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Language Learner Looks for Leads in Learning?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the say-title-three-times-fast dept.

Education 42

zanzibar asks: "I learned C in a college course, I learned C++ and Java from books, and I learned Rails from blogs. I'm not convinced one of these methods was more effective than the others. I want to know what other readers think about technical education. What do they want to learn and how do they want it delivered? What do they like about their options today (from college coursework to Wikiversity)? What's missing? What just doesn't work?"

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..:: first post ::.. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18469921)


Lotsa Ls (0, Offtopic)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#18469971)

Cute alliteration [] headline, n'est-ce pas? Useless, though, ya Looser.

Re:Lotsa Ls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18470007)

Ludicrous! Alliteration alleviates loss of language lethargy!

Re:Lotsa Ls (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470681)

Perhaps it's just a pet peeve of mine, but I find alliteration to be one of those most idiotic devices a person can use. It's a good way to drop your representative IQ by about forty points.

Re:Lotsa Ls (1)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18472175)

Language Learner Leads in Low-Q?

Re:Lotsa Ls (1)

GrievousMistake (880829) | more than 7 years ago | (#18473891)

It's a perfectly legitimate literary device that has been used to great effect by amongst others William Shakespeare and Edgard Allan Poe. Everyday speech has a lot of such pairs of words with pleasant pronounciation, like 'pet peve'.
You were just having a cheap shot at the cheesy headline, and chided lots of historic literature, hopefully to your chagrin.
For your penance, look at the headline again and imagine a Beowulf cluster of those.

LLLLL? (0, Offtopic)

atamyrat (980611) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470021)

Lack of Lisp and Logo in the List of Languages that Language Learner has Learned is Lame! :)

Re:LLLLL? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18470643)


Re:LLLLL? (1)

Z0mb1eman (629653) | more than 7 years ago | (#18471493)

That is quite possibly the first on-topic "LOL" post I've ever read :p

Re:LLLLL? (1)

Bazman (4849) | more than 7 years ago | (#18471573)

Any Assistance About Alliteration Aimless.

Re:LLLLL? (1)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18474313)

Lisp, okay! Logo, ????

Let me be the first to suggest (0, Offtopic)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470031)

to look long at loquacious lexicons lengthening learning luminosity.

Learning styles (3, Interesting)

farker haiku (883529) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470111)

What do they want to learn and how do they want it delivered? What do they like about their options today (from college coursework to Wikiversity)? What's missing? What just doesn't work?"

In my personal experience, classrooms that were structured were one of the best methods for me. In the end though, the best way to learn is to practice, which may be why the structure of the classroom was most effective for me. Learning from books is my second suggestion, as when I try to learn from an online source, I tend to get distracted... too many links and other areas to explore.

I know this subject has been talked about many times before on slashdot, and the general consensus is that discipline can keep this from affecting you, but with ADD and a daily overdose of caffeine, the discipline falls by the wayside when I see something shiny (oooo a 14 line ruby rss aggregator!).

So what works for me? If I'm not in a classroom, I work from a laptop and a book... with the wireless turned off. It's the only way to enforce the discipline I need.

Re:Learning styles (1)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18472141)

The classroom context provides the motivation to practice and therefore to learn. Is the structure defined by assignments and tests, or by the community of learners in the classroom? Thinking back on my experience, assignments (and the resulting grade) provided the "stick", especially when I wasn't particularly self motivated. But I also remember thinking, on occasion, "Why am I cramming this stuff into my head? I'm going to forget it 24-hours after the test." Regular thoughts like that seemed to lead up to me leaving graduate school (not in CS, however).

Skimming through the thread, here, I see the concept of "practice" comes up frequently. Without reading everything, I do suspect that will be the consensus for learning. However, I'm now very interested in thoughts on the community aspect of the college classroom. Helpful or not?

Re:Learning styles (1)

farker haiku (883529) | more than 7 years ago | (#18472401)

However, I'm now very interested in thoughts on the community aspect of the college classroom. Helpful or not?

In every programming class I've taken, I've always finished projects first. Does that mean that I was more talented? No, not in all cases. However, it did mean that (for me at least) the community aspect of the college classroom wasn't all that helpful. Note that I didn't say "Not at all helpful" because the rest of the class quickly realized that I was done early. As a result, classmates came to me with questions. By going over their code (that didn't work) with them, it helped me understand other people's thought processes, their general approach to programming and what traps to avoid.

It also helped me learn how to debug poorly written code with no comments :)

Re:Learning styles (1)

izzo nizzo (731042) | more than 7 years ago | (#18473043)

I agree, practice is very important. I think the rapidly expanding Ruby literature is great, but none of the books, to my knowledge, contain problem sets or exercises of any kind (aside from their iterative but simplistic examples that run through the book in some cases). Ruby quiz is a good resource but it would be preferable to also have simpler stuff that would help younger students to make quick progress and see if they were getting the concepts right away.

I was trying to make a list [] of books for learning to program, sort of a minimal set for getting up to speed on my favorite technologies, and that's when I realized that these books don't have problem sets. Normally I think of writing problems as the hardest part of being a teacher, but in Ruby perhaps it wouldn't be all that tough.

Re:Learning styles (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 7 years ago | (#18478739)

"In my personal experience, classrooms that were structured were one of the best methods for me. In the end though, the best way to learn is to practice, which may be why the structure of the classroom was most effective for me."

I think classroom structure is good, but at the same time it stifles the mind. My most effective learning and reasoning was learned once I left school and university and simply was allowed to browse what interested me on the internet, and weigh and measure things myself instead of being told what is good and what isn't, by some school admiinstration or hidden authority figures who write curriculum's and textbooks.

Presentation of data matters, there is no universal way to communicate clearly and effectively to all people, and this is part of the reason the school system fails our children, I learned this from my many years of combing the internet for data. How one person describes something will only be understood easily by a certain group of people, you could re-write what the person has said and clear it up, go into more precise detail to make it more clear and accurate for someone else. Experts tend to compress enormous amounts of conceptual data into fewer words which makes teaching someone from scratch difficult: Just because you're an expert does not mean you'll make a good teacher... I've learned that language and visualizing data properly is the critical issue in education, how a person builds and constructs his understanding is wholly dependent upon the shape of the data itself, and the shape of the data must be allowed to be perturbed and re-written into different versions and flavors of the descriptions given to each individual student as much as possible, the internet and wikipedia like software allow for this mass-automatic ease of manipulation, and also forcing the student into real world situations where he has to use what he has learned to come up with his own solutions and conclusions.

Too much emphasis is placed on grading kids over a set period of time, instead of letting kids learn at their own pace, I know many kids who are slow but absolutely brilliant, but their brilliant thoughts take longer to coalesce in their minds. School tries to force kids to think at the pace of the system or economy, and thats where our society does the most damage: Rush rush rush, money money money. Kids may have shitty marks or middling IQ's but they are sharp as a knife when it comes to observing and understanding what is going on around them.

The internet has made me learn more from discussions and access to both non-traditionally and traditionally smart people I never had in my schools and universities. I was taught to think so rigidly and inflexibly about many things. I exposed myself to other veins of thought far away from western academia. The focus on precision and "objective science" and hard accuracy is all well and good but at the same time it's also blinding, you try to be overly accurate or go too in depth into the basics, before anything is believed or trusted and nothing ever gets understood or done on the whole. People today suffer from anal retentive addiction to "objectivity" or over-analysis with some mixture of science thrown in, as if someones personal experiences counted for nothing, and the only thing that mattered were studies done by "scientists" of varying degrees quality done far away from other people in the real world who live in a variety of different contexts divorced from what a single group of people study and measure.

Take economics for instance: It's not very complicated to understand assuming you don't have a propagandist who wishes to distort the publics understanding of economics. Money is nothing more then energy, a supply that the government controls within any economy to prevent run-away effects and over-consumption of limited resources. But ultimately at the same time it also causes social problems because people no longer own the means of production and therefore the are forced to "compete" against a collective group of private owners, who own the means to produce the basics of life: Food, clothing, etc. So people are simply forced to work by how the system currently operates, which is at the heart of major stress related health problems today many and businesses are forced to run at breakneck speeds and stress levels that are unhealthy for actual human beings, but instead they are treated like resources or cogs in a machine.

its not that hard (2, Informative)

Nyall (646782) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470161)

Once you learn one language (self taught or in school) you should be able to teach yourself any other. What I didn't like about college was being forced to attend class to pass. (where the silly professor taught from power point slides.) And I really hated in-class tests where I had to write code with pen on paper. Projects are the best way to learn.

Did you really learn from blogs or books, or was it the practical application on some project that taught you what you know?

Re:its not that hard (1)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18472409)

Good question. The content came from the books, blogs, etc. Skill came from putting the information into practice. In your case, was there any educational value from the college classroom/coursework, or could you have done it on your own (with appropriate projects, of course)?

Your comment about projects strikes me as very important, and was something I missed when I put the original post together. Going autobiographical for a moment...

I learned about C as a Freshman in college from a K&R book I picked up. But I taught myself C by building things. Immediately prior to that, I owned a series of Sinclair computers and taught myself Basic from the manual(s), while trying to build things. Back to college again, I took a course in the C programming language eventually, but by the time I went to grad school I was interested in C++ and then Java. In both cases, I was back to books but still building things. Finally, Ruby on Rails -- the online API and lots and lots of blogs, but all guided by the need to build something.

So, I clearly trained myself by doing. I now have to wonder, however, how complete that training is -- focused as it was on the immediate goal of project needs and driven by ad hoc knowledge searching (via blogs).

Re:its not that hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18474111)

Well... I liked in-class tests, because they figured they helped separate the real students from those who were just faking it.

Writing code with a pen on paper isn't that hard. Unless you are given an epic program to write. The only other reason is that you make so many mistakes that you HAVE to have the computer check it, in which case you shouldn't be coding to start with, because you'll just make many more SERIOUS mistakes on a real program.

Also tests in general are done to ensure that you actually know SOMETHING, since there are plenty of students who cheat on projects and homeworks by having their friends (or pay their "tutors" to) do it.

It doesn't matter (3, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470179)

After you've learned a half dozen or so languages it doesn't really matter how you learn a language. You often don't need to learn a languge to, say, modify a program written in it, so long as you have the reference by your elbow.

I'd recommend reading the reference documentation which defines the language, then doing some non-trivial maintenance on some real code written in that language. You shouldn't need the programming 101 stuff, and as often as not that stuff imprints bad habits (e.g. sql injection in PHP). Ideally you would work on a first class example of top notch code, then maybe work on some not so stellar ones, to get an idea of what is good and what is bad about the language.

Learning a language is a trivial exercise once you have a few similar ones under your belt. The toughest thing is learning the environment the programs are supposed to run in. Anybody who can program in some C like programming language can learn to program in Java in a few days. It takes months to wrap your brain around J2EE.

On the languge front, you really want to learn master several different paradigms or models. If you program Java, it doesn't make sense to worry very much about C#. What you really want is to learn a set of languages that "think" different ways. For example: Java, Prolog, SQL, Lisp, and something really primitive like assembler. Knowing different models for expressing your ideas will help.

After that, it's a long nasty slog through learning platforms, frameworks and APIs. If the biggest problem in my professional life was learning new languages, then I'd be very happy. It would mean that I would have only my own hubris and fallibilty to have to deal with.

Re:It doesn't matter (1)

aquaepulse (990849) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470279)

Amen to this! Parent has it all correct!

Programming languages don't do the work. They help the programmer express his/her idea of what task needs to be done. Any Turing-complete language will allow you express any task. But can you see the internal structure of the task and are you able to use the most efficient and appropriate language for that task.

Most often I see people learning a litany of languages only to use all of them like C. For example writing a Java app with nothing but static data and methods, in one gigantic class. Clearly these people, while they may be using Java, do not know Java.

Wrong! I used to think that way too... (2, Interesting)

SonOfLilit (1003993) | more than 7 years ago | (#18471319)

I also used to think that way: "After you've learned a few, learning more is all the same".

I knew BASIC, C, Pascal, 80x86 assembler, C++, VB...

A look was enough to learn PHP, Python, Lua or any other of many languages that I learned for a single project and forgot.

The easiest to learn was Ruby, but it had a catch: it introduced me to the world of languages that aren't as easy to learn.

You see, learning PHP when you know C and VB is trivial because they're practically dialects of the same execution model. That's why when you learn another one, it doesn't feel like you actually learned something.

Learning LISP was like learning to program all over again.

Brainfuck too.

I still haven't found myself in Smalltalk (I have problems with trying to do too much too soon - I can write simple programs, but the GUI systems, both MVC and Morphic, I couldn't fit my foot in).

I'm still dreaming of looking at APL, but I already know that it will be something TOTALLY different and mind expanding, with all the beautiful function math there.


Re:It doesn't matter (1)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18472543)

I hear a few things here (and in some of the replies).

First, with the understanding that some programming languages emphasize/embrace different paradigms (object oriented, functional, etc.), languages are similar enough that -- within a paradigm -- moving to a new language is not / should not be hard. Related to this, learning good representative examples of a paradigm is a good thing. Also related, the challenge of learning a new "language" is not the language, per se, but the libraries, tools, etc.

Second, the challenge is not so much learning the language as learning how to use the language correctly. Thinking along this line, an educational environment that encouraged learning via hands-on work on existing "good" code, or via well thought out projects that required consideration of security, or performance, or other typically non-functional requirements, or even via review and study of standards (the C++ ARM or whatever is relevant for Ruby of Java) would be a good thing.

Does this capture your way of thinking about this?

You've already figured it out... (2, Interesting)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 7 years ago | (#18470181)

You've already figured it out...

I'm not convinced one of these methods was more effective than the others.

It's not what language you know. It's about knowing how to solve a problem independent of any language, and then using the language that best solves the problem.

Just keep learning languages for new ideas to express things, but don't keep learning languages thinking that you're going to end up learning The Language, that conquers them all. That language doesn't exist, and it likely never ever will.

What about technology in general (2, Interesting)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18472607)

I probably focused too heavily on languages in the original post.

What about technology in general: networking, security, architecture, programming languages, libraries, testing, operating systems, analysis and design, distributed computing, concurrent programming, artificial intelligence, algorithms.

From the parts of the thread I've read, I suggest that hands-on experience (practice) is essential to learn how to do any of these things well. But what about the content? What the best was to learn about these technologies (with the idea that you're going to use them)?

Re:What about technology in general (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 7 years ago | (#18474419)

I've really found that a mix of the two, hands-on/practice and teaching works the best for me. Basically, it allows you to use what you learn right away, and you have a better chance of retaining it long-term.

However, college courses and teaching classes themselves are pretty inefficient at giving you any sort of meaningful experience or practice with an idea, as you use it then move on. Course work typically is also fairly easy, and constrained so that it doesn't take up your whole life.

I've found a more immediate need to prioritize what to do and what to work on. I'd like to see an unbalanced workload in course work, that no one is expected to complete fully. The aim is to have the students prioritize and work on parts, giving them a more self-directed study.

Essentially this is what I did in High School and college, except I didn't get credit for it. That's also essentially the reason why I didn't date at all. :( Oh well, I'm making up for it well right now. :)

Re:You've already figured it out... (1)

huckda (398277) | more than 7 years ago | (#18476227)

but don't keep learning languages thinking that you're going to end up learning The Language, that conquers them all. That language doesn't exist, and it likely never ever will.
Ahh when I married a Brasilian, Portugese became THAT language ;)

Re:You've already figured it out... (1)

szobatudos (642289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18541481)

It's about knowing how to solve a problem independent of any language, and then using the language that best solves the problem.

I think, following Wittgenstein, that there's no such thing as thinking independent of a language. Ok, it's not necessarily an actual programming language but you think at least in pseudocode. And I bet this thinking tends to be thinking in a C-like language. Which does not help very much if you program in Prolog or ML. Even Java needs a different mindset. I'm afraid of those 'programmers' who are not biased to any language.

Simply start writing (2, Informative)

KlausBreuer (105581) | more than 7 years ago | (#18471267)

I personally learn languages by simply firing them up and fiddling about.
Of course, a book is a good idea to learn from, but you learn fastest by simply starting to code.

I wrote a Windoze-Version of the 1985 Mac game 'ChipWits' (see sig) in Delphi, and now plan to learn C# by simply rewriting that game. Immediate usage is probably by far the quickest way :)

Get a proper degree (1)

CptPicard (680154) | more than 7 years ago | (#18471281)

I just got my CS degree and let me tell you, once you've been through a class in Scheme and Prolog and enough theory, you'll just simply start seeing all languages as trivial when it comes to their details. They are, actually, so trivial that you won't even bother dirtying your hands actually implementing anything in them, although you could, if you wanted to. There are better things for a superior mind to do, though. Such is the Tao of Computer Science.

Re:Get a proper degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18472033)

They are, actually, so trivial that you won't even bother dirtying your hands actually implementing anything in them, although you could, if you wanted to. There are better things for a superior mind to do, though.

Like management? I kinda wondered where those people came from.

Re:Get a proper degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18480173)

Exactly. And we could be good managers too, if we wanted to, but the theory of management is really too trivial to bother with in practice. I might put on a token effort, if people in upper management recognized my brilliance, but since they don't, I don't either. Any questions?

Re:Get a proper degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18483809)

So you've just got your CS and certainly never worked on a real project and you say that there is better thing to do for a superior mind!!!

Man, go down to Earth. Before thinking about the next step in your wonderful career path try to be skilled in this one. Programing (or system administration or whatever basic IT jobs ) in the real life is completely different that school projects. Having your hands deeply in the shit is a mandatory stage that will avoid you to be one of these dumb ass middle managers who decide without understanding. They are the firsts to be fired when things are going bad.

Re:Get a proper degree (1)

CptPicard (680154) | more than 6 years ago | (#18487461)

Well... I'd love to meet a middle manager who prefers to hand-derive a neural net instead of just coding a backprop algorithm without understanding what it is doing.

Sure I was being a bit trollish, but there is a seed of honest truth to what I am saying, I am sure. The more languages and theory I know, the more utterly trivial the details of any given new language seem. To my eyes a lot of the practice-wizards seem to be really skilled at just repeating magic incantations which sometimes happen to be the wrong ones, and when they run out of them, they're SOL.

I sense there's synergy here somewhere...

Languags are too specific (1)

jlarocco (851450) | more than 7 years ago | (#18471293)

Don't waste time learning a lot of computer languages. Pick one or two, learn them well, learn their standard libraries, write programs in them, and read/maintain other people's code. Spend most of your time focusing on concepts that generalize to all programming.

Knowing about design patterns is useful in any language. The intricacies of C++ template programming are not. If I say "That's a singleton", people will know what I'm talking about whether the code is written in Ruby, C++, Java, or Cobol.

Once or twice a year, spend some time learning about a language you don't know. Try to understand how it's different than the language you normally use, and more importantly *why*. Look at example code and code from open source projects and try to emulate their code with your code. For example, Ruby will let you open a file, read and process each line in a while loop, then close the file. But the "ruby way" of doing it is to pass a code block to the file's "each_line" method.

After you understand the syntax and the strengths of the new language, and the idioms used by the language, decide what you like, and what you don't. Then figure out how you can apply the new things in the language you regularly use.

Adelaide TAFE, So. Australia story: C++ before C ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18472309)

Someone in our office was aiming
to learn C, C++ & - maybe - Java,
a few years ago.

For some reason, they signed up
for a Carnegie course at Adelaide
TAFE (Adelaide, South Australia).

They were FORBIDDEN from taking C
ie, until they'd completed C++

A "we know better than thee" at-
titude (blamed, by Adelaide TAFE,
on a contract they'd signed with
[Carnegie Institute?], which laid
out the course, for local folks
to teach... with - apparently -
took the reigns from the local

Why take a superset language C++
before its core sub-language (C)?

At least, one ought to have the
choice, by virtue of:

  "The Paying Customer
  is "always" right."

Why an educational institude
would sign any agreement, that
would "tie their hands" - as
Adelaide TAFE claimed theirs did...
surely beats me. Go figure...

Ill tell you what is missing (1)

Manucho (1033324) | more than 7 years ago | (#18473947)

>"...What's missing?..."
a plug and learning like Neo in Matrix ...

P.S. I know that it will take the fun out, but we can always learn the traditional way.

Re:Ill tell you what is missing (1)

zanzibar (59509) | more than 7 years ago | (#18474331)

Well, okay. That would be cool.

It's the fundamentals (1)

BadERA (107121) | more than 7 years ago | (#18477903)

As has been mentioned, once you've learned a few languages -- and learned how to use them well -- you can learn any language. Once you undertand that here are various flavors of data, and how to put them to use, once you understand separation of presentation and business logic -- whether that's OO or not -- when you know enough to understand that there are better/best practices, that different concepts apply to different situations, it simply becomes a matter of syntax and structure. I tend to prefer to dive into a new language -- I have a problem to solve, so I get my environment set up, and I start writing. First thing I do is probably check the web to get a clue on syntax. Sometimes that means language/API docs, sometimes forums, sometimes enthusiast web pages or blogs, or something article-based like 4GuysFromRolla. If I find I need, or want, to learn more than I can get from the web, then it's time to buy a book.

Class learning environments, however, are virtually useless to me. I tend to get bored and antsy. Lab environments were OK, but not great ... professional environments with a local guru are excellent, but the past few years, that guru as tended to be me. I'm thinking of diving back into Java, however, as I now work in an environment with a lot of hardcore Java people (I'm primarily a .NET enterprsie engineer myself.) I've also given some thought to, finally, getting around to picking up COBOL, as we also have a 15ish year old mainframe application that uses VSAM for storage, and a team of highly skilled, old school COBOLers. In order to understand structures and rules within the database, I need to grok COBOL. I'll probably get a hold of some COBOL source, walk though the corresponding green screens, look up or ask about stuff I don't understand, and simply immerse myself.

learn by doing (1)

tjr (908724) | more than 7 years ago | (#18481423)

I've taken classes in which programming languages were taught, and I've read books teaching programming languages and various web resources. But these are just ways of conveying facts about a language into your mind. The best way to really learn how to use a programming language is to use it.

If you're sharp, you can memorize the syntax of a language by inhaling reference manuals, and that's great! But to really KNOW the language in a meaningful way, you have to write programs in it.

To comment a bit on another topic brought up in this discussion... many "popular" languages are reasonably similar. C/C++/Java/C#... it would likely do you good to learn languages in a totally different "paradigm"... learn some Lisp, and some Ocaml, and some Python, and maybe even some assembly language. Learn them (i.e., use them) until you feel you really "get" the language. Why? Because languages really are just formality on top of general principles. The wider variety of languages you learn, the better you can understand the core principles... which do not change from language to language.

want to code? learn the libraries (1)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 6 years ago | (#18491345)

As others have pointed out, languages don't really matter, esp. after you've learned more than siblings (C and C++, C++ and Java, you get the idea).

Standard libraries and the correct way to 'think' in each language, e.g., when to use anonymous inner classes instead of standalone classes in java, that's where you can start writing real applications that won't make other maintainers winch... and that takes time. Minimum 6 months so you don't trip on your own feet, and you may not really know how to use the language and standard libraries well for several years.

How to get from here to there? Look for 'cookbooks' and the discussion forums that seem to have good reputations. (For instance, 'javaranch' for java.) Look at lots of sample code, try different things. Unfortunately a lot of people have found one thing that solved a relatively simple problem and now try to apply it everywhere, and they're the most vocal in knowing THE way to program in that language.
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