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Volume 7, Issue 847:  Wednesday, September 28, 2005

  • "Lawmaker Doesn't Rule Out Cybersecurity Regulation"
    IDG News Service (09/27/05); Gross, Grant

    The U.S. government and the private sector have not given cybersecurity adequate emphasis, said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), speaking at a Sept. 26 cybersecurity policy forum hosted by Nortel Networks. Although his preference is for companies to voluntarily patch vulnerabilities, Lungren, chairman of the House Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Cybersecurity Subcommittee, did not dismiss the possibility of the government imposing cybersecurity regulations, which he fears would "stifle the kind of innovation that's available to the private sector to come up with their own fixes." Lungren also said the government must gain a better comprehension of cybersecurity risk, especially as it pertains to Internet-powered supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems responsible for much of the country's critical infrastructure. He urged the government to make a stronger effort to anticipate cyberattacks, particularly those that threaten to cause the worst damage, and channel its resources into preventing such incidents. Nortel CEO Bill Owens noted at the same forum that the likelihood of cyberattacks will rise as increasing numbers of devices transmit information via Internet Protocol. Acting director of the Homeland Security Department's National Cybersecurity Division Andy Purdy claimed his agency is attempting to raise the profile of the cybersecurity issue, citing the creation of a new assistant secretary for cybersecurity as a step in the right direction. But he agreed with Lungren that private companies bear a significant measure of responsibility in the assurance of Internet safety.
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  • "VoIP Wants to Cut the Computer Cord"
    CNet (09/26/05); Olsen, Stefanie; Reardon, Marguerite

    The advent of softphone technology has made voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony an even more appealing option, as users can easily download software that enables any laptop to serve as a telephone. Backers of the technology are betting that as softphones become available to a greater variety of devices, VoIP use will increase dramatically. With eBay's recent acquisition of Skype, and Google's development of an instant chat and voice application, VoIP has been a hot topic, though the question remains as to how the services will be packaged for consumers. The race is on to develop portable devices that can function alternatively as a phone, such as an iPod or personal digital assistant, and an increasing number of products that support VoIP are boosting its popularity. VoIP still faces an uphill climb to supplant fixed phone lines, as VoIP customers number only 2 million in the United States, compared to the approximately 200 million traditional phone lines in place. VoIP has made its most significant inroads in the business community, with frequent travelers relying heavily on the technology to communicate inexpensively while on the road. As more companies are developing devices that support softphone technology and make it more convenient to use, the consumer market is likely to follow.
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  • "EE Schools: Where Are the Girls?"
    EE Times (09/26/05); Riley, Sheila

    Girls are being discouraged from pursuing degrees in engineering by a variety of factors, including a negative image of the engineering profession, a lack of role models, little support from peers or parents, sexist attitudes, and classes and workplaces that are predominantly male. Nathan Bell with the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology estimates that female engineers accounted for 10.4 percent of the 2003 workforce overall, and just 7.2 percent of the 2003 electrical and electronics engineering workforce. He reports little progress in boosting those percentages over the last decade, while the Engineering Workforce Commission's Dan Bateson says the number of men earning engineering degrees is more than five times that of women. Stereotypical perceptions of engineers will continue to prevail until the number of women studying engineering and finding employment as engineers increases significantly. The Stevens Institute of Technology's Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education's Susan Metz says ability plays no part in girls' avoidance of engineering, while National Instruments' Tamra Kerns notes that many girls are discouraged from continuing their education by their mothers, who claim that they are destined to be homemakers and parents. American Association of University Women research director Elena Silva reports an increase in the number of women earning engineering degrees every year for the last 30 years. Still, a principally male educational and professional environment remains a major source of discouragement for potential female engineers.
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    For information about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women

  • "Networking Researchers Show Their Stuff at iGrid"
    San Diego Union-Tribune (09/27/05); Sidener, Jonathan

    California Institute of Technology and Information Technology director Larry Smarr proclaimed yesterday's ultra-high-resolution teleconference between Keio University President Yuichiro Anzai and UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox at iGrid 2005 to be "a window to the future." The video, whose resolution was about four times that of current high-definition TV, was streamed across the Pacific along 9,000 miles of optic fiber and displayed on a two-story-tall screen at UCSD. Smarr predicted that the technology will have applications beyond videoconferencing and Super HD digital cinema. He envisioned scientific collaborations in which researchers concurrently exchange massive data files in different hemispheres. Smarr, a computer science professor at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering, said corporations and theaters will demand dedicated fiber circuits in a short while, and eventually so will homeowners. Other notable demonstrations at iGrid included the transmission of data from Europe to UCSD at speeds of up to 20 Gbps.
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  • "Gaming Makes the Grade"
    Technology Review (09/27/05); Angiolillo, Paul

    Some universities are attempting to reverse the decline in computer science undergraduate enrollments by re-energizing interest in the field with a focus on games and gaming. Academics and industry representatives say classes that use games as programming teaching aids or that let students create their own games could arrest the enrollment downturn. For 10 years, Carnegie Mellon University researchers co-directed by computer science professor Randy Pausch have been devising game-based computer science courses. Pausch's brainchild is an open-source, publicly available program called Alice that was created to teach introductory programming classes via a game framework. The researchers submitted a study to the National Science Foundation in 2000 showing that freshmen who employed Alice in CS1 averaged a grade of B, while those who did not averaged a C; in addition, the proportion of students using Alice in CS1 who went on to the next-level CS course increased from 44 percent to 88 percent. Rochester Institute of Technology computer science professor Jessica Bayliss taught a course last summer in which incoming freshmen learned fundamental object-oriented programming and Java by learning to manipulate objects in a simple game environment. RIT and CMU are among the recipients of a 2005 Microsoft grant to create game-based computer science courses, while John Nordlinger with Microsoft's Computer Gaming Curriculum says such courses not only make computer science fun for students, but offer an opportunity to make money, given the commercial success of games.
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  • "Hi-Tech DIY to Solve Local Problems"
    BBC News (09/27/05); Boyd, Clark

    MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms has the ambitious goal of producing a machine that can fabricate any material or object on a molecular level. In the four years since its launch, the center has made some of its tools and software available to people of all ages via "Fab Labs;" adults and children are using these tools to design and assemble personal toys, jewelry, and even circuit boards with minimal training. With a Fab Lab, "Creation itself can become much more distributed, and you can bring not information technology, but IT development to the masses," says Center for Bits and Atoms director Neil Gershenfeld. MIT foots the bill for each Fab Lab's equipment, while the host country or institution supplies the space where the equipment resides. One Fab Lab was initially situated in the barn of Norwegian sheepherder Haakon Karlsen, who used the facility to modify a cell phone with GPS capabilities and employ it as a device for tracking the location and condition of his flock. The Norwegian Fab Lab features PCs with high-speed Internet connections, a 3D computer milling device, and other machines that are directed by open source software. Many Fab Labs are focused on enabling people to solve local problems through what Gershenfeld calls "personal fabrication." Meanwhile, the nation of South Africa is funding the establishment of a Fab Lab network so that engineers and entrepreneurs can test concepts for new products, and "fast track the process of growth and development," according to government official Sushil Borde.
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  • "NASA to Show Intelligent Space Robots in Action at Ames "Marscape""
    PhysOrg.com (09/28/05)

    NASA will demonstrate a pair of intelligent robots as well as "mobile agent" software on Oct. 3 at the NASA Ames Research Center's "Marscape" environment in Silicon Valley. The research for the technologies is funded under the auspices of the Software, Intelligent Systems, and Modeling Program. The robots, christened "Gromit" and "K-9," can make decisions to reach goals on a moon or planet without complicated instructions from humans. Director of NASA Ames' Intelligent Systems Division David Korsmeyer says the tight integration of machine intelligence and human direction will make flight crews more self-reliant, which is critical for future space missions. NASA Ames' Bill Clancey says explorers will communicate with mobile agent software about scientific observations, specifically their location, the sample bag used to gather samples, and a list of those samples and the geologic context. Personal agent software will transmit such data to other members of the science team on the planet being explored as well as on Earth, while the database where information will be stored will reside in a Mars or planetary human habitat.
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  • "Purdue Method Will Help Industry Design Parts-Search Systems"
    Purdue University News (09/26/05); Venere, Emil

    Purdue University researchers who developed shape-search engines have created a "benchmarking database and process" that enables engineers to assess the performance of such systems, according to mechanical engineering professor Karthik Ramani of the Purdue Research and Education Center for Information Systems in Engineering. Shape-search engines can sift through company catalogs of three-dimensional parts created with computer-aided design (CAD) software, and could help improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of companies by making designs reusable. The benchmarking system employs a 1,000-part inventory and rates how well a search system can retrieve matches to a part entered into a query; the parts are designated into 40 categories, such as components with T-shaped, disk-shaped, and cylindrical configurations. "If I give a query for a part that's in one of the categories, the top 10 results should ideally be in that category and as close to the queried part as possible," explains Ramani. "If the search system found only six matches from the right category and four from some other category, then I know it's not that good." The researchers have additionally developed a technique for automatically positioning a part in its "most stable orientation" by using streamlined "faceted models" of CAD parts. They have also developed a representation method that transforms a flat 2D drawing into a 2.5-D version, which represents the faceted models in a searchable manner. Findings on the benchmarking system were presented at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' 25th Computers and Information in Engineering Conference on Sept. 26.
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  • "New Security Proposed for Do-it-All Phones"
    CNet (09/27/05); Evers, Joris

    The increasing consolidation of functions into mobile phones has placed a premium on safeguarding their security. The Trusted Computing Group (TCG) has developed a hardware-based standard for securing mobile phones that has been backed by industry heavyweights such as Nokia, Motorola, Intel, and Samsung. Addressing security on the hardware level will give users greater confidence in their phones, and the TCG standard would protect data and offer copyright protection for exclusive content. The TCG's plans would support similar features to those offered by the Trusted Platform Module, the chip geared for PCs and servers that enables authentication, secure storage, and protected email. The proposal also contains operational restrictions that would prohibit users from running certain applications on their devices. Mobile phones will become an increasingly tempting target for hackers as their functionality expands, particularly as they start to include credit card payment information, which the TCG standard is expected to address in a future iteration. Meanwhile, the incorporation of digital rights management into a mobile phone security platform has raised the ire of user-rights advocates, who claim that it is an unnecessary restriction of a user's freedom. Despite broad support from major cell phone companies, the fractured nature of the industry makes it unlikely that the new security features will see widespread adoption before 2008.
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  • "Computer Users Move Themselves With the Mind"
    Nature (09/27/05); Hopkin, Michael

    A new brain-computer interface developed by Gert Pfurtscheller of Austria's Graz University of Technology provides a non-invasive way to detect neuronal signals associated with movement and translate those signals into movement within a virtual environment. The interface consists of an electrode-studded "thought cap" that picks up brain waves along the surface of the scalp, and is connected to a computer that determines which movements those signals correspond to. The device was unveiled at last week's Presence 2005 technology conference, where participants used it to navigate a 3D virtual-reality studio. It can take several hours of training for a user to become proficient with Pfurtscheller's interface, notes Graz entrepreneur Christoph Guger. Paralysis victims could potentially use the interface to move robotic limbs, while motor neuron disease sufferers might employ the technology to type out words on a virtual keyboard. Pfurtscheller thinks the device could even help stroke patients regain movement by enabling them to exert the motor centers of their brain. Detecting local brain activity accurately was previously achievable only through electrodes implanted directly within the brain.
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  • "KDE 4 Promises Radical Changes to the Free Desktop"
    NewsForge (09/26/05); Chance, Tom

    KDE version 3.5 has yet to be released, but developers are already at work on KDE version 4. The release of 3.5 promises a mature and stable desktop platform capable of performing a broad array of applications; KDE 4 is largely a conceptual opportunity, with developers looking to test out major innovations that could revolutionize the desktop platform. The Appeal initiative seeks to bring artists and usability experts into the fold of KDE development: Appeal's Tenor, a contextual linking engine, collects contextual data, such as metadata within MP3s, and submits them to applications through a KDE framework. Searching a desktop is one of the most obvious applications for Tenor, and further refinements could transform the interface into a structured ordering of related search results based on patterns of usage. Each component of the KDE 4 desktop will have been designed with the holistic picture in mind, incorporating input from artists and usability experts. Although KDE has drawn attention from scientists, businesses, and designers, adoption by independent software vendors has been relatively spare, owing partially to a lack of training. Martin Konold, who earned recognition for his recent contributions to Kolab and Kontact, has offered up RuDi as a layer of compatibility between KDE and Qt that would assimilate KDE's features into Qt applications; RuDi could potentially offer a reliable API to link with Qt, resolving KDE's compatibility issues. The buzz about KDE is spreading, though no one is certain what KDE 4 will bring, as many of its lofty promises, such as Tenor, are little more than embryonic ideas with sparse code to support them.
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  • "When Technology Wastes Time"
    TechNewsWorld (09/27/05); Lyman, Jay

    American companies lose $588 billion per year because of unnecessary distractions caused primarily by technology tools such as email and instant messaging, according to a new Basex report. The IT analysis firm estimates that 28 billion man-hours are lost annually to interruptions from spam, the Web, and phone calls, but Basex CEO Jonathan Spira says knowledge workers' behavior plays a critical role. He notes that "there has been a very poor job educating the business world about managing knowledge workers." Analyst Maurene Caplan Grey reports a growing number of professional services dedicated to boosting efficiency and productivity by eliminating interruptions. She points out the importance of understanding that companies' sole concern is increased productivity and profitability. Basex suggests companies should train knowledge workers to assign preeminence to immediate tasks, and give them the prudence to disassociate themselves from technology or shut off technology to do their jobs. "The most important thing to understand is that the misuse of technology that has the potential to make us more efficient can be very costly, but we can do something to fix it, and we can end up more efficient in the end," says Spira.
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  • "In Chess, Qualified Respect for Computers"
    Los Angeles Times (09/26/05) P. A19; Hiltzik, Michael

    The skill of chess-playing computers has long been a yardstick by which the progress of artificial intelligence is measured, and has developed in parallel with most hardware advances. IBM's Deep Blue chess computer trounced world champion Garry Kasparov eight years ago, but experts are still deliberating whether Deep Blue truly won or had an unfair advantage; the issue has resurfaced with the opening of a new exhibit, "Mastering the Game: A History of Computer Chess," at the Computer History Museum this month. The exhibit was launched with a panel debate among notable computer chess and AI personages. AI pioneers such as Herbert Simon were convinced that hardware and software could reproduce the expertise, discernment, learning ability, and even psychology of a master chess player, but Simon incorrectly predicted that computers would solve chess by learning the game through accumulated knowledge and experience. Instead, Deep Blue vanquished Kasparov through brute computing power that enabled the machine to probe as many as 200 million possible positions per second and choose the correct maneuver by measuring them against specifications preprogrammed by people. IBM researcher and panelist Murray Campbell said Deep Blue possessed no actual learning ability, and AI professionals consider the machine's victory rather hollow in light of this fact. Panelist and Stanford University computer science professor Edward Feigenbaum said that, beyond computer chess, artificial knowledge and learning algorithms outmatch brute force in every instance.
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  • "Searching for a Better World"
    Australian IT (09/27/05); Grayson, Ian

    As the information available on the Web proliferates and takes on new forms, search engines are struggling to keep pace: They already have trouble ascertaining the meaning of a query when there are multiple definitions for a search term, and the addition of new file formats has made it even harder for search engines to view content in a meaningful and retrievable way. Next-generation search engines figure to include personalized features, such as Google's new offering, currently available in test form, which tracks a user's search habits and preferences in order to rank results with a greater degree of relevance. Microsoft is developing its own search techniques, such as the implicit query search, which searches without prompting for information pertaining to whatever the user happens to be working on. Another method will cluster results based on different meanings of search terms, so that a user does not have to scroll through a jumble of unrelated results. Many companies are developing localized versions of their engines that would only offer results within a close proximity to the user, which would greatly improve searches for area merchants or restaurants. Yahoo! is banking on human input to give searches a dimension algorithms cannot provide: Its method of social searches solicits feedback from the community of users to provide descriptions of content beyond the reach of traditional searches, such as the Flickr photo cataloging application. The model of Flickr, where users post and caption their own photographs, could work for anything where collective feedback would inform a search; indeed, as the bulk of the world's information is still stored in people's heads, social search applications could revolutionize the body of knowledge available online.
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  • "What Makes a Great IT Pro"
    Computerworld Australia (09/21/05); Gedda, Rodney

    Australian IT managers predict that skills requirements for professionals in their field will be more business- and people-oriented five years from now. Sydney Harbor Foreshore Authority IT manager Virginia Orr says there was a greater concentration on operational and technical skills five years ago, mostly because more manual intervention was necessary for systems and applications; looking five years ahead, she thinks IT managers will need to be more assertive "about working with the business to understand its needs and identify where technology offers a better solution." Orr advises managers to expand their skills, possibly by pursuing studies in accounting and law, or MBAs. IDC Australia's Peter Hind foresees better communication and writing skills as critical considerations for IT managers in the next half-decade. Among the qualities of great IT managers Hind expects are a lack of tech zealotry, an openness to options, savvy without recklessness or foolishness, a priority on IT output, and boldness. Orr describes a vital IT manager as one with skills in business analysis, budget management, risk management, people management, and negotiation; a strong focus on customer service; the ability to cultivate an environment based on teamwork and personal development; and proficiency in managing competing demands in a high-volume setting. Former SunWater IT manager Luke Smith does not think managers' shift in focus to business needs is necessarily a positive step, as the emphasis on non-IT areas may cause IT-centric issues such as security to receive less attention. His advice for IT managers is to be honest about their unfamiliarity with technology, to act as a leader rather than a director, to be aware that the IT staff's requirements and desires differ from those of other personnel, and above all, to listen.
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  • "Death to Folders!"
    Economist Technology Quarterly (09/05) Vol. 376, No. 8444, P. 30

    The graphical user interface has begun to show its limitations as the vehicle for desktop navigation: Under the current file and folder system, content must be placed in a given location, and users must adhere to the filing system they created in order to effectively retrieve information from their desktop; disparate software further complicates the picture, as it is not uncommon to have information on the same personal contact stored in an email program, a calendar, and the computer's file system. However, Web search techniques could shed important light on a new method of desktop navigation. The exponential growth of the number of files on an average user's desktop is due largely to the greater storage capacities available for lower prices, but the search methods to navigate all that information have only recently received attention from Apple, Microsoft, and Google. To create a database of files on a computer is relatively simple, though in order to function effectively, it must be continuously updated to alter the indexes to any changes in a file. In its release of Mac OS X 10.4, Apple included Spotlight, a feature that queues up files for re-indexing as soon as they are altered, but waits to perform the actual indexing until the computer is idle so as not to compromise performance. Microsoft is not far behind with its WinFS system to be released in 2007; with the ability to see inside a file, rather than just search by its name, these new systems promise to render obsolete traditional file and folder systems. Though not every type of file contains information distinctive enough to offer insight into its content, the next generation of file management will rely heavily on user-issued tags that will inform more comprehensive and relevant searches.
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  • "The Avatars of Research"
    Chronicle of Higher Education (09/30/05) Vol. 52, No. 6, P. A35; Foster, Andrea L.

    Massively multiplayer online games such as Second Life have aroused the interest of scholars as a testbed for entrepreneurial skills as well as a tool for studying social interaction. Second Life is especially attractive to researchers since almost any kind of activity can be performed in the game, and the relationships and interchange between avatars representing players reflect the real-life behavior of individuals and groups. Business professors are particularly drawn to Second Life because participants create, sell, and purchase possessions and holdings within the virtual world, which are bought with an artificial currency that can be exchanged for actual legal tender. The potential abuse of such a system is an area of research for Elon University senior Jon Maggio, who intends to examine the sociological aspects of virtual worlds for his graduate studies. Architecture students at UC Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin have used Second Life to evaluate the habitability of building designs, while Trinity University students taught by communication professor Aaron Delwiche used object creation tools in Second Life to develop games that could enable new players to become conversant with the software. The game's creator, Linden Lab, started allowing academic participants to inhabit the Second Life universe without any subscriber fees this month. Linden Lab's Robin Harper says the company is benefiting from the advice students and scholars provide on how the game world can be improved.

  • "Human 2.0"
    New Scientist (09/24/05) Vol. 187, No. 2518, P. 32; Kurzweil, Ray

    Author and inventor Ray Kurzweil bases his predictions on how technology will transform humanity on the fact that technological progress unfolds exponentially rather than linearly. Advancements in information technology, combined with the conversion of practically all technologies into information technologies, are leading to a point Kurzweil terms "The Singularity," in which technology changes so quickly and reaches so deeply that human life will be forever altered to the degree where biological reprogramming becomes a reality. The author cites the law of accelerating returns, which says the outcome of many unpredictable, interacting phenomena can be reliably projected, in his calculation that 20 years of technological progress at year 2000 rates will take place between 2000 and 2014. Kurzweil speculates that the 21st century will be marked by three major tech revolutions, the first of which is the genetics or biotechnology revolution; genetic reengineering and cell and tissue regrowth are among some of the expected breakthroughs. The limitations of biotechnology will drive the nanotechnology revolution in the 2020s, when Kurzweil foresees the generation of nearly any physical product from cheap materials via information processes, and blood-cell sized "nanobots" that maintain health and augment the body's senses and capabilities. The final trend is the robotics revolution, in which hardware and software replicates human intelligence and is integrated with people's biological intelligence to expand their brainpower. Kurzweil projects that by the middle of the fourth decade, non-biological intelligence will have transcended the capabilities of biological intelligence.
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  • "The Myth of the Best Practices Silver Bullet"
    STSC CrossTalk (09/05) P. 14; Evans, Michael W.; Segura, Connie; Doherty, Frank

    An organization's management must realize that there is no best practices panacea so as to avoid assuming the automatic success of the practices they deploy; true success stems from management's understanding of how the practices they use will function within their individual organization. Typical programs are multilayered, with each layer supporting unique requirements and restrictions concerning the processes and practices used and their deployment, which illustrates the futility of implementing a single set of best practices. Once the practices have been adapted to the requirements of the various organizations, they must be integrated to ensure the project's effective progress within an organization or between organizations. Furthermore, the many practices employed by the organization must interact with other, often unrelated practices so that the general process is smoothly and effectively supported. The organization's culture, attitude, and experience must be taken into account before specific practices are chosen to support a project. Management must also achieve an understanding of what implementing a practice entails in terms of risks and costs; such factors include potential obstacles to deploy the practice and its application, associated tools' availability and cost, and the required cost of training people who will apply the practice. Projects with significant software content that exhibit certain traits do not lend themselves well to the reasoned application of best practices. Such traits include late decision-making, early pronouncements of victory, and a paucity of leadership.
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