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April 25, 2007

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The Myth of High-Tech Outsourcing
Business Week (04/24/07) Holahan, Catherine

A new report from the American Electronics Association that shows the U.S. technology industry added almost 150,000 jobs in 2006, the largest gain since 2001, counters arguments that outsourcing is stealing the majority of high-tech jobs in the United States and supports requests for higher caps on workers visas. Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, said there is plenty of demand for IT employees. She notes that full-time IT positions take an average of 56 days to fill, and firms looking for IT managers have to wait about 87 days to find an employee. Workers with experience in Web 2.0 applications, particularly user-generated content, .Net, or AJAX are heavily sought after, according to Spencer Lee. Meanwhile, unemployment for engineers, computer programmers, software developers, and other IT professionals is at its lowest rate in years, with less than 3 percent of computer system designers and less than 2 percent of engineers out of work, according to the AeA study. "There would have been a lot more than 147,000 jobs created here, but our companies are having difficulty finding Americans with the background," said AeA President William Archey. The percentage of college freshman planning to major in computer science dropped 10 percent between 2000 and 2005. American universities and high schools are trying to produce more IT professionals by encouraging more students to get involved in math and science careers with programs that teach the practical application of tech skills. Kforce's David Bair believes a technology marketing campaign is needed. "We are going to have to make sure that we have students coming into the space," Bair said. "We need to let people know this is an unbelievable career opportunity for individuals."
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Paper-Trail Voting Gets Organized Opposition
USA Today (04/23/07) P. 2A; Wolf, Richard

State and local officials have created a campaign to stop Congress from requiring a paper record of ballots cast on electronic voting machines, arguing such a requirement could create more problems in the upcoming elections. Groups representing secretaries of state, state legislators, and county leaders are cooperating in an effort to stop legislation scheduled for a House committee vote and Senate hearings. The legislation would require all electronic voting machines used in the 2008 elections to provide a paper record that gives voters proof of their vote that could be used as the official ballot in a recount. The legislation was expected to quickly move through the Democratic-controlled House, but committee action has been stalled and election officials claim the bill's requirements cannot be met in time for the presidential primaries in February. Election reform advocates support the bill, saying a paper trail, post-election audits, and other safeguards in the legislation cannot be postponed. Even without new federal legislation, the majority of the nation's voting machines will soon fail to meet the standards set by the federal Election Assistance Commission, particularly in regards to the requirements for assisting disabled voters. Most Republicans agree with election officials that the legislation creates too many requirements with too short a time frame to implement changes, but supporters of the legislation say objections will not slow the bill down. "There needs to be a paper trail," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "If you can't have a paper trail, you can't do a recount."
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Practical Holographic Video
Technology Review (04/24/07) Greene, Kate

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new holographic video system that is capable of running on available graphics cards, such as those in high-end PCs and gaming consoles, instead of specialized hardware, greatly reducing the size and cost of holographic projectors. The researchers said the display will be inexpensive and small enough to add to an entertainment center, and provide picture quality similar to a standard analog television. In the new system, called Mark III, software creates a collection of numbers describing the position of all points on the surface of the image, and calculates how lasers need to project light to create the proper diffraction pattern. Mark III also uses a higher bandwidth acousto-optic modulator, commonly found in telecommunications systems, to create a higher-resolution picture than previous generations of holographic projectors were capable of. The Mark III is only capable of projecting an image the size of a Rubik's cube in a single color, but the MIT research team is already working on the next generation of the system, which will be capable of projecting colored images about the size of a desktop monitor. Aside from potential entertainment value, holograph technology could be used to view medical images such as MRIs and CT scans and complex, multidimensional data and designs for new products such as furniture and cars.
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PCAST Approves Draft IT R&D Recommendations
Computing Research Association (04/24/07) Harsha, Peter

The President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) met on April 24 to approve a set of recommendations for the federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program. While reviewing the program, the committee concluded that unless the United States took steps to improve long-term innovation, the country's position as the dominant leader in the IT sector could be at risk. The committee, composed of 35 leaders in both industry and academia appointed by the President, approved recommendations for four general areas, including redesigning networking and information technology education and training, rebalancing the federal NITRD portfolio, re-prioritizing some NITRD topics, and improving interagency planning and cooperation. PCAST co-chairman and director of the Renaissance Computing Institute at UNC Dan Reed said several independent areas need improvement for the United States to retain its position as an IT leader. Current IT education and training standards do not meet employer and student needs, and women and other underrepresented groups in IT fields continue to constitute a declining percentage of new IT graduates. In order to meet the growing demand for IT professionals in the future, the committee recommends assessing the current and future requirements for IT graduate and undergraduate education, revising IT curricula, increasing fellowship opportunities, and easing the visa process for students and research and development visitors and green card processes for IT professionals. NITRD programs currently favor low-risk, short-term, small-scale projects, and universities miss research opportunities because disciplinary studies are emphasized over inter-disciplinary research. The committee recommends creating balanced programs that focus on innovation and long-term, multidisciplinary projects, concluding that universities must rethink their structures, including their merit and tenure systems, to better support and reward multidisciplinary work.
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Spreadsheets Using Logic Instead of Math May Revolutionize Data Management
Stanford Report (04/25/07) Young, Chelsea Anne

Stanford University computer scientists have developed a prototype of a logical spreadsheet, a data management system that use logic instead of math and allows for easier data manipulation, an idea that could drastically change a variety of fields such as the military, hotel management, and insurance sales. Associate professor of computer science Michael Genesereth said there are many situations in which traditional spreadsheets are insufficient. "Why not have a spreadsheet that looks just like a regular spreadsheet except it has the ability to encode and use logical formulas? That's what you can't do with Excel in any way today," Genesereth said. Logical spreadsheets could be used by the military for troop deployment and training, and administrators at Stanford are already using the technology to manage room schedules. One problem the technology creates is how to preserve and rectify temporary inconsistencies, which is when the system encounters two or more contradictory statements. The solution the developers created is to have the system alert the user to the problem and have the user choose a solution. Genesereth expects that logical spreadsheets will eventually be used widely throughout the Web, particularly as the primary format of online forms. Genesereth said, "This technology could be very explosive when it finally does make its way into practical use."
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Siggraph: Three's a Charm
Hollywood Reporter (04/24/07) Giardina, Carolyn

ACM Siggraph has announced the Best of Show, Jury Honors, and Award of Excellence winners for the 2007 Computer Animation Festival at Siggraph 2007. Paul Debevec, Computer Animation Festival chair and associate director of graphics research at USC's Institute for Create Technologies, said the level of production was absolutely astonishing, adding this year was the first time any high-definition films were submitted, citing an example of dust particles in a beam of light as the level of detail possible in the films. A field of 905 films was narrowed down to 134 selections for the Computer Animation Festival, which since 1999 has also been a qualifying festival for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' best animated short film category. A short film from Poland titled "Ark," written by Grzegorz Jonkajtys and produced by Marcin Kobylecki, was awarded best of show. Jury Honors was awarded to "Dreammaker," directed by Leszek Plichta of the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction at Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany. "En Tus Brazos," directed by Francois-Xavier Goby, Edouard Jouret, and Matthieu Landour and produced at France's Supinfocom Valenciennes, received an Award of Excellence. This is the second time three entries have won an award. Jury member, director Randal Kleiser said, "All three of the prizes awarded by the jury have one thing in common: They prove how well computer graphics can convey a strong emotional response with well-defined characters and outstanding artistry." Siggraph 2007 takes place Aug. 5-9 in San Diego. For more on SIGGRAPH, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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Researchers Break Internet Speed Records
Associated Press (04/24/07) Jesdanun, Anick

The Internet2 consortium says that on Dec. 30, 2006, data was sent over the Internet at 7.67 Gbps, which is a new speed record. The University of Tokyo led the team, which then broke its record the following day by modifying standard communications protocols to move data along the same path from Tokyo to Chicago, Amsterdam, Seattle and back in 9.08 Gbps. The speed record was accomplished using the newer IPv6 Internet addressing system. Before the exploits of the Tokyo led research group, the old record was 6.96 Gbps, which was achieved in November 2005. For IPv4, the record of 8.8 Gbps was set last February. Plans to build a new network with a 10-fold increase in capacity to 100 Gbps would enable a new speed record exceeding 10 Gbps, and enable a high-quality version of "The Matrix" to be sent in seconds.
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Answers Sought for U.S. Broadband Decline
PC Magazine (04/24/07) Albanesius, Chloe

At a Senate Commerce Committee meeting on April 24, technology experts said the United States' decline in broadband standing is largely due to a lack of innovation and poor handling of subsidy programs and data collection by the government. The hearing was head one day after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a study on global broadband per-capita penetration, which saw the United States fall from 12th to 15th place out of 30 countries. Some said the results are a sign that the U.S. is falling behind its global counterparts, but others said it was unfair to compare the U.S. to smaller more densely populated countries such as England, where infrastructure expansion can serve more people. A lack of government data complicates the broadband penetration problem. "Current FCC data is not useful," said Criterion Economics Chairman Jeffery Eisenach. "It doesn't tell us how many households or businesses in that ZIP code have broadband availability. Nor does it tell us anything about quality. " Chair of the Commerce Committee Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he will soon introduce a bill to promote innovation and improve the federal commitment to basic research on communications, and is also working on legislation that will require the collection of broadband data at the federal and state levels. Inouye said basic research into technologies to solve national broadband problems are being ignored. Qualcomm's vice president of technology Jack Wolf said, "The only research that's being done in telecom now outside of universities has a very, very short time frame for work research and it's being done mainly by equipment managers." Adam Drobat of the Telecommunications Industry Association said electrical engineering and computer science, the two fields fundamental to telecom, are producing fewer and fewer American doctoral graduates, and there needs to be more money allocated to research and education to attract people to these fields.
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Robot Future Poses Hard Questions
BBC News (04/24/07)

Researchers speaking ahead of a public debate at London's Science Museum's Data Centre, expressed concern about the use of autonomous decision-making robots, and said discussions about future robots in society are largely ill-informed. Autonomous robots are starting to play a larger role in military applications, such as the robotic sentry guard between North and South Korea armed with two cameras and a machine gun, but wider use of robots creates questions about responsibility. University of West England professor Alan Winfield asked, "If an autonomous robot kills someone, whose fault is it?" Winfield said currently the responsibility lies with the designer or operator of the robot, but as robots gain greater autonomy, accountability is less defined. The question of robot's rights was raised in a paper titled "Utopian Dream of Rise of the Machines?," predicting that robots may one day demand the same rights as humans. University of Essex professor Owen Holland called the paper, and such predictions, "poorly informed, poorly supported by science and ... sensationalist." Professor Winfield called concerns about robot rights a distraction, arguing the more pressing and serious concern is the extent to which society is willing to trust autonomous robots and be willing to be cared for by autonomous robots. In some countries robots are already being used to take simple measurements, like heart rates, from elderly patients. University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey said it was easy to imagine a future where elderly patients were placed in a large hospital to be cared for by machines, and scenarios like this make it imperative to have an open and public debate about the roles robots will play in the future. "In the same way as we have an informed nuclear debate, we need to tell the public about what is going on in robotics and ask them what they want," Sharkey said.
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Voting Machines a 'Catastrophe'--French Parties
Agence France Presse (04/23/07) Sailhan, Michel

Electronic voting has come under fire in France after widespread complaints of delays and problems with e-voting machines during the second round of the presidential election. The Socialists, the Communist Party, and the Greens called casting votes electronically a "catastrophe" in a statement, and nationalist Catholic candidate Philippe de Villiers referred to e-voting equipment as a "cheating machine." France is using e-voting machines for the first time, and about 1.5 million of the nation's 44.5 million voters used them during this stage of the election. Problems with e-voting machines in Paris suburbs prompted Daniel Guerin, a member of the Paris regional council, to lodge an official complaint with the Constitutional Council. Some voters said the machines were difficult to use, while others expressed concern about the secrecy of their ballot. An analysis of the vote also shows that four out of every seven voters 65 years of age or older were unable to record their vote. Gabriel Michel, a psychologist who was involved in trials, considers e-voting to be a huge problem.
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Science: Researchers Hone Mind-Reading Robot
Columbian (WA) (04/23/07) Robinson, Erik

University of Washington researchers have developed a technique based on electroencephalography (EEG) to directly control the movements of a two-foot-tall robot using brain activity. The human controller wears a swim cap-like head piece with 32 electrodes that measure brain waves and trigger the robot to move. The robot walks on two legs, and is capable of picking up an object selected by the controller and moving the object to any location. The controller focuses on an object on a terminal screen while each object is randomly highlighted. When the correct object is highlighted, the controller's brain registers a recognition response, which triggers the robot to pick up the object. Preliminary results show the robot picks up the correct object 94 percent of the time. Associate professor of computer science and engineering Rajesh Rao said this type of control and robotic actions are a "primitive first step" toward developing robots capable of more complicated tasks. Rao said the work could eventually change the human experience by expanding the brain's reach beyond the human body. This technology could lead to helping people with debilitating diseases spell out letters and words by manipulating a computer, or create enhanced prosthetics. Already, researchers are developing high-end video games with this technology in mind. While brain signal controls are currently limited to simple actions such as grabbing a block, Rao said advancements in computer hardware could lead to the robot being able to learn increasingly complicated autonomous tasks.
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It's the End of Your Data As You Know It
ZDNet UK (04/23/07) Broersma, Matthew

Organizations are trying to come up with a way to preserve digital data long-term, a challenge complicated by the double bind of the data's abbreviated physical lifespan and the rapidity in which media, file formats, and software become obsolete. Meeting this challenge is especially critical as information and data management are viewed as increasingly essential to achieving profitability, and it is only now that serious attempts to come up with a practical, large-scale solution to the digital data preservation problem are moving forward. "This is happening now partly because of the realization that the digital world is really upon us now, in a big way," notes program manager of the British Library's Digital Object Management scheme Richard Masters. "Until 2002 or 2003, a lot of our digital material was digitized--you could always go back to the original. Now we've reached a critical mass of material that exists only in digital form." The continuous evolution of formats precludes the use of standardization as a digital preservation tool, according to RAND Corporation computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg, who adds that migrating digital objects to current formats is not true preservation because information is jettisoned with each migration; he is an advocate of emulation, in which current technology simulates the hardware, operating system, and applications so that documents can remain accessible in their original state. Physical degradation or obsolescence of digital media is also a major problem, forcing organizations to carry out a continual series of migrations within a timeframe that is brief enough to prevent the media from becoming unreadable or outdated before they are copied. The British Library and the Library of Congress are just a few organizations that are undertaking long-term digital preservation initiatives, while other institutions are focusing on the development of standards and infrastructure to buttress such programs.
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Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Indiana University (04/23/07)

Indiana University School of Informatics computer science graduate students will use unmanned vehicles to test autonomous Global Positioning System navigation on the Bloomington campus. As part of their final exam for their Embedded and Real-Time Systems course, the students will demonstrate the vehicle navigator, which they programmed and fitted with GPS sensors. The vehicle navigator makes use of real-time information and a pre-loaded list of waypoints for steering and speed. The IU computer science faculty teamed up with technical staff members and Advanced Networking Lab research scientist Danko Antolovic to develop and program the vehicle. "This vehicle--a modified golf cart--provides a hands-on way to learn what autonomous robotics is all about," says computer science professor Steven D. Johnson. "Platforms such as this advance research collaboration across the field of informatics, computer science, cognitive science, and other disciplines."
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ICANN Is the USSR of the Internet--Karl Auerbach Speaks Out
Register (UK) (04/24/07) Hansen, Burke

In a wide-ranging interview, former ICANN board member Karl Auerbach explains that he views the Internet as a large distributed system that ideally should be turned into a solid utility, as he outlines in his presentation "From Barnstorming to Boeing--Transforming the Internet Into a Lifeline Utility." Auerbach has harsh words for ICANN, expressing amazement at how much the Internet governing body resembles the former Soviet Union, especially in the way its bureaucratic red tape choked innovation in the domain name space. Auerbach derisively refers to the "infamous TLD beauty contest of 2000" which resulted in ICANN approving such dubious domains as .pro and .coop while placing 40 of 47 applicants on hold. To this day, ICANN has not yet accepted or denied those 40 applications but has kept their $2 million in application fees, Auerbach says. Auerbach complains that none of the other ICANN board members would listen to his suggestions, including his proposal for a DNS early-warning system that would monitor the DNS for problems cheaply and effectively. ICANN remains "a very closed organization" and is in fact not important to the Internet, he says, adding that if ICANN disappeared the only parties that would miss ICANN would be the trademark aggregation industry and incumbent registries such as VeriSign. Auerbach claims that ICANN basically gave away the .com, .net, and .org contracts to VeriSign. "It is amazing how ICANN and NTIA transformed VeriSign's job to maintain .com, .net, and .org into permanent ownership," he says. Auerbach also comments on several other topics, including VeriSign's price increases, Whois privacy, and Internet security.
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Weaving a Better Web
Network World (04/18/07) Gittlen, Sandra

When Vint Cerf proposed an interplanetary network that would extend the Internet beyond Earth in 1999, many believed the idea to be far fetched, but Cerf still believes in his idea. "By the end of this decade, we'll have a two-planet internet in place. We'll have software on orbiters that allow new protocols to make the Internet work across the solar system," Cerf said. In addition to this interplanetary network, Cerf has several other predictions for the Internet. Cerf believes the Domain Name System will be fortified, as it is currently vulnerable and there is no way to authenticate the source of data. To create DNS Security, every domain name server needs to digitally signal the entry so users can validate that it is unmodified. Sweden has implement this security on its .se extension, and ICANN hopes to have security standards deployed in a few years. Cerf's second prediction is that operating-system writers and computer scientists will be pressured to create more secure systems, as there is no operating-system security currently. Cerf compares the current broadband-connected, always-on society to leaving the keys in the ignition, leaving the car open for anyone to take a joy ride in. Finally, Cerf believes we will make better use of broadcast IP, using it as an efficient way to send out software and operating-system updates.
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Perfect Clones, to the Last Computer-Generated Wrinkle
New Scientist (04/21/07) Vol. 194, No. 2600, P. 24; Biever, Celeste

The entertainment industry is aggressively researching ways to create more realistic digital clones, and among the efforts in this area is one led by Hanspeter Pfister at Mitsubishi Research Laboratories and Markus Gross at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Their method involves camera-scanning people in a hemispherical cage to build a 3D digital double that can be reproduced in a computer screen under any lighting conditions. A methodology for aging the doubles and changing their skin tone is being worked out using hundreds of facial scans, and it is hoped that these duplicates will be able to replace flesh-and-blood performers in scenes where danger or difficulty preclude in-person acting by combining motion-capture scans of their real facial movements. A pair of 3D scanners point inwards at the subject on opposite sides of the dome, and these scanners are equipped with lights that project a 2D pattern onto the person's face. The face's contours distort this pattern, and this distortion is captured by the scanners for use in a 3D facial reconstruction. The next step is the addition of "micro-geometry"--pores, wrinkles, and other skin details--by capturing these elements with 16 high-resolution cameras and stitching them together; the digital face's proper reflection of light is facilitated via the extraction of values for color, reflectivity, and roughness of the skin using the camera images, and then ray tracing is used to light the model as desired. Movement via motion capture is enabled by marking the subject's face with 90 colored dots at key points, which are tracked by vision software and replicated in the clone. Pfister has also started to make harder-to-visualize wrinkles more apparent through the use of motion-capture paint.
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The Machine's Got Rhythm
Science News (04/21/07) Vol. 171, No. 16, P. 248; Rehmeyer, Julie J.

New modes of musical expression may be opened up by efforts to teach computers to transcribe musical recordings, and these initiatives are being undertaken by researchers inspired by speech-recognition studies. Software can reliably identify the notes of a single melodic line performed by an isolated instrument by analyzing the wavelengths of the sound, but identifying multiple notes played simultaneously is a tougher challenge. In such situations, most systems fraction the sound into short segments and seek a pattern that can be identified as a single note, and then extract the note's primary frequency and associated overtones from the sound wave. The software then repeats the process, finding other notes in the remaining audio signals until the entire sound is covered. Columbia University researcher Daniel Ellis has built a computer program that transcribes polyphonic piano music using machine-learning methods, and his inspiration was scientists' technique for identifying speech's underlying patterns by collecting various samples and performing statistical analysis. Ellis says the best-performing system will be one that combines machine learning with extensive musical and acoustical knowledge. Although researchers' computerized musical transcription efforts are ongoing, their work has already yielded useful innovations. One advance is score-alignment technology, whose potential applications include programs that can automatically turn pages for musicians, display supertitles at an opera at the precise moment, and correct off-key notes entering a microphone before they are emitted by loudspeakers. Another area of research that uses such programs is computerized accompaniment for musicians, which can be of tremendous value in musical training.
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The Laptop Crusade
IEEE Spectrum (04/07) Vol. 44, No. 4, P. 28; Perry, Tekla S.; Zuckerman, Ethan

MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte wants to make computing power available to all the world's children by developing a ruggedized, super-cheap laptop and distributing it to developing countries under the aegis of his One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. Within the next year up to 10 million laptops will be handed out to kids in Third World nations as the first step toward OLPC's goal of distributing 100 million laptops to developing-world schoolchildren. If all goes as planned, then economies of scale will reduce the individual laptop's cost to $100, but beyond the technical challenge of engineering a durable, superefficient device, there is also the issue that teachers may be reluctant to embrace the laptop, while fiscally-conscious governments may balk at having to purchase the devices by diverting funds from other, perhaps more important programs. Another concern is that government corruption could make the devices unaffordable for most people. First-generation laptops developed for the OLPC project boast an LED-illuminated screen mounted in front of the motherboard, that can switch between a reflective black-and-gray mode and a backlit color mode; a thick plastic shell; a rubberized gasket seal and keyboard to prevent water and dust contamination; the ability to be powered manually, by the electric grid, or by a 12-volt car battery; a camera and microphone; Wi-Fi antennas; a processor that draws less than 2 watts of power; 512 MB of flash memory; and alternate functionality as an e-book and a game console. The model has eliminated the hard drive, the cooling fan, and the display's fluorescent backlight. Another innovation the OLPC team came up with was the Sugar user interface, which foregoes the traditional desktop metaphor in favor of a domain of collaborators gathered around icons that represent work in progress. A modified version of Red Hat Linux was selected as the machine's operating system, so that the software can be refined on a regular basis without incurring costs.
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