Software

Google Is Working On Fuchsia OS Support For Apple's Swift Programming Language (androidpolice.com) 24

An anonymous reader shares a report from Android Police: Google's in-development operating system, named "Fuchsia," first appeared over a year ago. It's quite different from Android and Chrome OS, as it runs on top of the real-time "Magenta" kernel instead of Linux. According to recent code commits, Google is working on Fuchsia OS support for the Swift programming language. If you're not familiar with it, Swift is a programming language developed by Apple, which can be used to create iOS/macOS/tvOS/watchOS applications (it can also compile to Linux). Apple calls it "Objective-C without the C," and on the company's own platforms, it can be mixed with existing C/Objective-C/C++ code (similar to how apps on Android can use both Kotlin and Java in the same codebase). We already know that Fuchsia will support apps written in Dart, a C-like language developed by Google, but it looks like Swift could also be supported. On Swift's GitHub repository, a pull request was created by a Google employee that adds Fuchsia OS support to the compiler. At the time of writing, there are discussions about splitting it into several smaller pull requests to make reviewing the code changes easier.
Google

Eric Schmidt Says Google News Will 'Engineer' Russian Propaganda Out of the Feed (vice.com) 260

Justin Ling, writing for Motherboard: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chariman of Alphabet, says the company is working to ferret out Russian propaganda from Google News after facing criticism that Kremlin-owned media sites had been given plum placement on the search giant's news and advertising platforms. "We're well aware of this one, and we're working on detecting this kind of scenario you're describing and deranking those kinds of sites," Schmidt said, after being asked why the world's largest search company continued to classify the Russian sites as news. Schmidt, in an interview at the Halifax International Security Forum over the weekend, name-checked two state-owned enterprises. "It's basically RT and Sputnik," Schmidt added. "We're well aware and we're trying to engineer the systems to prevent it."
AI

Deep Learning Is Eating Software (petewarden.com) 136

Pete Warden, engineer and CTO of Jetpac, shares his view on how deep learning is already starting to change some of the programming is done. From a blog post, shared by a reader last week: The pattern is that there's an existing software project doing data processing using explicit programming logic, and the team charged with maintaining it find they can replace it with a deep-learning-based solution. I can only point to examples within Alphabet that we've made public, like upgrading search ranking, data center energy usage, language translation, and solving Go, but these aren't rare exceptions internally. What I see is that almost any data processing system with non-trivial logic can be improved significantly by applying modern machine learning. This might sound less than dramatic when put in those terms, but it's a radical change in how we build software. Instead of writing and maintaining intricate, layered tangles of logic, the developer has to become a teacher, a curator of training data and an analyst of results. This is very, very different than the programming I was taught in school, but what gets me most excited is that it should be far more accessible than traditional coding, once the tooling catches up. The essence of the process is providing a lot of examples of inputs, and what you expect for the outputs. This doesn't require the same technical skills as traditional programming, but it does need a deep knowledge of the problem domain. That means motivated users of the software will be able to play much more of a direct role in building it than has ever been possible. In essence, the users are writing their own user stories and feeding them into the machinery to build what they want.
Hardware

The Secret to Tech's Next Big Breakthroughs? Stacking Chips (wsj.com) 105

Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal: A funny thing is happening to the most basic building blocks of nearly all our devices. Microchips, which are usually thin and flat, are being stacked like pancakes (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). Chip designers -- now playing with depth, not just length and width -- are discovering a variety of unexpected dividends in performance, power consumption and capabilities. Without this technology, the Apple Watch wouldn't be possible. Nor would the most advanced solid-state memory from Samsung, artificial-intelligence systems from Nvidia and Google, or Sony's crazy-fast next-gen camera. Think of this 3-D stacking as urban planning. Without it, you have sprawl -- microchips spread across circuit boards, getting farther and farther apart as more components are needed. But once you start stacking chips, you get a silicon cityscape, with everything in closer proximity.

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed, says Greg Yeric, director of future silicon technology for ARM Research, part of microchip design firm ARM.

Google

Critics Debate Autism's Role in James Damore's Google Memo (themarysue.com) 304

James Damore "wants you to know he isn't using autism as an excuse," reports a Silicon Valley newspaper, commenting on the fired Google engineer's new interview with the Guardian. But they also note that "he says being on the spectrum means he 'sees things differently'," and the weekend editor at the entertainment and "geek culture" site The Mary Sue sees a problem in the way that interview was framed. It's the author of this Guardian article, not James Damore himself, who makes the harmful suggestion that Damore's infamous Google memo and subsequent doubling-down are somehow caused by his autism... It frames autism as some sort of basic decency deficiency, rather than a neurological condition shared by millions of people.... This whole article is peppered with weird suggestions like this, suggestions which detract from an otherwise interesting piece.. All these weird suggestions that autism and misogyny/bigotry are somehow tied (as if autistic feminists didn't exist) do unfortunately detract from one of the article's great points.

Having worked at a number of companies large and small, I can at least anecdotally confirm that their diversity training rarely includes a discussion of neurodiversity, and when it does, it's not particularly empathetic or helpful... Many corporate cultures are plainly designed for neurotypical extroverts and no one else -- and that should change. I really do think Lewis meant well in pointing that out. But the other thing that should change? The way the media scapegoats autism as a source of anti-social behavior.

The Media

Net Neutrality is Essentially Unassailable, Argues Billionaire Barry Diller (broadcastingcable.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes Yahoo Finance: The billionaire media mogul behind such popular sites as Expedia, Match.com and HomeAdvisor has a one-word forecast for traditional media conglomerates concerned about being replaced by tech giants: serfdom. "They, like everyone else, are kind of going to be serfs on the land of the large tech companies," IAC chairman Barry Diller said... That's because Google and Facebook not only have such massive user bases but also dominate online advertising. "Google and Facebook are consolidating," Diller said. "They are the only mass advertising mediums we have..." He expects Facebook, Google and maybe Amazon to face government regulation, simply because of their immense size. "At a certain point in size, you must," he said. "It's inevitable."

He did, however, outline one positive for Big Tech getting so gargantuan. Big Telecom no longer has the economic leverage to roll back today's net-neutrality norms, in which internet providers don't try to charge sites extra for access to their subscribers. "I think it's hard to overturn practically," he said. "It is the accepted system."

Even if the U.S. government takes moves to fight net neutrality, Diller told CNBC that "I think it is over... It is [the] practice of the world... You're still going to be able to push a button and publish to the world, without anybody in between asking you for tribute. I think that is now just the way things are done. I don't think it can be violated no matter what laws are back."
Chrome

Firefox vs Chrome: Speed and Memory (laptopmag.com) 156

Mashable aleady reported Firefox Quantum performs better than Chrome on web applications (based on BrowserBench's JetStream tests), but that Chrome performed better on other benchmarks. Now Laptop Mag has run more tests, agreeing that Firefox performs beter on JetStream tests -- and on WebXPRT's six HTML5- and JavaScript-based workload tests. Firefox Quantum was the winner here, with a score of 491 (from an average of five runs, with the highest and lowest results tossed out) to Chrome's 460 -- but that wasn't quite the whole story. Whereas Firefox performed noticeably better on the Organize Album and Explore DNA Sequencing workloads, Chrome proved more adept at Photo Enhancement and Local Notes, demonstrating that the two browsers have different strengths...

You might think that Octane 2.0, which started out as a Google Developers project, would favor Chrome -- and you'd be (slightly) right. This JavaScript benchmark runs 21 individual tests (over such functions as core language features, bit and math operations, strings and arrays, and more) and combines the results into a single score. Chrome's was 35,622 to Firefox's 35,148 -- a win, if only a minuscule one.

In a series RAM-usage tests, Chrome's average score showed it used "marginally" less memory, though the average can be misleading. "In two of our three tests, Firefox did finish leaner, but in no case did it live up to Mozilla's claim that Quantum consumes 'roughly 30 percent less RAM than Chrome,'" reports Laptop Mag.

Both browsers launched within 0.302 seconds, and the article concludes that "no matter which browser you choose, you're getting one that's decently fast and capable when both handle all of the content you're likely to encounter during your regular surfing sessions."
Google

'I See Things Differently': James Damore on his Autism and the Google Memo (theguardian.com) 648

"James Damore opens up about his regrets -- and how autism may have shaped his experience of the world," writes the west coast bureau chief for the Guardian. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The experience has prompted some introspection. In the course of several weeks of conversation using Google's instant messaging service, which Damore prefers to face-to-face communication, he opened up about an autism diagnosis that may in part explain the difficulties he experienced with his memo. He believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people... It wasn't until his mid-20s, after completing research in computational biology at Princeton and MIT, and starting a PhD at Harvard, that Damore was diagnosed with autism, although he was told he had a milder version of the condition known as "high-functioning autism"...

Damore argues that Google's focus on avoiding "micro-aggressions" is "much harder for someone with autism to follow". But he stops short of saying autistic employees should be given more leniency if they unintentionally offend people at work. "I wouldn't necessarily treat someone differently," he explains. "But it definitely helps to understand where they're coming from." I ask Damore if, looking back over the last few months, he feels that his difficult experience with the memo and social media may be related to being on the spectrum. "Yeah, there's definitely been some self-reflection," he says. "Predicting controversies requires predicting what emotional reaction people will have to something. And that's not something that I excel at -- although I'm working on it."

Google

CNBC: Google's New 'Pixel Buds' Suck (yahoo.com) 99

Google's new Pixel Buds "are really bad" and "not worth buying," according to CNBC's technology products editor: The stand-out feature of Google Pixel Buds is that they're supposed to be able to translate spoken languages in near real-time. In my real-world tests, however, that wasn't the case at all. I took the Pixel Buds out on the streets of Manhattan, speaking to a Hungarian waiter in Little Italy, multiple vendors in Chinatown and more. If you press the right earbud and say "help me speak Chinese," for example, the buds will launch Google Translate, you can speak what you'd like to ask someone in another language, and a voice will read out the translated speech through your smartphone's speakers. Then, when someone replies, you'll hear that response through the Pixel Buds.

The microphone on the Pixel Buds is really bad, so it barely picked up my voice queries that I wanted to translate. I stood on the side of the road in Chinatown repeating myself at least 10 times trying to get the phone to pick up my speech in order to begin translation. It barely worked, even if I took the buds out and spoke directly into the microphone on the right earbud, and often only translated half of what I was trying to ask. In a quiet place, I was able to allow someone to respond to me, after which I'd hear the English translation through the headphones. That was neat, but it barely ever actually worked that way. To mitigate this, I found it was just easier to manually open the Google translate app, speak into my phone's microphone, and then let someone else also speak right into my phone. This executed the translation nearly perfectly, and meant that I didn't need the Pixel Buds at all.

The article ends by answering the question, Should you buy them? "Nope. There's nothing I recommend about the Pixel Buds.

"They're cheap-feeling and uncomfortable, and you're better off using the Google Translate app on a phone instead of trying to fumble with the headphones while trying to translate a conversation. The idea is neat, but it just doesn't work well enough to recommend to anyone on any level."
Education

Microsoft Debuts Minecraft-Themed Coding Tutorial 23

theodp writes: In a few weeks, writes Microsoft Corporate VP Mary Snapp, "millions of kids and others will participate in an Hour of Code, a global call to action to spend an hour learning the basics of coding. Today, it's my privilege to announce that Microsoft has released a new Minecraft tutorial for Hour of Code, called Hero's Journey." The release of the new Code.org-touted flagship Hour of Code tutorial -- the third since Microsoft purchased Minecraft Maker Mojang for $2.5B in 2014 -- comes as Microsoft celebrates Minecraft: Education Edition reaching a milestone of 2 million users.

Microsoft boasts that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched to-date, which is certainly impressive from an infomercial or brand awareness standpoint. But does [adding a Scratch block to] move a Minecraft character forward 7 times on an $800 Microsoft Surface offer all that much more educational value than, say, moving a peg forward 5 times on a $10.99 Pop-O-Matic Trouble board game?
The Courts

FOSS Community Criticizes SFLC over SFC Trademark War (lunduke.com) 63

Earlier this month Bruce Perens notified us that "the Software Freedom Law Center, a Linux-Foundation supported organization, has asked USPTO to cancel the trademark of the name of the Software Freedom Conservancy, an organization that assists and represents Free Software/Open Source developers." Now Slashdot reader curcuru -- director of the Apache Software Foundation -- writes: No matter how you look at it, this kind of lawsuit is a loss for software freedom and open source in general, since this kind of USPTO trademark petition (like a lawsuit) will tie up both organizations, leaving less time and funds to help FOSS projects. There's clearly more to the issue than the trademark issue; the many community members' blog posts make that clear.

GNOME executive director Neil McGovern
Apache Software Foundation director Shane Curcuru
Google security developer Matthew Garrett
Linux industry journalist Bryan Lunduke


The key point in this USPTO lawsuit is that the legal aspects aren't actually important. What's most important is the community reaction: since SFLC and Conservancy are both non-profits who help serve free software communities, it's the community perception of what organizations to look to for help that matters. SFLC's attempt to take away the Conservancy's very name doesn't look good for them.

Bryan Lunduke's video covers the whole case, including his investigation into the two organizations and their funding.

Chrome

Is Firefox 57 Faster Than Chrome? (mashable.com) 231

An anonymous reader quotes TechNewsWorld: Firefox is not only fast on startup -- it remains zippy even when taxed by multitudes of tabs. "We have a better balance of memory to performance than all the other browsers," said Firefox Vice President for Product Nick Nguyen. "We use 30 percent less memory, and the reason for that is we can allocate the number of processes Firefox uses on your computer based on the hardware that you have," he told TechNewsWorld. The performance improvements in Quantum could be a drink from the fountain of youth for many Firefox users' systems. "A significant number of our users are on machines that are two cores or less, and less than 4 gigabytes of RAM," Nguyen explained.
Mashable ran JetStream 1.1 tests on the ability to run advanced web applications, and concluded that "Firefox comes out on top, but not by much. This means it's, according to JetStream, slightly better suited for 'advanced workloads and programming techniques.'" Firefox also performed better on "real-world speed tests" on Amazon.com and the New York Times' site, while Chrome performed better on National Geographic, CNN, and Mashable. Unfortunately for Mozilla, Chrome looks like it's keeping the top spot, at least for now. The only test that favors Quantum is JetStream, and that's by a hair. And in Ares-6 [which measures how quickly a browser can run new Javascript functions, including mathematical functions], Quantum gets eviscerated... Speedometer simulates user actions on web applications (specifically, adding items to a to-do list) and measures the time they take... When it comes to user interactions in web applications, Chrome takes the day...

In reality, however, Quantum is no slug. It's a capable, fast, and gorgeous browser with innovative bookmark functionality and a library full of creative add-ons. As Mozilla's developers fine-tune Quantum in the coming months, it's possible it could catch up to Chrome. In the meantime, the differences in page-load time are slight at best; you probably won't notice the difference.

Music

Apple's HomePod Gets Delayed Until 2018 (theverge.com) 48

Apple has reportedly delayed the release of its HomePod smart speaker until 2018. In a statement to The Verge, Apple says that it needs more time to work on the device. "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers," an Apple spokesperson said. "We'll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018." From the report: The speaker was originally set to be released in December. Priced at $349, the HomePod is slated to take on higher-end sound systems like Sonos, as well as smart assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The cylindrical speaker features a seven-speaker array of tweeters, a four-inch subwoofer, and a six-microphone array, which puts it right on par spec-wise with the best speakers in its price range, but where it may fall short is Siri, which isn't really in the same class as Alexa or Google Assistant. That challenge is likely why Apple's focus at the launch of the HomePod back at WWDC in June was music first and smart features second.
Android

Even New Phones Are No Longer Guaranteed To Have the Latest Version of Android (theverge.com) 158

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: The OnePlus 5T and Razer Phone are two fundamentally different devices, which are nonetheless united by one unfortunate downside: both of them are going on sale this month without the latest version of Android on board. OnePlus will tell you that this issue is down to its extremely stringent testing process, while Razer offers a similar boilerplate about working as fast as possible to deliver Android Oreo. But we're now three months removed from Google's grand Oreo launch, timed to coincide with this summer's total eclipse, and all of these excuses are starting to ring hollow. Why do Android companies think they can ship new devices without the latest and best version of the operating system on board? The notorious fragmentation problem with Android has always been that not every device gets the latest update at the same time, and many devices get stuck on older software without ever seeing an update at all. What's changed now is that the "one version behind the newest and best" phenomenon is starting to infect brand new phones as well. The 5T and Razer Phone are just two examples; there's also Xiaomi, which just launched its Mi Mix 2 in Spain with 2016's Android Nougat as the operating system.
Businesses

Tim Berners-Lee on the Future of the Web: 'The System is Failing' (theguardian.com) 164

Olivia Solon, writing for The Guardian: The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity -- the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee's vision for an "open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries" has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators. "I'm still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence," said the British computer scientist. "We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things," he said. The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people's attention. "People are being distorted by very finely trained AIs that figure out how to distract them," said Berners-Lee. In some cases, these platforms offer users who create content a cut of advertising revenue. The financial incentive drove Macedonian teenagers with "no political skin in the game" to generate political clickbait fake news that was distributed on Facebook and funded by revenue from Google's automated advertising engine AdSense. "The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned," said Berners-Lee, who in March called for the regulation of online political advertising to prevent it from being used in "unethical ways."
Privacy

Why is this Company Tracking Where You Are on Thanksgiving? (theoutline.com) 97

Earlier this week, several publications published a holiday-themed data study about how families that voted for opposite parties spent less time together on Thanksgiving, especially in areas that saw heavy political advertising. The data came from a company called SafeGraph that supplied publications with 17 trillion location markets for 10 million smartphones. A report looks at the bigger picture: The data wasn't just staggering in sheer quantity. It also appears to be extremely granular. Researchers "used this data to identify individuals' home locations, which they defined as the places people were most often located between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.," wrote The Washington Post. The researchers also looked at where people were between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in order to see if they spent that time at home or traveled, presumably to be with friends or family. "Even better, the cellphone data shows you exactly when those travelers arrived at a Thanksgiving location and when they left," the Post story says. To be clear: This means SafeGraph is looking at an individual device and tracking where its owner is going throughout their day. A common defense from companies that creepily collect massive amounts of data is that the data is only analyzed in aggregate; for example, Google's database BigQuery, which allows organizations to upload big data sets and then query them quickly, promises that all its public data sets are "fully anonymized" and "contain no personally-identifying information." In multiple press releases from SafeGraph's partners, the company's location data is referred to as "anonymized," but in this case they seem to be interpreting the concept of anonymity quite liberally given the specificity of the data.
AI

Stanford Trains AI To Diagnose Pneumonia Better Than a Radiologist In Just Two Months (qz.com) 75

A new paper from Stanford University reveals how artificial intelligence algorithms can be quickly trained to diagnose pneumonia better than a radiologist. "Using 100,000 x-ray images released by the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 27, the research published Nov. 14 (without peer review) on the website ArXiv claims its AI can detect pneumonia from x-rays with similar accuracy to four trained radiologists," reports Quartz. From the report: That's not all -- the AI was trained to analyze x-rays for 14 diseases NIH included in the dataset, including fibrosis, hernias, and cell masses. The AI's results for each of the 14 diseases had fewer false positives and false negatives than the benchmark research from the NIH team that was released with the data. The paper includes Google Brain founder Andrew Ng as a co-author, who also served as chief scientist at Baidu and recently founded Deeplearning.ai. He's often been publicly bullish on AI's use in healthcare. These algorithms will undoubtedly get better -- accuracy on the ImageNet challenge rose from 75% to 95% in just five years -- but this research shows the speed at which these systems are built is increasing as well.
Google

Google Will Stop Letting Sites Use AMP Format To Bait and Switch Readers (theverge.com) 57

"Google today announced a forthcoming update to its Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, web format that aims to discourage website owners from misusing the service," reports The Verge. "The company says that, starting in February 2018, AMP pages must contain content nearly identical to that of the standard page they're replicating." From the report: Currently, because AMP pages load faster and more clutter-free versions of a website, they naturally contain both fewer ads and less links to other portions of a site. That's led some site owners to publish two versions of a webpage: a standard page and an AMP-specific one that acts a teaser of sorts that directs users to the original. That original page, or canonical page in Google parlance, is by nature a slower loading page containing more ads and with a potentially lower bounce rate, which is the percentage of viewers who only view one page before leaving. Now, Google is cracking down on that behavior. "AMP was introduced to dramatically improve the performance of the web and deliver a fast, consistent content consumption experience," writes Ashish Mehta, an AMP product manager. "In keeping with this goal, we'll be enforcing the requirement of close parity between AMP and canonical page, for pages that wish to be shown in Google Search as AMPs."
Security

Bluetooth Hack Affects 20 Million Amazon Echo, Google Home Devices (thehackernews.com) 40

In September, security researchers discovered eight vulnerabilities -- codenamed collectively as BlueBorne -- in the Bluetooth implementations used by over 5.3 billion devices. We have now learned that an estimated 20 million Amazon Echo and Google Home devices are also vulnerable to attacks leveraging the BlueBorne vulnerabilities. The Hacker News reports: Amazon Echo is affected by the following two vulnerabilities: a remote code execution vulnerability in the Linux kernel (CVE-2017-1000251); and an information disclosure flaw in the SDP server (CVE-2017-1000250). Since different Echo's variants use different operating systems, other Echo devices are affected by either the vulnerabilities found in Linux or Android. Whereas, Google Home devices are affected by one vulnerability: information disclosure vulnerability in Android's Bluetooth stack (CVE-2017-0785). This Android flaw can also be exploited to cause a denial-of-service (DoS) condition. Since Bluetooth cannot be disabled on either of the voice-activated personal assistants, attackers within the range of the affected device can easily launch an attack. The security firm [Armis, who disclosed the issue] notified both Amazon and Google about its findings, and both companies have released patches and issued automatic updates for the Amazon Echo and Google Home that fixes the BlueBorne attacks.
Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.

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