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Fluke Donates Multimeters To SparkFun As Goodwill Gesture 250

Posted by Soulskill
from the companies-getting-along dept.
Actually, I do RTFA writes "We recently heard about the confiscation of a delivery of multimeters to SparkFun for infringing on Fluke's trademark. One common thread in the discussions was the theme that Fluke should have let that shipment through as a goodwill gesture to SparkFun and the Maker community. Well, Fluke did one better. They announced they were sending more than $30k worth of official multimeters to SparkFun for them to do whatever they want with. SparkFun is most likely going to give them away. A great example of win-win-win?"
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Fluke Donates Multimeters To SparkFun As Goodwill Gesture

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  • Good PR Move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cpt_Kirks (37296) on Friday March 21, 2014 @01:43PM (#46544995)

    Fluke moves from villain to hero.

    $30K is cheap for good PR.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by Spiridios (2406474)

      Fluke moves from villain to hero.

      $30K is cheap for good PR.

      While I agree it's good PR and great thing for Fluke to do, one wonders at the price of Fluke vs the price of those knockoffs, how many Flukes will Sparkfun actually get? It's obviously not a 1:1 replacement, and probably shouldn't be, but Sparkfun might still be coming out negative on this if they were planning on selling those original meters.

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        I didn't read the article, but the summary says MORE THAN 30K. Maybe they matched them 1:1 which lead to the extra valuation.

        • by DragonTHC (208439)

          The statement says the valuation of the donation is more than that of the impounded shipment.

      • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Godai (104143) * on Friday March 21, 2014 @01:58PM (#46545167)

        I think Sparkfun is out either way from what I understand. They're planning on giving the Fluke ones away to educational institutions, but they seem much happier about this than just flat out losing the $30k worth of meters.

        • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Obfuscant (592200) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:13PM (#46545301)

          I think Sparkfun is out either way from what I understand. They're planning on giving the Fluke ones away...

          Sparkfun is out only because they CHOOSE to give stuff away. Don't cry for them, they're being made whole by the generosity of a large evil corporation, or at least that was the opinion most people had of Fluke yesterday. It's Fluke who is out either way. Either Fluke becomes this evil company that is simply trying to keep its trademark and a few people stop buying from them, or they hand out $30k and the same people who would buy from them anyway keep buying from them.

          And Fluke is out for support, too. Those people who get free Fluke meters from Sparcfun aren't going to call Sparcfun when they need help with the meter. They're going to call Fluke because Fluke's name is on them.

          I think that's a pretty sweet deal for Sparcfun. They violated a trademark and they're not suffering one bit from it. The company whose trademark they infringed is the one losing money.

          • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:25PM (#46545429) Homepage

            I think that's a pretty sweet deal for Sparcfun. They violated a trademark and they're not suffering one bit from it. The company whose trademark they infringed is the one losing money.

            ...but Fluke apparently considers it worth the cost to be the good guy.

            • by Obfuscant (592200)

              ...but Fluke apparently considers it worth the cost to be the good guy.

              Yep. And because of that, there is no need for pity for Sparkfun.

              • by Sarten-X (1102295)
                I'm just saying there's no need to feel sorry for Fluke, either. They chose to give away the multimeters and play the hero.
          • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:31PM (#46545499)

            I don't think that Sparkfun was intentionally trying to get fluke lookalike DMMs, and I'm very sure that Fluke agrees with me. Yeah, Fluke got put in a rough spot by this mess, but nobody was malicious. So Fluke spends a bit of their advertising budget to buy their way out. They benefit because they keep their trademark and they get their products into the hands of tomorrow's engineers, technicians and hobbyists. Sparkfun gets to make a great big gesture about IP law and an actual choice about donating equipment (which they do pretty often anyways - this won't kill them). This is what we call 'win win.'

            Since they're donating the DMMs, technically both companies are losing about 30K. Given their respective sizes, Sparkfun is making the larger sacrifice, I think.

            • Re:Good PR Move (Score:4, Interesting)

              by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Friday March 21, 2014 @09:14PM (#46548335)

              a long time ago, I would have said fluke could afford it.

              but fluke is no longer fluke. tektronics is not tek and keithley is not keithley. they are ALL danaher now. what does that say? the industry greats (seriously world-class great) could not survive on their own and some non-test gear company bought them. ALL!

              agilent is still - oh wait - they changed names. who are they now? doesn't matter, I guess. they are not in the danaher family.

              who else is still a big player in test gear, ignoring the one-hung-low companies? danaher has most of the big players now. very strange how that worked out.

              maybe danaher is rich, but seeing what tek is doing these days (outsourcing all but their top-end gear) and seeing that keithley is outsourcing to 1HL companies as well, I'm just not sure any of those companies are all that rich these days.

              • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

                \who else is still a big player in test gear, ignoring the one-hung-low companies?

                I don't know what this means, but I too am hung low.

          • by kimvette (919543) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:56PM (#46545743) Homepage Journal

            I stick with Fluke - or if in a pinch and need to buy locally (i.e., if I left my Fluke DMM and testers behind), Extech, but I try to avoid the Extech stuff at least as primary tools. It (Extech) might be one of the best of the cheap meters, but they are still short of the quality and reliability of Fluke's products.

            • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Informative)

              by DMUTPeregrine (612791) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:12PM (#46546787) Journal
              Yep. A big thing people don't get is safety. Have you ever had a cheap multimeter fuse blow and toss shards of glass through the case, avoiding your hand only because you weren't holding the meter there? I have. $100-$200 more for a meter with proper input protection, HRC fuses, a strong case, etc, is well worth the money. There is of course a lot more to Fluke meters' quality than just their input protection, they're ridiculously reliable (Dave Jones took a Fluke 87-V caving, swam with it, dropped it off a 15-meter bridge onto concrete repeatedly, and still didn't break it) and very accurate (for handhelds, good bench meters are of course better than handheld meters.) Fluke makes great equipment. Of course, the other top-end brands make similarly good equipment. Agilent meters are great, etc, etc.
          • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Interesting)

            by suutar (1860506) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:58PM (#46545767)
            It's not a total loss. I'm now substantially more likely to shell out for a Fluke next time I need a multimeter.
          • by Geste (527302)

            And Fluke is out for support, too. Those people who get free Fluke meters from Sparcfun aren't going to call Sparcfun when they need help with the meter. They're going to call Fluke because Fluke's name is on them.

            .

            People call Fluke for support on a frickin' DMM???

        • by MadCow42 (243108)

          It's good PR for Sparkfun too. They're getting way more value already than $30k of publicity usually gives you.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        It's obviously not a 1:1 replacement, and probably shouldn't be, but Sparkfun might still be coming out negative on this if they were planning on selling those original meters.

        Of course Sparkfun was going to sell the original Chinese knock-offs. And they could just as well sell the better Fluke meters and they'd come out in the exact same place. Probably ahead of the game since they'd not have to stock so many meters (less shelf/warehouse space), or ship so many meters (less fixed costs to shipping). But they CHOOSE to give them away, so any losses Sparkfun has at this point are from their own choices, not the fault of Fluke (who didn't impound the original shipment) or the Chin

        • by cruff (171569)

          The question is, did Sparkfun learn anything from this or will they make another order from the same Chinese company for the same meters and hope Customs doesn't catch them? After all, they got away with it for some time.

          I thought they stated they will carry the same cheaper meters, but with the Sparkfun red housing substituted instead.

      • by kimvette (919543)

        It is probably a 1:3 - 1:5 replacement for equivalent functionality but far better accuracy and reliability.

    • Re:Good PR Move (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bigpat (158134) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:07PM (#46545253)

      Still. No way Fluke should have been given that trademark. This isn't a "mark" it is the design of the product itself.

      That is another damning example of a big enough company being able to buy off the right lawyers to say some abusive use of the law is legally okay. A design patent might have been appropriate in this case, but those expire in 15 years and how long have they been selling two toned multi-meters? If it is more than 15 years then Sparkfun should have every right to sell something that looks similar.

      Clearly they went for a trademark rather than the appropriate design patent so it wouldn't expire. But a trade mark is supposed to be exactly that: A word or mark on a product or marketing material that indicates the company or brand that is selling it. Like a Nike swoosh or the Apple with a bite out of it or even a word mark like IBM. It would be like Nike trying to trademark a two toned sneaker or Ford trying to trademark a black muscle car with a yellow stripe rather than just the swoosh or the word "Ford" in an oval.

      Just because we can say that the government is at fault for awarding this trademark in the first place, doesn't mean we can absolve the company of an abuse of intellectual property law.

      Yes, they got some bad press and figured it would effect their business, but I don't think they have made this right until they cancel or abandon this trademark altogether

      • Re:Good PR Move (Score:5, Informative)

        by syzler (748241) <david AT syzdek DOT net> on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:32PM (#46545509)
        Although the blog mentions, trademark [wikipedia.org] , I bet the multi-meters were actually infringing upon trade dress [wikipedia.org] of Fluke's multimeters. Trade mark reserves a specific logo/phrase/design. Trade dress protects the look and feel of the product. I learned a great deal about this distinction from Mattel when I created a Magic Eight Ball app for iOS when the iTunes app store first opened.
      • by hubie (108345)
        I don't think it is as much of a big, bad entity buying off anyone with lawyers. From the PTO FAQ [uspto.gov]:

        A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

        Do Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents protect the same things?

        No. Trademarks, copyrights and patents all differ. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a patent protects an invention.

        As pointed out in the Wiki article on design patents, an object (like the Coca-Cola bottle shape) can be both covered by a design patent and a trademark. As you mentioned, a design patent runs out after a certain amount of time, but a trademark is valid as long as it is used in commerce. Also, from this article [natlawreview.com]:

        In Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., the U.S. Supreme Court held that color alone may be protected as a trademark, “when that color has attained ‘secondary meaning’ and therefore identifies and distinguishes a particular brand (and thus indicates its ‘source’).” The Court held color may not be protected as a trademark when it is “functional”. There are two types of functionality: “utilitarian” and “aesthetic.” A color is functional under the utilitarian test if it is essential to the use or purpose of the product, or affects the cost or quality of the product. A color is aethestically functional if its exclusive use “would put a competitor at a significant non-reputation-related disadvantage”. If color “act(s) as a symbol that distinguishes a firm’s goods and identifies their source, without serving any other significant function,” it can be protected as a trademark.

        If you work around lots of multimeters, as I do, Fluke certainly has distinguished itself by looks

      • by DRJlaw (946416)

        Clearly they went for a trademark rather than the appropriate design patent so it wouldn't expire. But a trade mark is supposed to be exactly that: A word or mark on a product or marketing material that indicates the company or brand that is selling it. Like a Nike swoosh or the Apple with a bite out of it or even a word mark like IBM. It would be like Nike trying to trademark a two toned sneaker or Ford trying to trademark a black muscle car with a yellow stripe rather than just the swoosh or the word "For

    • by Immerman (2627577) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:15PM (#46545333)

      So, SparkFun, a company in the business of selling multimeters, is now being gifted a large number of its competitors superior product. How is this a good thing? They've still lost a ton of money on their own shipment, and can't even give away the Fluke meters without likely reducing the demand for their own product, and probably making their product look bad in comparison as well. Maybe they could sell them to try to recoup some of their losses, but that risks damaging their public image.

      Unless they can manage some seriously good PR spin, this looks to me kind of like SparkFun is receiving a very polite and well-spoken slap in the face by Fluke.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:33PM (#46545521) Homepage

        SparkFun is in the business of selling DIY electronics. They're more like a modern Heath.

        They're out the original shipment, but Fluke stepped in with an absolutely unnecessary act of goodwill. Now SparkFun's broken even, because they still have multimeters to sell to make their business, and the customers that would have bought the original ones still want multimeters, and now SparkFun has the Fluke brand, to boot...

        But this is no longer in the hands of the inventory people. This is marketing. Sure, SparkFun could probably sell the multimeters at a very nice profit, but that's not their business. They're selling electronics in general, so they thrive on the repeat business rather than one-time equipment sales. Giving away these multimeters to loyal customers is a nice way to build their own brand loyalty.

        Fluke looks like the good guy. SparkFun gets cheap viral marketing. Everybody's walking away happy.

      • SparkFun and Fluke aren't even in the same league though, their customer bases are completely different. that's like saying Ferarri giving Chevrolet 30 cars to do with as they wish because of a mix-up on something that cost chev 300 cars, and Ferarri out of the goodness of their hearts (aka for good PR) gives them free cars, suddenly those 30 ferarris are going to reduce demand of Chevs?

        of course not. the Market for people who buy Ferarris, is not the same as the guys who buy Chevs. same with the guys w

    • by goombah99 (560566)

      I always feel good when I hold my Yellow fluke. Somehow I associate that color with a symbol of quality. SO as stupid as copyrighting Yellow for multimeters sounds when you say it out loud, I can see that this is actually something of immense value to the brand in this case. If you are not a EE then you probably don't understand this sensation.

  • Except for the huge loss and waste of those sparkfun meters, which last I checked were still being destroyed.

    • by Cpt_Kirks (37296)

      Sparkfun is trying to divert at least some of the meters to other countries, where the Fluke trademark does not apply.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Except for the huge loss and waste of those sparkfun meters, which last I checked were still being destroyed.

      Honestly, those things were POS anyways. Cheap meters are a safety hazard and potentially lethal. Yes. lethal.

      They're constructed poorly, have little to no input protection and have unpredictable overload behavior. Use them for anything more than low voltage measurements and you're putting your life in danger.

      Flukes, Agilent (err, Keysight), etc., they all construct their meters with protection. You

  • That original $30,000 shipment was apparently 2,000 multimeters. I'm guessing that $30,000 "worth" of Fluke meters, while a nice gift, will constitute a lot fewer units, meaning fewer makers will end up getting their hands on a meter.

    • by jo_ham (604554) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (999mahoj)> on Friday March 21, 2014 @01:57PM (#46545161)

      The Ars Technica article notes that the shipment of meters from Fluke exceeds the value of the original dodgy multimeters.

      • Ya, which is marketing speak for as little extra as possible. Obviously it it not going to come out even.

        When they say more than $30K, they do not mean $60K, they mean $30K and chance.

      • by x0ra (1249540)
        Are we talking about retail value, or production value ? If Microsoft donates for 10 millions worth of Windows license, it will NOT cost them 10 millions. All that revenue would not have been generated at the first place.
    • by retchdog (1319261)

      They could sell them, and then use that money to pay for a new non-infringing shipment of (inferior) multimeters.

      Of course since it's important for them to appear altruistic, they'll probably just give away a smaller number of (superior) multimeters.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      That original $30,000 shipment was apparently 2,000 multimeters. I'm guessing that $30,000 "worth" of Fluke meters, while a nice gift, will constitute a lot fewer units, meaning fewer makers will end up getting their hands on a meter.

      I guess the makers will have to get by on $10 eBay meters instead of $15 SparkFun meters (that coincidentally, *also* have the Fluke color scheme).

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Digita... [ebay.com]

      • That original $30,000 shipment was apparently 2,000 multimeters. I'm guessing that $30,000 "worth" of Fluke meters, while a nice gift, will constitute a lot fewer units, meaning fewer makers will end up getting their hands on a meter.

        I guess the makers will have to get by on $10 eBay meters instead of $15 SparkFun meters (that coincidentally, *also* have the Fluke color scheme).

        http://www.ebay.com/itm/Digita... [ebay.com]

        Or this $5 unit from Harbor Freight, [harborfreight.com] that also happens to have a spot for testing PNP and NPN transistors.

        That is, $5 if you don't have one of the "free multimeter" coupons they put in the Sunday paper every other week.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          That original $30,000 shipment was apparently 2,000 multimeters. I'm guessing that $30,000 "worth" of Fluke meters, while a nice gift, will constitute a lot fewer units, meaning fewer makers will end up getting their hands on a meter.

          I guess the makers will have to get by on $10 eBay meters instead of $15 SparkFun meters (that coincidentally, *also* have the Fluke color scheme).

          http://www.ebay.com/itm/Digita... [ebay.com]

          Or this $5 unit from Harbor Freight, [harborfreight.com] that also happens to have a spot for testing PNP and NPN transistors.

          That is, $5 if you don't have one of the "free multimeter" coupons they put in the Sunday paper every other week.

          That one won't work, it's red, not yellow. Yellow meters are better, that's why everyone wants a Fluke.

  • Used to be that you trademarked your logo and your model-name. But trademarking your colors, shapes, etc. is ridiculous. How is this different from Toyota AND Honda selling yellow cars? If it looks like a Fluke, and I pick it up and see SparkFun on it, I think, "Heh, they copied Fluke's design". It's not disingenuous. They're selling an inferior product for a much smaller price to people who don't need a $3000 Fluke meter to check their robot's power relay. They're not labeling it or branding it as a Fluke
    • by gewalker (57809)

      Unless you are getting multi-meters that "fell off the back of the truck" I don't think anyone is going to confuse a $3000 MM with a cheap knockoff. It's not like buying a fake Rolex, people don't drop 3 large for a MM unless they have very specific requirements, like drop-proof, water-proof, dust-proof, etc. for use in a heavy industrial environment. Most of Fluke's MM's can be purchased for a few hundred USD (depending on your definition of few).

      I checked Fluke-Direct.com and there are 2 models over 1000

    • Maybe a few high end benchtop ones, but all their handheld DMMs (which is what this whole issue is about) are well under the $3K level. You can buy an entry-level Fluke DMM for less than $150 last I checked. Most of the mainstream models are $300-$400.

      And if you actually make your living using instruments like these, they are worth every penny you pay. Even if just for the security that the thing isn't going to blow up in your face when testing mains power...

    • by Quila (201335)

      Used to be that you trademarked your logo and your model-name. But trademarking your colors, shapes, etc. is ridiculous.

      Color has been a possible part of trademark for a long time. Trademarks are not "intellectual property." It is consumer protection law, meant to prevent knock-off products from looking too much like the desired products. Hey, my friend had this awesome multimiter, and this $15 one in front of me looks like it. I think I'll get it. The cheap multimeter caused confusion in the market, and a

  • I'm looking at a digital multimeter from Radio Shack that I bought about 5 years ago when they closed a store near me. It sure looks like the same shade of yellow...

  • A great move in a difficult situation.

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:25PM (#46545435)
    In other words, a fluke.
  • Dear Fluke,

    I use your multimeters and love them. Please allow SparkFun to have a one-time, royalty-free license to use your trademark for this batch of multimeters.

    No one is going to confuse these multimeters with those of Fluke. And it will be a good-will gesture that those of us in the EE community would appreciate.

    byteherder
  • Is that $30K cost of production, wholesale, or retail?

    This last shipment was apparently $5 a multimeter, but they were probably going to sell them at over $40 a pop (random guess).

    If these replacements are measured in retail price, it probably only cost the company a few hundred to manufacture them.

  • There was never a chance of giving away the meters to an NPO, trade school, or public school. The hardware would inevitably be as suspect as the look-alike case. I am not convinced that there is a place for the $15 multimeter even in the makerbot movement.

    Any shorthand description of Fluke and its product lines will read like corporate PR. but that can't be helped.

    Fluke, a subsidiary of Danaher (maker of Craftsman tools), makes handheld electronic test tools used by electricians, HVAC technicians, and engineers to install, maintain, and service electrical and electronic equipment. Its multimeters, oscilloscopes, and other devices measure current, voltage resistance, frequency, pressure, temperature, and air quality. It also makes calibrators and calibration software, waveform generators, and power harmonics meters. Its Fluke Biomedical unit makes patient simulators, diagnostic imaging, and radiation safety products, among others.

    Fluke Corporation Company Profile [yahoo.com]

    The cheapest Fluke multimeter I could find online sells for about $150 and is CAT III rated for 600 volts.

    This category refers to measurements on hard-wired equipment in fixed installations, distribution boards, and circuit breakers. Other examples are wiring, including cables, bus bars, junction boxes, switches, socket outlets in the fixed installation, and stationary motors with permanent connections to fixed installations.

    Wha [ni.com]

    • by Mr.CRC (2330444)
      A kid with a decent $15 multimeter is way ahead of one with no meter at all. There is nothing wrong with cheap DMMs, as long as their limitations are understood. I have some kit Elenco DMMs for about $15 that are useful in many circumstances. I also have very good bench DMMs by Fluke and Tek. And middle of the road handheld 4.5 digit DMMs. All have their place. Any one of them is infinitely superior to nothing.
  • Because who cares about the environment, right?

  • Fluke could have just as easily done nothing but they see the sparkfun community for what it is. A group of people who are technical hobbyists, a sizable number of which are probably in purchasing positions in their professional lives... I have both fluke's a Simpson, and some cheapy meters. I have cheapies in the toolboxes of my trucks where all I care about is "is this wire live" or "is there some continuity between here and ground"... I don't care about accuracy. I use my Fluke's when I want accuracy.

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday March 21, 2014 @03:03PM (#46545809)
    Next week, order some Chinese cars that look suspiciously like Bugatti Veyrons.
  • Fluke did their job well. Now it's up to Sparkfun.

    Whoever gets those will have the experience of using a good multimeter. I have a Fluke 21 on my desk right now. It's over 20 years old. Autoranges over inputs from 1mV to 1KV. Auto power off. Runs for years on a 9V battery. Test leads have good strain reliefs and don't wear out in normal use. Finger guards on the probes so you don't slip into a live circuit. Ohms measurement still calibrated properly; goes to 0.00 if you hold the probes together tightly.

    • Fluke did their job well. Now it's up to Sparkfun.

      Missing from summery is the Sparkfun webpage https://www.sparkfun.com/news/... [sparkfun.com] sparkfun which claims "SparkFun has officially accepted their offer and will be donating the Fluke multimeters to several educational institutions and schools" if you read the comments Africa would be a good area to start looking for drop off spots.

  • In computing, "Win" has an unfortunate association with "loss", so the phrase "win-win" is ruined. This is why I always say "lin-lin" when referring to mutually profitable outcomes. Although in this case, depending on your measurements, it might also be lin-log or log-log (because everyone loves the log).
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      It rolls downstairs

      alone or in pairs

      rolls over the neighbor's dog

      It's great for a snack

      It fits on your back

      it's log log log!

      I'm more than a little disturbed I still remember that.

  • I dabble in electronics, Fluke is a very nice MultiMeter. TheRegnirps claimed on sparkfun when Fluke was being seen in a bad light: " I used to have a high voltage supply (I used for calibrating photomultipliers) from Fluke, a 5kV supply with rotary switches all the way down to 0.1 volt steps and it was dead on. This kind of thing is not easy. "

    A separate post not a reply, even stole a quote; in hopes others follow Flukes example as well as an attaboy to Fluke.

  • I remember reading not too long ago about a particular HVAC manifold that is used for testing systems in the field. The original one had a specific setup and specific color scheme, and was made in the USA. Eventually a Chinese company started to copy it down to the last detail (in some cases including copying the name and model number) but produced a vastly inferior product in the process.

    However because some people were acquiring these crappy copies believing them to be the real thing, sales of the o
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:20PM (#46547211) Homepage Journal

    If this isn't a prime example of why IP laws need to be tossed into the garbage i don't know what is.

    Sure, its great Fluke stepped up the plate to help out, but this should have never been an issue in the first place. It's a *COLOR* ... geesh

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