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The Passenger Pigeon: A Century of Extinction

An dochasac cause:War, slavery, railroads effect:Lyme disease (108 comments)

The genocide of the native American Indian population was thought to have contributed to passenger pigeon's emergence as an outbreak species at populations which proved to be unsustainable. It is possible that during this time, the birds evolved their one egg per year, clustering and other behaviors which eventually contributed to their demise. One effect of the passenger pigeon's extinction is the spread of Lyme disease, another is the preservation of the American Bison.

about two weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: What Old Technology Can't You Give Up?

An dochasac Useful old tools I'll keep until... (635 comments)

Tools don't obey the laws of fashion and planned-obsolecense. A tool remains useful until it wears out or is replaced with something that replaces a tool in all of its use-cases without adding additional practical or economic downsides. So we use manual screwdrivers for some jobs where electric screwdrivers would either break things or wouldn't fit into a tight space. Artists still use paint and pencil where these allow more efficient expression than digital photographs and photoshop. Here are some technologies I'd love to replace if a replacement were available:

  • "Dumb" old cell phone. I have an indestructible Nokia "phone only" phone. I recently charged it because I like to put it in a zip-lock and take it windsurfing or kayaking-- but after nearly a year off the charger, it was still fully charged. It's water resistant, lasts for days on a battery, has good signal range and sound quality. My slightly newer QWERTY Nokia is useful when I'm writing. I've heard other writers use Psion or other old QWERTY PDAs but 2006 was a sweet spot for these "slightly smart" phones.
  • Musical instruments. Forget the fact that you'd spend $3000 on an electric piano with the sound and key-action of a $500 used upright and forget that guitars and most other stringed and woodwind instruments have no digital equivalent, even older electronic instruments are difficult to find modern equivalents. I'd love to replace my late 1980s consumer level samping keyboards with a modern sampler with high sampling rate, thousands of sample storage, effects... but no such consumer device exists. So I'm stuck with something with about the same S/N ration and frequency range as a mellotron.
  • Solar powered scientific calculator. You call that a smart phone? The pocket calculator's built into the iPhone and most androids is a joke. Many of these can't even count up to the US national debt-- which might explain a few things.
  • Solar and wind-powered clothes dryer. I don't get the US. Land of the free and yet there are multiple levels of regulations for everything. Uzis and AK-47s seem to be legal anywhere beyond a stone's throw from a school, but try to use a clothespin to hang your clothes from a line and you're likely to get in trouble with some authority. Yeah it's old technology, but it works and is used in almost every other country. Update it with supermagnet clothespins and you could probably make it convenient. But I don't mind the inconvenience. I meet my neighbors, spend some time in the sun and save an average of about $2 per load in electricity.
  • Transistor radio. Given the poor quality and high cost of US oligopoly cell phone service, you shouldn't stray far from Wifi if you want to stream music. But some of us have a life, sailing, hiking, camping... outside of Wifi's range. Yeah podcasts and downloaded music are fun but they lack the regional immediacy of radio. Compared to most bland streaming stations, clear-channel is that stoner running a pirate station from his dorm. Seriously, when they ask what the $*&# happened to good music, point to your iPod and sing, "The day the music died."

about three weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: PC-Based Oscilloscopes On a Microbudget?

An dochasac Arduino TVout + upcycled analog TV+ATmega328 ~$10 (172 comments)

I used this Oscilloscope based on an Arduino and ATMega328 running with a 16MHz crystal. It's more of a toy/demo scope, not even great for audio frequencies and for lower scales you probably want to add an instrumentation amp front end. The thing I like about it is that it reuses/upcycles all of those pocket NTSC (or PAL) analog TVs obsoleted by the FCC a couple of years ago.

about 3 months ago

Are the Glory Days of Analog Engineering Over?

An dochasac FPAA (ANALOG ARRAYS) (236 comments)

A few years ago when there was a concern that not enough analog engineers were being trained to meet demand, lecturers at Georgia Tech and others suggested the use of Field Programmable Analog Arrays (FPAA) in order to let students get their hands dirty with real analogue electronics with some of the convenience of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs.) While purists might believe that analog without the mess of breadboards, wire-wraps and soldering isn't analog, it fills a real-world need.

Unfortunately it seems that interest in FPAAs peaked too early-- before the Maker and openhardware movement might have driven up demand and driven down costs.Anadigm does have some products I'd love to see packged as an Arduino shield. Who wouldn't want a pocket Moog Synthesizer?

about 3 months ago

Study: Stop Being So Cynical, You Could Give Yourself Dementia

An dochasac I try to be cynical but... (153 comments)

I try to become more cynical every day, but lately I just can't keep up. -- Lily Tomlin (She's only 74 but sharp as ever. YMMV)

Well, here's one possible effect and cause scenario that occurred to me.

Start with a healthy person who has a generally positive view of humanity.

Above the threshold reached at the age of reason (mental age ~7) when we begin to see the flaws in ourselves and others, I think it takes more mental energy to have a generally positive view of humanity than to fall back on cynicism. I agree with others that we may be seeing an indicator of pre-dementia rather than a cause of dementia.

I've lived over fifty years in this country and cynicism is at an all-time high. But strangely enough, so is credulity.

You've lived for fifty years in Finland?

We've become a nation of cynical suckers.

Oh, you're American. I'm sorry. Does anyone know why Slashdot's lameness filter can't handle my SARCASM tags?

about 4 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Communication With Locked-in Syndrome Patient?

An dochasac Constructive approaches... Opengazer,hope,support (552 comments)

I agree, right now she needs human contact attention, hope, understanding and patience from those around her. Start with low-tech pointing board, watch her eyes and any other expressions she can make. Just as those who lose a sense rely on others, she must rely more on non-verbal communication and those around her must know how to listen. Let her see and touch her baby. Help her to overcome the panic, fear, helplessness and dispair. Help her friends and family.

Once you're ready to move to more technology, start with an iPad or android tablet. Ask her if she would like to see any movies, or listen to music (her partner and family should be able to suggest favorites.) Read Oliver Sach's Musicophelia for information on the neurological healing power of music.

While she is going through rehabilitation, research Dasher and OpenGazer for eye and head tracking to see if they might be useful. Read about coping with paralysis injuries and the possibilities for recovery from The Christopher Reeve Foundation. Make sure that hoping and praying for a cure doesn't morph into "waiting and expecting for a cure." she and her family may have to learn to live with this condition for years even if there is hope on the horizon. I wish you, her and your family well.

about 4 months ago

Ask Slashdot: Communication With Locked-in Syndrome Patient?

An dochasac Constructive approaches... Opengazer,hope,support (552 comments)

A one-size fits all technical solution doesn't yet exist. Begin with low tech, use a pointing board and watch her eyes and face and see if she is able to move any other part of her body. Try to develop a personal communication technique and learn what she is capable of. Move to something like an iPad or Android ask her if there is something she would like to see, music, movies something to help her focus on something other than the fear, pain and bordem. Give her hope. While she is recovering and in rehabilitation, research Dasher and OpenGazer to see if it would help her communicate. Gently support those who are closer to her but who might not have your level of medical or technical understanding. Help them give her the attention, space, touch, rest and love when she needs it.

I wish you and your family well. Look for information and try to support the Christopher Reeve Foundation and other organizations who are working hard on making life better for people with paralysis injuries. I understand that for other types of paralysis injuries, doctors/psychologists often recommend not to give the person hope that a "cure" is eminent because even if a cure is available now, it may be years before it is widely available and it will almost certainly require rehabilitation and that the person is kept mentally and physically healthy until a solution is found.

about 4 months ago

Apple To Face Lawsuit For iMessage Glitch

An dochasac Re:Anti-competitive (238 comments)

This is the kind of anti-competitive behavior that gets companies in trouble and causes regulatory crackdowns. Phone companies that make it hard to switch carriers. domain registrars that make it hard to switch registrars, and banks which make it hard to switch banks have all gotten in trouble for this.

Not really. "Into trouble" usually means a write-off fine and a sullied name for the length of Joe sixpack's attention span (a few weeks or months depending on whether the news oligopolies relationship with their corporate Goliath sponsors.)

Also, you forgot some, Employers that make it difficult for employees to switch careers and health-care companies who leverage pre-existing conditions to prevent customers from seeking competing alternatives. Political parties who shoehorn 300 million people into two points of view. The fact that Americans have come to accept monopolies in most aspects of their lives means they can't even see them or the problems they cause anymore. Apple isn't seen as a monopoly or even as an anti-competive corporate Goliath. Apple is seen as a "personal choice" or religion.

about 4 months ago

Virgin Galactic Passengers May Just Miss Going into Space

An dochasac Been there done that (203 comments)

If you've taken a long distance commercial airline flight, you've flown as high as 40,000 feet and 72 percent of the atmosphere was below you. Transatlantic concord passengers flew as high as 60,000 feet above 90 percent of the atmosphere. Virgin Galactic's flights are perfect for those who demand Seenheiser headphones gold-plated monster cables for listing to talk radio. For the rest of us, a commercial airline flight is "close enough."

about 4 months ago

Algorithm Reveals Objects Hidden Behind Other Things In Camera Phone Images

An dochasac Reply to Comment (85 comments)

The paper does explain these limitations and it would be wrong to assume that this means we can see/photograph through fog, skin, clouds... But a semiconductor laser can have a spacial coherence long enough to do holography so if they said the source was a laser and non-conherent narroband, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did something to destroy the laser coherence. Spinning frosted glass beam interrupters and other techniques are often used to despeckle laser light where it interferes with the laser's intended use.

Speckle does occur with non laser light sources but it isn't usually as strong because of the shorter coherence length. Go outside on a sunny day and look at your fingernails or a piece of black anodized metal, you may see the effect of white light speckle interference. The really amazing part of this technique is that they did it with such a low-res camera. While 42 Megapixels seems like ridiculous overkill for a phone camera, it doesn't hold a candle to the typical spacial resolutions approaching 400 Gigapixels for holography film. Extend and expand the technique into higher resolutions, illuminate with coherent laser light sources and it will be a valuable technique for laser imaging as well as other things. What else has point light sources against a dark sky and obscuring translucent material? The starry night sky. I knew the day would come when finally astronomers can have their cloud filter!

about 6 months ago

RadioShack To Close 1,100 Stores

An dochasac Re:Poor management (423 comments)

...Every employee had to take about 15 multiple choice tests. But every store had cheat sheets and no one really learned anything.... If an employee didn't ask every customer about a cell phone AND a satellite dish they were fired. Even before that turnover was like a fast food place.

Were you at Radioshack when they became one of the first and last private US employers to require polygraph test as a condition for employment? Yes there is a reason Snowden never worked at Radio Shack. Whoever managed that company during the 90s should be working for Vladmir Putin right now.

about 6 months ago

RadioShack To Close 1,100 Stores

An dochasac Re:Stop Being Something Your Not (423 comments)

They had a commercial during the SuperBowl with 10,000 80's superstars. Getting into futuristic stuff like Raspberry Pi's, Arduinos and 3D printers is a great idea, but it would have been nice to hear about that during the commercial rather than see Hulk Hogan get into a DeLorean. Instead, I just found out about it on this thread.

And they need to stop the price gouging. If a Pi is $35 online, there's no way I should pay more than $69.99 no matter how much they are helping me. Anything more is robbery.

Radio Shack spent too much on their Superbowl ads and not enough on training staff. I live overseas so I visit RS maybe once a year. When I heard they were getting back to their hobbiest roots I almost forgave them for diving all of the independent radio parts shops out of business such as my former employer. I asked their employees about arduinos and other microcontrollers, they'd never heard of them. So I took them to the back of their store and showed them where they were. I asked about UV LEDs. They found me an IR LED, close but no cigar. I dug through a couple more drawers and showed them the UV one. Something like $4 for one LED, only about 5000% markup from the low-quanity price at Digi-key and Farnell, 10000% above what you'd get them delivered from Chinese online shops if you're willing to wait a month but yes if I needed it then and there, there it was. If only their staff knew what they had and knew how it could be used so they could help customers and get customers interested in buying more.

RS management, if you're listening, hire hobbiests and train the rest of your staff in Linux, electronics repair, arduino, PIC. Sift through the millions of wholesale electronics products and sell only the most open, well-documented and hackable products. Sell Arduinos, Pics, Pis, Canon (CHDK) capable cameras, software defined radio chips. Set aside a Makerspace/repair cafe in your store. Install 3D printers and create online portal for shared 3D designs, arduino sketches, Raspberry Pi and Linux. Buy a small wave solderer and train staff on how to rejuvenate the millions of video games, laptops and tablets whose GPUs have unsoldered themselves. Make deals with Amazon, alibaba, ebay, dx, farnell. You have a &(*@ load of retail space, they have the commodity components and proprietary batteries. Make your stores retail portals with staff to explain, upsell on installation and help. Clear your in-store warehouses to make room for deliveries.
You're welcome!

...or am I bluffing?

about 6 months ago

RadioShack To Close 1,100 Stores

An dochasac Re:two words (423 comments)

...The last time I was in Radio Shack two months ago, they still had blank VHS tapes on the shelf.

What! No blank Betamax L-750s?

I won't miss those expensive, leaky Radio Shack batteries, guaranteed to destroy whatever overpriced electronic gadget you bought at Radio Shack last month. Even Apple's welded-in iPhone batteries can't match that level of planned obsolescence.

about 6 months ago

Financing College With a Tax On All Graduates

An dochasac Re:So what will end up happening is the states tha (597 comments)

The real problem is the whole student loan system. Since most people are paying for college with unlimited-balance, government-guaranteed loans, colleges can charge whatever the hell they want and they know that everyone can afford it and they always get paid. Why does the cost of tuition rise so much faster than inflation? Because colleges suffer no consequences for raising tuition.

If you took away the unlimited aspect or the government-guarantee aspect, you'd see tuitions stabilize right quick. If Uncle Sam (or I guess Aunt Sallie, in this case) said, "Colleges, go ahead and charge whatever the hell you want, but we're only giving each student $15k/yr in loans, indexed to inflation," you'd see colleges implementing some cost controls. Likewise, if Sallie Mae said, "Colleges, we pay you when the student pays us, so better make things affordable, hmm?" same thing would happen.

But no, we have a bubble like the real estate bubble because everybody's buying with other people's money, so nobody cares what it costs.

Mod parent up. US higher education debt now totals more than a trillion dollars. And it's becoming more obvious with each passing semester that students are reliving the history of the dot com and property bubbles. Take something of value, build a story around it that exaggerates its fiscal value, find some sucker to finance it (US taxpayers are born every minute.) This proposed fix won't help. There are too many ways to game the system. We've already turned our state-funded universities into glorified trade schools, funneling most students into accounting, MBA or whatever students counselors perceive to have the shortest term ROI. Basic research suffers and paradoxically unemployable degrees are on the rise. Universities win as long as there is a warm body in a classroom seat. The proposed system might help in the short term by forcing the burden of unraveling this mess onto the most educated population, but in the long term it will punish higher education, reward those horribly narrow certificate factories, give further advantage to PhDs in India and China and force even more of our best and brightest to leave the country.

about 7 months ago

US Forces Coursera To Ban Students From Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria

An dochasac Re:education (306 comments)

Not joking, sarcastic. Because as you point out, this ban on education only helps to further solidify the positions of the dictators in the countries that the US has an embargo against. An embargo that was (presumably) put in place to try and get the dictators to change their ways about something. And here the US is, banning something that could get the populations of those countries to force the dictators into that change.

Because the 54 year-old embargo against Cuba was so effective at turning the Cuban people against Castro^H^H^H^H the US.

Makes you wonder what the real purpose of those embargoes is.

The black marketeers love it and it keeps up the price of fake Cuban cigars.

about 8 months ago

IBM's PC Junior Turns 30, Too

An dochasac Re:Not as bad as the reviews made it seem (178 comments)

The keyboard was horrible, yes, but that was fixed within months (I think people could swap the keyboards for free?).

As proof that computer companies have always blindly followed in the footsteps of other computer companies and repeated their UI mistakes, the following computers preceded PCjr's bad keyboard design:

When the PC/jr came out, the Commodore 64, Commodore Vic 20, Apple II series, Texas Instruments and Mac computers all had decent keyboards but IBM decided to reinvent keyboards again.

about 8 months ago

Is the West Building Its Own Iron Curtain?

An dochasac A fiscal iron curtain for 46 million Americans (337 comments)

I've been through a passport application and two renewals. All it took was filling out the form and sending it in with a couple of pictures. I never needed to ask permission to travel, and all three times I sent in paperwork, I did not have pending travel. I am not sure what you mean by "get permission to travel." From whom are you asking permission and why?

I live abroad and have been through several passport applications and renewals. But for many of my American friends and family, the cost is prohibitive. They will never be able to visit me and they can no longer visit other parts of North America.

The cost of an adult US passport book and is currently $140 plus a $25 "execution fee." Add the photo, paperwork and postage and you're getting near $200 add another $150 for a file search if the person can't produce evidence of citizenship. Minors (under 16) are $95+$25. So for a family of four living in, say Niagara Falls, NY or Detroit, Michigan it can range from $570 to $1170 for the right to cross over to a better neighborhood on the Canadian side. You might say, "What's $570, that's only the cost of an iPad or iPhone?" But for many, this is two paychecks, a month's rent, the family car or a medical bill for a minor visit to a medical center. The US has an iron-curtain but it applies to the 9.9% of white Americans, 12.1% of Asian-Americans, 26.6% of Hispanic-Americans and 27.4% of Black-Americans who live below the poverty line.

about 8 months ago

More Details About Mars Mystery Rock

An dochasac Dry ice pop rocks (180 comments)

A bit of dry ice forms in a crack in a stone and stays below freezing for a day or a million years before a rover tyre moves some soil and exposes it to the heat of the sun. The dry ice sublimates but instead of earth water's slow process of expanding and cracking a rock, sublimated dry ice occasionally pops a rock shard quite a long distance. Like pop-rocks.

Pop rock manufacture (from Wikipedia): The candy is made by mixing its ingredients and heating them until they melt into a syrup, then exposing the mixture to pressurized carbon dioxide gas (about 600 pounds per square inch or 40 bar) and allowing it to cool. The process causes tiny high-pressure bubbles to be trapped inside the candy.

about 8 months ago

Mystery Rock 'Appears' In Front of Mars Rover

An dochasac Poprocks on mars (112 comments)

This may be another example of where our geocentric understaning of landscape geology misleads us. Perchlorate-rich soil under carbon-dioxide rich low atmospheric pressure, thermal tides, carbon dioxide ice... What would happen if a bit of CO2 froze inside a rock or in a pocket beneath a stone and eventually got up to its sublimation temperature? Sometimes it would vaporize with enough force to pop the rock somewhere else. What if the perchlorate-water reaction that caused so much excitement with the Viking landers happened naturally due to condensed water vapor? Might that sometimes cause internal pressures within rocks and cause them to fragment?

about 8 months ago



Summer Solstice Stupid Daytime Lighting Challenge

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  about a year ago

An dochasac (591582) writes "I already know about the energy wasted by sprawling cities and gas-guzzling cars, but when I moved to Ireland I was amazed at the number of outdoor lights which were burning 24 X 7 X 365. I noticed that the outdoor floodlight in my rented home didn't even have an off switch. It was hard-wired into the same circuit which powered all of the lights and appliances in the kitchen and living-room. Is it really cheaper to run lights continuously rather than provide a power switch? What can we do about this? Is this common in other parts of the world? GreenProphet challenges readers to count these lights and try to do something about them."
Link to Original Source

Why Earth Hour Still Matters

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  about a year and a half ago

An dochasac (591582) writes "Earth Hour's simple suggestion to turn off your lights for one hour on Saturday March 23rd has grown into an international social movement powerful enough to have become controversial. Writing for Slate Magazine, Bjørn Lomborg argued that it is a waste of time and energy. Thankfully it is still legal to do something that at the very least gives us a better view of a starry night sky, of comet Panstarrs and of our own potential to change the world. Here is why Earth Hour still matters."
Link to Original Source

A Technological Ring of Gyges vs the Environment

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  about a year and a half ago

An dochasac writes "Many people believe technology can get us out of the environmental mess we're in but here is a strong argument that technology got us into this mess by giving each of us a 'Ring of Gyges', hiding our ecological footprint from our neighbors and even from ourselves. Can information technology destroy this technological ring of Gyges and help consumers see the impact of our choices?"
Link to Original Source

Hannukah and Other Celebrations of Efficient Lighting

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  about 2 years ago

An dochasac (591582) writes "

Each December as nights grow long, people of the Jewish faith celebrate an ancient miracle of efficiency. In our oil-soaked, electrified age it is difficult to understand what it meant for the Maccabees to enjoy eight days of light from one day’s supply of oil.

After an early Persian usage of kerosene lighting, people relied on vegetable and animal fats for indoor lighting. For several hundred years whale oil was the best indoor lighting fuel, but when the world neared "peak whale oil," whalers who'd previously prospered in local waters now toiled dangerous waters of the high arctic and southern ocean. Moby Dick's narrator warns:

“For God’s sake, be economical with your lamps and candles. Not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man’s blood was spilled for it.”

We've finally come to a time when each of those eye-watering blue LED "holiday lights" can distract Christians from the context of Christmas for six months on the equivalent of one day's supply of menorah oil. Here is the history of this... uh... progress in efficient lighting."


Fun-powered SOcket ball provides 3 hours of light from a 30 minute soccer game

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  about 2 years ago

An dochasac (591582) writes "From the why-didn't-I-think-of-that department: Harvard students Hemali Thakker, Julia Silverman, Jessica O. Matthews and Jessica Lin received grants from the Clinton Global Initiative University to develop a prototype of a soccer ball that generates electricity to illuminate homes in the developing world. Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman went on to found a company called Unchartedplay to manufacture this SOccket ball and try to organize sponsorship for the balls to be sent where they are needed the most."

Robotic umbrella forest to keep Hajj pilgrims cool

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  more than 2 years ago

An dochasac writes "The annual Hajj pilgrimage is expected to bring over three million Muslims to Al-Masjid al-Nabaw mosque in Medina this year. The dry Saudi Arabian climate with temperatures exceeding 100F makes this a punishing and potentially dangerous event for pilgrims gathered in the shadeless marble plaza. German designers, SL-Rasch, in collaboration with Sefar Architecture, conceived a landscape of high-tech sunscreens that span the 150,000 square meter forecourts, a total area larger than the mosque’s footprint. The 250 convertible umbrellas, each 20 meters tall, are sized to fill the courts’ proportions, converting the open plazas into fully covered outdoor rooms.

These umbrellas open and close on demand to provide shade during daylight, trap heat at night and collect precious rainwater. They are also beautiful, fitting in well with the traditional architecture of Mohammad's second mosque."

Link to Original Source

ESL - A CRT-based Replacement for CFL Lights Without the Mercury

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  more than 2 years ago

An dochasac writes "Everyone knows incandescent lights are inefficient little space heaters which happen to convert 5% of their incoming energy to light. Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) are more efficient but they contain toxic brain-eating mercury and emit a greenish light. LEDs are also efficient and last longer but if their blueish 'white' light doesn't mess up your melatonin balance, their price is high enough to wreck your checking account balance and give you the blues.

A company called Vu1 has come up with something called Electron Stimulated Luminance (ESL) lights which claim to solve the mercury and price problem with a light based on Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) technology. These lights have the warm color balance of incandescents and are compatible with dimmer switches. Here are some ESL details along with an explanation of why it's still a bad idea to say these are "trash can safe.""

Link to Original Source

ESL lights,

An dochasac An dochasac writes  |  more than 2 years ago

An dochasac writes "Everyone knows incandescent lights are inefficient little space heaters which happen to convert 5% of their incoming energy to light. Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) are more efficient but they contain toxic brain-eating mercury and emit a greenish light. LEDs are also efficient and last longer but if their blueish 'white' light doesn't mess up your melatonin balance, their high price is likely to give you the blues and wreck your bank account balance.

A company called Vu1 has come up with something called Electron Stimulated Luminance (ESL) lights which claim to solve the mercury and price problem in a light which has the warm color balance of incandescents and is compatible with dimmer switches. It's based on CRT technology. Here are some more ESL details along with an explanation of why it's still a bad idea to say these are "trash can safe.""

Link to Original Source


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