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February 15, 2006

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Welcome to the February 15, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Panel Sees Progress Made in Cybersecurity
CNet (02/14/06) Evers, Joris

In the three years since President Bush approved the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the country's vulnerability to cyber attacks has been reduced, a panel of experts at the RSA Conference agreed, though more work needs to be done to keep pace with the increasing sophistication of cyberattacks. "Are we making progress? Yes. Do we have to hit some afterburners? I think that answer is yes also," said panelist Daniel Mehan, the former CIO at the Federal Aviation Administration. Mehan gives the state of government cybersecurity a rating between a D and a C+, noting the 500 percent increase in the number of incidents that CERT tracked from 2000 to 2003. The government has significantly improved its coordination with industry in responding to threats, as the recent Cyber Storm mock attack showed a high level of information being shared between agencies and companies. Andy Purdy, the acting director of the National Cyber Security Division, noted that the government could still simplify security for consumers, step up its efforts to protect children on the Internet, and raise awareness about the hazards of filesharing. Independent security consultant Howard Schmidt agreed with Purdy that software must become more secure, noting also that small and midsize businesses must bolster their protections against phishing attacks and other threats that compromises users' personal information. Increased regulation patterned after Europe's cybercrime draft treaty could also help, as well as an effort to strengthen the telecommunications infrastructure.
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Flawed Election Machines Leave Maryland Voters Guessing
Baltimore Sun (02/15/06) P. 13A; Rubin, Avi

Maryland's direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines are the least transparent voting system available, argues Avi Rubin, computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University. Rubin claims that without an auditing capability, voters must take on faith that the machines recorded their ballots accurately, and that they have not been tampered with by malicious programmers or election insiders. Installing malicious code in DREs is far easier than detecting it, and absent an auditing mechanism, verifying election accuracy is impossible. The most easily verified auditing mechanism is a paper trail. A recent University of Maryland study examined the Diebold machines currently in use in Baltimore County, finding that none contained sufficient verification technologies. The study failed to examine alternatives to the Diebold machines, however. Several states have scrapped the Diebold machines in favor of more transparent alternatives, and 26 states now require their systems to produce a voter-verified paper trail. Legislation has recently been introduced in Maryland to mandate paper records, as well as periodic spot checks of the machines and complete public disclosure in the event that voting discrepancies occur. Optical scan machines would satisfy these requirements, and are among the least expensive systems available. While optical scan machines might complicate the job of election coordinators and poll workers, the resulting transparency and accuracy would far outweigh such a minor inconvenience, Rubin says. For information about ACM e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Cooler Supercomputers
Technology Review (02/14/06) Roush, Wade

Clustered systems have facilitated the supercomputer era and made computationally-intensive applications such as climate modeling and protein folding possible, though stringing together thousands of independent machines amplifies the possibility of memory failure and chronically flirts with overheating. Indeed, the cooling systems at many of the larger supercomputing centers are severely strained. SGI's Columbia supercomputer was built for the NASA Ames Research Center, and ranks as the fourth-fastest system in the world with 20 superclusters, each containing 512 processors, though it is still cooled essentially by wind. In a recent interview, SGI's Eng Lim Goh described Project Ultraviolet, an initiative to develop more energy-efficient supercomputers. Goh leads the project, which aims to develop a marketable system by the decade's end. To enhance memory functions and boost longevity, Goh has been using ASICs that interface with an Intel Itanium processor and provide both the user and the operating system with a comprehensive view of the memory. Goh opted for an off-the-shelf product to keep costs down, and has been enhancing its reliability with intelligent agents in the chipset to expunge components of the memory that may be prone to failure. Goh acknowledges that this technology is comparable to the "self-healing" applications that IBM and others have been promoting. To address the heat problem, Goh believes the most effective technique will be to move heat more quickly. To reduce the run-time heat of applications, Goh hopes to reduce communication delays, provide consistently high levels of broadband, and reduce load imbalance. A major source of application heat, memory latency also crops up when an application must search for a piece of data outside of the processor's cache and in the memory.
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New Microchips Shun Transistors
Wired News (02/14/06) Hudson, John

Notre Dame electrical engineering professor Wolfgang Porod and his team of researchers have developed the first functional prototype of a chip built around magnetism rather than transistors. As scientists continually strive for new techniques to keep the pace of Moore's Law, magnetic islands that move binary code could lead to wireless devices that offer much greater density and processing power than their transistor-based counterparts. The resulting chips would boot up almost immediately, and consume less power while emitting less heat. The non-volatile memory would be immune to power disruptions, and would continue to store data after the power was shut off. The chip's reprogrammable architecture could be particularly useful for specialty applications, such as video games and medical diagnostic devices. "The value of magnetic patterning in storage devices such as hard drives has been known for a long time," said Porod. "What is unique here is that we've applied the patterning concept to the actual processing." The 110 nm magnets can be constructed to mirror the logic gates of conventional transistors, enabling their binary capabilities. Combining the NAND and NOR gates, the researchers built a universal logic gate into their chip, enabling it to perform every basic arithmetic function required for computer processing. Nanoscale magnets have proven to be a more effective technique than quantum dots for transistorless processing, or magnetic quantum cellular automata. A pulsed magnetic field commences the logic operations inside the processor, creating a magnetostatic attraction and repulsion that flips the adjacent magnetic fields. The Notre Dame research is the first application of magnetic fields to a chip that both processes and stores digital information.
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Tech Executive to Run MIT Media Lab
Boston Globe (02/15/06) Weisman, Robert

Veteran technology executive and entrepreneur Frank Moss has taken the helm of MIT's Media Lab, succeeding co-founder Nicholas Negroponte, who left in September 2000 to focus on his nonprofit, One Laptop per Child, and interim director Walter Bender, who is taking a two-year leave of absence from MIT to head software development at One Laptop. MIT hopes to re-center the lab's research under Moss' direction on areas such as education, health care, and aging. Moss has expressed his desire to apply the lab's high-tech research to fields that will have a broad social impact, and to boost industry sponsorship to expand the lab while it integrates more closely with other MIT facilities. Comparing the lab to running a business, Moss said, "You have to strike a balance between having academic freedom and doing different types of research, and having the work sponsored by companies that want to see research commercialized." The media lab has a rich tradition of taking an interdisciplinary approach to developing cutting edge technology. Rival schools began developing similar labs that chipped away at the media lab's funding, and the technology economy's collapse at the beginning of the decade drove companies away from investing in academic research. Moss' business experience could make him a good match for the lab as it attempts to overhaul its image and recapture corporate funding. Moss will continue the lab's focus on the convergence of the human and computer interface, but says that he will not revive the lab's international efforts, which have stalled in both Dublin and Bangalore. Moss favors the lab's biomechatronics research that pairs human tissue with robotics to create prosthetic limbs, the hyperscore graphical composing program, and its studies in sociable robotics that aim to advance human-computer interaction. Moss also hopes to collaborate with the neighboring Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
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Q&A: A Lost Interview With ENIAC Co-Inventor J. Presper Eckert
Computerworld (02/14/06) Randall, Alexander

The watershed computing event of the 20th century--the unveiling of the ENIAC computer--celebrated its 60th anniversary yesterday. Co-creator J. Presper Eckert died in 1995, but a previously unpublished interview sheds new light into the origins of ENIAC. Before ENIAC, computing relied on electromechanical devices to perform basic calculations and solve linear differential equations. Studying the operations of a machine developed by MIT's Vannevar Bush, Eckert got the idea to replace mechanical integrators with electrical ones, and eventually came to believe that the entire system could function electronically. The resulting ENIAC system could perform second-order differential equations and add 10-digit numbers together 50,000 times faster than a human could. With an unprecedented 18,000 vacuum tubes, ENIAC was built in a 30 foot by 50 foot room at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School in Philadelphia. Many of the tubes and circuits were off the shelf, though Eckert also invented numerous circuits, and pioneered integrator circuits and registers. The machine's functions were split among the accumulator, initiator, master programmer, multiplier, divider/square root, gate, buffer, and function tables. While none of the hardware used in ENIAC appears in modern computers, Eckert notes that the concepts of subroutine and internal memory both originated with ENIAC. Contrary to ENIAC lore, Eckert claims that a vacuum tube failed only once every two days, and that it could be identified and replaced within minutes. Finalized too late to contribute to the war effort, ENIAC's first significant use was in the development of the hydrogen bomb.
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Internet Firms to Defend Policies
Washington Post (02/15/06) P. D1; Noguchi, Yuki

Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google will claim to have struck a balance between business interests and human-rights concerns when they go before Congress today to defend their corporate policies toward China. Yahoo! will testify before the House subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations and the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific that the Internet's presence has a beneficial effect on closed societies even when it is subject to censorship. Yet some human rights proponents plan to argue that American corporations are waiving their ethical duties by complying with Chinese law, which often comes down hard on free speech. Google announced last month that it would expurgate certain results on the Chinese version of its search engine; in December, Microsoft's MSN shuttered a dissident reporter's blog; and in 2005, Yahoo! supplied the Chinese government with email data resulting in the imprisonment of another dissident journalist. "If you're on the ground in China, you have to comply with the [local] law," reported Yahoo! general counsel Michael Callahan, who is slated to testify today. "Fundamentally, being there transforms lives, society and economies." Callahan's argument--one echoed by Google and Microsoft--is that when any government requests information, the company is frequently in the dark about how that information will be employed. Reporters Without Borders' Lucille Morillon said the prevention of future crackdowns on dissident reporters should be facilitated by a combination of corporate self-regulation and government oversight. The State Department announced on Tuesday the establishment of a Global Internet Freedom Task Force that will monitor the censorship policies and information access restrictions of other governments, and make policy recommendations to keep Internet access to a maximum while keeping government attempts to suppress information to a minimum.
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Alumni Plan New Google Alternative
Stanford Daily (02/15/06) Fagliano, Stephanie

Stanford University alumni Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan are developing a search technology called Kosmix that they hope will improve on Google's search engine by allowing users to refine their searches by defining categories. Categorizing data on the Web could significantly improve search accuracy, though it would require a tremendous amount of processing, given the Web's ad hoc organization. Further complicating the effort is the wide variance that would inevitably emerge among different users' interpretations of a given category. Still, category-based searches could dispense with many of the random and irrelevant results that are returned when searching through Google. Stanford computer science professor Bill Dally notes that once development is completed, a new search engine can be operational within weeks, though popularity among consumers is often fickle and hard to predict. Students can learn the basic algorithms to build a search engine in college, though applying that background to the frenetic reality of the Internet is an entirely different proposition. Stanford computer science professor and ACM Fellow Gio Wiederhold believes that for a startup such as Kosmix to succeed, it will have to find a market niche that has broad appeal for both consumers and advertisers. Carving out a foothold in the search engine space also requires consumers to see room for improvement on the enormously popular Google technology, which is perhaps the most significant uncertainty that Kosmix faces.
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Internet Television, E-Science, Smart Optics for Detecting Structural Failures
EurekAlert (02/09/06)

At this March's Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference in Los Angeles, researchers will unveil their latest optics-based innovations and discoveries. Among the technical presentations will be a session on making IPTV practical and affordable, featuring the research of Samrat Kulkarni and his colleagues at Lucent Technologies Bell Labs on transport networks that enable providers to reapply their existing infrastructure while delivering high-speed signals to subscribers' homes. Physicists from the University of Ottawa will present an optical system that monitors for indications of structural defects in natural-gas pipes, concrete columns, and other important pieces of infrastructure. The Distributed Brillouin Sensor detects cracks, deformation, and other structural flaws through fiber optics. The conference will also see Georgia Tech's Gee-Kung Chang present his experiment network enabling the simultaneous transmission of high-speed wireline and wireless broadband signals. The system could enable transmission speeds up to 2.5 Gbps, and would integrate with existing networks. MCNC's Gigi Karmous-Edwards will present her research on optical-fiber networks that could integrate scientists around the globe through massive data sharing enabled by enhanced network transport protocols and configurations. Infinera's Fred Kish will outline his company's method for the mass production of integrated photonic chips with data rates of 100 Gbps. Time Warner Cable's Bob Harris will detail the architecture of 10G networks capable of delivering voice, video, and Internet services to keep the pace of Moore's Law. Other presentations will feature a new laser-based manufacturing technique for flat-panel displays and the world's first bismuth-doped silica fiber laser.
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Women Engineers Share Advice
Daily Princetonian (02/13/06) Mu, Euphemia

Princeton University recently hosted the Women in Science and Engineering Conference, a day-long, inter-university forum featuring leadership workshops, panels on career choices, and advice on how to balance a career and family. "We all thought that a lot of the issues discussed in the leadership workshops are relevant to women," said Melissa Carroll, a graduate student in computer science and neuroscience at the university. "These women often don't have people to talk to." The conference was created to promote discussion and provide networking opportunities for female undergraduate and graduate students. Several leadership workshops were held on time management skills, negotiation skills, methods of dealing with difficult people, and the characteristics of a successful leader. The workshop discussions were moderated by professors Jennifer Rexford, Kyle Vanderlick, Catherine Peters, and former ACM president Maria Klawe. Klawe led the workshop on characteristics of a successful leader, which include being an attentive listener, never losing sight of the big picture, encouraging others to follow, and communicating effectively. "The first rule of success is to fail openly and often," said Klawe. "If you don't fail often, you are not setting your standards high enough." The conference was attended mostly by women, and sponsored by the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering group. For information on ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women
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Virtual Reality Prepares Soldiers for Real War
Washington Post (02/14/06) P. A1; Vargas, Jose Antonio

For a generation of soldiers raised on video games, real-life combat can seem more like an outsized simulation of "Halo" or "Full Spectrum Warrior" than a physical reality. The Army acknowledges that Ctl+Alt+Del is as ingrained as the alphabet in today's soldier and it has capitalized on that fact in its training. While they cannot replace field experience, simulations have become an integral part of today's military training, and have indeed changed warfare itself. "The technology of games has facilitated a revolution in the art of warfare," said David Bartlett, who heads the Pentagon's computer-related training, pointing to an increase in battle preparedness that comes from playing first-person shooter games. Objective comparisons between soldiers of one generation and another are typically anecdotal and inherently problematic, though military experts agree that modern soldiers do have a more thorough knowledge of weapons than previous generations. Video games are a favorite pastime for many soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan on their off hours. "Over there in Iraq, I think playing those games helped," said Sgt. Sean Crippen. "It kept me on my toes. It taught me what to do and what not to do." Other observers point to the reality gap between video games and real combat, claiming that many soldiers weaned on first-person shooting scenarios find the genuine article to be much more wrenching. Some battle-hardened soldiers abandon shooting games when they return home, claiming that the games only bring them back to a level of violence they had hoped to forget. By contrast, others play them as avidly as they did before the war, admiring features such as the realistic simulation of a soldier's heartbeat as the enemy approaches.
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From Cattle to Chemicals: Colorado School Seeks to Expand Grid Computing Efforts
Network World (02/13/06) Brown, Bob

Colorado State University's grid computing program was founded in 2004 to advance the technology used to track animals, drawing on more than $2 million in grants from the Colorado Institute of Technology, as well as contributions from Sun, the Department of Homeland Security, and others. The Colorado Grid Computing Initiative's (COGrid) first project was to produce animal tracking data to help identify cattle in the event of an outbreak of mad cow disease. Patrick Burns, CSU's associate vice president for information and instructional technology, has taught classes in grid computing using the system, and has overseen its application to more than a dozen departments throughout the school. In the project's second phase, Burns plans to help educate other Colorado institutions on how to use the system. Then, he hopes that other schools will receive donations for similar systems to expand the grid. Burns' experience with the grid has taught him that "it still takes a lot of work to map an algorithm onto an advanced computing system and after that get good performance out of it." Burns adds that "the human element is still very much required to design algorithms, implement them, and test ways of doing things."
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In the Key of 'T' (Technology)
Knox College News (02/10/06) McGaughey, Alison

Aaron Lepkin, a senior at Knox College, recently designed software for one of his professors to use in the classroom. Lepkin, a computer science major with a minor in vocal performance, developed the software as part of an independent study project. The software will be used to help Jeremy Day-O'Connell's Introductory Music Theory students enhance their basic music-reading skills. "I really like the interdisciplinary nature of this," says Lepkin. "My interests are really varied, from computer science to music to linguistics to cognitive science. So this project is combining all of those things." Day-O'Connell says a lot of students lack the foundational skills needed to read music fluently, which is a necessary skill in analyzing musical compositions. He says, "The software will offer supplemental drills for the less experienced students and will help me make more room in the classroom for really talking seriously about music, which, after all, is the point of the class." Lepkin's project consists of designing a framework for posing problems for students to solve. After a student has selected a particular category of question, the software continues to generate random musical questions included in that category. The user solves the problem, and then the software lets the user know whether the solution is right or wrong.
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The Laptop Tug of War: Speed Versus Battery Life
Electronic Design (02/02/06) Vol. 54, No. 3, P. 37; Tuite, Don

The dramatic performance gains of recently unveiled laptop technology from the likes of Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Apple raise novel power management issues. For example, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed Intel's new Centrino Core Duo mobile technology platform quadruples the performance of previous Apple laptops with Power-PC processors; but in comparison to the Pentium M, the highest-performance mobile processor prior to the Dual Core, the dual-core chip takes in around 20 percent maximum power, and needs voltage regulation to respond about 16 percent faster. Still, the combination of the Intel Core Duo processor, the mobile 945 Express chip-set line, and the PRO/Wireless 3945ABG network connection significantly reduces power consumption in the Core Duo platform. The processor can function at very low voltages, and power dissipation is decreased in the active state through advanced methods that keep clock and signal switching to a minimum, enabling the chip to rapidly enter and exit these states in order to save power while maintaining rapid responsiveness. The chip set can power down with the processor in its low-frequency power-conserving states via "dynamic bus parking." The Core Duo processor is also equipped with the Advanced Thermal Manager that outfits each core of the processor with a digital temperature sensor and a thermal monitor to facilitate more refined fan control. Although such technologies will give the new laptops as much battery life as their earlier iterations, they do not eliminate the need for their power supplies to support instantaneous demand.
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A Pill, a Scalpel, a Database
InformationWeek (02/13/06)No. 1076, P. 38; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

Information technology is making strides in three critical areas of medicine: The filtering and delivery of information to the patient's bedside, allowing for personalized care; formatting existing data to obtain a richer, more helpful picture of the patient's condition; and the use of analytics to integrate data that yields new insights. IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences' Brett Davis says the interim between the discovery of new medical breakthroughs and their standard application--which can take as long as 17 years--is decreasing thanks to the use of IT and other new tools for research and collaboration. In addition to helping enable more customized patient treatments, health-care IT can cut the time and cost of testing new drugs and improve the development of safer, more targeted drugs via data mining and analysis. Analytic, pattern-recognition, and decision-support software can examine data from countless sources, and they could emerge as some of the most critical health-care tools. But delivering more timely and customized bedside care requires a national infrastructure for electronic health data that facilitates the exchange of standardized medical records, which President Bush flagged as a national goal to be realized by 2014. "The key tipping point will be in getting the national health IT infrastructure in place," notes Davis. Other challenges include the increasingly pressing issues of security, privacy, and ethical data usage as more and more health-care information becomes electronically accessible. Progress can also be hindered by hesitancy among some researchers to share information.
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Miniaturized Power
Scientific American (02/06) Vol. 294, No. 2, P. 72; Choi, Charles Q.

Bell Labs aims to develop a mass-produced "nanobattery" that can be built in with other circuitry on a chip; outfitted with nanometer-scale electrodes, the nanobattery could remain inert for long periods, providing energy only when needed. The nanobattery concept stems from Bell Labs researcher Tom Krupenkin's work with "nanograss," in which miniature superhydrophobic pillars exhibit hydrophilic properties when a voltage is applied to a liquid electrolyte, causing the pillars to draw droplets down between them, where the electrolyte reacts with any compound at the bottom. Krupenkin reasoned that a nanobattery could be powered by the liquid, and he notes that nanograss would not only ease the miniaturization of reserve batteries, but also permit the design of batteries that activate only sections of the nanograss field at one time instead of the entire field. Bell Labs corporate parent Lucent Technologies is jointly developing the nanobattery with mPhase, and the fruits of their labors include a prototype that generates current. The model uses zinc anodes and manganese dioxide cathodes, while a silicon dioxide/fluorocarbon nanomembrane rests on a zinc-coated silicon floor. A zinc chloride electrolyte solution lies above the porous, electrowetting nanomembrane. The anode and cathode patches lie separate from one another in the unactivated state, but once immersed in the electrolyte in the activated state, the patches physically connect and react to produce electricity. Nanobattery technology's potential breakthrough applications include more environmentally friendly power sources, infrequently used sensors, environmental monitoring devices that can send data over longer distances, and enhancement of products such as cell phones, radio-transmitting pet collars, and medical implants.
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Denial-of-Service Attack-Detection Techniques
Internet Computing (02/06) Vol. 10, No. 1, P. 82; Carl, Glenn; Kesidis, George; Brooks, Richard R.

A survey of methods for detecting denial-of-service (DoS) attacks points to the need to distinguish between network-based flooding attacks and abrupt increases in flash events or legitimate activity. In a flooding attack scenario, the attacker sends the victim a large amount of network traffic workload, causing bottlenecks that can severely hamper legitimate workloads, and no software vulnerability or specific conditions are needed to execute such an attack. Locally installed DoS attack-detection strategies can shield potential victims, while remotely installed approaches can be used to spot propagating attacks; most IT departments opt for local detection in which detectors are located at the potential victim resource or at a router or firewall inside the victim's sub-network. A variety of detectors distributed across three attack-detection method categories--activity profiling, change-point detection, and wavelet analysis--were analyzed, and several core problems were outlined. Rigorous testing of the surveyed detectors was impossible partly because comprehensive test data, testing environments, and standards are unavailable, although the authors hope efforts such as the Cyber Defense Technology Experimental Research Project will solve this problem. Also, none of the detector schemes have nominal-traffic measures covering the whole of potential network conditions, while researchers for the most part offer no guidance on how much each detector's multiple operating parameters can vary and thus impact performance. Real-world implementation issues were also omitted in the studies. The authors conclude that though all the surveyed detectors yield promising results in limited testing, none can completely address the detection challenge; they reason that the optimum solution is to combine various strategies and supplement them with the participation of seasoned network operators.
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