies

Marketplace on Stitcher: Stitcher is one of our most popular audio platforms to share individual audio segments. A lot of Stitcher's traffic comes from the Bay Area, which may explain the focus on tech, banking, and yoga pants.

  1. Ukraine decides between east and west
  2. Facebook warns some users to change their passwords after hack
  3. Google TV gadget costs $35. Game changer?
  4. Lululemon tries to get past transparent pants-gate
  5. Inside the world of China's "shadow banks"

reddit: Articles on reddit are sorted by which stories received the most upvotes (basically reddit's equivalent to Facebook's likes). TIL stands for 'Today I Learned," reddit's sub-section on interesting facts from the past. Three of the five reddit stories focus on tech in some way, which makes sense given reddit's stereotype of tech-savvy millennials.

  1. TIL in Russia many doctors "treat" alcoholism by surgically implanting a small capsule into their patients. The capsules react so severely with alcohol that once the patient touches a single drop, they instantly acquire an excruciating illness of similar intensity to acute heroin withdrawal
  2. TIL that 'casual friday' is the product of a guerrilla marketing campaign by Levis' new khakis brand, Dockers during the early 90s recession.
  3. Beijing provides a $19,000 USD subsidy to buy an electric car
  4. 'Creator of the Internet' Tim Berners-Lee says the Copyright Alert System is bad for democracy.
  5. Listen to a Verizon spokeswoman explain the reason behind Verizon's data plan changes. Around the 1:15 mark."

Mapping Emotions On The Body: Love Makes Us Warm All Over

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 13:04

How do you know you're in love? Angry? Or sad? Emotions start off in the brain, then ripple through the whole body. Now scientists have charted where we consciously feel specific emotions. They hope these sensation maps will one day help diagnose and treat mood disorders.

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Doctors And Teens Both Avoid Talking About Sex And Sexuality

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 13:02

Teenagers would sooner die than ask about birth control or other sexual health issues at a doctor visit. But if pediatricians bring the subject up, teenagers are happy they had the chance to talk, a study finds. But one-third of doctors aren't taking the lead.

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How to sell your hair for $4,000

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:51

Mary Brown is a mother of four in Provo, Utah. And this autumn, she said goodbye to something very close to her.

"I rolled it kind of like a rope," she says, "and placed it in the bag, and placed that into a mail envelope, and off it went."

Need a hint about she was sending off: Well, Brown had a nickname growing up.

"A lot of my friends called me Rapunzel from the time I was a teenager," she remembers. "I've always had long hair."

In October, her long hair became that rope she placed in a bag. Brown had spent the last four years getting her hair ready to sell.

"I did a lot of research," she says. "You don't want to use heating products on your hair, you want to use very mild shampoos. It also helps if you are eating really healthily and taking multivitamins."

Her sister had put her in touch with a hair sales website, and Brown put together an ad for her hair.

“My husband and I went and we took two or three days to do photo shoots around my hair, and picked the best ones we could – with my hair down, with my hair braided, so you could see the different shades of blonde," she says.

In the ad, Brown's hair was crazy-long, super shiny, and incredibly straight. A woman who makes hair extensions in Australia saw the ad too. She bought Brown's ponytails, for a thousand dollars.

Brown's ad was on Marlys Fladeland, who runs the website, says, “I am the first to start a business like this in the United States.”

There are nowat least four sites where you can sell your hair online.

Fladeland has seen hair sell from anywhere between $100 and $4,000. She charges people $25 to post an ad, and she gets about 20-30 ads a month.

"Everybody who needs money sells hair, I think," Fladeland adds. "It's actually more when the economy is bad because hair is something that you can grow back. And when people need money, they'll find a way."

She says she sees more people trying to sell their hair around the holidays, when wallets are especially empty. 

But people aren't just selling hair. They are also selling milk, eggs, even kidneys.

"It is horrifying," says Nicholas Colas, a market analyst at the brokerage firm ConvergEx. "And obviously selling a kidney is actually illegal in the U.S., or purchasing one as well. But it is to my mind speaks to the kind of relative desperation that a lot of people still have about their economic condition."

Colas says the stock market may be doing well, but the economic recovery hasn't filtered to middle-class people. He doesn't think that many people are actually selling their kidneys, but he sees hair and breast milk sales as a creative response to hard times.

"I find it very admirable," he adds. "It requires a lot of ingenuity and it requires a lot of focus to do what it take to make things happen for you."

Mary Brown says her experience has made her look at hair differently.

"I think that when I look at people now," she admits, "with long beautiful hair, in my head I calculate how much they could probably sell that for if they wanted to. 'You know she could he could probably get a good $300 for that ponytail.' Or 'Ooh, that hair is really thick, she might be able to get $1000, $1300 even.'"

Brown says she herself is doing alright money-wise. But she has a number of friends who aren't, and she wanted to help them out. So far, the cash has paid for one friend's school loan, and another friend's car repair.

Why Being 'Gypped' Hurts The Roma More Than It Hurts You

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:49

You might know that the word "gypped" — often used to describe being cheated — comes from the word 'gypsy.' But less well known is the fact that it comes from derogative stereotypes about the Roma people.

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5 New Year's Resolutions From Women To Watch

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:17

How do you set a resolution when you've already accomplished so much? These women have innovated and inspired, but they still have hopes for improvement in 2014.

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In prison you get health care. When you're released ...

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

People in prison are sick. A recent report found the nation spends more than $6.5 billion every year on healthcare services for the men and women who are incarcerated. But right now, much of that care stops as prisoners are released.

And many prison officials believe that’s part of the reason why so many former inmates keep coming back.

The Affordable Care Act could interrupt this cycle beginning in January as several hundred thousand former inmates become eligible for healthcare.

Miguel Rodriguez has been in and out of prison for more than 30 years, usually for selling heroin. And after every release, it’s been the same story.

“Go to the corner, to go sell and get high,” he says. And then land back in prison all over again.

When he was released for the last time a couple years ago, Rodriquez, now 53, was suffering from Hepatitis C, congestive heart failure and asthma.

“I couldn’t walk from here to that window," he says. "It would take me half hour to walk one block. That’s how my health really was.”

Rodriguez has been in and out of the hospital six times, the emergency room 10 times. He’s had a pacemaker and bypass surgery. And because he can’t pay, hospitals have eaten those costs, which get passed on to the rest of us.

Dr. Ingrid Binswanger of the University of Colorado says the Affordable Care Act might catch people like Rodriguez before their health hits rock bottom, and their healthcare costs skyrocket. 

“We could potentially treat those conditions before people need to be hospitalized or go to the emergency room,” she says. 

Under the new health law, nearly half of all inmates who leave prison next year - some 300,000 - will be eligible for health insurance, primarily through Medicaid.

Historically, many states have barred low-income adults without children from signing up. Under the ACA that restriction now goes away.

“There has been nothing in my career that has been this exciting as this moment,” says Dr. Emily Wang,  a primary care physician who teaches at Yale Medical School and treats former inmates.

Wang has seen that simple access to care – particularly for substance abuse or mental health – can help ex-cons find their footing. And save money in part because this patient population is so expensive to treat.

“Individuals that are released from prison, they are 12 times more likely to die even in the first two weeks following release," she says. "They are more likely to be hospitalized, they are more likely to go to the emergency department.”

Wang says about 85 percent of prisoners have some kind of health problem.

This helps explain why a large chunk of prison budgets goes towards healthcare, running into the billions every year. New York state spends about $74 million dollars annually just on medications.

“What the public generally doesn’t know is that we are essentially cycling people with mental illness, substance abuse problems through our jails and prisons and back out again,” says Jack Beck with the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors prison conditions.

Behind bars, Beck explains, inmates get treatment; they get meds, their chronic conditions in check. When they get out, all that goes away.

And Dr. Wang says that’s when taxpayers get slammed.

“Because you are paying for the care now," she says. "You’re paying for the cost of their care, when they are using the emergency department, when they are hospitalized for conditions that are preventable.” 

Wang says the next step is to get insurance to former inmates as soon as they hit the streets.

That may not be as easy as it sounds. 

“Nobody is really responsible, no agency, for what happens to ex-offenders when they leave,” says Donna Strugar-Fritsch, a prison consultant with Health Management Associates, who works with local governments.

Strugar-Fritsch says many states are still putting systems in place to simply make sure inmates walk out of prison with Medicaid cards. And even for those who are insured, there is a shortage of treatment programs for substance abuse and mental illness.

But in states expanding Medicaid under the ACA, there’s momentum to deal with these knotty questions. Bottom line: it costs a lot more to keep someone in prison than it does to provide them with the kind of healthcare and services that might keep them out.

Miguel Rodriguez, who says he has stopped taking heroin, goes to an out-patient substance abuse program several times a week. And soon he will have Medicaid.

“Now I can make my doctor’s appointments, I can get my medications,” he says.

But insurance is a tool, it’s no guarantee. For his coverage to work, Rodriguez must do something he’s never been able to do, take care of his health.

New Year's at Applebee's: $375 per person

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

You now have less than a day to make your New Year's Eve plans. For lots of people there's not much to plan -- those that like to avoid crowds, they'll be watching the ball drop in Manhattan from the comfort of their couch.

But if you want to watch the ball drop in person, the Applebee's in Times Square has a deal for you: $375 gets you into the restaurant, with an open bar and a buffet.

If spending New Year's at an Applebee's surrounded by lots of drunk people isn't your idea of a good time, perhaps you'd like the $85 four-course dinner at 80 Thoreau in Concord, Mass. It starts with foie gras torchon and duck prosciutto, a departure from the normal menu.

"This is set up more like a tasting-menu style," says Vincent Vella, the maîtres d' and co-owner of 80 Thoreau.

This is a big New Year's for restaurants, says David Adler, the CEO of Biz Bash media.

"There are a lot of people going out for New Year's Eve, especially because this is such a long holiday week," he says. The proliferation of foodie culture has made New Year's a night for chefs to showcase their talents, he adds. And because it's a special night, people will spend a little more than they normally would.

For those who aren't in the one percent, but want to party like they are, you could take a cruise on the Lady Windridge in Fort Lauderdale.

"If you want to have a wonderful party on a boat, then come to Windridge and you will get just exactly what your dreams are all about," says Kathleen Windridge, the owner of the yacht.

She normally rents it for private parties and corporate events. The New Year's tickets are $175 for a four-hour cruise, with open bar and a buffet.

"We finished being sold out today. So we are very, very fortunate," says Windridge.

New Year's is also a night for non-profits to raise money through charity events. In Los Angeles, Ron Lynch, a comedian and voice on the TV show "Bob's Burgers," is hosting a live show at the Steve Allen Theater, a portion of the proceeds going to the non-profit Trepany House.

"It's only $20," he says. "We tried to make it as cheap as possible and still try to make a little money."

The show will feature comedians from "Mr. Show" and "Community." Members of Cee Lo Green's band will close the show with a dance party.

Why you acting crazy, Twitter?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

Twitter’s stock has gone for quite a ride in the past week.  It swung from $60 a share up to almost $75, and then right back down again.  Does Twitter need mood stabilizers? Only a trained medical professional can answer that question.  But if it does, it’s not because of the volatility of its stock.

You see, volatility is as volatility does, as they say.

“What you’re seeing is just the uncertainty and volatility of the underlying economics feeding through into the price,” says Scott Clemons, Chief Investment Strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. 

The price of any stock is based on two things: How much money do people think the company will make in the future? And how much is that worth to investors?

For a company like Twitter, which hasn’t made money yet, estimates vary wildly.

“Some analysts think Twitter is the best thing since sliced bread, other analysts can look at it and say, 'Remember MySpace?,'” says Clemons.  For a newly-floated company like Twitter, “the valuation is more a matter of faith than it is of analytical observation.”


This time of year is usually volatile.

"So many people are on vacation – there’s fewer market players," says Eric Parnell, founder of Gerring Wealth Management.

Basically, stock trading is like a crowd of people all talking at once – voices usually get drowned out. But if there are just a few people in the room, voices – and trades -- carry.  

Also, the end of the year is a good opportunity to lock in gains (or losses, if you need to book some) and “position yourself” -- both from a tax perspective and in terms of strategy for the new year.

Many money managers try to position themselves this time of year in stocks that have been hot during the previous year – “it’s really for appearances,” says Wells Fargo Advisors Senior Equity Strategist Scott Wren.

Lastly, Brown Brothers Harriman’s Scott Clemons adds, a lot of people take care of their big philanthropy this time of year.  So they might give a bunch of shares to a charity, which will then immediately sell them and cash out.    


Volatility might be scary if you’re invested in a stock and you’re watching it bounce all over the place, but in general it’s not a bad thing.  In fact, “It’s an opportunity,” says Wells Fargo’s Scott Wren.   “You want volatility , you want the market to have some pullback because it gives you opportunities to invest cash you may have on the sidelines.”

But it turns out, Twitter notwithstanding, volatility, as measured by a metric called the VIX, was just at a low for the year.  That could mean investors are either being timid, or, as Eric Parnell believes, it’s a sign of complacency.

"Extreme calm can almost be a sign of bad things to come," he says. "It’s always good to have people on guard and show caution, it means people are acting with good discipline."

In a year with strong double-digit gains in the market and "no meaningful correction," it has Parnell eyeing the horizon. 

Wells Fargo Advisor’s Scott Wren also expects volatility to pick up in the next few months.

"There are high expectations for 2014 that economic growth will accelerate to a new level," he says. "We don’t see that and I think there will be some surprises."

Swiss bank account holders, time to fess up!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

If you have a hidden Swiss bank account, now’s probably the time to admit it. Dec. 31 is the deadline for famously-secretive Swiss banks to sign up for non-prosecution deals with the U.S. government, in exchange for passing over detailed account information about their American clients.

“The Justice Department and the IRS have always looked at these cases as if you come clean and you come forward before we get your name, you can avoid prosecution,” says Jeffrey Neiman, a lawyer who helped prosecute the government case against the Swiss bank UBS. 

In 2009, UBS agreed to identify its American customers and pay the U.S. $780 million to settle charges it helped Americans avoid taxes.

But owning up isn’t as easy as writing a heartfelt apology to the IRS. 

“Americans with undeclared assets are going to file eight years of amended tax forms, eight years of delinquent other forms and they are going to have to pay whatever tax is owed," says Neiman.

Eight years of tax forms. Big penalties. It sounds like a lot. But failure to report could be a whole lot worse.

“You’re risking jail,” says Neiman. And losing a big chunk of your account value.

So, let’s weigh the odds. Just how likely is it really that the government will track you down? 

“You know the thinking now is that it’ll probably come out, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but before too long,” says James Hines, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Swiss banks don’t want trouble with the U.S. government any more than the rest of us. They’re likely to hand over your account information if it keeps them off a prosecutor’s to-do list. Which is why lawyers think the best thing hidden account holders can do is, fess up.

Will Volgograd attacks scare off Olympic tourists?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:05

Two suicide bomb attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd have raised questions about the country’s security and preparedness to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“I think a lot of people in Russia are in shock” says the BBC’s Artyom Liss, based in Moscow. “Most people are just concentrating on the day-to-day but there is a very palpable sense of unease, certainly here in Moscow and in other parts of Russia as well.”

Volgograd is about 600 miles to the Northeast of Sochi. The state-controlled media have regularly assured its audience that the insurgency was under control and that the Sochi games would be “the safest Olympics in history.”

Russia was already expected to spend about $50 billion on the games and it’s expected they’ll boost security but some analysts have suggested Putin used security funding to keep watch on his political enemies rather than fight terrorism.

"A lot of the security experts are saying this amount of money and this amount of resource and effort could have been better spent trying to infiltrate those extremist cells and trying to tackle them."

With six weeks until the games are scheduled to begin, it’s too soon to say if the attacks will reduce attendance at Sochi.


Jane Austen explains monetary policy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 11:31

This final note: It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that if you combine Jane Austen and economics, I can't resist it.

We don't know exactly what was going on at Citibank over the holidays, but we're delighted that their strategist Steven Englander decided to explain monetary and fiscal policy using Austen quotes.

In his argument for Fed transparency:

"I don't approve of surprises. The pleasure is never enhanced and the inconvenience is considerable." 

To justify quantitative easing:

"A large income is the best recipe for happiness."

And for entitlement reform:

"People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them."

Those are from "Emma", and "Pride and Prejudice." (H/T Business Insider, for finding the note.)

Official In Charge Of Creating Steps Down

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:59

Michelle Snyder, who was responsible for the problem-plagued website, will retire from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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Al-Qaida's Receipts: From 60-Cent Cake To A $6,800 Workshop

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:55

Receipts left behind in Timbuktu show how the terrorist network tracks its expenses, The Associated Press reports. From minor amounts spent on food to much more spent on meetings, al-Qaida records expenses much like a multinational corporation would, the wire service says.

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At Long Last, Female Ski Jumpers Can Go For Olympic Gold

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:34

The event makes its debut in Sochi after a fight that landed in a Canadian courtroom and endured years of setbacks. At trials in Park City, Utah, on Sunday, ski jumper Jessica Jerome, 27, became the first woman to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

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Report Details NSA's Alleged High-Tech Tricks For Snaring Data

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:13

The NSA's Tailored Access Operations division uses everything from modified USB plugs to fake cell towers to access targets' data, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. The agency's elite TAO unit focuses on producing high-quality and hard-to-gain intelligence, Der Spiegel reports.

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A year in China: bad air, bad debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:05

As we look at the biggest stories of 2013, what stands out to Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz is the idea of "forced transparency" in two specific areas of China: bad air quality and bad debt.

AIR QUALITY. Some people may have first started paying attention to the air pollution in China during the 'airpocalypse' in Beijing earlier this year, along with this month's bad Shanghai smog. And that has shifted focus to the hard truths of China's economic growth. Lung cancer deaths are up, and so is frustration from everyday Chinese who must live with the heavy pollution. 


BAD DEBT. Then, there was an interbank lending crisis in China in June.  China’s credit bubble got too big, and the "shadow banking" industry posed a huge threat to the world's second-largest economy.  Schmitz says there is "tons of bad debt" in China's economic growth model, which is built on the premise of, "borrow, borrow, borrow; and build, build, build."  For years, China could hide it. But like air pollution, it's now out there for all to see.

"We'll see more events like this in 2014, where the government can no longer hide from its own people," Schmitz says, "because the fallout from 30 years of economic growth at all costs is becoming more and more obvious to everyone here."

A year in China: bad debt and an 'airpocalypse'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 10:05

As we look at the biggest stories of 2013, what stands out to Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz is the idea of "forced transparency" in two specific areas of China: bad air quality and bad debt.

AIR QUALITY. Some people may have first started paying attention to the air pollution in China during the 'airpocalypse' in Beijing earlier this year, along with this month's bad Shanghai smog. And that has shifted focus to the hard truths of China's economic growth. Lung cancer deaths are up, and so is frustration from everyday Chinese who must live with the heavy pollution. 


BAD DEBT. Then, there was an interbank lending crisis in China in June.  China’s credit bubble got too big, and the "shadow banking" industry posed a huge threat to the world's second-largest economy.  Schmitz says there is "tons of bad debt" in China's economic growth model, which is built on the premise of, "borrow, borrow, borrow; and build, build, build."  For years, China could hide it. But like air pollution, it's now out there for all to see.

"We'll see more events like this in 2014, where the government can no longer hide from its own people," Schmitz says, "because the fallout from 30 years of economic growth at all costs is becoming more and more obvious to everyone here."

Test Sites Chosen For Commercial Drone Testing

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 09:17

The locations are expected to produce jobs as companies try out ways to make money with "unmanned aircraft systems." The six sites stretch from Alaska south to Texas and then north to New York State.

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Inside the NSA's elite hacking unit

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 09:10

German publication Der Spiegel reports on just how far the National Security Agency might be going to build back doors into technology for surveillance in a story about a division called Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. The elite group of government hackers apparently intercepted packages carrying gear, like servers and computer parts, to install special monitoring equipment. Click the audio player above to hear more.

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