Thursday, May 5, 2016

Friday Thinking 6 May 2016

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”

Woody Harrelson - Triple 9


As an auditor, investor, or trading partner, you might want to drill down and try to test the assumptions that the company is making and see what would happen if those were incorrect at the time they were recorded, or turned out to be wrong sometime in the future. You might also want to understand how buying another company would change your own company based on the way your obligations and bets interacted with theirs. You could rack up millions of dollars in auditor fees to “get to the bottom” of any number of assumptions. The process would involve manually reviewing the legal contracts, and also the assumptions made in every cell of every spreadsheet. That’s because standard accounting is a very “lossy” process that reduces complex and context-dependant functions and transforms them into static numbers at every step. The underlying information is somewhere, but only exposed with a lot of manual digging.

Right now, the technology of the financial system is built on top of a way of thinking about money and value that was designed back when all we had were pen and paper, and when reducing the complexity of the web of dependencies and obligations was the only way to make the system functionally efficient. The way we reduce complexity is to use a common method of pricing, put elements into categories, and add them up. This just builds on 700­-year­-old building blocks, trying to make the system “better” by doing very sophisticated analysis of the patterns and information without addressing the underlying problem of a lossy and oversimplified view of the world: a view where everything of “value” should be as quickly as possible recorded as a number.

The standard idea of the “value” of things is a reductionist view of the world that is useful to scale the trading of commodities that are roughly of equal worth to a large set of people. But, in fact, most things have very different values to different people at different times

Joi Ito - Reinventing Bookkeeping and Accounting (In Search of Certainty)

One of the most interesting insights from our u.lab experience is that you can operate transformative learning environments at marginal cost of close to zero (MOOCs tend to have marginal costs of zero), which makes their potential future impact and scale almost unlimited. The key to making it work requires, however, a complete inversion of the enabling learning infrastructure….

Otto Scharmer - MITx u.lab: Education As Activating Social Fields

Where exactly are the words in your head? Scientists have created an interactive map showing which brain areas respond to hearing different words. The map reveals how language is spread throughout the cortex and across both hemispheres, showing groups of words clustered together by meaning. The beautiful interactive model allows us to explore the complex organisation of the enormous dictionaries in our heads.

Brain’s ‘Thesaurus’ Mapped to Help Decode Inner Thoughts

The basic assumption is that there is some underlying coherence, and the task of the philosopher is to discover it. That really is the theme of conversation, if you think about it. As a psychologist, I just don't make that assumption. It's obvious to me, in every context including statistical intuitions, moral intuitions, physical intuitions, they're not coherent. We have all sorts of intuitions and if you try to connect them logically, they're not consistent. It's interesting, but it's a very general effect.              

Experimental Philosophy Meets Psychology

A Conversation between Joshua Knobe, Daniel Kahneman

Building the infrastructure for the 21st Century has to include the digital environment - here a 6 min read by one of my favorite champions - Susan Crawford.

I Have Seen the Future — And It Has a Swedish Accent

Stockholm’s secret sauce is the accessible fiber connectivity that the US lacks
Over spring break I went to Stockholm to visit the future. I’m not sure other people in the U.S. think of Stockholm as the future; I’m not sure people here think about Stockholm at all. But I had an inkling that the city’s ubiquitous and cheap fiber Internet access would be making a difference right about now. And what I found in the course of my recent week of interviews was both disturbing and comforting.

The troubling part is that Stockholm has become an experimental sandbox for 21st century life-changing technologies because it has something we don’t: a wholesale, passive municipal fiber-optic network. Because it took the step to install this facility more than twenty years, ago, Stockholm is already planning to implement at scale new ideas in energy management, eldercare, responsive city service delivery, and transportation. By being able to ship around enormous amounts of data with ease to everyone in the city, they’re ahead of us in many ways. (Here’s something to ponder: 67% of Stockholm’s two-year-olds are online.) And they’re using their well-developed design sense to enhance what they’re up to — I’ll have more about this part of the story in a later column.

Of course this has the immediately foreseeable use - military personnel, physical workers (construction, garbage, moving, etc) - but the looming wave of retired Boomers - with travel-lust and desires for more activity. They say it will be on the market this year.

SuperFlex's lightweight exosuit will put a spring in your step

Don't call it an exoskeleton. This is the SuperFlex, a lightweight "exosuit" that delivers 200 times more power than its weight - far beyond the capacity of most humans.

Originally developed for DARPA's Warrior Web programme to help US soldiers carry heavy loads over long distances, SuperFlex is made from a soft flexigrip material that keeps the external robotic muscles, sensors, processors and batteries in place, while distributing their weight across the body's soft tissue. The robotic muscles work alongside the body's knee, calf and - in future iterations - back muscles to reduce the amount of work they need to do or to increase their strength. Its thin and flexible electroactive polymers mimic human muscles by expanding when exposed to an electric current and contracting when it is removed. This means that its batteries last longer or can be smaller.
Here’s the website for SuperFlex

Here’s a wonderful idea - a new way to work-live and travel - especially in the digital environment.

Instead Of Renting An Apartment, Sign A Lease That Lets You Live Around The World

Roam provides short-term apartments with a communal feel, for today's digital work-from-anywhere nomad.
If you can afford the airfare, it's getting easier to be a digital nomad. Roam, a new network of co-living spaces, offers a lease that lets you continually move: After a couple of weeks or months in Madrid, you can head to Miami, or Ubud, Bali. By 2017, the startup plans to have 8-10 locations around the world.

These aren't designed as places for vacations. Instead, it's an alternative way to think about home for "location-independent" people who can work remotely. After living and working nomadically in his twenties, founder Bruno Haid wanted to make it easier.

"Just managing my stuff and going back and forth between Airbnbs and housesitting became more cumbersome over time," Haid says. "At the same time, I was involved in a couple of early co-living communities in San Francisco, and saw the cultural value of something like that."

Michael Geist is a world renown Canadian researcher and expert related to the digital environment and copyright. This is a 1 hr video presentation he gave very recently. For anyone who wants a good analysis of the implication of the TransPacific Partnership for copyright, intellectual property and the rights of citizens - this is worth the view.

The TPP, IP, and Digital Policy: My CABE Presentation

Earlier this week, I delivered a webinar for the Canadian Association of Business Economics on the implications of the TPP. The talk touched on a wide range of concerns including copyright, privacy, culture, and digital policies.

And another outstanding Canadian’s analysis of the current state of the Internet - its enclosure by the large players - Facebook, Google, ….

Why the future of web browsers belongs to the biggest tech firms

Changes made to browser standards will make it harder for new companies to disrupt the status quo and cement the power of Google and Apple
Ten years ago, there were two web browsers that anyone cared about: Netscape and Internet Explorer.

Each browser vied for favour with web publishers, begging them to optimise their pages for one browser or the other. The browser with the most pages would, the browser companies thought, win the most users and thus the web, and so the first browser wars were fought to win over publishers.

But that fight came at the expense of users, because the one thing publishers of web 1.0 really wanted was pop-up ads – and the more obnoxious the better. Remember ads that showed up one pixel square and ran away from your mouse-pointer if you tried to close them, while auto-playing sound adverts? And those weren’t even the worst! Browsers didn’t have pop-up blocking – they had pop-up “enhancing”. Any company that blocked pop-ups would be de-optimized by the big publishers and doomed to obscurity.

Then came Mozilla – a not-for-profit, openly developed web browser that didn’t care about publishers. It cared about users. It blocked pop-ups by default, understanding that users wanted the see the publishers’ sites but not their pop-ups, and if Mozilla had enough users, it wouldn’t matter if publishers hated them.

Skip to 2016 and the web is a very different place. The World Wide Web Consortium, the not-for-profit organization that creates the web’s open technology standards, made a brave effort to tame the web’s lunatic proprietary HTML extensions that paid off, making those “Best viewed with” badges on websites a relic of the past. All the browsers have changed, too: Netscape vanished, Mozilla begat Firefox, Internet Explorer morphed into Edge, and Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome grew from obscure side projects to two of the dominant forces on the web.
Ten years is an eternity in web years, and in a decade, everything can change.

Here is an very interesting article by Otto Scharmer on his experience with MOOC’s - well worth the read - for anyone interested in the future of education and the evolution of teaching.

MITx u.lab: Education As Activating Social Fields

Until last year, the number of students in my classes at MIT numbered 50 or so. Less than twelve months later, I have just completed my first class with 50,000 registered participants. They came from 185 countries, and together they co-generated:
• >400 prototype (action learning) initiatives
• >560 self-organized hubs in a vibrant global eco-system
• >1,000 self-organized coaching circles.

What explains the growth in group size from 50 to 50,000? It’s moving my class at MIT Sloan to the edX platform, making it a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).
Designed to blend open access with deep learning, the u.lab was first launched in early 2015 with 26,000 registered participants. When we offered it for a second time, in September, we had 50,000 registered participants. According to the exit survey, 93% found their experience “inspiring” (60%) or “life changing” (33%); and 62% of those who came into the u.lab without any contemplative practice have one now.

One-third of the participants had “life changing” experiences? How is that possible in a mere seven-week online course? The answer is: it’s not. The u.lab isn’t just an online course. It’s an o2o (online-to-offline) blended learning environment that provides participants with quality spaces for reflection, dialogue, and collaborative action.

From the perspective of the course co-facilitation team, the whole u.lab experience felt like a journey of profound personal, relational, and institutional inversion. To invert something means to turn it inside-out or outside-in. In the case of the u.lab, not only was the classroom experience inverted, but so was the conversation among learners and the learners’ cognitive experience. Unlike traditional classrooms, the u.lab is characterized by:

distributed organizing: opening up the classroom to many self-organized hubs around the world;
generative dialogue: opening up the conversation from teacher-centric downloading to student-centric generative dialogue;
collective governance: opening up the institution to a global innovation context while cultivating spaces that help the system sense and see itself;
prototyping practices: opening up the learning modes through hands-on action learning methodologies;
self-transformation: opening up the deeper sources of human intelligence by activating the open mind, open heart, and open will.

Considering education - this may be of interest to anyone wondering about how people educate themselves today.

We asked 15,000 people who they are, and how they’re learning to code

More than 15,000 people responded to the 2016 New Coder Survey, granting researchers an unprecedented glimpse into how adults are learning to code.

We’ve released the entire dataset of participants’ individual responses to all 48 questions — under the Open Data Common License — on a public GitHub repository.

In the coming weeks, we’ll publish a website filled with interactive visualizations of these data, answering dozens of questions like:
  • How does the population density of a city affect attendance of coding events?
  • How does desire to work remotely affect getting a first developer job?
  • How does prior military service affect salary at a first developer job, country-by-country?
In the meantime, here are a few high-level statistics from the 2016 New Coder Survey results to tide you over.

This is a very entertaining article - maybe because I have so many books-bookshelves that it spoke to my own issues. But it is also fundamental to the problem of information and knowledge management.
You have control over your content — defined as books, jars, pictures, website copy, or nearly anything else that can convey a message — but you don’t have control over your information. Information is interpreted. Information is subjective and personal. Information belongs to your user.

A master information architect would come up with an arrangement that strikes a balance between all possible audiences, pleasing all and offending none. Does that sound difficult? Maybe even impossible? Now you’re standing to understand why information architecture is a full time job.

“Information Architecture in the mid-2010’s is steadily growing into a channel- or medium-specific multi-disciplinary framing: conversations about labeling, website user interfaces, and hierarchies have elevated to conversations about sense-making, place-making, service design, architecture, and embodied cognition.”

Understanding Information Architecture via My Bookshelf

Abby “the IA” Covert reminds us in her book How to Make Sense of Any Mess that information is “subjective, not objective. It’s whatever a user interprets from the arrangement or sequence of things they encounter.” I can’t control what impression you form about me when you look at my bookshelf. But I can guide you in a certain direction.

Being aware of what information your content conveys is half the challenge. The other half is to ensure that that information conveys the message you intend. To do this, you’ll need to carefully craft the conditions necessary to send the right information every time. In other words, you’ll need to be an information architect.

This is a very interesting analysis of potential trends arising from an analysis of 8 years of applications to Y-Combinator - one of the most (if not the most) successful incubators for new start-up. This is a very worth the view both to understand the speed of change in the world of technology and to get a sense of current trends.

The Startup Zeitgeist - Reading applications to Y Combinator is like having access to a crystal ball

Twice per year — once in the winter and once in the spring — thousands of men and women apply to Y Combinator. Each of these bright minds has his or her own vision of the future of technology. They pitch ideas related to Bitcoin, drones, new drugs, virtual reality, and nearly every other topic you could imagine.

Since 2008, we’ve received tens of thousands of these applications. Collectively, they provide insights into the ideas smart people are working on and how it’s changed over time. We’ve never talked about these publicly before.

But recently, we commissioned Priceonomics (YC W12) and their data studio to analyze eight years’ worth of our anonymized application data. After breaking the applications down into keywords, they calculated the percentage of applicants that mentioned any given term.
So let’s review the data, starting with a simple example.

This is a Great TED Talk about the future of cities, geo-politics and the digital environment.

How megacities are changing the map of the world

"I want you to reimagine how life is organized on earth," says global strategist Parag Khanna. As our expanding cities grow ever more connected through transportation, energy and communications networks, we evolve from geography to what he calls "connectography." This emerging global network civilization holds the promise of reducing pollution and inequality — and even overcoming geopolitical rivalries. In this talk, Khanna asks us to embrace a new maxim for the future: "Connectivity is destiny."

This is a great breakthrough - despite its low efficiency rating (thus far).

Australian researchers develop breakthrough in solar technology

‘Zero-energy’ buildings—which generate as much power as they consume—are now much closer after a team at Australia’s University of New South Wales achieved the world’s highest efficiency using flexible solar cells that are non-toxic and cheap to make.

Until now, the promise of ‘zero-energy’ buildings been held back by two hurdles: the cost of the thin-film solar cells (used in fa├žades, roofs and windows), and the fact they’re made from scarce, and highly toxic, materials.

That’s about to change: the UNSW team, led by Dr Xiaojing Hao of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at the UNSW School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, have achieved the world’s highest efficiency rating for a full-sized thin-film solar cell using a competing thin-film technology, known as CZTS.

NREL, the USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, confirmed this world leading 7.6% efficiency in a 1cm2 area CZTS cell this month.
Unlike its thin-film competitors, CZTS cells are made from abundant materials: copper, zinc, tin and sulphur.

Is it just me or is the speed of solarization increasing? Here’s a concise article on Dubai’s plan to wean itself from oil.

Costs tumble as Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park sets the mark

The hotly contested race to win the latest phase of work at Dubai’s utility-scale solar plant is pushing bids down to record-breaking lows, at less than half the price of power generated by natural gas, potentially helping to boost the emirate’s efforts to diversify its energy mix.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is the largest single-site project to generate electricity from solar energy in the world, with a planned capacity of 5,000 megawatts  Dewa has received five bids for the park’s 800MW third phase, with the lowest at 2.99 US cents per kilowatt hour (kWh).

That compares to the second phase’s winning bid last year, a then world record 5.84 cents per kWh, from Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power and its Spanish partner TSK. The average cost for power produced from natural gas in the UAE, its biggest source, is about 7 cents per kWh, according to industry experts.

Dubai is targeting a share of power output from clean energy sources of 7 per cent by 2020, 25 per cent by 2030 and 75 per cent by 2050.

The accelerating speed of change in the conditions of change - here’s one observation.

I Was Wrong About the Limits of Solar; PV Is Becoming Dirt Cheap.

The price of solar power is falling faster than many thought was possible. Harvard’s David Keith comes honest with us about solar power: “Facts have changed. I was wrong.”
The unsubsidized electricity cost from industrial-scale solar PV in the most favorable locations is now well below $40 per megawatt-hour and could very easily be below $20 per megawatt-hour by 2020. Compared to other new sources of supply, this would be the cheapest electricity on the planet.
The price of solar power has fallen for multiple reasons – the largest, I would argue, is that the volume of solar power being manufactured has skyrocketed. Of the almost 240GW of solar power installed globally, 85% of it has been installed in the past five years.

And very smart people are predicting that this 240GW of solar power will be only 2% of what will be installed within the next twelve years. That suggests that the price of solar power will continue to fall further.

This is just cool.

A Giant Windwheel Is Coming to Rotterdam

Rotterdam is set to welcome its newest landmark: a 570-foot-high windwheel
Goodbye, windmill. The Dutch clean energy movement will soon have a new face: the windwheel. Come 2020, the shores of Rotterdam will be home to the 570-foot-tall Dutch Windwheel, a giant mixed-use structure distinguished by its unique circular shape and energy-positive output.

The steel-and-glass creation, designed by BLOC and Meysters in collaboration with Doepel Strijkers architecture studio, will rise above Europe’s largest port from a subaquatic foundation, giving the illusion of buoyancy. Visitors will have a chance to experience the wheel firsthand with forty mobile cabins that transport travelers around the structure’s circumference, offering views as far as Delft, The Hague, and Dordrecht. Upon its completion, the Windwheel will house both a 160-room hotel and a 72-unit residential development.

This is very interesting - a Canadian company offering a technology that enables blind people to see - offices in Toronto and Ottawa. There is a short video in the article as well.

Blind Woman Sees Her Newborn Baby For The First Time (Video)

This is the incredible moment a blind woman sees her newborn baby for the first time.

Kathy Beitz has been legally blind since childhood, and was given the gift of sight just after she gave birth to her son, thanks to new technology.

Kathy was loaned the special eSight glasses form Sight Corporation - the company behind new technology that allows legally blind people to see.

The amazing footage of the moment Kathy met her son – the first baby she had ever seen – was uploaded to YouTube by her sister, Yvonne.

Speaking about the birth, Kathy said: "For the first baby that I get to actually look at being my own is very overwhelming.
Here’s eSight’s website with other information and videos as well.

Well we haven’t heard about Google Glass in quite awhile - now I don’t think Glass is dead - but here’s a likely trajectory for the next generation of Mixed Reality vision.

Sony files patent for contact lens that records what you see

Although electronic devices are shrinking all the time, the idea of a smart contact lens still seems wildly ambitious. Now Sony has reached even further into the realm of the hypothetical and yanked out something that trumps all the efforts we have seen before. A patent filing by the Japanese company reveals its vision for a contact lens that not only records video and images with a simple blink, but manages to store them right there and then on the user's eyeballs.

Google, Samsung and a number of research groups have all made their plans for smart contact lenses public. The motivation behind these range from glucose monitoring to augmented reality to boosting vision through telescopic lenses. But one thing they have in common is that they are all early-stage prototypes or patented pipe dreams, with consumer-ready products seemingly still a ways off.

Sony's patent application doesn't change that, but does reveal an even bolder plan for a smarter, and probably scarier, piece of eyewear. Among the hardware built into the lens would be an image capture unit, a main control unit, storage module, antenna and a piezoelectric sensor.

I think this is one dimension of games that has to be expanded for a larger ecology of participants.

How Minecraft is helping children with autism make new friends

Playing video games online can be antisocial – but the Autcraft community is helping children with autism learn social skills and build relationships
LIKE many constructions, it started small. But now thousands of children with autism are making friends and learning social skills by playing a version of online building game Minecraft.

Stuart Duncan got the idea through a popular blog he ran about his own experiences with autism as well as bringing up a son with autism. Other parents with autistic children started telling him that their kids were crazy about a game that let them explore a randomly generated wilderness. However, despite loving the game, many of the children were being bullied by other players.

So, in 2013, Duncan, a web developer in Timmins, Canada, set up a server to run a version of Minecraft exclusively for children with autism and their families. He thought the invite-only server would attract 10 or 20 people. To his surprise, hundreds requested to join in the first few days.

Now, almost three years later, running “Autcraft” is his full-time job. The community boasts nearly 7000 members, along with a team of admins to help manage its many activities. “Parents see such a benefit for themselves and their children,” says Duncan.

Here’s something in the category of whatever can be automated will be - except who would have thought this would happen so soon?

Nimble-Fingered Robot Outperforms the Best Human Surgeons

A surgical robot was able to repair pigs’ bowels more accurately than human doctors.
A robot surgeon has been taught to perform a delicate procedure—stitching soft tissue together with a needle and thread—more precisely and reliably than even the best human doctor.

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR), developed by researchers at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., uses an advanced 3-D imaging system and very precise force sensing to apply stitches with submillimeter precision. The system was designed to copy state-of-the art surgical practice, but in tests involving living pigs, it proved capable of outperforming its teachers.

This sounds totally crazy - but….

Biotech Company Granted Ethical Permission To Attempt To Use Stem Cells To Reactivate The Brains Of The Dead

A biotech company in the U.S. has been granted ethical permission by an Institutional Review Board in the U.S. and India to use 20 brain-dead patients for what is sure to be a highly controversial study: From next year, they plan to stimulate their nervous systems in order to restart the brains. Bioquark is hoping that its part in the groundbreaking ReAnima project will reveal if people can at least partly be brought back from the dead.

It is important to note that at this point, there isn’t much evidence to suggest how genuinely realistic or even serious this endeavor is; however, the panel of experts working on the initiative does include Dr. Calixto Machado, a well-known neurological researcher and a member of the American Academy of Neurology who has written extensively on brain death.

The team will test a combination of therapies on the participants, who have been medically certified as being brain dead and are only kept from decomposing by life support machines. Injecting the brain with stem cells, giving the spinal cord infusions of beneficial chemicals, and nerve stimulation techniques – which have been shown to bring people out of comas – will all be tried out.

For anyone interested in secure platform for mobile devices - here’s a recent US government approval.

Hypori Named First Virtual Mobile Device Approved by NSA for U.S. Government Classified Use

Listing on NSA Commercial Solutions for Classified Program confirms security standards across Hypori's Platform
Hypori announces its approval by the United States government as the first Virtual Mobile Infrastructure (VMI) vendor to meet the stringent requirements for classified mobility. The Hypori platform is now listed as a validated component on the National Security Agency (NSA) Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) Program Components List in the TLS Software Applications category.

Listing on the CSfC list enables organizations to leverage commercial products and protocols for the protection of national security information. The CSfC listing allows Hypori to be deployed to government agencies and other organizations that require mobility to adhere to stringent security standards.

Recently, the platform was awarded the Common Criteria Certification from the National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP), further validating the product's rigorous security standards. Hypori's mobile solution meets the compliance and security standards for various organizations and regulated industries like financial services, healthcare and payments.

Hypori enables organizations, like the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), to overcome their most significant mobile challenges, like data-at-rest (DAR) and attestation.  The company's VMI platform is a mobile-first, thin client solution that streams mobile applications running in the cloud or sanctioned datacenter to iPads, iPhones and Android mobile devices. All apps and data remain within the organization- even if a device is lost, important data is not compromised.
Here is Hypori’s web site

For Fun
I love these sorts of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ pictures.

Enjoy Face Time with Seven of Earth's 3 to 5 Million Mite Species

A Smithsonian collection of some one million species of mites is receiving its up close and personal
Because there is no polite way to ask a mite to sit still for its portrait, Gary Bauchan often gives his tiny subjects a shot of liquid nitrogen instead. At -321 degrees Fahrenheit (-196 Celsius) these fidgety eight-legged arachnids are flash frozen. Bauchan then zooms in for a close-up.

Many of the mite species imaged with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope have been on Earth for millions of years. In most instances Bauchan and USDA Entomologist Ron Ochoa are the very first humans to ever see the grotesque yet remarkable features of their bodies and faces.

Mites are everywhere, Ochoa points out. Almost every species of beetle, bird, snake, plant and ant (and everything else, it seems) has between one and four associated species of mites. Mites live in soil, in caves, on us, in the treetops, and even in the water. They’re some of the toughest pests to manage on some of the most economically important crops. Sixty thousand mite species are known to science yet experts estimate the world is crawling with as many as three to five million species.

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